The title should say it all:
President Obama: Look for a New Massoud
by Cora Sol Goldstein
Ms. Goldstein is an associate professor at California State University Long Beach. Now, for the record, I fully support members of the academy branching off into new topics. And Ms. Goldstein is doing that—all her early work was on WWI-era Germany, and she’d moved on to Iraq, and now her webpage says she’s focusing on Argentina. That’s all great, and I can’t comment on any of her other scholarship.
But nowhere do I see even a hint that she’s even read a book about Afghanistan, to say nothing of taking the time to understand its recent past. Because if she had, then she wouldn’t start her essay by calling for a new Ahmed Shah Massoud, a man whose relationship to his country can only charitably be called complicated. Actually, Human Rights Watch would use another word: war criminal. As the military commander of Jamiat-i Islami in Kabul in the early 1990s, Massoud led the Afshar Campaign.
The Afshar campaign was marked by widespread and serious violations of international humanitarian law.War crimes included attacks on the civilian population and civilian objects, killings, torture and other inhumane treatment, rape, abductions and forced disappearances, forced labor, and pillage and looting.As discussed in Section IV below, there is compelling evidence that the senior Ittihad and Jamiat commanders involved in the Afshar campaign are implicated in these violations.It is also possible that some commanders may be liable for crimes against humanity.Illegal acts that were part of a widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population, such as the killing or abduction of members of certain minorities, may amount to crimes against humanity.
Clearly, in Ms. Goldstein’s world, we need more of this. She even says so explicitly: the only way to fight the Taliban, she asserts, “is through Taliban equivalents.” Leaving aside the questionable morality of advocating the imposition of war crimes, it’s pretty obvious Ms. Goldstein just doesn’t know what the fuck she’s talking about. Put briefly, here are her pearls of wisdom:
- If the U.S. leaves Afghanistan as it is, Pakistan, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban will be able to challenge American strategic presence in Central Asia and project their influence on Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan unchecked.
- Second, after American troops leave Afghanistan, the country will be converted into a subterranean maze of refuges and arsenals that will be beyond the reach of drones. If this happens, the U.S. will be forced to escalate its air campaign, and this in turn will increase the severity of collateral damage.
- Multiple Afghan armed factions waging relentless guerrilla warfare against the Taliban are likely to provide better results than gargantuan operations led by American and European soldiers with the dubious help of the new Afghan army and police.
- A guerrilla movement can only be challenged and eventually defeated by another guerrilla movement equally knowledgeable of the territory and its people, and animated by a similar commitment to victory.
- The decade-long American attempt to unify Afghanistan through social engineering (just like the Soviets tried to do) is preposterous.
- Afghanistan is a fragmented conglomerate of tribal and ethnic groups harboring deep resentments against each other, and split by regional and local conflicts. If anything, Afghanistan is two countries, Pashtunistan (which straddles over the Durand line and includes parts of Pakistan) and the rest.
I mean, my God, it goes on and on and on and on, like she has some bizarre form of Afghanistan tourettes that requires her to spout every single possible racial and cultural stereotype in an effort to prove her case through the sheer weight of repetition and earnestness. A real scholar would justify these bizarre and contradictory assertions with at least a few token footnotes or hyperlinks—Ms. Goldstein doesn’t feel the need. Where the hell is she getting this? Her comments on guerrilla warfare are unfounded; her Playskool description of Afghanistan’s history can charitably be called ignorant; her iron-fisted belief in militarism first before all other options, as if the last nine years have been something else, is little short of monstrous. In one statement she complains about bad men hiding in caves, then we’d have to use drones, but we can’t use drones because we wouldn’t be there. She wants to kill everyone in charge of the Taliban and Al Qaeda and the ISI (organizations she lists separately but doesn’t bother to distinguish even a little bit), but argues that leaders are replaced quickly so killing them isn’t a solution. And the ISI leveraging influence in Turkmenistan? What the fuck?
If one would communicate through an essay the unsavory experience of watching spittle fly off weasely lips moistened with pure spite, that’s kind of like what reading this essay is like. It’s so ridiculous, it’s the kind of thing that should hurt one’s career for having written it, even realizing that the Small Wars Journal isn’t really edited for content. But it won’t—Ms. Goldstein is now ramping up her surely world-changing efforts to apply such a sterling mind to the intimacies of Argentina. Maybe someday in the future, perhaps before writing a few thousand words lamenting the demise of war criminals in a country she has never visited, Ms. Goldstein could bother to do a shred—an article, maybe even just an op-ed or something—of homework. But she won’t.