Book #20: The Forever War, Dexter Filkins
The last decade and a half has seen perpetual conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact today’s kids younger than 15 know nothing other than America at war. Yet, unlike other wars, the average American knows so little about what is going on thousands of miles away. In fact, ask yourself, how did we get into each conflict? What were the issues that drew us there? Who are the major players and who are we fighting? What are the major objectives? In this book, Dexter Filkins writes about his experience as a reported imbedded with the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq. He provide a unique portrait of 2 countries torn by war and divided by religious and political sects as well as a poignant memoir of the young Americans who served in these conflicts.
So what do I think? I have enjoyed reading books about the religious/political situation in the middle east as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is definitely a subject that I have tried to learn more about. Much of what is kicked around in social conversation is influenced by political persuasion and is grounded on hearsay rather than facts and research. If you follow my posts and social media feeds, you probably have discovered that I am opinionated but also try to understand an issue and root my opinion in facts.
In this book I found a unique perspective on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While generally a supporter of the Bush doctrine of not offering safe haven for terrorists, I am still uncertain of my ultimate belief of whether we should have engaged in the war in Iraq. There are good arguments to be made on both sides. But what I have come to discover by reading this book and others, is that the situation there and who are enemy is, is a complex web of tribal and sectarian beliefs and allegiances. Unlike in previous wars with nation states (WW1, WW2, etc.) this war is really against an ideology that doesn’t respect political and geographic boundaries. Rather allegiance is to tribal and sectarian factions and alliances are transient. Since we are fighting sectarian groups and various militias, it is easy for fighters to slip in and out of uniform, making ROE and combat logistics challenging.
In this book, I noted a generally negative tone about the American involvement in Iraq. I am not sure where Mr. Filkins is on the political spectrum. And if he lies toward the anti-war end, I am sure that may influence his writing. However, given his experience in theater, he is poised to offer a perspective that is based on his observations of the conflict. However, his time in Iraq corresponded with our early involvement in that country before the Anbar Awakening and the surge. He was there through the initial stages of the establishment of the Iraqi government and election system. This was a period of intense violence as many hostile groups were trying to interfere with this process. The situation temporarily stabilized toward the end of the Bush presidency before a large portion of Iraq fell into ISIS hands in the last few years.
Overall, it was a very interesting read and has been very helpful in my understanding of the conflict and my appreciation of the men and women who serve in our armed forces.