FP Book Club: Donald Rumsfeld's 'Known and Unknown'

An FP discussion on the controversial former defense secretary's long-awaited memoirs.

Not only is Donald Rumsfeld one of the most reviled -- and most intensely defended -- defense secretaries of all time, but he has also become a stand-in for some of the signature security debacles of the Bush era. Guantánamo. Abu Ghraib. The Iraq invasion. So it's no surprise people would have a lot to say about his new and surprisingly intimate memoirs, Known and Unknown -- to date the only insider account of Bush's foreign policy written by someone at such a high level. We went to a bevy of experts and writers to get the full scoop on what Rumsfeld means now -- and what the new book doesn't say.

Bradley Graham: Does Rumsfeld's Book Come Years Too Late?

Peter Baker: Rumsfeld's Secret Tensions With Bush

Thomas E. Ricks: The Two Things Rumsfeld and I Agree On

Kori Schake: Rumsfeld Was the Iago to Bush's Othello

Peter Feaver: Can Rumsfeld Explain His Delay on Katrina?

William Inboden: Should He Have Quit While He Was Ahead ... In 1974?

Bradley Graham: Does Rumsfeld's Book Come Years Too Late?

Neither Donald Rumsfeld nor I seem capable of writing about his life in fewer than 800 pages. That said, we do have rather different perspectives on how much responsibility he should bear for all that went wrong on his watch at the Pentagon.

He does deserve credit at least for doing a lot of homework for this book and, with a team of half-a-dozen assistants, writing a serious autobiography. Although containing no bombshell disclosures about the Bush administration's internal deliberations, the memoir does constitute a substantive critique and adds fresh details, particularly about what Rumsfeld was thinking, saying, and doing, and why. Further, the trove of previously classified documents and private memos that he has promised to release on his website should be helpful to historians, not to mention the just-curious.

No doubt Rumsfeld loyalists will applaud his book for its forceful defense of the Iraq war and its critical portrayals of Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and L. Paul Bremer III. But Rumsfeld's legion of detractors will again be frustrated and angered by the former defense secretary's continued refusal to acknowledge more personal responsibility for the war's mismanagement, the mistreatment of detainees in U.S. custody, and the infighting that plagued the Bush administration.

Rumsfeld is not the first to contend that the Iraq conflict would have ended much sooner had power been passed quickly to an interim Iraqi authority, as Pentagon officials had proposed. This thesis is popular among those who pushed for a rapid transfer and for Iraqi exiles to take some governing positions early. But there's little way of knowing whether an interim authority would have been more successful at forestalling or squashing the insurgency, or conversely would have led to problems even worse than those that plagued Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority.

Rumsfeld also complains about going to war with bad information. He chides the CIA for being overconfident about Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction and for failing to assess the ability of the Fedayeen and foreign jihadists to combat U.S. forces. But particularly given his own frequent warnings over the years about overlooking improbable scenarios, he doesn't take much responsibility for having dismissed the notion before the invasion that Saddam Hussein wasn't lying and didn't actually have weapons of mass destruction (WMD) stockpiles.

Rumsfeld also contends that the accounts of him as being intolerant and insensitive are overblown. He insists that he welcomed dissent and routinely deferred to those on the battlefield on decisions ranging from troop levels to how to pursue insurgents. "Indeed, I thought that a more accurate criticism would have been that I too often deferred to the views, opinions, and decisions of the generals who were in charge," he writes.

I actually agree that at times he was too willing to accept what his commanders were telling him. But to some extent, they simply got tired of arguing with him -- or were cowed.

Among the other things I wish he had explained was how a non-ideologue like him ended up surrounded in office with neoconservatives. There is no discussion in the book of the role that neoconservatives played on his staff.

The hardest part of the memoir for Rumsfeld to write, I'm told, was the long section on detainees. He remains quite emotional on the subject of Abu Ghraib, though I was surprised he does not go beyond the prison scandal to discuss the large number of other detainee mistreatment cases that emerged. Nor does he address the judgments of James Schlesinger and others that he failed to articulate a clear policy on the handling of detainees, once the old absolute about adhering to the Geneva Conventions was blurred.

Rumsfeld deals at some length in the book with process. He has a low opinion of the way Rice managed the National Security Council, and he thinks Bush should have exerted a stronger hand in resolving differences among the principals. Curiously, though, he doesn't have much to say about Dick Cheney's role in the process or about his frequent contacts with the former vice president.

Rumsfeld also has several complaints about message. He contends it was a mistake for the administration, after finding no WMDs in Iraq, to shift to speaking more about implanting democracy as a rationale for the war. "Rice seemed to be the one top advisor who spoke that way," he writes, "but it was not clear to me whether she was encouraging the President to use rhetoric about democracy or whether it was originating with the President."

And he takes issue with how the administration framed the nature of the global war it was fighting. Instead of calling it a "war on terror," with the enemy being some vague sort of evildoers, he argues that the focus should have been placed on the ideological nature of Islamist extremists. "We ought to have more precisely labeled our enemies as violent Islamists," he writes in the final chapter.

The son of a schoolteacher, Rumsfeld has long been a stickler for precise language. And while in office, he did press Bush to drop the "war on terror" slogan -- but lost. One of the paradoxes about Rumsfeld's troubled time as defense secretary is how someone so attuned to message, with such practiced communication skills and a reputation for deft bureaucratic maneuvering, could have ended up with so polarizing and disparaged an image.

He clearly feels that Powell's State Department group, through background conversations with journalists and authors, did better at shaping the what-went-wrong narrative -- and did so at Rumsfeld's expense. Here's a question then just to get our book club discussion going: If Rumsfeld had tried harder while in office to tell his side of the story, as it now appears in his book, would it have made much of a difference?

Bradley Graham is a former Pentagon reporter at the Washington Post and author of By His Own Rules: The Ambitions, Successes, and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeld.

Next: Peter Baker's take on Known and Unknown. Click here for the main discussion page.

Peter Baker: Rumsfeld's Secret Tensions With Bush

It must be daunting enough to write an 800-page memoir, but to do so after your life has already been chronicled by someone of Brad Graham's caliber must be doubly so. The only thing I can imagine being more daunting is to follow Brad Graham in a discussion of the subject he knows so well.

But here goes. The early reviews of Donald Rumsfeld's new book have focused on the score-settling elements, no surprise in Washington where that is a time-honored ritual of autobiographies. The former defense secretary details the issues he had with Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, George Tenet, and most especially L. Paul Bremer III, elaborating on stress points that have been known for years.

More interesting, though, was Rumsfeld's complicated relationship with President George W. Bush, the man who recruited the nation's youngest defense secretary to become its oldest as well, only to push him out six years later amid a pair of overseas wars. Where Rumsfeld's clashes with other players on the Bush national security team were more or less common knowledge, less evident until now were the tensions with his commander in chief.

Rumsfeld is careful to write about Bush with respect and, at times, admiration -- and he expresses absolutely no resentment about being forced out by the president after the 2006 midterm elections that handed Congress over to Democrats. He credits Bush with protecting the country after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and recounts choking up in the Oval Office when Bush expressed concern over Rumsfeld's son, Nick, who was battling drug addiction at the time.

More broadly, Rumsfeld defends the president against the public caricature. "I found him to be unlike the picture the press was drawing of him as uncurious and something of a slacker," he writes of his first substantive meeting with Bush in 1999 before he was elected president. "He asked serious questions, was self-confident, and had a command of the important issues."

But Rumsfeld also makes clear that he differed with Bush on some pretty critical issues. He had little interest in the "freedom agenda" espoused by Bush. He writes that Bush should have found ways of asking Americans to share in the burdens of the war on terror by weaning off foreign oil or volunteering for military or civilian duty. And for that matter, he does not like the term "war on terror," arguing that Bush should have framed it more forthrightly as a struggle against Islamist extremists.

Perhaps most importantly, he faults Bush, at least implicitly, for a dysfunctional National Security Council policymaking process that pitted departments and major figures against each other and created a confusing chain of command for Iraq under Bremer. "NSC meetings with the president," he writes, "did not always end with clear conclusions and instructions."

The roots of all this make it more interesting. Rumsfeld is open about his fractious relationship with Bush's father, going back to their days in the Ford administration. As defense secretary the first time, Rumsfeld was blamed for pushing George H.W. Bush into a job, CIA director, that would remove him as a possible rival for the Republican vice presidential nomination in 1976.

Rumsfeld recounts the episode in the book and all but accuses the elder President Bush of lying about what happened. As a condition of confirmation to the CIA job, Senate Democrats insisted that Bush forswear joining the ticket in 1976. Rumsfeld quotes Bush saying he resisted only to have President Gerald R. Ford accept the demand. But Rumsfeld cites Ford's own autobiography as well as a letter he solicited from the former president in 1989 stating otherwise. "It was George Bush's decision to agree not to accept any Vice Presidential nomination," Ford wrote.

Ancient history, of course, but for the fact that the son of Rumsfeld's rival would later recruit him back to the cabinet. "It was no secret to Governor Bush that his father's relationship with me lacked warmth," Rumsfeld writes, with understatement. He adds, "I thought it spoke well of him that he was interested in meeting me himself to draw his own conclusions."

Rumsfeld's gentle treatment of his disagreements with Bush mirrors the former president's approach in his own recent memoir, Decision Points. In that book, Bush offered a couple criticisms of his defense secretary. He wrote that "Don frustrated me with his abruptness toward military leaders and members of my staff" and that Rumsfeld mishandled the retirement of General Eric Shinseki, who had warned of the need for more troops in Iraq. Bush "felt blindsided" that he had not been shown pictures of abuse at Abu Ghraib before the day they were aired on television.

But Bush rejected Rumsfeld's resignation after Abu Ghraib not once but twice, saying that "I didn't blame him" for the abuse and "didn't want to turn him into a scapegoat." He depicted Rumsfeld as "a decent and caring man" who "had valuable experience and shared my view of the war on terror as a long-term ideological struggle." He too told the story of the emotional Oval Office moment over Rumsfeld's son, though in his recollection he did not specifically ask about Nick and the emotions burst out after a casual how's-the-family question.

Either way, Bush and Rumsfeld both skated gingerly around the decision to replace the Pentagon chief in 2006, perhaps unwilling to pick at the scab. Bush wrote simply that "change was needed" without saying what he thought Rumsfeld had done wrong, if anything. Rumsfeld cites "declining public support for the Iraq war and for the administration" and the worry that a Democratic Congress would summon him for politically motivated testimony, causing distractions for the president.

Those looking for mea culpas in Known and Unknown over the handling of Iraq or Afghanistan or Abu Ghraib will no doubt be disappointed. But the book places the reader in Rumsfeld's chair and is a serious stab at telling the history of a consequential period in America through the eyes of one of its most consequential players. It will be an important addition to the history of our time.

All of which brings us around to Brad's incisive question -- would it have made a difference if Rumsfeld had done more to tell his side of the story much earlier? Yes, on some level. For all his media savvy, Rumsfeld lost control of his own image as the war went south. At the same time, Peter Wehner, a former Bush White House aide, liked to say that when it came to Iraq what they had was not a communications problem but a facts-on-the-ground problem.

Four years later, the facts on the ground have improved, after enormous cost to all involved. That was a price Don Rumsfeld says he was prepared to pay.

Peter Baker is a White House correspondent for the New York Times and a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, where he is working on a book about the Bush presidency.

Next: Thomas E. Ricks's take on Known and Unknown. Click here for the main discussion page.

Thomas E. Ricks: The Two Things Rumsfeld and I Agree On

I think Donald Rumsfeld was the worst defense secretary ever, and that I've written a whole book about the American military fiasco in Iraq 2003-06 in which he played a major role. So rather than review the arguments against him, I thought it might be more interesting to write about a couple of places in his book where I actually agree with him.

Most notably, I think that the former defense secretary is correct to say that it wasn't just the Bush administration that screwed up in Iraq, and that the U.S. military also must be assigned a big share of the blame. He is particularly interesting on the decision during the summer of 2003 to put Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez in charge of the U.S. military in Iraq, a move he now calls "inexplicable." He continues:

Whatever the rationale behind the decision, it later became clear that Sanchez had been put in a terrible position. The [assignment] ... called for a senior military official with far more experience. That the Army leadership, with the agreement or acquiescence of CENTCOM and the Joint Staff, slotted him for the top command post was a serious misassessment....

I do not recall being made aware of the Army's decision to move General Sanchez into the top position.... To my recollection, the chief of staff of the Army and CENTCOM leadership did not bring the relevant plans to my attention.

I am not one who thinks that if only the Army had been given more troops in Iraq, everything would have worked out more or less OK. Given the lousy planning and poor leadership displayed, I think that if you had another 100,000 U.S. soldiers, you would have had more problems of the sort we saw, with the Army flailing around conducting huge, unproductive, disruptive "sweeps" and the subsequent widespread abuse of detainees. That didn't happen because of lack of troops, but because commanders did not know what to do with the troops they had, especially when it came to interacting with Iraqis.

Another point Rumsfeld is right about is that that he should have stepped down after the Abu Ghraib scandal emerged in 2004. "More than anything else I have failed to do, and even amid my pride in the many important things we did accomplish, I regret that I did not leave at that point." After that point, he was indeed damaged goods.

Both his correct observations point to a larger flaw in the man, one that generally is not understood by people who only saw him on television. That is, as defense secretary, he was extraordinarily passive. He blustered a lot, but in actually making decisions, especially about personnel picks, he was slow to a fault. Just look at those paragraphs above about finding out that Gen. Sanchez was being put in charge in Iraq. Kind of makes you wonder just who was holding the top job at the Pentagon, and why he wasn't more proactively curious about major decisions being made about Iraq.

Likewise, throughout 2006, as central Iraq was engaged in a bloody civil war and most of Baghdad was ethnically cleansed, Rumsfeld dithered. He tells us now that he was worried about Generals John Abizaid and George Casey, the two top commanders in the war, but did he do anything about them? Nope. (He argues in the book that things were improving in Iraq because the Anbar Awakening got underway late that year, but that was no thanks to him, nor anyone else above the rank of brigadier general at the time, and there is no evidence that the province's awakening would have been sustained without the major policy changes -- most notably General Petraeus's decision to put the Sunni insurgency on the American payroll -- that followed after Rumsfeld, Abizaid, and Casey were booted.)

Rumsfeld, in retrospect, embodied the opposite of the old Teddy Roosevelt maxim: He spoke loudly and carried a small stick. He continues to do that in this strikingly dull book, which might better be called Not My Fault. Here's my scorecard of events and who he blames:

Event                                                                         Blame

Tora Bora and bin Laden's escape                Gen. Tommy Franks, maybe CIA

No WMD in Iraq?                                                Well, Colin Powell gave the U.N. speech

Lousy postwar planning for Iraq                   Structure of U.S. government

Iraq problems, mid-2003                                Gen. David McKiernan

Iraq problems, 2003-04                                  L. Paul Bremer

Iraq problems, 2004-05                                  Condi Rice

Iraq problems, 2006                                          Rice, Gen. John Abizaid, Gen. George Casey

Critical media coverage throughout            Richard Armitage

To me, one proof of Rumsfeld's flaws is that not long after he left, the situation in Iraq turned around and Afghanistan was no longer neglected. Robert Gates arguably has been tougher on the military than was Rumsfeld, and certainly has fired more people. More importantly, he asks better questions. But he speaks softly and acts quickly, and that has given a relieved military the sense that it is being led by an adult.


Next: Kori Schake's take on Known and Unknown. Click here for the main discussion page.

Kori Schake: Rumsfeld Was the Iago to Bush's Othello

Cross-posted at Shadow Government

I had been hoping Donald Rumsfeld's memoir would fall like the proverbial tree in the forest, allowing conservatives to focus on the problems of today. But supportive coverage in the Wall Street Journal suggests the former defense secretary's revisionist "slice of history" is gaining credence and needs to be rebutted. Reading the Rumsfeld memoir was like watching the 2003 documentary about Robert McNamara: Both men are still so convinced they were superior that they are incapable of understanding just how damaging they were. But there should be no doubt that Donald Rumsfeld was the self-aggrandizing Iago to the president's Othello in the Bush administration.

Rumsfeld criticizes the consensus-building approach of Condoleezza Rice as national security advisor, and he's right that the administration attempted to operate collegially long after it was apparent that wasn't working. Yet it never occurs to him this could be one of his "unknown unknowns" and that the national security advisor was carrying out the president's instructions. And he neglects to acknowledge that approach was unsuccessful because he himself would repudiate agreements reached, even after meetings at which the president presided. No decision was ever final unless it was the position taken by Rumsfeld. The Executive Steering Group on Iraq he maligns was established to supervise DOD implementation of agreed policies because the White House lost confidence Secretary Rumsfeld would carry them out. Even in the ESG, DOD was routinely represented by people who claimed no knowledge of agreed policy or professed themselves powerless to implement it because Rumsfeld disagreed.

Beyond throwing sand in the gears of interagency cooperation, Rumsfeld just wasn't a very good secretary of defense. The secretary's paramount responsibility in wartime is to translate the president's political objectives into military plans. Bush's objectives for Iraq were clear: regime change, control of nuclear weapons. A military plan that bypasses Iraq's cities and has no dedicated plans or forces for WMD control is poorly aligned with those goals, and that was nobody's job but Donald Rumsfeld's. Rumsfeld spent his time challenging individual units assigned in the force flow -- work that majors should be doing -- instead of concentrating on the work that only the secretary can do.

By treating the military leadership as an impediment rather than the chieftains of a very successful organization, he unnecessarily alienated an important constituency for any president, especially in wartime. Moreover, he incurred an enormous amount of risk with the "rolling start" plan he spurred CENTCOM into adopting, without giving the president a full appreciation for the costs and benefits of that or other approaches. Military leaders typically want a wide margin of error in campaign plans, because they have a rich appreciation for how much can go wrong, how many elements come into play in unexpected ways. In his determination to show that agility had overcome quantity, Rumsfeld accepted an enormous amount of risk to achieve the president's goals. When military leaders tried to draw attention to the masked risk or increase force levels to reduce it, they were excoriated. This does not just apply to the Iraq war, either: Chief of Staff of the Army Eric Shinseki was vilified by Rumsfeld as early as August of 2001 for questioning the intellectual honestly of the QDR that would have cut two divisions from the Army.

And let us speak of command climate. Rumsfeld defends his constraints on the size of the force in Iraq by claiming the military didn't ask for more. That may well be true, but this was more than two years into Rumsfeld's tenure, in which he had promoted officers to top positions because they shared his vision of a transformation of warfare in which the judgment of ground combat officers was considered "industrial age thinking." After the punitive treatment of Shinseki, and promotion to top positions of "pliant" (James Kitfield's term) generals, the military might be forgiven thinking the civilian leadership didn't want to hear it. It is the civilians' prerogative to determine what resources to commit to wars, and the military believed they were operating within established constraints. That doesn't excuse military leaders not asking for what they needed to win the war, but it also doesn't exonerate Rumsfeld from creating an environment hostile to any disagreement with his well-known views.

His "snowflakes" -- the personal queries from the secretary that came in abundant blizzards -- were a terrible way to manage a large organization. They give staff the impression that the issue at hand is of paramount importance to the secretary, causing major diversions of resources. For example, in the month before the start of the Iraq war, Rumsfeld sent a snowflake to the director of warplans in the Joint Staff asking why we needed a Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan -- a link in flow of plans that addresses apportionment of forces among competing demands. What the secretary was likely demanding, in his abrasive way, was an explanation of the function of the document. No one in either the civilian or military chain leading to Rumsfeld could give the J-7 any idea what the secretary actually wanted, so the staff had to divert attention from refining the Iraq war plans to build a 60-slide briefing justifying continued existence of the JSCP. Rumsfeld threw them out of his office when they came to deliver it, claiming to have no idea why they were wasting his time with the issue. Good executives establish clear priorities for an organization; Rumsfeld ran DOD with scattershot directives that kept everyone off balance.

His ability to cleverly redirect attention to the failures of others does not get Donald Rumsfeld off the hook for having served the president and the country poorly. Conservatives need to repudiate the profligacy of aspects of the Bush administration if we are to regain the public trust, and that is as true for the political and military capital Donald Rumsfeld squandered as it is of the deficit spending conservatives are already at work repairing.

Kori Schake is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and holds the Distinguished Chair in International Security Studies at the United States Military Academy.

Next: Peter Feaver's take on Known and Unknown. Click here for the main discussion page.

Peter Feaver: Can Rumsfeld Explain His Delay On Katrina?

I won't pretend to have digested Rumsfeld's entire book, including the hundreds of footnotes and documents available on his website. Using techniques pioneered by one of his deputies in an earlier book, Rumsfeld's memoir is a serious attempt to engage his critics in an argument that has up till now been rather one-sided. Rumsfeld's contribution might itself also be a bit one-sided, but it is a side that has not hitherto enjoyed the column-inches and cable-hours granted to his critics.  

So the book contributes to an overall balanced assessment even if it is not by itself evenhanded. (After all, what memoir is?) For Rumsfeld haters wedded to an unbalanced scorched-earth critique of the administration, the memoir is likely to enrage as much as engage. For ardent Rumsfeld defenders, this book is a lifeline.

What about for the rest of us, including those of us who have an insider's view of the strengths and weaknesses of the administration and in particular of Rumsfeld? For my part, the memoir produces mixed feelings. The sections I read most closely left me not-yet-persuaded on the key points I was hoping to see resolved.

Consider just two examples taken from the period I know best:

Katrina: Many criticisms of the administration's handling of the Katrina disaster were unfair exaggerations, but some were warranted. One that I thought had some merit concerned the Department of Defense's relative reluctance to step into the breach left by the inability of local authorities in Louisiana to work with FEMA. Rumsfeld is sensitive to the criticism. He documents how much the DoD did and how quickly it was done compared with the response to Hurricane Andrew a decade earlier. His facts and figures neatly rebut charges that the DoD did nothing or adopted a response that was, by the end of the first week, incommensurate with the challenge. He also rightly points to deficiencies elsewhere in the system that contributed to the difficulties: an under-resourced and unwieldy Department of Homeland Security and a dithering Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco.

But he does not resolve to my satisfaction the essential critique about delay, which, according to some insiders, was partly due to Rumsfeld's desire to avoid saddling his department with another vast unfunded mandate far removed from its core mission of fighting wars. A close reader can discern Rumsfeld's position in the oblique way he describes the internal deliberations, but the reader perhaps will miss the intensity of the debate inside the White House during those critical hours. In particular, the reader will not pick up how exasperated some White House staffers were with Rumsfeld's position, which, they believed, helped feed a public narrative of an administration out of touch and insensitive to the scale of human suffering. Rumsfeld concludes (a) that Bush ultimately made the right calls on Katrina and (b) that the Department of Defense stepped up in a large way. He may be right about that. But Rumsfeld probably has not mollified those who believe that the administration should have done everything it did 24-48 hours sooner and that Rumsfeld's opposition contributed to the delay.

Iraq Surge: Rumsfeld's discussion of the surge decision is curious. There is an odd error of commission: He has the State department presenting at a June 2006 Camp David meeting a view that was not developed until four or five months later. And a significant omission: He touts at some length (4 paragraphs) one anti-surge perspective that was aired at the Camp David meeting but fails to mention the opposite, pro-surge perspective aired at the same meeting. This omission allows him to avoid addressing whether his own anti-surge position -- at the time, he favored continuing to hand over the fight to the Iraqis despite the deteriorating security situation -- was the correct one.

But he is emphatic on one point: It was the senior military commanders in the field, Generals Abizaid and Casey, who most stoutly resisted additional forces. Left implied: ... and not Rumsfeld. He is factually correct about the views of the field commanders. Let us stipulate for the sake of argument that his implication is also correct: They were more adamant than he was. What I find curious is that this episode is coming nearly 700 pages into a memoir dotted with scores of examples of Rumsfeld pressing subordinates, peers, and even superiors to second-guess their assumptions, revisit their conclusions, and break out of their analytical straitjackets. Why wasn't the Rumsfeld of the previous 700 pages leading the effort to do just that now at the moment of greatest peril in the war effort? Perhaps one answer is that he agreed with his generals and saw no reason to change.

Perhaps another answer is this: A careful reader will note that throughout 2006, when many inside were pushing for a top-to-bottom review of the war strategy in Iraq, Rumsfeld was pushing for a top-to-bottom review of, well, the entire global bureaucracy beginning with the U.S. federal government. In that push, Rumsfeld rightly pointed out that global and U.S. federal institutions were designed in a different era to meet a different array of challenges and opportunities; collectively, they made an unwieldy match to the post-9/11 constellation of threats. He rightly argued that we would always be adjusting on the fly if we did not undertake a massive reorganization, something that would consume an enormous amount of political capital -- which he also (rightly) noted was by this time "in short supply," with the administration under siege and fighting two wars.

The question left unprobed is whether these calls for a massive reorganization may have felt like a distraction from the urgent need to review our strategy in those very wars. Rumsfeld's account leaves open the charge that he showed greater zeal in reviewing the shortcomings of others (especially in matters far from Defense's home turf) than possible shortcomings in his own bailiwick, at least when it came to Iraq.

My reaction to both of these issues may be ironic, since I get the impression that Rumsfeld focused the memoir more as an engagement with his internal critics than with his external critics. Insiders will have a sense of déjà entendu in reading the memoir. They will recognize Rumsfeld's line of reasoning and have the same "yes, but" reaction they had when the argument first was joined. And they will wish that that there was one more round of debate in which Rumsfeld engaged more of those "yes, but what about this..." queries.

If there were such a round, I am confident that Rumsfeld would have important things to say that just might require a tweak or two to my own view. The memoirs document to my satisfaction that Rumsfeld was right about a lot more things than the conventional media account of his tenure would lead you to believe. But he wasn't always right. And I am not persuaded that the champion wrestler has fully grappled with all that needs to be wrestled to the ground.

Peter Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy and Bass Fellow at Duke University and coeditor of Shadow Government.


Next: Will Inboden's take on Known and Unknown. Click here for the main discussion page.

William Inboden: Should He Have Quit While He Was Ahead ... In 1974?

One of the paradoxes of history is that while perspective requires time, a person's most recent public role is often the one that remains permanently lodged in the public memory. This is not good news for Brett Favre, and it may not be good news for Donald Rumsfeld, either.

In his memoirs, Rumsfeld seems mindful that our exit from public life determines much of how we are remembered, as he spends 60 percent of the book on just the last six years of his over four decades of public life. Yet what a four decades those were, and they too bear remembering. Consider, that if Rumsfeld had retired from public life in:

- 1974, he would be remembered as an accomplished senior member of the Nixon administration in both economic and foreign policy, after stints as director of the Economic Stabilization Program and U.S. ambassador to NATO;

- 1977, he would be remembered as President Gerald Ford's capable chief of staff and the youngest secretary of defense in American history;

- 1985, he would be remembered as the successful CEO of GD Searle and trusted Middle East envoy for President Ronald Reagan;

- 2000, he would be remembered as an accomplished corporate leader across multiple sectors, a Republican elder statesman, and an expert on numerous national security issues;

- 2002, he would be remembered as the innovative secretary of defense and media darling who insisted on needed reforms at the Pentagon and presided over the stunningly successful defeat of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

But Rumsfeld did not retire from public life until 2006, and even then -- depending on whose account one believes -- his retirement was not entirely on his terms.

His concern in this book, judging by his comparatively brief attention to the earlier decades and the considerable material devoted to his last few years as secretary of defense, is to reshape his legacy based on those final years. For it was in those four years of his public life -- marked by controversies and failures so well known that each needs only a word or two: Iraq WMD, Phase IV, Abu Ghraib, Guantanámo, Shinseki, "Old Europe," "stuff happens," "dead-enders" -- that Rumsfeld's previous accomplishments faded and his current reputation emerged.

Curiously, the beginning of Rumsfeld's memoir hints at his attempt to learn from his own history. The book's first three chapters share vignettes from the Middle East in the early 1980s: Rumsfeld's missions to Baghdad, Lebanon, and other trouble spots as Reagan's special envoy for the region. From these experiences, he drew his own "lessons of history" that shaped his approach to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq two decades later: the need for strength and ruthlessness, the pathologies of the region that make it inhospitable to democracy, the risks of extended troop deployments that make forces vulnerable and create dependencies among the locals, the need for tight coordination between diplomacy and defense policy, and the need to take the offensive against terrorist threats before they materialize.

And some -- perhaps many -- of the lessons that he draws from the Middle East in the 1980s are true, at least to an extent. But history's "lessons" from one context can be precarious to apply in another, just as a person's strengths in one context can be weaknesses in another. For example, Rumsfeld's worry that the fragile government of Lebanon had become dependent on U.S. forces in the 1980s shaped his insistence in 2003 on a light footprint invasion for Iraq and a comparatively rapid troop drawdown and transfer to Iraqi control. But in the Iraq context, as is now well known, the lack of troops led to a death spiral of disorder and violence that was not arrested until the "surge" in 2007.  

Nor does Rumsfeld appear to always follow his own advice and historical lessons. His multiple criticisms of the National Security Council and State Department include the NSC's alleged inability to issue clear presidential directives and the State Department's unwillingness to implement clear presidential directives. Yet when describing Bush's very clear orders to support democratic institutions and human rights in Iraq and elsewhere, Rumsfeld voices his own emphatic disagreement with this agenda, criticizes the State Department for attempting to implement it, and hints at his own refusal to support it.  

How Rumsfeld will be remembered by history remains to be seen. Ongoing events in the Middle East -- demands for democracy in Tunisia and Egypt, the fragile yet expanding democracy in Iraq -- are potential cavils against Rumsfeld's skepticism about Bush's freedom agenda. Yet with this memoir he at least provides the valuable service of giving scholars much more material to weigh, as they attempt to turn the unknowns of Rumsfeld's history into the knowns of public memory.

Will Inboden is a distinguished scholar at the Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas-Austin, and a coeditor of Shadow Government.

Click here for the main discussion page.


FP Book Club: Peter Bergen's The Longest War

An FP discussion on counterterrorism expert Peter Bergen's latest book. A decade after 9/11, is the war on terrorism a war we can win?

FP's panel of experts and participants in the war on terrorism takes on Peter Bergen's major new book. Looking back on a decade of war between America and al Qaeda -- literally the longest war in America's history -- Bergen offers a damning, step-by-step assessment of how a shadowy, often misinformed enemy managed to pull the world's biggest superpower into a sometimes catastrophic and frequently damaging worldwide combat. So what have we learned from fighting this war? Bergen argues: Not as much as we should have.

A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images 

Daniel Byman: OK, So We Don't Like the Old System: But What Now?

Helloeveryone. I'll get things started by introducing the book and posing somequestions that came up in my reading of it. To begin, Peter Bergen's The Longest War is yet another triumphfrom the author of Holy War, Inc. andThe Osama bin Laden I Know. Unlikehis past books, which focused squarely on the bad guys associated with al Qaeda,the emphasis of Bergen's latest work is the United States. Although issues suchas al Qaeda's changing tactics and the ideological revolt from within thesalafi-jihadist community get serious attention, the book makes its mostenduring contribution describing and assessing U.S. government counterterrorismpolicy in the years after 9/11. Much of TheLongest War is a blistering critique of U.S. interrogation abuses, themisuse of 9/11 as an issue to justify the war with Iraq, the under-resourcingof the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan, and other mistakes that have hindered orundermined the struggle against al Qaeda.

Thepoint of this discussion, however, isnot violent agreement, and the best books generate doubts as well ascertainties. So let me focus on some of those doubts -- but not, I hope, to thepoint where readers do not rush out to buy this book.

Thebiggest omission from the book (it receives a brief mention on pp. 246-247) isits neglect of global intelligence and law enforcement operations outside thesexier realms of renditions and interrogation procedures. In Europe, the Arabworld, and many Asian countries, the post-9/11 era is marked by a dramaticincrease in arrests of and intelligence gathering on suspected al Qaeda membersand their associates. These measures do not make for dramatic headlines, buttheir cumulative effective is staggering. Where once al Qaeda members couldavoid detection because few governments cared enough to look, now the manhuntis on. An operation like 9/11, where planning ranged from Malaysia and Germanyto Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United States, would be far more likely to bedisrupted today.

Closerto home, Bergen regularly highlights FBI overreactions to aspirationaljihadists, but this leaves open the question of where the line should be. Bergenpoints out that someone like Najibullah Zazi,the Afghan-American who plotted several attacks in New York, is far moredangerous because of the training al Qaeda gave him in Pakistan (and, indeed,one of the best parts of the book is Bergen's willingness to let the readerparse which threats matter and which do not). But if the FBI is not aggressivein the early stages, isn't there a risk that a local chucklehead could go toPakistan for training and, in turn, become more formidable?

Bergenrightly criticizes the use of torture and the many other mistakes the Bush administrationmade, but I would have liked more on his thoughts about what new procedureswere appropriate after 9/11. As just one issue, what do you do with al Qaedaand associated fighters when you pick them up overseas? As The Longest War points out, Guantánamo was a disaster in many ways.Renditions are even worse from a human rights point of view. So should there bepreventive detention legislation, or are we stuck with the old system?

Aquestion I still wrestle with concerns the limits of the war on terror. Perhapsmost important today in Yemen, how does America decide who its enemies are?Osama bin Laden and his followers, of course, deserve no mercy. But does thelist expand to movements that have some links but are not fully integrated withthe core group, like al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb? If you excludeaffiliates, America risks getting blindsided, but drawing too wide a circlerisks fighting every battle and attracting new enemies.

Equallytricky is the acceptable level of risk. There's not much controversy that9/11-scale casualties are intolerable. But there is a wary recognition that afew deaths here and there from terrorism, while horrible, do not meritfundamental changes in U.S. policy. Where to draw the line, however, remainsunclear.

Thisquestion of limits came to me as I read the book's final chapters on Obama'swar and the many difficulties the United States faces in Afghanistan. I wouldlike Bergen's thoughts about the argument of my colleague at Georgetown, PaulPillar, who contendsthat from a counterterrorism perspective the game in Afghanistan may not beworth the candle. In his book Bergen points out al Qaeda is well-ensconced inPakistan, and U.S. drone strikes are putting pressure on the organization'sleaders. Having an additional haven in Afghanistan would of course help them,but how big a difference would the Taliban's return to power make? In other words,more Taliban victories would not recreate pre-9/11 Afghanistan, so why shouldthe longest war become even longer?

My finaltakeaway from The Longest War was thedepressing realization that a similar book may eventually be written about thenext 10 years of counterterrorism. So many of the problems that have plagued usfor the last 10 years remain unresolved, and new ones are certain to arise.Hopefully books like Bergen's, read by the right people, will help us avoid theworst.

Daniel Byman is a professor in theSecurity Studies Program at Georgetown and the director of research at theSaban Center at Brookings Institution.

To read Karen Greenberg's take on The Longest War, click here. To return to the main discussion page, click here.

Karen Greenberg: What's the Difference Between Bush and Obamaon Fighting Terror?

Hi everyone. I know we're supposed to be raising interestingquestions, but I wanted to begin by saying how much I enjoyed Peter's book andthe way in which he wove the many pieces of America's war on terror into onecomprehensive narrative. Most of us who will be commenting on the book know ourown pieces of it, so seeing it in this grander context has been a gift. Havingsaid that, my own take-away from the book's contribution to the knowledge onthe topic of the war on terror was a little different than DanByman's. Dan saw the book as making its most enduring contribution to the U.S.counterterrorism effort. While it does provide an overview -- and some muchappreciated cohesiveness -- to a policy that often seems like a bunch of frayedends, one big contribution of this book is its insights into the changingstrength, goals, and positioning of al Qaeda. For this, it may be even moreoriginal than the counterterrorism narrative. After all, the willfulblindnesses and wrongdoings of George W. Bush's administration have been toldand retold. But Peter's well-drawn portrayal of the development of Osama binLaden's political sensibility is a powerful contribution to our understandingof the terrorist leader -- and one I think that is drawn with distinctivepersuasiveness. This is something I'd like other experts to weigh in on.

I'd like to address several of Dan's comments about U.S.counterterrorism, beginning with his discussion of Najibullah Zazi and hisembrace of the FBI stings as measures that could prevent the likes of anotherZazi-like attempted plot. (Zazi's goal was to carry out a suicide bombingmission on the New York subway.) Being aggressive in the early stages is onething -- seeing who might be willing to participate in a crime of terrorism isanother thing. While stings may make us all feel better -- and get wanna-be'sand potential hangers-on to terrorism plots off the streets -- the fact remainsthat the most serious terrorist threats to US security have been individualswho are not necessarily part of this FBI aggressive program: e.g., Faisal Shahzad,David Headley, and the 2009 Christmas Day bomber, Abdulmutullab. So the realquestion is the allocation of resources, not a theoretical approach to thevirtues of preventive counterterrorism. And further, something this bookdoesn't tell us, who actually has made the pivotal decision about how to assessand allocate these resources from the larger perspective of national securityand with what review processes? What high-level disagreements have there been?How is each and every case weighed and evaluated in the aftermath of thefindings -- e.g. in court?

On the issue of coercive interrogation and torture, Peter'sdiscussion of the fruits of the coercive interrogations of Abu Zubaydah, KhalidSheikh Mohammed, and Ramzi Binalshibh are unsettling. Peter makes it clear thathe is unwaveringly opposed to the torture regime of the Bush administration --he underlines the legal immorality of John Yoo's memos and notes that much ofthe information that KSM gave to his torturers showed "little or no difference"from interviews done without coercion by journalist al Jazeera Yosri Fouda orby FBI interviewers. But Peter also acknowledges that CIA confessions led tonumerous arrests at home, particularly as a result of the interrogation of AbuZubaydah, the detainee whose interrogation President Bush relied upon to defendthe enhanced interrogation policy. The link between interrogations and Guantánamoon the one hand, and domestic law enforcement and terrorism prosecutions on theother, is one that is seldom drawn. This is a plus of the book. One thing it suggestsis that the Justice Department had a more strategic, unified perspective on CIA/Gitmo-USAlaw enforcement policies than has previous been understood. Which raises thequestion: How involved was the Justice Department when it came to Guantánamoand to interrogations?

One of Peter's accomplishments in The Longest War is to draw a picture that encompasses both the Bushand Obama administrations. Showing rather than telling, Peter deftly points outthat although Obama began with the intentions of turning the page to a newpolicy vis-à-vis Af/Pak -- beginning with signaling to the Pentagon that hewould not just approve their requests without deliberative review -- Obama hasessentially come to see the threat of al Qaeda in the region, and potentialremedies, in much the same way as the Bush administration did. The link betweenthe two administrations seems more and more prevalent as time passes, but I'mintrigued by the question about threat assessment. Is there a unifiedassessment of the threat al Qaeda poses across the political divide and acrossintelligence professionals? And what about Pakistan and its role in supportingor countering al Qaeda? Are the debates over the viability of the COIN strategytied to differences in threat assessment or to the remedy? The answers areimportant for understanding what choices may lie ahead for the nation.

A good foundational work gives us more to think about. Peterhas certainly done that!

Karen Greenberg isexecutive director of the Center on Law and Security at the NYU School of Lawand author of TheLeast Worst Place: Guantanamo's First 100 Days.

To read Thomas E. Ricks's take on The Longest War, click here. To return to the main discussion page, click here.

ThomasE. Ricks: Why Bergen's GWOT Book IsBetter Than Mine Would've Been

We all come at books differently. In readingPeter Bergen's The Longest War, DanByman, a terrorism expert, seems to have been looking for policyprescriptions -- i.e., just what would you do differently, bub? KarenGreenberg, an expert on the legal regime for counterterrorism, wants moreinformation on how crucial decisions were made in that area.

Myself, I looked at this work first of all fromthe perspective of a writer, having done three books on related subjects (twoabout the invasion of Iraq, Fiascoand TheGamble, plus a novelabout occupying Afghanistan, published in June 2001). What's more, a couple ofyears ago I had actually contemplated someday trying to write a history of thewar on terror. My first reaction on reading Bergen's book was how lucky I wasthat I didn't go up against him, because he does a much better job than I thinkI would have. Among other things, I likely would have over-emphasized U.S.military views, which play a relatively small role in Bergen's account,properly so. Nor will I ever know as much about al Qaeda as he does. My secondreaction was gratitude to him for the job he does in relating the history ofthe last 10 years, both in narrating events and offering reasoned judgments.Neither is easy, and doing both well in one book is unusual, especially so whenyou are the first one out of the gate on a huge and sprawling subject like this.There will be other books on this subject, but I think it will be a long timebefore we see one as well-written and as comprehensive.

Here is what I had to say about The Longest War in my reviewthat ran in Sunday's New York Times BookReview:

--I think the book is a history of our time. Igot out of it what I had hoped to get from the stack of novels I've read about9/11, but didn't.

--He kicks the hell out of the BushAdministration, rightly so in my view. Bush and Cheney take their hits, but sotoo do Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

--I think this is an important book.   

So, to be clear, we all agree that it is a finebook and that you should read it, dammit. Any questions?

Thomas E. Ricks writes the Best Defense blog on and is a senior fellow at the Center for aNew American Security.

To read Blake Hall's take on The Longest War, click here. To return to the main discussion page, click here.

Blake Hall: Did AllThose Soldiers Really Need To Die?

Hi all. I took the time toscroll through everyone's bios, and I must say that it is humbling for acompany grade Infantry officer to join a debate among so many accomplishedexperts. Peter covers a lot of ground in TheLongest War; my own experience begins and ends with Iraq, so I was rivetedby the neat progression of the history of these wars as the narrative movedfrom a rich portrait of Osama bin Laden to the policy decisions that set inmotion a decade of war for American soldiers and marines. While Dan approachedthe text from a policyperspective, Karen from a legalone, and Tom as a writer,I write as a soldier; we like to speak our minds and ask lots of questions, sohang on. I am going to explore the narrative as well as some of the reasonedjudgments on morality Peter renders and our failed detention system, and thenraise questions I had after finishing the book.

After explaining how al Qaedawas at war with us long before we realized it, Peter traces the missteps of GeorgeW. Bush's administration in the wake of 9/11 in excruciating detail. Thoughwriters like Tom Ricks have documented the groupthink, naivete, and powerstruggles of the Bush White House leading up to the Iraq War, Peter's abilityto stitch together the political and cultural effects of Don Rumsfeld's bizarrerefusal to let soldiers and marines secure the population -- a world wheresoldiers became fobbits -- is secondto none. And the scene where Rumsfeld and Bush quibble with a CIA analyst aboutwhether to call the insurgency in Iraq an insurgency, while Iraq is in the gripof not one but two insurgencies, is the rhetorical equivalent of playing thefiddle while Rome burns. I do wish that Peter had referenced General Erik Shinseki'scourageous stand before Congress, but the mistakes he enumerates are more thanenough to paint a portrait of an administration entirely out of touch withreality.

To carry Dan Byman's concernsfurther than he probably intended, I want to ask Peter for help understandingthe moral justification for the difference in treatment between the CIA'sextraordinary rendition of Abu Omar from Italy and American actions inpost-Awakening Iraq. In the former, American intelligence officers handed overa man convicted of recruiting fighters to go to Iraq knowing that he wouldprobably be tortured, while in the latter, American military units resourcedand partnered with the Sons of Iraq militia who were brutally executing andtorturing members of al Qaeda in the streets without trial. Is there apractical difference between rendering prisoners to a centralized state thatdoes not recognize Geneva and aiding/equipping/organizing a decentralizednetwork that does not either?

I believe that these strains onour morality are a direct result of failed prisoner detention policy. In 2007,my scouts and snipers, along with two operators from the British SAS, capturedthe top two tiers of the al Qaeda-affiliated South Karkh vehicle bomb network --effectively destroying the organization, accordingto Ray Odierno. The top lieutenant in that network and a key vehicle bombcoordinator had already been captured and released before we re-captured them.

Later, citing the case ofAbdullah Salih al-Ajmi, Peter notes that Guantánamo Bay served as a breedingground for extremism, yet he does not extend the point to a systemicexamination of the detention system in total, and I think this is a crucialomission. At the height of the violence in Iraq, Camp Bucca rarely heldprisoners for over 12 months. Prison breaks, like the one in Mosul's Badush prison in 2007,dealt a severe blow to the security situation. I have seen the correlationgraphs on prisoner releases versus subsequent attacks on coalition forces -more Americans die as a result of these releases. Not as quantifiable are thesetbacks to the security situation and the psychological intimidation visitedupon the local populace when these killers return. This problem ceased when theSunni tribes revolted against al Qaeda, but it has been reincarnated inAfghanistan today. Soldiers there are using a phrase I heard often in Iraq: "catchand release." In my experience, our inability to keep insurgents in prison isthe single most demoralizing influence on soldiers, and it prevents us fromtaking a critical mass of the insurgency out of the game unless we can turn thetribes. Why risk our lives to catch them if we release them smarter and withmore contacts?

Finally, Peter notes that EliotCohen, the State Department counselor, had a son about to deploy to Iraq when heurged the president to replace Gen. George Casey with Gen. David Petraeus. Hisson's deployment gave Cohen the courage to offer Bush his heartfelt advice.Maybe if more policymakers had children in this war, soldiers would get afairer shake and more honest leadership. I have lost friends in these wars; myIraqi interpreter Mohammed was killed by an al Qaeda house bomb in 2008, andthree months ago I said goodbye to my Ranger buddy at Walter Reed, a victim ofthe lonely war that soldiers face after returning from combat. Peter'smasterfully woven narrative of TheLongest War provides cohesion from start to finish; whereas before I hadknowledge of an individual scene, now I grasp the context. I am grateful to himfor writing such a lucid and detailed account. But it leaves me with the achingrealizations that maybe we did not need to suffer as much as we have and thatmore suffering is ahead.

As Peter carefully notes, it isal Qaeda that faces an existential threat today, not the United States. Yet hisbook illustrates the limits of American military power. We are still in Iraqand locked in a counterinsurgency against a mostly indigenous enemy. What havewe gained and at what cost? Even if we defeat al Qaeda, we might not "win" inAfghanistan. We are stuck to a tar baby, but Peter's brilliantly told historyis a must-read for anyone who cares about America, how we got here, and wherewe should go.

Blake Hall is a former Army captain and a decorated memberof the Army Rangers who led a scout platoon in Iraq from July 2006 to September2007. He recently graduated from Harvard Business School and co-founded TroopSwap, a platform for themilitary community.

For Hugh Pope's take on The Longest War, click here. To return to the main discussion page, click here.

Hugh Pope: Give the Taliban a Bit More Credit

Greetings fromIstanbul! Peter Bergen's The Longest War, I agree with you all, is atour de force of reporting and dazzling detail: I daresay that each chaptercould be a whole book for other writers. And what an achievement to be able toput it all this into one frame.

As Tom Ricks putit in his reviewfor the New York Times, I approached thebook seeking emotional satisfaction. I wanted vindication of my feelings when Iwas a foreign correspondent on the ground, frustratedly trying to bridge thegap between reality and the American Reader during those years after 9/11.

Bergen soon wonme over: He shows that America always knew much more than its leaders wanted tohear, and that things are changing. My main satisfaction is on the U.S. side ofthe story as he nails the willful, ideological incompetence of Cheney, Rice,Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and the Bush administration. Similarly, he shows from severalangles how the contradictions of U.S. Middle East policy, particularlyunquestioning support of Israel, have landed the country in this complicated mess.He hammers home the absolute folly of the Iraq invasion and the self-deluding attemptsby the administration and some media to find a non-existent Saddam-bin Ladenconnection -- Bergen doesn't just close the case, he locks it up.

He does well onthe Middle Eastern side too. While I was somewhat less emotionally satisfiedhere, for reasons given below, Bergen taught me a lot and sometimes changed mymind.  

In the end, I foundmyself having to accept much of Bergen's evidence about how Islam played a big rolein the motivations of al Qaeda, while still giving due weight to what to mymind is the all-important politics of the situation. I still have my doubtsabout how all-embracing the purely religious factor is. For instance, Ihappened to talk to the British official who interviewed absolutely everyone inthe British Pakistani community about their co-religionists' role in the 7/7London bombings. His bottom-line conclusion of their main motivation: "teenagerebellion gone ballistic."

Bergenconvincingly portrays the tactical strengths and strategic weaknesses of binLaden and the "love" his followersfelt for him. I was fascinated to learn of his real day-to-day control of theorganization, and the clear parallels bin Laden was trying to draw between hislife and that of the Prophet Mohammed. TheLongest War is scattered with many insights, for instance how brave thescrawny al-Qaeda fighters in Tora Bora were, and how the Afghan villagers therestill revere their spirit by keeping up their graves.

New to me wereBergen's definite statements that Saudis were not important in financing"terror"; the gun-shyness of the Pentagon that allowed bin Laden to escape fromTora Bora; the fact that al-Qaeda had no idea the U.S. would invade Afghanistanafter 9/11. I was surprised that al Qaeda "instructors" are back with theTaliban in the war in Afghanistan and shocked at just how many highlyintelligent people have their careers wrapped up in the negative entropy of the"war on terror."

As for myreservations:

- WhileBergen was persuasive about Islam as an ideology as it is used by small groupsof militants, and has clear-eyed discussions about the distinction betweenal-Qaeda's Islam and mainstream Islam, I still think Islam should be avoided asan adjective and analytical tool -- everyone understands it to mean something different.A bit like Karen Greenberg's criticismof FBI stings, to me "Islam" can often turn into a straw man of a concept.

-Iwouldn't want the Taliban as my government, but I remain influenced by seeingthem try to get a grip on the country in 1998, and can't see them as soextraordinary different from other Afghans. Bergen calls them "incompetent andbrutal" rulers of Afghanistan, but I think there's more to them than that.

- Akey part of the conceptual background of the Middle East and its discontents iswhat date you begin at. Bergen chooses the 1967 Six-Day War as his key date forthe spread of hopelessness that ultimately bred extremist reactions. I thinkthe Middle East's unstable frictions go back much further, and are arguably geo-politicallyeternal. As Dan Byman suggests,therefore, the question is: what level of casualties is America going to justhave to get used to as it deals with this reality. There is no solution to theMiddle East's problems: There is only a more realistic, humane, and legally defensiblemanagement of them. Like the Londoners after 7/7, Americans should take thingsmore in their stride.

- Bergenmakes much of the work of LaurieMylroie in setting up Saddam and Iraq for attack. I remember her as arather marginal voice. I would have expected more on the influence of BernardLewis, whose baleful doctrine boils down to "if Muslims don't respect you, makethem fear you," who has had a formative influence on U.S. government attitudesand who was intimately connected to the Bush team. I think he's the origin of Bergen'sreport of Bush's wish for "demonstration effect."

- Peopleseeking ideas for policies towards the Middle East will find many insights inthe book, but obviously should be wary of using the "war on terror" as thebe-all and end-all of how to manage the whole Middle East, or the unique prismthrough which to view the region. While keeping a vigilant eye ontrouble-makers, there is no substitute for a policy-making mechanism that isinformed by realities, by broad on the ground experience of context and humdrumeveryday realities, and not by America's own ideologies or domestic lobbies.Bergen shows how a go-it-alone strategy fails: The lesson is that America needsallies, and that means listening to other countries' concerns. This isundoubtedly the subject of another discussion, and should take as its point ofdeparture the fact that coercive methods work as badly with nations as they doin interrogating prisoners (which latter point Bergen so ably proves).

These observationsdo not subtract, however, from the satisfaction I felt at Bergen's moralskewering of the U.S. policy-makers responsible for churning up the Middle Eastover the past decade and a half, especially the mad invasion of Iraq. Most ofthese misguided policies were executed in the name of the nearly 3,000 deathson 9/11. But at least 50 times more people have now been killed as a result,Middle Easterners and Americans, and millions displaced. Who will be givingtheir relatives and brutalized societies satisfaction, let alone justice, inthe decades to come?

HughPope is the author most recently of Diningwith al-Qaeda: Three Decades Exploring the Many Worlds of the Middle East

To read Peter Bergen's response, click here. To return to the main discussion page, click here.

Peter Bergen: Yes, It Would Matter if We Lost to theTaliban

Thanks to all the talented experts and writers who took timeout of their busy lives to comment on my book. Before I respond to some of thequestions and issues several of those experts raised I'd like to make a broadpoint about how I approached writing this history of the "war on terror."

In some ways, as important as what you write is the stuffyou take out after you have written it. When I wrote the first major manuscriptdraft of The Longest War it weighedin at 240,000 words. It was a monster that would have turned into adoor-stopper of a book; around 1,000 pages, if it had been published at thatlength. The footnotes alone ran to some 80,000 words, about the length of anaverage book.

I realized I had to take a machete to this behemoth to getto get it down to a size that readers would find digestible, and also to cutout the redundant, the irrelevant, the boring, and the arcane. In some case thatmeant eliminating whole chapters entirely, and it meant heavy pruning of allthe remaining chapters. This approach got the manuscript down to its presentsize of 145,000 words with some 30,000 words of footnotes; the published bookstill runs a shade under 500 pages. I believe making these drastic cuts was oneof the best decisions I made about the project, as it helped keep up the narrativeenergy of the book and distilled the substance of the history I was attemptingto tell to its essence.

In a sense an author has to perform triage on his or her ownwork, keeping alive only the elements that he or she believes are of criticalimportance while discarding the stuff that isn't either of central importanceor of compelling interest.

This preamble helps explain (excuse?) why I didn't tackle atany length an issue raised by DanByman. Dan is course absolutely correct that the stories of cooperationbetween the world's intelligence agencies are an important part of the historyof the war on terrorism. In fact Dan would be well-placed to write such ahistory given his own wide-ranging inquiries about counterterrorism policy in countriesaround the world. Amy Zegart or John Diamond might also be positioned to tacklesuch a history given their own books on the recent history of the CIA.

Similarly, HughPope wishes I had spent more time considering the work of Bernard Lewis andthe impact his views had on the Bush administration. Certainly they wereimportant, and in earlier versions of the book I wrote about Lewis. However, Idecided to focus on the work of the academic Laurie Mylroie, who is much lesswell-known than Lewis, but whose book-length claims of Saddam Hussein'ssupposed role in anti-American terrorism were enormously influential on keydecision makers in the Bush administration, such as Paul Wolfowitz and topofficials in Vice President Dick Cheney's office, and were part of therationale to go to war.

KarenGreenberg asks if there is a unified assessment of the al Qaeda threatamong intelligence professionals. I think there is: In their view al Qaeda isweakened significantly, but is still dangerous like a snake backed in a corner andcan still attempt to carry off large-scale attacks, as we saw on Christmas Day2009 with the attempt to bring down Northwest Flight 253 over Detroit. The U.S.intelligence community in fact has a far better-calibrated sense of the threatthan those politicians and commentators who continue to assert that al Qaeda andits allies pose some kind of existential threat to the United States comparablein scope to Nazism or communism; a nonsensical claim.

Dan Byman, and to some extent Hugh Pope -- whose coverage of the Middle Eastat the Wall Street Journal was firstclass -- make similar points about the Taliban. Would a Taliban return to powerin some shape or form in Afghanistan be that big a deal? Pope sees the Talibanas not "so extraordinarily different from other Afghans." And certainly the Talibanworldview is reflective, in part, of the values of many rural Pashtuns. However,I do think the return of the Taliban to power in some shape or form inAfghanistan would be a disaster for the Afghan people. Less than 10 percent ofAfghans have had a favorable view of the Taliban in any number of polls taken byBBC News going back to 2005. There is nothing quite like living under Talibanrule to persuade one that their promises of a 7th-century utopia here on Earth arehollow.

It is worth recalling that the Taliban destroyed what remained of the Afghaneconomy, incarcerated half the population in their homes, massacred thousandsof Shia, and provided sanctuary to al Qaeda as well as pretty much every Muslimterrorist and insurgent group from around the world.

Al Qaeda has been harbored for almost a decade now largely by the Haqqaninetwork, the ferocious Taliban militia based in Pakistan's tribal regions. Andin the parts of Pakistan that the Taliban continue to control today, they host-- in addition to al-Qaeda -- an alphabetsoup of other jihadist groups including LeT, JeM, IMU, HUJI, and IJU. The notionthat somehow the Taliban are going to start becoming rational actors and giveup al Qaeda or its allied groups is wishful thinking on a baroque scale.

BlakeHall raises the important issue of the release of potentially dangerous prisonersfrom places like the massive prison at Camp Bucca in Iraq. Like many soldiers Ispoke to Anbar province in western Iraq in 2008, the "catch and release" programof Iraqi insurgents is something that Hall objects to. And indeed there islittle doubt that some of these released prisoners picked up arms when they gotout of jail. This is and was a serious problem. However, the countervailing argumentmade by those like General Doug Stone, who ran Camp Bucca at the time when manyof these prisoners were released, is that locking up thousands of Iraqis inthese jails was creating a larger set of militant insurgents because thevirulent jihadists in these jails were infecting the general population ofthese prison with their ideas.

Certainly someone like the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi,because much more radical while he was jailed in Jordan in the late 1990s. Prisonauthorities, whether in Jordan, or Iraq or Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, mustbalance avoiding the radicalization of entire prison populations with seriousdownstream consequences, while at the same time trying to avoid releasingviolent killers back into the community. That is a difficult balancing act, andwe have seen with some of the graduates of Saudi Arabia's militant"rehabilitation" program who have then gone on to join al Qaeda, it's a toughone to get right

Finally, thanks to Tom Ricks for his detailed reviewof my book in the Sunday New York Timesand for repeatingsome of the takeaways of that review here in our book club discussion. Andthanks again to those who participated in this book club. Hopefully we won't bedoing this for a similar book a decade from now, which Dan Byman rightlysuggests is all too possible.

Peter Bergen, editor of the AfPak Channel, is a senior fellow atthe New America Foundation and author of TheLongest War

To return to the main discussion page, click here.