He’s Baaack! And He’s Shrillllll!

by Kieran Healy on October 3, 2004

“Tom Friedman returns”:http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/03/opinion/03friedman.html?oref=login in his new guise as Chief Assistant to the Assistant Chief Sassanian Senmurv’s Sub-Deaconry Baldachin Polisher in the Noble, Ancient and Hermetic Order of the Shrill:

bq. Sorry, I’ve been away writing a book. I’m back, so let’s get right down to business: We’re in trouble in Iraq. I don’t know what is salvageable there anymore. … This war has been hugely mismanaged by this administration, in the face of clear advice to the contrary at every stage, and as a result the range of decent outcomes in Iraq has been narrowed and the tools we have to bring even those about are more limited than ever. … For all of President Bush’s vaunted talk about being consistent and resolute, the fact is he never established U.S. authority in Iraq. Never. This has been the source of all our troubles. We have never controlled all the borders, we have never even consistently controlled the road from Baghdad airport into town, because we never had enough troops to do it. … Because each time the Bush team had to choose between doing the right thing in the war on terrorism or siding with its political base and ideology, it chose its base and ideology. More troops or radically lower taxes? Lower taxes. Fire an evangelical Christian U.S. general who smears Islam in a speech while wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army or not fire him so as not to anger the Christian right? Don’t fire him. Apologize to the U.N. for not finding the W.M.D., and then make the case for why our allies should still join us in Iraq to establish a decent government there? Don’t apologize – for anything – because Karl Rove says the “base” won’t like it. Impose a “Patriot Tax” of 50 cents a gallon on gasoline to help pay for the war, shrink the deficit and reduce the amount of oil we consume so we send less money to Saudi Arabia? Never. Just tell Americans to go on guzzling. Fire the secretary of defense for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, to show the world how seriously we take this outrage – or do nothing? Do nothing. Firing Mr. Rumsfeld might upset conservatives. Listen to the C.I.A.? Only when it can confirm your ideology. When it disagrees – impugn it or ignore it.

Whew! Did ole “Airmiles”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/001614.html finally run into “Daniel”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/001153.html in a 1st Class Transit Lounge somewhere? Perhaps Tom is realizing that, thanks to the Bush Administration, he may get the “twenty year occupation”:http://bodyandsoul.blogspot.com/2003_02_01_bodyandsoul_archive.html#88706640 he told _Oprah_ viewers to gear up for last year.



peter ramus 10.03.04 at 7:47 am

Thomas Friedman will never tire of explaining that he only supported the war because his goals for it were so much better than anyone else’s. It was already tiresome to hear him warning that his goals were not being met before he went on vacation, goals nested somewhere between absolute nonsense and pure homestyle flapdoodle from the first, and his hopes for achieving them resting entirely in the hands of the Bush Administration, which was certainly a known quantity by early 2003.

“What I resent so much is that some of us actually put our personal politics aside in thinking about this war and about why it is so important to produce a different Iraq,” he says now, somewhat petulantly.

It was such a beautiful dream and now it’s gone all spoiled and political.

I think Mr. Friedman still has a few issues to work through before he can be certified fully and congenitally shrill.

“What a maroon I was,” he needs to write.”‘Let’s start a war,eh?’ isn’t thinking outside the box at all!”


bad Jim 10.03.04 at 8:33 am

What else can he do? At some point his writing has to have something to do with reality, or he’d lose all credibility as a journalist.

After all, he’s not the president of the United States.


g 10.03.04 at 12:27 pm

Was there a Text Editor Incident? The text “Whew! This seems a long way from Did ole Airmiles finally run into Daniel […]” seems like it’s missing a few words…


Luc 10.03.04 at 12:39 pm

I’m still surprised of the pervasiveness of the idea that the Iraq war was good, but Bush spoiled it. And because of that now we all have to support the war, to do it good from now on.

It’s not just Bush that doesn’t want to admit mistakes. About any former war proponent still clings to the myth that war is good, war will bring peace and democracy, if only “I, Airmiles”, or any other decent person lead the killing, it would all be well now.

Airmiles still supports a policy of “overwhelming force” without mercy, and a propaganda blitz that [gets] its message across in every possible way, including through distortion.

And what bothers me is the mythical “leader” ideology. Instead of hashing out a common policy through the process that was created for it, politics, we all should dispense of “partisan” politics and decide for a single policy that our dear leader can execute. It’s almost a parody of old school communism. We should put our personal politics aside and start reassessing what every American is going to have to do to make it happen.

Undoubtedly he’s going to be featuring the lazy and obstructive Europeans in his next op-ed.


david 10.03.04 at 2:15 pm

I just read Friedman, and I was confused. Didn’t the Rumsfeld rules used to say that it’s good to be crazy? Or we gotta roll the dice?

Friedman will be shrill when he writes a column that doesn’t 1) read like a bad bumpersticker 2) praise his own compassion and implicitly condemn that of those to his left 3) praise bipartisanship. It’s still a long way to go.


yabonn 10.03.04 at 2:30 pm

the pervasiveness of the idea that the Iraq war was good

… facts being merely incidental :)

I think this idea will go on and an, and not only because it’s a survival reflex from friedman and friends.

The pro war case came to be adopted outside of the usual war nut circles because of that self image of the u.s. as the “moral” superpower. The u.s. should go in irak because it’s the right thing to do – and let’s not talk about these petty national interest stories. And that was plausible if you admit that the u.s. are really, that reaganesque force for good in the world, etcetc. Which lots of people there seem to do, unquestionningly (izzataword?).

Admitting being wrong from the begining would mean questionning that flattering self image. It sure seemed deep rooted to me during the rush to war, and i don’t think that questionning could happen now.


greg 10.03.04 at 2:37 pm

Hee! Looks like Krugman has taken over the body of Friedman. You know, it’s great to read that the most mediocre writer and intellect on earth sees Iraq as an unmitigated disaster — kind of a portrait of the median (or would it be mean?) American thoughts — but I’d really like to hear more about the things that Tom has learned about the forces of good and evil in the world while talking with two people in Baghdad. Or about what the curry he ate in Calcutta tells us about globalization…


Kieran Healy 10.03.04 at 3:47 pm

Actually, it was the curry he ate in Baghdad that was the real epiphany. Because it had been packed in Kalamazoo, MI.


Cranky Observer 10.03.04 at 4:51 pm

I’m still surprised of the pervasiveness of the idea that the Iraq war was good, but Bush spoiled it. And because of that now we all have to support the war, to do it good from now on.

I don’t think the war was good; I opposed it at the time, and told my senators/representative so.

But realistically, I do think it was doable. There were never going to be rose petals, but there were plenty of signs that the Iraqi people were sick of Saddam and weren’t totally opposed to a forced regieme change. It is an area of the world that greatly respects strength after all.

So if Bush had gone in with 300,000 troops, immediatly backed up by 20,000 New York/Chicago/London policemen and tons of assistance from other nations, then there would have been at least a 50% chance of creating some sort of stable state. Not to say it would have been the right thing to do, but it could have been done.

Rumsfeld and Bush totally blew that chance, however.



Doctor Memory 10.03.04 at 5:08 pm


As a resident of New York City and a long-time observer of the NYPD’s shoot-first-ask-questions-later policy for dealing with dark-skinned people who happen to make an unwanted hand gesture, I have to ask: have you thought this plan entirely through? :)

(Also, I can’t speak for Chicago and London in this regard, but if the _entire_ NYPD staff, including both uniformed and administrative personnel, contains over 50 people who are even moderately fluent in Arabic, I’ll eat my own head.)


roger 10.03.04 at 5:23 pm

Tom Friedman is not being fair. President Bush explained why things went wrong in Iraq very well.

“LEHRER: New question, Mr. President, two minutes. You have said there was a “miscalculation” of what the conditions would be in postwar Iraq. What was the miscalculation, and how did it happen?

BUSH: No, what I said was that, because we achieved such a rapid victory, more of the Saddam loyalists were around. I mean, we thought we’d whip more of them going in.

But because [Gen.] Tommy Franks did such a great job in planning the operation, we moved rapidly, and a lot of the Baathists and Saddam loyalists laid down their arms and disappeared. I thought they would stay and fight, but they didn’t.”

That’s the true evil of Saddam all over again. Instead of lining up his guys for a battle, so we could knock them all off, he actually allows them to vanish — and then reappear as guerillas! That’s never ever happened before in world history! How could Bush, a guy who grew up in the Vietnam era, be expected to know about guerrillas?

There’s an brilliance to our commander in chief that reminds us of great leaders of the past: the military junta who ran Argentina in the early eighties; President Fujimora of Peru; and the collected presidents of Guatamala, 1956-1989. He’s just awesome. Right for God, right for America.


abb1 10.03.04 at 6:22 pm

So if Bush had gone in with 300,000 troops, immediatly backed up by 20,000 New York/Chicago/London policemen and tons of assistance from other nations, then there would have been at least a 50% chance of creating some sort of stable state.

Killing most of their men and raping most of their women could’ve made it stable for a while. It’s still possible or, as you say, doable.


bob mcmanus 10.03.04 at 7:01 pm

NE India

This hit me when I opened Yahoo this morning. I said:”NE India? Wait a minute.”

We may be in a world civilization tipping point that is bigger than Iraq, or Chechnya, or Texas, or Islamism, or whatever. Can the nation-state survive without totalitarianism?

Poor Iraq may be the the suffering experiment, and may be worse off for our presence, but maybe not that worse off. If a nation of Iraq can’t be sustained (or some new paradigm created to replace it), that doesn’t mean you are going to get three sustainable nations. Or ten city states. Or anything but anarchy and chaos.


TPO 10.03.04 at 8:04 pm

Yeah, the first 80-90% of the Friedman column made sense, but how in the hell did it lead to this conclusion:

Friends, I return to where I started: We’re in trouble in Iraq. We have to immediately get the Democratic and Republican politics out of this policy and start honestly reassessing what is the maximum we can still achieve there and what every American is going to have to do to make it happen. If we do not, we’ll end up not only with a fractured Iraq, but with a fractured America, at war with itself and isolated from the world.

The only answer is a political one, and it happens on November 2.


Really 10.03.04 at 8:16 pm

Heartrending posts on this same topic by Iraqis ….



Andrew Brown 10.03.04 at 8:53 pm

A 20 year occupation would have been success. A five or ten year occupation will be a failure, and a defeat. But it’s probably inevitable now.


WeSaferThemHealthier 10.03.04 at 9:15 pm

“start honestly reassessing what is the maximum we can still achieve there”

The first step towards a honest assessment is never allowing people like him to influence the debate ever again.

Of course, that won’t happen and you Americans will think of the good ol’ days in ’68.

Best of luck.


john b 10.03.04 at 10:23 pm

Bob – don’t worry about NE India as part of World Civilisation Collapse.

The ethnically Southeast Asian populations in India’s NE states (especially Assam and Nagaland) periodically have uprisings and blow stuff up claiming they want to be independent; then the Indian government offers them larger state subsidies and they stop.

This has been going on since Independence…


Margaret 10.03.04 at 11:11 pm

I just heard John Zogby – today – Sunday 10/3 – on Air America “going out on a limb” and predicting a Kerry win. Apparently the undecided voters had their big break last week – BEFORE the debate- and it was against Bush. (The actual question was “Does the president deserve another term?” The answer was stunningly, overwhelmingly, “No.” Zogby doesn’t think the debates will make that much of a difference, except for water-cooler type talk, which of course will favor Kerry.)

This is, of course, barring whatever surprise Karl Rove pulls out of his sleeve at the last minute. Yes, it WAS today, not a rerun. Air America is having an all-new Sunday show from now until the election.

And speaking of that, Zogby apologized for not having new post-debate data. Oddly enough, “something” took down their entire phone system while they were doing their latest poll. Hmmmmmmmmmm.


Margaret 10.03.04 at 11:14 pm

What Zogby actually said: “I’m going out on a limb here, but I think that, from now on out, people will looking for reasons why they shouldn’t vote for ‘that tall guy'”

“People” meaning undecideds for whom Kerry is “that tall Presidential-looking guy” and Bush is “that guy who’s there now”.


bob mcmanus 10.03.04 at 11:46 pm

“Bob – don’t worry about NE India as part of World Civilisation Collapse.”

Didn’t say I was worried, didn’t use the word collapse, didn’t say it was a bad thing, or needed to be. And the centrifugal forces will invariably lead people to fall back on their prior useful narratives, like independent Kurdistan or civil-war re-enactments.

But the more I watch Iraq, the more it seems we are trying to impose artificial structures on the place (It is all Sadr; all Zarqwahi; all Syria’s fault) that
do not apply.

Nice article in the NY magazine today about the curator’s new arrangement for the permanent collection at MOMA. They just can’t seem to find any narrative that leads to the contemporary floors. They keep trying, tho.


Carlos 10.04.04 at 1:42 am

Doc Memory, you came perilously close to having to perform autocephalophagy.

I bet more than that can chat a little with the store owners around Atlantic Avenue — you know, the ones Tac/Josh Trevino lied about not putting up American flags after September 11th — but in the interest of you not eating your own head we’ll not count those.



Justin @ RSR 10.05.04 at 1:46 am

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