Friedman and the War in Iraq in 2003

(actualisé le ) by Cybervinnie

Reactions to Thomas Friedman’s editorials in the New York Times in Feb.2003 about the imminent prospect of the US invading Iraq.

Reaction to Friedman’s editorials in the New york Times, by Vincent Smith - Wednesday, February 19, 2003

It’s really amazing to see how Friedman, an expert in Middle-East issues, put his fingers in the cogs of Bush’s brainwashing machine and conformed to his rhetorics: "the World of Order versus The World of Disorder" [Vote France Off the Island, Feb.9- see below ], what a nice Hollywood film that would make (with a rather basic plot line as usual so that people can carry on their daily routine without missing the twists of the story...).
The trouble is things are a lot more complex - did NYC look so much part of "a world of order" when the Twin towers collapsed? Does Israel look like a place of "order" after two years of Sharon’s "force and order" policy? Aren’t tyrannies of the world places of great "order"? That’s precisely why America supported so many authoritarian powers against their democratic opposition in the past (Didn’t trains arrive in time under Mussolini?).
So the topical issue is now: Will Iraq be a place of "order" when the Americans send in troops and try to install a friendly regime? Will their effort to re-shape the Middle-East to their taste by Force be more successful than Sharon’s policy in Israel? Why is Bin Laden so eager to see America wage war? Aren’t American hawks and potential terrorists and fanatics of the world more or less unconsciously playing the same tune -only total war and destruction can lead us somewhere ?(- to Heavens?)
Friedman points out that France can be cynical in their Foreign Policy and don’t have the monopoly of virtue... OK, great - but that’s no reason for dismissing their point so casually, especially when millions of people throughout the world think the same. Friedman bases his pro-war judgement on belief, not extensive reasoning. The pro-war stance has not been built up on solid evidence or comprehensive analysis. As Friedman puts forward in his latest editorial, Bush thought his desire was enough to lead the world into his nice little war - easy rhetorics would be enough to get international support after 9/11. That’s not the case. He has no sense of Foreign Affairs, he doesn’t understand anything in international politics. He doesn’t try to see the world from the Third-World’s point of view, he’d rather simplify everything in a Good vs Evil confrontation, Friends vs Foes opposition... Friedman’s using his talent and knowledge to back up that caricatural view of the world is unexpected.
Why doesn’t Friedman also highlight the cynical logics in Bush’s own case FOR war? Does he only see cynicism in supporters of PEACE? Can Bush win the next presidential election if he doesn’t win the war against Saddam? That’s issues I would like Friedman to tackle, unless he’s decided to undermine his own credibility by joining Bush’s communication staff and only dealing with matters helping Bush’s crusade.

Vincent Smith

Here are Friedman’s columns that initiated my reaction: :

NYT-February 2, 2003

Ah, Those Principled Europeans

BRUSSELS — Last week I went to lunch at the Hotel Schweizerhof in Davos, Switzerland, and discovered why America and Europe are at odds. At the bottom of the lunch menu was a list of the countries that the lamb, beef and chicken came from. But next to the meat imported from the U.S. was a tiny asterisk, which warned that it might contain genetically modified organisms - G.M.O.’s.
My initial patriotic instinct was to order the U.S. beef and ask for it "tartare," just for spite. But then I and my lunch guest just looked at each other and had a good laugh. How quaint! we said. Europeans, out of some romantic rebellion against America and high technology, were shunning U.S.-grown food containing G.M.O.’s - even though there is no scientific evidence that these are harmful. But practically everywhere we went in Davos, Europeans were smoking cigarettes - with their meals, coffee or conversation - even though there is indisputable scientific evidence that smoking can kill you. In fact, I got enough secondhand smoke just dining in Europe last week to make me want to have a chest X-ray.

So pardon me if I don’t take seriously all the Euro-whining about the Bush policies toward Iraq - for one very simple reason: It strikes me as deeply unserious. It’s not that there are no serious arguments to be made against war in Iraq. There are plenty. It’s just that so much of what one hears coming from German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French President Jacques Chirac are not serious arguments. They are station identification.

They are not the arguments of people who have really gotten beyond the distorted Arab press and tapped into what young Arabs are saying about their aspirations for democracy and how much they blame Saddam Hussein and his ilk for the poor state of their region. Rather, they are the diplomatic equivalent of smoking cancerous cigarettes while rejecting harmless G.M.O.’s - an assertion of identity by trying to be whatever the Americans are not, regardless of the real interests or stakes.

And where this comes from, alas, is weakness. Being weak after being powerful is a terrible thing. It can make you stupid. It can make you reject U.S. policies simply to differentiate yourself from the world’s only superpower. Or, in the case of Mr. Chirac, it can even prompt you to invite Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe - a terrible tyrant - to visit Paris just to spite Tony Blair. Ah, those principled French.

"Power corrupts, but so does weakness," said Josef Joffe, editor of Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper. "And absolute weakness corrupts absolutely. We are now living through the most critical watershed of the postwar period, with enormous moral and strategic issues at stake, and the only answer many Europeans offer is to constrain and contain American power. So by default they end up on the side of Saddam, in an intellectually corrupt position."

The more one sees of this, the more one is convinced that the historian Robert Kagan, in his very smart new book "Of Paradise and Power," is right: "Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus." There is now a structural gap between America and Europe, which derives from the yawning power gap, and this produces all sorts of resentments, insecurities and diverging attitudes as to what constitutes the legitimate exercise of force.

I can live with this difference. But Europe’s cynicism and insecurity, masquerading as moral superiority, is insufferable. Each year at the Davos economic forum protesters are allowed to march through the north end of town, where last year they broke shop windows. So this year, on demonstration day, all the shopkeepers on that end of town closed. But when I walked by their shops in the morning, I noticed that three of them had put up signs in their windows that said, "U.S.A. No War in Iraq."

I wondered to myself: Why did the shopkeepers at the lingerie store suddenly decide to express their antiwar sentiments? Well, the demonstrators came and left without getting near these shops. And guess what? As soon as they were gone, the antiwar signs disappeared. They had been put up simply as window insurance - to placate the demonstrators so they wouldn’t throw stones at them.

As I said, there are serious arguments against the war in Iraq, but they have weight only if they are made out of conviction, not out of expedience or petulance - and if they are made by people with real beliefs, not identity crises.

To that editorial ("Ah Those Principled Europeans"), I had specifically replied to Friedman by an e-mail (February 2, 2003):

If a war was not at stake, it would be funny to see how a top American journalist tries to get rid of his bad conscience about supporting unilateral war by putting the blame on others. Mr Friedman, if you think Bush’s warmongering policy is a paragon of US virtue, and expresses the "sincere" concern of the US people for Iraq’s suffering populations, well why do you bother to charge the European anti-war stance? Your point is that those corrupt European nations can’t get over their past colonial glory, that they’re jealous of the US power, so they criticize the US to differenciate themselves; so are you now supporting imperialism because only the US has the power of leading such an arrogant foreign policy? You say that "there are serious arguments against the war in Iraq, but they have weight only if they are made out of conviction, not out of expedience or petulance"... What about the arguments FOR war? Do they have weight if they are made out of "expedience or petulance"? Just be honest with yourself: you probably know Foreign Affairs and International politics better than me, so can you truly claim that Bush is a White Knight that proceeds to war in iraq for the sake of justice and democracy? What is so shocking and "cynical" for instance in the French official position that claims war should not be decided unilaterally without UNO’s consent? Why should Germany’s pro-peace stance be derided, when this may be the evidence that in 60 years, Germany has definitively moved on from its 20th-century demons? You should be happy to observe that the US involvement in WWII was not in vain: the utopian prospect of long-lasting peace in Europe has come true, and ex-enemies have become friends, capable of moderation and human concerns in Foreign Affairs... But you’d rather alienate your rhetorical talents to Bush’s brainwashing communication campaign... Can’t the "only superpower" in the world even take the critical standpoint of allies on a more controversial issue than you would admit? Many Americans have initiated peace protests: are they also "cynical" and "arrogant" to your mind or is that just for European demonstrators?

I think you know that Bush’s pro-war rhetorics is flawed and that the world is not a "for-us-or-against-us" caricature. There are many justified fears about the possible international consequences of that war, especially for the US and the Western nations; war is always dangerous, and it should NOT be used casually. If you think about it for two minutes, you will acknowledge that your comparison between food containing GMO and war in Iraq is an easy joke in bad taste: the future "colateral damages" of the war will make the difference. Your talent would be better used if it made clear why you are so sure the world shall be better off after the war in Iraq (I said "the world", not just the oil and weapon companies in the world...), and why the arguments from peace supporters in Europe necessarily sound so phoney to you... Of course, you think that something is OK if "there is no scientific evidence that [it is] harmful", while in Europe, people often think something is OK if there is scientific evidence that it is harmless (that’s why new medicines need to be tested thoroughly before being authorized on the market). Do you also apply that principle to war?
Yours sincerely,

Vincent Smith

NYT - February 9, 2003
Vote France Off the Island

Sometimes I wish that the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council could be chosen like the starting five for the N.B.A. All-Star team - with a vote by the fans. If so, I would certainly vote France off the Council and replace it with India. Then the perm-five would be Russia, China, India, Britain and the United States. That’s more like it.

Why replace France with India? Because India is the world’s biggest democracy, the world’s largest Hindu nation and the world’s second-largest Muslim nation, and, quite frankly, India is just so much more serious than France these days. France is so caught up with its need to differentiate itself from America to feel important, it’s become silly. India has grown out of that game. India may be ambivalent about war in Iraq, but it comes to its ambivalence honestly. Also, France can’t see how the world has changed since the end of the cold war. India can.

Throughout the cold war, France sought to differentiate itself by playing between the Soviet and American blocs. France could get away with this entertaining little game for two reasons: first, it knew that Uncle Sam, in the end, would always protect it from the Soviet bear. So France could tweak America’s beak, do business with Iraq and enjoy America’s military protection. And second, the cold war world was, we now realize, a much more stable place. Although it was divided between two nuclear superpowers, both were status quo powers in their own way. They represented different orders, but they both represented order.

That is now gone. Today’s world is also divided, but it is increasingly divided between the "World of Order" - anchored by America, the E.U., Russia, India, China and Japan, and joined by scores of smaller nations - and the "World of Disorder." The World of Disorder is dominated by rogue regimes like Iraq’s and North Korea’s and the various global terrorist networks that feed off the troubled string of states stretching from the Middle East to Indonesia.

How the World of Order deals with the World of Disorder is the key question of the day. There is room for disagreement. There is no room for a lack of seriousness. And the whole French game on Iraq, spearheaded by its diplomacy-lite foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, lacks seriousness. Most of France’s energy is devoted to holding America back from acting alone, not holding Saddam Hussein’s feet to the fire to comply with the U.N.

The French position is utterly incoherent. The inspections have not worked yet, says Mr. de Villepin, because Saddam has not fully cooperated, and, therefore, we should triple the number of inspectors. But the inspections have failed not because of a shortage of inspectors. They have failed because of a shortage of compliance on Saddam’s part, as the French know. The way you get that compliance out of a thug like Saddam is not by tripling the inspectors, but by tripling the threat that if he does not comply he will be faced with a U.N.-approved war.

Mr. de Villepin also suggested that Saddam’s government pass "legislation to prohibit the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction." (I am not making this up.) That proposal alone is a reminder of why, if America didn’t exist and Europe had to rely on France, most Europeans today would be speaking either German or Russian.

I also want to avoid a war - but not by letting Saddam off the hook, which would undermine the U.N., set back the winds of change in the Arab world and strengthen the World of Disorder. The only possible way to coerce Saddam into compliance - without a war - is for the whole world to line up shoulder-to-shoulder against his misbehavior, without any gaps. But France, as they say in kindergarten, does not play well with others. If you line up against Saddam you’re just one of the gang. If you hold out against America, you’re unique. "France, it seems, would rather be more important in a world of chaos than less important in a world of order," says the foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum, author of "The Ideas That Conquered the World."

If France were serious about its own position, it would join the U.S. in setting a deadline for Iraq to comply, and backing it up with a second U.N. resolution authorizing force if Iraq does not. And France would send its prime minister to Iraq to tell that directly to Saddam. Oh, France’s prime minister was on the road last week. He was out drumming up business for French companies in the world’s biggest emerging computer society. He was in India.

NYT - February 19, 2003
Tell the Truth

As I was listening to the French foreign minister make his case at the U.N. for giving Saddam Hussein more time to comply, I was struck by the number of people in the Security Council chamber who applauded. I wish there were someone I could applaud for.

Sorry, I can’t applaud the French foreign minister, because I don’t believe that France, which sold Saddam his first nuclear reactor, the one Israel blew up, comes to this story with the lofty principles it claims. The French foreign minister, after basking in the applause at the U.N., might ask himself who was clapping for his speech back in Baghdad and who was crying. Saddam was clapping, and all his political prisoners - i.e., most Iraqis - were crying.

But I don’t have much applause in me for China, Russia - or the Bush team either. I feel lately as if there are no adults in this room (except Tony Blair). No, this is not a plague-on-all-your-houses column. I side with those who believe we need to confront Saddam - but we have to do it right, with allies and staying power, and the Bush team has bungled that.

The Bush folks are big on attitude, weak on strategy and terrible at diplomacy. I covered the first gulf war, in 1990-91. What I remember most are the seven trips I took with Secretary of State James A. Baker III around the world to watch him build - face-to-face - the coalition and public support for that war, before a shot was fired. Going to someone else’s country is a sign you respect his opinion. This Bush team has done no such hands-on spade work. Its members think diplomacy is a phone call.

They don’t like to travel. Seeing senior Bush officials abroad for any length of time has become like rare-bird sightings. It’s probably because they spend so much time infighting in Washington over policy, they’re each afraid that if they leave town their opponents will change the locks on their office doors.

Also, you would think that if Iraq were the focus of your whole foreign policy, maybe you would have handled North Korea with a little less attitude, so as not to trigger two wars at once. Maybe you would have come up with that alternative - which President Bush promised - to the Kyoto treaty, a treaty he trashed to the great anger of Europe. You’re not going to get much support in Europe telling people, "You are either with us or against us in a war on terrorism, but in the war you care about - for a greener planet - America will do whatever it wants."

I am also very troubled by the way Bush officials have tried to justify this war on the grounds that Saddam is allied with Osama bin Laden or will be soon. There is simply no proof of that, and every time I hear them repeat it I think of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. You don’t take the country to war on the wings of a lie.

Tell people the truth. Saddam does not threaten us today. He can be deterred. Taking him out is a war of choice - but it’s a legitimate choice. It’s because he is undermining the U.N., it’s because if left alone he will seek weapons that will threaten all his neighbors, it’s because you believe the people of Iraq deserve to be liberated from his tyranny, and it’s because you intend to help Iraqis create a progressive state that could stimulate reform in the Arab/Muslim world, so that this region won’t keep churning out angry young people who are attracted to radical Islam and are the real weapons of mass destruction.

That’s the case for war - and it will require years of occupying Iraq and a simultaneous effort to defuse the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to create a regional context for success. If done right, such a war could shrink Al Qaeda’s influence - but Al Qaeda is a separate enemy that will have to be fought separately, and will remain a threat even if Saddam is ousted.

It is legitimate for Europeans to oppose such a war, but not simply by sticking a thumb in our eye and their heads in the sand. It’s also legitimate for the Bush folks to focus the world on Saddam, but two years of their gratuitous bullying has made many people deaf to America’s arguments. Too many people today no longer accept America’s strength as a good thing. That is a bad thing.

Some of this we can’t control. But some we can, which is why it’s time for the Bush team to shape up - dial down the attitude, start selling this war on the truth, give us a budget that prepares the nation for a war abroad, not a party at home, and start doing everything possible to create a global context where we can confront Saddam without the world applauding for him.

NYT - March 2, 2003
The Long Bomb

Watching this Iraq story unfold, all I can say is this: If this were not about my own country, my own kids and my own planet, I’d pop some popcorn, pull up a chair and pay good money just to see how this drama unfolds. Because what you are about to see is the greatest shake of the dice any president has voluntarily engaged in since Harry Truman dropped the bomb on Japan. Vietnam was a huge risk, but it evolved incrementally. And threatening a nuclear war with the Soviets over the Cuban missile crisis was a huge shake of the dice by President John Kennedy, but it was a gamble that was imposed on him, not one he initiated.

A U.S. invasion to disarm Iraq, oust Saddam Hussein and rebuild a decent Iraqi state would be the mother of all presidential gambles. Anyone who thinks President Bush is doing this for political reasons is nuts. You could do this only if you really believed in it, because Mr. Bush is betting his whole presidency on this war of choice.

And don’t believe the polls. I’ve been to nearly 20 states recently, and I’ve found that 95 percent of the country wants to see Iraq dealt with without a war. But President Bush is a man on a mission. He has been convinced by a tiny group of advisers that throwing "The Long Bomb" - attempting to transform the most dangerous Arab state - is a geopolitical game-changer. It could help nudge the whole Arab-Muslim world onto a more progressive track, something that coaxing simply will not do anymore. It’s something that can only be accomplished by building a different model in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world. No, you don’t see this every day. This is really bold.

And that leads to my dilemma. I have a mixed marriage. My wife opposes this war, but something in Mr. Bush’s audacious shake of the dice appeals to me. He summed it up well in his speech last week: "A liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region by bringing hope and progress into the lives of millions. America’s interest in security and America’s belief in liberty both lead in the same direction - to a free and peaceful Iraq."

My dilemma is that while I believe in such a bold project, I fear that Mr. Bush has failed to create a context for his boldness to succeed, a context that could maximize support for his vision - support vital to seeing it through. He and his team are the only people who would ever have conceived this project, but they may be the worst people to implement it. The only place they’ve been bold is in their military preparations (which have at least gotten Saddam to begin disarming).

What do I mean? I mean that if taking out Saddam and rebuilding Iraq had been my goal from the minute I took office (as it was for the Bush team), I would not have angered all of Europe by trashing the Kyoto global warming treaty without offering an alternative. I would not have alienated the entire Russian national security elite by telling the Russians that we were ripping up the ABM treaty and that they would just have to get used to it. (You’re now seeing their revenge.) I would not have proposed one radical tax cut on top of another on the eve of a huge, costly nation-building marathon abroad.

I would, though, have rallied the nation for real energy conservation and initiated a Manhattan Project for alternative energies so I would not find myself with $2.25-per-gallon gasoline on the eve of this war - because OPEC capacity is nearly tapped out. I would have told the Palestinians that until they stop suicide bombing and get a more serious leadership, we’re not dealing with them, but I would also have told the Israelis that every new or expanded settlement they built would cost them $100 million in U.S. aid. And I would have told the Arabs: "While we’ll deal with the Iraqi threat, we have no imperial designs on your countries. We are not on a crusade - but we will not sit idle if you tolerate extremists in your midst who imperil our democracy."

No, had Mr. Bush done all these things it would not have changed everything with France, Russia and the Arabs - or my wife. But I am convinced that it would have helped generate more support to increase our staying power in Iraq and the odds that we could pull this off.

So here’s how I feel: I feel as if the president is presenting us with a beautiful carved mahogany table - a big, bold, gutsy vision. But if you look underneath, you discover that this table has only one leg. His bold vision on Iraq is not supported by boldness in other areas. And so I am terribly worried that Mr. Bush has told us the right thing to do, but won’t be able to do it right.

Reactions to this editorial:

THOMAS: I can’t believe the US has started their war against Iraq. They began attacking defensive sites along the Kuwait border. There should be outrage against this. The whole world should turn against Bush. I am so pleased Turkey decided to stick it to them by voting against the plan to allow soldiers in the country. One win for democracy. I sent you another article by Freidman. Can you believe this nut? His casual style drives me up the wall. Does he think he is writing in a tabloid? He actually believes Bush has the right vision when it comes to Iraq. What did you think about the price tag he put on Palestinian lives as if this would somehow settle the problem...?

VINCENT: Very stunning indeed. Friedman is forgetting he’s writing for a reference newspaper that requires more arguments and culture than casual football-style comments: I like that team and I feel the coach’s offence strategy is bold (and fans like bold offence - it gives spectacular game) but he didn’t practice it enough with his players, so the players could mess it up... The guy - an expert in Middle-East issues - is now watching the preparation of a WAR as it it was a football game broadcast on TV! The "popcorn" line is unbelievably casual when you think many people will DIE and cities will be smashed to rubbles... So if the US wasn’t involved, Friedman wouldn’t care and take some popcorn while watching the war on CNN? It’s sad to see how low the debate has slumped among elites in the very country that has unilaterally decided to invade Iraq - exposing the world to major backlashes...