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Hopeless But Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in #Afghanistan (Excerpt)

Posted: 2:24 am ET

 

Douglas Wissing previously wrote a book entitled, Funding the Enemy: How US Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban.  He’s back with a new book, Hopeless but Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in Afghanistan. Kirkus Review calls it “a scathing dispatch” with “pungent, embittered, eye-opening observations of a conflict involving lessons still unlearned.”

As he gets into Kabul to embed with the military, the author notes “a USAID (United States Agency for International Development) billboard proclaiming women’s rights in English and Dari that few Afghan females can read, because almost 90 percent of them are still illiterate after more than a decade and $100 billion spent on grotesquely mismanaged US aid programs.”

That Ring Road?  Wissing writes, “During his frantic reelection push after the botched Iraq invasion, President George W. Bush decided that refurbishing the Ring Road on a yeehaw schedule in 2003 would show Afghans how things were done the American way. Well, it did. The highway is infamous for its poor construction and extravagant price.”

It’s that kind of book. It reminds us of Peter Van Buren’s We Meant Well book on Iraq.

A couple of notes, Chapter 35 titled Embassy includes a nugget about Embassy Kabul refusing to allow the author to meet with SIGAR John Sopko who was also at post, without a minder. Sopko, according to Wissing was furious, demanding a private meeting without embassy handlers but “the diplomats won’t budge.”

Chapter 36 talks about Loss.  A cynical USAID financial officer earlier told the author that “given the amount of money the United States was pushing on the Afghan insiders who were “bankers,” he didn’t blame them for stealing it.” This is in relation to the Bank of Kabul scandal that involved an almost $900 million Ponzi scheme of fraudulent loans. The chapter also talks about Anne Smedinghoff and four other Americans, including three soldiers and an interpreter lost during a suicide attack in Qalat. The author previously meet Smedinghoff during a visit to the embassy compound in Kabul where the latter acted as his minder, assigned to escort him for an interview with a Justice Department official who was working the Afghan Threat Finance Cell (ATFC).

The author told us that he find audiences in the U.S. are often surprised to learn that Afghanistan remains our largest foreign military engagement–$44 billion requested for FY 2017 (vs $5 billion for Syria) “to add to the trillion dollars already wasted.” He also notes that around 10,000 US troops are still there, along with up to 26,000 defense contractors.

We’re posting an excerpt of the book courtesy of Amazon Kindle/Preview:

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Tales From a Small Planet: A Cup of Culture and a Pinch of Crisis, The Food Edition

Posted: 5:56 pm ET

 

If you’ve ever searched for Real Post Reports or Real School Reports when planning your relocation overseas, you might be familiar with Tales From a Small Planet.   Tales from a Small Planet (www.talesmag.com) was created a while back by a group of U.S. Foreign Service community members who had previously collaborated on the “Spouses’ Underground Newsletter” (SUN).  Its candid, and anonymous “real post and school reports” span over 325 cities around the world.

A few months ago, a group supporting Tales  put together a book of essays about expats and their food adventures, A Cup of Culture and a Pinch of Crisis: Tales from a Small Planet: The Food.  The book was edited by Patricia Linderman (former AAFSW President and current Literary Editor at Talesmag),  Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel (AAFSW volunteer and Talesmag volunteer), Katie Jagelski (EFM), and Leah Evans(EFM). Contributors include Foreign Service family members, an FSO and other expats not associated with the Foreign Service.

Below is an excerpt courtesy of Amazon Kindle/Preview:

 

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Steve Coll on the Tillerson Pick Plus Excerpt From ‘Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power’

Posted: 1:11 am ET

 

Steve Coll writes in The New Yorker that Trump’s reported pick of Tillerson as Secretary of State is “astonishing on many levels.”

As an exercise of public diplomacy, it will certainly confirm the assumption of many people around the world that American power is best understood as a raw, neocolonial exercise in securing resources.
[…]
Compared to the records of some of the other people around Trump, Tillerson’s is at least one of professional integrity; Exxon is a ruthless and unusually aggressive corporation, but it is also rule-bound, has built up a relatively strong safety record, and has avoided problems such as prosecutions under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, even though it operates in many countries that are rife with corruption.
[…]
In his career at ExxonMobil, Tillerson has no doubt honed many of the day-to-day skills that a Secretary of State must exercise: absorbing complex political analysis, evaluating foreign leaders, attending ceremonial events, and negotiating with friends and adversaries. Tillerson is a devotee of Abraham Lincoln, so perhaps he has privately harbored the ambition to transform himself into a true statesman, on behalf of all Americans. Yet it is hard to imagine, after four decades at ExxonMobil and a decade leading the corporation, how Tillerson will suddenly develop respect and affection for the American diplomatic service he will now lead, or embrace a vision of America’s place in the world that promotes ideals for their own sake, emphatically privileging national interests over private ones.

Read in full here.  Steve Coll is the author of the book on ExxonMobil, excerpt below courtesy of Kindle Preview:

 

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FSO Dante Paradiso Writes an Enduring Portrait of a U.S. Embassy Under Fire

Posted: 12:38 am ET

 

We previously posted about Dante Pardiso’s published work in this blog (see FSO Dante Paradiso: The Killing of Unarmed Black Men Is Hurting America’s Image Abroad and First Person: An Embassy Bombing – Dar Es Salaam, August 7, 1998. He is a writer, lawyer, and career Foreign Service Officer who has served extensively in Africa and Asia. He is the author of The Pure Life, a novel, and has contributed opinion pieces to the online editions of Foreign AffairsNational Geographic Voices, and, through the Tribune News Service, the Miami Herald, the Tampa Tribune, the Akron Beacon Journal, and Newsday, among others. Mr. Paradiso previously interned at the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam in 1998. He received his J.D. from the University of California at Los Angeles and his B.A. in Political Science from Yale.  He practiced financial services and bankruptcy law with Goodwin Procter LLP in Boston.

Mr. Paradiso joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 2002.  He served in Monrovia, Beijing, Addis Ababa, Jalalabad, DC, Libreville, and is currently posted at the US Consulate General in Hong Kong.   He is a recipient of the State Department’s Heroism Award (group) and Superior Honor Award, and the U.S. Army’s Superior Civilian Service Award. He comes from New York City and when not on assignment makes his home in Portland, Oregon with his wife, son, and dog.

His book, The Embassy, A Story of War and Diplomacy was published this month. Sebastian Junger, the bestselling author of “The Perfect Storm” calls it “a truly harrowing and important account of an American embassy in what [was] arguably the most chaotic and violent country in the world.”

Chester A. Crocker who previously served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and currently the James R. Schlesinger Professor of Strategic Studies at Georgetown University says that Dante Paradiso has performed a singular public service in bringing this tale of modern American diplomacy to life.   He calls the book an “unvarnished portrait of a traumatized society and the extraordinary efforts of a handful of American public servants in Monrovia and Washington to bring desperately needed change.”

In an op-ed he wrote following the Benghazi attack, Mr. Paradiso points at an often overlooked truth about diplomacy:

At its core, it is risky. From the craft’s origins in antiquity, diplomats left the protections of our own borders and relied for our safety on persuasion, judgment and our indispensable role, without which state-to-state relations would go dark. Our presence on foreign soil best positions us to assess others’ receptivity to our messages and to persuade them to work with us. But we are exposed.[…] In many places, it is difficult to distinguish friend from enemy. Our role is to clarify and to win partners. We cannot leave the world in the hands of economic or strategic competitors, or in the grip of dictators, criminals or extremists. We must, in the can-do spirit of our country, take necessary risks to represent the American case. 

Read an excerpt below via Kindle/Preview or view it on Amazon here.

 

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J. Kael Weston’s The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan (Excerpt)

Posted: 1:45 am ET

“When we look into that mirror, let’s not turn away.”
-J. Kael Weston

Richard Holbrooke in The Longest War called John Kael Weston “a remarkable young Foreign Service officer after he established a direct dialogue with tribal leaders, university students, mullahs, madrassa students and even Taliban defectors in 2008.

Dexter Filkins, the author of The Forever War wrote that “As a front-line political officer for the State Department, Weston has perhaps seen more of Iraq and Afghanistan than any single American. But what makes this book special–what makes Weston special–is his ability to transcend his own experience and bring it all home, and force us, as Americans, to ask ourselves the larger questions that these wars demand. This is a necessary book, and one that will last.” 

Phil Klay, the author of Redeployment and winner of the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction  and the John Leonard First Book Prize wrote that the books is “a riveting, on-the-ground look at American policy and its aftermath” and “is essential reading for anyone seeking to come to terms with our endless wars.”

John Kael Weston joined the State Department in 2001. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan as the State Department representative in Anbar Province, Iraq, and Helmand and Khost Provinces in Afghanistan (http://www.jkweston.com). He has a twin brother Kyle Weston who works for a Utah-based outsourcing company and wrote about experiencing war through a twin.  Prior to serving in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, he served at USUN in 2003.  He is the recipient of the Secretary of State’’s Medal for Heroism.  He left government service in 2010.  Read an excerpt below courtesy of Amazon Kindle/Preview:

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click on image to read the excerpt

 

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Ron Capps: Seriously Not All Right, Five Wars in Ten Years (Excerpt)

Posted: 5:23 pm PT

 

Ron Capps is a U.S. Army veteran and a former Foreign Service officer. He served in the military from 1986 until the early 1990’s. In 1994, he moved to the Army Reserved and joined the Foreign Service. His FS assignments took him to Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Kosovo, and Rwanda. Between 1996-2002, he also deployed as an intelligence officer in Uganda and Zaire for the U.S. Army.  According to his online bio, after the September 11 attacks, he served with XVIII Airborne Corps and the Defense intelligence Agency in Afghanistan as a soldier. Later, he was also deployed to Darfur and Chad as a soldier, and Iraq and Darfur (again) as a Foreign Service officer. “Throughout his career of service, Capps was often working in close proximity to murder, rape, and genocide. He suffered from regular and intense nightmares; he was diagnosed by an Army psychiatrist with PTSD and depression, and prescribed Prozac. In 2006, he nearly committed suicide. He was medically evacuated from service by the Regional Medical Officer of the State Department.”

He retired from government work and pursued a Master of Arts in Writing from Johns Hopkins University in 2009. In 2012, he founded the Veterans Writing Project, a non-profit organization that hosts free writing workshops and seminars for veterans and service members, as well as their adult family members.  VWP is a 501(c)(3) non-profit. You can support the group with a tax-deductible donation or through the Amazon Smile program.

Ron Capps is the author of the book, Seriously Not All Right: Five Wars in Ten Years, which details his own experiences with PTSD.  To mark June as PTSD Awareness Month, we’re sharing an excerpt from Mr. Capps’ book with you (courtesy of Amazon Kindle).

Via Amazon/Kindle

Click on image to read an excerpt or buy the book  Book cover via Amazon Kindle

 

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FSO Matthew Palmer’s New Book — The Wolf of Sarajevo (Excerpt)

Posted: 12:08 am ET

 

In February 2015, we did an excerpt of Matthew Palmer’s book, The American Mission (see Move Over Jason Bourne! Meet Diplomat Alex Baines, Our New Favorite Fictional Hero). In June 2015, he came out with a new book Secrets of State and a new protagonist, former FSO Sam Trainor. This May, he is back with a new thriller featuring FSO Eric Petrofina, back at the American Embassy in Sarajevo after 20 years.

Matt Palmer was a desk officer for Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) through the end of the 1999 Kosovo conflict. He was  also posted twice to the American Embassy in Belgrade, initially as a first-tour officer at the height of the war in Bosnia and, later as the political counselor.  He speaks fluent Serbo-Croatian, and his many experiences in the region served as inspiration for The Wolf of Sarajevo.  We’re looking forward to reading his third book.  We’re pleased to share an excerpt below courtesy of Amazon Kindle.

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click on image to read the excerpt |recommends using the “full view” for easier navigation (see lower right hand side of screen after excerpt displays on screen)

 

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America’s War Machine: If you think @StateDept runs American foreign policy … (book excerpt)

Posted: 3:04 am ET

 

James H. McCartney had covered every president from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Bill Clinton. McCartney covered the White House, the State department, the Pentagon and relevant committees on Capitol Hill. He reported from about 30 countries, including Vietnam, the Soviet Union, the Middle East and Europe. After retirement from daily journalism, he taught courses in foreign policy and politics at Georgetown University. McCartney’s papers, including about 4,000 of his articles, are in the Special Collections Research Center at Georgetown University’s Lauringer Library.

Molly Sinclair McCartney worked as a newspaper reporter more than 25 years, including 14 years at the Washington Post. In 2012 she was appointed a Woodrow Wilson Public Scholar in Washington D.C. to do the research and interviews needed to finish America’s War Machine.

“You knew, if you were a government spokesman, that you’d better have it straight and you’d better have the facts, because he’d keep coming at you…He was not there to enhance the government. He was there to inform the people. I didn’t know anyone I respected more than Jim.” ―Hodding Carter, former Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and State Department spokesman

Book excerpt from America’s War Machine: Vested Interests, Endless Conflicts, courtesy of Amazon Kindle:

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AAFSW Book: Raising Kids in the Foreign Service (Edited by Leah Moorefield Evans)

Posted: 12:10 am EDT

 

This is AAFSW’s latest book for families. Titled “Raising Kids in the Foreign Service,” it has 31 essays and a resource list written by family members and officers. It has chapters on education, transition, tandem parenting, mindfulness, clutter, and a wide variety of topics important to parents living abroad. We understand that Patricia Linderman shepherded the book with Leah Evans from idea to publication.  You may read an excerpt below courtesy of Amazon Kindle:

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You might want to check the other AAFSW books: The Foreign Service Companion: Moving Your Household Without Losing Your Mind by the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide and Kelly Bembry Midura and Realities of Foreign Service Life, Volume 2 by Patricia Linderman and Melissa Brayer Hess.

The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) was established in 1960 and was responsible for the creation of the Family Liaison OfficeOverseas Briefing Center, and the Foreign Service Youth Foundation.

By the way, Nicholas Kralev’s America’s Other Army: The U.S. Foreign Service and 21st-Century Diplomacy has also been updated and released on second edition, so check that out, too. 

 

 

 

Ambassador Michael Punke’s ‘The Revenant’ — on NYT Best Sellers For 9th Week

Posted: 7:31 pm EDT

 

Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s movie  The Revenant has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards in this year’s Oscars including Actor in a Leading Role for Leonardo DiCaprio, Actor in a Supporting Role Tom Hardy, and directing and best picture.  The New York Times writes that among the hopeful novelists who will be closely watching Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony, only one has negotiated a $1.3 trillion global trade deal. The NYT is talking about Michael Punke, the deputy United States Trade Representative and the United States ambassador to the World Trade Organization. He is the author of the 2002 novel “The Revenant” which inspired the movie. The book  sold around 15,000 copies after it was first published according to NYT.  It had apparently been out of print before the movie started shooting but a new hardcover came out in 2015. “The Revenant” has reportedly sold more than half a million copies, and Picador has reprinted the book 21 times.

Ambassador Punke was originally nominated by President Obama as Deputy Trade Representative – Geneva, Office of the United States Trade Representative in 2009. He was recess appointed in 2010 and finally confirmed by the Senate in the fall of 2011 (also see Deputy USTR Ambassador Michael Punke’s The Revenant: Now a Movie With Leonardo DiCaprio).

Due to his government position, he reportedly can’t give any interviews about the book, or even sign copies. The NYT says that “Federal ethics rules prohibit him from any activities that would be “self-enriching” or could be seen as an abuse of his post.”  The Office of Government Ethics has a handout relating to book deals and government employees (PDF), and a pretty complex guidelines for particularly covered noncareer (CNC) employees and Presidential appointees to full-time noncareer positions (PA).

It took 14 years but on the week of January 17, 2016, the book hit #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers and has remained on the list for the last 9 weeks.  Enjoy the excerpt courtesy of Amazon/Kindle Instant Preview:

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