Category Archives: Thomas Friedman

The eternal present of the New York Times

Punditry is an accountability free occupation.

In today's New York Times, the grizzled warrior David Brooks performs a chest-beating war dance over Afghanistan of the type he and his tough guy comrades perfected in the run-up to the Iraq War.  It's filled with self-glorifying "war-is-hell" neocon platitudes that make the speaker feel tough and strong.  No more hiding like cowards in our bases.  It's time to send "small groups of American men and women [] outside the wire in dangerous places."  Those opposing escalation are succumbing to the "illusion of the easy path."  Chomping on a cigar in his war room, he roars:  "all out or all in."  The central question: will we "surrender the place to the Taliban?," etc. etc. 

Needless to say, Brooks was writing all the same things in late 2002 and early 2003 about Iraq — though, back then, he did so from the pages of Rupert Murdoch and Bill Kristol's The Weekly Standard.  When I went back to read some of that this morning, I was — as always — struck by how extreme and noxious it all was:  the snide, hubristic superiority combined with absolute wrongness about everything.  What people like David Brooks were saying back then was so severe — so severely wrong, pompous, blind, warmongering and, as it turns out, destructive — that no matter how many times one reviews the record of the leading opinion-makers of that era, one will never be inured to how poisonous they are.

All of this would be a fascinating study for historians if the people responsible were figures of the past.  But they're not.  They're the opposite.  The same people shaping our debates now are the same ones who did all of that, and they haven't changed at all.  They're doing the same things now that they did then.  When you go read what they said back then, that's what makes it so remarkable and noteworthy.  David Brooks got promoted within our establishment commentariat to The New York Times after (one might say:  because of) the ignorant bile and amoral idiocy he continuously spewed while at The Weekly Standard.  According to National Journal's recently convened "panel of Congressional and Political Insiders," Brooks is now the commentator who "who most help[s] to shape their own opinion or worldview" — second only to Tom "Suck On This" Friedman.  Charles Krauthammer came in third.  Ponder that for a minute.

Read the rest.  The truly odd thing about all of this, as a friend of ours suggested, is that these people operate as if no one has access to their past writings on these matters.  Odder than that is the fact that people do, and yet there they are.

One can only dream

If you haven't seen the Yes Men in action, then I recommend you do.  Since explaining what they do would ruin it, here's an example of their latest work.

Go read it here.  Enjoy the op-eds especially.  Here's an excerpt from "Tom Friedman's":

In any case, I have made a decision: as of today, I will no longer write in this or any other newspaper. I will immediately desist from writing any more books about how it’s time for everyone to climb on board the globalization high-speed monorail to the future. I will keep my opinions to myself. (My wife suggested that I try not to even form opinions, but I think she might have another agenda.)

Baffled? I don’t blame you. So I’ll cite some facts to support my decision — a practice, I must admit, I have too seldom followed.

Let’s start with the invasion itself. I was pretty much all for it. Mind you, I was not one of the pundits, reporters, or public figures who said that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States. I knew better — but I said it didn’t matter!

Back in February of 2003, I wrote in this space: “Saddam does not threaten us today. He can be deterred. Taking him out is a war of choice — but it’s a legitimate choice.” In other words, we should invade a sovereign state and replace its government in order to remake the world more to our liking.

Now the simple fact is, an unprovoked attack on a sovereign state is a war crime, even when linked to grand ideas of the future of mankind. In fact, that’s exactly what Hitler did, for exactly the same reasons. The Nuremburg War Crimes Tribunal called it the “the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

What was I thinking? And more importantly, why didn’t anyone stop me?

One can only dream.

You would like me, loser

There's a new narrative in town.  Yes, I know, it's really the old narrative, but it's circulating yet again among the "liberal" pundits–whose views somehow New York Times readers just believe, well, because they're liberal aren't they? 

Here's how it goes.  Chapter one: Big Pundit describes the manly musk of the Republican candidate, who is a speak-from-gut, "likeable" sort of person. 

Chapter two, enter the Democratic candidate: he's a too-cool-for-school, intellectual type, he's not likeable, because he intimidates you with his knowledge of things.

Skipping a few chapters and finally arriving at the election, the Big Pundit admires the mean and dishonest style of campaigning of the Republican candidate (although Big Pundit believes lying is wrong, the person is nuts, and the country will be worse off under him) and complains endlessly that the Democratic candidate is not enough like the Republican one.

So here comes the advice.  Tom Friedman writes:

In a way, I would love to hear Obama say, just for shock value: “Suck.On.This. I am so eager to do whatever it takes to fix these problems that I am ready to be a one-term president. Mine will not be a presidency that is confined to the first 100 days. But that is what we have fallen into, folks. The first 100 days have become the only 100 days. Once they are over, presidents are told that they have to trim their sails to get ready for the midterm elections, and once the midterms are over they are told that they have to trim their sails and get ready for the next presidential election. We can’t solve our problems with a government of 100 days. I am going to work the hard problems the hard way for 1,461 days.”

The rest of course is appallingly bad–count the number of times he says "I."  An example:

I confess, I watch politics from afar, but here’s what I’ve been feeling for a while: Whoever slipped that Valium into Barack Obama’s coffee needs to be found and arrested by the Democrats because Obama has gone from cool to cold.

Somebody needs to tell Obama that if he wants the chance to calmly answer the phone at 3 a.m. in the White House, he is going to need to start slamming down some phones at 3 p.m. along the campaign trail. I like much of what he has to say, especially about energy, but I don’t think people are feeling it in their guts, and I am a big believer that voters don’t listen through their ears. They listen through their stomachs.

There's another chapter to this.  Woe unto the liberal candidate who even appears to alter his appearance to conform to the desires of the Big Pundit–he'll be endlessly accused of "inauthenticity."

Just wait.

Analyze foreign affairs like Tom Friedman

Tom Friedman on Iraq today:

One of the first things I realized when visiting Iraq after the U.S. invasion was that the very fact that Iraqis did not liberate themselves, but had to be liberated by Americans, was a source of humiliation to them. It’s one reason they never threw flowers. When someone else has to liberate you in your own home, that is humiliating — and humiliation, I believe, is the single-most underestimated force in international relations, especially in the Middle East.

Tom Friedman on Iraq, May 30, 2003 (transcript courtesy of Atrios):

I think it [the invasion of Iraq] was unquestionably worth doing, Charlie.

We needed to go over there, basically, um, and um, uh, take out a very big stick right in the heart of that world and burst that bubble, and there was only one way to do it.

What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, um and basically saying, "Which part of this sentence don't you understand?"

You don't think, you know, we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we're just gonna let it grow?

Well Suck. On. This.


That Charlie was what this war was about. We could've hit Saudi Arabia, it was part of that bubble. We coulda hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could. That's the real truth.

Remarkable they don't feel liberated by the likes of Friedman.  Remarkable indeed. 



Taxi driver

If we have learned anything from the war on terror, it’s that individual Middle eastern taxi, livery, and car service drivers have no special insight into world affairs.  Someone on the web has kept track of how often Tom Friedman used that kind of anecdotal evidence to characterize the opinions and feelings of the entire Middle East.  Now it’s time for Richard Cohen, liberal pundit of the Washington Post.  He writes:

In the end, the photos taken at Abu Ghraib produced an explosion of
outrage. When I visited Jordan in 2005, my driver — Bassam was his
name — brought it up himself
. Just as the military’s interrogators
knew the intense shame Muslim men feel when stripped naked and viewed
by women, or when forced to wear women’s underwear on their heads, so
did Bassam deeply feel that shame himself. "We are Muslims," he said.

No offense to Bassam, but what makes Cohen think this guy represents anything more than his own view?  There is little question, by the way, that Cohen is right–he’s just not right on account of the testimony of this or of every conveyance driver he meets. 


Tom Friedman, Middle East Expert, today:

One of the most troubling lessons of the Iraq invasion is just how empty the Arab dictatorships are. Once you break the palace, by ousting the dictator, the elevator goes straight to the mosque. There is nothing in between � no civil society, no real labor unions, no real human rights groups, no real parliaments or press. So it is not surprising to see the sort of clerical leadership that has emerged in both the Sunni and Shiite areas of Iraq.

Not surprising? Tom Friedman on the possibility of a democracy in Iraq:

Right, exactly. And I don�t apologize for that. I�m not going to apologize for thinking that if we could find a way to collaborate with people there to build a different future in the heart of that world, which is afflicted by so many pathologies, that that wouldn�t be a really good thing. Tom Friedman on why we invaded Iraq:

What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, um and basically saying, �Which part of this sentence don�t you understand?�

You don�t think, you know, we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we�re just gonna to let it grow?

Well, Suck. On. This.


That Charlie was what this war was about. We could�ve hit Saudi Arabia, it was part of that bubble. We coulda hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could.

Go suck a lemon

Perhaps by way of an apology, Tom Friedman writes:

Is the surge in Iraq working? That is the question that Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker will answer for us next month. I, alas, am not interested in their opinions.

It is not because I don�t hold both men in very high regard. I do. But I�m still not interested in their opinions. I�m only interested in yours. Yes, you � the person reading this column. You know more than you think.

You see, I have a simple view about both Arab-Israeli peace-making and Iraqi surge-making, and it goes like this: Any Arab-Israeli peace overture that requires a Middle East expert to explain to you is not worth considering. It�s going nowhere.

Here (again) is something even you–the people who read Tom Friedman's column–can understand:

What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, um and basically saying, "Which part of this sentence don't you understand?"

You don't think, you know, we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we're just gonna to let it grow?

Well, Suck. On. This.


That Charlie was what this war was about. We could've hit Saudi Arabia, it was part of that bubble. We coulda hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could.

Now that makes perfect sense. I don't need a Middle East expert to explain that to me. (h/t atrios for the transcript).

Words can never hurt me

Intentions, as I think we’ve often mentioned here, are notoriously hard to judge. It’s not, however, obviously impossible. Jose Padilla, the “dirty bomber,” was just convicted for wanting to do something. Many of the same people who claim its impossible to judge psychological states (when it comes to, I don’t know, hate crimes) nonetheless celebrate Padilla’s conviction. But that’s another point really. While intention certainly matters in criminal law (mens rea), it’s a little bit different perhaps when it comes to moral judgments. Take the following for instance:

>Ignatieff like many Americans was wrong about Iraq, but while his judgment was wrong, his intentions were pure. He believed that advocacy for the war in Iraq was in the best interests of the Iraqi people and furthered important national interests. Clearly these views clouded him from seeing reality. He was not alone.

It should go without saying that Ignatieff, a professor at Harvard (at the time) should have known better–so should many many other people who supported the war. But here lies the confusion of these people and their defenders (such as the author of the above).

Ignatieff, Friedman, and everyone else who for whatever reason thought it was a good idea to invade Iraq, ought to have their arguments and their views criticized–even lampooned (in the case of Friedman). And they ought to realize that on account of the magnitude of their poor judgment–and their stature, purported knowledge of world affairs, degree of advocacy for the policy, and ability to influence the public-this criticism will appear harsh and it will, in many quarters, get personal. That shouldn’t be surprising, the policy has, after all, become very personal for the many who have had the misfortune to live through it.

Besides, in this case as in most cases, the purity of their motives isn’t being judged. They’re irrelevant. What’s at issue is their judgment, both moral and practical. To invoke the purity of their motives, at this point, is just a red herring: the motives of the 19 terrorists on 9/11 were pure too, I bet. But they were horrifically wrong.

Correspondents theory

It’s hard to have a conversation about the foolishness of ever having started the war in Iraq without running into people who accuse you of not wanting to win. I suppose they (probably purposely) confuse you’re believing you’re right about an unwinnable war with your wishing reality would conform to your beliefs. You–the opposer of the Iraq war–think rather that your belief corresponds in some philosophically uninteresting way with reality–not t’other way round. Such a basic confusion is the only explanation behind Liz Cheney’s guest op-ed in the Washington Post.

More reprehensible than Cheney’s junior high rhetoric is Tom Friedman’s failure to come to grips with the reality of his poor judgment. The people who opposed the Iraq war as a disastrous experiment in nation-building or nation-obliterating had good reasons for their opposition. And they were right. The latter counting most of all. About their view this is what Friedman says in a recent NPR interview:

>FRIEDMAN: Look, I understand people who opposed the war. Some opposed it for military reasons, because they’re against war, some opposed it because they hate George Bush, some opposed it because they didn’t believe Arabs are capable of democracy. I wasn’t in that group. I really believed that finding a different kind of politics in collaboration with people in that region was a really important project.

>ASHBROOK: And do you really believe –

>FRIEDMAN: I’m really sorry. Next time — Next time Ishwar [caller], I promise, I really promise, I’ll be a better liberal. I’ll not in any way support any effort to bring democracy to a country ruled by an oil-backed tyranny. I promise I will never do that again. I promise I’ll be a better liberal. I will view the prospect of Arabs forging a democracy as utterly impossible. They’re incapable of democracy. I agree with you on that now.

>ASHBROOK: You’re going to sarcasm. We can feel you’ve taken your licks on this.

Hasn’t cost him him any of his media credibility however.