Head Cheerleader For the War on Terror
It's hard to turn on the television or pick up a newspaper or go into a bookstore without seeing Thomas Friedman blaring at you.
Friedman writes a nationally syndicated column for the New York Times. His books on globalization and the Middle East are bestsellers -- and are often praised by politicians and scholars. "Nobody understands the world the way he does," NBC's Tim Russert recently said of Friedman.
In April, Friedman won his third Pulitzer Prize, the most prestigious award in journalism, "for his clarity of vision, based on extensive reporting, in commenting on the worldwide impact of the terrorist threat [after September 11]." He shared a Pulitzer in 1983 for the New York Times' international reporting and won another in 1988 for his coverage of Israel.
So you might think that the much-praised Friedman had something interesting or challenging to say -- or that he was an exceptional journalist.
You would be wrong. In truth, Friedman is a hack who specializes in popularizing a set of ideas that have destroyed the lives of millions of people around the world.
Over the past few years, he's become the main establishment apostle of "globalization" -- the spread of the unhindered free market and pro-business government policies around the globe. What Friedman calls the "golden straightjacket" of U.S.-style capitalism may be restraining for countries that put it on. But for him, there's no alternative to adopting neoliberalism and letting the free market rip. Like the "hired prize fighters" of capitalism that Karl Marx wrote about in 1873, for Friedman, the devastation of workers, peasants and the environment by global capitalism is so much "collateral damage" in the necessary pursuit of high productivity rates and profit.
His book The Lexus and the Olive Tree reads like a love letter to corporate power -- which is why it's no surprise that Friedman has cozied up to businesspeople and politicians around the world in pursuit of his stories.
But Friedman is at his worst when writing about U.S. imperialism -- especially in the Middle East. Serving as both an armchair general and a cheerleader urging on more destruction, he routinely advocates committing war crimes -- as long as the U.S. or its allies are pulling the trigger.
In 1998, Friedman advocated "bombing Iraq, over and over and over again." In an article titled "Craziness Pays," Friedman explained that "the U.S. has to make clear to Iraq and U.S. allies that America will use force, without negotiation, hesitation, or UN approval." He went on to add, "We have to be ready to live with our own contradictory policy. Sure, it doesn't make perfect sense."
Friedman never tires of using "we" when describing the actions of the U.S. military. In 1997, he wrote: "[I]f and when Saddam pushes beyond the brink, and we get that one good shot, let's make sure it's a head shot." Two years later, Friedman suggested that the U.S. should "[b]low up a different power station in Iraq every week, so no one knows when the lights will go off or who's in charge."
Friedman couldn't care less that every power station targeted in Iraq means more food and medicine that will spoil without refrigeration, more hospitals that will lack electricity, more water that will be contaminated -- and more people who will die.
The U.S.-led NATO war on Yugoslavia found Friedman repeating himself: "It should be lights out in Belgrade: every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road and war-related factory has to be targeted. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too."
Friedman has never tried to camouflage his strong support for Israel -- even when he feels that he sometimes has to criticize the "excesses" of settlers or the Israeli right wing to defend Israel's best interests.
And he was an unabashed supporter as the Pentagon crushed Afghanistan -- at the cost of thousands of civilian lives -- in "self-defense." "My motto is simple," he wrote. "Give war a chance."
But because of his proximity to power, Friedman sometimes tells the truth. In The Lexus and the Olive Tree, he gives one of the most honest descriptions of the relationship between the U.S. military and corporate power.
"The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist," he wrote. "McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas.And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps."
Of course, Thomas Friedman sees nothing wrong with the U.S. military making the world safe for U.S. capitalism -- and destroying everything in its wake. In his tiny corner of the world, Friedman has been amply rewarded for aligning himself with that kind of power.
Anthony Arnove is the editor of Terrorism and War, a new collection of interviews with Howard Zinn (Seven Stories Press). This article originally appeared in Socialist Worker.