In This Review

Osama: The Making of a Terrorist
Osama: The Making of a Terrorist
By Jonathan Randal
Knopf, 2004, 352 pp

More than just a biography of Osama bin Laden, this is also an account of Islamist terrorism and the response of the United States (and, to some extent, others) to it. Randal draws on his own rich experience as a journalist who knows his Middle East to compare past and present and to recapture the thoughts and deeds of specific actors at specific times-thereby avoiding the sin of present-mindedness. He also offers refreshingly candid meditations on the limitations confronting journalists and political figures alike in getting at the truth. Osama is somewhat discursive in style: bin Laden, the supposed center of the story, at times gives way to discussion of Sudan and Algeria, the efforts to stop the flow of public and private money to terrorists groups, and, most of all, Washington's vacillating response to terrorism. Randal offers a severe account of U.S. actions against terrorists during the Clinton years, but he even more severely scores the Bush presidency for leaving the job unfinished in Afghanistan and turning to Iraq.