The war on terror has created near unanimity on many points, at least within the American press and political leadership. One essential point of agreement: al Qaeda specifically and radical Islamism in general are stirred by a hatred of modernity. Or as President George W. Bush has articulated repeatedly, they hate freedom. Nonsense, responds the nameless author of this work and 2003's Through Our Enemies' Eyes
(the senior U.S. intelligence official's identity became an open secret by publication date). Indeed, he grimly and methodically discards common wisdom throughout this scathing and compelling take on counterterrorism. Imperial Hubris
is not a book that will cheer Americans, regardless of their perspectives on the post-9/11 environment. We are, the author notes, losing the war on terror. Hawks will squirm as the author heaps contempt on U.S. missions in Afghanistan (too little, too late) and Iraq ("a sham causing more instability than it prevents"), but opponents of Bush administration policies may blanch at Anonymous' suggestion that what's needed is for the West to "proceed with relentless, brutal, and, yes, blood-soaked offensive military actions until we have annihilated the Islamists who threaten us." Quoting the at-all-cost likes of William Tecumseh Sherman and Curtis Lemay on one hand and contending that unrelenting military measures be accompanied by concessions to the ideology of the militants on the other are unlikely to curry widespread support from either side of the divide. And how will readers conditioned to references to Osama bin Laden as a deranged gangster or simple-minded fanatic with deep pockets digest the respect accorded "the most popular anti-American leader in the world today"? Imperial Hubris
clearly wasn't written to win friends, though the author believes it's essential that his words influence people at the top. Whether it will is debatable, but that this blunt, forceful, urgently argued polemic recharges the discussion is a foregone conclusion. --Steven Stolder
From Publishers Weekly
It's unclear how, in an age when even office workers must sign confidentiality agreements, an alleged CIA Middle Eastern specialist has gotten permission to publish a sprawling, erudite book on the origins and present state of the "war on terror." His main point is that Arab antagonism to the West (and even non-fundamentalist Arab regimes' winking at terrorism) has its root in real grievances that have gone unaddressed by U.S. measures. The actions of the Saudis, and their U.S. supporters, come in for some hard criticism, as does the elevation of Northern Alliance warlords to de facto
governors of Afghanistan. The author makes some challenging remarks regarding Israel ("Surely there can be no other historical example of a faraway, theocracy-in-all-but-name of only six million people that ultimately controls the extent and even the occurrence of an important portion of political discourse and national security debate in a country of 270-plus million people that prides itself on religious toleration, separation of church and state, and freedom of speech") while playing down the extent to which the Taliban itself was a corrupt theocratic regime. But his annotated compendia of battles and skirmishes won and lost by the U.S. and al-Qaeda are gripping, and his engagement with his subject has made him a pundit-in-demand.
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