In This Review

A Vulcan's Tale: How the Bush Administration Mismanaged the Reconstruction of Afghanistan
A Vulcan's Tale: How the Bush Administration Mismanaged the Reconstruction of Afghanistan
By Dov S. Zakheim
Brookings Institution Press, 2011, 320 pp.

In this important memoir, Zakheim recalls his surprise on learning, in 2002, that his portfolio as the Defense Department’s comptroller and chief financial officer would include coordinating U.S. civilian reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. The task fell to him because other senior Pentagon officials were preoccupied with planning for the imminent war in Iraq and were losing interest in Afghanistan. The main purpose of the book is to demonstrate the dire consequences of that neglect and how it prevented grand policies from becoming practical actions. Zakheim traces the current travails in Afghanistan to a failure to convert the military successes of late 2001 into political gains that would aid the larger goal of nation building. He also conveys the daily frustrations of trying to make the U.S. policymaking system work sensibly. Zakheim was part of a group of early advisers to presidential candidate George W. Bush -- the “Vulcans” alluded to in the title. His memoir nonetheless offers a measured portrayal of the Bush administration’s failings and of the personal clashes behind the debates over policy.