Tom Friedman is an easy target these days. His nonsense prose (“a genius of literary incompetence”), his wanton calls for “civil war” in the Muslim world, his endorsement of collective punishment in Lebanon ’06 and in Gaza, and so on and so on, ad nauseum.
And all this before he admits to doing drugs: “I’ve been chewing a lot of qat lately, and it makes me dreamy.” Qat, of course, is the leafy euphoric speed-like drug that drains the labor-manpower and water tables of impoverished countries in Eastern Africa and parts of the Arabian peninsula — most notably in Yemen, where Friedman was recently visiting.
So, what are his dreams?
After this trip, we learn that Friedman no longer wants a “civil war.” Instead, he’s looking for a democratizing and reforming “big bang” (I hope it’s not this sort of banging, which Friedman also supported) to refute the on-going “meta-narrative” of Western collusion with Arab dictatorial regimes and Israel in order to control Middle Eastern resources.
Paul Woodward, of the excellent War In Context blog, chimes in to tell us that the biggest flaw in Friedman’s desire to overthrow the “meta-narrative” is that — and, holy cow! — it’s actually pretty derned close to the truth:
The problem with viewing the Middle East in terms of competing narratives is that it leads to exactly what Friedman does: present the region’s problems in terms of defective story telling. It discounts the possibility that the most obvious explanation for the iron grip of the so-called meta-narrative is that it provides a fairly good approximation of the truth.
The hold of this story is not a reflection of a weak Arab mind or of limited access to good education but on the contrary the facts that the region is indeed mired by autocratic rule, the West is indeed hugely invested in controlling the region’s carbon resources and the only country in the region towards which the West and especially the United States displays an unswerving loyalty is indeed Israel.
Friedman’s column is focused on a narrative to refute the narrative of 1979 — Islamist fervor says hello with the takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Mujaheddin against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the Iranian Islamic Revolution.
Friedman does note the U.S. and Western role in these events: “And have no illusions, we propelled those trends. America looked the other way when Saudi Arabia Wahabi-fied itself. Ronald Reagan glorified the Afghan mujahedeen and the Europeans hailed the Khomeini revolution in Iran as a ‘liberation’ event.” But, as Woodward notes, he still misses the big picture.
The narrative that Friedman pooh-poohs had a flash point in 1979, but that’s not where its roots lie. Nor has it failed to evolve since then. Iran’s turn started in 1953, when a democratically elected secular government was overthrown by the CIA because of — you guessed it — oil! Where was the U.S. when Afghanistan and Pakistan failed to deal with the Mujaheddin backlash? No oil! The short sightedness of U.S. policy — ditching these countries when their immediate utility had expired — created trust deficits that still play into our tragic involvement there in the present day. Not to even mention that virtually no one in Western officialdom dares to address the 1948 roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Friedman pins his hopes on Iraq’s democracy, still in pediatric ICU and in the midst of ethno-sectarian tensions boiling beneath the surface; Iran’s Green Movement; and “young reformers… in every Arab country.” I doubt, somehow, that any of these groups would invite Friedman and cohort’s advice. Friedman’s globalization — Pizza Huts in India! Democracy bombs in Iraq! — is exactly the kind of imperialism that created the “meta-narrative.”
Friedman looks back into history only as far as he needs to in order to make some coinable drivel or cutesy turn of phrase, and use it to forward some awkward, incoherent prescription of his own (like calling for Drone strikes, while in Yemen chewing qat). Talk about false narratives. I can’t blame him for it, though. As I note again and again (and I feel like I’m the one chewing qat here), Friedman wins Pulitzers, sits on their board, and is the most respected columnist in D.C.