The Confessions of Thomas Friedman

Photograph Source: angela n. – CC BY 2.0

On January 31, Thomas Friedman, ambassador-at-large of American imperial power, delivered a new pitch from his perch at the New York Times, bravely acknowledging “the seriousness and complexity of this dangerous moment” for American hegemony.

What is this ‘dangerous moment?’

Is it the discovery by CIA of a Chinese plan to lay siege to Taiwan, Russian forces advancing on the capital of Ukraine, or thousands of Iranian attack boats blockading the Straits of Hormuz? It’s none of these.

Instead, this ‘dangerous moment’ is the result of actions emanating from a tiny sliver of land no larger than the smaller cities in the United States, whose impoverished population of 2.3 million Palestinians has lived in an open-air prison since 2007, and regularly subjected to carpet bombing by Israel, America’s unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Middle East. It is Gaza that has Thomas Friedman (TF) running scared.

What is it about the human spirit (note to self: Palestinians are human, not ‘human animals’) that compels a weak, ethnically cleansed, terrorized people to resist the might and power of the world’s most ‘civilized’ and powerful nation?

Yes, TF admits obliquely that it is an act of resistance by Gazans that now disturbs the USA, Israel and their Western accomplices.

Until the morning of October 7, 2023, the USA, Israel, and their Arab protectorates were blithely convinced that the ‘juggernaut’ of the so-called Abraham Accords would bury the Palestinians forever.

Yet, after nearly four months of the most destructive bombing in recent history, the esteemed NYT columnist is forced to acknowledge that Gaza “is forcing a fundamental rethinking about the Middle East within the Biden administration.” Is the human spirit still capable of such miracles?

A “rethinking” is underway in the highest councils of the American establishment, TF somberly warns the Iranians. An awareness is growing “that we can no longer allow Iran to try to drive us out of the region, Israel into extinction and our Arab allies into intimidation by acting through proxies…” The added italics are perhaps unnecessary.

Why has the USA ‘allowed’ Iran to challenge its power?

The inestimable Thomas L. Friedman uncharacteristically makes a dangerous confession. Once again, he writes, there is an awareness “that the U.S. will never have the global legitimacy, the NATO allies and the Arab and Muslim allies it needs to take on Iran in a more aggressive manner unless we stop letting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold our policy hostage…”

Did NYT really allow these words to slip onto its op-ed pages? Did the Friedman just acknowledge that the United States allows an Israeli Prime Minister to “hold our policy hostage.” Isn’t this a libel against the Jews? Isn’t this pure antisemitism, pure evil? Send Thomas to Guantanamo!

However, cleverly as always, TF is blaming only one bad Israeli apple, only one Israeli Prime Minister for holding US policy hostage. He is exonerating Israel per se. In reality, Israel has been holding America’s Middle East policy hostage ever since the war of June 1967. This is what all Israeli governments have done over many decades.

If the USA has been letting Israel subvert its policies for decades, what has changed since October 7 that will allow it now to stand up to Israel’s bullying? Far from standing up to Israel, Joe Biden and Tony Blinken have been spending even more time genuflecting before Israeli leaders.

Why then did TF take the trouble to outline what he claims is the new Biden Doctrine purportedly taking shape in Washington?

Arguably, that is because TF likes his job as ambassador-at-large of American imperial power, and he is clever with words, too clever by half. With help from an Iranian native informant – Nader Mousavizadeh, a former executive at the World Economic Forum – therefore, he concocts a Biden Doctrine that he thinks will save American hegemony for a thousand years.

What does Tom’s Biden Doctrine require Joe to do?

Joe must mount a “robust military retaliation against Iran’s proxies.” He must come up with “some form [yes, some form] of US recognition of a demilitarized Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.” This will happen only after Palestinians convince Israel that their state “would never threaten Israel.” Thirdly, Joe must give Saudi Arabia the security guarantees it is demanding as quid pro quo for normalizing its relations with Israel.

If this reads like a sophomoric fantasy, that is because it is.

TF assumes that October 7 never happened; that today’s Middle East hasn’t changed since June 1967; the two-state solution is not dead, despite 720,000 Jewish colons and 256 settler-colonies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; and the politics that drove America’s Middle East policy for five decades will magically disappear as soon as the USA announces the Biden Doctrine.

These are not the only fantasies that underlie the Biden Doctrine.

It assumes that America’s “robust military retaliation” will destroy Hezbollah, the Houthis and multiple resistance groups in Syria and Iraq; that Israel will destroy Hamas and pacify the West Bank; that the vigorous actions of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza will return the Middle East to where it was after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Israel could bully the United States on nearly all fronts, but there is red line the latter has refused to cross. The US has persistently resisted Israeli pressures to start a war against Iran or join it in attacking Iran’s nuclear assets.

Over more than three decades the US military has vetoed American neocons demanding war against Iran. US bombs did not descend on Iran after the Ayatullah removed the Shah, or after fall of the Soviet Union. After 911, under pressure from the neoconservatives, the USA attacked Iraq not Iran.

Will the US attack Iran now when it has grown its economy, technology, military and proxies to become the leading power in the Middle East, barring the United States. Will the US military risk savaging its reputation again after its disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Can the USA simultaneously wage a war in the Middle East and the South China Sea?

Is it asking too much to expect TF to get real and do a dozen interviews to understand what October 7 actually says about all the ways in which the Middle East has changed since Operation Shock and Awe?

Let TF ask what is it that has enabled Gazans and the Houthis to make the world turn on a time; what is it that is exposing Israel’s narrative of victimhood for the farce that it is; and why have peoples across the world been mounting daily protests against Israel’s genocidal war on Palestinians.

Let him also ask why the United States is so openly, brazenly funding and arming the perpetrator of a genocidal war when it should be working very hard to play down its history of war-mongering against the Global South. Can an America that bombs compete with a China that builds?

What is the lunacy that leads Western leaders, at a single cue from Israel, to collectively defund UNRWA and, thereby, worsen the famine-like conditions forced upon the Gazans by Israel’s genocidal war?

Are Europe’s leaders trying to kill off the Gazans before they begin showing up on Europe’s shores, once Israel drives them out of Gaza?

Are Western elites slipping into a hysteria as the Global South is finally beginning to break free from the grip of Western hegemony?

Since Thomas Loren Friedman has now dared to stand up to Israel, let him also summon the moral courage of Aimé Césaire, a Martinican poet and revolutionary, to remind Western leaders that “A civilization that uses its principles for trickery and deceit is a dying civilization.”

But that would be asking a leopard to change its spots.

Is there a chance that this might happen? We have witnessed a few miracles lately. Will Thomas surprise with us another minor miracle?

M. SHAHID ALAM is professor of economics at Northeastern University. This is an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism (Macmillan, November 2009). Contact me at