A decade-and-a-half ago, journalist Steve Coll won a Pulitzer for his book Ghost Wars, which recounted the CIA’s history in Afghanistan. Now in Directorate S, he picks up where that earlier work left off, examining years of ill-fated U.S. efforts to achieve victory in Afghanistan. Laid out chronologically in rich detail featuring not just American players but Afghan, Pakistani, and other key figures, the story that Coll tells is a bleak and appalling saga of missed opportunities, mistaken assumptions, misguided strategies, and miscast individuals. There’s so much blame to go around, spanning Democratic as well as Republican administrations and implicating numerous intelligence operatives, military officers, and diplomats. But Coll argues persuasively that what has doomed the American war the most has been the inability of U.S. authorities to understand the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service, and stop its covert interference in Afghanistan aimed at enlarging Pakistan’s sphere of influence.
Trita Parsi, who heads the National Iranian American Council, is one of the foremost authorities in Washington on U.S.-Iranian relations and an outspoken advocate of dialogue and engagement between the United States and Iran. His latest book builds on his two previous works, which examined important episodes in U.S.-Iranian relations. In Losing an Enemy, Parsi focuses on how the nuclear deal between the United States and Iran was negotiated. He had exceptional access to many of those involved in the talks. Drawing on those contacts as well as on other primary sources, Parsi provides fresh detail and insight about the negotiations. His book is important not only as a detailed history of a major diplomatic breakthrough but also for the lessons it offers in how diplomacy can avert war and could help resolve future international conflicts.
It’s hard to imagine any better qualified trio of acclaimed political scholars and journalists to explain the political mess we’re in and where we go from here: E.J. Dionne is a columnist for The Washington Post, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a professor at Georgetown University. Norm Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a contributing editor and columnist for National Journal and The Atlantic. And Thomas Mann is a resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California in Berkeley and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Together in One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported (St. Martin’s, $25.99), they trace the various elements that gave rise to the election of Donald Trump, then point to some possible ways ahead, striking a guardedly optimistic note. They contend that the protests and national soul-searching triggered by Trump’s presidency could lead eventually to an era of democratic renewal. But, they caution, this will take much work and depend on those opposed to Trump coming up with some unifying alternatives.