- Hardcover: 448 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (July 6, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393068986
- ISBN-13: 978-0393068986
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 50 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #902,269 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan 1st Edition
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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 is a serious work that should be factored in as a new policy as Afghanistan evolves.”
- Jay Freeman, Booklist
“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
“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
“Readers keeping up with the wars in the region will want this [book].”
- Library Journal
“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, Richmond Times-Dispatch
“[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
“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
“[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
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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. It is (to cite another favorite trope), the land of "The Great Game". Due to this long and disputatious history, its hardly suprising that the U.S. did not receive bouquets of flowers and lots of "warm fuzzies" after the Taliban was booted from power.
Second and maybe most importantly, what does this background portend for the U.S.? The answer to this question comprises the second part of the book. If only one pithy phrase was to be selected on this topic, it would be "mission myopia". Originally, the Bush Administration's goal in Afghanistan was the elimination of Osama bin Ladin's terror network. This group, as is now universally known, was headquartered in Afghanistan and strongly supported by the Taliban government. The Taliban was (and is) a viciously fundamentalist organization which shared (and still does) a consanguinity of interests with the equally vicious, revanchist, Islamist Osama group. For opaque reasons, the U.S. mission initially focused exclusively on elimination of Osama and company and, once Osama trotted across the porous border with Pakistan, the U.S. essentially lost interest in the Taliban. Unfortunately, the contemporaneous situation in Iraq further distracted U.S. interest and absorbed many resources necessary for stabilizing, clearing and holding Afghanistan. By committing insufficent resources (financial, personnel), by failing to maintain historical perspective (see above) and by dint of a recalcitrant ideology (see Donald Rumsfeld's obtuse remarks on "nation building" and NATO scattered throughout the book), the U.S. and its benighted allies set the stage for the ensuing debacle. Naturally, the corrupt and inefficient Afghan government aggrevated the situation and, into the power vacuum stepped the toxic mixture of warlords, drug barons, Pakistani ISI operatives, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, resurgent Taliban and, of course, Osama's minions, too.
Finally, what to do about it all. Here is where the real problem lies. Until a communality of interests and goals by the NATO allies can be established; until adequate resources for clearing, holding and building (David Galula's and Roger Trinquier's classic formulations) are committed; until the Afghani government can rid itself of corruption and develop a "service" perspective and approach and, most crucially, until Pakistan can be convinced to "leave Afghanistan to the Afghans", nothing the U.S. favors will happen. Jones makes all of this crystalline clear, so failure cannot be based on the pretext of ignorance.
What are the shortcomings of this book? Frankly, very few. Some of Jones' characterization of combat commanders are a bit too adulatory (all U.S. commanders are "brillainte", "tall", "committed", etc, etc). There is a small element of Tom Clancy-like reverence for high-tech war implements. That's about it.
In conclusion, this book includes all the necessary background required for understanding the current dilemma in this remote but critically important corner of Southeast Asia. It is entirely self-contained (i.e., no background knowledge is required to understand it). In other words, its well worth reading.
The political failings are not just American or Afghan, but a failing by both sides on some level. Between fundamental failures to understand Afghanistan to a lost focus on the Afghanistan conflict to putting trust in the wrong people. All of the above failings get at least some airtime In the Graveyard of Empires. I am doubly impressed by the range of people that Jones talked to. One typically finds books that focus on military tactics, or political figures, or the individual American and Afghan sides of the conflict. It is certainly a noble thing that Jones avoided such traps.
The problems in Afghanistan are myriad. Jones understands the imporantance of Afghanistan to al-Qaida and the Taliban and the relationships that make their relationship symbiotic. There is also the constant interference of Pakistan in Afghan affairs. This is all before we get to the incompent, corrupt Afghan government.
Running through all these gory details for the majority of the book, you could be forgiven for thinking Jones wants the U.S. to retreat, but he wants to maintain our commitment there. His assessment as to what we need--namely a policy of nation building, as a means of counterinsurgency--might be considered unrealistic in an era of budget constraints. Nevertheless, readers should not overlook that Jones has nailed it, when it comes to accurately has summed in a short but concise book what's wrong in Afghanistan.
Major Steven McAlpin, U.S. Army (retired) soon to be author of: "Outside the Wire: The First American Soldier / Teacher in Afghanistan."