Tom Friedman's Column on Iraq
Jude Wanniski
February 20, 2003


Memo To: Fans of Thomas L. Friedman, NYTimes columnist
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Feb. 19 "Tell the Truth" column

Over the years I have written a great many items praising the considerable journalistic skills of Tom Friedman. He has been in the top tier of the print media for decades, with several prizes under his belt for his work on foreign policy. Alas, in the last few years in doping out the Middle East, his specialty, Tom has wandered all over the lot, to the point where I’ve only been reading his columns when someone recommends one. The problem, I think, is that Tom has come to believe that his pre-eminent position as the top foreign-policy columnist for the most important newspaper in the world has given him the responsibility to “make things happen,” as opposed to advising his readers on what’s really going on. His "Tell the Truth" column Wednesday was a perfect example, with Tom scattering a few diamonds of analysis while he pontificated on how the political class should be acting. To a degree, this kind of huffing and puffing is to be expected from a journalist of his rank, a rank which has its privileges. But Tom has been getting sloppier and sloppier, to the point where I think he may have become part of the problem. Here is a comment I sent to one of his fans who e-mailed me his column, telling me he thought I would be thrilled to pieces with it because it suggests we might not really have to go to war with Iraq.

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Tom Friedman is all over the lot. His columns recently have been mish-mash as he tries to be all things to all people. His column starts with a cheap shot at France for having built Iraq's nuclear reactor, which Israel blew up in 1981. He fails to mention that Iraq had signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and Israel did not. France built one for Israel and, in accordance with the provisions of the NPT, then built an identical one for Iraq. For this blatant act of aggression, Israel was condemned by almost every nation on earth in a UN Resolution, but as the Reagan administration and the Pentagon's Richard Perle had helped in the bombing, Israel thumbed its nose at everyone and the UN Resolution that condemned it. A billion dollar power plant went up in smoke and when asked if they would pay for the destruction, the Israeli foreign minister said, "Not one brass farthing." So now Friedman takes a cheap shot at France.

Under the terms of the NPT, Iraq would have had to allow IAEA inspectors in a number of times a year to make sure no fissile material was being diverted. Israel did not have such restrictions, defying the Kennedy and Johnson administrations which were demanding that it permit inspections of its nuclear power plant to make sure it was not diverting fissile material. When Nixon arrived in 1969, he dropped demands for Israeli inspections, as by then it was known Israel had in fact been producing nuclear bombs. It was then Saddam decided to have a clandestine nuke program, which never got anywhere as his scientists could not produce more than a few grams of fissile material.

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Okay. Tom does get our attention in saying he is “troubled by the way Bush officials have tried to justify this war on the grounds that Saddam is allied with Osama bin Laden or will be soon. There is simply no proof of that, and every time I hear them repeat it I think of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. You don’t take the country to war on the wings of a lie.”

What is Bush doing wrong in terms of holding together the international community? Friedman opines that it is not traveling enough.

The Bush folks are big on attitude, weak on strategy and terrible at diplomacy. I covered the first gulf war in 1990-91. What I remember most are the seven trips I took with Secretary of State James Baker III around the world to watch him build – face-to-face – the coalition and public support for that war, before a shot was fired. Going to someone else’s country is a sign you respect his opinion. The Bush administration has done no such hands-on spade work. Its members think diplomacy is a phone call. They don’t like to travel. Seeing Bush officials abroad for any length of time has become like rare-bird sightings.

Now this is palpable nonsense. The senior Bushies have run up tens of thousands of frequent-flier miles trying to persuade heads of state all over the world that we should bomb the bejeesus out of Baghdad to save its citizens from Saddam’s shortcomings on human rights. In 1990-91, Tom flew around with JBIII who had a hard enough time trying to persuade Saddam’s neighbors that he was the bad guy and the emir of Kuwait the good guy. His “diplomacy” finally consisted in bribing Hosni Mubarak with several billions of forgiveness in IMF loans and promises of big bags of money to Turkey, which we never delivered. (Which is why Turkey no longer trusts our promises and is asking up-front for $26 billion – the original estimate of what the entire war would cost.) How hard a sell should it have been, when Iraq actually invaded Kuwait? There was at least a plausible case of aggression, although Baghdad did argue Kuwait was engaging in economic warfare against Iraq. Travel does not work when you are trying to sell an unnecessary war, an “elective war,” as Gen. Wesley Clark (ret.) calls it.

Friedman seems not to have noticed that Saddam has not invaded anyone in 13 years. It should come as no surprise that the Bushies would have a harder time flying around trying to sell the idea that Baghdad is not cooperating with the UN weapons inspectors, especially when the weapons inspectors are saying the cooperation is getting close to perfection.

How can the top gun at the NYTimes fail to notice this?