the longest war peter bergen

Written by Ayra Azhar 8:36 pm Book Reviews, Published Content

The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al Qaeda

Peter Bergen’s “The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al Qaeda” is a look into the conflict between Al Qaeda and the United States. It details the comprehensive history of the war from both sides as well as the strategies explored by the US government.
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About the Author(s)
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Ms Ayra Azhar is currently a student of Peace and Conflict Studies at the National Defence University.


Peter Bergen, the author of The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al Qaeda, is an American journalist, producer of documentaries, a CNN (Cable News Network) National Security Analyst, a professor at Arizona State University, and director of the Centre on the Future of War.

The book is a comprehensive, detailed dilemma into the events leading up to the September 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre buildings in New York City as well as the attacks on the Pentagon, the military headquarters for the United States Department of Defense located in Washington D.C., where a series of coordinated suicide terrorist attacks conducted by the Islamic extremist militant organization known as Al Qaeda ultimately unleashed the US’s initiative for the global War on Terror.

Despite the numerous amounts of published materials released about Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi terrorist, founder, and leader (up until his death) of the Pan-Islamic militant organization Al Qaeda, Bergen’s analysis on the matter can be considered the most credible resource. Not only is Bergen the first journalist to conduct an interview with the man himself in 1997 but the numerous amounts of interviews featuring Taliban members, failed suicide bombers, family, and friends, along with top American security officials proves Bergen to be an encyclopedia on the matter.

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Part 1: Hubris

The Longest War by Peter Bergen is divided into two sections, which are further broken into roughly more than 10 chapters each. The first part denoted by the word ‘Hubris’, which is defined as ‘excessive pride or self-confidence’, is a clever peek behind the curtain of actions carried out by the United States government and Osama Bin Laden, along with the whole organization’s activities.

Throughout the first part of The Longest War, Bergen draws similarities between the faults of the American government and the Al Qaeda leader. The US did not take the matter seriously enough despite the efforts of national security advisors pushing its potential threats to President Bush multiple times and instead focusing on the American government’s obsession with Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s link to Al Qaeda, neglecting the not-so-hidden hints of the actions that were to be carried out by the organization.

Part 2: Nemesis?

In the second section of the book denoted by ‘Nemesis?’, the American government’s tactics are discussed at great length. It also brings attention to internal political dynamics, where US politicians boasted about how the war was won by the US and the impacts that this narrative had.

Peter Bergen manages to deliver not only an American perspective but also an account of both sides of the story, a point often missed in most of the existing resources on the matter. Focusing on both sides of the story encourages a fresh perspective despite how controversial it may be to include such an argument.

With The Longest War, Peter Bergen may also be one of a few authors who argued the organization’s actions were based on their own ideology rather than what Islam stood for. Even going as far as to state that Al Qaeda lost the “support” of the Muslim world as they refused to consider any belief other than their own, and hence, any Muslim who went against them was the enemy.

Bergen creates an understanding of how Al Qaeda’s aims deviated from being against the allies of Israel, a historic and religious conflict, to reigning terror, as mentioned before, on anyone who went against their beliefs. Pointing out the flaws in Al Qaeda’s strategies remains to be one of the key plots of the book. Bergen draws attention to the targeting of fellow innocent Muslims, which further alienated the organization from what could have been its potential supporters.

The vagueness and ambiguity of Al Qaeda’s essentially long-term goals left a significant stain in understanding their actual aims. Additionally, the concrete values Al Qaeda held prevented them from making a mark in the political realm, manufacturing them to be incapable of garnering support for a mass movement. Regardless, there is no doubt that the development of Al Qaeda and organizations alike were the products of the authoritarian regimes that stand dominant in the Middle East, a factor Peter Bergen cohesively includes in his arguments.

Afghanistan’s Beauty

Furthermore, Bergen stays away from painting Afghanistan as a devastating war-torn state with no life and instead adds depictions of a country that still has much life to offer. Acknowledging the nation’s beauty and hoping that one day it returns to the status it once had back in 1970.


It is, however, important to mention the numerous amounts of characters that are mentioned in the book such as individuals from the organizations, family, and friends, as previously mentioned, may be seen as crucial to Bergen, but they can be perceived as an unnecessarily complicated elaboration on the situations.

On top of that, the mish-mash of events mentioned seemingly scattered all over the place eventually makes it hard to follow. Rather, a timeline of events would have provided a clearer view, given the book’s aim is to provide a history of ideally, the longest war the US has participated in. Likewise, having to constantly search for an event/incident or an individual mentioned only for a page or a line in a paragraph can make it seem as if the writer may have gotten carried away or off-track from the main purpose of the book.

Up until his demise, Bergen mentions how Osama deviated from his significant involvement in activities yet still remained an influential, inspirational, and expressive leader much like one of a cult. While he became increasingly paranoid about his location and members of his inner circle, he still managed to influence and operate his motives behind the scenes. Bergen states that with Osama’s death, the War on Terror was effectively over.

The Longest War by Peter Bergen is an easy introduction to the events that have taken place and proves to be a great resource on the matter. It is undoubtedly a well-researched study that allows anyone to understand the impact of Osama Bin Laden on the world.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article/paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Paradigm Shift.

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