Full Metal Fantasy

By Joe Smith

“This is the most radical-liberal revolutionary war the US has ever launched—a war of choice to install democracy in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world.”

—Thomas Friedman [NY Times, Oct. 30, 2003 “It’s No Vietnam”]

NEW YORK, May Day, 2004When I first sat down to write this article it was meant to be a reaction piece to some of Thomas Friedman’s recent efforts on the pages of The New York Times.

I was going to look at his outrage at the election results in Spain, when Spanish voters voted their hopes and not their fears in the wake of a tragic bombing in Madrid that left 191 dead. When the Socialist Party scored an upset victory and Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero promised to make good on his earlier campaign pledge to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq Friedman went ballistic.

Friedman was in rare form that day, throwing out angry phrases like “axis of appeasement” “axis of incompetence” “radical evil.” For a few moments he seemed to believe that by following the democratic will of the Spanish people the Spanish government had endangered something Friedman wistfully called “Western Civilization.” Western civilization was now in danger of being toppled by Osama bin Laden.

I was going to mention how Friedman was calling for a new deployment of troops from Europe at the very moment that it was evident the coalition was on the verge of unraveling. From day one the so-called coalition of the willing was anything but. It was composed of governments who were ready to drag their unwilling populations into Bush’s military adventures. Even Friedman could see hints of the coming backlash when he traveled to England where Bush and Blair met last November. Now, only a month after its elections, Spanish troops have come home. Honduras and the Dominican Republic have announced their own withdrawals. Even Tony Blair has gone on record suggesting the UK will not help fill the gap. This made me wonder once again why Friedman reports his fantasies instead of real world trends.

I was going to say something about Friedman’s perplexing inability to find any Iraqis in Iraq. Like the “axis of appeasement” it was the kind of churlish observation Friedman makes when he is feeling betrayed. As an insurrection was spreading across Iraq and the US was on its way to scoring the highest single month body count since the war began in March of 2003 Friedman was wondering what happened to all those Iraqis who share the Friedman big picture of a nation liberated by the US. No doubt a contributing factor keeping Friedman’s “silent majority” so reticent has been the shocking display of violence staged by US forces as they failed to retake Falluja.

I was going to say so many things about Thomas Friedman’s efforts to sell us war. But just like Friedman I am feeling a bit world-weary at the moment. Friedman admits he is fed up with the Middle East. Despite being a foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times says he can’t be bothered to follow the 9/11 hearings because he already made up his mind about the Truth a long time ago. Friedman would rather talk about the world he’d like to see rather than the one that is actually out there. Thomas, I can hardly fathom how you drag yourself from bed each morning to get your daily dose of current events from AOL news. As a former subscriber to AOL I know what that’s like. I know how hard it is to get an accurate picture of world events when you have to sift through all the celebrity stories.

At the end of the day I want to say that I know you are sincere in your ongoing apologia for American military power. I know you have long claimed that what the war in Iraq is “really” about is spreading democracy. All the lies Bush told to get us into this fine mess are regrettable distractions from this new white man’s burden (and it does boil down to that basic racist concept doesn’t it? That’s why your castigation of Spanish voters was couched in terms of a defense of “Western Civilization”). But this born-again mission is failing for the same reason all colonizing efforts ultimately fail. Ultimately they are met with resistance from the colonized masses. Whether you like the character of the forces behind that revolt – and no apologist for colonialism is going to be enamored of the resistance -- is really beside the point. I know there’s no way to convince you of this but in this sense Iraq is indeed another Vietnam.

Here is a little thought experiment. As you look at pictures of the siege of Falluja with its estimated 600 dead half of whom, according to Amnesty International, are women and children, its closed hospitals and ambulances targeted by Marine snipers, remind yourself that this comes on top of a year in which an estimated 9-10,750 Iraqi civilians have been killed by US forces. Sit back, rub your eyes and draw a deep breath. Thomas, this is not what democracy looks like.

joe smith

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Sources and References

NY Times, Oct. 30, 2003 “It’s No Vietnam.”

NY Times, March 25, “No Vote for Al Qaeda.”

NY Times, November 21, “You Gotta Have Friends.”

AP, April 28, 2004, “Final Spanish Soldiers Return From Iraq.”

George Wright, April 27, 2004, “Blair: ‘UK has enough troops in Iraq’” The Guardian.

NY Times, March 18, 2004, “Axis of Appeasement.”

NY Times, April 8, 2004, “Are There Any Iraqis in Iraq?”

NY Times, March 28, “Waking to A Dream.”

Amnesty International, Public Statement, April 14, 2004, “Iraq: Civilians Continue to Pay the Price."

Photographs of ambulances with bullet holes in the drivers side of the windscreen can be found at Empire Notes, a blog by Rahul Mahajan.

Civilian casualties update
Iraq Body Count, a "human security project to establish an independent and comprehensive public database of media-reported civilian deaths in Iraq resulting directly from military action by the USA and its allies in 2003."