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Thomas Friedman: Not Even Pretending to Make Sense on Iraq

In an effort to shake off the derision directed at his repeated claims that the next six months would be critical for Iraq, Thomas Friedman today offered a bold new Friedman Unit: now, it turns out, the next ten months are critical. Friedman’s not unique because he has almost totally reversed himself on the Iraq War; the number of elite punditocracy retroactively being skeptical of the war is growing every day. What makes Friedman unique is just how shameless he is about it.

In a sense, it fits the dominant metaphor of this war perfectly. In a war that has only demanded sacrifices from the men and women fighting it, not the decision makers who created it and the chattering class in the media who whipped up public support for it, it’s perfectly appropriate for egotists like Friedman to try to escape without losing their credibility. No sacrifice at all.

In today’s Times, Friedman writes:

Given this, we need to face our real choices in Iraq, which are: 10 months or 10 years. Either we just get out of Iraq in a phased withdrawal over 10 months, and try to stabilize it some other way, or we accept the fact that the only way it will not be a failed state is if we start over and rebuild it from the ground up, which would take 10 years.

But Iraq is in so many little pieces now, divided among warlords, foreign terrorists, gangs, militias, parties, the police and the army, that nobody seems able to deliver anybody. Iraq has entered a stage beyond civil war — it’s gone from breaking apart to breaking down. This is not the Arab Yugoslavia anymore. It’s Hobbes’s jungle.

After reading this, I took a quick spin through Friedman’s archives on the Times. It’s a stunning display of reversals, unsupported claims, and absurd optimism.

From Nov 8, 2006:

”Awful” would be carrying out that threat to leave Iraq by a fixed date because Iraqis prove too angry and atomized to reach any deal. The fires of madness now raging in Iraq — people beheading each other, blowing up each other’s mosques — would all intensify.

A U.S. withdrawal under such conditions would be messy and shameful. But when people are that intent on killing each other there’s not much we can do. As bad as we’ve performed in Iraq, what Iraqis have done to each other, and the little that other Muslims have done to stop them, is an even bigger travesty.

[Less than a month ago, leaving Iraq on a fixed date would be awful, intensifying violence. Now, 10 months is the figure]

From September 8, 2006:

Just staying the course will not contain it. But before we throw up our hands on Iraq, why not make one more big push to produce a more stable accord between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds over how to share power and oil revenues and demobilize militias. We still don’t have such an understanding at the center of Iraqi politics. It may not be possible, but without it, neither is a self-sustaining, unified Iraqi democracy.

[Notice the specific proposals. We should stay the course, and “make one more big push.” In today’s piece, the rhetoric is “stabilize it in some other way.” When you don’t have an answer, I guess blustering your way through is the answer.]

From Dec 12, 2004:

If each NATO country contributed just 100 soldiers, roughly speaking we could have five NATO soldiers guarding every polling station in Iraq for the January election. That would be a huge help. After all, what does NATO stand for today if not for helping to protect a free and fair election in Iraq that is being opposed by a virulent minority whose only motto is: ”You vote, you die — elections must fail.” Is it so much to ask that each NATO country contribute 100 soldiers for a long weekend to advance the prospect of Iraqi elections?

[That is some serious military strategy there. In a country torn by Hobbesian violence, where the U.S. only sends forces in large units, Friedman suggested sending 5 soldiers to each polling place. Brilliant! I wonder what polling place he was at]

From Oct 30, 2003:

The great irony is that the Baathists and Arab dictators are opposing the U.S. in Iraq because — unlike many leftists — they understand exactly what this war is about. They understand that U.S. power is not being used in Iraq for oil, or imperialism, or to shore up a corrupt status quo, as it was in Vietnam and elsewhere in the Arab world during the cold war. They understand that this is the most radical-liberal revolutionary war the U.S. has ever launched — a war of choice to install some democracy in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world.

[Rah. Rah.]

From October 12, 2003:

Until we are sure these questions can be answered, without Iraq spinning out of control, I’d stick with the status quo as the least bad option — in part because genuine sovereignty means running your own affairs and the U.S. has already done more to build that at the grass roots than most people realize.

[No comment]

From April 9, 2003:

It would be idiotic to even ask Iraqis here how they felt about politics. They are in a pre-political, primordial state of nature. For the moment, Saddam has been replaced by Hobbes, not Bush.

[This guy likes throwing around Hobbes. I’ll admit to being confused. In the immediate aftermath of the invasion, Iraq was in a state of total chaos and war. Today, it’s in a total state of chaos and war. Yet, 6 months after the invasion, we were making substantial progress, and a year later, a few election observers were all we need.]
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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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