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Bronze-level article

Thomas Friedman

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I mustache you all to remain calm.
One of the
Pundits
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And a dirty dozen more
Not to be confused with Milton Friedman.

Thomas "Moustache of Understanding"[1] Friedman is an author and journalist at the New York Times. He's won the Pulitzer Prize three times: In 1983 for his coverage of Lebanon, 1988 for his coverage of Israel, and 2002 for his commentary on the War on Terror and its effect on the global political climate.

Friedman's columns are probably the definition of "your mileage may vary." On the plus side, he covers a lot of foreign and international affairs, something sorely lacking in much of the US media. He travels extensively and does a good amount of in-depth first-hand reporting. On the flip side, you'll also get a lot of limp, tepid, "Washington consensus"-type commentary (often bundled with analingus toward the powerful) repackaged as something deep and insightful. That's exactly the type he is — Friedman is touted as "the guy all the politicians and Beltway insiders read." That in itself makes him worth reading, right or wrong, though, as a barometer on just what the "Washington consensus" is.

Iraq[edit]

Friedman is now infamous for his incessant cheerleading for the Iraq War and repeatedly failing to predict when the mission would actually be accomplished. See Friedman Unit. Interestingly, he skipped right past the trumped up WMD charges Dubya made up and supported the war for the purposes of regime change. Guess he was ahead of the curve on that one!:

The right reason for this war, as I argued before it started, was to oust Saddam's regime and partner with the Iraqi people to try to implement the Arab Human Development report's prescriptions in the heart of the Arab world. That report said the Arab world is falling off the globe because of a lack of freedom, women's empowerment, and modern education. The right reason for this war was to partner with Arab moderates in a long-term strategy of dehumiliation and redignification.[2]

This is somewhat contradicted by an earlier column. During the Gulf War, Friedman keened that "the best of all worlds" would be "an iron-fisted Iraqi junta without Saddam Hussein" that would rule Iraq pretty much the same way he did, but with the approval of Turkey and their masters in Washington. But for the time being, the Ba'ath party were too entrenched, so the U.S. would have to settle for second-best—namely, leave Saddam in power, so he could continue to rule Iraq with "an iron fist".[3] (He likes that phrase.[4])

Suck on this![edit]

About a month after the 9/11 attacks, Friedman expressed his confidence in Donald Rumsfeld and what he perceived as a revival of Vietnam's "madman theory".[5] In an interview with Charlie Rose in 2003, Friedman was asked if it was worth it, considering how out of reach peace within Iraq seemed. Friedman responded with a lecture on US society and claimed that there was a "moral bubble" in the United States in the 1990's which involved Americans being "okay" with terrorism (because Al Qaeda was definitely in Iraq). His gibbering tirade ended 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 don't care about our open society? You think this bubble fantasy, we're just going 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. Could've hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we care. That's the real truth.[6]

It is not clear to the collective brainpower of RationalWiki what average Iraqis had to do with the moral failings of Americans nor how bombing (or torturing) them is showing that we care, but, admittedly, we are simple creatures who cannot comprehend Friedman's wise but mysterious ways.

Globalization[edit]

Friedman has become the high priest of globalization apologetics over the past fifteen years or so. He rarely seems to find any flaws with the free trade agreements he speaks in favor of, probably because he didn't bother reading them. A salient quote on his stance on trade policy:

We got this free market, and I admit, I was speaking out in Minnesota — my hometown, in fact — and guy stood up in the audience, said, ‘Mr. Friedman, is there any free trade agreement you’d oppose?’ I said, ‘No, absolutely not.’ I said, ‘You know what, sir? I wrote a column supporting the CAFTA, the Caribbean Free Trade initiative. I didn’t even know what was in it. I just knew two words: free trade.'[7]

Being a champion of an agreement based on the title alone, and simply not caring in the least what's in the document even when confronted with his ignorance, is a baffling display of willful ignorance for a journalist that won the Pulitzer Prize three times. It's his literal job to read and understand what is in these documents, and make a critical opinion on it, so it might be reasonable to float removing half his salary since he's only doing half the actual work that's expected of him. This might not be surprising given Friedman's previous columns on globalization that lavish praise on globalization successes like a tiny start-up IT company in Bangalore that has never been found outside of Friedman's columns which is capable of replacing every job in the world through out-of-the-box connected know-how. He has later come as a champion of China in the global marketplace because of it is "led by a reasonably enlightened group of people",[8] as he states China's Autocracy is superior to America's Democracy in global competition, while other columnist decry his value of economic growth over human rights and life.[9][10] There is nothing besides their leadership, such as production accomplishments or innovative ideas, that gives an impression of what he wishes to change to make the US competitive like China. In response to the possible criticism that this will result in everyone else in the world being unemployed, or will be placed in abusive working conditions, his answer is always that people will "need to be more innovative." Thankfully, software has been developed to write automated Friedman columns so Thomas might be able to show the world what he means by that.[11]

Friedman has been such a vapid champion of so many things he knows little about that Alexander Cockburn of the New York Press to call him a "Hot Air Salesman".[12]

His books[edit]

The World is Flat[edit]

Friedman should only be ingested in column-sized doses; levels of Friedman beyond that are potentially fatal. His books tend to be a melange of the latest buzzwords, orgasms over the newest office tech toys, and a whole bunch of metaphors and similes that pile up to incredibly asinine heights of literary incompetence. Should you somehow feel the need to read a Friedman book, make sure it comes with a translation device. A peek at a few of his "insights" from The World is Flat:

As I left the Infosys campus that evening along the road back to Bangalore, I kept chewing on that phrase: 'The playing field is being leveled.' What Nandan is saying, I thought, is that the playing field is being flattened... Flattened? Flattened? My God, he's telling me the world is flat!

Later on:

And now the icing on the cake, the ubersteroid[13] that makes it all mobile: wireless. Wireless is what allows you to take everything that has been digitized, made virtual and personal, and do it from anywhere.

George Carlin never knew it, but he actually composed a poem summarizing a Friedman book.

Matt Taibbi's review offers the definitive takedown of Friedman's longer-form writing:

Thomas Friedman in possession of 500 pages of ruminations on the metaphorical theme of flatness would be a very dangerous thing indeed. It would be like letting a chimpanzee loose in the NORAD control room; even the best-case scenario is an image that could keep you awake well into your 50s ... On an ideological level, Friedman's new book is the worst, most boring kind of middlebrow horseshit. If its literary peculiarities could somehow be removed from the equation, The World Is Flat would appear as no more than an unusually long pamphlet replete with the kind of plug-filled, free-trader leg-humping that passes for thought in this country. It is a tale of a man who walks 10 feet in front of his house armed with a late-model BlackBerry and comes back home five minutes later to gush to his wife that hospitals now use the internet to outsource the reading of CAT scans. Man flies on planes, observes the wonders of capitalism, says we're not in Kansas anymore. (He actually says we're not in Kansas anymore.) That's the whole plot right there. If the underlying message is all that interests you, read no further, because that's all there is.[14][15]

The Lexus and the Olive Tree[edit]

Friedman proposes the Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention, in the book:

No two countries that both had McDonald's had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald's.
—Friedman[16]

It was, unsurprisingly, contradicted on:

However, the argument that the observation theory was pushing wasn't so crazy:

Friedman was making a basically legitimate point about economic integration decreasing the likelihood of armed conflict between countries, but unfortunately the theory itself was disproved shortly after the book’s publication when NATO started bombing Yugoslavia.
—Joshua Keating[16]

A year later, the book received a revised edition, with Friedman commenting on the crticism:

I was both amazed and amused by how much the Golden Arches Theory had gotten around and how intensely certain people wanted to prove it wrong. They were mostly realists and out-of-work Cold Warriors who insisted that politics, and the never-ending struggle between nation-states, were the immutable defining feature of international affairs, and they were professionally and psychologically threatened by the idea that globalization and economic integration might actually influence geopolitics in some very new and fundamental ways.
—Friedman[17]

Friedmanisms[edit]

A Friedmanism is a specific variety of false equivalence, in which a pundit criticizes both sides of a conflict on an issue, while espousing the views of one side.[18] The phenomenon is so named because of Friedman's frequent urging of the creation of a new political party that would espouse a certain set of views...all of which are actually already held by Democrats. Friedman seems to blame Democrats for the obstructionism of Republicans.

I had to catch a train in Washington last week. The paved street in the traffic circle around Union Station was in such poor condition that I felt as though I was on a roller coaster... Maybe you’ve gotten used to all this and have stopped noticing. I haven’t. Our country needs a renewal. And that is why I still hope Michael Bloomberg will reconsider running for president as an independent candidate, if only to participate in the presidential debates and give our two-party system the shock it needs. President Obama has significant achievements to his record. He has done a solid job stemming the economic crisis he inherited and a good job managing national security and initiating important reforms — from health care to auto mileage standards. But with Europe in peril, China and America wobbling, the Arab world in turmoil, energy prices spiraling and the climate changing, we are facing some real storms ahead. We need to weatherproof our American house — and fast — in order to ensure that America remains a rock of stability for the world. To do that, we’ll have to make some big, hard decisions soon — and to do that successfully will require presidential leadership in the next four years of the highest caliber. This election has to be about those hard choices, smart investments and shared sacrifices — how we set our economy on a clear-cut path of near-term, job-growing improvements in infrastructure and education and on a long-term pathway to serious fiscal, tax and entitlement reform. The next president has to have a mandate to do all of this. But, today, neither party is generating that mandate — talking seriously enough about the taxes that will have to be raised or the entitlement spending that will have to be cut to put us on sustainable footing, let alone offering an inspired vision of American renewal that might motivate such sacrifice. That’s why I still believe that the national debate would benefit from the entrance of a substantial independent candidate — like the straight-talking, socially moderate and fiscally conservative Bloomberg — who could challenge, and maybe even improve, both major-party presidential candidates by speaking honestly about what is needed to restore the foundations of America’s global leadership before we implode. Mitt Romney can’t do that because of his ludicrous opposition to any tax hikes. President Obama, who has a plan to cut, tax and invest — albeit insufficiently — could lead, but, for now, he seems preoccupied with some rather uninspiring small ball, preferring proposals like “the Buffett tax” over comprehensive tax reform that would lower all rates, eliminate deductions and raise more revenue.
—Thomas Friedman, April 17, 2012[19]

See also[edit]

External Links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Moustache of Understanding
  2. Four Reasons to Invade Iraq
  3. Friedman, "The World; A Rising Sense That Iraq's Hussein Must Go", New York Times. July 7, 1991. Retrieved on 2008-01-13.
  4. The Lexus and the Olive Tree, (1999), pp. 443-444. Friedman: "The hidden market will never work without a hidden fist."
  5. Norman Soloman, "How the Media Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Donald Rumsfeld", Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting]]. ("He’s just a little bit crazy, and in this kind of war, they always count on being able to out-crazy us, and I’m glad we got some guy on our bench that our quarterback — who’s just a little bit crazy, not totally, but you never know what that guy’s going to do, and I say that’s my guy.")
  6. [1] If Friedman had any hand in foreign policy decisions it's arguable that the Middle East wouldn't be so splintered anymore. (That's not a good thing.)
  7. How I Was Wrong About Thomas Friedman
  8. Friedman hails China's Autocracy Superior to America's Democracy
  9. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman hails China's one-party autocracy
  10. Matt Lewis - Tom Friedman Praises China's One Party Autocracy Again
  11. Thomas Friedman Op/Ed Generator
  12. I and I, the world According to Thomas Friedman
  13. This is what you get when you Google "ubersteroid." Sorry.
  14. Flathead by Matt Taibbi
  15. Or: "Friedman treats globalization in the way that a 9-year-old treats Michael Bay movies."
  16. 16.0 16.1 http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_world_/2014/04/04/mcdonald_s_pulls_out_of_crimea_will_tom_friedman_be_retroactively_proven.html
  17. The Lexus and the Olive Tree, 2000 edition(Anchor Books Template:ISBN)p. 251.
  18. "Mike Bloomberg's Gun Control Friedmanism", Slate
  19. "One For the Country"