John Kerry’s testimony last week before Congress does not give confidence in the wisdom of his understanding.

In response to a question about a Thomas Friedman column – in which Friedman wrote that all Assad needed was a really good talking to and not any physical attack – Secretary of State John Kerry stated that Thomas Friedman “… is most often correct…”

I am a long time Friedman aficionado, and Kerry’s assertiont is untrue. Friedman has made a career of being wrong.

I could spend the next weeks cataloging those mistakes. But I don’t have the time. Instead let me treat to you to five or six of his greatest hits, errr, I mean misses.

1) Bibi the Illegitimate

For sheer bile it’s hard to top … and one man voted twice. In the wake of Binyamin Netanyahu’s narrow victory over Shimon Peres in the 1996 election, Friedman lamented.

In the coming weeks you will read many analyses of the Israeli election, but for my money you can reduce the outcome to four words: The bad guys won. No, I’m not talking about those Israelis who voted for Bibi Netanyahu. They are entitled to their choice. I’m talking about the Jewish and Muslim extremists, whose actions during the last nine months transformed Israeli politics and made Mr. Netanyahu’s victory possible.

Note what he does. He absolves those who voted for Netanyahu of being bad guys. Notably he does not exclude Netanyahu from that category.

I’m talking first and foremost about the one Israeli who got to vote twice. His name is Yigal Amir and he is the religious extremist who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. Under Israeli law, even an assassin gets to vote. So last Wednesday, at the Ohalei Kedar Prison, Mr. Amir trudged out of his cell in shackles and cast his vote — no doubt for Mr. Netanyahu. What poetic injustice. First Mr. Amir voted with a bullet and then he voted with a ballot. Having murdered the one Labor Party leader who would have certainly beaten Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Amir finished his work with an absurd legal flourish, sealing his ballot under the watchful eye of prison guards.

It is simply not true that Yitzchak Rabin was the only “… Labor Party leader who would have certainly beaten Mr. Netanyahu.” Anyone who followed Israel’s polls, knew that Rabin was in trouble before his assassination. The increase in terror after the signing of the Olso Accords had understandably Gerald Steinberg summed things up well:

In January 1995, following the Beit Leid attack, polls showed Rabin trailing Netanyahu by a narrow margin. Continued terrorism, including the August attack in Jerusalem reinforced this trend. However, in the aftermath of the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin on November 4, Netanyahu’s standing plunged. In February, when Peres decided to hold early elections, the Prime Minister maintained a substantial lead over Netanyahu.

In a campaign speech delivered on February 12, Peres boasted of the government’s achievements, declaring “No other government has a record in four years, except for that of the early years of the state.” He described the peace with the Palestinians as “flourishing, unlike those in Ireland and Bosnia”. Within two weeks, his vision of a New Middle East had been torn apart by another and more deadly series of suicide bombings. On February 25, two terrorist blasts took place; one in a bus in Jerusalem, killing 25 and wounding 50, and another at the Ashkelon junction in which two were killed and 34 wounded. One week later, another Jerusalem bus bombing killed 18, and the next day, a similar bombing in Tel Aviv took a similar toll.

As a result of these bombings (which had been planned to take place on a single day) support for the peace process was dramatically reversed. Polls showed that before the bombings, a substantial majority of Israelis felt that personal security had been enhanced by the process, but after these events, only 16.5% thought security had improved, while over 51% felt less secure. 63% supported suspension of negotiations with the Palestinians . This was translated into electoral terms, and Peres lost his substantial lead (10 to 15 percent) over Netanyahu in Israeli polls.

Without the terror attacks of early 1996, Netanyahu would not have won. Had Rabin not been assassinated, Netanyahu likely would have beaten him; unless he’d have taken a stronger stand against the terror than his successor did. After establishing that he believed Netanyahu’s election was illegitimate, Friedman engaged in one of the most damaging obfuscations of the past twenty years. (It’s an obfuscation that many pundits and so-called foreign policy sophisticates accept.)

What Yigal Amir began from the Jewish fringe, the Palestinian suicide bombers finished off from the Muslim fringe. The suicide bombers wiped out Mr. Peres’s 16-point lead in the polls, by creating a sense among Israelis that the peace process equaled insecurity. Logically, many Israelis understood that the extremists were acting in order to stop the peace process — precisely because it was working and rendering their extremist visions obsolete. But fear always trumps logic.

The extremists didn’t seek to “stop the peace process.” They took advantage of Arafat’s lax policing efforts (or even has tacit encouragement) to kill Jews. They didn’t want to stop the peace process; or at least that wasn’t their primary goal. Fear didn’t trump logic; the fear that the peace process made Israel insecure was logical given the rise in terror after the legitimization of Arafat and the PLO effected by the Oslo Accords.

The condescension, sloppiness, fallacies and outright vitriol mark this column as the worst Friedman I’ve ever read. And yes it was wrong on so many levels.

2) You can Amazon too!

In Amazon.you, Friedman asserted that anyone could do what Amazon did, and wondered if Amazon could survive. The column centered around a college professor, Lyle Bowlin, who using an extra room in his set up a bookselling business, www.positively-you.com. Bowlin had some modest success with his business and this led Friedman to pontificate:

There, a single Iowa family, headed by Lyle Bowlin, is re-creating Amazon.com in a spare bedroom. I tell you this not because they’re an immediate threat to Amazon.com, but to underscore just how easy it is to compete against Amazon.com, and why therefore I’m dubious that Amazon and many other Internet retailers will ever generate the huge profits that their stock prices suggest.

About a year later, Friedman acknowledged that he might have oversold Bowlin’s success a bit.

Well, this fair-e-tale, which I helped midwife, came to an end a few weeks ago when Bowlin went out of business.

I’m not going to go into the details, because Friedman can’t even come out and say “I was wrong.” I’ll let Rob Long do that though:

Look, the point isn’t that Friedman made a stupid prediction. We all make stupid predictions. The point is that we have a pundit class that’s uniquely unqualified to pronounce on business, and business opportunities, and yet arrogantly and pompously does so anyway. There’s something monumentally irritating about Friedman’s flatulently confident assertions, backed up as they are without a shred of experience, knowledge, or skin in the game. It’s worth remembering — especially these days, when business and economic predictions keep erupting from the noisy, nasty, uninformed bowels of the pundit class.

The shame is that Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post and not the New York Times. It would have been fun speculating how Friedman would have tried explaining that column to his new boss.

3) Historical Fiction 1999

After three years as Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu stood for re-election against the highly decorated general Ehud Barak. Friedman wrote a hypothetical column, How Bibi got Re-elected. I’m not going to bash Friedman for getting that wrong. I will bash him for his reasoning. Remember, this was written before the election, which ultimately went to Barak, so keep in mind that every view expressed is Friedman’s, not those of the putative speakers.

”When I looked at it that way,” continued Mr. Netanyahu, ”I realized that by staying in Lebanon we were actually undermining both our strengths. Politically we could not defend ourselves, because when people shot at our boys in Lebanon, the rest of the world would say: ‘What do you expect? You’re in someone else’s country.’ And technologically, we were fighting the most low-tech guerrilla war possible in a terrain we didn’t really know against an enemy we couldn’t really see. The Syrians and Iranians were getting all the advantages of pressure on us, without any of the costs.”

Now that Israeli troops are out of Lebanon, noted Mr. Netanyahu, everything is reversed: Politically, if the Iranian-directed Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas try to come across the border, they will be invading Israel, and Israel will be justified in massively retaliating against Lebanese, Syrian and Iranian troops that abet such an invasion. And if Israel does retaliate, it won’t be with guerrilla warfare, but with the Israeli Air Force massively striking Lebanese, Iranian and Syrian military targets in Lebanon, and maybe inside Syria.

After Netanyahu’s opponent, Ehud Barak withdrew Israel from southern Lebanon, instead of being politically undermined Hezbollah built up its armaments, and attacked Israel for six years, until Israel finally struck back in 2006. Syria claimed that an area called Sheba’a Farms belonged to Lebanon (it was, in fact, captured from Syria in 1967) to provide Hezbollah with a continued pretext to attack Israel. In 2000, not a half year after the UN certified Israel’s complete withdrawal from Lebanon, Hezbollah terrorists attacked, kidnapped and killed three Israeli soldiers. Rather than condemn Hezbollah for violating the border, the UN actually protected Hezbollah. Thomas Friedman, who predicted that Hezbollah would be forced to docility in the wake of an Israeli withdrawal was silent about this outrage.

But he did speak up in 2010 in War, Timeout, War, Time …

Israel today is enjoying another timeout because it recently won three short wars — and then encountered one pleasant surprise. The first was a war to dismantle the corrupt Arafat regime. The second was the war started by Hezbollah in Lebanon and finished by a merciless pounding of Shiite towns and Beirut suburbs by the Israeli Air Force. The third was the war to crush the Hamas missile launchers in Gaza.

What is different about these three wars, though, is that Israel won them using what I call “Hama Rules” — which are no rules at all. “Hama Rules” are named after the Syrian town of Hama, where, in 1982, then-President Hafez el-Assad of Syria put down a Muslim fundamentalist uprising by shelling and then bulldozing their neighborhoods, killing more than 10,000 of his own people.

In Israel’s case, it found itself confronting enemies in Gaza and Lebanon armed with rockets, but nested among local civilians, and Israel chose to go after them without being deterred by the prospect of civilian casualties.

Friedman who wrote in 1999, that if Israel withdrew from Lebanon and was still attacked it would be “justified in massively retaliating against Lebanese, Syrian and Iranian troops.” When Israel did respond he compared Israel’s actions to those of Hafez Assad. Not only do Friedman’s words have no meaning to those who take the time to read them. They hold no meaning to him either. He writes to be provocative; not to enlighten. Instead of sticking to a principle he had written eleven years earlier, Friedman followed the international fashion to rewrite the laws of war in such a way that it is impossible for Israel to defend itself.

4) The Speech in the Drawer

In 2002, Saudi Arabia wasn’t very popular in the United States. After all, 15 of the 19 hijackers who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks the previous year were from America’s supposed friend, Saudi Arabia. So then-Crown Prince Abdullah got Friedman to write a column An Intriguing Signal from the Saudi Crown Prince. The column presented the Crown Prince as a concerned protector of the Palestinians. But he wasn’t so extreme, he was promising some nebulous form of recognition if Israel adhered to very specific demands of his so-called peace plan. In order to show how sincere the Crown Prince was, Friedman indulged in a little role playing.

”But I tell you,” the crown prince added, ”if I were to pick up the phone now and ask someone to read you the speech, you will find it virtually identical to what you are talking about. I wanted to find a way to make clear to the Israeli people that the Arabs don’t reject or despise them. But the Arab people do reject what their leadership is now doing to the Palestinians, which is inhumane and oppressive. And I thought of this as a possible signal to the Israeli people.”

Well, I said, I’m glad to know that Saudi Arabia was thinking along these lines, but so many times in the past we’ve heard from Arab leaders that they had just been about to do this or that but that Ariel Sharon or some other Israeli leader had gotten in the way. After a while, it’s hard to take seriously. So I asked, What if Mr. Sharon and the Palestinians agreed to a cease-fire before the Arab summit?

”Let me say to you that the speech is written, and it is still in my drawer,” the crown prince said.

Here’s the problem. As Abdullah went around the Middle East to drum up support for his peace plan, Bashar Assad insisted that Abdullah include a reference to an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon – despite Israel’s withdrawal two years earlier. Assad effectively said that Israel’s withdrawal was worthless and Abdullah agreed. What sort of precedent is that if every time Israel took an action its enemies could say “no good.” Amazingly the Security Council noticed this.

Some provisions in the plan run counter to existing Security Council resolutions, an official here said. Among these is the call by the Saudi plan for an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanese territory. The Council does not consider Israel to be in control of any Lebanese land after the Israeli withdrawal from the border area two years ago. In Beirut this week, Lebanon revived its claim to a small part of the Israeli-held Golan Heights known as the Sheba Farms.

Friedman did not. While he later faulted Abdullah for failing to push the plan sufficiently he was silent when Abdullah accepted this clear deal breaker.

The whole premise of the Arab peace plan has imploded in the past two and a half years with the coming of the so-called Arab Spring. In 2002, Israel was supposed to rely on the likes of Mubarak, Assad and Qadaffi to offer normalization.

But consider Friedman’s 2011 column, End of Mideast Wholesale:

Let’s start with Israel. For the last 30 years, Israel enjoyed peace with Egypt wholesale — by having peace with just one man, Hosni Mubarak. That sale is over. Today, post-Mubarak, to sustain the peace treaty with Egypt in any kind of stable manner, Israel is going to have to pay retail. It is going to have to make peace with 85 million Egyptians. The days in which one phone call by Israel to Mubarak could shut down any crisis in relations are over.

In 2002 he says “Trust Mubarak et al.” In 2011 he says, “How could you trust Mubarak?!?!” Again, Friedman’s own beliefs are worthless TO HIMSELF. He writes words to fill up paper and computer screens, but he doesn’t mean them. He has few set beliefs aside from criticisms of Israel.

5) The Arab Spring goes Boink

Thomas Friedman parachuted into Tahrir Square to witness the historic events in Tahrir Square. He told us about the new Middle East to be run by the Facebook kids. And even when they were shunted aside by the Muslim Brotherhood, he insisted that the Brotherhood was only interested in good governance; not imposing its views on anyone.

Many said they voted for Islamists because they were neighbors, people they knew, while secular liberal candidates had never once visited. Some illiterate elderly women confided that they could not read the ballot and just voted where their kids told them to. But practically all of them said they had voted for the Muslim Brotherhood or Salafist candidates because they expected them to deliver better, more honest government — not more mosques or liquor bans.

After shredding most of Friedman’s observations, Barry Rubin observed:

The real moderates and democrats are in despair, knowing what they will be living under. And Friedman cheers their oppressors and says there is nothing to worry about. How is this better than becoming a booster for some Latin American military dictator or African tyrant or ruthless Communist oligarchy?

Friedman, unsurprisingly, used the Arab Spring as an excuse for some gratuitous Israel bashing.

I am more worried today about Israel’s future than I have ever been, because I think that at time of great change in this region – and we have just seen the beginnings of it – Israel today has the most out-of-touch, in-bred, unimaginative and cliché-driven cabinet it has ever had.

Rather than even listening to what the democracy youth in Tahrir Square were saying and then trying to digest what it meant, this Israeli government took two approaches during the last three weeks: Frantically calling the White House and telling the president he must not abandon Pharaoh – to the point where the White House was thoroughly disgusted with its Israeli interlocutors – and using the opportunity to score propaganda points: “Look at us! Look at us! We told you so! We are the only stable country in the region, because we are the only democracy.’’

Israel’s government seemed oblivious to the irony of its message: “We are your only reliable ally because we are a democracy and whatever you do don’t abandon Mubarak and open the way there for democracy.’’

I have no idea exactly of the conversation between the Israel and the American. Either the American official or Friedman distorted the Israeli’s remarks. But who was right? Are any of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Libya more stable now than they were at the beginning of 2011?

Hell even Friedman seems forced to admit that in his latest, Same war different country.

The center exists in these countries, but it is weak and unorganized. It’s because these are pluralistic societies — mixtures of tribes and religious sects, namely Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Kurds, Druze and Turkmen — but they lack any sense of citizenship or deep ethic of pluralism. That is, tolerance, cooperation and compromise.

Now he tells us.

6) Daring to fail

A recent article, Daring to Fail had the following correction appended.

Thomas L. Friedman’s column on Wednesday about peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians misattributed a sentence about a singer, Eric Burdon, to The Independent of Britain. The sentence — “Burdon was just the latest of a rising number of artists and intellectuals who have started boycotting Israel over the occupation issue” — was by Mr. Friedman. (After withdrawing from a planned concert in Israel, Mr. Burdon decided to go ahead with it, despite pressure not to.)

This was a central point in his column. According to Friedman, Israel was alienating well meaning principled people by its policies. Eric Burdon’s decision to withdraw (later reversed) was due to the threats coming from the unprincipled BDS people. But then Burdon reversed himself and played in Israel a week before Friedman’s column appeared. It was absolutely inexcusable in the Google age that he wasn’t aware of that.

Friedman poses as an expert on the Middle East.

FRIEDMAN: “The worst thing in the world would be if Israel permanently controls the West Bank and basically because of demographics in a very short time, you’ll have a Jewish minority ruling over an Arab majority.

CNBC: It’s apartheid.

FRIEDMAN: That’s what it will be called in the world. And that would be what we call on college campuses and all over the world. That is a fundamental threat to the Israel. I didn’t fall off a turnip truck last night. I get the region. Okay?

Maybe Friedman didn’t fall off of the turnip truck yesterday; but over 90% of Palestinians live under the aegis of the Palestinian Authority and have done so since late 1995. Clearly he hasn’t been paying attention.

If you don’t make an effort to be smart, you wind up as Secretary of State, depending on Thomas Friedman for advice.

 
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