From the award-winning author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City comes a riveting, intimate account of America's troubled war in Afghanistan.
When President Barack Obama ordered the surge of troops and aid to Afghanistan, Washington Post correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran followed. He found the effort sabotaged not only by Afghan and Pakistani malfeasance, but by infighting and incompetence within the American government: a war cabinet arrested by vicious bickering among top national security aides; diplomats and aid workers who failed to deliver on their grand promises; generals who dispatched troops to the wrong places; and headstrong military leaders who sought a far more expansive campaign than the White House wanted. Through their bungling and quarreling, they wound up squandering the first year of the surge.
Chandrasekaran explains how the United States has never understood Afghanistan - and probably never will. During the Cold War, American engineers undertook a massive development project across southern Afghanistan in an attempt to woo the country from Soviet influence. They built dams and irrigation canals, and they established a "comfortable" residential community known as Little America, with a Western-style school, a coed community pool, and a plush clubhouse - all of which embodied American and Afghan hopes for a bright future and a close relationship. But in the late 1970s - after growing Afghan resistance and a Communist coup - the Americans abandoned the region to warlords and poppy farmers.
In one revelatory scene after another, Chandrasekaran follows American efforts to reclaim the very same territory from the Taliban. Along the way, we meet an Army general whose experience as the top military officer in charge of Iraq's Green Zone couldn't prepare him for the bureaucratic knots of Afghanistan, a Marine commander whose desire to charge into remote hamlets conflicted with civilian priorities, and a war-seasoned diplomat frustrated in his push for a scaled-down but long-term American commitment. Their struggles show how Obama's hope of a good war, and the Pentagon's desire for a resounding victory, shriveled on the arid plains of southern Afghanistan.
Meticulously reported and hugely revealing, Little America is an unprecedented examination of a failing war - and an eye-opening look at the complex relationship between America and Afghanistan.
©2012 Rajiv Chandrasekaran (P)2012 Random House Audio
The book, excellently narrated by the author himself, paints a vivid and disturbing picture of the US efforts to win the war against the taliban and Al-Qaeda, in Afghanistan. The narration starts a few decades back, describing the American efforts to develop agriculture in the Helmand valley and uses it as an interesting backdrop to the war efforts being waged today. It goes to describe the dysfunctional relation between military and civilian efforts to not only win the war militarily, but to build the Afghan economy in a sustainable way that could prevent the lack of employment and occupation to constitute a breeding ground for the insurgency.
Listening to the book, it's possible to begin to understand the magnitude of the challenge the US was facing in Afghanistan and how the strategy applied, right from the Bush's years, was wrong and how the US seemed woefully unprepared to deal with them. All aspects of the military and civilian strategy (or lack of it) are analyzed, as is the role of Pakistan and the ineffective and corrupt Karzhai administration.
It's not hard to understand, after having read the book, why Afghanistan is a lost war, another one, for the US, even if militarily, no battles were lost. It is also a tale of wasted lives (of US soldiers,) and money, huge amounts of US taxpayers money. Things were bad with Bush and improved only minimally with Obama, probably with no lasting effect, given the politically imposed timeline for withdrawal.
This is a well written and narrated book and it should be read by anyone wanting to know how a war that could have been won, was lost by neglect and lack of decent strategy from two different administrations. I finished the book thinking that both Bush and Obama really did a disservice to the sacrifice of thousands of American soldiers and their families and, of course, to the Afghans themselves
Some People See What Is, and Never See What Can Be. AE
this book. I've read over 50 volumes on military history from the great fictional Jack Aubrey RN series to WWII, up through the battle of Faluja
The first third has a lot of background which gives a good background on the area and history. The story is depressing to see how much blood and money is wasted in war.
I wish the book would have been narrated by someone other than the author (the performance is not bad, but not great).
Business Physicist and Astronomer
I'm so disappointed in our government and this book affirms the reasons for my disappointment. It's easy to cover foreign policy blunders when you are the most powerful nation in history. But as the U.S. slides into second place, our ignorant, self-centered and bungling ways become glaring errors of policy. Unfortunately, the Obama administration is no better at war than was Bush's. Well, perhaps a bit better---Obama did get bin Laden.
I listened to this book and Dispatches (about Vietnam) in the same week---hard to tell them apart. The military always wants MORE---the civilian government wants to protect image. The people in the middle are collateral damage.
I'm sick of war and I am losing respect for our military leadership by the day.
I do recommend the book.
Absolutely! Rajiv is able to convey a story of a people engaged in a struggle to survive.
Rajiv created a vision for me of what life is like in Helmand Province for the locals as well as for the Coalition forces. He made me look at Afghanistan through new lenses and drove me to dig deep into the details of many, many maps. I listened to the book in my car and as soon as I'd get home I was on my computer looking at maps. Great job.
Rajiv recognizes the complexity of Afghanistan. This book conveys how difficult it is at the local level to build a lasting relationship with the Afghanis and transfer their trust to the coalition and ultimately, to a national government. The effort goes both ways but at the local level, it is a challenge village to village, town to town and city to city. The resources required to achieve this are incredibly large and not currently being used.
The primary focus of this book is 2009-2011, so this does not definitively addresses the entirety of the Afghanistan conflict, but "RC" once again does an excellent job of presenting a picture of the issues and personalities involved behind the scenes of the political/military/diplomatic/development decision-making process. "RC" seems to have cultivated impressive levels of access within the military and I think he is very much in line to take the mantle of Bob Woodward in the coming years.
His analysis is well-supported, compelling and should be included prominently in future assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of American foreign policy decisions during the Bush and Obama Administrations. In particular, the lack of political will by the US Administration to have a coherent, comprehensive, focused strategy on the one hand, while the military is asked to sacrifice their lives and LIMBS on the other, is disturbing in the extreme. This is absolutely not a political hack job intended to esteem or tear down one group of political actors, rather, it is a sobering analysis of the structural limitations of our Federal government as a whole. Any one of the several contradictory approaches to Afghanistan reconstruction outlined in the book could have produced some measure of success if pursued...but the pursuit of all these contradictory approaches simultaneously could not conceivably be successful. Our "leaders", nonetheless, seem to have tried...
This is interesting and has considerable detail. It has been well researched. For me however the big picture was lacking. Apparently this was not the objective of the writer.
Nicely laid out list of US errors in Afghanistan, but short on conclusions. Was the debacle primarily tactical errors on our part? Was it fundamentally a strategic error that's part of nation building?
The author offers no answers to these questions.
However, he does lay out a great history of the conflict, and very interesting details of how various agencies of government bungle, fail to communicate, fail to understand their mission.
For that, the book is worth reading.
It is a political puff piece about how great Obama is and how every war decision Bush made was bad.
I wish this book had been what I thought it was going to be. A history of the Afghanistan war. Instead, it is a political love fest for Obama written by a reporter. Apparently, Obama has never made a bad decision about war. Please. It gets so old listening to the blame Bush tirade. This is such a shallow "history" and can't possibly be unbiased. I don't want political ideology in my history books.
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