In his most recent book, Thomas Friedman – New York Times columnist, Pulitzer Prize winner, presidential adviser – says of the Iraq War that he has ‘nothing but regret for the excessive price that America and Iraq have had to pay in lives and treasure’. The body count seems to be less cause for concern, however, than the fact that China, which has not been distracted from domestic infrastructure projects by pricey wars abroad, can now build a convention centre in approximately the same time it takes for the Washington Metro crew to repair two escalators in Friedman’s local subway station (the book is called That Used To Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back). Still, he’s come a long way since May 2003, when he said that the US military had to go ‘house to house from Basra to Baghdad’, wielding ‘a very big stick’ and instructing Iraqis to ‘Suck On This’.
This was necessary, Friedman explained, in order to burst the ‘terrorism bubble’ that had emerged in ‘that part of the world’ and posed a ‘fundamental threat to our open society’. Four months earlier he had said that the real threat to ‘open, Western, liberal societies today’ was not ‘the deterrables, like Saddam, but the undeterrables – the boys who did 9/11, who hate us more than they love life’. Iraq was nonetheless part of the ‘cement mixer that is churning out these undeterrables’, and in case anyone detected any inconsistencies in the argument that fighting a war against deterrables will deter people who cannot be deterred, Friedman later offered the broader assessment that ‘we hit Saddam for one simple reason: because we could.’
There was also the question of oil. In January 2003, Friedman conceded that ‘any war we launch in Iraq will certainly be – in part – about oil’. By October 2003, he had decided that ‘US power is not being used in Iraq for oil’. A year later, Hummer drivers in the US were somehow still to blame for the deaths of their neighbours’ sons serving in Fallujah – unlike New York Times columnists who sold ‘democratising a fractious Iraq’ by force as ‘the most important task worth doing’.
As for ideology, in April 2003 Friedman said the Iraq war was ‘the war the neoconservatives wanted… the war the neoconservatives marketed’. In October 2003, he said it was a ‘radically liberal war’. In November 2003, he said he was ‘a liberal on every issue other than this war’.
You’d think that someone so committed to exporting democracy would have a solid handle on what democracy means. But in 2005, Friedman praised Tony Blair ‘as one of the most important British prime ministers ever’ for having ‘not only defied the overwhelming antiwar sentiment of his own party, but public opinion in Britain generally’. For the US, too, the Iraq war was a ‘war of an elite’ and ‘not a war that the masses demanded’. Meanwhile, ‘the problem with Saudi Arabia is not that it has too little democracy. It’s that it has too much.’
In April 2003 Friedman said that Arab journalists who talked about the US ‘occupation’ of Iraq were guilty of ‘Saddamism’. In August 2003 Friedman wrote: ‘This is an occupation.’
In 2007 he surmised that Iraqis ‘hate each other more than they love their own kids’. In 2009 he hoped that they’d learned from America’s ‘million acts of kindness’ and ‘profound example of how much people of different backgrounds can accomplish when they work together’.
In 2005 Friedman argued: ‘We have to have a proper election in Iraq so we can have a proper civil war there.’ Earlier this year, he wrote: ‘For all of the murderous efforts by al-Qaida to trigger a full-scale civil war in Iraq, it never happened.’ Never mind that in 2006 he said: ‘It is now obvious that we are not midwifing democracy in Iraq. We are baby-sitting a civil war.’