A "mid-level player in some of the key events of the past decade" delivers a dispassionate, discouraging analysis of how the Western counterterrorism effort has gone so terribly wrong.
Kilcullen (Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla, 2013, etc.) pulls no punches in describing the current security situation. "The hard truth is that the events of 2014-15…represent nothing less than the collapse of Western counterterrorism strategy as we've known it since 2001…we're worse off today than before 9/11, with a stronger, more motivated, more dangerous enemy than ever." Between George W. Bush's reckless administration and Barack Obama's feckless one, "nobody's in the clear: this is a bipartisan, multinational, equal-opportunity screw-up….” This brief work packs an analytical wallop. The author begins by showing how an initial strategy of "disaggregation"—emphasizing the use of local resources to disrupt terrorist groups that were often primarily driven by local concerns—failed due to inept execution and then was turned to the insurgents' advantage by the Islamic State group’s adoption of "leaderless resistance," an atomized network of lone wolves. Kilcullen explains how American neglect and the sectarian rule of the Iraqi Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki encouraged the rise of the Islamic State group and the loss of Sunni territory so dearly won during the surge of 2007. Finally, the author masterfully ties together the disparate strands of the transformative developments of 2015, including the entry of Turkey and Russia into the Syrian civil war, the Iranian nuclear deal and the loss of territory in Iraq and Afghanistan, creating a comprehensive, holistic picture of accelerating disaster for Western interests. Kilcullen's personal familiarity with the territory and many major players adds elements of vivid color to the well-informed discussions of history and policy, and the narrative is refreshingly nonpartisan.
Direct, insightful, and frightening, this book will prepare readers to see through the misguided, simplistic solutions to the problems of Middle Eastern policy and Islamic terror so common in this election year.