Why We Couldn’t Win the War or the Peace in Afghanistan
A searing look at the true cost of America’s ‘good war’ in Afghanistan
A timely lesson in the perils of nation-building and a sobering reminder of the limits of military power from the Costa Award winning author of The Volunteer.
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 Drawing on hundreds of interviews, previously unpublished archives, and months of experience living and reporting in Afghanistan, Fairweather traces the course of the conflict from its inception after 9/11 to the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.
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.
“An excellent account. The outline of Fairweather’s story is sadly familiar, but he writes with exceptional lucidity and punch… No British officer should be allowed to board a plane for our next war until he has read Fairweather’s account of how we messed up the last one.”
Max Hastings, Sunday Times
“Jack Fairweather’s sweeping account, The Good War, is one of the first to look at the war as a whole… His richly narrated history roams from the corridors of the White House to the poppy palaces of the country’s opium warlords and the patrol bases of Sangin and Kandahar… As the West looks at the chaos of Iraq and Syria and once more considers how to intervene, the sobering warnings of this riveting book are more relevant than ever.”
Ben Farmer, 4 stars, Daily Telegraph
James Meek, London Reviews of Books
“Combines first-hand war reporting with shrewd analysis of the western conduct of the war, [readers] will quickly come to understand what went wrong.”
“The Good War is a tour de force – a riveting, clear-eyed account of the troubled US-led war in Afghanistan. Jack Fairweather has shown himself to be a narrative historian of the first order. For anyone seeking an honest appraisal of what went wrong and why, this book is a must-read.”
Jon Lee Anderson, author of 'The Lion’s Grave: Dispatches from Afghanistan'
“Anyone wanting to get to grips with Afghanistan today…should start here. It’s a brilliant introduction.”
Robert Fox, Evening Standard
“The Good War is the kind of book one would not ordinarily expect to see for decades, encyclopedic in sweep and yet rich with colorful detail… This timely, absorbing narrative captures the essence of an infuriating place, illustrating once again a seemingly unlearnable lesson: There are strict limits to what can be accomplished by force.”
Mark Bowden, author of 'Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War'
“At last, an intrepid war reporter has woven together his insights from the battlefield, the unadorned views of grunts, and the political calculations of Washington to reveal the entire history of the war in Afghanistan. The result is a superb history, compassionate, comprehensive, and eminently readable. Like the best accounts of war, it shows how our aims going into a conflict are all too swiftly undercut by reality on the ground.”
Bing West, author of 'The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq'
“It has been America’s longest war, yet there is no real history of the conflict in Afghanistan. Now this war has finally found its chronicler. Jack Fairweather has reported deeply from the White House Situation Room to the deserts of Kandahar to tell a riveting story with an outsized cast of characters. It's a sweeping work of history written with great verve.”
Peter Bergen, author of 'Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad'
“A forensic account of the war in Afghanistan, this book is essential for anyone wishing to understand the conflict.”
Doug Jackson, 5 stars, Soldier
“[The book] makes a lasting impression.”
Illtyd Harrington, Camden New Journal
“Authoritative, wide-ranging and thoroughly readable.”
Adrian Weale, Literary Review
“The Good War…can feel one step away from the action but is no less compelling or valuable. His is a chronology of a war of our time; it holds one’s attention and he has done his research.”
Lyse Doucet, New Statesman