In between his paeans to folks in Bangalore wearing Nike shoes and drinking Starbucks coffee while talking on their Samsung phones, Thomas Friedman also likes to write about foreign policy. He infamously declared every six months for three years running that the situation in Iraq was critical and, by implication, that if things did not sort themselves out that the war was essentially lost. He never felt obliged to revisit his previous predications. He also quietly started speaking out against the war after positioning himself earlier as one of its most sentimental cheerleaders.
But now he’s turned a new corner. His banality and faddishness have fully joined forces with his peerless capacity for observing the mundane through the lens of a well-traveled propagandist for globalization. He basically has declared the war on al Qaeda won and the events of 9/11 over-played and, therefore, unimportant for the next election. No hidebound slave to the past, he writes:
I will not vote for any candidate running on 9/11. We don’t need another president of 9/11. We need a president for 9/12. I will only vote for the 9/12 candidate.
What does that mean? This: 9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 — mine included — has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again.
Yes, in the wake of 9/11, we need new precautions, new barriers. But we also need our old habits and sense of openness. For me, the candidate of 9/12 is the one who will not only understand who our enemies are, but who we are.
I guess I missed that great day, some two or three years ago, where representatives of al Qaeda stood on the deck of the USS Nimitz and signed formal documents of surrender. Has Friedman not noticed the recent attacks on Glasgow airport, al Qaeda’s massacres of civilians in Iraq, the radicalization of European Muslims, the Paris riots, and the Bali, Madrid, and London bombings? We’ve not had a significant domestic attack after the various resrictions Friedman complains about were put in place. His failure to notice this bona fide success is analogous to the liberal complaint about “warehousing criminals,” even though the last decade of increased incarceration has also led to a significant reduction in violent crime. One of the worst things about Friedman, and one of his great deficiencies as a columnist, is his failure to refocus the public’s attention on important, though easily forgotten, matters of importance. He instead loves the ephemeral, as evidenced by his vulgar habit of dropping brand names to show how we all consume the same things world-wide.
Al Qaeda is real. It means us harm. Within its ranks, one finds motivated personnel who have shown a remarkable combination of cunning, high concept operations, and willingness to exploit our tendency towards forgetfulness and complacency. The post 9/11 changes on the border and outside our borders–including the establishment of GITMO and the increase of monitoring of visitors to the US–mean that American citizens can live more securely and with fewer restrictions upon ourselves. As I’ve noted before, the false freedom of open borders means less freedom of movement and security at home. Instead of coining useless new phrases–like al Qaeda 2.0–Friedman should use his powers of rhetoric to envision the results of al Qaeda’s next attack, perhaps an exploding LNG tanker in Boston or a hijacked cargo jet hitting the Sears Tower or a company of urban snipers slipping in through Mexico.
Friedman does not understand that the very openness he wants to return to was, in part, the cause of the various security lapses that led to 9/11. The government and private industry maintained a culture of willful blindness and wishful thinking. Frieman tells us we need to be more open and solicitous of the opinions of the rest of the world, and, to appease our critics, we must close GITMO and create procedures to faciliate easier access for business travellers. He intones, “Those who don’t visit us, don’t know us.” My God. Has Friedman not noticed that sometimes people visit us, hate us more, and use their visits to kill lots of us, e.g., Atta, Qutb.
It’s true, there has been a great deal of water under the bridge since 9/11 on how best to deal with al Qaeda; in particular, the strategy of forcible democratization of the Middle East seems entirely discredited by events in Iraq. But the problems of the Iraq War do not mean that al Qaeda is no longer a big deal or that we can turn our attention to the things that Friedman really gets excited about like gadgets and smart foreigners with similar, transnational values.
Friedman is the most prominent champion of globalization in the American media. He undoubtedly endures endless sleights, sincere pleading, and criticism from Davos People for America’s alleged crudeness and insensitivity. With his latest column, Friedman has guaranteed access to the finest cocktail parties in Davos and Geneva and Paris and Durban for years to come. At the same time, he has disqualified himself from being taken seriously by Americans who are concerned about American security.
There is little accountability in journalism. People make predictions that do not come true and still continue to earn a living. I want this stupid column plastered everywhere the next time al Qaeda manages to undertake a successful attack, which, sadly, is almost certainly inevitable.