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The Wrong War


Reviews of The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy and the Way Out of Afghanistan

“West (The Strongest Tribe), a former Marine combat veteran and assistant secretary of defense under Reagan, boldly assesses the prospects for U.S. success in Afghanistan in this provocative analysis. The author made eight trips to Afghanistan to witness the Obama administration’s counter-insurgency strategy that emphasizes “winning over the population” (“Thus our military became a gigantic Peace Corps… drinking billions of cups of tea, and handing out billions of dollars”). Embedded with frontline troops in Afghanistan ‘s most violent provinces, West eloquently captures their tireless efforts to carry out an “amorphous” mission. The lack of “understandable policy” confused the soldiers, encouraged risk avoidance among commanders, and “created a culture of entitlement” instead of cooperation among the Afghans who are content to accept aid and remain neutral as they wait to see whether the Americans or the insurgents will take ultimate control. Concluding that we can’t win with this strategy but that withdrawal would be “disastrous,” the author proposes that the U.S. immediately “transition to an adviser corps” whose primary task would be to continue training Afghan forces to defeat the Taliban. West’s vivid reporting and incisive analysis provides a sober assessment of the present situation and prescribes a way for the Afghans to “win their own war.” (Feb.)

– Publishers’ Weekly [Starred Review]

“The title [The Wrong War] says much about West’s sense of how the Pentagon has been waging its Afghan campaign. The Pentagon’s current practice of COIN (counterinsurgency) has grown to nothing short of nation-building writ large. Mr. West calls for a shift — to fewer aid handouts and more force — and traces a change in COIN thinking from Vietnam to the present day.”

“Many commanders seem to believe in the doctrine, which has become an institution unto itself. But many other officers are quietly skeptical, and at the lower ranks, a large fraction of the troops I have encountered regard it at best with a raised eyebrow and at worst with foul words and a perplexed shrug.”

– Chris Chivers, New York Times

“No correspondent has spent as much time on this ground as former Marine Bing West, and no one has brought to it as much real-world, infantry-command experience.  The Wrong War should be read (and studied) in the Pentagon and in the Oval Office.  This is not think-tank theorizing, it’s the real shit from a career warrior and first-rate military thinker.  The Wrong War is so fresh, you can practically scrape the dirt off its pages. If there is a path to success in Afghanistan (or at least not catastrophic failure), West’s recommendations point the way.”

– Steven Pressfieldauthor of Gates of Fire and The Afghan Campaign

” Bing West is many things – a battlewise veteran, a skeptical journalist, and above all a brilliant chronicler of America ‘s post 9/11 wars.  His latest book provides a gripping account of the tactical realities in Afghanistan , but no less importantly, it offers strategic counsel at a time when the Obama administration – and the country – needs it badly.”

– Professor Eliot Cohen,

author of Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime