Obama’s Afghanistan announcement, David Loyn’s book.

David Loyn's book provides helpful context for President Obama's decision about the war in Afghanistan.

President Obama is expected to announce his long-awaited decision about the war in Afghanistan tomorrow.

On yesterday’s edition of State of the Nation, CNN’s John King said Obama is likely to approve sending about 34,000 additional troops to the war-torn country.

During a conversation with Sen. Richard Lugar and Jack Reed, King explained that the troop increases would be accompanied by a drawdown strategy as the Afghan police and military reach full strength and benchmarks for the administration of President Hamid Karzai to fight corruption.

As seems to be common these days, Obama’s predicted call is receiving heavy criticism from many quarters.

Some say the troop numbers are too far below those made public in September by General Stanley McChrystal.  Others says trusting Karzai is a fool’s errand.  And still others say that Obama’s policy resembles that of former President George W. Bush.

Enter David Loyn.

The 2005 Dart Fellow and longtime BBC correspondent has written In Afghanistan, a book that provides useful context on the failed colonial ventures by British, Russian, Soviet and American powers during the past 200 years.  Drawing on his unusual combination of field experience and collection of rare books, Loyn argues strongly that none of these efforts has succeeded, in large part due to the inherent conflict between, on the one hand , the imperialists’ desires, and, on the other, indigenous will and knowledge of the local geography.

I wrote about the book last month, and thought that Obama’s arrival at a decision merited another recap of the work.

Understandably, Loyn spends the largest chunk of the book talking about the British experience, with significantly shorter sections on the Russian and American eras.  A skilled spinner of yarns, Loyn describes in vivid, if understated detail, several near-death adventures he had during his more than 20 years of reporting in the country’s forbidding terrain.

The well worn cliche that time will tell if Obama’s decision is the right one may be apt here.  In the meantime, though, readers wanting to learn more about the country that has repelled invader after invader would do well to read Loyn’s helpful primer.


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