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21 October 2012


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In the face of this Nagl book it appears I must again point out that when I was assigned to the Army Psychological Operations School in Fort Bragg in the 70's I could see the excitement with the British handling of the Malaysian problem, but what people apparently overlooked was the fact that it was not Malaysians that were the problem but Chinese immigrants. I was shocked when I saw this irrelevant example eventually twisted into the hopeless misdirection known as COIN.



Lt. Col. Nagl and the Kagan Family are Propagandists for the War Profiteers.

Waiting for our appointments at the VA Hospital, dissing Mitt Romney the day after the second debate and his intentions to bomb Iran, another Vietnam Vet sermonized “American has lost every war since World War II”. True.

The First Gulf War ended 21 years later on Dec. 18, 2011 when the last soldier drove back into Kuwait. This is a loss though it will not be admitted until the 30,000 contractors are forced to evacuate Baghdad. Grenada, Panama and Bosnia were firefights.

These battles were fought to keep the factories humming and money flowing into corporate coffers. To pacify the Hindu Kush Mountain tribes and the river lowlands requires one trooper for every 40 natives. Afghanistan and Pakistan population totals 219 million. An army equivalent to WWII of around five million soldiers is needed, not to mention the Pakistani nuclear weapons which make an invasion of that country impossible. Also, taxes have to be raised on the wealthy to pay for the war and the draft started to provide the cannon fodder.

My old battalion is back in Afghanistan for another tour; maybe their last, doing exact same things 42 years later to exactly the same effect.



The wars could never have been won. They were fought on the cheap. There was never enough men, money, or will; let alone strategic planning, for a political or a military victory.


One of the purposes of the Afghanistan was to dispel the ghosts of Vietnam. America's will was stronger than that of its people. Public opinion be damned.

Withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan took place only after those campaigns proved totally embarrassing. Adverse public opinion is rarely mentioned as a motivation.

And so, politicians seem free to forget any lessons learned from recent experience and pursue more adventures in Libya, Syria, and Iran.


What's the commission rate on $4 billion per year of business? Of course we could fund 75% of it by just cutting the subsidy to Israel to zero.


It was doomed from the very start. Nobody in America seems to study history, except for the enlightened few, and they aren't policy makers.

World Wars One and Two were wars of logistics, and America at the time did industrial production and logistics very well.

The Cold war pivoted on economics - and the Soviet command economy proved lacking.

America then convinced itself that its success was due to the natural superiority of its fighting men - "the greatest generation", despite Beevors observation that American units in Normandy in 1944 were taking casualties at a greater rate than the Russians. Americas economic model was superior (now in tatters) and so were American political processes (!).

America has embraced the "self development" model whose pundits books infest airport bookshops; "Of course we can win in Afghanistan, we just have to want to enough, follow my COIN manual and you too can be a General Eisenhower." There is no sense of history or context or humility or respect.

Experience is everywhere reviled. I know of businesses where staff over the age of 45 are deliberately culled. Do you want to know why? Because their on the job learning and experience directly contradict the inclinations of the young know-nothing managers who have been bred to believe that qualifications and certificates count for everything and that success is guaranteed if the manual is followed, even to the exclusion of direct evidence to the contrary as is displayed in Afghanistan.

The entire American ethos today can be summed up in the bosses quote: "I don't care if it works in practice, I want to see it work in theory!"


I find it bemusing that the Special Forces officers are sidelined. Their expertise clearly has direct applicability to Afghanistan, but they could never make the "big numbers" game work, and they had the great misfortune to come up with workable plans for Afghans when the Minister of Defense Abdul Rahim Wardak was attempting to go at high speed in the other direction.

I wonder how much U.S. money went where and how the now-retired Minister will spend his share.


A few comments.

1. As I recall, we shed the shroud of Vietnam in the first Gulf War. Recall the pervasive fear at the time, and the opposition of the vast majority of former senior officials. Going to war in that state of mind was one of the bravest things we've ever done.

2. Nagl says we're staying on in Afghanistan in order "to prevent a broader war in South Asia." This is the kind of literal mindlessness than can only be written by people who get paid to do nothing but "think."

3. We never will be allowed to keep 20,00 troops, air bases and proconsular embassy in Afghanistan as the administration intends. As the Colonel points out, we trying the exact same thing in Iraq. Result; neither maliki or talibania as much as showed up for the send-off ceremony; and the imperial embassy will wind up being the venue for some all-Asia games down the road. Yes, there is no Maliki orgrganized Shi'ite political force there, but civil war and general chaos will do the job quite nicely.

4. "Afghanistan" in a political sense is a pronoun with multiple antecedent nouns. Yet, when was the last time we've seen a news atory from there that made reference to the ethnic identity of army leaders, senior security officials, or those involved in green-on-blue incidents? Same for the "Taliban." The Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban are not identical - quite the opposite when it comes to attitudes toward the Pakistani state. The Haqqani network is a third entity. Yet Washington bemoans the fact that the Pakistani Taliban's attack on that girl in Swat created a (missed) opportunity for the Pakistani army to launch the much longed-for assault against the Haqqanis in North Waziristan.

Moron or idiot are inappropriate terms to describe these people. It's an imnsult to true morons and idiots - although I admit to a certain lking for the term "moronicide."


An interesting historical observation. As I was growing up among tank traps, air raid drills, barbed wire and mine clearing operations (that I was not to go near), I was told that warfare was a matter of calculations.

Fear of the "enemy in the east" was also great, until we learned that by 10:30 any morning, most of their population was rather drunk.

I can certainly agree with the young manager situation. I am still in the construction industry and here in Florida it was prevalent a few years ago but most of them have now left us, for which I am rather grateful. Most of them seems to have never experienced the downs that always follow the ups. Not to mention making every common mistake that have ever been around since building hovels.

I am still somewhat optimistic though. After you have been through a few cycles, you realize that most things are indeed cyclical.


There's an almost visceral distaste for History these days. People often ask me what I'm trying to do with my degree, few can imagine school as anything other than a place to learn a trade. God forbid I should learn how to write or that I should develop an appreciation of the way things were, or perhaps understand (as best I can) how another people think. Those are clearly very useless skills.


That is why we invented Power Point. The Future Combat System presentations were always very successful. They even had lightening bolts!


We addict the Afghan govt to a defense structure they cannot afford without western aid. They addict the west to heroin.

I've wondered if the excess cost of Afghanistan's military to their indigenous budget was to allow us to keep airbases in the country. Karzai made a statement this week about not granting immunity to foreign troops unless they protected Afghanistan's borders.

Of final note. An annual $4 billion budget is a few weeks cost for us directly in Afghanistan. Its a cold calculation to be sure. Does it make America safer?


re: Abdul Rahim Wardak - I googled the name and came up with this photo.


In August, the Afghan parliament passed a vote of no confidence in Wardak. Hmm. Looks may give a clue as to why. Rule of thumb: Uniforms with more than two kilograms of gold and lace make look people suspect.

PS: Thanks to the poster who suggested using TinyURL. A handy site to know.


"The Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban are not identical "

These same people don't understand that a burger in a McDonalds overseas is not the same as one here, either - but they'll still tell you its a McDonalds so it must be the same.

The Librarian in Purgatory

Would highly recommend HOW TO KILL A RATIONAL PEASANT (http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/2012/06/how_to_kill_a_rational_peasant.html) and KABUL: CITY NUMBER ONE (http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/afghanistan/)as hard looks at and the rebuttal of the majority of Nagl's thesis.

The Moar You Know

I'm not sure if it's so much a distaste for history so much as a violent rejection of the idea that a lesson can be learned from history.

You see this behavior often through history, but it is more common in societies that are about to do something really, really stupid, and universal in societies that have chosen to go down the path of totalitarianism.

This is a cyclical thing too. People insisting that "today is different!" while somehow ignoring that people - heh, throughout history - have been saying the same thing for millennia and have been wrong about it for just as long.


Forgive me for coming a bit late to the discussion here. I have read "Learning to Eat Soup With A Knife" and found it to be a very interesting book. I have not closely followed Mr. Nagl so maybe I am unaware of the "spin" that he has put in the book. In my view, the central thesis of the book was how the English culture differed quite a bit from American culture and that this cultural difference was manifest in the approaches taken by its Army in comparing the Malaysian Emergency versus the Vietnam War. I have spent a lot of time in England over the years (mainly on business) and the book struck a chord with me as there is a very different institutional attitude towards business that I think is actually reflected in Nagl's analysis.

That being said, I did not see it as somehow a tactical (or strategic) critique of how to fight a war. I thought the book was more concerned about the ability of US organizations to adapt to new situations rather than a firm statement as to how any war should be fought.

Maybe what I am missing is how Nagl has turned this into something more.

I was somewhat taken aback because I have followed this blog for quite a while and I would have thought that some of Nagl's criticism would have been accepted. Again, maybe I just need to understand what he has done with what I perceived as a very limited by interesting thesis.

FB Ali

You're welcome!



I have not read his book, but having discussed it with him and debated him on his beliefs IMO I have some standing in this. I am also intimately acquainted with "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" in its various editions. Nagl's view rests on his critique of our efforts in VN. In fact the essence of our effort there was a COIN project that dwarved anything he could have hoped to see in "his" wars. CORDS covered all of the RVN at all levels in every aspect of government. This effort ultimately largely defeated the southern communist effort to take over the country. The function of the massive US Army and USMC forces in VN was to fight and defeat the main forces of the North Vietnamese Army while the COIN forces fought the COIN war. I fought the COIN war. Perhaps Nagl's Oxford tutors taught him their version of the war in VN, but he should have known better. pl


Wasn't Granada supposed to shed us of our shame?

On a more serious note, I am afraid we as a nation are always trying to re-experience the glory of winning WWII. We're like the old High School quarterback who back in the day won state, now works in a gas station and spends his evenings drunkenly reliving his glory days at the local bar.

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