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Sunday, October 24, 2004

Is it something in the New York City water that causes some sort of mass psychosis? Perhaps an additive in the New York Times building itself? Thomas Friedman is a smart guy, well traveled, yet somehow he comes back to writing and has fantastic visions where everyone to the right of Fidel Castro is a villain.

Here we go again was the only thing I could think of reading his piece today. Blaming the Administration for tying us in with Israel in the minds of Arabs, allowing the word "Jew" to become a generic epithet applied to our guys. I can barely be bothered to fisk this, it's been done too many times before. A few words:

The New York Times: Jews, Israel and America

I was speaking the other day with Scott Pelley of CBS News's "60 Minutes" about the mood in Iraq. He had just returned from filming a piece there and he told me something disturbing. Scott had gone around and asked Iraqis on the streets what they called American troops - wondering if they had nicknames for us in the way we used to call the Nazis "Krauts" or the Vietcong "Charlie." And what did he find? "Many Iraqis have so much distrust for U.S. forces we found they've come up with a nickname for our troops," Scott said. "They call American soldiers 'The Jews,' as in, 'Don't go down that street, the Jews set up a roadblock.' "

I have no idea how widespread this perception is, but it does not surprise me that some Iraqis would talk that way. Our communications in Iraq have been so inept since we arrived, many Iraqis still don't know who America is or why it came. But such talk is also indicative of a trend in the Arab media, after a century of Arab-Jewish strife, where if you want to brand someone as illegitimate, just call him a "Jew." Indeed, this trend has widened since 9/11. Now you find a steadily rising perception across the Arab-Muslim world that the great enemy of Islam is JIA - "Jews, Israel and America," all lumped together in a single threat...

Message to Friedman: That all dates back pre-Iraq invasion and pre 9/11. This is all very. very old news. Remember? That's one of the reasons there supposedly was a 9/11 - our closeness to Israel, and the fact that we have our strings pulled by the Jews. I was at Speaker's Corner in London 15 years ago and some Arab guy was insulting the other Muslims by calling them a bunch of Jews (he was drunk - go figure).

This wider trend has been fanned by Arab satellite TV stations, which deliberately show split-screen images of Israelis bashing Palestinians and U.S. forces bashing the Iraqi insurgents. The trend has also been encouraged by some mosque preachers looking to explain away all the Arab world's ills by wrapping all the Satans together into JIA. This trend has been helped by the Bush team's failed approach to the Arab-Israel problem, which is to tell the truth only to Yasir Arafat, while embracing Ariel Sharon so tightly that it's impossible to know anymore where U.S. policy stops and Mr. Sharon's begins.

Again, what are we supposed to do about it? Many Iraqis are illiterate. Not everyone has a TV, and they won't all listen to us if they do. The Arab World is infested with conspiracy theories. We don't run the Arab TV outlets (although we are beginning to provide alternatives), we don't run the Mosques. Unlike our enemies and the people we deposed, we don't lock people up because they promulgate ideas we don't agree with.

Friedman comes back to his office at the Times, drinks the Kool-Aid flavored water and, while glossing past the deep, systemic problems that exist in that part of the world, still include a but and place bottom-line blame on Bush and Sharon. You have to live on a coast to believe this stuff.

This brings us to this week's vote in the Israeli Parliament about whether to proceed with Mr. Sharon's plan for a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Mr. Sharon, a man of the right, has finally realized the demographic threat posed by Gaza to Israel and wants to get out. He is being opposed by the Israeli far right - the Jewish Hezbollah. This includes settler rabbis who have urged soldiers to disobey orders and, with winks and nods, have let it be known that if someone were to eliminate Ariel Sharon he would be acting out God's will. In this struggle between Jewish fanatics and Ariel Sharon, we must stand with Mr. Sharon. These settler rabbis are a blot on the Jewish people.

I have no truck with the "far" anything, but Friedman's continued comparisons of settlers with Hezbollah is onerous and beyond the pale. No one should be compared to such people but other terrorists.

But in the struggle between Mr. Sharon and common sense, America should be with common sense. The late Yitzhak Rabin wanted to get out of Gaza to make peace with the Palestinians, because he understood the danger of "Jews, Israel and America" all getting melded together in the nuclear age. Mr. Rabin knew that no peace deal would resonate in the Arab-Muslim world if it did not have a legitimate Palestinian partner. Mr. Sharon seems to want to get out of Gaza to make peace with the Jews. His aides have made clear that he is getting out of Gaza in order to entrench Israel even more deeply in the West Bank and the Jewish settlements there.

In the face of this plan, the Bush team is silent. This is partly because the Palestinians continue to stick with Arafat as their leader, even though this bum has led them to ruin - so the U.S. has nothing to offer Israel. And it's partly because the Bush team, which is so inept at diplomacy, has never had the energy or creativity to shape a better Palestinian alternative to Arafat. As a result, the Sharon vision of getting out of Gaza in order to take over the West Bank will probably win by default. If that happens, "Jews, Israel and America" will be bound together more tightly than ever as the enemies of Arabs and Muslims.

Friedman provides no concrete suggestions because there are none to be had. None. The ball is in the Palestinian's court now - get rid of the thugs or live in misery. Their choice. The Bush Administration can do nothing more than they already are in this regard...well, we've been through all this before. Of course, we know Friedmans' solution - the Geneva Accord (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here (in which Tom Friedman turns to violence!), and here among others for background and comment.) - a warmed-over recycling of the murderous disaster of Oslo. He can't tell you that, of course, because that would mean his alternative to the Bush policies is far worse than no alternative at all.

The very best columnists are those who bring a certain experience, knowledge and analytical intelligence to their writing - framing current events and helping us to understand while adding in their own contribution. Friedman at his best is excellent, but something's happened. I think it's a combination of a couple of things. First of all, Friedman's like one of those aging US diplomats who's spent a bit too much time overseas and gone native. He's cozy with too many people. The "JIA" thing is a typical trope from that part of the world, and it's pure manipulation meant to get us to change, abandon our sinful ways and stab an ally in the back - none of which will, in the end, buy us a thing. Repeating it and using it in that way yourself, as backing for an argument, is naive at best. We ought to be proud of it. "Yeah? So?" No amount of PR will heal that unless we become a Muslim nation. I'm not planning on it. How 'bout you? That means we're just gonna have to suck it up and be in for the long haul whatever "they" say about us. Sorry if Mr. Friedman's uncomfortable at cocktail parties.

The second flaw, of course, is that New York stew Friedman is afloat in. It engenders a desperate need to derogate anything perceived as to the "Right," and of course when you find yourself needing to reach too far to make your points, what comes out the other end can't possibly be of much value. So Sharon is doing what he needs to do - continuing the fence, keeping the pressure on the terrorists, putting the onus on the PA for results and moving forward with the pullout. "The Left," not content to see the success be Sharon's, seeks for their own program and comes up with the puffery of Geneva. Bush is also doing what needs to be done, standing with Sharon in his fight to defend his people, waiting for a real leadership in the PA to emerge to deal with and pursuing our own War. Friedman and Co. are not content with Bush's program (this is Bush after all, there must be something wrong) so there they also reach for something, anything to cast Bush as a failure - and in this case they end up blaming Bush for failing to PR the Middle East into loving America and Israel.

Good columns, like good blog posts, need some meat behind them, but in neither instance do Friedman or his column end up with anything of mass to latch on to. Personally, I'm content to watch them both...blow away.

(Hat tip to Mike for the pointer.)

Update: Boker Tov, Boulder comments.



5 Comments

I saw the article- and laughed.

Personally, I think the article was written as a not so subtle endorsement of John Kerry, the implication being that White House is responsible for the mismanagement of the war in Iraq, and Kerry had it right all along. He throws the canards of anti Americanism and anti semitism in Iraq as if they were non existant and newly found ideals resulting from Mr Bush's 'failed policies.'

Like Kerry's other supporters, the only real tool Friedman has is the verbal shell game.

As in the shell game, you can only hide the truth for so long and after a while, you realize you're being had.

Thomas Friedman is playing three card monte in a suit, designed and tailored by the NYT.

No more, no less.

Good Post.

Yes, very good points. Earlier in the election cycle his pieces could be expected to have some decent analysis and insight. Now all that takes a back seat to "beat Bush" and it shows up in the quality.

I think you hit the sweet spot with your remark, "Earlier in the election cycle his pieces could be expected to have some decent analysis and insight. Now all that takes a back seat to "beat Bush" and it shows up in the quality."

You'd think Friedman would have enough sense to at least maintain a minimal amount of self respect to at least appear independent of the Kerry/DNC talking points.

You'd also think he'd have enough sense to read Krauthammer before he writes anything-- especially his last column.

i haven't even seen this post until now. of course, i've been sleeping these last few months. yeah, i wish. i'm working like a dog and i get tired of staring at a computer all day.

anyways, i missed this editorial by friedman and so now i'm surprised by its content. he's usually one of my favorites but, clearly he was waaay off base in this case. doesn't he and pelley know that "Jew" is the generic universal curseword in that part of the world??

Bush Derangement Syndrome and knowing too many involved people on a personal basis have often gotten the better of Friedman who can be very good on occasion.

"Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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