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27 September 2014


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William R. Cumming

Well PL I would argue the Greeks in the classical period started the discipline of polysci but then it makes no difference because your post is grounded in reality. Recognition of tribal status was used in the American landscape to defeat the native Americans militarily. This tradition should not be lost in central Asia. Only long-term and I mean really long term demographics is likely to tell in Central Asia because even energy supplies is a relatively short term lesson. So question, what should the strategy be when in essentially a no-man's land it is possible with modern technology to foment trouble for the "Civilized" world? Just recognize the tribes and go for the lesser evil? Try and improve infrastructure? Medicine? Food? Shelter? Or is it just a place where the civilized world leaves a cultural wasteland with a very very watchful eye out for potential trouble? And of course is it someone else's problem or just the "Great Satan's"? I don't have the answers but hope someone smarter does have them.



The overwhelming need not to perceive reality permeates America right now. The reason - we are too afraid of what we would see.

Both presidential candidates fail to acknowledge that the USA is fighting two wars of occupation; wars can only be won with overwhelming force and genocide - not to mention the draft and taxes to pay for the fighting. Nor can they admit that the Afghans and Iraqis are doing what humans have done since the beginning of time; overthrowing the yokes of foreign overlords. One society has even defeated every Invader throughout their history.

Even closer to home, American was built on the rule of law, the individual's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and cheap energy. All corrupted and eliminated in the past eight years.


My experience has been that Americans on the ground, whether military or State, know what’s going on in Iraq. It’s the higher level decision makers, the political appointees, who are completely out to lunch. The only chance(not guaranteed) to improve our performance in Afghanistan is a regime change at home. We don’t need more troops, we need reality to break into the upper echelons.


In my travels a country where I see "national man" being created at a glacial pace is India. Its less by government edict but more through melding of peoples economically and socially.

What has amazed me is that in the Indian federal system the states have been demarcated on the basis of language and cultural identity. Of course then there is the other layer of religion and each religion then has another layer of sect or caste. So its all rather complicated and a wonder that they have not broken apart and making a go of "democracy" after couple centuries of feudalism and colonialism.

Another model I suppose is the "quasi" one party city nation of Singapore with three distinct ethnicities - Chinese, Malay and East Indian - in some kind of power sharing deal.

Maybe its time for political "science" to embrace diversity. Its a lot more fun than homogeneity. Imagine just one type of cuisine!


Well, having never been knowingly "infected" with the PS virus, I wonder who of its many practioners and adherents will now nobly rose to its defense, its honor having been so forcefully called into question....even sullied!


I suppose there is as much Afghan identity as there is Belgian identity.

Dave of Maryland

I liked everything you said until you got to the part where the cavalry rides to the rescue. It seemed counter-intuitive.

Wasn't the Baath the direct result of British meddling 80 years ago? Wasn't the Taliban the result of Russian meddling 25 years ago? Why would a lot of culturally ignorant, Amer-English-speaking people with guns be a force for local multicultural enlightenment? How, exactly, will we succeed when all other invaders have failed?

Patrick Lang


I corrected "calvary" to "cavalry," quite a different thing.

-The British did not cause Baathism.

-The Soviets do not cause the Taliban.

None of these peoples were born without stain of original sin.

What would you do, just walk away? pl


All very well to dismiss political science as quakish and to exhalt differences "Maybe its time for political "science" to embrace diversity. Its a lot more fun than homogeneity"
But we are not slipping into cultural relativism, are we? The weekend shootings in a church in Tenn. prove that Capitalist Consummer Culture is not without sin, but I cannot buy into the concept that every culture is just a variation on the same theme.


Isn't our immediate to short-range material/imperial objective in this territory to secure a pipeline corridor? That, in concert with "stability"? We'll need more men, equipment and a hell of a lot more time. The local faction we've picked, perhaps one day, will prove to be a relatively self-sustaining asset. That's not 6 months from now or 4 or 8 years later, but 30 to 50 at least. Are we willing to hang in there that long?

Mad Dogs

The fact that both Senators Obama and McSame, as do their respective party officials in The Village (Washingon DC for us rubes in flyover land), tout the "unquestionable" knee-jerk foreign policy conventional wisdom to send 2-3 more US Brigades to Afghanistan causes me to ask this question:

Just who are we fighting, and why?

The simple minds who appear to dominate our foreign policy apparat respond by saying "Folks with guns who are shooting at us".

The fact that most of these "folks" might merely be reacting as nativists would all over the world to foreign intruders occupying their land, making the rules, and shooting those who would deign to object, seems to go unremarked by all the fancy pants inhabitants of our foreign policy playpen.

Don't get me wrong! I think the members of Al Quaeda can be quite rightly called our enemies and deserving of absolutely no mercy.

But those who would demonize all of the various groups who make up the population of "Greater" Afghanistan (a dimension that includes more than just the physical boundaries of Afghanistan), and further, to lump any and all resistance to US and NATO occupiers, as "Taliban" or "Al Quaeda", deliberately blind themselves to reality.

And no matter who tells you differently (Democrat or Republican), blindness is not an acceptable substitute for vision.

Shorter synopsis of US foreign policy: "Our way or the highway!"

Hmmm...hasn't that been debunked a kazillion times before through each and every millenia of mankind's existence?

Ah yes, we, it seems, are continually destined to re-live history because our species apparently never learns from it.


Speaking as former PS person, I think you've really overstated the issue. Sure, I had to do the theory stuff, some of it dumb, some very enlightening in an abstract way. But not everybody goes for grand unifying theories about man. As an area specialist (Soviet Union), I didn't have to spend much time there to discover how little ice theories actually cut on their own. This isn't to say that I didn't encounter numerous profs and fellow grad students who had their heads up their whatevers. I know the type. The scholars I admired most used theory to get a grip with realities on the ground -- it acutally is possible to do. And if there's one area that teaches the centrality of ethnicity, religion, history, language, etc., it's Eastern Europe. I think the real problem, which is not unique to PS types, is that simple dogmatism, suitably generalized, tends to win out over doing the hard work necessary to be familiar with the actual complexities of the real world. It also tends to sell better too.

frank durkee

Perhaps Auden got it right, in a lecture at harvard in the '40's: "thou shalt not lie down with statistics, nor commit a social science."


"None of these peoples were born without stain of original sin. What would you do, just walk away? pl"

I think staying there would be a good deal easier if we somehow had managed to avoid becoming a part of the drugwar there in the first place. For a picture saying more than a thousand words, see http://easterncampaign.wordpress.com/2008/07/20/look-behind-you-obama/ with mr. Obama together with Gul Agha Shirzai. When our nearest allies are such as he or mr. Dostum up north, who used to run over prisoners heads with a tank, personaly, if the story is true) it will be hard for the pol scis to continue mouthing technical drivel about humanism and democracy. The US army is currently the largest militia in two failed states, and their allies in both places are not nice people. Thats the basic premise for analysis as far as I can see.

Oh, and for the idea of a Afghan people: Check out Nuristan, its a gem for anthropologists.


I have a degree in Political Science; fortunately it was "buffered" with classes in cultural anthropology and growing up in a bicultural household. The marxist, Darwinist, jacobin, secularist, materialist view that people are evolving "pegs" was definitely at play in Mr. Bremmer's ignoring the Sunni Sheiks and Tribal Elders in Iraq. We Americans have an heritage of Federalism and respect for "local" government. He chose to foster a French Revolution style Unitary State on an Iraq that begged for pluralistic Federalism. The ancient Anglo-Saxon office of Sheriff comes to mind.

Patrick Lang


I think you have to be careful not to expect too much of ordinary humans. pl


PL: The creed in this secular religion holds that human behavior is universal in nature in all important aspects and that apparent differences are fated to disappear as mankind and its societies develop toward higher and more general forms.

PL: the Jacobin neocon crowd were of the opinion that traditional (dare I say classic) Middle Eastern and Islamic culture was of little or no value in humanist terms (Can outsiders manage change in alien cultures?)


Put those two paragraphs together and perhaps all can see the actual dagger that `unseamed the US from the nave up to the chops'.


Once upon a time there was Confederate Man and Union Man and there is now the American man.

I agree that time line does not make the prospect of the Afghan Man of any great relevance now but being lumped in a geographical nation does lead to shared history which leads to the national man. This unification can be speeded if all the communities feel respected.


I agree... but PS is what the United States of America was founded on, no? There are some really serious implications embedded in you post about whether or not the the USA is even a a viable concept. As immigration/cultural change/technological change/etc. continue to buffet us, our ability to rely upon the 'romantic' ideas that we were founded upon becomes ever more remote. Your post suggests to me that it was a pipe dream all along.


SST has hit another home run with this posting.

Americans are simply not schooled in the cultures of Afghanistan and other places in that part of the world. Too much "History of Western Civilization".

We hear a lot about the Afghanistan/Pakistan border and how the Taliban (and OBL) cross it from time to time. A reading of Wikipedia entries for Pashtun and other Afghani ethnic groups informs that the various tribes are like "deer and antelope" in that their movements are not confined by borders, artifice, or national governments. I now understand the Musharaff position. Simply put, borders and "democracies" are acultural.

That the U.S. government preaches Anglo-Saxon precepts as solutions is laughable.

Afghanistan, with borders imagined by the British and now us, cannot be conquered.

Bush's theory that all peoples want liberty and freedom is similarly laughable. Obama should learn a bit about that culture before he says anything more.

Thank you, Colonel Lang, for floating this excellent summary.


Sir. I know, I know. But to see mr. Obama dining and wining (well propably not wining) with mr. Shirzaiis a bit like seeing him with Pablo Escobar.

anonymous (economist)

I'm spilling on my profession. Probably best thing to do. Lord knows what Col. Lang thinks about economists if he is "down on" them PolySci folks. I better get my dirty laundry out there.

Social scientists who have wedded themselves permamnently to any theory should take the scientist part out of their titles. Too many do the former and then do not follow through on the latter. But truth in advertising is a rare thing in any industry.

Barnett Rubin is PolySci, and also has tried to run a business in Afghanistan as part of the opium eradication effort.


"Points on an Integrated Strategy for Afghanistan"

can be found on icga.blogspot.com:


I don't see any desire to form an "Afghan Man" in Prof. Rubin's ideas, but I may be mistaken.

What do commenters and Col. Lang think about that species of political science?

Prof. Rubin has described efforts in Afghanistan, other than the military ones, as "a joke". And he believes that some of the military tactics are very counterproductive.

We have had almost 8 years of "joke" policies in Afghanistan, done on the very cheap, and one often gets what one pays for.

I do agree that there are many people with high titles babbling in the media who seem to know nothing but grand theories. The more grounded of these also seem expertise in short guided tours, and must also be experts in submitting reimbursement forms to whoever is paying the tab, but they never talk about that for some reason.


I have to disagree with you here Col. I am less concerned with the corrosive and simplistic notions of PS majors, that you rightly note, than I am with the gleam in eye of the business/marketing major. There is a lot of money to be made, for lots of sectors, when we employ the term "nationbuilding" as that term is defined these days. Fail or succeed at "nationbuilding", it is all the same to the Business Major. Succeed and 'why stop now, let our boys finish the job...we need more' fill in the blanks'. Fail, and it is 'we CAN'T quit now! Think of all the sacrifice of the troops. We need more'....fill in the blanks.


"What would you do, just walk away?" pl



Paul: Bush's theory that all peoples want liberty and freedom is similarly laughable.

If I may, I would like to point out the fact that Felonious Bush had nothing to do with the intellectual formulation of that theory.

Felonious Bush is actually a very late new comer to this realm of thinking.

Felonious Bush first adopted the theory only after no WMDs were discovered in Iraq.

Felonious Bush has been aping the the Neocons, that is all, pure and simple.

Cant wait to see how his handlers try to overcome the fact that prior to 2003, Felonious Bush spent no energy whatsoever on what was to become `his theory'. Right? Where was he when the PNAC was formulating its principles?

The history of his so called fantastic Freedom Inst begins in 2003.


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