Farrow is a gifted writer and a sharp observer, and parts of this book are brilliant, especially its account of Farrow’s service under Richard Holbrooke, who was U.S. President Barack Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the book’s parts do not cohere. Farrow argues that U.S. diplomacy is being crowded out by military thinking and compares the current situation to the dominance of shortsighted military planners during the Vietnam War. He reports that Holbrooke, in dealing with U.S. policy toward Afghanistan, found himself making the same arguments against the same counterinsurgency military strategies that he had argued against in the Vietnam era. Yet that very comparison undercuts the idea that the subordination of diplomatic to military thinking is something new. At times, the book reads like a memoir of Farrow’s education in statecraft; at times, it becomes a lament for a bygone era of diplomats who maintained strong personal relations with some rather horrible figures in the interest of diplomacy; at times, it is an attack on the U.S. government for collaborating too closely with Afghan warlords and Egyptian generals. Material for several first-rate books is scattered throughout the pages of War on Peace; Farrow will be heard from again.
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