The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Read any good books on Afghanistan?

October 7, 2009

The Wall Street Journal reports today that the Washington policy community has been busy reading books on the Vietnam War to gain insights about what to do next in Afghanistan. According to the WSJ:

The struggle to set the future course of the Afghan war is becoming a battle of two books — both suddenly popular among White House and Pentagon brain trusts.

The two draw decidedly different lessons from the Vietnam War. The first book describes a White House in 1965 being marched into an escalating war by a military viewing the conflict too narrowly to see the perils ahead. President Barack Obama recently finished the book, according to administration officials, and Vice President Joe Biden is reading it now.

The second describes a different administration, in 1972, when a U.S. military that has finally figured out how to counter the insurgency is rejected by political leaders who bow to popular opinion and end the fight.

It has been recommended in multiple lists put out by military officers, including a former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, who passed it out to his subordinates.

The two books — “Lessons in Disaster,” on Mr. Obama’s nightstand, and “A Better War” on the shelves of military gurus — have become a framework for the debate over what will be one of the most important decisions of Mr. Obama’s presidency.

…In Washington, books are flying off shelves. None of the major bookstores near the White House have the recently released paperback edition of “Lessons in Disaster” in stock, and one major shop in the Georgetown area, Barnes & Noble, said all its remaining copies were being held for buyers.

I’m all for reading as much as possible about history and presidential decision making, and I value comparative analysis, but I’m just curious — eight years into the war in Afghanistan, is anyone reading any good books directly on Afghanistan?

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Jon Western has spent the last fifteen years teaching IR in liberal arts colleges at Mount Holyoke College and the Five Colleges in western Massachusetts. He has an eclectic range of intellectual interests but often writes on international security, U.S. foreign policy, military intervention, and human rights. He occasionally shares his thoughts about professional life in liberal arts colleges. In his spare time he coaches middle school soccer, mentors the local high school robotics team, skis, and sails.