Do you remember when Thomas Friedman wanted America to mouth-rape the Middle East?
There are those moments when you hear a talking head on TV say something so stupendously wrong-minded that it’s stunning. Since most of cable news is aimed at attention-grabbing shock, it’s not easy to stand out as a colossal bonehead, but it happens occasionally.
In 2010, Friedman’s op-ed piece in the New York Times tried to convince amnesiac readers that he had been in favor of the Iraq War because he hoped it would bring about democracy in that nation, one that would be supported and sustained by Iraqis themselves.
But he had a very different rationale in 2003 for his loud urging of an American invasion. That was when the columnist and best-selling author guested on the Charlie Rose Show to explain why the U.S. needed to go to war. The comments still stand out to me for their irrationality, immaturity and immorality. Every time Friedman tries to revise his reasons for being an Iraq War cheerleader, these statements should be brought up. An excerpt:
We needed to go over there, basically 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 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.
We could have hit Saudi Arabia. It was part of that bubble. Could have hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could. That’s the real truth.•
Friedman has now found a new use for our troops, none of whom happens to be his own children: participation in the invasion and occupation of Syria. In his latest column, the pundit details the chaos of the Trump White House which, early last week, loaned credibility to the Assad regime despite its chemical weapon attacks on its people, before deciding to bomb the country later in the week after fresh chemical offensives, which likely were encouraged by the Administration’s remarks of acceptance. Friedman wants to put that facacta Oval Office in charge of an occupation that will likely require thousands of our military personnel, even though it may have colluded with Russia to disrupt our election and certainly seems to suspiciously obsequious to the Kremlin.
Perhaps we should instead just open a McDonald’s in Aleppo so we can all enjoy everlasting peace?
If you’re looking for a culprit for why America has refused to intervene in Syria, you have to look both to your left and to your right.
“The only obstacle to putting real U.S. military leverage into Syria is democracy in America,” explained the foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum, author of “Mission Failure: America and the World in the Post-Cold War Era.” “The American public simply does not want to spend the blood and treasure to produce what would probably be a less awful but still not good outcome in Syria.” And that is a byproduct of the failed George W. Bush interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Alas, though, I now think doing nothing is a mistake. Just letting Assad keep trying to restore control over all of Syria will mean endless massacres. A negotiated power-sharing solution is impossible; there is no trust.
The least bad solution is a partition of Syria and the creation of a primarily Sunni protected area — protected by an international force, including, if necessary, some U.S. troops. That should at least stop the killing — and the refugee flows that are fueling a populist-nationalist backlash all across the European Union.•
The opening of “Tom Friedman Is Calling for an Invasion of Syria. Trump Should Run the Other Way,” by Stephen M. Walt in Foreign Policy:
In many ways, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman personifies the glib id of the American foreign-policy establishment. Like most members of the foreign-policy “Blob,” he thinks almost everything that happens anywhere is a vital interest of the United States, and is therefore something for which American blood and treasure should be spilled if necessary. Like most Americans, he thinks our country always acts from noble motives, even if the results are (repeatedly) ignoble. Like many U.S. leaders, he rarely acknowledges his own mistakes. If his advice gets followed and things go wrong, then somebody else must have screwed up (like those incompetent Bushies who bungled the occupation of Iraq, or those ungrateful Iraqis who didn’t realize what a wonderful gift we had given them). And instead of learning from experience, he makes the same analytical mistakes over and over again. Hmm. Sounds like some very powerful countries I know.
Case in point: his column in Wednesday’s New York Times discussing the dilemmas President Donald Trump faces in Syria. Friedman correctly points out that a chemical attack by forces allied with President Bashar al-Assad has exposed Trump’s naiveté about the Syrian conflict. And he may even be right in suggesting that the Trump administration’s poorly orchestrated statements about tolerating the Assad regime — made devoid of any diplomatic context or as part of a genuine quid pro quo — may have encouraged Assad to think he could escalate the war with impunity. In criticizing Trump, Friedman is on firm ground.
Now that Trump has ordered cruise missile strikes on the airbase from which the chemical strikes were launched, you might think the president has learned quickly and shown how “flexible” he is (a point Trump emphasized in his own remarks to the press on Thursday). The problem is that these attacks are a purely symbolic act devoid of real strategic significance. They are the Trumpian equivalent of Bill Clinton’s cruise missiles strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan: full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. They might deter Assad from further chemical weapons use, but they don’t alter the situation on the ground, don’t make Syrian civilians significantly safer, and don’t move us closer to a solution.
Friedman, however, has the answer. His advice — surprise, surprise! — is straight from the same Establishment playbook that has done so much to screw up the Middle East over the past two-plus decades.•