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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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07/18/2005 Archived Entry: "Book review: Ghost Wars"

Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001
By Steve Coll
Published by Penguin Press

Review by Richard Mellott

The title makes reading the book anti-climactic, but the details are interesting. In this "Day of the Jackal" inspired life we are all living, as we conduct our lives here in the West Coast Bull's Eye, the townies are always speculating about the new stranger in town. Our Cowboy Nation, led by Trail Boss Bush, got bushwhacked a while back, and we're still looking for the varmint what done it. What you don't know is that the Sheriff was in on it, having at one time hired this gang of thugs to clean out a bunch of rustlers on the other side of the Big Valley. Sorry, I digress into fantasy... or do I?

Steve Coll, the managing editor at the Washington Post, has written a historically accurate rehash of the foreign policy and events that led up to 9/11, based on many documents, interviews, and personal experiences as the Post's South Asia bureau chief between 1989-92. He also cites many interviews and the writings of other journalists published in the arena of the discussion of Afghanistan and the Middle East. The 90 pages of notes and acknowledgments of persons both named and unnamable give credibility to his thoroughness. The book's 576 pages make this no simple feat to digest, yet I found it extremely valuable, and the time and effort pay off many dividends to the diligent reader.

This 1990 Pulitzer Prize winning author for explanatory journalism has spent his life and time to help us understand the workings of our government, as it promoted first one faction, then another, in the fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He then describes the workings of the CIA, mostly under the direction of George Tenet, and helps us to understand the complexities of the foreign policies of our past four presidents. This run-up to the War on Terrorism, which describes the players on the both sides of the aisle, shows how the situation got out of control in our intelligence agencies and foreign policy. The idiom, "too many chiefs and not enough Indians..." was invented with this political quagmire in mind.

While "Ghost Wars" is a basically non-partisan look at the workings of governments, both ours and those of the major players in the Middle East, it has you rooting for the mavericks in the CIA who advocated Lethal Force strikes against Bin Laden years before anyone in Kansas knew his name. If you understand how Hamid Karzai came to power in Afghanistan, then you may understand how his arch-rival, Massoud, got iced by Sheriff Osama the day before 9/11. If you're an amateur war games strategist, like most of us are now trained covertly by the news, you'll thrill to the plans of capturing Bin Laden, and agonize with the what-if crowd. For those of us who sat out the various 20th Century Wars for moral reasons, you will be able to talk at length of how international animosity is developed, nurtured, and brought to fruition by dedicated professionals. Buy this book, and I'd be willing to bet the ranch you'll be somewhat cynical when the Trail Boss asks for new hands to help with the round-up. To quote one of my favorite childhood songs from when I used to want to play cowboy, "Get along little doggie, It's your misfortune, and none of my own." Sorry, guess I watched too much Gun Smoke when I was a kid.

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