The New York Times - Notable Books of 2012

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Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan (2012)

Written by Rajiv Chandrasekaran

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. (Copyright © Knopf/Random House. All rights reserved.)

Source:  Penguin Random House Company.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran is a senior correspondent and associate editor of The Washington Post.

From 2009 to 2011, he reported on the war in Afghanistan for The Post, traveling extensively through the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar to reveal the impact of President Obama’s decision to double U.S. force levels.

He has served as The Post’s national editor and as an assistant managing editor. In 2003 and 2004, he was The Post’s bureau chief in Baghdad, where he was responsible for covering the reconstruction of Iraq and supervising a team of Post correspondents. Before the U.S.-led war in Iraq, he was The Post’s bureau chief in Cairo. Prior to that assignment, he was The Post’s Southeast Asia correspondent, based in Jakarta, Indonesia. In the months following September 11, 2001, he was part of a team of Post reporters who covered the start of the war in Afghanistan and events in Pakistan.

He the author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City, a best-selling account of the troubled American effort to reconstruct Iraq. The book, which provides a firsthand view of life inside Baghdad’s Green Zone, won the Overseas Press Club book award, the Ron Ridenhour Prize and Britain’s Samuel Johnson Prize. It was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2007 by the New York Times. It also was a finalist for the National Book Award and the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism. He also wrote Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan (2012). 

A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, he holds a degree in political science from Stanford University. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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