Being a pundit means never having to say you’re sorry.
Thomas Friedman can wax pompous on the Iraq disaster, as he did in Sunday’s New York Times, without acknowledging his own cheerleading for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which led directly to the current catastrophe.
In his piece, Friedman chastises everyone from Iran to the Arabs for the calamity in Iraq in his usual glib style. (He actually uses the phrase: “This Bud’s for you.”) But one principal actor is missing: the Bush invasion Friedman backed. He should read terrorism expert Peter Bergen to jog his memory.
“From where did ISIS spring?” Bergen asks on CNN, referring to the extremist group now controlling much of Iraq. “One of George W. Bush's most toxic legacies is the introduction of al Qaeda into Iraq, which is the ISIS mother ship.”
The U.S. intelligence community is in broad agreement that there was no cooperation, as Bush alleged in the run-up to the war, between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.
But a year and a half after the war started, Al Qaeda set up shop in Iraq, taking advantage of the chaos to promote itself as a protector of the Sunni minority. (For more on how the U.S. invasion led to the current situation, read Professor Stephen Zunes’ piece on The Progressive website.)
Friedman displays total amnesia on this point, as he does on his support of the U.S. attack. At the start of the Iraq War, he indelicately laid out his rationale for why the U.S. had to steamroll Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
“We needed to go over there, basically, and take out a very big stick right in the heart of that world and burst that bubble, and there was only one way to do it,” he told Charlie Rose in March 2003. “What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, and basically saying, ‘Which part of this sentence don't you understand?’ You don't think, you know, we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we're just gonna to let it grow? Well, Suck. On. This.”
After the war started, Friedman became notorious for his insistence that the war would be “turning a corner” in six months’ time. Indeed, he repeated this mantra so many times that it became a punch line among Friedman watchers.
In 2011, when U.S. troops were withdrawing from Iraq, Friedman had these words of wisdom:
“Former President George W. Bush’s gut instinct that this region craved and needed democracy was always right. It should have and could have been pursued with much better planning and execution. This war has been extraordinarily painful and costly. But democracy was never going to have a virgin birth in a place like Iraq, which has never known any such thing.”
Friedman opined on Charlie Rose that the United States was the “well-armed midwife” Iraq needed to birth its democracy.
As the U.S.-backed government crumbles and ISIS advances, Friedman’s mixed metaphor looks worse than ever. On Sunday, he opined that “we have no friends in this fight.”
“Is anyone there even fighting for our interests: a minimally stable Iraq that doesn’t threaten us?” he asked. “And whom we can realistically help? The answers still aren’t clear to me.”
Too bad they were so much clearer—and wrong—back when it really mattered.