Saturday, December 15, 2007

Steve Coll: Ghost Wars

This book is so long and complicated, and took me so long to read that I cannot even begin to describe the timeline, or the key points. I can say that it Steve Coll is one of the New Yorker authors that can write a full-length book (I would go so far as to say a full-length-plus book) successfully.

When 9-11 happened, I was in college, and hung out with a group of ultra-liberals. I would say "lefties," but lefties in the sense of leftists like anarchists, communists, etc. I was the closest in our group to a conservative, and I am far from conservative. Anyway, my point is that many of my friends truly believed that 9/11 was a USA-backed conspiracy. I hope they all read "Ghost Wars," because they were right, but not in the way that they thought at the time. "Ghost Wars" follows the money and the politics through the Cold War literally to the eve of 9/11, and if Coll doesn't prove that the U.S. brought 9/11 upon itself, then I think I just saw pigs fly out of my butt.

Coll doesn't have to do a whole lot of explaining in this book- he just has to follow the paper trail that the CIA left behind. Clearly, the research that went into this book is enormous, and overwhelming, and at times I was left shouting at the book like I do at the TV sometimes: "no, don't DO that! Stop, don't give guns to that guy!" But of course the CIA sped ahead with their ill-advised course of action: arming the fundamentalists against the communists, and then taking no responsibility for the muck they created after the Cold War, which led to the upswing of the men they had armed in terrorist training camps. Hey, on the plus side, at least there are only 50 stinger missiles unaccounted for...

Coll is evenhanded with Democrat and Republican administrations- he finds factual faults with them both. He dwells extensively on the CIAs innerworkings without talking about the much-discussed failure of information sharing between the State Department and the FBI. This is really investigative journalism, and for all its length, Coll is clearly an expert in this field. I would have liked an epilogue, or some closure with policy recommendations. We know what happened, now what does Coll think? For this, it's back to the New Yorker.

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