THE GOOD WAR by Jack Fairweather


Why We Couldn’t Win the War or the Peace in Afghanistan
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A reconsideration of “how the world’s most powerful leaders plotted to build a new kind of nation in Afghanistan that was pure fantasy.”

Bloomberg News Middle East editor and correspondent Fairweather (War of Choice: The British in Iraq 2003-9, 2011) finds American naïveté and confusion of purpose at the crux of what went wrong in the war in Afghanistan. The original defeat of the Taliban in 2001 was almost too swift to be true, and early on, President George W. Bush insisted that the United States was “not into nation-building; we are focused on justice.” Then, the U.S. shifted the focus to Iraq, allowing the Afghan warlords to duke it out, especially the opportunistic, CIA-backed Hamid Karzai. As the Taliban began to creep back in and the provinces fell into anarchy and opium-growing (once quelled under the austere Taliban), the American administration underwent a philosophical shift. With Iraq then in tatters, a humanitarian aim of rebuilding the country took over. Yet corruption skimmed the aid money, and U.S. engineering firms had little knowledge of the local environment, and there was virtually no oversight. The creation of a series of Provincial Reconstruction Teams was an attempt to tie local tribal connections to a central authority, and some of Karzai’s appointed governors were removed—Helmand’s Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, who was overseeing a vast, lucrative opium-growing network. The clamor for more money and more troops became the recurrent cri de coeur, drowning out sounder arguments, including that of British ambassador Sherard Cowper-Coles, who called for more tribal engagement and negotiations with the Taliban. While the efforts to commit Afghan children to education were successful, the miserable litany of IEDs, troop surge, counterinsurgency, fraudulent elections, runaway generals, drone strikes and immense waste underscores what Fairweather calls the “futility of force.”

A thorough, elegant reassessment of America’s “irresistible illusion.”

Pub Date: Nov. 11th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0465044955
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2014


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