(Thomas L. Friedman is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and author. This column first appeared in The New York Times on August 16, 2021)
- For years, US officials used a shorthand phrase to describe America’s mission in Afghanistan. It always bothered me: 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).