"So, yes, (the United States is) not so popular in Europe and Asia anymore. I guess they would prefer a world in which America was weaker, where the leaders with the values of Vladimir Putin and Thabo Mbeki had a greater say, and where desperate voices for change in Zimbabwe would, well, just shut up."
Thomas Friedman, New York Times, July 16th 2008
Such were the musings of the ball-faced Times blowhard Friedman yesterday, voicing his extreme displeasure at the Russo/Chinese veto of the American UN resolution on sanctions against Zimbabwe. Not that he sees the Administration's inability to penalise Mugabe's regime as a problem for the United States itself, mind - he sees it as a catastrophe for the world's poor and dispossessed, which it generally is.
Of course, Friedman deserves to have his lachrymose prose etched onto sharpened stones and thrust down his millionaire neck for daring to issue such laments. It'd be difficult to find a single American outside of government who did more to bring about this parlous state of affairs.
Some may recall disagreeing with his rah-rah 2002/3 commentary, in which he pushed the idea that previous UN resolutions granted the Americans the freedom to bomb, invade and occupy Iraq whenever it liked. Others might note that the Times letters page filled with sage advice pointing out that this concept clearly abused, if not the letter, then at least the spirit of those resolutions, and would have seriously detrimental knock-on effects for future multilateral actions.
And then there was Friedman's supreme reason for supporting the invasion in his column The Long Bomb...
"...What you are about to see is the greatest shake of the dice any president has engaged in voluntarily since Harry Truman dropped the bomb on Japan... Mr. Bush is betting his whole presidency on this war of choice... "
For those not down with American football terms, the Long Bomb is a play where the ball is thrown as far as possible - it almost certainly won't work, but you have to admire the ambition.
Those unfamiliar with the law relating to war crimes should note that a Voluntary...War of Choice is one.
Add to this the fact that Friedman acknowledges that the Bush admin may be the worst people to implement the plan, and I can summarise his considered opinion thusly...
Fuck it, this administration is so batshit crazy and their plan so hilariously fantastical that it just might work. Why the hell not?
And so, to quote the man verbatim, Friedman decided to pop some popcorn, pull up a chair and pay good money just to see how this drama unfolds.
This is the setting in which to understand yesterday's column, which amounts to a wise, golf-loving, walking moustache sternly wagging his finger at all those foreigners with the audacity to wish that some mechanism existed for putting the brakes on the Republicans' deranged schemes. That he was repeatedly warned in the pre-war period that exactly this kind of thing might happen matters nothing - what's important is that his readers understand the villainy of those self-indulgent, knee-jerk and borderline silly foreigners.
When Friedman finally ran his Perhaps This War Wasn't a Stroke of Genius After All column, he cited Bush... or Arab reasons for the war's failure. Me, I'm starting to think that the war was such a clusterfuck for Friedman reasons.
Friedman displays all the flaws of the Republicans - the pompous moral grandstanding and the patriotic bullshit, the refusal to consider inconvenient facts, the scaremongering. The folksy, homespun bon mots about keeping your nose to the grindstone or turning lemons into lemonade that stood in for actual, concrete policies. His steadfast insistance on not recognising reality until it cannot possibly be ignored any longer, then proclaiming that Iraq is in a civil war or America's position has been weakened as if he'd descended from Mount Olympus with a divine message from Zeus himself.
The comparison could only be more apt if Friedman had somehow dismissed the Iraqi army himself. Hell, his latest column could capably function as a metaphor for American politics itself - Vote for the Cretinous Asshole Party, because you sure don't want to be ruled by those jerks from the Evil Bastard Alliance.
(Addendum, for those still awake)
But Friedman's not finished there, not by a long chalk. If I can summarise yesterday's column succinctly, he says Well-meaning and misunderstood America is trying to help the Zimbabweans, but is being thwarted by the evil Russians, Chinese and South Africans, who care nothing about suffering people.
Excellent analysis if you're seven years old, but pretty piss-poor for one of the lead columnists on one of the world's most distinguished papers. He basically saunters up to the rest of the planet's population, elbows them in the ribs and chuckles, That's a nice post-Soviet consensus you've got there, it'd be a shame if something happened to it.
Using my meagre understanding of officialdom, here's how I imagine diplomatic planning works in the US government. One branch of government tells the US ambassador to the United Nations to lodge a resolution proposing sanctions against Robert Mugabe's rogue regime, and he or she begins preliminary negotiations with the other Security Council members to secure their consent.
But before the resolution can be tabled, a second branch - let's call it Dick Cheney, for a laugh - decides that it wants to strike an agreement with the Czech Republic to extend the non-functional congressional theft programme that is national missile defence into eastern Europe. They know full well this will enrage the Russians and, as officials do, they ask for a cost/benefit analysis of the agreement, and some Dilbert clone duly arrives huffing and puffing in the Vice President's office...
Cheney: Right, is this thing gonna fly? The Russkies better not get ornery about this, I'm about done listenin' to that creep Putin's shit.
Dilbert: Well, sir, we calculate they'll probably try to block our climate change proposals, and you know how cut up the President will be if they shoot them down -
(Both collapse laughing hysterically, pounding the desk with their fists until their ruddy cheeks run slick with tears of hilarity and their voices become hoarse with merriment)
(They compose themselves, with difficulty)
Dilbert: Ha ha ha, yes, that's a good one... Now, where were we? Oh yes, we think they'll definitely veto the sanctions against the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, too.
Cheney: (Snorts) Fuck Zimbabwe, son, this deal's worth billions. Right, that's lunch - get me some chicken wings, put it on the Senatorial expense tab.
And that's the US Government's moral backbone right there - principled right up until it butts heads with the interests of Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. Doubtful British readers will recall precisely how the wheels of justice ground to a halt when they tried to run over BAE Systems and incurred the wrath of the Saudis.
One week later, you find yourself reading a Tom Friedman column castigating foreigners for not showing the United States enough love.
Hell, somebody's got to do it, I suppose, and if you can do it from a multi-million dollar mansion, so much the better.