A reasonable, step-by-step look back at the war on terror that aims to dispel misconceptions held by a younger generation.
A specialist in the study of terrorism who has worked with the CIA to track suicide bombers in Afghanistan, Williams (Islamic History/Univ. of Massachusetts, Dartmouth; The Last Warlord: The Life and Legend of Dostum, the Afghan Warrior Who Led U.S. Special Forces to Topple the Taliban Regime, 2013, etc.) finds his students’ ignorance about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars troubling. In this meticulous survey, he offers an “after action report” to help readers understand why the U.S. is (still) deeply mired in wars in three Middle East countries. From his previous works—e.g., on Uzbek Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, who helped the Americans defeat the Taliban in 2001—the author has certainly immersed himself in the complicated ethnic makeup of Afghanistan (Williams provides a useful map of the major ethnic groups). He grasps the deep roots of the resentments in the region, from the ancient Sunni-Shiite split to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict—and America’s pro-Israel position. One of the salient points the author hammers home as he tracks the beginning of the U.S. military presence in the region is that from 1991 to 1998, Saddam Hussein’s atomic bomb capability was essentially dismantled (despite his boasts), rendering George W. Bush’s weapons of mass destruction proclamations absolute “hype.” Moreover, there was no evidence that Osama bin Laden collaborated with Hussein, while only one “farsighted U.S. official,” former national security adviser Richard Clarke, was tracking the al-Qaida threat, especially after the 2000 sinking of the USS Cole. Williams also examines some of the persistent conspiracy theories about 9/11—e.g., that the attack was the work of “the Zionists.”
A refreshingly nonpolemical work that walks through the benumbing stages of war and response to the present Islamic State group problem.