cover image Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda

Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda

Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker. Times, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9103-8

Schmitt and Shanker, national security correspondents for the New York Times, draw upon a decade of reporting and hundreds of interviews for this behind-the-scenes account of the "evolution of strategic thinking" since the September 11 attacks. The authors point out that the Bush administration's initial strategy of "capture or kill" was based on the notion that traditional concepts of deterrence could not be applied to the terrorist threat. Behind the scenes, a small group of relatively anonymous counterterrorism experts began to develop a new strategy to combat violent religious extremism. They argued that focusing on terror networks instead of terrorist leaders, and utilizing an approach combining economic, military, political, and psychological tactics, would enable the U.S. to influence decisions within those networks. The new deterrence strategy was approved and implemented by President Bush in 2006, largely reaffirmed by President Obama when he took office, and in practice continues to evolve. While the authors' reporting is necessarily centered on policy making, Schmitt and Shanker are careful to relate theory to practice and to consider its implications for a spectrum of terrorism issues: from homegrown terrorists to cyber deterrence. Schmitt and Shanker's straightforward analysis of counterterrorism strategy should appeal to anyone who wants to understand the parameters of the ongoing fight against terrorism. (Aug.)