From June 27, 2010

I was watching part of the GPS (Global Public Square) program on CNN last Sunday with Fareed Zakaria. He had Tom Friedman on to discuss the Afghanistan situation. Mr. Friedman, a well-known New York Times columnist, spoke with authority and passion. The only problem is that he is wrong. His position is that there is no way the U.S. can succeed in Afghanistan, that the surge was wrong, and that the U.S. should start withdrawal on the deadline.

I wonder what makes him an expert? Has anyone gone back and analyzed his past writings in the light of current facts to see if he has been more right than wrong in the past?

The case in question here is fairly simple. We have a corollary in the Iraq surge. I went and checked his articles on this subject, which are easily and freely available on the web. There are so many of them that I am not going to repeat them all but anyone who is interested can easily find them under this link and then at the bottom of the page search for “Iraq” or for “Surge.”

I think it is fair to say that it is the almost unanimous view today that the Iraq surge was hugely successful and turned what looked like mire at best, if not a full-blown defeat, to a success, if not a victory.

So what was our “expert’s” view of that surge? I looked at about 10 articles from early 2007 to about September 2007. The period when the surge was announced, then started taking shape on the ground until the first meaningful reports about the surge were provided in September.

Here are few “choice” statements from Friedman’s articles:

  1. January 12, 2007: “The only way more U.S. troops might bring stability is if you add two missing elements: a deadline and a floor….” Needless to say, the President did not exactly follow on this advice directed at him by our self confident “expert.” Lo and behold the surge succeeded without these additions, which according to Friedman, MAY have brought it to success.
  2. February 7, 2007: “The American people are being offered two routes to a dead-end: either follow President Bush and have troops surging into a roiling civil war….” This “dead-end” route proved to be a pretty good one as dead-ends go!
  3. July 1, 2007: “It is too early to pronounce the U.S. military’s surge in Iraq a failure. It’s not too early to say, though, that there is no sign that it is succeeding….” The emphasis is mine. The rest is our “expert’s” opinion!
  4. July 11th 2007: “Obviously, President Bush’s stay-the-course approach is bankrupt….” Our expert does not mince words, does he? Bankrupt!! That is few weeks before the results of the surge (which has just started few weeks before) were seen as a great success.
  5. August 19, 2007: “I am not interested in their opinion…,” talking about Gen. Petraeus’s and Ambassador Crocker’s up-and-coming testimony before the Congress due in September.

Admittedly we do get a convoluted explanation of why our “expert” is not interested in the real experts’ opinions. We even get a half-hearted concession that the surge MAY have worked…but even if it did, it does not matter “because…even if the U.S. troops create more pockets of security via the surge, they will have no one to hand these pockets to who can maintain them without us…only Iraqis living in Iraq can prove otherwise. So far I do not see it.” And on and on and on.

I will say that given what has transpired since, his “eyesight” is not that sharp! So having been clearly very, very wrong about the surge in Iraq to the very last day that it was even possible to debate it, calling it a dead-end and bankrupt—what EXACTLY makes this guy an expert???

By the way, not ONE apology. Not once conceding that he was wrong. Never. This guy has the temerity to make predictions with the strength and passion of a real experienced expert and then time and time again be proven wrong and yet continue on to the next analysis and prediction with the same passion and aura of an expert when indeed he has no clue, no experience, no track record of being right—nothing.

In his defense, he is not different from most other reporters who never had to make a decision on anything—they just report on things. They are never faced with having to choose between two alternatives when both are bad and you have to choose the least bad one. So my suggestion to our “intrepid” reporters—stop making yourselves out to be experts because you are not. Have humility because although experts you are not, mistakes you make and quite a few.

As by the way we all do.