Jack Beatty takes on Thomas Friedman in Atlantic Unbound.

Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign-affairs columnist for The New York Times, attributes wonder-working power to the U.S. intervention in Iraq. For him, it is not about finding WMD or opening a new front in the war on terror or even ending a cruel regime. More is at stake–the transformation of the Arab world from autocracy to democracy.

The Bush State Department identified the demiurge of this deliverance, in a paper scoffing at its chances of success, as the second coming of the domino theory. Friedman has argued that much as the propaganda of the good life from Western Europe undermined communism’s grip on Eastern Europe, emanations from a democratic Iraq will precipitate democratic revolts against the Arab despots or force them to reform to head off revolution. Their long-suffering people will gain, but so will U.S. national security. Legitimate Arab polities with opposition parties, Friedman has taught us, are the only long-term solution to terrorism, which is rooted in domestic political frustration.

This maximalist vision–which, in the absence of weapons of mass destruction President Bush and others in his Administration have been playing up as a rationale for the war and its punishing sequel–is morally attractive and strategically astute, but programmatically inordinate. To transform Araby and dry up the roots of terror: that sounds like an objective worth paying any price or bearing any burden to achieve. But who will pay that price? Other people’s kids who would not know Tom Friedman from a cord of wood. Yet his views, his vision, could get them killed.

An interesting, well argued piece. Still, I tend to agree with Friedman on this issue, even if I don’t quite share his optimism.

In his wildly successful book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Friedman made a very persuasive case for why the forces of globalization are a good thing and why dictatorial regimes will have a difficult time resisting them. Eventually, I think Friedman’s thesis will be borne out. But it’s not going to happen magically; the power of the olive tree is very strong and its roots are deep. [Perhaps you should insert a story about some fellow you met in the streets of Cairo to illustrate your point? -ed. I think they get the idea.]

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FILED UNDER: Economics and Business
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. James, your little Editor’s Note at the end of that piece was, perhaps, the most subtle swipe I’ve ever seen anyone take at Friedman.

    Remind me to just once someday put away my face-shovel.