What’s Osama so upset about? Well, there’s the Great Satan business, of course. But, reveals political commentator and historian Gerges, there’s at least one other compelling reason.
The big news in this newsworthy book is just this: By Gerges’s account, following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, Osama bin Laden approached the Saudi royal family with a proposal: “He would mount a force of 100,000 trained mujahedeen to enter Kuwait and expel the Iraqis.” The Americans lobbied hard for the Saudis to turn down the offer and allow half a million U.S. troops inside the country, and in any event, the royal family knew that jihadist rage was directed at them, and so they refused, leading bin Laden to put America “at the top of his list of enemies” overnight. Gerges outlines three militant trajectories. For the first post-Nasser generation, Israel, as always, was the greatest enemy of the Arab world; that generation’s crucible was Lebanon, where Israeli soldiers and Lebanese Christian militias committed sufficient atrocities to serve as recruiting posters for militant groups such as Hizbollah and al-Fatah. For the second generation, which Gerges likens to “the young Abraham Lincoln volunteers of the 1930s, heading off to defend democratic Spain,” or even the Contras whom Reagan so lavishly praised and supported, the crucible was Afghanistan, the enemy the Soviet Union. American money and arms created al-Qaeda in that fight. And, Gerges writes, al-Qaeda enjoyed only the tiniest support in the Islamic world, was effectively ejected from Somalia and other Arabic nations and was never so close to the Taliban as Western intelligence sources claimed. But then came the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, and there, Gerges writes, with haunted knowledge, came the third crucible, pitting fundamentalists against fundamentalists and elevating the pariah to hero.
Memorable, nondogmatic and full of fresh insights—none of them comforting for anyone who hopes for an end to the so-called Long War.