Friedman Beat Goldstone to Gaza/Lebanon Comparison

I’m glad to see that Mondoweiss is posting relevant pieces of the Goldstone Report chunk-by-chunk — bite-sized morsels from the hundreds of pages of documents in the full report.

But we didn’t need Goldstone to confirm that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) strategy in Lebanon was a model for Gaza. That claim was made way back when the fighting was still going on — by a staunch friend and supporter of Israel, no less. But enough from me; res ipsa loquitur. I give you Tom Friedman of the New York Times as the Gaza War raged on January 13, 2009 (my emphasis):

Israel’s counterstrategy [in the summer of 2006] was to use its Air Force to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical. Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future.

That was the education of Hezbollah. Has Israel seen its last conflict with Hezbollah? I doubt it. But Hezbollah, which has done nothing for Hamas, will think three times next time. That is probably all Israel can achieve with a nonstate actor.

In Gaza, I still can’t tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to “educate” Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims.

At the time, Friedman was undecided. But a year later it’s clear which of his options the IDF went for: To “educate” Hamas, as Friedman grotesquely characterized an assault that saw the destruction of universities and schools. With all the destruction and death of Friedman’s “education,” it’s scary to even think about what an effort to “eradicate” Hamas might have looked like (as Friedman hints).

The column was problematic in so many ways, I don’t even know where to start. (Though the piece was a slight improvement over his nonsensical column of the week before, which was skewered brilliantly by Matt Taibbi.)

First up was a glaring mistake where Friedman says the dovish Israeli approach of the late ’90s led to unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza.  Of course, both are very much under military occupation both outright and by siege, respectively.

Another problem was the naivete of his prescription for healing the crisis:

Now [Israel’s] focus, and the Obama team’s focus, should be on creating a clear choice for Hamas for the world to see: Are you about destroying Israel or building Gaza?

It’s obvious now that Israel also had no intention of giving Hamas the opportunity of “building Gaza”; see the siege.

But the most mind-numbing aspect of Friedman’s column was that he seemed to have bumbled his way into admitting that civilians were targets of the IDF operations in Lebanon and Gaza in an attempt to show them the price tag of supporting non-state resistance groups. Violence against civilians to effect political change is terrorism — and Friedman endorsed this “education” policy.”It was not pretty, but it was logical,” he wrote of Lebanon.

The only one I saw who picked up on that irony was Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). The watchdog put out an Action Alert a day after the op-ed ran, trotting out a similarly callous Friedman quote from 1999:

The “logical” plan, as Friedman explained it, is to punish civilians in the hopes that this will force the political change you prefer. This is precisely the “logic” of terrorists.


This pro-terrorism argument has been made before by Friedman, who advocated the same sort of terror against Serbs, writing (4/6/99) that “people tend to change their minds and adjust their goals as they see the price they are paying mount. Twelve days of surgical bombing was never going to turn Serbia around. Let’s see what 12 weeks of less than surgical bombing does. Give war a chance.”

It’s a quote he uses again and again — “Give war a chance.” And it keeps winning him Pulitzers and other accolades like being named overwhelmingly Washington’s most influential columnist in a poll of “Congressional and political insiders” — representative of the “Beltway bubble.”

I’m not exactly sure why. I find his mind to be a literary black hole leading to dark and foreboding places, as Friedman himself might say. But since so many people buy into Friedman’s stuff, you’d think that when Goldstone makes the same claim — in less strident language — it might gain some traction. But the same Congress that picked Friedman overwhelming denounces Goldstone. Not to mention Israel’s response to the Goldstone Report.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.



  1. It is very disturbing to read Friedman’s lofty pontifications about how to deal with Hezbollah and Hamas, remembering that as he wrote civilians were dying by the thousands and homes, hospitals, etc. were being reduced to rubble. Friedman apparently sees himself as on a level with Yahweh in His dealings with Sodom and Gomorrah.

    At the same time, this reopens the difficult question of how one deals with an enemy who is embedded among the civilian population. In Vietnam we tried two ways: massive firepower with heavy civilian casualties, and “counterinsurgency,” i.e., discreet operations side by side with an effort to win over the people. The former failed becuase the enemy was dedicated to his cause and would not roll over in the face of heavy losses. The latter failed because we were, at bottom, a FOREIGN element on Vietnamese soil. We were never able to win over the people — that is, the peasantry that made up a majority of the Vietnamese population.

    The Israelis tried firepower in Lebanon and Gaza. Hezbollah and Hamas are still standing, and Israel is even more hated than before. As for winning over the civilian population, although small efforts to do this are underway on the West Bank, no such effort is being made in Gaza. Nor would such an effort succeed, because the Israelis are a FOREIGN element in a land that (before 1948) had been for 1,300 Arab and (mostly) Muslim.

    Israel will eventually be overwhelmed militarily or demographically. The object lesson from history is the fate of the medieval Crusader states. The one hope is that in time there will be a “revolution of attitudes,” an acceptance that Palestine can flourish as a state with Muslims, Jews and Christians living side by side in peace and equality. I doubt it will happen, but never say never. What must be grasped is that a Jewish state in Palestine is an anachronism, a last fling of colonialism that was morally indefensible, even given the unspeakable horror of the Holocaust and the centuries of persecution that preceded it.

  2. It is indeed uncanny how elite hired pens like Friedman advocate terrorism (political violence against civilians) by OUR side with clockwork regularity. And then how regularly they preach against terrorism by THEIR side. It is even more uncanny how people who alternately condemn terrorism or advocate it can win Pulitzer prizes and other accolades.

    This does suggest that hypocrisy coupled with psychopathic attitudes is a formula for success in this society. Friedman proves it.

  3. I say we accept Friedman’s arguments and go with it. Since I disagree with him, I have the right, by his ethos, to punch his fat face. Perhaps he will get “educated” to my point. I am making a reducteo-absurbum argument here, so, I’d have to keep kicking his ass till he understands the senselessness of his argument.

    We should all accept the might makes right argument and kick these people’s asses. Ask them as they beg mercy if they are dissuaded of their arguments. Either way you win, as if they agree that the violence is pointless and doesn’t dissuade. Even if you get grudging agreement given just to stop the pummeling they should no that nothing was resolved, the old resentments will still be left unsettled.

    But, you will never be heard. We are invisible to them. They don’t see the victims of their plans as people. The harbor a racism, or some elitism. Churchill felt nothing for brown people, Woodrow Wilson was a repugnant white supremest. Many Zionists are too, they get succor from the same sources. These people will pervert the most sacred for selfish gain–what better typifies this than ordering the murder of innocent babies?

    I think there MAY be a spiritual and apocalyptic aspect to what is happening there. Revelations talks about vast numbers of the “Church” being deceived. Simply, what can be more Satanic than cheering “shock and Awe” the cheering slaughter of innocents?

    We are guided to hold to the Golden Rule, love our neighbors as ourselves. When Jesus is asked, “who is my neighbor?” he points to the good Samaritan. Yet now our Congress offers it’s full support to the murder of a thousand civilians in Gaza.

    The Antichrist means not just the opposite of Christ but also ante, as before. I know millions of Christians see Israel as being the Israel of prophecy. Many Orthodox Jews believe this attitude is blasphemous and heresy. I certainly don’t think THIS Israel is the Israel of prophecy. I think that what replaces THIS Israel could be the Israel that comes as a reward for the righteousness of the people.

    Jon wrote, “The one hope is that in time there will be a “revolution of attitudes,” an acceptance that Palestine can flourish as a state with Muslims, Jews and Christians living side by side in peace and equality” Well, that is what it was for much of the 1300 yrs Muslims lived there.

    In ’67 when Moshe Dayan occupied the West Bank, the Jews that had been living there for years begged him to be merciful and fair to the Arabs. He didn’t take their council. Even the Atheist can embrace the Golden Rule, it’s these men who succumb to evil for personal gain who cause these problems.

    Most of us don’t have personal challenges anything like this. We don’t have millions to gain by turning our back on the victims of some pillaging. But each of us has the ability to compel the concern of our neighbors. WE have to speak up! I appreciate your fine blog and the dedication to speaking the truth, one mitzva few of your peers are willing to earn.

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