Hopeless but Optimistic
Journeying through America's Endless War in Afghanistan
Published by: Indiana University Press
Award-winning journalist Douglas A. Wissing's poignant and eye-opening journey across insurgency-wracked Afghanistan casts an unyielding spotlight on greed, dysfunction, and predictable disaster while celebrating the everyday courage and wisdom of frontline soldiers, idealistic humanitarians, and resilient Afghans. As Wissing hauls a hundred pounds of body armor and pack across the Afghan warzone in search of the ground truth, US officials frantically spin a spurious victory narrative, American soldiers try to keep their body parts together, and Afghans try to stay positive and strain to figure out their next move after the US eventually leaves. As one technocrat confided to Wissing, "I am hopeless—but optimistic."
Wissing is everywhere in Afghanistan, sharing an impressionistic view from little white taxis coursing across one of the world's most mine-ridden places; a perilous view from outside the great walls surrounding America's largest base, sequestered Bagram Air Field; and compelling inside views from within embattled frontline combat outposts, lumbering armored gun trucks and flitting helicopters, brain trauma clinics, and Kabul's Oz-like American embassy. It's Afghan life on the streets; the culture and institutions that anneal them; the poetry that enriches them. It includes the perspectives of cynical military lifers and frightened short-timers; true believers and amoral grabbers; Americans and Afghans trying to make sense of two countries surreally contorted by war-birthed extractive commerce.
Along with a deep inquiry into the 21st-century American way of war and an unforgettable glimpse of the enduring culture and legacy of Afghanistan, Hopeless but Optimistic includes the real stuff of life: the austere grandeur of Afghanistan and its remarkable people; warzone dining, defecation, and sex; as well as the remarkable shopping opportunities for men whose job is to kill.
List of AbbreviationsPrologue1. Landing2. Problems3. In/Out4. Reify5. Shoulders6. Salerno7. Retrograde8. Better9. Boom10. WHAM11. Luck12. Shitholes13. Road14. Friends15. Kandahar16. Leatherneck17. Sex18. Drugs19. Brains20. Birds21. Geronimo22. Dream23. Ship24. Slaughter25. System26. Believers27. Rumi28. Enduring29. Beauty30. Sustaining31. Challenges32. Women33. Dutch34. Intermediates35. Embassy36. Loss37. OptimismEpilogueIndex
Afghanistan is one huge enigma for most Americans. 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 St
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]]>,
A scathing dispatch from an embedded journalist in Afghanistan. . . . Pungent, embittered, eye-opening observations of a conflict involving lessons still unlearned.~Kirkus Reviews
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]]>,
As with an album of closeup 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]]>,
On page after page, as Wissing travels around the country, we are told how U.S. operatives continue to repeat the same mistakes over and over, leaving a trail of unfinished/sabotaged projects that have no value to the people of Afghanistan.~OpEd News
Wissing's moving and exceptionally well-written account makes sad reading . . . The book becomes a heart-breaking travelogue, accompanied by Wissing's own photos. . . . [but] however corrupt and misguided the war, however much damage it has done, Wissing says, 'I met American after American determined to make the world a better place.'~Bloom Magazine
One of the state's most intrepid combat reporters, Wissing went to Afghanistan for a third time in 2013, expecting to watch the war wind down. Instead, he found a place still rife with conflict. . . . [Wissing] gives readers a view of both the perils and the many examples of money being wasted in a country where even something as seemingly benign as digging wells has devastating consequences.~Indianapolis Monthly
This is a fine and troubling book about America's plunge into the nightmare otherwise known as Afghanistan. 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 US 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]]>,
It's that kind of book. It reminds us of Peter Van Buren's We Meant Well book on Iraq.~Diplopundit
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]]>,
This is not a book that directly engages the theories and conceptions of twenty-first-century US military intervention, in its full-spectrum approach from counterinsurgency to development, in numerous working papers, articles, and monographs. It does not invoke 'hard power,' 'soft power,' or 'smart power.' But in this case, that is an asset. Sometimes the most effective response to all the proposals of what could or should be is the observation of what is.~H-Diplo
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 withdrawal through its longest, privatized, 21st-century-war in Afghanistan. This is Wissing's most insightful and heartfelt account 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, though they remain optimistic.~Nazif Shahrani]]>,