Steve's All Is Lost Moment, 1974

A MESSAGE FROM STEVE

Steven Pressfield

Please join the discussion below. If you have served in Iraq or Afghanistan or are serving now, your contribution is especially valuable. Feel free to post anonymously or to hold back unit designations or locations. Tell it like it is!

-Steven Pressfield

VIDEO BLOG

VIDEO BLOG

Video Blog

Episode 5: “How to Win in Afghanistan”

History’s lessons point to a radical method of war-fighting and peace-making, quite different from what the U.S. currently has in play. As Rod Serling used to say, “submitted for your approval.”

View the credits and transcript for Episode 5.


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79 Responses to “Episode 5: “How to Win in Afghanistan””

  1. June 15, 2009 at 4:40 am

    I think you make a lot of sense in how understanding tribes can be the key to success. One issue I might have – and it is really just a caveate on what you said about understanding a deal – I think they tend to be very shrewd deal-makers. If they can make a deal that plays us off Al Queda – or if they can make a deal where they think we will not enforce our end of the contract so that they can make a deal with Al Queda at the same time, they will do that. The problem with the deal is that they may perceive that we are too ignorant or they do not respect us enough to enter into the deal with honesty. They may claim to be trying to keep Al Queda out but then not really put forth real effort to do so. They may deal with us while still dealing with Al Queda under the table so to speak.

  2. Sean
    June 15, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    Once again, I have no doubt we’re dealing with tribal issues rather than Islam. Matter of fact, I’ve been rethinking much of modern history in that light.

    But I take issue with your ideas on how to manipulate the Pashtuns. They’ve been doing this dance with every invader for thousands of years and suddenly we’re gonna change the music? Much as our combat units, and I stress that- combat units, are tribelike they aren’t tribes. They don’t fight in the tribal manner and, more importantly, they don’t hold tribal values.

    You said it yourself, Mr. Pressfield, we hold this notion of womens empowerment to be sacrosanct. Tribesmen most emphatically don’t. And that’s pretty much the crux of the problem. The people we’re fighting see our culture as our most dangerous weapon. Hell, pretty much all of Islam sees Western culture (mostly as epitomized by America ) as the threat. That’s the basis of this whole “War on Terror”. They don’t like our culture one little bit and they’re fearful of it taking over theirs. They don’t want their women “empowered” and they don’t respect those who do.

    As for respecting our power, I’m sure they see it for what it truly is: largely technology. Without a doubt our combat units display great courage. But a good deal of the respect for that is lost in our total dependance on high tech gadgetry to do much of our fighting for us. Warrior tribesmen fight in person not via remote control. The use of such devices as IEDs is merely seen as a necessary evil in order to level the playing field a bit. To depend too heavily on such gadgetry is to be womanly.

    We have a clash of cultures going on and that’s putting it extremely mildly. In such a conflict I’d say the hometeam has the advantage.

    • Asadullah Noorzay
      June 29, 2009 at 12:25 pm

      Dear sean !
      first of all i would like to say that iam not Taliban or Al qeda and my words does not support Taliban and Al qaeda in any terms and i fought against them for six years. i am a simple pashtun tribesman from Northeast of Afghanistan.
      you said that tribemen fight in person . how come we can fight with you in persone while you have MRAPS , HMMWV ,GPS SYSTEMS , BFT , Air Support and a lot more . and we have nothing of those thecnology . if you see the IED it is made of very sample things that every body can make it so easly .
      if we get the same technology that you have you and Taliban will be gone in a day ! as simple as that !
      or you get the same thing that we have than the world will see who is fighting womenly.

      and i think fightting and war have never been a solution to a problem in the history of mankind.
      there are tow ways in Afghanistan to win this war . first way kill all the pashtuns . and seconde way make them your friends.and i think that the first way is impossiable if you take a glace throug the history.

      so lets work it out . and work with these tribes politicaly and on other ways to make them frindes . and win this great war .
      and one thing eles that do you know that why the Talibans or other are getting stronger and stronger day by day ?

      and i wana say that again that iam a pashtun Tribel man my words does not support Taliban and Alqaeda in any way . any one who wana harm my tribes in any where iam his enemy.does not matter if it is the superpower of the world of a simple taliban

      • John Woods
        July 3, 2009 at 8:35 am

        Interesting thoughts. Afghan parents want their children to be healty… want opportunities to create a bit more wealth than they have now… would be interested in access to markets beyond their boundaries… would like safe drinking water…. would like to increase crop production…

        I don’t think it’s much more complicated than this. Their enemy and ours are the people who would place obstacles in their way to have whatever level of freedom and security they desire to live the way they choose.

        Am I wrong about this?

  3. June 15, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    You make a good case for a winning strategy for the medium to long term. I would add a technological component to the strategy. How about setting up a Voice of America service for Afghanistan and trade a hundred thousand hand-cranked radios to listen to it? How about a TV service that beams programs to Afghanistan and trade generator-driven TVs to the elders? How about spreading around some of those hundred dollar networked laptops people are peddling in Africa and South America, maybe teach some of the Afghan kids to use them. Knowledge of the outside world would be incredibly addictive and corrosive of tribal society. Once you learn about the outside world, you want to see it, which leads you to compare and contrast. The tribal societies of rural Pakistan will suffer greatly by comparison.

    Western civilization will win against the tribes, which only thrive where there is no competition. After all, the Massachussett Indians don’t rule Boston, the Illini don’t rule Illinois, the Chumash hold no sway in California. Civilization beats the tribes not only with its power but also with its lifestyle. Indians would rather live in a house, ride a pickup truck, and buy groceries from a store than live in a wigwam, ride a horse, and hunt for their food. The Pashtun will not want to live in abject poverty once they have an idea of the richer life possible for them. We are a culture who excel in ideas and communication while they are not. That’s a fatal weakness for them.

    • John Woods
      July 3, 2009 at 8:28 am

      Actually, some years ago (during Taliban rule in Afghanistan) I heard an NPR report on a radio sitcom written and produced by Afghan exiles… it sounded like an “All in the Family” kind of show, except it included helpful insights about the best ways to plant crops, cook, take care of ailments… I wish I could remember the NPR segment to go back and find it. Thought it was brilliant.

  4. Sean
    June 15, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    Great idea. I suggest we show the Pashtuns average US sitcoms, that way they’ll know that we consider men to be fat and stupid and our wives treat us like children. Or perhaps a selection of reality shows… how about Flavor of Love? Or we could show them all the movies where some 98 lb. girl runs around kicking mens asses. On the radio we could give them celebrity gossip like who Paris Hilton had sex with lately. The fact that men in our culture aren’t truly valued as men should come through loud and clear and tribesmen round the world will drop their AKs in favor of getting fat and collecting electronic gadgets. Soon they’ll all be comparing Blackberries around a watercooler in a cubicle farm where they collate health insurance data.

    Western civilisation didn’t drive the American Indian onto the Reservation by producing consumer goods. We did it the old fashioned way. Primarily by infecting them with disease (albeit unwittingly) and them waging a long drawn out war of attrition on them. And those selfsame Indians didn’t wake up one day and compare ways of life, those left alive had a sinple choice: do it our way or die. They lost the war. No apologies from me, that how things were done then. But please don’t try to make it into some simple “lifestyle choice”, that demeans us all.

  5. Pete
    June 16, 2009 at 12:31 am

    The tribal societies can teach us something, we “modern” sophisticates of the world: that underneath all of the electronics, the toys, the high-tech, etc. is a world very much like that of our forebearers in primal times – a jungle in which being a man counts for something. Pressfield says it himself in one of the installments, that the tribes thrive on hardship.

    Dinesh D’Souza, who is an Indian of American citizenship, knows something of cultures in South Asia, and in his book “The Enemy At Home,” discussed the very same idea that Pressfield does, that the tribes fear modernity itself, because it is corrosive of traditonal values and life. D’Souza notes that in the west, there are many who feel much the same about the excesses of modernity, that they undermine family and community, and that they are not the unalloyed good they are taught to be in our schools, universities and media. Moreover, in his most controversial conclusion, D’Souza places much of the blame for our degraded state of culture on the cultural and political left, and suggests that conservatives and traditionalists here make common cause with traditionalists in tribal societies, to the extent that this is possible. D’ Souza is not advocating support for the radicals, the jihadists, but instead those who dislike or fear the pernicious effects of modern western culture. In short, D’Souza recommends a deal with elements of tribal societies, or at least a sharing of hardship, a commiseration over the wave of trashy modern culture eminating from Hollyweird and places like it. My point is not the domestic political implications of D’Souza, it is that he recommends a deal also.

    Tribal societies can teach us something else, that men still have their place. Significant swaths of western culture seem to have lost sight of that fact, and become feminized. We won’t ever go back to being all of us cowboys or what have you, but we could do worse than become more like our forefathers, the men who tamed a continent. As Pressfield says, the tribes respect strength, and those pioneers were strong.

    One last point: technology is always seductive as a means of gaining advantage in conflict, especially to the Pentagon, but as John Boyd used to say “People, ideas, and technology – in that order!” The tribes will be won over face-to-face, not by drones piloted in Nevada.

  6. June 16, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    This from jesusnotallah, sent via YouTube. Very interesting and very much worth reading.

    Hi steven pressfiled.
    SOme point you made are good but some point you have made big mistake. It is always good to study what has been written by many people already. The pashtun trible as you say is an old tribed and so many books has been written about them. It would have given you a good picture of the whole pashtun wali code o honour.You have made some good points but some of them are far from reality as well ha ha. So here are few things that will help you to put up another better video.

    Some thing in the pashtun tribe is far too demcratic then any other nation on earth and there are too many things but I will only mention few of them..

    1) In pashtun wali code an enemy who has murdered your family members if he ask for forgivness he must be totally forgiven. This is the highest form of democracy and it does not exists any where even in britian and america you wont get away from the law even if you were really sorry which is pretty backward law and order in what we call democratic countries.

    2) women are totally excluded from any form of law pusnisment. No women can be charge with any crime she enjoys totally freedom from pusnishment of any sort. I.e women cannot be intarogatted . women cannot be put in prison. women cannot be given any punishment by the law. This is the highest freedom to women on earth? The taliban are not so liked by many pashtun because the taliban have islamic law and it goes right against the pashtun wali code.

    3) A man cannot divorce a woman, if he divorces a woman he faces death penality by the pashtun wali code of honour. A women can divorce a man if she choose to? who has the biggest priority here? women are men?

    4) Men are seen as wilian (bade boys) by the pashtun wali code of honour so all the panishment is given to them not women.

    5) Since only women can choose to divorce a man not man that mean if a woman choose to divorces a man she owns the kids completley. I am sure if women heard this in western EU they will be dancing in the streets every saturday and sunday nights without going to clubs.
    The taliban law which is Islamic law is rights against this pashtun wali law. that is why many pashtun do not want to believe an any religion.

    6) If an enemy captured in the combat was found that he has committed no crime at all. No rape etc and he was just a soldier doing his duty ( which includes he may have shot the oppenent in the battle field but that is not seen a crime since he was on the battle field doing his job) if this soldier is captured the pashtun wali code of honour says he must be set free and go home to his family safely because he did not committed any crime. He must not be given any form of pusnishment or intarogation like you have in the american law and order. That is totally forgiven. NO form of torutre or any thing like that. Sadly obama said it is the part of the american justice but in pashtun wali code it is not the part of the system thank God for that.

    7) The giraga system. All major decision are to be made in publick by all people comming together discussing it and then all of them decide together what is the best? this is the highst form of democracy because in western world it is the few who decide all things not every body.

    The pashtun wali code of honour is supposed to be follow automatically but as the world advance many people do not keep it and it is supposed to be upheld by the tribal chief fisrt but Islamic law and religion is becoming a biggest obstical to the pashtun wali code of honour.

    There are too many highest democarcy things that I can go on and on but I only shared a few.
    However many are not democratic as well. So you got this system where some things is so ahead that no no nation on earth has it? like women owns the kids, and they cannot be put in prison or pusnishment etc etc.

    On the otherside we have some old laws which are not democratic but it is the same with the western wolrld many laws are not democracy but abuses and tyrany. The abused of prisoner of war by the law of united stated is considerd as a vlide form intarogations? so such law does exist in tribes but some exist which are not as bade as the one in western EU but still not democratic. You will never find a race or country that is all together democracy

    Regards
    (

    • Asadullah Noorzay
      June 29, 2009 at 1:04 pm

      hey
      As i wrote on my other comments that by learning pashtu you can not be a pashtun.
      as you said that your father went to USA long time ago and you have been there for 22 years and even you change your religion, so it mean that you know a little bid about us but it does not mean that your a pashtun.
      you said that women are not punished by law in pashtonwali . that is 100 % wrong . in pashtunwali law is law it is same for every one.

      exmple* in my province KHOST one persone (it is not good to mention his name in here) ran away with a girl to BAGHLAN which is a province in the north 40 years ago. they had family grand sons and grand doughters there. after a long time they return to khost to thire tribe and both of them were killed after 40 years at the ages of around 60. which mean that man and women can be punished according to what ever they did.
      the reasone for that is , that theire parents were not agreed to thier marrige.
      and so on your 4 ,5 are also wrong.

      on the 6 you said that the prisnor is set free.
      onther exaple again from my province that in 2003 in PUNZAIA VILLAGE of khost proivce a person killed the whole family of his enemy . even his little child in cradle . that child was not involved in fightting at all.but the persone who kill him knew that if he let him go he will grow up and one day he will take the revange.
      which mean here that you are totaly wrong.
      and dont wana give you a head ache but i wana say it again that by learning pashtu language you can not be a pashtun.and the good proof for that is , that your a christian and pashtuns has no christians at all.

      • July 1, 2009 at 6:36 am

        IN response to Ayatollah Noorzay:

        you know very little about pashtun wali law and order. What you have described is an experience of some barbaric parent killing even their daughter. This is not the original pashtun wali law and order. These kinds of law and order has come to pashtuns with the coming of Islam. But u have no idea who we were before Islam? A single village experience in you life is supposed to be pashtun wali law and order. It just shows how little do you know about the pashtun wali law and order. You might as well put the entire Islamic law into the pashtun wali and says it is pashtun wali? Go back and study from old text book not just a little experience of some family from your village. Yes I have seen many crazy things in our village too but none was according to the originally pashtun wali code.

        When I said a woman is excluded from punishment from the LAW I was not talking about some barbaric village family killing their own daughter that is surly not pashtun wali. Goes back study rather then sharing you barbaric village experiences?

  7. June 16, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    Thanks for put up the comments. Here is some more information that some one may like. Sorry for too many English mistakes.
    1) Steven is totally justified in saying that tribes do not want to change and the reasons are many for that. But I would like to share on final point about the pashtun wali code of honour to bring the whole article to a close.

    For 2500 years or for the last 2500 hundred years. the pashtun race has some laws which are far too ahead of its time. We do not know where they got them from? We can assume that may be because they were a small minority of the persian empire so supposedly they got it from persian who got it from aristotle and socretes etc. but here is one of the most interesting law i had ever seen or read in the history of the entire human race. for thousand of years the pashtun wali law says that if a man steal he must repay what he has stolen but if he is so poor that he stole because he was hungrey he repays nothing but is supposed to be helped by the tribel council and authority etc. If he was not poor and he still stole then he simply repays back what he has stolen and he must bear a bade name among his people until he make amandments. Improve himself to be worthy of respect again. The person was some how rejected and dispised for a while once he learns he must be respected all over again and not given any further bade name. No other form of punishment or law is allowed. But because Islam took over as a result some of the best law are damaged in the pashtun wali life style. Many says that Islam is a way out because many pashtun are no longer keeping up with an old code so they thing Islam may be the only option. But this is just to show that Islam is no where near to what the original pashtun wali code of honour is. In some places yes but in majority no.
    for the last 2000 years if you study what happened to all those who stole either rich or poor in many countries it will make you very frightened like in England people used to be hanged for stealing. In Islam u loose your hand in the roman world some people were crucified. but in this tribe in all these years such barbaric punishment were not allowed. Islam is eating away the old pashtun wali life style. In swat region from 1849 1969 it was helf pashtun wali law and half Islamic law that means there were no pluging or cutting of hands etc. But once they joined pakistan all those good laws disappeard and now poeple do not get any justice at all.

    The closes law to the good laws in pashtun wali is actually the law of Christ. there is no other law that is nearer to most laws of the pashtun wali code other then christ law. Some law may be nearer to Islamic law but very few indeed. In pasthun wali code you cannot marry many women but if you do it is a choice between the man and those who will marry him

    too many other thing but that is enough
    Regards

    • Asadullah Noorzay
      June 29, 2009 at 2:52 pm

      YOU SHOULD VISITE AMENTALE DOCTOR FOR YOUR TREATMENT MAN. YOU ARE TOTALY WRONG.
      once you said that stealing in pashtun wali is ok if get cought and repay.
      and in other place you said that pashuns laws are the christ laws.
      let me tell you something that pashtuns dont have a written law . to that law you have to be amongs the pashtuns . you are living in the west and writting about the pashtuns law.
      as i said that pashtuns dont have a written law it change according to the satuations.
      there are no christians in pashtun exapt those who immigrated to West like you .
      so please pleas pleas visit doctor for your mental problems.

      • July 1, 2009 at 6:41 am

        in response Asadullah Noorzay
        You are a very very ignorant man. What is nan wati? You are so ignorant that talking to you is useless because as you said you are villager in Afghanistan and all you are sharing is your village experiance. Tell me what is Nana Wati. If you do not know that you are not a pashtun at all. Type nan wati in google and even google will tell you what is it? Is that like your pathetic religion of Islam or like Christ? But you do not know nothing. So you might as well start riding on you donkey again.

  8. Tony
    June 17, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    Steve,

    Good OPED article in the Wall Street Journal today.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124520391183921807.html

    It discusses some plans of General McChrystal pertaining to the importance of keeping certain troops in place longer to maintain relationships in Afghanistan. Also, as one of few fortunate Marines to have deployed to the exact same area twice I could only begin to expand on the incredible benefits of keeping a unit (our tribes) closely connected with a specific area in country. While manpower and logistics issues concerning these types of policies are well out of my scope this definitely seems like a step in the right direction.
    Another good point eluded to in the article is that these long term or repetitive billets shouldn’t be restricted only to those in a military uniform. If we don’t have some State Department personnel living in the same villages with Afghani diplomats and government agricultural experts that are deploying to spend every day in fields I think we’re only going half in and ‘winning’ has got to be an all or nothing commitment. With that, I’d say that another good read for every junior officer is the 1958 book The Ugly American by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer.
    Thanks again for all the discussion, Tony

  9. June 25, 2009 at 4:26 am

    I note that most of the comments to Mr. Pressfield’s videos come from a savvy group of individuals who, in general seem to be ‘in touch’ with global culture and politics. That is good in one sense because Mr. Pressfield offers a well-defined course of action that has the potential to succeed in an environment where current tactics seem to be ‘holding the line’ at best. I recall seeing his original OpEd, “It’s the Tribes, Stupid” in the Seattle newspaper nearly three years ago. Frankly, I sent a copy to Bill O’Reilly and suggested he invite Mr. Pressfield to the Factor. Apparently, my comments were not ‘pithy’ enough. It occurs to me, however that these videos need to reach a broader spectrum, they need to reach ‘the common man.’ Too often Joe Public pays little heed to the world around him, and most likely his friends and family don’t even know where Afghanistan is. That’s when things go to hell in a hand basket, when we ignore the events that occur around the world that can and will affect us. We can influence how world events affect our personal lives only if we are knowledgeable and involved. Clearly Mr. Pressfield understands that and has taken the time to help us understand it as well. Even as a former Air Force fighter pilot from the ‘70’s, I find myself playing ostrich and burying my head in the sand too often hoping that ‘things will work out.’ But I recently wrote in a corporate newsletter, “The days of Mad Magazine cover boy Alfred E. Neuman’s ‘What, me worry?’ moniker are well behind us, and it’s time for us to take stock of where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going.” Mr. Pressfield has taken it upon himself to offer some well-researched and well-founded guidance. My personal advice is that we need to forward these videos and pass them on to as many people as possible to create a greater awareness of the situation and potential solution so we can put this behind us by encouraging our leaders to act in a reasonable, logical and responsible way.

  10. Asadullah Noorzay
    June 29, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    HI SIR (Steven)
    you did a great job by creating such vedios about the reality and the facts of pashtuns tribes. and i wll sugest that if it is possile to set up a call conferace or skipe vedio so we(every body) can talk to each other in a sepsific time .
    i dont know , it is my sugestion
    and thank for such a great job !

  11. Robert of Ottawa
    June 29, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Well, that was very well put; I agree with nmost of what you say, and the details are piddling.

    I do have two points that I’d like to see you address, and I think you partly address the first one in your last segment:

    1.The Celtic and British tribes were defeated, and their societies transformed into peacable sectros of the empire, by the walls of the Roman Legionaires shields. Now, it took time, and a few repetitive utter defeats of the tribes, to the point of starvation. But both countries,, France and Britain, for the most part were peacable and successful for 400-500 years after that.

    2. No mention of the idea of actually buyiong the Afghan’s most successful crop: opium. We can use it for medicinal drug production under very controlled conditions. You do allude to the poverty of tribeal society, but do not mention a possible way, other than bribery, to buy them off.

    • John Woods
      July 3, 2009 at 8:20 am

      I’ve had the same thought about the opium… it’s a bit late to reintroduce raisin production… so, why not work with what they have?

      If I have my history right, the Romans were quick to connect the Celts/Brits into their economic sphere… the resulting prosperity helped keep the peace.

  12. Elcobar
    July 1, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    One solution to Afghanistan is to allow them to continue their tribal ways, and basically isolate them from the rest of the world. America goes to the stars, and the Pashtun tribesmen are left looking up as humanity moves on without them. Sad.

    But I think the most overlooked thing in these pieces is the fact that the world is becoming so much more visible to these people. They have the internet and cell phones and texting now.

    The result will be exactly the result we are experiencing in our own country – the young people don’t want to spend their lives in dull little tribes, harvesting the crops each year. they long for excitement and adventure, because they are young. They no longer want to do what their fathers and grandfathers have done for centuries before them.

    They are moving to the city in droves already, and that exodus will increase. In a few years the Pashtuns will be as rare as tribes of American natives, and the cities will be gorged with greedy, horny, ambitious young people, totall disconnected from their tribes.

    They’ll be a problem, much more than the Pashtuns, because of the enlightment that we bring to them.

    • Joe Jones
      July 5, 2009 at 12:36 pm

      Elcobar, what you suggest is what would have happened if we had not invaded Aghanistan and Iraq. In fact, it was already happening. Middle Eastern countries have been in a state of crisis trying to cope with Western economic and military superiority since the Industrial Revolution. Prior to that time they enjoyed cultural, economic, and military superiority. You are correct that technology is exposing tribal people to more information than that to which they have hitherto has access. And those populations, or sometimes ruling minorities, are reacting often with strong turns toward the past. By intervening, we have provided a way for the “return to the past” crowd to accuse progressive Mulslims of being pro-American. So, progressive Muslims have no power there. If we had played it smart after 9/11 we could have parlayed our moral superiority and the sympathy of most of the world into greater returns than we will ever achieve in the Middle East now. Rather than play the part of global citizens, we have reduced ourselves to just another tribe. Steven Pressfield, brilliant and realistic as his analysis is, plays into this mistake and suggests tactics to further reduce the moral standing of the United States. His references to the ideals of global citizenship lie in ruins by the side of the road when he makes his recommendations concerning how to win in Afghanistan. What happened to the citizen soldiers of WWII who actually believed in selfless ideals?

  13. Mark Harrison
    July 3, 2009 at 10:55 am

    Great point on the idea of a U.S. military tribal leader. During Desert Storm, Norman Schwarzkopf certainly seemed to fill that larger than life role.

  14. July 3, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    Steve – your ideas are excellent and will work. The Afghan viceroy should be a civilian leader the way our President is Commander in Chief. He should speak the local language and must be a dealmaker. I do not speak the language but could learn it. I would volunteer to be the Viceroy and do the job for $1.00 a year. Sign me up!

    Hugh

  15. Deborah Pearl
    July 4, 2009 at 2:41 am

    Well, aside from the wonderfully concise and insightful analysis of tribal culture, you do a hellova Donald Trump! I thought you made a great case for dealing with what is, rather than the Western hubris of interpreting everyone through our own ego-driven filter. I must say, though, the tribal relationship with women gives me the willies. I love a bunch of breast beating men who want to beat the crap out of each other, but I’m not down with keeping the women shrink wrapped and silent. That’s where balance – the reason for our differences – doesn’t get it’s value expressed – and, I believe, distorts into testosteone poisoning. I’m also wondering what the mating situation is in a tribal setting. Do they bang women on the head and drag them to their tent? Are marriages arranged? I imagine it would hardly matter who you ended up married to given your description of their homogeniety. But then I guess you could get a different colored beard to sleep next to… do they even do THAT? Or are we in a pen until beckoned?

    • Joe Jones
      July 5, 2009 at 12:14 pm

      Deborah, you point to the weakness in an analysis that appears strong because it is more realistic than previous atempts. We have been unrealistic for an amazing stretch of time through thousands of deaths. But if we accept that joining tribalism is the answer, letting permanent war become the norm, then we have lost the larger culture war. We leave women in an untenable position. We admit real men are always and only warriors. Note the preponderance of military men endorsing this plan. The hard work of suggesting ways to replace tribal warriors with global citizens is not getting done here. The work getting done here is thinking of ways to win the tribal war and dominate Afghanistan as the baddest tribe in all of the valleys.

  16. July 4, 2009 at 7:48 am

    Praiseworthy analysis of the situation, Mr. Pressfield.

    As one who lived his formative years in a tribalistic society, I concur vehemently with many of your points. However, I don’t believe (especially with the current administration) we Americans have the exact make-up or constitution, if you will, to manage this conflict in the manner you’ve proposed in any appreciable time frame. There is a mental block that our leaders and policy maker cannot go beyond and I’m afraid that the time will come when circumstances will require a change in the general direction you’ve outlined here. My hope is hope that this change happens sooner rather than later because time is paid for in the blood of our fighting youth.

    Again, as usual, great work.

  17. Nick Vitale
    July 4, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Expansionism is the root of all our human conflicts. Everyone believes that their system, religion, way of life is the right one and if everyone else doesn’t feel as they do, they are wrong.
    You are dead on in your assessment of the situation in Afghanistan and with Islam. Identify the reality and work within it. It’s really quite simple.
    Unfortunately I believe our government, from the Conservatives to the Socialists, have too many self-serving agendas to actually be clear enough of mind to see the reality and do what needs to be done.
    Steve, thank you for putting yourself out there and bringing this to the fore. I hope it has an impact on those who have an impact on our lives.

  18. Alexandros Sfikas
    July 4, 2009 at 10:05 am

    All videos are a very good and short analysis of the Islamic and middle eastern ideals. Islam respected those ancient ideals and succeeded. So did the Romans with the western tribes, as it is pointed out by some comments. But there are some questions which are raised. If the US (always meaning of the government) follows a roman-like policy some would say this is a defeat, are they ready to accept it? The Romans wanted peace, does the US want peace for real?
    That’s all for now and great job!

  19. "Ken Pasha"
    July 5, 2009 at 4:19 am

    Hi Steve,
    I think this is a useful contribution to our ongoing national discussion of our goals in Afghanistan, and the search for what is achievable.
    I spent two years in Iraq (as a civilian) and 3 of the past ten years in Pakistan.
    I do think it is useful to in large part consider Afghanistan separately from the Iraqi situation; Iraq was a country with a weak but perceivable sense of nationhood, and with an educated class — these two things are largely lacking in the Pashtun area we are discussing in Afghanistan. There is no “country” there. The Pashtuns on the Pakistan side and the Afghan side are members of their tribes first, and then Pashtuns.
    Unfortunately, in terms of our goals, we have to think of the trouble area as also including the tribal areas of Pakistan. As you rightly point out, it is a daydream to think that we are going to change 42 millions tribesmen into some western version of democrats in a few years. We might have better luck with the ideas of a) keeping the insurgent areas confined to the border regions, and then b) brokering deals with the tribes one by one, and certainly, c) making it clear that hosting the al-Qaeda crew is not acceptable. If we take these limited goals, and approach the problem piecemeal, I think progress is possible. Progress in these cases does not mean having permanent bases along the border areas manned by U.S. troops — in fact we want to avoid any long-term presence there. But progress would probably mean making the clear impression that we can come in any time we want and take effective action — this was later the British solution (or part of their solution). In other words, as you point out, the tribes understand power. But this doesn’t mean we need to be occupiers. The resulting deals as you suggest will not be pretty, but they would be a start, and a way to give the central government some breathing time.
    Thanks for a good discussion, Ken

  20. July 5, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Steve. As with all your writing, you have gathered much wisdom here in order to assess the Afghanistan situation, mainly that their people function within the world and framework of the tribe. All that that you say is interesting, relevent and reeks of truth. Regarding Osama bin Laden, let me remind you that he was recruited by the CIA in 1979 at the request of Zbigniew Brehzinsky, then Jimmy Carter’s national adivsor, to form a Mujihadeen to fight the atheist Russians who had been lured themselves by CIA ops to invade Afghanistan to protect with the Ruussians felt was a sphere of interest.

    In fact, the US felt it was better to exhaust the Russians by engaging them in a war with a combined Muslim force (tribe) made up as well of Saudis, Paks, with Afghanistanis. Remember, too, that the CIA financed, armed and trained this Mujihadeen for Jihad (religious war) to hold on to Afghanistan and toss out the Russians. Osama worked in fact for the Agency. He had handlers, one handler duly noted Robert Baer in his book ” Sleeping With the Devil,” who visited Osama as late as August 2001 in the American Hospital in Dubai, where he was undergoing kidney dialysis. He, the handler, was removed from his position when he blabbed about it too much.

    As to “Al Qaeda,” the name first appeared on a file in “bin Laden’s” laptop. As you know it means “the Base,” and for bin Laden that file contained the names of all the men bin Laden felt were top notch fighters from the Mujahideeb. Somehow, the CIA has effectively used that name as a “brand name” for a world-wide Muslim insurrection, and to spread fear of it in the West.

    The larger case can be made that Osama was never the force behind the 911 attack as he is pictured in the mainstream administration story, but really operating on Agency funds as a patsy, a distracting element from the real perpetrators of that crime, which include high level US administration individuals, the Pakistan ISI, and the Israeli Mossad. It perhaps is stretching your meaning of giving a tridbal leader “a deal,” but that was the deal, to deflect attention from the real perps to Osama and 19 Muslims with boxcutters, some of whom trained at US Bases before the so-called strike, others who are supposedly still alive and whose identifies were stolen.

    Unfortunately, the real perpertrators of 911 are still around and as we know used 911 as an inciting incident for the War on Terror, which was in essence their own hegemonic march to world domination, articulated in Zbig’s book “The Grand Chessgame,” in which he calls for a “Pearl Harbor-like incident” to incite a recalcitrant American population into war with the Muslim world. America and the Western world took the bait and attacked Afghanistan unilaterally and illegally, purportedly to find Osama. Yet, when they the Marines had him cornered in Tora Bora they let him escape via an alternate route (not covered by the military).

    It’s also interesting that David Ray Griffin, who wrote the seminal book “The New Pearl Harbor -Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11”, documented this fact. Others have pointed out that the real reason we went to Afghanistan was to build pipelines through it from the Caspian Sea Basin to Pakistan and the Indian Ocean. Obviously we could not use Iran for those pipelines given our traditional hostilities with them. More interestingly, Griffin has just written another book, this one about Osama bin Laden, claiming that he died in December of 2001. It is a very well-documented book.

    Where am I going with all this? Well, by extension, I would argue that the Bush neocon government was a tribe itself, whose central business was war. Wars with Afghanistan and Iraq were on the drawing board as early as 2000. It was just a matter of finding the “inciting incident” to mobilize America and the West behind that war. I would also argue that the neocon tribal sceptre has been conveniently handed from George Bush/Dick Cheney to Barack Obama, who has now proceeded to expand the Afghanistan conflict and to attack Pakistan (with drones no less) in search of Al Qaeda and other dissident groups. He has also managed to bad mouth the Taliban.

    Net net, we need to take a loot at our own tribal impulses, not to mention Afghanistan’s, Pakistan’s and Israel’s, to get the full world picture as it were. We may operate as Corporate Capitalist Democracy, in search of “freedom for all,” but it seems to be diminishing here in what seems to be a facist state, one which may be as walled and solidified as our so-called enemies. As Nick Vitale put it in in his blog entry, “expansionism” is at the root of our troubles and continues to be. Whether the Rockefellers, et al, who run the Presidencey, are willing to cede power to tribal leaders, to make deals, to understand who these people are, is a whole other questions. Meanwhile, I praise you for the depth of your thinking and concern.
    Jerry Mazza, NYC
    Associate Editor, onlinejournal.com.

  21. July 5, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    Steve. As with all your writing, you have gathered much wisdom here in order to assess the Afghanistan situation, mainly that their people function within the world and framework of the tribe. All that that you say is interesting, relevent and reeks of truth. Regarding Osama bin Laden, let me remind you that he was recruited by the CIA in 1979 at the request of Zbigniew Brehzinsky, then Jimmy Carter’s national adivsor, to form a Mujihadeen to fight the atheist Russians who had been lured themselves by CIA ops to invade Afghanistan to protect what the Russians felt was a sphere of interest.

    In fact, the US felt it was better to exhaust the Russians by engaging them in a holy war with a combined Muslim force (tribe) made up as well of Saudis, Paks, with Afghanistanis. Remember, too, that the CIA financed, armed and trained this Mujihadeen for Jihad (religious war) to hold on to Afghanistan and toss out the Russians. Osama worked in fact for the Agency. He had handlers, one handler duly noted Robert Baer in his book ” Sleeping With the Devil,” who visited Osama as late as August 2001 in the American Hospital in Dubai, where he was undergoing kidney dialysis. He, the handler, was removed from his position when he blabbed about it too much.

    As to “Al Qaeda,” the name first appeared on a file in “bin Laden’s” laptop. As you know it means “the Base,” and for bin Laden that file contained the names of all the men bin Laden felt were top notch fighters from the Mujahideeb. Somehow, the CIA has effectively used that name as a “brand name” for a world-wide Muslim insurrection and “terror,” and to spread fear of it in the West.

    The larger case can be made that Osama was never the force behind the 911 attack as he is pictured in the mainstream administration story, but really operating on Agency funds as a patsy, a distracting element from the real perpetrators of that crime, which include high level US administration individuals, the Pakistan ISI, and the Israeli Mossad. It perhaps is stretching your meaning of giving a tridbal leader “a deal,” but that was the deal, to deflect attention from the real perps to Osama and 19 Muslims with boxcutters, some of whom trained at US Bases before the so-called strike, others who are supposedly still alive and whose identifies were stolen. Their flying skills can be noted as unsuited for the tasks they are claimed to have performed.

    Unfortunately, the real perpertrators of 911 are still around and as we know used 911 as an inciting incident for the War on Terror, which was in essence their own hegemonic march to world domination, articulated in Zbig’s 1992 book “The Grand Chessgame,” in which he calls for a “Pearl Harbor-like incident” to incite a recalcitrant American population into war with the Muslim world. America and the Western world took the bait and attacked Afghanistan unilaterally and illegally, purportedly to find Osama. Yet, when they the Marines had him cornered in Tora Bora they let him escape via an alternate route (not covered by the military).

    It’s also interesting that David Ray Griffin, who wrote the seminal book “The New Pearl Harbor -Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11”, documented this fact. Others have pointed out that the real reason we went to Afghanistan was to build pipelines through it from the Caspian Sea Basin to Pakistan and the Indian Ocean. Obviously we could not use Iran for those pipelines given our traditional hostilities with them. More interestingly, Griffin has just written another book, this one about Osama bin Laden, claiming that he died in December of 2001. It is a very well-documented book.

    Where am I going with all this? Well, by extension, I would argue that the Bush neocon government was a tribe itself, whose central business was war. Wars with Afghanistan and Iraq were on the drawing board as early as 2000. It was just a matter of finding the “inciting incident” to mobilize America and the West behind that war. I would also argue that the neocon tribal sceptre has been conveniently handed from George Bush/Dick Cheney to Barack Obama, who has now proceeded to expand the Afghanistan conflict and to attack Pakistan (with drones no less) in search of Al Qaeda and other dissident groups. He has also managed to bad mouth the Taliban.

    Net net, we need to take a loot at our own tribal impulses, not to mention Afghanistan’s, Pakistan’s and Israel’s, to get the full world picture as it were. We may operate as Corporate Capitalist Democracy, in search of “freedom for all,” but it seems to be diminishing here in what seems to be a facist state, one which may be as walled and solidified as our so-called enemies. As Nick Vitale put it in in his blog entry, “expansionism” is at the root of our troubles and continues to be. Whether the Rockefellers, et al, who run the Presidencey, are willing to cede power to tribal leaders, to make deals, to understand who these people are, is a whole other questions. Meanwhile, I praise you for the depth of your thinking and concern.
    Jerry Mazza, NYC
    Associate Editor, onlinejournal.com.

  22. July 5, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    Steve. As with all your writing, you have gathered much wisdom here in order to assess the Afghanistan situation, mainly that their people function within the world and framework of the tribe. All that that you say is interesting, relevent and reeks of truth. Regarding Osama bin Laden, let me remind you that he was recruited by the CIA in 1979 at the request of Zbigniew Brehzinsky, then Jimmy Carter’s national adivsor, to form a Mujihadeen to fight the atheist Russians who had been lured themselves by CIA ops to invade Afghanistan to protect what the Russians felt was a sphere of interest.

    In fact, the US felt it was better to exhaust the Russians by engaging them in a holy war with a combined Muslim force (tribe) made up as well of Saudis, Paks, with Afghanistanis. Remember, too, that the CIA financed, armed and trained this Mujihadeen for Jihad (religious war) to hold on to Afghanistan and toss out the Russians. Osama worked in fact for the Agency. He had handlers, one handler duly noted by Robert Baer in his book ” Sleeping With the Devil,” who visited Osama as late as August 2001 in the American Hospital in Dubai, where he was undergoing kidney dialysis. He, the handler, was removed from his position when he blabbed about it too much.

    As to “Al Qaeda,” the name first appeared on a file in “bin Laden’s” laptop. As you know it means “the Base,” and for bin Laden that file contained the names of all the men bin Laden felt were top notch fighters from the Mujahideeb. Somehow, the CIA has effectively used that name as a “brand name” for a world-wide Muslim insurrection and “terror,” and to spread fear of it in the West.

    The larger case can be made that Osama was never the force behind the 911 attack as he is pictured in the mainstream administration story, but really operating on Agency funds as a patsy, a distracting element from the real perpetrators of that crime, which include high level US administration individuals, the Pakistan ISI, and the Israeli Mossad. It perhaps is stretching your meaning of giving a tridbal leader “a deal,” but that was the deal, to deflect attention from the real perps to Osama and 19 Muslims with boxcutters, some of whom trained at US Bases before the so-called strike, others who are supposedly still alive and whose identifies were stolen. Their flying skills can be noted as unsuited for the tasks they are claimed to have performed.

    Unfortunately, the real perpertrators of 911 are still around and as we know used 911 as an inciting incident for the War on Terror, which was in essence their own hegemonic march to world domination, articulated in Zbig’s 1992 book “The Grand Chessgame,” in which he calls for a “Pearl Harbor-like incident” to incite a recalcitrant American population into war with the Muslim world. America and the Western world took the bait and attacked Afghanistan unilaterally and illegally, purportedly to find Osama. Yet, when they the Marines had him cornered in Tora Bora they let him escape via an alternate route (not covered by the military).

    It’s also interesting that David Ray Griffin, who wrote the seminal book “The New Pearl Harbor -Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11”, documented this fact. Others have pointed out that the real reason we went to Afghanistan was to build pipelines through it from the Caspian Sea Basin to Pakistan and the Indian Ocean. Obviously we could not use Iran for those pipelines given our traditional hostilities with them. More interestingly, Griffin has just written another book, this one about Osama bin Laden, claiming that he died in December of 2001. It is a very well-documented book.

    Where am I going with all this? Well, by extension, I would argue that the Bush neocon government was a tribe itself, whose central business was war. Wars with Afghanistan and Iraq were on the drawing board as early as 2000. It was just a matter of finding the “inciting incident” to mobilize America and the West behind that war. I would also argue that the neocon tribal sceptre has been conveniently handed from George Bush/Dick Cheney to Barack Obama, who has now proceeded to expand the Afghanistan conflict and to attack Pakistan (with drones no less) in search of Al Qaeda and other dissident groups. He has also managed to bad mouth the Taliban.

    Net net, we need to take a loot at our own tribal impulses, not to mention Afghanistan’s, Pakistan’s and Israel’s, to get the full world picture as it were. We may operate as Corporate Capitalist Democracy, in search of “freedom for all,” but it seems to be diminishing here in what seems to be a facist state, one which may be as walled and solidified as our so-called enemies. As Nick Vitale put it in in his blog entry, “expansionism” is at the root of our troubles and continues to be. Whether the Rockefellers, et al, who run the Presidencey, are willing to cede power to tribal leaders, to make deals, to understand who these people are, is a whole other questions. Meanwhile, I praise you for the depth of your thinking and concern.
    Jerry Mazza, NYC
    Associate Editor, onlinejournal.com.

  23. July 5, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    Steve. As with all your writing, you have gathered much wisdom here in order to assess the Afghanistan situation, mainly that their people function within the world and framework of the tribe. All that that you say is interesting, relevent and reeks of truth. Regarding Osama bin Laden, let me remind you that he was recruited by the CIA in 1979 at the request of Zbigniew Brehzinsky, then Jimmy Carter’s national adivsor, to form a Mujihadeen to fight the atheist Russians who had been lured themselves by CIA ops to invade Afghanistan to protect what the Russians felt was a sphere of interest.

    In fact, the US felt it was better to exhaust the Russians by engaging them in a holy war with a combined Muslim force (tribe) made up as well of Saudis, Paks, with Afghanistanis. Remember, too, that the CIA financed, armed and trained this Mujihadeen for Jihad (religious war) to hold on to Afghanistan and toss out the Russians. Osama worked in fact for the Agency. He had handlers, one handler duly noted by Robert Baer in his book ” Sleeping With the Devil,” who visited Osama as late as August 2001 in the American Hospital in Dubai, where he was undergoing kidney dialysis. He, the handler, was removed from his position when he blabbed about it too much.

    As to “Al Qaeda,” the name first appeared on a file in “bin Laden’s” laptop. As you know it means “the Base,” and for bin Laden that file contained the names of all the men bin Laden felt were top notch fighters from the Mujihadeen. Somehow, the CIA has effectively used that name as a “brand name” for a world-wide Muslim insurrection of “terror,” and to spread fear of it in the West.

    The larger case can be made that Osama was never the force (the cheiftan) behind the 911 attack as he is pictured in the mainstream administration story, but really operating on Agency funds as a chief patsy, a distracting element from the real perpetrators of that crime, which include high level US administration individuals, the Pakistan ISI, and the Israeli Mossad. It perhaps is stretching your meaning of giving a tridbal leader “a deal,” but that was the deal, to deflect attention from the real perps to Osama and 19 Muslims with boxcutters, some of whom trained at US Bases before the so-called strike, others who are supposedly still alive and whose identifies were stolen. Their flying skills can be noted as unsuited for the tasks they are claimed to have performed.

    Unfortunately, the real perpertrators of 911 are still around and as we know used 911 as an inciting incident for the War on Terror, which was in essence their own hegemonic march to world domination, articulated in Zbig’s 1992 book “The Grand Chessgame,” in which he calls for a “Pearl Harbor-like incident” to incite a recalcitrant American population into war with the Muslim world. America and the Western world took the bait and attacked Afghanistan unilaterally and illegally, purportedly to find Osama. Yet, when they the Marines had him cornered in Tora Bora they let him escape via an alternate route (not covered by the military).

    It’s also interesting that David Ray Griffin, who wrote the seminal book “The New Pearl Harbor -Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11”, documented this fact. Others have pointed out that the real reason we went to Afghanistan was to build pipelines through it from the Caspian Sea Basin to Pakistan and the Indian Ocean. Obviously we could not use Iran for those pipelines given our traditional hostilities with them. More interestingly, Griffin has just written another book, this one about Osama bin Laden, claiming that he died in December of 2001. It is a very well-documented book.

    Where am I going with all this? Well, by extension, I would argue that the Bush neocon government was a tribe itself, whose central business was war. Wars with Afghanistan and Iraq were on the drawing board as early as 2000. It was just a matter of finding the “inciting incident” to mobilize America and the West behind that war. I would also argue that the neocon tribal sceptre has been conveniently handed from George Bush/Dick Cheney to Barack Obama, who has now proceeded to expand the Afghanistan conflict and to attack Pakistan (with drones no less) in search of Al Qaeda and other dissident groups. He has also managed to bad mouth the Taliban.

    Net net, we need to take a loot at our own tribal impulses, not to mention Afghanistan’s, Pakistan’s and Israel’s, to get the full world picture as it were. We may operate as Corporate Capitalist Democracy, in search of “freedom for all,” but it seems to be diminishing here in what seems to be a facist state, one which may be as walled and solidified as our so-called enemies. As Nick Vitale put it in in his blog entry, “expansionism” is at the root of our troubles and continues to be. Whether the Rockefellers, et al, who run the Presidencey, are willing to cede power to tribal leaders, to make deals, to understand who these people are, is a whole other questions. Meanwhile, I praise you for the depth of your thinking and concern.
    Jerry Mazza, NYC
    Associate Editor, onlinejournal.com.

  24. July 5, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    Steve,
    Among the perpetrators of 9/11, which include leading figures of the administration, and along with the Pakistan ISI, Israel’s Mossad, should also be included the Saudi’s. bin Laden was a Saud. And the Saud family had a 60-year incestuous relationship (based on oil, arms and bribes) with the US Government. Fifteen of the nineteen 911 “terrorists” were reputed to be Saudis.

    On other fronts, you mentioned that we never bombed Russia, we just sort of waited them out. That is true. But goading the Russians into attacking Afghanistan and then building the Mujihadeen to fight them for ten years, broke the back of their economy. That was our little gift to them.
    Jerry Mazza.

  25. July 5, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    Steven,

    Thanks for the invite to participate. Excellent comments, intelligence and observations on the cultural differences that were perhaps overlooked in our engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    My question is more Grand Strategic. Why does the USA insist on meddling in affairs of these tribal societies? To what end? Why would we think they want McDonalds and Hip-hop on every corner? Why don’t we ever stop to ask why there is hatred to the USA? What would Americans think if we had as foreign a culture on our shores trying to tell us what to think, believe, and cherish? And we stand for liberty, for independence, for freedom? Excellent points that not Alexander the Great or any power since can control these people, and unmentioned, why should they even try?

    Rick

  26. Ron
    July 6, 2009 at 5:45 am

    “Where am I going with all this?” — Jerry Mazza

    @Jerry, you went no where, and you reached no substantive place whatsoever. That was excruciating. Posting the same opine several times devalued what is a most fascinating and pertinent discussion. I would suggest comment moderation on Steve’s part to maintain quality and interest of the threads here, lest we lose the substance by grabbing at shadows as Jerry so evidently has. The last thing you want here is a degenerative forum for truthers. We’re all for free speech, but intelligent discourse ftw! Rick and others have raised some interesting questions, and without spiraling into some conspiratorial quagmire – kudos.

    I believe Steven’s insight into tribalism here is to take a somewhat complex and limited western understanding of it and make it easier to comprehend. To have a better grasp of what it is, why and how it happens, and what the cultural norms are. Indeed how to manage and work with tribalism to our ends, respectfully. I think many of us agree there is no silver bullet or pretty solution to that region of the world, but those offered here by Steven are starting points and a basis to work from.

    For his wisdom and insight, may I congratulate and thank Steven on producing this outstanding blog and video commentary on what is undoubtedly an age-old and epic challenge.

  27. July 6, 2009 at 6:47 am

    It’s great to know all about tribalism. It’s also good to know something about contemporary politics as of 9/11 2001. So don’t let me disturb anyone’s sleep here. Go on back.
    Regards,
    Jerry Mazza.

  28. Sean
    July 6, 2009 at 10:37 am

    I find it noteworthy that so many people grab any group they feel like and then, handily, label that group as a “tribe”. As though the mere act of labeling makes things so. After reading such claims I’m inclined to think that most of the respondents here haven’t absorbed a damn thing.

  29. July 6, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Full disclosure: Jerry M is a very good friend of mine, we go back many moons–though we definitely disagree on some subjects including, at least in part, this one. Comments and correspondents have definitely made me rethink some of my original statements, but I have to say I’m sticking with 95% of them. The points I was hoping to make with these videos (and the blog posts that have followed) can be boiled down to just a few:

    1) In this part of the world–Afghanistand and Pakistan–there is such a thing as tribalism and the tribal mindset. It’s real. It exists. It isn’t going away. If U.S. policy had been formulated, pre-Iraq, with this awareness foremost in mind, that war would have been fought quite differently, I believe–resulting in a lot fewer deaths and achieving a lot happier resolution. Eight years in in AfPak, I’m hoping we start taking tribalism into account here too.

    2) Tribalism is not going to change. The cultural, social, historical and psychological roots go deep. They’re completely understandable; the tribal way of life is favored, as David Ronfeldt says, by overwhelming majorities in many parts of the world, including central Asia. For the U.S. to try to impose Western values or political systems is delusionary. It ain’t gonna happen in our lifetime or our grandchildren’s, if ever. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    3) Therefore, if the U.S. has political or military interests in this part of the world that it believes are essential to national security, then the wise course seems to be to work with tribalism and not against it. Since Alexander (and even before him, to Cyrus the Great of Persia who was killed by Scythian tribesman north of the Amu Darya), no invader has been able to impose his will on the Afghan people. But accommodations have been made. Deals. That’s my bottom line as a realistic way to operate in this remote and fiercely xenophobic part of the globe: set the most limited goals possible (that can give us what we need) and take tribalism and the tribal mindset into account when formulating strategies to achieve those ends.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

  30. Joey Heilman
    July 7, 2009 at 12:24 am

    Hey Steve,
    Your videos were absolutely wonderful! It really gave me a lot of insight into what exactly is going on in Afghanistan. There is one thing that I don’t understand about the whole thing. You make the statement several times that tribalism and the tribe mindset is the enemy. However you said that we should start sending some of our best men that understand and respect tribalism and the tribal mindset. You also talked about us even making deals with the tribes so that they keep our enemies off of their land. The solutions that you presented on how to win in Afghanistan really leads me to believe that tribalism and the tribal mindset don’t have to be our enemies. They could be one of our strongest allies.

    I also want to say thank you to all the men and women who are away from home and are fighting in the caves and the mountains of Afghanistan. I really appreciate all of the men and women of the military who protect our right to participate in discussions like this.

    Thanks for letting me share Steve. Your one of my favorite authors and your the only famous person to ever respond to one of my e-mails. Good luck on your blog!

  31. Jerad
    July 7, 2009 at 5:45 am

    Steve, thanks for starting up this blog and for all the other great works you’ve put together; it’s about time! I’m a big fan of your work and have read each of your titles multiple times (yes, including War of Art), if not for the principles then at least for the enjoyment. As a Green Beret myself, the comments you’ve spoken about as well as all the other patrons of this blog strike right at the heart of the problem that we face everyday. Albeit Southeast Asia is a different animal in many different respects, but nevertheless history’s lessons aren’t limited to regions or even continents. This is a common topic of discussion daily at the ‘office’ with no one coming out with a clear answer at the end of the day.

    I’ve got just a couple questions I’d like to throw your way, understanding of course that you’re a busy man. First, you’ve clarified that the tribal leaders understand power and “deals”, but what are your thoughts on 1) their reaction to America as a tribal power threatening their existence in the future and do you think they react differently toward us in respect to that (as opposed to a local power), and 2) do you think the region can ever be stabilized enough to allow us to completely pull out, considering that as of now a significant portion of the ‘pacts’ we have formed with the tribal leaders are on the pretense of money and not hard earned respect?

    You’ll have to forgive me for being biased on the matter, because as an SF man I believe that from the time we first laid boots on the ground during the Cold War, no one has been better suited to complete this task than my brethren; it’s the whole reason we were formed to begin with. Every day my brothers and I loath the fact that Afghanistan has slowly but surely turned into a conventional disaster (all due respect to NATO forces, but seriously…). SF guys basically ‘conquered’ those territories in a matter of weeks when we were called to do it, and once again we were told to let someone else take the reins when the smoke cleared. And here we are nearly 8 years later with mixed results.

    Unfortunately, quite often my comments as well as those of my NCO peers fall on deaf ears. The fact that someone as renowned as you has really brought this subject to light will at least stir the pot for change. You are greatly appreciated and respected throughout the Team rooms both as an author and as a contributor to the right cause in Afghanistan, as well as the rest of the Middle East. Gates of Fire is on the mandatory reading list and will continue to be for a long time!

  32. Rhonda
    July 7, 2009 at 7:56 am

    More. More.
    Steven, this was like taking a quick college course. The idea of the “tribal chief” figure for our forces is smart. Isn’t that, in essence, what happened with T.E.Lawrence ( Lawrence of Arabia)?
    The tribes began to know him and consider him as the central, powerful figure.

  33. July 7, 2009 at 10:03 am

    Steve, you’re right on the money about putting some kind of Warlord figure in place. We did the exact same thing in Japan after WWII. My father was stationed in Japan after he got his leg busted in Korea during a firefight. He has always maintained that General MacArthur acted like a Shogun in Japan as part of the effort to govern there. The fact is, his methods worked, it was something that the Japanese could relate to, and something that they could work with. It thwarted the kinds of difficulties and pitfalls with which we may have been confronted otherwise. Time has born out the results and today Japan is one of our nations staunchest allies.

  34. Nick Higgins
    July 7, 2009 at 11:03 am

    Hi, I’d just like to chuck in my 2 pennys (I’m a Brit!) worth. I spent most of 2005 living in Lashkar Gah (the capital of Helmand) and Kandahar and spent nearly 4 years in Afghanistan all together. I found my time among the Pashtoon to be among my best experiences from that time.

    Generally people, from all walks of life, were welcoming, warm, friendly and curious.

    I think that there are two basic foundations or pillers, call it what you will, to any successful counter-insurgency campaign (and make no mistake, there have been several) firstly it’s that you have secure borders and secondly you genuinely win the hearts and minds of the people.

    Firstly then, securing the border. This is a complex question in Afghanistan because as with much of what happens there today this problem has it’s roots firmly in the past- about 1893 if I remember rightly.

    The British, for once in the ascendany up on the “North West Frontier” forced the current border between what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan on a very reluctant Afghan King. This line on a map, the Durand Line after the General who drew it, split the tribal lands in half. The British hoped that this would weaken the tribes who were a constant thorn in the side of the British.

    It also put the two strategic passes by which, historically, invading armies leave Afghanistan to attack India- remember that the “Ghorid” empire out og Afghanistand central highlands once reached as far as Delhi- firmly in British hands so that we, notionally, controled the Khyber and Bolan passes.

    To this day the Afhgans do not regard the Durand line as the legal border and tend to be against any idea of securing the border. An idea which the Pakistanis are very keen on, not because they are bothered by the idea of the Taliban raiding into Afghanistan- on the contrary, they like an unstable Afghanistan because it stops the Afghans focusing on demands that the FATAs be returned to their rightful owners- the Pashtoon.

    Secondly you need to win hearts and minds- or more to the point the legitimate Government needs to win the support of the people. Again, this is possible in a COIN enviroment. However it is NOT possible if said goverment is venal and corrupt as is currently the case in Afghanistan. And I mean from the lowliest police recruit in Farah Province to senior members of the Government in Kabul.

    If your international troops are doing nothing but propping up a rotten and corrupt regime then the very people you are trying to help will not respect you in the same way they cant help but not respect their own leaders.

    Do I have any answers? Some I guess.

    • July 7, 2009 at 3:56 pm

      First off, let me say thanks to you and the folks just like you, that are actually there or have been in the theatre that is being discussed. The world is indebted to all of you.

      Your point about the governance from Kabul is right and I should think that the ball is now in our court. We need to do what it takes to make this part of the world a viable place. The government will need to function properly in oder to eradicate the propagation of any terrorist organizations. Lawless societies will invariably lead to the propagation of what we call terrorists, pirates or what have you. It’s anarchy, because the people that are living in lands that lack decent governance feel hopeless and they become desperate. Desperation will invariably lead to a grass roots culture for sustenance. Why do we find ourselves dealing with piracy in the 21st century?

      So, does the argument about dealing with tribes make sense? Yes, we should make deals! The tribes have been in place a long time. We need the respect of the tribes and we will probably need to rearrange the situation in Kabul to make it all work. I’m for that! When terrorists are no longer welcome they will dry up and wither away, we need to make better deals. If you cut the taproot to an unwanted vine, you will get the same result.

  35. Rambob
    July 9, 2009 at 4:35 am

    Steven, I heard your interview with Hugh Hewitt today and you grabbed my heart. I am sitting here at my computer (4:00 in the morning—the devils are back) and after 40+ years I finally understand—I am a tribal warrior. I was in Special Forces unit B-36 in Viet Nam that equipped and trained Cambodian mercenaries to defend American interests in Vietnam and eventually return to their own country to defeat the leadership that sympathized with the North Vietnamese (Prince Sihanouk’s regime). This was accomplished in May of 1970. In essence, we were CIA operatives. These people were tribal warriors and we had the freedom to relate to them as tribal warriors. 4,500 Kamersarai warriors and 22 American advisors (Green Berets). Lon Nol (the prime minister of Cambodia after the overthrough) lived in our camp at Long Hai, Viet Nam, along with Sun Ngoc Than, the leader of the Khamersarai tribal political movement. The counter-insurgency model was in it’s infancy back then but all of us were hand picked and committed to it. We developed it and it was working. All of the Mobile Strike Force and Command and Control units were immersed in various tribal cultures.

    All of us remained in country for extended periods of time because we believed that successful relationships resulted in credibility and this was a primary factor for the success of our mission. And we thrived on the genuine nature of these relationships. All of the characteristics of the tribal environment that you described in the videos existed. We participated in tribal meetings, some extreme tribal rituals, and tribal family life. We witnessed extreme tribal battlefield behaviors (eating the livers of dead enemy soldiers for courage) but, although invited, did not participate. In short, we became members of the tribe, brothers, family. And—as American Special Forces Soldiers—we were a tribe unto ourselves. We stay in touch to this day and lament the direction (change) that is taking place in our culture. We are tribal.

    It seems to me that your observations are very accurate. At least you are thinking in the right direction. I think the tribal warriors of the Middle East respect the might of our citizen soldiers but can’t really relate to them on a tribal level. After all, the conventional units aren’t trained or permitted to engage the local populations on that level and, realistically, probably couldn’t. Generally, they think like citizen soldiers and not like (Special Ops) tribal warriors. However, we need the element of security that they bring to the table. After all, when the first helicopters land, the dust clears, and several American Special Ops guys, and their interpreters, are face to face with the regional tribal leaders, sporting the same garb that their great, great grand fathers wore, faced with introductions and negotiations that will shape the face of the war effort in that particular region, they better be committed, intelligent, highly trained, and equipped for the job. Everybody’s life is at stake!

    I appreciate your insight into the mind of the Middle Eastern tribal warrior. I believe that the “bearded warrior” mentality is a significant piece of the puzzle of success in that particular region of the world along with an intelligent approach to their religious perceptions and conduct in everyday life. I am hopeful that you have the ear of some in the military/political hierarchy or are dialoging with those who do. We don’t need to rule those people but we do need to have their co-operation if we are to develop bilateral support mechanisms that don’t violate their cultural sensibilities and stem the tide of the meaningless violence that characterizes certain extreme Islamic ideologies.

    Kill if we have to. We are dealing with people that believe peace is just an interval between wars. But hey, Let’s make a deal! What do we have to lose?

    Rambob

  36. Louis Gorman
    July 12, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    I always liked how Mr. Pressfield approached the aspect of explaining how tribalism relates to western society. I really liked how he related tribalism to the warrior. Thanks and keep going!!!
    V/R
    Louis Gorman

  37. July 27, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    Steve,

    Please address what I see as the real obstacle to peace which is religion. Christianity sees itself as the one true religion and so does Islam. Christianity thrives under democracy or capitalism while Islam thrives under tribalism as much as tribalism thrives under Islam. What is your perspective on this?

  38. Christopher
    July 31, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    This is an interesting series of videos and hits some points that I agree with and some which are contradictory. The idea that the citizen is always a liberal or part of a society which welcomes change or new ideas is a bit unfounded in my mind. The idea that the citizens of the Greek city states looked for new ideas from outside their borders or were accepting of new cultures is far removed from the fact that they looked at outsiders as barbarians (they gave us this word) and often those ‘tribes’ they looked down upon were more liberal in the rights of women or the individual such as the variety of Celtic tribes. This can also be said about tribal cultures such as most of the North American/Native American tribes in which the family units were matriarchal as opposed to patriarchal. There are many other tribal cultures which respect the women in their society much more than the Islamic based tribal societies in the Middle East, North Africa or Central Asia. The submission of women in the manner of the society in Afghanistan or Iraq or other Islamic societies is one which is imposed through the teachings of Islam, not through a general definition of ‘tribal’ family units having a disdain or lack of respect for women.
    To say that the tribes of Afghanistan have always looked down on or feared outsiders or change also ignores the fact that the area has been a crossroad between the Middle East and the Far East for centuries. Before the discovery of sea routes from Europe to the Far East by Europeans in the 1400-1600s, much of what is now Afghanistan was crossed by the various branches of the Silk Road linking the cultures of Asia with the Middle East and Eastern Europe. This includes the time before the imposition of Islam through foreign invasion in the 700-900s; prior to this Afghanistan was known as a center of Buddhist culture as well as the various animist and pagan cultures which were common. The fact that Bamyan/Bamian held three of the largest statues of the Buddha and a massive cave complex of Buddhist monasteries shows that the ‘tribes’ of the region can and have accepted ‘foreign’ ideas in the past as they have spread from South Asia or other areas. Islam and the ‘values’ which is demands were imposed by foreign armies in the same manner that the communists in the Soviet Union tried to impose their values; the major difference is that the armies of the Arabs and Persian muslim rulers did not have a rich enemy such as the US to finance an insurgency against them. Even with the imposition of Islam there were parts of Afghanistan which remained animist or ‘non-Islamic’ up into the 1800s.
    Lastly, to say that we did not trade blows with the Soviet Union ignores the series of ‘Dirty Little Wars’ which were constantly (and are still) being fought across the globe. From the civil war in Greece directly after the end of WWII through Korea, Vietman, Angola, Cuba, Colombia, Malaysia, Afghanistan etc. the forces and resources of the Soviet Union were bled white by the US and our allies in multiple proxy wars where our armies never directly met but which saw thousands of soldiers from both sides advising and fighting next to the ‘tribes’ of the world with both success and failure on both sides at different times. The current fight in Afghanistan was put to seed by the US through the short sighted desire to defeat the Soviet Union in the 1980s with complete disregard for the level of chaos brought into the area and the feeding of the mujaheddin myth which grew into the conglomeration of war lords in constant power grabs which opened the door for a foreign religious teacher to build the Taliban and seize control through force and impose a brutal peace which was never complete because they were still fighting the Northern Alliance when we arrived.

  39. Rob Brown
    August 5, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Outstanding, intuitive, observant, discorse. If only our leaders had such common sense.

  40. Candidate
    August 5, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    Steve.

    Thank you for the discourse. As a guy headed to Marine Corps OCS this coming January, and future leader of Marines, what you have covered here is and will be very helpful as I someday soon will hopefully be face to face with those same Tribal Leaders. Much of what you wrote I agree with, and have witnessed here in the states myself. I’m a small town guy from Montana, and a large part of my upbringing relates to this same idea of tribalism… It’s family, the ranch, a sense of belonging, knowing no matter what I do my family will always be there, raising strong men to be leaders, and a very large amount of Pride… This is how my grandpa was raised, my father, and my brother and I were raised, and this is all we know. To ask for change? Right. Much like the Afghan tribes…they don’t want change either.

    I would love to have the opportunity to sit and talk to these leaders, and I will definitely keep my eye on your writings. I am learning Pashtu before I go, any other advice?

  41. Anonymous
    August 6, 2009 at 10:25 am

    Dear Sir
    I respect your opinion. I also know that your ideas will probably never be administered in this
    conflict. There is an aspect of our tribe of leaders which hasn’t been mentioned, “ego”. Do you not beleive? President Bush wasn’t riding a tank into Bagdad. He was riding “ego”. I simply state it aspect. I suspect we will pull out long before any progress can be made with the tribes. Time is not on our side, not at the rate we are spending in this conflict. I think people have it all wrong. This economy is not as low as it can go. Recession is not the appropraite lable for what is happening today. What was happening yesterday was a “Surge”. What’s happening today in the economy is closer to normal, between parameters. Yes, their are areas of downturn. The war is a contributor to these downturn. I’m not opposed to buying their (tribes) loyalty. We already do that all over the world. What this citizen hopes for is tolerance, tolerance from both sides. It almost seems as if you hope to focus these Al-Qaida somewhere else. They certainly are not going away. Check out Spain, Russia, Indonesia, and the Philippnes. And I don’t think Isreal is going to have any luck buying off Hezbollah.
    These are thought off the top of my head.
    I think you are right for the most part.
    dan

    • John Knight
      October 17, 2009 at 11:52 am

      How much “toleration” do you think you are going to get from terrorists who belives their god rewards them if they murder you? How much “toleration” do you think you can get from terrorists who rape children (Beslan) or cut the heads of captives (Iraq,Pakisatan, Afgaistan)?

      Then there is this is the big lie of the Left. That the war is costing so much it is dragging down the economy.

      In 8 years oo war we have YET to spend as much as the “Stimulus” bill passed this spring promises. The cost of 8 years of war does not even cover the cost of the last “Cost of Living” adjustment given to Soc Security recipients.

      If you accept the notion that Govt spending on the war is “dagging down the economy” then you must also accept the idea that the massively larger amounts spent on social programs and entitlements are doing much much much more damage to the US economy.

  42. VictorNYC
    August 24, 2009 at 9:31 am

    Steven –

    I just watched all episodes and would like to see you discuss the relationship between organized religion (in general) to tribalismto see if there would be any difference: your ideas here were specific to Islam(which I presume was your initial intent?)—it seems they could be applied just as easily to Christianity (perhaps as it is practiced in the U.S, to limit this discussion), in terms of views about belonging, moralities etc and conduct towards women by men.

    One of the things I found problematic was the idea of Islam being only a militaristic faith, where it “prizes male virtues and suppresses women”. You seem to ignore the reality of there being numerous sects of Islam, the implications being the same as there being numerous sects of Christianity, some of which repress women also.

    When you mention that “Islam brings an expansionist dimension to tribalism”, I immediately wonder if the majority of us, i.e the working middle class, favor the alternative should the US succeed there: the expansionist alternative of free-market capitalism that turns people there into modern-day slaves for the wealthy few. Perhaps then we would really have a lot in common with them.

    While I’m definitely not in favor of the the human rights violations that the Afghans have done in the name of honor and law, perhaps people here in the U.S ought to look at rape and spousal abuse stats before casting stones over an entire religion, or people. At a rape every 6 minutes, a battered woman every 15 seconds, it’s a little sobering what we do on US soil.

    That all said, it is problematic that you seem to need to vilify the other (Islam/Tribalism etc etc) even though we have the same issues here…. and then position America as generous enough to sit down a make a deal to make the world a better place.

    Having been brought up a catholic in Dubai ( now in NYC), I just think it’s dangerous to approach a complex organized religion, with such a rich history with reductionist broad strokes.

  43. Chief Ajmal Khan
    September 6, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    Dear Steve, Very interesting and thank you for taking the trouble of explaining the Tribal structure in Afghanistan. Just a few points to be noted: 1) We need to know the difference between a Warlord and a Tribal Chief. Warlord is the leader of a militia group which has imposed himself on people, but a Tribal Chief is an elected body who works for the benifit and welfare of his people. For example: During the civil war back in the 90’s Warlords like Hekmatyar, Rabani, Sayaf, Masoud, Mazari, Muhaqiq & Dostum killed over 60,000 innocent men, women and children and fought among themselves just to get to the throne of Kabul. But Tribal chiefs will never fight over power, infact whenever there was anarchy in Afghanistan, tribal chiefs brought in a proper governemnt in place and fought the waring factions. The Talibans could never be considered as Tribesmen, although they might be made of Pashtun’s majority but it will be wrong to even imagine that they are Tribesmen. There are 3 kinds of Taliban: 1) those who joins the group for some money, 2) those who joins for Tribal afiliation, 3) Those who are ideologically motivated. I believe a fight needs to be continued against those who are ideologically motivated by Al Qaida. We also need to fight the Warlords who makes much of Karzai’s team and of course his strongest opposition.
    The Afghans are fed up with this empty and boring tune of Democracy which has brought nothing but disaster, Afghanistan is facing terrible problems now, after the US intervention Afghanistan had a Chance to move forward, but the US empowered the same warlords who are the initial reason for Talibans creation. The 2004 Presidential election was a mile stone for implementing a true democracy, but the man who the west was in love with was so weak that instead he became the Mayor of Kabul!
    I am not criticising the US’s selection, I am sure Karzai was backed for all the right reasons. When you unleash a deer to walk around in your garden and show the peaceful authomosphair of your lovely green garden you lock all the Lions, tigers and wolfs!
    I guess the US forgot to lock the deadly lions, Tigers and Wolfs thats why the Deer run away from the Garden & confied itself only to it’s cage just to save it’s life!
    I agree with every bit of wot you have said here in regard to the tribes in Afghanistan and I really hope the US government should rather focus on history a bit and listen to people like you. The US has one card to play and that is the “Tribe” card, if the US gets the backing and the support of the Tribes, the US will win this war, if not then God knows. Brilliant work and please keep up the great work. Chief Ajmal Khan Zazai

  44. September 25, 2009 at 10:13 am

    Nuke the entire country.

  45. Canadian Dean
    October 2, 2009 at 10:41 am

    Steve, these episodes are very well done and best of all in simple language that everyone can understand.

    In the west, you can still see tribalism functioning in North American society. I have many East Indian friends and tribalism is rife in their community. It’s amazing to see grandmothers living in the same homes as their grand children. In many ways this is the key to a happy and long life. Not being isolated from your family/tribe, being part of something greater than yourself and knowing that your tribe will live on. No wonder all kids are looking to gangs these days!

    People crave tribalism it’s who we evolved to be!

  46. Canadian Dean
    October 2, 2009 at 10:43 am

    Sorry I meant “No wonser all THESE kids are looking to gangs these days.” Not all kids.

  47. Canadian Dean
    October 2, 2009 at 10:43 am

    wonder

  48. October 10, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    Steven, just watched all five episodes. Loved every bit of it and absolutely agree with everything you said. I truly think the situation is so complex in Afghanitan today that we need to be realisitc in what we can expect as a suitable outcome. We learned early on in Afghanistan that living with the locals within the tribes for longer than 3 months was critical to success over there. Of course, as Jim Gant mentions, allowing a few “cowboys” to go “rogue”… or “go tribal” as we often heard, doesn’t sit well with the decision makers enjoying the hot showers and chow back in the rear. Agree with Gant’s assessment as well. His team concept wouldn’t work in every province or valley, but it would sure be significant in many others. Thanks for taking the time to explain it all. Great stuff!

    • Steven Pressfield
      October 11, 2009 at 4:04 pm

      Many thanks, Dalton. Read “Kill Bin Laden” and thought it was terrific. Congratulations! And thanks for taking the time to watch all five videos. Kind words coming from someone who has “walked the ground” mean a lot. Thanks for taking the time to post them. I appreciate it!

      • October 11, 2009 at 7:20 pm

        Steven, appreciate the response. Your videos definitely would have helped in the early days for sure. I’m sure they will have a positive and wide spread impact today. We understood the tribe culture very little back then and I’m afraid at certain levels of our military we still do. Often times the men that “walk the ground” can’t see past the maximum effective range of their personal weapon…I’m just as guilty of this as the next guy. More importantly though, intuition, on-the-ground experience, and tacit knowledge held by men like Gant and his SF mates is sometimes underappreciated (and thus suppressed) by the men that walk the TOC or the FOB three hours away by helo. Vision limited to the last slide in the Concept of Ops PPT makes the tribal engagement stuff tough on the men in the field. You may have heard of one of America’s very best – MSG William “Chief” Carlson – who was killed in southeastern AF in 2003. Chief was from the Blackfeet Tribe and at his funeral services, before lowering the casket, Chief was honored by his ancestors in Blackfeet tradition with drum beats, smoke signals, and native song and dance. In 2002, Chief was sent to a previously unchartered area to link up with a tribe southwest of Jalalabad. We didn’t hear from him for a few months it seemed as he definitely went “tribal” and when we finally linked up again to execute a hit on an AQ supporter the effectiveness of his efforts was obvious. The tribal members truly looked up to Chief, deferred often to his tactical recommendations, trusted him completely, and I have no doubt would have given their lives for him w/o hesitation. He had accomplished what Gant speaks of in record time…but then it was time to rotate home. If there is one thing I know about McChrystal it is that he embraces initiatives and risk taking for the right reasons – like Gant’s TET proposal. I think he would support it and knowing him he has already been trying to push this idea for years. He will be the last General to “require” Kevlar and body armor of an operator. He demands commitment (and risk) at a level few believe they even have in them. A commitment the likes of Gant’s initiative. Anyone who takes the time to read his recently leaked Commander’s Assessment would have to agree. I believe there are many men who would jump at the chance to sacrifice what is required to stay engaged with the same tribe for years at a time. Chief didn’t want to leave his tribe in AF either.

        Please keep up the great work! My buddy just asked me for my copy of The Afghan Campaign.

  49. George T
    October 13, 2009 at 3:47 am

    Hi Steve

    love your 5 part series on Tribalism.
    In your 5th part you go over what you think is needed to be done for the west to finally win over there (which I enjoyed listening to).
    I think you should have also covered a different route that can be taken to achieve victory.

    If the US forces and their allies withdraw from Afghanistan, you might argue that the Taliban will slowly take over there. I say there is an argument against that, tribalism by your very definition would war against them, especially with the vacuum left by the US. But lets say the Taliban do take over and begin to spread out from there.

    The fear in the USA is that the Taliban will have a ‘launching pad’ to which to strike out against from. This may have been convincingly argued at the beginning of this war, but I say it is less so now.

    The world has changed from then and it is no longer just US influences that are trying to infiltrate Afghanistan. The ways of the west might not have penetrated Afghanistan yet, but they have converted neighboring countries; China, India, Russia and even to some extent Pakistan.

    If the Taliban were left alone and allowed to take over Afghanistan, their influence would therefore spread over a larger area. The larger the area to control the more chance that a revolt will happen and with neighbors with western ideas on the borders the Taliban wouldn’t even bother with the USA but try with all their might to keep back the giant powerhouses on their doorstep.

    Why go to war with a country half a planet away when corporations, and western ideals are boarding your country? Add to that world wide media like the internet slowly but surely causing doubt in their minds and I say in the long term you will find Afghanistan willingly turn to the west in the end.

    Just like you pointed out in your series the cold war was finally won without a shot being fired or a bomb dropped, even though it took 50 years.
    This is not exactly true, the real reasons were two, there was a generational change (after 50 years the ‘old guard’ had moved on and the newer generation was in power) and as you pointed out, the USA did not escalate the situation by dropping bombs (in short for all that time the USA ‘sat on their hands’).

    Same thing here, if the USA do ‘nothing’ after a generation the Afghanistans will change over because they ‘want’ to, not because they were ‘forced’ to.

    Anyway, that is my 2 cents, loved your show.

    • John Knight
      October 17, 2009 at 11:58 am

      We “did nothing” from 1989 to 1991. We got 09-11.

  50. John Knight
    October 17, 2009 at 11:56 am

    You seem to ignore the reality of there being numerous sects of Islam, the implications being the same as there being numerous sects of Christianity, some of which repress women al

    All of which treat women as, at best, 2nd class citizens. Where as none but the most obsure, fringe Christian sects treat women as anything less then fully equal.

    To compare the 2 as some how morally equivalent is absurd. Until the supporters of Islam start having an honest discussion of the short coming of their faith, instead of making absurd excuse for it, the can be no serious reformation in Islam.

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