This Town Hall double-header covers secret wars in Afghanistan and the office of the Commander-in-Chief. First, historian Jeremi Suri and Washington Post former correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran examine America’s disillusionment with US presidents in recent history. Then, Steve Coll reveals history of America’s hidden conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Join us for an evening of back-to-back examinations of American military policy—and the office that commands them.
One tickets gains you access to either or both events:
6PM: Jeremi Suri with Rajiv Chandrasekaran
The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America’s Highest Office
With discussions of Presidential Approval Ratings surfacing in headlines, many to wonder why numbers across recent presidential terms have seemed lower than ever. In The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America’s Highest Office, historian Jeremi Suri charts America’s disenchantment with the office of the presidency, from the limited role envisaged by the Founding Fathers to its current status as the most powerful job in the world. He argues that the presidency is a victim of its own success—the vastness of the job makes it almost impossible to fulfill expectations. As managers of the world’s largest economy and military, contemporary presidents must react to a truly globalized world in a twenty-four-hour news cycle. There is little room left for bold vision.
Suri is joined onstage by former Washington Post correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran. Together they trace the fall of the highest office to the inevitable mismatch between candidates’ promises and the structural limitations of the presidency. Join Suri and Chandrasekaran for an illuminating examination of our highest political office, and a discussion essential for anyone trying to understand America’s fraught political climate.
Jeremi Suri is a professor of history and holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas. He is the author and editor of nine books on contemporary politics and foreign policy, including Henry Kissinger and the American Century and Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama. Suri also writes for major newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, The Boston Globe, Foreign Affairs, and Wired.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran serves for two decades as a senior correspondent and associate editor of The Washington Post. During his newspaper career, he reported from more than three dozen countries and was bureau chief in Baghdad, Cairo, and Southeast Asia. In 2014, he co-wrote (with Howard Schultz) the bestselling book For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Heroism and Sacrifice.
7:30PM: Steve Coll
The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Prior to 9/11, the United States had been carrying out small-scale covert operations in Afghanistan, in cooperation (and sometimes opposition) with Pakistani intelligence agency I.S.I.. While the U.S. was trying to quell extremists, a highly secretive and compartmentalized wing of the I.S.I. known as “Directorate S” was covertly training, arming, and seeking to legitimize the Taliban. In his book Directorate S, journalist Steve Coll makes painfully clear that the United States doomed the war in Afghanistan—and set our country on a collision course with Pakistan—with of our failure to apprehend this faction’s motivations and intentions.
Coll joins us to discuss the history and impact of this swirling and shadowy struggle of historic proportions. He outlines how the conflict endured over a decade across the Bush and Obama administrations, involving multiple secret intelligence agencies, a litany of incongruous strategies and tactics, and dozens of prominent military and political figures. Coll excavates this grand battle, which took place away from the gaze of the American public. He offers us a definitive explanation of how America became ensnared in an elaborate, factional, and seemingly interminable conflict in South Asia. Join Coll for a forensic examination of the personal and political forces that shaped world history.
Steve Coll is the author of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Ghost Wars and the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. He is a staff writer for The New Yorker and previously worked for 20 years at The Washington Post, where he received a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism in 1990.
Presented by Seattle University and Town Hall Seattle as part of the Civics series.