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In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan Hardcover – July 6, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0393068986 ISBN-10: 0393068986 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Since 2001, RAND Corporation political scientist Jones (The Rise of European Security Cooperation) has been observing the reinvigorated insurgency in Afghanistan and weighing the potency of its threat to the country's future and American interests in the region. Jones finds the roots of the re-emergence in the expected areas: the deterioration of security after the ousting of the Taliban regime in 2002, the U.S.'s focus on Iraq as its foreign policy priority and Pakistan's role as a haven for insurgents. He revisits Afghan history, specifically the invasions by the British in the mid- and late-19th century and the Russians in the late-20th to rue how little the U.S. has learned from these two previous wars. He sheds light on why Pakistan—a consistent supporter of the Taliban—continues to be a key player in the region's future. Jones makes important arguments for the inclusion of local leaders, particularly in rural regions, but his diligent panorama of the situation fails to consider whether the war in Afghanistan is already lost. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“No one understands the successes and failures of American policy in Afghanistan better than Seth Jones....If you read just one book about the Taliban, terrorism, and the United States, this is the place to start.” (Jeremi Suri, Professor of history, University of Wisconsin)

“A deeply researched, clearly written, and well-analyzed account of the failures of American policies in Afghanistan, In the Graveyard of Empires lays out a plan to avoid a potential quagmire. This timely book will be mandatory reading for policymakers from Washington to Kabul but it will also help to inform Americans who want to understand what is likely to be the greatest foreign policy challenge of the Obama administration.” (Peter Bergen, author of Holy War, Inc. and The Osama bin Laden I Know)

“Seth Jones has the answer to the million-dollar question….until Seth Jones, nobody actually sought an empirical answer. Nobody crunched the numbers.” (John H. Richardson - Esquire)

“[Jones] zero[es] in on what went awry after America’s successful routing of the Taliban in late 2001. His narrative is fleshed out with information from declassified government documents and interviews with military officers, diplomats and national security experts familiar with events on the ground in Afghanistan.” (Michiko Kakutani - The New York Times)

“This is a serious work that should be factored in as a new policy as Afghanistan evolves.” (Jay Freeman - Booklist)

“Readers keeping up with the wars in the region will want this [book].” (Library Journal)

“Gauging whether the US and its allies can succeed in Afghanistan is only part of what Jones’s excellent book is about.” (James Blitz - Financial Times)

“A useful and generally lively account of what can go wrong when outsiders venture onto the Afghan landscape. Those ventures have generally not turned out well…This is ominous, because [Jones] knows too much about recent interventions for his pessimism to be disregarded.” (Steven Simon - Foreign Affairs)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (July 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393068986
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393068986
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #910,521 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Seth G. Jones serves as an advisor and plans officer for the Commanding General, U.S. Special Operations Forces, in Afghanistan. He lives outside of Washington, DC, and contributes regularly to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. Jones was named one of 2008's 'Best and Brightest' young policy experts by Esquire.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Adam Strickland on June 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover
As a military professional with more than a general understanding of Afghanistan and the current operating environment, this was a "must purchase" for me. While the book did not provide me with any NEW insights into the operating environment, it did not disappoint as a very clearly written and detailed overview of US operations from 2001-2008. This will become a must read for members of my staff trying to develop an understanding of the problem-set in Afghanistan.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Keith A. Comess VINE VOICE on November 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Seth Jones' analysis "In the Graveyard of Empires" has made a timely appearance, as it fortuitously coincides with the Obama Administration's review of the current US/NATO approach to the twin issues of "nation-building" and security in Afghanistan. While about half the book recapitulates history aptly summarized elsewhere (Rashid's, "Descent into Chaos" and "Taliban", Coll's, "Ghost Wars" are three recent and outstanding examples), the synopsis is necessary background to the analysis that follows. The second half of the book relies heavily on Jones' original "on-site" research and extensive interviews conducted with a variety of sources (mostly Western). This section of the book objectively summarizes the facts, places them in context and clearly identifies opinion. In short, "Graveyard" is an excellent introduction to the topic and supplies the reader with sufficient information to permit the development a genuinely informed opinion on a very complex issue.

First, why exactly is Afghanistan called the "Graveyard of Empires"? Jones begins his history with Alexander, extends it through the Persians, the British, the Russians and focuses finally on the U.S. His argument, in brief, is that Afghanistan is a tribal society with a "warrior" tradition. It has numerous ethnic groups with enduring and ancient rivalries. There are numerous languages. The borders were artifically drawn (by Britain; the so-called, "Durand Line") and specifically created to divide various tribal groups to facilitate colonial control but create internecine friction. It lacks a history of a strong central government. It has a history of sustaining fractious warlords. It is Islamic. It is mountainous and surrounded by neighbors with a "interest" in the area and a penchant for meddling in Afghan affairs.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By not me VINE VOICE on April 22, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"In the Graveyard of Empires" is a workmanlike study of America's failed enterprise in Afghanistan. The basic story is well known: After the Taliban were toppled in 2001, the Bush Administration and the Pentagon were eager to move on and invade Iraq. Afghanistan became a low priority. Too few troops were deployed to stabilize the country, and too little development aid was committed to rebuild the economy. As a result, the central government never establshed its writ outside the major cities. The Taliban had time and space to regroup, and they eventually moved into the power vacuum. Now 100,000 U.S. troops are fighting a serious insurgency in a land notorious for casting out foreign invaders. Every American should read the book, especially Republicans who think Bush and Cheney "kept us safe" after 9/11.

I knocked off one star because the book is based overwhelmingly on U.S. government sources. A few paragraphs even read like USG power point presentations! The sad truth is that U.S. diplomats, spies, and soldiers are at sea in a country like Afghanistan: they arrive with little area expertise, rarely stay for more than a year, and recycle second- and third-hand information from a narrow range of local contacts. (Ambassador Khalizad was an exception -- but he was pulled out of Kabul to serve in Baghdad!) These limitations are a fact of life in the foreign policy bureaucracy, but a book should be better than that. Any serious study of the Afghan war must include information culled from local and, particularly, Taliban sources. Yet Afghans rarely appear in "In the Graveyard of Empires."

It's too bad. It keeps this good book from being a great one.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By T. Eagan on November 5, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is an ok read, and if you have read nothing before on Afghanistan, this will provide you with a great deal of information. It gets it main - and very important - message through also: The folly of the Bush administrations focus on Iraq already from 2001 onwards, ruined a unique opportunity in Afghanistan.
However, what makes this a three-star book was two things; first I think Ahmed Rashid's books are better, and second, this book is repetitive where several chapters lack a clear focus. With a deeper focus on analyses of the events and their consequences - this could have been a four star book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Sci-fi and history reader on March 8, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
Dr. Seth Jones provides an excellent book on the current struggle to stabilizing Afghanistan. Information on the different tribal factors and history of the country are broadly explained as to why stabilization is difficult. The book is written neutrally pointing out both the positive and negative actions that have been performed. There are also many footnotes for the reader to compare and perform their own research on the topic.

The key areas that Dr. Jones points out are the complexity of the Afghan tribal system and the negative influence that Pakistan has towards the stability of Afghanistan and significant Saudi influence in money and extreme religious teachings. "God's Terrorist's" by Charles Allen, provides excellent insight and viewpoints on the extremist views and influence.

Dr. Jones' insight into local tribes to be empowered for their self defense might be a key part to the future stability of Afghanistan. After reading "Decent into Chaos" by Ahmed Rashid, each author has points that coincide with each other. This book does not provide a "roadmap" for future success nor is it a research paper that provides the full documented history of Afghanistan.

If one spends time discussing with the soldiers who have served in Afghanistan since the beginning, Dr. Jones' comments on how the Iraq first policy has hindered Afghan stabilization is very, very evident. And yes, Dr. Jones has spent a few months in Afghanistan in 2009 (when the book was released), so he does have ground knowledge and had direct interaction with the Afghan people and government. Definitely worth reading at least from the library as an overview, for a collector, a good addition, especially for the footnotes/ references for the reader's own independent research.
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