“Afghanistan is one huge enigma for most Americans. Douglas Wissing’s book helps us sort it out. He has repeatedly been in Afghanistan, observed everything, and reports it all in this remarkable volume. This book is the place for most of us to learn about this woebegone, but resilient land, and America’s endless war.”
—Lee H. Hamilton, former US Representative; former vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission and co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group
“As with an album of close-up photographs, Douglas Wissing’s concise essays cast a sharp and revealing light on their subject. Here we confront in granular detail the waste and folly that is America’s war in Afghanistan. An empire in decline does not make for a pretty picture.”
—Andrew J. Bacevich, author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History
“When historians of the future try to explain how the United States could have accomplished so little in Afghanistan despite spending so much blood and treasure, this trenchant and honest book will be a crucial source. An important read for anyone who cares about American foreign policy in the 21st century.”
—Alex Berenson, New York Times-bestselling author of The Ghost War and Twelve Days
“If I could recommend one book about Afghanistan to the next president, it’d be this one. If s/he can’t learn the lessons of the failed war in Iraq from the ground truth, maybe s/he can learn them from Wissing’s brilliant, funny, sad, irreverent, serious, deeply reported, hopeless—but always optimistic—book. Required reading.”
—Peter Van Buren, former U.S. State Department foreign service officer and author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the War for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.
“A scathing dispatch from an embedded journalist in Afghanistan. Demoralization, staggering waste, and corruption: this is the norm in Afghanistan as U.S. troops move into full retrograde (meaning retreat) and other foreign entities like NATO jump ship out of a keen sense of their own futile mission. In this episodic chronicle spanning some months in 2013, when he embedded a third time with U.S. troops there, journalist Wissing (Funding the Enemy: How US Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban, etc.) describes how the counterinsurgency was almost too painful to talk about among an occupying army that saw its efficacy draining by the minute. From the trillions of U.S. dollars spent in Afghanistan winning the hearts and minds, the author rightly wonders about what has been gained. Journeying from the capital’s “Kabubble,” a sleek, ersatz boomtown to the many half-finished construction projects (“megalomaniac wet dreams”) begun with the fuel of dollars in the days of post-invasion, to the numerous hermetically sealed, security-tight army bases set in the middle of dusty, mountainous desert terrain of the southern provinces neighboring Pakistan, the big question remains: what are the Afghans going to do when the Americans leave? Due to the author’s previous critical writing about America’s “endless war” in Afghanistan, Wissing was barely tolerated by military officials, and he was even kept away from speaking with the fresh Marines, who were still excited about the prospect of reconciling their sense of duty there. However, as the U.S. government decreased the number of troops, the highly paid contractors increased, and no one knew the official count. In his short, punchy, poignant chapters, the author looks at the on-the-ground conditions for the hapless soldiers in terms of food, elimination, sex, PTSD, and the treatment of brain injury, among other topics. He concludes, as have many veterans there working for agricultural development and other aid projects, that in the end, “the Afghan way is the best way.”
“This is a fine and troubling book about America’s plunge into the nightmare otherwise known as Afghanistan. Douglas Wissing’s concise thirty-odd chapters are like graphic flash-cards conveying the confusing mix of violence and corruption, along with bursts of decency and courage, that define this endless war. And alas! no exit is yet in sight. I particularly appreciated its account of day-to-day frustrations of U.S. personnel who have scant contact with the ordinary Afghans they are pledged to protect. They remain locked in a bottle filled with venomous scorpions.”
—Karl E. Meyer, former The New York Times and Washington Post editorial board member, and co-author with Shareen Bysac of The Tournament of Shadows about Central Asia’s Great Game, and Kingmakers, on the invention of the modern Middle East.
“Douglas Wissing’s Hopeless but Optimistic provides a fascinating ground level account of the effect of absurd and inappropriate Washington strategies on Afghans and on American soldiers. Its short hard-hitting chapters illustrate with pithy anecdotes how “hearts and minds” and other senseless silver-bullet approaches to the war only benefitted well-connected Beltway contractors and Afghan drug traffickers and warlords, and failed to help Afghan farmers and American soldiers. Americans prefer to forget Afghanistan, but that would be a shame because this lost trillion-dollar war illustrates the hubris of policies sold by both the Bush and Obama administrations. This book vividly illustrates the cost of this hubris beyond the trillion dollars wasted and the official casualties numbers.”
—Abdulkader Sinno, author of Organizations at War in Afghanistan & Beyond and editor of Muslims in Western Politics
“A seasoned award-winning journalist systematically and methodically unpacks with brutal honesty the wasting of a trillion US taxpayers’ dollars by America’s Deep State in “retrograde” from its longest privatized twenty first century war in Afghanistan. It is Wissing’s most insightful and heartfelt accounts of his embeds with America’s best and most dedicated warriors, male and female, in the most insurgency ridden corners of Afghanistan. Hopeless but Optimistic is a well-crafted, often humorous and candid narration of Wissing’s most intimate encounters with America’s worst US State Department careerists burning money, army officers spinning self-delusional victory spiels, and the highly paid development consultants re-doing the same projects over again. It is a story of America’s military industrial complex driven wars filled with moral outrage. A must read for anyone interested in learning why America’s longest war and reconstruction efforts in collaboration with its corrupt partners in Afghanistan have produced hopelessness and yet they remain optimistic.”
—Nazif Shahrani, author of The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan: Adaptation to Closed Frontiers and War