August 24, 2010

How to Patronize

I like both Anatol Lieven and Tom Ricks and always listen to them both on matters related to Afghanistan, even when I disagree with them. (I currently disagree, for example, with Tom's assessments of both Iraq and Afghanistan.) I first met Tom, actually, in a tent at Bagram in between missions during Operation Anaconda in March 2002, and we now work together at the Little Think Tank That Could. And I always really enjoyed listening to the well-traveled Lieven speak on Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia when I lived in London.

I was disappointed, though, to listen to Lieven's broadside against Ricks here (at the 17:00 mark, to be specific). A more careful graduate student would never criticize a professor at the department from where he hopes to be granted a degree in the near future, but Lieven looks foolish when he brusquely dismisses Tom as a "Washington commentator" (what, because the view of Kabul is clearer from the Strand?) proffering "rubbish ... unqualified garbage" who has never "lived in an Afghan village" and is thus apparently unable to say anything of substance on Afghanistan. Lieven comes out of this looking bad, and not only because, ahem, Tom GREW UP IN AFGHANISTAN and spent 25 years covering the U.S. military at war. Lieven adopts the most condescending tone in this interview. As a public service to this blog's many readers in the United Kingdom, listen to this and realize that when you start speaking this way and using phrases like "obviously" and "of course" (not to mention "Northern Ireland"), we Yanks usually stop listening to whatever you're trying to tell us.

Anyway, even though I manage to disagree with both Tom and Lieven on Afghanistan at the moment, I came out of listening to this interview thinking a little less of a man whose reporting and analysis I normally respect.