The Tom Friedman of 2002 has not gone anywhere

The influential foreign policy pundit continues to spout the same adolescent infatuations with warmongering that led him to cheer on the Iraq war.

Published November 18, 2007 11:27AM (EST)

(updated below - Update II)

For all the self-satisfied talk about how George Bush is incapable of ever admitting mistakes or changing his mind, our elite pundit class is exactly the same way. Tom Friedman single-handedly did more than anyone else to convince liberals and Democrats to support the invasion of Iraq; the only competitors for that ignominious distinction are Colin Powell and Ken Pollack. And while he has spent the last year or so feigning angst over his years of pro-war cheerleading, he has not changed in the slightest.

His column this morning argues that if Barack Obama becomes President, "he might want to consider keeping Dick Cheney on as his vice president," because Cheney's crazed warmongering is desperately needed to balance Obama's excessive love of negotiations:

And that brings me back to the Obama-Cheney ticket: When it comes to how best to deal with Iran, each has half a policy -- but if you actually put them together, they'd add up to an ideal U.S. strategy for Iran. . . .

Vice President Cheney is the hawk-eating hawk, who regularly swoops down and declares that the U.S. will not permit Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Trust me, the Iranians take his threats seriously. But Mr. Cheney's Dr. Strangelove imitation is totally wasted with President Bush and Secretary of State Condi Rice. . . .

If she were taking advantage of Mr. Cheney's madness, Secretary Rice would be going to Tehran and saying to the Iranians: "Look, I'm ready to cut a deal with you guys, but I have to tell you, back home, I've got Cheney on my back and he is truly craaaaazzzzy. You guys don't know the half of it. He thinks waterboarding is what you do with your grandchildren at the pool on Sunday. I'm not sure how much longer I can restrain him. So maybe we should have a serious nuke talk, and, if it goes well, we'll back off regime change" . . .

But Mr. Obama's stress on engaging Iran, while a useful antidote to the Bush boycott policy, is not sufficient. Mr. Obama evinces little feel for generating the leverage you'd need to make such diplomacy work. When negotiating with murderous regimes like Iran's or Syria's, you want Tony Soprano by your side, not Big Bird. Mr. Obama's gift for outreach would be so much more effective with a Dick Cheney standing over his right shoulder, quietly pounding a baseball bat into his palm.

Just to make sure he includes every long-standing, pundit cliche in his column, Friedman ends with the smug knowledge that All Real Americans Agree with Him:

In sum, Mr. Obama's instinct is right -- but he needs to dial down his inner Jimmy Carter a bit when it comes to talking to Iran, and dial up a bit more inner Dick Cheney. . . . Americans will want to know that Democrats can do both. My guess is that many still aren't sure.

Back in 2002, Tom Friedman devoted virtually every column to paying homage to the glories of war and the need for America to start kicking ass in the world again. In one such column, Friedman -- in a screed entitled "Crazier than Thou" -- said that the European critics of Bush's "Axis of Evil" are "right on all these counts -- but I'm still glad President Bush said what he said." Why? Because -- expressing exactly the same thoughts he expressed this morning -- Friedman argued that in order for us to keep the Muslim world in line, they need to believe that America is run by deranged warmongers:

Sept. 11 happened because America had lost its deterrent capability. We lost it because for 20 years we never retaliated against, or brought to justice, those who murdered Americans. . . .America's enemies smelled weakness all over us, and we paid a huge price for that. . . .

No, the axis-of-evil idea isn't thought through -- but that's what I like about it. It says to these countries and their terrorist pals: "We know what you're cooking in your bathtubs. We don't know exactly what we're going to do about it, but if you think we are going to just sit back and take another dose from you, you're wrong. Meet Don Rumsfeld -- he's even crazier than you are.'"

There is a lot about the Bush team's foreign policy I don't like, but their willingness to restore our deterrence, and to be as crazy as some of our enemies, is one thing they have right. It is the only way we're going to get our turkey back.

The "turkey" reference was to Friedman's highly revealing tale of an "elderly Bedouin leader" who foolishly tried to "restore his virility" by preparing a turkey to eat, only for someone to steal the turkey. In response, he punished nobody, and so everything was then stolen from him, and "a few weeks later the man's daughter was raped." Friedman's self-revelatory conclusion: "America is that Bedouin elder, and for 20 years people have been taking our turkey," so it's now time to start indiscriminately kicking ass so we won't be stripped of everything and our daughters won't be raped anymore.

So obviously, Freidman's mentality -- aside from being both childish and barbaric -- was completely about himself and his perceptions of his own weakness and some lurking belief that he had to "restore his virility." That's why he loved and loves Dick Cheney, and it's why our press corps so admires the faux swaggering idiocy of Rudy Giuliani.

The "philosophy" which the Very Serious Tom Friedman was spouting was exactly the same as what truly absurd figures like Michael Ledeen and Jonah Goldberg were running around spouting ("Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business"). That was the childish, inane playground tripe pouring forth in 2002 from America's Most Serious Liberal Foreign Policy Expert (Friedman's own version of "The Ledeen Doctrine" was expressed through his now-infamous "Suck. On. This." justification for the Iraq War).

As Friedmans' column this morning demonstrates, this is exactly the same mentality which our pundit class continues to embrace today: America can only succeed in the world if we run around constantly threatening countries that we will invade and incinerate them. Thus, Democrats like little Obambi are too weak and not enamored enough of war to be Serious in national security. The country needs the Real Tough Guy Republicans like Dick Cheney and Rudy Giuliani -- the crazed warmongers -- to stay safe.

The drooling, bloodthirsty desire for war and vengeance which Friedman spewed forth in the months after 9/11 has been suppressed some as a result of the disaster in Iraq, but it is still lurking in him and the rest of our pundit class with all the vibrancy it had in 2002. And now that they are starting to convince themselves that they were Right After All about Iraq, they're starting to unveil it again, in completely unchanged form. They have learned absolutely nothing. They cannot, because they are convinced that they are the Guardians of Great Wisdom and cannot err. Even in Iraq, they did not err.

Almost five years after helping to unleash the greatest disaster in our country's history, Tom Friedman is still openly indulging his adolescent, weakness-based fantasies about ass-kicking and chest-beating Dr. Strangelove threats and the virtues of acting like a mafia thug such as Tony Soprano, "quietly pounding a baseball bat into his palm." Friedman sits around watching TV shows and -- for reasons far more psychological than political -- identifies with amoral Tough Guy thugs and gets all excited by the vicarious sensations of strength and power and then disguises all of that as "foreign policy analysis."

Tom Friedman -- and the rest of our media class -- are completely unchanged as compared to what they were like in 2002. The disaster they unleashed in Iraq only caused them to hide all of this for awhile, not to relinquish or even modify it in any way.

UPDATE: Maureen Dowd's column today, on the same page, is the perfect companion piece to Friedman's. It was hard to pick which one to write about, but I ultimately avoided Dowd's because -- even for her -- it's just, in equal measures, too trite and too twisted.

As always in Beltway pundit world, liberal men are emasculated losers (Coulteresque "faggots"); Democratic women are frigid, emasculating freaks; and war-loving Republican male leaders are our only Real Men. Hence, Dowd's whole column today depicts Hillary Clinton as an "icy," vicious, "dominatrix" and Barack Obama -- "Obambi" -- as her emasculated, intimidated, submissive slave. And she contrasted "Obambi" with Rudy Giuliani, who is far too masculine to be "kept in line" by Hillary's whip. One feels lowered even writing about Dowd:

The debate dominatrix knows how to rattle Obambi. . . . Mistress Hillary started disciplining her fellow senator last winter, after he began exploring a presidential bid. . . . She has continued to flick the whip in debates. . . .

With so much at stake, she had to do it again in Vegas, this time using her voice, gaze and body language to such punishing effect that Obama looked as if he had been brought to heel. . . .

Other guys, like Rudy, wouldn't even be looking for a chance to greet Hillary, as Obama always does. Other guys, like Rudy, wouldn't care if she iced them. . . . Obama may be responsive to Hillary's moods because he lives with another strong woman who knows how to keep him in line. . . . She is a control freak -- that's why her campaign tried to coach wonky Iowa voters to ask wonky questions -- and her male rivals are letting her take control. . . .

If Rudy's the nominee, he will go with relish to all the vulnerable places in Hillary's past. . . . Hillary has her work cut out for her. Rudy will not be so easy to spank.

Republican authoritarian warmongers who swagger around in tough guy costumes -- Friedman's Cheney and Dowd's Giuliani -- are Real Men whom we need to keep us safe. Men who don't crave war are faggots and aggressive Democratic women are unshaven, threatening bitches. That's the core belief of the Beltway Religion of Seriousness, as practiced on Sunday so vividly by these NYT columnists.

UPDATE II: Today's NYT Op-Ed page -- standing alone -- would be a superb museum exhibit for what has happened to our country. Also offered up today is this truly unbelievable Op-Ed jointly written by Michael O'Hanlon of the "liberal" Brookings Institution and Fred Kagan of the neoconservative AEI: "We need to think -- now -- about our feasible military options in Pakistan." They want to deploy Special Forces into Pakistan to steal their nuclear bombs and ship it all to New Mexico, or -- failing that -- to some super-secret place in Pakistan guarded by U.S. troops.

We continuously hear about how grave a problem is the Iranian nuclear program. It never seems to occur to the likes of Tom Friedman that -- just as one might be motivated to buy a gun if one's neighborhood were infested with roving crime gangs -- countries decide that it might be rational for them to acquire nuclear weapons given that the world's superpower is run by warmongering crazies such as Friedman, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Mike O'Hanlon and Fred Kagan. Deranged neoconservative militarism isn't the solution to nuclear proliferation; it's a cause.

By Glenn Greenwald

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