Missing in Afghanistan: Buzzwords!

by Joshua Foust on 1/6/2009

Far be it for me to question the sacred wisdom of the COIN crowd at CNAS… but what is with this essay by Fick and Nagl? I get that Afghanistan needs a lot of attention, and it needs our smart people working on it, but does it really need people changing a few buzzwords and otherwise just repeating wisdom from Iraq?

Otherwise, it’s a fine enough essay—I mean it’s hard to go wrong when you rely on World Bank Statistics and your own platitudes—but notice one thing: both Nathaniel Fick and John Nagl, two guys who made their name in part by begging the military to look at the non-military side of conflict, only mention that Afghanistan is “crippled by corruption and connections to narcotrafficking” one time. That’s it.

For a country where corruption and narcotrafficking is one of the primary drivers of instability, one of the main ways in which governance and legitimacy is undermined, and the primary reason rural villagers (the heart of insurgent support) don’t trust the government… well, I guess that’s really not as important as hyping the books you wrote about Iraq and Malaya.

This is the heart of my frustration at both the pundits and journalists now descending on Afghanistan like a bunch of ambulance-chasing tort lawyers: they don’t seem to bother to learn about the place before spouting judgments about what we need to force on it. That’s pretty galling (and, sadly, indicative of where Foreign Policy is apparently heading this year… that is, away from interesting and counterintuitive analysis in favor of establishment types).

Meanwhile, an attempt to actually gather legitimate lessons learned from Afghanistan… well, that doesn’t seem too interesting to the COIN crowd these days.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1849 posts on Registan.net.

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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