Our war with Friedman

Rahul Siddharthan, 2003

(In response to Thomas Friedman's Our war with France, 2003)

It is time we liberals came to terms with something: Thomas Friedman is not just our annoying ally. He is not just our jealous rival. Friedman is becoming our enemy.

If you add up how Friedman behaved in the run-up to Iraq war (making his readers believe that the war was in the best interests of the Iraqi people and that, once democracy bloomed there, the entire Middle East would be transformed), and if you look at how Friedman behaved during the war (when he refused to answer any questions about whether the killing of civilians, the use of cluster bombs, depleted uranium, and so on, in heavily populated areas, was justified), and if you watch how Friedman is behaving today (denying that the Iraqi people are capable of governing themselves and insisting, contrary to his earlier pro-democracy arguments, that the US must remain the occupying power for a long time to come) then there is only one conclusion one can draw: that Friedman is firmly in the pockets of the right-wing cabal that took over Washington in 2000.

Friedman wants America to sink still further into the quagmire there in the crazy belief that giving in to European allies in any way will strengthen them and somehow weaken America, while still hoping that they will for some reason donate money and troops towards solving a problem America is solely responsible for.

Yes, French and European superiority can be annoying. If France had not had this "I told you so" attitude, it may have softened US attitudes. But even that I have my doubts about. After all, they have suffered terrorism for years, had warned US intelligence of the dangers of Al Qaeda, and to this day seem more serious about pursuing the real threats rather than drawing imaginary connections between Osama and Saddam. But, blinded by their Saddam hatred and incapable of distinguishing one Muslim from another, the US did not and still will not listen.

What I have no doubts about, though, is that there is no coherent, legitimate US authority able to bring order to the country in the near term, and the way they are trying to force one now is leading to a dangerous struggle where Iraqi people are already alienated against the occupying forces who are supposed to be "liberating" them. The daily reports of US high-handedness, barging into private homes, and shoot-first-ask-questions-later attitude, resulting in the deaths of civilians (and even Iraqi police personnel) every day, are not improving matters. The US knows this, which is why their proposal of staying entrenched in Iraq indefinitely can only be malicious.

What is so amazing to me about the US campaign -- "Operation We Must Liberate Iraqis By Shooting Them Down" -- is that the US seems to have given no thought as to how it would affect the US. Let me spell it out in simple English: prior to this war, not a single Iraqi was known to be involved in terrorism. Saddam was a dictator but he was not an Islamist. Thanks to this war, Muslims all over the world are enraged at the US. Al-Qaeda, who seemed to be running for cover, now have a huge recruiting possibility. There was no terrorism in Iraq before the war, but there certainly is now. Osama could never have dreamed of generating by himself the anti-west propaganda that the US has so generously given him in the last few months. To think that the US, with its significant Muslim and Arab population and ever fearful of further terrorist attacks against its people, would not see its own security affected by this is fanciful.

If the US were serious, it would even now be taking the assistance of its allies, together with their suggestion of a quick internationalisation of the occupying forces under UN command and concrete moves towards democracy, very seriously. This would help everyone: the US caused the Iraq problem but it is now everybody's problem, and European and Middle-Eastern countries would be happy to see some measure of stability return to Iraq; while the US will not be the sole target of hatred and will be able to share the expenses with others. Instead the US has dug in its heels, just to show that it can be superior and nobody else couts.

But then the US has never been interested in promoting democracy in the modern Arab world, which is why its pose as the new protector of the Iraqi people -- after spending years heavily arming and supporting Saddam, as well as many other thugs in the Middle East and all over the world -- is so patently cynical.

Clearly, not all US allies are comfortable with this malevolent US policy. Tony Blair went along for the ride, but he is now in deep trouble in his home country. It's stunning to me that Blair, misled by Bush, could let itself be caught up in the stickest and most unnecessary quagmire since Vietnam. The whole tone and direction of the Arab-Muslim world is being affected by Iraq. It is America saying it does not care about peace, Muslim opinion or terrorist threats to its people because it is mad at Saddam.

What America is saying about Iraq is that this is our backyard, we're not going to let you meddle in it, but we're going to ask you for money and troops all the same.

What's most sad is that France is right: American efforts will not be seen as legitimate without international support and concrete moves towards democracy. Having the US working with France in Iraq, rather than against its allies everywhere in the world, would be so beneficial for everybody. Too bad this US government has other priorities.