Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Author
Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Knopf, $27.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-307-95714-6
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Chandrasekaran, senior correspondent and associate editor of the Washington Post, follows his award-winning analysis of postinvasion Iraq, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, with a searing indictment of how President Barack Obama’s 2009 Afghanistan surge was carried out. Drawing on his reporting from Afghanistan over a period of two and a half years and over 70 interviews conducted for this project, the author examines the Obama administration’s efforts to “resuscitate a flatlining war.” What he finds in his extensive travels, especially in the strategic southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, is a smorgasbord of incompetence, venality, and infighting. It’s only when the Marines pivot away from counterinsurgency—on which the surge is predicated—to counterterrorism that they begin “to shift the momentum of the war.” This success proves temporary when Obama begins to reverse the surge and the Taliban switch to a “long-term game.” Chandrasekaran argues that the surge was “a missed opportunity” and that its failure rests largely with “the American bureaucracy”: a Pentagon that was “too tribal”; incompetent civilian officials, especially at USAID; and a flawed Obama policy to go “big” instead of going “long.” Solid and timely reporting, crackling prose, and more than a little controversy will make this one of the summer’s hot reads. Agent: Rafe Sagalyn, Sagalyn Literary Agency. (July)
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