Tripping On Crazy
Atrios has posted a YouTube of Tom Friedman from 2003 saying we needed to unleash hell on the first convenient middle eastern country to teach those bastards a lesson. It's a perfect display of the rampant lunacy that overtook most of the punditocrisy after 9/11, and Friedman in particular. I recall talking to liberals at the time who were persuaded that if Friedman thought we needed to kick arab ass, maybe that's what we needed to do. He was a Very Serious Expert on the middle east. He speaks arabic!
Atrios posted this vid in response to another post from Democracy Arsenal attempting to mitigate such --- let's say it, fascistic -- comments by saying that Tom Friedman isn't a bad person for saying such things. I might buy it if he just made a comment like that once or twice in passing in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. But he didn't just say this in conversation. He wrote it in his column in the most influential paper in the country. And he wrote it as "even the liberal Tom Friedman says" perspective, which gave it the veneer of bi-partisanship that helped to paralyze the Democratic party (and the country.).
He wrote this one three months after 9/11, long after it was acceptable for anyone sane to rant like this:
Reading Europe's press, it is really reassuring to see how warmly Europeans have embraced President Bush's formulation that an ''axis of evil'' threatens world peace. There's only one small problem. President Bush thinks the axis of evil is Iran, Iraq and North Korea, and the Europeans think it's Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Condi Rice.
I'm not kidding. Chris Patten, the European Union's foreign policy czar, told The Guardian that the Bush axis-of-evil idea was dangerously ''absolutist and simplistic,'' not ''thought through'' and ''unhelpful,'' and that the Europeans needed to stop Washington before it went into ''unilateralist overdrive.''
So what do I think? I think these critics are right that the countries Mr. Bush identified as an axis of evil are not really an ''axis,'' and we shouldn't drive them together. And the critics are right that each of these countries poses a different kind of threat and requires a different, nuanced response. And the critics are right that America can't fight everywhere alone. And the critics are right that America needs to launch a serious effort to end Israeli-Palestinian violence, because it's undermining any hope of U.S.-Arab cooperation.
The critics are right on all these counts -- but I'm still glad President Bush said what he said.
Because the critics are missing the larger point, which is this: Sept. 11 happened because America had lost its deterrent capability. We lost it because for 20 years we never retaliated against, or brought to justice, those who murdered Americans. From the first suicide bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in April 1983, to the bombing of the Marine barracks at the Beirut airport a few months later, to the T.W.A. hijacking, to the attack on U.S. troops at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, to the suicide bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, to the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, innocent Americans were killed and we did nothing.
So our enemies took us less and less seriously and became more and more emboldened. Indeed, they became so emboldened that a group of individuals -- think about that for a second: not a state but a group of individuals -- attacked America in its own backyard. Why not? The terrorists and the states that harbor them thought we were soft, and they were right. They thought that they could always ''out-crazy'' us, and they were right. They thought we would always listen to the Europeans and opt for ''constructive engagement'' with rogues, not a fist in the face, and they were right.
America's enemies smelled weakness all over us, and we paid a huge price for that. There is an old bedouin legend that goes like this: An elderly Bedouin leader thought that by eating turkey he could restore his virility. So he bought a turkey, kept it by his tent and stuffed it with food every day. One day someone stole his turkey. The Bedouin elder called his sons together and told them: ''Boys, we are in great danger. Someone has stolen my turkey.'' ''Father,'' the sons answered, ''what do you need a turkey for?''
''Never mind,'' he answered, ''just get me back my turkey.'' But the sons ignored him and a month later someone stole the old man's camel. ''What should we do?'' the sons asked. ''Find my turkey,'' said the father. But the sons did nothing, and a few weeks later the man's daughter was raped. The father said to his sons: ''It is all because of the turkey. When they saw that they could take my turkey, we lost everything.''
America is that Bedouin elder, and for 20 years people have been taking our turkey. The Europeans don't favor any military action against Iraq, Iran or North Korea. Neither do I. But what is their alternative? To wait until Saddam Hussein's son, Uday, who's even a bigger psychopath than his father, has bio-weapons and missiles that can hit Paris?
No, the axis-of-evil idea isn't thought through -- but that's what I like about it. It says to these countries and their terrorist pals: ''We know what you're cooking in your bathtubs. We don't know exactly what we're going to do about it, but if you think we are going to just sit back and take another dose from you, you're wrong. Meet Don Rumsfeld -- he's even crazier than you are.''
There is a lot about the Bush team's foreign policy I don't like, but their willingness to restore our deterrence, and to be as crazy as some of our enemies, is one thing they have right. It is the only way we're going to get our turkey back.
That attitude showed bad judgment all right. The whole thing screams facile neoconservative cant that makes even Norman Podhoretz's ravings about WWIV look tame. But it showed something more ---- a sick kind of bloodlust that I think really calls Friedman's morals into question. This was the kind of hysterical crap you would expect dittoheads to spout, not hugely influential liberal intellectuals. It was bizarre and freakish and it lent crediblity to the kind of cowboy hero-worship that gave Bush the support he needed to make the greatest strategic blunder in American history.
He was a 9/11 junkie, addled by war porn and sentimental nationalism:
I have a confession to make. Right after 9/11, I was given a CD by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which included its rendition of ''The Battle Hymn of the Republic.'' I put it in my car's CD player and played that song over and over, often singing along as I drove. It wasn't only the patriotism it evoked that stirred me, but the sense of national unity. That song was what the choir sang at the close of the memorial service at the National Cathedral right after 9/11. Even though that was such a wrenching moment for our nation, I look back on it now with a certain longing and nostalgia. For it was such a moment of American solidarity, with people rallying to people and everyone rallying to the president.
They say you don't find out what you're made of until you come under pressure. I would say that for an intellectual like Friedman, the test came when he was called upon by vast numbers of influential politicians and ordinary people to make sense of what was happening in the Middle East and he responded like a simpleton.
I'm sure he is very nice to people he knows and I'm sure he's a great friend and all that. But he called for this country's leadership to be "crazy" and he cheered the idea that we should invade a country, any country --- necessarily killing vast numbers of innocent people as wars always do and behaving like invading Mongol hordes -- to show that we can't be trifled with.
What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, um and basically saying, "Which part of this sentence don't you understand?"
You don't think, you know, we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we're just gonna to let it grow?
Well, Suck. On. This.
That Charlie was what this war was about. We could've hit Saudi Arabia, it was part of that bubble. We couldn't hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could.
Oh sure, he twisted his white hankie about whether the Bush administration was going to follow through on all its grand proclamations about creating a full service democracy mall once we'd "pacified" the barbarians. But his main theme through that whole period was that the US needed to kill a bunch of Arabs to show that we weren't a bunch of wimps. Just listen to the passion in his voice when he says this horrible thing. It's chilling.