Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Crying parents tell their children, if you survive don't so as we did

Daniel Benjamin and Stephen Simon were NSC staffers who worked counter-terrorism issues during the Clinton Administration. Their book The Age of Sacred Terror provides a good overview of the extreme Islamist terror threat as well as the challenges in recognizing the threat. It is depressing for two reasons. It shows the base from which violent terror arises is large and may well be growing, even without the incendiary effect of the Iraq war. It also shows that the US government is not particularly strong at dealing with threats outside of well understood ones.

The review of the sources and extent of extreme ideology is well described. The authors explore the trail of theological thought that underpins the violent ideology of Bin Laden and his fellow travelers. The societal and political conditions that make the ideology more attractive to many Muslims is also clearly described.

The review of American policy in the 90s and early 21st century shows that the various bureaucracies don't like to change their behavior. Private sector types may tsk tsk, but if you tell a large corporation it needs to change, it will find 100 reasons not to. Like Richard Clarke in his book, the authors make pains to show that the Administration understood the threat was real, but were unable to push the bureaucracies into dealing with it. The FBI in particular comes out badly, with its focus on its total independence and supporting criminal investigations over terror investigations.

Having read this book, I would like to read the much praised and more recent The Looming Tower, which covers much of the same ground.

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