By this authoritative account, the Afghanistan War has been a colossal failure that should have been ended years ago.



A veteran Washington Post investigative reporter delivers a dispiriting history of the 20-year Afghanistan debacle.

The war in Vietnam was always controversial. The longer quagmire of Afghanistan, writes Whitlock, “was grounded in near-unanimous public support” when it began in 2003. There was no need, then, for the Pentagon brass to lie about the war, but lie they did, despite that fact that there was not a clearly articulated mission. The mission crept into a vaguely defined exercise in nation-building even as more than 775,000 U.S. troops cycled in and out of the country. Whitlock’s impressively documented book contains interviews with more than 1,000 participants in the war. The author also examines a report titled “Lessons Learned,” which, though inches thick, seems to have emerged only long after the damage was done (and $1 trillion disappeared into the ether). One curious diagnostic among many uncovered in this comprehensive overview: Early on, American troops had to fly their laundry to Uzbekistan, since there were no facilities in Afghanistan, whereas the base at Bagram soon sported “a shopping mall, a Harley-Davidson dealer and about 30,000 troops, civilians and contractors.” Bush administration officials could never wrap their heads around the fact that the Taliban and al-Qaida were distinct entities and were convinced that anyone willing to fight against them was a friend of the U.S. Those presumed allies milked a gullible U.S. dry. One interviewee notes that the U.S. misadventure could have ended in weeks if direct negotiations with the Taliban had been undertaken. Instead, enemies were misidentified and innocent people killed so frequently that one officer reported that some units were “focused in consequence management, paying Afghans for damages and condolence payments.” That Joe Biden was able to order America’s withdrawal redefined the terms of victory to say that the U.S. “had achieved its original objective long ago by destroying al-Qaeda’s stronghold in Afghanistan”—rather than acknowledge that the Afghans had defeated their second superpower.

By this authoritative account, the Afghanistan War has been a colossal failure that should have been ended years ago.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982159-00-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.


Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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