Look before you leap

Juan Cole:

Before he jumps into Afghanistan with both feet, Obama would be well advised to consult with another group of officers. They are the veterans of the Russian campaign in Afghanistan. Russian officers caution that Afghans cannot be conquered, as the Soviets attempted to do in the 1980s with nearly twice as many troops as NATO and the U.S. now have in the country, and with three times the number of Afghan troops as Karzai can deploy. Afghanistan never fell to the British or Russian empires at the height of the age of colonialism. Conquering the tribal forces of a vast, rugged, thinly populated country proved beyond their powers. It may also well prove beyond the powers even of the energetic and charismatic Obama. In Iraq, he is listening to what the Iraqis want. In Pakistan, he is simply dictating policy in a somewhat bellicose fashion, and ignoring the wishes of those moderate parties whose election he lauded last February.

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