Good Reads: on Afghan wars, German spies, and the 'American Spring'
This week's best stories look at lessons we should have learned from a decade of war in Afghanistan, from intelligence failures, and from press accounts of the American Revolution.
Afghanistan, the land of forever wars
In March 2001, I took my first trip into Afghanistan. The Taliban were firmly in power then, or so it seemed to me, but they seemed incapable of finishing off their main enemies, the Northern Alliance led by Ahmad Shah Massoud.Skip to next paragraph
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Last March, I went back to Afghanistan after having been away for six years. President Hamid Karzai was still jokingly called the “mayor of Kabul,” because that was about as far as his influence stretched. And the combination of NATO troops and the Afghan National Army seemed incapable of finishing off their main enemies, the Taliban. The story I wrote then found important signs of progress, but worrying signs that much of this progress could be undone if Afghan leaders don’t start getting serious about the challenges they face in security, ethnic reconciliation, and corruption.
Historians and pundits like to describe Afghanistan as the “graveyard of colonial empires,” but the reality is that Afghanistan is a really hard place to rule, for foreigners and Afghan rulers alike. When Mr. Karzai steps down, as the current Constitution says he must at the end of this term in May 2014, his successor will face the same Sisyphean task of pushing for incremental improvements, and then watching gravity bring it all back to the same old chaos.
In this week’s New Yorker, Dexter Filkins brings his own long-view perspective to the question of Afghanistan’s future. The prevailing view is not, despite the best efforts of Osama bin Laden and his band of merry men, a hatred of America built on Islamist values, but rather, a profound disappointment at a wasted opportunity for Afghanistan. The Americans, with all their military and economic might, should have achieved more during their decade-long presence.
“The Americans have failed to build a single sustainable institution here,” Filkins quotes TV journalist Abdul Nasir as saying. “All they have done is make a small group of people very rich. And now they are getting ready to go.”