New York Times columnist Tom Friedman says the Iraq war worked out for the best and he stands by his decision to support it in his “personal crusade” to bring pluralism to the Arab world.
On stage at Temple Emanu-El in New York in September (video of which was posted this month), Friedman said that Arab pluralism is good for Israel, and assured the audience that “Israel had me at hello” — at 9 years old in 1962 — and he will never abandon the Jewish state. Though he worries that the next generation of Times columnists won’t be so committed.
Describing his personal crusade, Friedman began with an anecdote.
“I don’t really give interviews any more because they always end up with the charge sheet.” But his British publisher lately prevailed on him to give an interview in London, and sure enough, the journalist wound up: “You supported the Iraq war, you supported MbS’s reforms [Mohammad bin Salman in Saudi Arabia], and you were too excited about the Arab spring.”
Friedman got up and told the journalist it was such a big question, he’d answer by email. He went on:
Think of what you just asked me. You said I was too excited to get rid of one Arab dictator, I was too willing to tolerate another Arab dictator, and I was way too excited about the prospect of getting rid of all the Arab dictators…. You don’t see the throughline…
The throughline for me is wherever I saw a chance to open the door of pluralism in that part of the world, I got behind it. Because guess what, perfect is not on the menu, alright? And so every time I saw a crack– maybe we can partner with Iraqis to bring some kind of multicultural pluralism to this place, albeit as crazy as that may seem. Actually, Iraq is doing amazing stuff today, by the way, but don’t tell anybody. OK? After its third free and fair election.
Maybe we can open the crack in Saudi Arabia to a little religious and gender pluralism. And maybe we can open a crack across the Arab world to it, because if the Arab world doesn’t find its way to gender pluralism, education pluralism, political pluralism– it’s actually going to die. It’s going to go over a cliff, and Israel is going to be surrounded by complete and utter fauda [chaos].
Friedman said he became an interventionist after 9/11. For years, America had treated the Arab world as a collection of gas stations. The deal was, keep your prices low and your pumps open and don’t bother the Jews too much and you can miseducate your children and oppress women, publish crazy conspiracy theories in newspapers, and preach crazy ideas in mosques.
My view was that on 9/11 we got hit with the distilled essence of all the pathologies going on out back. And ever since 9/11 my personal crusade and project has been wherever I can support and get behind cracks in pluralism in that part of the world, I got behind it. I took all the criticism. I never did [prayer in Hebrew as he beats his breast] “Please let me write for the liberal press again.” I know just what I was doing, why I was doing it, I was a consenting adult. And I would do it again.
He said he worries that young Americans’ hostility toward Israel will direct Democratic Party positioning.
Young Democrats are increasingly woke on two issues, BDS and MbS… If you get a liberal progressive Democrat as president of the United States that is influenced by and influencing where the mood is of where young Democrats are today, I think you can get a very discontinuous relationship between the United States and Israel…
Friedman warned that among young people there is “a lot of energy behind the BDS movement” and hostility against MbS/Saudi Arabia in the wake of the “despicable murder of Jamal Khashoggi.” And btw in the Khashoggi context, he said, Everybody does bad things.
Asked by Abigail Pogrebin if he ever succumbs to Jewish “fatigue” over Israel’s failures/problems, Friedman said he does, but don’t worry folks, he fell in love with Israel when he was young and will stick by it. And so will the New York Times! But he worries about the next generation.
I was in Beijing… I was driving to the airport. Just as I was coming in an El Al plane landed… And I just thought, what an amazing time to be alive as a Jew in this era of the Jewish state when an El Al plane flies from Tel Aviv to Beijing. And I still get a buzz out of that. OK? And I know about that fatigue. I feel it some time myself. But I never feel it when I’m in Israel.
What does worry me most is– I met Abe Foxman in Herzl [Zionist Jewish] camp in Webster, Wisconsin, in 1962. We reenacted the Dreyfus trial every summer. Twice I was the French officer who got to rip his epaulets off and break his sword, OK?
Israel had me at hello. Whatever you think folks– don’t worry. In times of crisis, I know where I will be. When the Jewish state is under threat–
But I worry about– I’m 66, I’ve been the foreign affairs columnist [at the New York Times] for 21 years– what about the next generation? Will the next foreign affairs columnist– we got David Brooks, we got Bret Stephens, we’re all sort of the same generation, one that socialized in a different era– Will they [the next foreign affairs columnist] get that buzz when they see an El Al plane landing in Beijing? That’s what worries me.
This week the Watson Institue released its latest figures on the costs of U.S. intervention in the Middle East. $6.8 trillion that some Democratic candidates think could have been used better elsewhere. 800,000 deaths directly and several times that number indirectly.