Sunday, October 04, 2009

So That's What Friedman Meant?

A couple of years ago, Thomas Friedman laid out in explicit detail why he supported the Iraq war:
And what we learned on 9/11, in a gut way, was that [the terrorist] bubble was a fundamental threat to our open society because there is no wall high enough, no INS agent smart enough, no metal detector efficient enough, to protect an open society from people motivated by that bubble and what we needed to do was to go over to that part of the world, I’m afraid, and burst that bubble. We needed to go over here basically and take out a very big stick right in the heart of that world and burst that bubble.

And there was only one way to do it because part of that bubble said, “We’ve got you. This bubble is actually going to level the balance of power between we and you because we don’t care about it. We’re ready to sacrifice and all you care about is your stock options and your Hummers.”

And what they needed to see was American boys and girls going from house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, and basically saying, “Which part of this sentence don’t you understand? You don’t think we care about our open society? You think this bubble fantasy, we’re just going to let it grow? Well, suck on this, okay?”

That, Charlie, was what this war was about. We could have hit Saudi Arabia; it was part of the bubble. Could have hit Pakistan. We hit Baghdad because we could.

If I break that down and try to word it more artfully, Friedman seems to be arguing that:
  • A "terrorist bubble" had developed, due to the conception that the U.S. was lazy and greedy, and lacked the force of will to stand up to terrorist attacks.

  • We have no real defense against terrorism, as with enough motivation and enough effort eventually a terrorist will be able to get around our defenses.

  • We thus must pop the "terrorist bubble" and let the terrorist know that we in fact have that force of will, and that their acts won't weaken our resolve.

  • The best way to burst the "terrorist bubble" is to invade a country in the Middle East from which terrorists operate, and demonstrate a willingness to ferret out terrorists even if it means kicking in every door in the country.

  • To burst the "terrorist bubble" we could have invaded any country that was part of this terrorist bubble, including Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.

  • We chose Iraq over other possible targets "because we could."

Today Friedman rephrases his argument:
Our operation in Afghanistan after 9/11 was, for me, only about “the war on terrorists.” It was about getting bin Laden. Iraq was “the war on terrorism” — trying to build a decent, pluralistic, consensual government in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world. Despite all we’ve paid, the outcome in Iraq remains uncertain. But it was at least encouraging to see last week’s decision by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to run in the next election with a nonsectarian, multireligious coalition — a rare thing in the Arab world.
Am I missing something, as that doesn't seem entirely consistent with his prior explanation of the war in Iraq - and the omitted element seems larger than what's left behind. ("Suck on this" translates into "nation building"?)

Friedman also argues,
These incidents [involving the recent arrest of suspected terrorists intent on striking U.S. targets] are worth reflecting on. They tell us some important things. First, we may be tired of this “war on terrorism,” but the bad guys are not. They are getting even more "creative."
Thus Friedman is telling us that the "terrorist bubble" didn't burst as a result of the Iraq war, something that surprises few other than Friedman. So that part - the part he argued was the principal reason for invading Iraq (or some other, randomly chosen country in the Middle East) - is conveniently dropped from his present argument.

Friedman also suggests that it is Obama who might transform the war in Afghanistan, described by Friedman as a "war on terrorists" that "was about getting bin Laden", into a "war on terrorism" involving nation-building. Flashing back a few years:
On Wednesday night, [President Bush] celebrated the military's nation-building role, saying that while "the main purpose of our military is to find and defeat the terrorists overseas," members of the armed forces are "also undertaking a less visible, but increasingly important task: helping the people of these nations build civil societies from the rubble of oppression."

Aides to Mr. Bush have said that his change of view began early in his first term, during a visit to Kosovo. But even then, he seemed to draw limits on what kind of nation-building activities he thought were appropriate.

On Wednesday, he celebrated the military's participation in actions that are normally considered civilian.

In Afghanistan, he noted, "Provincial Reconstruction Teams" were "helping the Afghan government to fix schools, dig wells, build roads, repair hospitals, and build confidence in the ability of Afghanistan's elected leaders to deliver real change in people's lives."
Has Friedman been following these issues at all

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