mr. friedman goes to helmand

one of the first assignments i had to do for my politics 101 class in college was to read an op-ed piece by tom friendman in the nytimes and write about it. i distinctly recall the phrase he had coined in that piece: “the golden straightjacket”, and how flabby france was resisting shedding the necessary pounds to fit in the golden straightjacket, as clinton’s america and tatcher’s britain had done at some pain, but with lots of gain.

and just like that, i was hooked. i read nytimes nonstop for the next 6 years in the us, and still do online. and for all these years, and still now, read every friedman op-ed piece without fail. i also read the world is flat, and like a good half of its readers, was not impressed much with the basic lay of its ideas, though the onrush of minutae and details and the detailed story of the value chain of a microchip is pretty darn amazing.

now mr. friedman is in afghanistan and pontificating about the situation here in his signature layman’s tone and simpleton’s terms. tragedy is, afghanistan defies such opinionating, and somebody should tell that to mr. friedman. his penchant for creating buzzwords and coined phrases is producing some pretty awkward stuff in its afghanistan canvass: “the class too dumb to quit”? please. that’s plain insulting, notwithstanding his alibi in the piece itself.

and of course it was expected that a longtime middle east hand will again confuse afghanistan with middle east -despite the best efforts of this blogger and the rest of the afghan online community and a good chunk of the academia’s tireless campaign to get it through people’s heads that you might contest whether it is located in central or south asia, but there is no doubt that it is pretty darn far from the middle east.

and his invented simple test of where an american soldier should be sent is, well, again awkward and insulting and orientalizing -this latest trait a recurring theme in many an opinion piece by mr. friedman over the years.

I’ve long argued that there should be a test for any officer who wants to serve in Iraq or Afghanistan — just one question: “Do you think the shortest distance between two points is a straight line?” If you answer “yes,” you can go to Germany, South Korea or Japan, but not to Iraq or Afghanistan.

i have this nagging feeling after so many years of reading friedman that somewhere at the turn of the millenium mr. friedman perfected his signature form by bringing together well-thought out ideas and opinions and layman’s terms and with uncanny coined phrases: a perfect mix of form and substance. in this respect, he might have set a new trend in op-ed writing that is now being widely emulated. however, somewhere in the past half a decade, he has let the fine balance slip in favor of more form than substance. we still get the coined phrases and layman’s language, but little of the original thinking and trend-setting opinion pieces that made mr. friedman so famous earlier.

lastly, it is a letdown that somebody who has argued for democracy and human rights and humanizing and democratizing the middle east and the arab world for so long is turning cynical when it comes to afghanistan and bemoans the fact that “america has just adopted afghanistan as our new baby.” while everyone else thinks that the new afpak strategy (awkward categorization in itlself, but that’s another day’s vent) if anything is far too pragmatic and focuses the us effort back to its nationbuilding lite original warpath and does not have enough in it about democracy and human rights and all that good stuff, mr. friedman thinks the other way:

The troop surge that President Obama ordered here early in his tenure has taken this mission from a limited intervention, with limited results, to a full nation-building project that will take a long time to succeed — if ever. We came here to destroy Al Qaeda, and now we’re in a long war with the Taliban. Is that really a good use of American power?

and of course in the next breath he contradicts himself and goes on to bemoan corruption and signal the importance of delivering services and schools, courts and police to the afghan people.

i followed mr. friedman on twitter and was intrigued when i saw his twits from dubai saying that for security reasons he could not disclose where he was going next, and something told me he will be coming to afghanistan, and as one of the most loyal readers of his opinion pieces over the years i was hoping for something characteristically friedman: original, out of the box, and challenging received wisdoms and repeated opinions.

with his latest op-ed from helmand, he has given us all more of the same -recycled, regurgitated opinions that everyone around this town holds and does not hesitate to subject you to, with the added layer of friedmanesque layman’s terms and coined phrases.

* * *
the class too dumb to quit
by thomas friedman
july 21, 2009
the nytimes

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~ by safrang on July 23, 2009.

4 Responses to “mr. friedman goes to helmand”

  1. Afghanistan as the new baby.. very funny… I don’t know when will they stop playing the role of daddy for “third-world” countries.. after all, don’t we have a longer history at least then USA? this is so patronizing.

    and “The Country That’s Been Too Broken to Work”…thanks to Mr. Friedman for clarifying that.

  2. Are you on Twitter?

  3. no. no twitting for me. and no facebook, myspace, linkedin either. i have a highly addictive personality type and actively keep away from being hooked on these. blogging came by accident and is proving disastrous enough as it is. besides, i do not ‘believe’ in twitting -however you interpret that. i find its basic premise extremely frivolous- with all respect to avid twitters. i think unless we wield them carefully, these tools can do undue and irreparable damage to the craft of writing, and more importantly, the craft of reading -and to our attention spans.

  4. I also have a highly addictive personality, but apparently far less self-control than you do!

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