Among liberals, Thomas Friedman was slow to call for stepping away from the war in Iraq. But in his weekend column for the New York Times, he suggested he might be quicker to join the rising chorus of critics of the Afghanistan war in advocating a pull-out. If building up a corrupt government is our best strategy, he argues that the prospects of success are dark:
If this is how our "allies" are treating us in Afghanistan, after eight years, then one really has to ask not whether we can afford to lose there but whether we can afford to win there. It would be one thing if the people we were fighting with and for represented everything the Taliban did not: decency, respect for women’s rights and education, respect for the rule of law and democratic values and rejection of drug-dealing. But they do not.But after laying out a complete case for withdrawal, he hesitates at the brink, instead calling for a "national discussion":
[Nation building] may still be worth doing, but one thing I know for sure, it must be debated anew. This is a much bigger undertaking than we originally signed up for.Friedman's hedge echoes many writers who have been following in the wake of George Will's assertive case for withdrawal last week. Neither gung-ho nor hopeless on Afghanistan, many writers are putting the burden of proof on President Obama to re-make the case for war. While Friedman's hints of a loss of faith in war won him some grudging nods, the larger message from left and right was that it's time to pick a side in the debate over war.
The best reactions so far:
- Mainstream Recognition of a Lost Cause, celebrates Jerry Remmers at The Moderate Voice. He applauds Friedman, whom he applauds as "arguably the most authoritative voice in the main stream media on Middle Eastern affairs." Remmers has been against the war since 2007, when he discovered that development efforts were foundering. "Afghanistan with its tribal customs will take years to bring into the 21st century," he says. "The end game is no where near in sight."
- Friedman Gives Up Again, says Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal. "Tom Friedman is hedging his bets on yet another conflict he once supported but which now disturbs his moral equilibrium." He compares the impact of withdrawing from Afghanistan to the empire-crushing loss at Adrianople for Rome.
- One Step Short of Opposing War, urges Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. "You'd think anyone who could write all that would take the obvious next step and recommend that we get out. But no. The farthest Friedman is willing to go is to suggest that the war in Afghanistan ought to be 'debated anew.'"
- 'Friedman Finally Gets It,' approves Steve Hynd at Newshoggers. Hynd recounts how he, Hynd, understood that Obama's plans in Afghanistan were always designed to be a nation-building exercise. He then asks Friedman, "at what point will you admit that the White House and the Pentagon - enabled by your own D.C. Village set of think-tank and punditry hawks - has tried very hard not to have that debate [over nation building] and to slip all this past the American public this last six months?"
- Another Misguided Doubter, writes David Schuler at Outside the Beltway. Schuler advises that instead of getting all twisted up over the corruption of Karzai, Americans should change their expectations. " The mission would be a combination of counter-terrorism, development, and force protection. After eight years that will be a terribly hard sell but not, I think, as difficult as the alternatives."