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Losing Bin Laden

I recently finished reading Losing Bin Laden:How Bill Clinton's Failures Unleashed Global Terror. As the subtitle suggests, it is about foreign policy during the Clinton years in relation to Bin Laden.

It does a good job of putting together what went wrong, and what Clinton should have done. Many of Clinton's missteps can be attributed to hindsight being better than foresight. Others (such as his failure to visit the World Trade Center after the first attack) are less easily defended.

Clinton is depicted as indecisive and too often worried about political consequences. He is criticized for his insistence on viewing terrorism as a law enforcement issue. I remember being puzzled by  news reports about the FBI going to Kenya after the embassy bombings. It just seemed backwards to me that we would use tanks at Waco and a law enforcement agency against terrorists on foreign soil.

Richard Clarke is portrayed as a voice of reason and wisdom. He was particularly adamant that we retaliate militarily after the bombing of The Cole. Later (after this book was published) he wrote a book called Against All Enemies which was reputedly very critical of the Bush administration. This led many Democrats to view him as "our guy" and Republicans to view him as "their guy". I confess at the time I thought he was grinding some kind of personal or partisan ax and I now believe I was wrong. He appears  to be that rare person who puts the good of the country before party loyalty or political ideology.  

Another fascinating character in the story is Janet McElligott. When she is introduced, she is on her way to a party at the Chinese Embassy and accidentally bumps into Sudan's ambassador. She tells him he looks like Baltazar (one of the three wise men from the Christmas story.) They became  friends. I was a little incredulous about this story,but in the notes Mintner states that the ambassador confirmed it.

Who would have thought there would be a "meet-cute" in a book about international terrorism?

In another anecdote, she goes to Sudan with Bill Richardson to negotiate the release of an American pilot being held for $2.5 million ransom by a Sudanese rebel group. The biggest sticking point was that Americans don't pay ransom to terrorists. At the end of some futile negotiations, Richardson told her  "I need you to go talk to the Sudanese. Tell them I have to leave here in an hour and a half."
McElligott then persuaded the Sudanese to have their cash-strapped government fund the ransom so the Americans wouldn't have to.

Wow. Not only am I amazed that I had never heard of this woman, I don't know why they haven't made a movie about her. She is like a cross between Charlie Wilson and Erin Brokovich. With a little Lucy Ricardo thrown in for good measure (except things turn out a little better for Janet McElligott when she gets an idea.)

The portrayal of the terrorists is of course quite negative, but it is hardly one dimensional. For instance, Ramzi Yousef had a business card with the words "International Terrorist" on it. It reminded me of Austin Power's business card with "International Man Of Mystery" on it.
Mintner also tells us that that "Yousef ...seemed to live in a karoake bar...in Manila." The jokes just write themselves.

Elle once told me that I could find humor in anything. After reading that last paragraph about those wacky, zany terrorists, I see she was right. And wasn't necessarily paying me a compliment.

This book is an interesting, if biased, analysis of Clinton's foreign policy. It is worth reading, and not just for the zany parts.


Sounds fascinating. Is it written in the form of a novel? Sounds like it is.

I'm not sure about "historical fiction" myself, because, as Robert Bidinotto once said, the author could change anything he fancied "for dramatic reasons", but leave anything in "because it really happened". He was writing about the story Getting It Right, which made up two fictional characters, one of which infiltrated Ayn Rand's inner circle. According to Bidinotto, that story misrepresented Ayn Rand like crazy.

I'm not saying historical novels based on detailed depictions of true events can't be done well though.
It's not written in the form of a novel, although the way I wrote the review I can see how you got that impression. In fact, the book as a whole is not as entertaining as I made it out to be. It's just that some of the more amusing anecdotes really stuck with me as I was writing.

I agree with you about historical fiction. A while back I read a novel called Blood Trail, which was based on a scandal involving blood banks while Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas. It was quite compelling, but I hated that it was in the form of fiction because I couldn't carry any arguments away from it. (Basically the same problem you had with Getting It Right. )That is *not* the case with LBL.

Oh dear. Sorry about that!

And, to be honest, I've never read Getting it Right. Only Robert Bidinotto's review of it.

I've heard people make the same "it's a straw man" arguments regarding the villians in Atlas Shrugged. To be honest, I see their point.
Oh no need to apologize. It's as much my fault for concentrating on those zany terrorist hijinks at the expense of the more serious issues addressed in the book.

BTW, if you want to read a good historical novel, check out Our Man In Washington by Roy Hoopes. It has H.L. Mencken and James M. Cain investigating the scandals in the Harding administration. It's quite an enjoyable read, especially if you like Mencken. And since there is no underlying polemic, you don't really need to worry about what's true and what's not.

Oh, doesn't matter. I like crazy hijinks. I believe it was PJ O'Rourke who said that seriousness is overrated and I wholeheartedly agree.

He also said that people who deserve to be taken seriously aren't really that serious a lot of the time. :)