The Bloody Quaker

The Man Who Would Be King: The First American in Afghanistan

by Ben Macintyre

New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 351 pp., $25.00

In recent memory, when we think of Afghanistan, we recall perhaps first the struggle of the CIA-backed mujahideen guerillas against the Soviet invaders.  The Soviets lost 50,000 men and eventually their power, but in their (our?) victory(?), the Afghans lost a million people and such unity as they had.  The transition through civil war to the Taliban is a bit fuzzy, though the impression of “blowback” is unmistakable.  More recently, we think of videotape of bombs falling on rocks and the bizarre displacement of Afghanistan by Iraq in American bombsights.

The sense of what Yogi Berra called “déjà vu all over again” is rather disquieting.  America’s repetition of British imperial entanglements offers many points of ironic reflection, not the least of which are the willfully misleading tone of our national rhetoric and the mordant formulation “Wolfowitz of Arabia.”  Of course, we all relate to the surreal politics of our time as best we can.  I, in considering these matters, think of attending a garden party more than three decades ago at which I heard Jerry Bremer (our recently dethroned proconsul in Iraq) declare that Afghanistan, his...

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