McChrystal method

by Sailani on 12/1/2009 · 35 comments

As outsiders we are for the most part unable to penetrate the complex layers of power and society in Afghanistan.  Our reality is filtered through our various interlocutors, translators, advisors, officials, tribal leaders, etc. and it often feels like I am stumbling around in the dark feeling the walls and trying to move forwards.  Assuming that this is a general handicap of Western interventionists in the country, and not a weakness particular to myself, it presents the single largest obstacle to having a positive impact and undermining the long-term drivers of the insurgency.

Using a similar logic, COIN doctrine recognizes that the counterinsurgent requires effective local partnerships in order to operate effectively and to eventually take over the fight entirely as a tipping point towards sustainable stability (I hesitate to speak of “victory”) is reached.  Uniformed government forces share some of our handicaps above, especially in areas that are outside their security influence to a significant degree.  The efforts of international and national counterinsurgents in such areas start to resemble Xerxes’ futile punishment of the Hellespont waters.

One potential way of overcoming these limitations is to empower locals so that they become responsible counterinsurgents themselves.  I would argue that throughout history this has been the only way for foreign counterinsurgents to be truly effective.  In some cases it will be enough to ally with local elites and build up their means to police the state, but in areas that are particularly embittered, more local solutions are likely required.  The example everyone knows is that of the Anbar Awakening; useful, but as anything in COIN it was a solution peculiar to the conditions on the ground in Western Iraq.

There have been several start-stop efforts at developing local counterinsurgent capabilities in Afghanistan ranging from barely-legal militias (I suppose I am being too kind to call them that) to government-sanctioned (unofficially) uniformed forces and programmes of sticks and carrots designed to win the support of existing local forces as well as increasing their capabilities.

Josh has already written with justified concern about such efforts, and was on the mark when he agreed with the TLO (Tribal Liaison Office – Afghan NGO) that the creation and use of such forces only makes sense in areas where they have a history of being effective.  From across the border in Tajikistan Christian has pooped on the latest effort which COMISAF seems to believe firmly in – the Community Defence Initiative.  Perhaps I am being painfully naive, but I am not going to be as quick to dismiss these ideas out of hand.  Yes, the development of local armed groups as counterinsurgents is a course fraught with dangers and one that can backfire painfully, but having seen the AP3 in Wardak up close and now that I am learning more about the implementation of the CDI in my neck of the woods I am not altogether despondent (how’s that for hedging one’s bets!).

I am therefore going to go on the record saying that I think CDI can have merit with its alliance-building with existing forces (rather than the arming of).  The risks remain however, that our SOF and their CAS capabilities will be used as levers in local power struggles rather than to target true insurgents, and that our proxies will turn out to be no better than the enemy, as Thomas Ruttig told the Guardian:

“It is not enough to talk to a few tribal elders and decide that you trust them,” Ruttig said. “No matter how well-trained and culturally aware the special forces are they will never be able to get to know enough about a local area to trust the people they are dealing with.”

Also, I have yet to see how this SOF-led programme is going to be integrated into Afghan military command and control structures, or what the long-term playbook is going to look like.  I suppose for someone who thinks this can be a way forward in parts of the country I sound quite negative, but given the ridiculous spin in the NYT and WaPo recently about the “spontaneous emergence” of these anti-taliban militias I feel the need to stand apart.

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Prithvi December 1, 2009 at 9:54 pm

The BBC has the reaction of four Afghans to the impending surge:

Of course, they are not a representative group. Three of them are definitely young men, two of them are students, and all of them live in major cities like Kabul, Kandahar, and Herat.

It would have been more interesting to hear from people living in the countryside, by region, notwithstanding safety concerns for the interviewers.

Sailani December 2, 2009 at 1:54 am

As it turns out following the President’s speech the Talibs now know they just have to stay in the game for 18-24 months. Interesting how this “start of withdrawal” timeframe fits with the US electoral cycle, surely a coincidence.

FDChief December 2, 2009 at 5:26 pm

“I would argue that throughout history this has been the only way for foreign counterinsurgents to be truly effective. ”

Not so: “Solitudenem facient, et pacem appelant.”

Not that I’m suggesting we the West make ourselves a solitude and call it peace. But back in the Bad Old Days the Roman way worked just fine.

Throughout RECENT history, however, I would agree.

Sailani December 2, 2009 at 5:40 pm

Well the quote from Tacitus is elegant, but is it really accurate. Funnily enough, I was thinking of the Roman campaigns against the Judean insurgents when I wrote the sentence you quoted. Even if the Romans utterly destroyed Carthage that was a departure for them, and something they saw as necessary to conclude a superpower war of annihilation. Their other campaigns, parts of which resemble counterinsurgencies at times, relied much more on making sure existing systems worked and that new overlords were accepted with the minimum of fuss using local elites to keep running things. That was my point really.

But then again, the Romans were a fairly enlightened bunch and others, particularly Timur, were much more willing to create peace through “desertification” and cranium pyramids. So your point is well taken.

Prithvi December 2, 2009 at 5:43 pm

What are you talking about? The Romans massacred people left and right, with epidemics and starvation following in their wake. We don’t called this barbarism since they were the ones chronicling these events, and only well organized civilizations are capable of systematic destruction anyways.

Sailani December 2, 2009 at 5:47 pm

I was making a distinction between Roman tactics generally used to subdue and control populations in their acquired lands and actions that fit with the Tacitus quote. The “spirit of the age” meant they operated under different constraints, allowing them to be far more brutal than we ever can be today, but they still relied on local elites and forces to ensure control.

Andy December 3, 2009 at 7:35 am

The problem with the CDI is the selection of SFODAs to conduct it. As I understand things, currently there are two ODAs leading the CDI. Neither of those two teams are well situated for the program and neither has exactly bought-in to the program. How then do we screen, select, and train units to effectively lead the CDI program?

FDChief December 3, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Even more than that, the real cleverness of the Roman way of empire was the concentric layers they crafted as they expanded.

At the center was Rome herself, and the Italian states that had been thoroughly Romanized from their original Greek colonies. Then you had an inner ring of tributary provinces, ruled by a Roman senator, garrisoned by Roman troops, dotted with settlements of Roman veterans, effectively Roman colonies. Beyond that were the foederati, the “client” states, where native satraps and kings (with hostage families as “guests” of the Senate in Rome) ruled as Rome willed. And beyond even that Roman spies and diplomats bribed, cajoled and threatened the “barbarians” to keep them fighting each other and not making inroads into the Roman heartland.

I see no evidence of any sort of this level of geopolitical strategy here. It’s whack-a-mole.

Sailani December 3, 2009 at 12:55 pm

Yes, we are poor understudies of the Romans. More like Iskander in that all tremble before our power and must succumb, but then we rule nothing.

Idi December 3, 2009 at 2:05 pm

Pashtoon Brothers:

Don’t lose heart or faith over the upcoming surge. I assure you that the Amrikan will leave within a year. We have the good fortune to be occupied by a hyper-wealthy and equally hyper-stupid people. This is the time to make our fortunes; we must make them part with their ill gotten wealth. This is the time to make them promises that we have no intention of keeping so they can leave behind the maximum number of dollars. In a way we should consider ourselves lucky to be occupied by the Amrikans since it is easy to rip them off. We wouldn’t be so happy if Roosi MoreGhod were to come back since they are poorer than us.


Prithvi December 3, 2009 at 6:35 pm

Of course the US can’t imitate Rome, because it doesn’t have an imperial structure. The Roman government went through several transformations: legal rights for the plebs in the 5th century BC; the Marian reforms of the 1st century BC; then the fall of the Republic and rise of the Principate under Augustus; and then the near totalitarianism of the Dominate from Diocletian onwards.

As for the Americans, well the federal government became stronger after the Civil War and World War II, but basically, the USA is not governed from Washington DC and never has been, so how can foreign regions be controlled through cunning geostrategy? The “empire”, as imagined by either Max Boot and the post-modern critical theorists is largely a fictional entity.

Even the poorest, more isolated people in Afghanistan can’t be manipulated like their ancestors might have been in the time of Alexander. They are aware of a wider world, and the aware of the fact that their actions will have global resonance, and that through political Islam, or some alternative, that they are participants in world history.

Toryalay Shirzay December 3, 2009 at 9:48 pm

@Idi, you come across as an Arab islamic fascist meddling in Afghanistan’s affairs and like other Arab islamic fascist thugs,you are bringing nothing but misery for Afghan people.Go away,you kunee,you haramzada,khabees,you are trying to divide Afghan people.We need the west to defeat islamic thugs in our land so all this bloodshed and murders of helpless Afghans are stopped,it’s been going on for more than thirty years,how long must this continue.The Afghan people are tired and sick of islamic fascism and the Arabs who perpetuate this evil Islam in our homeland;so ,all Arabs and islamic thugs get the hell out of Afghanistan ,leave us alone and go to hell!!!

Prithvi December 4, 2009 at 12:21 am

I think he was making a sarcastic remark about the Kabul government’s corruption. He might even be an American.

Idi December 4, 2009 at 2:24 pm

Shirzay, brother:

From your prior posts I assume that you were born and raised in a KanjarKhana. You are also by far the most pathetic person who posts to this website. Your craven and infantile faith in ‘The West’ coming to your rescue would be laughable if it weren’t so pitiable.

My brother, ‘The West’ doesn’t give a good shit about you. In fact you can take large shit on a Koran right in front of Gen McChrystal and then stick the biggest crucifix (cross with Issa attached) you can find right up your Hazara ass and they still wouldn’t give a crap about you. The only thing you (we) need ‘The West’ for is to detach them from the money they have robbed from us and if you are really lucky to fuck some Spin Kus (which BTW is not as nice as you may be fantasizing about, take my word for it).

Idi (IslamoFascist)

Prithvi December 4, 2009 at 8:11 pm

I’m curious to know what exactly the “west” has stolen from Afghanistan.

Idi December 4, 2009 at 10:20 pm

I used to live right on the main road in Jalalabad. Right up to the Russian invasion hundreds of trucks would drive by daily taking produce (grape, pomegranate, large melons, peaches, pignolia nut, dried fruit) to Pakistan and India. The road was quite good. Kabul made its own red and white wine. Kabuli women even wore western clothes (a sine qua non of progress is when women generally behave as whores). There was very little violence. There was general security. It all came to a resounding stop when USSR was instigated into invading. The great game was to tie USSR down in Afghanistan so Eastern Europe could be liberated or that is how Zbig explained it. Well Eastern Europe has been liberated although other than providing white women to work in brothels in the Gulf, Israel and the rest of Europe it doesn’t appear to have had any other positive effect. So Afghanistan has lost 2-3 generations of progress, education, trade, gas and oil transit etc. If that is not theft then what is? Time to pay.

Prithvi December 4, 2009 at 11:05 pm

I think the Eastern Europeans would beg to differ.

But, I kind of agree with you in that Afghanistan was a pawn thrown to the Russian bear, and that this shattered both rural and urban Afghan society and totally destroyed the homegrown pools of modernity, and that Operation Cyclone was partially to blame for this.

So yes, I suppose we Americans owe you a very large bill. But to whom do you propose we send the bill to? We have already sent billions. Kabul is a black hole of corruption. We could pay it per region, but this would hurt Afghan unity.

This is a horrible thing to say, and I say it as a statement while finding it morally reprehensible: great powers inflict history upon smaller countries.

DE Teodoru December 5, 2009 at 8:43 pm

When Nixon took over the White House, Kissinger, as head of NSC, distributed to all agencies, with presidential order to answer, 21 questions. More than anything else, Nixon determined that the US had to get out of Vietnam because of the disjoined and nonsensical bureaucrateze in those answers. It was clear to Nixon that he had inherited the equivalent of a drunken sailor stumbling in the dark that was forced to cover-up all he broke in the process of stumbling so as not to be held accountable. Recently Tom Ricks called for the closing of all military academies because they are such mediocre teaching institutions and for the closing of war colleges because they only instill more of the same sloganeering in colonels as characterizes intellectually bankrupt staff command. As an avid consumer of the “military literature” I think that now—far, far more than during Vietnam– the intellectual qualities of command-level and the pudding from which future commanders are drawn leave much to be desired. I agree with Ricks that officers should be made to sink or swim acquiring academic degrees in civilian universities before consideration for command promotion– but not as is now characteristic where the brass gets special low standards from institutions for issuing degrees on the basis that these are Pentagon people. Looking at Petraeus’s PhD thesis on the Vietnam War and McChrystal’s report to Pres. Obama I find myself wondering: “WHAT THE….?!!!” One does not have to be in on all the acronyms and jargon to evaluate them but rather one should examine the military literature (eg. Parameters, Military Review, etc) for its intrinsic analytic profundity. That material ca thus stand scrutiny alone and one need not read anything else to see it. In fact, comparing that literature with the articles of Gen. Huba Wass de Czege (ret) in Military Review alone one notes immediately a scholar’s cognitive functions at work as a benchmark not reached by other brass. Again, it’s not that they don’t know their subject but rather how they analyze and how they deal with disagreement from others of their ilk. I would leave it at that and ask for the views of others who also read this mountain of Penatagoneze. These are, afterall, the people who lead in battle the most heroic of America’s moms and dads so we should ask far more from them than we do from politicans.

anan December 6, 2009 at 12:21 am

DE Teodoru, with all due respect, I consider Petraeus one of the smartest people in public life. Others in this category are Bill Clinton, Barrack Obama, President Hu of China, PM Singh of India, former President Koizumi of Japan, Steve Jobs of Apple, Larry Ellison of Oracle, Jen-Hsun Huang of Nvidia, Sanjay Jha of Motorola, Gilles Delfassy of ST-Ericsson (and many more, but I’ll stop here.)

Haven’t yet decided on McChrystal, but he strikes me as sharp. There are many more brilliant minds in the US military. In fact, I consider the current bunch the best to ever lead the US military.

This said, there remain many dead weights among the Generals with very peripheral and outright “wrong” understandings of the world. So I understand where you are coming from.

anan December 6, 2009 at 1:45 am

Idi 12/4/2009 at 10:20 pm,

America has given Afghanistan $39 billion in grants. Many other countries have collectively given Afghanistan tens of billions of dollars more (Iran about $1.2 billion, India about $2 billion, Europeans $15 billion, Japan many billions more, etc.)

Afghanistan is fortunate to get so much help. I hope Afghanistan gets much more (about $250 billion in grants over 20 years seems to be what Afghanistan will need to pay for the ANSF and grow rapidly.) How much foreign aid do you think Afghanistan should get, over what time frame, and exactly how do you think it should be used? Perhaps consider writing a McKinsey style strategic plan for Afghanistan.

“But, I kind of agree with you in that Afghanistan was a pawn thrown to the Russian bear, and that this shattered both rural and urban Afghan society and totally destroyed the homegrown pools of modernity, and that Operation Cyclone was partially to blame for this.” President Carter was not responsible for the Soviets doing what they did in Afghanistan; let me break it to you . . . Pres Carter hadn’t a clue what was going on . . . was overwhelmed by his office . . . and was a little distracted by issues other than Afghanistan. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan–which caught Pres Carter completely by surprise–helped Pres Reagan defeat him in the 1980 election. Why do you blame America, or Europe, or Canada, or Australia, or China, or Egypt, or Israel, or Iran, or Indonesia. or Libya, or Jordan, or any of the Afghan Mujaheddin’s other allies (other than Pakistan and the Gulf) for what befell Afghanistan? Unfortunately, Pakistan and the Gulf directed much of the Afghan aid to crazy Takfiri wackos; with massive negative consequences for the world and Afghanistan.

The way I see it, the golden boys of the Pakistani Army and Saudi Arabia found a naive green Congressperson Joe Wilson, and manipulated him and America to their own ends in ways that neither Congressman Wilson nor America understood.

America was guilty of falling for it; being manipulated by forces she didn’t understand.

Prithvi wrote: “This is a horrible thing to say, and I say it as a statement while finding it morally reprehensible: great powers inflict history upon smaller countries.” It is neither a horrible thing to say nor morally reprehensible. It is the way things are.

We live in an interdependent world, everything that any of us does, affects everyone else in ways we cannot even imagine. Great powers inflict history upon smaller countries. Similarly smaller countries inflict history upon great powers whether they would wish it or not. This cannot be avoided. At best, all of us can try to understand how we affect everyone else; imperfect though our ability to understand is.

Afghanistan has inflicted history on many great powers over the last 5 millenia. Most recently these great powers include the former USSR, China, India, North America and Europe.

In the epic poem Mahabharata, Afghanistan (Gandhara and Northern Afghanistan/Uzbekistan Kamboja) inflicted history by influencing a great war that drags in many nations.

DE Teodoru December 6, 2009 at 2:17 am

My dear anan, rather than just expound my views I would only remind you of my past post responding to you in which I pointed out that we got a “better war” in Vietnam unfolded when the population went from 85% rural to 75% urban, thus leaving the Viet Cong “fish” high and dry as the peasant “sea” moved to the cities where, per Hanoi, there was no Viet Cong Infrastructure…hence the desperate Tet Offensive that failed resulting in a regular war with Soviet tanks and hart-hat PAVN, no longer VCs. So I proposed to you offering to Afghan youth a modern urban life, education and employment in economically viable modern Afghan cities that ISAF runs until the Afghan infrastructure to run them exists. Their remittances to family back in the countryside would speak louder than any Taliban Jihad. Whether you agree or not, please– in order to see my point– read and compare the McChrystal “report” to his Commander-and-Chief as declassified:

and compare it to the following two Afghanistan scholars’ analysis to see which seems more “mature” and helpful to policy making.
Gilles Derronsoro:

and Antonio Giustozzi:

I also offer a debate between a member of the Patraeus/McChrystal agitprop peanut gallery of “military expert” civilians and Derronsor for comparison of substance vs. air:

Now please consider that McChrystal is the deceptive field commander who brought us the Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman myths to cover up a friendly fire snafu and the following account of how he bullied Pres. Obama into 30,000 troops seems right in character:

I’m not looking for dragons to slay. I would kiss the feet of both Petraeus and McChrystal if I could believe in them. Next to the joy of admitting I am wrong and apologizing, my pride means nothing. My sole preoccupation is the mom and dad soldiers and the orphans and widows so many will leave behind because Americans suffer from the “ain’t my kid going to war” disconnect syndrome and the seeming careerist generals that might bring that about. I await your analysis of these materials with great anticipation. For sleepless nights sweating while I wonder: “What if I wrong?” scream for relief. Please don’t fail me and leave me without an answer as I look for your educating me post in vain.

anan December 6, 2009 at 3:44 am

DE Teodoru, could you perhaps clarify some of your points without asking me to read the source materials 😉

Do you think that Gilles Derronsoro and Antonio Giustozzi make more sense than some Patraeus/McChrystal advisors?

I previously saw a part of this debate you referenced:

What in particular did you want to take from it?

Petraeus and McChrystal wanted a major economic development plan for Afghanistan, with President Obama scaled back. In other words, they were on your side.

omar December 6, 2009 at 9:56 am

This question of whether “small powers” have any agency or not is an interesting one and it is one to which it is hard to find the answer unless you are in the loop for the particular event. For example, there were some afghan sponsored bombings in Pakistan in the early seventies and (supposedly) in response the Pakistanis set up an “afghan cell” which recruited people like Masood and Hikmatyar and started its own campaign of small scale terrorism. I have heard people say that both sides of this operation were basically superpower actions, done through local proxies (KGB using Afghans and CIA using Pakistan), on the other hand, I have heard people say that both were home grown. Even if the CIA was involved, did they pick characters like Hikmatyar or did the ISI have some leeway in the matter and pushed its own agenda while supposedly working for the CIA?
Then, during the Afghan war, CIA was clearly using ISI, but wasnt ISI also using the CIA? r
In my personal opinion this idea that only great powers have the intelligence to have aims and objectives is unfair. Smaller groups (and the Islamists are hardly a small group when compared to the Red brigades and suchlike) do have brains and do use them, for better and for worse…

DE Teodoru December 6, 2009 at 12:09 pm

MY point ws that I recognize the only card we “Westerners” have to play here, focus on mdernizing the cities, not on “holding” countryside. Secondly, I had hoped the quality to in situ perception that these two guys present compared to the hot-buttons words stuff McChrystal writes, devoid of analysis.

Prithvi December 6, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Obama certainly makes for an apt Yudhisthira.

DE Teodoru December 6, 2009 at 5:48 pm

I think that what I had been told personally was also confirmed in the press: that Obama was favoring NOT sending more troops to Afghanistan. But then word came that when in Beijing he asked Chinese for forbearance on our debt so he could push domestic expenditures on healthcare, etc, the Chinese requested that the US escalate in Afghanistan so that it and the SCA are not forced to in order to keep the Taliban out of power. Particularly for China, the Afghan finder to its border is a threat to its Muslim West. What do all of you guts sitting in DC think or hear?

Prithvi December 6, 2009 at 6:52 pm

I seriously doubt the Chinese had anything to do with the decision. It’s a mistake to think the US has no economic leverage over the Chinese. No matter what, the Chinese need the US as a market for their goods for the sake of their own economic well being, and the artificial devaluation of the yuan in furtherance of this need makes them hostage to policies adopted by the Fed, such as quantitative easing. Since the British, Japanese, and Swiss have followed SE policies as well, the dollar has remained relatively stable against these countries, while devaluing against the yuan, so that ironically, the Americans have finagled what they always wanted from the Chinese but never could get them to do.

As a result, there has been at present, a reduction in the US trade deficit with China. The Chinese are receiving lower returns on their US investments and there is really nothing they can do about it at present. It’s not a total misfortune for them as these eases liquidity in their own market. Of course, the danger for everyone is if the Fed can’t mop up all that liquidity when a recovery begins.

anan December 6, 2009 at 7:00 pm

“the Chinese requested that the US escalate in Afghanistan so that it and the SCA are not forced to in order to keep the Taliban out of power. Particularly for China, the Afghan finder to its border is a threat to its Muslim West.” Any sources? DE Teodoru, AQ and the Taliban pose as large a threat to China as the US.

What I don’t get is why President Obama isn’t standing up for America when dealing with the Chinese? Why isn’t Obama demanding that China step up in Afghanistan (in foreign aid and a civilian surge, although a surge in ANP trainers would be better)?

According to Joe Klein, Obama is pleased with Chinese pressure on Pakistan, and Chinese military aid/training to Pakistan; and is as a result giving the Chinese a lot (not meeting the Dalai Lama, not speaking forcefully about Chinese civil rights, slightly tilting towards China against India in the recent strongly worded Chinese statements against India; not asking the Chinese to contribute much on Afghanistan, CO2, protecting global sea lanes and other global issues.)

DE Teodoru, there is little doubt that China supports the Afghan surge. The real question is if China is willing to do anything other than free ride.

“Obama certainly makes for an apt Yudhisthira.” 😆 Hadn’t thought of that before. Would India be the Yadavas (Krishna’s people), who generally speaking don’t fight . . . but root for Yudisthira [the super honest, very good, super righteous, seeing the best in every bad person, always forgiving every bad person for everything, ever compassionate and merciful, leader of the good guys] to win.

Iran might be Rukma (brother of Krishna’s wife Rukmini) who wants to help Yudhistira fight the bad guys, but whose help is not accepted. {The bad guys don’t like him either and wouldn’t dream of accepting his help; which humiliates the hell out of poor Rukma.}

Russia might be the person who always agitates for war against the bad guys, but isn’t allowed to fight.

Would Canada be Satyaki (a one man army who joins the good guys all by themselves . . . and fights extremely well)? Except Satyaki didn’t quit at the end of 2011.

Karzai might be Shishupal’s son Dhristaketu (who everyone thought was a super killer fighting machine that would win the war for the good guys . . . but he turned out to be a dud.) Or maybe Karzai is Drishtadyumna (the commander in chief of Yudistira’s good guys; although other better warriors do most of the “leading” and “winning.”)

Are the Marines, who punch way above their size and weight, Arjuna?

Who is Shakuni (super intelligent mover of events behind the scenes; the secret master villain)? Duryodhana (not super bright lead villain)? Do the extremists have any tragic sympathetic heroes fighting for them such as Karna or Bhishma?

Here is an interesting question; on whose side are the various Pakistani factions fighting?

omar December 6, 2009 at 7:26 pm

I think that Mahabharata analogies can be found for any individual (everything that is out there being in here, and so on), but the situation as a whole is not conducive to this analogy. These are not cousins fighting each other. Most of the characters are not intimately known to each other (which is one reason for so many misunderstandings).
Btw, if Obama is Yudhishtra, doesnt he get to be the only one who makes it to heaven (with his faithful portuguese water dog?). And if the Marines are Arjuna, where is the episode of serious self-doubt and pacifist feeling? And who is Krishna? Most important of all, who is draupadi?

Prithvi December 6, 2009 at 11:17 pm

Shakuni is obviously the ISI. The American people are Draupadi, since the war is being fought to avenge the humiliation of 9/11. The US Air Force is Bhima, powerful, but prone to blundering. The marines are still Krishna, although their self-doubt is caused by multiple tours of duty and PTSD rather than humanist qualms.

The Afghan Taliban are probably not as noble as Karna, but not quite sympathetic to all the machinations of Al-Qaeda (Kauravas.)

I imagine everyone else reading this has gotten a little irritated at our parlor game.

Prithvi December 6, 2009 at 11:18 pm

rather, I meant the marines are still Arjuna

anan December 7, 2009 at 12:23 am

Prithvi, the Mahabharata is widely known in Burma, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. Indonesians and Malays were converted to Islam by muslim traders who traveled around putting on two puppet shows to describe the ideals of Islam (the Mahabharata and Ramayana.) Rama (the hero/Messiah of the Ramayana) and Krishna (the hero/Messiah of the Mahabharata) are depicted as ideal muslims (in much the way muslims depict Isha/Jesus as an ideal muslim.)

It won’t be a bad idea to inform the folks here of the basic plot of the Mahabharata, the world’s longest poem.

The conflict is between two sets of cousins, the 5 Pandava brothers (lead by Yudhistira . . . the “oldest” Pandava; Bhima and Arjuna are two other Pandava brothers who fight extremely well) are the good guys. The Kaurava brothers lead by their eldest–Duryodhana–are the bad guys. Draupadi is the wife of all 5 Pandava brothers (seriously, she marries all five of them), and is kind of their de facto leader . . . clearly the brains of the bunch.

The two sets of cousins fight a terrible war that drags in many countries. Afghanistan (Gandhara), lead by their king–the secret master villain Shakuni, and poor hapless Kambojas (from Northern Afghanistan/Uzbekistan) fight for the Kauravas (the bad guys.) The king of either Tibet or Burma from across the Himalayas (Bhagadatta) fights for the Kauravas (bad guys.) Note that Bhagadatta is a very good righteous man manipulated into fighting for the bad Kauravas. Bengal (lead by Shishupala’s son Drishtaketu) fights for the good Pandavas. Pandya (Tamil Nadu, or the Southernmost portion of India) fights for the good Pandavas. Some nations come on ships from distant islands.

In the war, many very bad people fight for the good guys (Pandavas), and many very very good people fight for the bad guys (Kauravas.) It is complicated with people from both sides reluctant to fight fathers, sons, and brothers in the opposing army. Many nations split with some supporting both sides in the war.

Two of the very good guys fighting for the bad Kauravas are Karna and Bhishma–mentioned above. They are Achilles type super invincible warriors. In fact, Bhishma is the human incarnation of the ancient Euro-Indian Aryan god Dyaus Pita (one of the eight Vasus), better known as Zeus or Jupiter to Europeans. {The ancient Romans, Greeks, and Vedic Hindus shared many of the same deities. Many of these shared deities play a role in the Mahabharata, just as they do in the Illiad.}

By the way, the mom of the bad Kaurava brothers is Gandhari (daughter of Afghanistan or Gandhara), and the evil secret master villain’s (Shakuni’s) sister. But Gandhari is super good, a complete opposite of her secretly super evil brother (Shakuni, king of the Afghans.)

Krishna is central to the entire thing–and he is the Jesus type Messiah of the Hindus.

OK, did any of you get any of that? :LOL: OK, it is complicated.

omar December 7, 2009 at 12:28 pm

we (on a large list) were once asked by a south asian studies teacher to recommend movies or books to assign during a class about the Mahabharata. I told her to assign RK Narayan’s English version as the text, Barbara Stoller Miller’s translation of the Gita, Peter Brook’s TV miniseries and Shyam Benegal’s amazing modern adaptation (the movie Kalyug…which superficially is about feuding super-rich industrialist cousins in Bombay but makes highly creative, intelligent and subtle use of the Mahabharat as its inspiration…right down to income tax inspectors pulling out Rekha’s Sari from her closet, what a wonderful way to connect with Draupadi’s attempted disrobing..).
Actually, this is just a plug for Kalyug. the rest is optional.

anan December 7, 2009 at 12:58 pm

Omar, I have a 12 volume english translation of the Mahabharata poem. The Mahabharata poem really is that long. It also has detailed info of many countries.

The king of Kamboja (Northern Afghanistan/Uzbekistan), Sudakshina, is a killer cool warrior that both the good Pandava brothers and the bad Kaurava brothers compete to persuade to join their side in the war. But many of his people and subordinate tribes (which he brings to India with him) are described as non Vedic mlechas (there was freedom of religion back then.)

The Hindu Sanskrit scriptures as a whole would be over a thousand books. Some of the poems (Skanda Purana) have 12 volume long translations like the Mahabharata. Others are shorter. There are over a 100 major texts like the Mahabharata.

The ancient Aryan empires (Persian and South Asian) were large federalist confederacies (in some cases merely loose alliances) with substantial local autonomy for individual nations. They were quite plural, and respected freedom of religion, thought, language, culture and philosophy. There was also a lot of trade across the entire region, from Sumaria (Iraq) to South Asia to Sumatra/Java/Bali (Indonesia.)

There are many Sumerian archeological artifacts that have been found in South Asia, which demonstrates the degree of trade and immigrant communities. {Entire Sumarian burial sites have been found in South Asia for Sumerian immigrants/traders in South Asia.}

DE Teodoru December 9, 2009 at 7:23 pm

I’m sure others on this site can expound with expertise on the Taliban-China relationship since 1960s. So there’s really no need for me to go into details. As for what they had to say to Obama, you’ll have to wait for FRUS to satisfy your need for documentation, sorry.

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