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Should Tom Friedman Be Forgiven? Vote Now and Decide

09/30/2007 01:58 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Tom Friedman has written a mea culpa of sorts on his post-9/11 descent into extremism, and we'd like to encourage him to keep participating in the community of rational voices. Is it time to forget the past? A new online poll lets you, the reader, decide.

In an editorial entitled "9/11 Is Over," Friedman writes:

9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 -- mine included -- has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again (emphasis Friedman's).

He also writes this about Rudy Giuliani's use of 9/11 to promote everything about his candidacy, including (literally) his love life: "I will not vote for any candidate running on 9/11. We don't need another president of 9/11. We need a president for 9/12. I will only vote for the 9/12 candidate."

Sounds good to me -- although what's this "us" business, Tom? Some of us resisted the "stupidity" from the start. Still, most of us who got it right aren't gloaters. We want to end the horrors of Iraq. We also want to end the incompetence of an anti-terrorism strategy that's driven by neconservative ideology, rather than by a clear-eyed assessment of the threat we face. If Mr. Friedman or anyone else now sees the futility of a course they once promoted, that's better for everyone.

Here's where things get sticky. However much we appreciate his new insight, Friedman's editorial is what 12-steppers would call "an apology, not an amends." He hints at -- but ultimately elides -- the extreme nature of his war promotion, and fails to address his attempt to intimidate war critics into silence. Yet he certainly argues eloquently against Giuliani-esque terror-mongering, and accurately names the fever that gripped him and others after 9/11: war madness. What to do ...

So, in re Thomas L. Friedman, here are a few highlights of the facts of the case:

War advocacy: Friedman was a tireless and extreme advocate for war violence -- before, during, and after its initial "shock and awe" phase. How extreme? Duncan Black (I think I know how he would vote) never tires of reminding us about his horrifying Charlie Rose interview, where Friedman told Rose we needed to attack an a Middle Eastern state at random so that Arabs would see "American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, um, and basically saying, 'Which part of this sentence don't you understand?'"

"Well, Suck. On. This."

That's bad, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. As post-9/11 extremism goes, that's really, really bad. (And we haven't even mentioned the wacky France-baiting, pre- and post-invasion.)

Poor Prognostication -- or stalling for time: It was nearly four years ago that Friedman began opposing calls for withdrawal by saying that we needed "six more months" before knowing whether the war would succeed or not. Every time any six-month period ended, Friedman would develop amnesia about it ... and would then claim that the next six months would be decisive. It became a ritual of repetition. (Among bloggers, six months is now known as a "Friedman unit.")

Friedman's stature is such that these "Friedman units" helped build political support for extending the war over the past four years, despite mounting evidence of its failure.

Intimidation of War Critics: As support for the war began to fall in 2005, the Bush Administration began a coordinated effort to intimidate knowledgeable war critics. To be an "excuse maker," said the State Department, was essentially to give aid and comfort to the terrorists. In what may be his most shameful moment, Friedman was all too happy to join in the McCarthyism.

In a column that began as an indictment of all extremist speech, we suddenly found Friedman promising that he would use the power of the New York Times to point the finger at anyone who dared analyze the motives behind terrorism. Jumping on the "com/symp"-like phrase used by the Administration, Friedman wrote:

After every major terrorist incident, the excuse makers come out to tell us why imperialism, Zionism, colonialism or Iraq explains why the terrorists acted. These excuse makers are just one notch less despicable than the terrorists and also deserve to be exposed ...

There is no political justification for 9/11, 7/7 or 7/21. As the Middle East expert Stephen P. Cohen put it: "These terrorists are what they do." And what they do is murder.

Think back to the dark days of 2005. Bill O'Reilly and the Fox network were working closely with the Administration to terrorize war critics into silence. The careers of gifted academics like Juan Cole were being threatened because they dared discuss the history of anti-American grievances in the Middle East. Anyone who tried to explain events in the Middle East from a non-doctrinaire perspective risked personal destruction.

The New MyCarthyites deliberately tried to equate analysis of terror motivations with defending terrorism, so that the Administration and its vocal supporters (including Friedman) wouldn't have to answer for their tactical blunders. So Friedman's eagerness to join the feeding frenzy doesn't just reflect badly on him personally. If he had helped successfully silence these experts, we would have less information with which to defend ourselves against terrorism today. After all, how can we analyze and neutralize the terrorist threat if all anyone's allowed to say is "they are what they do" ?

So what's the verdict? Should these egregious statements of Friedman's be forgiven? Here's the kicker: I would say "yes." Why? Because we need every voice we can get help end this wave of killing and suffering. But, hey ... my friends say I'm too soft-hearted. And it's not up to me, anyway. In a just world, it would be up to the Iraqi people - but they have more urgent things on their minds right now.

So we'll leave it to you to decide by voting in this online poll. Here's the question:

Should Tom Friedman's war advocacy and threats toward war critics be forgiven in light of his new insight that "our reaction to 9/11 -- mine included -- has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again"? Your choices are:

1. Yes. The world is flat again and Tom's back where he belongs.
2. No. Get back in that Lexus, Tom, and keep driving.
3. Yes, BUT - only if he recants those statements and works to end this war.

Vote early and often. The Post-9/11 Truth and Reconciliation Committee appreciates your interest in this matter.