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In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan Reprint Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393338515
ISBN-10: 0393338517
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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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

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 great story, a convincing explanation, and a persuasive prescription for dealing with Afghanistan's ongoing civil war.... Jones' book will be the essential guide for anyone interested in understanding this still escalating conflict. -- James Dobbins, the Bush Administration's first special envoy for Afghanistan

[D]estined to become the standard text on America's involvement in Afghanistan. It is a timely and important work, without peer in terms of both its scholarship and the author's intimate knowledge of the country, the insurgency threatening it, and the challenges in defeating it. -- Professor Bruce Hoffman, Georgetown University and author of Inside Terrorism

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

I've just started reading Seth Jones's book on the war in Afghanistan, In the Graveyard of Empires, which someone told me is going to be the Fiasco of that war. -- Thomas E. Ricks, bestselling author of Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, Foreign

[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

History justifies Jones's worries...Jones may have written a blueprint for winning in a region that has historically brought mighty armies to their knees. -- Doug Childers

Gauging whether the US and its allies can succeed in Afghanistan is only part of what Jones's excellent book is about. -- James Blitz

[An] excellent book. -- James Blitz

[An] excellent book.--James Blitz

How we got to where we are in Afghanistan.--Matthew Kaminski

Seth Jones . . . has an anthropologist's feel for a foreign society, a historian's intuition for long-term trends, and a novelist's eye for the telling details that illuminate a much larger story. If you read just one book about the Taliban, terrorism, and the United States, this is the place to start. --Jeremi Suri, author of Henry Kissinger and the American Century

[Zeroes] in on what went awry after America's successful routing of the Taliban in late 2001. --Michiko Kakutani

[An] excellent book. --James Blitz

Seth G. Jones's book provides a vivid sense of just how paltry and misguided the American effort has been.... In the Graveyard of Empires will help to show what might still be done to build something enduring in Afghanistan and finally allow the U.S. to go home. --Dexter Filkins

A useful and generally lively account of what can go wrong when outsiders venture onto the Afghan landscape. --Steven Simon"

This is a serious work that should be factored in as a new policy in Afghanistan evolves. --Jay Freeman"

Offers a valuable window onto how officials have understood the military campaign. --Robert D. Crews"

[An] excellent book. --James Blitz"

How we got to where we are in Afghanistan. --Matthew Kaminski"

[Zeroes] in on what went awry after America s successful routing of the Taliban in late 2001. --Michiko Kakutani"

A blueprint for winning in a region that has historically brought mighty armies to their knees. --Doug Childers"

Seth Jones . . . has an anthropologist s feel for a foreign society, a historian s intuition for long-term trends, and a novelist s eye for the telling details that illuminate a much larger story. If you read just one book about the Taliban, terrorism, and the United States, this is the place to start. --Jeremi Suri, author of Henry Kissinger and the American Century"

A timely and important work, without peer in terms of both its scholarship and the author s intimate knowledge of the country, the insurgency threatening it, and the challenges in defeating it. --Bruce Hoffman, Georgetown University, author of Inside Terrorism"

A deeply researched and well-analyzed account of the failures of American policies in Afghanistan, In the Graveyard of Empires will be mandatory reading for policymakers from Washington to Kabul. --Peter Bergen, author of Holy War, Inc. and The Osama bin Laden I Know"

Seth Jones has combined forceful narrative with careful analysis, illustrating the causes of this deteriorating situation, and recommending sensible, feasible steps to reverse the escalating violence. --James Dobbins, author of After the Taliban: Nation Building in Afghanistan"

Seth G. Jones s book provides a vivid sense of just how paltry and misguided the American effort has been. In the Graveyard of Empires will help to show what might still be done to build something enduring in Afghanistan and finally allow the U.S. to go home. --Dexter Filkins"
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (April 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393338517
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393338515
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #93,680 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

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
Jones contends that after eight years, the U.S. has only managed to push al Qaida's headquarters about 100 miles down the road - into Pakistan. Not surprising, given that beginning around 330 B.C., Alexander the Great became the first of many known to have suffered staggering losses in the area - after astonishing conquests in Eurasia. Over the next 2,000 years, Ghenghis Khan, Timur, Babur, Britain, and the U.S.S.R. have followed in Alexander's footsteps.

"In the Graveyard of Empires" follows the gradual collapse of governance in the late 1960s and 1970s that culminated in the 1979 Soviet invasion, increased U.S. anti-Soviet involvement (thank you Charlie Wilson), the bloody Afghan civil war in the early 1990s, the rise of the Taliban in the late 1990s, and their subsequent alliance with Osama bin Laden.

Jones also points out, again, that current "strategies" ("door-kicking," bombing) produce lots of unappreciated collateral damage (remember the Korean, Vietnam Wars?), fuel our opponents with monies from drug trafficking, and thrive on blissful ignorance of what happens outside Kabul. (Reminds me of my days in the Central Highlands in Vietnam manning a communications site, listening to locals mislead Gen. Westmoreland regarding the causes and status of a local Montagnard revolt. If only I'd spoken up - Ha, I'd still be in the brig.) Other impediments include a history of warlord feudalism, extortion, and Pakistan's becoming a safe haven.

Finally, there's also the issue of Afghanistani government failure - an inability (because of preceding reasons)to provide security and other basic services to citizens around the country. Jones cites this as an important reason for its collapse - an interesting vision of the outcome comparison for conservatives in the U.S. arguing government is inherently incompetent and should be done away with as much as possible.
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