Thomas Friedman, the pundit I love to hate, is at it again. In his latest column, Tom points out how easy it would be for “jihadists” to make another major strike somewhere in the U.S., despite our best efforts at homeland security. Then he says we should be extra nervous now, because the “jihadists” may see themselves losing in Iraq.
His theory: “The more the Jihadists lose in Iraq, the more likely they are to use their rump forces to try something really crazy in America to make up for it.” Not a totally compelling theory, but not totally silly either. What is totally silly is Tom’s conclusion: “So let's stay the course in Iraq, but stay extra-vigilant at home.”
Let me translate: There are lots of people in Iraq who desperately want U.S. troops, politicians, and corporate sharks to leave their country. They want Iraq to be run by Iraqis. Somehow, they got the idea that this is what real democracy looks like. Some of them (a surprisingly small number, really) have chosen to use guns and bombs to get what they want.
As Americans, we can hardly criticize their choice of means. After all, we now spend nearly half-a-trillion dollars a year preparing to use guns and bombs to get what we want. We call it “national security.” So do they.
Some of the violent Iraqis have probably allied with non-Iraqi Muslims who are waging an anti-U.S. campaign, by any means necessary. (They’re the ones Friedman calls “jihadists.”) Again, it’s hard for Americans to criticize that choice. We have a rich tradition of allying with anyone who will help us gain our national goals. And that has included some pretty nasty characters.
In other words, the “enemy” is acting in a perfectly normal, rational, predictable way, by American standards. They are doing just what we would do, if we’d been conquered by another country. So the war in Iraq is not about American good versus “enemy” evil. It is an ordinary power struggle for control of Iraq.
That makes it easy to translate Friedman’s words. “Let’s stay the course in Iraq” means let’s make sure we do whatever we must to win this power struggle and get control of the Iraqi political and economic system. Of course, we’ll let locals do the work for us. That’s the American way of imperialism. But if they forget who is really calling the shots, we’ll have to replace them with more loyal locals. And we’ll keep killing and torturing people who might get in the way.
Tom Friedman understands all this well enough. He’s made his decision. Iraq is so valuable that it’s worth making another attack here on U.S. soil more likely. More Americans have to risk death so that we can keep control of Iraq.
Now to translate the rest of Tom’s conclusion: “but stay extra-vigilant at home.” He’s already explained that the “vigilance” we have now is of limited value. Taking off your shoes at the airport may be a comforting ritual. But it will protect you about as much as wearing a ritual garlic wreath around your neck. Homeland security is largely for show. It’s theater, not security.
On with the show, Tom calls out. Since the risk must increase (so that we can run the show in Iraq), we are going to need lots more of this ritual theater at home. That’s it. End of column. That’s all Tom can think of to say. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is America’s premier foreign policy commentator.
Well, gee, Tom. What about all of us who think there is something more to say. We look at the same situation, and we figure it this way: “They want to run their own country. If they don’t get that chance, more of us will probably die. But if they do get to run their country without U.S. interference, we get to live much more safely in our own country. Looks like a win-win to us.”
I know we’re simpletons. We don’t have your sophisticated grasp of the subtleties of world affairs. So I don’t expect you to bother even responding to us. Still, I would be curious to know why you think U.S. control of Iraq is really worth risking our lives.
And I’d be curious to know whether you are embarrassed. I mean, you are so supposed to be able to figure things out. That’s why they pay you the big bucks. Don’t you feel kind of silly, writing a whole column just to tell us that we have to get ready to die, and you can’t find any way around it, when we’ve got a win-win solution right here, ready to go?
In any case, Tom, I’m sorry you ran into such a brick wall in your thinking. It’s the worst feeling, for a pundit who is supposed to be smart, isn’t it? I know. I’ve been there myself. Bad bummer, man.
Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org