Restoring Our Honor

Thomas Friedman‘s [RSS] piece today by that title is amusing if rather silly:

We are in danger of losing something much more important than just the war in Iraq. We are in danger of losing America as an instrument of moral authority and inspiration in the world. I have never known a time in my life when America and its president were more hated around the world than today. I was just in Japan, and even young Japanese dislike us. It’s no wonder that so many Americans are obsessed with the finale of the sitcom “Friends” right now. They’re the only friends we have, and even they’re leaving.

This is clever but disingenuous. I can’t remember a time when America was particularly well liked in the world. Continental Europe has long resented us as young upstarts whom they perceive as uncouth, brash, and undeserving of the world leadership role from which we’ve displaced them. Russia and China have never liked us for a variety of reasons related to culture and power politics. The Arabs hate us because our very prosperity undermines the claims of their religion–and we side with the hated Jews, to boot. And the Japanese? They hate everybody.

The end of the Cold War has further estranged us from Western Europe, since they no longer need us to protect them from the Soviets. And, of course, having a Republican president further alienates us from the socialist culture that pervades Western Europe. On the other hand, our relationship with Eastern Europe is stronger than it’s ever been.

From that jumping off point, Friedman offers a strange solution:

That overhaul needs to begin with President Bush firing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld — today, not tomorrow or next month, today. What happened in Abu Ghraib prison was, at best, a fundamental breakdown in the chain of command under Mr. Rumsfeld’s authority, or, at worst, part of a deliberate policy somewhere in the military-intelligence command of sexually humiliating prisoners to soften them up for interrogation, a policy that ran amok.

For one thing, I can’t imagine firing Rumsfeld would do anything to make Japanese teenagers like Tom Friedman more. Indeed, aside from having very marginal benefit in the Arab world, I see no connection between the problem Friedman identifies and this remedy. Secondarily, while I blame Rumsfeld for poorly handling the crisis, things happening at battalion level are well beyond his span of control.

While it’s an old maxim in military circles that a commander is responsible for everything his unit does or fails to do, we’ve never taken it to this extreme. We don’t relieve company commanders when their soldiers commit crimes; we merely insist that they deal with the situation appropriately and convey to the rest of the unit that such conduct is unacceptable. Similarly, OSD is responsible for ensuring that we have a command climate that values human decency and obeying the laws of land warfare. As best I can determine from the evidence so far available, that climate still exists. If the ongoing investigations reveal that pressure was coming from a very high level to prioritize intelligence gathering over our national honor, then we can look at more drastic measures.

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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. legion says:

    There were times in the past, in various different countries, when America was liked. But today’s crisis has nothing to do with dislike of the US. The problem is that nobody in the world _respects_ us any more. Lots of right-wingers seem to think that being ‘tough’ in the war on terror will drive respect, the random and inexplicable way it’s being prosecuted by Bush makes us look less like a tough, implacable, old-west sheriff and more like a violent schizo.

    Invading Iraq, but staying friends with Saudi Arabia. Invading Afghanistan, but staying friends with Pakistan. Being publicly humiliated on the world stage as our ‘bestest buddy’ Chalabi cozies up to Iran. We still have no idea what to do about North Korea. And now this prison thing will probably get worse before it gets better – that’s just the way life has been lately…

  2. oceanguy says:

    We were just as hated in Europe during the mid-80’s when Reagan was President. I was living in England from 85-88 and the Libyan Raids, cruise missiles at Greenham Common, SDI, and Reagan taunting the Russians, upsetting the Balance of Power were the topics of the day.

    Same hate, same jealousy… different excuses

  3. Eddie Thomas says:

    People who don’t have power hate those who do, even when the power benefits them. As we bloggers know very well, nothing is easier than coaching from the bleachers.

  4. norbizness says:

    I’m happy to hand off Friedman’s nuttiness to the other side of aisle; I’ve been dealing with it for the last 18 months.

  5. Robin says:

    The media are having a field day with this whole Abu Ghraib mess. To them it’s a much bigger deal than when American soldiers and marines are killed. It’s a bigger deal than when private American citizens are murdered and mutilated, as they were recently in Fallujah. Friedman is just a product of that whole crazy media culture.

    And as far as the kids in Japan liking us; give me a break. Nations don’t have friends. They have allies that share common interest. They have enemies that oppose those interest. And Friedman won a Pulitzer? He’s doing his best to become a joke.

  6. SwampWoman says:

    Friedman would surely be handicapped if he ran a business because every single freakin’ decision you make has a downside that is going to negatively impact something or somebody. I cannot imagine a scenario in which somebody could effectively run a business in which he/she would have to make any decision based upon the happiness quotient. (Ooooh, this decision would negatively impact my rivals! Well, better not make THAT one then.)

  7. Art Keon says:

    Firing Rumsfeld would signal Americans and the World that the Bush Adminstration is prepared to accept responsibily for its actions. Owning up to responsibilty is one of the things that Bush does not do well.

    Bush and his Administration are simply reflecting society when they weave and dodge the issue of responsiblity for a crime of this nature. When was the last time you heard someone take responsibilty for a traffic ticket or their child’s progress in school? How can we ever convince the World, let alone the Arab World that what we are offering them is something they should want when we allow crimes of this nature to occur and then have everyone in a position of responsiblity, deny responsibilty?

    Bill Clinton did they same thing, trying to deny his dalliance with ML. At least that lapse only affected Clinton and his family. Bush can be resolute and firm and still take responsibilty for what happens. Firing Rummy would send a message to the remainder of his staff that: “if you mess up, you will be held accountable”.


  8. James Joyner says:


    The difference, though, is that Clinton personally received sexual favors with “that woman, Ms. Lewinski,” lied about it under oath, and various other things. Rummy did not in fact stick a chem light up someone’s ass. So far as I know, Rummy opposes the insertion of chem lights into asses even when it’s consensual.

  9. Floyd Marrett says:


    OK, you know that chem lights were out… So what did “Rummy” officially approve of, you know, to shove up the arse of all those Iraqi prisioners? And are you sure he didn’t unload after watching the video? Porn is big business in America, but strictly off-limits to a conservative guy like the “Rumpster”… but a military training manual. Hmmm. Think I’ll watch that one for homework.