Bin Laden’s Legacy

The Longest War
The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda
Peter L. Bergen
Free Press, $28, 473 pp.

Befitting its subject, The Longest War is a very long book, a comprehensive examination of the struggle that began slowly and surreptitiously in the early 1990s and continued—at least until Osama bin Laden’s killing on May 2. His death may not bring the demise of terrorism, but it has given President Barack Obama a justification for winding down the “war on terror” that President George W. Bush began in 2001.

Peter Bergen scrutinizes the events, people, arguments, rumors, and justifications that have come to dominate front pages since 2001 and explains why so much seems to have gone so wrong in the decade since 9/11, when bin Laden’s war with America broke into the open.

A TV analyst and producer for CNN, Bergen had a front-row seat for many of the scenes he describes, including Peter Arnett’s little-noted 1997 interview in which Osama bin Laden declared holy war on the United States. A news producer’s writing and editing responsibilities have given Bergen access to the complex and interconnected sequence of events that frames the story of the United States, bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and the “war on terror.” To his own extensive sources, Bergen adds the work of others: books focused on specific events, official commissions, foreign observers, and the memoirs of some of the principal actors. Over two hundred interviews provide the opinions of a wide range of major and minor (but key) players in the United States, as well as in the war zones. The notes and...

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About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.