*****The Next Attack: The Failure of the War on Terror and a Strategy for Getting It Right. By Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon; published by Henry Holt and Company, 646/307-5095 (phone), www.henryholt.com (Web); 309 pages; $26.
In the follow-up to their first book on terrorism (The Age of Sacred Terror, 2002), Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon review the war on terror and give it a failing grade. They also purport to present a strategy for getting it right, though a clear strategy isn’t really proffered.
As members of the National Security Council under President Clinton, the authors indisputably have the background to write a book of this nature. However, this same background may have biased their perspective.
Benjamin and Simon slam the current administration, claiming that the war in Iraq has caused the United States to lose even more face in the Arab world and has drawn terrorists to Iraq to fight U.S. troops. Other commentators have made the same accusations, but the authors’ analysis is not evenhanded. For example, U.S. credibility in the Arab world may be a matter of which pundits you believe. Also, while it is true that terrorists have come to Iraq, isn’t it better that they’re in Iraq and not in the United States? In addition, it appears that the number of homegrown insurgents and terrorists in Iraq dwarfs the population of foreign counterparts.
The authors also point out that Islamic terror has popped up in such places as Madrid and London. As they noted in their first book, Islamic fundamentalism has been spreading for years, so it’s dubious to pin responsibility for recent attacks on the war in Iraq.
Benjamin and Simon also offer a lengthy critique of homeland security. Many of their points are well taken, but they fail to recognize any of the achievements. Airline security has improved. There are better communications between intelligence and law enforcement now that some of the barriers between them have been eliminated by the Patriot Act and other measures. Nascent plots by Islamic terrorist groups have been sniffed out.
Like many critics, the authors are quick to find fault but are slow to provide well-rounded analysis. Many of their sources are unnamed and thus their information is unverifiable. The critique is politically charged. Much of it is also old news. Everyone knows that the homeland security effort has lots of unfinished business; witness the pathetic response to the Gulf Coast hurricanes of 2005. Emergency management needs a major overhaul at all levels.
Their strategy “for getting it right” is more derision for certain foreign policy initiatives than prescription for improvement. As such, it’s not very helpful.
Reviewer: Lloyd F. Reese, CPP, CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional), has worked for the U.S. government, a consultancy, and a Fortune 50 company. He was a member of the Terrorist Activities Subcommittee of the ASIS National Capital Chapter for 13 years, and he remains a member of ASIS International.