The Thistle and the Drone: How America's War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam Hardcover – Mar 7 2013
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The Thistle and the Drone reminds the intelligence professional of the importance of understanding local culture and history as the start point for any successful counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operation....by far the greater value of this book lies in the detailed examples Ahmed provides of various tribal communities around the world. Avoiding the esoteric, he provides data useful to the diplomat, intelligence officer, or warrior engaged in political actions or operations in nearly every part of the Islamic world.J.R. Seeger, retired CIA National Clandestine Service officer, CIA. gov Library, Center for the Study of Intelligence
"In the end, I was close to tears. Lagrimas caudales or "flowing tears," to use the apposite phrase of Blas de Otero, seems to be what the book's conclusions lead to.... Thus lagrimas for the tribes, for the soldiers, and for the United States.... Akbar Ahmed gives us the only way out of this dangerous dilemma, a way to coexist with the thistle without the drone."—Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, professor of government and public policy at the College of William and Mary
"I am moved, horrified, and encouraged all at once. Above all, Professor Ahmed makes me proud to be an anthropologist!"—Professor Marilyn Strathern D.B.E., former William Wyse Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge
"Ahmed's years of field experience and study, as a government official in tribal Pakistan, as an anthropologist, and as a leading authority on traditional Islam, make him uniquely qualified to offer this timely, balanced, and well-argued analysis of the interaction between modern drone warfare and the tribal peoples it targets. This book should be required reading for any policymaker, student, or military officer seeking to understand the risks and dilemmas of today's conflict."—Colonel David Kilcullen, author of The Accidental Guerilla, reviewing a previous edition or volume
"From Akbar Ahmed, one of the wisest Muslim heads I know, a brilliant deconstruction of America's drone attacks on targets in Pakistan and other Muslim societies across the world. His cogent account of how each attack detonates tribal threads, alienating and radicalizing whole communities still further, is a must-read."—Jon Snow, presenter Channel 4/ITN News
" The Thistle and the Drone... makes a clear argument that the president and his advisers are putting the al-Qaeda cart before the tribal horse."—Malise Ruthven, The New York Review of Books
"This is an important book that deserves the attention of scholars as well as policy makers."—Thomas H. Johnson, Research Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, The Middle East Journal
About the Author
Akbar Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, D.C. He was the former Pakistani high commissioner to the United Kingdom, the first Distinguished Chair of Middle East Studies at the U.S. Naval Academy, and is a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Among his previous books are Journey into Islam and Journey into America, both published by Brookings. He is also a published poet and playwright.
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Rather than a strong sense of orthodox Islam, terror networks draw their legitimacy from their tribal backgrounds. This is an important factor is we in the West want to achieve success in this ongoing conflict. Ahmed puts forward the idea that tribes in the Af-Pak boarder area have seen their governing structure destroyed by three factors. 1.Modernization. 2. The State, which views them as backwards and uses violence against them, and 3. Globalization. These three threats have destroyed the three pillars of what Ahmed call "The Waziristan Model" which consists of 1. Tribal Leaders. 2. Religious Leaders. 3. Representatives of the State, the Political Agent (PA) in the case of Pakistans frontier.
All of these ideas make a lot of sense. And will enhance your understanding of the problems in Pakistan. However, the book as a giant weakness. The scope of the project is simply too large. Ahmed wants to show that this model rings true in most of the conflicts against terrorism around the world. He looks at dozens of tribes currently involved in conflict. So much so, that all of the location, names, tribes, histories, and reasons for war are simply overwhelming and yet, too brief to truly enhance your understanding of each conflict (save the Pakistani example, as he spends more time on it. Early on, the author makes a point of saying that each case study could demand a book in its own right. And he is correct. This book suffers for that. If he wanted to give an true analysis of all these case studies, this book would have been 1200 pages long. He would have been better to have stuck with 3 or so case studies and examined them in depth. Maybe Pakistan, Yemin and Mali.
And now to deal with the Drones. The drones in the title of this book are really just a metaphor for globalization. Ahmed does not go into detail about enough specific cases of drone strikes, how their targets are chosen, what the results are in terms of deaths, the true position of the Pakistani government on these weapons (they are against it on the surface, but their has been evidence showing they accept it). I bought this book to understand drones better. I now understand the tribes much better, and because of that I MIGHT understand the effects these weapons have on them. But I did not get a clear enough picture of the intent of these weapons by the USA from this book. Which brings me to the next glaring weakness of this book.
Ahmed insists that drone strikes and interventions by the Americans are the result of the Americans being swindled by other governments. He does not talk enough about the american Intelligence community, which is intimately tied to selecting targets for drone strikes. He should have. An understanding of how targets are chosen would do this volume a world of good.
My final criticism. Mr. Ahmed should have told more of his personal experience as a Political Agent in Pakistan, a position he held many years ago. He lets it be known that he had great success by engaging the tribes on their own terms, with their own traditions. He would have been wise to scrap the 110 page long chapter in which he talks about dozens and dozens of different tribes in dozens of countries, and instead include a more in depth account of how politics work in Pakistan with the tribes, especially since his final chapter, "How to win the War on Terror" provides very little suggestions for policy. At one point he spends 2-3 pages talking about the need for Anthropology (his profession). Yes, such experts will help us understand tribes, but the placement of this discussion in the final chapter felt like an interruption.
All in all, you will read this book and get a better understanding of Tribes and the challenges they face and thus the challenges the West faces as these tribes are finding themselves on the opposite side of the battlefield. You understanding of drones drone policy however, will not be much ore than it was before you started. Still worth the read, but be prepared, I can see why some people would disagree.
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