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So, You Want to Be an Afghan Expert

Posted by Colin Clark on

Since many of our readers are thinktank experts or Pentagon officials who will be thinktank experts in 18 months or so (length of average stay — not when next election occurs) we thought the following item could be highly useful. At least, we will all get a chuckle out of it. We live to serve. Note: we don’t know who wrote this — and if we did, we probably wouldn’t tell you! It came in over the email transom.

“How to be an Afghan Expert (and/or enjoy a think tank sinecure along the way)”

1. Cite your most recent trip to the region where you saw – with your own eyes, absent the media’s blinders – irrefutable progress. Add points if you spoke with some cigar store Afghan who confirmed this for you. Add double points if you attended an actual jirga. (Subtract points if you were actually at a shura and mistook it for a jirga).

2. Imply that if only the clearance-less masses were privileged enough to see the same “high side” intelligence that you do, they would know the truth about our progress. Add points if you have an actual clearance and didn’t just look it up on Wikileaks.

3. Visit a bazaar. Chat with friendly merchants. Lots of salaams, lots of right-hand-over-your-heart greetings. Buy a (warm) orange Fanta. Note – often and loudly – that this bazaar was closed until ISAF forces arrived. Add points if you can drive to this bazaar, versus flying. Add double points if you can wear armor and helmet without looking like some parody of an obese war tourist.

4. Align yourself with a “centrist” think tank. If you stray too far to one side or the other, you will not be able to provide “objective” analysis, and your income will suffer as a result (see #5).

5. Play down the fact that you are paid roughly $1,000 a day to “advise” the military and deny that there is any subsequent conflict-of-interest when you come home and write flattering (yet objective; see #4) things about our progress in Afghanistan.

6. Make sure that you can be counted on for a glass-is-half-full quote when contacted by a journalist. Add points if you can get your op-ed published in the Times or the Post. Add double points if said op-ed isn’t subsequently savaged in a blog and you somehow avoid being accused of “shilling for the Pentagon” or being a “think tank hack.”

7. Whatever you do, avoid spending too much time in Afghanistan. In addition to acquiring language skills and some measure of cultural understanding, you risk becoming cynical and perhaps even despairing of our odds of success.

8. Adopt a “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” approach to the region. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary and amid the protests of others who have spent years on the ground (cynics; see #7), imply that through sheer force of will and maybe a Jedi mind trick or two, we shall overcome. Add points if you can beat the other experts in latching onto some insignificant scrap of “evidence” supporting “progress.” Add double points if you are the first to tweet about it.

9. If pressed on the deteriorating security situation, offer some babble about “the night being darkest before the dawn” and tie it into a tortured thesis about how escalating violence is actually a sign of counterinsurgency success. Add points of you can maintain a straight face making this point while citing vastly improved “kill ratios.” Subtract points if your “analysis” is eventually compared to an ISAF version of the 5 O’Clock Follies.

10. Write numerous “analytical reports” with phrases such as “The Way Forward” or “How to Win” in the title. No one, not even your colleagues in the think tank world, will actually read these, but they will be cited widely as a substitute for reading something substantive, that might offer actual insight into Afghanistan. Add points if you can deride previous scholarship on Afghanistan as “Orientalist.” Add double points if you can actually name one such Orientalist author (note: Ahmed Rashid does not count).

11. ‘The Grand Slam’ – authorship of a COIN pamphlet that gainsays the holy trinity: Petraeus, Nagl and Kilcullen. If pressed on the apparent failure of COIN in Afghanistan, cite some obscure insurgency – The Malayan Emergency is a good choice – and note how long success took to occur.

12. In case you ever write a book and need a jacket photo, make sure to get a photo of yourself rocking a full beard, a pakool, and a dastmaal. Subtract points if you insist on maintaining this appearance once you return to DC.

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