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Fear and Loathing in Afghanistan

Monday, Oct. 20, 2008

I just finished reading Nir Rosen's Rolling Stone piece on his gonzo "embed"with the Taliban, and to be honest, I find the reaction to the piece as revealingas the article itself:

Does it take cojones to go where Rosen went?Yes. (Spencer Ackerman.)

Does it blur some legaland ethical lines? Yes. (Dave Dilegge.)

Does it blur some factual lines? Yes. (Joshua Foust.)

Does itprovide valuable source material for students ofcounterinsurgency? Again, yes. (Andrew Exum.)

But does it shed light on the subject? There I'm not so sure. Compared to Dexter Filkins' NYT Sunday Magazine piece last month on the Pakistani tribal areas, for instance, Rosen's piece falls short, mainly because the storycoming out of his article, as is obvious from all of the above, is increasingly centering on Rosen.

As for Afghanistan and theTaliban, we get some glimpses -- of their internal divisions andcontradictions, of their violence and resilience -- scattered among theanecdotal evidence of smoking coalition trucks andTaliban talking points. But the real analytical heft is in the Kabulinterviews. Those basically confirm the emerging consensus thatAfghanistan is slipping out of our grasp and by default -- but only bydefault -- into the Taliban's, and that pouring more troops into thecountry will do little to change that.

Unlike Vikram Singh and Nate Fick, who toured the country last month,Rosen thinks we've already reached the tipping point beyond which evena coordinated and well-funded stability and reconstruction operationwill no longer work. I happen to find that takeaway compelling, but less than fully supported by the piece.

In all fairness to Rosen, he can't control how people respond to his writing, and apparently some analysis, including that of Singh and Fick, ended up on the cutting room floor. We need people like Rosen who are willingto go where the story is. But it's unfortunate when that ends up becoming the story.