Sunday, June 6, 2010

Tommy Rules!

It's time for a Tommy quiz!

Which , according to Thomas L. Friedman, is the first rule of warfare:
a) Take the high ground.
b) Never launch a war that you can't explain to your people and the world on a bumper sticker.
c) Never take the lid off a boiling pot unless you also have a strategy for turning down the heat.
d) All of the above.

If you answered "d" (and you probably did -- the first rule of quizzes like this is go with "all of the above"), you are correct. In three different columns, Tommy has declared three different first rules of warfare. One might think that one of them might be the second and one might be third, but let's face it: Nothing sounds as authoritatively folksy as a "first rule." That's why Tommy has treated us to the first rule of holes on four different occasions, as well as the first rule of any Iraq invasion, the first rule of giving money to Israel, and Friedman's first rule of Middle East reporting.

And sometimes it's more than just a first rule - it's a lot of them! There are the three cardinal rules of Middle East diplomacy and a whopping fifteen Middle East rules to live by. I'll stop firing links at you now; you get the point: Tommy really, really likes rules.

So you might think he'd know what one is. But here's what he said yesterday:
Arthur was harmless; some of the others, though, were mendacious, which prompted me to promulgate this rule: I adore the Israelis and Palestinians, but God save me from some of their European and American friends.
That's not a rule. "I like A and B, but not C and D" is not a rule. That's just Tommy stating his preferences. If I had to guess, I think Tommy thinks that because C and D are related to A and B, that makes it a rule. But it doesn't. "I adore the New York Mets, but I think some of their fans are obnoxious morons." Nope - no rule promulgated there.

Am I nitpicking? Perhaps. But I think it's worth noting that Tom Friedman, the man who thinks that nothing is more clever than reducing the complexity of the world to his Freidmanesque rules, doesn't even really understand what a rule is. And yet, when things like the attack on the Mavi Marmara happen, we as a nation, turn to Thomas L. Friedman to explain to us what's really going on in the Middle East.

And what's Tommy's take? The attempts to break the blockade are just a "grandstanding intervention" that diverts "our energies from the only thing that is important: forging a two-state solution." If you live in Gaza -- where 65% of the population is food insecure; where almost 50% of children under 5 are anemic; where the economy has been strangled so you're dependent on aid and less than half of what you need is getting through -- you might not think that calling the world's attention to and ending the blockade is the equivalent of watching American Idol. But then again, if you live in Gaza, Tommy doesn't give a fuck about you (even though he "adores" you).

The blockade, Israel's killing of civilians, investigating the flotilla ambush, conditions in Gaza and anything else he doesn't care about, Tommy labels "the sideshow." What we should be focused on is, let me guess, "the main event." Wrong! For some reason, it's "the ball game." The ball game and the sideshow?

Anyway, the point is Tommy doesn't think you're capable of thinking about more than one thing at once. So if you're allowing yourself to get distracted by little things like civilian deaths and Palestinian suffering, you're not thinking about what Tommy is thinking about! Which is:
The effort by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to build the institutional foundations of a Palestinian state from the ground up — replacing the corrupt, jerry-built structure that Yasir Arafat created and Israel destroyed — is actually making progress. This matters — and must be nurtured.

You see, there are two models of Arab governance. The old Nasserite model, which Hamas still practices, where leaders say: “Judge me by how I resist Israel or America.” And: “First we get a state, then we build the institutions.” The new model, pioneered in the West Bank by Abbas and Fayyad is: “Judge me by how I perform — how I generate investment and employment, deliver services and pick up the garbage. First we build transparent and effective political and security institutions. Then we declare a state. That is what the Zionists did, and it sure worked for them.”

If there's one thing that Tommy loves nearly as much as a rule or a tortured metaphor, it's a binary opposition. The sideshow or the ballgame. The old model of Arab governance or the new.

But there's a problem. Just because Tom Friedman thinks resisting Israel and America is bad and generating investment and delivering services is good, it doesn't logically follow that these two things are mutually exclusive. Take Hamas. One of the main reasons Hamas won the 2006 elections because they were doing a better job of delivering services than the Palestinian Authority. Imagine that, Tommy. Hamas is capable of opposing Israel's existence (bad) and picking up the garbage (good) at the same time. Israel understands this -- that's why they have a blockade in place to undermine the ability of the democratically elected Hamas to govern.

I'm pretty sure even Tom "I don't know what a rule is" Friedman gets this. But he has to pretend that his dislike of Hamas and new-found love for the Palestinian Authority have something to do to with their ability or inability to deliver services to people he pretends to adore. So he can pretend, as he loves to do, to be thinking outside the box, when he's really, as he loves to do, just defending the status quo.

Fire Tom Friedman

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