Thomas Friedman Comes Undone

You would think that by now we would have “supp’d full with horrors” on the New York Times op-ed pages. What could be worse than the atrocities that have filled those gray columns in the past few years, the loud brays for war, the convoluted excuses for presidential tyranny, the steady murmur of chin-stroking bullshit meant to comfort the comfortable elite and confirm them — at all times, at any cost — in their well-wadded self-righteousness? Surely, you would think, we have seen the worst.

If this was your thought, then alas, alas, alack the day, you were bitterly mistaken, my friend. Comes now before us the portly, fur-lipped figure of Thomas Friedman, Esq., who today has penned what must be the most morally hideous and deeply racist column ever to appear in those rarefied journalistic precincts: “Ten Months or Ten Years.”

It seems that this very enthusiastic promoter of the unprovoked war of aggression against Iraq – which he proudly called “a war of choice,” apparently not realizing that he was parroting the propagandists of the Nazi regime that killed millions of his ethnic kindred — has now discovered that Iraqi Arabs are hopeless, worthless barbarians, broken by “1,000 years of Arab-Muslim authoritarianism” and can only be held together by an “iron fist.” (He got all this from reading a new book, apparently. Well, a little literacy, like a little learning, is a dangerous thing, I reckon — and as anyone who has ever exposed themselves to the dull, flat buzz of Friedman’s prose can attest, his literacy is little indeed.)

In fact, the only thing America did wrong in its “effort to bring progressive politics or democracy to this region” was not coming down hard enough on this darky riff-raff: “Had we properly occupied the country, and begun political therapy, it is possible an American iron fist could have held Iraq together long enough to put it on a new course. But instead we created a vacuum by not deploying enough troops.” Instead, we took it easy on them — I mean, Jesus H. Jiminy Cricket Walker Christ, we only killed 600,000 of them; what kind of pussyfooting around is that? — and look what happened. A Sunni insurgency sprang up, whose only goal — whose ONLY goal, mind you — was to make America look bad: “America must fail in its effort to bring progressive, etc., etc. America must fail ­ no matter how many Iraqis have to be killed, America must fail.” What was their “only one goal” again, Tom? Oh yeah: America must fail. Not a single ding-dang one of them ornery critters ever had any other motive whatsoever to take up arms against an army of foreigners who had invaded and occupied their country.

Actually, I think there was at least one other goal of the insurgency, and it hangs over Friedman’s piece like a bad smell he is loath to acknowledge in polite company: they wanted Thomas Friedman to fail. Here we come to the corroded heart of the matter. Friedman, like all the pro-war “liberal hawks” who see aggressive war as the very best method of implanting “progressive politics or democracy” in benighted lands, is personally affronted by the Iraqis’ ingratitude. They will not and cannot accept even the slightest implication that there was ever any flaw in their philosophy of benign bloodlust. (Bloodlust by proxy, of course, always by proxy! Goodness gracious granny me, you’d never see one of these paladins so much as muss their cuticles in the service of their noble ideals. That’s what God made Mexicans and Salvadorans and white trash crackers for.)

In his column, Friedman makes much of his pre-war enthusiasm, and proudly claims that he was the first to come up with the “Pottery Barn rule” of international diplomacy — “You break it, you own it” — which he further claims Colin Powell copped from him. Perhaps he’s right; certainly, it’s hard to believe that two separate lifelong chewers of conventional wisdom cud could have come up with such a banal and suburban-brained observation independently! But the fact that Tom Friedman’s war has failed — that these dastardly, dumb-ass Arabs (and Tom, swoopstake, includes the entire “Sunni Muslim world” in his condemnation for “tolerating and tacitly support[ing]” the insurgency; he has obviously gone and polled every single Sunni Muslim on earth to procure this knowledge) — is the unspoken leitmotiv of the entire piece. This was my war — and the Arabs ruined it! They didn’t want the “progressive politics or democracy” that I wanted to give them at gunpoint — or with an “iron fist” — and now the whole thing’s just a hopeless mess. Hell, the Arabs are so goddamned stupid, says Tom, that they “can’t even have a proper civil war. There are so many people killing so many other people for so many different reasons – religion, crime, politics – that all the proposals for how to settle this problem seem laughable.”

Ah, but wise old Tom has a proposal to settle this problem — a most condign punishment for the Arab trash who have so bitterly disappointed him. Friedman proposes — seriously, one assumes, for surely nothing is more serious than Tom Friedman in full cry — that we “re-invade” Iraq with 150,000 more troops…and this time really do a number on those recalcitrant tribes, do whatever “is necessary to crush the dark forces in Iraq” and pound some sense into them, or at least some obedience, with our big “iron fist.” (This is, after all, the only thing that Arabs understand, right? No doubt Tom has read “The Arab Mind,” Raphael Pataki’s reduction of fellow human beings to abstract ciphers bound up in a hive mentality — an outdated, outmoded, outlandish spasm of hidebound “Orientalism” that has long been required reading not only for war-of-choicemongers like Friedman but also for Pentagon brass and officers in the field.)

Whatever is necessary. Whatever it takes. This is, I believe, what is technically known as the “Close Your Hearts to Pity” strategy, in honor of that great war-of-choicer who thus exhorted his officers as they stood poised on the Polish frontier back in the glorious days when men were men and an iron fist was an iron fist.

Nowadays, of course, we hollow men, headpieces filled with straw, obviously lack the will to power. And so even while Tom adjures his great hero, the Commander-in-Chief, to unleash the re-invasion force (where Tom proposes to get 150,000 more fighting troops from remains a mystery; maybe China will loan us some), thereby “crushing the Sunni and Shiite militias, controlling borders, and building Iraq’s institutions and political culture from scratch,” it’s clear that he believes that the sissy-mary American public lacks the proper martial spirit to carry through the necessary 10 years of fisting that the Iraqis so clearly deserve. And so, more in anger than in sorrow, he proposes the only other possible alternative to a brand-new blitzkrieg: bugging out in 10 months time and forgetting the whole shebang ever happened. Otherwise, “it will only mean throwing more good lives after good lives into a deeper and deeper hole filled with more and more broken pieces.”

Yes, yes, the “Pottery Barn Rule” says that if we are responsible for those broken pieces, then we own them. But never let it be said that Friedman lacks the moral courage and mental elasticity to admit that he is wrong. Not about his advocacy of the war, of course. Nor about the idea that murdering 600,000 civilians (and counting) is a jim-dandy way to advance “progressive politics or democracy.” Heavens to Betsy my word, no. All of that still goes, and we can only hope to see this course followed again elsewhere, and soon — and done right this time. No, what Tom manfully admits is wrong is his “Pottery Barn Rule” itself. It turns out that “Iraq was already pretty broken before we got there.” So none of what has happened is our fault. The blame lies with those “1,000 years of Arab-Muslim authoritarianism.” (So much more corrosive than the European authoritarianism that overlaid the White-Folk homeland for, oh, say 3,000 years or so.) The blame lies with “three brutal decades of Sunni Baathist rule” — that would be the Sunni Baathist rule that was put in place by means of not one but two CIA-assisted coups, and maintained with lavish help from Ronald Reagan and George Humpty Dumpty Bush. The blame also lies, it seems, with a “crippling decade of UN sanctions,” screwed on ever tighter by those champions of humanitarian intervention, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

In fact, who can forget Tom’s giddy cheerleading for the Clinton-Blair air war against the civilian population of Serbia? Who can forget his bone-chilling warning to the unruly Slavs in his classic 1999 column, “Give War a Chance,” when he wrote: “Let’s at least have a real war. It should be lights out in Belgrade: every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road and war-related factory has to be targeted…Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too.” In a column the year before, as Norman Solomon notes, Friedman called for “bombing Iraq, over and over and over again.”

So there you go. Iraq was already ruined before we got there. We didn’t have a blessed thing to do with it. Certainly, the “war of choice” launched by the knowing lies of Bush and Blair (“the intelligence is being fixed around the policy”) has no connection whatsoever to the deep hole filled with broken pieces that is Iraq today. And if it turns out that we really are too wimpy to close our hearts to pity and put these ragheads in their place once and for all, we can still leave behind the hellhole — and those 600,000 dead — with a clear conscience. For we have not failed. (Thomas Friedman has not failed.) We were not wrong. (Thomas Friedman was not wrong.) It was all the fault of those “progress-resistant,” broken-down, hive-minded, barbaric Arabs. We can either slaughter them by the millions, or flush them down the toilet. There is no other way.

This, ladies and gentleman, is what passes for Establishment thought on the most respected newspaper in the land. This complete and utter moral perversion — like unto an act of sexual congress with the beasts of the field — is now the conventional wisdom of the chattering classes, the “public intellectuals,” and the powerful elites whom they so cravenly serve. This blood-flecked drivel — a precise echo of the genocidal fury being voiced on what once was once considered the lunatic fringes of the far right — is now at the heart of American political life.

How many more people will have to die to keep the warmongers from colliding with the enormity of their crimes? What child will be ripped to shreds tonight — and tomorrow night — and every night afterward, for “ten months or ten years,” to keep Thomas Friedman snug and cozy in the gilded palace of his endless self-regard?

CHRIS FLOYD is a frequent contributor to CounterPunch. He is the author of Empire Burlesque: High Crimes and Low Comedy in the Bush Imperium, and editor of the website of that same name (at He can be reached at



Chris Floyd is a columnist for CounterPunch Magazine. His blog, Empire Burlesque, can be found at His twitter feed is @empireburlesque. His Instagram is