Learning From Our Defeat: the Madrassas and the Modern

In all of my reading on Afghanistan, two books stand out. Both were highlighted in my list of the best 10 books I read in 2021: Carter Malkasian’s The American War in Afghanistan: A History and David Edwards’ Caravan of Martyrs: Sacrifice and Suicide Bombing in Afghanistan. Both authors are fluent in Pashto. Both draw plentifully from Taliban primary sources. Both have had hundreds of conversations with Afghans of all classes. Together they provide a powerful picture of the way the war has changed Afghan—especially Pashtun—society. The war in Afghanistan was first and foremost a war within that society. America chose to back one side of this civil war. These books lay out exactly what each side of this war was fighting for.

Or so I write in an essay published this weekend in Palladium. To understand the Taliban’s victory, I argue, you must understand what made the Taliban different from the wider Pashtun society from which they sprang.

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The Rise and Fall of Civilizations: A Reader Course

A Scholar’s Stage forum member reports that he and a friend recently finished reading John Darwin’s After Tamerlane. Enraptured by Darwin’s account of flourish and fall, they ask what else they might read to understand the rise and decline of peoples and powers over the course of human history.

              In my mind there are four central parts to this tale:

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Learning From Our Defeat: The Assumptions of Donald Rumsfeld

One hopes for statesmen chastened by defeat. In this world of our hopes, the authors of catastrophe would discuss their mistakes with the humility, introspection, and sense of disgrace these mistakes deserve. Decisions that led to death—death in its thousands and hundreds of thousands—would be examined with probing honesty. The decision makers behind them would be seized with a fierce guilt and urgency. They would quest to understand the nature of their errors. They would incessantly press upon us the lessons of experience, gripped with fear that the next generation might repeat their calamities.

One can imagine such a statesman, chastened by defeat. Douglas Feith is not he.

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We Must Learn From Our Defeat

Twenty years ago a nation comfortable but aimless was thrust by violence into a new reality. “Does anybody but me feel upbeat, and guilty about it?,” asked one conservative columnist a few weeks later. “I feel upbeat because the country seems to be a better place than it was a month ago. I feel guilty about it because I should be feeling pain and horror and anger about the recent events.” But he was not the only one to feel this way.

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America Will Always Fail At Regional Expertise

I have argued before that any potential American foreign policy or ‘grand strategy’ that requires  statesmen with a nuanced understanding of a foreign region’s cultures, politics, and languages to implement it is doomed to fail. Regional acumen is a rare trait, and one I greatly admire. But it is rare for a reason. Regional acumen […]

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Notes From all Over (14/09/14): China’s Economy, Samurai, and Adam Tooze’s Take on Europe

A collection of articles, essays, and blog post of merit. TOP BILLING  “What Does a “Good” Adjustment Look Like?“ Michael Pettis, China’s Financial Markets (1 September 2014). This essay is long but excellent. It is also the best thing I have read about the Chinese economy in months. Two quotes to give readers the flavor of […]

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Akbar Ahmed on Terrorism and the Collapse of the Tribal Order

Car bomb in Peshawar. Source: Mohammad Sajjad/Associated Press. 29 September 2013.  Last week I penned a two–post series on the purpose of and underlying reasons for the savage terrorist attacks radical Islamic groups have launched across the world. I argued that these attacks were not “senseless” acts of violence, nor merely the results of fanatic […]

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Notes From All Over (6/10/2010)

A collection of articles, essays, and blog post of merit. THE REPUBLIC Taxes and Presidential Math Veronique de Rugy. The American. 5 October 2010. Mr. de Rugy presents the best graphic of the month: Tip of the Hat to John Kranz of ThreeSources. Social Cohesion and the Bohemian Grove: the Power Elite at Summer Camp […]

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