The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaeda

In This Review

The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda
By Peter Bergen
Free Press, 2011
496 pp. $28.00
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Bergen is one of the most intelligent and informed chroniclers of al Qaeda, and in his latest book, he narrates the long-running conflict between that group and the West. One reason he suggests for the duration is that both sides have fought poorly, with the two main offensive operations -- 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq -- calamitous strategic errors from which neither has fully recovered. Osama bin Laden could and should have been captured at Tora Bora as the Taliban retreated in Afghanistan in late 2001. His survival and continuing propaganda have given al Qaeda an endurance it might have otherwise lacked, although the group has been hampered by both its limited operational impact, as in Europe and North America, and the loss of would-be constituents who are turned off by its harsh methods, as in Iraq. So despite occasional tactical successes, the organization's prognosis is poor. Even though much of the book covers familiar ground and there is too much of a focus on bin Laden, Bergen knows his subject, which makes reading The Longest War a helpful way to take stock of a difficult decade.