Thursday, December 21, 2006

Thomas L. Friedman's sour grapes

David Seaton's News Links
Thomas L. Friedman is normally as cheerful as a chipmunk, a Pollyanna-ish tifoso of globalization, prone to see silver linings in the darkest of clouds. That makes the column he posted in the NYT yesterday rather special. I can't remember ever reading such a bitter, spiteful flow of bile from his pen. Probably he is so bitter because his reputation has foundered on the Iraq war: so totally trashed is Tom that he has become something of a figure of fun. He was an early enthusiast for the invasion and Haaretz grouped him then with Charles Krauthammer as an influential supporter of the war in Iraq. At the time he said,
"The way you get that compliance out of a thug like Saddam is not by tripling the inspectors, but by tripling the threat that if he does not comply he will be faced with a U.N.-approved war."
After no WMD were found he said,
"The stated reason for the war was that Saddam Hussein had developed weapons of mass destruction that posed a long-term threat to America. I never bought this argument… The WMD argument was hyped by George Bush and Tony Blair to try to turn a war of choice into a war of necessity."
"The right reason for this war, as I argued before it started, was to oust Saddam's regime and partner with the Iraqi people to try to implement the Arab Human Development report's prescriptions in the heart of the Arab world. That report said the Arab world is falling off the globe because of a lack of freedom, women's empowerment, and modern education. The right reason for this war was to partner with Arab moderates in a long-term strategy of dehumiliation and redignification."
Finally in August of 2006 he wrote,
"Whether for Bush reasons or Arab reasons, democracy is not emerging in Iraq, and we can’t throw more good lives after good lives"
His scrambling to maintain some reputation as an analyst and pundit led him to series of statements that have come to be known as the "Friedman Unit", a period of six months, where if his suggestions were followed, everything would turn out fine. Here is a sample of Friedman units ripped from Wikipedia:
"The next six months in Iraq... are the most important six months in U.S. foreign policy in a long, long time" November 30, 2003.

"What we're gonna find out... in the next six to nine months is whether we have liberated a country or uncorked a civil war." October 3, 2004.

"I think we're in the end game now.... I think we're in a six-month window here where it's going to become very clear" September 25, 2005.

"I think the next six months really are going to determine whether this country is going to collapse" December 18, 2005.

"I think that we're going to know after six to nine months whether this project has any chance of succeeding" January 23, 2006

"I think we are in the end game. The next six to nine months are going to tell whether we can produce a decent outcome in Iraq." March 2, 2006

"we're going to find out... in the next year to six months - probably sooner - whether a decent outcome is possible" May 11, 2006.

Now he has it really figured out,
"our real choices in Iraq are 10 months or 10 years". December 8, 2006
America being what it is nowadays Friedman will probably continue to win Pulitzer Prizes. But just in case they wake up in the New York Times one morning and reassign him to writing advice for the lovelorn, don't feel too sorry for him, he shall want for naught. Our Tom is married to the daughter of Matthew Bucksbaum, the chairman of the board for General Growth Properties and one of America's richest men... Tom is only dumb when it comes to international politics. Here are some excerpts from his latest column, where he blames the whole Middle East for making him look so stupid. DS
Mideast Rules To Live By - New York Times
Abstract: For a long time, I let my hopes for a decent outcome in Iraq triumph over what I had learned reporting from Lebanon during its civil war. Those hopes vanished last summer. So, I’d like to offer President Bush my updated rules of Middle East reporting, which also apply to diplomacy, in hopes they’ll help him figure out what to do next in Iraq.(...) Anything said to you in English, in private, doesn’t count. In Washington, officials lie in public and tell the truth off the record. In the Mideast, officials say what they really believe in public and tell you what you want to hear in private.(...) If you can’t explain something to Middle Easterners with a conspiracy theory, then don’t try to explain it at all — they won’t believe it.(...) In the Middle East, the extremists go all the way, and the moderates tend to just go away.(...) The most underestimated emotion in Arab politics is humiliation. The Israeli-Arab conflict, for instance, is not just about borders. Israel’s mere existence is a daily humiliation to Muslims, who can’t understand how, if they have the superior religion, Israel can be so powerful. Al Jazeera’s editor, Ahmed Sheikh, said it best when he recently told the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche: “It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about seven million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West’s problem is that it does not understand this.”(...) Thus, the Israelis will always win, and the Palestinians will always make sure they never enjoy it. Everything else is just commentary.(...) Our first priority is democracy, but the Arabs’ first priority is “justice.” The oft-warring Arab tribes are all wounded souls, who really have been hurt by colonial powers, by Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, by Arab kings and dictators, and, most of all, by each other in endless tribal wars. For Iraq’s long-abused Shiite majority, democracy is first and foremost a vehicle to get justice. Ditto the Kurds. For the minority Sunnis, democracy in Iraq is a vehicle of injustice. For us, democracy is all about protecting minority rights. For them, democracy is first about consolidating majority rights and getting justice.(...) Whether it is Arab-Israeli peace or democracy in Iraq, you can’t want it more than they do. READ IT ALL (bootleg)

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