Thomas Friedman: Up to Iraqis Now

Friedman Units IraqThomas Friedman, who has over the years earned both enmity from the Right for his criticisms of the Iraq War and derision from the Left by his continual calls for another six months, leaves plenty for everyone in his latest column.

On the one hand, the weekend elections were another “very good day for Iraq” and “a big deal.”  On the other, Iran is stronger than ever and the terrorists and Islamists are not yet defeated.

On the one hand, “Former President George W. Bush’s gut instinct that this region craved and needed democracy was always right.”  On the other, “It should have and could have been pursued with much better planning and execution. This war has been extraordinarily painful and costly.”  Then again, “democracy was never going to have a virgin birth in a place like Iraq, which has never known any such thing.”

On the one hand, the Iraqi “people are ready to use politics to resolve disputes, not just arms.”  On the other, “We need Iraqi leaders to prove to their people that they are not just venal elites out to seize the spoils of power more than to seize this incredible opportunity to remake Iraq. We need to see real institution-builders emerge, including builders of a viable justice system and economy. And we need to be wary that too big an army and too much oil can warp any regime.”

At this juncture, though, he doesn’t think we need another Friedman Unit.  We’re on a departure timeline and should stick to it.  And all we can do now is hope for the best!

On the Right hand, Kathryn Jean Lopez, Jennifer Rubin, and Archy Cary all see this as Friedman giving Bush his due and admitting that his own pessimism was proven wrong. On the Left, Atrios snarks, “Tom thinks that if the people want a pony enough, the pony will come. Tom also thinks it matters if he keeps clapping.”

It seems to me that the solution is obvious:  Simply make sure that there are plenty of hamburger joints spread throughout Iraq’s provinces.  Surely, no country with a McDonald’s has ever fought a civil war.

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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. Dantheman says:

    I’m not seeing which of Friedman’s quotes you cite say anything different than the current Republican non-Cheney line on Iraq. Could you explain which ones are any different than what (say) Rich Lowry would have said?

  2. kth says:

    Friedman may have expressed pessimism at the war’s prospects several years into it, but in no way can he be regarded as anything but a full-throated supporter (“suck.on.this”) of the war in the first instance. So I’m not seeing the conversion that K-Lo, Rubin, et al, are seeing; Friedman has just as much of his credibility staked on a colorably-successful outcome as they do.

  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    The withdrawal timeline is an agreement between us and the Iraqi government. So unless we’re willing to dismiss the legitimacy of that government we’re stuck with the timeline so long as they want to stick to it.

    This could work out well enough in the long run that we eke out a C+ for the whole course. Or it could go so badly wrong we end up having to drop the course altogether. We’re between “Okay, we’re alive but let’s never do that again,” and “Aiiieee! Heeeelp!”

    There’s not much we can do to alter the grade now. Let’s just put down our test sheets and go have a beer.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    The withdrawal timeline is an agreement between us and the Iraqi government.

    Not exactly. The Status of Forces Agreement allows us to remain until December 31, 2011, at which time all U. S. forces (which the language of the agreement would seem to define as “all U. S. soldiers”—combat, training, everybody) will have been removed from the country. There’s nothing in the SOFA which would prevent us from leaving earlier and, if a referendum of the Iraqi people were to be held and determined so, we might need to leave earlier.

    Basically, IMO we should remove our force ASAP. They’re not really serving much purpose there now.

  5. Brett says:

    No shocker coming from Friedman. The man has no depth on anything – he just absorbs opinions from popular discussion and english-speaking, US-educated spokesmen, then mixes and mashes it together with a whole bunch of anecdotes and unusual grammar.

    It can work when he’s actually in the area he’s writing about for a long time, but it doesn’t work now, and it’s probably why you get weird, self-contradictory stuff like he puts out in this.

  6. The Q says:

    The insanity which pervades the “Iraq = Success” delusion:

    Please indulge me for a moment…close your eyes and lets go back to the night of 9/11/01…think back about the feelings we had that night after watching the horror of that day’s tragedy; watching before our very eyes the collapse of the twin towers in real time…remember the visceral sickness we all had that night…and the resolve that united all Americans (indeed the rest of the world..recall Le Monde’s headline “We are all Americans Now”)…think about how furious we were at this guy named bin laden and his cohort of Al Qaeda henchmen…think back about how this attack was WORSE than Pearl Harbor, as it was on American soil, perpetrated against innocent civilians, in the heart of our greatest city…remember our feelings that there would be hell to pay and that we as a nation should “cry havoc and unleash the dogs of war” and smite this world of any such enemy capable of such calamity and atrocity…I think we all felt that the world had changed and a just, swift response was necessary and that soon bin laden’s head would be on a pike with his penis and balls stuffed in his mouth…I think this neatly sums up our revulsion that night….

    Now just think if I were to mysteriously appear and whisper into your ear that night:

    “Hello I am the ghost of 911, I am here to tell you something you are not going to believe about the future…9 years from now, we still haven’t killed bin laden and not only that, when we kinda had him cornered, we gave up the chase abruptly to go invade a country which had nothing to do with fact, in a few short years from this night, the President won’t even mention his name in the state of the union and in fact will say its really not important if we kill him… not only that but this flawed, poorly executed invasion of Iraq which did not threaten us, will give Iran hegemony in that region that it could only dream of right now. Not only that, but the Iraqi’s will elect a government of Shiites who are of the same faith and sympathies as those Iranians that are building atomic bombs and wish to annihilate Israel. Also the costs of this war will bankrupt our economy collapse our dollar, exhaust our military, create trillions in deficits and for the piece de resistance, the world will turn a cold shoulder to our cries of help and reject our claims of global samaritan.

    And here’s the real shocker, the worst tragedy of all…9 years from now conservatives will call this, (drum roll please)

    A SUCCESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    And people ask why are country is on the verge of friggin’ collapse and why conservatives should not be seen in daylight.

  7. Michael Reynolds says:


    I suppose we could leave earlier, but Dec 31, 2011 is just 21 months away (if my math is right and it rarely is.) We can’t physically remove our forces overnight, obviously. So let’s say we could maybe cut that in half – assuming we intend to bring all our toys home. Is that worth sending a signal that we’re rushing the exit?

  8. Dave Schuler says:

    That’s why I’ve been complaining about our having removed few troops from Iraq since we moved our troops from the Iraqi cities last summer. Wait another nine months or a year when we haven’t made a great deal more progress than we already have. I figure that about that time we’ll see a real panic to try and renegotiate the SOFA.