Category Archives: Book Review

Who Killed Kennedy?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 18 September 2018

To even pose the question is, for most of us, to be already well-advanced down the road of madness that leads to saying the U.S. federal government murdered President John F. Kennedy. Dr. David Kaiser’s The Road to Dallas (2008) rejects such vast conspiracy theories, as it does the notion of Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone killer. Kaiser instead argues for a more limited conspiracy, led by the mob bosses of mid-20th century America, and originating in the grey-zone where that world met the Cuban exile community and the Central Intelligence Agency’s efforts to bring down Fidel Castro. Continue reading

What Questions Remain About 9/11?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 5 September 2018

In less than a week, it will be the seventeenth anniversary of al-Qaeda’s “Plane’s Operation”, the assault on the United States. It is a vertiginous enough reflection that many of us have been alive more years since 11 September 2001 than before it, and positively alarming that many of those who will soon move into the government, media, and other leading societal institutions will have been born after an event that still shapes so much of the international scene. As Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan put it in The Eleventh Day: The Ultimate Account of 9/11 (2011), we are left with “the brief name ‘9/11’,” the context and meaning stripped away all this time later. The book is a useful overview of an event that should always be to some degree fresh in mind, though it is not without its problems in its analytical sections. Continue reading

Reviewing the Iraqi Surge and Awakening

Book Review: Carter Malkasian, ‘Illusions of Victory’, Oxford University Press, 2017. pp. 280.

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 4 July 2018

Carter Malkasian sets out in Illusions of Victory: The Anbar Awakening and the Rise of the Islamic State to upend the conventional understanding of the campaign against the Islamic State (IS) movement, known at the time as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), in Anbar province of western Iraq. Continue reading

America’s Wars With the Barbary Pirates

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 27 February 2018

Review of ‘Jefferson’s War: America’s First War on Terror, 1801-1805’, by Joseph Wheelan

“The Terror,” raids by pirates who believed themselves to be on a holy mission, were “an accepted hazard of conducting foreign trade, much like hurricanes”. So notes Joseph Wheelan in his 2004 book, Jefferson’s War. That changed after a naval expedition by the United States put down the trade in the first two decades of the nineteenth century. Continue reading

When Iran Saved Al-Qaeda

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 24 January 2018

The new book by the investigative journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, The Exile: The Flight of Osama bin Laden, charts the career of al-Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden, up to the day he became a household name—11 September 2001—through his downfall in 2011, to the end of 2016, when al-Qaeda was more powerful than ever. It is a thoroughly absorbing account, bringing to light vast tranches of new facts, including many intricate details of how al-Qaeda operated on a human, day-to-day level, and of those states and para-states that shielded the terror network, collaborated with it, and enabled it—and still do.

The gathering of the Bin Laden network in Sudan and then in the Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan in the 1990s is a familiar story, but the splits and debates among the Arab jihadists around Bin Laden, including the opposition of significant numbers of them to the 9/11 massacre, is perhaps less well known. The authors trace out how Bin Laden manipulated his own quasi-institutions to get his way. First, Bin Laden took on the plan of a man, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KSM), who was not even a member of al-Qaeda, and then, ahead of the crucial vote, packed the shura (consultation) council with ultra-zealous Egyptians by engineering a merger between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri. Continue reading

The Horrors in Assad’s Prisons Are Beyond the Cruelty of the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 12 July 2017

In Syria, the West has been keen not to repeat the mistakes of Iraq—defined as being drawn into an open-ended ‘war of choice’ in the Middle East. This insight led to watching with folded arms as the regime of Bashar al-Assad massacred peaceful protesters and depopulated ancient cities with fighter jets and poison gas, an exodus that spread instability into Europe and allowed menacing strategic adversaries like Iran and Russia to gain footholds that Western policy had heretofore denied them. Continue reading

Why The Islamic State Endures

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on March 15, 2017

Brian Fishman’s The Master Plan provides a comprehensive history of the Islamic State’s (IS) strategic evolution, covering the personalities and events that shaped one of the most feared terrorist-insurgent groups that has ever existed. Eminently readable, in places even amusing—no small feat in a book about IS—Fishman flips with ease between the overview and the granular to demonstrate his points, using new sources that will allow as much supplementary research as a reader could wish for, and ties it together in a narrative that will be of use to both specialists and generalists. Continue reading