Saturday, January 17, 2009

Whatever Friedman Is For, I'm Against It

Ladies and gents, please allow me to introduce a new law for internet discussion forums - The Friedman Prohibition, being that -

"If NY Times columnist and philosopher-golfer Thomas Friedman favours a particular policy, it follows that said policy is bound for disastrous failure and should be vociferously opposed."

A little background - Friedman is the author of best-selling tomes filled with golfing anecdotes and embarrassingly priapic, leg-humping panegyric on the wisdom, integrity and ingenuity of the super-rich business class. His opus The Lexus And The Olive Tree was a weighty rumination on the idea that giving pan-handling business interests and Armani-clad conmen total freedom of action would spin unlimited gold for all of humanity.

Now that the same financial class has, in full public view, driven the planet's economy into the toilet and sparked a worldwide jobs-massacre, Friedman has a new plan - President Obama should threaten to nationalise the banks!

It may be tempting perceive this as Friedman's epiphany, in which he realises his desperate inability to make accurate predictions, but beware - it's a trick. Friedman is a genius of sorts, possessing a seemingly bottomless well of Duh, I wuz wrong again on which to draw. If Obama follows his advice, we'll all be guarding our vegetable gardens with shotguns by 2010.

Friedman's genius doesn't merely stop there, however. A mere hack would pull the wool over our eyes by inventing seemingly plausible reasons to undertake insane projects. Not so Friedman, who prefers to explain the reasons why a project is a terrible, often criminal idea... and then argue that we should do it anyway.

Take this piece on the invasion of Iraq, for example...

"...You are about to see is the greatest shake of the dice any president has voluntarily engaged in since Harry Truman dropped the bomb on Japan... The mother of all presidential gambles... Mr. Bush is betting his whole presidency on this war of choice..."

Since the entire article [1] reads like a list of reasons why the invasion of Iraq would be a criminal enterprise - since WWII, legal consensus seems to be that those who launch wars of choice traditionally wind up at the end of a rope - and that it would likely to end in catastrophe, you might think Friedman would counsel against it. You'd be wrong.

Not that Friedman's wrongness is limited to future events, as he's perfectly capable of being horribly wrong about the past as well...

"I was one of the few people who argued back in 2006 that Israel actually won the war in Lebanon started by Hezbollah."

Stop there - not only is he wrong about Israel winning the Lebanon war, he's wrong that only a "few people" have argued that point. Lots of other lunatics did too, although the Israelis themselves disagreed somewhat.

That's just a launchpad for Friedman's main point - that the Israelis should "educate" Hamas. How should they do this?

"I still can’t tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to “educate” Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims."

Does Friedman prefer the all-out Somalia option, or just the "heavy pain for the Gaza population" one?

"I hope that it’s the education of Hamas."

To be clear here - Friedman really is advising the infliction of "heavy pain" on the Gazans in an effort to stop Hamas rockets. Readers are invited to look up "war crimes" on the internet and find out how such acts are viewed, then speculate on how much thought Friedman has given this issue and wonder what the hell his editors at the Times were thinking putting this into print.

And so we have our first test - as I finish this post, Hamas have just announced a one-week ceasefire. Will the Friedman Prohibition hold true, or will it fall at the first hurdle? Will his prediction pan out, or will it be heads-on-sticks by Wednesday?

Only time will tell but by God, I'll be keeping an eye on the situation to find out.


[1] From the same article on the Iraq invasion -

"So here's how I feel: I feel as if the president is presenting us with a beautiful carved mahogany table -- a big, bold, gutsy vision. But if you look underneath, you discover that this table has only one leg. "

There you go, folks - the Iraq invasion was a one-legged mahogany table, and Thomas Friedman is a multimillionaire.

What a weird and wonderful world we live in. BTW, those who appreciate snark may enjoy Taibbi's epic takedown of Friedman's latest book.

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