In a glutted marketplace, discerning readers will scrutinize each new book about terrorism by asking why this specific volume has been written and what unique contribution it makes. Sadly, Jenkins's book fails to offer satisfactory answers to these questions. This is unfortunate because he is an experienced student of terrorism who over the years has made important contributions to the field.
The first chapter sheds light on the volume's disjointed feel, explaining that the book is a collection of the briefings, memoranda, and essays that Jenkins, senior advisor to the president of the RAND Corporation, has written since 9-11. "Reviewing my own work," Jenkins states, "I find that certain basic themes recur." But the ten themes he lists are largely unrelated and do not comprise a coherent idea or theory.
Jenkins does manage to organize the book loosely around the idea of how the United States can be an "unconquerable nation" in its battle against terrorism (the term is taken from a saying of Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, who argued that "being unconquerable lies with yourself"). Jenkins' main prescriptions are inner resolve or "stoicism in the face of threats," preservation of such American values as the prohibition of torture, and smarter, more effective counterterrorism.
Although Jenkins's argumentation is overly sparse (the reader is frequently forced to take his word on assertions that are made without supporting evidence), his writing is lucid, and he makes many intelligent points. One of his more interesting observations involves the current threat "feedback loop" wherein analysts trumpet America's vulnerabilities in testimony and reports, and in turn, terrorists—who "do not live on another planet"—incorporate these vulnerabilities into strategic discussions. "When our intelligence in turn learns what terrorists are talking about," Jenkins observes, "the feedback loop is completed, seeming to confirm our own worst fears."
Other interesting passages include an analysis of President George W. Bush's failure to mobilize the American citizenry to play a role in homeland security after 9-11, a counter-intuitive defense of the pervasive official press conferences about possible terrorist threats, and an explanation of advantages that could be gained by persuading detainees to publicly turn against Al-Qaeda. Yet such smart arguments should have been presented in shorter form: The book's desultory feel will disappoint all but the most dedicated readers.