ISBN: 978-0-374-27989-9

John Mueller

Ohio State University & Cato Institute

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This book, by a top military reporter, covers the successful military campaign from 2014 to 2019 against Islamic State, or ISIS, an extremist insurgent group in Iraq and Syria. It focuses primarily on the American contribution and its ‘by, with, and through’ strategy. In this, the US worked with local forces by rendering advice, providing supplies and intelligence, and carrying out bombing raids. While tens of thousands of people were killed in the war, only 20 were American. Gordon calls this a ‘new way of war’, but it was similar to the American (and European) approach to civil wars in Bosnia and Croatia ten years earlier, and it may now be finding resonance in the war in Ukraine. Because of its focus on US efforts, the book says little about the workings and machinations of ISIS, and this is sometimes unfortunate. For example, the US spent $20 billion in Iraq to create defense forces that, ill-led and corruption-ridden, crumbled when first challenged by ISIS fighters. Soon, however, effective (if often squabbling) anti-ISIS forces were created, a remarkable transformation that was caused not so much by American efforts as by local revulsion at the vicious and genocidal tactics of ISIS. And rather than treating ISIS fighters as cornered rats behind human shields as US policy dictated, evidence in the book suggests that leaving them an escape route might have saved many civilian lives. Some escapees might have fought again, but many would likely have fled the fractious, murderous, and pathological ISIS society.