Your run of the mill moderate may be disgusted by al Qaeda attacks against America and may find the idea of slaughtering infidels abhorrent, but he may also think that we’re getting what’s coming to us and so isn’t very motivated to get himself killed purging the radicals from his midst.
In addition to everything else that was wrong with that column, Friedman seems to take for granted that the more active repudiation of jihadists by non-jihadist Muslims will mean a convergence of interests between the latter and the U.S. government. This is somewhat similar to the idea that as authoritarian states become more liberalized and democratic the more amenable to U.S. goals and policies they will be. Many Westerners like to maintain the illusion that reformers and “moderates” who operate in the context of another country’s politics or another religion’s internal debates are therefore necessarily somehow aligned with us and on our “side.” This is not so, and one reason why it is not so is that non-jihadists quite understandably resent the frequent interference in and occasional domination of their countries. They may find extremist responses to this interference excessive and wrong in their methods, but they certainly must find it infuriating when someone else invades their country, stokes sectarian and religious passions in the process, provokes fanatical retaliation, turns their country into a killing field, and then has the gall to tell them that they have not done enough to combat jihadism, which, at least in the case of Iraq, was hardly present before our forces attracted it and stirred it up. They might find jihadist atrocities appalling, but from their perspective these might seem to pale in comparison to the far larger numbers who are killed or displaced by military offensives ordered or backed by our government. The point is not that we must excuse or approve of these attitudes, but we should understand them.
Consider what Friedman says about this, and just marvel at the lack of understanding:
If we want a peaceful, tolerant region more than they do [bold mine-DL], they will hold our coats while we fight, and they will hold their tongues against their worst extremists.
Does Friedman really think that our interventions in majority-Muslim countries have brought them closer to being peaceful and tolerant? Maybe he does, and that’s part of the problem. Does he believe that the majority of Muslims perceives the creation of a “peaceful, tolerant region” as our goal? If so, he is badly misinformed. This is why Friedman’s obliviousness to the role U.S. policies have had in this dynamic is so damaging to his argument.
Of course, he is wrong when he says that “no one really calls them out” in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as public opinion in Pakistan has turned sharply against jihadists as their cities have come under attack, but many Afghans and Pakistanis must wonder why there are relatively so few Westerners who voice criticism when attacks by our forces or allied forces result in large numbers of civilian casualties. Even if it were true that no one was calling out the jihadiast mass murderers of Muslims, what have people in, say, western Pakistan experienced for the most part? On the one side, there are Taliban militias that are brutal and repressive in many ways, but they are also more local and connected to the population than either the Pakistani army, whose military campaigns have so far displaced hundreds of thousands, or the U.S. government, which people in western Pakistan encounter more directly through drone strikes and indirectly through the Pakistani forces that our government is pushing to campaign in their territory. Meanwhile, Pakistani army tactics are heavy-handed and conventional, which have in turn caused numerous civilian casualties during their campaign in Swat and have even turned its sympathizers against the government. Not only does this receive little notice in the West, but it certainly doesn’t generate any of the outrage Friedman demands of Muslims worldwide.
Hawks like to talk about the danger of emboldening enemies and discouraging friends, but what could be more discouraging than having one’s ostensible ally pushing for military operations that drive you from your land? Are the refugees displaced in western Pakistan “holding our coats” while we create a “peaceful, tolerant region”? Does anyone think they would see it that way? They have been displaced as a result of the insistence of our government that Islamabad be more aggressive against the Taliban. Whom do you suppose they will hold responsible for their predicament? How will that work out for us and our Pakistani allies? How are they going to be bothered to condemn bombings in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, when these bombings are often targeting figures in the military and civilian government that have made them refugees?
It is worth noting here that the new emphasis on more restrictive rules of engagement and the importance of population security as part of the Afghanistan war plan is intended to avoid making the numerous, costly blunders inside Afghanistan that we were making before and which our Pakistani allies continue to make at our urging. Look at the heavy-handed and counterproductive tactics of the Pakistani army in western Pakistan and the politically disastrous and ideologically radicalizing refugee crisis that they are creating, and you then have a good idea of what “antiwar” figures complaining about “political correctness” that ties the military’s hands would like to see instead.
The greatest problem with our “Af-Pak” strategy is that we seem to understand the importance of keeping the population secure and more or less aligned with our allied government, but this understanding then disappears once across the Durand Line, and suddenly we start signing off on some combination of the methods used by the Ethiopians in Somalia (i.e., invade and create chaos) and an imitation of the missile strikes our forces have used in Yemen.