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January 29, 2024

The Titanic Struggles of Thomas Friedman

Here is Thomas Friedman in his latest column explaining the present state of geopolitics to stock brokers, software programmers, accountants and dentists — folks with jobs to do and kids to feed:


“On one side is the Resistance Network, dedicated to preserving closed, autocratic systems where the past buries the future. On the other side is the Inclusion Network, trying to forge more open, connected, pluralizing systems where the future buries the past.”


Surely, I thought, the Resistance Network refers to the United States and its vassals (for the moment) in Europe. Its “systems” are organized among neoliberals, while the United States, living in the past and unable to accept a multipolar world, is trying to bury the future. The Inclusion Network would surely be Russia and China, which are busily trying to forge a worldwide system of political and economic links. They aren’t so open either, but they are much more sensitive to public opinion — and tolerant of quiet debate — than they were fifty years ago; democracy isn’t built in a day. As President Putin wisely wrote in 2013, “There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy.”


But Friedman shills for the Yankees, and his Resistance Network turns out to be those creeps in Russia and Iran, and the Inclusion guys are the U.S. and friends. How odd. The latter group rarely “forge open systems,” but openly dictate to others; ask the Ukrainians. As to China, Friedman adds a lame explanation that it “straddles” the two. And the “Global South,” countries vigorously elbowing out each other in their haste to enter BRICS+, are but impressionable children:


“Their hearts, and often pocketbooks, are with the Resisters but their heads are with the Includers.”


Yes, to read a Friedman column is to understand how short is the plank he walks. He knows what happened to, for example, William Pfaff, for twenty-five years the top foreign-affairs columnist for the International Herald Tribune, until he was so rash as to insist that the younger George Bush’s invasion of Iraq would be a bad idea. The IHT and other newspapers cut his column. Or Stephen Cohen, well-spoken Princeton professor who in the 90s and 2000s was always center-space on the Times op-ed page, and go-to commentator of the network shows, who elegantly explained the complexities of Russia and its politics. But when his explanations showed sympathy to Putin’s troubles in dealing with an arrogant West, he disappeared from the mainstream media.


A short plank indeed. In a recent Davos interview with Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Friedman leaves unchallenged statements like these: “So one of our challenges is to fight that dehumanization, to find ways to defuse it, to take that poison out.  And that’s also a function of leadership.  We need leaders around the world who see that, understand that, and are prepared to act on that.”


Except in Israel, where the poison of dehumanization of the enemy flows freely.


And of course, Friedman is all gung-ho in Ukraine. In his column, he writes without a trace of cynicism, “For tens of billions of dollars, and not a single American soldier killed, Ukraine has inflicted a profound setback to Putin’s army that makes it much less dangerous to the West and to Kyiv. It’s the greatest bargain NATO ever got.”


Friedman is careful to put “NATO” in place of “America.” Sounds better.


It makes you wonder why the U.S. didn’t do that in other conflicts. Why didn’t the neocons, that wonderfully creative group, get Pakistan to fight Afghanistan for them? Or Jordan to fight Saddam Hussein’s Iraq? (Israel couldn’t be bothered.) For that matter, why didn’t the best and brightest get Japan to fight Vietnam back in the 60s? Their wars in the Far East certainly went well the first time around; imagine if they had Uncle Sam’s backing.


Thank goodness Biden’s crew finally got it right. Losing hundreds of thousands of soldiers, getting your country turned into applesauce — what a pain in the neck. Much better to install a friendly government and let them and their countrymen do the dirty work.


Friedman, at least, is polite enough to thank Ukrainians for the sacrifice that has shattered their country: “Putin can still inflict a lot of damage on Ukraine with missiles, but his dream of occupying the whole country and using it as a launching pad to threaten the Inclusion Network — particularly the NATO-protected European Union — is now out of reach. Thank you, Kyiv.”


A launching pad to threaten Europe. Wow. You almost have to admire how a man can blather so glibly, hurdling facts, ignoring trends, sweeping away nuances with a single riff of this keyboard; he ought to write for Donald Trump.


Russia threatening Europe? If there’s anything that can be gleaned from acts and statements of the leaders of Russia over the past couple of years, it is that they are fed up with the West — fed right up to the top and then some. This quote from Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov sums it up perfectly: “»The West wants no constructive resolution that would take Russia’s legitimate concerns into account.»


Russia has flatly turned away from the West and seeks its fortunes in the east and south. The Tass article on Lavrov’s press conference sums up, “The relations of particularly privileged cooperation with India develop gradually. Russia also takes relations with African states to a truly strategic level. It develops relations with the Latin American continent. Russia’s close circle also includes Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar.” This, you remember, is the Resistance Network.


After making sure that everyone understands that Iran, which not long ago signed an important treaty with the United States, is really a first-rate villain, Friedman closes his article on an optimistic note. Nice of him. This way his sheeply audience of doctors and fast-food managers will feel hopeful about the future: “If Israel could one day agree to a long-term process with a transformed Palestinian Authority to build two states for two peoples, it could decisively tip the balance between the Resistance Network and the Inclusion Network.”


Well, it certainly could, though Israel, during its present trauma or in perfect conditions of prosperity and security, would never do that. Never. It would take the U.S. to completely cut off aid and an army under U.N. management to invade the West Bank and Gaza and by force throw the Israelis out. Both acts are unlikely. But hope, like opinion, is free.


The title of Friedman’s article, by the way, is “A Titanic Geopolitical Struggle is Underway.” That surely grabbed the attention of those concerned intellectuals buttering their morning toast. The struggle, however, is really between those that deal with fact and those that wallow in cheery fiction like Friedman’s. Someday the West will be made, rudely, to face facts. And that’s when the titanic struggles will really get underway.




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