The Foreign Service Journal - October 2017

62 OCTOBER 2017 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Weston’s experiences were life-changing, and not surprisingly he had no desire to return to a life of traditional diplomacy after them. Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall… The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan J. Kael Weston, Knopf, 2016, $28.95/hardcover, $17/paperback, 608 pages. Reviewed By Gordon Brown Kael Weston’s short, eventful, inspir- ing—and yet ultimately discouraging— Foreign Service career was unlike any other. After a tour with the U.S. Mission to the United Nations during the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and in spite of his opposition to the war, he volun- teered to go to Baghdad. Right away, he was thrown into street-level diplomacy, helping to mediate a labor dispute between the authorities and the Iraqi truckers who ran the vital supply lines that supported the local economy. The experience provided a lesson that shaped the rest of his seven years on the front lines of our wars in Iraq and Afghani- stan: that the success of our interventions would depend, in the long run, on first understanding the expectations of the local population, then acting in ways that would win their trust. By that measure, he suggests, we are not doing well. Disdainful of the isolation of the Green Zone and even of the staffers in Forward Operating Bases (derided as “Fobbits”), he soon volunteered to serve as political adviser to the Marine command in insur- gent Anbar province, where he was tasked with coordinating political guidance to the commanding general. As coalition forces first fought to regain control of Fallujah, and then attempted to restore basic security and civic services, he plunged in, getting rid of his security detail and immers- ing himself in the community—work- ing with his interpreters, Marine civil affairs officers and those few Iraqis will- ing to risk collaboration with the occupiers. In his three years in Fallujah, he developed strong bonds with the young Marines in the force, as well as with the Iraqi collaborators whom he helped to recruit and support—and who often paid for their service by being assassinated by the insurgents. Liv- ing in the city center and providing a direct channel to the military command, Weston apparently was the go-to guy for negotiating numerous difficult civil affairs crises. There is no chest-thumping in his account, however, concerning his occa- sional successes. Rather, there is resigna- tion over the intractabilities of what he calls the “wrong war,” combined with grief over the all-too-frequent deaths of both his unit’s soldiers and his Iraqi collaborators—in particular, when their deaths came from trying to carry out policies that he himself had supported. Nonetheless, Weston volunteered to serve in a similar capacity once again when requested to do so by a general with whom he had served in Fallujah. He transferred to Afghanistan, where he served for the next three years: first in Khost on a Provincial Reconstruction Team, and then as political adviser to the Marines as they fought to push back the Taliban in Helmand province. In advising both the embassy and his military hosts on local political senti- ments, opportunities and dangers, his eye was always on his goal of developing the kind of long-term trust that he still thinks is possible in Afghani- stan—what he calls the “good war.” Weston shows pride in some of the community-building projects of his PRT in Khost province, as well as in the fruitful yet often tragic cooperation he obtained from brave Iraqis in Fallujah. But the strongest flavor of his account comes from his matter-of-fact recitation of our mistakes—from the false claims of weapons of mass destruction, through the arrogance of the occupation, the profligate expenditure of money and attendant corruption, the injustices of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib and the perceived cluelessness of Washington, to the often thoughtless indifference to local sensitivities. Weighed against those issues, his grief at the death of so many acquain- tances accounts for the sorrowful rather than polemical tone of his reporting. Only in the last section, recounting his postwar travels and reflections in America, does his account take on a more outspoken, anti-war tone. Weston’s experiences were life- changing, and not surprisingly he had no desire to return to a life of traditional diplomacy after them. He left the For- eign Service, and has spent the inter- vening years seeking to put meaning to his experiences and his sorrow. He has traveled our country with the aim of memorializing his dead colleagues and helping war-damaged veterans.