Friedman On Iraq: “Do It Right”

Tom Friedman, the New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, brought his first-hand, even-handed Middle East observations to town last week and spoke to a crowd of 1,500 at USF. Too bad his $45,000 speaking fee couldn’t have been picked up by the Bush Administration. They were the real target audience.

Friedman framed the impending war-in-Iraq issue in a broad, post 9/11 context. The Cold War status quo of two super powers, he noted, has given way to the “World of Order” and the “World of Disorder.” The latter includes “failed states” such as Liberia, rogue states such as North Korea and Iraq, “messy states” such as Colombia, Pakistan and Indonesia, and “Mafia and terror groups” energized by “super-empowered, angry persons,” of which Osama bin Laden is the archetype. Such individuals, he stressed, are the “real weapons of mass destruction” because, as opposed to Saddam Hussein, they are not deterrable. These “undeterrables” hate us more than they love life.

The daunting task facing the “World of Order,” i.e., the United States, emphasized Friedman, is to “lift up the “World of Disorder.” And that starts with Muslim nations that spawn those super-empowered and angry enough to have perpetrated 9/11. Such anger, stated Friedman, is grounded in three factors: U.S.-Israeli foreign policy, Arab humiliation for falling so far behind the Judeo-Christian world and rage at their own repressive governments.

The onus is on the U.S. to be “the best global citizen we can,” stressed Friedman. We also need to make the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis a priority and “get our own energy house in order” and stop treating Middle Eastern countries like “a big, dumb gas station.” And it’s counterproductive “to come at the world with a sense of contempt.”

For their part, the Islamic nations need an “authentic Muslim progressive ideology.” Staying mired in “awful, authoritarian governments” is an unacceptably dangerous status quo.

As for Iraq, per se:

*”Iraq has the greatest human and economic potential in the area.”

*”Iraq has everything to do with regime change — not weapons of mass destruction.”

*”Taking Saddam out is a war of choice — but it’s a legitimate choice. It is because he is undermining the UN; it is because if left alone, he will seek weapons that will threaten all his neighbors; it is because you believe the people of Iraq deserve to be liberated from his tyranny; and it is because you intend to help Iraqis create a progressive state that could stimulate reform in the Arab/Muslim world, so that this region won’t keep churning out angry young people who are attracted to radical Islam and are the real weapons of mass destruction.”

*”(Intervention) is worth doing if we have the support of the American people and the United Nations and allies. Iraq is all about day three. Just like Pottery Barn, if you break it, you own it.”

*”The U.S. can destroy any country on its own, but the U.S. can’t build any country on its own…We need a long-term partnership with the Iraqi people.”

*”Bush’s aspirations in Iraq are audacious, and he has prepared us for Granada.”

*”The Arabs will get behind this, if we do it right. While Osama bin Laden has authenticity, he’s no longer seen as a Robin Hood. Saddam Hussein may be more popular in the streets of Paris than Cairo.”

As for the Bush Administration, Friedman didn’t agree with the rush to massive troop build-up. He’s also concerned about “prehistoric” ideologies reminiscent of the Cold War.

He has, however, “no beef” with the FBI, CIA or Tom Ridge about domestic security. “They are doing the best they can,” he averred, “and we have to do ours — the press and the public.” Friedman’s advice: “Suck it up and learn to live with it. Let’s leave the cave dwelling to bin Laden.”

Friedman underscored that he has taken his own advice. “The only survival purchase I’ve made since Code Orange is a new set of Ben Hogan Apex irons.”

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