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on January 29, 2011
The magazine 'The Economist', in its review, noted that Bergen offers nothing new in his new book on the US and it's war against Al-Qaeda, 'The Longest War'. I have to agree on that point; however, what Bergen offers is a complete history of the association between Al-Qaeda and America that as you read it is almost painfully familiar. Bergen provides a history of Al-Qaeda's beginnings, bin Laden of course, the bombing of the Cole, 9-11, bombing or our embassy in Africa, the war in Afghanistan, the Bush team's desire to go into Iraq, Guantanamo, water boarding, the on going war in Afghanistan, individual terrorists & sects and their various attempts/plans, and of course the endless search for Al-Qaeda/bin Laden. He also covers the actions of, although not in great deal, George H. W Bush, Clinton, W and Obama. This book provides quite a lot of detail in only 350 pages of narrative. The downside is only the last chapter or two address the most recent searches for Bin Laden and tries to pin point where he is and his present state of affairs. I do wish that Bergen had included some of his insights that he shared recently during his interview with Bill Maher where he spoke with genuine optimism that the U.S. can succeed in Afghanistan. In his book, he does note that bin Laden had the support of 63% of the Pakistan in 2004 but it's down to 18% today, certainly a good sign. If you want a very good overall history of the war against Al-Qaeda, this is a good book to read.
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on January 29, 2011
Though I speak Arabic and have lived in the Middle East, I am not an expert - but I do like to read on the subject and when I saw that the well respected Peter Bergen was coming out with a new book, I immediately decided to buy it as soon as it came out. This book is now my go-to book for friends/family who ask for a recommendation of one book to read on the subject: if you want to find an up-to-date, concise one volume history of the War on Terror/Iraq/Afghanistan, this is the one. Most people do not have time to read widely on the subject, but we should all know about it - so I believe this book fulfills an important role.

Mr Bergen's story starts in a logical place, describing how Osama bin-Laden became the Osama bin-Laden, then describing 9/11 - how it happened, why it happened, and what the initial US response was. All this in just the first four chapters - so the pace moves right along. The Iraq and Afghan Wars take up more than half of this work, but attention is given to several other important subjects such as global terror threats (chapter 8), extraordinary rendition (chapter 7), Al-Qaeda and WMDs (chapter 13), and the worldwide Muslim dialogue over Jihadism (chapter 17).

It is worth drawing attention to the section on Muslim dialogue over Jihadism (chapter 17), which is a topic you will not find well treated in many other places, and many Americans assume does not happen at all - for the simple fact that they do not hear it. That is because it mostly occurs in other countries and in other languages, and the fact that it is included here is a significant and valuable contribution.

At just under 500 pages, this book appears longer than it is - because only 51% of the book is actual text. The rest of the book is notes, sources, and an Index. It isn't clear why the author decided to include such a complete accounting of his sources for an introductory text rather than simply including a "selected bibliography," as is generally done. He may have been worried that the book would be controversial, but a book this short covering so much ground is somewhat hard to make contentious as simply reporting information consumes your space. A lighter, less intimidating book may have helped the book reach more readers.

Though some on the right may find the obligatory Bush-bashing in the earlier sections of book frustrating, Bush is given due credit for the surge, and it is duly noted that Barrack Obama vigorously opposed the surge which did ultimately save Iraq. (For those on the left, simply reverse the order: though some may be frustrated at the criticism of Obama over the surge, there is plenty of Bush bashing...)

Like many books of this type, the reader is sometimes left to wonder if the author remembers what it was like when the events described happened. For instance, so caught up in the analysis and the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that there was real, widespread concern that Iraq would arm terrorists with WMDs which everyone thought they had (according to post-war debriefings this includes Saddam's own generals up until right before the war). That fear, justified or not, was real, as was the real fear of further serious attacks. Writers often do the same thing when writing about the days of détente and the Soviet Union. Instead of acknowledging the very real role the fog of war plays, political actors are often ascribed evil motives, rather than simply criticized for being wrong.

In all, though, this is a careful, concise history of the War on Terror, Afghanistan, and Iraq that is fully up-to-date. 4.5 stars out of 5.

EDIT: 2/19/11 -- I just saw the book for the first time in print; I had read it on my kindle. While 49% of the text is notes/etc, not main text, it is all in small print -- so that it represents perhaps 1/10 of the total pages in the print bound book. Still, I can't raise it up to a full 5 stars for the other reasons mentioned.
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VINE VOICEon June 6, 2012
I read one of Mr. Bergen's other books and was impressed by his writing and research abilities, and purchased this and another of his earlier books. This book is chock full of good information, very detailed on the war on terror. Details of the various failed plots and successful bombings of the west by the terrorist networks. The only problems I had with the book was Mr. Bergen's extreme bias against the Bush administration, and republican politics in general. If I had a dime for every time he uses the phrases "neoconservative" and "Bush administration" then I would be able to retire today!
All in all, the book is well written and has a lot of useful information, if your skin is thick enough to put up with his insults. Mr. Bergen is obviously against the waterboarding, and believes the Bush administration all were criminals for allowing this to happen.
Mr. Bergen also makes some statements I would take issue with, including saying that atomic bombs are the only true "weapons of mass destruction".(PAGE 225)? He states that biological, chemical and other weapons do not cause mass casualties and therefore are not WMDs. The black plague killed about 100 million people. Smallpox killed 80% of the native Americans after the first Anglos arrived in the new world. I propose that any biologicall agent can and most likely already has been weaponized and surely qualifies as a WMD. The same is true for economic and cultural warfare. If one destroys the economy of another country, in my eyes that qualifies as WMD.
Another bone I have to pick with Mr. Bergen is page 243, he refers to the "rage of disaffected young men" who "supported themselves with construction jobs or delivery jobs." What might I ask, is wrong with construction jobs or delivery jobs? I suspect Mr. Bergen has led a sheltered life and never had to do hard work in his life. All the males in my family worked construction, some for their entire life, and never complained, much less were "disaffected" and went out and wanted to kill "millions" of Americans or others (Mr. Bergen makes the statements that the Islamic terrorists were religiously sanctioned to go out and kill 4 million Americans, 2 million of them children).
So to call these young men disaffected, merely because they had to work construction or as delivery men, is nonsense.
But again if you can put up with his far leftist and revisionist talk, the book is a good source of information on the war on terror. It is very easy to sit back 10 years after the fact and harp on what he thinks should have been done after 9-11, but in fact he wasn't in the hot seat.
Let me add that Mr. Bergen's book "Man Hunt, the Ten Year Search for bin Laden" is a great book and suffers from no political back biting as does "The Longest War".
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on May 26, 2011
If you're looking for a contemporary analysis of America's enduring war with al Qaeda you'll be hardpressed to find a better expert than Peter Bergen. As "director of the national security studies program at the New America Foundation in Washington D.C.; a research fellow at New York University's Center on Law and Security and CNN's national security analyst..., Adjunct Lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University [2008]and he has worked as an Adjunct Professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University," Bergen has few peers ([...]). His latest work is likely one of the more critical insights into our handling of the fight against al-Qaeda.

With Bergen's qualifications beyond question The Longest War is a riveting read, his cerebral analysis is both illuminating and thorough, and at times punctuated with snippets of humor - Saddam Hussein admitting he had no WMD's for example, the US and the UN destroyed them in the 1990's, but he kept up the illusion to keep Iran at bay. Bergen confesses to interviewing some 700 people for the book, ranging from former al-Qaeda operatives to former staffers of the Bush administration and security agencies. In short, it is comprehensive.

Bergen is uncompromising in his critique of the handling of America's response to al-Qaeda, particularly the Bush administration. While he concedes they prevented large scale attacks on our homeland, he leaves few stones unturned as he sifts through the systemic failures which likely allowed the attacks of 9/11 to occur in the first place and our failure to capture bin Laden in the 2001 battle of Tora Bora.

According to Bergen the days of the Bush administration make for grim reading. They are littered with issues of human rights abuses, such as the 183 waterboarding procedures (which were banned in 2003) on Sheik Khalid Mohammed while in US custody, competing and conflicting policies between various government agencies, the convoluted and protracted campaign in Iraq, and finally the misdirection of policies in Afghanistan.

A great book, filled with exceptional examples and definitely recommended reading.
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on November 12, 2015
This book is a good summary of the war on terror from the founding of al Qaeda in 1988 to just before the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011, when this book was published. This book gets five stars for all the useful information it contains. It refreshes your memory on all the events and their chronology. Who remembers, for example, that after 9/11 the shoe bomber came first in 2001, the plot to down planes with on board liquid explosives happened in 2006, and in 2009 we had the underwear bomber.

The main problem with this book is that Bergen really has it in for Bush, but this is what you would expect from a CNN analyst. While constantly criticizing Bush, he glosses over important Bush accomplishments such as the capture of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the killing of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Zarqawi in 2006. Needless to say, when later describing Obama's accomplishments in the war on terror, he has no criticisms.

But the Bush record has become news again with Trump's statement that Bush must share some of the blame for 9/11, and this why I read this book, to review all the details. The problem with the Bush administration was that it had a Cold War mindset and saw the main threats to America still coming from states such as Iraq. This of course was true of the whole country with only a few exceptions. What now seems evident in hindsight was not that evident in foresight.

As expected, Bergen criticizes Bush for the Iraqi War. What people fail to realize is that Iraq was the most dangerous state in the Middle East and the US did not know what would happen next after 9/11. Saddam Hussein came to power in a bloody power grab in 1979, invaded Iran in 1980, started a nuclear program which the Israelis destroyed in 1981, used chemical weapons of mass destruction on Iraqi Kurds and others in the 1980s, invaded Kuwait in 1990, used terrorists to try to assassinate the elder Bush in 2003, implied he still had nuclear weapons, and defied UN resolutions until the US invasion of 2003. What the critics basically mean is that Bush was supposed to ignore all this because in hindsight we now know Iraq's nuclear program never recovered. Bush took the dangerous situation around 9/11 as an opportunity to invade Iraq and should be commended for his actions.

But Bush mishandled the Iraqi War and this is really what the criticism is all about. People love a winner and not a loser. First, Bush invaded Iraq with 150,000 troops when his father had used 500,000 to drive Hussein out of Kuwait, a much easier task. Nevertheless, the invasion was successful while the occupation became a disaster. It would have gone much better if there had been 500,000 troops in Iraq. But Bush followed Rumsfeld's theory that US technology was so great that it could control Iraq with a relatively small force. This was Bush's biggest mistake. Then there were disastrous decisions such as firing all the Iraqi government employees and all the military, which left hundreds of thousands Iraqis unemployed, many with weapons and military training.

But whether we are talking about Clinton, Bush, or Obama, they all take the same approach that Iraq must be treated as a nation like the United States. Iraq is basically a forced coalition of three separate groups who cannot live with each other: Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. The Turkish Ottoman Empire controlled what is now Iraq for centuries and had a much better approach. They divided what is now Iraq into three provinces representing the three groups. I have believed this is the best solution from the beginning when we first learned about the make up of Iraq.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon January 29, 2011
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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on January 29, 2011

Very good book...the author provides insight into al qaida (hereinafter al Q" in order to understand the initial organizational structure, the intent, the history and the current status of Al Q.."the base".

The book moves through Iraq with the al Q with emphasis on the invasion of Iraq, the disbandment of the military and civilian infrastructure and the onset of the insurgency. The book provides a deep introspective review based on current information and direct quotes from those who were in the decision matrix who were involved in what was initially a "war of choice"...Iraq. But, moreover, the disbandment of the Iraqi military in total and the entire civilian infrastructure was in fact the causation of the nearly 4300 US KIA and some 30,000 severely wounded...aside from the nearly 1 trillion in costs to the US taxpayer. These critical components of the Iraq war decision by the Bush people empowered al Q which sought to divide the Sunni against the Shi....this division of religious ideology continues to plague Iraq..and will do so for many years to come.

The book provides unique insights into the invasion of Afghanistan...and the horrific decision to basically abandon Afghanistan with the war in Iraq. For readers who have read previous books...or who served in Afghanistan post Tora Bora or Operation Anaconda (March of 2002) know that all efforts at post war reconciliation or stability was overshadowed by the war in Iraq.

From a personal standpoint, I witnessed the significant decrease programs designed to stabilize Afghanistan due directly to the war in Iraq. In short, we lost the momentum..and as such have and will pay a continuing price both in personnel losses, an ever evolving military strategy..and the increase in Taliban influence and empowerment throughout Afghanistan.

Bergen has an excellent introspective review of "what happened" based on quoted prove sources from those people involved in the planning and execution of the war(s) both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In closing, we made many, many mistake.....the war in Iraq was a war of choice. Historically, the evidence of many of the assumptions of the Bush era people and the acts carried out have proven to horrific in error, against the law...and (in the case of Iraq) against the recommendations of the military leadership.
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on March 2, 2014
Peter Bergen's complete research and involvement on the subject is incredible. His view comes from journalism and not political. Americans can get a good sense of why Al'Qaeda exists and it is not for the reasons you think. It also explores the many differences of political viewpoints of leaders in Islamic nations. Al'Qaeda is not a popular group of movement amongst most Muslims. Do yourself a favor and read this book. A bit dry if you are used to fiction writing, but it is wrought with fact and research.
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on June 20, 2016
Untold history. Well documented.
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on July 5, 2013
I haven't read it yet but my friend recommended it after I read Manhunt by same author. I expect this book to be just as good. Seller delivered it on time.
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