The Punishment Of Virtue-inside Afghanistan after the Taliban (Sarah Chayes):

“I wound up briefing the Twenty-fifth by the way of coincidence. No concerted effort was being made to educate the army about the radically new duties that had been thrust upon it. with $178 billion in defense authorizations in 2004, almost nothing was earmarked for the acquisition of knowledge about the place where the troops where the troops would be investing the next year of their lives—about its languages, its history or culture, about what was currently at stake there. None of the GIs I talked to out at the base in Kandahar had received such training.”   

In praise of Chayes! & who would of expected? As a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment group & member (or at least consultant) of the Pentagon, this former foreign correspondent makes an unlikely nomination. The fact of the matter is that Chayes is one of todays most remarkable & honest political analysts with an absolutely searing clarity of writing (& thank goodness that somewhere within these horrid & noxious titans, some personnel of such an ilk are in positions of influence & authority despite the disastrous status-quo). Her 2015 book “Thieves Of State” remains one of the greatest & most essential deconstructions of modern corruption ever penned (applicable to both 3rd & 1st world scenarios). The Punishment Of Virtue is her previous work (published 2006) & details her time as a kind of semi-rogue diplomat, journalist & civil NGO figurehead in Afghanistan just before the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Initially there on assignment reporting for NPR, Chayes progressed to humanitarian & diplomacy work. This, along with an immensely immersive tenacity for the countries culture granted her extraordinary access & first-hand exposure to the machinations unfolding, whether concerning the US invaders, local warlords, politicians & the greater civilian demographic. The results are truly stunning. This book can be read almost as an anthropological come travel/exploration piece (with trenchantly researched historical sections & parallels), a uniquely incisive war/occupation/insurgency scribing or literally, a piece of “live fiction” that reads so well it’s almost like a novel from an established master of the field (yes, seriously). Pitching all the skittles hurtling with one shot, I think the most important & extremely precious information here is effectively how the US completely & utterly botched the post-Taliban environment (& thus the entire country itself). Much like the War On Terror & The cursed War On Drugs…. decades later, we have way more, way worse & way more entrenched versions of both phenomena that the effort is supposed to be eradicating. It’s a herculean folly. Concerning Afghanistan specifically, it’s now confirmed as the worlds “true” narco state, providing more than 90% of the world’s illicit heroine. War & terror ravaged, with a resurgent Taliban & the miasmic bleed-off from another US conduced cluster-fuck, – Islamic State, pushing into the turf & converting or killing the vulnerable who never saw any benefit from an invasion that is now 16 years old. Chayes, with a grace, accuracy & phenomenally well-argued & tactile veracity that I expect even staunch opponents & denialists would succumb to, inflicts one of the most damning accounts of US foreign policy ever inked, completely free of any venom or discomposure. Her command of facts, knowledge, sensitivity, intelligence & brilliance with language & the written word deliver a crystal clear, ambiguity-free critique of staggering penetration that largely lets the events speak for themselves. In this sense, her work joins (or indeed precedes) that of Craig Murrays excellent & much vaunted Murder In Samarkand & Leo Docherties Desert Of Death. Dissenting accounts of diplomats & soldiers from the offending nation discovering, in theater/on the ground, how heinous, hypocritical & destructive the systems they serve is in practice & contesting such malversations via the book.

As highly revered war-writer Sebastian Junger comments “Every American that wants to understand why planes flew into our buildings on September 11 must read this book”


“gradually the people realized that nothing was there. And they became rebellious. They realized the Americans had no plan at all – not for the government of Kandahar, not for Gul Agha Shirzai, not for anything. And they realized that President Karzai had no plan either, no idea.”

Author-Sarah Chayes

Publisher-Penguin Books (2006)