A veteran correspondent of wartime Afghanistan explains how the United States has misconceived the fight against Islamic extremism.
There is, indeed, a war on, Schultheis (Waging Peace: A Special Operations Team’s Battle to Rebuild Iraq, 2005, etc.) argues, but it’s a family fight, pitting a “fanatical minority” against the vast majority of pragmatic, progressive Muslims worldwide. Responding to attacks from terrorists who’ve hijacked Islam, both the Clinton and Bush administrations, he insists, have employed blunt instruments where scalpels are required and have “swell[ed] the ranks of potential terrorists with misguided policies, strategies and tactics” that fail to exploit this schism. The author is equally harsh on the media for offering only the most superficial explanation of what’s really happening. Among the last Westerners to see the famous Buddhas of Bamyan before the Taliban destroyed them, Schultheis has for decades reported from the Middle East, especially Afghanistan, encountering “al-Qaeda before there was an al-Qaeda.” To explain why we’re losing the fight against al-Qaeda, he sets out a potted history of the Islamic faith and its schisms and supplies anecdotes from his rich experience covering the Mujahideen’s fight against the Soviets, the rise of bin Laden, the Taliban’s battle against the Northern Alliance and America’s attack on the Taliban. He persuasively assigns the 9/11 catastrophe that arose out of Afghanistan to the Saudi rulers’ funding of al-Qaeda and other extremist groups and to the military intelligence establishment of Pakistan. A reliable guide to events in Afghanistan and a good enough storyteller, Schultheis falters in the final chapters, rushing through a checklist of remedies—a more evenhanded foreign policy, more outreach to moderate Muslims, more resources poured into Afghanistan, etc.—and assuring us that these will “dry up nine-tenths of the pool of potential terrorists eager to attack us.” It’s the remaining tenth upon whom he urges unconventional, unrelenting war.
An up-close, gritty look at the real face of jihad.