Soon,Thomas Friedman is going to have to take a spot along with Michelle Malkin and Conrad Burns on my personal list of people who are such absurd caricatures that I can’t bear to write about them any longer. As bad as Friedman’s previous work on the Iraq conflict has been, today’s column engages in a series of stereotypes, broad generalizations, and vapid observations that would make Tony Snow blush. Apparently, solving Iraq and the rest of the problems in the Middle East is easy: all we need to do is believe absurd generalizations about everyone who lives in the region.
Given this framework, what advice does Tom have for President Bush?
People in the Middle East Are Liars
What people tell you in private in the Middle East is irrelevant. All that matters is what they will defend in public in their own language. Anything said to you in English, in private, doesn’t count. In Washington, officials lie in public and tell the truth off the record. In the Mideast, officials say what they really believe in public and tell you what you want to hear in private.
If you can’t explain something to Middle Easterners with a conspiracy theory, then don’t try to explain it at all
And savages, who fight uncivilized civil wars, unlike Americans:
Civil wars in the Arab world are rarely about ideas — like liberalism vs. communism. They are about which tribe gets to rule. So, yes, Iraq is having a civil war as we once did. But there is no Abe Lincoln in this war. It’s the South vs. the South.
And Irrational, Driven by Ego, Not Logic
The most underestimated emotion in Arab politics is humiliation. The Israeli-Arab conflict, for instance, is not just about borders. Israel’s mere existence is a daily humiliation to Muslims, who can’t understand how, if they have the superior religion, Israel can be so powerful. Al Jazeera’s editor, Ahmed Sheikh, said it best when he recently told the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche: “It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about seven million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West’s problem is that it does not understand this.”
I do find it interesting that Mr. Friedman, a columnist for what was once the most influential newspaper in the United States, can’t rise above sweeping generalizations to advance his argument about Iraq, but it’s even more fascinating that these little cultural tidbits weren’t available to him before the war he so whole-heartedly supported. Maybe this “rule” for President Bush in the Middle East would have been handy before the war:
Our first priority is democracy, but the Arabs’ first priority is “justice.” The oft-warring Arab tribes are all wounded souls, who really have been hurt by colonial powers, by Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, by Arab kings and dictators, and, most of all, by each other in endless tribal wars.
Give it up, Tom. You were tragically and pathetically wrong about the war. The more you write about it, the more foolish you look.