David Wearing at New Left Project reviews BelÃ©n FernÃ¡ndez’s recent book, The Imperial Messenger ”“ Thomas Friedman At Work, noting how Friedman’s banal pro-imperialist bloviation reflects — and helps to further — an all-too entrenched broader mentality:
Friedman puts the Iraqi public’s failure to appreciate the benefits of foreign occupation down to ”œthe wall in the Arab mind”. As FernÃ¡ndez notes, ”œthe Orientalist tendency to anchor Oriental subjects in antiquity, where they remain in perpetual need of civilisation by the West and its militaries, is viewable time and again in Friedman’s discourse”. Arabs and Muslims are ”œbackward”. Iraqis ”œhate each other more than they love their own kids”. Shortly after the invasion of 2003, he opines that ”œit would be idiotic to even ask Iraqis here how they felt about politics. They are in a pre-political, primordial state of nature”.
For the American missionaries, the noble mission of raising the savages out of the swamp is not without its dangers. ”œWhile we would like an Iraqi national movement ”“ building Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis ”“ to coalesce, we don’t want it coalescing in opposition to us”. Evidently then there is a limit to which even this staunch advocate of enlightened Western values will support democracy, the limit being whether the liberated people then bow before the might of western power.
All of this would be of limited relevance were Friedman an isolated figure, rather than the ugly face of ideas and assumptions which have a much wider currency. His complaint that American occupying forces in Iraq ”œare baby-sitting a civil war” is a direct echo of Barack Obama’s promise during the 2007 presidential election campaign that ”œwe’re not going to babysit a civil war”, as though the bloodbath engulfing the country was attributable to the infantilism of its people and not to the effects of it being violently invaded by a foreign power. Elsewhere, Friedman’s likening of the US occupation of Afghanistan to the adoption of a ”œspecial needs baby” bears more than a passing resemblance to Donald Rumsfeld’s description of Washington’s role in teaching Iraqis how to run their own country:
”œGetting Iraq straightened out was like teaching a kid to ride a bike: ‘They’re learning, and you’re running down the street holding on to the back of the seat. You know that if you take your hand off they could fall, so you take a finger off and then two fingers, and pretty soon you’re just barely touching it. You can’t know when you’re running down the street how many steps you’re going to have to take. We can’t know that, but we’re off to a good start.”
The flip side of this casual racism is of course the chauvinistic view of the nature of Western civilisation; the paternal figure to the Iraqi and Afghan infants. For Friedman, ”œwithout a strong America holding the world together, and doing the right thing more often than not, the world really would be a Hobbesian jungle”, a faith in the benevolence of Western power which is shared right across the spectrum of mainstream intellectual opinion.
Related: If you have not yet done so, please read–nay, experience–Matt Taibbi’s legendary takedown of The World is Flat. If snark were whiskey we’d all be shit-faced before breakfast.