The Gandalf-Yoda Problem: Afghanistan

If Gandalf told you to do X and Homer Simpson told you to do Y, you would likely do X. But what if Yoda agreed with Homer? What would you do?

This is the situation we face with respect to Afghanistan. Hank Crumpton, a career CIA operations officer who led paramilitary teams in-country after September 11th, told CBS News’ 60 Minutes on Sunday:

It reminds me of a Greek tragedy. You’ve got so many mistakes, many of them inadvertent, like the burning of the Koran on the U.S. side. And you’ve got a feckless, corrupt government on the Afghan side. I am really more pessimistic now than I’ve been in a long time.

But H.R. McMaster, a seasoned military commander often credited as the nation’s foremost counterinsurgency guru (both as a theorist and as a practitioner), sat for an interview with The Wall Street Journal that ran the same weekend:

For a sense of those opportunities, consider some of the metrics of battle. When Gen. McMaster arrived in Afghanistan in July 2010—as President Obama’s surge reached full strength—enemy attacks numbered 4,000 a month. A year later, they had dropped to 3,250. In March, there were 1,700. Every month from May 2011 through March 2012 (the latest with available data) had fewer attacks than the same month the year before, the longest sustained reduction of the war.

Meanwhile, Afghan security forces will number 350,000 this summer, up from 240,000 when Gen. McMaster arrived. Afghans now lead nearly half of all combat operations. Eight million Afghan children attend school, including three million girls, compared to one million and zero girls in 2001. Where finding a telephone 10 years ago often required traveling a full day, now more than 12 million Afghans own cellphones (out of 32 million total).

“Our soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors, working alongside Afghans, have shut down the vast majority of the physical space in which the enemy can operate,” says Gen. McMaster. “The question is, how do we consolidate those gains politically and psychologically?”

So which is it — Yoda or Gandalf?

One thought on “The Gandalf-Yoda Problem: Afghanistan

  1. While the Lord of the Rings is clearly superior to Star Wars (cue flame war in 3…2…1…) wizards are subtle and quick to anger, so I do not know that I would be able to trust Gandalf over Yoda. Remember that Gandalf frequently withheld important information from Frodo, usually with the explanation “it’s too early to say anything yet.” This strikes me as the mark of a somewhat manipulative being. Gandalf, like the other Istari, comes from outside of Middle Earth and has powers that are implied to be near godlike. He is famously vague about his reappearance as Gandalf the White after falling to the Balrog in the mines of Moria. Can we really trust our foreign policy to such an enigmatic figure?

    Yoda, on the other hand, is not exactly a fountain of truth telling either. He initially conceals his identity from Luke, and fails to contradict Obi-Wan’s lie about the true story of Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker. He also insists that if Luke abandons his training early, terrible things will happen. This later proves to be false, and one wonders (especially in light of the prequels) whether this Jedi cabal is really as selfless and noble as they claim to be. It is indeed possible that Yoda was manipulating Luke for his own ends from the start.

    This article points out the credibility problems of both of these revered figures. So it’s a difficult decision to be sure. However, Homer Simpson has been prone to occasional moments of savant-like wisdom, so I think I would side with him and Yoda. Even if it didn’t work out, at least you’d be likely to have more fun.

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