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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What is the end-game in Ukraine?

I have an op-ed out in the New York Times today arguing that we must intentionally ground our response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in careful, cost-benefit calculation instead of emotional reaction or moral fervor. The piece is given the unfortunate title “Ukraine’s Cause is Righteous. That Shouldn’t Shape Policy.” My argument is not that the rightness of the Ukrainian cause does not matter, but that in moments of crisis it is easy to do things that feel right even if they do not help us achieve the right outcomes. The righteous demand to do the right thing—now!—unnaturally speeds the tempo of decision making and warps the policy review process. The end result are statesmen rushing into policies whose consequences they have not fully gamed out.

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Ukraine, China, and the Shadow of the ’90s

Several days ago the U.S.-China Perception Monitor published an essay in both English and Chinese by Hu Wei, a prominent think tanker in Shanghai. It argues that the war in Ukraine is bound to go poorly for Russia and thus China must moderate its support for Putin’s failing regime lest the post-Putin world turn against the PRC.

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Sino-American Competition and the Search For Historical Analogies

In the most recent issue of American Affairs, Walter Hudson argues against “the pull of the Cold War analogy.”θ Cold War analogies for 21st century Sino-American relations are natural yet insufficient. A friend of mine recently complained to me about the thoughtlessness of these analogies. “It is not difficult to rail against lazy Cold War thinking,” I responded. “What is difficult is fleshing out a more illuminating analogy to fill the gap.” Hudson faces this challenge squarely. He argues that the mirror we seek will be found in the eclipse of the British Empire by the United States.

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Against the Kennan Sweepstakes

Image source  Last month there was a minor hullabaloo about the latest entry in the “Kennan Sweepstakes,” a long document published by the Atlantic Council titled “The Longer Telegram.”1 I read it three times.   I did not like it.  This week Foreign Policy gave me some column space to explain why. I will note here […]

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Assessing the Trump China Strategy: The Key Documents

Now is the proper time for the broader foreign policy community to step back and assess the successes and failures of Trump era diplomacy. There have already been a few attempts of this sort for Trump’s China policy, but I find myself disappointed, if not entirely surprised, with how vapid and partisan these assessments tend […]

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China’s Attack on Australia is About America

Image source The escalating crisis in Sino-Australian relations prompts a new piece.  Foreign Policy publishes my latest under the title “Biden’s First Foreign Policy Crisis is Already Here.” I approve of the title. Not everything is about America, and I often spend my time trying to show how the moving force behind any given international […]

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Do Not Choose Susan Rice

Image source There is a grand tradition in American politics of bashing the other side’s nominees. In the spirit of that tradition, I have a new piece out in the American Conservative that questions whether Susan Rice is fit to be the Biden administration’s nominee for Secretary of State. Rice is a controversial figure for […]

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Rethink What You Know About Xi’s Belt and Road

  Countries of the Belt and Road. Earlier this month I wrote: I wish less analysts asked, “What did Xi hope to accomplish by creating the Belt and Road?” and instead wondered, “What did Xi hope to accomplish by associating the SOE infrastructure-industrial complex so closely with his personal foreign policy?” [1] This question follows […]

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On Diplomats-in-Chief

Here is a question that has fascinates: how to account for the disastrous foreign policy of George W. Bush, when his foreign policy team returned to office in 2001 as the most credentialed and accomplished group of foreign policy professionals Washington had seen in the modern nat-sec era? How did the men and women who […]

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