The Good War

Why We Couldn't Win the War or the Peace in Afghanistan

Jack Fairweather,

The Good War: Why We Couldn't Win the War or the Peace in Afghanistan
In the earliest years of the war in Afghanistan, after the Taliban fell to an American-led coalition, the fight there appeared to be a triumph—a “good war” in comparison to the debacle in Iraq. Now, thirteen years after it began, it has turned into the longest war in U.S. history, as well as the most profligate; at an estimated $4 to $6 trillion, the final price tag for America’s part in the war in Afghanistan will be higher than that of World War II. And with thousands of coalition servicemen and Afghan civilians having paid for the war with their lives or limbs, the true cost of this futile expedition may never be properly calculated.

As we wind down our combat operations in Afghanistan and slouch toward withdrawal, the time is right for a full accounting of what went wrong. In The Good War, acclaimed author and war correspondent Jack Fairweather goes beyond the battlefield to explore the righteous intentions and stunning hubris that brought the United States and its allies to the verge of defeat in this far-flung theater. Drawing on hundreds of interviews, troves of previously untapped material from Afghan government archives, and months of experience living and reporting in Afghanistan, Fairweather traces the course of the conflict from its inception following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 to its steady drawdown during President Obama’s second term, in the process offering a bold reassessment of the war. He describes how the Bush administration came within a hair’s breadth of making peace with the Taliban in 2002. He shows how Afghan opium could have rebuilt the country rather than destroying it. And he provides the most intimate portrait yet of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, arguing that Karzai’s gravest mistake was giving in not to warlords but rather to the international community, which has consistently prevented him from taking the necessary steps to help Afghans seize their own future.

A timely lesson in the perils of nation-building and a sobering reminder of the limits of American 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 our allies might have salvaged the Afghan campaign—and how we might rethink other “good” wars in the future.

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