Friday, September 19, 2003

Thomas Friedman: His War with France

politics > inane rants
[Again huge post...]
[Update: Greg Palast blows TF's bizarre piece to smithereens, much more articulately than I, and so does Lean Left...]
When it comes to astonishing claims and analysis that seems to be coming from a parallel universe, Thomas Friedman is in a league by himself.
That is an indisputable fact, as celebrated as his unique writing skills. His current NYT column, however, transcends the merely ridiculous and flies off to arguments of a quality previously observed only among flat-earthers and creationists. You think I'm exaggerating? Well, here is the title of his latest column: Our War With France.
Yep. He actually wrote a column titled Our War With France (one assumes that the “our” here is referring either to extravagantly paid, NYT pundits, or to his neo-con friends at the white house). This might come as no surprise as it is uttered by the same man who suggested that France be voted out of the security council and be replaced by India - in another stunning display of lack of both reasoning and observational powers. However this piece takes Friedman's obvious distaste for France and pushes it to another level. Here is the introductory paragraph of the said piece, verbatim:

It's time we Americans came to terms with something: France is not just our annoying ally. It is not just our jealous rival. France is becoming our enemy.

He then attempts to justify the above statement. To achieve this he uses a series of rhetorical and logical techniques. Let me outline them:

1. Inverting reality:
"[France made] it impossible for the Security Council to put a real ultimatum to Saddam Hussein that might have avoided a war".

This is a ridiculous statement that can only be based on the expectation that six months ago is too far back for his average reader to remember what had actually happened: Here is an excerpt from a Telegraph (not exactly a bastion of francophilia) report from March 2003:
Refusing to soften his country's anti-war stance, Dominique de Villepin, the French foreign minister, said weapons inspectors had not yet completed their work and should continue until they were sure no more progress could be made.
Mr. De Villepin was right of course. The weapons inspections were enormously successful since there was not a single WMD found in Iraq after the occupation. The "real" ultimatum Friedman was so giddy about was just a resolution for war authorizing the US and Britain to go ahead and savage Iraq. They didn't need it. They went and did it anyway. The opposition to the US aggression was not simply a French thing though. Nowhere does TF even mention that it was France, Germany and Russia (and to a lesser extent China), that refused to back the kind of resolution the Bush administration wanted.
But, more importantly, did the US care about the UN at the time? Did the Bush gang want to avoid war? A quick reading of Richard Pearle's article titled: "Thank God for the Death of the UN", leaves no doubt about the answers: a resounding "Not a bit" and "Not at all" respectively. It would be hard to miss this minor angle if you were living on planet Earth last March, yet Friedman manages to do just that.

2. Half truths
"[French] foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, refused to answer the question of whether he wanted Saddam or America to win in Iraq".

First of all the question itself was utterly stupid: there was never any doubt in any sane person's mind that the US would "win". Secondly, if you believe a war is unjust, then there is no way that you can simply "take sides" as if this were a football match (although the Bush administration and its fans in the US no doubt see this that way). People were being slaughtered by smart and dumb bombs and there was popular resistance to the invading armies in Basra at the time. It would be stupid for France to "root" for one side (the one inflicting the most casualties at that). Yet it did. It did.

3. Surreal assessments
"[France is now] demanding some kind of loopy symbolic transfer of Iraqi sovereignty to some kind of hastily thrown together Iraqi provisional government, with the rest of Iraq's transition to democracy to be overseen more by a divided U.N. than by America".

Well now, what's really loopy is the sentence above. "Some kind of symbolic transfer of Iraqi sovereignty?" Who gave it to you in the first place Tom? The proposal actually calls for the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty - the correct word to use if one is referring to independence and/or self-government. Iraq is not an independent state at this moment. France suggested that it become one soon: with a draft constitution by the end of the year and elections sometime in 2004. All this overseen, indeed, by a UN that has a lot more legitimacy than America, which has absolutely no argument other than brute force for its "mandate". And there is no "transition to democracy" in the cards, Mr. Friedman, as long as a colonial force is occupying Iraq - anymore than there can be a Palestinian democracy with Israeli troops strolling and killing Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza. And if a "divided" UN is a problem, lets give the mandate to the EU which has a track record of supporting democracy certainly much better than America's. Why should the instigator of this bloody war and equally bloody occupation (already responsible for a death rate among Iraqis comparable if not greater to that under Saddam Hussein) be supported in its bid to continue its disastrous administration of Iraq? Why should France, Germany, the EU in general, Russia or China support neo-con megalomaniac fantasies?

4. Delusional ramblings
"France wants America to sink in a quagmire there in the crazy hope that a weakened U.S. will pave the way for France to assume its 'rightful' place as America's equal, if not superior, in shaping world affairs."

Let's leave aside the notion, apparently held by TF, that countries have psyches and that the foreign policy of a major industrial power like France is based on whim, jealousy and spitefulness alone. Let's not even start: to discuss this would require another post entirely. LetÂ’s just agree that it's totally ridiculous and go along with it for a moment...
"France" (and its not as if the whole country has identical interests) has absolutely nothing to gain if the whole Middle East goes up in flames and that, as much as popular resentment against the war, was behind its policies on Iraq. Make no mistake: the French establishment (and certainly Chirac) has as many qualms about killing foreigners as the US does - none. Ditto for Germany (certainly a prime villain in the Yugoslav wars). They were enthusiastic about taking part in the final destruction of Afghanistan, which brought into power a Burka alliance, as before but now christened "democratic", and threw in the bonus of total chaos. They had no problem with the first Gulf war. They enthusiastically bombed Serbia and Montenegro to the middle ages. They're made from the same moral fibre as successive US governments and have been quite subservient to the US when it suited the game of their corporate elite (practically pan European and transatlantic: the French "oil interests" i.e. Total have a minority of French-based shareholders). They are quite reserved on Iraq because, again unlike the current US government, the European elites are loath to contribute to the further destabilization of the Middle East. Their strategy is caution - which is the less bloody of the two strategies right now and the least likely to lead to permanent destabilization of the region. Plus they have a slightly more rowdy public opinion to reckon with.
The "rightful" and "superior" part of the quoted sentence is completely unsupported by fact and would be laughable if it appeared in Jo Blogger's warblog. Seeing it in the NYT is kind of scary..

5. Baseless, unfactual pronouncements
"What I have no doubts about, though, is that there is no coherent, legitimate Iraqi authority able to assume power in the near term, and trying to force one now would lead to a dangerous internal struggle and delay the building of the democratic institutions Iraq so badly needs. Iraqis know this. France knows this, which is why its original proposal (which it now seems to be backtracking on a bit) could only be malicious."

He knows this. No evidence is necessary. He just knows.To force such an authority would lead to a "dangerous internal struggle". Wake up Thomas: The dangerous internal struggle has already started... supervised by the US. As for Iraqis knowing this, even the Zogby poll I discussed about recently, has the Iraqis responding to the question "Should America and Britain help make sure a fair government is set up in Iraq, or should they just let Iraqis work this out themselves?" 60% "by themselves" and only 32% "with the help of the US & the UK", and that, despite US/UK help being the only help option available to those polled. When asked whether in the next 5 years the US will help or hurt Iraq 50% said "hurt" and 35% said "help", compared to 50% that said the UN would help Iraq in the same period and 18% that said the UN would hurt it. And this in a pro US-biased sample and poll as detailed previously in this blog. But wait! Even the figurehead "Iraqi Governing Council" in Iraq is in agreement with the French proposal:
The call for a swift transfer of power has been backed by members of the Iraqi Governing Council in Baghdad, all 25 of whom have been appointed by the Americans. 'We are anxious to expedite the political process so that we can have a constitution and elections as soon as possible,' said Adnan Pachachi, one member of the council.
The conclusion about France's proposal being "malicious" is thus based on false premises...

6.Improbable scenarios
"...if America is defeated in Iraq by a coalition of Saddamists and Islamists, radical Muslim groups "from Baghdad to the Muslim slums of Paris" will all be energized, and the forces of modernism and tolerance within these Muslim communities will be on the run..."

First of all Saddamists and Islamists cannot permanently mix. Saddam's regime was secular and modernist (Iraqi women were probably the most "liberated" in the Middle East under Ba'ath). He has probably killed more Islamists than the whole US army in Afghanistan... the "Muslim slums" in Paris run no risk of confusing French (or European) policy with American policy and, if anything, the opposition to this war has brought the French, Arab and non-Arab, closer together, and brought a lot of these occupants of the "Paris slums" closer to the (very) secular French left. Indeed one can argue that the only way democracy won't be confused with submission to neo-colonialism is the defeat of the US forces in Iraq and the creation of a secular, democratic resistance movement there.

7. Nonsense
"If France were serious, it would be using its influence within the European Union to assemble an army of 25,000 Eurotroops, and a $5 billion reconstruction package, and then saying to the Bush team: Here, we're sincere about helping to rebuild Iraq, but now we want a real seat at the management table."

So let me get this straight: France and the EU (that means me, the EU taxpayer) should finance the US colonial war, sacrifice their armed personnel and submit under a US command in order to get some crumbs out of the plunder of Iraq? I suggest that the moral choice happens to be the self-interested choice in this case: the EU should distance itself from this bloody folly, thus increasing its credibility in the Arab world (already high because of its financial and political support of the Palestinian Authority) and use this credibility to enhance its trade and influence in the region, while supporting moves towards real democracy there.

8.Shooting himself on the foot
"But then France has never been interested in promoting democracy in the modern Arab world, which is why its pose as the new protector of Iraqi representative government - after being so content with Saddam's one-man rule - is so patently cynical."

The fact that TF cannot realise that, while the above paragraph might be true (partially) for France, the same exact sentence could fit US policy in the Middle East perfectly, is an amazing illustration of cognitive dissonance:
"But then the US has never been interested in promoting democracy in the modern Arab world (Saudi Arabia, Saddat, Mubarak, Gulf Royals, Saddam, Palestine), which is why its pose as the new protector of Iraqi representative government - after being so content with Saddam's one-man rule - is so patently cynical."

9. Misrepresentations
"Clearly, not all E.U. countries are comfortable with this French mischief, yet many are going along for the ride."

Most EU countries including Germany and, more importantly the people of these countries (remember them?) have shown an unprecedented enthusiasm for the actions of the French and German governments on the Iraq issue, a rare enthusiasm, indeed.

10.Faulty premises, false parallels
"...It's stunning to me that the E.U., misled by France, could let itself be written out of the most important political development project in modern Middle East history. The whole tone and direction of the Arab-Muslim world, which is right on Europe's doorstep, will be affected by the outcome in Iraq. It would be as if America said it did not care what happened in Mexico because it was mad at Spain".

This isn't a political development project Mr. Friedman, no more than the Russian adventures in Chechnya, or the USSR's predicament in Afghanistan, French involvement in Indochina, or indeed American involvement in Vietnam and Nicaragua.
As for Mexico: This might come as a shock, but, Spain or not, America doesn't give a flying fuck about Mexico as long as US interests are protected and the natives don't become too independence-minded. Really: ask the average Mexican on the street and see what he tells you...

And then he ends lamenting all the good help that France could be providing in Iraq but fails to do so.

Some observations: He seems to target his anger on France despite the fact that the proposal he is referring to was supported by Germany and Russia. He does not for a moment pause to ponder how unpopular an involvement in the chaos that is Iraq nowadays would be in France. But what really gets me is the hidden assumption that's being taken as a given: The US is in Iraq to do good, whereas French policies are driven by vulgar self-interest - and a deluded self-interest at that. That this viewpoint is naive and ahistorical is self-evident, that this passes as serious opinion writing nowadays in the corporate press is frightening.

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