America’s Military Experience in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria
Brian Glyn Williams
University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2016, 400 pages
Book Review published on: June 9, 2017
Concerned with his students’ misunderstanding and in many cases a generational “shocking ignorance” of why the United States has been at war for over fifteen years, author and University of Massachusetts professor of Islamic history, Brian Glyn Williams offers an exceptional chronicle of the events leading to today’s pursuit and defeat of the Islamic State (IS). In Counter Jihad: America’s Military Experience in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, Williams’s goal is to educate readers on why the United States is involved in wars in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. His approach is to look back, describe, and explain the circumstances and events contributing to what was called the war on terror. Balanced and apolitical, Williams argues that only by exploring the past can we understand the jihad, the attacks on our homeland, and the nearly sixteen years of war ranging from mountains of Afghanistan, to the sands of Iraq and Syria, and to the streets of Paris and San Bernardino, California.
In this, his sixth book, Williams presents an easy-to-read narrative on the rise of IS, informed by his deep understanding of the Middle East and Central Asia, extensive and meticulously detailed research, and his own personal experiences while deployed to the region on many occasions. He begins by discussing the early seeds of conflict, namely the Arab-Israeli conflict and the war between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. Williams then traces the events and implications of operations against the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan that followed the attacks on the United States in September 2001. He then reviews the arguments used by the United States to invade Iraq. Williams does a wonderful job of describing the questionable rationale used by the Bush administration in arguing for the invasion of Iraq, namely the suggested existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, an alleged transfer of yellowcake uranium from Niger to Iraq, Iraq’s purchase of aluminum tubes thought to be used for the enrichment of uranium, Iraq’s supposed development of an unmanned aerial vehicle capable of delivering WMD, the existence of mobile labs capable of manufacturing WMD, claims of chemical-biological stockpiles, and the inaccurate assumption of a relationship between al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. None of these proved to be true, leading to the rise of the Iraqi insurgency driven largely by the U.S. invasion and the subsequent De-Baathification and dismantling of the Iraqi Army. Next, he revisits the continuing struggle in Afghanistan, some say forgotten to the Iraq War and the eventual takedown of bin Laden. Williams concludes his work discussing how all of this fits together and fueled the rise of IS.
The strength of the book is in its level of detail and the ease in which Williams walks the reader through the historical narrative. Many “dots are connected” as he adeptly reveals relationships and connections that some may not know or understand. One need not be an expert on the Middle East to follow Williams as he leads the reader to a better understanding of the Taliban, al-Qaida, IS, and their affiliates. The book is an excellent primer on why the United States was attacked and what has happened since. It will be particularly useful for young military professionals just getting started in their careers and wondering how the United States got to where it is. Williams does an excellent job of laying out whom these Patriots will fight and why. This is not to suggest that only the military will find the book useful. Anyone with an interest in the United States’ military involvement in the Middle East since 11 September 2001 will find the book quite useful and a pleasure to read.
Book Review written by: David D. Haught, Fort Belvoir, Virginia