In a recent interview on The Daily Show, Peter Bergen said, “Al Qaeda is going to fade to irrelevance over time.” (http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-january-17-2011/peter-bergen) One of the main points of The Longest War
is his argument in support of that statement.
Bergen has been on the scene for quite a while. In addition to his prior books, Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden
and The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda's Leader
, he produced the first television interview with bin Laden in 1997. He has been a foreign correspondent extraordinaire, earning recognition from the Foreign Press Club, and has reported for a wide range of publications, including the New York Times, LA Times, Wall Street Journal, the Times of London, The Guardian, and other papers in Europe and the Middle East. He has been a TV presence as well, reporting for CNN, National Geographic and Discovery. He also teaches had holds positions at think tanks. Either the guy’s services are in incredible demand, or he can’t hold a job.
He takes us from the beginnings of Al Qaeda to the present (2011) showing how we and they got from there to here. Bergen’s analysis is enlightening, revealing his very well-informed take on the primary international terrorist NGO on the planet.
The major reveal here is that OBL’s decision to go ahead with 9/11 was not universally admired within his community. There was considerable concern among his minions that his bold attack would bring a rain of fire down on them. Osama believed the US would respond with air attacks only. He was wrong and they were right, and that error did not win him many friends in the movement. OBL may continue to be an inspirational figure for many in the fundamentalist Islamic world, but he has not accomplished his goals. The cost to the USA has been considerable, but we are still standing. And our own forces of darkness have seized on his actions as if they were a gift from Allah, and used terrorist actions as camouflage to cover their own economic and political agenda.
…bin Laden’s grand project—to transform the Muslim world into a militant Islamist caliphate—has been, by any measure, a resounding failure. In large part, that’s because bin Laden’s strategy for arriving at this Promised Land is a fantasy. Al-Qaeda’s leader prides himself on being a big-think strategist, but for all his brains, leadership skills, and charisma, he fastened on an overall strategy that is self-defeating. Bin Laden’s main goal is to bring about regime change in the Middle East and to replace the governments in Cairo and Riyadh with Taliban-style rule. He believes that the way to accomplish this is to attach the “far enemy”(the United States), then watch as the supposedly impious, U.S.-backed Muslim regimes he calls the “near enemy” collapse.
…Not only did bin Laden not achieve his war aims, but the attacks on Washington and New York resulted in the direct opposite of his stated goal of forcing a U.S withdrawal from Muslim lands.
Bergen has turned up some information about bin Laden that shows him to be perhaps less-than-deserving of the personal admiration that his followers lavish on him. He had indeed passed up a life of luxury to live among his jihadi followers, but when push came to incoming, his priorities became a bit less equitable.
Ayman Saeed Abdullah Batarfi, a Yemeni doctor who was treating the al-Qaeda wounded…said he personally told bin Laden that, if they did not leave Tora Bora soon, “no one would stay alive” under the American bombardment. But the al-Qaeda leader seemed mainly preoccupied with his own escape. “He did not prepare himself for Tora Bora,” Batarfi said, “and to be frank he didn’t seem to care about anyone but himself.”
For those who have read a lot on al Qaeda, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Bush rush to wars of choice, particularly in Iraq, there is much here that is familiar. But there are enough new bits in Bergen’s book to make this a worthwhile read.
He offers a very informative chapter on Zarqawi and the significance of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. We learn of Zarqawi’s personal background, and learn of some of the innovations he introduced into his particular line of work, such humanitarian advances as using the women and the mentally unstable for suicide missions, using sequential vehicles for bombing missions, using the web to broadcast executions.
He takes on the US political right and their media manipulation:
what was especially cynical about the charge that the media was ignoring the “good news” was that the Iraq War was the most dangerous war the press had covered since World War II. Some 130 journalists were killed in the Iraqi conflict, more than double the number that had died in Vietnam. Indicative of how dangerous it became were the physical changes that took place over the course of the was at the Baghdad bureau of the New York Times, which gradually morphed into a fortress festooned with searchlights and machine gun emplacements on the roof, surrounded by concrete blast walls, a foot thick and twenty feet high, protected by forty armed guards.
Bergen offers an analysis of the significance of the sort of leaderless terrorism that has security officials so concerned, and looks into the likelihood of an actual WMD threat from Al Qaeda. He offers insightful reportage about the nature of the Taliban and reports on why many clerics and Muslim leaders rejected Al-Qaeda
When examining the history of Al-Qaeda, the USA’s involvement in Afghanistan and the state of terrorism in the world today, there are few people as knowledgeable as Peter Bergen, who backs up his analysis with almost two decades of experience looking into the organization, much of that investigation having been very much up close and personal. The Longest War
should be mandatory reading for anyone with an interest in national security issues or in understanding al Qaeda.