Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Too Dumb to Quit Reading Tom Friedman

Long-time readers will know I don't habitually read Thomas Friedman's columns, but enough Twitter comments ("@joshuafoust Is Tom Friedman contractually obligated to write like a 6 year old?") convinced me it was not one of his five normal recycled subjects and made me go read it. He does use the usual Friedman literary device of taking one snapshot event and extrapolating broadly about the world based on that. In this case, he sucks up to the troops in Afghanistan (commandment 7 of Walt's ten commandments for policy wonks) and talks about how much combat experience they have and expertise in the Middle East (I guess Afghanistan is the Middle East now in Friedman's eyes) they have. Despite all this he says we are overextended in Afghanistan and the mission may ultimately be unachievable.
This comes on the same day the Times has a front page article "Pakistan Objects to U.S. Plan for Afghan War." This is not the usual objections Pakistan raises in public after drone attacks to placate their people while secretly asking the United States for more drone strikes, but rather concerns that an increased level of U.S. and NATO troops and actions in Afghanistan will drive more Taliban and other militants into Pakistan, especially Baluchistan, and that Pakistan won't have enough troops to fight the militants in multiple locations and deal with their "main" threat, India.
Which brings us to the Times' recent glowing review of Seth Jones' new book In the Graveyard of Empires. (note, I haven't read the book yet, but will be attending a book release event tomorrow. I'll provide an update if my opinion changes). Jones is a good scholar who has always made good points and interesting presentations at conferences I've attended, but I wouldn't classify the recommendations in the book the way the Times does as "useful." Our window for success was 2006? So what do we do now? We have to persuade Pakistan that the militants are a bigger threat to them than India? Wow, thanks. We should fight corruption in Afghanistan and learn to understand the decentralized nature of Afghani government, politics, and culture? You don't say.
Which brings us full circle to Friedman. He says our military is experienced, but overstretched; the column was published the same week as Secretary Gates announced he was further increasing the size of the Army. Some of our officers may have done six deployments, and therefore presumably know both Jones' lessons and Friedman's extrapolated tactical maxims, but I quickly learned at the Naval Postgraduate School that when a student started off a question with "When I was leading a company of Marines in Fallujah..." it meant he hadn't done the reading for the class. The real questions are strategic, and our civilian leaders have decided on a full counterinsurgency campaign. Time and effort continue to be needed for success, but our top decision makers do need to make the strategic decisions on how long to stay.

1 comment:

  1. Another usual Friedman literary device, the nub, snubbed by The Snarky Republic.