Afghanistan—Graveyard of Empires?


March 2014

Afghanistan long ago became known as the “graveyard of empires.” But while it is undoubtedly a tough place to fight and a tough place to control, its reputation is vastly overblown. In fact the last two empires to try to dominate Afghanistan—the British and Soviet—largely succeeded in achieving their objectives even after pulling their troops out as long as they were willing to keep extending aid to Kabul.

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Why Is Robert Gates Angry?

The former Defense Secretary: Indignant, effective, and often wrong.

The New Republic

February 25, 2014

Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War By Robert M. Gates (Alfred A. Knopf)

During his many decades of government service, beginning all the way back in 1969 when he joined the CIA as a junior analyst covering the Soviet Union, Robert M. Gates developed a reputation as the quintessential bureaucrat—a gray, quiet, competent civil servant whose idea of a wild time was smoking a cigar while reading a policy memorandum. His favorite adage came courtesy of Will Rogers: never miss a good chance to shut up. Even his initial memoir, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Account of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War, which appeared in 1996, three years after he stepped down as CIA director, was a buttoned-down work of history that caused few ripples.

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Obama’s Syria policy is a deadly mistake

The president’s strategy towards the country has failed but options remain, writes Max Boot

Financial Times

February 10, 2014

A minor kerfuffle has broken out over whether, in a closed-door meeting with an American congressional delegation attending the Munich Security Conference during the first weekend of February, US secretary of state John Kerry acknowledged that the administration’s Syria policy was failing. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham claim that he did; Mr Kerry’s spokeswoman, who was also present, denies it. Whatever the case, the underlying reality is undeniable – President Barack Obama’s Syria policy has failed.

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Obama’s Losing Bet on Iran

By Michael Doran and Max Boot

The New York Times

January 16, 2014

WASHINGTON — A great deal of diplomatic attention over the next few months will be focused on whether the temporary nuclear deal with Iran can be transformed into a full-blown accord. President Obama has staked the success of his foreign policy on this bold gamble. But discussion about the nuclear deal has diverted attention from an even riskier bet that Obama has placed: the idea that Iran can become a cooperative partner in regional security.

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When War Weariness Wears Off

The Weekly Standard

January 20, 2014; Vol. 19, No. 18

Arthur Schlesinger posited the existence of cycles in American political history alternating between “public purpose” and “private interest”—his jaundiced labels for liberalism and conservatism. There are also cycles in American foreign policy alternating between interventionism and noninterventionism, the latter sometimes verging on downright isolationism. Normally when one trend backfires in some spectacular fashion, the other trend becomes dominant, until it too burns out and the cycle starts again.

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How Al Qaeda Terrorized Its Way Back in Iraq

As the country edges closer to civil war, much of the blame goes to Prime Minister Maliki—and the White House.

Wall Street Journal

January 5, 2014

The climactic battles of the American War in Iraq were fought in Anbar Province, with U.S. forces at great cost retaking the city of Fallujah at the end of 2004 and Ramadi, the provincial capital, in 2006-07. The latter success was sparked by an unlikely alliance with tribal fighters that turned around what had been a losing war effort and made possible the success of what became known as "the surge." By 2009, violence had fallen more than 90%, creating an unexpected opportunity to build a stable, democratic and prosperous country in the heart of the Middle East.

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“Destined to be the classic account of what may be the oldest . . . hardest form of war.” —John Nagl, Wall Street Journal


"Enormous, brilliant and important…. Terrific… Astute… Boot’s Invisible Armies should be required reading in the White House and Pentagon." —Michael Korda, Daily Beast

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