The recent demise of Osama bin Laden serves as an appropriate coda for former Defense Department and National Security Council staffer Runkle's (co-author: Occupying Iraq: A History of the Coalition Provisional Authority, 2009, etc.) history of the manhunt in American military strategy.
With the bin Laden hunts, the author downplays what Clinton and his administration tried to do from 1997 to ’98, while providing Bush I's team with the benefit of the doubt—e.g., in bin Laden's escape from Tora-Bora in 1991. His preferences are understandable, however, as he demonstrates how such partisanship has been an included feature of countless manhunts, often with military consequences. At the end of the Indian Wars, with one quarter of the U.S. Army in the hunt, Grover Cleveland had a personal interest in bringing the “monster” Geronimo to account. In the Philippines at the turn of the century, the fate of the “demonized” Emilio Aguinaldo was affected by the 1900 election between William Jennings Bryan and William McKinley. Intervening in Mexico's civil war prior to World War I to hunt for Pancho Villa, President Wilson found he could not withdraw without giving the Republicans an issue in the 1916 elections. Militarily, Runkle's 12 manhunts illustrate key features of counterinsurgency or asymmetrical warfare strategy, and indicate how America's military leadership, and its thinking, has been shaped through the succession of such hunts and campaigns. The author provides a focus on the necessity of what Colin Powell called creating “a flesh and blood villain” to crystallize political support.
Going behind the headlines, Runkle provides worthwhile background and context for understanding current wars and how they are fought.