Sunday, June 27, 2010

On Killing Non-Danes and Non-Norwegians

Late last Thursday night, Tommy was bombing. Just like his recent Meet the Press appearance, he seemed remarkably unprepared to discuss current events that he must have known he would be asked about. As David Letterman asked questions after question about L'affaire McChrystal, Tommy responded with a lot of "ums" and a peculiar neck rolling gesture that had the unfortunate effect of emphasizing his resemblance to a walrus. But suddenly, while discussing the General's work "eliminating bad guys" in Iraq, Tommy found his voice.
In that neighborhood, you need warriors. You know, I lived in Beirut during the civil war. Bashir Gemayel, leader of the Phalange militia, used to have a saying. "This is not Denmark. And this is not Norway."
Now when Tommy speaks with confidence in a media interview, you can be bet he's quoting one of his own columns. And sure enough, there's the Bashir Gemayel quote in a post 9/11 column where Tommy beat his chest and channeled his inner-Cheney to argue that the war in Afghanistan was going to require "a new attitude toward the battle" including acting "just a little bit crazy" and unconstrained on the battlefield:
  • (P)eople have to see that we are focused, serious and ready to use whatever tactics will make the terrorists feel bad, not make us feel good. As the Lebanese militia leader Bashir Gemayel once said about the Middle East -- before he himself was assassinated -- ''This is not Norway here, and it is not Denmark.''
Fast forward to Sunday's NYT column and Tommy's Sunday morning CNN appearance: Bashir is back, but this time the quote is trotted out to justify Israel's attacks on civilians in Gaza and Lebanon.
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. As the Lebanese militia leader Bashir Gemayel was fond of saying — before he himself was blown up — “This is not Denmark here. And it is not Norway.”
Let's put aside the fact that Denmark and Norway keep swapping places in the Gemayal quote and focus on what really matters here: Tommy has used the same quote about an event that took place 28 years ago -- the 1982 Lebanese civil war -- to justify the down and dirty fighting (including killing civilians) of the 1) the United States in Afghanistan; 2) The U.S. in Iraq; 3) Israel in Gaza and 4) Israel in Lebanon (2006). Never mind that these are five unique conflicts spread out over four decades. For Friedman, it's all one long war against the enemies of Israel and the United States (which, of course, are the same). And wars where the majority of people getting killed are non-Israeli Middle Easterners (they are not Norwegians and they are not Danes), are governed by a different set of rules -- i.e. there are none.

To sum up, here's Tommy's views on the Middle East:
  1. All non-Israeli countries, people, and situations are interchangeable (because those people are all the same to him). That's how he can argue with a straight face on Charlie Rose that the U.S. was right to invade Iraq because we just needed to attack a Muslim country -- regardless of whether they were involved with the attacks -- after 9/11; and
  2. Non-Israeli lives in the Middle East are worth less than Israeli, European and American lives. That's why Tommy's only concern yesterday about civilians death in Gaza and Lebanon was the potential fallout for Israel ("U.N. indictments of generals and political leaders for war crimes and corroding relations with democrats everywhere"), not the fact that the civilians are dead.
Now to be fair, there are certainly lots of people who believe both of the above. But they don't appear regularly on the pages of the New York Times or on TV as a Serious Expert on Middle East Affairs. Of course there's a reason we take everything Tommy says about the Middle East so seriously. After all, as he never gets tired of reminding us, he did live in Beirut twenty-eight years ago.

Fire Tom Friedman

1 comment:

  1. I like the part about the walrus. Can you post more cute animal videos, please?