Tom Friedman is the most popular columnist in the United States. He’s also the voice of the American establishment. From his perch at the CFR (Council of Foreign Relations) he delivers his affable-sounding polemics, spreading a gospel of free markets and endless war. His many accolades, including a stockpile of Pulitzer prizes, attest to his ability to convert the self-serving doctrine of personal accumulation into the highest form of personal virtue.
Friedman is forever the casual acquaintance, the man on the street, whispering a friendly word of advice to his readers. The world, according to Tom, is getting “flatter” all the time. This is his snappy, non-threatening expression for globalization. Friedman is the foremost pitchman for the new economic paradigm, ignoring the tens of thousands of high-paying American jobs that have fled the country and the withering blow that outsourcing has delivered to the middle class. He carefully avoids the details of how the neoliberal agenda has crushed third world nations with its austerity measures, privatizing resources, deregulating business and compromising national sovereignty. Instead, he champions the dismal results as a sign of emergent democracy.
“For globalism to work,” Friedman avers, “America cannot be afraid to act like the almighty superpower that it is. . . .The hidden hand of the market will never work without the hidden fist—McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonald-Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.” (New York Times, March 28, 1999)
It’s doubtful that anyone has ever written a more succinct defense of American militarism. Friedman’s analysis casually mixes Machiavelli with Adam Smith, producing a poignant description of how the real world operates. Behind the illusion of “free markets” and globalization the same coercive “hidden fist” is guiding events. For all his “folksiness”, Friedman’s worldview is no different than that of George Bush.
Friedman has always been a reliable salesman for Imperial aggression. He supported the war in Iraq from the get-go, concealing his bloodlust behind the flawed justifications of democracy and liberation. His only proviso was that the war be “done right.”
That’s right. His one stipulation was that the killing, occupation and theft of resources be carried out with maximum efficiency, or, in his words, “done right.” One can only wonder whether or not the 100,000 dead Iraqis fit within Friedman’s rigid moral criteria.
Friedman’s unbridled support for the war can be best summarized in his own words:
“The war in Iraq is the most important liberal, revolutionary US democracy-building project since the Marshall Plan. It is one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad.” (New York Times)
There’s no indication that Friedman’s support has wavered in the slightest since he delivered this injunction nearly two years ago. And, why should it? It is a point of view that is held almost universally among his peers at the CFR and the other bastions of American plutocracy. Friedman simply articulates the commonplace view among American elites that the world should be grateful for the hellfire unleashed by the US military. The vast devastation we see in Iraq today is not the result of evil men conspiring to destroy the world’s oldest civilization, but of the incalculable arrogance expressed in Friedman’s quote. Simply put, this is the flawed rationale that underwrites Falluja, Abu Ghraib and the myriad other atrocities perpetrated on the Iraqi people.
In his most recent column Friedman explores another of his favorite themes, “Why have the winds of democracy blown everywhere else” except in the Arab world?
He responds by citing a UN report that focuses on “the acute deficit of freedom and good governance in the Arab world,” and “the state’s firm and absolute grip on power.” Friedman avers that, “the report is scathing about what Arabs have done to themselves and how they must change. . . .That’s why part of every Arab hates the US invasion of Iraq—and why another part is praying that it succeeds.”
The quote is vintage Friedman and shows why he gets the plaudits from his friends in high places. In just a few terse comments, he manages to turn the tables and convince his reader that the victims of American aggression can only blame themselves. It’s a familiar refrain for Friedman who likes to characterize the disastrous effects of American warmongering as a struggle with modernity within the Arab world.
He fails to acknowledge the daily bombings, arrests, and raids that are the upshot of the American occupation. He, similarly, forgoes any mention of the lack of power and services, the skyrocketing unemployment, the steadily increasing malnutrition, the poisoning of groundwater, the outbreaks of cholera and diarrhea, the continuing reports of torture and abuse, and the exponential growth of birth deformities and cancer rates among children. These, somehow, don’t fit into the tale of backward Arabs being ushered into the 21st century by their friends in Washington. Friedman’s paternalistic views would fit nicely next to the other apologies for western colonialism like “white man’s burden” or “manifest destiny,” flimsy ideologies papering-over the empire’s excesses.
The primary task of the imperial chronicler is to create an acceptable narrative for the savagery of the state. Friedman has shown that his talent at spinning that yarn far exceeds his competitors. Don’t expect to see an account of torture chambers and death squads in Tom’s scribbling; it’s nowhere to be found. Instead, Friedman postulates a fairytale world where American foreign policy is always governed by principle and genuine humanitarian concern. His role as establishment scribe is to perpetuate the illusion that the American Goliath may stumble, but the policy is always driven by good intentions.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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