Courtesy Reuters

While America Slept: Understanding Terrorism and Counterterrorism

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Throughout the 1990s, the U.S. foreign policy establishment confronted a simple but profound dilemma. Now that the Cold War dragon had been slain, to paraphrase former Director of Central Intelligence James Woolsey, which of the many snakes at America's feet deserved the most attention? Was it instability from failing states, the potential for a resurgent Russia, China's military modernization, or Islamist terrorism? In the absence of clear guidance, the national security bureaucracy did not systematically organize itself to counter one particular threat. Meanwhile, in the remote corners of the Muslim world and in the shabby suburbs of major Western cities, al Qaeda operatives displayed no such confusion. Slowly and steadily, they were building up their capabilities and cadres to expand their jihad against the West. These two parallel stories came together in tragedy on September 11, 2001. In an important new book, Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, two former counterterrorism officials on President Bill Clinton's National Security Council (NSC) staff, vividly recount this history, describing how al Qaeda emerged and how America responded.


In its public rhetoric about terrorism before both American and international audiences, the Bush administration, like the Clinton administration before it, correctly distinguishes between violent extremists who profess to act in the name of Islam and the millions of peaceful, honorable Muslims around the world. The United States is not declaring war on Islam, U.S. leaders assure the world; it opposes only those deviants who abuse the religion in the name of their

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In This Review

The Age of Sacred Terror
Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon
Random House, 2002
490 pp. $25.95

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