Friedman says U.S.
must invest in Iraq


New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman outlined his support for U.S. military action in Iraq and highlighted some of his suggestions for the successful rebuilding of this pivotal Middle East country, during the Baird Pulitzer Prize Lecture Sept. 29 in Koury Center.

The three-time Pulitzer recipient told the audience of 2,000 that his support for the war came after a great deal of personal struggle. He said that while he did not believe the Bush administration's claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the war was justified because regime change is the best way to secure Iraq's future and it is one way to help diminish the threat of terrorism.

"I knew that war was no way to midwife democracy in any country, yet I knew that the Iraqi people alone had no chance of standing up against the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein," Friedman said.

The foreign affairs columnist said western cultures' ignorance and lack of effective grassroots policy in the Middle East were the impetus for the September 11 terrorist attacks and added that "doing nothing was not an option."

He explained how difficult it was for him to take a stand and defend the U.S. military deployment in Iraq, saying that while his wife opposed the war, he was bolstered in his decision to support it by letters and e-mails from young people in the Middle East. "In the end, those voices were probably that one percent that tipped me over," he said. "Every column was a struggle, but in the end, I let hope triumph over experience."

Friedman said the Middle East is a fertile recruiting ground for terrorist groups like al Qaeda due to a wheel of consistent negativism that has held that part of the world back in technology and economics. He said the entire region is run by illegitimate, unelected leaders who stay in power by limiting educational opportunities, stifling free speech and progressive ideas, and limiting women's rights.

Osama bin Laden finds his followers, Friedman said, by recruiting from "a large pool of young, frustrated, angry, humiliated Arab youth. Always remember that 9/11 was not about the poverty of money. It was about the poverty of dignity."

Friedman said the leaders of the 9/11 hijackings were in Europe shortly before the attacks and experienced "cognitive dissonance." He explained that these young people had been indoctrinated to believe that their culture was superior to others, and found themselves disappointed and confused when encountering a culture that was thriving yet did not follow Islam. He said this made it easy for a powerful personality such as Bin Laden to convince them to unleash terror on America to "level the playing field."

Friedman called terrorism one of the "three great bubbles" of the 1990s, falling after the technology bubble and the Enron-corporate-ethics-trouble bubble. He said the real reason we went to war with Iraq was to "burst that bubble" and prevent terrorism from threatening our freedom.

"We invaded Iraq for one reason: because we could," Friedman said. "We did burst that bubble and everyone in that neighborhood got the message." The challenge now, he added, is to keep the terrorism bubble from re-inflating. "Because if it re-inflates we will have accomplished nothing at all."

How can this be accomplished. Friedman proposed his ideas, saying that first, Arab leaders need to establish and support progressive Islamic governments. "We need a war within Islam. We cannot fight the war of ideas with Osama bin Laden. Without that vision there will be no war of ideas within Islam." Second, Friedman said, we have to be "the very best global citizens we can be." The U.S. cannot continue to oppose environmental reforms and other key global movements and expect the support of other nations in the war against terrorism. Third, he said, the U.S. must help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which Friedman called "toxic" and a threat to Israel and American interests in the Middle East. And his final point: America needs to "get back to who we are. Since 9/11, we've gotten into the habit of exporting our fears and not our hopes. As a result we are importing everyone else's fear back."

Friedman was critical of the Bush administration's pre- and post-war planning, which he called "pathetic." The Iraq the U.S. inherited was more impoverished than our government projected. "Folks, we defeated the Flintstones and we inherited Bedrock," he said. "We have dug ourselves into a mighty, mighty deep hole." He said the U.S. must spend the billions needed to build a strong technology, education, water and power infrastructure in Iraq in order to keep the terrorism bubble deflated.

He added that the way America is viewed by the world in the future will depend on what happens in Iraq. "We have got to get Iraq back," he said. "I am an optimist, and I'm still an optimist about Iraq."

Finally, Friedman said liberals and conservatives must join forces to save Iraq to ensure the safety of future generations.

"It's a long-term project," he said. "I supported this war for my grandchildren."

(Compiled from University Relations and student reports.)



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Last Modified:  10/01/03
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