Doubting Thomas

Dedicated to pointing out the inconstitencies and biases that mar the work of Thomas Friedman.
Sunday, November 21, 2004
Where Credit is Due.
I can't complain about today's column by Thomas, "Postcards From Iraq". At least he trusts the men (and women) on the ground.
Readers regularly ask me when I will throw in the towel on Iraq. I will be guided by the U.S. Army and Marine grunts on the ground. They see Iraq close up. Most of those you talk to are so uncynical - so convinced that we are doing good and doing right, even though they too are unsure it will work. When a majority of those grunts tell us that they are no longer willing to risk their lives to go out and fix the sewers in Sadr City or teach democracy at a local school, then you can stick a fork in this one. But so far, we ain't there yet. The troops are still pretty positive.

If you want to get some sense of the noble work our soldiers are doing check out the Defend America website. Specifically check out the photo essays, whether they're about fighting or building, they're very impressive.

Friday, December 12, 2003
Here's Tommy
In yesterday's column Friedman asserts:
As long as Iraq loomed as a major threat, one could hear three arguments in Israel. One said no withdrawal from the West Bank and Jordan River was possible because Israel needed a security buffer. Another said withdrawal was essential to maintain Israel as a Jewish democracy. Because if Israel kept control of the occupied territories, there would soon be more Arabs than Jews living in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel. A third said that no withdrawal was tolerable because the Jewish state needed to control all the Jewish land, including the Biblical West Bank.

Friedman brings three arguments concerning the disposition of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Two of them (the first and third) are body issues. They are the issues that mostly concern those who worry about the physical existence of Israel (and the Jewish people.) The second, the fear of Palestinian population growth, is a spiritual issue. It is the approach favored by the Israeli (and American) left. It supposes that Israel must cede a significant amount of land to the PLO in order to avoid losing its Jewish character or "becoming an apartheid state." The "spirit" argument is made in exclusion of the body arguments.

Well yes, Israel may not, now, face a threat from Iraq. But if the occupation is going as badly as Friedman carps, wouldn't that change? Besides as we've seen over the past decade, the PA may not have the capability of destroying Israel by itself, but it can use violence to extract a high price from Israel as a country.

In a sobering assessment, MK Dr. Yuval Steinitz pointed out a few years ago that the PA may indeed present an existential threat to Israel, especially in conjunction with another Arab army that wishes harm upon Israel.
Finally, targeting the military is not the only means by which a broad series of Palestinian commando attacks could contribute to an effective Arab assault. Terrorist raids on residential neighborhoods or the seizure of national television and radio stations might serve to promote widespread demoralization and civilian flight.

Another set of potential objectives consists of technical installations: the electric power plant in Hadera, the oil refineries of Haifa, the chemical tanks of Gelilot, or the switchboards, transformers, and distribution boxes of the Bezek national telephone company. Power outages, huge blazes near Israel's large cities, and temporary interruptions of communication lines would all serve to paralyze if not cripple Israel in the early phases of a war.

Even if one shows concern for the demographic problem, Former MK, Moshe Arens, recently concluded that:
Would a unilateral withdrawal by the IDF, leaving the terrorists in control of the abandoned areas, strike a blow against terrorism or expose Israelis to additional dangers? Some people seem to have forgotten that Israel had already withdrawn from much of Judea and Samaria after the Oslo agreement and that the IDF reentered the Palestinian towns in order to stem the tide of terrorism that was sweeping over Israel. This was never a question
of demographics.
The idea that the IDF can be withdrawn and Israelis can settle down to live peacefully behind the security fence, while terrorism reigns on the other side of the fence is an illusion. Nobody would suggest that having once withdrawn and continuing to suffer from terrorism, Israel would refrain to use of the IDF beyond the Green Line for "demographic considerations."
Demographic considerations play no part in the battle against terrorism. It is a battle for the life of Israel and its citizens. Demographic consideration are valid and legitimate once the permanent borders of Israel are being negotiated. We're not there yet.
In other words, Dr. Arens states what is obvious to most of us who remain undeluded by the prospects of peace in the Middle East. Israel must first tend to it's body; when the body is safe, it can worry about it's soul. By skipping the step of peace, Friedman once again ignores the fact that Israel's good faith has produced nothing but a greater Arab appetite to destroy the Jewish state. Right now Israel must focus on winning its war. When it is, it's body will be secure and only then can Israel afford to consider helping its soul.
Crossposted on Israpundit and Doubting Thomas.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003
A Charming Friedman Story
Thanks to LGF there's an article in Jewsweek telling how short tempered Thomas Friedman is. He doesn't take questions too well.
The recent Geneva Peace Accord exists in some sort of alternate dimension: Representatives from two sides in a conflict hack out an agreement without actually representing either side, or coming to agreement on many of the more pressing issues; a document that will guarantee peace has no provisions for stopping violence. An event last Thursday featured the authors of the Accord; adding to the paradox, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist who always tells us that peace can be achieved no matter what failed to contain his rage when criticized. So step inside this house of mirrors, where seeing a distorted reality is believing emphatically in it, and you'll find yourself taken away by the trip, if only for a while. Dig it.

Crossposted on Israpundit and Doubting Thomas.

Monday, November 17, 2003
Fanatic is Correct
Thomas Friedman in his paean to Yossi Beilin seems to have forgotten that a definition of a fanatic is one who, when he sees that his way has failed redoubles his efforts. While I agree that Beilin is a fanatic, he's hardly a "moderate." He couldn't win a seat in Labor's Knesset delegation. He couldn't even get in on the Meretz list. That's about as far left as you can get in Israel society.

Once again Beilin, having been voted out of office because he could not win in the marketplace of ideas has decided to subvert the democratic process by going outside of the government to negotiate with foreign entities. This is what brought the Oslo Accords and the many associated deaths to Israel. Beilin and friends who represent no one are participating in talks with officials of another government.

This accomplishes little other than bringing out the Chamberlain wannabes like Friedman to blame Israel for preventing peace. It casts Israel as obstructionist, while rewarding Arafat and his thugs for the violence they instigated. Why doesn't the PA have to prove its worthiness as a state before it receives land? Why does Israel have to prove that it is not an Apartheid state to the satisfaction of its enemies in order for Friedman to pronounce Israel legitimate?

Aside from the problem of how to define Yossi Beilin, Friedman asserts:
By 2010 or so, there will be more Palestinians than Jews living in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza put together. "We will fairly soon be losing the Jewish majority," added Mr. Beilin. "This may not interest President Bush, but it interests me and should interest Sharon. If we don't do something to create a border with the Palestinians, we're going to put an end to the Zionist dream."
Asserted with the certainty of a ... fanatic. But as Arutz-7 recently pointed out demographic projections are notoriously difficult to make.
*In 1900, the leading Jewish historian and demographer, Dubnov, cautioned Herzl against the establishment of a Jewish State: "By the year 2000 there will be only 500,000 Jews in the land of Israel." In 2000 there were 5 million Jews in Israel.
*In 1948, Israel's Chief Statistician, Prof. Bakki, lobbied Prime Minister Ben-Gurion to postpone the establishment of the Jewish State: "By 1968 there will be an Arab majority in Israel (Green Line)." In 1968 there was a 17% Arab minority.
*In 1967, Prime Minister Eshkol was pressured to give away Gaza, Judea & Samaria: "By 1987 there will be an Arab majority west of the Jordan River." In 1987 there was a 37% Arab minority west of the Jordan River.
Even if Friedman's projection was correct, why do we need Beilin's plan? By 2000, 98% of all those called Palestinians were living under PA control. All that was left was border adjustments. The contiguity and amount of land to be determined by negotiation. Arafat chose to make war instead of negotiate. And we're supposed to reward him with what he refused to accept through peaceful means? If the Palestinian state that Friedman so longs for doesn't exist in all of the territories Israel capture in 1967 that will be the fault of the Palestinian government and its constituents who consistently negotiated and acted in bad faith while Israel was trying to make peace.

Oh, and Mr. Friedman didn't notice that it wasn't only Likudniks decrying the Geneva initiative. Guess who said this?
Sharon's predecessor was equally withering. Former prime minister Ehud Barak, who left office in early 2001, several months after the intifada broke out, said Monday it was unfortunate that the Labor Party had permitted some of its members to formulate such a "delusional" peace plan.
"This is a fictive and slightly peculiar agreement... that clearly harms the interests of the State of Israel," Barak told Israel Radio.
Why none other than Mr. Friedman's favorite Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak.
UPDATE: Please check out Joe Schick's comments on the column.
Crossposted on Israpundit and Doubting Thomas.

Thursday, November 13, 2003
When Columns Collide
Just a few days ago Friedman was writing about the humiliation that the Arab world suffers and used it to excuse violence against the Israel and the United States. Now Thomas comes forward with a novel idea (wait a second didn't we already see this before?) that Israel and Saudi Arabia should make peace.

The parallels are remarkable. There's the house of Sharon in Israel. In Saudi Arabia its the house of Saud. PM Sharon was elected by popular vote - twice; the Saud family rules by divine right. Then Saudi Arabia has its Wahhabis; Israel does too. The Saudi Wahhabis destroy buildings with airplanes and bombs and stuff. The Israeli Wahhabis build houses (albeit in the wrong place.) Given these similarities it should be obvious that Israel and Saudi Arabia have much in common and each can save the other from ruin. Of course, that will require giving the Palestinians a state with "dignity." (We can't have a state borne of "humiliation." Here are the key paragraphs:

"The only hope for the Saudi ruling family, for long-term survival, is to deliver on two key sources of legitimacy: a rising standard of living and the Palestine question," argues the Middle East expert Stephen P. Cohen. "Improving standards of living requires gradual political and economic reforms to transform the Saudi education system and society so it delivers for more young people. That will take time."

But to buy time for economics, adds Mr. Cohen, the Saudis need to deliver on emotions "by helping to bring about a dignified solution to the Palestine problem, which returns the mosques of Jerusalem to Muslim control. . . . Some 26 years ago Anwar Sadat responded to the food riots in Egypt by going to Jerusalem to make peace with Israel. In doing so he bought his successor 26 years to deal with Egypt's economic problems. Crown Prince Abdullah needs to forge his own breakthrough for the same reasons." In short, to buy the time to deal with the people's economic aspirations, the Saudis need to deliver on their political aspirations, from Palestine to participation.

Where the Israelis need the Saudis is in combating the rising tide of anti-Semitism. This new anti-Semitism is a witches' brew of Muslim rage — nurtured in madrasas and mosques financed by Saudi money — and classic European hatred fed by a new anti-Israel anti-Semitism. Both are fanned by a European press that increasingly reads like the worst Arab press, and abetted by the real images of Israeli settlers seizing Palestinian land and uprooting their olive groves.

The problem is that this solution doesn't really make a whole lot of sense. No doubt many of you remember how Thomas and Crown Prince Abdullah collaborated on a peace plan a few years ago. In return for Israel pulling back to its 1967 borders (presumably minus, Gilo, Ramot, Ramat Eshkol and certainly minus Efrat, Etzion Bloc etc.) the Saudis were willing to recognize Israel's right to exist maybe. And maybe the rest of the Arab world would too. Not that there were any guarantees.

Thomas took the Crown Prince at his word that he was seeking peace with Israel even though only a year and a half earlier the CP played a role in sinking the Camp David Summit, as reported by the NY Times. From Susan Sachs in "Arab Nations Hold Tongues, Await a Briefing From Arafat," the New York Times, July 26, 2000:
During the last few days, a number of Arab leaders like Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudia Arabia and President [Hosni Mubarak] have joined with Mr. Arafat's domestic opponents in Islamic militant movements to weigh in on the issue. They all but threatened Mr. Arafat with political excommunication if he accepted Prime Minister Ehud Barak's proposals for administrative control over parts of the city and access to -- but not sovereignty over -- the major Muslim sites.
Hmmm. It wasn't humiliation that prevents peace, it's Saudi connivance. Did Thomas ever mention that? Does he even read his own paper?

The whole time that Thomas was promoting the CP's peace plan he never asks for some sort of goodwill gesture. He never noted that the peace plan was really an ultimatum. Do as we say or you'll never know a day of peace.

This gets to the crux of the matter. Saudi Arabia really has nothing to offer Israel. It could stop supporting those who wish to destroy Israel. But that isn't something that Israel should give up land for (to another party yet) that is part of being civilized.

And Friedman needn't be so certain that "settlers" are uprooting Arab trees. Arutz-7 has cast some doubts on the veracity of those claims. The problem isn't what the settlers do, that's just the pretext that those who hate Israel use to justify their hatred. Just like he did by validating the "humiliation" argument, Friedman lets the antisemites he just condemned off the hook, this time by backing their argument uncritically.

Is anyone at the NY Times noticing how inconsequently Thomas is becoming?
Crossposted on Israpundit and Doubting Thomas.
Humiliation as an Excuse
Little Green Footballs and Roger L. Simon have already taken Thomas Friedman to task for his recent column "The Humiliation Factor." There are other points worth making.

For one thing Friedman writes:

One reason Yasir Arafat rejected the Clinton plan for a Palestinian state was that he and many followers didn't want a state handed to them by the U.S. or Israel. That would be "humiliating." They wanted to win it in blood and fire. Hezbollah TV had bombarded Palestinians with stories of how the Lebanese drove the Israelis out. Palestinian militants wanted the "dignity" of doing the same.

If that's the case what's the point of the Mitchell Plan, the Tenet Plan or the Road Map (not to mention Oslo I and II)? All Israeli concessions will do is further humiliate the Arabs won't they? If every time Israel surrenders land it doesn't bring peace closer, why should Israel give up any land? Friedman is so set on recasting the world with his pithy formulations that he gives no thought to the implications of his new analysis.

The problem is that what he's doing is essentially excusing Arab extremism. Why is it so difficult for the U.S. to win the peace in Iraq? Because the Iraqis are humiliated. Why can't Israel and the Palestinians make peace? Because the Palestinians are humiliated.

Barry Rubin, in "THE US IN THE MIDDLE EAST, 1999" wrote:

In January, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright described US goals for the year as "the implementation of the Wye Accords, the negotiation of final status agreement and pursuit of a comprehensive peace." Albright praised the Palestinians and criticized Israel's government: "The Palestinians have been fulfilling some aspects of what they are supposed to do in terms of their security obligations under Wye. And I think that the Israelis also need to fulfill their obligations."9 Arafat was well-received in Washington during his early February visit.
The State Department signaled efforts to improve US-PA relations while opposing any unilateral PA declaration of independence.10 At that time, Albright referred to delays in the peace process and repeated--albeit with somewhat more nuance--her previous statement by saying, " The Palestinians have fulfilled some of their obligations, and some of them they have not; and we are concerned about that. The Israelis need to fulfill theirs.11 Clinton held a brief private meeting with Arafat and also with Leah Rabin, widow of the assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.12

These attitudes were all too common during the Clinton years when an unreconstructed terrorist Yasser Arafat was hosted at the White House more than any other world leader. Arafat was lavished with money, attention, access and, most of all, legitimacy. No Arab complained.

(And why isn't the Arab world complaining about the humiliation of Egypt receiving $2 billion in American aid; with hundreds of million more sent to Jordan and the PA?)

But what happened when President Clinton asked Arafat to make a deal? Arafat, of course, did not. President Clinton, frustrated lashed out and this is what happened according to
"A Different Take on Camp David Collapse"

With that, Qureia said, Clinton left the room. Qureia said he complained later to Clinton's aides that the president had overstepped his role. "He was a mediator. And to blame the Palestinians in front of the Israelis is not fair," he said.

In this article Lee Hockstader, then the Washington Post's Middle East correspondent was giving voice to Robert Malley's excuse for Palestinian intrasigence.

Abu Ala's (that's Ahmed Qureia) complaint here that Clinton wasn't fair, is just another way of saying that the Palestinians were "humiliated." Of course the six years prior when Arafat was deodorized by the Clinton administration count for nothing. Never mind that the whole reason Arafat was to be rehabilitated was to make peace. When he showed conclusively that he was incapable of making peace those with blinders obviously felt themselves betrayed. All this shows is that there is almost no limit to the capacity of Arafat's apologizers to make excuses.

That's what makes the "humiliation" explanation an excuse. It explains nothing. It only serves to excuse the Arab world for its hostility to the West. That Thomas Friedman bases a column on mere wordplay is a reminder that he is more concerned with soundbites than with analysis.
Crossposted on Israpundit and Doubting Thomas.

Thursday, November 06, 2003
Washing Rental Cars
One of Friedman's themes (advertising slogans) is that no one washes a rental car. The point is that he doesn't believe that Iraqis will start taking control of their lives unti they feel that the country is theirs. In today's column, "Iraqis at the Wheel," he blasts the Bush administration for not doing more to give Iraqis a stake in their future:
I repeat, yet again, Lawrence Summers dictum: "In the history of the world, no one has ever washed a rented car." Too many Iraqis still feel that they are renting their country, first from Saddam and now from us, so they aren't really washing yet. We cannot just toss the keys to anyone, as France suggests. But we can insist — much more vigorously — that they begin the constitutional process that will produce a legitimate body of Iraqis to accept the keys and eventually drive off on their own.
Funny but someone who just returned from Iraq noted:
The greatest hope comes in signs of a new personal pride Iraqis are revealing as they rebuild homes, shops and cities like Samawa, Uram said.

"They have already experienced the worst that is possible," he said. "It can only get better for them. The average Iraqi's life is better today than it was two weeks ago. And two weeks from now, I believe it will be better yet."
Thanks to Instapundit for noting this story.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003
Thomas Friedman - Ad Man
I think I've finally hit upon what annoys me most about Thomas Friedman. It's clear that he's a very smart man. He's capable of making shrewd observations. But he seems incapable of serious analysis. Instead he looks for a cute slogan and pass it off as a deep thought. In his most recent column "The End of the West?" his slogan is provided by former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt ""Our defining date is now 1989 and yours is 2001..." Bildt is explaining why Europe views things differently from Americans:
Every European prime minister wakes up in the morning thinking about how to share sovereignty, as Europe takes advantage of the collapse of communism to consolidate economically, politically and militarily into one big family. And the U.S. president wakes up thinking about where the next terror attack might come from and how to respond - most likely alone. "While we talk of peace, they talk of security," says Mr. Bildt. "While we talk of sharing sovereignty, they talk about exercising sovereign power. When we talk about a region, they talk about the world. No longer united primarily by a common threat, we have also failed to develop a common vision for where we want to go on many of the global issues confronting us."
Fair enough, but did Friedman even think about Bildt's comment? Why is Europe at peace? Because during the 80's the United States stood up the "Evil Empire" and saw the Soviet Union end up in the dust bin of history. Ignoring the Soviet Union isn't what defeated it; it was confrontation. The same is true about our current crisis. Europe may feel safe from Islamism, but ignoring it won't solve the problem. The world took a holiday from history during the 90's when the threat built up. 2001 shocked us out of our reverie.

Other than his simplistic formulation, there were other problems with Friedman's essay. For example:
What I'm getting at here is that when you find yourself in an argument with Europeans over Iraq, they try to present it as if we both want the same thing, but we just have different approaches. And had the Bush team not been so dishonest and unilateral, we could have worked together. I wish the Bush team had behaved differently, but that would not have been a cure-all — because if you look under the European position you see we have two different visions, not just tactical differences. Many Europeans really do believe that a dominant America is more threatening to global stability than Saddam's tyranny.
The Bush team dishonest and unilateral? He's right that different behavior wouldn't have changed anything. Jonathan Rauch, looks at things slightly differently.
Bush is not going it alone. He is setting his agenda and then looking for support, rather than the other way around. That is what presidents and countries typically do. It is certainly what France does—and how. France's intransigence on farm subsidies has been the single greatest impediment to progress at the World Trade Organization. France's determination to set up an independent European military-planning center risks splitting NATO. France's refusal to comply with the European Union's fiscal rules may result in the rules' collapse. France freely uses its E.U. clout to bully dissenting European countries. It does not shrink from calling on them to "shut up." It did not shrink from announcing it would unilaterally veto any Security Council resolution authorizing military action against Iraq, "whatever the circumstances." This is not exactly team playing, although critics of American unilateralism rarely see fit to mention it.
Rauch feels that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has been arrogant and that arrogance has aggravated other countries. But he writes:
The only way to placate today's angry Europeans is to change the ends, not just the means, of U.S. foreign policy. And the only way to have avoided the trans-Atlantic falling-out over Iraq would have been for Bush to condition America's use of force upon the approval of the Security Council (read: France). No responsible American president, of either party, would have done that.

Exhibit A: In September of 2002, Al Gore, then still a possible Democratic presidential contender, warned of the perils of acting unilaterally against Iraq. He urged Bush to take his case to the Security Council and ask for a resolution demanding "prompt, unconditional compliance by Iraq within a definite period of time." And if the Security Council failed? "Other choices"—Gore meant force—"remain open." After all, "Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to completely deter, and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power."

Bush, of course, followed Gore's advice. If that was unilateralism, then few are the presidents who would forswear it.
Of course Friedman simply thinks that a summit or two could bring the US and Europe closer together. that I think, understates the venality of France. The Washington Post reported this week that according to former Iraqi VIP, Tariq Aziz:
Aziz's extensive interrogations -- eased by a U.S. decision to quietly remove his family from Iraq to safe exile in a country that American officials would not name -- paint Hussein on the eve of war as a distracted, distrustful despot who was confused, among other things, by his meetings with Russian and French intermediaries. Aziz said Hussein emerged from these diplomatic sessions -- some secret at the time -- convinced that he might yet avoid a war that would end his regime, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

Aziz has told interrogators that French and Russian intermediaries repeatedly assured Hussein during late 2002 and early this year that they would block a U.S.-led war through delays and vetoes at the U.N. Security Council. Later, according to Aziz, Hussein concluded after private talks with French and Russian contacts that the United States would probably wage a long air war first, as it had done in previous conflicts. By hunkering down and putting up a stiff defense, he might buy enough time to win a cease-fire brokered by Paris and Moscow.

Aziz's account, while provocative, has not been corroborated by other sources, said U.S. officials involved in the interrogations. They said they were aware that Aziz might be trying to pander to his American captors' anger at French and Russian conduct before the war.
Though there's the disclaimer at the end, if true it casts French (and Russian) actions in the leadup to the war in an even less flattering light than previously suspected. It also raises the question as to how responsible President Bush is for their behavior. Friedman of course wants to hurl brickbats at the President. I'm not convinced that he's right.


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