Sunday, May 15, 2011

Scenes from the Arab Spring

Tom Friedman’s column today begins with some poor writing and an unhelpful thought. Link here.

He opens with this: “Watching the Arab uprisings these days leaves me with a smile on my face and a pit in my stomach. The smile comes from witnessing a whole swath of humanity losing its fear and regaining its dignity. The pit comes from a rising worry that the Arab Spring may have been both inevitable and too late. If you are not feeling both these impulses, you’re not paying attention.”

Someone who pretends to be a serious writer and who is supposed to be edited by serious newspaper editors should not be writing about the pit in his stomach.

Unless you have swallowed a peach whole, you do not end up with a pit in your stomach. Friedman should know that the real phrase is: I have a feeling in the pit of my stomach. I'm sure that you did.

As James Taranto has been at serious pains to point out, Tom Friedman writes very badly, indeed.

For the rest of this paragraph, and for the remainder of his column, the Times’ crack foreign policy analyst confesses that he has mixed feelings about the Arab Spring.

Rather than provide us with cogent analysis or new factual information, Friedman spends his column whining about the fact that, after all, things are not working out as he had wished and hoped.

When you think through recent events in the Middle East, how many times have you said to yourself that you won’t be able to understand things until you know how Tom Friedman feels about it.

Well, now you know. You also know that Friedman is so fully in touch with his feelings that he has lost touch with reality.

He does not do very well with philosophy either. He considers that the issues in the Arab Spring are “existential” in the sense that the term is used by Albert Camus.

A strange choice indeed, especially when you consider that French existentialists would have considered the struggle against oppression (or the plague) to be an exercise in futility. Existentialists affirmed the value of struggle, but they despaired of ever achieving success.

Couldn’t Friedman have chosen a more positive intellectual beacon, an Adam Smith or a James Madison?

Friedman acknowledges the depths of the Arab desire for dignity, and understands it as a desire to overcome the humiliation that derives from being treated like children by autocrats and from watching modernity pass them by.  

So far, not so bad. One does understand that Arabs yearn for freedom and dignity. One does understand that those who empathize with those feelings would naturally have supported the revolutions. Thus, Friedman favored them. 
By now, he is beginning to have some doubts.

In his words: “To to embrace the downfall of these dictators is to hope that their own people can come together to midwife democracy in Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Libya. But here one must honestly ask: Is the breakdown in these societies too deep for anyone to build anything decent out of? Was the Arab Spring both inevitable and too late?

“My answer: It’s never too late, but some holes are deeper than others, and we are now seeing that the hole Arab democrats have to climb out of is really, really deep. Wish them well.”

There are deep holes; there are deeper holes; and then there are really, really deep holes.

How does Tom Friedman propose to help the Arab Spring? He sends along his best wishes. He feels for them. He hopes that democracy will emerge out of these demonstrations.

The alternative would have been to do what George Bush did in Iraq. And since that action managed to transform Iraq from a feudal autocracy to a somewhat functioning democracy, we would never want to do that. We certainly do not want to admit that the Iraq war may have succeeded. .

When it comes to his own policy proposals, Friedman has nothing to say. Nor does he offer any new facts or information that might help us to appraise the reality of the situation.

Instead, he offers his good feelings.

It means that he is not going to admit that his initial support for the Arab Spring was in error and he is not going to take any responsibility for what comes next.

Do you think that they are raising their glasses in Cairo or Damascus or Misrata to toast the fact that they have just received Tom Friedman’s best wishes?

Just after I read Friedman’s apologia, I turned to an article where Andrew McCarthy reported on current events in Egypt. Link here.

McCarthy is a former federal prosecutor. He has written importantly about the nature of Islamic terrorism.

His report is clear and factual. It is much more informative than Tom Friedman’s confessions about his tormented soul.

McCarthy reports: “Screaming ‘With our blood and soul, we will defend you, Islam,’ jihadists stormed the Virgin Mary Church in northwest Cairo last weekend. They torched the Coptic Christian house of worship, burned the nearby homes of two Copt families to the ground, attacked a residential complex, killed a dozen people, and wounded more than 200: just another day in this spontaneous democratic uprising by Muslim hearts yearning for freedom.”

Maybe Friedman turned to introspection because reality is too ugly to contemplate. I suspect that he would rather appeal for sympathy than report on facts that make him look like a dupe.

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