Thomas Friedman, all-American pundit

The following is an excerpt from a review by Central Michigan University professor John Robertson, for War in Context, of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work.

With the publication of Belen Fernandez’s The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, Verso Press inaugurated a new series, called Counterblasts, with the intention of reviving a tradition of polemic that it traces back to the fiery political pamphleteers of the 17th century. Obviously, then, Ms. Fernandez was not supposed to produce an impartial, dispassionate analysis of the collected works of the New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning chief foreign affairs correspondent. Rather, she has come up with something that the American public in general (and students of US foreign affairs and public diplomacy especially) undoubtedly need more: a systematic, detailed take-down of the neo-liberal bias, myopic US-Israeli chauvinism, and general intellectual shallowness that almost scream to be noticed in Friedman’s writing. Yet, lamentably, Friedman has been enshrined as a sort of American “Everyman’s” go-to guy for understanding what’s happening in the world, what needs fixing, and how “we” can and should do it.

Fernandez’s take-down is based on an almost exhaustive winnowing of Friedman’s NY Times columns as well as his several best-selling books (starting with his 1989 From Beirut to Jerusalem). She structures her presentation within three principal yet frequently overlapping categories of Friedman’s supposed expertise: America, the Arab/Muslim World, and the Special Relationship (i.e., the US-Israel relationship). Throughout, she bolsters her arguments with detail so profuse and tightly packed that a brief review such as this can hardly do it justice. But from that skein of specifics Fernandez is able to draw out specific tropes, methods, and assumptions that are woven throughout Friedman’s work:

  • “USA! USA!” : The United States is almost always (and, in Friedman’s view, most obviously) the right model for the rest of the world, and “we” have the right and obligation to fix the world – the Middle East, in particular – whenever and wherever we choose. Just as obviously the right model is Neoliberal free-market capitalism and globalization; just ask the countless factory owners and local elites who tend to be Friedman’s go-to people for sourcing his analyses.

Click here to continue reading at War in Context.

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