February 12, 2003


At long last we're engaging in a national, even international, discussion, one that should have occurred when the Iron Curtain fell, about just how much a declining Europe really matters to the American and world future. The sides are drawn along roughly from Left to Right--with Democrats convinced that a Europe which shares their bureaucratic, socialist, multiculturalist worldview must still be of central importance, while conservatives are mostly prepared to write Europe off, at least Western Europe (minus Great Britain and the Iberian penninsula), for pretty much the same reasons. The Right recognizes that countries like France and Germany have ceased to believe in Western Civilization and are therefore unfit to defend it. So the conservatives have turned their attention to formerly Third World nations--Turkey, India, etc.--that see their way out of poverty and twards effective government in adopting Western values.

The resulting debate has given us hawkish statements dismissing Europe, like the following:

Pardon me if I don't take seriously all the Euro-whining about the Bush policies toward Iraq--for one very simple reason: It strikes me as deeply unserious. It's not that there are no serious arguments to be made against war in Iraq. There are plenty. It's just that so much of what one hears coming from German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac are not serious arguments. They are station identification.

They are not the arguments of people who have really gotten beyond the distorted Arab press and tapped into what young Arabs are saying about their aspirations for democracy and how much they blame Saddam Hussein and his ilk for the poor state of their region. Rather, they are the diplomatic equivalent of smoking cancerous cigarettes while rejecting harmless G.M.O.'s--an assertion of identity by trying to be whatever the Americans are not, regardless of the real interests or stakes.

And where this comes from, alas, is weakness. Being weak after being powerful is a terrible thing. It can make you stupid. It can make you reject U.S. policies simply to differentiate yourself from the world's only superpower. Or, in the case of Mr. Chirac, it can even prompt you to invite Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe--a terrible tyrant--to visit Paris just to spite Tony Blair. Ah, those principled French.

and, like this one, looking ahead to a new alliance focused on current ideals rather than outdated ethnic history:
Sometimes I wish that the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council could be chosen like the starting five for the N.B.A. All-Star team--with a vote by the fans. If so, I would certainly vote France off the Council and replace it with India. Then the perm-five would be Russia, China, India, Britain and the United States. That's more like it.

Why replace France with India? Because India is the world's biggest democracy, the world's largest Hindu nation and the world's second-largest Muslim nation, and, quite frankly, India is just so much more serious than France these days. France is so caught up with its need to differentiate itself from America to feel important, it's become silly. India has grown out of that game. India may be ambivalent about war in Iraq, but it comes to its ambivalence honestly. Also, France can't see how the world has changed since the end of the cold war. India can. [...]

The French position is utterly incoherent.

Opposed to these, we have dovish, Europhilic, Atlanticist, die-hards who are still defending the "unserious" and "incoherent" French (and their Belgian & German lapdogs):
The tension that is now rising within the Western alliance, NATO and the U.N. over how to deal with Iraq is deeply disturbing. It raises fears that the postwar security system, which stabilized the world for 50 years, could come unglued if America intervenes alone in Iraq. At the birth of this security system, Secretary of State Dean Acheson wrote a memoir titled "Present at the Creation." Can we deal with Iraq and still ensure that Secretary of State Colin Powell's memoir is not titled "Present at the Destruction"?

Yes, we can--if we, the Russians, the Chinese and the French all take a deep breath, understand our common interests and pursue them with a little more common sense and a little less bluster.

That means the Bush hawks need to realize they cannot achieve their ultimate aim of disarming and transforming Iraq without maximum international legitimacy. And the Euro-doves need to realize they cannot achieve their aims of a peaceful solution in Iraq and preserving the U.N. and the whole multilateral order without a credible threat of force against Saddam Hussein.

Let's start with the Bush hawks.

Those in the former camp would obviously ask those in the latter to explain why it's necessary to take incoherence and lack of seriousness seriously, but.... Wait. What's that? I'm sorry, we've just been informed that Tom Friedman wrote all three of those columns in rapid succession for the NY Times. It appears that it's not only NATO that's cracking up but a two-time Pulitzer prize-winning columnist. Either that or Howell Raines, Paul Krugman, and Maureen Dowd made him run the gauntlet and then write the last as penance. At the Gray Lady, apparently, the wages of deviationism is re-education.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 12, 2003 12:40 PM

I'm a "Bush Hawk," at heart, but I find Friedman's ambivalence, and ability to see some different sides of this refreshing.

Posted by: Stephen Sherman at February 12, 2003 2:08 PM

Oh come on - this is ridiculous. Read all three of Friedman's columns in their entirety and they're quite consistent.

He even goes back to the serious/not serious idea in the supposedly dove-ish column: "France, China and Russia have to get serious, but so do we."

Am I the only one to find increasingly tiresome this blog tendency to paint anyone with a contradictory view as some kind of idiot?

Posted by: David Steven at February 12, 2003 2:18 PM

The Bush-Right's insistence on seeing things as only black or white may be comforting in its simiplicity, but it does not address the real world. There is no inconsistency in Friedman wanting to preserve NATO and our alliances with Europe, at the same time wanting our European allies to behave more rationally and responsibly.


Posted by: David Picker at February 12, 2003 2:19 PM

The Bush-Right's insistence on seeing things as only black or white may be comforting in its simiplicity, but it does not address the real world. There is no inconsistency in Friedman wanting to preserve NATO and our alliances with Europe, at the same time wanting our European allies to behave more rationally and responsibly.


Posted by: David Picker at February 12, 2003 2:19 PM

Poor Friedman's in the same box that The New Republic's been in these last two decades: appalled by the stupidity of the doves, and uneasy with the rhetoric of the hawks. That the hawks are right is shown by Powell's conversion. After all, it was the French who sabotaged Powell, not v-v.

The deeper issue to me is one of manners vs. morals: the hawks have the right morals but the wrong manners. In an ideal world we would follow Rumsfeld's conclusions but cloak them in twinkly, feel-good Clintonesque one-world gestures.

Posted by: teplukhin at February 12, 2003 2:37 PM

Colin Powell didn't speculate, as Friedman does, about the nature of European diplomacy. He found out.

The attacks on September 11 were especially frightening because we seemed to lack information. The enemy was shadowy and faceless: how could we fight him? By fighting him, since information is the byproduct of political and military action.

Al-Qaeda came into focus. Its facilities in Afghanistan. Its cells in Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Indonesia, in Europe and America. Its funding networks. It's Party.

Then then the substructure of States which provided it with operational intelligence, arsenals and facilites came into view. Offices in Baghdad and Teheran. Scuds secreted in tramp steamers. Biological weapons labs; poison factories in the desert. Materials for a "dirty bomb". It's Army.

But there was something indistinct moving in the deep background. Invisible, but perceptible only in that it gave off waves of immense political and public relations power. The question was: did the enemy have a United Front; a support group of outwardly respectable entities?

The decision by the Bush administration to engage in multilateral consultation has forced matters out into the open. "Smoked them out". It would be useless to engage in conspiracy theories, but it is safe to say that the secret history of European diplomacy is now seeing the light of day. The shadows have not yet been wholly dispelled, but already, we can see the difference between England and France, Spain and Germany, Turkey and Belgium. The details are emerging. Then we shall see, and no longer imagine, as Tom Friedman does.

Posted by: wretchard at February 12, 2003 2:50 PM

Mr. Sherman/Mr. Steven/Mr. Picker:

I'm afraid I'm missing something in your argument: why would we maintain an alliance with unserious nations whose best days are long behind them?

Posted by: oj at February 12, 2003 3:00 PM

Jeez. Read the entire columns. They very explicitly state that they are attempts to look at the war question from multiple points of view. What on earth is wrong with that?

Posted by: M Lee at February 12, 2003 3:09 PM

Nitpickily-- Friedman calls French and German arguments
unserious, the French position
on Iraq incoherent, but never says that we can take the nations themselves lightly.

I had a similar thought upon reading the latest installment of "Savage Love"; a letter-writer confuses judgements about people's actions with judgements about the people themselves.

Posted by: PG at February 12, 2003 3:26 PM

I find that reading all three columns highlights a characteristic that Friedman has long held, a long-winded facile way with facts that obscures a lack of any core points.

Posted by: Robin Roberts at February 12, 2003 3:38 PM

There's nothing inconsistent with Friedman's views--YET--but Old Europe will test him, because nothing, I repeat NOTHING, is going to persuade France and Germany to go into Iraq. That is because they know exactly what they sold to Iraq over the past decade, and they will be mortified if the records are thrown open for all to see.

Posted by: John Rogers at February 12, 2003 4:25 PM

There's nothing inconsistent with Friedman's views--YET--but Old Europe will test him, because nothing, I repeat NOTHING, is going to persuade France and Germany to go into Iraq. That is because they know exactly what they sold to Iraq over the past decade, and they will be mortified if the records are thrown open for all to see.

Posted by: John Rogers at February 12, 2003 4:26 PM


Can you elucidate the difference between what you do and what you are? For instance, this is hardly something new for France: they collaborated with Hitler; DeGaulle ordered LBJ to remove US troops from French soil--earning the rebuke:"does that include the ones buried in it"; they refused overflight permission when we bombed Libya, causing increased risk to our pilots; etc. At what point does never acting like an ally mean that you aren't one?

Posted by: oj at February 12, 2003 5:13 PM

Michael Ledeen, who is smarter than the entire times editorial staff, said, on some occassion I can not recall, ". . . even a dofuss like Tom Friedman . . ." However, an argument can be made that he is by far the most coherent columnist that the NYTimes has.

Picking on the NYTimes these days is like stealing candy from babies. But I guess somebodys' got to do it.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at February 12, 2003 6:11 PM

Thomas Friedman pointed out in his column that "India may be ambivalent about war in Iraq, but it comes to its ambivalence honestly." Damn straight, and I can point you right across the border to Reason #1 why India is ambivalent. Hint; the country's name starts with P and it's full of Islamist fanatics - _armed_, bloodthirsty Islamist fanatics - and it's got nukes to boot.

If you're sitting right next to an open gallon jug full of nitroglycerine, you want to be very, *very* careful in your movements. Thus, I not only have no problem with India's "ambivalence", I see the sense behind it.

Posted by: Joe at February 12, 2003 6:15 PM

I could write a lot on the substance of the current situation (Iraq),

and perhaps more on the core issues that have surfaced over the last

couple of years. But I've tired myself on that for the moment after

long email debates in the last two days with my former boss (on

Iraq). Now, if I had a blog ... but don't start me on that.

As for France, well I'd agree that it's a cynical, selfish,

anti-american and somewhat disgusting stance. To say that I'm used to

such a stand, historically, does not explain or excuse ofcourse.

Remember, France is 'for the French' (de Gaulle), and usually

translates to spite heaped on the "anglo-saxons". The history is long

, and perhaps personified in the yeoman archer's two-fingered salute

to the cream of French chivalry after Agincourt. But I don't think

they "have ceased to believe in Western Civilization", just disagree

on it's definition. They, and what they believe in, is

they consider "Western Civilisation". And whilst I would agree that

what they hold dear does include a sizeable portion of "Western

Civilisation", I am not as narrow in my definition and I'd add an

equal, or larger, proportion of the "anglo-saxon" (for want of a

better word). But then, I'm English/Scottish after all.

As for Turkey and India, I hold great hopes for these two nations and

believe we should support them (as they deserve it). Flawed as they

are, and all of us are, they move in the right direction and under a

an immense internal stress. I hope neither screw up, because both

countries have much to gain, but so much more to lose. Although India

is the world's largest democracy, they have a big 'statist' and

centrally planned history to overcome from the days of

"non-alignment". A bit of temperence with regards to hindutva and

it's rapaciousness would be promising as well. With Turkey, I am

pleasantly surprised that they have a democracy that can now cope

with a vaguely 'islamic' party (AK) in power and hope it bodes well

for future democratic participation. I think it is quite wrong to

label them as 'Islamist', as far as the accepted definition goes

(Sharia law, Islamic state). It is a hopeful sign of their nation is

growing up and, again, moving in the right direction.



P.S. 2500 word limit on comments?! I had to delete 2 paragraphs!

Posted by: Alastair at February 12, 2003 6:53 PM

Mr. Schwartz:

Bill Keller has been fairly sensible.

Posted by: oj at February 12, 2003 9:08 PM


Agreed. That's why an American, Israeli, Turkish, Indian alliance is so important to the future. If France won't help with Iraq, where will they be when we get to taking on Pakistan (or Syria)?

Posted by: oj at February 12, 2003 9:10 PM

Er, whatever the consistency in Friedman’s latest columns, they do represent a marked shift from his stance four and five months ago. The difference is that he began spending less time with Euro and Middle Eastern elites and more time talking to folks who live and work a rung below the elites in countries like Egypt and Jordan. From them he learned that they are oppressed, and the Iraqis and Iranians are even more oppressed. So I’ll give him credit for being able to learn. At least he’s toned down the cheap shots at Bush which I interpret as his quiet acknowledgement that the Bushies were right all along.

Posted by: The Kid at February 12, 2003 9:15 PM

Tom Friedman is consistency challenged. It almost total, except for his call for a Judenrein in the West Bank.

Up to these three opinion pieces, post-9/11 Friedman had shown flashes of brilliance, only to be immediately extinguished like he was b*tch-slapped.

I had a very interesting conversation with an Israeli fellow who made the case that the Lebanon "experience" had damaged many a good man and woman. Whether its benign like Friedman or seething like Fisk, it crosses all fields say like the military historian Martin Van Creveld
to Labor's Gen. Avram Mitzna.

In any case, I have always felt that two Pulitzers for Friedman gave credence to the "rumor" that the NYT owns the Pulitzer commitees.

Posted by: Erik at February 13, 2003 5:01 AM

French policy is most certainly coherent. But not from an American point of view, which latter Friedman is increasingly beginning to appreciate (a "conversion" that some readers might view as personal vindication, others as mere capitulation).

Instead of pronouncing French policy "incoherent" (somewhat akin to his pronouncing "This intifada is over" of about a year ago), Friedman should have been able to assess just what this coherence might be and what its possible implications are. Certainly, if "wretchard" below (good post), and other, can do it, so should Friedman have been able to.

This is just another reason why I find Jim Hoagland and David Warren generally more useful commentators. And yet, Friedman cannot be ignored; perhaps his meanderings are a better indicator of events than his actual analyses?

Posted by: Barry Meislin at February 13, 2003 7:19 AM


Lebanon was a near perfect illustration of the inability of democracies to finish off wars. Israeli strategy should have included ending that war in Damascus, just as America in Vietnam should have driven on Hanoi. You can't win by beating the clients and leaving the main power in place.

Posted by: oj at February 13, 2003 8:28 AM



Posted by: Erik at February 13, 2003 9:52 AM

Not Hanoi, Orrin, Peking. Might have been difficult.

I don't think you guys should make the equation Times=Friedman. The Times pays him and publishes him, but it does not like him.

Years ago, when I was interviewing for a job at the Times, I was asked what I most admired about the paper. I said Friedman. End of interview.

Posted by: Harry at February 13, 2003 1:31 PM


"Not Hanoi, Orrin, Peking. Might have been difficult."

Actually, the road to Hanoi went through Hanoi. Although we assumed at the time that a direct assault upon NVietnam might precipitate attacks by either Moscow or Beijing, we haved learned since that neither country was so inclined.

Now, in the Korean War the road to victory did indeed run through Beijing. After all, we were already at war, fighting the Chicoms after the NKors collapse.

Posted by: Erik at February 13, 2003 3:39 PM

Maybe you know that. I don't. And I sure didn't when it would have counted.

In a book unfortunately out of print, Jonathan Utley makes a case that, whatever American views about Japan in China in the '30s, China was never regarded as vital to American interests but Southeast Asia was, and the real start of the Pacific War was Japan's move into Vietnam. Certainly, the Japanese didn't realize that.

It is not always so clear, in advance, what people will fight for.

Posted by: Harry at February 13, 2003 7:02 PM


You're talking about what New Deal intellectuals thought. Real Americans considered China important because of Christian mission work there.

Posted by: oj at February 14, 2003 1:08 PM

The Real Americans were at Madison Square Garden whooping it up for your boy Lindbergh's view that the dictators were unstoppable.

You can tell who was who. Look at the vote on conscription in 1940.

Posted by: Harry at February 14, 2003 5:58 PM
« DOES ANYONE EDIT THE TIMES (part googleplex +1): | Main | MAMA'S GOT A SQUEEZE BOX: »