Review: Afghanistan’s Endless War–State Failure, Regional Politics, and the Rise of the Taliban

4 Star, Asymmetric, Cyber, Hacking, Odd War, Country/Regional, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Terrorism & Jihad, Threats (Emerging & Perennial), War & Face of Battle
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4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtfully Antisceptic–Chaos Edited into Prose,

November 12, 2001
Larry P. Goodson
This is a very impressive book, perhaps one of the best all-around books on Afghanistan, yet when I finished it I had the strongest feeling that it had been a rather antisceptic review. Eurudite, one of the best outlines I have ever seen for examining a truly chaotic situation, everything falling into place from chapter to chapter–yet at the end of it I simply did not have the guts of the matter in my hands.I found the answer in other materials, including a special project to map all of the existing tribes, sub-tribes, and individual leaders where they could be identified. The project required monitoring of local radio stations in various languages, some of which did not have print media. At the end of it all what came across was massive–massive–chaos in a medieval environment where everyone, without exception, regards every foreign power–and especially the superpowers–as an intruder, and every other Afghan as someone to be killed, exploited, or followed, depending on the situation.

This is a very fine book, but when one examines the list of organizations (14) and key individuals (16), what comes across is antisceptic simplicity. This is not a criticism of the author, the research (virtually every English-language reference of note), or the conclusions–all fit well within a very thoughtful approach to describing this failed state called Afghanistan. What jumps out at me is the fact that we do not have the access to the same story as told in Russian, Chinese, Dari, Farsi, Pashto, Urdu, Hindi, and we have done nothing to actually get below the state level–what I call “two levels down”–to the sub-tribe level.

As the world gets more complex, as “wild cards” such as Omar bin Laden cause massive dislocations within major developed countries, not just in isolated failed states, it seems to me that we do not have the sources and tools in hand to get a truly comprehensive coherent view of any particular situation. I would go so far as to say that each book such as this can only be considered a calling card–an audition–and that a real understanding of the Afghan situation could only emerge from a multi-national effort that brings together such talented authors, across cultural and national lines, and gives them the kind of collection, processing, modeling, and operational intelligence support that are normally reserved for just a few great nations. In brief, what we understand about Afghanistan is now too important to be left to a single author or a single perspective–and certainly too important to be left to a single failed intelligence community that thinks only in English.

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