A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Questioning Afghanistan

Whenever pessimism builds on Afghanistan, such as back when George Will advocated getting out last fall, I figure its time to resurrect once again Lady Butler's painting, Remnants of an Army, showing Dr. Brydon arriving at Jalalabad. It's a reminder of the dangers of imperial hubris. (In January 1842, during the First Afghan War, 4,500 British troops and another 12,ooo camp followers began withdrawing the 90 miles from Kabul to Jalalabad. Only Dr. Brydon made it, the rest being killed or captured. The print was very popular in the Victorian era.)

Two rather well-informed folks are expressing serious doubts about the Afghan war. Anthony Cordesman at CSIS weighed in yesterday with "Realism in Afghanistan: Rethinking an Uncertain Case for the War," and Andrew Exum at CNAS urges humility in "Afghanistan: Graveyard of Assumptions."

These are not dovish advocates for bugging out; they've been among the think tankers advising the Administration and McChrystal's command, and in the preparation of the McChrystal Report. They're not saying the war is lost; they are saying it may need some serious rethinking. I'm not going to try to summarize their points; read what they have to say.

Exum, in true blogger style, also links to rebuttals by Michael Cohen, Max Boot, and Spencer Ackerman.

When the military experts start to question assumptions, though, it's a sign that we are likely to see much more debate. We're a long way from Dr. Brydon, but it's still a reminder that Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires.

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