Center for Strategic Studies Receives Grant for US Afghanistan Assumptions Project

Research will produce comprehensive report on key assumptions driving the 20-year US engagement in Afghanistan
Monica Toft

Medford, MA: Professor Monica Duffy Toft, Director of the Center for Strategic Studies (CSS) at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, along with two newly appointed non-resident senior fellows at CSS, Michael A. Cohen and Christopher Preble, has been awarded a grant to conduct a comprehensive examination of the fundamental assumptions that drove United States policy and engagement in Afghanistan for two decades.

The scenes of chaos accompanying the flight of the last United States forces from Kabul on August 30, 2021 and the rapid takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban led to intense criticism of the decision to withdraw by many and a public sense of shock and failure. In December 2021, the United States Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which included an amendment to create a "Commission on Afghanistan" to examine the lessons learned from the conflict. While the Commission has been tasked with conducting a wide-reaching investigation into United States security, military, intelligence, and diplomatic activities pertaining to Afghanistan from 1996 to 2021, the Commission's Congressional mandate focuses disproportionately on tactical steps taken by United States political and military leaders, operational issues, and military decision-making.

In contrast, the CSS research focuses on the assumptions — political, military, economic, cultural, and diplomatic — that drove the United States to spend more than $1 trillion, cost more than 2,400 American troops their lives, and upended the lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands of Afghan allies and civilians. In doing so, CSS aims look beyond what the United States got wrong in Afghanistan to understand how it got it wrong. In addition, the CSS research will document the ways in which the lessons learned from past mistakes can be applied to future strategic decision-making by policymakers. In particular, the CSS team will investigate critical inflection points in the war in Afghanistan when policy shifted most dramatically and address key assumptions made by United States policy-makers and foreign policy analysts. Over the course of the research project, CSS will assemble a steering committee of policy experts involved in key diplomatic, political, and military aspects of the war, and will conduct both roundtable discussions and individual interviews with a broad range of policy-makers, scholars, journalists, and civil and military leaders. Ultimately, CSS will produce a comprehensive report focusing on investigating the specific assumptions underpinning key decisions in the war and how those assumptions should be integrated into future United States foreign policy decision-making.

Michael A. Cohen
Michael A. Cohen is a non-resident senior fellow with the Center for Strategic Studies at The Fletcher School, a non-resident fellow at the Eurasia Group Foundation, a columnist at MSNBC and the New Republic, a contributing writer at The Daily Beast, the publisher of the newsletter Truth and Consequences, and a prolific writer on international affairs and American politics.

Cohen previously served as a speechwriter at the State Department for the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, and the Undersecretary of Economic Affairs, Stuart Eizenstat. Before that he served as a speechwriter for US Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut. He is the author of three books and has more than 15 years' experience writing for outlets including Foreign Policy, The Guardian, The London Observer, World Politics Review, The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Time, Newsweek, The Nation, Foreign Affairs, World Policy Journal, Dissent, and Democracy.

Cohen holds a bachelor's degree from American University and a Master's of International Affairs from Columbia University, where he has also served as an adjunct professor.

Christopher Preble
Christopher Preble is a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies at The Fletcher School and Senior Fellow and Director of the Stimson Center's Reimagining US Grand Strategy Program, where his work focuses on the history of US foreign policy, contemporary US grand strategy and military force posture, and the intersection of trade and national security. He has written extensively on counterinsurgency doctrine and state building, including in the context of the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Previously, Preble was co-director of the New American Engagement Initiative in the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council; and vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. Preble was a commissioned officer in the US Navy, and served aboard the USS Ticonderoga (CG-47) from 1990 to 1993.

Preble is the author of four books and co-hosts the "Net Assessment" podcast in the War on the Rocks network. He teaches US foreign policy at the University of California, Washington Center, and has also taught history at St. Cloud State University and Temple University. He is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations and his work has appeared in many major publications, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times, The National Interest, and National Review.

Preble graduated from George Washington University and received a PhD in history from Temple University.

Monica Duffy Toft
Monica Duffy Toft is Professor of International Politics and founding Director of the Center for Strategic Studies at The Fletcher School at Tufts University. Prior to Tufts, Toft was Professor of Government and Public Policy at Oxford University's Blavatnik School of Government and Assistant and Associate Professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. At Harvard, she was also the Assistant Director of the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies and the founding director of the Initiative on Religion in International Affairs.

Toft is a Global Scholar of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, a faculty associate of Oxford's Blavatnik School, a fellow of Oxford's Brasenose College, a research advisor to the Resolve Network, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a member of the Political Instability Task Force. She has also been named a Carnegie Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation of New York and a recipient of a Fulbright fellowship to Norway and a World Politics Fellowship at Princeton University. She is the author of nine books and edited volumes and has published widely on international relations, strategy and national security, global politics, demography, nationalism and religiously-inspired violence and war in academic and policy journals.

Toft was educated at the University of Chicago (MA and PhD in political science) and UC Santa Barbara (BA in political science and Slavic languages and literature, summa cum laude). Before college, she spent four years in the US Army as a Russian linguist (honorably discharged).