I don’t read most pundits because they all say the same thing, they think in herds

by Joshua Foust on 9/15/2009 · 6 comments

Okay, so remember when Fareed Zakaria suggested we try bribing the Pashtuns because that’s how the British won in the 19th century? Yeah, so now it’s Fred Kaplan’s turn.

Whatever President Obama decides on troop levels, the real task at hand is to create legitimacy and build popular support for the Afghan government…By “extraordinary measures” I mean heavy bribery. It does tend to work, at least in the short run. In the spring and summer of 2003, during the early days of the Iraq occupation, this was how Gen. David Petraeus, then commander of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, pacified much of northern Iraq, including Mosul—by passing around lots of cash taken from Saddam Hussein’s bountiful stash. (When the money ran out, Congress failed to appropriate more, at least not as an uncontrollable commanders’ discretionary fund. Whether by coincidence or not, Mosul fell apart soon after.) Similarly, during the surge and the Sunni Awakening in Anbar province, many former insurgents joined the “Sons of Iraq,” and thus the coalition cause, thanks in part to the inducement of a regular paycheck.

AHHHHHHH! What is WRONG with these people? Afghanistan’s government is illegitimate, so our solution is to bribe them? How does that pass a basic “a, therefore b” test? How does this make it past an editor?

Just what do these celebrity pundits do anyway in their downtime? Do they sit down and jabber for a few minutes, and say, “hey, this seems like a great idea because we’re really clever writers, so let’s write the same thing in our magazines and get praised by Foreign Policy!” There are these waves of groupthink through punditland, and everyone congratulates themselves for being clever and prescient. But it’s nothing of the sort: they all write the exact same thing, at the same time, and say nothing.

It is absolutely maddening.

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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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dennis September 16, 2009 at 1:25 am

so let’s see now.we give out big bribes.to a government.that’s a little shady. in hope’s they might do right for the people. or am i wrong here.? how about the pundits go there, in bed, then wright what they see. instead of copy an paste. each other.

Schmedlap September 16, 2009 at 5:29 am

It’s just that easy!

I would add that his Iraq example kind of sucks, too. I really don’t think that “bribing” Sunnis would have worked in early 2006. Money does not wash away the fear that the larger sectarian group is going to slaughter you. There needs to be a fundamental change in the situation. Money is merely a lubricant.

Ryan September 16, 2009 at 7:22 am

Dude, I understand you are frustrated, but tone down the rage a little bit

Keith September 16, 2009 at 8:05 am

I agree with Ryan. I don’t think Kaplan’s been as bad as most of the conventional wisdom thinkers in Washington. So he wrote a bad column. And in his defense, most of the column wasn’t about bribing Afghans; it was about Adm. Mullen’s hearing in front of the Armed Services Committee.

You are right though, bribing the Afghans probably won’t work. Plus, I thought we already tried this with the Afghans during our initial efforts there. Did we not “hire” various warlords to do our dirty work?

Joshua Foust September 16, 2009 at 8:12 am

You guys are right. I toned down the language here, it was way over the top.

Brian September 16, 2009 at 9:29 am

It’s clear why Foust is angry. People will live and die based on some of these pundits recommendations. I know that probably seems a bit over the top to some of you, but its really that simple. People’s advice on Afghanistan/Pakistan policy can be deadly. Its not the same as pundits talking about the “Cash for Clunkers” yet all punditry is seemingly weighted the same. Luckily for these pundits there’s no vetting process and their editors no less about the region than they do. Its idiocy plain and simple, and that gets people killed.

Schmedlap I partly agree with you, but in Iraq there were added issues, such as the destruction of the social fabric(newish to iraq, not to Afghanistan), also there was the wholesale failure of the US to protect the Sunni populace from crazies which eventually forced them into Petraeus arms in a desperate bid to regain stability. It remains to be seen how the new militias of Iraq will end up. Plenty of Baath operatives are still free and operating, it could be it turns out that AQI was a small time player and most of the “resistance” really is still run by Saddam’s old guard…

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