Review of "The Good War"

Jack Fairweather, The Good War: Why We Couldn’t Win the War or the Peace in Afghanistan (New York: Basic Books, 2014)

In The Good War, Bloomberg Middle East editor Jack Fairweather asserts that impractical expectations and insufficient preparations failed to “win the war or keep the peace” in Afghanistan. Fairweather, who spent significant time with British forces near Kandahar, provides a straightforward, scorching arraignment of British and US military strategists in their attempts to execute a war in a country they were grossly uneducated about.

The author presents an engrossing, detailed narrative of the war in its various layers and stages, from its initial popularity post-9/11 to the withdrawal of troops, along with the botched attempt to recreate a nation. Fairweather’s derision of the combined arrogance and ignorance of Western leaders highlights the ultimate message of his work: the shortcomings of American military power.

The narrative also delves into several personal accounts of the new radical generation of Taliban and Afghani citizens, as well as unpublished archives and many interviews. Most interestingly,  Fairweather documents the growth of the Taliban through rampant corruption emerging not only from the opium trade but also from the integration of billions in misguided financial aid . Over the years the flawed system perpetuated a slippery slope of extra troops and wasted funding.  What was needed, and was only achieved ten years later, was for Western powers to come to a peace settlement. The political and social realities of Afghanistan as a nation must be accepted in order for the country to redevelop and heal after its turbulent history.

The lessons offered in the book, published this past November, can be applied in the wake of the threat of ISIS, which once again has spurred intense debate on Western intervention. The region of Iraq and Syria that the terrorist group has emerged out of also has an acutely complex history and ethno-religious social structure. The U.S. and its allies cannot afford to make the same mistakes again; they must enter into the fray with an extremely clear understanding of the area’s dynamics. Fairweather’s words of caution must be heeded in terms of the current crisis, or Western forces will once again be looking at a prolonged, expensive conflict.