TomDispatch has reposted an important essay on the Bush administration’s inability to translate its imperial dreams into functional policy. I’ll excerpt a bit, but you should go read in full.
Kicking ass — playing cowboys and Indians with the world, as little boys once did on playroom floors or in backyards — has remarkably little to do, however, with anything that might once have been defined as imperial planning or the knowledge necessary to implement such plans. For example, a year after his “axis of evil” State of the Union Address, when informed by Iraqi exiles that there were both Sunnis and Shiites in their country, “emperor” Bush allegedly responded that he thought “the Iraqis were Muslims.”[…] Given the tabula rasa in Bush’s mind regarding the world outside “the homeland” (a word his administration has regrettably contributed to the American language), it is hardly surprising that he selected as his main foreign policy advisers two people with very limited global visions of their own: Condoleezza Rice as National Security Advisor and, as Secretary of State, Colin Powell. (Rice herself admitted in 2000 that, as a “Europeanist,” “I’ve been pressed to understand parts of the world that have not been part of my scope”; and Powell’s qualifications were based on his military savvy — and loyalty — not his geopolitical perspectives. The general, as Bill Keller of the New York Times reported in 2001, was “a problem solver, not a visionary.”
As became clear after the horror of 9/11 — a foreign policy failure of the first order, if ever there was one, that no “empire” in its right mind would have allowed — Rice and Powell essentially became talking-point briefers on day-to-day events they had not foreseen and did not control. Compare them to Henry Kissinger, who held each of their positions at some point in his White House career. A cynical maneuverer who may not have been to everyone’s liking, he nonetheless worked in the realm of global strategy. In the way he attempted to play off the Soviet Union against China in relation to the Vietnam War, he was an imperial planner of the first order (if not always with the greatest success). Contrast his meaty books on Metternich and on nuclear weapons to the sole tome that Rice authored by herself — a bland monograph on the relationship between the Soviet Union and the Czechoslovak Army, 1948-1983, excoriated by the scholarly American Historical Review in 1985. What her sad little historical “study” demonstrated, if anything at all, was that Rice was, from scratch, anything but a geopolitician of Soviet — or any other — affairs.
The intellectual and emotional immaturity at play here really is hard to understate. The administration dreams of empire but ignores the basic mechanics of making one work. They prosecute a “global war on terror” that is not strategically integrated, unless you count shortchanging one conflict to feed the other “integration.” Nor, judging by our Iraq adventure, is the war particularly focused on terror. Or did I miss the day we caught bin Laden? Our “democracy promotion agenda” cultivates the most repressive regimes in the middle east and central Asia. I designed more coherent campaigns as a dungeon master in middle school.
Worse than an idiot administration, I still shake my head at how eagerly our public intelligentsia chased them down the rabbit hole. Some of the best-read, left-of-center members of my family still view Tom Friedman as the go-to-guy for foreign policy thinking. Friedman’s support for invading Iraq, and particularly the morally superior tone with which he dismissed critics of the invasion, did more than practically anybody other than Colin Powell to drum up liberal support for the war. The same Tom Friedman justified his decision like this:
Friedman: What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, um and basically saying, “Which part of this sentence don’t you understand?” You don’t think, you know we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we’re just gonna to let it grow? Well, Suck. On. This. That Charlie is what this war is about. We could of hit Saudi Arabia, it was part of that bubble. Could of hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could.
It is a dangerous kind of stupid that drags the intelligent down with it.
Advanced Dungeons and Dragons had a much more refined and adaptable military campaign prosecution system than regular Dungeons and Dragons.
I cast Magic Missle.
“We could of hit Saudi Arabia, it was part of that bubble. Could of hit Pakistan.”
If the transcriber is Friedman, he’s an idiot. If not, he’s still an idiot. “Could of” is “could’ve,” as any properly-educated intellectual would know. I’m assuming the quote was not written by Friedman, but by a blogger or other transcriber, who should’ve known better.
That said, it’s truly incomprehensible that supposedly intelligent people think that because we can do something, it’s a good idea to actually do it. Jesus on a pogo-stick, that’s dumb. It’s teenager-thinking at best, and closer to a three-year-old in terms of empathy and recognition of the existence — and rights — of others.
Friedman didn’t seriously say “Suck. On. This” did he? That was something the transcriber put in because he was angry, right?
Time for a blogger ethics panel.
Yeah, pity the Iraqis got the script that called for American kids getting blown to shit. WTF?
Suck on this. Because we could. People think this cretin is credible, why?
New rule: People who talk like the bully from a B-movie shall be held up for mockery at every possible opportunity.
For what it’s worth, out of random curiosity I did a brief search on reviews of Rice’s 1983 monograph on the Prague Spring and noticed two things: 1. the AHR review mentioned in the essay is pretty much alone in its negative assessment of the book; the military analysts and political scientists seem to have loved it, which perhaps says more about disciplinary boundaries and methods than it does Rice’s book. 2. At least two of the reviewers, including the guy in the AHR who hated it, thought Rice was a “he”.
I think it’s an open question whether Friedman was ever as bright as people seemed to think he was. Maybe the Iraq war is just when it became obvious to (nearly) everyone what an idiot Mr. Suck. On. This. really is.
“Planning”?…”We Hit Iraq because we could”? Jesus, what a bunch of psychopathic morons. Just what part of the words, “War Crimes” don’t these feebs understand?
Great post, Tim F.
Um , we sat here on these very pages and declared Friedman a complete moran two years ago, Tim, and I think you were a commenter here back in those days.
So ….. what’s new here? Did I miss a meeting?
To put a little finer point on it, some of us were saying that the Friedman view, the Empire view, was nuts, all the way back in 2002. Nobody wanted to hear it.
Well, here we are five years later. Welcome to the party.
The reason why you’ll never see a genuine critique of this latest version of imperialism is that it would demand a corresponding critique of capitalism, whose expansion depends on and compels imperialism. Thinkers with as different motivations as Macauley, Conant, Hobson and Lenin all wrote extensively on the relationship between imperialism and capitalist expansion, but you’d have to search far and wide for anyone doing so today.
One reason for that is that most of us are so wrapped up in the nonsense pretzel logic of capitalism that we can’t even conceive of anything else. That’s how ‘thinkers’ like Friedman got rich – writing about the ‘conflicts between the Lexus and the Olive Tree, or whatever the fuck it was.
The invasion and permanent colonization of Iraq, is not about stealing their oil, it’s about them selling it. The creation of an instant upper middle class flush with cash to take off the surplus production of the West. That’s why Indians had to cultivated, weaned away from eating with their hands in order to buy the mountains of Sheffield cutlery that saturated English markets. This time, Arab nationalists will get turned into good little consumers, using their oil money to buy Lexus cars and plasma TVs.
If you want to criticize Imperialism, you’d better get ready to criticize capitalism, too.
Oh…did that dip-wad really say, “Well,Suck.On.This…”? Friedman ought to be given about 30 Friedman Units of Media Exile to Suck. On. It.,
But he won’t…once a Media Pundit, always a Media Pundit, no matter how arrogant and foolish or how often you are totally wrong about everything.
The only way he should be allowed back on the air should be as a clown on a children’s cartoon show. Call him “Tomzo, the Fuck-Wit Clown”.
Listening to the video at C&L it’s hard to tell which he used. But to Tom “Friedman Unit” Friedman as an “America’s public intelligentsia” – “Suck on this”.
Her’s the link to the video, he does say “Suck on this.”
Why do you hate children?
Without doubt, material like the D&D line is why I return to this site day after day.
But we can’t criticize capitalism any more than we can criticize Evangelical Christianity or media conglomeration or the disgusting expansion of the US Military or Isreali foreign policy or whatever the sacred cow of the day happens to be.
Someone, at some point, declared capitalism the “winner”, back in the 50s or the 80s or whenever stupidity was particularly ascendant. And now the debate is off the table.
America has stagnated, and its freak’n pathetic. No new ideas allowed in the public discourse. We’re allowed to debate abortion, gay marriage, violence in video games, rap music, and flag burning till the end of time. Everything else is off the table.
Bu-but Wilfred, free-market ideals have done so much for the situation in Iraq.
See? The unemployed just need to pull themselves up by their shoulder held grenade-launcher straps.
Two days ago, Friedman rhapsodized about an Obama-Cheney ticket in ’08. Apparently, dealing with Iran is as simple as instituting a diplomatic good cop/bad cop routine.
The English language doesn’t have a word that fully describes Friedmanesque levels of douchebaggery.
I will never be able to get my head around how the neocons think converting the world to a happy, secular, free market democracy is not just doable but a goal we should be actively working for, yet when someone brings up something that lots of other countries do, like universal health care, then they are just hopelessly idealistic pipe dreamers.
Okay, I’m not really expecting an answer on that, but feel free to take a stab at it if you like.
Speaking of free market ideals, here’s the opening sentence of the breathtaking National Security Strategy of the United States, 2002.
One is tempted to add: Goddammit!
“A single sustainable model for national success” – the monotheism of Capital.
Ooh, I’ll take a stab at a word to describe Friedmanesque levels of douchebaggery….”Novak”
My girlfriend’s mom bought me a copy of “The World is Flat” because she knows I like nonfiction. I hope it’s the last book she buys me, because it’s the worst book I’ve read in quite a while.
All Friedman does is travel around and come up with catchy phrases for widely noticed phenomenon. Every time I turned the page, I kept thinking “This is the first time you thought of this? I’ve noticed this happening since 1997.”
I really don’t believe that Friedman thinks for himself. He waits for someone else to tell him stories, and he spins them together using catch phrases and an insipid personal narrative.
He’s like a modern Hunter S. Thompson for the nursing home crowd, only he’s sober, and he’s got no guts.
Yes and it took a lot more intelligence to put together. That being said a big Huzzah for working a D&D reference into a conversation on politics.
A different matt
have you read this?
Matt Taibbi’s article at the above link shows how Tom Friedman’s writing is just a poor collection of metaphors.
And you know what? Tom Friemdan begins his last New York Times Op/Ed with Cheney quietly pounding his baseball bat. You think Tom Friedman continues his conflicting imagery because he thinks it endears him to his audience, or you think he’s got his head so far up his own ass he simply lacks the capacity to be self-aware anymore?
Up Friedman’s ass, one supposes.
“What her sad little historical “study” demonstrated, if anything at all, was that Rice was, from scratch, anything but a geopolitician of Soviet—or any other—affairs.”
I never understood why anyone ever thought that Rice had any special knowledge of expertise……about anything. I have read in several journals, that Rice, the alleged “Soviet Expert”, totally missed the boat on the Soviet Union’s break up in the 80’s, and the success of Glasnost, as a force for change. In fact, she wrote/argued that Glasnost would lead to nothing substantial and lasting. What an idiot. Her area of expertise and she was exposed as an empty suit(dress), and this was almost 20 years ago.
And here she is today, still being viewed as someone of substance. I guess that is what being a member of Mensa, a concert (supposedly) pianist and Stanford alum will do for you. And (please don’t flame me) it doesn’t hurt being a black woman.
He sums it up pretty well. I made it 150 pages into “The World is Flat”, and realized it could have been written in 20. Taibbi nails it here:
After reading 150 pages of this dull brand-name dropping and rambling, I did not feel any smarter, I felt like a sucker for having wasted my time on such gibberish.
Friedman would be a lot more readable if he didn’t fancy himself Caesar because he once bought a latte in an airport Starbucks.
I can only shake my head that this kind of idiocy merits precious column space in the NYT, a fat paycheck and constant appearances in the media.
Obama-Cheney? Huh? How can anyone say that with a straight face? particularly someone who is supposedly oh-so-wise?
It’s like Fried Man is giving his own take on Atrios’ mocking of Unity ’08 (“Sharpton/Tancredo!”)… except, uh Fried Man is serious.
Obama-Cheney? Who the HELL would vote for that? Neither Republicans nor Democrats!
Basically, it’s Friedman’s way of saying that while he disapproves of the appearance of the Republican Party (ie. Bush), he absolutely adores the underlying philosophy and drive (ie. Cheney).
Friedman has always been enthusiastic about criminally incompetent bipartisanship. It’s the only true path to a 100% fucked up nation – when both parties totally lose their minds – and its the endgame Friedman has been moving towards ever since he started waving the blooded flag at Iraq.
What’s so laughable isn’t simply the naive assumption that an Obama/Cheney ticket would result in the simple political math of (Democrats who like Obama) + (Republicans who like Cheney) + (???) = Profit! It’s the effective endorsement of the poster child for Dem spinelessness and the figurehead for everything going wrong in America since 2000, in some sort of blasphemous unholy union.
It really is the perfect Friedman ticket. Wrong on so many levels, it wracks the mind to even think about.
bwa ha ha. Ah, thanks for that. I only make it 30 pages in and then flipped ahead a bit and then yelled at the person who suggested I read it prior to a trip to bangalore. After a month visiting there, I can tell you that Friedman completely missed the point of development in South India. He reads like an intentional Newbie middle school cheerleader, I just didn’t get the point of that tone or mentality.
He reminds me of this awful boss I had once who would parrot the last vaguely interesting thing he heard, would proceed to connect even mostly disconnected things to that theme for weeks until some other bright shiny object/phrase caught his inanely immature attention. Sheesh. Every time I see that book recommended in a review I think: Did you read it?
(or, more likely, are you just pretending you did because you were supposed to and couldn’t bear the pain of it?)
BTW, you should post your review to amazon to warn others, I’ll look for it and rec it up.
I’ve long thought that fascinated-by-shiny-trinkets oafs like Friedman and catty high school princesses like Maureen Dowd do more damage to rational thought in this country than all the Coulters, Malkins, Hannitys and Limbaughs combined. At least rational people know that the latter four and their ilk are propaganda-catapulting cretins… but for some inexplicable reason, Friedman and Dowd are taken seriously by far too many of those same rational folks.
Dowd’s latest, which posits Hillary Clinton as a “dominatrix,” giving girly-men Obama — oh, I’m sorry, she calls him “Obambi” — and John Edwards tastes of her lash… and Friedman’s po-faced attempt at humor by pairing Obama and Cheney together as the two sides of some kind of magic foreign policy coin that keeps tigers away… these alone ought to be sufficient grounds to run them both out of the world of respectable journalism with sharpened pitchforks tipped with elephant dung.
While we’re at it, let’s drive Chris Matthews from the public square, too. He should just change the name Hardball to Rudy Giuliani is a Dreamboat and be honest about it. Schmuck.