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Funding the Enemy: How U.S. Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban Hardcover – March 27, 2012
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"Sober, sad, and important, Funding the Enemy peels back the layers of American engagement in Afghanistan to reveal its rotten core: that United States dollars meant for that country’s future instead fund the insurgency and support the Taliban. Paying for both sides of the war ensures America’s ultimate defeat, and Wissing’s book tells the story."
-Peter Van Buren, Former State Department Foreign Service Officer and author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People
"Wissing presents a compelling viewpoint of how national security objectives are pursued and how war is waged in the modern, asymmetric battlespace. In particular, his insightful analysis of the Afghanistan war—its funding mechanisms, lack of coherent strategy, and weak interagency cooperation and synergy—should be required reading for all. One of his most poignant phrases, ‘The United States couldn’t kill its way to victory, nor could it buy it,’ suggests that how we have traditionally waged war isn’t working, implicitly asking this question: What can we do to clean up our act?"
-Maj. Gen. Arnold Fields, USMC (ret.), Former Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction
"[A] sobering account of the attempts by several US administrations to both wage war in and provide aid to Afghanistan, often with confusing and contradictory results. Backed by extensive interviews as well as on-the-ground embedded-reporter experience, the book illustrates the nearly impossible task of nation building in a country with a long history of factional friction and transactional corruption."
-Lee H. Hamilton, Former Indiana congressman and co-chair of the Iraq Study Group
"Wissing’s meticulous marshaling of . . . devastating facts along with cogent perspectives gleaned from actors on the ground is timely and of considerable value. [His] blunt, succinct, yet responsible style leaves the reader with no doubts that new ways forward must focus on the people of Afghanistan who have been ill-served by their friends as well as their leaders for too long. . . .[A]n honest reading of Funding the Enemy should be required . . . as new paths are forged."
-Nancy Hatch Dupree, Executive consultant to the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University
About the Author
Douglas A. Wissing is an award-winning independent journalist who has reported widely on the war in Afghanistan for print, radio, and the Web. He has contributed hundreds of stories to media outlets that include the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Asia Times, Forbes Life, the Independent on Sunday (UK), Salon, and National Geographic Traveler, as well as the BBC, VOA News, and NPR networks. He is the author of six books, including Pioneer in Tibet: The Life and Perils of Dr. Albert Shelton.
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Having experienced many of the chapters in Doug's book, I can say without any reservation all of what is written is the ground truth in terms of what went so wrong with post conflict (Tora Bora/11/2001) reconstruction through initiatives of the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) initiative.
The book is a virtual After Action Report (AAR) of the US and in general, ISAF's failed attempt to bring the 21st century from Afghanistan's 17th century culture with western methods, ideal and technology.
When reading the chapters, in particular, after Operation Anaconda/March 2002, it takes me back to those days now nearly 12 years in the past. Although, I think about Afghanistan and experience there frequently, in part, because the news is alive of events which continually illustrate the critical failures in Afghanistan. It is the ongoing and past sacrifices of so many who initially shared a collective vision of Afghanistan coming in from the darkness to an enlightened western style society. As such, President Bush's speech at VMI using the words.."A Marshall Plan" for Afghanistan now seems so idiotic and unattainable even with the billions spent and the blood and guts spilled by both our people and our ISAF partners, in particular, the Brits.
A couple of side notes:
The book references speaking with the Luis Berger County Manager one afternoon while in Kabul awaiting to secure a convoy with SF troopers back to Fire Base Gardez. The conversation accompanied by the acting USAID Chief of Mission included the design of the schools and clinics; but, also, at the conclusion of the conversation, the Acting Chief of Mission for USAID told the Berger manager more US NGO's must be included in the tier of projects planned for Afghanistan...and the list included most of the evangelistic/religious organizations centered in Washington DC. When the Berger manager objected due to increased tiers of "interference" and the cost which would dilute the overall mission effectiveness...the response from USAID was.."those were orders".
The NGO who was the implementation organization for USAID (USAID does not do hands on development, but uses NGO's or other organizations)-USAID funds the project with usually an USAID person in distant overwatch. In Gardez, IOM (International Organization for Migration) was the implementer. The fellow was Italian and although thoughtful and considerate, he never left the UN compound during my time in Paktia. In fact, none of the UN personnel or personnel residing at the UN compound ever visited our compound-Never! I might add, the UN volunteered to install a operations center in Kabul to synchronize all infrastructure development through Afghanistan. It never happened!
Read Doug's book for a complete "truth that it is" about what was supposed to be the "Marshall Plan" in Afghanistan. I suppose that was before Bush, et al decided to invade Iraq searching for WMD later downplayed to "free the Iraqi people".
And lastly, both Paktia, Khost and Ghazni Provinces which were the main areas to which traveling was accomplished (with SF or 82nd troopers), I was always armed with both a long gun and several pistols. Note the name "tag"...anyone not armed in those days and traveling in those contentious areas of Afghanistan...most would call a fool.
One could on and on about all the issues, failures and sometimes a breath of hope in Afghanistan then and now, but our thoughts must remained ixed on the Soldiers, Marines and Airmen (In particular JTAC's-Joint Terminal Attack Controllers) who lost their lives in Afghanistan;and to those who suffered greatly from the multitude of IED blasts. We shall never forget them!
Prior to Afghanistan: Haiti, 45 months in Bosnia/Croatia; After Afghanistan: Iraq, Sudan, Uganda/RH
But full disclosure also ought to require me to reveal that although I disagree with Mr. Wissing on some of his conclusions and have a more positive view of the war in some respects, I have been recommending this book to everyone I know. Montaigne said that there is no such thing as objectivity, that the only way to reach the truth is to read the best advocates on both sides of an issue and come to your own conclusion.
Funding the Enemy is quite simply the best prosecution brief for opposition to the war in existence. There is no runner up. There is no equivalent for defending the war yet, either, and I hope that, when it comes, it will be half as good as this book is. Why is this book the best? Because of the following:
1. The author interviewed everyone and tried to be fair to all of them.
2. He pulls no punches, holds no brief for one player over the other; he damns USAID as much as the military.
3. The author is the real thing. Not for him the blow dried newsreader in the tailored bush jacket listening to the war five mountain valleys away; not for him playing army surrounded by an armored division protecting him. Doug Wissing was out in the field, braving rocket attacks, IEDs and suicide bombers. Each chapter is bracketed by vignettes describing his personal experiences.
4. Speaking from personal experience, Mr. Wissing's interview style is extremely effective, far more than any other journalist I ever dealt with. He LISTENS and encourages one to talk.
5. Doug Wissing is obviously a patriot, one of those rare people who can deeply love his country and its people without being a "my country right or wrong" nationalist. It is clear that he respects the people he meets in the field and it is equally clear that they respect him, opening up to him in a way that most journalists find impossible.
All of these qualities create a powerful book.
Where do I disagree? I think he could have been more critical of the UN and the international effort beyond the US. Mr. Wissing mentions the shortcomings of the ISAF forces, but more is needed, because the disturbing conclusion one can reach is that the entire Western world has lost faith in itself and is unable to defend or teach the beliefs in tolerance, democracy and civil rights that have helped us to progress.
I also believe that Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad was a secret weapon that the West squandered and Mr. Wissing ought to have made more of his achievements. From personal experience, I know the hold he had over the Afghan nation. The idea that the most powerful nation in the world would appoint an Afghan as the viceroy of the forces coming to liberate their country formed a bond with the average Afghan which demoralized the Taliban and strengthened our efforts. The best non-Afghan diplomats - and both the Bush and the Obama Administrations have sent the best - are simply outsiders to the Afghan. When I went to Ghazni with the Ambassador in 2004, the streets were lined with flag-waving Afghans cheering us on. I felt like I had stumbled into a newsreel of the liberation of a French village in 1944. To read about Ghazni today in Mr. Wissing's book is a shock.
I also think that he may be too critical of the military's ability to participate in nation building. The people getting rich by pushing shoddy work on the Afghans refused to give the military a seat at the table because the Army would have done better work for a fraction of the price. The military was in charge of nation building up to 1960 and left behind a legacy of thriving democracies: Germany, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Italy. Coincidence or is there something in the way the military structures nation building that deserves a look?
Also, a minor point, but in one or two places the author quotes unnamed Afghan sources making scurrilous charges against prominent Afghan exiles who have come back to help the country. I found that even very prominent Afghan leaders were prone to make unfounded charges against Afghan exiles who did good and came back to help their country.
A few details were slightly off, but far less than usual in a book like this. For instance, I was the legal advisor to an experimental unit called the Afghanistan Reconstruction Group (ARG) which ultimately was shut down. Mr. Wissing accurately quotes me as saying that the unit was hampered by having no staff and no budget (an analogy I should have used was that ARG was like dropping a bunch of senior generals into the middle of a firefight without troops (staff) or weapons (a budget) and expecting them to be a game changer).
Contrary to Mr. Wissing, however, we were not tasked with creating free market solutions. We were there to try to fix the horrible blunders of USAID and if that sometimes involved attacking USAID on free market grounds, that was because USAID would sometimes try to impose free market ideas on a nation of merchants that knew more about supply and demand than a US government bureaucrat would know. The most successful of the ARGonauts was a US Treasury official named Jim Wallar who did extraordinary things for the Ministry of Finance, hardly a "neo-con" trying to impose his ideology. The Bush Administration was well aware of the shortcomings of USAID which is why ARG was there in the first place. Presidents since President Nixon have been trying to reform that broken outfit, but they get deflected by a well organized PR machine that accuses them of stealing food from the mouths of babies. No one in the media, before Mr. Wissing, has bothered to point out that the food is caviar and those "babies" are the girlfriends of rich and incompetent USAID contractors.
But all this should not detract from Douglas Wissing's achievement. This is simply the best analysis of the war and I do not believe that we will ever see a critical book which will rival the completeness of this one. I can only hope for the sake of Montaigne and the Muse of history, that we will see its equivalent from the other side of the debate, but even then, this will be the more important book because you learn from your mistakes, not your triumphs. We'd better not screw up the next time. And there will be a next time, because, to quote a sage even older than Montaigne, only the dead have seen the end of war.
This whole war is nothing but a scam.
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