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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Tribe by James Bruno

Power plays in Afghanistan and in D.C.

When I first picked up the book Tribe, I assumed that the title referred to the complicated loyalties of local Afghan politics that create the hard-to-decipher undercurrents that permeate Afghan politics. After all, the cover photo features the silhouette of what looks to be a mujaheddin soldier brandishing an assault rifle. My assumption was wrong on multiple levels.

If I were more adept with my weapons identification skills, I would have known right away that the soldier was brandishing an American M16, not the omnipresent AK47 favored in Afghanistan - which is a clue to the direction of the book. While wild and hairy adventures in Afghanistan and Yemen exist in the book, this is not really a book about American adventurism in the Muslim world. Instead, the tribe referred to is the brotherhood of intelligence agents - Russian, Afghan, American who do the secret work of their governments but really have more in common with one another than they do with the people who issue their orders.

Bruno would know something about this, having served in the diplomatic corps and as a military intelligence officer for many years. In Tribe we see that ground level CIA operatives and their bosses at the top of the political food chain in Washington, D.C. live in two different worlds with different sets of goals and neither may be quite based in reality.

CIA officer Harry Brennan has a game-changing operation that is about ready to swing into action in Afghanistan - a plan that might very well destroy the Taliban. Suddenly, his superiors pull the plug on his operation and his decision to go ahead with it on his own has spectacular but mixed results that result in his being called back to D.C. and put on a very short leash. But, political winds shift and Brennan becomes involved with major elite power players - the kind that craft grand  policies. Through Brennan we see policy created and implemented from the White House level on down to the dusty mountain roads of Afghanistan - we see operatives that are unaware of larger issues and top level officials that create grand plans for Central Asia that have no basis in ground-level realities.

Brennan is a likeable character with an admirable devotion to his daughter, even if he has a wandering eye for the ladies. His network of friends and a (mostly) constant devotion to his own standards of what is right make this an enjoyable trip through the jumbled world that produces American foreign policy. Throw is some behind-the-scenes look at the world of spies and spying and some well-written adventure and you have a solid book.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Tribe by James Bruno.

Reviewed on November 5, 2011.

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