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Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistanby Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Synopses & Reviews
From the award-winning author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City, 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, 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.
"Chandrasekaran, senior correspondent and associate editor of the Washington Post, follows his award-winning analysis of postinvasion Iraq, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, with a searing indictment of how President Barack Obama's 2009 Afghanistan surge was carried out. Drawing on his reporting from Afghanistan over a period of two and a half years and over 70 interviews conducted for this project, the author examines the Obama administration's efforts to 'resuscitate a flatlining war.' What he finds in his extensive travels, especially in the strategic southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, is a smorgasbord of incompetence, venality, and infighting. It's only when the Marines pivot away from counterinsurgency — on which the surge is predicated — to counterterrorism that they begin 'to shift the momentum of the war.' This success proves temporary when Obama begins to reverse the surge and the Taliban switch to a 'long-term game.' Chandrasekaran argues that the surge was 'a missed opportunity' and that its failure rests largely with 'the American bureaucracy': a Pentagon that was 'too tribal'; incompetent civilian officials, especially at USAID; and a flawed Obama policy to go 'big' instead of going 'long.' Solid and timely reporting, crackling prose, and more than a little controversy will make this one of the summer's hot reads. Agent: Rafe Sagalyn, Sagalyn Literary Agency. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Searing....Solid and timely reporting, crackling prose, and more than a little controversy will make this one of the summer's hot reads." Publishers Weekly, Starred review
The author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City (a finalist for the National Book Award) now gives us the startling, behind-the-scenes story of the struggle between President Obama and the military to remake Afghanistan.
In this extraordinarily insightful, illuminating book, Rajiv Chandrasekaran focuses on southern Afghanistan in the year of Obama's surge, and reveals the epic tug of war that occurred between the president and a military that, once on the ground, increasingly went its own way. This political battle's profound ramifications for the region and the world are laid bare through a cast of fascinating characters — disillusioned and inept diplomats, frustrated soldiers, headstrong officers — who played a part in the process of pumping American money and soldiers into Afghan nation-building. What emerges is a detailed picture of unsavory compromise — warlords who were to be marginalized suddenly embraced, the Karzai family transformed from foe to friend, fighting corruption no longer a top priority — and a venture that has become unsustainable in every way: politically, financially, and strategically.
About the Author
Rajiv Chandrasekaran is senior correspondent and associate editor of The Washington Post, where he has worked since 1994. He has been the newspaper's bureau chief in Baghdad, Cairo, and Southeast Asia, and has been covering Afghanistan off and on for a decade. His first book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, won the Overseas Press Club book award.
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