The book offers a good survey of what the USA did in Afghanistan to fight
the Soviet Union, which turned out to create Al Qaeda and lay the foundations
for the terrorist attacks of September 11. The book does not do enough to
explain what the USA could have done to avoid the terrorist attacks (without
surrendering to the Soviet Union, which was "the" enemy at the time).
Thus the drawback
of the book is that it is very useful for people interested in assigning blame,
but not very useful in people who want to improve the system.
The book inevitably focuses on the support that the USA gave to the Pakistani and Saudi intelligence, the two main sources of funding and training for the volunteers willing to fight the Soviet Union. More or less unbeknownst to the CIA, these Saudi and Pakistani organizations had their own radical agenda, and proceeded to use USA support and money to develop that radical agenda and then test it against the Soviet Union. The agenda survived the war against the Soviet Union and was then applied against the USA. One question that at the end remains unanswered is whether the terrorists turned the agenda against the USA with or without the consent of those two (Saudi and Pakistani) intelligence organizations: did those two organizations also miscalculate, creating a monster that spun out of their control, or did they actively help in setting a new target, the USA?
The book does not devote enough room to the opposite side of the equation: the damage done by USA indifference towards the problem. USA intervention in Afghanistan did work: it expelled the Soviet Union and the very unpopular communist regime. What did not work was the USA's withdrawal: once the Soviet Union was defeated, the USA lost interest in Afghanistan and simply went home, as it periodically does around the world. This is frequently (Lebanon, Somalia) was causes the problem: not USA interventions, but USA withdrawals. The USA did not do anything to create a democratic Afghanistan: it let the Pakistani and Saudi intelligence organizations do whatever they wanted with the spoils of war.
It was the indifference of the USA leaders that made it possible for the CIA to be so incompetent not to realize that the Saudi and Pakistani intelligence organizations had become sponsors of an international jihad. The CIA kept cooperating with them, when in fact they were laying the foundations for an attack against the USA. The fact is that noone in Washington was particularly interested in understanding what the Saudis and the Pakistanis were doing in Afghanistan. Thus only low-level CIA operatives saw the threat coming, and the information was never amplified as it deserved. As simple as that: USA politicians were too busy bickering over sex scandals.
The book's strength is in describing the USA's side of the equation: how Washington neglected the problem, or at least never solved it when it could have. Here the culprit is the Republican Party, which controlled the Houses and was obsessed with impeaching president Bill Clinton over some sex scandal. Osama bin Laden could not have dreamed of a better and more powerful ally. While the USA Congress was focusing all its forces on impeaching the president, Osama bin Laden was preparing to strike the USA.
Clinton knew that Osama bin Laden's organization had become a serious problem, and that Taliban-ruled Afghanistan was becoming a nightmare, but he was in no position to start a war in Afghanistan, since Congress had even accused him of attacking Serbia to distract attention from his scandal. This was a Congress determined to destroy the president, even if that meant destroying the country with him.
What the Republicans did not see (even after a Republican was more or less elected president) was who the enemy was. Throughout the 1990s the Republicans behaved as if the new enemy of the USA was its president, Bill Clinton (mainly guilty of having created the longest economic expansion in the history of the country). In the meantime the enemy (the real one) had all the freedom, time and money to get organized. The strike of 11/9/2001 is really the consequence of an intestine USA war, that weakened the state, and left thousands of CIA operatives without a mission.
Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance that was fighting the Taliban, was in vain begging for help and warning of the dangers of letting the Taliban take over Afghanistan. The Republicans let the teerrorist slaughter Massoud. The world watched powerless as the Taliban blew up two giant Buddha statues: the barbaric Republicans could care less about thousand-year old monuments.
The Republican Party comes out of this story as the real enemy of the USA people. Finally, the Republican president who succeeded Clinton, George W Bush, removed the Taliban (and, for good measure, Saddam Hussein) from power. It was the right thing to do, but too late to bring back the lives of 3,000 Americans. At their funerals the Republicans cried crocodile tears.