Kaplan On Afghanistan McChrystal

This piece is pretty much everything I dislike from journalism: an exploration of whether A Great Man can overcome History and Structural Factors given enough Gumption and Effort. That’s Kaplan’s thing, so getting worked up over it is like getting annoyed by the sunrise or the tidal changes, but suffice it to say I consider that framework, as a general rule, inadequate for explaining events. Others might read it and disagree.

Perhaps one example will demonstrate the point. You can read very far into Kaplan’s piece before it occurs to you that it appears nothing is happening in Afghanistan except for a Big U.S. Military Effort. No national strategy. No Afghan politics. No economic efforts. No development work. No Afghan people living their lives, seeking their desires, except when refracted through the prism of a Big U.S. Military Effort. The most that Afghanistan-qua-Afghanistan makes an appearance in Kaplan’s piece is through the musty history books of an older Afghanistan or in the self-serving descriptions of Hamid Karzai rivals like Ashraf Ghani — which is to say there’s an ideational Afghanistan rather than the one-confronted. (There’s a funny moment down in the piece, to Kaplan’s credit, where Col. Chris Kolenda provides a detailed description of the Afghanistan he faced, and then he apologizes for getting down in the weeds.) I don’t know, I read the piece over from when I started writing the post and maybe I’m being too simplistic, but there’s just not enough stuff about anything besides the military in this piece, and the military command in question is fairly adamant that military efforts are patently insufficient for success.

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman