Back in 2006, when the American war effort in Iraq was lurching from one disaster to another, smart reporters began publishing books trying to explain "What went wrong." One of the most successful was "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone" by the Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran. It appeared just after George Packer's "The Assassin's Gate" and Thomas E. Ricks's "Fiasco" and, like them, it traced the war's woes to a lack of preparation on the part of political and military leaders and to an excess of ideological zeal among the political appointees sent to run things in Baghdad in the early days. It was even made into a silly adventure movie, "Green Zone," starring Matt Damon.
Mr. Chandrasekaran no doubt hopes to repeat this success with "Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan." If the title sounds vaguely familiar, that's because in "Imperial Life" Mr. Chandrasekaran often referred to the Green Zone as "Little America." But the new book does not focus on the Afghan counterpart to Baghdad's Green Zone, the luxurious U.S. embassy compound in Kabul. Rather the title refers to attempts by the U.S. Agency for International Development to spur development in southern Afghanistan from the 1950s to 1970s. The city of Lashkar Gah, now the capital of Helmand province, was built to support a giant irrigation project run by expatriate engineers. Locals started calling it "Little America." Mr. Chandrasekaran's early chapter on those efforts is fascinating and fresh, but they are far removed from the post-2001 struggle against the Taliban.
He is trying to suggest that, like those earlier initiatives, the recent American efforts to transform Helmand and Kandahar provinces will come to naught. He may be right in the long run, but there is a big problem with his thesis: Insurgent violence in Afghanistan is going down, not up. The United Nations reports that civilian deaths in Afghanistan fell 21% in the first four months of this year compared with the same period in 2011. NATO reports that attacks with improvised explosive devices, the principal insurgent weapon, fell by 20% during the same span. Even Mr. Chandrasekaran concedes that, "by mid-2011, the security improvements across the south because of the troop surge were profound."
All is not rosy, of course, and Mr. Chandrasekaran is right to point out that the successes may not be sustainable—that they have not yet extended to the east, that Pakistan has failed "to crack down on Taliban sanctuaries" and that senior Afghan officials remain "corrupt and incompetent." But he is going too far when he writes that "the central assumptions on which Obama had predicated the surge seemed to have collapsed." The most important assumption of all—that an influx of American troops could reverse the momentum of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan—has been vindicated. Likewise, the belief that additional support for the Afghan National Security Forces would increase their numbers and enhance their effectiveness has also been borne out. The Afghan war is simply not an Iraq-style fiasco. (Even Iraq wasn't quite the irreversible disaster that Messrs. Chandrasekaran, Packer and Ricks suggested before the surge.)
Whole thing here.