Do we really want to know what happened in Iraq and the middle east? Joby Warrick’s handle on that is solid and troubling. He is of a rare breed, a very well informed investigative journalist who can write. As it happens, he’s writing about the hottest, most avoided and most propagandized subject of the day, ISIS/ISIL/DAESH. He is very clear that deposing Saddam Hussein split the fragile stability of Sunni and Shia coexistence and led to the Islamic State.
Warrick’s resume is replete with a pair of Pulitzers and other awards, and his information is so deep and current that I assumed an Intelligence background. But it’s the Washington Post who developed this remarkable writer, with an assist by Bob Woodward.
There are two hot-button books. The Triple Agent (2013) is a personal and professional biography of a mild-mannered Jordanian physician who was radicalized via the internet, became a influential presence there, and was recruited by the Mukharabat, Jordan’s very respected intelligence agency. Then to be exploited by them and CIA, which did not work out well. In fact it blew up in the face of both agencies as few operations ever do, ending with his death and that of many key high level Western intelligence personnel. Part of that group were two influential women carving careers out of the stubborn male espionage culture, a sub-plot he explores in some detail.
Sent to a likely death in Afghanistan, the inexperienced idealistic doctor survives and makes contact with the enemy – first Taliban and then Al Qaeda, at the highest level. How this backfires is a tale straight out of John Le Carré, and Warrick’s ability to make “personnel” into people is remarkable. The book begins with an endless list of names the reader doesn’t really need to know, but picks up speed and focus as we enter the modest world of a bookish, undistinguished, well-intended doctor whose hobby is the internet.
Black Flags (2016) is a horse from a different garage, a cause-and-effect book that connects the embarrassing dots that corporate media avoid. It’s as good as it gets with Radical Islam, a knowledgeable, detailed and readable account of how ISIS came about, understandable by any intelligent civilian with half an education and an open mind.
Warrick is clear on the influence of our war lobby and our preference for military solutions to irritating situations, and how the disaster occurred because of breaking many rules, and he doesn’t mince words. ISIS could not exist without our destruction of Iraq and subsequent failure to deal with the consequences. The resulting chaos exacerbated Sunni-Shia friction, ending in confrontation and civil war, a pattern repeated in Libya and then Ukraine, following the Nuland coup.
Warrick the writer brings a humane sense of people and events that is unique in this genre, and he has the gift of making someone clear and recognizable without wasting words. His kind-hearted, well-intended doctor is as real as the Mukharabat agent who recruits him, a capable interesting man whose life and career have been bent out of shape by the fact that he is of Royal blood.
Bottom line, Warrick understands the Muslim world in a very un-American way. His Muslims are human, listening to endless whispered buzz of drones above their primitive villages day and night, then subject to a massive revenge onslaught following the disaster, which changed the rules. Warrick lets the reader in on what that must be like for civilians – like being black in a city full of unpredictable cops with super-weapons.
Clear and detailed as his general information is, with few inaccuracies, Warrick also brings a human reality that transcends race, geography, politics and prejudice. He presents good people who aspire to decency, and his sanctimonious thugs are brutal and greedy as they act out their dreams of power and revenge. The CIA review of his work is revealing, but does not attempt to deny the value of his books.