Like many supporters of the Iraq war, Thomas L. Friedman is irritated by premature "leftist" comparisons with Vietnam. It's easy to tell when he's exasperated, because expressions like "hogwash" and "let's get real" pop out of his laptop. He may have been peeved again this morning to see his column on the same page with that notorious leftist Maureen Dowd, who explicitly made that very comparison by quoting the great Vietnam correspondent Neil Sheehan. Friedman seems convinced that the Bush administration has embarked on a "radical liberal" project in Iraq, which he wholeheartedly endorses despite his misgivings about its execution. Those ignorant Bushies probably don't pay enough attention to the Times sage, although he essentially agrees with them:
"Most of the troubles we have encountered in Iraq (and will in the future) are not because of 'occupation' but because of 'empowerment.' The U.S. invasion has overturned a whole set of vested interests, particularly those of Iraq's Sunni Baathist establishment, and begun to empower instead a whole new set of actors: Shiites, Kurds, non-Baathist Sunnis, women and locally elected officials and police. The Qaeda nihilists, the Saddamists, and all the Europeans and the Arab autocrats who had a vested interest in the old status quo are threatened by this."
The problem with Friedman is that he doesn't seem to realize how complicated "empowerment" could become (and that the American occupation is indeed an "occupation," even in the eyes of the many Iraqis who welcomed the overthrow of Saddam). Among the many interviews with important people that he will no doubt be pursuing on this crucial topic, perhaps he should make time for Noah Feldman, the Islamic law expert hired by the Bush administration to consult on a new Iraqi constitution.
After spending some quality time with the new Iraqi leadership, Feldman evidently views the Friedman-Wolfowitz doctrine as naive. In a recent interview with the Daily Telegraph, the New York University law professor said, "The end constitutional product is very likely to make many people in the US government unhappy. It's not going to look the way people imagined it looking." And he added, "Any democratically elected Iraqi government is unlikely to be secular, and unlikely to be pro-Israel. And frankly, moderately unlikely to be pro-American."
His Pentagon employers have not welcomed such warnings, said Feldman. "When I tell them these things [Islam and Islamic law] are going to be in the constitution, people are very concerned about it. They want to know what can be done to avoid these things. There's still a hope that the country will be as secular as possible. But frankly, nothing in Iraq is going to look the way people imagined. Maybe if people had taken that on board, they might have felt differently about the plan for an invasion."
[3:52 p.m. PST, Oct. 30, 2003]