March 07, 2011

Quote of the Day: Op-Ed Edition (and an excuse to remind Tom Friedman why we're still in Afghanistan)

Here's Nick Kristof in Saturday's Times:

It’s a sophisticated argument that a column can’t do justice to...

I'm not the only one who read that phrase and smiled. What a relief it is to see a writer aware of the limits of his medium.

I wanted to highlight that phrase, though, because on Sunday we got the latest Tom Friedman mess. Friedman's last column, in which he suggested the Beijing Olympics and Salam Fayyad helped lead to the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, attracted widespread derision and inspired some very funny if brutal satire.

For me, though, Sunday's column was even worse. Friedman gripes for 854 words about all the money we are spending in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and as far as gripes go, it's a pretty reasonable one, so you're probably wondering why I was so frustrated by the column. Well, there were a lot of little things about the column that annoyed me, such as the conflation of the ISI and the Amn al-Dawla, but the biggest thing that got me about this column was what I was screaming aloud as I read it.

One of the reasons why we are still spending so much money in Afghanistan and had to surge tens of thousands of troops there in 2009 was because we made the fateful decision as a nation to shift the vast majority of our available military and intelligence resources away from Afghanistan in 2002 and toward a war in Iraq. (Peter Bergen does a nice job talking about the consequences of this decision in his latest book.)

Within that context, Tom Friedman is the very last person I want to hear complaining about the fact that we are still in Afghanistan after all these years. Because Tom Friedman was one of those public intellectuals who argued vociferously that going to war in Iraq was the right decision. What kind of fantastic lack of self-awareness must you possess to then complain about why we are still in Afghanistan? Watch this clip from a Charlie Rose interview with Friedman in 2003. The arrogance and ignorance on display here still makes me angry almost eight years later.*

*In the past, let it be known, I have tried not to beat up on Friedman too much in large part because I so very much respect the reporting he did from Beirut during the civil war in Lebanon. His dispatches for the Associated Press and for the New York Times were very, very solid. Their quality stands out to even a graduate student reading through the newspaper archives 25 years later.