(updated below w/correction - Update II)
Today's a very exciting day in America. Our nation's most Serious foreign policy expert, the brilliant Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, has today declared our latest new war:
The next American president will inherit many foreign policy challenges, but surely one of the biggest will be the cold war. Yes, the next president is going to be a cold-war president -- but this cold war is with Iran.
So congratulations to us. After years of desperately searching, we've finally found our New Soviet Union. Nay-saying opponents of the New War (those who Tom Friedman, in March of 2003, dismissed as "knee-jerk liberals and pacifists") may try to point out that it's a country whose defense spending is less than 1% of our own, has never invaded another country, and could not possibly threaten us, but those are just small details. Iran is our new implacable foe in Tom Friedman's glorious, transcendent struggle -- which, in 2003, on NPR, he called "the beginning of World War III . . . the third great totalitarian challenge in the last, you know, 60 years," and which he today defines this way (featuring an amazingly disingenuous use of parenthesis):
That is the real umbrella story in the Middle East today -- the struggle for influence across the region, with America and its Sunni Arab allies (and Israel) versus Iran, Syria and their non-state allies, Hamas and Hezbollah. As the May 11 editorial in the Iranian daily Kayhan put it, "In the power struggle in the Middle East, there are only two sides: Iran and the U.S."
Friedman laments that "Team America" -- that's really what he calls it -- "is losing on just about every front."
What's most striking about Friedman's formulation is that -- in the 2003 NPR interview -- this is what Friedman said about why 9/11 happened:
I did a documentary last year for the Discovery Channel on the roots of 9/11, and we went with a team all over the Arab-Muslim world for over a period of about six months and interviewed people on what 9/11 was all about. And our conclusion was 9/11 was really fed by three rivers of rage. One was about what we do -- what we, the United States, do, whether it's how we use resources, it's our support for a dictatorial Arab regime so they'll sell us cheap oil. It's our backing for Israel when it does the right thing and when it does the wrong thing. 9/11 is fed, in part, by what we do, OK. . . .
The second and hugely important river of rage feeding 9/11 was a real overpowering sense of humiliation. . . . The Arab Human Development Report told us last year that 22 Arab states, not a single one has a freely and fairly elected government. . . .
And the third river of rage is how much these people hate their own governments, governments that keep them voiceless and powerless and prevent them from achieving their full aspirations in a world where they know how everyone else is living.
So 9/11 was caused by our backing of dictatorial Arab regimes, our unconditional support for Israel, our general interference in the Middle East, and the fact that Muslims aren't free. So what does Friedman want to do now? Have the U.S. wage a "cold war" (at least) for dominance in the Middle East alongside our best friends: the dictators and monarchs of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf States (plus, incidentally, Israel). In other words, Friedman now wants to do everything that he himself said is what caused 9/11 in the first place.
There's a reason that Friedman occupies the place he does in America's foreign policy establishment. He's perfectly representative of it. It's an establishment in perpetual search of an Enemy and the next war. And finding it (or creating it) is the one thing they do well.
Friedman spent months before the invasion of Iraq continuously supporting and cheering it on based on righteous appeals to the transformational values of freedom and democracy. But once the invasion was complete, he unmasked himself, acknowledging in that NPR interview that the real purpose of the invasion was that the U.S. had to send a message to Muslims generally and "sometimes it takes a 2-by-4 across the side of the head to get that message."
That admission was accompanied by Friedman's 2003 "epiphany" on The Charlie Rose Show that the invasion of Iraq was "unquestionably worth doing" because "looking back, I now feel I understand more what the war was about." Only once the deed was done did he magically realize that the real purpose of his war was not, after all, that "a more accountable, progressive and democratizing regime" in Iraq would "have a positive, transforming effect on the entire Arab world" -- as he continuously claimed while convincing Americans to support it.
No, instead, it turns out that the real purpose of invading Iraq, what made it "unquestionably worth doing," was that we needed to invade some Muslim country -- Iraq was just one of many that would have sufficed -- in order, using his words, to "take out a very big stick" and say: "Suck. On. This." That comes from one of the most revealing (and most repellent) three minutes of commentary one can find, illustrating the real face of the Friedman-led American foreign policy class (h/t Atrios):
And now Friedman has shifted his phallic, warmongering eyes from Iraq to Iran. While he denies in passing that he wants to wage actual war on Iran, he says we must find incentives "that the other side finds too tempting or frightening to ignore." In November, he argued that if Barack Obama becomes President, it was urgent that Dick Cheney be his Vice President because "when negotiating with murderous regimes like Iran's or Syria's, you want Tony Soprano by your side, not Big Bird," and thus, Obama needs "a Dick Cheney standing over his right shoulder, quietly pounding a baseball bat into his palm."
That's what passes for Serious Foreign Policy commentary in America -- the Most Serious commentary, actually. World War III has started! We need to be like Tony Soprano, threatening everyone with our big baseball bats. Those Muslims -- we can just pick the targets indiscriminately -- need 2-by-4s across their heads to get the message. And the message we need to convey with our baseball bats and 2-by-4s -- still -- is "Suck. On. This."
UPDATE: In comments, Rob Mac notes a vital correction.
UPDATE II: In comments, MelancholyDane points to this passage from G.K. Chesterton's Heretics:
It may be said with rough accuracy that there are three stages in the life of a strong people. First, it is a small power, and fights small powers. Then it is a great power, and fights great powers. Then it is a great power, and fights small powers, but pretends that they are great powers, in order to rekindle the ashes of its ancient emotion and vanity. After that, the next step is to become a small power itself.
It's hard to imagine a more concise and accurate explanation for what motivates the Tom Friedmans of the world and what that mentality is doing to the United States.