The Man Who Thought He Could Fix Afghanistan

By May Jeong—Politico Magazine—November/December 2017—

To get something done in Afghanistan, you need to know Scott Guggenheim. But even the ultimate fixer isn’t sure anyone can solve the country’s problems.

KABUL—On November 9, 2016, Scott Guggenheim, a longtime American adviser to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, rose early with the sun, got into an armored vehicle and headed across Kabul’s fortified Green Zone to the U.S. Embassy. Afghanistan is 8½ hours ahead of the East Coast of the United States, and the American expatriates, Afghan elites and others who had managed to scare up invitations had gathered in the basement of the embassy—a city block-sized, blast-resistant compound as charmless as it is spotless—to watch the results of the American presidential election. The basement was dominated by State Department employees, who are officially barred from political activism while living abroad but tend to support Democrats; some, anticipating a Hillary Clinton victory, were even calling the occasion a party. On the wall hung a Donald Trump piñata.

By midmorning Kabul time, however, Trump had taken a commanding lead, and the mood in the embassy basement began to shift. Ties came undone, breakfast Danishes were anxiously devoured, and under the red, white and blue bunting, a stunned silence settled in. The cover band that had been playing earlier packed up its instruments. Some of the diplomats were typing furiously on their BlackBerrys. Others stepped outside to smoke, leaving behind a more Trump-friendly crowd of uniformed soldiers and veterans who had returned to Afghanistan as private contractors.