From August 2005 until April 2007, Neumann served as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan -- the third official to hold the position since the Taliban's overthrow in 2001. Yet the problems recounted in this career diplomat's down-to-earth memoir are so severe that it reads as if he had been the first. Not much was settled in the task of putting together a post-Taliban Afghan state, and there was a disturbing continued Taliban presence. Neumann chronicles the Afghan government's sluggish policymaking process, the country's woefully inadequate infrastructure, Washington's miserly budgeting, NATO's problems of coordination, and the U.S. embassy's delicate chore of supporting Afghan President Hamid Karzai without dominating him. Neumann comes across as a hands-on diplomat, careful to avoid settling scores (only former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld receives explicit criticism) and understated in appraising his own record. When it comes to the future of Afghanistan, Neumann's take is measured: he is optimistic about the possibility of success.
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