“For years, U.S. officials used a shorthand phrase to describe America’s mission in Afghanistan. It always bothered me: We are there to train the Afghan Army to fight for their own government.
That turned out to be shorthand for everything that was wrong with our mission — the idea that Afghans didn’t know how to fight and just one more course in counterinsurgency would do the trick. Really? Thinking you need to train Afghans how to fight is like thinking you need to train Pacific Islanders how to fish. Afghan men know how to fight. They’ve been fighting one another, the British, the Soviets or the Americans for a long, long time.
It was never about the way our Afghan allies fought. It was always about their will to fight for the corrupt pro-American, pro-Western governments we helped stand up in Kabul. And from the beginning, the smaller Taliban forces — which no superpower was training — had the stronger will, as well as the advantage of being seen as fighting for the tenets of Afghan nationalism: independence from the foreigner and the preservation of fundamentalist Islam as the basis of religion, culture, law and politics. In oft-occupied countries like Afghanistan, many people will actually prefer their own people as rulers (however awful) over foreigners (however well intentioned).
“We learn again from Afghanistan that although America can stop bad things from happening abroad, it cannot make good things happen. That has to come from within a country,” said Michael Mandelbaum, a U.S. foreign policy expert and the author of “Mission Failure: America and the World in the Post-Cold War Era.” “
“Like everyone else, I look forward to a summer of reconnecting with family and friends and relishing a good ole Fourth of July barbecue — unmasked! But I will be doing so with a pit in my stomach, because just beneath the surface calm in America, volcanic forces are gathering that could blow the lid off our democracy. We are living in a fool’s paradise. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Three recent news stories have me terrified:
First are the unfolding reports about how Donald Trump’s Justice Department secretly seized the personal data of journalists and Democrats in Congress from phone and tech companies while investigating leaks, and even secured Trump’s own White House counsel’s data. Now imagine what would happen if Trump was re-elected in 2024 by his cultlike following and he didn’t have to worry about facing voters again? He’d be out of control.”
David Lindsay Jr.Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Bravo Thomas Friedman. When you are good, you’re great. You end, “This is political dynamite for Democrats. The Trump-cult G.O.P. will pound them on this policing issue. Biden needs to keep rallying his party tightly around his right answer: transformed policing and sufficient policing — not defunding the police. Because if people feel forced to choose security over democracy — concerns about stealing outside their door over stealing an election — beware: Way too many will choose Trump and his cult.” I couldn’t take fault with anything in your piece, but I worry that unarmed old progressives like myself would be sorry partners in a civil war. While I enjoyed the top comments, they didn’t ever address directly your essay or its multiple points. It makes me wonder if the NYT comments section, which I love, should add a new category, On Topic, next to, Reader Picks, and NYT Picks, that would steer some of us to comments that actually address the essay that provides the forum, but is often ignored, or replied to only obliquely. While this might be a silly idea, or way to much work, maybe there is a solution. I will start rereading the NYT Picks, to see if they have a quiet bias towards this desire I have, to see writers address the essay at hand. Friedman is right to warn us of how dire this Defund the Police language will be to the future of our democracy. Here in Hamden CT, there are young radicalized progressive no nothings that spout Defund the Police, hurting Democrats.
“Since Iran and the U.S. held more talks this week to try to revive their nuclear deal, with some progress reported, I want to share my views on this subject: I supported the original deal negotiated by Barack Obama in 2015. I did not support Donald Trump’s tearing it up in 2018, but when he did I hoped that he’d leverage the economic pain he inflicted to persuade Iran to improve the deal. Trump failed at that, leaving Iran free to get closer than ever to a bomb. I support Joe Biden trying to revive the deal. And I support Israel’s covert efforts to sabotage Iran’s ability to ever build a nuclear weapon — no matter what the deal.
If that sounds contradictory, it’s because, well, it just sounds that way. There is a unifying thread running through it all: Dealing effectively with Iran’s Islamic regime — in a way that permanently eliminates its malign behavior — is impossible.” . . .
David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
First response. I’m a bit lost. I like Tom Friedman’s brutal honesty, but I despise the Syrian Shiite regime of Assad. The Iranians will probably run out of water in the next 50 years, according to a major Virgina military think tank, so we could just wait out this group of old mullahs. What else could we do? Maybe, apologize to the Iranians for overthowing their leftist democracy 70 years ago, and essentially let them have the nuclear bomb they crave. Offer Israel nuclear protection. If Iran or one of its neighbors destroys Israel, with one lousy nuke, we will destroy the attacker, with as many nukes as it takes to destroy their goverment. Another idea, take out Assad, and destroy his regime, and put in its place our allies, the Sunnis to the north he has been fighting in that brual civil war. Maybe instead, we have to recongnize our inability to manage these foreign interventions well, and focus on our own, serious domestic problems. But supporting the butcher Assad doesn’t excite me. Destroying him, we might accidentally destroy the Russians fighting in Syria, sending a message to Putin about our feelings towards unlimited cyber ransomware attacks. Whatever we do, or don’t do, follow Sun Tsu’s dictum, if you are not smart enough or patient enough to avoid war, get in and get out, do not stick around. Patience might be best.
“Since the 1990s, the wisest oil-producing countries and companies have regularly reminded themselves of the oil patch adage that the Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones; it ended because we invented bronze tools. When we did, stone tools became worthless — even though there were still plenty on the ground.
And so it will be with oil: The petroleum age will end because we invent superior technology that coexists harmoniously with nature. When we do, there will be plenty of oil left in the ground.
So be careful, wise producers tell themselves, don’t bet the vitality of your company, community or country on the assumption that oil will be like Maxwell House Coffee — “Good to the last drop” — and pumped from every last well. Remember Kodak? It underestimated the speed at which digital photography would make film obsolete. It didn’t go well for Kodak or Kodachrome.
Alas, though, not every oil company got the memo.
One that most glaringly did not is the one that in 2013 was the biggest public company in the world! It’s ExxonMobil. Today, it is no longer the biggest. As a result of its head-in-the-oil-sands-drill-baby-drill-we-are-still-not-at-peak-oil business model, Exxon lost over $20 billion last year, suffered a credit rating downgrade, might have to borrow billions just to pay its dividend, has seen its share price over the last decade produce a minus-30 percent return and was booted from the Dow Jones industrial average. . . . “
“. . . Therefore, I hope that when the secretary of state, Tony Blinken, meets with Israeli and Palestinian leaders this week, he conveys a very clear message: “From this day forward, we will be treating the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank as a Palestinian state in the making, and we will be taking a series of diplomatic steps to concretize Palestinian statehood in order to preserve the viability of a two-state solution. We respect both of your concerns, but we are determined to move forward because the preservation of a two-state solution now is not only about yournational security interests; it is about our national security interests in the Middle East. And it is about the political future of the centrist faction of the Democratic Party. So we all need to get this right.’’
For starters, Biden should reshape U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian relations by opening a diplomatic mission to the P.A. — as the nascent Palestinian state government — near its headquarters in Ramallah. At the same time, he should invite the P.A. to send a diplomatic representative to Washington as the would-be ambassador of a future Palestinian state. . . . “
David Lindsay Jr.Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Thank you Thomas Friedman. Sounds like a plan, and it just might, help starve the beast, which would be Hamas for the Palestinians, and Netanyahu and the right wing pro settler parties of Israel. I support these proposals as reasonable ideas, though I do not think the US should pay for it all. We no longer need the oil of the middle east. What we need is to focus ourselves and the world on combatting climate change and the sixth extinction, which are threats to all humans and non humans alike. World popuation grew from 2 to 7.8 billion in the last 90 years. All our foreign aid should be part of a larger war on overpopulation and climate changing pollution from fossil fuels.
“There are many ways to understand what is happening today between Hamas and Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel, but I prefer to think about it like this: They are each having their own Jan. 6 moment.
Just as a mob was unleashed by President Donald Trump to ransack our Capitol on Jan. 6 in a last-ditch effort to overturn the election results and prevent a healing unifier from becoming president, so Bibi and Hamas each exploited or nurtured their own mobs to prevent an unprecedented national unity government from emerging in Israel — a cabinet that for the first time would have included Israeli Jews and Israeli Arab Muslims together.
Like Trump, both Bibi and Hamas have kept power by inspiring and riding waves of hostility to “the other.” They turn to this tactic anytime they are in political trouble. Indeed, they each have been the other’s most valuable partner in that tactic ever since Netanyahu was first elected prime minister in 1996 — on the back of a wave of Hamas suicide bombings.
No, Hamas and Bibi don’t talk. They don’t need to. They each understand what the other needs to stay in power and consciously or unconsciously behave in ways to ensure that they deliver it.
Let’s see, what happens when TikTok meets Palestinian grievances about right-wing Israeli land grabs in Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem? And then you add the holiest Muslim night of prayer in Jerusalem into the mix? Then toss in the most emotional Israeli holiday in Jerusalem? And a power play by Hamas to assume leadership of the Palestinian cause? And, finally, a political vacuum in which the Palestinian Authority is incapable of holding new elections and Israel is so divided it can’t stop having elections?
What happens is the explosion of violence around Jerusalem on Monday that quickly spread to the Gaza front, and has people asking: Is this the big one? Is this the start of the next Palestinian uprising?
The Israeli government, the surrounding Arab nations and the Palestinian Authority all desperately want the answer to be “no” — Israel because it would find little support from a left-leaning White House, let alone the rest of the world, for a big crackdown on Palestinians; the Arab governments because most of them want to do business with Israeli tech-makers, not get mired defending Palestinian rock-throwers; and the Palestinian leadership because it would expose just how little it controls the Palestinian street anymore.
But unlike the Intifadas that began in 1987 and 2000, when Israel had someone to call to try to turn it off, there is no Palestinian on the other end of the phone this time — or, if there is, he’s a 15-year-old on his smartphone, swiping orders and inspiration from TikTok, the video app often used by young Palestinians to challenge and encourage one another to confront Israelis. . . . “
“President Biden’s early success in getting Americans vaccinated, pushing out stimulus checks and generally calming the surface of American life has been a blessing for the country. But it’s also lulled many into thinking that Donald Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen, which propelled the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, would surely fade away and everything would return to normal. It hasn’t.
We are not OK. America’s democracy is still in real danger. In fact, we are closer to a political civil war — more than at any other time in our modern history. Today’s seeming political calm is actually resting on a false bottom that we’re at risk of crashing through at any moment.
Because, instead of Trump’s Big Lie fading away, just the opposite is happening — first slowly and now quickly.
Under Trump’s command and control from Mar-a-Largo, and with the complicity of most of his party’s leaders, that Big Lie — that the greatest election in our history, when more Republicans and Democrats voted than ever before, in the midst of a pandemic, must have been rigged because Trump lost — has metastasized. It’s being embraced by a solid majority of elected Republicans and ordinary party members — local, state and national.”
“. . . There is simply nothing more dangerous for a two-party democracy than to have one party declare that no election where it loses is legitimate, and, therefore, if it loses it will just lie about the results and change the rules.
That’s exactly what’s playing out now. And the more one G.O.P. lawmaker after another signs on to Trump’s Big Lie, the more it gives the party license at the state level to promote voter suppression laws that ensure that it cannot lose ever again. . . . .”
“After reading as much as I can about the latest surge in illegal immigration along our southern border, I’m still not clear how much is seasonal, how much is triggered by President Biden’s announcement that he was halting construction of Donald Trump’s border wall and reviewing Trump’s asylum policies, and how much is just the lure of jobs in a rapidly vaccinating United States.
But this latest flood of illegal immigrants and asylum-seekers — more than 170,000 apprehended in March alone, including thousands of children, mostly fleeing chaos in Central America — only reinforces my view that the right border policy is a high wall with a big gate.
I wish we could take in everyone suffering in the world and give each a shot at the American dream, but we can’t while maintaining our own social cohesion, which is already fraying badly enough. So, making immigration policy today requires a tough-minded balance between hardheartedness and compassion.
If we just emphasize the high wall, and wear cruelty as a badge of honor, as Trump did, we lose out on the huge benefits of immigration. But if all we do is focus, as many on the left do, on the evils of a wall and ignore the principles of a big gate — that would-be immigrants and asylum-seekers need to get in line, ring our doorbell and enter legally, and those who don’t should be quickly evicted — we will also lose out on the huge benefits of immigration.
Why? Because so many Americans will think that the border is open and out of control that they will elect leaders who will choke off all immigration, which is the lifeblood of our country. Have no doubt, a seemingly out-of-control border would be a godsend for the Trump G.O.P. — an emotional club even more evocative than the mantra “Defund the police” with which to beat Democratic candidates in the midterms.
Bravo and thank you Thomas Friedman. I strongly second this opinion piece. Joe Biden is doing a great job on many fronts. Since I think climate change is an existential threat, Joe Biden gets my support for taking this giant threat seriously. But I, like most Americans, want to end illegal immigration, and see a regulated immigration system that serves the needs and desires of the country. Biden will be handing the government back to the Republican party of Trump, and the anti-science modern versions of the know nothings and white supremacists set back by Abraham Lincoln. I expect Friedman understands that his high wall, is really a hardened wall, which isn’t always a physical wall at all. There are plenty of technologies and policy choices to harden the border, without the environmental degredation of a physical wall. I would add to his list of ideas, that we amend the 14th amendment to do away with automatic citizenship for even illegals and tourists born here. We need to expand our guest worker program, so that guest workers are not exploited by rapacious employers. We need to clean up this poitical hot potato of illegal immigration, so we can focus on the host of other problems that threaten the United States and the world.
“After our presidential election I wrote that what had just happened felt to me as if Lady Liberty had been crossing Fifth Avenue when out of nowhere a crazy guy driving a bus ran a red light. Thankfully, “Lady Liberty leapt out of the way barely in time, and she’s now sitting on the curb, her heart pounding, just glad to be alive.” But she knows just how narrowly she escaped.
I hoped that once Joe Biden took charge my anxiety over how close we came to losing our democracy would soon fade. It hasn’t.
Just listen to Donald Trump or Senator Ron Johnson or Fox News whitewashing the ransacking of the Capitol as a Republican white boys’ picnic that just got a little rowdy. Just listen to Trump’s former lawyer Sidney Powell trying to escape a lawsuit by arguing that no serious person would have believed her claims that Dominion Voting Systems machines had helped to perpetrate a stolen election. Just watch Georgia’s legislature pass a measure supposedly designed to prevent the very fraud that Powell now says never happened by creating obstacles for Black voters — even making it a crime for anyone to serve water to someone waiting hours in a voting line.
Yes, that crazy bus driver is still out there and Lady Liberty is still in danger of being run over.” . .
David Lindsay Jr.Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Thank you Thomas Friedman for making this day a good one. You had so many good paragraphs, here are my favorites: “What would Trump do if he presided over such a boom? HE’D PUT HIS NAME ON IT. That’s what Biden should do. If it comes, call it the “Biden Boom” — and celebrate entrepreneurs, capitalists, job creators, farmers and all those who work with their hands. Make clear that they all have a home in the Democratic Party, not just left-wing educated elites. That’s how you win the midterms. . .
. . . Then, once these green technologies are affordable, said Harvey, “you stimulate the private sector to make them steadily cheaper and more efficient by having the government set improved performance standards every year” — like California recently did, requiring the end of internal combustion engines in cars by 2035, and the way Obama did in 2012, when he required U.S. automakers to nearly double the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks by 2025.”
A few commenters were upset about your call for a dash of Reagan. Let me try and explain to them, Reagan had a long list of faults as well as strengths. He was a brilliant marketer, even if of mostly right-wing ideas. He increased military spending, which I was against, but it contributed to the bankrupting of the Soviet Union and it’s collapse.
Sun Tzu wrote, know your enemy better than you know yourself. I heartily support Friedman’s points, especially, borrow a page from Trump, the media maestro, and call your work the Biden Boom. Don’t follow Obama, who famously forgot to win elections.