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. Download and start listening now!