Book Reviews

Find Fix Finish Book Cover

Find Fix Finish Book Cover

Find, Fix, Finish: Inside the Counterterrorism Campaigns that Killed Bin Laden and Devastated Al Qaeda

by Aki Peritz and Eric Rosenbach
New York: PublicAffairs, 2012
320 pages, $31.00 (HC)
ISBN 9781610391283

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Reviewed by Jordan Fraser

“Find them! Fix them! Fight them! Finish them!” was General Matthew Ridgway’s war cry to his demoralized commanders in Korea during the 1950s. Ridgway drew this tenet from a study of Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant, who stated: “The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get him as soon as you can. Strike at him as hard as you can as often as you can and keep moving.” According to Aki Peritz and Eric Rosenbach, this war cry, updated and applied to the war on international terrorism, became the American strategy to fight the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT).

The authors argue that for the duration of the Cold War, the enemy to which the ‘find, fix, finish’ doctrine was applied was the Soviet Union. However, with the end of the Cold War and the subsequent attacks on the American homeland on 11 September 2001, the American national security apparatus had to go through a very important evolution in its strategic outlook and mindset. In essence, it had to update ‘find, fix and finish’ for the Global War on Terror (GWOT). It is the updating of this strategy, its implementation and consequences, which are the basis of Aki Peritz and Eric Rosenbach’s work Find, Fix, Finish.

Aki Peritz is a Fellow at the Belfer Center in Washington, DC, and he previously worked for the Central Intelligence Agency’s Counterrorism Center. Eric Rosenbach is currently the Assistant Deputy Secretary of Defense of the United States. He has taught courses on counterterrorism at Harvard Kennedy School, and has served on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), where he helped lead oversight of American counterterrorism programs. These two clearly have a plethora of knowledge on the subject matter to which this book pertains.

The book begins with a recounting of the days prior to 9/11 in a chapter aptly entitled ‘Atrophy,’ where the US Government and relevant federal agencies, while beginning to acknowledge the emerging threat of terrorism, did not rank it very highly on the list of national security priorities. Rogue states, the India-Pakistan tension, and WMD proliferation were seen as higher national security priorities during the mid-1990s. Notwithstanding this, the Clinton administration did issue some presidential directives with regards to how the US Government should deal with a terrorist attack, but these directives would initiate a response to an attack instead of a preventative approach.

With the transition to the Bush administration during the winter of 2001, the threat posed by international terrorism once again appeared on American shores very quickly. The tragedy of 9/11 struck nine months later, and it shocked the American psyche. However, it must be noted that the World Trade Center was also previously attacked in February 1993 by Islamic terrorists. 9/11 was, regrettably, not the first time Islamic terrorists had struck on domestic American soil. Within days, Congress passed the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which allowed the president “… to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.”

According to Peritz and Rosenbach, with the onset of the ill-named Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), the US had two competing objectives: dismantle the worldwide Al Qaeda network, and kill or capture those responsible for the attacks on New York and Washington. To this end, the US Government employed a spectrum of military means, all-source intelligence operations, Special Operations Forces (SOF), evolving technology, and intimate partnerships with various close allies and friends in key geopolitical regions around the world. In their efforts to kill or capture Al Qaeda leaders, American governments have been driven by necessity to work with difficult, and some would say unsavory, partner governments, such as those in Pakistan and Yemen. The CIA has worked in conjunction with the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to capture key Al Qaeda members, even though it is fairly well understood that the ISI is infiltrated with many members that are sympathetic to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. These capture operations have been essential in allowing the American intelligence community to generate intelligence sources, which are now a critical part of the find, fix, finish paradigm. This has given the American intelligence community vital insights and information with respect to the personalities, organizations, and operational and targeting methodologies of organizations like Al Qaeda.

One primary theme to which the authors refer is how America can fight an unconventional enemy with brutal and cruel methods of operation whilst maintaining and upholding the values that it holds dear. Peritz and Rosenbach conclude their book by putting the onus upon the American people for the survival of American values and democracy in the midst of the Global War on Terrorism. They state that the survival of the American way of life lies not in the hands of the terrorists, but in the hands of the American people. They must ‘to their own selves be true.’ They must demand wise action and judgment from their leaders, as well as transparency in the partnerships their government makes with foreign governments and intelligence agencies. They must not abrogate or abandon the constitutional and democratic heritage that made their nation great in order to fight a war for their very survival. Time will tell if they can do this, but their history demonstrates that if they desire to, they can do so.

Find, Fix, Finish is a well-documented, researched work, and it is recommended reading for those with an interest in the strategy of the United States in the Global War on Terrorism.

Jordan R. Fraser, BA (Hons) is an MA Candidate in the War Studies program at the Royal Military College of Canada, and works on Parliament Hill.