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Judt on Brooks and Friedman’s role in pushing the criminal invasion of Iraq

on 18 Comments

Tony Judt died in 2010. He was brave and true to himself to the end. I miss that voice, so I got his book Thinking the Twentieth Century, with Timothy Snyder (2012). Here’s what Judt had to say about New York Times columnists David Brooks and Tom Friedman, and other pro-Iraq war intellectuals back in 2003. Judt reports that he was on Charlie Rose with Brooks and when he challenged Brooks about the effectiveness of international agencies to resolve the Kosovo crisis and by extension the Iraq crisis, Brooks said “I don’t really know anything about that.”

Here we had the public intellectual who now occupies not only prominent television space but also op-ed pages of the most influential newspapers in the English-speaking world: and he knows nothing.

Men like Brooks know, literally, nothing. So I encountered in those troubled months a combination of catastrophic acquiescence in authority and plain, old-fashioned dumb ignorance masquerading as commentary. These were the circumstances which allowed a criminal political action to be pushed through the public space with very little opposition.

Something else to remember, though, is that the people who did know something just rolled over. I’m thinking of Michael Ignatieff, or David Remnick, or Leon Wieseltier, or Michael Walzer. Instead of asking questions, they all behaved as though the only function of the intellectual was to provide justification for the actions of non-intellectuals. And I just remember being profoundly shocked and also feeling very lonely. Not that I felt comfortable with the isolationists either…

Brooks is an interesting case because it’s all done with mirrors–there is no expertise. The apparent expertise consists of the capacity to talk glibly each week about any public event in a way that readers have gotten used to as a sort of enlightened commentary. Thomas Friedman, another prominent contemporary “expert,” trades on a slightly different notion of expertise. Notice that pretty much every Friedman column includes a reference to som famous person he’s spoken to. So he makes explicit the notion that your expertise is a function of your contacts… It doesn’t really matter, actually, who it is. It’s the notion of access to something special.

In Friedman’s case, access to information is very carefully recalibrated as the acceptable middle ground on any given policy issue. And Friedman’s position on the Iraq War was contemptible. Not only did he run along with everyone else, but he actually probably slightly misread the tea leaves and ran along a little too fast on the anti-French, anti-European thing. It was Friedman who ran a column that said that France should be kicked out of the U.N. Security Council for having the chutzpah to oppose the United States on such an important issue.

More to come!



Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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18 Responses

  1. ckg on October 19, 2014, 1:16 pm

    I am enjoying my new subscription to the NY Times, especially its op-eds. I can read classics like this:

    Vote France Off the Island
    Published: February 9, 2003

    Sometimes I wish that the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council could be chosen like the starting five for the N.B.A. All-Star team — with a vote by the fans. If so, I would certainly vote France off the Council and replace it with India. Then the perm-five would be Russia, China, India, Britain and the United States. That’s more like it.

    Most of France’s energy is devoted to holding America back from acting alone, not holding Saddam Hussein’s feet to the fire to comply with the U.N.

    The French position is utterly incoherent. The inspections have not worked yet, says Mr. de Villepin, because Saddam has not fully cooperated, and, therefore, we should triple the number of inspectors. But the inspections have failed not because of a shortage of inspectors. They have failed because of a shortage of compliance on Saddam’s part, as the French know. The way you get that compliance out of a thug like Saddam is not by tripling the inspectors, but by tripling the threat that if he does not comply he will be faced with a U.N.-approved war.

    • Karl Dubhe on October 19, 2014, 9:04 pm

      It wouldn’t be a bad idea to get France off of the Security Council. Same with the UK.

      Neither of them are very large Empires anymore. It would be a better thing for India to be one of the nations that had a veto. I’m not sure who’d replace France though, perhaps Brazil?

      Then again, Friedman isn’t someone I agree with very often. So that makes me second guess my own agreement with that particular thought.

      • bryan on October 20, 2014, 4:42 am

        Nor would it be a bad idea to get the USA off the Security Council, and reduce the influence of the Security Council vis-a-vis the General Assembly. If the UN were to wield true clout in world affairs then some form of proportional representation system would be desirable. If this were based on the population of the states of the world it would provide a fairer basis, and counteract the inordinate influence of micro-states like Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau within the General Assembly. That would perhaps give excessive dominance to a few populous states like China, India, Indonesia etc.

        However a method that takes into account the relative wealth of the member states would surely work perfectly. There is already a complex formula agreed and in place, to determine the contribution of each member state to the UN peace-keeping budget. On this basis current contributions are:

        United States (28.38%); Japan (10.83%) France (7.22%) Germany (7.14%) United Kingdom 6.68%) China (6.64%) Italy (4.45%) Russian Federation (3.15%) Canada (2.98%) Spain (2.97%)

        That would seem to be a perfectly fair representation of the respective influence of major world states with international relations, and, if UN votes, with no automatic veto awarded to what were the 5 nuclear power states in the 1950s, it would increase enormously the responsiveness of the UN to public opinion in the democratic states which would dominate the organisation. It would also reflect the principle of “no taxation without representation” / “no represention without contributions”.

        The above proposal would give 80% dominance to the ten wealthiest states, but would obviously discourage participation in the UN by smaller / poorer states. Thus the proposal would be for a Security Council (with no automatic veto) composed of the a number of economic superpowers as permanent members, plus a small number of rotating lesser powers, and a General Assembly where voting power combines both economic development and population size.

        Imagine how this would radicalise the UN’s responsiveness to issues such as I-P where current impotence is based on the US right of veto in the Security Council conflicting with numerical preponderance of Arab / Muslim / Third World states in the General Assembly. Over decades it would also automatically compensate for he waning influence of states like the US and Russia and the growing influence of BRIC, South Africa, Mexico, Turkey etc.


    • Horizontal on October 21, 2014, 2:54 pm

      The only thing I’m pissed at France for is wanting their Southeast Asia colony back after WWII and us supporting them. The rest, as they say, is history. Standing up to the Bush-era foreign policy? Their shining moment.

      As far as this gaggle of NeoCon pundits, as far as I could tell, they all had ZERO accountability. No matter how wrong they were, they just sailed on to their next pronouncement as if yesterday never happened. Much the same way for government functionaries and Wall Street CEOs, for that matter. Rob a liquor store, you go to jail. Lie about a war and kill thousands for no good reason, you get a book deal and airtime on NPR. Bad times for anyone who holds the country to a higher standard.

  2. ckg on October 19, 2014, 3:36 pm

    And here is Brooks in his latest Haaretz interview:

    Brooks has always had a close attachment to Israel – he’s visited the country almost every year since 1991. But in the past few months those ties have become even stronger, as his eldest son, aged 23, has enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces in the Lone Soldier program (for soldiers with no family living in Israel).

    “Every Israeli parent understands the circumstance, and that it is worrying,” he says, “but I do think children should take risks as they get out of college and university. They should expand their expectation of risk, and I do think they should do something hard – and military service is hard. And they should do something outside themselves. I think that service defines all those three things, and I can’t very well advise that to other people if I don’t think my own family should do it.”

    Clearly he is approaching his parenting from the perspective of an Israeli parent, as if he were in fact an Israeli parent.

  3. Krauss on October 19, 2014, 3:42 pm

    Thanks for reminding me about Judt. I’ll probably read that book when studies permit.

    One minor observation though: I was disappointed to see Judt brandish all and everyone who wasn’t a neocon an “isolationist”. That’s the kind mentality that has led to precisely the sheepishness that he laments in your quote.

    Because if anyone who opposed Iraq was an “isolationist” – and we all know that WWII is always brought up in context of that smear – what good can you do to prevent it from happening, either in the moment or in the future?

    It’s also interesting to see that Judt preferred to skip the Jewish question. Maybe he gets to it later in the book. Everyone but Ignatieff was Jewish on his list of people. Judt didn’t strike me as milquetoast on these issues. But maybe he didn’t feel the need to point it out, rather just picking a heavily-Jewish list for his readers to understand his own disappointment with how his group behaved.

    • MRW on October 20, 2014, 8:38 am

      One minor observation though: I was disappointed to see Judt brandish all and everyone who wasn’t a neocon an “isolationist”.

      He didn’t. Reread it the post, since you haven’t read the book yet.

  4. lysias on October 19, 2014, 4:25 pm

    Timothy Snyder has very much disappointed me by taking sides for the coup government in Kiev. In his recent historical work, he has also very much played down the contemptible (fascistic, pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic, and genocidal towards the Poles) behavior of the progenitors of the present right-wing forces in Ukraine.

    • marc b. on October 19, 2014, 6:08 pm

      That was my reaction when I read the first sentence of this post as well. What shit he spun about current events in the Ukraine.

    • Scott on October 19, 2014, 7:38 pm


  5. Citizen on October 19, 2014, 4:50 pm

    It must be fun to be a big mucky-muck pundit in US media, babbling BS about Israel and the US relationship with it–all the while knowing nobody important enough to be put on the first page, so to speak, will berate your ignorance and bias.

  6. traintosiberia on October 19, 2014, 5:08 pm

    Friedman told Haaretz that there would have been no Iraq war if those 25 Neocons were exiled to some deserts . Then he named the names. That honesty was an expression of honesty but the arrogant dismissive expression of indignation to the antiwar Antizionist crowd . He was basically bragging – yes we did,so what,suck it up.

    It would be him for years trying to convince the naysayers that everything.being done in the Middle East was for the democracy,civilization,and for western values . The huge expectation that the neocons and their cheerleaders entertained have been 90 percent achieved but the 10 still not achieved would destroy what been achieved so far and that fear is driving them nuts.

  7. jimby on October 19, 2014, 8:58 pm

    We should keep in mind that several journalists lost their jobs for being critical of the invasion of Iraq. Phil Donohue, Peter Arnett and Robert Scheer come to mind. The State Dept was being purged of anyone who had a knowledge of Arab culture. As far as Freidman and Brooks, I think they were only parroting official NY Times viewpoint. Don’t forget Judith Miller was mainlining Cheney’s crew along with Ahmed Chalabi, a convicted embezzler. The neo-cons ruled the roost. Most anyone in the government or the press who disagreed with them was silenced.

    • MRW on October 20, 2014, 8:49 am

      No shit, Sherlock. Felled by what Ron Unz calls the mediocracy.

  8. MRW on October 20, 2014, 8:48 am

    I miss him, too. I used to call him occasionally before his pain got too bad to gnash my teeth and commiserate with him. He had that knowing little grunt.

  9. Abu Malia on October 20, 2014, 10:51 am

    Ohh Jimby, you take me back. Back to the halcyon days of lil’ Bush – when both the neoconized elites and the propagandized hoi polloi were prostrate in front of the altar of Neocon power. Acting as though, there has dawned, a divine revelation unto them, (a revelation unbeknownst to the rest of us primates) they ruled the realm – squatted in every media studio of note, penned every op-ed in every prestigious paper and tarred and feathered any journalist who dared criticize the project. Is that what happened to Peter Arnett? I did not know – i knew of the other two fellas fates.

    Sometimes i think the real “shock and awe” was not the “Daisy Cutters” and the cruise missiles, but the specter of this cabal’s power to bend a super-power to the whims of pissant country of few million people.
    As for Mr. Suck on This and Brooks, I always wondered, Just how many material mistakes, blatant lies and straight up disinformation are they allowed to make before been fired?

  10. traintosiberia on October 27, 2014, 9:56 am

    Nothing for the Nation: Who Got What Out of Iraq Hardcover – May 15, 2008
    by Hon. John N. Hostettler (Author) . Hostettler is a member of the House .
    More and more people are increasingly becoming assertive ,fearless,and impatient to shine lights on the fact the war against Iraq was planned and executed from Tel Aviv and PNAC headquarter.

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