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Showing 1-10 of 31 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 50 reviews
VINE VOICEon November 26, 2009
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. 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.
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VINE VOICEon November 23, 2015
Seth Jones in The Graveyard of Empires hits on a fundamental truth that the British, Soviets, and Americans have either suffered military defeat or are in great difficulty. The history of Afghanistan is a rehash of other books I’ve read on the subject, but is definitely useful for understanding his broader subject of why we are now having such difficulties in Afghanistan. This book centers on the political decision-making process as a component of why Afghanistan has so far vexed the greatest military in the world. This is an important distinction because if you read five different books on Afghanistan, your likely to get fed five different factors that contributed to the Taliban insurgency.

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.
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on March 11, 2015
One of the best books I've read in many years. It provides one of the most complete pictures of Afghanistan, including the long and brutal results to empire after empire through antiquity to the present day. It will give you a clear understanding of the how's and why's of our struggle in Afghanistan and those who went before us.
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on August 25, 2015
in the graveyard of Empires by Seth Jones is one of the best research books I have ever read. I am writing my own book on the first year of the American war in Afghanistan, and found Mr Jones is book to be an absolute treasure for my research. I'm grateful to Mr Jones for telling it like it is both pluses and minuses of the war in Afghanistan and following war in Iraq the mistakes that were made the people that suffered along and truly with the accomplishments of the greatest military force on earth. I can't wait till Mr Jones next book.

Major Steven McAlpin, U.S. Army (retired) soon to be author of: "Outside the Wire: The First American Soldier / Teacher in Afghanistan."
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on February 4, 2013
Seth G. Jones gives a comprehensive review of our policy in Afghanistan, from the early successes in 2001-02 to dealing with a resurgent Taliban and associated insurgent groups in 2008. This is a must read for anyone interested in American foreign policy in Central Asia. It details in depth why things have gone wrong, using both an extensive body of academic literature, press reporting and interviews from the author.

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.
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on April 25, 2010
I have been seriously entertaining thoughts of joining the United States Army and felt it would be entirely unwise to do so without at least a basic understanding of one of our major combat zones. Seth G. Jones certainly does not disappoint with this empirical study of what must be one of the most diverse regions on Earth.

Walk into a Borders or a Barnes and Noble book store and you will find an overwhelming display of books claiming to be about the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and/or Iraq, but it is rare to find a book without any partisan or political vitriol clouding its body. If you're looking for an honest, no-nonsense approach to studying Afghanistan without unnecessary drivel, "In the Graveyard of Empires" is your book.

Essentially organized in chronological order, Jones begins by identifying why Afghanistan has earned its reputation as a "graveyard of empires." According to Jones, the region has been invaded by a multitude of great powers (Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Britain, and the USSR), only to be repelled... often with devastating effectiveness. Jones links much of this phenomenon to the warrior spirit of native Afghans, the mountainous terrain, and much more.

The remainder of the book identifies and explains the logic, decision making, errors in judgement, accomplishments, setbacks, and policy changes that have occurred since the war began in 2001 through the present. While the book is largely free of the author's opinion, he does argue the following major points while providing supporting evidence:

*The "light footprint" strategy inti tally enacted by the United States was a grievous error
*The War in Iraq was a huge setback for our progress in Afghanistan causing a severe lack of troops, funding, and leadership
*Pakistan, our ally, has become the new breeding ground for al-Qaida and the Taliban and we need to do a better job of "encouraging" Pakistan to put a stop to it
*Instead of a top-down strategy for nation building, we should use the bottom-up method due to the tribal nature of most Afghans

Overall, "In the Graveyard of Empires" is a well-written, well thought out, and well-researched book about how we got to where we are in Afghanistan and our prospects for the future. Unlike many authors, Seth G. Jones can actually draw upon personal experience having spent a great deal of time in Afghanistan conducting research for this book.

The personal touch offered by Jones allows the reader to "humanize" some of the problems in Afghanistan. I especially appreciated how Jones chose to include many of the good things we've accomplished in Afghanistan rather than writing a book which only included gloom and doom.

About the Author:

"Seth G. Jones most recently served as an advisor and plans officer for the Commanding General, U.S. Special Operations Forces, in Afghanistan. A political scientist at RAND, he contributes regularly to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post. He lives outside of Washington DC." (From the back cover)
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on July 2, 2014
OK, this author seems to know his material and I can't find anything to seriously challenge his work. I believe it's pretty accurate. It certainly seems to be supported by the unfolding events in the Middle East. That said, it is a detailed account of history, specific events, causes, outcomes, good and bad decisions and tribal realities in that region. It seems to be the clearest picture of why we are in the grip of events we cannot control (as much as the politicians try) in a volatile part of the world. If this guy is right, it really brings into focus where the politicians have placed their (and the country's) ego over reality. Enjoy...they are your leaders.
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on September 4, 2017
Good review of history. Many items were new to me. Amust read for current admin.
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on April 22, 2010
"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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on December 16, 2016
It contains good historie and it is Writen about hon US is losing The war in Afghanistan!
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