Thomas Friedman, the man who is consistently wrong about the Middle East, must have decided to break his long losing streak by simply writing nothing. Friedman, the most influential foreign affairs columnist in the world, has published 19 opinion pieces in the New York Times since June 1 — but only two of them were about the Mideast, the area he lived in for years and where he made his journalistic reputation.
During that 5-month stretch, Friedman has ignored the vigorous debate about Israel’s threat to annex large portions of the occupied Palestinian West Bank, and he has also said nothing about the U.S.-Israeli violent campaign to goad Iran into conflict in the midst of the presidential campaign.
Friedman’s silence must be a calculated strategy to stop tarnishing his reputation even further. His biggest mistake was his enthusiastic endorsement of the U.S. invasion in 2003 (for which, unlike other mainstream pundits, he has never apologized, saying “I would do it again”). More recently, he gushed all over Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Prince Mohammed, as a “reformer” — until the prince ordered the murder and dismemberment of the dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. What’s vital to recognize that what Friedman gets wrong are not just “opinions,” but “facts.”
A couple of decades ago, the New Statesman magazine (the British equivalent of The Nation) published a fascinating article analyzing publications and simple accuracy. The magazine said we should set aside opinions, and look back at how various publications actually interpreted events as they happened. The magazine cited one memorable example: the British-French-Israeli 1956 invasion of Egypt to seize the Suez Canal, after Egypt’s leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, had nationalized the waterway. The New Statesman found that at the time the mainstream British newspapers had applauded the invasion, endorsing it as a triumph. By contrast, the Statesman had warned that Suez was misguided and would turn into a disaster — which is precisely what happened. The U.S. Eisenhower administration denounced the attack, forcing the invaders to withdraw, and British Prime Minister Anthony Eden had to resign.
The Statesman emphasized that “opinion” is not really at issue here — in 1956 you could have disliked Nasser and thought he shouldn’t have nationalized the canal, but still recognized the reality that the British-French-Israeli attack would turn out badly, even for the invaders.
Back to today. There’s clear evidence that the U.S. and Israel are trying to provoke Iran into conflict, which could turn into a disaster that would dwarf the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Friedman’s own paper has failed to fully report on this sabotage campaign, but it has at least covered it obliquely. Friedman’s colleagues on the Times editorial board have recognized that Trump’s latest sanctions on Iran are “collective punishment for tens of millions of innocent Iranians.” If Iran can be provoked into retaliating, America could be paying the consequences 20 years from now, just as the 2003 Iraq catastrophe spurred the rise of ISIS and other tragedies.
Thomas Friedman continues to squat on one of the most valuable pieces of journalistic real estate on the planet. And he continues to say nothing.