What frustrated me is that I wanted to go after Tom Friedman aggressively [in a recent speech at a forum he also attended], but I did not. He said in his speech that the biggest competitive challenge in the future will be between you and your imagination, and so I wanted to make a joke about him sounding like an Epcot ride. I sort of flubbed it. What I should have said is that Friedman holds a special place in my development. I took a class from him at college on 'globalization', and read most of his books. In 2002, he and Ken Pollack were the two people that I relied on for guidance with regards to Iraq. I trusted him. I believed in him. And he got it one hundred percent wrong. And while honest people tend to admit their mistakes, and when the mistake is particularly soaked in blood, do a lot of soul-searching and apologizing, he never has. My mistake in looking at the Iraq war still pains me, and though I was a 24 year old kid with no experience in foreign policy or politics, my gullibility and the betrayal from my former guides still colors my thinking. For someone like Friedman, who should know better and occupies the most valuable opinion space in the world, it's stunningly immoral to pretend to having no responsibility in this quagmire. All of us are responsible, and the first step is to admit error. Maybe if I said this he finally would have understood where we come from, though I doubt it. But I didn't say it.Taking a class from Tom Friedman has got to be like wading through a sea of strophes as chanted by an aphasiac Homer. Doing it voluntarily? I guess if you were high all the time. (I guess that leaves me little room to criticize others' curricular choices.) Anyway, taking the class is one thing, and reading his books another, but what does it say about the reasoning skills of our author--his "critical thinking" in eduspeak--that he managed to emerge from that experience trusting and believing this "guide"? Tom Friedman is a Sam Cooke song made flesh. He don't know much about anything.
However gullible Stoller may have been, and all evidence points to "pretty fucking" as the appropriate modifier, it's clear that despite his self-sanctifying admission of error he's never succeeded in actually examining how it came to be that a third-rate newspaper thinker and ninth-rate metaphorist bamboozled him into accepting the invasion and occupation of Iraq as necessary and just. Here's the tell: He keeps talking about Friedman's mistake.
But Tom Friedman didn't make a mistake. His wrongness wasn't situational. He didn't fail to adequately consider the pros and cons of busting up Iraq. His wrongness proceeds from premise. He could never have been "right" about Iraq because his entire analytical model, the whole series of distorting lenses through which he views the world, is wrong, wrong, wrong. Every one of his particularist assumptions about American primacy, American exceptionalism, American potency, American justness, American uniqueness, American duty, and American right action is wrong. He didn't read the wrong tea lives or believe "flawed intelligence." His central belief is in what's usually called something like "the promise of America"--see Arthur Silber on that. Barack Obama poeticized it: "I believe that America is the last, best hope of the world."
You must understand that this is a religious belief, and to carry it out is zealotry even as we call it statecraft. Tom Friedman, Ken Pollack, Barack Obama, Matt Stoller, almost all Democrats, almost all Republicans, the national newsmedia, most of our families--all of them believe with a conviction no less fantastical or fanatical than that of any murdering suicide bomber in his peculiar catechisms that the United States has a positive right and duty to enforce its will on the rest of the world. We are the freest nation in the world. We are the great model and incubator of democracy. We are the most humane. We are the wisest. We are the most decent. We are "a force for good in the world." To have acceded at any point to the "necessity" or even the advisability or even yet the excusability of invading Iraq is to have accepted into the deep core of your moral being a belief that your nation has an instrumental right to kill other people in order to change the way that they live.
To return, then, and say it was a mistake--a war based on lies, support for a war because of those lies--without disavowing that American fanaticism is to condemn the Inquisition because it covicted the wrong guy. I'll repeat a very basic point I've made before: all wars are based on lies. There are moments when peoples act in immediate self-defense and resistance when something closer to honesty obtains, but war by its very nature banishes truth. Iraq was never, as John Kerry famously put it, "the wrong war at the wrong time," implying that under other circumstances the United States might go off to fight its inverse. The Iraq War was and is merely symptomatic of a disease at the very heart of the whole endeavor of America, and until that disease is examined and treated, there will be more wars, and there will be more "gullible 24-year-olds" who won't question their gun-raising mentors because they too accept the idea that American democracy, "the system," represents an historical apogee toward which all other nations must progress.
That pridefulness allows us to wield the greatest instrument of destruction ever known on this Earth, to do so callously and blindly. That pridefulness allowed us to create this extraordinary mechanism of death and destruction. Most Americans are fortunate in that they never get near its physical consequences, much less suffer them themselves. Those are the advantages of national wealth and power. But if you ever find yourself thinking how alien is the impulse to strap dynamite to your chest and kill innocents in a marketplace in service to your political religion, consider that the very same impluse is what allowed this once-24-year-old and most of his countrymen to support that "mistake" in the first place.