How to: Be Wrong in Every Way

by Joshua Foust on 10/12/2008 · 7 comments

Let’s parse this:

What do Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Ahmad Shah Abdali, the British Raj and the Soviet Union have in common? Each learned the hard way that, as the British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli purportedly noted, Afghanistan can be conquered, but you cannot govern it.

So, I ask: What are NATO and the United States doing in Afghanistan?

It has no strategic importance. It has no mineral wealth or oil that anyone knows of. It is a country ruled by tribal factions that have never been willing to give up tribal hegemony. If they could band together into a nation, as we understand a nation to be, it could likely be under the most brutal of circumstances, given the fierce independence of the respective warlords.

Hrm. So, Alexander the Great’s entire empire crumbled after his death—not much of a standard. Khan’s empire was a couple hundred years long. The Timurid Empire, sort of a lasp gasp of Khan’s epic conquest, lasted a few decades, too—not bad for an ungovernable country. What undid Abdali (also known as Durrani) was not the Pashtun tribes but the Sikhs rebelling in the Punjab. I assume by the “British Raj,” this guy means the Mughals, who again ruled Afghanistan for a few centuries before collapsing in front of the actual British… who got spanked.

What of the Safavids, for example? This is ignorant. Let’s not touch the assertion that Afghanistan has no strategic or economic value, or that “tribal factions have never… given up tribal hegemony.” This is filtering history through only the last 30 years and the British Empire, and not any real understanding of what Afghanistan is.

Why is NATO there, he asks? I suppose he just wasn’t around on September 11, 2001. And not smart, either:

We can isolate Afghanistan from the rest of the world and leave the warlords to deal with the Taliban — even fund the warlords if their poppy revenues are not enough. A few million to each ought to do the job.

For the hawks who believe we must have blood to compensate for 9/11, let the CIA fund a band of special operations soldiers of fortune and give them the job of taking out al-Qaida. That’s another $20 million or $30 million, but one helluva lot cheaper than funding a military expeditionary force. And it will spare our troops from ceaseless bloodshed.

Oh dear. Where does this guy get his ideas?

David I. Goldman, who works in thoroughbred horse industry, lives in Ocala, FL.

Right. Maybe he could save the history lectures for people who don’t know any better.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 7 comments }

arkadaş October 12, 2008 at 2:06 pm

thank you verry

Johnny October 12, 2008 at 3:46 pm

Elephants at three yards in an alley. Too easy for you.

Matthew October 13, 2008 at 7:17 am

“You can smite the Afghans, you might send them scurrying to the hills and their rat holes, but you are not going to civilize and govern them.”
Civilize them? Wow! First it’s the war against terror, then it’s plain old colonialism.
Also note the vague racism: “scurrying to […] their rat holes.”

Joshua Foust October 13, 2008 at 8:54 am

Johnny, Of course. But you gotta be accurate and have a BIG gun if you don’t want to get crushed doing that.

Matthew: I don’t think it’s vague at all. “Those dirty brown skinned people don’t want the light of civilization — let them have their caves.” It’s awful.

Ali G. October 13, 2008 at 9:09 am

I always argue that the first Mexican-American war took place a thousand years ago when someone standing on the north shore of the Rio Grande flung a stone at someone standing on the south shore of the Rio Grande. And I use this for analyzing the current immigration and trade problems, and it makes absolute sense and is very helpful in drawing up policy for modern day US-Mexican relations.

Goldman is making a similar case… Assuming historical continuity and nothing really changes in Afghanistan anyway. As Senator McCain noted “… that area hasn’t been governed since the time of Alexander The Great.”

Joshua Foust October 13, 2008 at 9:18 am

McCain was wrong. All of those empires governed Afghanistan, just not for longer than a few centuries at a time.

arkadaş October 14, 2008 at 8:07 am

Alexander the Great’s entire empire crumbled after his death—not much of a standard. Khan’s empire was a couple hundred years long. The Timurid Empire, sort of a lasp gasp of Khan’s epic conquest, lasted a few decades, too—not bad for an ungovernable country. What undid Abdali

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