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

Brian King–On October 10, 2012, the Junior Fellows attended presentations by Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt (Pentagon Correspondents for the NY Times) who presented their new book, “Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America’s Secret War Against Al Qaeda,” which addresses America’s “war on terror” since the 9/11 attacks.  The event was sponsored by the Bush School’s Scowcroft Institute.

Mr. Shanker and Mr. Schmitt engaged in an hour-long discussion of the difficulties faced by both Bush and Obama in trying to craft a coherent strategy to combat terrorism.  The difficulty, according to the authors, comes from Al Qaeda’s shifting and evolving tactics, which have defied a one-size-fits-all solution.

Tom Shanker and Eric Schmitt

Although politicians have taken pains to draw a distinction between the war on terror and the Cold War, the authors argue that the United States has essentially settled on the same strategy—deterrence—as a response strategy.  While the authors admit that the masterminds and the suicide bombers are too fanatical to be deterred, they believe the key to the US’s success is targeting the “middle management” of the terror network—some of the finance directors, the informational technology network, and the citizens who enable the terrorists.

While the authors are quick to credit the US for ultimately finding an effective strategy to guard against a large-scale attack, they point out that the US has been less successful at developing a full-fledged strategy to win the “hearts and minds” of citizens in the Middle East.  Moreover the authors lament the fact that the US overreacts to the ever-present threat of terror, a tendency, the authors argue, that allows Al Qaeda to instill terror without mounting a successful, large-scale terror attack.

Eric Schmitt and Tom Shanker

The authors were informative and interesting, and they signed books and engaged in additional discussion following the event.  We were able to get a few more questions answered and a nice picture.

Santiago Casas, Will Phillips, Tom Shanker, Taylor Parker, Eric Schmitt, Brian King, Joshua Ruschenberg

Following the presentation, the Junior Fellows visited College Station’s Blue Baker, where we met up with Junior Fellow alum Cameron Goodman and enjoyed the pizzas, salads, sandwiches, and cookies.


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