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The the Good War: NATO and the Liberal Conscience in Afghanistan Paperback – 1 Jun 2011

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'At a time when innumerable newspaper articles, journal essays and political speeches have added more heat than light to the NATO intervention in Afghanistan, M.J. Williams gives answers with real expertise, the right historical perspective and a sound political judgement. Based on extensive research and interviews with key players on both sides of the Atlantic, this book is essential reading for anyone, layman or strategist, who wants to understand what is really at stake for the Western democracies in Afghanistan.' – Dr Jamie Shea, Director of Policy Planning, NATO HQ

'Engaging and illuminating, Williams offers an original and stimulating take on NATO's evolution and the liberal conscience while at the same time delivering a serious reality check to advocates of democratic imperialism.' – Professor Christopher Coker, London School of Economics

'An excellent and comprehensive treatment of the topic.' – Conor Foley, author of The Thin Blue Line: How Humanitarianism Went to War

Book Description

Offers a unique look at how NATO allies conceptualized their mission in Afghanistan and how what was meant to be a reprisal for the 9/11 attacks evolved into a full-fledged attempt at nation-building

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Weak writing and weak analysis 14 May 2012
By NickCW - Published on
Format: Paperback
The literary quality of this book is shockingly poor, given that it was written by a University of London professor and published by an academic press. Howlers such as "populous" for "populace", "principle" for "principal", IEDs that were "diffused" rather than "defused", and NATO's role in helping the US "persecute the war on terror" give the strong impression that the only editor to read this book was the computer's Spell-check program.

Commas seem to have been generated and scattered randomly, appearing where no pause is required, and lacking where a pause is very much required ("During these years Rubin contends that a number of educated elites began to organize politically launching a number of groups ranging from nationalist, to communist and Islamist."

Sentences are also problematic--from the nonsensical ("From 1880 until 1978 Afghanistan was dependant on foreign assistance as Afghan rulers utilized the nascent Cold War to once again enhance the coffers") to the bewildering ("Over time he lost his grip on the civilian bureaucracy and the military to the leftists and his abolition of the monarchy following his coup eliminated the one entity that cut across Afghan society and created the imagined communities of the Afghan national elite").

If the reader thinks I'm being picky, all the above occurred in the 19-page Introduction, and there were many more examples of each problem.

The result for me was an increasing unwillingness to endure the distracting language difficulties (skipping ahead to sample subsequent chapters found no improvement as the book went on, alas), so I stopped reading after the first 20 or so pages.

I might have persisted if I didn't also have a growing sense from the Introduction that the author's analysis and conclusions were weak and unpersuasive. For instance, citing the Bush administration's early lack of interest in "nation-building" in Afghanistan and preoccupation with Iraq, the author states categorically: "Afghanistan therefore was and remains largely NATO's war, not America's war."

The problems with this statement are obvious to anyone who reads newspapers, never mind scholarly works. NATO didn't even move out of Kabul until 2006, five years after the U.S. invasion and the overthrow of the Taliban. Even then, the tiny non-U.S. NATO forces that went where there was actual combat (Canadians in Kandahar and British in Helmand) quickly found themselves overwhelmed and forced to retreat into heavily fortified compounds, leaving the countryside, with 80% of the population, to the insurgents.

NATO's ineffectual prosecution of the war in the south and east was the reason for the U.S. "surge" (formerly known as "escalation") in 2008-09 that finally introduced enough troops to hold territory after it was cleared of insurgent fighters (of course we know that no area has ever been "cleared"; as in South Vietnam, the fighters are locals who just go back to farming when things temporarily get too hot).

But the surge is only the latest U.S. effort in a military occupation in which the U.S. has always been the dominant foreign military. Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) began in 2001-02 and continues today. It is separate from NATO's ISAF effort, and unlike the ISAF campaign, OEF has never received UN sanction (none was ever sought). For 11 years, groups of U.S. Special Forces have been roaming the country at will, hunting and killing Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders. They are the ones who conduct night raids on villages, spoiling NATO's "hearts and minds" programs and calling in devastating airstrikes. Curiously, the author doesn't mention this aspect of U.S. involvement in the war, and the extent to which it has always overshadowed other NATO nations' military efforts.

Ultimately, I agree with the author that Afghanistan and ISAF are major tests of NATO--on many levels, but that seems self-evident, since, as Sun Tzu pointed out so clearly, war is always a two-edged sword.
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