Friday, December 01, 2006


The title of this blog-post states a principle that I had thought was universally understood. Obviously, the Iraq War has proven me wrong.

One case in point is the fact that we’re still fighting that horrid war, more than three years after all our arguments for fighting turned out to be wrong. Another example is the latest bit of Orwellian-speak by the war’s proponents. Sure, Sunnis and Shiites are killing each other by the thousands … but it’s not a “Civil War.” Obviously, we can’t call it that, because these same people told us originally that the one thing that would constitute a “loss” in Iraq is to cause the nation to go into a “Civil War.” So now we’re just changing the meaning of the terms – a Civil War involves fighting in which the parties slaughter each other in the thousands, but do so in a manner that is polite and respectful. You know, civil.

While our nation’s government keeps digging our Iraqi hole deeper and deeper, we can all thank God for our luminaries in the press who report the truth and provide wisdom. In that regard, there’s no luminary who burns brighter – at least in his own mind – than Thomas Friedman.

Friedman, for those of you who’ve been living in a bubble for the last twenty years, is a Pulitzer Prize winning author and a columnist with the New York Times. I remember as a young adult reading his book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, and being extremely impressed with both the quality of his writing and the even-handedness of his analysis. Later, I began regularly reading his columns in the Times and I found them sensible and insightful. He always conveyed the impression of knowing thousands of people on the streets of every Middle Eastern city and wanting everyone to get along and live in peace.

What a swell guy, I thought.

Then, one day, my love affair for Mr. Friedman ended. He started writing about the need to fight a war in Iraq. And I started finding it increasingly difficult to digest my breakfast when reading my morning paper.

The world’s most omniscient columnist told us that we needed an outpost in that savage part of the world known as the non-Jewish Middle East. Without such an outpost, he claimed, that region would be taken over by the jihadist crazies like the types who blew up the Twin Towers. But with such an outpost, the rest of the “Arab street” (as he likes to call the Muslim hoi polloi) would see for themselves that liberal, democracies are the best kinds of countries. So soon enough, they’ll want their own countries to become liberal democracies. And we’ll all live happier ever after.

Friedman wanted to invade regardless of the existence of weapons of mass destruction. If I recall his argument, he said that since Saddam Hussein was a terrible guy who had done some terrible things, we were more than justified in invading his country. As for the issue of whether we can go in without international support, Friedman argued that we really, really want to get international support … but if we can’t get it, we’d better go in anyway. After all, the opportunity to create a shining city on the hill in the middle of the Arab world would be simply too great to pass up.

That was the argument I picked up from reading Friedman during the months leading to the war. I can’t tell you how sickened it made me. Call me crazy, but it didn’t seem right that innocent Iraqis were going to get killed by the thousands simply because we wanted to create a pro-American outpost in the Arab world. Saddam posed no current threat – or so it seemed. So what right did we have to take all those innocent lives and destabilize a region? Reading between the lines, Friedman seemed to say that we have a right to invade because it would be useful to invade … and “the good” is always “the right.” He would never say that in as many words, but he hardly had to.

Now fast forward 3 ½ years, and Mr. Friedman is still writing about Iraq and still, apparently, proud of his prescience on the topic. In his column this week, he is telling his readers that we will have to choose between the ten months option (phase out our presence over the next ten months and then take off) and the ten years option (spend the next ten years building up the country from scratch). Sounds reasonable, right? Sure. But to demonstrate his point, he couldn’t simply state his opinion. He had to explain his bona fides. “On February 12, 2003, before the war, I wrote a column offering what I called my ‘pottery store’ rule for Iraq: ‘You break it, you own it.’ It was not an argument against the war, but rather a cautionary note about the need to do it with allies, because transforming Iraq would be such a huge undertaking. (Colin Powell later picked up on this and used the phrase to try to get President Bush to act with more caution, but Mr. Bush did not heed Mr. Powell’s advice.)”

Are you kidding me? Mr. Omniscient – the man who purports to know the Middle East better than a Presidential candidate knows Iowa – cheered on this insane invasion for months on end. And now that everything has fallen apart, he’s bragging about his pre-war columns? Man, that’s some really impressive chutzpah!

Let me say to Mr. Friedman that I’m hardly impressed that he came up with that pottery barn analogy. I suspect hundreds if not thousands of people were thinking the same thing. And I’m also not impressed that he realized that international support would have been a swell thing for the U.S. to have. Again – that was obvious. This is what’s impressive: how do you advocate an unnecessary war that predictably turns into a disaster, and then credit yourself for warning about the dangers of the war? And what’s really impressive is that here’s a guy who apparently didn’t realize that the Iraqi people would revolt in response to an American invasion (imagine that – Middle Easterners not wanting to be colonized, who knew?), and yet he still tries to come across as all-knowing about the Muslim “street.”

Stop, Mr. Friedman. Just stop. How can we possibly take you seriously on this topic any more? If you want to write any more columns about war, let me suggest writing one entitled “The End Doesn’t Justify the Means.” It can be about a decorated columnist who knows a heck of a lot less than he claims to know – about moral philosophy, that is. And if you still feel the need to write about the word on “the street,” please go back to your native Minneapolis and start interviewing people at taverns and coffee shops about whether the Vikings are going to beat the Bears this Sunday. Stick with topics like that. Leave the topics of war to people who are serious about not taking innocent life without a damned good reason.


Grammie said...

I am curious to hear what your thoughts might be on Jimmy Carter's latest book, "Palestine Peace not Apartheid".

Grammie said...

I am curious to hear what your thoughts might be on Jimmy Carter's latest book, "Palestine Peace not Apartheid".

Grammie said...

oops : )

Daniel Spiro said...

I should probably refrain from answering that question. Right now, I'm in the middle of writing my second novel, which is heavily focused on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I'd prefer discussing that topic squarely after the novel comes out. My hope is to finish a first draft by early next year (of course, it does take a while from the time the first draft is finished until the time the last draft is finished).

Grammie said...

I understand....I will just say that his book has caused quite a controversy in the Jewish community...Something that I am sure you are aware of.
I look forward to your later comments on the subject!
Have a nice weekend.