Black Flags: The Rise of Isis by Joby Warrick

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Joby Warrick makes the story of how ISIS came to be in his book Black Flags: The Rise of Isis. He walks the reader through events before ISIS came to be, that he feels is what created a situation for ISIS to be made and to flourish. Both directly and indirectly Warrick blames events on specific entities throughout, as well as providing examples of what a “model” actor should have done. A lot of his sources came from one side of the conflict, so it is fair to say that his findings may be biased. Despite all these, I believe the book does a good job giving a history of ISIS and would be interesting for anyone wanting to find out more information about ISIS.

Throughout the book, Warrick speaks multiple times of the Jordan government and the United States Government. We initially get this introduction in the first part of the book, when the newly appointed Jordan king pardoned Zarqawi and others from prison. Warrick later states that had Abdullah known Zarqawi was on the list, he never would have signed decree. (Warrick p.43) This mistake by King Abdullah was the first of many mistakes made by governments, and in turn the rise of Zarwai, and the rise of ISIS. After this though, there is very few mention of the government of Jordan making mistakes. They are placed in a new light, that shows them trying to help the situation. This is most notably seen when the Syria situation begins to take a turn for the worse. It showed King Abdullah wanting to help the Syrian government, and offer friendly help. (Warrick p.240).

Throughout the rest of the book, Jordan isn’t mentioned as often, and if they are, it’s in a relatively good light, showing the proper things they did do. This contrasts greatly in the way the United States is portrayed. The United States, both by their own doing and the rhetoric used, is shown to have dropped the ball. Multiple times. In hunting down Zarqawi, preventing 9/11 and the civil war in Syria, and finally the creation of ISIS. Warrick gives an example of this, when Charles Faddis provided information about the whereabouts of Ansar al-Islam and what they were planning to do.

The White house had a plan on how to handle it, but decided to wait. (Warrick p.90). This is just one example of the United States waiting to act, and missing a “golden opportunity”. The more present example that Warrick gives, is the United States refusing to intervene in the Syrian Crisis. President Obama rejected plans made by the CIA to arm rebels to help tip the scale (Warrick p.280). This was justified by Obama’s promise to remove the USA from the middle east and it’s wars, however, the book leads the reader to believe it is a costly mistake.

After reading the book, I was personally left with the idea that the United States was really to blame. That consistently is was there unwillingness to act, inability to share information between departments, and fear of another middle eastern war, that caused all these horrible things in the world to happen. That isn’t to say that the United States shouldn’t take some of the blame, cause we should. However, the feeling of solely putting on the United States, which I felt Warrick did, feels unjustified. This is until I began looking at who Warrick credits and thanks. There is a few articles that came out of the United States, however, a lot came out of the middle eastern countries, or interviews with people that lived in those areas at the time.

This leads me to believe that, either intentionally or unintentionally, Warrick provides a skew view of the events, that would naturally make the Jordan and middle eastern governments as heroes, and the United States as villains. This is compounded by the fact, that the few Americans Warrick did interview, were people like Robert Ford and Nada Bakos. As the book goes on, where can see Ford’s anger with the government, as he ends up quitting. With that being said, he might not have been the kindest in his words about America. Only adding to the possibly bias information Warrick was given as source material when writing this book.

It is hard to be bias about history. The events that Warrick state happen, did happen, there’s no getting around that fact. I believe this would be a good book for anyone wanting to find out more about ISIS and it’s beginnings as any. Should it be the only book someone reads about it? Probably not, but I feel it gives a good foundation and a better understanding of what happened, and what mistakes were made. I’m a computer information systems major, so I am as far removed from this as a student can get. I knew very little about ISIS, besides they were bad and had some connection to al-Qaida. I found the book relatively easy to read, compared to some of the other books, as well as interesting. It read more like an actual story, then a history book. I thought it did a great job around everything that happened, and I feel like I learned a lot more from it, and would recommend it to anyone wanting to know more.

In conclusion, Warrick makes a very interesting topic into a great book. It has its pitfalls, as would any book. Some of his information may have been skewed, causing a slightly biased, or negative viewpoint on the Americans during this conflict. He took a very dreary subject and made it interesting. I would recommend it to anyone interested in ISIS. I would argue that this only shows part of the story of ISIS, and this book should be supplemented with other reading material.


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Black Flags: The Rise of Isis by Joby Warrick. (2021, Apr 15). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/black-flags-the-rise-of-isis-by-joby-warrick/

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