New Writing


I have reviewed Belén Fernández’s book on Thomas Friedman for JadaliyyaAn excerpt, then go read it there.

A researcher once carried out an informal study to try to find out whether or not people actually read the books on best­seller lists. To find out, he put envelopes in the reputedly high-selling books. In each envelope was a note saying that if those who found the envelopes were to send them to a des­ig­nated address, the researcher would send them five dollars. According to the story, the response rate was zero. After reading The Imperial Messenger,Belén Fernández’s treatment of the life’s work of Thomas Friedman, one can only hope for the sake of American intel­lec­tual culture that some of the books included in that exper­i­ment were Friedman’s.

Fernández’s book, part of Verso’s Coun­terblasts series, in which leftist writers take on the leading lay-preachers of the right, is organized around three themes: Friedman com­ment­ing on America and the economy; Friedman com­ment­ing on the Middle East; and Friedman com­ment­ing on the Special Rela­tion­ship between America and Israel. Cat­a­loging the stumbles of a man who can barely take a step before tripping over another fact was clearly a trying task. There is something alto­gether manic and dulling about reading the careful pairing of one Friedman statement with another that neatly negates it, again and again.

It cannot have been thankful labor, and it is clear that Fernández set to work with great diligence: reading all of his collected columns and books since 1995, cross­col­lat­ing them for top­i­cal­ity, and jux­ta­pos­ing them for their con­tra­dic­tions and inconsistencies.

The results, as befit the crown prince of American nin­com­poop com­men­ta­tors, are ridicu­lous. One week will see Friedman calling for US aggres­sion against Iraq so as to “create a free, open, and pro­gres­sive model in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world to promote the ideas of tolerance, pluralism, and democ­ra­ti­za­tion.” The previous week would have seen him announc­ing that “we can invade Iraq once a week and it’s not going to unleash democracy in the Arab world,” while a third reflec­tion has him describ­ing the invasion as “the most important task worth doing and worth debating,” even though it “would be a huge, long, costly task—if it is doable at all, and I am not embar­rassed to say that I don’t know if it is.” This tangled skein and dozens like it that Fernández extracts from Friedman’s nearly endless pro­duc­tion attest to a mind that displays total indif­fer­ence to the con­sis­tency of the thoughts and words it commits to paper.


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