• How to Be an Afghanistan Expert

    May 6, 2013

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Iraq, Military, Other Ideas

    My mom always forwards me the worst email crap, multi-megabyte Powerpoints of cats, or babies doing something odd, or homilies to life last century and the like. I usually thus delete most FWD’ed messages, but this one caught my eye. It’s making its way around the world so you might have already deleted it. If not, enjoy a cheap laugh. And be nice to your mother this Sunday, Mothers Day.

    How to Be an Afghanistan Expert

    1. Cite your most recent trip to the region where you saw – with your own eyes, absent the media’s blinders – irrefutable progress. Add points if you spoke with some cigar store Afghan who confirmed this for you. Add double points if you attended an actual jirga. (Subtract points if you were actually at a shura and mistook it for a jirga).

    2. Imply that if only the clearance-less masses were privileged enough to see the same “high side” intelligence that you do, they would know the truth. Add points if you have an actual clearance and didn’t just look it up on Wikileaks.

    3. Visit a bazaar. Chat with friendly merchants. Lots of salaams, lots of right-hand-over-your-heart greetings. Buy a (warm) orange Fanta. Note – often and loudly – that this bazaar was closed until ISAF forces arrived. Add points if you can drive to this bazaar, versus flying. Add double points if you can wear armor and helmet without looking like some parody of an obese war tourist.

    4. Play down the fact that you are paid roughly $1,000 a day to “advise” the military and deny that there is any subsequent conflict-of-interest when you come home and write flattering things about progress in Afghanistan.

    5. Whatever you do, avoid spending too much time in Afghanistan. In addition to acquiring language skills and some measure of cultural understanding, you risk becoming cynical and perhaps even despairing of our odds of success.

    6. Adopt a “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” approach to the region. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary and amid the protests of others who have spent years on the ground, imply that through sheer force of will and maybe a Jedi mind trick or two, we shall overcome. Add points if you can beat the other experts in latching onto some insignificant scrap of “evidence” supporting “progress.” Add double points if you are the first to tweet about it.

    7. If pressed on the deteriorating security situation, offer some babble about “the night being darkest before the dawn” and tie it into a tortured thesis about how escalating violence is actually a sign of counterinsurgency success. Add points of you can maintain a straight face making this point while citing vastly improved “kill ratios.” Subtract points if your “analysis” is eventually compared to an ISAF version of the 5 O’Clock Follies.

    8. Write numerous “analytical reports” with phrases such as “The Way Forward” or “How to Win” in the title. No one, not even your colleagues in the think tank world, will actually read these, but they will be cited widely as a substitute for reading something substantive, that might offer actual insight into Afghanistan. Add points if you can deride previous scholarship on Afghanistan as “Orientalist.”

    9. ‘The Grand Slam’ – authorship of a COIN pamphlet that gainsays the holy trinity: Petraeus, Nagl and Kilcullen. If pressed on the apparent failure of COIN in Afghanistan, cite some obscure insurgency – The Malayan Emergency is a good choice – and note how long success took to occur.

    10. In case you ever write a book and need a jacket photo, make sure to get a photo of yourself rocking a full beard, a pakool, and a dastmaal. Subtract points if you insist on maintaining this appearance once you return to DC.

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  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...


      05/6/13 1:42 PM | Comment Link

    • Guy Montag said...


      Andrew Exum fits your description quite well. Just go to cnas.org and search:

      “exum “the way forward” afghanistan.”

      And check out his photo, nice beardage!

      If you’re interested, I discuss his role in the Tillman story and pushing for the Afgan War “surge” in my post “Something to Die For” at the Feral Firefighter blog.

      05/6/13 4:12 PM | Comment Link

    • Jbird C. said...


      Way to go Pete, now the 5.11 crew is going to know what we are laughing about. You are always meddling in my fun, I’m trying to boost the morale of my employees. Secret ruined.

      05/6/13 7:14 PM | Comment Link

    • Michael Murry said...


      As the psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton wrote in Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism:

      “The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché. The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis… Totalist language, then, is repetitiously centered on all-encompassing jargon, prematurely abstract, highly categorical, relentlessly judging, and to anyone but its most devoted advocate, deadly dull: in Lionel Trilling’s phrase, ‘the language of non-thought.'”

      To keep from drowning in the tsunami of mind-numbing Orwellian euphemisms pouring out of the U.S. government and corporate media (but I repeat myself), I like to collect my favorite thought-terminating clichés and string them together into a single, declarative sentence for handy reference. For example: “The tipping-point will soon turn the corner and connect the dots on the ink-stained, flypaper dominoes in the tunnel at the end of the light.”

      Anyone else want to contribute a guerrilla sanity sentence or two?

      05/6/13 9:20 PM | Comment Link

    • meloveconsullongtime said...


      Monty Python shows you how to do it:


      05/6/13 10:48 PM | Comment Link

    • Susan B said...


      If you are interested in “reading something substantive, that might offer actual insight into Afghanistan”….try reading, Fawzia
      Koofi’s, THE FAVORED DAUGHTER, one woman’s fight to lead Afganistan into the Future. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? It was a New York Times Bestseller. I’d enjoy hearing what you think about the book.

      05/24/13 2:56 AM | Comment Link

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