Thursday, February 17, 2011

Thomas Friedman

Am I the only one who finds Thomas Friedman naive, condescending, and sanctimonious, to the point of obnoxiousness? I think Friedman wants to be to writing what former Senate Leader and current U.S. Middle East negotiator George Mitchell is to speaking. Mitchell can say anything and it sounds wise, profound, and extremely important. The guy could say "I am putting on my pajamas" and it would sound like the future of the free world depended on the result.

Friedman tries to write like he is Mitchell talking. What he has to say is supposed to be the most insightful, on-the-mark, wise words. If you don't heed his advice, you are proceeding into the dark unknown at your own peril. If you don't listen, you are a bad actor, a disruptive child, a no-goodnik. Even Friedman's poses in his pictures seem to be really poor efforts to look like The Great Thinker.

Besides the fact that it is unbecoming to act like the smartest guy on earth even if you are, Friedman's problem is that he is not. He is naive and often simple-minded. In his younger days, with the publication of From Beirut to Jerusalem, he seemed disappointed and downright peeved that Israel was not the land of milk and honey that his bubbe had told him about. It was full of real people, including a lot of discourteous and stupid ones. It made mistakes, sometimes big ones. It just wasn't the country for which he had thrown his dimes into the blue pushke box.

Then, after Oslo, he just felt that if only Israel would act in his prescribed western, rational way, giving here and conceding there, Chairman Arafat would respond accordingly. I, along with many others, supported the Oslo process and hoped with all of our hearts that it would produce a lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians. But not for a moment did I think that Arafat was transforming into Jefferson or Lincoln.

Friedman seemed to think it was just a matter of time before Arafat became the great statesman and that the Israelis, therefore, should have acted accordingly. He got quite upset, even petulent, with them, when they did not live up to his Western, rational, you give a bit and the other guy gives a bit, approach to negotiating. And then, well, he was just downright shocked and appalled when Arafat blew the whole thing up and walked away from the Clinton/Ross/Barak deal. Just could not believe it. Many of us were certainly extremely disappointed when Arafat threw out peace for terror, but I cannot say that many were all that surprised.

Now, in a recent column, Friedman takes P.M. Netanyahu and most of the rest of the Israeli leadership to task for not throwing Mubarak overboard at the first hint of revolt and jumping immediately onto the side of the Egyptian people. He outright scolds them for being neandethals, for being on the wrong side of history, for being uncreative, and on and on and on. He does give brief mention to the fact that no one knows where this revolution might lead and that it might create a few dangers for Israel. But that doesn't stop him from just pouring it on.

All good people, including Israelis and their leaders, are sympathetic to people who want to throw off the chains of their oppressors. But Friedman seems so eager to dump on Bibi and his colleagues that he just disregards all of the complexities and uncertainty that a responsible leader has to think about.

No. 1: Did it occur to Friedman what the situation would have been had Bibi jumped right onto the revolters' side and Mubarak had managed to stay in power? I am sure Friedman would have been the first to jump all over the Israeli leadership for acting precipitously, not giving due consideration to the entire situation, and jeapordizing a relationship that had kept the region stable for 30 years.

No. 2: Did it occur to Friedman that had Israel come out early in support of the anti-Mubarak crowd, Mubarak and his cronies, despite their alliance with Israel, would have tagged their opposition as Zionist tools and used it against them. Friedman probably would have been the first to chastise the Israelis for getting involved and playing into Mubarak's hands.

No. 3: Did it occur to Friedman that the prime minister might have been a little concerned that if he were to desert Mubarak the minute the going got rough, that other Arab leaders that have been helpful to Israel, e.g. King Abdullah, the king of Moracco, might have frowned on that a bit and wondered just how worthwhile being helpful to Israel is? Yes, those leaders are terrible dictators, but surely Mr. Friedman knows that, until this week, if you didn't deal with ruthless dictators in the Middle East, you were going to be very lonely. I am sure that Friedman would have been the first one to criticize Israel for making those dictators question their "moderation" and friendliness toward Israel.

I could go on. The point is that as much as everyone who lives in freedom wants others who aspire to freedom to achieve it, there are complexities and consequences to be considered. Friedman would have been the first to criticize Netanyahu if he had misstepped. As much as we might like it to be, it is not a simple "get behind the good guys" situation.

If Friedman is going to position himself as the great wise one, if he is going to lecture Israeli leaders on their responsibilities and take them to task for not being the smartest guys on the block, if he is going to be the George Mitchell of the written word, he ought to show a little more thoughtfulness, maturity, and understanding of the complexities. At a minimum, he should get some new pictures.


For some thoughtful analyses of the Egyptian revolution, analyses that support the aspirations of those Egyptians who seek freedom and democracy but that recognize the complexities, see the recent interview with Natan Scharansky and the recent column by Daniel Pipes in the Jerusalem Post.


  1. Couldn't agree more

  2. Accurate to a point! I also had similar feeling after reading Friedman's article and was just in awe by the level of sheer stupidity.