Posted by: Christian | September 14, 2010

The Afghanistan Study Group, Version 3.0

When I clicked to download the recent report by the Afghanistan Study Group I was excited in an academic area-studies nerd sort of way. I expected an authoritative and informative read. Why? Because when the Afghanistan Study Group released the 2nd edition of its report in January 2008 I got exactly what I expected from a report that was issued by a group that included people like Barnett Rubin, J. Alexander Thier and Marvin Weinbaum (combined for many decades of experience with Afghanistan). Seriously, go to this page at Harvard and check out who else authored the report.  The 2008 report, in case you are interested:

James L. Jones et al. 2008. ‘Afghanistan Study Group Report: Revitalizing Our Efforts Rethinking Our Strategies’, Center for the Study of the Presidency. Download PDF.

But…….this recent Afghanistan Study Group is the same in name only. I’ve since seen that others made comments about the similarity in name to the Iraq Study Group, but I was thinking of the first Afghanistan Study Group, and even of the Afghanistan Study Group based in the UK.

So, totally new Afghanistan Study Group. Who cares? The name is not all that original – no big deal. Anyways, I read the report:

Matthew Hoh et al. 2010. ‘New Way Forward: Rethinking US Strategy in Afghanistan’, Report of the Afghanistan Study Group. Download PDF.

And it’s terrible. I immediately thought it was terrible. And then the peanut gallery of abuse picked up momentum as I started to get the views of others (online, in-person, the voices in my head, etc…). This broad level of abuse by people I follow (blogs, twitter, outside their house) or talk to (willing discussion participant or person backing slowly away from me) is usually reserved only for op-eds by Thomas Friedman. I considered doing a line-by-line deconstruction, as I’ve done for people like Robert Kaplan and enthusiastic SF guy. But I’m working on a paper on Kunduz and northern Afghanistan as well as on my dissertation (kinda busy).

Luckily Joshua Foust came to the rescue with a lengthy blog-assault. And Andrew Exum agreed. Twice. [disclosure: I’m online friends with Josh and Andrew while the latter once gave me $800 to work on his paper –  lol link to Amazon]. But I do disagree with Josh about 25% of the time and with Andrew more than that. However, I’m mostly in agreement with what Josh wrote.

The Afghanistan Study Group report is shocking in that the people who are signatories would put their name to such a shoddy product. Unfortunately this has resulted in the usual accusations of biased elitist intellectuals and their disconnect, etc. BUT…..I do want to point out the disclaimer on the page that lists the members of this 3rd Afghanistan Study Group:

The individuals listed below support this report. Many from among this group provided the language and ideas used. While some would not agree with every detail of the report, they do agree with the overall recommendation and direction.

I deeply respect some of the people listed, and assume that many of them “would not agree with every detail of the report” – I hope. As for myself, I certainly don’t “agree with every detail of the report.” I find many of the points atrociously ignorant – especially when history and ethnicity are invoked. Further points on the nature of the insurgency are equally ill-informed. I’ll cut it short here. See Josh Foust’s blog post, plus his follow-up to criticisms. I don’t feel like doing that much echoing. [Other criticisms of the report are popping up online, i.e.: Captain’s Journal]

But what really bothers me is that I agree with most of the report’s conclusions. Why does this bother me? Because the Afghanistan Study Group has undermined “the cause” (if I may over-dramatically call it that) with their feeble attempt. They have taken away attention that would be better focused elsewhere – to people of similar mind who actually have the tools to do what the Afghanistan Study Group has attempted and failed to do. They are like the person who gets on TV or stands up in the crowd and speaks for a cause you believe in – but who totally screws up the opportunity by voicing mostly gibberish to support their viewpoint.

Wanting desperately to have an informed opinion on Afghanistan and actually having one are not the same. And certainly, if you are incapable of supporting your arguments you should not be nominating yourself to speak. I hope the Afghanistan Study Group and its director Matthew Hoh will do one of two things: (a) not publish anything ever again or (b) radically improve their game.

[Update: an argument I should have included.]


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