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The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers Hardcover – July 12, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


Steve Coll, author of The Bin Ladens and Ghost Wars
"Peter Tomsen has a depth of understanding and knowledge about the history of Afghanistan that makes him a unique asset in our effort to grapple with the multiple conflicts and intricate politics in what has turned out to be America’s longest war.”

Winston Lord, former Assistant Secretary of State 
“Accolades like 'magisterial,' 'definitive,' and 'vital' should be reserved for rare books like Peter Tomsen's 'The Wars of Afghanistan.' Few Americans are as knowledgeable about that tormented land's past; none have been more savvy or prescient about its unrolling future. Tomsen's compelling narrative draws upon meticulous scholarship and virgin archives, personal frontline engagement and close ties with major players. This multilayered volume melds sweeping history, cultural painting, political analysis, governmental battles, dramatic action, and provocative prescriptions. 'The Wars of Afghanistan' is bound to have urgent impact and enduring resonance.”

Lee H. Hamilton, former congressman and co-chair of the 9/11 Commission
 “The Wars of Afghanistan is a richly detailed account that places current U.S. interests in Afghanistan in the historical, political, and cultural context of this troubled land. Peter Tomsen’s compelling analysis of Afghan leaders and tribal politics makes this book invaluable to the policy maker. His wise and carefully considered policy blueprint—basically, America will still help and America is withdrawing—serves American interests and uplifts Afghanistan.”

Chuck Hagel, distinguished professor, Georgetown University, and former U.S. senator (1997–2009)
“The authenticity of Tomsen’s Afghanistan experiences, knowledge, and analysis is the foundation of a superbly well-written and documented presentation of an astoundingly complicated part of the world. He brings remarkable clarity to a very complex story. Tomsen’s book is the most current, informed, and complete Afghanistan publication in the market today … and maybe ever. It is not an exaggeration to say that he has created a masterpiece. It’s that good.”

Publisher’s Weekly, May 16, 2011
“Ambassador and special envoy to Afghanistan from 1989 to 1992, Tomsen combines scholarship, analysis, and personal experience in an encyclopedic if disturbing history of post-WWII Afghanistan. Readers will appreciate his expert…insights.”
Foreign Affairs, September/October, 2011
“Magisterial… A career U.S. diplomat, Tomsen served as Washington's special envoy to the Afghan resistance in 1989-92, an experience that gave him almost unrivaled personal insight into Afghanistan's slide from anti-Soviet jihad into civil war. His account of the country's political dynamics before, during, and after this period is exhaustively researched, levelheaded, and persuasive....The Wars of Afghanistan should have a place among the indispensable books on the topic.”
San Francisco Chronicle, July 3, 2011
“Peter Tomsen, a former U.S. envoy to "the Afghan resistance" from 1989 to 1992, reminds us in his sweeping history that the CIA has had a miserable record of understanding the politics of the region. "The Wars of Afghanistan" is rich with details about his interactions with key players during this critical period. Following the Soviet withdrawal, the United States continued to oppose compromise with the last Afghan communist ruler, Mohammad Najibullah, and to arm the mujahedeen, including figures now fighting the Americans. Drawing on these lessons, Tomsen persuasively calls on Washington to wrest policymaking back from the Pentagon and spy agencies, and advocates U.N. mediation of an Afghan peace process.”
Times Literary Supplement September 30, 2011
“[A]dmirably sound.”
Philadelphia Inquirer October 6, 2011
“A fascinating tome.”
National Review Online, Best Nonfiction of 2011
“Excellent…Tomsen knows the country, its culture, and the last 30 years of U.S. history there, inside and out.”

San Francisco Chronicle, Best Books of 2011
“In his sweeping history, Tomsen persuasively calls on Washington to wrest policymaking back from the Pentagon and spy agencies, and advocates U.N. mediation of an Afghan peace process.”

“U.S. policy toward Afghanistan needs more careful calibration than the all-in/all-out policy schizophrenia of the last three decades. To be consistent and successful, our policy makers and practitioners in Afghanistan must be aware of the intense and often tragic history of our relations with that country. Ambassador Tomsen’s book provides an admirable service toward that end.”

Kansas City Star
“Stewart’s book is impressive in scope and painstakingly researched.”

About the Author

Peter Tomsen was President George H.W. Bush's Special Envoy on Afghanistan with the rank of Ambassador from 1989 to 1992. Tomsen entered the Foreign Service in 1967 and served in Thailand, Vietnam, China, and the Soviet Union. He was United States Deputy Chief of Mission in China from 1986 to 1989, deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian Affairs from 1992 to 1995, and the American Ambassador to Armenia from 1995 to 1998. He lives in Virginia with his wife.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 912 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1 edition (July 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586487639
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586487638
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #552,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 78 people found the following review helpful By David C. Isby on July 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The story of the United States' policy in Afghanistan, from the war against the Soviets to the vacuum of the 1990s to today's frustrating and costly yet needed commitment is presented with great clarity and insight by a veteran diplomat who was at the center of many of the events he writes about.

Even where Ambassador Tomsen was not directly involved, he knew enough that, looking in from the periphery on events, he brings unique insights beyond those of the journalists and Washington players whose writings represent the first draft of history. This is Afghanistan 2.0.

I am an American that has been working on Afghanistan since soon after the Soviet invasion in 1979. I have written four books on the subject (the most recent of which, AFGHANISTAN: GRAVEYARD OF EMPIRES, has just been published in a revised paperback edition). So I know the subject and I know Ambassador Tomsen and his work over the years. From my experience, this book is accurate and objective. The author has by no means averted his eyes from the many, many policy failures, including those by the State Department, that have taken place over the years. Nor does he hesitate to name the Great and Good in Washington who, with reputations untarnished, managed to inflict lasting harm on Afghanistn and the Afghans.

Anyone interested in Afghanistan beyond the headlines and todays' too-often-sterile policy debates needs to read this book.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Swystun on December 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am grateful for this book. As its author, Peter Tomsen, points out there is pervasive ignorance about Afghanistan's history, culture and tribal society. It is a complex mosaic that has never truly experienced a central government due to tribal, ethnic and religious differences.

Many have compared the U.S. and Coalition forces efforts in the country to previous disasters experienced by the British and the Soviets. Tomsen writes, "The 1838 British invasion of Afghanistan established a pattern repeated during future invasions of Afghanistan: hubristic justifications, initial success, gradually widening Afghan resistance, stalemate, and withdrawal."

Fast-forward 150 years and at their peak the Soviets controlled only 20% of the country and 15% of the population. The Politburo's discussions in the 1980's regarding withdrawal sounded eerily similar to what U.S. leaders would debate. Both faced high casualties, big expenditures, antiwar sentiment at home, and little progress on any front.

Afghani history is incredibly bloody and the complex society largely unstable with violence an accepted option. This is even more the case when outsiders enter their borders. Afghans also have a tradition of changing sides - they favor the probable winner so loyalties beyond families and clans are far from assured.

This history was incredibly helpful, however, it was when the author (and former Special Envoy on Afghanistan from 1989 to 1992) covered the last twenty years of Afghan history. It confirmed my own conclusion about Pakistani culpability in promoting radical Islam and orchestrating extremist proxy warfare.

As Tomsen says, "The epicenter of world terrorism is in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By S. J. Snyder on August 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Beyond learning more detail about the dysfunctional tribalism of a country whose current, colonial-imposed borders make even less sense than most of those in Africa (either western Pakistan and its Pashtuns should be added to Afghanistan or southern Afghanistan and its Pashtuns should be added to Pakistan, for starters) the single biggest takeaway I got from this book?

The HUGE degree of outright lying, and other general deception, practiced by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, the infamous ISI, to its own country's (and its own institutional) goals, often shortsighted ones, since even before the old USSR officially announced it was pulling out of Afghanistan.

Pakistan's long-term President Zia, per the author, said that in negotiations it was perfectly OK to lie to the USSR since it had non-Muslim leadership. It's clear from this book that he and many other Pakistani leaders must feel the same about the United States. (That said, they at least indirectly lied to the Saudis at times, too.)

That said, speaking of Zia, Pakistani heads of government, including but not limited to Zia, and both civilian and military in background, have shown plenty of their own duplicity.

Second biggest takeaway? Long before 9/11, the CIA was clueless about A-stan, and what it called "intelligence" was usually stuff uncritically culled from the ISI. Too bad we didn't have leadership after 9/11 who saw this as the perfect reason, time, and excuse to get rid of the CIA.

Thomson was the first U.S. representative to Afghanistan after the Soviets announced their pullout, with ambassadorial rank.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By William Terdoslavich on February 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover
It takes time for headlines to settle into history. Peter Tomsen is not interested in waiting that long.

Tomsen once served as US ambassador to Afghan resistance groups from 1989 to 1992. The job required him to dive into the tangled thicket of Afghan tribal politics, little understood by the casual observer but crucial in crafting any political deal that could stick in Afghanistan. Tomsen coupled his practical experience with a good read of Afghan history to place today's conflict within the context of history, showing that the solution to Afghanistan's problems are really easy. It's just too damn hard to get there when outside powers are eager to fill the power vacuum in this hostile corner of central Asia.

Do not give Tomsen the benefit of your doubts. He did not write the single "go to" book explaining Afghanistan. And he does have an ax to grind. He stands in a small but growing minority of policy makers and analysts who see Pakistan as playing the U.S. to further its interests in Afghanistan at the expense of all. While this story has emerged in the past decade through news coverage, Tomsen's indictment goes back to the 1970s, as Pakistan used US aid to support favored resistance groups that could fight the invading Soviets. But the real goal was to install a friendly puppet government in Kabul once the Soviets quit the country, so Tomsen argues. Resistance groups led by in-country leaders in Afghanistan were overlooked by the CIA and State department higher ups. These leaders were more moderate and broad-based, truly expressing Afghan political will as opposed to the Pakistani-based groups that veiled the long-term interests of their hosts and paymasters.
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