The Good War?

What Went Wrong in Afghanistan -- and How to Make It Right

Locked and loaded: Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, January 2014. Aref Karimi / Getty

War Comes to Garmser: Thirty Years of Conflict on the Afghan Frontier. BY CARTER MALKASIAN. Oxford University Press, 2013, 352 pp. $27.95.

The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001–2014. BY CARLOTTA GALL. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, 352 pp. $28.00.

No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes. BY ANAND GOPAL. Metropolitan Books, 2014, 320 pp. $27.00.

In the concluding pages of his fascinating memoir, War Comes to Garmser, Carter Malkasian, a Pashto-speaking U.S. diplomat who was stationed in a volatile region of Afghanistan in 2009–11, voices a fear shared by many of the Westerners who have participated in the Afghan war during the past 13 years: "The most frustrating thing about leaving Garmser in July 2011 and now watching it from afar is that I cannot be certain that the [Afghan] government will be able to stand on its own. ... The British and the Marines had put the government in a better position to survive than it had enjoyed in the past. What they had not done was create a situation in which the government was sure to win future battles against Taliban [fighters] coming out of Pakistan."

Malkasian’s frustration is understandable. Over the past 13 years, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s central government and many of the people Karzai has appointed as regional governors have proved inept and corrupt, alienating ordinary Afghans in rural areas, many of whom have come to see the Taliban as the lesser of two evils. Karzai’s time as president will soon come to an end, but Karzai is not going quietly. His efforts to manipulate the results of the elections held this past summer to choose his successor -- and to ensure that he himself will retain significant influence even once he leaves office -- have cast a pall over a democratic transfer of power that might otherwise have helped stabilize the country. The massive fraud that marred the election (and in which Karzai was almost certainly complicit) aided the Taliban’s cause and endangered the country’s unity

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