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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.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Rui on 09-03-12
Excellent book, excellent narration
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
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
By Jack Aubrey on 06-26-12
Fasinating and sober...how much blood and treasure
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).
2 of 2 people found this review helpful