The Publishers Weekly review of Surprise Attack is in and it gives an insightful overview of the book.
Rather than simply repeating the review here, I’d like to pick out some of its observations and elaborate on them a bit. For example the review notes the book’s analysis is “detailed, technical, and pessimistic”. Readers of my other works won’t be shocked about the “detailed and technical” characterization, that’s what I do. It would be meaningless to write about surprise attacks without examining the mechanisms and practices of warnings intelligence, about nuclear deterrence and MAD without discussing the SIOP, its evolution and the stances of various presidential administrations in regard to nuclear warfighting. It would be equally wrong to analyze the events of 9/11 without going into the evolution of American air defense, NORAD air defense exercises in the period of 1999-2001 and the ROE in place on September 11, 2001.
The alternative would be the similar to political commentary on which presidential candidate would be the best choice to respond to a “bolt of the blue” wake up call at 3 am in the morning, when the writer offers no insight at all on the nature of National Command Authority or shows any ability to differentiate the appropriate chains of command for various types of threats – from overseas embassy attacks to cyber warfare strikes. As far as the reference to “pessimism”, perhaps. The history I trace is not particularly encouraging, especially in regard to institutional memory in Washington D.C. Still, there are fixes and I spell a number of them out in the book. And if you are not familiar acronyms I just used, I guarantee you will be if you choose to delve into Surprise Attack.
The review mentions the book’s discussion of “mirroring” and that is an immensely important concept, not only in regard to Cold War history and the development of military industrial complexes but to contemporary events. In particular, events of the Eisenhower Administration provide a tutorial very relevant to today’s confrontations with an assertive Russian Federation, and a warning on how even exceptionally good intelligence work can be overwhelmed by political realities. Studies of that same era demonstrate how we ended up with a 10,000 nuclear warhead inventory – when 200 weapons were initially perceived as sufficient to totally destroy the war fighting capability of the Soviet Union.
Another point the review mentions is that neither lack of warnings nor even assessments of incompetence are sufficient to explain some of the worst losses of American lives. What emerges decade after decade, from the Philippines in 1941, to the attacks on the Liberty and Pueblo and on to the terror attacks on America in 2001 is that the most fundamental issue is one of “ownership”. Ownership was exercised in regard to the Bojinka airliner plot of 1995 and the Millennium threats of 2000 – those attacks were interdicted. Ownership was not exercised in 2001 and the planned attacks of 9/11 were carried out.
It should also be noted that the Publishers Weekly review conveys the impression that Surprise Attack might have just a touch of attitude – while I would maintain that I worked extremely hard at being objective and factual, I can’t completely deny that assessment.