Dog Bites Man: Tom Friedman Mischaracterizes US Interventions.
Backstory: back in the dawn of time, when giants still walked the earth (Mays in center field; McCovey at first base, Marichal on the mound), and humans preserved their communications in scratches on clay, Tom Friedman was a real reporter and a good one. He spent time in country, he worked sources, he could write.
Somewhere along the line, though, during the Clinton years, I believe, he seems to have convinced himself that his wealth of experience had given him the key to all mythologies.
Hence such trifles as his “argument” that we should invade Iraq to show that the US could punch somebody,* the endless iteration of “Friedman Units” and so on.
And now, with the war in Iraq now in its Pilate phase…
…Friedman comes up with a column that captures so many of his deficiencies in one place. There is the complete abandonment of the reportorial function.
He doesn’t talk to folks, he tags along (his phrase) with US JCS Chairman Admiral McMullen. Nice company, to be sure, but not that in which you will find unvarnished opinions being expressed.
He doesn’t seem even interested in testing his assumptions against any possibility of contrary information anymore:
“In the dining hall on the main base, I like to watch the Iraqi officers watching the melting pot of U.S. soldiers around them — men, women, blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics — and wonder: What have they learned from us?”
Wonder? WONDER? You’re a journalist — or rather you used to be! You don’t blow wonder through your ass. You go find out what they have learned from us. But no…that would be (a) heavy lifting and (b) dangerous…so much so that it might render this kind of conclusion not merely pathetic, but simply unsayable:
We left some shameful legacies here of torture and Abu Ghraib, but we also left a million acts of kindness and a profound example of how much people of different backgrounds can accomplish when they work together.
Well, how much have we and they accomplished? Some, I’m sure…but given this kind of news, buried in what used to be called the b section, but popping up with depressing regularity, perhaps not as much as Friedman’s breezy tour with the brass may indicate.
And in any event — how is it possible that a Serious Foreign Policy Thinker™ no matter how burnt out, overly comfortable, and generally hackified could actually bring himself to write such a Hallmark Card notion: that the events of the last six years (12 F.U.s, if you’re counting)are coming to rest in a satisfactory state because, hey, we can all work together?
I guess there is a thread of naivete left to me. I grew up thinking that there was something special about the New York Times. I met Tony Lukas when I was 18, Tony Lewis some time later — and people like that impressed me for the fire they had, that seemed to come from that newsroom. You didn’t get comfortable there, it seemed to my juvenile eyes. Even when you got big, you felt the pressure the place forcing you to make that last call to get it right.
I know that’s a fantasy, and I’m sure it was never as true as I wanted it to be. And even with the decline of the Times (Judith Miller, anyone…Ross freaking Douthat?) it’s still better than the whatever that other emblem of journalistic moxie, the Post has become. But that’s kind of like saying that liver is better than spam…
But still…Friedman could once actually do the job he mails in now. It’s painful to watch. He should pack it in. Otherwise it’s just going to go ever further down hill. For, in this column as in this post, he and I save the best/worst for last. If Friedman hopes to hang on above Kristol territory, he has to find a way to stop writing stuff like this:
After we invaded and stabilized Bosnia, we didn’t just toss their competing factions the keys.
Except, of course, we did not invade Bosnia. The American led NATO intervention in the Bosnian War occured in 1995, just as Friedman was making his ultimately disastrous move to the NYTime’s Opinion pages, so he perhaps may have been distracted, but the military action taken by the US and its allies consisted of 3515 aerial sorties: a hellacious bombing campaign.
If this seems like a distinction without a difference, think again: many DFHs without Friedman’s bully pulpit tried to suggest that the range of analogies being drawn to justify the Iraq War back in 2002-2003 were false. Iraq wasn’t Japan in August 1945; Bagdad was not Berlin; displacing Saddam was more like witnessing Tito’s death and the start of the Yugoslav disintegration than it was our ratification of Balkan partition in 1995 — and not much like that either. Friedman chose then not to know any historical complexity. He still does. And as he continues to scrabble to find justifications for his own disastrous cheerleading for the Iraq war, he’s willing to get basic facts wrong to prevent the slightest dissonant fact from disturbing the eternal sunshine of his mind.
If it were me, or any other mere blogger, or even one of the deranged commenters at Redstate thus deluded — who cares. But despite the evident decline of even the flagship mass media organizations, the power that comes with the NYT platform and the inertial weight of Friedman’s own brand means that when he says stupid sh*t, he can get people killed. And that’s why this matters.
In an interview with Charlie Rose in 2003, Friedman said:
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. ..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…
Similarly, in NPR’s Talk of the Nation, September 23, 2003:
.. and sometimes it takes a 2-by-4 across the side of the head to get that message.
Image: Gerolamo di Romano called Romanino, Christ Before Pilate (detail of Pilate Washing his Hands), 1533-34