New York Times columnist Thomas L Friedman is not a fan of Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan: “I’d prefer a minimalist approach, working with tribal leaders the way we did to overthrow the Taliban regime in the first place,” he writes.
(Grease the palms of a few warlords, a colonial tradition.)
He adds: “Given our need for nation-building at home right now, I am ready to live with a little less security and a little-less-perfect Afghanistan.” Tell that to the Department of Homeland Security.
If the world thinks Americans are stupid, Mr Friedman is an apt window into their minds – he is against the troop surge but for rather delusional reasons. “Iraq was about ‘the war on terrorism.’ The Afghanistan invasion, for me, was about the ‘war on terrorists.’ To me, it was about getting bin Laden and depriving Al Qaeda of a sanctuary — period. I never thought we could make Afghanistan into Norway — and even if we did, it would not resonate beyond its borders the way Iraq might.”
Sensibly, he did not expect Afghanistan to turn into a Scandinavian country with a little stardust from the US.
One thing US ‘opinion-formers’ excel at is making rash assumptions about the Muslim “world” (of which even India is a part!): “One of the main reasons the Arab-Muslim world has been so resistant to internally driven political reform is because vast oil reserves allow its regimes to become permanently ensconced in power, by just capturing the oil tap, and then using the money to fund vast security and intelligence networks that quash any popular movement. Look at Iran.”
Let’s do that – in the 1953 the US engineered a coup to depose Iran’s democratically elected prime minister who had just nationalized the ‘oil tap’ and kicked out the British. The US, of course, has no interest in oil.
He writes: “The most important reason for the Iraq war was never W.M.D. It was to see if we could partner with Iraqis to help them build something that does not exist in the modern Arab world: a state, a context, where the constituent communities — Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds — write their own social contract for how to live together without an iron fist from above.”
I remember watching images of the first night of the 2003 Iraq invasion on television – it was definitely an iron first pounding Baghdad and it was definitely from above.
Friedman’s cites “a deficit of freedom, a deficit of education and a deficit of women’s empowerment” as the reason “there are so many frustrated and angry people in the Arab-Muslim world, lashing out first at their own governments and secondarily at us — and volunteering for ‘martyrdom’.”
He adds: “The reason India, with the world’s second-largest population of Muslims, has a thriving Muslim minority (albeit with grievances but with no prisoners in Guantánamo Bay [as if all countries with Muslim populations have representatives in Guantanamo] is because of the context of pluralism and democracy it has built at home.”
Friedman’s solving of the “Muslim-world” problems in a few paragraphs would be entertainingly dimwitted were his views not so in line with US foreign policy. “People do not change when we tell them they should,” he writes. “They they change when their context tells them they must.”
For Friedman, who feels free to talk utter nonsense about an imagined “Muslim world”, alas, the ‘context’ remains firmly in his favour.