Tom Friedman (Charles Haynes/Flickr)
Syria has brought out the worst in New York Times columnists. I’ve already chronicled the missteps by Bill Keller and Nick Kristof (Bruni was okay but let’s not even mention Douthat and Dowd), and now today we hit a kind of laughable peak, or trough.
There have been a lot of classic ledes (that is, opening paragraphs) for Thomas Friedman over the years, often featuring cab drivers in foreign hots spots, but today’s may take the cake—or the Swiss chocolate in this case. At least he didn’t ask the cashier for her woman-in-the-street opinion on a big subject, his usual angle. Here we go:
I was at a conference in Bern, Switzerland, last week and struggling with my column. News of Russia’s proposal for Syria to surrender its poison gas was just breaking and changing every hour, forcing me to rewrite my column every hour. To clear my head, I went for a walk along the Aare River, on Schifflaube Street. Along the way, I found a small grocery shop and stopped to buy some nectarines. As I went to pay, I was looking down, fishing for my Swiss francs, and when I looked up at the cashier, I was taken aback: He had pink hair. A huge shock of neon pink hair—very Euro-punk from the ’90s. While he was ringing me up, a young woman walked by, and he blew her a kiss through the window—not a care in the world.
Observing all this joie de vivre, I thought to myself: “Wow, wouldn’t it be nice to be a Swiss? Maybe even to sport some pink hair?” Though I can’t say for sure, I got the feeling that the man with pink hair was not agonizing over the proper use of force against Bashar al-Assad. Not his fault; his is a tiny country. I guess worrying about Syria is the tax you pay for being an American or an American president—and coming from the world’s strongest power that still believes, blessedly in my view, that it has to protect the global commons. Barack Obama once had black hair. But his is gray now, not pink. That’s also the tax you pay for thinking about the Middle East too much: It leads to either gray hair or no hair, but not pink hair.
Then he’s off into ruminations on Syria. Remember: Unlike Keller and Kristof, he was “dovish” on a US attack. Will that change in the space of six months—one Friedman Unit?
Anyway, here’s how he wraps it up:
I agree with Obama on this: no matter how we got here, we’re in a potentially better place. So let’s press it. Let’s really test how far Putin will go with us. I’m skeptical, but it’s worth a try. Otherwise, Obama’s hair will not just be turned gray by the Middle East these next three years, he’ll go bald.