The story of Osama bin Laden’s demise contains two paradoxes. First, it is a tale of screwups, false starts, and missed opportunities that is at the same time a story of smart (if not quite conclusive) intelligence work, meticulous (although by no means risk free) planning by an elite unit, and levelheaded decision-making by U.S. President Barack Obama. Second, it reveals a legendary terrorist leader boldly living and scheming just a mile away from Pakistan’s premier military academy but unable to even venture outside, let alone sustain a semblance of authority over his declining organization. Indeed, in his final days, bin Laden cut a rather pathetic figure, applying Just For Men hair dye to his beard and watching old videos of himself. Bergen captures both paradoxes superbly, drawing on his excellent government sources, his deep knowledge of al Qaeda, and his reporter’s instincts (which got him into the Abbottabad compound just after the raid). His book is full of fascinating details and illustrates the immense pressure on national security bureaucracies to provide options to policymakers and then reduce the risks associated with their implementation.
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