"You ought to teach a course."
That's what my wife said when I brought home my latest book on Afghanistan, to add to a pile of books on how colorful British imperialists carved up South Asia, Africa and the Middle East to suit their views on how the world ought to look.
They drew lines in the sand around a bunch of tribes and invented Iraq after the First World War, extracting oil, fighting insurgents and leaving a fake government in place. In Afghanistan they fought several wars against implacable mountain peoples, without even any oil to gain, and lost bloodily, leaving the lessons of war in that country to be relearned by the Soviets and now the U.S.
No book reviews here. All I have to offer is one line from my latest book, "The Unforgiving Minute," by Greg Mullaney, a young Army officer (now advising Obama) who served in Afghanistan. Before being deployed he saw a list of instructions on how to prepare posted by a veteran. One piece of advice:
"Go to the worst crime-infested place you can find wearing a flak jacket and Kevlar helmet. Set up a tent in a vacant lot. Announce to the residents that you're there to help them."
No, I'm not the one to teach the course. But seven or eight years ago the reading list was already there, the lessons of history ready to be absorbed. Too bad the deciders thought they knew it all.