FROM THE HELP
Thomas Friedman’s Simplistic Epiphanies
By Matt Taibbi
the more reason why we—the perceived enemy—need to hand over power
to an elected Iraqi government, and move our troops into the background.
—Thomas Friedman, "Maids vs. Occupiers,"
New York Times, June 17
Move the troops into the background.
Keep them in the den during dinner. On the streets,
make them stand motionless, with their hands at their sides, behind
eye-high hedges. If they have to move, just have them crouch behind
a bush, then move sideways behind it, three steps at a time. While
this may significantly increase the travel time from checkpoint to
base, it will do wonders for the preservation of public order:
"Hey, Ahmed, did you see that bush move?"
"No, Jaleel, I didn't see anything."
"Seriously, I could swear I saw that bush
move about three feet sideways just now."
"Oh, come on, you're seeing things. Let's
go get a blintz."
Long pause. Then: "Fuck it, you're right.
I'm just paranoid. Let's eat!"
This could be the future of Iraq—if only we would
just move those damned troops into the background!
Friedman's idea came in a column entitled "Maids
vs. Occupiers," a title that any true Friedman follower will
recognize as a red flag meaning, real doozie. The central thesis
of this text is that countries like China, India, Sri Lanka and the
Philippines, which provide construction labor in Saudi Arabia, are
the "maids" of the Arab world. In Friedman's view, Nirvana
can be achieved if only the Arabs can somehow be made to realize that
their "maids" are doing quite spiffily in the global economy.
It is not sufficient that they just recognize this through casual,
empiric observation, however: The point has to be made graphically.
The solution? Include China and India in the G-8—making it the G-10—and
then hold the next summit in "one of the manicured campuses of
Indian outsourcing companies" or in "Shanghai's manufacturing
hub." Then—and here's the key moment—you invite Arab leaders
to attend this summit. Presumably, after seeing the manufacturing
hub in Shanghai, Arab leaders will smack their heads and immediately
see the light:
shit, Mohammar! How did we not see it before? Our Asian maids
are doing better than we are! We'd better get our asses into gear
and turn ourselves into a Western-style business-friendly democracy—like
"You're right, Anwar! As we can see, it sure
worked for the Chinese! And we thought they were just our maids! Why,
they're a mighty country. And there are so many of them!"
"You're demmed right, Mohammar, as usual!
But why are we wasting our time standing here? Let's get out there
and find out as much as we can about this Chinese democracy!"
Exeunt, etc., rapidly disposing of robes and headdresses.
This rosy scenario is possible, Friedman argues,
but the massive U.S. military presence in the Middle East is bungling
the whole thing. We're trying to show them how well their maids are
doing, and all they can see are troops walking the streets and scary
helicopters flying overhead. This is no good—hence the need to put
the troops in the "background," setting the stage for the
magical visit to the future G-10 summit in the progressive Chinese
industrial lot. Here is how Friedman sums this one up:
"Our job was to smash Iraq's old order and
lay the foundations for a new one. Now we need to lower our profile
so people in that Arab-Muslim world can see clearly something we've
been obstructing and they've been deliberately ignoring: that the
world today wants to invest more in their maids' children than
in their own children. Once that reality sinks in, so, too, will
Sounds simple enough. Why didn't someone in Bush's
cabinet think of this before? It would be so easy to make it work.
All Bush has to do is lay out the scenario for all the other existing
G-8 members and get each one of them on board. "You see, Vlad,"
Bush says, in Moscow, "we set up this surprise party for
the Arabs in China..."
"Da, da, George, it's perfect," Putin
says. "Anything to help. We'll make the hors d'oeuvres."
"No, no, we make ze hors d'oeuvres!"
screams Chirac. "Hors d'oeuvres are a French concept!"
"Excuse me, Jacques, but Russia, too, has
hors d'oeuvres," snaps Putin, standing up and angrily
straightening his suit jacket.
Chirac protests: The pickle is not a proper appetizer;
it ruins the palate.
Despite the call for additional diplomacy, it could
Meanwhile, Friedman is losing his mind. How else
to explain passages like this one, from his June 6 column on the Indian
elections, entitled "Think Global, Act Local"? Here, he
explains the true meaning of the recent ouster of the rightist BJP
alliance in favor of the left-leaning Congress Party alliance. Most
rational observers interpreted this as a rejection of globalization,
but not Friedman:
"They got it exactly wrong. What Indian voters
were saying was not: 'Stop the globalization train, we want to get
off.' It was, 'Slow down the globalization train, and build me a better
step-stool, because I want to get on.'"
Now, think about this. Friedman obviously cannot
have voters wanting to stop the globalization train, because
that would mean, well, stopping globalization. But in his haste to
find a way to get people on the train, he has them putting drop-stools
on the ground in order to step onto a slow, but still moving
train. One can easily hop onto a slowly moving train, but if one has
to first step onto a drop-stool from a stationary position, there's
simply no way to do it safely: You're probably going to step onto
the stool first and then, in your next step, smack right into the
side of the moving train after the entrance has passed.
That's unless, of course, you run just ahead of
the entrance, drop the stool a good 15 feet ahead of the door, and
then time your step just right, so that you land in the entranceway
at just the right moment. I figure that the success rate for this
kind of Buster Keaton maneuver on a train platform crowded with the
entire dispossessed Indian underclass would be about one in four.
Just imagine all those people and all those stools trying this all
at once, and what you have is a gigantic fucking mess, the mother
of all Who concert stampedes; insanity and carnage to you and me;
progress to Thomas Friedman.
But it's necessary, very necessary, because Indian
economic progress is essential to the surprise-party strategy for
cleaning up the Middle East. In "Maids vs. Occupiers," Friedman
describes an epiphany he had in China:
"I hadn't been to China since 2001,"
he writes, "and one of the first new things I noticed here was
the number of women selling phone cards for cellphone minutes."
If Arab leaders had had that same experience, Friedman
argues, they might change their ways, because they would be forced
to observe that:
"While Islamist terrorists in Iraq and Saudi
Arabia are using cellphone technology and cars to create bombs, China
and India...are inventing new profit-making uses for Internet-enabled
cellphones—none of which involve blowing anything or anyone up."
So there you have it. The Tom Friedman solution
to the Middle East mess. Hide the troops behind hedges, invite the
Arabs to a Chinese factory, have a surviving Indian train-traveler
deliver non-exploding cellphone cards to a Chinese woman, who will
in turn sell them to the impressionable Arabs, who will then quickly
realize the errors of their ways.
What are we waiting for?