Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Thomas Friedman is a Raging Fucktard

A raging, monumental fucktard. I first became acquainted with Friedman in my capacity as a shelver at a library where I worked. I liked to read reactionary books while on the clock, because I was less likely to lose the track of the argument if interrupted than with serious books. I remember reading one of his books (the World is Flat, maybe?) and coming across the phrase "I thought the Second Intifada was a dumb idea." I closed the book, secure in my knowledge that this man could not possibly have anything useful to say.

Yet here we are, years later, and his pie-hole still flaps. Once more, Friedman has turned his gaze to the Palestinians. As is his wont, he has employed an asinine metaphor to explain the situation to us.

The fighting, death and destruction in Gaza is painful to watch. But it’s all too familiar. It’s the latest version of the longest-running play in the modern Middle East, which, if I were to give it a title, would be called: “Who owns this hotel? Can the Jews have a room? And shouldn’t we blow up the bar and replace it with a mosque?”
650 Palestinians are dead, and Friedman is playing Max Bialystock.
That is, Gaza is a mini-version of three great struggles that have been playing out since 1948: 1) Who is going to be the regional superpower — Egypt? Saudi Arabia? Iran? 2) Should there be a Jewish state in the Middle East and, if so, on what Palestinian terms? And 3) Who is going to dominate Arab society — Islamists who are intolerant of other faiths and want to choke off modernity or modernists who want to embrace the future, with an Arab-Muslim face? Let’s look at each.
The great struggle for hegemony over the middle east hasn't been between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It's been between the United States, France, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. The 1956 Suez War? England, France, and Israel against the United States. 1967? The US vs. the Soviet Union. The struggle for national self-determination in mideastern countries has, in the twentieth centuries, been waged in the context of imperialism. Egypt's rise under Nasser was less about Egyptian hegemony than Arab nationalism and anticolonialism. Erasing the history of colonialism in the Middle East allows Friedman to construct a ridiculous mythology in the rest of the column.
WHO OWNS THIS HOTEL? The struggle for hegemony over the modern Arab world is as old as Nasser’s Egypt. But what is new today is that non-Arab Iran is now making a bid for primacy — challenging Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Iran has deftly used military aid to both Hamas and Hezbollah to create a rocket-armed force on Israel’s northern and western borders. This enables Tehran to stop and start the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at will and to paint itself as the true protector of the Palestinians, as opposed to the weak Arab regimes.
This first sentence is a typical Friedmanism. It is either nonsensical or utterly banal. The struggle for control over "the modern Arab world" was going on long before Nasser arrived on the scene. What was the Balfour Declaration but a means by which the British sought to assert their dominance over the Levant? Dating the struggle to Nasser simply allows Friedman to forget that hegemony requires a hegemon. On the other hand, one could be charitable and say that Nasser signaled the rise of the modern Arab world. In this case, Friedman is simply being banal and saying that the struggle over the modern Arab world started when the modern Arab world did.
“The Gaza that Israel left in 2005 was bordering Egypt. The Gaza that Israel just came back to is now bordering Iran,” said Mamoun Fandy, director of Middle East programs at the International Institute of Strategic Studies. “Iran has become the ultimate confrontation state. I am not sure we can talk just about ‘Arab-Israeli peace’ or the ‘Arab peace initiative’ anymore. We may be looking at an ‘Iranian initiative.’ ” In short, the whole notion of Arab-Israeli peacemaking likely will have to change.
Another typically Friedmanesque attack on rational thought. The man can barely contain his boundless euphoria every time he is allowed to utter something to the effect that "everything has changed!!!!!" In this case, it's a rather bizarre assertion. Iran has pointedly remained quiet on Israel's slaughter in Gaza. In fact, Lebanese politicians are saying that Iran has pledged that Hezbollah will not interfere.
CAN THE JEWS HAVE A ROOM HERE? Hamas rejects any recognition of Israel. By contrast, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, has recognized Israel — and vice versa. If you believe, as I do, that the only stable solution is a two-state one, with the Palestinians getting all of the West Bank, Gaza and Arab sectors of East Jerusalem, then you have to hope for the weakening of Hamas.
"Hamas rejects any recognition of Israel." Or is it the other way around? After all, as Avi Shlaim reminds us, it was Israel that rejected recognition of a Hamas-Fatah unity government in March of 2007. Moreover, what does recognition actually mean? Jonathan Cook argued lucidly in 2006 that recognition is a trap. Israel refuses to determine its borders, so recognition of the Israeli state means recognizing the territorial claims of a nebulous entity bent on seizing control of as much of the West Bank as possible. It means, in effect, abandoning those parts of the West Bank currently under Israeli control. So while avoiding "recognition," Hamas has repeatedly signalled its willingness to agree to peace within the pre-1967 borders.
Why? Because nothing has damaged Palestinians more than the Hamas death-cult strategy of turning Palestinian youths into suicide bombers. Because nothing would set back a peace deal more than if Hamas’s call to replace Israel with an Islamic state became the Palestinian negotiating position. And because Hamas’s attacks on towns in southern Israel is destroying a two-state solution, even more than Israel’s disastrous and reckless West Bank settlements.
Here we have nothing more than a paragraph of mythology. Death cult? As lenin points out in his excellent book, when you construct a subject as totally irrational, it means you don't have to aim very high in your explanations of its actions. And if Israel really wanted to stop the rockets, all they would have to do is agree to another ceasefire.
Israel has proved that it can and will uproot settlements, as it did in Gaza. Hamas’s rocket attacks pose an irreversible threat. They say to Israel: “From Gaza, we can hit southern Israel. If we get the West Bank, we can rocket, and thereby close, Israel’s international airport — anytime, any day, from now to eternity.” How many Israelis will risk relinquishing the West Bank, given this new threat?
Hamas has proven that it can and will stop rocket attacks, even in the context of a ceasefire whose agreements Israel refuses to honor. This talk of the West Bank is also bizarre. Given that, in the context of a ceasefire, virtually no rockets were launched from Gaza (those that were launched came from groups like Islamic Jihad, which Hamas has tried to stop), a similar approach would seem to be apt for the West Bank.
SHOULDN’T WE BLOW UP THE BAR AND REPLACE IT WITH A MOSQUE? Hamas’s overthrow of the more secular Fatah organization in Gaza in 2007 is part of a regionwide civil war between Islamists and modernists. In the week that Israel has been slicing through Gaza, Islamist suicide bombers have killed almost 100 Iraqis — first, a group of tribal sheikhs in Yusufiya, who were working on reconciliation between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, and, second, mostly women and children gathered at a Shiite shrine. These unprovoked mass murders have not stirred a single protest in Europe or the Middle East.
This last sentence is one of the worst Friedman has ever penned. What on God's green earth does he expect a European protest against suicide bombing would accomplish? Who is the target of such an action? Global protests against Israel's slaughter have clear targets; they encourage whatever country they are in to side with Palestinian self-determination in the "international community." Suicide bombers don't exactly look for legitimacy the way Israel does. Basically, Friedman is wagging his finger at Europeans and asking them why they are not as ineffectually self-righteous as he.
Gaza today is basically ground zero for all three of these struggles, said Martin Indyk, the former Clinton administration’s Middle East adviser whose incisive new book, “Innocent Abroad: An Intimate Account of American Diplomacy in the Middle East,” was just published. “This tiny little piece of land, Gaza, has the potential to blow all of these issues wide open and present a huge problem for Barack Obama on Day 1.”
Just one thing here. The provenance of Indyk's book title is Mark Twain's 1869 travelogue "Innocents Abroad" (clearly Indyk is a very creative man). "Innocents" was a fairly typical American travelogue of the nineteenth century, when the "holy land" became an object of wild fascination among Americans. However, Twain would soon became a principled anti-imperialist, who wrote scathingly about American and European efforts to dominate the globe. That the work of a sterling anti-imperialist such as Twain can be appropriated by an imperialist like Indyk is just gross.
Obama’s great potential for America, noted Indyk, is also a great threat to Islamist radicals — because his narrative holds tremendous appeal for Arabs. For eight years Hamas, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda have been surfing on a wave of anti-U.S. anger generated by George W. Bush. And that wave has greatly expanded their base.

No doubt, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran are hoping that they can use the Gaza conflict to turn Obama into Bush. They know Barack Hussein Obama must be (am)Bushed — to keep America and its Arab allies on the defensive. Obama has to keep his eye on the prize. His goal — America’s goal — has to be a settlement in Gaza that eliminates the threat of Hamas rockets and opens Gaza economically to the world, under credible international supervision. That’s what will serve U.S. interests, moderate the three great struggles and earn him respect.
Dear god, when will it end?! Here, thankfully. Friedman concludes his piece on the typical imperial liberal note that they brought this on themselves. Friedman's tone is different, however, in that he apparently believes that Arab leaders enjoy being bombed by bellicose Westerners, since it allows them to stoke anti-Western feelings among "the masses." It's worth noting, in passing, the perversity of Friedman blaming Bush for hatred of the West, when he was an enthusiastic cheerleader for virtually all of Bush's major initiatives in the region.

Friedman is a clown, a court jester in the imperial thrown room. He deserved this.