The title “Little America” is telling, yet probably requires elucidation. It refers to US civilian and military efforts dating to at least the 1940s to turn the rugged, tribal based nation state into something akin to the USA, with thriving agriculture, urban oases, formal education, gender equality and longer life spans. Every American effort at transformation has failed. But lots of otherwise intelligent individuals, including Obama, seem to have learned little from the history of American failure.
The subtitle “The War Within the War for Afghanistan" is telling, too, and also probably needs explanation. The war within the war refers to turf and policy battles among decision makers who should be pulling together. Chandrasekaran’s discerning reporting and vivid writing reveal deadly disagreements between military commanders and civilian political appointees, between US forces and allied forces (especially the British), and so many other permutations that the text of the book sometimes qualifies as mind-boggling. While important people bicker, US soldiers and Afghani soldiers and members of the Taliban “enemy” forces and civilians galore die or are permanently maimed, to no apparent meaningful end.
It is vital to point out, especially to readers who tend to blame the messenger, that the gutsy American journalists reporting failures in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other hot spots invaded by often unwelcome US troops are caring individuals. The journalists do not enter the war zones as mad-dog investigative reporters trying to ruin reputations. Nor do they enter as cynical automatons. Few journalists are perfect, but most who choose to risk their lives want to see and hear good news about a war’s progress. When what they see and hear instead is bad news, journalists are obligated to reach for the Truth, with a capital T.