I am hardly the only writer who has found Thomas Friedman to be a waste of editorial space.
Today, however, Friedman surprises by offering a very good column about what is going on in the Middle East.
While the nation is transfixed by the “fiscal cliff,” we would do better, Friedman explains, to prepare for a pending catastrophe in the Middle East.
Friedman opens his column:
The scandal engulfing two of our top military and intelligence officers could not be coming at a worse time: the Middle East has never been more unstable and closer to multiple, interconnected explosions. Virtually every American president since Dwight Eisenhower has had a Middle Eastern country that brought him grief. For Ike, it was Lebanon’s civil war and Israel’s Sinai invasion. For Lyndon Johnson, it was the 1967 Six-Day War. For Nixon, it was the 1973 war. For Carter, it was the Iranian Revolution. For Ronald Reagan, it was Lebanon. For George H.W. Bush, it was Iraq. For Bill Clinton, it was Al Qaeda and Afghanistan. For George W. Bush, it was Iraq and Afghanistan. For Barack Obama’s first term, it was Iran and Afghanistan, again. And for Obama’s second term, I fear that it could be the full nightmare — all of them at once. The whole Middle East erupts in one giant sound and light show of civil wars, states collapsing and refugee dislocations, as the keystone of the entire region — Syria — gets pulled asunder and the disorder spills across the neighborhood.
True enough, this not the best time for the Obama administration to shake up its foreign policy team. Then again, the Obama-Clinton foreign policy has certainly not been very successful. The pending calamities in the Middle East are the sound of Obama’s foreign policy crashing.
Significantly, Friedman is signaling a significant change in his own thinking about these matters.
In his paragraph he fails to mention the Arab Spring and the ascendance of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists across North Africa. Don’t those events count among the most important Middle Eastern developments during Obama’s first term?
When the Arab Spring was happening Friedman got caught up in the euphoria, so he would, I am sure, rather forget his misjudgment.
Today, Friedman is preoccupied with the ongoing war in Syria. Like most observers, he does not offer any action plan that might help the situation.
Surprisingly, however, Friedman states that the role model for dealing with countries like Syria should be the Iraq war.
At the beginning Friedman supported the war, but, in the precincts he inhabits that military incursion has now been adjudged a colossal mistake.
In fact, the Obama policy in the Middle East, with its outreach to Islamists and its willingness to allow popular rebellions show the way to democracy by overthrowing tyrants was based on the notion that the Bush Iraq policy was a failure.
Friedman is undermining the foundation for the Obama Middle East policy, and that does deserve notice.
He sees what is positive about the Iraq War:
Still, the lesson [of the Iraq war] is that if you’re trying to topple one of these iron-fisted, multisectarian regimes, it really helps to have an outside power that can contain the explosions and mediate a new order. There is too little trust in these societies for them to do it on their own. Syria’s civil war, though, was triggered by predominantly Sunni rebels trying to oust President Bashar al-Assad and his minority Alawite-Shiite regime. There is no outside power willing to fall on the Syrian grenade and midwife a new order. So the fire there rages uncontrolled; refugees are now spilling out, and the Shiite-Sunni venom unleashed by the Syrian conflict is straining relations between these same communities in Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kuwait.
So, Thomas Friedman is writing the epitaph to the Obama Middle Eastern policy.
In the end this does not change too much. Count it as a canary in the coal mine. Still, it’s the first time I recall that a liberal columnist has compared Obama's foreign policy unfavorably to Bush administration policy.
If I were cynical, I would say that it’s a sign that the election is really over and that Obama’s honeymoon with the media might be fading out.