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Book Review: America's Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between America and Its Enemies, by George Friedman
Book Review: America's Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between America and Its Enemies by George Friedman


About the Reviewer

A former history professor, Tom Miller is a novelist and essayist. His most recent novel is Full Court Press (2000). His reviews and essays have appeared in numerous books, journals, and newspapers, including The Encyclopedia of Southern History, American History Illustrated, the Chicago Tribune, and the Des Moines Register. He also is a former Army officer and Vietnam veteran.

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January 2005
Review by Tom Miller

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New York, Doubleday, 2004. $25.95. pp. xii, 354. ISBN 0-385-51245-7.

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George Bush invaded Iraq, not to rid the world of a tyrant with weapons of mass destruction or to showcase democracy in the heart of the Middle East, but to force the Saudis' hand in the Global War on Terror. Moreover, the U.S. is already planning an invasion of northwestern Pakistan because that nation represents the "end game" in the war against Islamic extremism.

How do we know? Because George Friedman says so.

Who, many of you are probably asking is George Friedman? Dr. Friedman is the founder and chairman of a private intelligence service called Stratfor (Strategic Forecasting), headquartered in Austin, Texas. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and taught for twenty years before launching Stratfor in 1996. He is the author of The Intelligence Edge and The Future of War. Stratfor provides daily intelligence briefings (geopolitical analysis and forecasting) to its clients, including large corporations and policymakers.

So, is he right? Maybe. Maybe not. Friedman employs dozens of analysts and has sources all over the globe, and he's a smart guy. Furthermore, he weaves an interesting and plausible account of the War on Terror - what he calls the Fourth Global War - from its origins (in the Afghan war against the Soviets and Desert Storm) until midyear 2004. So, it stands to reason that much of his account is accurate. As for the rest? It would be helpful if Friedman offered some documentation, but he does not. I'm not suggesting that he reveal sources but that he provide the reader with some hint of where his information originated.

Much of this ground has been covered quite extensively. Bob Woodward, for one, in Plan of Attack, offers a somewhat different account of the run up to the war in Iraq. It is instructive that Woodward, who was given unprecedented access to the President and other policymakers, does not second Friedman's analysis. Woodward did not make his reputation by being gullible or sloppy. Does that make Friedman wrong? No, but it points out the need for more transparency. (Friedman might say that the problem lies with my inability or unwillingness to see the obvious. The book's title, America's Secret War is intentionally ironic: the secret Friedman says "is sitting right there out in the open...")

As for Pakistan: Surely it represents an important theater in the war but is it as central as Dr. Friedman asserts? His analysis is based on the presence of the al-Qaida leadership in that country, but many analysts believe that the terrorist threat has become much more decentralized since 9/11. If that's true, then attacking the head likely would not yield the kind of definitive outcome the author expects.

Friedman says that one of his goals is to demonstrate to readers that the principals in this struggle from Bush to bin Laden are rational actors-leaving aside question of good and evil. On that point, he succeeds brilliantly. That some of their actions have resulted in unintended consequences (Bush, for example, did not count on the insurgency in Iraq), does not detract from the fact that they have acted rationally.

Friedman also says that he intended to write a dispassionate account of the current conflict: "cold and clinical." On that account, he fails. His approach might be detached, but Dr. Friedman is passionate about his subject and that passion bleeds through to the reader. His careful neutrality in assessing the evidence and main characters is laudable, but so is his passion for his subject. It makes for a better book.

In the end, Friedman argues that the outcome of the Global War on Terror hangs in the balance. The U.S. faces the danger of a tactical stalemate in Iraq, but al-Qaida has failed to generate an uprising of the Arab street. "This," Friedman says, "is the single most important dimension of the war: the complete failure of Al Qaeda to generate the kind of political response they were seeking." Therefore, he concludes, "At this point, the United States is winning, but Al Qaeda is far from ready to surrender. The war goes on."

Despite his sources, Dr. Friedman abstains from offering a prediction as to the ultimate outcome beyond his notion that Pakistan is the key to the next phase of the war. That's not a criticism though. Writing a book about an ongoing war is hazardous enough already.

Despite the hazards, Friedman has contributed a provocative and compelling addition to the debate on the Global War on Terrorism. And, despite my occasional misgivings, I would recommend it to anyone trying to get their hands around this subject.

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2005 All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Military.com.



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