In the prologue to Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book on the war in Afghanistan, a young Marine corporal approaches a State Department political adviser who is visiting his outpost. “Sir, I just hope this all adds up,” the corporal says, “All of my friends are getting hurt over here.” The corporal receives no answer, but by the conclusion of “Little America,” the reader does. The corporal’s friends will have been killed or wounded in vain.
Americans are a historyless people. We are constantly being told by wishfully thinking leaders that history does not apply to us, that we are its “exception.” Unfortunately, we are not, which is why it bears repeating that what the Obama administration is attempting to do in Afghanistan bears a striking resemblance to what the United States attempted in Vietnam. Nguyen Van Thieu, our man in Saigon, headed a coterie of fellow generals, politicians and their greedy wives who excelled at thievery and bequeathed us one of the fundamental lessons of the Vietnam War, that one cannot build upon the quicksand of corruption a sound government and army that will stand up to its opponent. When the moment of truth came in 1975, after the United States had pulled out its combat forces and the North Vietnamese army launched another offensive, the Saigon regime simply collapsed, its well-equipped troops abandoning their weapons and fleeing so fast that the opposition had difficulty catching up to them.
(Knopf) - “Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan” by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
The United States made remarkable progress in part of southern Afghanistan with the deployment of thousands of Marines. But was it worth it?
Now it is the turn of our man in Kabul, Hamid Karzai. To keep him there 2,020 Americans and more than 1,000 British and NATO service membershave died, and the cost of the war has exceeded $450 billion. Chandrasekaran, who is a senior correspondent and associate editor at The Washington Post, draws vivid sketches of how Karzai and his family and their allies operate as a gang of looters, frustrating every attempt to create an honest government that could confront their Taliban enemy.
Alexander the Great built stone fortresses in Afghanistan, but he did not tame the Afghans. No one ever has. They are a fractious people, as riven by ethnic and clan rivalries as their land is by its mountains, as renowned for bravery in battle as they are for treachery in their dealings with one another and outsiders. They have never known a genuine central government. Chandrasekaran writes that the authority of the last Afghan king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, who was overthrown in 1973, did not extend in any meaningful way much beyond the environs of Kabul. And across the border lies an equally treacherous Pakistan, which has accepted about $1.5 billion annually in U.S. military aid and reimbursements since 2002 while giving sanctuary to the Taliban and shelter to the late and unlamented Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders.
The one senior figure in the Obama administration who perceived the futility of attempting to prevail with military force in these circumstances, Chandrasekaran tells us, was the late Richard C. Holbrooke, who died of a torn aorta in December 2010. Holbrooke was the most talented and effective diplomat of his generation. His greatest accomplishment came in 1995, when he ended the bloodshed in Bosnia (where inter-communal strife had killed about 100,000 people) by browbeating Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic and his Croatian and Muslim rivals into accepting the Dayton Peace Agreement.