‘The Longest War': al-Qaida and the U.S. still battling

Published: Sunday, January 23, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 5:00 p.m.

By now, there are already dozens of books — a few of them, groundbreak­ing works of reportage — about al-Qaida and 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Bush and Obama administra­tions' management of national security.

What makes “The Longest War,” a new book by Peter L. Bergen, CNN's national security analyst, particularly useful is that it provides a succinct and com­pelling overview of these huge, complex subjects, drawing upon other journalists' pioneering work as well as the author's own expertise in terrorism and interviews with a broad spectrum of figures including leading counterterrorism officials, members of the Taliban, failed suicide bombers, family and friends of Osama bin Laden and top U.S. military officers.

For readers interested in a highly informed, wide-angled, single-volume briefing on the war on terror so far, “The Longest War” is clearly that essential book.

Bergen gives the reader an intimate understanding of how al-Qaida operates on a day-to-day basis. And he creates a sharply observed portrait of bin Laden that amplifies those laid out by earlier writers.

Although some of Bergen's conclusions are bound to be controversial, the lucidity, knowledge and reasoned logic of his arguments lend his assess­ments credibility and weight, even when he is challenging conventional wisdom.

The sections of this book dealing with 9/11, the war in Iraq and the prosecution of the war on terror retrace a lot of ground covered by the important work of other journalists. These chapters by Bergen provide an utterly devastating indictment of the Bush administration on all levels — from its failure to heed warn­ings about a terrorist threat, to its determination to conduct the war in Afghanistan on the cheap, to its costly, unnecessary and thoroughly misguided invasion and occupation of Iraq.

“By the end of the second Bush term,” Bergen writes near the end of this valuable book, “it was clear that al-Qaida and allied groups were losing the ‘war of ideas' in the Islamic world, not because America was winning that war — quite the contrary: Most Muslims had a quite negative attitude toward the United States — but because Muslims themselves had largely turned against the ideology of bin Ladenism.”

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