This story originally appeared at Truthdig. Robert Scheer is the author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (Nation Books).
Few journalists have greater influence on US foreign policy, particularly regarding the Middle East, than New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. But his tortured obit of a column this week on the official end of the neocolonialist disaster that has been the Iraq occupation reminds one that the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner often gets it wrong.
Was the US-led invasion of Iraq, which he did so much to encourage, a “wise choice”? Friedman hides behind one of his trademark ambiguities: “My answer is twofold: ‘No’ and ‘Maybe, sort of, we’ll see.’ I say ‘no’ because whatever happens in Iraq, even if it becomes Switzerland, we overpaid for it.”
Aside from the stunning amorality of assessing the cost of war from the standpoint of the royal “we,” Friedman seems wildly optimistic about what the invasion has wrought. On a day when Iraq’s prime minister, a Shiite, demanded that the leader of the Kurds arrest the Sunni vice president, Friedman celebrated the unity of the three groups as “the most important product of the Iraq war.” He blamed the failure of the US occupation to accomplish more, in roughly equal measure, on “the incompetence of George W. Bush’s team in prosecuting the war,” “Iran, the Arab dictators and, most of all, Al Qaeda,” which he seems surprised to report “did not want a democracy in the heart of the Arab world.”
President Bush’s argument for the invasion was not based on democratic nation-building but rather on two specific lies that Friedman has long danced around: that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that threatened US security and that it was somehow linked to the 9/11 attacks. Friedman now insists “Iraq was always a war of choice. As I never bought the argument that Saddam had nukes that had to be taken out, the decision to go to war stemmed for me from a different choice: Could we…tilt it and the region onto a democratizing track?”
That is not quite true, for Friedman had been pushing the notion of an Iraqi nuclear threat as far back as July 7, 1991, when he severely criticized the first President Bush for leaving Saddam in power in the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War, arguing that “Mr. Hussein has a unique personal incentive to continue trying to obtain a nuclear weapon quickly.” Friedman wrote critically of what he considered President Bill Clinton’s tepid response to Iraq’s supposed WMD threat, with the columnist warning in December of 2002 that “Saddam Hussein was an expert at hiding his war toys and, having four years without inspections, had probably buried everything good under mosques or cemeteries.”
Friedman was a particularly harsh critic of the French, who wanted to triple the number of UN weapons inspectors and let them finish their work before rushing to war. Friedman in February of 2003 argued that “the inspections have failed not because of a shortage of inspectors. They have failed because of a shortage of compliance on Saddam’s part, as the French know. The way you get compliance out of a thug like Saddam is not by tripling the inspectors, but by tripling the threat that if he does not comply he will be faced with a UN-approved war.”