Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Published in June of 2012
If you read (or place in your syllabus) only one book this year about the U.S. war in Afghanistan, then Little America should be it.
This is easy for me to say, because I have only read one book this year about the war in Afghanistan, Little America.
In reading this terrific account of the (surprisingly long) history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan I came to realization that I know more about what's goes on in the Googleplex than in Kabul, Cupertino than Kandahar.
My ignorance of the military story in Afghanistan is depressing. A symptom, I guess, of not personally knowing anyone who has served in Afghanistan and of being disconnected from the discussions and debates of the military community.
What have you read this year about our war in Afghanistan?
Are we teaching courses on this war? Are we inviting military leaders to our campus to come speak about strategy, organizational change, culture, and the future?
Chandrasekaran, who also wrote the influential Imperial Life in the Emerald City Inside Iraq's Green Zone, tells the Afghanistan war story from the ground up. His technique seems to be to hang out with as many military (mostly Marines) and State Department people as possible, and then explain the war through their perceptions of events.
We spend time both on foot patrols in Helmand Province and in the White House during debates about the proper course for conducting the war.
I was surprised by both how ineffective U.S. counterinsurgency actions in Afghanistan have been (after working so well in the latter stages of the Iraq war under General Petraeus), and by the lack of consensus amongst Obama's military, policy and political advisors about Afghan war policy.
Chandrasekaran manages to tie together the larger political and historical context of the Afghan war with the experiences of the soldiers and diplomats living through the conflict.
Little America deserves to be read and discussed on our campuses.
What are you reading?
And while we are talking about what we are reading, a quick name check to my man Michael Chabon, and his not a word out of place story of race (and vinyl records and midwives and sons and blackmail and husbands and blimps and much else) Telegraph Avenue.