John L. Cook
4.0 out of 5 stars Deep Insights, A Couple of Misses, Certainly Recommended as Core Reading, November 8, 2014
A hold over from my time in Afghanistan, I finally got around to reading this book on a long flight and give it a solid four stars. There is some very good eye opening stuff in this book, including some facts I itemize below that I plain did not know before. However, the author is also very wrong on a couple of key points, I address those at the end of my review when I suggest ten other books to also read. I do respect this book and the author’s candid useful appraisal, and recommend it to anyone thinking about how criminally insane our US national insecurity/fraud system really is. We are our own worst enemy, and as Martin Luther King said before he was assassinated for saying so, “the greatest purveyors of (illegitimate) violence in the world.”
At a meta-level, this is a five-star read and absolutely worthy of being included in any orientation collection. Meta points I salute:
01 US Government (politicals, policy, and intelligence) never got a grip on either Islam or corruption in Afghan context.
02 US Government never understood that Afghanistan is not a country, it is a collection of tribes and warlords with different languages, different loyalties, no rule of law, no shared value system.
03 US Government never understood the human cost — to Afghans as well as to US troops — of getting everything about our Afghan incursion and occupation so very wrong.
04 US Government went in heavy on the military side and completely missed the importance of the police, as well as the challenges including an almost completely illiterate male population.
05 Coalition lost control to Karzai from day one and never got it back — Karzai is “the” criminal mastermind with his brothers as deputy crime family chiefs
06 General Petraeus and his boys got counterinsurgency all wrong, gutted ability of the coalition to be effective, particularly since the US Department of State is totally worthless when it comes to “nation-building” and whole of government assistance
07 Pakistan is to Afghanistan as Cambodia was to Viet-Nam
08 US Government has been completely dishonest and ineffective on Afghanistan’s becoming the primary (90%) source for heroin in the world — but the author fails to point out that under the Taliban there was ZERO opium being grown in Taliban-controlled areas.
09 Using volunteers in our military over and over means that less than 1% of the US is actually “at war”
There is a lot of stuff in this book that I did not pick up from other sources including:
– No national draft hence no national army or police worthy of the names
– Women between 16-25 have the highest suicide rate in the world
– Burka’s are a death trap — women have no peripheral vision, keep walking in front of moving vehicles
– Kabul has no central sewage, large tanks are used and pumped out by trucks
– All the feces from the homes on the mountainside wash down on Kabul
– No concept of insurance in Afghanistan — all traffic accidents are “no fault” cover your own damages
– Afghan Constitution has a “poison pill” that allows Islam to trump law, this is used in pernicious ways
– No requirement or expectation for Parliament members to be literate (but same is true in USA)
– Sale of girls (badal)is still legal and common
– “Girls are for babies and boys are for fun” is the prevailing axiom — pedophilia is RAMPANT
– Isolation of police from military is by design
– No such thing as a professional personnel management system anywhere in Afghan government
– Afghans cannot effectively fly or use artillery
– Interpreters serve for two years and then get a free pass to USA
– “Good idea fairies” a gripping reach — $500,000 firetrucks with no water sources sent to put out $50 fires
– According to the Koran (2:223) a woman’s testimony counts as that of half a man
I like this book and I find chapters on Corruption and on Islam particularly interesting. There are a few misses that cause me to reduce the book to four stars from five, but that is a still a “must read” evaluation for me.
01 Author buys into the Northern Alliance / Abdullah lies about Abdullah winning anything. Abdullah is 100% Tajik and could never win a national election, something the US Department of State evidently does not understand, as they back his attempt to win via fraud with Karzai’s help this last time around. I was among those who helped Ghani push back and claim the election he won fair and square (at Phi Beta Iota search for Ghani Afghanistan). The author completely misses the reality that after Karzai Abdullah is the top criminal in Afghanistan, the “clean man” fronting for the Panjshire criminal network that is also Iran’s fifth column in Afghanistan.
02 He misses the youth vote, the urban civic awakening, and Ramazan Bashardost as well as gains among women.
03 There is no index or bibliography in this book, which is a shame because it has enough substance to warrant both. This means that among other things the author’s drawing on Jeff Bordin’s work on Green on Blue casualties is not clear.
04 He completely misses the fact that the Taliban offered Bin Laden up immediately after 9/11 and before Bin Laden died in 2001 (the fake Bin Laden killed in a CIA/Blackwater set-up of SOF was roughly fake Bin Laden number 5 or 6).
05 He is completely wrong about the Taliban coming to power on the basis of opium. They came to power because after Charlie Wilson’s war — which the CIA resisted bitterly, it just wanted to harass the Soviets, not make them leave — the US Congress was bribed to go looking for another war rather than investing half the war budget in peace.
06 His discussion of suicide bombings and IED casualities misses the manner in which young boys are sold into slavery to be trained as suicide bombers while also being sodomized in madrasses; misses the number of US casualties that come from patrols into previously mined areas left over from the Soviet occupation; and downplays the very legitimate justification of suicide bombing against occupying foreign forces.
Misses aside, this is a first class book and I am very glad to have read it.
Here are ten other books I recommend in addition to this one:
Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War
Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times
Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism
Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA’s Key Field Commander
Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia
Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan—and the Path to Victory
Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency
God’s Terrorists: The Wahhabi Cult and the Hidden Roots of Modern Jihad
They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars: The Untold Story
Surrender to Kindness: One Man’s Epic Journey for Love and Peace