• Hopeless but Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in Afghanistan

    April 5, 2017

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Embassy/State

    Here’s an excerpt from a new book, Hopeless but Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in Afghanistan, by Douglas Wissing. The passage deals with the unnecessary death of State Department diplomat Anne Smedinghoff at age 25. Anne gave her life for a needless PR stunt as part of America’s failed reconstruction project in Afghanistan. It could have been any of us.

    ANNE SMEDINGHOFF IS A RISING 25-year-old diplomat, an assistant information officer in the Kabul embassy. She’s my minder, assigned to escort me to an interview with a Justice Department official who is heading up the Afghan Threat Finance Cell (ATFC) that is charged with finding and disrupting sources of Taliban funding.

    In many ways, Smedinghoff is representative of many young American women working in Afghanistan, where they can combine adventure with a career-enhancing posting and hefty paychecks plumped with danger pay. As we walk to the meeting room, Smedinghoff quizzes me about life outside the embassy compound, as the staff is trapped inside.

    When I mention some of the Kabul restaurants, she tells me the State Department banned dining at most places outside the embassy. She longs for a good pizza. I ask about her path from her home in the Chicago suburbs to this Kabul powder keg. Catholic high school, Johns Hopkins international studies, then the State Department. An interesting post in Venezuela. Then on to Afghanistan. Anne Smedinghoff is lively, bright, educated and funny; poised and gracious in a natural way. Brimming with youthful vitality, accomplishments and promise, she is the daughter any parent would be proud to have.

    We talk about my embeds in Zabul and Helmand, and she tells me in Venezuela she could explore the hinterlands when not working. But here in Afghanistan, she’s penned up like most foreign service officers. She tells me she wants to “break the wire” in the worst way. “On a good day, this is a like a small liberal arts college,” she laughs. “On a bad day it’s like a maximum security prison.”

    Smedinghoff’s career continued to go well after I left Kabul. She was a comer. Her colleagues started calling her Ambassador Anne. When Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kabul in late March for an official visit, the embassy assigned Smedinghoff the plum job of escorting him. She was his control officer. As with other people, she made an impression on her big boss.

    Anne Smedinghoff did eventually get to break the wire — and in the worst way.

    A few weeks after the successful Kerry visit, she escorted a group of Afghan journalists on a media day down to Qalat City, the capital of Zabul, the Taliban-controlled province that so interested her when we met. It was one of those winning-hearts-and-minds missions, in this case to distribute school books that the US corporation, Scholastic, Inc., had donated to My Afghan Library, an aid program jointly run by the State Department and the Afghan Ministry of Education. Scholastic, Inc. wanted some good press for their donation.

    An email from the embassy public relations office stated, “Scholastic would like to see more media reporting.” So the mission was a WHAM photo op to get some press for an American corporation, while pretending Zabul was secure and still receiving U.S. aid. “A media extravaganza,” a military briefing called it. “Happy snaps,” the security grunts derisively termed these PR events that they hated to guard.

    In my experience there, Qalat City was a wild and wooly ambush-prone place, where the military units took extraordinary security precautions before venturing from the tightly guarded US compounds. To travel two miles across Qalat City, we had to drive in a convoy of five armored MRAPs accompanied by a heavily armed security platoon.

    So I was stunned to later learn that Anne Smedinghoff and a group of journalists were walking around Qalat City—lost. That seemed insane. Taliban suicide bombers detonated their explosives near them, killing her and four other Americans, including three soldiers and an interpreter. Other Americans were grievously wounded. It was an egregious breakdown in operational security. An Army report stated the mission “was plagued by poor planning that failed at all levels.” And it was a great loss.

    I exchanged emails of condolences with the embassy public relations officer, who was a great friend of hers. I saw heart-wrenching tributes to Anne Smedinghoff posted on-line. Secretary Kerry eulogized Anne Smedinghoff, praising her idealistic commitment to “changing people’s lives.” He noted the “extraordinary harsh contradiction” of her being killed while carrying books to a school. He described the Zabul media event was “a confrontation with modernity,” and said Smedinghoff embodied “everything that our country stands for.” It did little to salve my dismay that yet another promising American had been lost for such a dubious, failed cause. I thought of the remarks Kerry made on Capitol Hill in 1971, when he was a young, anti-war Vietnam vet.

    The then 27-year-old John Kerry poignantly asked America, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”


    Here’s Anne:

    The State Department tried to cover-up Anne’s death. Read more, and more.

    Related Articles:

    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Recent Comments

    • RICH BAUER said...


      “Hopeless But Optimistic” is a natural for HBO. MASH for the millennials.

      04/5/17 6:48 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Required reading for every new FSO at FSI, assuming Trumpie is gonna approve new classes.

      04/5/17 6:54 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Clueless female assuming the big tough soldiers will keep her safe while she plays out her ambitions to rise high in the empire.

      04/5/17 8:45 AM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...


      It is a tragedy.

      She was getting real world experience, rather than “dinner party ” training.


      04/5/17 11:46 AM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...


      04/5/17 11:52 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Mitch- the girl probably never questioned America’s vile presence in Afghanistan. She was too busy building her
      “in country” creds. She should have been told that self emancipation is the only one that sticks. Saving and liberating Afghan girls with books is a joke. That is the job of the Afghans while they try to climb out of the dark ages. Too many POTUS’s love playing global emancipator and end up making a mess of any country they invade.

      04/5/17 12:00 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      I get every bit of what your saying.

      And, agree. She was wasting her time…. Kind of like teaching Logic in Louisiana.

      I’ve just dealth with quite a few that never left Washington… And they are “experts “.

      At least she was doing in country.

      Reference… Saw an article where they are warming up Chelsea Clinton for a 2020 run…..like she has ANY experience with anything…. Other than her last name.


      04/5/17 12:08 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      Here you go…


      I think I will be scanning wikipedia to become an instant expert on constitutional law.


      04/5/17 2:09 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Speaking of really hopeless, one pussygrabber supports another:

      President Trump praised Bill O’Reilly in a new interview amid reports of payoffs to five women who accused the Fox News host of sexual harassment or inappropriate conduct.

      “I think he’s a person I know well — he is a good person,” Trump told The New York Times.

      “I think he shouldn’t have settled; personally I think he shouldn’t have settled,” the president continued. “Because you should have taken it all the way. I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”

      04/5/17 2:11 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Really hopeless when ISIS has more credibility than US:

      (CNN)Islamist terror group ISIS has unleashed contempt on both the United States and President Donald Trump in a new audio message, calling the latter a “foolish idiot.”

      ISIS spokesman Abu Hasan al-Muhajir narrates the roughly 37-minute message, which was released Tuesday.

      “You (America) are bankrupt and the signs of your demise are evident to every eye,” Muhajir says. “There is no clearer sign of you being ruled by a foolish idiot who does not know what Levant or Iraq or Islam is, who continue(s) his hallucination to express his animosity and war against it (Islam).”

      04/5/17 2:15 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      Good to see you admit to having the ISIS propaganda minister as you material writer.


      04/5/17 3:47 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      I know nothing.

      04/5/17 7:01 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Bannonboot *Just In* 35% polls for the Donald, your fired. Next up…Syria, game plan for years. Same old…

      04/5/17 7:05 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      “In my home town” ssome Garden State phucker. I remembe the National Gaurd called out and hitting the floor. I remember driving black friends home, and the Troops threatening.Wave a flag.

      04/5/17 7:45 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Have a nice day!

      04/5/17 7:46 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      War$. I like Ike.

      04/5/17 8:13 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Are you with the War Party’s ? Watch out. War is Fucked. Have a nice day. Peace…

      04/5/17 8:14 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      “We meant well”. Keep On…

      04/5/17 8:25 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      “We need clean coal” B.H.O. (Candidate for the Corps and People 2008). Vote often.

      04/5/17 8:38 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      Just for You.



      Susan better pray she “knows nothing “!!!!!

      This is really bad.


      04/5/17 10:28 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      A State Department spokesperson said after the Smedinghoff incident that the only ones responsible for her death and three others were the terrorists. Sounds like an official explanation only a Susan Rice could manufacture. I have to assume the families of others killed in the clearly criminal negligence and folly of the incident might have some justifiable law suits against the US military and government.

      04/6/17 10:54 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Kerry is thinking of revising his flim flam statement in 1971 to. “…the last man OR woman to die for a mistake.”

      04/6/17 10:57 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      “Hopeless But Optimistic” really describes US under Trump. Could be an appropriate quote on Trump’s tombstone. But the best quote on the jerk’s tombstone is “Nobody build walls better than me.”

      04/6/17 12:33 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      That’s what I like about you.

      You get it.

      The heads will start rolling soon.


      04/6/17 12:34 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      You really should spend a little less time on ISIS propaganda web sites.

      Maybe… Just maybe… Read a book… Maybe… As a suggestion… The old version of….

      “the little engine that could “.

      ” I think I can, I think I can …..”

      Just a suggestion.


      04/6/17 12:47 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      Some light reading for you….. Remember when you were bashing Trump about the ” bugging “…..

      What makes you think everyone on the stage was not being “bugged “…..????????


      Btw….. Rich……

      This is why Hillary is convinced of the “Russian ” involvement…. They pulled all the stops…. And Trump still won…..


      04/6/17 12:55 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      To conceal American incompetence and criminal folly is a national security priority. Both Rices know exposure of the criminal actions and incompetence of their respective administrations puts the homeland at risk of attack by emboldening “hostile foreign actors” (an Academy Award category I’m hoping someday can be added).
      “Hey! America is as grossly incompetent and deceitful as we are- Hell, we’ve got a chance after all!”

      04/6/17 2:34 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      I guess you mean my personal pipe dream of fair, honest, competent government, for the people and by the people, is up in smoke?

      Or… That Trump is accomplishing my secondary pipe dream of expose all the governmental bullshit for what it is ?


      04/6/17 3:16 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Mitch- I think you and are sitting in the same Eugene O’Neill waterfront dive (THE ICEMAN COMETH) with our pithy pipe dreams.

      04/6/17 3:24 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      I think so too.

      I’m just hoping it holds together long enough to watch Obama’s exposure occur.


      Rich Bauer’s next load of pipe fillers to come in.


      04/6/17 4:29 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Talking about pipe fillers, is Trump filling Putin’s?

      It is now illegal in Russia to distribute any images that depict President Vladimir Putin wearing makeup and implying he is gay.

      04/6/17 6:19 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      False flag event? Bombs away u.s. tommy’s. Has war been declared? The 200 killed by the u.s. and others killed as I type were happy deaths? Peace…

      04/6/17 9:33 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      chuck- Didn’t congress say Trump should come to them first for approval to bomb Syria? I guess they gave their approval via “back channels”.

      04/7/17 8:01 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Trump: Now that Obama’s poll numbers are in tailspin – watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate.

      04/7/17 8:13 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Trump: The President must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria-big mistake if he does not!

      04/7/17 8:16 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Trump:If the U.S. attacks Syria and hits the wrong targets, killing civilians, there will be worldwide hell to pay. Stay away and fix broken U.S.

      04/7/17 8:17 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Trump: What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict? Obama needs Congressional approval.

      04/7/17 8:47 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      You just know Trumpies are gonna pin this on Susan Rice.

      04/7/17 8:49 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Next week the MSM State U.S. TV will show a bump in polls for Trump. Nice how Hill is on same page as the Donald, ass war criminals.

      04/7/17 8:55 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Official Syria response? State Department sleeps on.

      04/7/17 9:19 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Trump wants to bring back torture big time! But how will he pay for the training , the equipment, the masks and construction of newer and better black sites? Easy, He plans to sell DVDs of the torture sessions. He knows there is a pent up demand for torture porn in America. He might even demand that the camera feed from cruise missiles be saved and released also as DVDs. Man, we haven’t even began to reap financial spoils of war making!

      04/7/17 9:53 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Trump: I got as much balls as Hillary.

      04/7/17 9:57 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      The more things change….

      Remember when Obama was considering military action against Syria in 2013, a private citizen named Donald Trump was vociferously encouraging Obama to stand down. Trump sent a slew of tweets on the subject, writing things like “What I am saying is stay out of Syria”; “Do NOT attack Syria.”; “Stay out of Syria!”

      And just days before Tuesday’s attack, Trump’s real Secretary of State and ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, and pseudosecretary of state, sleepy Rex Tillerson, both made clear that Assad is not a priority of the United States.

      “Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out?” Haley asked. “No.”

      And Tillerson said Assad’s fate “will be decided by the Syrian people.”

      To sum up, Trump says the chemical attack is Obama’s fault because he wouldn’t go after Syria back when Trump was telling him not to go after Syria.

      And you thought Steve Bannon was the crazy one.

      04/7/17 10:16 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Trump: What are we doing in Syria? I can’t make any money in that dump.

      04/7/17 10:17 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Donald, Hill, D and R’s,Bernie… the U.S. Lies People Die.

      04/7/17 11:17 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Somebody should check on poor Mitch. I fear he is not taking this well at all.

      04/7/17 12:48 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Gee, even Sean Hannity is pissed at the prez:

      Glad our arrogant Pres. is enjoying his taxpayer funded golf outing after announcing the US should take military action against Syria.

      04/7/17 1:04 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...


      Sorry Rich.

      Been doing things you never do… Its called ‘working ‘.

      My hope is… That Russia shows a hell of a lot of restraint….

      If we as a nation, had not been playing “regime change ” games in Syria in the first place,
      And had not created ISIS because of bungling politicians…

      There would never have been a need for Syria to drop VX gas on a civilian population….

      Which means we would have never have launched Tomahawks ….

      My hope is that Putin shows restraint…. And does not try bombing US assets somewhere.

      Things like this tend to get bigger.

      So, Rich…. Hating Trump… For being in a spot that the previous TWO presidents created….

      That’s an exercise in dumb.


      04/7/17 1:06 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Not Anne walking dead zombie Coulter too:

      Trump campaigned on not getting involved in Mideast. Said it always helps our enemies & creates more refugees. Then he saw a picture on TV.

      04/7/17 1:07 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Mitch, you are desperate. You didn’t mention Susan Rice once.

      04/7/17 1:08 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...


      04/7/17 1:12 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Mitch, wow, that’s a big if. Bush and Cheney started this shit. Now the chickenhawks are coming home to roost.

      04/7/17 1:14 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      I said the last two Presidents…. I do however think blaming Trump, less than 80 days in…is dumb.

      And…another couple reasons I’m concerned.

      Iran is now throwing threats…. Their leadership is as crazy as you…




      04/7/17 1:22 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      At least Hillary was consistent. She was for the last war and she is for the next war.

      04/7/17 1:23 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...


      Btw… Rich….

      Here’s why there is nothing much to say about your crush, Susan…..

      She’s done…. Take her out of the oven…. And… She has shown the world, just how big a bungler Obama really is….



      04/7/17 1:27 PM | Comment Link

    • StarkNakedTruth said...


      Hopeless but Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in Afghanistan


      Hopeless and hapless journeying through America’s endless wars in the Middle East

      04/7/17 1:33 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      StarkNakedTruth: Not so for the defense industry CEOs, workers, board stock holders. They are skipping and toasting. They are way beyond hopeful they are confident their ethos of building and selling weapons systems will continue to be the guiding ethos of the USA.

      04/7/17 1:42 PM | Comment Link

    • StarkNakedTruth said...


      John Poole…

      Sad, despicable and true.

      04/7/17 3:35 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Why would Trump trust

      04/7/17 7:11 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Oh yeah, a con can always con a con.

      04/7/17 7:12 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      When Judy Miller shows her ugly face to gloat about the attack, assume the attack story is based on a lie until proven otherwise.

      04/7/17 7:26 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons. And Russia, which has been flying air missions in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has blamed Tuesday’s poison gas deaths on a “terrorist warehouse” full of “toxic substances,” which it said was hit by a Syrian airstrike, according a statement from the Russian Defense Ministry reported by the Guardian.

      Should be easy to prove one scenario or the other…if anyone is really interested.

      04/7/17 7:29 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      This says quite clearly where I am at with this Syria mess.



      04/7/17 8:13 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      Remember the discussion about defunding the state department?… This would be another example of their failures.

      Kind of a long read…. But worth it. And a few lessons in it.



      04/8/17 6:36 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Speaking of State Department failures, Colin Powell was asked to present “evidence” of Syrian sarin gas attack to the UN. Powell told them to go fuck themselves.

      04/8/17 8:56 AM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      Wouldn’t you say the same?…. UN did not care before…. Why would be any different now?


      04/8/17 9:55 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      At the center of every universe is a black hole that pulls everything into the void. That also describes our foreign policy.

      04/8/17 11:26 AM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      This doesn’t end well.

      04/8/17 11:26 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Hilary says to bomb airfields, and Mr.T does close to it. Profit$ for those Ike warned u.s… How many houses in Flint Mich. could have safe water with the cost of the Tommies?

      04/8/17 12:06 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      I Like Ike.

      04/8/17 12:07 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      “War is a racket” S.B. Have a nice day! PPPP’s

      04/8/17 2:24 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Are the women and others protesting in the streets Mr. T’s bombing’s of Syria? Hillary wanted bombings of the same place. Vote War, D or R. Have a nice day…

      04/8/17 2:27 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Chuck. I renounce on this site my allegiance and citizenship to this most fucked up country. Who knew Trump was a weakling male easily manipulated by the gangsters at the Pentagon?
      So where should I flee? Any suggestions?

      04/8/17 3:44 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Same problem John, To the Res.? Where? I’m ready.

      04/8/17 4:15 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...



      04/8/17 4:15 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      I sense this whole Syrian chemical weapons thingee was a plot by the Jews. Does that mean I hate the Jews. Of course not. We’re ALL suffering because the Israelites felt that things going wrong very early in human evolution on this orb was due to their shortcomings. So! An ancient tribe’s assumed guilt has created a self sponsoring continued masochistic morass.

      04/8/17 4:37 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Kushner is the leader? Or his converted wife? BDS.

      04/8/17 5:03 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Be careful, he is a Dem from NY!

      04/8/17 5:04 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...


      John Poole.

      Unless you have dual citizenship, I would suggest you retract that statement.

      You could end up deported to Gitmo or Homs.


      04/8/17 5:08 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Free Palestine. Stop the Settlements.

      04/8/17 5:10 PM | Comment Link

    • RICH BAUER said...


      Trump: Hundreds of millions of dollars in airstrikes had no impact because key leaders fled after hearing ON NEWS REPORTS the strikes were coming. DUMB.

      Or was it dumb for telling the Russians you were going to retaliate and maybe they told the Syrians?

      JP, Can’t help you on suggesting places to hide. I am here in South America and I don’t feel safe from this lunatic.

      04/8/17 6:28 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      I’m not looking for someplace safe to hide- I just don’t want to reside in this putrid nation. Trump has shown himself to be a doofus weakling male easiiy conned by the war mongers. shown pictures of suffering children and he then feels the appropraite response is to reciprocate with acts of violence.
      Well, that figures. No imagination.

      04/8/17 9:25 PM | Comment Link

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