Tom Friedman doesn't understand why America is unpopular in the world

The same foreign policy expert who justified the attack on Iraq with "Suck. On. This" scornfully dismisses worldwide discontent with the U.S.

Published July 16, 2008 9:11AM (EDT)

Tom Friedman is befuddled. He cannot understand "the decline in American popularity around the world under President Bush" and is specifically upset about the fact that "China is now more popular in Asia than America and how few Europeans say they identify with the United States." Friedman generously allows that "[a]n America that presides over Abu Ghraib, torture and Guantánamo Bay deserves a thumbs-down" -- a "thumbs-down": what a playful movie critic says about a boring film. In listing America's small imperfections that have caused this worldwide unpopularity, Friedman forgot to mention America's invasion and occupation of Iraq, which Friedman himself cheered on.

Despite that list of America's "mistakes" ("Abu Ghraib, torture and Guantánamo Bay"), Friedman nonetheless pronounces that worldwide disapproval of America is "self-indulgent, knee-jerk and borderline silly." Why? Because Zimbabwe is worse (its dictator stole the last election and represses the country's citizens), as is China and Russia (they vetoed U.N. sanctions against Zimbabwe this week). Friedman thus lectures the world as follows:

Perfect we are not, but America still has some moral backbone. There are travesties we will not tolerate. . . . So, yes, we're not so popular in Europe and Asia anymore. I guess they would prefer a world in which America was weaker, where leaders with the values of Vladimir Putin and Thabo Mbeki had a greater say, and where the desperate voices for change in Zimbabwe would, well, just shut up.

Friedman pronounces Russia and China's opposition to anti-Mugabe sanctions as "truly filthy," and says that "when it comes to pure, rancid moral corruption, no one can top South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki."

There's no question that Robert Mugabe is a brutal and murderous tyrant, a true menace to those within his limited reach. And there are ample grounds for disputing Russia and China's claim that international sanctions -- by derailing South-African-led negotiations with conflicting Zimbabwean factions -- would inflame rather than improve Mugabe's repression (though the track record of U.N. sanctions in relieving repression and suffering isn't exactly inspiring).

But whatever else is true, when it comes to morally reprehensible and threatening behavior -- to use Friedman's righteous terms: "pure, rancid moral corruption" that is "truly filthy" -- is there anything that remotely compares with what Tom Friedman and his like-minded comrades have said and done over the last seven years? If you're a citizen of just about any country in the world, what would you find more threatening -- the repressive dictator of a small African country, or the world's sole military superpower that continues to listen to and honor a Foreign Policy Expert who utters disgusting sentiments such as this, to justify a war that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people and the displacement of millions more:

What other country in the world has leading members of its political class who justify unprovoked attacks on other countries -- who casually justify the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people -- in such depraved and sadistic terms? And, for that matter, what other country has a leading presidential candidate who sings songs about bombing another country and who continues to joke openly about killing its citizens?

If there were a powerful nation (besides the U.S.) that had a leading foreign policy analyst unapologetically justifying the brutal destruction of another country by explaining that its citizens needed to "Suck On This," and had a leading presidential candidate who sung songs about dropping bombs on the U.S. and who told jokes about killing Americans (while his leading ally demands that that country attack even more countries), we would be subjected to an endless array of Op-Eds from Fred Hiatt and Charles Krauthammer condemning them and demanding that "meaningful action" be taken against such a "rogue nation." And Tom Friedman would be righteously and darkly insisting that such a country be "compelled to change its behavior."

In light of that, just ponder the self-delusion required for Tom "Suck-On-This" Friedman and the political establishment he leads to express befuddlement -- confusion -- over our extreme unpopularity in the world over the last seven years. How would a rational person expect our country to be perceived when the face we present to the world is the face that appears on that grotesque You Tube clip -- the same face that, to this day, giddily boasts that "sometimes it takes a 2-by-4 across the side of the head" to get our message across and that we need high-ranking foreign policy officials "quietly pounding a baseball bat into his palm"? When it comes to violent behavior that is disruptive to the world order and threatening to people around the world, what has a two-bit dictator like Robert Mugabe done -- what could he ever do -- that can even compete with the savagery that George Bush has unleashed, that Tom Friedman has justified, and that John McCain jovially threatens?

Critically, the unpopularity of our country that has Friedman deeply confused and angry is not the by-product of some sort of reflexive anti-Americanism, nor is it due to the fact that America is inherently a destructive force in the world. Prior to the brutal radicalism of the last seven years as embodied by that Tom Friedman video, America was viewed quite favorably throughout the world. That is just a fact. Those who want to claim that the U.S., in the post-World-War-II era, has been the root of most evil are (whether they're right or wrong) in the distinct minority of worldwide opinion. That just is not how much of the world viewed the U.S. -- not until the era of George Bush and Tom Friedman's "Suck On This" neoconservative depravity.

To blithely justify unprovoked wars and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, as Tom Friedman did and does, is bad enough. To dismiss matters such as government-sponsored torture and lawless detention camps with nothing more than an acknowledgment in passing that perhaps they deserve a "thumbs-down" is almost as bad. That the same people who do that are then surprised and even offended that the rest of the world finds them repellent and dangerous -- that they actually expect that the world should view them as honorable moral arbiters -- is probably the most revealing aspect of all. The casual embrace of widespread, unparalleled aggression and violence by the Tom Friedmans of the world is exceeded only by their complete inability to see themselves for what they are. How should a country be perceived in the world when it honors the likes of Tom Friedman as a revered Foreign Policy guru, or when it strongly considers electing a brand new, reckless war-lover as President even after the last seven years?

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

MORE FROM Glenn Greenwald

Related Topics ------------------------------------------