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He Used To Write Books!

Thomas Friedman:

The fact that the White House spokesman Scott McClellan spent part of his briefing on Tuesday excoriating Newsweek - and telling its editors that they had a responsibility to "help repair the damage" to America's standing in the Arab-Muslim world - while not offering a single word of condemnation for those who went out and killed 16 people in Afghanistan in riots linked to a Newsweek report, pretty much explains why we're struggling to win the war of ideas in the Muslim world today. We are spending way too much time debating with ourselves, or playing defense, and way too little time actually looking Arab Muslims in the eye and telling them the truth as we see it.

In part this is because we are so dependent on their oil - and addicts never tell the truth to their pushers.

Needless to say, while Afghanistan does contain many ethnic groups, there are no Arabs there. Nor is there any oil. I'm pretty sure the guy who wrote From Beirut to Jerusalem wouldn't have gotten confused about this stuff. They should bring him back.

May 20, 2005 | Permalink

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» Tom Friedman's Accidental Point from Digital Dissent
According to 1970s Soviet studies, Afghanistan had 95 million barrels worth of proven oil reserves. Not a lot, to be sure, but most of the country remains unexplored at the moment. Also, there's the continuing possibility of running gas and oil pipelin... [Read More]

Tracked on May 20, 2005 6:52:39 PM

Comments

I read it as Saudi Arabia being the center of gravity of the Arab and Muslim worlds; and the flaw in our so-called war on terror is our unwillingness to stand up, publically and regularly, to the Saudis because of our addiction to oil. Debatable premise, but not implausible or unfounded. "We" are not addicted to Saudi oil. Rather, our current Administration, as well as certain powerful forces in our economy and society, are addicted to Saudi oil. What's good for Exxon-Mobil is good for America. Right.

Posted by: hyh | May 20, 2005 10:52:08 AM

His point was that because the U.S. is addicted to Arab oil that the Bush admin it was unwilling to speak the truth to Muslims in general (for fear of offending Muslim Arabs). Why go out of your way to be pedantic?

Posted by: Slocum | May 20, 2005 10:52:36 AM

Nor is there any oil.

Just a pipeline.

" An agreement has been signed in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, paving the way for construction of a gas pipeline from the Central Asian republic through Afghanistan to Pakistan.
The project has been around for some years
The building of the trans-Afghanistan pipeline has been under discussion for some years but plans have been held up by Afghanistan's unstable political situation. "
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/2608713.stm
Dateline: December 27, 2002

"Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan Pipeline Approved
April 14 (NCA) -- A proposed trans-Afghanistan gas pipeline running from Turkmenistan to Pakistan has been given the go-ahead by the Asian Development Bank, which declared that the project is feasible.
Pakistani Petroleum Minister Amanullah Jadoon yesterday called the approval good news for all the three countries"
http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2005/4/B38B22B3-FA81-4273-AA44-4A1C3A57373B.html
Dateline: April 14, 2005

Posted by: Calling All Toasters | May 20, 2005 10:57:16 AM

Slocum wrote:

His point was that because the U.S. is addicted to Arab oil that the Bush admin it was unwilling to speak the truth to Muslims in general (for fear of offending Muslim Arabs). Why go out of your way to be pedantic?

That's a stupid comment.

Criticizing Islam Karimov, Altaf Hussein, of BJ Habibi will not offend folks in Ramallah. Any more than Musharraf criticizing Joseph Estrada will arouse fury in Jacksonville, Florida.

Let's hope the most important American forieng affairs pundit on the most importnat newspaper int he USA isn't as dumb as all that.

Posted by: Ikram | May 20, 2005 11:12:30 AM

Your criticism of Friedman is often warranted.

I think he could have been clearer but I'm not sure that he really has made the important factual error that you suggest.

Posted by: just sayin' | May 20, 2005 11:17:00 AM

"We" are not addicted to oil? Let's do some math. The US uses 3 gallons of oil per day per capita. 20 million barrels per day = 840 million gallons per day. 840 million gallons/280 million people = 3 gallons per day. 20 million barrels per day is too low, but there are more than 280 million people; I use those numbers because the math is easy and they are roughly correct. (FYI, 3 gallons of oil provide the energy equivalent of 100K calories, or the 24-hour caloric output of 40-50 people.) We are completely addicted to oil. Our entire economy and our very way of life depends on it, to the tune of 3 gallons per capita per day. The globalized economy would cease to function without it, as how do transfer goods without the energy to make the planes, ships and trucks run? Not only that, but oil has a number of uses outside of fuel that we have come to take for granted: paving roads and tar, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals and plastics to name a few. I think my life would change drastically if the raw material for those things was taken away. Our entire way of life for nearly the last 100 years is based on oil from top to bottom.

Posted by: Mitch Schindler | May 20, 2005 11:30:06 AM

I'm pretty sure the guy who wrote From Beirut to Jerusalem wouldn't have gotten confused about this stuff. They should bring him back.
He was swallowed and eaten by his enormous Moustache of Understanding. Quite a tragedy.

Posted by: Petey | May 20, 2005 12:05:49 PM

When reading the column on the subway this morning, I initially thought the same as Matthew. Rereading it now, though, I agree with 'just sayin'. Whether Afghans are Arabs really has nothing to do with the point he is making. He was generalizing from the Bushies' statement regarding Afghanistan (not an Arab country) to our behavior with respect to the Arab world. So it's not really an error, just a lack of clarity in his writing, really. (It would be helpful if he didn't seem to use "Arab-Muslim", "Muslim" and "Arab Muslim" in a completely arbitrary way, when I think he means the same thing in all three instances.)

Posted by: Al | May 20, 2005 12:16:59 PM

...those who went out and killed 16 people...

I understand that those who went out and killed 16 people are police forces of our client Karzai-led government, correct?

Posted by: abb1 | May 20, 2005 12:23:50 PM

It's a good thing that doing huge security sweeps and imprisoning hundreds people without charges doesn't offend the Muslim world, otherwise we'd be fucked.

Posted by: glitter | May 20, 2005 12:26:12 PM

Reuters headline on new Bush man-date:

"Bush promises probe into Saddam underwear..."

Posted by: ot | May 20, 2005 12:38:38 PM

> "We" are not addicted to oil? Let's do some math.

Personally, I agree with you. But there is another way to look at it. We are giving some very poor countries pieces of paper, for which they give us very useful oil in exchange. Having this oil allows us to live very mobile and pleasant lives. Someday the oil will be gone, but in the meantime someone has to enjoy it, and why not us? At best we are giving the poor countries a chance to build self-sustaining, non-extractive economies ( a test most of them are failing). At worst we can repudiate those pieces of paper when the time comes, and move on to hydrogen fuels cells or solar power satellites or just bicycles; whatever we want [yes, I know the objections - I am arguing a contratrian viewpoint here].

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | May 20, 2005 12:42:59 PM

Hmmm...

who went out and killed 16 people in Afghanistan in riots linked to a Newsweek report, pretty much explains why we're struggling to win the war of ideas in the Muslim world today.

He said Muslim when referencing Afghanistan Matt, not Arab.

The 2nd and 3rd sentences,

We are spending way too much time debating with ourselves, or playing defense, and way too little time actually looking Arab Muslims in the eye and telling them the truth as we see it.

In part this is because we are so dependent on their oil - and addicts never tell the truth to their pushers.

were clearly a more general statement about our overall Mideast policy. You would think an intelligent blogger would understand that. Or maybe this is what happens when a person makes up their mind about an author's piece of work before even reading it? Feel free to post a comment on the substance of Friedman's charge, however.

Posted by: Adrock | May 20, 2005 1:05:38 PM

Cranky,

I don't know if 'test' is quite appropriate. Maybe 'odious form of entrapment,' though that doesn't have quite the same ring to it ;)

Posted by: TJ | May 20, 2005 1:20:54 PM

"We" are not "addicted" to "Saudi" "oil."

First, who is "we?" It's too easy to lump all actors in our economy together. Dependence on oil is not uniform in our society or economy. The pain of shifting away from oil as a major input would not be shared equally. Of course, the pain (in blood and treasure) of maintaining an oil economy is also not shared equally.

Second, no one is saying that breaking addiction is easy. And, if we're going to use the addiction metaphor, breaking addiction is generally considered a positive development in one's life. But it's not about all or nothing. It's about reducing dependence to the point where we can have some balance in our national interests.

Third, Saudi Arabia might have the largest known reserves of oil, but they are by no means synonymous with the global oil markets. The question is what price we are willing to pay to stand up to the Saudis. Right now, under current leadership, we seem to be willing to pay a higher price, literally, but are still not willing to call out the Saudis. The assertion is that the Bush Administration cannot possible be honest brokers when it comes to dealing frankly with the Saudis; too much hand holding going on in that relationship.

Lastly, energy is fundamental to the US economy, but oil, per se? It would be painful to have less oil or more expensive oil, but it's not catastophic except to particular lifestyles and particular investment portfolios. Look, it's hypothetical in the end because the oil industry is so deeply entrenched politically, but we shouldn't just accept wholesale the idea that oil is equivalent to economic well being. Such acceptance plays right into the hands of very powerful interests in this country.

Posted by: hyh | May 20, 2005 1:22:15 PM

> I don't know if 'test' is quite appropriate.
> Maybe 'odious form of entrapment,'

TJ,
I went through the liberal-conservative-liberal roller coaster thing, am now growing more liberal every day of the W Administration, and will probably stay/die that way. But I cannot but look at Mexico, for example, where $500 billion of Western oil payments have been essentially flushed down the toilet (outhouse) over the last 20 years, and think that it just might not be my (the West's) fault.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | May 20, 2005 1:32:30 PM

I've never read _From Beirut to Jerusalem_. I hear that it's great all the time. But Friedman is such a joker that I have a very hard time believing it. It seems much more likely to me that it's in fact also no good, but that people didn't believe this, since it confirmed their beliefs and they didn't yet know what a fool and simpelton he is. Do we have any examples of people 1) who didn't already buy fully Friedman's line on the middle-east, 2) knew what a simpleton he is, at least these days, 3) read FBTJ after this, and 4) still thought it was quite good? If so I'd be interested to hear about it. It would also be good if the one claiming this had an independent knowledge base about the middle-east and wasn't in the early years of college. Can anyone honestly claim this? Until I see some evidence of it, I'll continue to suspect that in fact FBTJ is also hack-work journalism and nothing more.

Posted by: Matt | May 20, 2005 1:35:52 PM

Well, there are no Arabs in Afghanistan who aren't hiding in caves...

Posted by: Matthew Longo | May 20, 2005 1:41:23 PM

Cranky,
I think the thing is that we've more or less made some of these oil-rich states a series of offers they couldn't refuse...

"That's a nice little oil-industry you've got there. It'd be a shame if something happened to it..."

Posted by: TJ | May 20, 2005 1:44:25 PM

Yes, the simpleton thats says this, which you probably all agree with:

The greatest respect we can show to Arabs and Muslims - and the best way to help Muslim progressives win the war of ideas - is to take them seriously and stop gazing at our own navels. That means demanding that they answer for their lies, hypocrisy and profane behavior, just as much as we must answer for ours.

Posted by: Adrock | May 20, 2005 1:51:52 PM

Come on, folks - the article's biggest sin isn't that it may have gotten wrong the ethnicity of Afghans, it's that Friedman somehow thinks that Bush could be believed if he said that, "These allegations will be investigated, and any such behavior will be punished." There have been LOTS of allegations of torture, but only a few low-level investigations and only a handful of small fries have been punished. Meanwhile, the architects of the torture regime have been promoted. Until the US has an independent, open and thorough investigation of allegations of torture which results in important people being punished, our reputation in the Muslim/Arab world is going to be shit.

Posted by: HippoRider | May 20, 2005 2:20:44 PM

To continue my comment above - next up, Friedman says that if the US is serious about promoting world economic growth, Bush should have a press conference and lecture countries on the importance of not running a deficit.

Posted by: HippoRider | May 20, 2005 2:31:54 PM

Adrock, what are you talking about here. Freidman is making no sense.

It was the Afghan government that killed 16 people. Freidman's article, read at face value, is saying that the US gvt needs to criticize Hamid Karzai, and that it is refusing to do so because it wants to curry favour with Prince AbulAziz of Saudi, the leaders of the gulf states, and Libya (the significant arab oil exporters).

I would think you agree that Freidman, read at face value, is being stupid. Karzai is not Abdelaziz's or Gadhaffi's protege (the guy went to school in India!), and the real reason the US doesn't criticize the Afghan gvt is becuase it is the main backer of that gvt.

But to get to the bigger point, Freidman's inability to distinguish between Arabs and Muslims is not a innocent mistake or a unimportant generalization. It is a huge stinkin' error that the NYT's most important foreign policy pundit makes frequently.

If you can't dinstiguish between Arabs and Muslims, or don't think the difference in the two concepts matters, you have no business talking about US foreign policy.

Posted by: Ikram | May 20, 2005 2:55:58 PM

I'm pretty sure the guy who wrote From Beirut to Jerusalem wouldn't have gotten confused about this stuff.

Have you read the book? Friedman has been an idiot for longer than you've been alive. In fact, compared to his early days, his current stuff is almost clueful.

Posted by: Dan Simon | May 20, 2005 6:06:08 PM

Lastly, energy is fundamental to the US economy, but oil, per se? It would be painful to have less oil or more expensive oil, but it's not catastophic except to particular lifestyles and particular investment portfolios.

Until we can get a ginormous truck full of foodstuffs from the warehouse to the supermarket on solar power, 98% of American lifestyles are dependent on oil.

Posted by: Hamilton Lovecraft | May 20, 2005 10:52:46 PM

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