I’m reading David Loyn’s ‘In Afghanistan‘ which is history of British, Russian and American military intervention in that country. It’s quite a good read although there isn’t much here to make you think our current efforts will turn out much better. Loyn’s description of British and Russian attempts to impose some sort of order bare a creepy similarity to our own current efforts, particularly when discussing the assumptions about Afghans and what is needed to ‘get them on board.’
I came across this passage (page 89) however and it struck me as worthwhile for bringing up here:
The Afghans in 1879 leaned n the one set-piece confrontation on the Charasiab ridge that they would not defeat the British army in open warfare. So they avoided it. They were quarrelsome and confrontational with each other-weaknesses in conventional war, but qualities that gave them flexibility and unbeatable power in an insurgency. Their disunity generated centrifugal forces that made the country ungovernable and gave them a sinuous strength when they came together.
As I read that, I couldn’t help thinking about chapter 4 in The Prince:
I answer that the principalities of which one has record are found to be governed in two different ways: either by a prince, with a body of servants, who assist him to govern the kingdom as ministers by his favour and permission; or by a prince and barons, who hold that dignity by antiquity of blood and not by the grace of the prince…
…in kingdoms governed like that of France, because one can easily enter there by gaining over some baron of the kingdom, for one always finds malcontents and such as desire a change. Such men, for the reasons given, can open the way into the state and render the victory easy; but if you wish to hold it afterwards, you meet with infinite difficulties, both from those who have assisted you and from those you have crushed. Nor is it enough for you to have exterminated the family of the prince, because the lords that remain make themselves the heads of fresh movements against you, and as you are unable either to satisfy or exterminate them, that state is lost whenever time brings the opportunity.
So how does Machiavelli say we can ‘win’ in Afghanistan? Well, it doesn’t look like he’d look too favorable on any plan that has us withdrawing forces in 2, 5, or 10 years:
Hence arose those frequent rebellions against the Romans in Spain, France, and Greece, owing to the many principalities there were in these states, of which, as long as the memory of them endured, the Romans always held an insecure possession; but with the power and long continuance of the empire the memory of them passed away, and the Romans then became secure possessors. And when fighting afterwards amongst themselves, each one was able to attach to himself his own parts of the country, according to the authority he had assumed there; and the family of the former lord being exterminated, none other than the Romans were acknowledged.