Tom Friedman’s tribal tantrum


Thomas Friedman has been a New York Times columnist for 26 years PHOTO/ Reuters/Mandel Ngan

Worried about the ‘tribalisation’ of the US? An NYT columnist has a solution for it – a military one.

Oftentimes, Thomas Friedman articles are like the aftermath of car accidents: You know it is going to be bad, but you just cannot look away.

In one such recent dispatch – the journalistic equivalent, perhaps, of a head-on collision between two trailer trucks laden with combustible materials – the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times foreign affairs columnist and bestselling author surmises:

“One day, 1,000 years from now, when they dig up this era, archaeologists will surely ask how was it that a great power called America set out to make the Middle East more like itself – embracing pluralism and the rule of law – and ended up instead becoming more like the Middle East – mimicking its worst tribal mores and introducing a whole new level of lawlessness into its national politics?”

While they are at it, archaeologists may also ask how it was that a man who argued that McDonald’s was the key to world peace and that the Beijing Olympics fuelled the Arab Spring ended up institutionalised at the US newspaper of record, where he was heavily remunerated for self-contradictory and cringe-inducing babble.

According to Friedman, Democrats and Republicans have been increasingly consumed by tribalism and an “us-versus-them mindset” – with the Donald Trump faction of the latter party “embracing the core philosophy that dominates tribal politics in Afghanistan and the Arab world: The ‘other’ is the enemy, not a fellow citizen, and the only two choices are ‘rule or die’”.

Speaking of “others”, this is the same Friedman who has spent the duration of his columnist career cheerleading for brutal and devastating war against an array of foreign enemies.

Sounds rather, um, tribal.

As for Friedman’s relentless insistence on the backwardness of the Afghan-Arab “core philosophy”, it is worth recalling that regional “tribal” divisions have been encouraged by many an imperial and colonial force – not to mention New York Times columnists who have opined that the United States “should arm the Shiites and Kurds and leave the Sunnis of Iraq to reap the wind”.

Halfway into Friedman’s handwringing over the creeping tribalisation of the US, we learn that – what do you know? – the US military might just be the solution.

“Ironically”, Friedman preaches, “there is no institution in American life that has worked harder to inoculate America from this virus of tribalism, while enriching and exemplifying an ethic of pluralism, than the military – the very people who were most intimately exposed to the Middle East variant for over 20 years”.

Ironic, indeed, that an institution that specialises in pulverising countries and people should be celebrated as a symbol of curative coexistence – just as it was ironic when Friedman diagnosed the US military as the vanguard of the green revolution despite the Pentagon’s established position as the top polluter on the planet.

Archaeologists of the next millennium will surely have some additional questions about all of that.

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