A narrative of the life, captivity, and trial of Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier who deserted the U.S. military, was abducted by the Taliban, and became a symbol for America's foundering war in Afghanistan.
...compelling ... In American Cipher, Farwell and Ames tell Bergdahl’s story alongside a history of the Afghan war. A deft move, as it is impossible to understand Bergdahl’s actions outside a deeper contextualization of that conflict, with its many contradictions ... If Bergdahl suffered the delusion of believing he could become a savior by solving a crisis of his own making, the case is artfully made in American Cipher that America itself is a schizotypal, that we became lost in our own fantasies for Afghanistan, in which we could deliver the Afghan people from a crisis we created ... the specific facts of Bergdahl’s case are elevated to the allegorical, and this is where Farwell and Ames’s storytelling really shines ... Farwell and Ames convincingly show that so many of the reasons we’ve been fighting in Afghanistan for 18 years—bureaucratic inertia, partisan dysfunction, domestic indifference—are the same reasons that, even when Bergdahl’s captors eagerly hoped to broker his release, it took so long to recover him.
Bergdahl’s odyssey, in Farwell and Ames’s account, is far more complex than his solitary journey may suggest. The young soldier’s ordeal, the authors contend, offers a glimpse into the dysfunctional and unending prosecution of the United States’s longest war ... While Farwell and Ames take care to credit some of the painstaking work—of diplomats, intelligence officers, and military service-members—American Cipher paints a dark picture of American military and intelligence services as interested in controlling their own image, regardless of truth, as they are in finding Bergdahl or ending the war ... While Farwell and Ames offer a humane depiction of a young American enmeshed in a net of contradictory American values and practices, they have little sympathy for the architects of American policy in Afghanistan ... The war perpetuates itself out of bureaucratic inertia, a reality American Cipher exposes unreservedly.
...a searing account ... Farwell and Ames go a long way toward correcting the record in investigating all aspects of this complex episode in the U.S. quagmire of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. At the heart of American Cipher is an American tragedy of the troubled soldier and his ability to survive in the fog of an endless war.