Skip to main content

Afghanistan: America'’s War of Perception

Ann Marlowe

In the days before he was forced into retirement by scandal, General Stanley McChrystal was fond of referring to the Afghan theater he commanded as a “war of perceptions.” In February he spoke to the Washington Post:

“This is all a war of perceptions,” McChrystal said on the eve of the Marja offensive. “This is all in the minds of the participants. Part of what we’ve had to do is convince ourselves and our Afghan partners that we can do this.”

McChrystal’s phrase which, we will see, is a superficial interpretation of counterinsurgency theory aligns regrettably well with the zeitgeist, particularly with what I will call “perspectival culture.”


Counterinsurgency theory, or coin, represents the extension to warfare of the same validation of the “eye of the beholder” that has characterized the arts and even aspects of the social sciences in the 20th century. This shift marks a departure from and constitutes a critique of an older, classical understanding of what it means to win or lose a battle or a war indeed, about the nature of reality itself as externally given and immutable fact, as opposed to a social construction built of competing and shared “perceptions.” Although the critique has ample merit, as we shall see, it also poses underappreciated difficulties of its own.

I will argue that perspectival culture is so dominant today that it has led to a nearly uncritical embrace of “perception” as the heart of coin theory. The essential problem of coin theory, at least in its crude form (such as General McChrystal voices it), is its nonfalsifiability, the impossibility of phrasing it in ways which can be tested and disproved.

To read the rest of this article, please click here

Related Articles

What Palm Sunday Means to Egypt's Copts

Samuel Tadros

Christianity was born in pain in the country. An attack on a holy day is another bloody symbol of its beginnings....

Continue Reading

How Trump's Syria Missile Strike Could Transform the Middle East

Arthur Herman

There’s an emerging Israeli–Sunni alliance against the Damascus–Tehran axis, and the U.S. needs to lead it....

Continue Reading

Religious Vigilantism Might Hurt India's Global Stature

Aparna Pande

The new trend of imposing a narrow vision of a Hindu India is only likely to lose India friends and admirers around the world....

Continue Reading