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News Analysis

Afghanistan: The Perfect Failure

Sun, December 16, 2012

Ryan Mauro

John Cook is the author of Afghanistan: The Perfect Failure: A War Doomed by the Coalition's Strategies, Policies and Political Correctness. Cook returned to the U.S. in August after serving as a Senior Adviser to Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry for four and a half years.

He served in the U.S. Army for 20 years as an intelligence officer and fought in Vietnam, taking part in the Phoenix Program as recounted in his previous book, The Advisor: The Phoenix Program in Vietnam. He is currently a teacher and consultant to the U.S. Army.

The following is ClarionProject.org National Security Adviser Ryan Mauro’s interview with John Cook:

Ryan Mauro: When you went to Afghanistan, were you optimistic? If so, was there a stand-out moment that made you reassess?

John Cook: When I went to Afghanistan, I wanted to see for myself what was going on there. Having spent a great deal of time in Vietnam and knowing that counterinsurgency was difficult, I had no illusions of how difficult it would be in Afghanistan.

The first incident that caused me to reassess our chances for success was when I discovered the high rate of illiteracy in the Afghan National Police. A 90% rate was unacceptable. Naturally, I asked why this was the case, since I assumed there was a national draft in effect, and that we could draft literate policemen. Only then did I discover that there was no national draft. At this point, I realized that this would be a challenge, and it was at this point that I made the decision to keep very careful notes.

Ryan Mauro: In your opinion, when did U.S. strategy in Afghanistan take the wrong course?

John Cook: We made the wrong choice when we made the decision to impose a Western-style government on Afghanistan without fully understanding or appreciating the history of this region. Without learning from history, we decided to make history. We engaged in nation-building, believing we could make Afghanistan something it had never been—a free, democratic state respecting the rights of all citizens.

We handed the Afghans a constitution that was written by the West, and we assumed that they would adopt it as their own, with all the rights guaranteed to the minority, failing to realize that it is still a work in progress even in the West and ignoring the fact that these people had no idea what a representative republic is all about.

Ryan Mauro: Do you believe that the Taliban and other Islamist terrorists will take over Afghanistan as U.S. forces leave?

John Cook: When we leave, I have no doubt that the Taliban will once again become a powerful force because their appeal is very strong within the population. They will appeal to the most basic tenet of the faith in Islam, and that is the requirement to conduct jihad against all foreign infidel invaders, and this is a most powerful message. There is nothing in this message that is not justified in the Koran, and it carries enormous weight.

Afghanistan will return to a nation where old hatreds are revenged and old scores are settled.

Ryan Mauro: The Taliban’s support in Afghanistan is said to be in the single digits. Has the population’s experience with Islamist rule and Sharia Law caused it to become more moderate?

John Cook: The Taliban’s support in Afghanistan is great and it is growing. While the Coalition forces there do not want to accept this, it is true. The Taliban remind the population of their obligations under the Koran, though there are many reasons for the Taliban’s support aside from Islam. The truth is, the average Afghan fears the Afghan government more than the Taliban.

Ryan Mauro: Local tribal uprisings against the Taliban are taking place in what is sometimes called the “Andar Awakening,” named after the “Anbar Awakening” that took place in Iraq. What can the U.S. and its allies do to help it succeed?

John Cook: Any comparison between Afghanistan and Iraq is not valid. The Coalition tried to make this a reality, but it is doomed to failure. In Iraq, you had a conflict between the Sunnis and Shiites -- in essence, a sectarian conflict. In Afghanistan, it is much more complex. Afghanistan is not a developed as Iraq.

In Afghanistan, tribal loyalty is critical. Also, consider this: Afghanistan is not a real country and a sense of nationalism does not exist. Most Afghans identify with a tribe. There are many tribes with many agendas. The borders were drawn by foreigners long since gone, so they do not recognize them. The country has been at war for over 30 years. Corruption has penetrated every level of government.

Ryan Mauro: Having said all that, what do you propose we do in Afghanistan?

John Cook: Having given up on any meaningful objective, the only thing left to do is to simply leave. Right now, we are losing good Americans for no reason other than propping up a criminal enterprise, which is what the Afghan government has become.

Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org's National Security Analyst and a fellow with the Clarion Fund. He is the founder of WorldThreats.com and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.