Thursday, November 30, 2006

Thomas Friedman ii: the Geraldo Rivera of the NY Times

Edward S. Herman (read the whole thing):
The principal diplomatic correspondents for the New York Times, from Cyrus Sulzberger through Flora Lewis, James Reston, and Leslie Gelb to Thomas Friedman, have always and necessarily been apologists for U.S. foreign policy. The NYT is a self-acknowledged establishment paper and hardly makes any bones about its close connections with policy-makers. James Reston was greatly honored for his intimacy with high officials and even co-wrote one of his NYT opinion columns with Henry Kissinger. Another Friedman predecessor, Leslie Gelb, had stints in the State Department and Pentagon interspersed with his position as diplomatic correspondent.

Thomas Friedman has served consistently in this apologetic tradition. He differs from his predecessors mainly in his brashness, name-dropping, and self-promotion, and with his aggressive, bullying tone; e.g., WTO protesters are “ridiculous…a Noah’s ark of flat-earth advocates, protectionist trade unions and yuppies looking for their 1960s fix.” In these respects he brings a now fashionable, Geraldo Rivera in-your- face touch to the NYT, which has borne his effusions stoically for the last three decades. Of course, Friedman has also brought honors to the NYT with his three Pulitzer Prizes—which some argue have done for the reputation of Pulitzer what the Nobel Peace Prize award to Henry Kissinger has done for the reputation of the peace prize...

Friedman has been a long-standing apologist for Israeli state terror and ethnic cleansing...

Friedman is also a racist, regularly denigrating Arabs for their qualities of emotionalism, unreason, and hostility to democracy and modernization...

In a widely quoted line from his book The Lexis and the Olive Tree (1999), Friedman says, “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15, 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.” This is not said with any hint that it might be wrong to use force to impose the market on people who don’t seem to want it. It recalls Kissinger’s famous line justifying the U.S. intervention in support of the Chilean coup and followup terror and mass murder, that the Chilean people had been irresponsible in voting in Allende.

Friedman is an enemy of democracy at home as well as abroad. The Lexis and the Olive Tree is a celebration of corporate globalization, which he sees as bringing the triumph of market ideology and market domination of both the economic and political world. Money and capital flows will prevent any policy deviations from “the core golden rules” of the market; “political choices get reduced to Pepsi or Coke” and any government trying to serve its poor people or protect the environment in opposition to the consensus of capital will be brought to its senses by capital flight. For Friedman these are admirable developments and he lauds Maggie Thatcher, who “should be remembered as ‘the Seamstress of the Golden Straitjacket’” (“All About Maggie, NYT, May 5, 1997)...

Isn’t it wonderful that the seemingly reactionary Bush administration, so miserly with money for its own civilian population, has invaded Iraq and is spending these huge sums for the liberation of the Iraqi people? All those pre-war documents by the Bushies that talked about geostrategic advantages to the United States in regime change in Iraq; all the evidence of Bushie officials’ and advisers’ links to Likud and eager service to Israel; the long Clinton-Bush sanctions policy that killed so many civilians and actually served to consolidate Saddam Hussein’s power. These all disappear for a Friedman, wallowing in crude apologetics.

Of course “liberation” must proceed slowly and Friedman agrees with Bush, rather than those traitorous French and an awful lot of Iraqis, that self-rule must not be bestowed too hastily. It doesn’t seem to cross Friedman’s mind that the Bush desire for a slow pace might be based on the desire to restructure Iraq in accord with Bush-Cheney-related economic interests and to make sure that control remains in friendly Iraqi hands. Those words “decent” and “modern-looking” are perhaps a giveaway on the Friedman-Bush approach. To be “modern-looking” requires privatization and entry into the global market, with foreign investment and free trade. To be “decent” means that respectable people who can win the trust of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the IMF should be in power. This might require a period of non-democracy that will keep out radicals and Islamists who have not seen the light, oppose privatization and U.S. bases on Iraqi soil, and want closer relations with Iran. We must keep in mind that Musharaff, Karimov, and Putin are apparently sufficiently decent and modern-looking to deserve support, and so was Suharto for 32 years. Once decency and the modern look prevail, the market will rule and, if there are elections, they will offer that choice of only “Pepsi or Coke” that Friedman finds quite acceptable. “Liberation”—for subservience to the market, at best...

Friedman reached what might be a new low in chauvinist apologetics for the invasion-occupation in his “Our War With France” (NYT, September 18, 2003). France, he tells us, is not just “annoying,” it is “becoming our enemy.” They made it “impossible for the Security Council to put a real ultimatum to Saddam Hussein that might have avoided a war” and they seem to want us to fail in the hope that France “will assume its rightful place as America’s equal.” What they should have done is agree to help rebuild Iraq, while asking for “a real seat at the management table.” But this intransigence is also to be expected because “France has never been interested in promoting democracy in the modern Arab world…”

The implication that the United States has been promoting democracy in the Middle East is almost too funny for words, given the U.S. record of support of the Shah of Iran, the Saudis, the Gulf emirates, and even Saddam Hussein when he was in a serviceable mode. Friedman’s further implication that that is what the Bush administration is aiming at in Iraq is also straightforward official propaganda, as noted above. The business about a “real ultimatum” and avoidance of war fails to take account of the fact that there were no WMDs and that the Bushies were using all those tricks as an excuse to invade and occupy. The “real ultimatum” would only have accelerated and put a UN gloss on the invasion that was going to happen no matter what. Friedman’s assertion that France just wanted to enhance its status in opposing the Bush program omits several facts and possibilities: one fact is that the French people and most people of the world opposed the Bush policy; the other fact is that the Bush invasion-occupation plan was a planned aggression in violation of the UN Charter. The French were speaking for many governments, most of the world’s people, and for the rule of law...

In sum, the diplomatic correspondent for the NYT supports ethnic cleansing and terrorism, but only when done by the United States or one of its clients; he repeatedly supports policies that involve the commission of war crimes, again only when the United States or one of its clients engages in them; he is hostile to real democracy at home or abroad, preferring a plutocracy and sharp market restrictions on popular sovereignty; he assails countries like France for failing to support the United States, always attributing dubious motives to the U.S. opponent, while putting a benevolent and chauvinistic gloss on the objectives and actions of his own country. His analyses of matters such as globalization and the current Iraq crisis are full of rhetoric, contradictions, ideological assumptions, and intellectually they barely make it into the featherweight class. That he is an institution at the NYT, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and is well-regarded elsewhere reflects the degraded state of U.S. mainstream commentary and intellectual life.

3 comments:

tom said...

can the Herman link be fixed?

tom said...

got it

http://zmagsite.zmag.org/Nov2003/herman1103.html

Matt said...

whoops, thank you tom (and Herman).