Tom Friedman’s Paean to a Saudi Tyrant Ignites NYT Comments-Storm

“I’ve never thought much of Friedman’s work, but this is the work of a complete toady.”

Jim, New York Times comments section

“What a nauseating exercise in a…-kissing!”

Karim Pakravan, NYT comments section

Why did Tom Friedman write such a gushing tribute to the Saudi tyrant, Mohammed bin Salman? (See: “Saudi Arabia’s Arab Spring, At Last,” New York Times)

Is Friedman a supporter of the power-hungry Crown Prince?   Does he think that rounding up one’s political rivals, hanging them upside down and beating them with rubber hoses is an acceptable way to conduct an anti-corruption campaign?

Did Friedman know that the object of his man-crush is a reprobate despot who, in the last year alone, oversaw the beheadings of over 150 people?

Saudi Arabia is the most fanatical, retrograde theocracy in the world today.  It’s no wonder that a bloodthirsty autocrat like Salman would rule such a kingdom. But how does Friedman fit in with all this? Why would he want to put his reputation on the line for such a dodgy miscreant as Salman?  He knows the Saudis are funding extremist madrassas around the world. He knows they’re arming and training jihadists to fight in Syria, and prosecuting a genocidal war of annihilation in Yemen. He also knows that 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9-11 came from Saudi Arabia, the petri-dish from whence all Salafist terrorism emerges. He knows all of this, and yet, he still provides cover for the man by writing a lengthy Homage to a Saudi Dictator in his weekly article at the Times. Why?

Bill Van Auken figured it out in an article at the World Socialist Web Site. He said:

“…the Trump administration and the predominate layers within the US military and intelligence apparatus have made the Saudi monarchy a lynchpin of their preparations for confrontation with Iran, threatening a region-wide war that would eclipse the devastation wrought by the invasion Friedman promoted 15 years ago.”

That’s what this is all about: Iran. Good old Tommy boy is buffing up Salman’s tarnished image so Washington can use him in their upcoming drive to war with Iran. That’s what’s going on.  Friedman is just providing the public relations make-over, y’know, like lipstick on a pig.

It’s not so different than the role he played in the build-up to the war in Iraq. Here’s an excerpt from an article Friedman wrote on November 30, 2003:

“…even though the Bush team came to this theme late in the day, this war is the most important liberal, revolutionary U.S. democracy-building project since the Marshall Plan. The primary focus of U.S. forces in Iraq today is erecting a decent, legitimate, tolerant, pluralistic representative government from the ground up. I don’t know if we can pull this off. We got off to an unnecessarily bad start. But it is one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad and it is a moral and strategic imperative that we give it our best shot.”  THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN,  New York Times, NOV. 30, 2003

The United States unleashed holy hell on Iraq, killed over a million of its people, destroyed one of the world’s oldest civilizations, and left the country in a smoldering pile of rubble. But in Freidman’s mind the war was “one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted.” Is it any wonder why he finds the ghastly Salman so admirable?

There’s no freedom in Saudi Arabia. It’s a lock-down Wahhabist police state where women can be beaten on the streets for not complying with the strict dress-code.  Check out this blurb from a piece by Amnesty International on Saudi Arabia 2016-2017:

“The authorities severely curtailed the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, detaining and imprisoning critics, human rights defenders and minority rights activists on vaguely worded charges. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remained common, particularly during interrogation, and courts continued to accept torture-tainted ‘confessions’ to convict defendants in unfair trials. Women faced discrimination in both law and practice and were inadequately protected against sexual and other violence….Courts imposed many death sentences, including for non-violent crimes and against juvenile offenders; scores of executions were carried out.”

Get the picture? Saudi Arabia is the most reactionary, backwards, repressive country on earth, which is what makes Friedman’s apologia for Salman all the more outrageous. Just listen to kowtowing Tom’s  praise for the ‘progressive’ wunderkind, MBS, in the opening paragraph of his fawning masterpiece, “Saudi Arabia’s Arab Spring, At Last”:

“I never thought I’d live long enough to write this sentence: The most significant reform process underway anywhere in the Middle East today is in Saudi Arabia. Yes, you read that right. Though I came here at the start of Saudi winter, I found the country going through its own Arab Spring, Saudi style.

Unlike the other Arab Springs — all of which emerged bottom up and failed miserably, except in Tunisia — this one is led from the top down by the country’s 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and, if it succeeds, it will not only change the character of Saudi Arabia but the tone and tenor of Islam across the globe. Only a fool would predict its success — but only a fool would not root for it.” (New York Times)

“Reform”? Freidman thinks Salman’s tyrannical power-grab is “reform”?

Fortunately, there’s a group of people who strongly disagree with Friedman; Friedman’s own readers!  That’s right, I picked through nearly all of the 664 comments on Friedman’s article at the Times website and, to my surprise,  the vast majority of people think the jowly pundit is full of baloney.  Here’s what some of them had to say:

“Sorry, but just because Friedman, the perpetual insider and toady for the elite, spent four hours with the Crown Prince and his cronies is it hardly enough to persuade me that Saudi Arabia is going through an Arab Spring….” Agent Provocateur

“It will be an Arab spring in Saudi Arabia when it is a Saudi president or Prime Minister who wants to make the changes and not an autocratic, enlightened Saudi dictator, scion of Saudi dictators.”  Joshua Schwartz

“So, I guess the wave of tolerance and progressivism comes after the complicity for mass-starvation and willing degradation of their neighbors to the South, Yemen?…. I’m a big fan Friedman, but this a bridge too far.” Tyler

“Shame on you, Mr. Friedman. “Saudi Arabia’s Arab Spring,” indeed…”  ALB

“Throwing your enemies in jail for corruption, tax evasion, etc without due process is standard procedure for totalitarian regimes.” joe barron

“The US is implicated in the biggest humanitarian crises in the world caused by Saudi bombing in Yemen (over 200K in danger of cholera death). We are seen as the providers of the bombs and war tools. MBS may be a reformer and that’s good but war crimes will lead to the instability and eventual fall of the House of Saud. The chaos and excessive violence (bombing of hospitals) doesn’t look good on anyone’s resume. I feel sorry for all parties. An unnecessary blood bath. A black eye for the US.” Laxman

“M.B.S is following the playbook of Saddam Husein. The same way Saddam brutally purged everyone else that could oppose him. Stalin did the same thing.Mr. Friedman was wrong on the Iraq war and he is wrong again here. He is glorifying the next Saddam in the region as a “reformer”. sal

“Will Saudi Arabia’s horrific record of human rights abuse continue? Yes, probably. Will death sentences for apostasy and adultery which are common continue? Yes probably. Will Corporal punishments including flogging and amputation continue at a time when more people than ever before are being beheaded? Yes probably. As will arbitrary arrests of dissenters and minorities, the curtailment of freedom of speech –  continue? Yes probably…. I fear however that he has been seduced by smooth talking carpetbaggers.” George

“Lovely piece of pro-Saudi puffery in the classical NYT style; thanks, Thomas.” jon

“MBS is as corrupt as any other Saudi prince. Not even a year has passed since he bought a yacht for $400 million on an impulse from a Russian billionaire….MBS is a war criminal. His war with Yemen is at a genocidal stage with no end in sight. MBS’s reckless meddling with regional politics is a JV attempt to increase his stature while moving the region dangerously close to an all out war.

“While MBS has to try to sell this plot to his people, Mr. Friedman should know better that trying to sell it to us.”  Shiveh

“Remember 9/11 and all the other funding of al Qaeda, ISIS, al Nusra, and the rest. Putin is not under your bed, but the Saudis fund terrorism.” Mark Thomason

“Once again Thomas Friedman accepts the words of an unelected undemocratic Monarch that “reform” is coming thru the illegal detention of hundreds of citizens. “Reform” is coming with the purchase of high tech weaponry from the Trump administration that will surely be used in the barbaric war against Yemen.

“Maybe it’s time the NY Times stop spending money sending Friedman to the Middle East where the only fruits of his efforts are columns of war mongering and fealty to the world’s worst regimes.” John Pearson-Denning

“In a distant past, “useful idiots” provided a thin intellectual cover for the Soviet Union. Now they seem to serve the Saudis. Thomas Freedman boundless enthusiasm for a dictator who speaks his ‘language’ is only matched by Trump’s effusive support for the Saudi system after they showered him with royal attention and flattery. Freedman consistently masquerades as a liberal while promoting neoliberal positions.”  Eliseo

“Um, there is no ‘spring’ it is a power grab with some fake superficial modernizing aspects to appease the Trump administration.” Susan E

“A four hour bull session with a bunch of Saudi thugs is enough to convince Friedman of the legitimacy of their cause? Sorry sir, I don’t buy it.” ed kearney

“Throughout the years, I have read many super optimistic predictions of Mr. Friedman printed in this paper as an expert’ analysis. Frankly never before I have read one as overtly and embarrassingly ridiculous about an absolute dictatorial monarchy, which has been proven instrumental for current extremist Sunni Muslim terrorism including 9/11. Whichever US PR firm hired by Saudis for this write up in NYT deserves a refund.” kooshy

“He is consolidating power and eliminating rivals. Look for the future Saudi Arabia to be even more ruthless, corrupt and authoritarian.” Pa Ch

“Hanging previous regime elites upside down and having mercenaries beat them until they hand over their cash is NOT demonstrating tolerance. He’s showing us that he will be just another in a long line of autocratic tyrants who will enrich himself off Saudi oil.” Dave Cearley

“Friedman was a breathless cheerleader for the Iraq war, and is now paving the way for an Iran war.” Baddy Khan

“This is the same Tom Friedman who told us back in 2002 that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would create a pacific, secularist Iraq, some sort of Arab West Germany, and who later said that we’d have won the Iraq War when Salman Rushdie could give a lecture in Baghdad. Well, we know how all that turned out.” Jack Cerf

“An Arab spring that so far has 1 prince dead, another that has disappeared, 100s of people whose assets have been confiscated while they are locked up.

“Yup, sounds like an Arab Spring that’s going on without much objection from the NYT or other media here.

“Well done Mr. Friedman.” WestSider

“What a nauseating exercise in a…-kissing! Are you kidding me? The MBS coup and purge is more of a mafia-style settling of accounts than any “Spring! A corrupt princeling (remember the $500 million yacht”) moves pre-emptively to quell any attacks from his rivals. This ain’t no spring, Mr. Friedman!” Karim Pakravan

“Not one peep from Friedman about the carnage being visited upon Yemen by the “reform-minded” Saudi regime. Any bets on how long it takes before Friedman is advocating war on Iran?

“Autocrats and warmongers of the world: If you want to get your propaganda on the pages of the leading US newspaper, all it takes is treating the Times’s most gullible columnist to an extravagant dinner.” Vin

“How lightly, Mr. Friedman, you thread on the hundreds of thousands of Yemeni corpses who received death as a direct result of your interviewee’s policies…”Romain

“The Saudis are pursuing this incredibly vicious war on women and children in Yemen because the Houthis have the stink of Shi’ism on them. They are making trouble with Qatar because Qatar doesn’t hate Iran enough. How is this any kind of spring? How is this reform? This is a purge, plain and simple, by people who are perhaps the most out-of-touch royal family in the world. To call it an Arab Spring is an abomination.”

“I think this is a beautiful piece. For an infomercial.” GM  

Does it look like anyone has been taken in by Friedman’s pathetic apologia for the clown prince?

Not really. And some readers have even figured out that Friedman’s real objective is not to gussy up Salman’s thuggish image, but to lay the groundwork for a war with Iran. That’s the real goal, more war.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at