Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Thomas Friedman Does Afghanistan

by BELEN FERNANDEZ

After producing only one column during his recent visit to Iraq, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has already churned out two in Afghanistan, the next stop on his tour of areas affected by US diplomacy. The tour is occurring in the company of chairman Admiral Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and there is a pedagogical theme running through all three columns, starting with Friedman’s assertion that “[w]e are going to find out just what Iraqis have learned soon.” What they should have internalized from the US occupation is, Friedman implies, the value of cooperation between US troops of different backgrounds—“men, women, blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics.”

Afghanistan meanwhile has not yet reached final exam time, as evidenced by the title of Friedman’s July 18 article: “Teacher, Can We Leave Now? No.” The article begins: “I confess, I find it hard to come to Afghanistan and not ask: Why are we here? Who cares about the Taliban? Al Qaeda is gone. And if its leaders come back, well, that’s why God created cruise missiles.”

I in turn must confess that I sometimes find it hard to read the New York Times without asking questions of a similarly existential nature, such as whether God intended for his arsenal to be used on Afghan wedding parties. Friedman recognizes that secularism may in fact be preferable to certain types of gods when he poses a question to a group of young girls in the village of Pushghar, who are being treated to a new school courtesy of humanitarian Greg Mortenson: “Where were they going to school before Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute and the U.S. State Department joined with the village elders to get this secular public school built? ‘The mosque,’ the girls said.”

The issue of religious zealotry versus modernity has already been addressed earlier in the article, where “Mortenson’s efforts remind us what the essence of the ‘war on terrorism’ is about. It’s about the war of ideas within Islam.” The US role in internal Islamic wars is illustrated when Friedman jovially informs us that Admiral Mike Mullen has been translated into Urdu as America’s “warrior chief,” and that “America’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were, in part, an effort to create the space for the Muslim progressives to fight and win so that the real engine of change, something that takes nine months and 21 years to produce — a new generation — can be educated and raised differently.”

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s calculation as to the time required for Muslim production was thus confirmed as falling short by approximately eight months and 21 years, as the 34-day Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006 had failed to produce the US State Department’s intended New Middle East. Mortenson himself provides an example of Friedman’s longer version:

“When a girl gets educated here and then becomes a mother, she will be much less likely to let her son become a militant or insurgent… And she will have fewer children. When a girl learns how to read and write, one of the first things she does is teach her own mother. The girls will bring home meat and veggies, wrapped in newspapers, and the mother will ask the girl to read the newspaper to her and the mothers will learn about politics and about women who are exploited.”

The simplicity of the process is of course endangered by Muslim militants, who “recruit among the illiterate and impoverished in society, so the more of them the better, said Mortenson.” Potential ramifications of the Israeli bombing of two UN schools in Gaza in January are therefore deeply concerning.

Despite being “originally critical of the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Mortenson has now decided that American armed forces have “gone through a huge learning curve. They really get it.” Friedman had experienced a similar appreciation for knowledge acquisition among the US military in his recent column on Iraq: “I am amazed in talking to U.S. Army officers here as to how much they’ve learned from and about Iraqis. It has taken way too long, but our soldiers understand this place. But what about Iraqis?”

Learning opportunities have meanwhile expanded in Pushghar for “two little Afghan girls crouched on the front steps of their new school, clutching tightly with both arms the notebooks handed to them by a U.S. admiral — as if they were their first dolls.” Such scenes convince Friedman that, though he may have his doubts about the war in Afghanistan, “it’s hard to say: ‘Let’s just walk away.’ Not yet”—which luckily conforms with the sedentary plans of US President Barack Obama.

Friedman continues the classroom motif in his July 21 column from Helmand province, entitled “The Class Too Dumb to Quit,” which refers to US officers who “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.” The officers have received the affectionate nickname “dumb” by refusing to abandon Iraq to insurgents, and Friedman is now relieved that “[a]t least The Class Too Dumb to Quit is in charge” of Afghanistan; further incongruities result from the fact that the class has managed to understand the region despite being in a place called Camp Leatherneck.

Friedman reviews the anti-insurgency strategy of these “out-of-the-box” thinkers, which now rests on the following principle: “‘We don’t count enemy killed in action anymore,’ one of [the] officers told me.” Friedman approves the evolution of strategy from Vietnam-era preoccupation with enemy KIAs, which are in fact less important than “R.B.’s (‘relationships built’)” with Iraqi and Afghan mayors, imams, and insurgents—a reasoning based on the following:

“Relationships bring intelligence; they bring cooperation. One good relationship can save the lives of dozens of soldiers and civilians. One reason torture and Abu Ghraib got out of control was because our soldiers had built so few relationships that they tried to beat information out of people instead. But relationship-building is painstaking.”

The process is presumably even more painstaking when Muslims require nine months and 21 years to understand things, which is perhaps why Friedman resurrects his “unease” at the fact that “America has just adopted Afghanistan as our new baby.” Also contributing to the painstaking task of relationship-building is that Muslims presumably count their own dead.

Friedman’s fluctuating uneasiness with Obama’s troop surge is compounded by the fact that current US relationships include the “Afghan police and government, [who] are so corrupt that more than a few Afghans prefer the Taliban.” His only consolation is the possibility that “The Class Too Dumb to Quit can take all that it learned in Iraq and help rebuild The Country That’s Been Too Broken to Work,” an optimistic spin on dumbness which also characterizes the New York Times’ choice of foreign affairs columnists.

BELÉN FERNÁNDEZ can be reached at belengarciabernal@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belén Fernández is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
Ralph Nader
Are You Ready for Democracy?
Chris Martenson
Hell to Pay
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Debate Night: Undecided is Everything, Advantage Trump
Frank X Murphy
Power & Struggle: the Detroit Literacy Case
Chris Knight
The Tom and Noam Show: a Review of Tom Wolfe’s “The Kingdom of Speech”
Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail