Not Getting It
The Mind of Thomas Friedman

by Kim Petersen

Dissident Voice
November 3, 2003


Well, it seems like Thomas Friedman just doesn’t get it or he is engaging in not-so-subtle polemics. (1) He frequently provides weakly-argued subject matter for refutation.


Mr. Friedman has the uncanny gift to screw interpretation of most occurrences to his own tendentious mindset. To state that “Saudi Arabia actually cares more about nurturing democracy in Iraq than Germany and France” because it contributed more money to the US occupation of Iraq is risible. Another valid interpretation is that Saudi Arabia cares more about nurturing autocracy (because that is what it is; there is no democracy worth crowing about in Iraq) or elevating its standing in the empire.


Orwellian twists of the language skew the less discerning reader’s impression of what is actually happening. For example, take Mr. Friedman’s declamation that “before the war France and Germany were obsessed with the lifting of U.N. sanctions on Saddam’s regime.” First, this was a one-sided slaughter and hardly befits being labeled a war. Second, to refer to the UN sanctions obscures the fact that they were enforced at the whim of the US and UK. Third, these sanctions were not directed solely against the regime of President Saddam Hussein but against the nation of Iraq. The people suffered disproportionately while the regime of Mr. Hussein itself was relatively unscathed. Yet the sanctions, that UN humanitarian heads Dennis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck termed as genocidal, had the undesired effect of bolstering the despotic regime in the eyes of the Iraqis while the US was viewed as the great demon. Hasn’t Mr. Friedman yet figured out why the Americans weren’t feted as liberators when they began their occupation?


It never was about “easing the suffering of the Iraqi people.”


Undoubtedly the reign of Mr. Hussein was a “source of suffering for the Iraqi people” and it was “real.” This neglects to mention many facts. Mr. Friedman neglects to say that Mr. Hussein came into power by US intervention, that he was staunchly supported early on while in power by the US, and that he was militarily armed by the US. The fact is that the US abetted this “real source of suffering for the Iraqi people.” Not only did the US provide assistance to the dictator in warring against the Iraqi people and its neighbors but also it cravenly rained down bombs on the Iraqi people from afar when it decided, without UN approbation, to remove the tyrant. All weaponry that potentially targets civilians is morally indefensible -- especially the depleted uranium munitions and cluster bombs that devastate the populace long after their use.


It may well be true that Old Europe’s calls for the lifting of sanctions against Iraq were not motivated primarily by concern for the Iraqi people but likewise the same argument applies just as equally and legitimately against the US and UK. “Pretending to ease the suffering of the Iraqi people” by removing the regime and quickly seizing control of the natural resources is blatantly obvious to many Americans and the rest of the world.


Mr. Friedman questions the “principled position” of France and Germany. “They honestly believe that democracy is not possible in Iraq or anywhere in the Arab world -- and trying to deliver it will just make things worse.” Strange, I don’t ever recall such a statement coming from the mouth of a French or German government official. Oh, but when one reads a little further it becomes apparent that Mr. Friedman is engaging in a kind of dialectics. He admits that France and Germany “never say that out loud.” So in other words, Mr. Friedman is pulling the tacit Old European stance, if not from out of the air, then from who knows where.


Asks he, “If their real concern was empowering Iraqis to run their own lives, wouldn't they be in there helping Iraqis get their act together faster?” That argument could be turned around and asked of the Occupiers: If they are so concerned about “empowering Iraqis to run their own lives” wouldn’t they be willing to share authority with the UN to get things done faster? If they were so concerned with Iraqi empowerment wouldn’t they push for democracy? Isn’t that what democracy is all about -- empowerment of the people? US Secretary of State Colin Powell blurted in an interview with the CBC that Iraqi democracy was dependent on the US investment paying off.


Mr. Friedman ponders whether, post-9-11, the end of a “coalition of U.S.-led, like-minded allies, bound by core shared values and strategic threats,” is at hand. Obviously the allies are no longer as like-minded as they once used to be, but the greatest mind-shift is that of the neoconservative administration of President George Bush compared to previous US administrations. As for “strategic threats,” Iraq was only perceived as such by Mr. Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.


“And the U.S. president wakes up thinking about where the next terror attack might come from and how to respond -- most likely alone.”  It was Mr. Bush who decided to alienate the US from the world. He pronounced to all his Manichean vision: “You’re either with us or against us.”


In answer to the trans-Atlantic estrangement, Mr. Friedman calls for a “new Atlantic alliance,” having made the case recently for a NATO expanded to include Israel to take on the new enemies to the South: Afghanistan and the Middle East. (2) Great, solution to the US problems in Iraq: join Europe up with Israel and its steadfast US supporter and take on the Muslim world.


Mr. Friedman conveniently avoids some details. The care of the civilian population according to international law is the responsibility of the Occupying Power. France and Germany are not occupying Iraq and hence they are not responsible for dealing with the US-UK-manufactured imbroglio.


Another major omission is that the aggression was the supreme crime as defined by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.


The news at the time of this writing is of a Chinook helicopter having been shot down with 16 more US military deaths in the conquest of Iraq and 21 wounded -- the deadliest single attack inflicted on the US since March23. While the US lies about the numbers, hides them, or ignores them, it is clear Americans are dying. To quote Mr. Friedman: “the numbers are in and the numbers don’t lie.”


Get it? This is not about quibbling over frayed alliances. This is about people dying for oil and empire.


Kim Petersen lives in Nova Scotia and is a regular contributor to Dissident Voice newsletter. He can be reached at: kimpetersen@gyxi.dk


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* US Casualties in Iraq


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(1) Thomas L. Friedman, “The End of the West?” New York Times, 2 November 2003: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/02/opinion/02FRIE.html


(2) Thomas L. Friedman, “Expanding Club NATO,” New York Times, 26 October 2003: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/26/opinion/26FRIE.html





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