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Obama's Wars, By: Bob Woodward - Book Review

December 17, 2010 | Comments: 0 | Views: 173

The author did a considerable job of documenting and fact checking numerous White House internal memos, meetings, interviews, critical decisions on Afghanistan and the campaign in Pakistan. This book is significant because the contents will help the current and future Presidents cope with the difficult decision surrounding military conflicts of every kind.

The counterinsurgency envisioned by General David Petraeus is delineated in the book at some length. Inherent in this strategy is the task of marginalizing the influence of Al Qaeda and non-cooperative elements in the Taliban. To accomplish this feat, our troops must have the concurrence of the local population. Even Niccolo Macchiavelli explained that an occupying force must have the concurrence of the local citizenry before attempting any further action.

The book anticipates a USA exit plan in Afghanistan. First, the country has a number of constituencies like the Pashtun (40%), Tajik (25%), Hazara (19%) Uzbek and Turkmen - 10% and others. We need to get better information on the goals of these various subgroups in order to establish areas of congruency, as well as areas where concurrence may be difficult or impossible. In addition, the religious mix is about 85% Sunni and 15% Sh'ia Muslim.

The population has a life expectancy under 50 years of age and the literacy level is under 40%. These statistics indicate that the job of educating the population will not be easy. The United States cannot be responsible for nation-building in Afghanistan; however, our military must be concerned about getting political quiescence concurrent with a rational phaseout of troops and eventual governance by the local people.

Some nation building may be necessary in order to stabilize the country and preclude the return of factions within the old Soviet Union or elsewhere. The United States simply cannot expend all of this effort in Afghanistan only to experience a repeat performance of the Soviet (or some faction thereof) invasion of Afghanistan.

Vice President Biden is inclined to limit the military vision in Afghanistan. This "gut feeling" makes sense based upon the bloody history which includes experiences by the Soviets, Great Britain and Alexander the Great ( of all people).

The book makes clear that there are no uniform goals for our Afghanistan involvement despite a 6 year incremental involvement. Let me establish some goals after having read the book.

(1) The United States should withdraw incrementally and train Afghani forces to take over the job of managing resistance from Al Qaeda, the Taliban and even hostile foreign influences. Here, commando training is in order concurrent with the use of some military hardware. Our experience with drones has had some success.

(2) The United States should engage in some nation building activity to promote higher literacy rates and better life expectancy. We have at our disposal IT technologies, Advice Giving systems in artificial intelligence, the Red Cross and other international agencies to assist. Generic drugs are available at affordable prices due to the expiry of patents.

In addition, we have up-to-date technologies to organize and operate municipal accounting systems and processes. Soon, we will have commercializable desalination plants powered by solar energy or the "Artificial Sun". Afghanistan could gain access for desalination plants via pipelines to the Caspian Sea proximate to the Kara Kum Desert, the Gulf of Oman or the Arabian Sea.

We may need desalination because the workforce is over 60% agriculture. Some mountain rivers produce intermittent fertile valleys. These are massive infrastructure undertakings traversing all of the engineering arts.

(3) The United States should encourage the development of Afghani energy resources to fund post-war economic activity. There are models; such as, the Grameen Bank to provide affordable financing.

Britain's war in Afghanistan turned out to be an exercise in futility. At the height of its power in India, Britain sought to create stability in the subcontinent. Another goal was to prevent Russian and Persian encroachments. To some extent, the USA has to encourage the same goal today in order to facilitate our withdrawal. The British implementation plan was to remove a colorful and popular leader from the Afghan throne. The replacement was with an unpopular, though legitimate, king.

The experiment ended when a British resident in Kabul was brutally murdered by an angry crowd. A British envoy was shot by an Afghan leader during an encounter. His dismembered corpse was hung in effigy in a Kabul bazaar. The ill-fated retreat of the British resulted in the deathsof thousands of people.

Source: Retreat from Kabul: The Catastrophic British Defeat in Afghanistan 1842 by Patrick McCrory The Lyons Press ( November 2007)

There are Islamic radicals in Afghanistan. Many of them are more concerned with maintaining ancient tribal customs than in supporting global Islamic conquest. These tribal customs include keeping women from school and banning popular music. A few Pashtun tribes can be problematic.

The Pashtun people are about 40 percent of the Afghan population. Most Pashtuns live across the border in Pakistan. The radical elements operate on both sides of the border and have done so for many centuries (long before those borders were drawn.) The Pashtuns still pride themselves on delaying Alexander the Great well over 2000 years ago. Alexander the Great defeated the Pashtuns although there may be some debate on this subject. Eventually, Alexander exited and the tribes carried on as before. Pashtun society consists of many tribes and clans who were unsuccessful in establishing an independent government in their land until the rise of the Hotaki dynasty and Durrani Empire in the early 18th century.

Alexander the Great pursued Bessus, Darius III's kinsmen and one of his murderers. The pursuit was into the territory of modern Afghanistan. Bessus declared himself successor and enemy to Persian invaders. Afghanistan was part of the Persian Empire which, with the defeat of Darius, belonged to Alexander's Empire.

Eventually, some of Bessus's commanders would turn him over to Alexander. Nevertheless, Alexander continued to meet with resistance from men like Spitamenes. He and his resistors were defeated over time and all of the Persian provinces fell to Alexander eventually.

Reviewed by: Dr. Joseph S. Maresca. For more information visit us at:

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