Sunday, June 27, 2010

On Killing Non-Danes and Non-Norwegians

Late last Thursday night, Tommy was bombing. Just like his recent Meet the Press appearance, he seemed remarkably unprepared to discuss current events that he must have known he would be asked about. As David Letterman asked questions after question about L'affaire McChrystal, Tommy responded with a lot of "ums" and a peculiar neck rolling gesture that had the unfortunate effect of emphasizing his resemblance to a walrus. But suddenly, while discussing the General's work "eliminating bad guys" in Iraq, Tommy found his voice.
In that neighborhood, you need warriors. You know, I lived in Beirut during the civil war. Bashir Gemayel, leader of the Phalange militia, used to have a saying. "This is not Denmark. And this is not Norway."
Now when Tommy speaks with confidence in a media interview, you can be bet he's quoting one of his own columns. And sure enough, there's the Bashir Gemayel quote in a post 9/11 column where Tommy beat his chest and channeled his inner-Cheney to argue that the war in Afghanistan was going to require "a new attitude toward the battle" including acting "just a little bit crazy" and unconstrained on the battlefield:
  • (P)eople have to see that we are focused, serious and ready to use whatever tactics will make the terrorists feel bad, not make us feel good. As the Lebanese militia leader Bashir Gemayel once said about the Middle East -- before he himself was assassinated -- ''This is not Norway here, and it is not Denmark.''
Fast forward to Sunday's NYT column and Tommy's Sunday morning CNN appearance: Bashir is back, but this time the quote is trotted out to justify Israel's attacks on civilians in Gaza and Lebanon.
In Israel’s case, it found itself confronting enemies in Gaza and Lebanon armed with rockets, but nested among local civilians, and Israel chose to go after them without being deterred by the prospect of civilian casualties. As the Lebanese militia leader Bashir Gemayel was fond of saying — before he himself was blown up — “This is not Denmark here. And it is not Norway.”
Let's put aside the fact that Denmark and Norway keep swapping places in the Gemayal quote and focus on what really matters here: Tommy has used the same quote about an event that took place 28 years ago -- the 1982 Lebanese civil war -- to justify the down and dirty fighting (including killing civilians) of the 1) the United States in Afghanistan; 2) The U.S. in Iraq; 3) Israel in Gaza and 4) Israel in Lebanon (2006). Never mind that these are five unique conflicts spread out over four decades. For Friedman, it's all one long war against the enemies of Israel and the United States (which, of course, are the same). And wars where the majority of people getting killed are non-Israeli Middle Easterners (they are not Norwegians and they are not Danes), are governed by a different set of rules -- i.e. there are none.

To sum up, here's Tommy's views on the Middle East:
  1. All non-Israeli countries, people, and situations are interchangeable (because those people are all the same to him). That's how he can argue with a straight face on Charlie Rose that the U.S. was right to invade Iraq because we just needed to attack a Muslim country -- regardless of whether they were involved with the attacks -- after 9/11; and
  2. Non-Israeli lives in the Middle East are worth less than Israeli, European and American lives. That's why Tommy's only concern yesterday about civilians death in Gaza and Lebanon was the potential fallout for Israel ("U.N. indictments of generals and political leaders for war crimes and corroding relations with democrats everywhere"), not the fact that the civilians are dead.
Now to be fair, there are certainly lots of people who believe both of the above. But they don't appear regularly on the pages of the New York Times or on TV as a Serious Expert on Middle East Affairs. Of course there's a reason we take everything Tommy says about the Middle East so seriously. After all, as he never gets tired of reminding us, he did live in Beirut twenty-eight years ago.

Fire Tom Friedman

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Glenn Greenwald Gets Nordlingered!

Regular readers of Fire Tom Friedman (i.e. my wife - I sulk if she doesn't read my posts) know how much I admire the searing satire of Jay Nordlinger. Whoever created this wonderful Nordlinger character has perfectly captured the whole right-wing shtick: The endless self-pity and whining about how privileged white conservatives are really victims; the chickenhawk bravado; the creepy Reagan fetish; and, of course, the staggering ignorance about anything that doesn't perfectly align with their world view.

Yesterday, Nordlinger pulled off quite a coup, getting Glenn Greenwald, who is as sharp as they come (and a Friedman hater to boot), to rip into him as if he was a real person!

National Review's Jay Nordlinger cites a truly repellent (and false) comment made this week by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "A million and a half people are living in Gaza, but only one of them is really in need of humanitarian aid," Barak said. Nordlinger points out that Barak was referring to Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held hostage for years by Hamas, which refuses to permit the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to him. After observing that neither "the Cuban dictatorship or Chinese dictatorship permit the Red Cross to see prisoners," Nordlinger then claims -- with the needy victimization that typifies the Right -- that "there'd be mass demonstrations in [Shalit's] behalf all over Europe, and on American streets, too" if "Shalit were other than Israeli." In other words, Nordlinger believes that the Western World would never tolerate the denial of ICRC access to detainees except when the detainee is Israeli.

I'm asking this literally: is Nordlinger ignorant of the fact that the United States of America denied ICRC access to non-Israeli prisoners for years during the prior administration?

That's a bit like asking if "Borat" is anti-Semitic. Or "Maggie Gallagher" if she's homophobic. "Jay Nordlinger" the character is blissfully unaware. But that, of course, is the point of the satire.

And speaking of Nordlie, I love how he keeps pushing the envelope on conservatives are victims meme. Here he is today:
I’m reminded why conservatives had to build their own media outlets. It’s sort of like Jews and country clubs. Jews built their own, not because they wanted to, necessarily, but because the other clubs wouldn’t let them in. They weren’t being “clannish.” They wanted to play golf, on first-class courses. . . .

Well, we conservatives built our own media outlets — because the other clubs wouldn’t let us in.
That's pretty edgy comedy and I'm wouldn't bet against Nordlinger pushing it further, maybe even ratcheting it up with a Holocaust analogy or two.


On a completely different note, my Google Alerts tell me that Tom Friedman is a guest on Letterman tonight (I stalk because I hate). And since the only thing more fun than reading Tommy's smug, racist nonsense is watching him spew smug, racist nonsense punctuated by Paul Schroeder's playful, irreverent keyboard riffs, I'll try to post something about that tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Repulsive Paternalism of Tom Friedman

Are you raising a troubled country? If so, parenting expert Thomas L. Friedman has some advice for you. Here's Papa Tommy on Turkey:
Is there anything the U.S. can do? My advice: Avoid a public confrontation that Erdogan can exploit to build more support, draw U.S. redlines in private and let Turkish democrats take the lead. Turkey is full of energy and hormones, and is trying to figure out its new identity. There is an inner struggle over that identity, between those who would like to see Turkey more aligned with the Islamic world and values and those who want it to remain more secular, Western and pluralistic. Who defines Turkey will determine a lot about whether we end up in a war of civilizations. We need to be involved but proceed delicately.
In case you're in a coma, let's spell out what Tommy is doing here. He's oh-so-subtly comparing
Turkey -- a country of 70 million people -- to a rebellious adolescent. Full of hormones! Trying to figure out its identity! So let's be an involved parent, but don't push too hard or junior may drop out of high school. Or start a "war of civilizations."

Regular Tommy readers (like this masochist) know that comparing predominantly Muslim countries to children is a Friedman staple. Sometimes they're even babies. Like Afghanistan, about which, Tommy wrote last September, we need a vigorous debate (in the U.S; Afghan voices, of course, don't count) if we're going to change our mission there from "babysitting to adoption." Tommy liked this infantilizing metaphor so much that he used it over and over until he figured out a way to make it even more offensive -- by comparing escalating the war in Afghanistan to "adopt(ing) a special needs baby." (I'm not making this up; go ahead and click if you don't believe me but promise you'll come back).

Before Afghanistan was a baby, it was Iraq. In five different New York Times columns, Tommy lamented that the occupation was now a babysitting mission, as the original noble purpose for invading (which for Tommy was always about bombing them into democracy, not WMD) had deteriorated into keeping those naughty Shia and Sunnis from fighting with each other. In one of those columns, Tommy also declared that the Iraqis are "notoriously difficult" and advocated a sterner parenting approach led by Dick Cheney to try to push them into finally growing up. (Tommy's got a point -- when are those Iraqis going to give up their childish grievances about being invaded and killed and occupied? Actually, I'm surprised he's never written a column about sending Muslims to a metaphorical psychologist so they can work through their Western issues).

It's worth noting that Tommy has never uses these metaphors except to refer to Muslim countries. Turkey is the only country in Europe that's a teen acting out. And you'll never hear Tommy say that a dysfunctional institution like the United States Congress needs a babysitter.

Since infantilizing Muslims and Muslim countries is so obviously and inherently wrong, I don't think I need to say much more except this: One, Tommy's repulsive paternalism allows him to spin his constant call for Muslim deaths as the equivalent of telling a child to eat their vegetables. So when Tommy openly calls for Israel to inflict "heavy pain on the Gaza population," a policy others might call a war crime or terrorism, it's framed as "education." Two, as I've noted before, no form of prejudice is more socially acceptable in so-called polite company than anti-Muslim sentiments. If anyone, even Thomas L. Friedman, talked about another group of people the way Tommy talks about Muslims, they wouldn't have a New York Times column for very long.

Fire Tom Friedman.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Flying the Friendly Skies with Green Tommy

Remember way back on Sunday when Tommy declared the oil spill was our fault because WE "sent BP out in the gulf to get us as much oil as possible at the cheapest price." And how inspired he was by his buddy Mark Mykleby's courageous decision to stop blaming BP and start haranguing his wife to drive a more fuel-efficient car? Well, what did Green Tommy do after urging all of us to look in the mirror?

He flew to Turkey!

Now, I'm no climatologist, but I have heard rumors that flying wasn't so good for the earth. So I went to one of those websites where you enter all sorts of data about yourself to determine your carbon footprint so that you'll feel terrible about yourself so that you'll fork over some money that goes God knows where so you can feel good about yourself again.

It turns out that for taking a round trip flight to Istanbul from Washington DC, we can assign 4,525 lbs of CO2 emissions to Thomas L. Friedman. That sounds like a lot - good thing he doesn't fly very often. I mean, in the past six months he's only gone to:
For a six-month total of 36,215 lbs of CO2. Which means Tom Friedman is on pace for more than 72,000 lbs -- or 32.7 metric tons -- of plane-related CO2 emissions this year! By comparison, the average gluttonous American emits 19 metric tons of CO2 a year from all of their activities.

So what do we get in return for Tommy's high-flying carbon belching? Let's look at today's column. There's not a single on-the-ground observation. No interviews with anyone in Istanbul. In fact, the only quote in the entire article that wasn't pulled from the Internet is a mysterious "Turkish foreign policy analyst" whose views so perfectly align with Friedman's that he or she is probably a) made up; b) Tommy's neighbor in Bethesda; or c) corporate strategy consultant Peter Schwartz. There is nothing in here that requires boarding a plane. Oh, he does has a cringe-inducing imaginary conversation with some Turks (Wait one minute, Friedman. That is a gross exaggeration, say Turkish officials), but that obviously doesn't require real airline travel, either.

There is simply no reason that Tom Friedman needs to go to Turkey to write a column. Or anywhere, for that matter. So if we really want, as a certain NYT columnist urges, to get"serious about fixing the problems that we can control," we could start by taking away Tom Friedman's passport. Maybe even place him under house arrest. Although we should probably find a more suitable house first.

Hot, Flat & Crowded Manor
Fire Tom Friedman.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Meet Corporate Strategy Consultant Peter Schwartz

Nearly lost in Sunday's Tommy column, in which the mustachioed one looked in the mirror at his Bethesda mansion and decided your oil consumption drove the good people of BP deeper and deeper into the Gulf, was a moment that's even strange by Tommy standards:

We need all the cushions we can get right now, because we are living in a world of cascading and intertwined threats that have the potential to turn our country upside down at any moment. We do not know when the next Times Square bomber might get lucky. We don’t know how long the U.S. and Israel will tolerate Iran’s nuclear program. We don’t know if Pakistan will hold together and what might happen to its nukes. We don’t know when North Korea will go nuts. We don’t know if the European Union can keep financing the debts of Greece, Hungary and Spain — and what financial contagion might be set off if it can’t.

“It is not your imagination,” says corporate strategy consultant Peter Schwartz — there is a lot more scary stuff hanging over the world today.
Tom Friedman has just listed Five Scary Possible Events, four of them being Security Threats From People With Skin Darker Than Tom Friedman. So who does Tommy turn to for validation that the dark and scary is closing in? Corporate strategy consultant Peter Schwartz. If you're going to use a completely useless, made-up identifier like "corporate strategy consultant," why not give Peter Schwartz a title that actually suggests expertise in what your talking about? Why not call him "global terrorism expert" Peter Schwartz or "security consultant" Peter Schwartz?

But even better is the fact that Tommy introduces Peter just to say: "It is not your imagination." Huh? Who the hell is Peter Schwartz and what is he doing in this column? Do Tommy columns now include product placement for his downsized friends? Did he lose a bet on the golf course and have to figure out a way to work Peter in? Is corporate strategy consultant Peter Schwartz the name of some douchebag-speaking 8-ball ("Your brand is your greatest asset;" "Opportunity is another word for risk") that Tommy reaches for when he needs a little filler to hit his word count?

Whatever the reason for Peter's bizarre appearance, I really hope to see more of him in future Tommy columns. Every superhero in the war on global terror needs a good sidekick.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Mansion With No Mirrors

According to the large-type teaser in the print edition, Tommy's latest column is about "Looking in the mirror after the oil spill."

Wowee! Looking in the mirror? Which mirror? The Iraq mirror? The Israel mirror? The free trade is my god mirror? And is just a coincidence that America's most mirror-adverse pundit has finally decided to to embark on a little self-reflection just weeks after the launch of Fire Tom Friedman? All those visits to FTF from Bethesda -- I just knew it!
My friend, Mark Mykleby, who works in the Pentagon, shared with me this personal letter to the editor he got published last week in his hometown paper, The Beaufort Gazette in South Carolina. It is the best reaction I’ve seen to the BP oil spill.
OK. I guess it wasn't me that got Tommy got to the mirror. Ego a little bruised, but what's important is that someone did. Huzzah for Mark Mykleby! Can't wait to read this letter:
“I’d like to join in on the blame game that has come to define our national approach to the ongoing environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. This isn’t BP’s or Transocean’s fault. It’s not the government’s fault. It’s my fault. I’m the one to blame and I’m sorry. It’s my fault because I haven’t digested the world’s in-your-face hints that maybe I ought to think about the future and change the unsustainable way I live my life. If the geopolitical, economic, and technological shifts of the 1990s didn’t do it; if the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 didn’t do it; if the current economic crisis didn’t do it; perhaps this oil spill will be the catalyst for me, as a citizen, to wean myself off of my petroleum-based lifestyle. ‘Citizen’ is the key word. It’s what we do as individuals that count. For those on the left, government regulation will not solve this problem. Government’s role should be to create an environment of opportunity that taps into the innovation and entrepreneurialism that define us as Americans. For those on the right, if you want less government and taxes, then decide what you’ll give up and what you’ll contribute. Here’s the bottom line: If we want to end our oil addiction, we, as citizens, need to pony up: bike to work, plant a garden, do something. So again, the oil spill is my fault. I’m sorry. I haven’t done my part. Now I have to convince my wife to give up her S.U.V. Mark Mykleby.”
This is the best reaction to the BP oil spill Tommy read? I guess that's technically true since it's the only one he's read besides his own. Still, it's a piece of crap letter. Assigning equal blame to those who want to "Drill, Baby, Drill" and those who want to regulate oil companies? Making individual lifestyle changes not government policy the key to ending our addiction to oil? ("How dare you tax my carbon - I changed my light bulb!") And what sacrifice is the great Mark Mykelby going to make? He's going to convince his wife to give up her car.

(Which gives me a great idea for a sitcom. Global warming has gotten so bad that every time someone does something environmentally wasteful, catastrophe ensues. Yet, women can't stop shopping! Mark Mykelby to wife: "Honey, they just said on the radio that Bangladesh is entirely under water. Is there something you want you tell me?" Mrs. M., standing in front of a gleaming new Lincoln Navigator, "No." Cue laugh track!)

Quit your nitpicking and sitcom writing, Fire Tom Friedman. Who cares about the substance of the letter? Thomas L. Friedman is headed to the mirror. Tom Friedman, the great environmentalist, is finally going to deal with the fact that he lives here:
Hot, Flat, and Crowded Manor
And while I would prefer a mea culpa on Iraq or Palestine, this is an important start. So lay it on me:
I think Mykleby’s letter gets at something very important: We cannot fix what ails America unless we look honestly at our own roles in creating our own problems.
Amen, brother Tommy. Tell us how you sinned!
We — both parties — created an awful set of incentives that encouraged our best students to go to Wall Street to create crazy financial instruments instead of to Silicon Valley to create new products that improve people’s lives.
Uh-oh. This isn't a very promising start. Good confessions start with I, not we. And what's with the rambling nonsense about the boys of Goldman being victims? But maybe Tommy's nervous and this is a little throat clearing before we get to the mansion, the golf, the countless flights to the Middle East and China, the family fortune made in the not-so-green shopping mall business.
We — both parties — created massive tax incentives and cheap money to make home mortgages available to people who really didn’t have the means to sustain them.
OK, Friedman. We're going to ask you one more time. Your friend Mark, he already confessed he hasn't been doing his part. What about you? Did your lifestyle contribute to the oil spill?
And we — both parties — sent BP out in the gulf to get us as much oil as possible at the cheapest price.

As Pogo would say, we have met the enemy and he is us.
Ladies and gentleman, Tommy has confessed! . . . to collective guilt. He is guilty in the sense that we are a little guilty. Equally. Angry bloggers who live with their families in 2.5 bedroom apartments and smug pundits who live in houses the size of the Gaza Stripe. People who drive to low-paying jobs because they have no other way to get there and rich blowhards who fly around the world giving lectures that they could have crapped out on Skype.

Thomas L. Friedman, you are America. You promote your brand and interests at all costs, including other people's deaths. You've devoured everything in sight -- and now you want everyone who didn't get a piece of the pie to tighten their belt because it is threatening your lifestyle. You preach endlessly about others' flaws without ever pausing to consider whether you live in a glass mansion. And you can't understand why everyone hates you.

Fire Tom Friedman.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Searing Satire of the National Review's "Jay Nordlinger"

Sometimes, I leave my little Tommy Friedman cocoon and go explore the world beyond the NYT. It's amazing what you'll find. Today, for instance, thanks to the power of hyperlinks, I ended up at"The Corner," which claims to be blog of something called the National Review. National Revue is more like it! What perfectly delicious satire. Remember the first time you watched The Simpsons or read the The Onion? I've got that same giddy feeling right now!

If you've never been there, here's the hilarious premise: A bunch of privileged white people sitting around ostensibly discussing current events but really just whining about how persecuted they are. Hmmm. Maybe that doesn't sound so funny. But it's all about the execution. A typical post will start from a position that could almost seem reasonable and then slowly, almost imperceptibly, through a series of beautiful played riffs, end up at an absurdly paranoid conclusion, thus exposing the inanities of our cultural debates!

Performance Artist
Jay Nordlinger
And what a cast of characters. There's the WASP who aspires to Serious Punditry but keeps tripping over his erotic Sarah Palin fantasies. The former prosecutor who throws off his law school shackles so he can kick some serious Muslim ass. And the mousy lady who turns into a superhero to defend The Institution of Marriage from the evil Gay Agenda. But right now I think my favorite character (I'm pretty sure they're all played by the same guy!) is Jay Nordlinger. Nordlinger! Just that name gives me the giggles. Here's "Nordlinger" knocking the Helen Thomas hysteria out of the park in a post titled A Few Basic Thoughts . . .:
A Few Basic Thoughts . . . occasioned by the Helen Thomas outburst. We owe something to her: She said out loud, in her specially nasty way, what other people think.
Damn that's good. Whining about be victimized by an 89-year-old woman is too ludicrous. That's how "Glen Beck" or one of those other hit-you-over-the-head comedians would have played it. But this isn't just comedy. It's jazz. Or jazzmedy, if you will. So bam. Nordlie flips Thomas from being the oppressor to the messenger for some darkly ominous "other people." And voila - victimhood! And now Nordlinger can embark on a whirlwind send-up of conservatives whiniest hits.

The left is just like the terrorists:
People like Helen Thomas are way to the “left,” if that’s the term, of the official position of the PLO. They are in line with Hamas and Hezbollah — and their patron in Iran.
No, you didn't Nordlinger. You did not use the H-words and the I-word! What's next?
The PLO-niksSaeb Erekat, Hanan Ashrawi — are now the Uncle Toms of the anti-Israel community. Helen Thomas and the flotilla people are in the cool, fashionable forefront.
This is why I love this Nordlie. He takes the conservative meme that the left is full of vapid, vainglorious celebrities, and by implication, the right is full of principled outsiders, and blows it up by taking it to its logical -- and absurd -- conclusion: Helen Thomas is cool and fashionable.

And she's not only super-cool, she's super-powerful:
They have never resigned themselves to Israel’s existence; they have never resigned themselves to co-existence. People like Helen Thomas make it easier for them not to resign themselves. People like Thomas give them hope — making them think, “Ah, maybe we can actually get rid of them. Not just extract a better deal, but get rid of them altogether!”
Yes! Hamas surely would have recognized Israel's right to exist by now if they hadn't seen Helen Thomas on YouTube. Someone just got Nordlingered and I'm so glad it wasn't me.
It would be helpful to peace in the Middle East if Israel’s enemies could be absolutely sure that Israel is not going anywhere: that it is here to stay. Remember the old gay slogan? “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it”? Israel’s enemies need to know something like that about Israel.
He loses character a bit there, but I don't care because his "Israel is the gay of the Middle East" routine is so good. I want that on a t-shirt, with "Stop Israeli Marriage" on the back.
But as long as they have the feeling that the world — you know: “the world,” as in the New York Times, the U.N., and Bono — is not really committed to the existence of Israel, they will push for Israel’s destruction.
Back in character. You can't skewer conservatives without mocking the paranoia. And Nordlinger has perfectly captured the I-know-the-New-York-Times-is-out-to-get-me-even-though-I-don't-read-it mentality.
With the very right of Israel to exist under assault, now might be a good time to move America’s embassy to the capital of Israel, Jerusalem. I remember something George Shultz said a few years ago: that having our embassy in Tel Aviv makes it seem that we are just “camping out.” A move to Jerusalem would signal: As far as we’re concerned, this state is permanent. It ain’t goin’ anywhere, get used to it.

Hang on, let me find the full Shultz quote. Okay, got it — from June 2003: "Why not move our embassy to West Jerusalem and be done with it? People should do things that say Israel is there to stay."
I absolutely love this. Of course, Nordlinger doesn't need the actual Shultz quote after he described it. But he knows we're in hysterics from his joke about U.S. not demonstrating a long-term commitment to Israel and he's waiting for the laughter to die down. That's right - Nordlinger's comedic timing is so good that he's pausing ("Hang on, let me find the full Shultz quote") in a fuckin' blog post!

There's so much more that's pitch-perfect: Potshots at the Europeans; a riff on how anti-Israel sentiment really equals anti-Semitism; and a last-minute, hilariously gratuitous homage to Ronald Reagan. But he saves the best for last when he brings back Helen Thomas to eviscerate another myth: the conservative blogger/pundit as fearless warrior:

Events large and small — Iran’s nuclear drive, the Helen Thomas outburst — have led me to think about the unthinkable: the loss of Israel. They won’t go without a fight, I feel sure. And I know which side I’m on.
That's right, Israel. If you ever get attacked by an 89-year-old woman, don't worry: Jay Nordlinger has got your back! And, if you're lucky, maybe he'll bring his band of merry pranksters from the National Review with him. You look like you could use the laughs.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Tommy Rules!

It's time for a Tommy quiz!

Which , according to Thomas L. Friedman, is the first rule of warfare:
a) Take the high ground.
b) Never launch a war that you can't explain to your people and the world on a bumper sticker.
c) Never take the lid off a boiling pot unless you also have a strategy for turning down the heat.
d) All of the above.

If you answered "d" (and you probably did -- the first rule of quizzes like this is go with "all of the above"), you are correct. In three different columns, Tommy has declared three different first rules of warfare. One might think that one of them might be the second and one might be third, but let's face it: Nothing sounds as authoritatively folksy as a "first rule." That's why Tommy has treated us to the first rule of holes on four different occasions, as well as the first rule of any Iraq invasion, the first rule of giving money to Israel, and Friedman's first rule of Middle East reporting.

And sometimes it's more than just a first rule - it's a lot of them! There are the three cardinal rules of Middle East diplomacy and a whopping fifteen Middle East rules to live by. I'll stop firing links at you now; you get the point: Tommy really, really likes rules.

So you might think he'd know what one is. But here's what he said yesterday:
Arthur was harmless; some of the others, though, were mendacious, which prompted me to promulgate this rule: I adore the Israelis and Palestinians, but God save me from some of their European and American friends.
That's not a rule. "I like A and B, but not C and D" is not a rule. That's just Tommy stating his preferences. If I had to guess, I think Tommy thinks that because C and D are related to A and B, that makes it a rule. But it doesn't. "I adore the New York Mets, but I think some of their fans are obnoxious morons." Nope - no rule promulgated there.

Am I nitpicking? Perhaps. But I think it's worth noting that Tom Friedman, the man who thinks that nothing is more clever than reducing the complexity of the world to his Freidmanesque rules, doesn't even really understand what a rule is. And yet, when things like the attack on the Mavi Marmara happen, we as a nation, turn to Thomas L. Friedman to explain to us what's really going on in the Middle East.

And what's Tommy's take? The attempts to break the blockade are just a "grandstanding intervention" that diverts "our energies from the only thing that is important: forging a two-state solution." If you live in Gaza -- where 65% of the population is food insecure; where almost 50% of children under 5 are anemic; where the economy has been strangled so you're dependent on aid and less than half of what you need is getting through -- you might not think that calling the world's attention to and ending the blockade is the equivalent of watching American Idol. But then again, if you live in Gaza, Tommy doesn't give a fuck about you (even though he "adores" you).

The blockade, Israel's killing of civilians, investigating the flotilla ambush, conditions in Gaza and anything else he doesn't care about, Tommy labels "the sideshow." What we should be focused on is, let me guess, "the main event." Wrong! For some reason, it's "the ball game." The ball game and the sideshow?

Anyway, the point is Tommy doesn't think you're capable of thinking about more than one thing at once. So if you're allowing yourself to get distracted by little things like civilian deaths and Palestinian suffering, you're not thinking about what Tommy is thinking about! Which is:
The effort by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to build the institutional foundations of a Palestinian state from the ground up — replacing the corrupt, jerry-built structure that Yasir Arafat created and Israel destroyed — is actually making progress. This matters — and must be nurtured.

You see, there are two models of Arab governance. The old Nasserite model, which Hamas still practices, where leaders say: “Judge me by how I resist Israel or America.” And: “First we get a state, then we build the institutions.” The new model, pioneered in the West Bank by Abbas and Fayyad is: “Judge me by how I perform — how I generate investment and employment, deliver services and pick up the garbage. First we build transparent and effective political and security institutions. Then we declare a state. That is what the Zionists did, and it sure worked for them.”

If there's one thing that Tommy loves nearly as much as a rule or a tortured metaphor, it's a binary opposition. The sideshow or the ballgame. The old model of Arab governance or the new.

But there's a problem. Just because Tom Friedman thinks resisting Israel and America is bad and generating investment and delivering services is good, it doesn't logically follow that these two things are mutually exclusive. Take Hamas. One of the main reasons Hamas won the 2006 elections because they were doing a better job of delivering services than the Palestinian Authority. Imagine that, Tommy. Hamas is capable of opposing Israel's existence (bad) and picking up the garbage (good) at the same time. Israel understands this -- that's why they have a blockade in place to undermine the ability of the democratically elected Hamas to govern.

I'm pretty sure even Tom "I don't know what a rule is" Friedman gets this. But he has to pretend that his dislike of Hamas and new-found love for the Palestinian Authority have something to do to with their ability or inability to deliver services to people he pretends to adore. So he can pretend, as he loves to do, to be thinking outside the box, when he's really, as he loves to do, just defending the status quo.

Fire Tom Friedman

Friday, June 4, 2010

Tommy By the Numbers

Since this blog was inspired by the late, great Fire Joe Morgan, I thought I'd post a quick follow- up yesterday's post on Tommy's freedom flotilla column with a little Friedman sabermetrics.
  • Number of times Tommy mentioned the 9 dead activists in his freedom flotilla column: 0.
  • Number of times Tommy referred to himself: 15.
  • Number of times Tommy mentioned the suffering of the people of Gaza: 0.
  • Number of times he mentioned his own suffering (this week's events have been hard for him to watch): 2.
  • Number of times Tommy espoused centrism or balance as the key to solving the current crisis: 4.
  • Number of specific acts of violence committed by Israel detailed by Tommy (in a column written in response to Israel's killing of nine civilians): 0.
  • Number of specific acts of violence committed by Muslims detailed by Tommy (in a column written in response to Israel's killing of nine civilians): 5.
Fire Tom Friedman.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Freedom Flotilla: Is Tom Friedman the Real Victim?

Against my better judgment, I read Tommy's freedom flotilla column yesterday.
As a friend of both Turkey and Israel, it has been agonizing to watch the disastrous clash between Israeli naval commandos and a flotilla of “humanitarian” activists seeking to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
Thanks, Tommy. With all the suffering and death, I hadn't stopped to think about how this was affecting you personally. But you put it in terms I think we all can relate to. I remember when my friend Matt stopped talking to my friend Eddie -- agonizing! You really put all that Muslim whining about "blockades" and "dead" civilians in perspective. (Alternate interpretation: Tommy to Virginia Heffernan: You think you have a lot of friends? Anyone can be friends with people. Tom Friedman is friends with fuckin' countries.)
Personally, I think both Israel and Turkey have gotten out of balance lately, and it is America’s job to help both get back to the center — urgently.
You get that? Tom Friedman is a Serious Centrist and that he blames both sides. No matter how much this column may look like the rantings of a pro-Israeli zealot, it is not.
I’ve long had a soft spot for Turkey. I once even argued that if the European Union wouldn’t admit Turkey, we should invite Turkey to join Nafta. Why? Because historically, Turkey has been good to Israel and I don't give a shit about the Kurds or Armenians.
OK - you caught me. I made that last sentence up. But let's review the math: Ahmadinejad + Genocide Denial = As Ugly as it Gets. Turkey + Genocide Denial = Long Soft Spot.
I have seen Turkey play an important role mediating between Israel and Syria and voting just a month ago in favor of Israel joining the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.
Got it. You like Turkey when they're good to Israel.
Therefore, it has been painful to hear the same Prime Minister Erdogan in recent years publicly lash out with ever-greater vehemence at Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza. Many see this as Turkey looking to ingratiate itself with the Muslim world after having been rebuffed by the European Union.
On Tuesday, Tommy offered this theory about Turkey's motives on Imus. But it was just his own theory. Twenty-four hours later, its the collected, conventional wisdom that that's what the Turks are up to. Tommy Friedman is a one-man tipping point. How is Turkey's vote last month in favor of Israel joining the OECD a part of Turkey's grand Muslim world ingratiation scheme? Friedman doesn't say. The important thing is that Prime Minister Erdogan's lashing out with ever-greater vehemence at Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza has nothing to do with with Israel's treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza.
I have no problem with Turkey or humanitarian groups loudly criticizing Israel.
Every time I'm ready to completely write off Thomas L. Friedman, he does something so breathtakingly magnanimous that I'm moved to the brink of tears. Permission granted to criticize Israel!!!

But wait. Apparently there's a set of conditions:
But I have a big problem when people get so agitated by Israel’s actions in Gaza but are unmoved by Syria’s involvement in the murder of the prime minister of Lebanon, by the Iranian regime’s killing of its own citizens demonstrating for the right to have their votes counted, by Muslim suicide bombers murdering nearly 100 Ahmadi Muslims in mosques in Pakistan on Friday and by pro-Hamas gunmen destroying a U.N.-sponsored summer camp in Gaza because it wouldn’t force Islamic fundamentalism down the throats of children.
In order to receive Tommy's blessing to be angry, you have to agree to also be angry about the things Tommy Friedman pretends to be angry about. That's right: Tommy Friedman who proclaimed that the U.S. was right to invade Iraq to send a message after 9/11 even if we got the country wrong and that Israel should try to "educate" Hamas by inflicting heavy pain on the Gaza population is lecturing the Muslim world on what they should be angry about. Sometimes I think I actually hate smug paternalistic Tommy more than I hate overtly racist Tommy. Forty-three rooms in that Bethesda mansion and apparently not one mirror.
There is no question that this flotilla was a setup.
Since Tommy established way back in paragraph one that he's a friend to both sides and therefore an impartial referee, there's no question that there's no question that this flotilla was a setup. No further explanation needed.
Israel’s intelligence failed to fully appreciate who was on board, and Israel’s leaders certainly failed to think more creatively about how to avoid the very violent confrontation that the blockade-busters wanted.
More classic Tommy Centrism. "See, both sides have flaws. The Muslims are morally-depraved, blood-thirsty hypocrites and the Israelis make tactical mistakes." Isn't that always the Serious Centrist analysis of Israel's colossal fuck-ups? (See, e.g., Israel-Lebanon 2006).
It is overwhelmingly in Israel’s interest to bring more diplomatic imagination and energy to ending this Gaza siege. How long is this going to go on? Are we going to have a whole new generation grow up in Gaza with Israel counting how many calories they each get? That surely can’t be in Israel’s interest.
Starving the people of Gaza is bad . . . because it's bad for Israel. Not because the Gazans are starving (65% of the population is food insecure).

And the breathtaking conclusion:
This is a critical moment. Two of America’s best friends are out of balance and infuriatingly at each other’s throats. We have got to move quickly to get them both back to the center before this spins out of control.
Only in America can a Serious Middle East Expert bemoan the fact that things are out of balance in the Middle East and never once mention the great imbalancer in the Middle East: The United States' unconditional support of -- and aid to -- to Israel. And only Tommy Friedman could write a column about the freedom flotilla that literally talked more about his own suffering than that of the Palestinians.

Fire Tom Friedman.