It seems that the world has decided not to put itself on hold while I spend the next four or five months writing my Memoirs, and there are some things to which, in Arthur Miller's poignant phrase, attention must paid. In today's NY TIMES, Thomas Friedman has yet another opinion piece on Afghanistan, defending Obama's decision publicly to chastise Hamid Karzai for the corruption and inefficacy of his government. You can read the piece on line of you want to see the entirety of Friedman's argument. I have so long ago lost all patience with him that I cannot bear to undertake a summary of it. But one little bit caught my eye. With an easy assurance that suggests he has no idea of the real implications of what he is saying, Friedman exhibits the mindset that has shaped American foreign policy for decades now. Here are the three sentences, from the middle of the column: "If decent governance is the key to our strategy, it is important that Afghans see and hear where we stand on these issues. Otherwise, where will they find the courage to stand up for better governance? We need to bring along the whole society." [emphasis in the original] This is the authentic voice of an imperial power. The Afghans, who are not really imagined to have legitimate interests, concerns, traditions, or obsessions of their own, naturally look to us, the latest in a centuries old succession of conquerors, to help them decide what to think about their own country. We need to bring the whole society along, as though it were a herd of steers hesitating to cross a river on the way to market. This point of view, which Friedman approves of and correctly imputes to the Obama Administration, is contrasted in his mind with the only serious alternative, the Cold War policy of ignoring the internal politics of a nation and caring only whether it allies itself with us against the Soviet Union. Enlightened Imperialism, I suppose one is meant to consider it, save that of course "imperialism" is a term never to be uttered.
Try a thought experiment. Imagine that the United States has been invaded and effectively conquered by a foreign power, whose in-country representatives are committed to bringing all of American society along to the adoption of -- oh, pick one... communism, Hinduism, Islam, even, absurd though it might seem, in light of the American national character, Christianity. Can you suppose that Americans would be waiting, with bated breath, to see whether their occupiers chastised their puppet representative should he fall short of their aspirations for him? It is simply impossible even to think one's way into such a state of mind. And yet, that is what Friedman, and most of the voices in the public discourse, unthinkingly assume when they write about Afghanistan. One longs for another Franz Fanon!