Global Politics

The forever war

DF went on to cover the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and he says the two countries are very different in many ways: Iraq is flat, brown, unbelievably hot but it's also an educated, wealthy, sophisticated place. Afghanistan feels like you've landed in the 9th century�the literacy rates are low and villages have no running water or electricity. The landscape is also stunningly beautiful. (You tell your stories through many different characters. One thing you say about Iraq is there were always two conversations in Iraq: the ones Iraqis were having with Americans and the ones they were having by themselves. What are the lies Americans told themselves about these wars?) The two conversations, it's not that the Iraqis were lying, but what became apparent to me is the Americans would come through a neighborhood and pass out money and put up a new school and the Iraqis would then talk about how much they loved America. But when the Americans would go home at nighttime, that's when the insurgents ran the place. What developed from that was a parallel universe and sometimes I would actually glimpse that. Those sorts of stories are what make up many chapters of my book. (When you say the worst lies were the ones Americans told themselves, is that the U.S. military or Americans back home?) In all seriousness, the U.S. military sees things straight and doesn't have an interest in lying to themselves when their troops are out there dying. But there was a division between the military on the ground and the civilians who are more politically minded, and particularly in the early years. there was just a gigantic disconnect between the reality on the ground and what was being said. The Green Zone was not a big place and then there's the rest of Iraq. (How closely do the realities match up now?) I think more closely now. if you go back to 2004, by then things were really serious. It changed overnight. It went from being a political operation to being a very professional military and diplomatic operation. There was a public acknowledgement of the problem. Conditions have changed dramatically in Iraq, and they may not be permanent but it is noticeable. It's not self-sustaining though. From the beginning it was strange reporting there because I would go out and watch things unravel so much during the day. But at night I'd go run out through the neighborhoods and it was like a party. I was always wearing shorts which was sort of a no-no in the Middle East.

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