The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[casi] The New York Times' Friedman libels the Iraqi resistance

The New York Times' Friedman libels the Iraqi resistance
By Barry Grey
4 November 2003

The New York Times'chief foreign policy commentator, Thomas Friedman, who
has assumed the role of leading "liberal" defender of the American
occupation of Iraq, published a particularly venomous column on October 30
under the headline "It's No Vietnam."

Friedman's piece appeared on the same day as columns by two other liberal
commentators arguing that the recent upsurge of anti-US violence in Iraq and
the exposure of Bush administration lies about Iraqi weapons of mass
destruction and Iraqi-Al Qaeda connections in no way discredited the war or
provided legitimate grounds to oppose the US occupation of the country.
Richard Cohen of the Washington Post penned a piece entitled "Vietnam It Isn
't," and Benjamin Schwarz, the former executive editor of the liberal World
Policy Journal, published a column in the Los Angeles Times headlined "Bush
Fibbed, and That Might Be OK."

The simultaneous appearance of these columns in three of the most
influential US dailies suggests something more than mere coincidence. Coming
within days of the rocket attack on the Al Rasheed Hotel, the chief
residence of US occupation officials, and the coordinated car-bomb assaults
on the headquarters of the Red Cross and three police stations in the Iraqi
capital, these attempts to belittle the significance of US government lies
and dismiss the notion of a Vietnam-like quagmire have all the markings of a
coordinated propaganda campaign. (We make this observation fully
anticipating charges, from both liberal and conservative defenders of the
war, of "conspiracy" mania and "paranoia.")

That these articles are coming from the liberal wing of the political
establishment has far-reaching significance. It demonstrates the existence
of a broad consensus within the US ruling elite-and its journalistic
apologists-behind the Bush administration's policy of global conquest and
colonial-style subjugation of peoples and regions considered to be of
strategic importance to the American corporate oligarchy. Whatever tactical
quibbles the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times
might have with the authors of the US seizure of Iraq, they are in essential
agreement with the war aims and imperialist goals of the Bush
administration. The same can be said for the Democratic Party and the
liberal camp as a whole-which accounts for the pathetic and unprincipled
character of the so-called "anti-war" elements within this political milieu.

The New York Times' Friedman expresses most crudely and cynically the
continuum between the Republican right and American liberalism on Iraq. His
column, in the outlandishness of its lies and vitriol against those who
oppose the US occupation, suggests something approaching panic at the
prospect of a debacle for the US in Iraq and the emergence of a mass
anti-war movement within the US.

The "immorality" of resistance and "morality" of occupation

Friedman begins his rant with the assertion that the October 30 attack on
the Red Cross headquarters in Baghdad, which coincided with the first day of
the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, was an act of such depravity as to place
the anti-US fighters beyond the pale of civilized peoples. Striking a pose
of moral outrage, the Times commentator writes: "This suicide bomber was not
restrained by either the sanctity of the Muslim holy day or the sanctity of
the Red Cross. All civilizational norms were tossed aside."

Friedman throws the moral "nihilism" of the "terrorists" in the face of what
he deems an unholy alliance of war critics-the "Europeans, the Arab press
and the anti-war left." All three are guilty of drawing a parallel between
the situation in Iraq and the Vietnam War and suggesting that the Iraqi
fighters are the contemporary equivalent of the Vietcong, engaged in a
struggle "to 'liberate' their country from 'US occupation.'"

"Hogwash," Friedman declares. "The people who mounted the attacks on the Red
Cross are not the Iraqi Vietcong. They are the Iraqi Khmer Rouge-a murderous
band of Saddam Hussein loyalists and Al Qaeda nihilists, who are not killing
us so Iraqis can rule themselves. They are killing us so they can rule
Iraqis." (Friedman's emphasis).

Ominously, Friedman continues: "Have you noticed that these bombers never
say what their political agenda is or whom they represent? They don't want
Iraqis to know who they really are. A vast majority of Iraqis would reject
them, because these bombers either want to restore Baathism or install bin

In his righteous indignation, Friedman is evidently blind to the absurdities
and contradictions lodged in his own assertions. Presumably, he would have
the resistance fighters call a press conference in Baghdad to explain their
program and introduce themselves to the American military that has seized
control of their country. In any event, their basic plank is clear to all,
and is obviously supported by broad sections of the Iraqi population, who
have demonstrated in the streets in the tens of thousands and in the teeth
of a massive US troop presence and daily repression. They want the US to get
out of Iraq.

Moreover, if the so-called "terrorists" are anonymous and refuse to reveal
their aims, as Friedman claims, how is it that he knows precisely who they
are and precisely what they want? He doesn't say, but the manifest answer is
that the US government-the same government that said Saddam Hussein had
accumulated a massive stockpile of chemical and biological weapons-tells him

Next comes one of Friedman's favorite phrases: "Let's get real." As those
who are familiar with Friedman's columns know, this rhetorical flourish
inevitably announces an outpouring of even more outlandish and cynical lies.
Mr. Friedman does not disappoint.

"The great irony," he writes, "is that the Baathists and Arab dictators are
opposing the US in Iraq because-unlike many leftists-they understand exactly
what this war is about. They understand that US power is not being used in
Iraq for oil, or imperialism, or to shore up a corrupt status quo, as it was
in Vietnam and elsewhere in the Arab world during the cold war. They
understand that this is the most radical-liberal revolutionary war the US
has ever launched-a war of choice to install some democracy in the heart of
the Arab-Muslim world."

A war of "empowerment"

It turns out, according to Friedman, that the problems the US has faced in
Iraq flow not from its bloody conquest of the country, its repressive
occupation, or its attempt to gain control of Iraqi oil, but rather from its
efforts to "empower" Kurds, Shiites, non-Baathist Sunnis, women, etc. "The
Qaeda nihilists, the Saddamists and all the Europeans and Arab autocrats who
had a vested interest in the old status quo are threatened by this," he

Here you have in a nutshell the inverted moral and political universe of the
Bush administration and its liberal acolytes. The US-with its bombs and
global conglomerates like Halliburton-stands for progressive change,
democracy and peace. The Iraqis who resist American occupation and those who
criticize Washington's policies stand for a status quo of tyranny and

Unfortunately for Friedman, there is history and the facts, in the face of
which his claims collapse upon themselves. Let us begin with his pose of
moral outrage at the car-bombing of the Red Cross headquarters in Baghdad.

>From time immemorial progressive humanity has recognized the right of
occupied peoples to use military force to throw off the yoke of their
oppressors. One can be certain that phrases similar to those of the Times'
commentator were used by the Nazis to characterize the resistance movements
of those living under German occupation in Poland, Holland, France, Greece
and other countries during the Second World War.

The Iraqi people have the right to resist the American occupation of their
country in any way they choose. The responsibility for the deaths of
innocent civilians-as well as for American youth dragooned into this vile
imperialist project-rests with those who conspired to launch an illegal war
of aggression and promoted the most cynical lies to justify it.

As for Friedman's attempt to counterpose the current American adventure with
Washington's intervention in Vietnam, one can only marvel at his
disingenuousness. For his present purposes, Friedman goes so far as to imply
that the Viet Cong were a legitimate anti-imperialist force, fighting
against a "corrupt status quo."

That, however, was not the line of the New York Times at the time. For years
it promoted the Big Lie of that period, used to justify American atrocities
against another impoverished and oppressed people. It was, supposedly, a war
to defend democratic South Vietnam against an invasion from the communist
North, armed and financed by Red China and the Soviet Union. The Viet Cong
were communist terrorists, driven by a hatred of freedom and democracy, who
served as willing agents of the international communist conspiracy in its
struggle against the Free World.

Is Mr. Friedman now repudiating the line of his newspaper and the American
cold war liberals on Vietnam? And if they were so badly mistaken, or so
thoroughly dishonest, about Vietnam, why should anyone accept Mr. Friedman's
line on the Iraq war today?

In debunking the Iraqi resistance-Vietcong analogy, Friedman raises the
specter of the Khmer Rouge, which carried out a bloodbath against the
civilian population of Cambodia during its three-and-a half-year rule from
1975 to 1978. He links the Khmer Rouge with "Qaeda nihilism" and "Saddamism"
as embodiments of tyranny and mass murder. He conveniently ignores the
historical fact that, at various points, the United States was allied with
all three.

Moral indignation-when expedient

In his moral outrage over the bombing of the Red Cross in Baghdad, Friedman
exhibits a remarkable capacity for selective indignation. Just short of two
years ago, during the US invasion of Afghanistan, American war planes bombed
a Red Cross warehouse in Kabul. The International Committee of the Red Cross
rejected US claims that the bombing was unintentional, pointing out that the
warehouse was clearly marked with a large red cross on its roof. The
American response to the Red Cross' protests was to bomb the warehouse a
second time.

The US also bombed a United Nations de-mining agency in Kabul. Needless to
say, such actions did not, according to Friedman's moral compass, place the
United States beyond the pale of civilized peoples. Nor did a host of other
recent US attacks on civilian targets, including the bombing of the air raid
shelter in the Al-Amariya residential district of Baghdad during Persian
Gulf War, which killed 288 innocents, including 91 children. Or the bombing
of the Belgrade television station and the Chinese Embassy during the Kosovo
War of 1999, or the attack on the Al-Jazeera television station in Kabul in
November of 2001, or the bombing of the Al-Jazeera TV offices in Baghdad
last April.

Nor is the US to be condemned for its liberal use of concussion bombs, daisy
cutters, cluster bombs and depleted uranium weapons in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Let us now turn to Mr. Friedman's own recent history. Journalists are
obliged to leave a paper trail. It is an occupational hazard, and it creates
serious problems for the Times columnist in his efforts to invent a new
justification for the American seizure of Iraq.

In his October 30 column, Friedman baldly declares that the US invasion and
occupation of Iraq are not about oil. Last January 5, however, he published
a column headlined "A War for Oil?" in which he wrote: "Is the war that the
Bush team is preparing to launch in Iraq really a war for oil? My short
answer is yes."

Six months later, after the invasion had failed to turn up any weapons of
mass destruction, Friedman published a column (June 4) in which he provided
another, no less predatory, explanation for the war. Then he was not
speaking of the war's "revolutionary" or "democratic" motives. He wrote:
"The 'real reason' for this war, which was never stated, was that after 9/11
America needed to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world. Afghanistan wasn't
enough... Smashing Saudi Arabia or Syria would have been fine. But we hit
Saddam for one simple reason: because we could..."

In a 1998 piece in the New York Times magazine, Friedman provided a
justification for the role of the US military around the world that
dispensed with democratic platitudes and got to the heart of the matter:
"The hidden hand of the market," he wrote, "will never work without a hidden
fist-McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of
the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's
technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine
Corps... Without America on duty, there will be no America Online."

Militarism, lies and the decay of American democracy

So much for Friedman's own views about the "democratic" and "empowering"
role of American militarism in Iraq. The Times columnist concludes his piece
by attempting to deal with a contradiction that he cannot simply ignore: the
claim that the Bush administration, which is engaged in an unprecedented
attack on democratic rights and social conditions for the broad masses
within the US, is pursuing a "radical liberal" and "revolutionary" policy in
Iraq. "Can the president really be a successful radical liberal on Iraq,
while being such a radical conservative everywhere else?" he asks.

In reality, there is no contradiction here, since Bush's neo-colonialist and
militarist foreign policy is an extension of his reactionary domestic
agenda. The very notion that a government installed by dint of electoral
fraud and engaged in an illegal war could be organically capable of
conducting a "revolutionary" democratic foreign policy is absurd on its
face. But since Friedman is claiming the opposite in relation to Iraq, he is
confronted with something of a dilemma.

His "solution" is to give Bush some friendly advice: ease off on the tax
cuts for the rich in order to more effectively "summon Americans for the
sacrifices victory [in Iraq] will require."

Friedman's groveling before Bush stands in sharp contrast to his vitriolic
tone toward the "Europeans" and the "anti-war left." His column has the
merit of putting paid to any lingering illusions that the New York Times is
opposed, even remotely, to the American imperialist adventure in Iraq.

He himself is the representative of a definite social type: the liberal
middle class professional who threw in his lot with the extreme right wing
in order to cash in on the vast redistribution of wealth that has been
engineered over the past two decades from the working class to the most
privileged social layers. He has grown rich by prostituting himself in the
service of the most reactionary and predatory sections of the ruling elite.

Ignorant of history, bereft of perspective and incapable of foreseeing
anything, he now finds himself implicated in a colonialist enterprise in
Iraq that is going badly, and fears that the widespread suspicion,
disillusionment and anger over the war will turn into a massive movement of
social protest and opposition to the entire political and corporate
establishment in the US. He senses that his own head could roll, and that
he, and hundreds of other journalistic hacks like him, will be held
accountable for their roles in perpetrating a monstrous crime against the
people of both Iraq and the America.

The rise of Friedman to prominence points to one major difference between
the Vietnam War and the US intervention in Iraq. In the 1960s and early
1970s, the exposure of the lies that were used to justify and conduct the
Vietnam War was sufficient to discredit the war policy of the government
among important sections of the political and media establishment. The Times
itself played a role in this process by publishing the Pentagon Papers in
June of 1971. Even earlier, during the Johnson administration, the phrase
"credibility gap" became synonymous with a war policy that was increasingly
seen as illegitimate.

There is no similar reaction in establishment circles today to the exposure
of Bush's lies on Iraq. The overwhelming consensus within all wings of the
establishment, liberal as well as conservative, is that the illegal
character of the war and the massive deception that was used to promote it
have no bearing on the legitimacy of the invasion and occupation. All
discussion concerns the most effective means for carrying the seizure of a
country and its total subordination to the US financial oligarchy through to
a successful conclusion.

This in itself is a devastating commentary on the putrefaction of American
democracy, and the disintegration of any liberal opposition to militarism
abroad and authoritarianism at home. It reflects the far-reaching changes
that have occurred in the underlying social structure of the United States,
driven above all by the vast growth of social inequality. The wholesale
corruption of the media, and its lavishly paid operatives like Friedman, is
an essential aspect of this irreversible process of decay of the existing
social and political order.

See Also:
The New York Times's "liberal" argument for colonial occupation
[17 October 2003]

Friedman of the Times declares war on France
[20 September 2003]

The Times' Thomas Friedman on Iraq: spreading "democracy" with missiles and
[22 July 2003]

Friedman: We did it "because we could"
New York Times covers up for lies on Iraq war
[6 June 2003]

New York Times' Thomas Friedman: "No problem with a war for oil"
[15 January 2003]

Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
To unsubscribe, visit
To contact the list manager, email
All postings are archived on CASI's website:

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]