Ira Chernus  



Thomas Friedman, the respected foreign affairs columnist for the respectable New York Times, announced recently that we are fighting World War III, a war of ideas. In his last four columns, he told us how to fight and win this war.

In Tomís world, there are just two sides. The good guys have good ideas, the kind of ideas youíd expect from a centrist American politician or corporate executive. The bad guys are the guys who have any other kind of ideas. That makes the bad guys a big stewpot of all sorts of ideas, a pot big enough to fit both Osama and Saddam.

Thatís why Friedman could commit such a howler in last column. He wrote that the U.S. had to conquer Iraq because "the Islamist threat had to be confronted," Excuse me? When Saddam ruled Iraq, real Islamists (people who want the state to be governed by strict Islamic law) were among the most likely to be tortured.

A couple of paragraphs later, Tom admits that there is some difference between Al Qaeda and Saddam. But it doesnít matter, he says, because "they emerge from the same pathology of widespread repression, economic stagnation and fear of cultural decline." Building a decent Iraq is very much part of the war on terrorism, Friedman adds.

The quoted words come from an "expert" who runs a Democratic centrist Clinton-style think tank. Thatís just the kind of policy Friedman is touting. For these folks, good ideasóliberal democracy plus capitalism plus corporate globalizationóare "decent." Everything else is sick "pathology."

But a decent centrist also needs "toughness and resolve," Tom says. Those were favorite words of Democratic cold warriors like JFK and LBJ. Not surprising, since Friedman calls this World War "a long cold-war-like struggle to strengthen the forces of moderation and weaken the forces of violent intolerance within the Arab-Muslim world."

Of course, the forces of intolerance may not always listen to the decent moderate good guys. Thatís when you need toughness and resolve, according to Friedman: "Sometimes smashing someone in the face is necessary to signal others that they will be held accountable for the intolerance they incubate." Yep, sometimes the only way to stop intolerance is a good smash in the face.

Democratic presidents understand that. Kennedy loved the Green Berets. Johnson smashed millions in Vietnam. Clinton sent Wesley Clark to smash the Serbs in the face.

In his last column on World War III, Tom Friedman breathed a great sigh of relief that the voters of Iowa understand it, too. Thatís why they derailed Howard Deanís train to the White House. And a good thing too, Tom says. A candidate who wonít applaud smashing Iraq in the face just isnít "credible." In other words, heís not a good guy with good ideas. Now we can rest assured that weíll have a Democratic candidate who is ready to do some mouth-smashing when the time comes.

Of course, a good guy can have bad ideas about how to fight World War III. Friedman criticizes the Bush administration, not for going to war, but for being "sloppy and unprepared for postwar Iraq." He wants a decent, moderate Democratic president to bring "stability" to Iraq. Oh, and democracy.

Does that mean letting the Iraqi people elect their own leaders? Gosh, no. Thatís a bad idea, says Tom, and if you want free elections in Iraq you must be supporting the forces of violent intolerance.

If you donít understand that, you donít have good ideas, so Tom wonít even bother explaining why there is no contradiction here. Let me explain it for you. A decent society is an "open" society. World War III is "the war against the Islamist totalitarianism threatening open societies."

Open to what? Investment capital and corporate takeover, from anyone, anywhere in the world. Thatís why Paul Bremerís government in Iraq has opened the nation to all comers. He wants "stability." Thatís a good guysí code word. It means a predictably safe environment to protect returns on investment. So Bremer allows no restrictions on capital flows, no government regulations, and creates a flat tax to let the rich get richer. Itís an IMF Ė WTO dream come true.

If the Iraqi people were allowed to vote for their leaders, they might very well elect leaders (and not necessarily Shiíites) who would put the interests of their own people ahead of the interests of the global capitalist elite. Since that elite is the very essence of good, moderate, decent thinking, keeping them out would leave only the forces of intolerance to run Iraq.

In Tom Friedmanís world, there is no other alternative. Tom agrees with George W. that are no neutrals in this war. Everyone who isnít a good guy is a bad guy. So those of us who opposed the invasion of Iraq, and applauded Howard Dean when he was the antiwar candidate (Is he still?), must be bad guys, supporters of violent intolerance. We may even be traitors.

But as long as the Democrats nominate a "credible" candidate -- one with good ideas about stability, open societies, and the occasional smash in mouth -- Thomas Friedman can sleep easy at night. He wonít have to worry about the rest of us and our silly bad ideas at all.