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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Review: The Warning Solution–Intelligent Analysis in the Age of Information Overload

5 Star, Best Practices in Management, Complexity & Resilience, Country/Regional, Culture, Research, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Force Structure (Military), Information Operations, Information Society, Insurgency & Revolution, Intelligence (Government/Secret), Intelligence (Public), Peace, Poverty, & Middle Class, Politics, Power (Pathologies & Utilization), Priorities, Secrecy & Politics of Secrecy
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Kristan Wheaton

5.0 out of 5 stars Solving Major Problems Early for 1/50th of the Cost

July 4, 2001

I first heard Kris Wheaton lecture in Europe, and was just blown away by the deep understanding that he demonstrated of why commanders and CEOs are constantly missing the warnings their subordinates and forward scouts are sending back–the huge cost! Kosovo, for example, could have been a $1 billion a year problem if acted upon wisely and early, instead it became a $5 billion a year problem. I like this book very much because it makes his deep insights available to everybody in a very readable, well-illustrated, and concise book.

I strongly recommend this book because it offers the only thoughtful explanation I have ever seen on the conflict between the senior decision-maker's attention span (can only think about $50 billion problems) and the early warning that *is* available but cannot break through to the always over-burdened, sometimes arrogant, and rarely strategic top boss. In this regard, his book is a fine complement to the more historical work by Willard Matthias on “America's Strategic Blunders.”

This book also offers solutions. It is a book that should be required reading for all field grade officers in all military services, as well as state and local governors and majors, university and hospital and other non-profit heads, and of course the captains of industry who spend billions, often unwisely, because they have not established a scouting system that can be heard at the highest levels *in time*. America, among many other nations and organizations, has a habit of ignoring its iconoclasts and mavericks–in an increasingly complex world where catastrophic combinations of failure are going to be more common, such ignorance will eventually become unaffordable and threatening to the national security as well as the national prosperity of those who persist in thinking about old problems in old ways.

There is one other aspect of this book that merits strong emphasis: it focuses on human understanding and human engagement with the world, and makes it clear that technology has almost nothing to do with how well we cope with the external environment that defines our future. There aren't five people in the US government, to take one example, that adequately understand the rich intellectual history of Islam nor the core difference between the Islamic emphasis on knowledge integration as the core value and the Christian emphasis on love as the core value. The author of this book is one of America's foremost authorities on the Balkan conflict and the deep importance of historical and cultural understanding as part of current political and operational competency–we need 1000 more intelligence professionals just like him. This book will inspire and provoke and is a great value for anyone who deals with the world at large.

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