"THE MIRROR TEST: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan," by J. Kael Weston, Knopf, $28.95, 608 pages (nf)
J. Kael Weston's "The Mirror Test" addresses the political and diplomatic side of America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Weston, who worked as a State Department official for more than a decade, brings balance and cultural perspective different from the previous war books.
Weston uses personal experiences as well as those of soldiers, diplomats, politicians and residents of Iraq and Afghanistan as he examines the experience of war and seeks to show that there are forces besides the military at work. He seeks to describe what he views as the right and wrong war scenarios, as reflected in the book's three main sections: "The Wrong War" (Iraq); "The Right War" (Afghanistan) and "Home." Along the way, he heralds humanitarian efforts and describes a fascinating dynamic of American dollars simultaneously rolling out to fund the allied war effort and the Afghan infrastructure (schools, roads, bridges, canals).
Weston is highly critical of President George W. Bush's administration for entering Iraq and accuses Bush of "political malfeasance." While not critical of American military leadership, he describes America's presence in Iraq as a "fiasco" and posits that Iraq has become "more violent with our arrival, not less."
With a change of administrations came a change of wartime focus, from Iraq to Afghanistan, from what Weston calls Bush's war to President Barack Obama's war — a war he said "would test American endurance, not firepower."
Weston uses the book's title, "The Mirror Test," to describe the defining moment when the battle-wounded individual looks into the mirror and either finds recognition or turns away. He asks whether the wounded will "begin to accept the same, but different, person now inhabiting the glass." The question could easily extend to politicians, diplomats, communities and families of those affected by the war on both sides of the battle.
Descriptions of wartime death and destruction are sometimes graphic, though not gratuitous, as Weston includes references to the human death toll, destruction of property and animal predation on decaying human bodies. He also addresses wartime situations such as censorship, torture, detention and interrogation. Unlike many other war books, swearing is not pervasive, but it is present. There is no sexual content.