First published some two years before the September 11 attacks, Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America appears to have been highly prescient. This is particularly true of Bodansky's portrayal of how bin Laden and his network are seeking to drive America out of the Muslim world - especially Saudi Arabia - through acts of "spectacular terrorism." There are, however, several important problems with the book.
Bodansky traces Osama bin Laden's journey from son of a rags-to-riches Saudi construction magnate to anti-Soviet mujahid in Afghanistan in the 1980s, his subsequent break with the Saudi monarchy in the early 1990s over its decision to allow American forces into the Kingdom after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, his activities in Sudan until 1996, and his activities in Afghanistan since then.
What emerges - in addition to a portrait of an individual determined to expel American and other non-Muslim influences from the Muslim world - is a detailed description of the extraordinary network operating throughout the Muslim world, the West and elsewhere that bin Laden and his associates have built up to pursue this aim. The author goes on to argue that bin Laden's endeavors have received crucial support from several governments, including Afghanistan's Taliban, Pakistan, Sudan, Iran and Iraq.
This is a serious claim. Much of the research supporting it, Bodansky writes in his introductory "Note on Sources and Methods," is based on "extensive interviews and communications with numerous officials, mujahideen, terrorists, commanders, emitters, defectors, and otherwise involved individuals from all sides of these events" (p. xxi). He also made use of "large quantities of open sources-primarily regional media" (p. xxi). He then states that "precise source noting is inadvisable
Mark N. Katz is a professor of government
and politics at George Mason University.