Sunday, July 27, 2014

Thomas Friedman and The March of Folly

Thomas Friedman is a fraud and a crank and an example of the kind of intelligentsia that was able to capture the minds of vast swaths of the German population in the 1930's.  He is as insidious as Walter Lippmann was, but less intelligent and not as skilled as Lippmann in effecting the enactment of policies in Washington.  Despite these limitations Friedman is falsely viewed as a Progressive under the aegis of his protective shield, the New York Times, a paper that itself wears the false moniker of Liberalism. While he has been wrong about the Middle East so many times, he continues to write about it and curry favor in a world of digital-age amnesiacs.

I have read his columns for years and have found him to be unstudied, sloppy, irrational and ambitious all at once.  He is the kind of writer who has been able to earn policy credentials where none are deserved.  This has been demonstrated to anyone who has a memory of his various predictions, which have sold many books with their jingoistic novelties, but have been used to support the proven folly of neoconservative war policies.  He is never held to account as evidenced by his prominent position with the NYT and network television and the publisher-driven schedule of his Charlie Rose Show appearances, which have, no doubt, driven the sale of his books.

He has been wrong about Iraq and Afghanistan on counts too numerous to catalog here and importantly, he has never been held to account with the ranks of corporate mainstream media an unsurprising, but troubling fact.  He has been wrong about Iran, Iraq, Syria and Egypt but has made statements clearly intended to influence US policy and public attitudes.  Despite being proven categorically wrong - his predictions regarding Iranian elections, nuclear negotiations; his assessments of the Maliki government in Iraq, his early cheerleading for the initial US invasion - his simplistic and colorful axioms continue to capture attention.  In the sound byte media world his species is most adapted to survive. 

His cartoonist characterizations of Asia Pacific dynamics and multilateral efforts to influence North Korea could have come directly from John Bolton after a few cocktails.  Only the US and its power can be used to move the world in the right direction and those who fail to see this are simply naive, particularly anti-war activists, whom he treats with particular scorn, even after their opposition to illegal wars has been vindicated.  The Friedman foreign policy view often can be reduced to a principle which holds that multilateral peacemaking amongst democratic nations has no legitimacy unless the US is the leader with its physical dominance and the threat of force at the fore and other allied participants simply acting as followers. 

The feelings from the thinking Left with regard to Mr. Friedman are now mutual. has written well on this subject and here, in my modest way, I am simply piling on.  But pile on we must.  With Friedman’s most recent columns on Syria and their sweeping and sloppy generalizations in the interest of more, not less US militarism, I am upgrading my view from criticism and scorn to utter contempt.  His appearances on Charlie Rose, well scripted to create the softer edges of what is, at its core, Hobbesian Neoconservatism and American Exceptionalist thinking, cannot obscure this most reckless sort of punditry and dangerous folly. 

When the book of this era is written Friedman will have earned himself a place for history that I liken to those identified by the historian Barbara Tuchman in her work The March of Folly, which notes the influence of public elites beating the drums of war from far behind the lines. We can hope that the growth of independent journalism will eventually bring the downfall of this errant dilettante.

Perhaps George Orwell took the best aim at Friedman’s ilk in Homage to Catalonia:  “One of the most horrible features of war is that all of the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.”