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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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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.
Only a journalist who is also a skilled storyteller can spell out the facts as he does and make it accessible to the general reading public. I'm certain think tanks and academics looking back at this conflict will come to the same conclusions as Wissing and produce their own dryly written accounts of the soft power aspects of this war. But this will be the account that will be widely read for the foreseeable future.
The lesson here is clear: Screw up the "hearts and minds" parts of the conflict and you're in for a long, painful slog. All the technology in the world is not going to help a nation reach its goals in such an insurgency. Well at least America cared enough to try. (Unlike the Soviet Union earlier). Wissing concludes that the U.S. government doesn't get an "A" for effort in this case, though.
The conflict is ongoing and the final chapter on Afghanistan has yet to be written. We can only hope that this book is taken seriously and its lessons absorbed, and that final chapter has a good ending. This isn't the "first draft of history" as journalism is often called. It's more like the second draft, and a damn fine one.
Stew Magnuson, author of The Song of Sarin
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