I let my subscription to the New Yorker lapse a little while back, but my friend and occasional commenter here, Alif Sikkiin, lent me a recent edition with a profile of Thomas Friedman by Ian Parker. Alif and I had pretty much the same reaction to the piece: that Parker cuts him down a bit, but ends up according Friedman far more respect than he deserves.
I just wanted to make a quick note on this bit of the piece (on p. 62):
Friedman understood the political and cultural context of Iraq well, but the prospect of war required him to make a choice—yes or no—and this did not come naturally. He knew that the judgment, once made, would become separated from its analytical roots. (In the event, that process was assisted by a clumsy comment Friedman made to Charlie Rose in May, 2003: he said, approvingly, that the American presence in Iraq was akin to saying “Suck on this” to Islamic terrorists.)
Apart from this talk of “analytical roots,” which gives the wholly misleading impression that Friedman has ideas, this seems to me an implausible reading of Friedman’s comments on Charlie Rose’s show. Go watch the video. Friedman is speaking passionately, but he’s also being very deliberate, and you can see that he’s choosing his words carefully. It would be bad enough if he had expressed the view that Parker attributes to him, since that view approves of actions that hurt innocents in order to annoy and depress adversaries (much in the way that terrorists do). But I don’t think that’s what Friedman is actually saying. Rather, the target of the “Suck on this” seems to be the broader Middle East, and an entire culture he finds fault with. It wasn’t terrorists that Friedman wanted the Iraq war to send a message to, it was everybody in the region.
Whatever. The final word on Friedman is always going to be Matt Taibbi’s review of “The Earth is Flat,” which has to be one of the best reviews ever written.*
* This review—same publication, different author—is another old favourite.