New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman.
When ranking which multi-millionaire American pundit is the most overrated, there are, without doubt, many worthy contenders, but one near the top of any list must be the New York Times' Thomas L. Friedman -- with his long record of disastrous policy pronouncements including his enthusiasm for George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq.
Friedman, of course, has paid no career price for his misguided judgments and simplistic nostrums. Like many other star pundits who inhabit the Op-Ed pages of the Times and the Washington Post, Friedman has ascended to a place where the normal powers of gravity don't apply, where the cumulative weight of his errors only lifts him up.
Friedman describes every foreign adversary who reacts against U.S. dictates as suffering from various stages of insanity. He accepts no possibility that these "designated enemies" are acting out of their own sense of self-interest and even fear of what the United States might be designing.
In last Sunday's column, for instance, Friedman airily dismissed the leaders of Iran, Syria, North Korea, China and Russia as all operating with screws loose, either totally crazy or fecklessly reckless. North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un was a "boy king ... who seems totally off the grid." In Friedman's view, China is enabling North Korea's nuclear brinkmanship and "could end the freak show there anytime it wants."
Russia is aiding and abetting both the violence in Syria and the supposed nuclear ambitions of Iran. Friedman asks: "Do the Russians really believe that indulging Iran's covert nuclear program, to spite us, won't come back to haunt them with a nuclear-armed Iran, an Islamist regime on its border?"
To Friedman, Bashar al-Assad is simply "Syria's mad leader," not a secular autocrat representing Alawites and other terrified minorities fearing a Sunni uprising that includes armed militants associated with al-Qaeda terrorists and promoting Islamic fundamentalism.
You see, according to Friedman and his neoconservative allies, everyone that they don't like is simply crazy or absorbed with mindless self-interest -- and it makes no sense to reason with these insane folks or to propose power-sharing compromises. Only "regime change" will do.
Who's Detached from Reality?
But the argument could be made that Friedman and the neocons are the people most disconnected from reality -- and that the New York Times editors are behaving irresponsibly in continuing to grant Friedman some of the most prestigious space in American journalism to spout his nonsensical ravings.
Looking back at Friedman's history of recommending violence as the only remedy to a whole host of problems, including in places like Serbia and Iraq, you could reasonably conclude that he's the real nut case. He's the one who routinely urges the U.S. government to ignore international law in pursuit of half-baked goals that have spread misery over large swaths of the planet.
In 1999, during the U.S. bombing of Serbia, Friedman showed off his glib warmongering style: "Like it or not, we are at war with the Serbian nation (the Serbs certainly think so), and the stakes have to be very clear: Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too."
Before George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq in 2003, Friedman offered the witty observation that it was time to "give war a chance," a flippant play on John Lennon's lyrics to the song, "Give Peace a Chance."
Yet, even amid his enthusiasm to invade Iraq, Friedman was disappointed by Bush's clunky rhetoric. So, he hailed the smoother speechifying of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and dubbed himself "a Tony Blair Democrat." Today, it might seem that anyone foolish enough to take that title -- after Blair has gone down in history as "Bush's poodle" and is now despised even by his own Labour Party -- should slink away into obscurity or claim some sort of mental incapacity.
But that isn't how U.S. punditry works. Once you've risen into the firmament of stars like Tommy Friedman, you are beyond the reach of earthly judgments and surely beyond human accountability.
When the Iraq War didn't go as swimmingly as the neocons expected, Friedman became famous for his repetitious, ever-receding "six month" timeline for detecting progress. Finally, in August 2006, he concluded that the Iraq War wasn't worth it, that "it is now obvious that we are not midwifing democracy in Iraq. We are babysitting a civil war." [NYT, Aug. 4, 2006]
At that point, you might have expected the New York Times to drop Friedman from its roster of columnists. After all, the Iraq War's costs in lives, money and respect for the United States had become staggering. You might even have thought that some accountability would be in order. After all, advocacy of aggressive war is a war crime as defined by the Nuremberg Tribunal after World War II.
Yet, 12 days after his admission of Iraq War failure, Friedman actually demeaned Americans who had opposed the Iraq War early on as "antiwar activists who haven't thought a whit about the larger struggle we're in." [NYT, Aug. 16, 2006] In other words, according to Friedman, Americans who were right about the ill-fated invasion of Iraq were still airheads who couldn't grasp the bigger picture that had been so obvious to himself, his fellow pundits and pro-war politicians who had tagged along with Bush and Blair.
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