Doubting Thomas

Dedicated to pointing out the inconstitencies and biases that mar the work of Thomas Friedman.
Friday, January 24, 2003
Giving into Tyrants

While the news media are playing up the objections to America's war effort against Iraq, it's worth noting what happens when virtuous nations fail to stand up to aggressive tyrants. Read Caroline Glick's latest column, "Rejecting false realities." Glick argues (correctly) that:
"For their part, the Palestinians themselves have stated repeatedly since the withdrawal that the perception that Hizbullah forced Israel to surrender in Lebanon was the major inspiration for their terrorist war against Israel. According to Ya'alon, 'The withdrawal from Lebanon is perceived in the region as a major victory of the Islamic revolution. For this we are paying a strategic price.
It impacted the Palestinian situation and in the long run it has implications for the Syrians.'
In other words, the decision to withdraw unilaterally from Lebanon was a mistake in every respect Yet, rather than learning the lessons of Lebanon, Israel's Left, again with media support, has for the past two years been attempting to repeat its policy prescriptions with the Palestinians."
And how did Israel reach the point that it had to withdraw from Lebanon?
"In the days and weeks after the crash, the media gave almost uninterrupted coverage to defeatist voices telling the public that there was no reason for the IDF to be in south Lebanon.
Statements by security officials such as then-head of IDF Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon who explained that such remarks played into the hands of Hizbullah and obfuscated the fact that the soldiers were in Lebanon in order to protect Israel's towns and villages in the north were either given cursory attention or dismissed as opportunistic opining of officers trying to defuse legitimate criticism of the IDF.
So overwhelming was the media's coverage and backing of the campaign for defeatism, and so successful was the manipulation of national grief, that a poll taken a week and a half after the accident showed that 74 percent of Israelis favored a unilateral pullout from Lebanon."
So the media (and political) focus on the supposed failure of military force created a climate where the government chose to retreat rather than hold its ground; with awful consequences.
Of course there were quite a few experts who figured that Israel would benefit greatly from withdrawing from Lebanon; notably Thomas Friedman. In a hypothetical column "How Bibi Got Re-elected"
Friedman supposes that by withdrawing from Lebanon, Netanyahu would beat Barak. Of course Netanyahu didn't withdraw from Lebanon; but Barak who defeated him did. Still Friedman supposed:
"The Israeli move has totally unnerved the Syrians, the Hezbollah guerrillas and Iran "They are all now in a quandary," said the Middle East expert Stephen P. Cohen. "The Hezbollah guerrillas are saying to themselves: 'Now that we have liberated Lebanon, do we want to use that as leverage to rule Lebanon? Or do we want to use that as a springboard to move on to Jerusalem?'
If they want to do the latter, now they're really going to have to pay for it."
Syria, Iran and Hezbollah are still ensconced in Lebanon and even have their hooks into the PA. They do want to move onto Jerusalem; and they haven't paid a cent. Despite the fact that Hezbollah hasn't changed; the NY Times still gets misty eyed for these Al Qaeda allied Islamacist terrorists as Friedman did in "Lebanon and the Goblet of Fire" or Neil MacFarquhar did here in "To U.S., a Terrorist Group;
to Lebanese, a Social Agency.
Another parallel between the efforts to encourage an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and the antiwar folks now is that the defeatism is something that is encouraged by Europe! Glick writes how Israel's domestic proponents of a withdrawal from Lebanon were often funded by the EU. The efforts to stop the war against Iraq also are heartily endorsed by France and Germany.
Maybe Daniel Pipes is correct in Europe vs. America.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003
I don't have many quibbles with today's column "Thinking About Iraq (I)". Friedman makes a case that regime change in Iraq will (hopefully) be the first step in democratizing the Arab world. I wait with bated breath for is followup next Sunday where he promises to explain why getting rid of Saddam is fraught with risk. It's interesting to contrast his approach with that of Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard who argues that the reason for defeating Saddam is self-defense. Thus not acting is fraught with risk. Given the established ties between Iraq and Al-Qaeda, we should heed what Barnes has to say.
I am not so pleased with Friedman's column from Sunday "Israel Waits for Godot" His columns about Israeli elections are among his worst and this one is no exception. If we go back to 1996 after Netanyahu beat Peres we have ". . . And One Man Voted Twice." Friedman's title refers to Yigal Amir who first killed Yitzchak Rabin then was allowed to vote for Netanyahu. What Friedman ignored is that, at the time he was killed, Rabin was struggling against Netanyahu. Only the assassination and the resultant backlash against the Right made the election close. In 1999, he wrote "The Accidental Peacenik" about Netanyahu. While he was essentially on target about Netanyahu that, "[b]ut thanks, in part, to his own real success at winning better Palestinian security compliance, a majority of Israelis now accept Oslo," his tone mocking Netanyahu is abhorrent. Once the tough (or tougher) guy was out of office, the violence started up again. There has been no time since September 1993 that Israelis had more security or Palestinians had more prosperity than when Netanyahu was Prime Minister. Both were fleeting due to the bad faith of Arafat and the PA. Now Friedman quote Amram Mitzna approvingly, "They have lost confidence that you are able to negotiate with the other side, so they stick to what they know — even if it is not working. What I am trying to bring is logic and the truth, but people are thinking from their guts." Clearly he shares Mitzna's contempt for the Israeli public. After the PA has been revealed, without a doubt, to be an enemy and not a peace partner, "logic and truth" will show that Israel still has to bargain with the PA. Friedman claims that "I've never seen the Israeli public less interested in the two major parties — indeed, in the whole event." That's not true. In 1999, when things were going swimmingly from Friedman's perspective Labor and Likud got 45 seats between them. It's safe to say that the number will be higher this time. True there's no longer the direct election law, which made other parties more attractive (vote for your party and your PM); but on numbers alone the election in 1999 generated about the same and possibly less interest toward the big parties. My own feeling is that the Likud strength, as usual, has been underestimated a bit in the polls and Likud will end up with at least 35 seats. I also suspect that both Labor and Shinui will end up with a bit less than is currently being projected.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003
Working backwards let's start with the end of today's column "The New Math."
"But if there is no separation, by 2010 there will be more Palestinians than Jews living in Israel and the occupied territories. Then Israel will have three options: The Israelis will control this whole area by apartheid, or they will control it by expelling Palestinians, or they will grant Palestinians the right to vote and it will no longer be a Jewish state. Whichever way it goes, it will mean the end of Israel as a Jewish democracy."
It's funny how Israel's critics always see the end of a Jewish democracy in the Middle East. Never mind that twenty years ago Anthony Lewis raising the alarm that it was "five minutes to midnight" in terms of the Israeli presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Soon it would be irreversible and Israel would cease to be a "Jewish democratic" state. Still ten years later, Israel did sign a treaty with the PLO. So it wasn't irreversible then and it's not irreversible now. Additionally, it's a bit funny for Friedman to use a demographic projection to make his case. Demographics can only project based on current conditions. A large influx of immigrants would obviously change the projection. Still even assuming that Friedman is correct, Israel isn't under any obligation to cede every centimeter of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza to a nascent Palestinian state. The Palestinians have forfeited their right to any demands after ten years of bad-faith dealing with Israel; they will have to settle for a state on whatever or however much land Israel sees fit to give up.

"The settlers want to ensure either the de facto or de jure Israeli annexation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. And with no credible Arab or Palestinian peace initiative to challenge them, and no pressure from the Bush team, and no Israeli party to implement separation, the settlers are winning by default and inertia. Winning means they are making separation impossible."

Trapped in the above paragraph is an excellent observation, "...with no credible Arab or Palestinian peace initiative ..." That's the way it's been for the past ten years. Yes there were the Oslo Accords but the PLO/PA never observed their observation and the Arab niceness of the Oslo years was merely an act. The Arab world still can't accept a Jewish state in its midst and was waiting for the Palestinians to do what four wars were unable to do. That didn't happen because Israel may have an unhealthy hankering for peace; but it is not suicidal. Incidentally, is he acknowledging now that last year's Saudi Peace Proposal was never credible?

"And that explains why Ariel Sharon's all-stick-no-carrot crackdown over the past two years has failed to improve security for Israelis. When Mr. Sharon succeeded Ehud Barak, roughly 50 Israelis had been killed in the Palestinian uprising; today the number is more than 700 Israelis dead, and over 2,000 Palestinians. When I asked an Israeli defense official why all the killings and arrests of Palestinians had had so little effect, the official said: 'It's like we're mowing the grass. You mow the lawn one day and the next day the grass just grows right back.'

Then why is Mr. Sharon still likely to win the upcoming Israeli election?"

But why does the grass just keep growing back? Maybe because Arafat used his seven pre-Sharon years to stockpile weapons and encourage Fatah, Hamas and Jihad to organize their infrastructures. You need not be a right-winger or operating with hindsight to note that

"Contributing to this mood is the fact that Arafat is trying to maintain a situation where he has control over a fluctuating degree of instability in the territories. His strategy is to sustain friction between Israel and the Palestinians, which also means sustaining a certain amount of terrorism. Despite Israeli demands for 100 percent effort on terrorism, the PA has operated a 'revolving-door' prison, it has refused to arrest local terrorist leaders, and it has even orchestrated violent street demonstrations and rioting against Israel. Arafat has demonstrated an impressive amount of control over this violence. Indeed, Arafat must keep the amount of violence he employs within limits as long as he himself is present in the territories, to demonstrate that he can control the level of violence. On the other hand, Israel must fear that Arafat might move out of the territories in response to a serious deadlock in negotiations and unleash a new intifada. Once he leaves the territories he has no incentive to keep the terrorists in check, and every incentive to foment violence to force Israel to cave in to his demands in return for reining in the troublemakers. In short, Arafat is concerned about the Palestinian cause-more than about the Palestinian people."

That's from Ehud Ya'ari back in early 1997; six years ago. Nor will complete separation and an independent Palestinian state necessarily lead to peace as Nadav Shragai recently observed:

"What intelligence will be at our disposal in order to thwart terror attacks when we are no longer in the territory intended for a Palestinian state? Most terror attacks are thwarted today by means of this intelligence. What will be the extent of freedom of action and the military's ability to maneuver when the IDF and the security forces face a sovereign state, any infiltration into which will be considered by most of the countries of the world to be a blow to its sovereignty?

All the signs indicate that the Palestinians' motivation to see us destroyed is not waning, rather the opposite. Evidence of this is the continued incitement - with clearly anti-Semitic motifs - in the Palestinian textbooks and media, which, during the Oslo years, most of the public here chose to ignore."

(Thanks to Ted Belman's contribution to Israpundit for pointing out this article.) A Palestinian state is a significant risk to Israel. Friedman's protests of concern for health of Israel's soul are belied by his utter lack of concern for Israel's body.
Now we're at the beginning of the article where Friedman asserts
"You can understand everything you need to know about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today through a simple math equation offered by Danny Rubinstein, the Haaretz newspaper's Palestinian affairs expert. The equation goes like this: Suppose Israel discovers that 10 Palestinians from Nablus are planning suicide attacks. Israel says: If we can kill at least two, that will be progress, because only eight will be left. The Palestinians, by contrast, say: If you kill two, four more will volunteer to take their places, and you will be left with 12. So for Israel 10 minus 2 is 8, and for the Palestinians 10 minus 2 is 12."
"... everything you need to know about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today ..." is summed up by that paragraph? Gal Luft disagrees:
"True, terror persists despite the assassinations, and the policy does have shortcomings. What is less apparent is the profound cumulative effect of targeted killing on terrorist organizations. Constant elimination of their leaders leaves terrorist organizations in a state of confusion and disarray. Those next in line for succession take a long time to step into their predecessors' shoes. They know that by choosing to take the lead, they add their names to Israel's target list, where life is Hobbesian: nasty, brutish, and short."

Monday, January 13, 2003
Could Thomas Friedman have written this column by Jim Hoagland? I don't think so. This shows real thought; not just a reliance on pithy formulations.

Sunday, January 12, 2003
In today's column Friedman continues his exploration of Egyptian attitudes toward the United States and Israel. His argument boils down to this, even the most westernized Egyptians view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the central reason for disdaining Israel and America so we ignore it at our peril. Not once in the article did he mention that Egypt is the recipient of $2 billion annually in American aid. Though Friedman does acknowledge:
"Yes, official Arab newspapers and TV have nourished Arab anger toward America and Israel for decades — and still do. And one regime after another has exploited this conflict for political purposes."

he still concludes
"I am not talking about what is right, or what is fair, or even what is rational. I am talking about what is. And if we ignore it, if we dismiss it all as a fraud, we will never fully harvest the positive changes that could come from regime change in Iraq."

Does he ever say that we should use the leverage we should have from our aid to Egypt to tell the government to stop its anti-Western incitement? Well, no.

Seeing Friedman's unwillingness to confront Egypt on the subject of its hostile stance toward the U.S. and towards Israel it was refreshing to read a recent essay from the Middle East Quarterly by Hume Horan - a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia - called "Those Young Arab Muslims and Us". In contrast to Friedman, Horan takes a healthier view that:
"It is sad but true that America has never gotten much credit for what it actually does for the Palestinians. For half a century, we have provided a plurality of the funding to the United Nation's Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinians. For nearly as long, we have led international efforts to advance the Middle East peace process. President Clinton personally oversaw the intensive negotiations that followed the 1993 Oslo agreement and the creation of the Palestinian Authority. He devoted two weeks, moreover, of his waning presidency to sketching out and attempting to cajole the parties to endorse the outline of an imaginative agreement—only to have Yasir Arafat refuse even to accept it as a basis for discussion. And we rarely hear of U. S. efforts to succor Muslims in Kuwait, Somalia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.

Yet once, when I appealed to Saudi foreign minister Prince Sa‘ud to give more assistance to UNRWA, he replied: "You Americans created the refugee problem. You solve it." In response, I asked if he could imagine, had a catastrophe driven half a million Canadians into North Dakota, Idaho, and Minnesota, that three generations later, those populations would still be held in refugee camps? How differently the half-million Jews driven from Arab lands in 1948 were received by Israel, compared to how the half-million Arabs driven from Palestine that same year were received by their Arab neighbors."

While Horan loses a few points for his view of the settlements, this article shows a courage that is totally lacking in Friedman's article. Friedman knows that Israel is the problem; instead of facing it head on he hides behind Egyptian attitudes. He also takes the opportunity to snipe at the Bush administration,
"Then why is George Bush so intensely disliked? In part, it's because people feel the president and his team have stopped talking to the world. They only growl at it now. But the biggest factor remains the Bush team's seeming indifference to making any serious effort to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when so much killing is going on."
If the solution to a Palestinian problem is so important, why, then, aren't Friedman's subjects angry at their own government for helping to scuttle the Camp David accords between Barak and Arafat? In fact Clinton spared no expense on trying to solve the problem and I doubt that the Egyptians were any more favorably disposed towards us then. Take, for example, this interview from July 2000 translated by MEMRI. If Friedman bothered to do his homework he'd realize the problem is not America's policy in the Middle East but its existence. But he has no interest in that. His only interest is in criticizing Israel and the United States in a hostile environment.

Thursday, January 09, 2003
The subtitle for Thomas Friedman's most recent book "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" is "Understanding Globalization." The implicit boast in the title is that Friedman understands the way the world works and he will explain it to us. The problem is in a short period of time he has been proven wrong on so many counts, it's absurd to trust his instincts on anything. Take "Altered States" for example. In it Friedman praises the State Department's decision to start calling rogue states "states of concern" because

"... there is a serious issue behind the State Department's move. On the one hand, it makes sense that we stop calling these countries rogue states, because such blanket categorization can obscure our own thinking and thus our ability to adapt policy and respond to changes."

In other words as he later explains, sophisticates like Friedman - and the Clinton administration - understand that the only way these states will survive is to join the rest of the world in commerce and that these countries understand that. It's important therefore not to consider them evil and beyond the pale. While he also made some points in this piece that turned out correct - concerns that the situations in countries such as Nigeria and Venezuela may deteriorate seem prescient - his fundamental blindness was the same as the incumbent administration at the time. He - and they - believed that if you ignored evil it would go away. Michael Kelly recently showed that ignoring North Korea simply allowed Kim Jong Il to continue his nuclear program. Ignoring Al Qaeda and Iraq similarly allowed their threats to grow. The problem isn't that Bush confronted these threats, it's Clinton's dereliction that allowed them to metastize. In another column "A Whole New World" Friedman dismisses candidate Bush's foreign policy advisors as "experts in a world that doesn't exist anymore..." Well guess what these ill-informed experts seem a lot more capable of dealing with threats than the ostriches of the previous administration. They also seem to understand the threats better that a know-it-all columnist at the New York Times.
In another of his smug - but wrong - assessments of the world in 2000, Friedman wrote in Arabs Fight, Israelis Surf

"The right wing in Israel argues that the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon was an embarrassing sign of weakness -- which will only invite more Arab attacks. The Shiite radicals in Lebanon describe this Israeli withdrawal as a sign of the Muslims' superior willingness to fight, and one that will only lead to more victories over Israel."

His view of these arguments: "hogwash." Really? This week the IDF catalogued the attacks on northern Israel by Hezbollah since May 24, 2000. And there've been quite a few experts who've asserted that the failure of Camp David in July 2000 stemmed in part from Arafat's refusal to take anything less than 100% of what he was demanding because Hezbollah got 100% of what it wanted from Israel. So Friedman's dismissive "hogwash" was wrong on both counts.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003
Today Thomas finds himself flacking for the Egyptians. Friedman's main point is that September 11 has caused the Arab world to start taking stock of itself. To support this position, Friedman mentions a recent article by Osama Al-Baz, a close advisor to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in which Al-Baz argues that antisemitism is a product of Europe and has no place in the Arab world. Recently MEMRI presented Al-Baz's view in "Egypt's Response to Accusations of Arab Media Antisemitism". The article correctly points to the source of the word antisemitism - a German named Wilhelm Marr who wanted to argue that antisemitism, which was based on reason was respectable but anti-Jewishness, which was based on religion was not. To some degree that's exactly what Al-Baz is doing here; European distaste for Jews is bad; Islamic or Arabic distaste for Jews is a response to Zionism. That of course forgets Dhimmi restrictions to which Jews were often subject when they lived in Islamic lands. I won't come down too hard on Friedman, perhaps Al-Baz's effort here shows some introspection. I just don't think it's such a big deal.

Sunday, January 05, 2003
SUV Morality Today finds our intrepid columnist arguing in "A War for Oil?" that unless the United States installs a "progressive" regime in post-Saddam Iraq and gets Americans to drive fewer SUV's the war is immoral. In his conclusion "So, I have no problem with a war for oil — provided that it is to fuel the first progressive Arab regime, and not just our S.U.V.'s, and provided we behave in a way that makes clear to the world we are protecting everyone's access to oil at reasonable prices — not simply our right to binge on it." Might it be possible that there is an absolute good in removing one of the world's most brutal tyrants because of what he's done and what he might do again? Here's Michael Kelly in "Return of the 'Chicken Hawks' :"

"In liberated Kuwait City, one vast crime scene, I toured the morgue one day and inspected torture and murder victims left behind by the departing Iraqis. 'The corpse in drawer 3 . . . belonged to a young man,' I later wrote. 'When he was alive, he had been beaten from the soles of the feet to the crown of the head, and every inch of his skin was covered with purple-and-black bruises. . . . The man in drawer 12 had been burned to death with some flammable liquid. . . . Corpses 18 and 19 . . . belonged to the brothers Abbas . . . the eyeballs of the elder of the Abbas brothers had been removed. The sockets were bloody holes.'

That was the beginning of the making of me as at least an honorary 'chicken hawk.' After that, I never again could stand the arguments of those who sat in the luxury of safety -- 'advocating nonresistance behind the guns of the American Fleet,' as George Orwell wrote of World War II pacifists -- and held that the moral course was, in crimes against humanity as in crimes on the street corner: Better not to get involved, dear."

North Korea may be a bigger problem now but nothing is gained by distracting attention from Iraq. Friedman's SUV morality strikes me less as conscientious objection than as partisan piling on. He wants to sound principled, but his smug moralizing and timing make his motives suspect.
This just in ... there were five letters about this column; four of which followed the typical Times CW (how can you support war? the Palestinian problem is paramount.) One, by PHILLIP HAWLEY argued that Iraqi oil will have little effect on America. He nicely refutes Tommy's cynicism.


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