The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan, by Bing West (Random House, 336 pp., $28)
There is no more intrepid war correspondent today than Bing West. The author of two books on the Iraq War (and co-author of a third), West brings to the table a unique set of qualifications. On one hand, as an infantry veteran of Vietnam he possesses a rare empathy for those who bear the brunt of the fighting in our ongoing wars and an understanding of what they face on a daily basis. His affection and admiration for the “grunts” whose misery he has shared is clear.
On the other hand, as a former assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration, he is equally at home with the policymakers who establish the goals for our wars and the high-ranking officers who develop the military doctrine and strategy necessary to achieve those goals. He is also a strategist of note himself: He participated in a Marine Corps operation in Vietnam that is considered to have been a counterinsurgency success — the Combined Action Program (CAP), in which Marine rifle squads were combined with Vietnamese “popular forces” militias to deny sanctuary to the Viet Cong. His 1972 book The Village is a classic to be found in the library of anyone who takes counterinsurgency seriously. As a professor at the Naval War College in the late 1970s, he was instrumental in developing the concepts that evolved into the U.S. Navy’s Maritime Strategy of the 1980s.