• Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan

    July 10, 2012

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq

    Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan,a new book about the war and reconstruction in Afghanistan by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, makes me sad.

    Sad because it chronicles the mistakes, now in Afghanistan, that crushed reconstruction in Iraq. Sad because it shows America’s worst enemy is itself, not the Taliban. Sad also because it shows the book I wrote about Iraq, and all the garbage that came long with it, including losing my career at State, didn’t matter. The same errors in Iraq are present in Afghanistan– hell, based on Little America, it even seems like many of the same people are present– and that assures that once again money and lives will be wasted and nothing good accomplished. Like Iraq, we will lose this war too.

    Though I have read only the brief excerpts online and have had a limited personal conversation with Chandrasekaran about his book, once you hear familiar sounds you come to recognize the place, and the author writes of an Afghan process all too similar. Again, here are the contractors only in it for the money (many it seems holdouts from the Iraq project who just packed up and shifted locales, dragging their irrelevancy along with them), the well-meaning development professionals smothered in bureaucracy and, omnipresent in its nanny state, my own State Department.

    For even in this brief excerpt State comes off more than poorly. We learn of security rules that essentially prohibit local contact on a meaningful basis, the heavy weight of State’s own incestuous need for emails, updates and talking points to justify bureaucratic “engagement” with the field and of course pompous and ignorant FSOs that allow neither characteristic to slow them down. Foreign Service personnel stumble through meetings with important Afghans and smash relations with the powerful US military by dumbass moves like refusing to share gate lock combinations.

    I saw all of this in Iraq, even wrote a book about it, in hopes that maybe a tiny, tiny breath of change might blow into the mission in Afghanistan. Based on Little America, I failed, and that makes me sad. It appears that the US will again fail in reconstruction, at the waste of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, and that makes me even more sad. You probably should be sad, too.

    Neil Sheehan, who wrote one of the seminal texts of the Vietnam War, A Bright Shining Lie, reviews Little America in the Washington Post, focusing on the inevitability of failure in Afghanistan due to the almost total corruption of the puppet Karzai government.

    Want more? Here’s a blurb from the Amazon review:

    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.

    Be sure to read the excerpt from Little America, now at Foreign Policy. I will do a full review once I finish the book and after dealing with the PTSD it will no doubt trigger in me.

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  • Recent Comments

    • jim at rangeragainstwar said...


      You can legitimately talk of reconstruction in Iraq, but i just can’t use that word for our cock ups in AFGH.
      You can’t reconstruct what wasn’t there at the gitgo.
      I need to get this book which will never be on the DoS required reading list(just like WMW).

      07/10/12 1:51 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      After reading “Little America,” the only question Rajiv left unanswered was: How many helos can land on the roof of Embassy Kabul?

      07/10/12 2:57 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Read the book, then see the movie:


      07/10/12 3:09 PM | Comment Link

    • jhoover said...


      Clinton, in Kabul, declares Afghanistan a major U.S. ally! But looks In Afghanistan, U.S. borrows strategy from Iraq U.S. relies on local militias to tame the enemy.
      Militia’s democracy
      Who is the enemy Afghanistan?

      07/11/12 9:03 PM | Comment Link

    • jhoover said...


      Top 5 Articles: American Civilization on the Brink?

      07/12/12 1:09 AM | Comment Link

    • Jo Ann Vincent said...


      Sad to say but I think it is the lack of a Draft that has allowed the tragedies in Iraq, Afgansitan & Yemen & on & on. If people had some skin in the game ( their own or their sons & daughters ) there would be wide spread outrage, I’m a Baby Boomer who saw young men destoyed by service in Viet Nam I respect & applaud the fine people who feel called to serve & scarifice in the military. I deplore our foreign policy choices & the Miltary Industrial complex. WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER. Violence brings More violence.

      07/15/12 6:41 PM | Comment Link

    • Bah said...


      Above 9 comments are 9 votes on the issue of war in Afghanistan and American puilbc deserve the right to know where and how their hard earned money is being spent on the killing of innocent humanbeings in this part of the world. Every one is against war and wish to see their troops back. They are fed-up of wars and killing and punished Bush with humiliating defeat in last year election. Slogan of a change by the President Obama is main contributing factor in his victory but sending more troops or finding militry solution of the war on terror, mean betrayal of American puilbc opinion and repetation of what his all predecessors had been doing to poor nations in their blind pursuit of own intersts. This region and its people are at war for the last more then three decades. War is now a business and like flames of fire spreading day by day. USA had started this fire in war against the ex USSR, thirty years back and today after thirty years, Afghanistan has been burnt, Pakistan is under fire in US war on terror and thus a legacy of wars are inherited by our generations. These talks of wars continue since last three decades and this restoration of peace through wars has failed in the past and bound to fail today and tomorrow. Ground realities demand realistic approach and this is undesputable reality that America has been the main contributor in creation of today’s terrorism, Alqaida and Taliban. Today a revolution in American puilbc opinion in the shape of an African-American President Barak Obama demand bold confessions and concentration on restoration of peace by resolving all outstanding disputes, responsible for wars and killings so that these terrorists could be deprived of any logic or any ground for their inhuman behaviours. You have the power, capability and all ingredients for leading the world in this age of globalisation. Obama’s vision of the new world is clear and do not wish to remain second in world politics. Now the question remain will Obama be facilitated in realising his dream of the world, free of nuclear bombs and weapons and wars ?

      07/30/12 11:43 AM | Comment Link

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