In its earliest days, the American-led war in Afghanistan appeared to be a triumph - a ‘good war’ in comparison to the debacle in Iraq. It has since turned into one of the longest and most expensive wars in recent history. The story of how this good war went so bad may well turn out to be a defining tragedy of the twenty-first century - yet, as acclaimed war correspondent Jack Fairweather explains, it should also give us reason to hope for an outcome grounded in Afghan reality.
In The Good War, Fairweather provides the first full narrative history of the war in Afghanistan, from the 2001 invasion to the 2014 withdrawal. Drawing on hundreds of interviews, previously unpublished archives, and months of experience living and reporting in Afghanistan, Fairweather traces the course of the conflict from its inception after 9/11 to the drawdown in 2014. In the process, he explores the righteous intentions and astounding hubris that caused the West’s strategy in Afghanistan to flounder, refuting the long-held notion that the war could have been won with more troops and cash. Fairweather argues that only by accepting the limitations in Afghanistan - from the presence of the Taliban to the ubiquity of poppy production to the country’s inherent unsuitability for rapid, Western-style development - can we help to restore peace in this shattered land.
A timely lesson in the perils of nation-building and a sobering reminder of the limits of military power, The Good War leads readers from the White House Situation Room to Afghan military outposts, from warlords’ palaces to insurgents’ dens, to explain how the US and its British allies might have salvaged the Afghan campaign - and how we must rethink other ‘good’ wars in the future.
Unrealistic expectations, inadequate local knowledge, and poor planning doomed the post-2001 allied effort in Afghanistan, argues Fairweather (A War of Choice), a Middle East editor and correspondent for Bloomberg News, who spent time embedded with British forces. Prior to deploying to the area around Kandahar, Fairweather says, "British understanding of the situation didn't extend much further than... vague misgivings and self-assurances," and Americans were hardly better off. Fairweather's richly-narrated history of the conflict is a soft-spoken but scathing indictment of military tactics and lack of preparation. His story takes frequent tragicomic turns, as when a much-heralded Taliban interlocutor presented to Hamid Karzai as a negotiating partner turned out to be a shopkeeper with no connection to terrorists. When the British military's request for funds for additional helicopters was rejected, they purchased them anyway, "using an accounting sleight of hand" that was immediately detected by then-chancellor Gordon Brown. Now, with the war winding down, Afghanistan is left with a badly fractured political system and a government unable to secure large areas of the country. Fairweather's central point is that hubris and arrogance led the U.S. military into dangerous territory abroad as well as domestically: "By pushing civilian leadership into escalating the war, the military had strayed into unprecedented and unconstitutional political waters." Maps & b&w photos.