A review of The Longest War: Inside the Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda, by Peter L. Bergen
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
If you’ve been an avid follower of the news about the “war on terror” and the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there’s likely to be relatively little in this book that you don’t already know. What sets it apart, though, is that it presents the story of these closely related subjects from both sides, Al Qaeda’s as well as the U.S.’s, and it brings to the table the perspective of a genuinely knowledgeable journalist and not a participant with obvious self-interest at stake.
The Longest War is an able, one-volume history of the fateful two-decade interaction between Osama bin Laden and his followers with three successive U.S. Administrations. The author, Peter Bergen, is an award-winning journalist who in 1997 produced for CNN the first interview with Osama bin Laden and has been following the story ever since. Perhaps more than any other Westerner, Bergen is the best-qualified person to have written this book at this time.
What emerges from a careful reading of The Longest War is that the U.S. government under both Presidents Clinton and Bush Jr. did a truly execrable job of confronting the challenge raised by Al Qaeda. The Bush Administration’s performance was especially shameful: grounded in a stubborn and irrelevant ideology and managed in an abysmally ineffective manner, the Administration seems to have made a tragically wrong decision at virtually every critical juncture during its eight years in office. First, soon after taking office, by ignoring repeated and passionate pleas from knowledgeable insiders to review the evidence that Al Qaeda was planning a major attack on the U.S. Then, responding to 9/11, deciding that an air war in Afghanistan could destroy Al Qaeda and capture Bin Laden, and quickly ending the effort when it inevitably failed. Later, launching a preemptive war on the grounds that the greatest problem was Iraq and not Al Qaeda . . . ensuring years of civil war there by disbanding the Iraqi Army, pursuing mindless de-Baathification, and imposing on U.S. forces in the field a strategy that ensured they could never keep the peace . . . and pursuing a counterproductive alliance with Pakistan’s Musharraf regime that only strengthened the hand of the extremists and ensured them safe harbor across the border from Afghanistan.
The jury is still out on the Obama Administration’s actions to date.
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