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America’s War in Afghanistan

by Seth G. Jones

Pub Date: July 6th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-393-06898-6
Publisher: Norton

A scholarly account of America’s unsuccessful effort to avoid the same fate as three other great powers who tried to tame Afghanistan.

RAND political scientist Jones (Foreign Service/Georgetown Univ.; The Rise of European Security Cooperation, 2007) begins by describing the failures of Alexander the Great, Victorian Britain and the Soviet Union, reminding readers that the United States missed its first opportunity in the area after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. Delighted at humiliating our Cold War enemy, American forces withdrew, well-armed Afghan factions turned on each other and the nation descended into lawless chaos. Some semblance of order returned in the ’90s when the Taliban conquered most of the country and established an oppressive Islamic regime. In 2001, enraged at its refusal to surrender Osama bin Laden, U.S. forces attacked the country and aided Taliban opponents, who triumphed in a few months. At this point, Jones slows to deliver a blow-by-blow account of how America squandered this victory. As fighting died down, U.S. leaders turned their attention to an invasion of Iraq. During several relatively peaceful postwar years, Afghanistan made progress in establishing a constitutional government, improving education and rebuilding infrastructure. Unfortunately, it never achieved a stable government’s primary duty—providing security. Police and officials remained ineffective and corrupt and warlords and criminals reclaimed their turf. The chaos that followed the Soviet withdrawal returned—along with the Taliban and other insurgencies, rested and rejuvenated in Pakistan. Jones admits that America is trying to correct its mistake but rightly wonders if the government will be able to devote as much effort, time and money as was devoted to a similar mistake—not yet corrected—in Iraq.

An impressively researched, often grueling illustration of how U.S. leaders failed—once again—to learn from experience.