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Burn Before Reading

There are few things more disordered in the world than a Thomas Friedman column.

Map drawn by Orlando Ferguson in 1893.

Matt Taibbi once remarked with regard to the journalistic techniques of Thomas Friedman, the New York Times foreign affairs columnist, corporate lapdog, and Iraq war fetishist: “Friedman never forgets to name the company or the brand name; if he had written The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa would have awoken from uneasy dreams in a Sealy Posturepedic.”

So we can only imagine what must have been Friedman’s utmost glee when the current Israeli slaughter of Palestinians enabled him to unleash the sentences: “You used to need a contract with Boeing to get a drone. Now you can make one in Gaza.”

This analysis appears in Friedman’s latest dispatch, titled “Order vs. Disorder, Part 2” (never mind that the previous column was titled “The World According to Maxwell Smart, Part 1”). In the lede, Friedman asserts that the Israeli-Arab conflict is “to the wider war of civilizations what Off Broadway is to Broadway . . . a miniature of the most relevant divide in the world today: the divide between the ‘world of order’ and the ‘world of disorder.’”

The rest of the piece goes something like this: The World of Order is composed of the United States, Russia, China, Japan, India, and the European Union. This world should really do something about the world of disorder but can’t and won’t. The only way to stop Hamas rockets is for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to wake up every day and say they want to be like the West Bank. But actually that’s not really an option. Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is the president of Iraq. If Palestinians can make their own drones, this is not order. (The misidentification of Maliki’s political post was subsequently corrected by the Times, in yet another testament to the potential utility of assigning more than a copy editor to Friedman.)

Of course, the Palestinian drone didn’t actually do anything. But its existence is still much more disorderly than, say, regularly blowing up babies.

Those of us who have squandered an unfortunate amount of our lives examining the Friedman corpus might recall that “Order vs. Disorder” was also the title of his July 2006 piece almost ten days into Israel’s efforts to flatten sections of Lebanon. In this version of the dichotomy — in which Saudi Arabia is inexplicably included in the World of Order despite Friedman’s intermittent complaints that it foments the opposite — Friedman threatens: “This is not Israel’s fight alone — and if you really want to see a ‘disproportional’ Israeli response, just keep leaving Israel to fight this war alone. Then you will see some real craziness.”

According to the Friedmanian battle plan, “the Bush team needs to convene a coalition of the World of Order” in order to assemble “an international force that can escort the Lebanese Army to the Israeli border and remain on hand to protect it against Hezbollah.” To be sure, tasking Hezbollah’s enemies with protecting Lebanon’s utterly ineffective military from a group it’s not on bad terms with is almost as good an idea as “inviting NATO to occupy the West Bank and Gaza and set up a NATO-run Palestinian state.”

Friedman rails against Hezbollah’s violation of “an international border with Israel that was sanctified by the United Nations,” decreeing apocalyptically: “So this is not just another Arab-Israeli war. It is about some of the most basic foundations of the international order — borders and sovereignty — and the erosion of those foundations would spell disaster for the quality of life all across the globe.”

As we all know, no country in the world has demonstrated greater respect for international borders and sovereignty than Israel, which took a mere twenty-two years to remove itself from Lebanese territory after UN Resolution 425 ordered it out in 1978. Respect peaked during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon that killed approximately 20,000 people, most of them civilians (and that constituted the raison d’être of Hezbollah). Following the withdrawal in 2000, Israel has limited itself to periodic destruction of persons and property in Lebanon and constant air space violations.

In the end, Israel’s “disproportional craziness” in 2006 was facilitated by rush shipments of bombs from its chief ally in the World of Order, and 1,200 people perished in thirty-four days. When Israel moved on to respecting the sanctity of the Gaza Strip’s borders via Operation Cast Lead (2008–9), Friedman invoked the war with Hezbollah as an optimistic precedent.

Two and a half weeks into the bloody affair that ultimately killed approximately 1,400 (as usual, mainly civilians), Friedman opined that Israel needed to “educate” Hamas much in the same way it had educated its Lebanese foe. The 2006 educational session was said to have taken place based on Israel’s determination that “the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians . . . to restrain Hezbollah in the future.” According to Friedman, this strategy was “not pretty, but it was logical.”

It might not have been so logical, either, given that Friedman’s own newspaper reported “mushrooming public support” for Hezbollah during the war. But at least the rant confirmed that Times columnists can freely advocate for war crimes.

Like the current Off Broadway play, Friedman’s initial assessment of the Cast Lead carnage had a theatrical aspect:

The fighting, death, and destruction in Gaza is painful to watch. But it’s all too familiar. It’s the latest version of the longest-running play in the modern Middle East, which, if I were to give it a title, would be called: “Who owns this hotel? Can the Jews have a room? And shouldn’t we blow up the bar and replace it with a mosque?”

Obviously, Israel’s occupation of the majority of Palestinian land means there’s no dearth of rooms for Jews in the area, while the hypothetical blowing up of bars helpfully distracts from the literal blowing up of Gaza.

Some are drawn to the spectacle, however, and Israelis in Sderot recently gathered with popcorn and plastic chairs to cheer missile bombardments across the border. In the divide between the world of order and the world of disorder, it seems, there are plenty of disorders to go around.