Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Thomas Friedman: Too Dumb To Quit

Thomas Friedman is in Afghanistan. If you’re like me, you’re first thought is probably, “Gee, I hope he doesn’t get his turtleneck dirty.” He’s found some small reason for optimism. It turns out that years of futile, desultory warfare have created a core of military professionals there who know the locals, the terrain, the culture. After years of successive deployments, they might not know their families anymore, but they sure know Afghanistan. And you thought the war was pointless, F-ing civilians!

Friedman is overflowing with admiration for this hard-bitten cadre of Sergeant Rocks, so much so, he’s dubbed them, “The Class Too Dumb To Quit.” But he means that with affection, of course.

I think I can feel their gratitude from here.

These guys learned their trade on the mean streets of Kabul and out in the Afghan mountains, not some classroom at West Point. They’re tough, gritty, and suffer no illusions:

They know every mistake that has been made, been told every lie, saw their own soldiers killed by stupidity, figured out solutions and built relationships with insurgents, sheikhs and imams on the ground that have given the best of them a granular understanding of the “real” Middle East that would rival any Middle East studies professor.

Or columnist for the New York Times, for that matter.

Friedman feels that this group forms a promising nucleus around which we can rebuild our efforts in Afghanistan and, after seven and a half years, finally get down to business. To hell with the pencil-pushers, the bureaucrats, and the candy-assed politicians back in Washington. The Class That’s Too Dumb To Quit is now in charge. What should they do? General Tom “Nuts” Friedman explains:

Clear areas of the Taliban, hold them in partnership with the Afghan Army, rebuild these areas by building relationships with district governors and local assemblies to help them upgrade their ability to deliver services to the Afghan people — particularly courts, schools and police — so they will support the Afghan government.
A perfect strategy for a perfect world! Why didn’t any of us think of that?

But Friedman, like the soldiers he loves, is a realist:

The bad news? This is State-Building 101, and our partners, the current Afghan police and government, are so corrupt that more than a few Afghans prefer the Taliban. With infinite time, money, soldiers and aid workers, we can probably reverse that. But we have none of these. I feel a gap building between our ends and our means and our time constraints. My heart says: Mission critical — help those Afghans who want decent government. My head says: Mission impossible.

It’s astounding to me that shallow fat-heads like Thomas Friedman are continually venerated as deep thinkers. I once heard Tim Russert introduce him on Meet The Press as if he was the second coming of Ralph Waldo Emerson. This is the guy, don’t forget, who once implied that we should station US troops in Palestine. He’s one of the great champions of ‘draining the swamp’ in the Middle East and establishing democracy by force. His propaganda has contributed to this mess, and now that we’re neck deep in a smoking pit of blood, corpses and anarchy, he concludes that the whole thing just might be too complicated to succeed, unless, of course, we had “infinite time, money and soldiers.…”

Aint’t that the truth. If only I had infinite time and money, God knows what I could achieve …

Meanwhile, as Thomas Friedman’s leaden mind gradually evolves to accomodate something called ‘reality’ and ‘the human condition,’ the The Class Too Dumb To Quit, or, more accurately, The Class That’s Been Stop-Lossed To Death And Can’t Quit Save On Pain Of Imprisonment, continues to suffer in the purgatory of Afghanistan so that maybe, just maybe, people like Thomas Friedman can be proven right in the end.

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