Paul Greenberg

The year was 1898. He was a 23-year-old subaltern fresh out of Sandhurst serving the British raj on the Northwest Frontier of the Indian subcontinent. Always restless and eager for action, and bored playing polo back at base, he volunteered with the cavalry when the Pashtun tribes grew restive near the Hindu Kush, long a pressure point in the Great Game that empires had been playing in that part of the world going back to the Mongols and Alexander. A deadly serious game that goes on to this day.

The eager young officer of the Queen's Own Hussars was soon "mentioned in dispatches," and even wrote his own memoir of that campaign: The Story of the Malakand Field Force. It turned out to be a best-seller, full of high drama and swashbuckling adventure -- not to mention a lot of close calls that might have deprived the Empire of the figure who would one day take command at its most imperiled and, as it turned out, finest moment. His first book would turn out to be only a harbinger of the many best-sellers he would write in what would prove a long and varied career. His name was Winston Churchill.

That first book even included a bonus -- some free advice to the greybeards in Her Majesty's foreign service about how to conduct the Great Game in those distant parts now known as Afghanistan. The neophyte author offered his superiors three alternate courses they could choose to follow from in that part of the world.

The first course he summed up as that of "bad and nervous sailors" – skittishly trying to steer clear of any danger till they grow disgusted and abandon the whole enterprise altogether, creating even more havoc than they found.

Today we call this policy withdrawal, which seems to be the preferred "strategy" of our current commander-in-chief. Afghanistan grows shakier every day, its nominal government unable to contain the fanatical tribesmen out in the hinterlands distant from the capital, who are now called the Taliban.

In Iraq, where the American withdrawal has been completed, the question becomes not whether we will have to go back, but when. For the country is falling apart again, except for Iraqi Kurdistan, a.k.a “The Other Iraq.” Here's hoping we won't abandon the Kurds again, for a small, valiant people make the most dependable of allies for a great power.

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The second alternative that Churchill examined, and also found wanting, has been tried in those distant parts. He called it “Full Steam Ahead” – a massive military intervention that would overwhelm the region and pacify it by sheer force, leaving it "as safe and civilized as Hyde Park." Good luck with that.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.