Friedman’s flip-flop: National columnist changes his tune on Iraq

Those who follow the political world know well the words of New York Times Foreign Affairs columnist Thomas Friedman. Tens of millions of people read his widely-syndicated columns every week and, like so many others in the mainstream media, Friedman was howling for blood after the attacks of 9/11, and boy did he get what he wanted. Buckets and buckets of blood. Now, however, Friedman has done something few others have had the guts to do. Dropping to his knees, beating his chest, and loudly proclaiming “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa,” he admits the Iraq War is a disaster and begs the country, for our own good, to leave 9/11 behind.

In this week’s column, “9/11 is over,” Friedman nails presidential candidate and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani as a 9/11 candidate and openly states that he will not vote for any candidate running on 9/11 in the next presidential election.  “9/11 has made us stupid,” he writes, “...our reaction—including mine—has knocked America completely out of balance, and it’s time to get things right again. Before 9/11, the world thought America’s slogan was: ‘Where anything is possible for anybody.’ But that is not our global brand anymore. Our government has been exporting fear, not hope: ‘Give me your tired, your poor and your fingerprints.’”

Friedman further pledges that he will withhold support for any candidate who does not promise to immediately dismantle the horrendous prison at Guantanamo and turn it into a “free field hospital for poor Cubans.”

He goes on to describe what has happened to our country during the last five years of our collective national insanity. We are the only major nation seeing our international travel rates drop significantly. Same for business travelers. He bemoans our falling bridges, crumbling infrastructure and gas-hog vehicles and chides readers to “Fly from Zurich’s ultra-modern airport to LaGuardia’s dump.”

What’s astounding about all of this is that Friedman has for years been a flag-waving supporter of globalization and American hegemony over world resources, politics, and economies. But no more. For some unknown reason, Friedman has even discovered that global warming isn’t some crack-pot, left-wing construct, but perhaps the most serious threat to humankind today.  For some reason, Friedman has finally figured out what has been so obvious to so many for so long.

While his epiphany from the ivory tower of his moneyed life of fame and international travel is laudable, those with long memories may recall a similar awakening from one of the architects of the Vietnam War, Robert S. McNamara. In his highly controversial and insightful book, In Retrospect, McNamara, who was Secretary of Defense under presidents Kennedy and Johnson, decries the calamity and disaster of the war into which he helped plunge our nation more than 40 years ago.

Like Iraq, it started with an inner circle of advisors who thought themselves the best and the brightest. We would win in Vietnam because we had to, because it was up to America to stop the march of communism in Southeast Asia or nation after nation would topple before the red horde. This was the so-called domino theory that, as we now know, was completely and irrevocably false. Just like the WMDs in Iraq.

It took McNamara 30 years after the end of the Vietnam War to make his confession to the world. Unfortunately, his confession came far too late to save the more than 56,000 Americans who died there and the hundreds of thousands who still bear the mental and physical scars of that senseless and bloody conflict. And that says nothing about the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese who were killed, maimed, and left to suffer in the chemical hell we created with Agent Orange defoliant on what had once been vibrant green landscapes.

For Friedman, the timeframe has been somewhat condensed. We have slaughtered and been slaughtered in Iraq for five years now, and have lost nearly 4,000 good Americans there. The toll of those with serious physical and mental wounds numbers in the tens of thousands. These days, we don’t even count the Iraqi casualties, insurgent or civilian. And once again, we are leaving behind another hellish legacy in the form of depleted uranium munitions that will poison Iraq for decades if not centuries to come.

Ironically, the subtitle of McNamara’s book is “The tragedy and lessons of Vietnam.” But one has to wonder, what lessons have we actually learned? Have we totally forgotten the grim visual of American choppers leaving the roof of our Saigon embassy in utter defeat while desperate Vietnamese collaborators tried to cling to the runners?

Just this week the U.S. Senate, now led by Democrats, voted to approve more than a half-trillion dollars for a single year of military funding and added another $140 billion on top of it to continue the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Has Congress read McNamara’s book? Have they read Friedman’s column?  Do they read anything at all that might throw light onto the ever-darker path down which they are leading our nation? Do they really think that you end wars by continuing to fund them? Or do they believe the twisted rhetorical spew emanating from the White House and the equally skewed statistics being thrown around by ambitious generals who don’t want to lose the war we have no chance of winning?

Friedman’s remarkable metamorphosis is, if anything, a hopeful sign that change is perhaps on the horizon. This insulated and privileged columnist has pulled his head out of the sand to speak truth to power. In his closing sentences, Friedman pounds home the obvious:  “We can’t afford to keep being this stupid! We need a president who will unite us around a common purpose, not a common enemy.” For just this once, I hope Congress—and every single presidential aspirant—is listening.

Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at


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