Thomas Friedman, columnist for the New York Times, is my favorite phony American liberal. Why phony? Over the years Mr. Friedman has written a number of remarkably parochial, jingoistic columns. Topics have included his protectionist views on competition with Japan, his militant views on Cuba, and his rambling, imperialist-stained notion of globalization.
But recently, on the matter of suicide-bombings in Israel, Mr. Friedman has set a new standard for American liberalism by offering views that cannot be distinguished from those of violent, right-wing extremists.
Mr. Friedman, on March 31, told readers, “Israel needs to deliver a blow that clearly shows that terror will not pay.”
“Pay?” Just what does Mr. Friedman mean by that? Would this payment mean the end of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian people? That assassinations would end? Improper arrests? Torture? Well, if any of these were the goals of the suicide-bombers, they hardly deserve to be called terrorists as Mr. Friedman does. In that light, they might well be regarded as some of Mr. Reagan’s freedom-fighters or as members of World War II’s resistance.
Mr. Friedman begs an important question by assuming suicide-bombers have any goal other than expressing hopelessness. Coming, as he does, from a country where children regularly bring loaded guns to school and shoot their classmates, you might think he’d be aware of the possibility. In that case, what Mr. Friedman advocates reduces to running tanks over the family homes of the disturbed boys responsible for the Columbine High School Massacre.
Of course, that word “disturbed” raises yet another possibility. The suicide-bombers may be sick or mentally unbalanced. In which case, Mr. Friedman’s proposal amounts to running tanks over the homes of Ted Kaczynski’s brother and parents.
But what I think Mr. Friedman clearly means is that Israel will exact four or five eyes for every one. He is talking about vengeance, plain and simple.
Whatever it is that Mr. Friedman means, his proposal is a very old one, one Israel has practiced for decades, and, to date, there is not a lot of evidence that it works. And Mr. Friedman seems unaware that it has been Mr. Sharon’s ruthless, bloody response to an Intifada beginning with stone-throwing that, like the sowing of dragon’s teeth, has produced a terrible crop of young people sacrificing their lives.
Mr. Friedman glibly says that desperation is not a reason for suicide-bombing, that “a lot of people in the world are desperate, yet they have not gone around strapping dynamite to themselves.” Then what is the reason? You cannot order people, you cannot pay people, much less young people who normally are filled with God’s gift of a desire for life, to go and blow themselves up.
But Mr. Friedman brushes off all moral issues and other complexities by asserting that the suicide-bombing is “a strategic choice.” Cold, clinical, calculating – these are the connotations of his expression. And, of course, therefore deserving of ruthless reprisal.
Mr. Friedman parrots American defenders of Israel’s worst excesses, people who, stunned and desperate themselves to explain horrific events, advocate a theory of child zombie-killers, the idea that the Palestinians have somehow perfected a process of brainwashing that eluded the CIA and KGB through the Cold War, to produce an army of murderous human automatons. If you believe this, you believe in the Manchurian Candidate.
Mr. Friedman sweeps on in magisterial, armchair outrage to demand that his government should not permit any Arab leader who even call suicide-bombers “martyrs” enter the United States. These are frightening words. They surpass the soul-deadening depths of Mr. Ashcroft.
First, Mr. Friedman here attempts to bind the United States more intimately to Israel in the dispute, knowing full well the Palestinians need to retain some shred of hope in the United States as an intermediary that at least sometimes acts fairly.
Tell Arab leaders what words they must use? I do think we find here the measure of how carefully Mr. Friedman has thought about what he says. This suggestion is about as astute as building a fire in a dry-tinder forest.
Mr. Friedman appears influenced by the recent arrogant tendency of the United States to set laws that effectively govern the actions of people in other nations. This is contrary to all accepted principles of international law, and recent efforts along these lines with the Helms-Burton Act or the Trading with the Enemy Act with regard to Cuba have earned the United States serious, entirely-avoidable resentment in Europe, Canada, and other places.
Well, Mr. Friedman would undoubtedly say that the survival of Israel justifies almost anything. And there might be some argument here were Israel’s survival at risk. But it is not. How on earth do a limited number of suicide-bombings, shocking as they may be, endanger the existence of Israel? London withstood The Blitz; Vietnam withstood some of the most horrific bombing in all of human history, yet London and Vietnam are very much with us.
And this brings us back to the actual cause of the bombings, desperation, for they cannot under any imaginable circumstances achieve what Israeli extremists insist is their aim, the destruction of Israel. If it isn’t desperation to be doing something that cannot possibly succeed, I don’t know what is. So, even assuming the extremists’ own definition of the bombers’ purpose, we come to the only question that means much here: When will Israel begin working to solve desperation instead of trying to crush it?