Thomas Friedman Asks "Should We Be Arming ISIS?" Better Q: Why Are We Reading Thomas Friedman?
What is it that Don Draper tells Peggy in that episode of Mad Men when she gives birth to an unintended baby? Something like "Don't look back, there's nothing for you there. Keep moving forward."
I thought of that moment while reading Thomas Friedman's column about the Islamic State and the Middle East in The New York Times. Friedman writes
I despise ISIS as much as anyone, but let me just toss out a different question: Should we be arming ISIS? Or let me ask that differently: Why are we, for the third time since 9/11, fighting a war on behalf of Iran?
In 2002, we destroyed Iran's main Sunni foe in Afghanistan (the Taliban regime). In 2003, we destroyed Iran's main Sunni foe in the Arab world (Saddam Hussein). But because we failed to erect a self-sustaining pluralistic order, which could have been a durable counterbalance to Iran, we created a vacuum in both Iraq and the wider Sunni Arab world. That is why Tehran's proxies now indirectly dominate four Arab capitals: Beirut, Damascus, Sana and Baghdad.
As it happens, I largely agree with the point that Friedman is making here. Not about arming ISIS, of course, but the other observation: The United States has in fact spent the first dozen or so years of this awbserful century occupying and "nation building" in such a way that Iran is mostly free of large, regional rivals.
Oddly, Friedman is absolutely uninterested in pausing for a second and asking his assistants to rummage through his own archives. There, he would find voluminous words from the man himself pushing for the very courses of action he now tut-tuts.
While Friedman has voiced concerns over the course of U.S. actions in Afghanistan, he also counseled early on (in November 2001) to "Give war a chance." In January 2002, he proclaimed, "I have no problem with nation-building in Afghanistan."
Then, in 2003, he appeared on Charlie Rose (is that even a thing any more?), went full-metal pundit and actually said:
What they [Islamic extremists] needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house—from Basra to Baghdad—and basically saying:
Which part of this sentence don't you understand?: You don't think we care about our open society? You think this [terrorism] fantasy [you have]—we're just gonna let it grow? Well, suck. on. this. That, Charlie, was what this war was about. We coulda hit Saudi Arabia….We coulda hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could.
God, the old "suck. on. this." gambit! To paraphrase Talleyrand on the death of the Turkish ambassador, I wonder WTF Friedman meant by that? But I'm pretty sure he wasn't counseling deep concern about the U.S. military's doing Iran's dirty work.
As for ISIS? Well, Friedman is "all-in on destroying ISIS. It is a sick, destabilizing movement." True, he does worry about Iran, but still it's a vital U.S. goal to go about "'searching and destroying' ISIS in its strongholds in Syria and Iraq."
Even a stopped clock is right a couple of times a day. And so even Tom Friedman stumbles into truth once in a while.
But the real questions aren't the ones he poses occasionally in his columns. No, they are why the hell did this guy ever count as a wise man, especially when you add his bizarre embrace of authoritarians regimes when it suits his fancy?