Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Prices for book: Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Book ISBN: 9781400030255
Author(s): Robert Kaplan
Document type: Trade Paper
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Afghanistan: The Superpower Trap created with perfect 20-20 Hindsight
This was one of the first of intrepid reporter, Robert Kaplan's, many timely and insightful Atlantic Monthly articles turned into a book. Kaplan has "made his bones" (and a stellar reputation) going where the action is. And then, even while measuring the temperature on the ground, never failing to raise his head above the trees to see where the forest leads. This ability to place the events on the ground into geostrategic context has made Kaplan a valuable resource to those of us who like to know how we get our superpower tail caught in so many costly and draining strategic traps.
Here, although we are forced to admit that some aspects of geopolitics are inevitable and almost always unforgiving and irreversible, this story is still about as unflattering as a strategic incursion can get: Severely burnt by the dumb anti-Communist domino geopolitics of Vietnam, the U.S., nevertheless could not wait to repeat the act in the most unforgiving and godforsaken land since Alexander the Great was defeated there in the 4th Century BC.
Thus there is a kind of poetic symmetry that after Vietnam, our next foreign policy folly would be Afghanistan. That it is an unforgiving trap that all the history we know of (and have actually experienced ourselves) tells us it is, with perfect 20-20 hindsight, we nevertheless willingly walked into the same trap. [The Russians must be laughing under their collectivist breaths.]
Because of our colossal ignorance of the lands and peoples we pretend to be assisting while actually in pursuit of our own geopolitical goals, we had no choice but to enlist and rely on the Pakistan intelligence service (CIS) as a proxy in our global plan to eject the Soviets from Afghanistan. This barely transparent plan apparently worked to perfection, except that none of the "after conflict loose ends" were tied up. It seems that it is a hallmark of U.S. foreign policy that loose ends are never tied up. The conflicts are just allowed to peter out, with the hope that the details will somehow work them selves out in the end. [Remember the last scene in "Charlie Wilson's War?]
As usual, the Pakistani CIS exacted a price for serving as our geopolitical proxy. The price was that they be allowed to hijack our strategic success for their own internal purposes. As a result, in the aftermath of the victory over Russia, the CIS had us back the wrong Afghan tribal horse. When the dust settled, the internecine virus called Afghanistan warlords, had metastasized into Osama bin Laden, who immediately turned on his erstwhile superpower arms supplier and backer.
Nine-eleven sealed the deal and enshrined this folly for perpetuity. Now, we cannot get out, no matter how much its costs in U.S. blood and treasure. There is nothing left to do but to allow it to run its costly and indeterminate course. The loose ends can never be tied up. Obama is not in the driver's seat; the tribal warlords are: as they have always been. We are just a hapless superpower again being dragged around by our tail by a ragtag bunch of "Soldiers of God." God help us. Five Stars
Herbert L Calhoun (Amazon.com)
Not the best book on Afghanistan or War-reporting, but not a total waste of time either
I developed quite a dislike for Kaplan as I read this book, but the subject matter was sufficiently fascinating to help me forgive his not-entirely-subtle dislike of Asians. This book provides an on the ground view of the Soviet Invasion and subsequent chaos. The glimpses of Afghani society, although mostly confined to men involved in war, and the physical descriptions of Afghanistan's landscape were captivating. Kaplan seems quite enamored of the Pashtun culture, especially in comparison to Pakistan, which is portrayed unflatteringly but not entirely unfairly as a potential terrorist breeding ground. He seems to see himself as a brave, hugely suffering war reporter, although the most extreme suffering he appears to undergo is occasional separation from soft drinks. Obviously my disinclination for the author colored my view of the book, but I feel it was worthwhile reading as it increased my knowledge of the Soviet-Afghan war and my conviction that terrorism has its roots in poverty and desperation rather than pure ideology
Jamie Elliott (Amazon.com)
Please Read Robert Kaplan
Really another outstanding book by Kaplan. In depth and personal view of the mujahidin in Afghanistan in the 80's. Kaplan may be a little biased, or wonder struck by the personalities he interviewed and lived with, and at times is self-congratulatory about his prescience, however, he acknowledges both facts in his re-written foreword. Neither of these points dilute the quality of this book, though. For me, it was a great read that illuminated class and clan struggle in Afghanistan, and a wonderful distinction between religious fundamentalism and politically institutionalized religious extremism.
John Dickerman (Amazon.com)
The Many Worlds of Afghanistan
I read Soldiers of God at the same time that I read The Bookseller of Kabul (for book club) and found Soldiers to be an enlightening companion read because while Bookseller focused on one family in Kabul, its interpersonal dynamics, and how religion and culture affected its members, Soldiers gave a broader view of various groups and their political and personal dynamics in Afghanistan. Also, both books were written by Western journalists, which gave the books a somewhat similar (though by no means identical) perspective on Afghanistan, although differing in scope.
Specific to Soldiers, I enjoyed Robert Kaplan's story telling (part travelogue, part reportage), his ability to gain access to some very insular groups, and his obvious desire to present them and their goals as accurately as possible. It was compelling reading for me as I knew little about the country, its myriad elements and history.
Ergonomic Zester (Amazon.com)
A first rate book on Afghanistan
Kaplan is an American journalist who made several trips into Afghanistan during the time that the Soviet Union had occupied Afghanistan and was intent on turning Afghanistan into a communist country.
In his trips, Kaplan experienced and describes the life common to all mountain peoples, the cruelty and gruesomeness of war especially in its counter-insurgency edition, and the traditions of the different Afghan tribes. He describes the leaders of the resistance, except for the Islamist factions, who are all but ignored, and the various rather eccentric Europeans and Americans who joined their cause.
This book is moving - what else would one expect of a people that was willing to sustain a million fatalities in order to maintain their customs and not be occupied by a foreign power?
To use a colossal understatement, Afghanistan is a very colorful place, nothing at all like American suburbia. Anyone who wants to understand Afghanistan must recognize this fact. The best parts of the book, which alone are worth the price of the book, are the many thumbnail descriptions of the eccentric people and surreal situations that Kaplan found in Afghanistan.
lector avidus (Amazon.com)
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