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Jun 15 , 7:15 PM
Chutzpah Thomas
by oldman

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I don't like to write about Thomas Friedman because I believe that in general there's very little to add beyond the obvious. However he wrote something today that was so outrageous that it overwhelmed my self-restraint. The classic definition of chutzpah is the man who murders his parents and then throws himself on the mercy of the court as an orphan. Today Friedman reached that loathsome level of moral hypocrisy with his op-ed column in the NYT.

Thomas Friedman writes with an alarming lack of the memory of his own actions:

Ever since Iraq's remarkable election, the country has been descending deeper and deeper into violence. But no one in Washington wants to talk about it. Conservatives don't want to talk about it because, with a few exceptions, they think their job is just to applaud whatever the Bush team does. Liberals don't want to talk about Iraq because, with a few exceptions, they thought the war was wrong and deep down don't want the Bush team to succeed. As a result, Iraq is drifting sideways and the whole burden is being carried by our military. The rest of the country has gone shopping, which seems to suit Karl Rove just fine.

Well, we need to talk about Iraq. This is no time to give up - this is still winnable - but it is time to ask: What is our strategy? This question is urgent because Iraq is inching toward a dangerous tipping point - the point where the key communities begin to invest more energy in preparing their own militias for a scramble for power - when everything falls apart, rather than investing their energies in making the hard compromises within and between their communities to build a unified, democratizing Iraq

First of all, this war was only possible in part because Thomas Friedman and other so-called "liberal hawks" lined up to approve it and to prove their credentials as hawks. In doing so they completely abandoned the concept of international law, they thoughtfully discarded any pretense of actual intelligence or nuclear proliferation inspection work by the UN, and in general completely swallowed hook line and sinker the patent lies of the Bush Administration.

Every one of them, from Zakaria, Pollack, Hitchins, and Friedman, etc. got up and endorsed this war and not just endorsed it but endorsed as managed by Coach Rumsfeld, Cheerleader Condi, and Team Owner Bush. The sad and terrible thing is that with the exception of Pollack not a single one of them has had the dignity to admit they were completely wrong about this war's inception and retire from public life in shame over how flagrantly wrong they were.

Our core problem in Iraq remains Donald Rumsfeld's disastrous decision - endorsed by President Bush - to invade Iraq on the cheap. From the day the looting started, it has been obvious that we did not have enough troops there. We have never fully controlled the terrain. Almost every problem we face in Iraq today - the rise of ethnic militias, the weakness of the economy, the shortages of gas and electricity, the kidnappings, the flight of middle-class professionals - flows from not having gone into Iraq with the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force.

Yes, yes, I know we are training Iraqi soldiers by the battalions, but I don't think this is the key. Who is training the insurgent-fascists? Nobody. And yet they are doing daily damage to U.S. and Iraqi forces. Training is overrated, in my book. Where you have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching above its weight. Where you don't have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching a clock.

Where do you get motivated officers and soldiers? That can come only from an Iraqi leader and government that are seen as representing all the country's main factions. So far the Iraqi political class has been a disappointment. The Kurds have been great. But the Sunni leaders have been shortsighted at best and malicious at worst, fantasizing that they are going to make a comeback to power through terror. As for the Shiites, their spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has been a positive force on the religious side, but he has no political analog. No Shiite Hamid Karzai has emerged.

"We have no galvanizing figure right now," observed Kanan Makiya, the Iraqi historian who heads the Iraq Memory Foundation. "Sistani's counterpart on the democratic front has not emerged. Certainly, the Americans made many mistakes, but at this stage less and less can be blamed on them. The burden is on Iraqis. And we still have not risen to the magnitude of the opportunity before us."

[empahsis added]
First of all Harmid Karzai is a western dupe, a crony leader appointed in what even the participants complained was a rigged Loya Jurga and propped up by American forces and mercenary bodyguards. This is not a guy with a base of power inside his own country. To set him up as an example of what we need in Iraq points out how completely and utterly wrong Friedman is.

Second of all the war cheeerleaders did not just promote the invasion, they proceded to spend the next two years writing about all the great things happening in Iraq and how the people back home should be proud of the war effort. Well as it turns out it was all lies, lies, and more lies. Friedman here himself spent column after column talking up this or that prospect or Iraqi politician or the elections and how it was all going to turn out all right.

Lies it was all lies. Because if what he wrote in this column is true then everything else he ever wrote about Iraq was a bunch of utter bullshit. Worse than being lies, by trying to argue against legitimate criticism of the war effort Friedman actively conspired in preventing the situation from being improved. It wasn't just a coverup of all the bad things that were going down, it was a messed up attempt to stop anyone else from reassessing and fixing the mess.

I still don't know if a self-sustaining, united and democratizing Iraq is possible. I still believe it is a vital U.S. interest to find out. But the only way to find out is to create a secure environment. It is very hard for moderate, unifying, national leaders to emerge in a cauldron of violence.

Maybe it is too late, but before we give up on Iraq, why not actually try to do it right? Double the American boots on the ground and redouble the diplomatic effort to bring in those Sunnis who want to be part of the process and fight to the death those who don't. As Stanford's Larry Diamond, author of an important new book on the Iraq war, "Squandered Victory," puts it, we need "a bold mobilizing strategy" right now. That means the new Iraqi government, the U.S. and the U.N. teaming up to widen the political arena in Iraq, energizing the constitution-writing process and developing a communications-diplomatic strategy that puts our bloodthirsty enemies on the defensive rather than us. The Bush team has been weak in all these areas. For weeks now, we haven't even had ambassadors in Iraq, Afghanistan or Jordan.

We've already paid a huge price for the Rumsfeld Doctrine - "Just enough troops to lose." Calling for more troops now, I know, is the last thing anyone wants to hear. But we are fooling ourselves to think that a decent, normal, forward-looking Iraqi politics or army is going to emerge from a totally insecure environment, where you can feel safe only with your own tribe.

Now that not only has Friedman gotten us into an unnecessary war, and not only did he approve of the fucked up prosecution of it that is now coming home to roost, and not only did he raise his voice to convince people that there was nothing wrong with fixing it, but now he has the audacity to try to lecture other people about how they need to try to sacrifice more to fix a problem he was one of the most public promoters of!!!

No reasonable person wants Iraq to fall into a bloody civil war and the United States to lose more soldiers in a failed nation-building quagmire. However there are no magic bullets here, there are no easy fixes. All the chances for what might have been were pissed away by the dumbest war prosecution in the modern history of our country. Rumsfeld and Bush and Condi will go down as being the instigators of Vietnam II, the war that broke the back of the American volunteer military, encouraged nuclear and terrorist proliferation around the world, raised oil prices precipitously, destablized the entire middle-east, and destroyed the public legitimacy of America as a moral leader among nations.

Now that everything has been utterly screwed up, Friedman wants us to double the number of boots on the ground to try to fix it. Well my question is Friedman willing to volunteer to go to be a part of that solution? Is he willing to volunteer his children? The American army and reserves and the state national guard are already falling sharply behind recruiting goals. The only way to increase the number of boots on the ground at this point in the rotation would be to turn American bases around the world into empty shells to send that manpower to Iraq and even that could not be sustained. In the middle to long term the only way to keep that presence up for more than half a year would be to reinstitute the draft.

So what he is really asking for is that people who had no part in the making of this mistake, who argued against it from day one, who never promoted the lies, who never defended the indefensible war prosecution, who told the truth about the death spiral of Iraq, and who never hyped the stupid elections, he's asking for these people to either die or have their children involuntarily sent to die to clean up his mistake.

Now there is something truly wrong about that. I hope to God that every time Friedman goes anywhere in his life, people tell him that "Friedman lied and Americans died" and turn their back on him. I hope he never fucking lives this down. I hope he chokes on it and it breaks him. Because this level of moral cowardice and hypocrisy, demanding that others die in order to appease his personal need for vindication in a cause he himself personally sank is nothing more than the lowest, dirtiest kind of cowardice.

There are a lot of people in this generation who in the eyes of history will merit that treatment. Friedman isn't especially culpable among them, but he is responsible for realizing the consequences of owning up to his own actions. I don't want to make it out as if Friedman was somehow worse than all the others, but this op-ed really got underneath our skin.

I have always felt and still even at this late date feel that with a better execution the Iraq war could have turned out much better, but I was also realistic enough to acknowledge that such a better prosecution was impossible given the persistent mendacity of Team Bush. These people tried to be masters of the world and the truth is that they shouldn't have been trusted with toy soldiers in a sandbox. As such I am getting mighty sick of all the people saying that yes, but we have to win it now that we're in it.

Well when they start signing up their children and grandchildren to be sent to the front lines then I will start revaluating whether I or anyone else "has to" sacrifice anything to clean up their mistake. Until then I can only believe their whining to be more pleas for why someone else's children should die for their vanity and pride. Until they are ready to do it right, there is no sense in pretending that going allong with doing it wrong will bring us one day or one life closer to victory or leaving with honor.

by oldman
Jun 15 , 7:15 PM  Comments (4) , Trackback (0)


Now you know why I call him "Spouting Thomas".

Posted by: Stirling Newberry at June 15, 2005 09:07 PM

You're absolutely correct in what you've written, oldman! Friedman is an abominable hyprocrite for his support of the invasion of Iraq and his now asking others who protested this illegal action to bail out the effort. I would have a bit more respect for this man if he would strap on a bullet-resistant vest, pick up a rifle and throw himself into patroling in Iraq. Since he will never do that, I have nothing but contempt for Friedman. He is completely useless and without a shred of credibility. Like you, I hope he never recovers his reputation.

Posted by: Mushinronsha at June 15, 2005 10:34 PM

And the thing that will still lead to failure is the Team Bush priority in Iraq -- create a corporate fantasy land of the kind that Friedman bloviates about elsewhere. Remember that while American troops weren't stopping the widespread, post-invasion looting, the Americans in command were writing intellectual property laws and working out how to permanently limit taxes to 15% and how to privatise Iraqi assets. Friedman was no doubt looking forward to columns in which Baghdad cab drivers explained to him the glories of post-Saddam globalization.

Posted by: nihil obstet at June 16, 2005 10:11 AM

Oldman this is great stuff - and why I followed you over from 1787. If only we could find a politician with the guts to point out that the emperor is naked, maybe we could get somewhere....

Posted by: Huh at June 16, 2005 01:12 PM
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