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After more than a decade of great effort and sacrifice by America and its allies, the Taliban still has not been defeated, and many Afghans believe that a civil war is coming. Aspiration and Ambivalence analyzes the U.S. and international efforts in Afghanistan and offers detailed recommendations for dealing with the precarious situation leading up to the 2014 transition t After more than a decade of great effort and sacrifice by America and its allies, the Taliban still has not been defeated, and many Afghans believe that a civil war is coming. Aspiration and Ambivalence analyzes the U.S. and international efforts in Afghanistan and offers detailed recommendations for dealing with the precarious situation leading up to the 2014 transition to Afghan control and beyond. Vanda Felbab-Brown argues that allied efforts in Afghanistan have put far too little emphasis on good governance, concentrating too much on short-term military goals to the detriment of long-term peace and stability. The Western tendency to ally with bullies, warlords, smugglers, and other shady characters in pursuit of short-term military advantage actually empowers the forces working against good governance and long-term political stability. Rampant corruption and mafia rule thus persist, making it impossible for Afghans to believe in the institutional reforms and rule of law that are clearly necessary. This must change— otherwise, the chances of building responsive and sustainable governmental structures are slim, indeed. Felbab-Brown combines thorough research and analysis with vivid personal accounts of her time spent in the war-torn nation—powerful vignettes illustrating the Afghan aspirations for peace, stability, and sovereignty and the stubborn obstacles to securing them. "The year 2014 will mark a critical juncture in Afghanistan's odyssey. After more than a decade of arduous fighting and political involvement, the U.S. and international presence there will be significantly reduced and circumscribed. Although the international community has committed itself not to abandon Afghanistan as it did in the 1990s, the onus will be on the Afghan government to provide for the security of the country, its economic development, and governance that attempts to meet the needs of the Afghan people. Difficult challenges, major unresolved questions, and worrisome trends surround all three sets of processes. The biggest hole in the U.S. strategy and international efforts to stabilize the country is the failure to adequately address the country's fractured and brittle political system and very poor governance."—from Aspiration and Ambivalence


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After more than a decade of great effort and sacrifice by America and its allies, the Taliban still has not been defeated, and many Afghans believe that a civil war is coming. Aspiration and Ambivalence analyzes the U.S. and international efforts in Afghanistan and offers detailed recommendations for dealing with the precarious situation leading up to the 2014 transition t After more than a decade of great effort and sacrifice by America and its allies, the Taliban still has not been defeated, and many Afghans believe that a civil war is coming. Aspiration and Ambivalence analyzes the U.S. and international efforts in Afghanistan and offers detailed recommendations for dealing with the precarious situation leading up to the 2014 transition to Afghan control and beyond. Vanda Felbab-Brown argues that allied efforts in Afghanistan have put far too little emphasis on good governance, concentrating too much on short-term military goals to the detriment of long-term peace and stability. The Western tendency to ally with bullies, warlords, smugglers, and other shady characters in pursuit of short-term military advantage actually empowers the forces working against good governance and long-term political stability. Rampant corruption and mafia rule thus persist, making it impossible for Afghans to believe in the institutional reforms and rule of law that are clearly necessary. This must change— otherwise, the chances of building responsive and sustainable governmental structures are slim, indeed. Felbab-Brown combines thorough research and analysis with vivid personal accounts of her time spent in the war-torn nation—powerful vignettes illustrating the Afghan aspirations for peace, stability, and sovereignty and the stubborn obstacles to securing them. "The year 2014 will mark a critical juncture in Afghanistan's odyssey. After more than a decade of arduous fighting and political involvement, the U.S. and international presence there will be significantly reduced and circumscribed. Although the international community has committed itself not to abandon Afghanistan as it did in the 1990s, the onus will be on the Afghan government to provide for the security of the country, its economic development, and governance that attempts to meet the needs of the Afghan people. Difficult challenges, major unresolved questions, and worrisome trends surround all three sets of processes. The biggest hole in the U.S. strategy and international efforts to stabilize the country is the failure to adequately address the country's fractured and brittle political system and very poor governance."—from Aspiration and Ambivalence

27 review for Aspiration and Ambivalence: Strategies and Realities of Counterinsurgency and State-Building in Afghanistan

  1. 5 out of 5

    Keith Schnell

    Aspiration and Ambivalence is a book that would have come in very handy in October 2001. In it, Ms. Felbab-Brown charts the progress of various state-building efforts in Afghanistan by the United States and ISAF since the initial invasion. While the broad overview of each new strategy that must be a part of all books of this type is in every case well done and comprehensive, what makes this one unique is the local knowledge and understanding that the author brings to it. In writing it, she trave Aspiration and Ambivalence is a book that would have come in very handy in October 2001. In it, Ms. Felbab-Brown charts the progress of various state-building efforts in Afghanistan by the United States and ISAF since the initial invasion. While the broad overview of each new strategy that must be a part of all books of this type is in every case well done and comprehensive, what makes this one unique is the local knowledge and understanding that the author brings to it. In writing it, she traveled around Afghanistan talking to both Western governmental and non-governmental officials and, in local garb, to Afghan civilians. This willingness to leave the most secure areas of the country to gain firsthand knowledge sets her apart from most commentators on the war, while her academic background and previous work covering drug trafficking and organized crime have certainly left her better prepared than most journalists to understand and contextualize that knowledge. The end result is that she is able to explain how each line of effort, such as the creation of the Afghan Local Police or the effort against opium cultivation, has both intended and unintended consequences on the ground, and to illustrate these with specific examples. The importance of these examples, which often delve into the relationships among named power-brokers in Afghan cities at a level that is probably not well-understood by many American policy-makers, can not be understated. Her evidence, in many cases, is nearly unanswerable, if only because no one else who is inclined to write a book possesses the detailed knowledge to dispute it on the same level. The quality of her work makes one wonder how Fareed Zakaria still has a job. It’s telling that Aspiration and Ambivalence avoids offering the customary “neat, plausible and wrong” solution to the forty year-long disaster that has been Afghanistan, confining herself to pointing out a few key areas where the strategy could be improved in what little time remains before a full U.S. withdrawal. It will be interesting, in the next couple of years, to see which of these steps are most effective, or are even able to be implemented: with luck, not too interesting.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Gordon

    The most recent & relevant, most comprehensive and best written analysis on Afghanistan that exists. Dr. Vanda Felbab-Brown's cogent analysis and recommendations will not necessarily please military leaders who have served extensively in Afghanistan, but they will find they largely ring true. Perhaps more pessimistic some will say than their experience. Nonetheless, it reflects an extremely well informed alternative view that must be heeded. It is stark and blunt. I only wish that the current Ad The most recent & relevant, most comprehensive and best written analysis on Afghanistan that exists. Dr. Vanda Felbab-Brown's cogent analysis and recommendations will not necessarily please military leaders who have served extensively in Afghanistan, but they will find they largely ring true. Perhaps more pessimistic some will say than their experience. Nonetheless, it reflects an extremely well informed alternative view that must be heeded. It is stark and blunt. I only wish that the current Administration would take the time to read and internalize its findings and recommendations.

  3. 5 out of 5

    John

  4. 4 out of 5

    Amy

  5. 4 out of 5

    Adam Maisel

  6. 4 out of 5

    Gaurav

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kendra

  8. 5 out of 5

    Stefan

  9. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Lyons

  10. 4 out of 5

    Cody Knapp

  11. 4 out of 5

    Paige Stephens

  12. 5 out of 5

    David Young

  13. 4 out of 5

    Craig Childs

  14. 5 out of 5

    Carson

  15. 5 out of 5

    Liam

  16. 4 out of 5

    Priyanka Das

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jennings Peeler

  18. 5 out of 5

    Bartek

  19. 5 out of 5

    James Montero

  20. 5 out of 5

    Gabor

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Pugh

  22. 5 out of 5

    Omar Benaam

  23. 5 out of 5

    Aqlima

  24. 5 out of 5

    Andy Savoy-Burke

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dayanidhi Krishna

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mukesh

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