As a historian, I am trained to predict the past, and I usually get that right about half the time. One thing, though, that years of reading and travel have engrained in me is the importance of narrative. Every country and culture has its narratives, and these seldom translate well. When I lecture to deploying troops on Afghan history, I often give the example of U.S. election season: Talking heads or anchors on MSNBC might compare President Obama to Abraham Lincoln. Most everyone watching would know immediately that both Obama and Lincoln leaped from Illinois relatively rapidly into the White House.
Someone whose flight is delayed at the airport and watching CNN might hear comparisons between Obama and John F. Kennedy. Whether a critic or a supporter of Obama, it is easy to draw comparisons both to the presidents’ relative youth and to their rhetorical gift. However, commentators on Fox News might compare Obama to Herbert Hoover, an analogy, fair or not, that raises the specter of economic depression. The point for American servicemen is not whether they are fans of Obama or not; neither their job nor mine when I teach is to preach policy. Rather, it is that Lincoln, Kennedy, and Hoover will mean absolutely nothing to the Afghans. Local history matters.