05-04-2010 11:45 AM
Americans and Englishmen currently risk their lives to change a country. What most readers don't know is that Americans have been trying to change that country for over a decade, while English soldiers have fought and lost, in that country, in profound battles going back almost two centuries. Empires have been broken on the hard spine of Afghanistan, going back not just centuries but millennia. This is the
A few years ago, the Turkish defense minister bragged that the Turkish contingent in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had finished an entire tour in Afghanistan's Wardak province without firing a shot. To some, including his intended audience of Turks, this boast was cause for approval and appreciation. To others — presumably the battle-weary American soldiers who complained bitterly that ISAF had come to stand for I Saw Americans Fight — the boast demonstrated all that was wrong or bogus about the NATO effort in Afghanistan, and epitomized the woes that the Americans would eventually have to redouble their efforts to repair.
In the Graveyard of Empires, Seth Jones's history of post-invasion Afghanistan, is at its best when it describes the follies and occasional acts of heroism emanating from the patchwork of nations that now take collective responsibility for Afghanistan. The coalition he describes includes many dedicated soldiers and canny diplomats, but it errs frequently, and in the end its members amount to just a few fully committed nations: the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands. Most others commit soldiers only in nominal amounts, or halfheartedly — under the condition, say, that they build roads and schools instead of killing Taliban, even if the Taliban are destroying the roads or murdering the teachers.