The One Percent Doctrine

By Baumann, Nick | Commonweal, September 8, 2006 | Go to article overview

The One Percent Doctrine


Baumann, Nick, Commonweal


Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11

Ron Suskind

Simon & Schuster, $27, 367 pp.

The One Percent Doctrine, Ron Suskind's anatomy of the Bush administration's "war on terror," reads more like a thriller than the serious journalism it is. A former Wall Street Journal reporter, Suskind has a firm grasp on the dramatic aspects of his subject, and his book--a largely chronological narrative of the actions of the Department of Defense and various intelligence agencies since September 11, 2001--vibrates with suspense. Indeed, if we did not receive daily reminders from FOX News and CNN that what Suskind is writing about is real, it would be all too easy to mistake The One Percent Doctrine for the work of John le Carre or Robert Ludlum.

Suskind packs his book with all the elements of a good spy story. There are rumors of horrific sci-fi weapons--like the mubtakkar, designed to disperse hydrogen cyanide within the crowded con-fines of a subway station or shopping mall. There is the inside man, "Ali," the Al Qaeda operative who tipped off the U.S. government to the location of a terrorist leader, and who now lives comfortably somewhere in the American hinterland, with $25 million in the bank. There is even the unwitting journalist caught up in the adventure, an Al Jazeera reporter kidnapped and taken to interview two of Al Qaeda's most notorious leaders just months after September 11.

Like any good thriller, The One Per-cent Doctrine has its protagonist-hero. Suskind's narrative revolves around the former director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet. Through Tenet's eyes we see things only the inner circle of Bush advisers saw: the first panicked days after the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center; the growing confidence of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice after success in Afghanistan; and the formulation of the principle that gives Suskind's book its name. Confronted with information that Al Qaeda might be pursuing the acquisition of Pakistani nuclear technology, Cheney enunciates a policy of extreme response. "If there's a one percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping Al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty," he tells Tenet in one of many situation-room meetings that dot the book. "It's not about our analysis, or finding a preponderance of evidence, it's about our response."

Suskind regards this principle--the formal separation of action from evidence and the adoption of mere suspicion as appropriate grounds for action--as the primary cause of U.S. mistakes in the "war on terror." When suspicion becomes a sufficient prerequisite for action, the government's power becomes almost limitless, and just about anything is possible. The One Percent Doctrine follows the evolution of American interrogation procedures in the months and years following September 11. By the time the United States captured Khalid Sheik Mohammed, a major Al Qaeda boss, eighteen months after the attacks, the old, "civilized" interrogation techniques had completely disappeared, and the CIA felt free to threaten Mohammed's children, a seven-year-old boy and a nine-year-old girl. "Once you do something as horrific as threaten someone's children," Suskind writes, "there's nowhere else to go."

There is more to this book than storytelling. Suskind is at his best when discussing the one percent doctrine itself, along with its inflammatory consequences. Where traditionally it took a catastrophic aggressive act--Pearl Harbor, for example, or the invasion of Kuwait--to provoke a U.S. response, now, Suskind writes, "even proof of a threat is too constraining a standard." From now on, nations that do not wish to risk the wrath of the United States will have to make it abundantly clear that they are on our side. The Bush administration invaded Iraq, Suskind argues, to show its determination to enforce the new rules. …

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