The Looming Tower

Hugh Hewitt mentions The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Austin resident Lawrence Wright constantly on his radio show, so when I saw it in paperback at a bookstore a few weeks ago I decided to buy it. I finished today and I highly recommend it. As much as we hear about al-Qaeda, they were mostly a mystery to me. This book is invaluable in providing a detailed history about where they came from and how the events unfolded that led to 9/11. It’s mostly non-partisan, but includes a damning indictment of the CIA and how bureaucratic infighting and hoarding intelligence information cost the United States several opportunities that could have stopped the attack. It’s a pretty easy read, although keeping track of all the Arabic names and aliases is quite a chore.

There were two things that stuck out to me that contradicted what I previously thought that I knew about al-Qaeda. The first is that the story of how the U.S. “created” al-Qaeda by funding the mujahaddin in Afghanistan against the Soviets in the 80’s is largely a myth. Osama bin Ladin was involved with a relatively small band of Arab fighters who were mostly a joke to the Afghan rebels; the only thing his time in Afghanistan really did was reinforced his warped and sadistic view of the world. The second is the importance of killing bin Ladin, if he’s not dead already. After we routed the Taliban in Afghanistan and began our military involvement in Iraq, I pretty much dismissed bin Ladin. I figured even if he wasn’t dead, the movement he commanded would be. But what the book emphasizes is the peculiar and unique role he played in the events that led to 9/11 and how it’s likely that without him, nothing like that would even have been conceived. He’s not just another figurehead. It’s not right to say that if he is definitively killed that there will no longer be global jihad, but he was much more important to the cause than I personally gave him credit for.

Links to audio of Hugh’s interviews with Lawrence Wright over the past couple of years.

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