On the strength of this weekend Washington Post review by Chris Bray, I’ve just ordered Bing West’s new book on Afghanistan, The Wrong War; I’ll let you know what I think once I’ve read it. What moved me to order it was this bit in Bray’s review:
Endlessly engaged in euphemism and rhetorical triangulation, American generals and politicians insist on a story in which war isn’t war, and doesn’t center on killing. Official doctrine instead declares that professional warriors are engaged in a nation-building strategy “to serve and secure the population,” a focus that West argues has “transformed the military into a giant Peace Corps.”
Few leaders are spared [in West's account]. Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pronounces that “we can’t kill our way to victory” in a counterinsurgency. West’s judgment: “That was political drivel.” He writes that “the senior ranks were determined to sell counterinsurgency as benevolent nation building,” a politically motivated story that promised to minimize domestic opposition.
Later, Bray describes West’s view of the Kabul government:
While American leaders have dithered and fantasized, West charges, Afghan leaders have used the war as a business, enriching themselves through patronage and graft. But the counterinsurgency doctrine that has guided much of the American effort in Afghanistan promotes stabilization for the purpose of establishing legitimate government. “The American goal was to persuade Afghan tribes to support a centrally controlled, deeply corrupt democracy,” West writes. This clash between doctrine and reality builds a trap that recurrently captures its makers.
The soldiers caught in the trap can see it clearly. West quotes a perceptive Army officer, Capt. Matt Golsteyn: “We’re the insurgents here . . . and we’re selling a poor product called the Kabul government.”