This will likely be a week of bad Afghanistan takes (e.g. no, we don’t know what implications it has, if any, for China’s Taiwan policy
), so as it’s a long way from my expertise, I won’t offer one of my own. However, I thought it might be useful to signpost the best things I’ve seen so far. One of the biggest questions for a lot of people is how this all happened so fast. A good rule of thumb is to pay more attention to accurate predictions than post hoc explanations, so I’d highly recommend this short piece from Tanner Greer, “Fighting like the Taliban
”, published a couple of weeks ago.
Greer argues that you have to see the Taliban’s rapid advance in the context of the pre-2001 history of conflict in Afghanistan. He quotes Dexter Filkins’ Forever War
People fought in Afghanistan, and people died, but not always in the obvious way. They had been fighting for so long, twenty-three years then, that by the time the Americans arrived the Afghans had developed an elaborate set of rules designed to spare as many fighters as they could. So the war could go on forever. Men fought, men switched sides, men lined up and fought again… [The] people who really took fighting seriously were the foreigners— that is, the Americans and Al-Qaeda. They came to kill.
Essentially, the historical norm in Afghanistan was to switch sides once the winner became clear and before too many people died. That’s what’s happening now and why resistance has been minimal. Do read the whole thing.
I’m a long time admirer of Greer’s work. One of my favourite of his posts is this 2019 piece
in which he outlines how he’d write a history of 21st century America so far (We discussed it in TiB 70
). At the time, he noted that it wasn’t yet clear what would be the right point at which to end the book:
That moment has not yet arrived. I suspect, however, it will arrive soon
He was right. I suspect history will yield many, many books that take 2021 as their endpoint - or indeed their starting place.
Bonus 1: I’d also highly recommend this board game, A Distant Plain. One reviewer described it as the “best piece of media on our war in Afghanistan”.