Few journalists have greater influence on U.S. foreign policy, particularly regarding the Middle East, than New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. But his tortured obit of a column this week on the official end of the neocolonialist disaster that has been the Iraq occupation reminds one that the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner often gets it wrong.
Was the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which he did so much to encourage, a “wise choice”? Friedman hides behind one of his trademark ambiguities: “My answer is twofold: ‘No’ and ‘Maybe, sort of, we’ll see.’ I say ‘no’ because whatever happens in Iraq, even if it becomes Switzerland, we overpaid for it.”
Aside from the stunning amorality of assessing the cost of war from the standpoint of the royal “we,” Friedman seems wildly optimistic about what the invasion has wrought. On a day when Iraq’s prime minister, a Shiite, demanded that the leader of the Kurds arrest the Sunni vice president, Friedman celebrated the unity of the three groups as “the most important product of the Iraq war.”
He blamed the failure of the U.S. occupation to accomplish more, in roughly equal measure, on “the incompetence of George W. Bush’s team in prosecuting the war,” “Iran, the Arab dictators and, most of all, Al Qaeda,” which he seems surprised to report “did not want a democracy in the heart of the Arab world.”
President Bush’s argument for the invasion was not based on democratic nation-building but rather on two specific lies that Friedman has long danced around: that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that threatened U.S. security and that it was somehow linked to the 9/11 attacks. Friedman now insists “Iraq was always a war of choice. As I never bought the argument that Saddam had nukes that had to be taken out, the decision to go to war stemmed for me from a different choice: Could we ... tilt it and the region onto a democratizing track?”