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"In a very desultory way," he suggested pleas- antly. My boss could never forgo the obvious, which was why he was stuck in Afghanistan, one of the most inconspicuous nations on earth. In 1946 it was just emerging from the Bronze Age, a land tied to an ancient past. At the embassy we used to say, "Kabul today shows what Palestine was like at the time of Jesus."

In many ways, our attache was an ideal man for Afghanistan, for he, too, was just emerging from his own Bronze Age. He was a rough, wily businessman who had made a minor fortune in the used-car racket, and a place for himself in the Democratic Party in Minnesota.