Free Press, $28.00, 476 pages
Al-Qaeda wouldn’t exist without America, and CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen’s The Longest War therefore focuses on the hows and whys from both perspectives. Asking hard questions like “Why were Americans persuaded that there was an alliance between Saddam and bin Laden?” and “Why is (was) it so hard to find bin Laden?” Bergen provides answers using, among other sources, military tribunal transcripts and criminal case documents, plus several hundred interviews with everyone from Petraeus to Franks to bin Laden himself.
Beginning with the murder of the leader of the anti-Taliban coalition in Afghanistan on 9 September, 2001 — al-Qaeda’s gift to appease the Taliban for what they were about to do — Bergen examines the Bush and Clinton administration’s (mis)handling of the al-Qaeda threat, the effectiveness of coercive interrogations, and the rise of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Also included is an outstanding if slightly off-topic chapter covering the Iraq “surge” of 2007. Excellent notes, bibliography, and succinct (often scathing) narrative and analysis make The Longest War the most comprehensive and absorbing history yet of the war on terror.
Reviewed by Heather Shaw