Monday, November 30, 2009

Tom Friedman Thinks People Should Be Grateful When Their Countries Are Bombed And Invaded

I honestly did not want to write a post criticizing Tom Friedman -- mainly because it's too easy, and it's been done to death -- but I have a few minutes of spare time, so I thought: why the hell not?

Please read his description of U.S. conduct in the Muslim world:

Yes, after two decades in which U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny — in Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon, Kurdistan, post-earthquake Pakistan, post-tsunami Indonesia, Iraq and Afghanistan — a narrative that says America is dedicated to keeping Muslims down is thriving.

Although most of the Muslims being killed today are being killed by jihadist suicide bombers in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Indonesia, you’d never know it from listening to their world. The dominant narrative there is that 9/11 was a kind of fraud: America’s unprovoked onslaught on Islam is the real story, and the Muslims are the real victims — of U.S. perfidy.

Have no doubt: we punched a fist into the Arab/Muslim world after 9/11, partly to send a message of deterrence, but primarily to destroy two tyrannical regimes — the Taliban and the Baathists — and to work with Afghans and Iraqis to build a different kind of politics. In the process, we did some stupid and bad things. But for every Abu Ghraib, our soldiers and diplomats perpetrated a million acts of kindness aimed at giving Arabs and Muslims a better chance to succeed with modernity and to elect their own leaders.

The Narrative was concocted by jihadists to obscure that.

Actually, beneath the self-serving bullshit that regularly accompanies Friedman's columns, there is a grain of truth there: governments and populations in Muslim and Arab states do not like taking responsibility for their failings, and seek to deflect blame to other people and states. This state of affairs is deplorable, and from a personal perspective, I try to do everything I can to shine a light on the incredible stupidity that results when this modus operandi is employed with the regularity that it is (think Zaid Hamid blaming Pakistan's problems on a Hindu-Zionist-American-Mickey Mouse-Donald Duck conspiracy).

The only problem is that this grain of truth is buried under opinions so stupid that it boggles the mind. In Friedman's view, when people are invaded and bombed, they should be happy about it, because the U.S. really wants to "rescue Muslims" or "free them from tyranny". Torture and indiscriminate bombing should be excused because American soldiers and diplomats "perpetrated a million acts of kindness" (evidently this was not one of the million).

I believe a state as powerful as the U.S. will end up conducting itself in fairly aggressive ways -- that's just the U of C training in me. I also believe a state will try to justify its aggression and dress it up in benevolent language to make it look like they're doing something other than pursuing their national interests (think the White Man's Burden). Up to this point, I can follow the train logically and understand it (even if I don't necessarily like it).

But where I get completely lost is the third step: when the people in charge start believing what they say. Do neocons (the Krauthammer/Kristol crowd) and liberal imperialists (the Friedman crowd) genuinely believe that the world should be grateful when the U.S. bestows upon it the privilege of being invaded? All the evidence suggests: yes, they do. And the truly scary thing about this view is how widespread it is. In the academic world, I either come across directly, or speak to fellow academics who engage with, the Washingon crowd (think tankers, inside-the-Beltway journalists etc). It's actually quite amazing the extent to which these people believe their own bullshit. They really do think the world sees them as they see themselves, and are truly flummoxed when you try to tell them that it doesn't.

Anyway, if you want to see others piling on Friedman's column, read Steve Walt and Glenn Greenwald.


Khalid said...

'Have no doubt: we punched a fist into the Arab/Muslim world after 9/11, partly to send a message of deterrence...'

... in response to the acts of a handful of terrorists.

Hmmmm, this seems to be a quite compelling argument in the favour of 'The Narrative concocted by jihadists'.

Umair Javed said...

I've wrestled with the question of 'believing your own bullshit' far too many times myself. I used to wonder whether the world bank policy makers consciously mess up third world economies or if you want to go all ancient, whether the british actually believed in bringing civilization and commerce all over the world. Although reading the personal accounts of colonial officials such as Malcolm Darling and Jan Smuts reveals that they actually believed that the policies that they were implementing were in the best interests of these 'child-like' populations

I think the mental blockade in accepting the indoctrination bit is related to how at some level pakistanis want to believe that there is a conspiracy against our country being planned in small shady rooms buried deep somewhere in washington...its just so more convenient to blame everything on burger king and bollywood...

takhalus said...

i believe yanks call it manifest destiny and not white mans burden?

but i prefer the term hubris..

Rabia said...

great post. Friedman's column reminds me of a quote by Tacitus:
“When monarchs through their bloodthirsty commanders lay waste a country, they dignify their atrocity by calling it "Making Peace”

to be fair, it's rather similar to the argument one hears from many Pakistanis regarding the peace that the Taliban brought to Afghanistan or how grateful Afghans should be to Pakistan.

Jaydev said...

Arrogant Bastard..
Did you see the youtube video of Friedmann..where is gives the famous..Suck On IT Iraq in Charlie Rose Show..It is so fucking condescending..

AKS said...

A person commenting on Stephen Walt's blog raised an interesting point about Friedman:


"Friedman has a talent for writing readable, anecdotal news columns, which is why it was interesting to read his articles. Unfortunately, someone gave him free rein on a newspaper column, which allows us to see his major downside- he more or less has no depth on anything. He just picks up, as if by osmosis, whatever the "big issue" is at the time and regurgitates a bunch of surface stuff with a strong degree of self-service."

AKS said...

Speaking of idiots, please check out Christopher Hitchens' bitch slapping Pakistan in an ultimately pointless article.

Sakib Ahmad said...

If YOU were in the same privileged position as the guy you are all maligning how would YOU behave towards people devoid of self-esteem, ignorant of the treasure trove in their own backyard, and clinging to the language and culture of the people their object of hate belongs to? Look within yourselves and you will know the truth.

Take the Jews. In the diaspora they were lost souls, detested and loathed by all. Then they somehow got hold of a piece of land they called Israel and they never looked back. They revived a dead language, Hebrew, created a strong sense of identity and grew exponentially, culminating in the establishment of a feared nuclear power that can treat the only acknowledged super power in the world with contempt.

We Pakis, on the other hand, are busy filing complaints about the way others treat us! We get what we deserve, no more and no less. That is how Allah addresses mankind in the Qur'an but we have shut our eyes to its Message and we have turned our Deen into a ridiculous religion which is the very negation of Islam.

Please click the link below, which will take you to a post in my blog most relevant to this discussion: Pakistan's colonial set-up/ An illusion of freedom.

AKS said...

Sakib you have opened my eyes, for years I have debated and argued, written and spoken, with friends and colleagues on topics that were of interest to me, but now I realise what the pointlessness of my endeavour. It is time I started loathing myself for what good am I if I am nothing but a pretender whose every achievement or failure is an illusion, medals on armour that doesn't quite belong. I vow to shun this visage, this pseudo-identity, and adopt the cultural and linguistic treasures that lurk in my own backyard. I promise that I shall not follow the rituals and customs forced down upon my ancestors by invading, imperialist forces - forces that have been trying to create an unnatural cultural and historical link with Arabia.

I also vow never to speak in Urdu or wear the Shalwar Kameez and shall from this day forth speak only in Telugu and English, the language of my ancestors, and only wear pnachas (dhotis) because they are roomy and airy.

Thank you Sakib for helping me see the light and reclaim my heritage, Andhra Pradesh and Madras here I come.

Pagal_Aadmi_for_debauchery said...

No analysis of Friedman can ever be complete without linking to these two Taibbi pieces:


Raza said...

I love how Freidman bashing has become a creative non-fiction genre in and of itself.

Anonymous said...

First things first - Friedman is a buffon and a highly overrated journalist.

However, can you please show the part exactly where he thinks people should be grateful for their countries being bombed and invaded?

Agreed that the language about the million acts of kindness etc is condesescending. Whether or not it is true, it is condescending.

AKS - I can understand how the Hitch's article would seem pointless for a Pakistani

Brett said...

However, can you please show the part exactly where he thinks people should be grateful for their countries being bombed and invaded?

Friedman has never come out and honestly said, "They should be grateful for us bombing them", but he's more or less implied it through years of columns about how the Iraq War was ultimately a noble venture, one that would be immensely good if it succeeded, etc.

t's actually quite amazing the extent to which these people believe their own bullshit.

I've often wondered why that is. Some of it may go back centuries; one history I read of the US foreign policy said that while Americans certainly didn't hesitate to get into the dirtier sides of international politics, they've always been very uncomfortable about openly saying they're doing. No doubt because of years of propaganda about how America was the "city on the hill", and so forth.

I think the whole thing got super-charged because of the Cold War. In order to maintain support in the US for the anti-soviet effort (and prevent a relapse into isolationism), US leadership and the foreign-policy elements in the US society really played up the self-propaganda and ideological factor. This lasted so long, and played into American conceits about who we are, that many actually started to believe it at all levels of American society. Actually winning the Cold War only exacerbated that.

Sakib Ahmad said...

AKS! I am glad that you mention your dhoti. You are ideally placed, I think, to solve that timeless riddle: what does a Scotsman wear under his kilt? Well, what would you wear under your dhoti, AKS?

More seriously, you might care to hop over to my blog and read Ghazal's post and my reply.

Butters said...

American foreign policy is not the reason anti-American crazies hate America. It's ressentiment, plain and simple.

I've made this point before and it's been ignored.

ignorant american said...

Afghans were grateful for being invaded--in opinion polls in Afghanistan the US had very high favorability ratings for a few years after the invasion, and even now a majority of Afghans say the invasion was a good thing (although the difficulty of polling in Taliban-dominated area makes current polls somewhat useless).