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Taibbi writes: "I know, this is getting very old. I promise, after this, to not mention Thomas Friedman for a long time. But his column today was so old-school, it deserves some attention."

Matt Taibbi at Skylight Studio in New York, 10/27/10. (photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images) Matt Taibbi at Skylight Studio in New York, 10/27/10. (photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

Rewrite Tom Friedman, Win a Free Hand Grenade

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

15 November 12


know, this is getting very old. I promise, after this, to not mention Thomas Friedman for a long time. But his column today was so old-school, it deserves some attention.

Friedman on the Middle East this morning:

Ever since the start of the Syrian uprising/civil war, I've cautioned that while Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Tunisia implode, Syria would explode if a political resolution was not found quickly. That is exactly what's happening...

What to do? I continue to believe that the best way to understand the real options - and they are grim - is by studying Iraq, which, like Syria, is made up largely of Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and Kurds. Why didn't Iraq explode outward like Syria after Saddam was removed? The answer: America.

Friedman's idea seems to be that ethnically-fractured Middle Eastern countries like Syria would be more stable today, if they'd only been occupied first and had their nation-states built on a foundation of political compromises brokered by a strong military power like the United States. Veteran Friedman readers know that this line of thinking usually leads to either an "iron fist" column, or a "midwife" column. Today, he went with both.

Friedman used to believe that Arabs were not physically capable of resisting the urge toward ethnic violence. Years ago, in an effort to explain what he called his "Pottery Barn" metaphor (the "You break it, you own it" line used to describe Iraq, and later appropriated by Colin Powell), Friedman remarked that in the case of Iraq, the pottery pieces were broken long before we arrived. They were, he said, "broken . . . by 1,000 years of Arab-Muslim authoritarianism, three brutal decades of Sunni Baathist rule, and a crippling decade of U.N. sanctions. [Iraq] was held together only by Saddam's iron fist."

So you had all of these pottery pieces being held together by an iron fist, but we took away the iron fist, and the pottery pieces fell apart again. This could have been fixed, he wrote, by inserting our own iron first, and commencing therapy, but we screwed that up, resulting in a vacuum: "Had we properly occupied the country, and begun political therapy, it is possible an American iron fist could have held Iraq together long enough to put it on a new course," he wrote. "But instead we created a vacuum by not deploying enough troops."

That was six years ago. Friedman was very down on Iraq then. "There are so many people killing so many other people for so many different reasons," he wrote, that Iraq is "not even the Arab Yugoslavia anymore. It's Hobbes's jungle." It was a jungle, he wrote, where we were "throwing more good lives after good lives into a deeper and deeper hole filled with more and more broken pieces."

An endlessly-deepening hole, containing broken pottery pieces at the bottom, rapidly filling up with the dead bodies of good people. That is a very strange and depressing image, and it's what Friedman saw in Iraq in 2006.

Now, however, Iraq looks good compared to Syria. In an attempt to explain how that could be, given that six years ago it looked quite a lot like our invasion of Iraq triggered a wave of ethnic violence, Friedman is re-explaining the history of the Iraq war.

It turns out that when we went into Iraq, we weren't trying to put back together the broken pieces of the national pottery that had been held together for so long by Saddam's iron fist. Rather, what we were doing was . . . well, let him explain (emphasis his):

For better and for worse, the United States in Iraq performed the geopolitical equivalent of falling on a grenade - that we triggered ourselves. That is, we pulled the pin; we pulled out Saddam; we set off a huge explosion in the form of a Shiite-Sunni contest for power. Thousands of Iraqis were killed along with more than 4,700 American troops, but the presence of those U.S. troops in and along Iraq's borders prevented the violence from spreading. Our invasion both triggered the civil war in Iraq and contained it at the same time.

So Saddam wasn't an iron fist holding together broken pottery pieces at all, but the pin in a metaphorical grenade in which the explosive power of inevitable civil war was contained. Why you wouldn't just leave a pin in such a grenade is anyone's guess, but we didn't - we pulled the pin and then sent 4,700 young Americans to throw their bodies on the explosion (i.e. the civil war). We contained the destructive power of this civil war by physically sealing off the borders, letting the fire of ethnic conflict "burn itself out," and by brokering a power-sharing agreement between the Kurds, Sunnis, and Shias. Then we left.

(However, Friedman notes grimly, "it is not at all clear that the deal will survive our departure," which would mean we didn't dive on a grenade at all, but merely set off an explosion that will ultimately destroy the entire region - but for now, termporarily, the jumping-on-a-grenade-we-ourselves-threw metaphor is holding.)

The lesson Friedman takes from all of this is that if you're trying to knock over an iron fist which is also a pin in a grenade, what you really need is a midwife. "If you're trying to topple one of these iron-fisted, multisectarian regimes," he writes, "it really helps to have an outside power that can contain the explosions and mediate a new order."

By which he means a midwife. Who is also a fireman:

There is no outside power willing to fall on the Syrian grenade and midwife a new order. So the fire there rages uncontrolled

By the end of the piece, Friedman suggests that what we really need to do is call Syria's lawyer, to see if he can broker an arrangement that would contain the fire, which in turn would prevent acid from flying out of the country and dissolving the "bonds" that are standing between the Middle East and chaos:

It's a real long shot, but we should keep trying to work with Russia - Syria's lawyer - to see if together we can broker a power-sharing deal inside Syria and a United Nations-led multinational force to oversee it. Otherwise, this fire will rage on and spread, as the acid from the Shiite-Sunni conflict eats away at the bonds holding the Middle East together and standing between this region and chaos.

I'll be awarding a replica hand grenade paperweight to the person who, in the comments section below, does the best one-paragraph summary of the metaphor-fest in today's Friedman piece. And please, if you do a submission, don't forget to check back to see if you won, so you can send me contact information. your social media marketing partner


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+67 # LeeBlack 2012-11-15 12:22
Quote:" Why didn't Iraq explode outward like Syria after Saddam was removed? The answer: America."

This is insane and terrifying.
+102 # ErnieY 2012-11-15 12:34
Tom Friedman’s column is composed of kitty litter of metaphors on the Syrian-Middle East situation, which explodes onto the field of verbal and ideological combat giving birth by way of the missing midwife to a dramatic misreading of the US role in Iraq, stitched together by darning needles of mock intelligence, self-congratula tory prose, and downright world-history presumptuousness.

--Ernie Y.
-102 # brux 2012-11-15 13:20
You're always free to rebut or write your own articles if you think you know better Ernie. A lot of people read Friedman's articles and want to know what he is thinking for some reason. Why not you?
+43 # David Starr 2012-11-15 14:34
Quoting Brux: "A lot of people read Friedman's articles and want to know what he is thinking for some reason. Why not you?"

Because he's part of a status quo that doesn't really think to begin with, at least regarding seeing "America" as another exception; more directly put, an empire with its own kind of superiority complex. Freidmans, like Milton and Thomas, are reactionary on that score, and economically, despite sounding intelligent.

Maybe included among those "many people" are like-minded, status quo reactionaries? And those who may simply be curious without taking Friedman seriously? I'd say both.
+26 # 666 2012-11-15 15:17
"Enquiring minds want to know"...

It's clear to me that friedman means that syria would be better off if, like iraq, the us just supervised the ethnic cleansing.
+25 # Smiley 2012-11-15 16:41
In order to start the ethnic conflict which furthered our "divide and conquer" strategy, we first had to disband the army,which was mixed. Then we had to pull off some false flag operations like blowing up the "Golden Dome". How many Americans know that there were more Shia in Sadam's government than Sunni? or that there were over a million mixed marriages? At least in Baghdad What denomination one belonged to was not how you picked your friends and acquaintances.
+2 # bmiluski 2012-11-15 14:38
Do you ever listen to yourself?
+96 # lisamoskow 2012-11-15 12:39
Yes you need to oppose the Friedman point of view.
Most people forget that the US went into Iraq to stop them from having "weapons of mass destruction"--w hich never existed. Or the other BS reason was to protect Americans from Al Qaida.
Someone needs to protect us from ourselves (or our "leaders") and correct the ridiculous idea that Americans are saving the world. By this same reasoning we need to be "deprived" of OUR weapons of mass destruction and punished for our policies which contributed so much to the strengthening the so-called Al Qaida.
-58 # brux 2012-11-15 13:17
There were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Not the way Rumsfeld said, but there were plans to revive the program had Saddam Hussein survived. But that was never "the" reason, only the sales pitch. Geopolitically it was more complex, which included oil and tactical ground near Iran.

The saving the world ideas is not really ridiculous, it too is a sales pitch. You should focus less on the sale pitch and more on serious findings and writings if you want to know the truth.

You seem to be saying that because a cartoon version of "something" exists that the orginal doesn't ... if you just cartoons. Turn off the TV my friend.

We are saving America, and of that, mostly the power status quo in America. Should you and I and Liberals in general succeed in bringing about a change in America to get it back to where it was before the plutocrats took over, we would one of the few most powerful nations to ever do so, and certainly we would want to defend ourselves and if what we were doing was right, offer it as a model for other countries. ( I said offer by the way, not force )

The problem with America is not that we are strong, or that we act, any action can be criticized and improved on. The problem is that for structural reasons we are not improving. Define and focus on the problem!
+36 # kularob 2012-11-15 13:36
Quoting brux:
There were weapons of mass destruction in Iran. Not the way Rumsfeld said, but there were plans to revive the program had Saddam Hussein survived.

This is pure speculation, contradictory, and probably wrong – unless you have inside information about Saddam's actual plans that the rest of world does not have...
-26 # brux 2012-11-15 14:00
Actually not, if you find Christopher Hitchen's credible he talked about it. Other reports as well. Weapons were also spirited out of the country to Syria and buried. I am not saying they were a threat, let alone an imminent threat, but they did exist along with Saddam's will to rebuild his military power.
+8 # kularob 2012-11-15 15:34
OK, perhaps the problem here lies in how one defines "weapons of mass destruction." I would suggest Condi Rice and her "mushroom cloud" imagery as one example of a weapon that didn't exist and never would...
+14 # PaineRad 2012-11-15 15:44
Dream on in your little Neocon bubble of delusions. Nothing, absolutely nothing, indicates that anything was shipped out to Syria or was buried.

We controlled the skies above Iraq for the entire decade prior to W's invasion. Our satellites were trained on the country for more than a decade. No photos, no nothing of anything remotely like WMDs being moved around exist or ever existed. The inspectors had already destroyed anything of value in the first few years. If anything had remained, time had already rendered it mostly inert.

But what are facts to those living in their own little fantasy?
+12 # David Starr 2012-11-15 14:58
Quoting Brux: "There were weapons of mass destruction in Iran. Not the way Rumsfeld said, but there were plans to revive the program had Saddam Hussein survived."

Don't you mean Iraq? Where is literal evidence of the "plans" that Saddam was going to revive "the program," when Iraq was facing economic santions, being constantly montitored, and losing its potential for WMD capability after the Gulf War? The latter facts negate those plans. And why focus on the "Butcher of Bagdhad" when he was overtly coddled by the U.S. under Reagan? Yeah, it's complex, which negates the use of cynical falsities based on the myth that ONE country has THE model for the rest of the world to follow, as though "nonAmericans" are not capable of forging democratic models based on, e.g., thier countries' historical characteristics.

Quoting: "The saving the world ideas is not really ridiculous, it too is a sales pitch. You should focus less on the sale pitch and more on serious findings and writings if you want to know the truth."

You should take your own advice. Being idealistic (preferably soberly), even with what you call a "sales pitch," is better than a sales pitch sounding too-moral-to-be -true, with a cynical, profit-driven sales pitch behind it. Stop watching cartoon characters on Fox. You can't use total pessimism to defend your perception of exceptionalism.

Quoting: "Define and focus on the problem!" Do you have any awareness at all that it's idelogically-dr iven?
0 # brux 2012-11-15 15:05
Iraq ... yeah.
+6 # brux 2012-11-15 15:09
I agree with you about education.
You should read the book "The Future Of Success" by Robert Reich ... it is brilliant, and talks all about why the system, and educational system as well in in the state it is in.

As I said, too much money and effort was put into Iraq, ie. squandered to put cash into the hands of private agreeable corporate hands, while taking money away from the government and replacing it with debt on the middle class.
-14 # brux 2012-11-15 15:10
> Nation building is not possible in the Middle East.

Until it is.

This is a new world, and Iraq is changed significantly. Stop hiding your head in the sand or being afraid to admit you are wrong, if you expect that Republicans should.
+3 # kularob 2012-11-15 16:29
The current state of Iraq in this new world you speak of is an example of nation-building in the Middle East? Or just an example of change? Not the same thing...
-8 # brux 2012-11-15 15:15
Violent metaphors resonate with Americans ... read the book "The Culture Code" by Clotaire Rappaille for a modern look at the American psyche and archetypes.

I don't have a knee-jerk reaction to a grenade metaphor, it's just words trying to express an idea.

Taibbi has done great work, but this is the problem with the profit center media ... people have to keep their faces out there and their good work slides because they have to do quantity instead of quality.
-12 # brux 2012-11-15 15:17
> Because he's part of a status quo that doesn't really think to begin with

You can believe that if you wish, but I how do you argue to keep that kind of broad prejudicial generalization from being turned right back and you?

Friedman is hardly reactionary. You need to recalibrate your political viewfinders.
+1 # David Starr 2012-11-19 14:35
@brux: If Friedman is on the right, the odds are he's reactionary, but with proper, and improper, use of words.

Is it really a generalization? I've seen enough of the comments from the right, and not be generalized about it, but nowadays in particular, with the number of Akins pulled, to be curious, amazed and specific in, e.g., the works of Freidman.
+1 # AndreM5 2012-11-15 15:47
IRAN???? What are you talking about?
+2 # Fairbs 2012-11-15 16:29
So when you find out the 'deal' is even worse than the sales pitch, you revise the story ala Friedman?

And what exactly are we being saved from? Please leave me out of your PNAC world view. I don't think our world role is the cop or lining the pockets of the defense contractors which by the way accounts for 50% of the federal budget.
+1 # ericlipps 2012-11-15 16:42
Quoting brux:
There were weapons of mass destruction in Iran. Not the way Rumsfeld said, but there were plans to revive the program had Saddam Hussein survived.

Don't you mean Iraq? Oh, hell, what's the difference? All those Moose-Limb countries are alike.

And, oh, yes--if WMDs were in Iraq, why coldn't the U.S. troops who ransacked the country looking for them find any? If they had, John McCain might be president today.
-11 # brux 2012-11-15 17:51
The only thing multiples of you dolts have to say when you know what i am talking about it to point out a typo?

that kind of proves you have nothing to say, so why bother to advertise it?
+52 # readerz 2012-11-15 14:51
One weapon of mass destruction lurks in every town and city in America, and that is the lack of higher education. Children know that only the rich kids will get to go to college, so many of them don't try. Towns and cities fall apart.

Think of how many schools we built in Iraq; we could have sent all our students to school for free, and funded a lot of other stuff too. All I still see is WMDs everywhere in America.
+62 # egbegb 2012-11-15 12:49
Metaphors, shmetaphore, America should exit the Middle East 100%.
Nation building is not possible in the Middle East.
+36 # madams12 2012-11-15 15:02
IT AINT OUR JOB to be 'nation building'...
+5 # independentmind 2012-11-17 11:39
Quoting egbegb:
Metaphors, shmetaphore, America should exit the Middle East 100%.
Nation building is not possible in the Middle East.
or advisable. Just plain wrong.
-111 # brux 2012-11-15 13:10
I am fine considering anything Taibbi has to say, but it seems that most if not virtually all of his articles are reactions about other people's ideas.

I think Friedman has the credentials to express ideas and not be treated like some kind of idiot. You or I may not agree with him, but his opinion has a weight to it whatever you think of it.

I have to disrespect journalism that is about the Orwellian installation of a certain mindset, be it right-wing or left-wing, by condescension, expressions of contempt, this is writing for a moron audience, and Taibii seems to me to be treating his audience like they are stupid.

Because most of this audience is so unsophisticated Taibbi has to talk about the US falling on a grenade that we set ourselves, when indeed it was the British who set up all these rivalries to better manage their empire.

The problem with the Iraq war is not that it happened, it is an improvement over what was before, but that it was mismanaged and cost so much in terms of lives and cash, and was crudely implemented and costly for Iraqis as well. That said, every experience the US military gets does make them smarter, even if it is very very slowly ... ie, military intelligence oxymoron.

These pandering articles to keep ones name and affliliation in the public eye are not for any other purpose other than to promote Taibbi's career, which surely he does have to do like any other journalist.
+100 # dkonstruction 2012-11-15 13:37
First, Taibbi was responding to Fridman's use of the grenade metaphor so why don't you discount what Friedman says because he used this metaphor? Hardly consistant.

More importantly, to so matter-of-factl y say that "The problem with the Iraq war is not that it happened, it is an improvement over what was before" means that one cares nothing about the 500,000 iraqi children that were killed as a result of the sanctions that the US (under Bill Clinton) pushed for or the anywhere from 100,000 to 1,000,000 Iraqi civilians that died during the war. By any measure an appalling position and hard to believe you or anyone else can really believe this or be so callous and indifferent towards the lives of other mostly innocent d, sorry, but chalking it up to "management problems" doesn't make it any better.

As for Taibbi as a journalist....n ame me one other american investigative journalist who has done better (or in many regards anything even nearly as good) reporting on the banks (just to name one of the areas he has focused on) in recent years?
+33 # Eliza D 2012-11-15 16:06
Great rebuttal.
+42 # David Starr 2012-11-15 15:20
@brux: You say it's fine with you to consider Tiabbi's say. You say Friedman has credentials to express ideas and not be treated like some kind of idiot. You use the term Orwellian as being an installation of a certain mindset.

On top of that, you blame the British empire (deservedly so) as though to draw attention from the U.S.'s own empire, it being based on imperial foreign policy rather than colonial, as with the British. Sounds kinda LaRouchian.

But you claim that most of Tiabbi's audience is unsophisticated . And that he's writing for morons. And that his articles are pandering. You appear to be a little Orwellian yourself, not just in defending Friedman, but in ignoring his own stance of "objectivity" as a right-wing pundit. Who has more illusions of exceptionlaism? The Left or the right? Or the center (which now in the U.S. is right-leaning)?

Quoting: "The problem with the Iraq war is not that it happened, it is an improvement over what was before..." This sounds like an appeal to Manifest Destiny, i.e., U.S. leaders having the "God-given right" to "civilize" other countries. I don't think, particularly after the number of deaths, that Iraqis were in the mood to give U.S. "liberators" flowers and chocolates. This is a 19th century kind of "American," arrogant assumption. Saddam was a moderate, remember, according to U.S.leaders, then suddenly a "devil?" Sounds Orwellian.

Buddy, you're in no position to lecture others here about implied morality.
-33 # brux 2012-11-15 19:02
Unsophisticated does not mean moron, why can you either not understand what i am saying or you cannot resist twisting it to make your own "moronic" arguments.

A moron is dangerous in his stupidity, whereas unsophisticated just means not conversant with finer details of the subject.

You can waste you whole day posting this kind of stuff, but I don;t appreciate you spinning my posts to your DISliking, and wasting my time when you have no intention of having an actual discussion or dialog, or learning or admitting when you are wrong.

You are the energizer bunny of unsophisticatio n, that is for sure, but past a certain point it becomes will ignorance and dishonesty.

I am not interested in what my posts sound like to you when you cannot carry on a conversation with distortion, or making a big deal about a typo, or in general trying to paste over your glaringly small world view.
+17 # ksan51 2012-11-16 10:13
Glaringly small worldview?

I'm sorry to say that @David Starr's worldview is far larger than yours. Like he said, your belief that Friedman has a meaningful opinion is predicated on the idea that we as the United States have this whole democracy thing all figured out. Friedman and his like choose to willingly ignore the fact that we tend to cause more problems than we solve. They think we have all the answers, and that every other nation in the world should listen to us. As David Starr pointed out, that is the definition of Orwellian.

You call him out for picking what you wrote apart, but then you pick apart his defense of Taibbi's audience. Huh? You can't decry someone's actions, then just turn around and do the same thing. Nonsense man.

Not to mention that a broad statement like yours about Taibbi's audience is insulting and patently ridiculous. Do you know who reads his articles? Broad generalizations are dangerous, and have no place in this conversation, regardless of what you meant by the word 'unsophisticated'.

You need to quit projecting onto others. If you disagree with Taibbi, fine, you are entitled to your opinion, but attacking his journalistic integrity simply because you don't agree with him is the height of duplicity.

You feign incredulity at other people's opinions, but can't understand when you receive the same reaction. Ironic, huh?
+2 # David Starr 2012-11-19 14:46
@brux: Unsophisticated can be a derogatory term...and you know it. I didn't equate this word with moron. Whose doing the "twist" here?

Regarding a dialogue, you don't seem very civil for one. And with that, you again contradicted yourself.

If you're not interested in what I think of your posts, and visa versa, why do you need to post that assertion in the first place?
+50 # Smiley 2012-11-15 16:56
My god man! We took the most advance and educated country in the Middle east (outside of Israel) and damn near sent them back to the stone age. We're responsible for the deaths of probably 1 out of every 20 Iraqis and made 1 out of every 9 flee their country and they were the most educated and skilled. On top of that we started a Civil War which is still going on.
+21 # X Dane 2012-11-16 03:35
Friedman is a neocon. He obviously was all for our invading Iraq. However there were no noble. "Operation iraqi Fredom" involved.
We like smart sounding acronyms, but the one first suggested, had to be mixed because it was too damn close to the truth.

It was "operation Iraqi liberation" Right!! it sure had to be scrapped in a hurry....OIL!!! We don't need to SCREAM our intentions.

For all the noble Bull was just that...... Bush Cheney wanted the oil, but of course you can't say straight out what you want, so it has to be dressed in a noble LIE...Freeing Iraq!

Of course Friedman was on board. Iraq was supporting the bad guys who threatened Israel, so they had to be eliminated.

Never mind that we killed many more than Saddam did. We also destroyed an already fragile infrastructure. Lots to be proud of...right Friedman.
Unfortunately Friedman's opinion has weight
He is a Dinosaur. His thinking is way past the date of expiration.
+31 # carp 2012-11-15 13:18
Freaking Neo Con. Make War Make Profit!!!!
+74 # TomDegan 2012-11-15 13:33
A special tip of the hat to Mat Taibbi. He reads Tom Friedman so I don't have to.

Tom Degan
+17 # kularob 2012-11-15 13:33
Metaphors and allegory are useful tools when a writer wants to explain a belief system. Using those tools to try and describe real-world events is simply a literary exercise. Friedman needs to submit a column regularly, and filler like the above is one way to meet a deadline...
+45 # douna 2012-11-15 13:41
Based on the best available advice from foreign-policy consultant Thomas Friedman, President Barack Obama said today that "we believe this covers the whole court," as he announced plans for an airlift to Syria, "as soon as it is practical," of 1,000 modified hurt lockers, each of which will contain: one armed hand grenade; one fake hand grenade; one Marine ordered to pull the pin and fall on the grenade; one 25 Syrian pound coin to flip to determine which pin to pull; one exit visa to use if the fake grenade is chosen; one sample child custody-sharing agreement, in Russian; one copy of Why Can't We All Just Get Along? by Aunty Moose (Arabic version); one bottle, tincture of black and blue cohosh; one set of forceps; one swaddling blanket; one jar of Magic Sculpt epoxy putty; and one fire hose with universal coupling.
+13 # Billsy 2012-11-15 14:15
I hope you get the grenade trophy. well written satire.
+6 # chicagoflygirls 2012-11-15 16:37
You should win .... nice summary.
+1 # David Heizer 2012-11-15 22:32
You guys do realize he's not checking the RSN comments, right?
+56 # DakotaKid 2012-11-15 13:44
Contrast the tightly reasoned analysis of Matt Taiibi with the boilerplate Tom Friedman grinds out in a column that nobody who isn't an apologist for Israel can take seriously. Friedman remains oblivious to the dire consequences of the Bush-Cheney decision to invade and occupy Iraq. He's quite possibly the most overrated journalist in America. The fact that he's so very predictable is a sure sign he's run out of ideas and can't get beyond his own personal biases. One wonders why anyone bothers to read anything he writes anymore.
+3 # wrknight 2012-11-16 08:41
I don't
+6 # Texas Aggie 2012-11-16 14:34
He's quite possibly the most overrated journalist in America.

That may be true, but there are many giving him a good run for his money. If David Brooks isn't in the lead, he's hot on Friedman's tail coming into the turn.
+18 # dick 2012-11-15 14:05
Tom went to sleep for a few years, quite a few. And he still thinks it's all about Tom. It's revealing that the Times keep him around, WAY past his time, if he ever really had one.
+16 # wilderness 2012-11-15 14:12
Let's see:
First we go in and sever the iron fist which morphs into a grenade we must then fall upon, producing the inadvertent caesarian birth of an uncontrollably screaming little bastard to whom we must administer a good kick in the butt before diapering in an attempt to secure the meconium streaming from Friedman's mouth.
Is that about it?
+8 # AMLLLLL 2012-11-15 19:51
wilderness; other than the Suez birth canal, I think you've got it!
+4 # MendoChuck 2012-11-15 14:14
Yeah . . . Right!
Nice fantasies from sources that kinda make things up as they go along. Maybe we need to send Indiana Jones over there. He was good at doing that sort of thing.

Lets talk about Afghanistan and see how well that is working out.
I would suggest perhaps, two hand grenades.
+11 # peterjmck1 2012-11-15 14:18
Forget the competition, Tom, but I love your unrelentingly delicious tracking of Friedman and his hyperbole masquerading as serious journalism.
Your column confirms my view of Friedman as an original "empty vessel" that ends up in shards when he implodes under the weight of his grand bouffe explication. He ends up as the Middle Eastern idiot with a tale of "metaphor and bombast, signifying nothing" (apologies to WS)....
+14 # fredboy 2012-11-15 14:24
Friedman summary: America, the world's most powerful duct tape, should be applied in generous portions to halt the delinquency of all fractured nations of value.
+1 # dovelane1 2012-11-18 04:12
And if duct tape doesn't work, there is always WD-40 to grease the skids.

(Speaking of metaphors...)
+5 # WitsEnd 2012-11-15 14:26
In a giant sound and light show, Mr. Suck.On.This. breathtakingly used a chainsaw to pound nails into my head. The refugees thus dislocated past artificial borders contained interconnected unstable explosions of linked brethren worthy of a Sarah Palin word salad. Please Mr. Suck.On.This. do not lob any more grim acidic mortars into my aching brain.

I see there is hope! Hope in America.
+21 # David Starr 2012-11-15 14:26
Quoting Friedman: "Why didn't Iraq explode outward like Syria after Saddam was removed? The answer: America."

This is another statement from the right-wing village of idiots. Iraq was a debacle, a quagmire, a mess after the falsified-provo ked, imperial war of W (Witless). Again, we have another example of an antiquated exceptualism reflecting empire from another antiquated mind.

But what about Saddam? He was removed for the wrong reasons. Why should one sensibly trust U.S. leaders when they cynically aided Saddam, once calling him a "moderate," (well, that does reflect his secularism), then giving him the false impression, through U.S. ambassador April Glaspie, that it was O.K. to invade Kuwait (perhaps the biggest reason being that Kuwait was slant-drilling Iraq's oil), then, contradicting that sentiment with a Persian Gulf War (with the lie that Iraqi troops were taking Kuwaiti babies out of their incubators to kill them), then when one of their "nephews" (Saddam) starts acting a little independent, he's transformed by the U.S. status quo into "evil-incarnate ." Given the imperial history, I find it incomprehensibl e that a Friedman (whether Milton or Thomas) can be trusted with commentary; even journalism.
+15 # AMLLLLL 2012-11-15 19:57
I must say that Halliburton was the only company equipped with the horizontal drilling capacity, and therefore at the center of the storm. Follow the money; it leads to Cheney.
+5 # karenvista 2012-11-15 22:45
Quoting AMLLLLL:
I must say that Halliburton was the only company equipped with the horizontal drilling capacity, and therefore at the center of the storm. Follow the money; it leads to Cheney.

Just went to an industry website and read Halliburton's copy on their slant drilling capabilities.

I also read a very interesting post about a military satellite imagery expert who noticed in early 2004 that a brightly lit corridor had popped up from Kuwait to the Iraqi border that he said looked like infrastructure built for drilling with lots of structures that looked like oil wells with gas flares on the Iraqi side of the border.

Since Iraq wasn't exporting oil at that time he suspected that we were stealing oil from their southern fields with the help of Kuwait while we were prosecuting the war against Iraq.
+17 # pstamler 2012-11-15 14:35
Summary of Friedman's column:

"You see? You see? I was right to support the invasion of Iraq. Never mind that it was a disaster -- the wonderful results justified it. We saved Iraq from the Iraqis. We should do it again in Syria."

Mr. Friedman should have been required to attend the homecomings at Dover AFB to see what his constructive destruction did to our soldiers. Not to mention what it did to Iraqi civilians -- but they're just pieces on his Big Chessboard.
0 # David Starr 2012-11-19 14:57
Quoting pstmler: "We saved Iraq from the Iraqis." Yeah, this is akin to "destroying the village in order to save it."
+16 # Philothustra 2012-11-15 14:37
The only way to flush out the power vacuum in Syria and install new political sewer lines is by bringing in Syria's master plumber-- Russia-- the only superpower willing and able to hose down the Baath-room and roto-rooter out the hideous buildup of Sunnis, Catholics and worst of all, backed up Kurds who are unable to pull together and squeeze out a Fresh Kurd,

Americans stand ready to pull the plug on the whole mess, but we should remember: when we pulled out on Saddam; we set off a huge explosion in the form of a bursting Shiite pipe and subsequent raw spill all across Syria, Jordan, Turkey and especially... especially " Shite" Iran.

Flush from a masterful squat and shoot occupation of the porcelein throne in Afghanistan, and from clawing defeat from the jaws of victory in Shite-covered Iraq, American troops will only have to drive 600 miles to find a Baath room to battle in Syria. But anyone who has ever squatted atop an improvised explosive device in an Istanbul water closet knows that you can be sitting pretty one minute -- and blown sky-high by pent up putrescence the next.
Thomas Crapper, Plumber Pundit
+2 # mikeandnettie 2012-11-16 08:53
Great shiit - you win. Mail the grenade to your plumber along with your check.

It's obvious that no country should be flushing M-80's down other people's toilets!
+5 # readerz 2012-11-15 14:44
While America couldn't wait to insert itself into the oil fields of Iraq, America isn't as interested in Syria. Don't think camels, think Damascus brocades: there is an identity in these places; the native Christians get along with the Muslims. Britain redrew maps and put power into the Saudi family (convenient business partners of the British at the time of the Armistice of 1918). Most people don't have any idea about this history; they are cannon fodder for these families which fund schools that teach extremist doctrine. Hence the extremist schools in Afganistan; before those were built by the Saudis, there were women going to universities. As to the involvement of the United States for or against: this really has a lot less to do with the outcome than who we put into power past and future. Damascus is the home of one of the Christian Patriarchates, already moved its address once, of Antioch; whatever is being played out might also have to do with a behind the scenes battle for control of Jerusalem; not the city, but the Holy Sepulchre... you guessed it, the Crimean War all over again. Perhaps why Mitt thinks that Russia is our number one enemy; he's Indiana Jones. But I think that Mitt was more worried about oil in the arctic. Frankly, Syria exploding makes almost no sense. Don't trust anything that the Saudis say is "pro-democracy. " But also don't trust anything at all that a dictator says is "keeping order."
-4 # brux 2012-11-15 15:28
Maybe you don't realize it but most of WWII was won in the Middle East by cutting off Germany's and Italy's source of oil. Read about the

Thinking strategically is necessary for our country.

Read about the Battle of the Caucasus -
-4 # brux 2012-11-17 12:17
Hmmm, the -3 rating here says that the people here on RSN do not believe the US needs strategic thinking ... amazing. Certainly not much of it here on RSN.
+3 # David Starr 2012-11-19 15:07
@brux: If you start preaching on the "moral high ground" again to others here, you will get it thrown back in your face. You launch into derogatory-like comments about others, but when you get the same medicine, you cry foul.

You made another wrong assumption about people here, i.e., that the U.S. doesn't need strategic thinking. I think what most would say here, one way or another, is that the U.S. doesn't need to be an empire of capital. That doesn't mean discarding strategy.

Anything else you want to wrongly assume?
0 # video4315 2012-11-15 14:57
Entropy--nature moves towards a disordered state.
Newton's Third Law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction
Three Laws of Life:
1) Everything has got to go somewhere.
2) Everything is connected to everything.
3) There is no such thing as a free lunch.
+2 # mikeandnettie 2012-11-15 15:12
Even Friedman's metaphore stinks. The serious grenades nowadays are thermobaric and the force is thus not point-source absorbed by the juicy mass of a body. A lot like the Middle East. As for blaming the Brits, I say no no, it was all Tamir-Lane's fault for throwing off the Mongol yoke and spreading his religion all over Southwest Asia among different peoples, thereby setting up these internecine rivalries that are fulminating to this day. And before him there was this wierd idea that caught on that there was a single divine being who took sides. And before that there were all these quirky gods who schemed among themselves and pushed humans around like pawns. And before that.....

People actually keep believing all this stuff, so nothing will change till human nature changes. So just light up and enjoy the show.
-8 # melchiade 2012-11-15 15:21
Cruel eggs spawned in the womb of Arab primitivism were fertilized over more than a thousand years by Islam to produce a deformed fetus, to escape the horrors of which a fierce tyrant had to step up to block the birth canal, until a caesarian section could be performed by non-Arab midwives who know how to explode the womb in a confined space so that bands of iron can be applied giving time for IV drips of civilized principles to be administered until a functioning human is born who can be safely admitted to the Club of States.
+3 # wrknight 2012-11-16 08:50
OMG! We just went from one bad metaphor to a worse one.
-4 # wilderness 2012-11-15 15:29
OK, Matt, let me see if I got this right.
First we go in and sever the "iron fist" which immediately morphs into a grenade upon which we must throw ourselves, inadvertently creating the C-section delivery of an uncontrollable screaming little bastard requiring a midwife to slap its butt hard before securing it in a diaper to catch further release of meconium like Friedman's.
Is it something like that?
+1 # wrknight 2012-11-16 08:51
Will these stupid metaphors never stop?
0 # mikeandnettie 2012-11-16 09:10
I love your avatar. All my life I've wanted a white dog with pointed ears.
+7 # MJnevetS 2012-11-15 15:35
Matt, I hope this summary will educate those trying to understand the "metaphor-fest in today's Friedman piece":

Imploding Middle Eastern d (you don’t get hit with the flying body parts, not so messy).

Exploding Middle Eastern countries...bad (VERY messy).

American Iron Fist...good (except when it breaks pottery)

Arabs...bad (especially to the other kinds of Arabs, since they have broken lots of old pottery.)

American Iron Fist...good (because the pottery was already broken, so we don't have to pay for it.)

Vacuums...bad (They break pottery, BUT, with enough suction power, they can clean up even the biggest shards)

Throwing a grenade and then falling on it is a lot less painful if you don’t pull the pin.

If you do pull the pin, don’t let anyone else near the grenade (IMPORTANT safety tip!)

If no one is willing to fall on the grenade you’re going to need a midwife (I guess that’s because you’re F$%&ED)

You are also going to need a lawyer (It is unclear whether this is for paternity or child support from being F$%&ED.)

The lawyer should also defend the fireman (Is he the father?) from criminal charges for illegal distribution of acid (I think it must be the brown acid, because this has been a bad trip, with lots of chaos!)
+5 # mikeandnettie 2012-11-16 08:29
Hey, everything has its good side. It was bad acid that helped me to convince the shrink that I was unfit to travel to a foreign, exotic country, meet interesting people and kill them.
0 # MJnevetS 2012-11-16 12:35
Quoting mikeandnettie:
Hey...It was bad acid that helped me to convince the shrink that I was unfit to travel to a foreign, exotic country, meet interesting people and kill them.
Speaking of which, how did you like Woodstock? ;-)
+1 # mikeandnettie 2012-11-16 15:34
I can't remember.

But that getting off scene in the trailer in that movie about the gay kid who organized it in which that stony riff from Forever Changes keeps playing and everyone gets all sweaty almost sent me into a flashback!

O ohh, here I go again.....
+9 # Ken 2012-11-15 15:56
Friedman's great talent is to construct plausible narratives from little information. That makes him dangerous, because the human mind loves narrative and will tend to seize it to help make sense of what otherwise appears to be a jumble of data. Friedman undoubtedly believes his own narratives, since his self-awareness is low and his humility is non-existent. To people highly informed about the subjects he talks about, of course, the narratives are not plausible at all. The rest of us just have to note what Friedman has done again and again, and not be taken in, even in those instances when his narrative agrees with our preconceptions and stokes our egos.
+1 # R Miller 2012-11-15 16:20
Easy. The "grenade" of multicultural war is like an unstable universe that, once it explodes that give rise to new universes. The mono-cultural authoritarian iron fist keeping that grenade from exploding is, however, being corroded by the acid of the Islamic fundamentalist culture--and will result in a detonation. Once the explosion occurs, a stable and superior nation can properly channel ("midwife") the conflagration in a way that new and more stable political entites are the result. Of course, this process may involve extralegal activities, so we should first clear things with the authorities actually controlling the iron fist i.e. the IF's attorney.
0 # stonecutter 2012-11-15 17:09
This is my summary:

Friedman is deeply concerned about Iraqi sanafran, and the very likely probability the U.S. will exfoliate the entire underlying califragilistic s of Syria, just as it did when it recalcitrated the surge and offset the Sunnis and Shiites under the same international framasat. Frankly, this explains the whole thing as far as I'm concerned, snd demonstrates the crystal clear exponunciation of Friedman's legendary point of view on the Middle East.
-12 # egbegb 2012-11-15 17:31
Nation building sounds good on paper. When the nation builder and its citizens have no clue of the cultural, religious or racial background of the "nation" in question, democracy might not be the best approach.

My view is that for countries like AF where Taliban+Al Qaeda
made war on America - We should go in, bomb them into the stone age, kill as many as we can and get out all within 6 months. We would make it economically painful for them to
continue in their barbaric ways. That recipe for AF, IQ and Viet Nam would have saved 10's of thousands of American lives and freed up real estate on the Washington DC Mall -- some of the sadest real estate I know of.

We must disabuse ourselves of "American Interests Abroad" as defined by *career* foreign services employees.
+5 # reiverpacific 2012-11-15 17:39
Two comments.
1. Remember when "The pin in the Grenade" was "OUR" pin -or bad guy? Smiling Saddam and Rumsfeld shaking hands, and who supplied the explosives for this metaphorical weapon? The "pin" was in my opinion smothered, when that "Naughty bad guy" was condemned and hung by a court beholden to the invaders.
2. The big lie to invade was an all-American push by those who instigated the "Project for a new American Century" and holy Tony Blair, their obedient patsy (I well remember Dimwits being told that there were both Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq and his reply "I thought they were all Arabs"!). And HE had all this power to unleash!
If a succession of War-Lords and tribal factions of whatever persuasion, as is currently the case, constant suicide bombings and fire-bombings in Iraq isn't a form of implosion, I'm Queen Lizzie of England.
I've never heard this Freidman guy speak but I'd love to hear somebody like Tariq Ali or Michael Parenti, who've forgotten more on the subject than he seems to know, debate him. His style seems obtuse, declamatory, torturous and glibly self-contradictory.
A little more metaphor in the shape of pottery pieces -from the same general region in the golden age of Persian poetry:
"For in the Market-Place, one dusk of Day,
I watch'd the Potter slapping his wet Clay
And with it's all-obliterated Tongue
It murm'red - "Gently Brother, gently, pray".
0 # kedj11 2012-11-15 18:37
Here's for the Hand Grenade:

Stop the Presses and Get the Pottery Barn's Firefighting Midwife's Lawyer on phone, the Broken Baathist Iron Fisted Hand Grenade has Exploded all over Syria and it's an all out Mother of ALL CLUSTERF*UCKS that THREATENS the Entire Region!!!!!!
+6 # Robert B 2012-11-15 18:56
As the New Yorker says, "Block that metaphor!" Friedman lost me after his interview with Playboy magazine, in which he said that the reason we should invade Iraq is because we can. That was enough for me. Haven't read him since. But this column suggests he could use some professional help.
+5 # speedboy 2012-11-15 19:38
Friedman is a "human manure-spreader ", fertilizing ignorance to be used against the ignorant amongst us!
+2 # Realist1948 2012-11-15 20:21
To summarize: Saddam was the pin in the powerful grenade that was Iraq in 2003. When Bush and the neo-cons pulled the (King) pin out, the powerful mix of Sunni, Shiites and Kurds blew up, scattering pottery shards all around the cradle of civilization. Moral: If you are pulling something out of a pregnant situation and don't want to leave a mess in the cradle, be sure to enlist the aid of an expert midwife. Putin may not look like a midwife, but trust me... when it comes to Syria, he knows his way around. Ready Syrian rebels? OK... now push!!!
+4 # Philothustra 2012-11-15 21:32
Apparently my most recent missive was not recognized as parody, done at the orders of M.
Taibbi. I am NOT a neocon and the potty talk was simply inspired by a morning visit from a plumber who charged me $350. I still think I deserve the handgrenade paperweight.
The point is, Tom Friedman is indeed risible, small coin indeed, but unfortunately he is received in many Middle Eastern capitals as the voice of US foreign policy and intellect.
+4 # ericlane 2012-11-16 03:35
Pin in a grenade? Are we kidding ourselves? The invasion of Iraq was the worst foreign policy blunder in US history. It was more like a tsunami or nuclear explosion. The consequences? We removed Iran's historical enemy, allowed the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Iraqui civilians, millions of Iraquis fled to foreign lands, and we have imposed a political system that may or may not survive. I can't believe Mr. Friedman would call this a policy that should be emulated in Syria. In Syria we have a dictator who learned at his father's knee: you use the iron fist on your people. You don't give them any wiggle room. The problem with this 'world' outlook is that humanity and non-elites have moved on. Only arcane despots hang on to power until they are guillotened. Grenade? Hardly. We are witnessing the nuclear explosion of people wanting a better life.
+1 # GDC707 2012-11-16 03:51
I think he is saying that the U.S. is like a giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of the middle east relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like oil.
0 # walthe310 2012-11-16 10:45
A popular sport in the Middle East today is the game of kick the grenade. In practice, the game is played with the pin in the grenade, while in actual play the pin is removed. The object of the game is to kill or maim all of the opposing players until one team wins by the survival of one or more of its players. There are two leagues, the Iron Fist league and the Midwife league. Teams are organized by country and usually divided into Sunni and Shiite teams. The Sunni teams are owned by Saudi Arabia, and the Shiite teams are financed by Iran. Osama bin laden was a star player on the Sunni, al-Qaeda team before his untimely death.At season's end, the winning team receives the Pottery Barn trophy.
+2 # DavidZ 2012-11-16 13:25
The Middle East is like a bicycle tire, Syria is the valve, the American media is the bicycle pump, and I’m the pumper. Now, as I mentioned in The World is Flat, the world is flat. So using the media as my pump, I start pumping and pumping, until the once flat world becomes not flat anymore. It becomes round. I discuss this in The World is Round Again. BTW, sales are what really determines the accuracy of my interpretations or catch phrases; turns out the only thing flat about the world was the revenue on that book. So… I, the pumper, keep pumping the Middle East up, until: Kaboom! That’s right folks. Like a balloon popping. And now you’ve really got a mess. Can you imagine what chaos would look like in that region? So we’ll need to call Russia, the lawyer and get the contact info for their housekeeper, Lucia, who is the Red Cross. She’ll clean it all up. By the way Matt, I need to correct something. I’m in a pending slander suit with Williams-Sonoma , Inc. It turns out you don’t actually have to buy something you break in a Pottery Barn. What Colin and I were trying to say (albeit with our clumsy metaphor) is that the arms and legs that get blown off the people when we invade a Middle East country have as much value to us as a wine glass or an ashtray you drop while shopping for a bridal shower. U.S. foreign policy doesn’t cause human suffering. Bad metaphors do. I hope I’ve cleared things up.
T. “the pumper” Friedman
+13 # JayaVII 2012-11-16 13:58
a too-late poetic entry to the contest --

The Battle Cry of Friedman

If the midwife falls on a hand grenade
While a fireman weeps at the grim charade,
And the acid eats through cultural bonds,
As invisible hands wave magical wands.

If down with a puff goes the house of cards
While the bodies pile midst the pottery shards,
And the metaphors zing like shots in the night,
They mutate and flicker, then fade out of sight.

If analogies throng to frolic and play,
And colliding, they cancel and hurry away.
If, wits battered and shell-shocked, you utter a groan,
Then you know you have entered the Friedman Zone.
+3 # JJM 2012-11-16 16:44
Friedman's typical conservative "Father knows best" mentality is why the United States will probably never be the "answer" to any country's turmoil. How much do you think we would have appreciated this kind of speculation/int ervention from the Brits during our own civil war? Think it would have helped much? We shoot first and then can't come up with solutions later so let's blame Russia (or whatever appropriate boogeyman) instead. I still never understand how we continue to make it this far in spite of own stupidity.
+4 # Nick Reynolds 2012-11-16 16:52
Keep your hand grenade. Thomas Friedman is not to be trusted. He's a neocon. But the US didn't invade Iraq to get the oil. We invaded Iraq for the same reason we got the Bush tax cuts and Medicare prescription drugs paid for by Uncle Sam. All three were to help George Bush get re-elected. It's obscene, but it's that simple.
+1 # grandma lynn 2012-11-17 00:16
Didn't you omit that we also got the 911 attacks also to buttress a planned power-grab?
+1 # grandma lynn 2012-11-17 00:14
Quoting 666:
"Enquiring minds want to know"...

It's clear to me that friedman means that syria would be better off if, like iraq, the us just supervised the ethnic cleansing.

"Throw the baby out with the bath water."
+1 # Vegan_Girl 2012-11-17 13:57
I don't have a summary, Matt. I just wanna say I love your writing. A lot of common sense and a lot of heart, and a bit of poetry. Please keep it coming.
0 # vilstef 2012-11-17 14:28
Friedman: 50% raving pundit, 50% not good with metaphor and simile, 50% lousy with math. . .
0 # grrbear 2012-11-17 19:40
HAHAHA, Matt, this is hilarious! Almost as funny as all the seriously somber rebuttal comments.

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