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How Not To Write About How To Export An Awakening

Over at the Weekly Standard, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Joshua D. Goodman have a piece purporting to give advice about how to export the Anbar Awakening — that is, the 2006-7 Sunni tribal break from Al Qaeda in Iraq — to Afghanistan. I guess the point of the piece is to push back against the contention that what happened in Anbar isn’t likely to happen in Afghanistan’s eastern Pashtun areas. The piece is pretty interesting, but along the way it forgets to, you know, tell you how to export the Anbar Awakening to Afghanistan.

Basically, Gartenstein-Ross and Goodman report on and summarize a memorandum written by Sheikh Abu Risha, the brother of the slain leader of the Awakening. It’s an overview of an Awakening leader’s perspective on what made the Awakening click, but it doesn’t really add anything new: Al Qaeda overplayed its hand brutally; it helps to have a charismatic figure; it doesn’t help to offend Muslim sensibilities. Readers of Dave Kilcullen’s “Anatomy of a Tribal Revolt” essay from 2007 will be nodding their heads.

But what Abu Risha, Gartenstein-Ross and Goodman don’t deal with is whether the factors that led to the Awakening are in evidence in Afghanistan’s Pashtun areas. And that’s really the game: either the conditions are there, seen in the same way by the Pashtun tribes, or they’re not. Here’s the closest they come to addressing the point:

Abu Risha argues, nevertheless, that there are parallels between Afghanistan today and Iraq’s Anbar Province in 2006 and 2007. Most important, al Qaeda and affiliated groups in Afghanistan have created a “climate of terror” similar to what they created in Anbar, where “they murdered anyone who opposed or criticized their actions and behavior.” As in Anbar, he believes, an Awakening could help Afghanistan reverse its present deadly course.

But the trouble is this isn’t anything new for Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other affiliated groups have existed and operated in these fashions for, in some cases, 30 years (10 years in Al Qaeda’s case). By contrast, Al Qaeda was a foreign import to Anbar Province, arriving in 2003 and taking about four years to alienate the populace. But this is nothing new for the Afghan tribes. So why believe that the tribes are ready to flip now? If there’s evidence, the authors don’t present it. This boils down to saying it would be nice to have an Awakening in Afghanistan. And it would be!

Instead, what’s perhaps the most interesting part of the piece is that Abu Risha evidently doesn’t favor a plus-up of U.S. troops in Afghanistan:

“Keep U.S. forces’ and NATO forces’ movement in Afghan cities limited,” Abu Risha writes, “to only fight when needed, and control the Taliban insurgency and their expanded activities.” He suggests that scaling back U.S. and NATO activity will diminish public hostility to their mission.

A shame that the authors didn’t explore that further.

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