Doubting Thomas

Dedicated to pointing out the inconstitencies and biases that mar the work of Thomas Friedman.
Monday, October 20, 2003
Thomas Twofer
Last Wednesday's column "On Listening" was directed largely at the Bush administration. Despite the fact that the Bush administration seems to be adjusting to changing realities in Iraq (see Charles Krauthammer), Friedman charges the administration with being close minded to those who would criticize it. (This is a hypocritical charge from Friedman. Of all NY Times op-ed writers, he is the only one who doesn't post his personal e-mail address! I don't think he fears the praise the Peace Now folks heap upon him.) He ends the article with one of his gratuitous swipes at Israel:
Unfortunately, in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza — where some really sick terrorists claimed three U.S. lives yesterday — the Bush team has decided to fall in behind Ariel Sharon's failed strategy of only listening to the terrorists and postponing any initiatives until they are all defeated. So the only voice we hear there is that of the terrorists. No alternative reality is being built to smother or counter them, and that's just what the terrorists want.
"Ariel Sharon's failed strategy?" Nice line. But as Evelyn Gordon recently pointed out the numbers, while grim, show progress:
In the intifada's grim second year, from October 2001 through September 2002, Palestinians killed 449 Israelis and foreigners present on Israeli soil, including both civilians and soldiers. Yet for the year that ended last week, this figure was down 47 percent, to 240.

On a monthly basis, the comparison is even more dramatic. Never again has there been a month even approaching the horror of March 2002, the month before Operation Defensive Shield. The 134 Israelis killed that month is more than three times the death toll during the worst month of the past year, and almost 2.5 times the 58 people killed in the second-worst month of the intifada (June 2002, the month after the army withdrew from Palestinian territory following Defensive Shield. It was this renewed surge of killing that persuaded the government to send the troops back and this time, to keep them there).

Furthermore, two of the worst months of the past year were months in which military activity was drastically curtailed: June 2003, with 32 deaths, and August 2003, with 29. June was the month of the road map "peace process," during which Israel largely suspended military operations so as not to disrupt the "momentum toward peace." August was the month of the famous Palestinian cease-fire, to which Israel responded by restricting its own military activity. (In fact, the death toll that August was higher than in 22 of the 34 months without a truce!) One could thus reasonably assume that had Israel maintained the military pressure over the summer, the year's death toll would have been even lower.
Nice try.

Yesterday instead of criticizing close-mindedness in America he wrote about open-mindedness in the Arab world. In "Courageous Arab Thinkers" he revisits the Arab Human Development Report. The one for 2003 just appeared and once again it represents something good in the Arab world - Arabs who are willing to take a hard look at the failures of their societies:
Those who worked on this report do not believe in the Iraq-war model of political change. They prefer evolution from within. But they believe there must be serious change. They are convinced that Islam has a long history of absorbing knowledge. But in the modern era an unholy alliance between repressive Arab regimes and certain conservative Muslim scholars has led to the domination of certain interpretations of Islam that serve the governments but are hostile to human development — particularly freedom of thought, women's empowerment and the accountability of governments to their people.
I realize that this stuff is very appealing to Friedman who believes that unfettered trade will solve all ther world's problems. I believe that too, with qualifications. What is interesting here, is that Friedman omits what these folks say about Israel. Is it progressive? Do they aim to change the way their societies view the Jewish state?
Well, in a word, "no."

The report, available at the UN's website lists the Israeli occupation of Palestine as one of the major challenges facing the Arab world. See "The Effect of the Israeli Occupation of Palestine on Human Development in the Arab World" I can't cut and paste the language because it's in PDF format. But check it out yourself. Go to the link provided and search on "Israel" using the Acrobat Reader search function.) In other words these "free" thinkers excuse the way Arab leaders use "Palestine" as a way of distracting their constituents from complaining about their lack of freedoms. "Blame the Zionists" seems to be a legitimate creed according to Friedman's intellectuals. Perhaps this report says more about Friedman than it does about these intellectuals.
Crossposted on Israpundit and Doubting Thomas.

Thursday, October 09, 2003
Bad Friedman
Often, even when he's wrong on some point, Friedman sometimes gets something right. Other than his tone, which is not abrasive as usual, there's little to recommend today's column "Long Spoon Diplomacy." I can agree with his premise that Iraq is important. But then he argues:
There is an old proverb that says, "If you're going to sup with the devil, use a long spoon." Does the White House pantry have any long spoons? I ask because if President Bush really wants to achieve his objectives in Iraq, he may have to sup a little with Yasir Arafat, the Iranian leader Ali Khamenei and Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad.
But why? He wants the US to use Arafat, Khamenei and Assad to help stabilize Iraq. What makes him think that will work?

First of all, after ten years of Oslo, why would Arafat suddenly start working for world peace? He had everything to gain by playing along. But he couldn't even do that. He reverted to type and Israel is less safe than it was ten years ago.

Asking Ayatollah Khameini to help with the Shi'ites is also not likely to be helpful. After all the Iraqi Shi'ites seem to be shying away from an Iranian type theocracy. And Ayatollah Khomeini's grandson fled to Iraq to get away from his homeland!

Over the years Assad Sr. lent support to the terrorist PKK organization that was attacking Turkey. As Daniel Pipes has observed on more than one occasion, it was Turkish military pressure that brought Syria to bear and stop its support of the PKK. It was threat of force, not making nice that made Assad Sr. behave.

I can only guess that Friedman was trying to sound so counterintuitive as to be considered profound. Instead he simply sounds ignorant.

I could use my own proverb: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Friedman just keeps on fooling himself.
Crossposted on Israpundit and Doubting Thomas.

Thursday, October 02, 2003
Classic Friedman
Today's Thomas Friedman column, "Passions and Interests" is a classic. And I don't mean that in a good way. It is filled with all the worst cliches about the Middle East. Friedman makes absolutely no effort to analyze the situation in the Middle East. he just tosses out a series of myths, misconceptions and prejudices. For example:
Most Israelis now believe that Palestinians only have unquenchable passions — not interests that can be nurtured to counterbalance those passions. With Israelis hit by a sickening 100 suicide bombers in three years, who could blame them for feeling this way? And most Palestinians now believe Israelis, with their relentless settlements, only have insatiable appetites for Palestinian land, not interests for peace that could be nurtured by a credible Palestinian overture.
There you have it, terrorist bombings are the equivalent of Jewish settlement building. Even if you believe that "settlements" are wrong, they don't justify brutal murders.

Amnesty International in one of its more lucid moments decried suicide bombings and called them war crimes. AI said that this even applied to Jews living in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, who are there illegally. Being somewhere illegally does not make someone a combatant.

Of course when people such as Friedman equate Israeli "settlements" with terrorism they are essentially excusing the latter because of the former. What would happen if terror was categorically decried in the West? Is it possible that one of the factors that encourages the terrorism is the willingness of so many to excuse it?

If the Palestinians are going to miss another opportunity to miss an opportunity, let it be a real opportunity — one that any fair-minded person would deem fair. At best, Israel would enable the real interests of the Palestinians to emerge, and at worst it would create a moral clarity where Israel can fight a permanent war with the Palestinians, without 27 Israeli Air Force pilots going on strike, saying justice isn't on their side.
Actually, this happened three years ago. Israel made an exceedingly fair offer - actually it was over generous - at Camp David that was rejected and was rewarded about two months later with a new war. Most Israelis sensed that and that's why Ariel Sharon won election as Prime Minister with a huge majority. Most Israelis are fair minded; Thomas Friedman is not. And neither are those 27 Air Force pilots. They, like Friedman are partisans, who feel that more concessions will change Palestinian society.

The heart of Friedman's mistake is here:
Who is Yasir Arafat? He's a terrorist bum, but not a strategic threat to Israel.
and here:
It's time for Israel to try that — yes, yet again. Israel has incredible strength. I saw that in how individual Israelis responded to the suicide bombings — by defiantly riding the same bus lines and going to the same cafes the day after they were blown up. But while individual Israelis behave with great strength, their current government behaves as if Israel is a weak little victim.
Yes Israel is strong and Yasir Arafat is not - by himself anyway - a strategic threat. But Israel is vulnerable and Yasir Arafat is an opportunist. Give him the opportunity to kill Jews and he will.

Over the past ten years, Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have used their authority and territory to build a terrorist infrastucture. This has included an educational system and media that indoctrinates its subjects to hate Israel (and Jews). It includes redundant security forces whose job involves aiding and abetting terrorists to arm themselves and recruit volunteers to carry out terror attacks. Any "fair-minded person" can see that. It is those whose willful blindness informs them that if only Israel would make one more concession there would peace who can't - or won't - see that.

What if Arafat and the PA had spent the past ten years focusing on teaching understanding and creating opportunity? What if the initiative the Palestinians have shown in manufacturing and smuggling arms had been channeled instead to creating jobs and a functioning economy? If that had happened, Ariel Sharon would not be Prime Minister of Israel. And Israelis would have embraced any chance to make peace regardless of the cost.( I don't know that Ariel Sharon is an obstacle to peace, even in Friedman's view. When the Camp David Agreement required that Israelis withdraw from the Sinai, it was Sharon, in his capacity as defense minister who evacuated the Jews from the Sinai.)

How do I know that? Because in 1999, when terrorism was down Israel elected Ehud Barak to secure peace. The problem was that the lull had nothing to do with a Palestinian acceptance of Israel. It was a strategic choice by Arafat to reduce the level of violence to get what he could by negotiation at that point. The hate and infrastructure were still there; just waiting for the signal.

Another mistake is here:
The only people who can stop the suicide bombers are the Palestinians. They won't do it overnight and can't do it with a decimated Palestinian Authority.
As mentioned above the PA has been responsible for much of the hatred and violence. To say that destroying the PA works against Israel's interests is to ignore a decade of history.

At the beginning of the article Friedman boasts with a sense of irony:
Yes, they actually pay me for such observations.
Actually there is nothing terribly original about his observations. The Times pays him because he states the underlying assumptions of his newspaper (and many others). It's nice to have someone clever explaining your worldview. That's what Friedman is paid for. Not for any original insights. For that you'd have to read Jim Hoagland or William Safire or Daniel Pipes.
Crossposted on IsraPundit and Doubting Thomas.


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