Not Enough Pashto Speakers but Pashto is Not Enough
Stephen Walt repeats the popular lament (and specifically Gareth Porter‘s) that the United States Government employs a ridiculously small number of Pashto speakers and that this negatively impacts us in Afghanstan. Pat Porter agrees but issues some important caveats:
1) Languages are extremely hard to develop at a sufficient level. Except for the most outrageously talented, most folk can study intensively for years and develop the language skills equivalent to a reasonably intelligent ten year old. Brokering deals amongst local leaders and conducting skilled diplomacy presumably demands skills far beyond this;
2) Prime Minister Anthony Eden was one of those outrageously talented people, who spoke Farsi and Arabic, had a First Class Honours degree from Oxford in Oriental Languages (which was probably even harder than Cinema Appreciation). None of this was enough to prevent his blunder in the Suez invasion of 1956. In other words, there is no substitute for good strategic judgement;
3) Other than foreign mercenaries, most British troops were pretty fluent in the local language against certain mutinous subjects between 1775 and 1783;
4) How do you say ‘we are destroying your opium crop’ in Pashto? If policies are misguided, all the vocabulary and nuanced knowledge in the world may not win over the population.
Beyond that, by the time we get people sufficiently trained in Pashto to be useful, they’ll be able to command far more money outside government — or as government contractors. Not to mention that, unless we plan to remain for decades, it’s a skill set that with an expiration date in terms of the utility of having legions of them.