Summary: What have we learned from our experiences in Afghanistan? My guess: not much. Certainly not the vital lessons we need to learn in order to prosper in the 21st century. This is thousand words raising questions. In the comments post your thoughts, and pointers to works by others grappling with these issues.
Every society experiences defeat in its own way. But the varieties of response within vanquished nations — whether psychological, cultural, or political — conform to a recognizable set of patterns or archetypes that recut across time and national boundaries. A state of unreality — of dreamland — is invariably the first of these.
From the Introduction to Wolfgang Schievelbusch’s masterwork: The Culture of Defeat – On National Trauma, Mourning, and Recovery (2003)
The closing of Abu Muqawama (run by Andrew Exum) and The Oil Drum were greeted with tears by their fans, Probably undeserved tears. Both played large roles in major issues during the past decade, but perhaps not useful contributions.
Abu Muqawama focused on providing expert, fact-rich, but horrifically wrong advice during our “small wars” (small but expensive wars). The Oil Drum provided fact-rich discussions with wrong conclusions about “energy and our future”. Both were nodes for concerned, educated, knowledgeable professionals and laymen. It’s disturbing that these cohorts of our best and brightest could not the errors in their analysis — or question them after years of failed forecasts.
For ten years I’ve written about America’s broken Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action loop. Here we have two tangible examples. This post looks at Abu Muqawama.
The Afghanistan War
Anrew Exum was a paid propagandist at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). CNAS is one of the leading pro-war think-tanks, started in 2007 with lavish funding (now their roster of corporate donors). In August 2009 he ran a debate about “why we fight” in Afghanistan. The pro-war submissions were bizarrely weak. The anti-war submissions and comments (e.g, Bernard Finel, Col. Gian Gentile) were more strongly reasoned and factually supported. In broader terms, most of the comments were anti-war. Probably not how Exum intended this to run. But at the end he wrote a predictable pro-war screed, with more of our hawks patentable bad advice.
Take a stroll on memory lane, see for yourself the confidence of the hawk’s advice.