Thomas Friedman on "Petropolitics", Iraq, Israel-Palestine and the "Excuse Makers"
Wednesday, June 7th, 2006http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=06/06/07/1420208
Three-time Pulitzer prize winner Thomas Friedman turns from print to the screen with the television news special "Addicted To Oil: Thomas Friedman Reporting." The program focuses on the politics of the US reliance on oil. We talk to Friedman about "petropolitics", as well as his views on Iraq, Israel-Palestine, and the people he calls the "Excuse Makers." [includes rush transcript]
We speak with Thomas Friedman, the Foreign Affairs columnist for the New York Times. A three-time Pulitzer prize winner, Thomas Friedman is one of this country's most-widely read political commentators. His books include the award-winning "From Beirut to Jerusalem" and "The Lexus and the Olive Tree." His latest book is "The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century." Later this month, he will host "Addicted To Oil: Thomas Friedman Reporting", a television special on the politics of this country's reliance on oil, or what he calls "petropolitics." "Addicted To Oil" airs on the Discovery Channel on June 24.
- Thomas Friedman. Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist. His latest book is "The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century." His television news special, "Addicted To Oil: Thomas Friedman Reporting", airs on the Discovery Channel on June 24.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the film, Thomas Friedman?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Thanks for having me. The basic thrust of the film is that this is not your parents' energy crisis. Now we’re in a totally new world, for four basic reasons. The first is that we're in a War on Terrorism today in which we're funding both sides in the war with our energy purchases. We fund the U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps with our tax dollars, we fund Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, the regimes that support them, and the charities that support them indirectly, with our energy purchases. So we're funding both sides in the War on Terrorism, and that’s flat out nuts.
Second, the world is flat, I believe, and three billion new consumers just walked on to the playing field from India, China, Brazil, the Soviet Union, all with their own version of the American dream: a house, a car, a toaster, a microwave and a refrigerator. If we don't find an alternative way to satisfy their energy needs and demands, we're going to see this planet burned up, choked up, and smoked up so much faster than people realize. And that leads to the third reason this is not your parents’ energy crisis, which is green technology, clean power. This is going to be the growth industry of the 21st century to satisfy all of these new consumers. And we want America to be a dominant player in that industry. The way we get America to be a dominant player in that clean power industry is not by telling our automakers, our industrialists, “Oh, don't toughen up your standards on energy and fuel efficiency, we don't want you to do anything hard.” That's precisely what will lead to China, Japan and Europe taking the lead in that industry.
Number four of the reasons this is not your parents energy crisis is that we thought the fall of the Berlin Wall was going to be unleashing an unstoppable tide of free markets and free people, and for about 10 years it did just that. But basically, that 10 years was coincident with oil at $20 to $40 a barrel. As oil moved to $40 to $70 a barrel of oil, we've seen the tide of free markets and free people unleashed by the fall of the Berlin Wall, meeting a counter-tide of what I would call petro-authoritarianism. These are authoritarian regimes, some of them elected authoritarians, like in Venezuela, who are using their huge oil windfalls to ensconce their authoritarianism and power. So what are we seeing in the world today? The wave of free markets and free people that was unleashed by the fall of the Berlin Wall is now meeting a counter-wave of petro-authoritarianism, by petrol estates called Russia, Iran, Sudan, Venezuela, Kazakhstan, Equatorial Guinea, you can do gown the list. And they're creating a very poisonous geo-politics.
AMY GOODMAN: Thomas Friedman, on the subject of oil I wanted to ask you about Iraq. I'm sure many of your critics will be happy to hear you continuing to speak out about this country's reliance on oil. But you've also been a vocal supporter of the war in Iraq, and many critics argue that the Bush administration wouldn't have taken this country to war if Iraq's main export was olive oil, not crude. How does your support for easing off our reliance on oil reconcile with your support for the war in Iraq?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: If you read -- watch my documentary or read everything I’ve said, I’ve been calling for this kind of oil policy ever since 9/11. And I believe it's the only way to advance the cause or it's one of the only ways to advance the cause of freedom in that part of the world. As you know, if you've been reading me on Iraq, my position on the war had nothing to do with WMD. My position on the war had to do with the fact that we've got a part of the world over there that is basically entrenched in a whole set of pathologies, pathologies that produce the kind of characters that produce 9/11, who I think in the long term pose a real fundamental threat to open societies all over the world, including ours. And the only way to get at those pathologies is by trying to produce a different context in that part of the world. That was my argument in favor of the war. To me, it was to try to partner with people there to produce a different politics. And I believed going back to before the war, going back to 9/11, part of that policy has to be a different energy politics in our country as well.
AMY GOODMAN: As you say, you didn't argue that this was to get rid of weapons of mass destruction. You said it was to spread democracy. In November of 2003 you wrote, "this war is the most important liberal revolutionary U.S. democracy-building project since the Marshall Plan. We got off to an unnecessarily bad start but it's one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad, and it's a moral and strategic imperative that we give it our best shot." Those were your words.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: Critics of the position say if the U.S. came to Iraq to build democracy, then it wouldn't have vigorously resisted Iraqi calls for direct elections. Now, as you'll recall in January 2004, 100,000 Iraqis took to the streets chanting “yes to elections, no to selections.” Elections were finally held in January of 2005 after the Bush administration fought to delay them. The Bush administration has also ignored overwhelming Iraqi public opinion in favor of a timetable for troop withdrawal, I think it's 70% according to a Zogby poll this past January. How do you respond to that?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: It's a very good and legitimate question, and if you've been reading me on the war from the very beginning, I’ve been a critic of how we have prosecuted this. You know, it's possible to do a good thing really, really badly. The very first column I wrote from Iraq, and I’ve been there five times, was called “Hold Your Applause.” Because I could see, a, we didn't have enough troops there. And b, I’ve been an advocate of elections from very early on, and turning authority over to Iraqis as fast as we could. We did many, many stupid things there. We may have done so many stupid things that now we've dug ourselves in a hole we can't get out of. I hope not, because at the end of the day elections were held, eight million Iraqis did turn out. Now, Iraq is going to be what Iraqis make of it, and I would also point you to the fact that if we lose in Iraq, I wish we could say we were losing to the Vietcong, traditional Iraqi nationalists. But we're not, we're losing to Islamo-fascists, we’re losing to sectarian fanatics, we’re losing to criminal gangs, and we're losing in part as you say because we never established a secure context from the very beginning. I’ve been focused from the very beginning on trying to do this right so we had a chance for those democrats to emerge.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about Israel and the Palestinians. Certainly you've covered this issue for a very long time. Since the outbreak of the second intifada in the fall of 2000, you've laid most of the blame for the breakdown of the peace process on the Palestinians. You said the Palestinian leadership has chosen violence instead of accepting the generous Israeli peace offer at Camp David in July 2000 and the months after. But Palestinians have long maintained that Israel has never offered them anything beyond a Bantu stand state carved up by the large Israeli settlement blocks. In fact, on Democracy Now!, we had the former Israeli Foreign Minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami, and he said that if he were a Palestinian, he would have rejected the offer his government offered Arafat at Camp David. Your response to this, and what do you say to Palestinians who say they can't accept a peace deal that would leave tens of thousands of settlers deep in their territory?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: A very legitimate question. Again, if you read my columns on this all the way through, the argument I basically had been making was this: I understood why Yasser Arafat did not accept the Camp David offer, because my position, which has always been for a two-state solution along the 67 lines. I understood why Palestinians would say it's very nice of you, Mr. Barak, to offer us 90%, but we believe we're entitled to 100%. That's what Sadat got. That's what we believe we're entitled to. I totally get that. That is absolutely a defensible position. But here's what's indefensible: what’s indefensible is in response to a 90% offer instead of 100% offer you go on a rampage of suicide bombing and intifada rather than saying, to Barak, Arafat could have said to Barak, “You know Mr. Barak, that offer, it’s part the way there. I'm glad to see you've moved from 50% to 90% but you're still short. But here’s what I want to do: I want to go around and convince every Israeli why it's in their fundamental interest, now that you’ve gone to 90, to go from 90 to 100. I want to make that argument directly to the Israeli people.” That is not what Yasser Arafat, what he launched instead was a violent intifada. That is what I found inexcusable.
AMY GOODMAN: I thought what Yasser Arafat said was he wanted U.N. 242, complete withdrawal.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: What Yasser Arafat did was launch an intifada.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about a comment you made in April 1988 in an interview with the Israeli press. You were talking about what Israel should do with the Occupied Territories. And you said Israel should hand over control to a client Palestinian proxy force. You explain this by saying, "I believe that as soon as Ahmed has a seat on the bus, he will limit his demand.” MIT professor Noam Chomsky later reprinted the statement in his articles and books, calling your comments racist. How do you respond?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I have no -- if I have said that in 1988, 20 years ago, I would have absolutely no recollection of saying that or what the context was. But if he said I said that, then I said that. I’ve said a million things differently since. And if you want to go back and check every quote Noam Chomsky has made over the last 30 years and pluck out one from 1988 and throw it in his face, go ahead.
AMY GOODMAN: So you’re saying you're sorry you said that?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: My hundred thousand words since then have been very, very clear. Before then and after then I have no idea what the context is you're talking about. 100,000 words since then have been very clear. I'm for a two-state solution.
AMY GOODMAN: Last July you wrote a controversial column calling on the state department to monitor and publicly identify excuse makers and hate mongers.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: You wrote, "After every major terrorist incident the excuse makers come out to tell us why imperialism, Zionism, colonialism or Iraq explains why the terrorists acted. These excuse makers are just one notch less despicable than the terrorists and also deserve to be exposed. Every quarter the State Department should identify the top 10 hate mongers, excuse makers and truth tellers in the world." That's your quote.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Absolutely. I believe that.
AMY GOODMAN: To make an enemy's list, the state department --
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: People who make excuses for terrorism should be exposed and identified. I also use my own pen to expose and identify people in Israel who explore hate mongering as well toward Palestinians, among the settlers. I’ve been probably one of their biggest critics and enemies in The New York Times referring to them as fanatics and lunatics.
AMY GOODMAN: For people who say we have to understand why others in the world are angry, do you think they belong on the State Department list?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Understanding why people are angry and understanding why people tell you that 9/11 happened, and no Jews were in the twin towers at that time because they were all warned ahead of time. So, let's be clear about what I was saying. I was very focused on people who want to justify the murder of innocent women and children, innocent civilians, and I very much believed then and I very much believe now that they should be exposed. I think Jewish hate mongers should be exposed as well as I believe I made clear in that column, too.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you concerned today in this country about people who are fiercely critical of the war in Iraq, the occupation, being called unpatriotic, being called hate mongers, being put on government lists?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Amy, if you read my column, one of the biggest critics of the war is the woman I live with, and I’ve probably mentioned -- I don't know how many times, in my column -- my wife's criticism of the war. I believe it's honorable. I believe it's a perfectly moral position. I would be disgusted by anyone calling them traitors.
AMY GOODMAN: And why do you trust the State Department to make the determination on who they would call terrorists for being critical of the invasion?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: We clearly know what hate speech is and we know what legitimate opposition is. I know the difference.
AMY GOODMAN: And do you think the State Department knows the difference? The Bush administration, President Bush?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I think they could. I know the difference between hate speech and people who oppose a policy on legitimate grounds, and opposing the Iraq war is not hate speech, I'm sorry. Basically justifying the bombing of the World Trade Center is hate speech. I know the difference. If you don't, that's your problem.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the State Department does?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I'm not going get into this silliness.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, Thomas Friedman. Three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, New York Times columnist.