Skip to main content

Book Review: 'Truth & Beauty'

Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews Truth & Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett, a memoir about her friendship with the late Lucy Grealy, best known for her 1994 book Autobiography of a Face.

05:50

Other segments from the episode on June 3, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 3, 2004: Interview with Thomas Friedman; Review of Ann Patchett's new memoir, "Truth and beauty."

Transcript

DATE June 3, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Thomas Friedman discusses outsourcing and his views on
Iraq
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

When you call a toll-free number for customer service, the person on the other
end of the line might be in India. Phone services are just one example of the
many jobs corporations have started to outsource to countries where they can
pay lower wages. My guest, Tom Friedman, is foreign affairs columnist for The
New York Times, the winner of three Pulitzer Prizes and the author of several
best-selling books, including "The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding
Globalization." He recently went to Bangalore, India, to report on
outsourcing for his Times column and for his documentary, "The Other Side of
Outsourcing." It will be shown tonight on the Discovery Channel.

We invited him back to FRESH AIR to talk about outsourcing and to discuss his
latest foreign affairs columns about Iraq. I asked him first to describe the
typical jobs that have been outsourced to India.

Mr. THOMAS FRIEDMAN (The New York Times): Well, the ones that people are most
familiar with, of course, Terry, are the call-center jobs. And those fall
into two categories: what they call in India outbound jobs or inbound
jobs--that is, young Indians who may call you trying to sell you credit cards
or phone service or banking service, and the inbound ones, which many of us
are familiar with, from our computers or Internet or AOL service going wrong
and calling looking for a young technical support worker to walk us through
them. And so those are the ones we're most familiar with.

The ones you're less familiar with probably are accounting. A lot of
accounting firms are now outsourcing kind of basic tax returns to Indian
accountants, who are trained in American accounting methods and spread out all
over India, may do the work, you know, in their spare time. Another very new
and developing branch is that of radiology. There are Indian radiologists now
reading X-rays for major American medical centers. There is an enormous
amount of now raw R&D going on. There is book publishing-editing going on in
India. There's brokerage research into different countries and companies
going on now in India. And then there is really very basic R&D involving
pharmaceuticals, which is still at a kind of rudimentary level but I think is
one of the real comers in that field as well.

So, Terry, almost anything that can be digitized, anything that can be turned
into ones and zeroes and transmitted over phone lines or by satellite, can now
really be outsourced to India or anywhere else.

GROSS: Why India? Why is India such a capital of this outsourcing?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, it's a really good question. India had several
accidental advantages, actually. The first was that it had a lot of people
who spoke English. Second, it had a huge population of low-wage labor. But,
thirdly and most importantly, what made it all possible is it had a real
tradition where, in Indian families, the greatest thing you could be when you
grew up was either a doctor or an engineer. And one of Nehru's great legacies
was to set up a network of little MITs all over India. And so every year
India was graduating thousands upon thousands of very educated, well-trained,
English-speaking engineers. And in a country of a billion people, it creates
a kind of Darwinian environment. Just to get into one of these--they're
called IITs, Indian Institutes of Technology, is so competitive. And as a
result of that, it's produced a generation of very hungry, very educated and
very sharp young people.

And then there was one other accident that India, Terry, just happened to be
almost exactly on the other side of the world from the United States, so that
their night was our day and our day was their night. And as a result of that,
you could create a 24-hour workday. Teams of American software designers
could work on a product here, then ship it over to their Indian counterparts.
They would work on it at night, answer questions and ship it back. And so
because the time difference, it really was a perfect fit with us; same with
the call centers. When do you tend to get those calls from the credit card
company or the phone company? It's usually around your dinnertime or sometime
in the evening when you're home from work, and that really fit in very nicely
with the Indian day.

GROSS: The bottom line of all of this is that companies that want to
outsource can hire people in India at a much lower wage than they can in the
United States, and that's where the real payoff is for the corporations.
Would you compare some of the salaries of Indian workers and American workers
for comparable jobs?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, the standard figure that people use is that Indian
workers make about a fifth of what American workers use. That's a good
ballpark number. So the starting call center workers make in the low $200s,
and then as they work up, get more experience--and, also, some work on
commission--will make something like $300 a month as opposed to what is
probably $1,500 a month or even more for a starting call center worker in the
United States.

GROSS: And in India, that translates into a decent salary.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Translates into not only a decent salary--as many of the young
people we interviewed, Terry, told us, a lot of them, as is the custom in
India, turn over their whole paycheck to their parents and then just take some
back as allowance because of the extended family and the tightness of the
extended family there. So many of them are now making more in their starting
jobs than their mothers and fathers are making in the last years of their
purely Indian jobs. And, you know, that's quite a revolution. They also have
enormous disposable income for their society, and they're using it to buy
global brands, many of them American. I mean, you go into all these call
centers, and it's pretty easy to see free trade at work. You look around, the
computers are, you know, Dell and HP and Compaq; the software's all from
Microsoft. The air conditioner's from Carrier. The water's even bottled by
Coke. And they're wearing American clothes. So you really can see the cycle
there at work.

GROSS: You know, on some level this just sounds like really wonderful high
technology, speed of transmission of information, Indian people getting paid
really, you know, terrific wages, helping support their families, you know,
new jobs for young men and women in India. That all sounds really great, but
there's so many Americans that don't have jobs. And jobs are now being
outsourced more and more to other countries, and that certainly seems to be
making the unemployment problem here worse. So in that sense it's really
hard to be enthusiastic about this outsourcing.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, it's a really complicated issue, and you and I
over the years have talked about globalization. And my mantra has always
been if you think it's all bad or you think it's all good, you don't
understand it, and outsourcing I would put in that very same category. You
know, when you lose your job in this country, the unemployment rate isn't 4
percent or 5 percent. I's 100 percent. And we have to remember that. Free
trade definitely is good for the society as a whole, and it's good for Indian
society as a whole. Look what's happened. I mean, since the early 1990s
we've never had more outsourcing between America and India in the history of
our two countries. And American exports to India during this period, during
the last decade or so, have gone from $2.5 billion a year to over $4 billion a
year. So that's a lot of jobs. That means a lot of stuff being made here is
going over there.

But at the same time what concerns me most is not the call center jobs
because, to me, call center jobs are outsourced in the same way that maybe
your secretary or receptionist job was outsourced 10 years ago when we got
voice-mail chips in our telephones. Some things are outsourced to India and
some things, as my friend David Rothkopf says, are outsourced to the past. So
there are a lot of airline counter employees who have been outsourced--seen
their jobs outsourced to the past because we now have e-ticket machines. So
all this churning is going on.

I think it's the job of government in this society, in our society--and I
certainly want my tax dollars used to not only cushion people with wage
insurance and things of that nature who are caught up in this job churning,
whether it's outsourcing to India or outsourcing to the past, and to help them
acquire the skills in order to, obviously, access the better-paying jobs.

GROSS: Say we really are exporting a lot of new products to people in other
countries, and part of the reason why there's a demand for these products is
that they are making better wages through these outsourced jobs. So like more
people in Bangalore are buying American products because they have taken these
outsourced jobs that pay them a good wage. Terrific. But say the company
making that product is an American company, but the factory is now located in
Thailand because it's a cheaper wage there. So even the fact that more
product from America is being shipped to this new market in Bangalore doesn't
necessarily help the American worker because the people who made that product
might not be in America.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: And not only is that not an imaginary question--Dell Computer.
What is Dell? Dell is actually a Chinese manufacturing company with an
American Web site. But over here in America, you have the whole top level of
Dell, the management, the sales team, you know, the key innovators, and
they're making the highest wages in the company. And what have those profits
allowed Dell to do, OK, that--because they've been doing all this cheap
manufacturing in China is to go into all of these other areas now.

What has Dell been doing with its profits? Yes, Michael Dell has gotten rich,
and the shareholders of Dell have gotten rich and maybe in your pension fund
and mine. But what they've also done with those profits is plow it back into
Dell, OK, and say, `You know what? We're just not going to be in the computer
business. I think, you know, we at Dell, we're pretty good at this supply
chain stuff. Let's go into the television business. Let's go in'--look what
Amazon has done, how they've expanded. So I think you really can't see it in
this narrow way. Yes, that is true these companies are outsourcing, and then
jobs of outsourced jobs get outsourced. But as long as profits are coming
back here and then used to innovate and start new businesses, that's how you
get continued aggregate growth in jobs. That's the history of free trade.

GROSS: But might Dell be plowing the money for the new businesses into
businesses in Third World countries where the workers will get paid less? I
mean, maybe they're not. I'm just using them as a hypothetical, but...

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Oh, not might they be. They are...

GROSS: They are. OK.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: ...you know. They definitely are.

GROSS: So how is that helping us in America?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Right. What is helping is creating better Dell jobs here
while--look, if you're a person whose skill was putting mother boards into
Dell computers and you grew up in Austin, Texas, and that job's now been
outsourced basically to Taiwan or to China, you have lost your job. You have
been hurt by this process. If your job is computer designing for Dell, you
are in better shape than ever. Your company's stronger than ever, and you're
thinking about constantly how to make the next Dell computer. Now the problem
is that person making the mother board and what we do to help them transition
up the scale to be working somewhere else in Dell. That's the only way this
has to work. But if you're telling me the only thing we can do is not let
those mother boards be made in Taiwan in order to preserve this specific job
here, I tell you that Dell will be worse off and all the workers of Dell will
be worse off over time.

GROSS: My guest is New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. His documentary,
"The Other Side of Outsourcing," will be shown tonight on the Discovery
Channel. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Tom Friedman. He writes a foreign affairs column for The
New York Times. His documentary, "The Other Side of Outsourcing," will be
shown tonight on the Discovery Channel.

What do you think would be an enlightened government policy that would help
American workers deal with these outsourcing kind of changes?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, this is--in my view, if there is one magic wand that I
could wave, it would be about education. It would be making sure, through
government scholarships and government programs, that absolutely the maximum
number of Americans possible have an opportunity to have college-level
education either in the technical area or, you know, at the broader university
area. At the same time the second thing I would do would use the bully pulpit
of the presidency to do everything I could to induce and encourage young
Americans to go into engineerings and hard sciences. And I would radically
increase the amount of government aid to universities for just basic
scientific research.

GROSS: Well, here's another question. I know one of the things that you take
harp from in terms of globalization--say, you look at India--not only a lot of
American products being bought there now, but, you know, American culture has
arrived there in full force. And a lot of the workers who are employed by
American companies are really feeling quite good about America. They like
American culture. They like American dollars. They like the American
companies they're working for.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Oh, but Terry, Terry, Terry...

GROSS: Yeah?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: ...the most important thing...

GROSS: Yeah?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: ...is that they like themselves.

GROSS: OK.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: OK?

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: They feel good about themselves.

GROSS: Yeah, well, that's great. But wait, wait, wait.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: And I'm not saying it's our job to make people here feel bad
about themselves, so Indians can feel good about themselves because I don't
think it's a zero sum game. But at the same time one of the positive
byproducts about this is that, you know, you're producing young people who
don't want to blow up the world. They want to be part of it.

GROSS: In your documentary, you go behind the scenes and you find a lot of
the ways that people are trained for their new jobs in India. And one of the
ways that they're trained is to speak American English, so that if I call an
800 number and I actually get somebody in Bangalore, I won't know they're in
Bangalore. Now are they trying to fool me, or are they just trying to make me
comfortable?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Oh, both, I would say. They're both trying to fool you and to
make you feel more comfortable talking to them. There are companies in
Bangalore--this technology's gotten so sophisticated that if you're in
Philadelphia and you call, you know, company X and that call gets routed to a
call center in Bangalore, simultaneous with that call ringing at the desk of
the Indian call center operator, on his or her screen comes up a little
summary of the weather in Philadelphia, how the Phillies are doing, just some
basic stuff on Philadelphia. And they then say, `Oh, hi, Terry. Weather's
nice today. How about those Phillies?' And it's gotten pretty sophisticated.

GROSS: Wow. So do people actually do that?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Oh, yeah. Well, when--they do engage in this kind of chatter,
and they all take assumed names or they're asked to take assumed names. So,
you know, they might be called Rachel Smith(ph) or--you know, one of the women
in our documentary, that's the name she uses. And, you know, the idea is--as
you say, it's both to fool you into thinking you're talking to an American or
a Brit. Some of them work in British, you know, call centers and learn
British accents. And the other is just to make you supposedly feel more
comfortable.

GROSS: How do the young Indian workers in these jobs feel about having to
take an American name, having to learn an American accent, having to pretend
like they actually follow what the Phillies are doing and that they know it's
sunny and clear in Philly today?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, that's really one of the things we explore with them in
the documentary. To what extent are they losing their own Indian-ness? And I
would say, you know, our experience in talking to them--and we did 60 hours of
interviews to do this--was that, you know, most of them just sort of see it as
part of the job. They don't take it real seriously.

You know, India is a country--one of the reasons it's been successful at
globalization in a short period of time, like China, is that it's very good at
glocalizing. Glocalization is really a key for countries' ability to engage
in globalization. And glocalization means you're really good at taking kind
of the best of the global economy and what it has to offer your society or
culture and melding it with your local, you know, norms and culture and
whatnot. And Indians do this--it's in their DNA. You know, the Moguls come,
the Moguls go; the British come, the British go; IBM and Hewlett-Packard and
Microsoft come and they go. But we still wear saris, we still eat curry, we
still live with our extended family. We found that when you scratch these
kids, underneath the patina of Levi jeans and cell phones and, you know,
assumed accents, they were still hard-core Indians.

GROSS: I seem to have mostly played the part of skeptic in this interview
about outsourcing, and I'm wondering if...

Mr. FRIEDMAN: I hadn't noticed.

GROSS: Yeah. I'm wondering if you run into that all the time...

Mr. FRIEDMAN: I do.

GROSS: ...if there were so many Americans who are so upset about losing jobs
that they almost don't even want to hear about it.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Yeah, I do. And, believe me, I really understand it. I take
so seriously the idea of, you know, my neighbor or my kid or my kid's friend,
you know, being swept up in this, you know. That's why I'm trying to
understand it. But the one thing I know as a journalist is my job is not to
sit back and, you know, fan the flames of either jingoism or Know-Nothingism;
it's to really try to delve into this phenomena. That's why we went all the
way to India, did that; that's why I want to write a book on it, because if I
understand it, maybe I can contribute something to a sensible debate about it
because the technology is here, and it is flattening the world, Terry.

And unless we want to put up walls again--and then we'd pay a huge price in
another way--we have to find a way to live with this, to limit the pain and
maximize the benefits. And it does nobody any good to have a campaign where
one side says, `You're supporting Benedict Arnold executives,' and the other
side, which believes in free trade, is so afraid to say so that it puts tape
over the mouth of the chief White House economist. That's a sure prescription
for getting us in trouble because, you know, as I said earlier, while we've
been engaged in the war on terrorism, India, China, these big companies,
they're eating our lunch. They are getting ready for this flat world. And I
don't want to wake up five years from now and discover that while we were
sleeping or otherwise engaged, that we've really put ourselves behind the
eight ball. So I'm trying to write about it sensibly, but the problem is you
get in these situations and you become a defender of it. I'm neither defender
nor someone rejecting it. I'm trying to understand the phenomena, explain to
myself and hopefully to others the benefits and the costs.

GROSS: Tom Friedman will be back in the second half of the show to talk about
his New York Times foreign affairs columns on Iraq. His documentary "The
Other Side of Outsourcing," will be shown tonight on the Discovery Channel.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, we talk with New York Times foreign affairs columnist
Thomas Friedman about his recent columns on Iraq. Last month he wrote that
he'd made a mistake in thinking the Bush administration would place more
importance on doing the right things in Iraq than on getting re-elected.

Also, book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews Ann Patchett's new memoir, "Truth &
Beauty: A Friendship."

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with more of the interview
we recorded yesterday with Tom Friedman. He writes a foreign affairs column
for The New York Times. He's won three Pulitzer Prizes and is the author of
several best-selling books. In the first half of the interview we talked
about his documentary, "The Other Side of Outsourcing," which will be shown
tonight on the Discovery Channel.

Tom, I want to change subjects for a little while here

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Sure.

GROSS: ...and talk about your work as a political columnist for The New York
Times, in which, I should say, you've also written a lot about globalization,
including a lot about outsourcing of jobs to India. But I want to actually
talk a little bit about Iraq.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Sure.

GROSS: You had felt very strongly that overthrowing Saddam Hussein would be a
good thing and that it would not only bring democracy to Iraq. It would help
create a model of democracy in that part of the world and help or at least
inspire other countries to democratize. On May 13th you wrote a column in
which you expressed your concern that things had gone so wrong that it was
maybe just too late. So let me just read an excerpt of that column. You
wrote...

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Can I just ask you to...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: ...because it's really an overstatement of my--you know, I had
a very tightly, you know, argued--and since we talked about this--approach to
this war. And it was based on two simple mantras.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: This could be the right war if it was done right...

GROSS: Yes, exactly.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: ...and that it would not bring instant democracy, but that it
would begin to tilt, you know, the Middle East in the right direction by
creating what I called a `decent Iraq.' I always tried to use the word
`decent,' OK, because I know, first, you have to have decency before
democracy. So I just have to beg of you to--I'm happy to answer any question
about my position, but it has to be my real position, not a caricature of it.

GROSS: Perfect. Thank you. So now I'm going to read an excerpt of your
column from May 13th. You wrote, `It is time to ask this question: Do we
have any chance of succeeding at regime change in Iraq without regime change
here at home? Hey, Friedman, why are you bring politics into this all of a
sudden? You're the guy who always said that producing a decent outcome in
Iraq was of such overriding importance to the country that it had to be kept
above politics. Yes, that's true, I still believe that. My mistake was
thinking that the Bush team believed it, too. I thought the administration
would have to do the right things in Iraq, from prewar planning and putting
in enough troops to dismissing the secretary of Defense for incompetence,
because surely this was the most important thing for the president and the
country. But I was wrong. There's something even more important to the Bush
crowd than getting Iraq right, and that's getting re-elected and staying loyal
to the conservative base to do so.'

I was wondering, what was the turning point for you in deciding to write that
column and deciding to say that you thought the Bush administration had
basically blown it, that they were putting politics above doing the right
thing in Iraq?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: It was Rumsfeld. It was the fact that in the wake of Abu
Ghraib, which was such a stain on our effort in Iraq and our status in the
world, but which came after a year of utter incompetence--and, as you know,
because we talked about this during the course of that year, in which I'd been
arguing and complaining from the very beginning about the sheer incompetent
way in which the Pentagon has prosecuted this war, I felt that at this stage
in the game if the president couldn't and wouldn't fire Rumsfeld for purely
political reasons, in my view, that there was little hope that we can win this
war without regime change at home.

GROSS: Was this a difficult column to write, and did you try a lot of
different leads before going with the one that you used?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: You know, Terry, the best columns take you about a half-hour
to write. You start at the top and you stop at the bottom because they just
come out of you. And this one just came out of me. And I probably got more
mail on that column, you know, than I've gotten, you know, on any in a long,
long time. And it just really expressed what I felt all along, which is that
this could be the right war; it had to be done right. And my position before
the war was right war, but you got to do it right. And then when they went
to war, I said, `This column is going to be used to try to turn lemons into
lemonade.'

They clearly didn't go into it the right way, but I still believed the stakes
here are so big, they are so important in turning this part of the world in a
different direction--and, as you know, I never believed in WMD; that was not
my reason for the war. It was all about the war of ideas, to try to tilt that
part of the world in a different direction. I believed it was so important, I
made a choice--and it's a choice I have to live with--that I want to use my
column to try to be a voice, one voice, but try to be a voice to encourage the
right actions there that would maximize our chances for getting the right
outcome, even though we didn't do it right. And throughout the year that was
really the position I took.

And I finally reached a stage where it was clear to me that while getting Iraq
right was the most important thing for me, I believe the most important thing
for our country and something very important for the future of the world my
kids are going to live in, it was not the most important thing for the Bush
administration. Getting re-elected was the most important thing for them.
And so many of their mistakes and so many of the things they wouldn't do were
all traceable to politics: not firing...

GROSS: Can you give me some example of...

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Sure, absolutely.

GROSS: Yeah, mm-hmm.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: We can just go right--they're all in that column, but you can
go right down the list: not having a serious Arab-Israeli policy, basically,
jumping into bed with Ariel Sharon, a terrible thing to be doing at a time
when we're trying to build a decent Iraq in Baghdad, number one; not having an
energy policy, not using the opportunity of the Iraq War to enlist Americans
in sacrifice for energy conservation and to begin a Manhattan Project to
foster energy independence. Terry, as my friend Paul Romer says, a crisis is
a terrible thing to waste. And we had a crisis here that people really would
have been mobilized to contribute to energy independence--and, by the way, gas
wouldn't be $2.75 a gallon today if they had done that. That's number two.

Number three: going to our allies, drawing them into this process, even
saying, `I'm sorry.' Again, for political reasons, they weren't going to do
that. They weren't going to do the energy thing because they get all their
money from the oil and gas lobby.

And, lastly, going right back to the beginning of the war, why didn't Rumsfeld
put the number of troops we needed in there? Because he wanted to prove that
Colin Powell was wrong. He wanted to prove that Colin Powell, the Powell
doctrine of using overwhelming force to take over a country like this--that
you didn't need to do that anymore; that a high-tech, fast, small Army could
do it. These people in the Pentagon, these ideologues, wanted to defeat
Colin Powell much more than they wanted to defeat Saddam Hussein.

So for all those reasons I basically concluded that these guys were really
incapable of doing the right thing; that their own ideology and domestic
politics would make it impossible, and, therefore, to really have any chance
of succeeding anymore at regime change in Iraq, we really need a regime change
at home.

GROSS: Now I want to quote something you wrote on May 6th in your New York
Times column.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Please.

GROSS: You wrote, `I've never known a time in my life when America and its
president were more hated around the world than today.' Now I know you have a
lot of sources around the world, including heads of state. I'm wondering,
what are some of the things you've been hearing?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: I don't interview a lot of heads of state, so I really couldn't
tell you what they're thinking, and none of them would confide in me. But I
talk to a lot of normal people around the world, and I see kind of two trends
that have come together that really made this administration very unpopular.
And some are things that are justified, and some are things that are not
justified. The justified things are the kind of sneering unilateralism of
this administration: that everyone else is a dummy; that things like the
Kyoto treaty on global warming--that's for sissies; things like the Geneva
Convention don't have to restrain us; and things like, you know, steel
tariffs, even if it contradicts our Republican free trade-ism, `Too bad.
You're just going to have to eat it.' That kind of attitude is something that
has made people very, very angry around the world.

Then there's something that I think is more complicated, if we're going to be
honest about it. It's that the world--you know, they're very ready to love us
and be sympathetic to the United States when we're wounded or when we're weak.
But, generally speaking, they don't really like us when we exercise power.
You know, there are a lot of people in Europe yelping about the American
invasion of Afghanistan to root out Osama bin Laden--let's not forget
that--let alone Iraq, where we really went in in defiance of the world. And
so, as I say, some of the opprobrium heaped on the Bush administration, I
think, is really justified. It melds together with stuff that I think is more
knee-jerk.

But here's the totality that I think has been created out there, Terry. It's
a sense that people love to make fun of America. They love to make fun of our
naivete. They love to make fun of our sense that every problem has a
solution. They love to make fun of our optimism. And I think what's really
at the bottom of the real hatred of Bush is a sense that he's taken that away.
You see, even though they make fun of our naivete and our optimism, they
deeply envy it, they deeply need it. American optimism is what makes the
world go 'round. People need an optimistic America. And then come along
these really cynical guys Bush and Cheney, and then comes 9/11. And the
America that always was the biggest exporter of hope in the world turns into
the biggest exporter of fear. And when you export fear, what you end up doing
is importing everyone else's fears back.

And what I sense--and I may not be quite able to put my finger on this--is
that there's a deep sense of loss in the world; that, both justifiably and
maybe unjustifiably, there's a sense that, `These guys have stolen our
America, the America that is that naive, optimistic country that I always
wanted to move to, that I always looked up to, that I could always count on as
a beacon of hope and opportunity even under the thumb of my own cynical
government.' It's that sense of loss that I think feeds a lot of their really
visceral hatred of this administration.

GROSS: You wrote in one of your columns--and I'm paraphrasing here, so
correct me if...

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Sure.

GROSS: ...I'm misrepresenting you in any way. But you wrote, basically,
that, `We have to convince the Iraqis that no matter how many suicide bombers
come at us, we're staying until we help stabilize the country.' And now
America is going to be handing over sovereignty to Iraq at the end of this
month. Do you think that we're withdrawing too quickly before Iraq is in good
enough shape to handle the new issues of democracy?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: This is a really complicated moment in situations, so let me
just tell you how I'm kind of sorting it out in my own head. And I wrote
those lines, of course, before we had this caretaker government. I believe
we're really at the moment of truth for Iraq. And the moment of truth is:
How will Iraqis behave once we finally hand them the keys? Is there an Iraq
there? Are they capable of working together? I believe that to maximize our
chances that this experiment will, you know, tilt in a positive way rather
than a negative way, we need to give them the maximum amount of sovereignty
they demand and want. And if they want control over, you know, all military
actions in the country, except our own self-defense, I would give them on
paper whatever they want. In reality, we'll always have to work it out,
whatever we negotiate on paper.

But I think it's very important that they perceive themselves and they be
perceived by their own people as sovereign and in charge and that we recede
into the background. I think that's going to enable them, first of all, to
find out who they are and give us the best chance that they will stand on
their own two legs. So am I in favor of withdrawing from Iraq tomorrow? No,
because I don't think Iraqis want that. But the minute that Iraqis do want
that, boy, I'm all in favor of it. And that's what I think we should be
guided by. And this kind of lingering sense of this administration that they
want to control things, get over it. We can't control it. Iraq will be
ultimately what Iraqis make of it.

GROSS: My guest is New York Times foreign affairs columnist Tom Friedman.
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Tom Friedman. He writes a foreign affairs column for The
New York Times and has won three Pulitzer Prizes.

You've been reporting from the Middle East for years. You know, you won a
Pulitzer Prize for your reporting from Beirut. You wrote a best-selling book
that probably a lot of our listeners have read called "From Beirut to
Jerusalem." Do you think that there are any lessons for us that the
Arab-Israeli crisis has to offer?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Oh, many, Terry. You know, I've had this feeling for a while
now that the Arab-Israeli conflict is to the war on terrorism what the Spanish
Civil War was to World War II. It's the off-Broadway theater where all the
weapons and all the bad ideas get tested out in miniature first. And, you
know, whether it was hijacking or car bombing or suicide bombing or using
terrorism to influence democratic elections, they all started there
off-Broadway in the Arab-Israeli theater. And I look at where that
Arab-Israeli theater is going today, and they're building a wall. And what I
desperately don't want but desperately fear: that if things in Iraq really do
go badly, if we cannot help there be a war within Islam between progressives
and the darker forces, if we cannot encourage a war within Islam, a war of
ideas, then I fear there'll be a war with Islam; that we will build a wall, we
the West, against that part of the world, just as happened in miniature in
Israel

You know, I was in Israel on 9/11 by accident. I was there covering the
Intifadah. And the morning after, on the morning of 9/12, I had a briefing
from Israeli terrorism experts because I wanted to understand what they
learned about suicide bombing. And I said, `What should we know? What have
you all learned from this?' And they taught me a lesson that day, which
they've forgotten but I haven't. And the message was, `Tom, if there's one
thing we learned, it's that the only people who can stop suicide bombers are
Palestinians. Oh, we can get lucky. We can penetrate a cell here or a cell
there. But, at the end of the day, it takes a village. Only Ahmed(ph), you
know, knows what Mohammed(ph) is doing. And only Arabs and Muslims can
delegitimize this process and thereby bring it to an end. And we can't do
that.' And that insight that they had, Terry, has really been one of the huge
motivators for me in my position on Iraq.

As you know, I didn't believe this was about WMD. What I believed it was
about is a war of ideas; that there are too many people in the Arab world
today who believe bad things. They believe in ideas of intolerance,
anti-pluralism, repression of women. They believe bad things. Look what
happened in Saudi Arabia just last week. These militants came into a Western
compound, and the first thing they said is, `Infidels over here. Arabs and
Muslims over here. Infidels, you're hostages, or you're going to be killed.
Arabs and Muslims, go away.' Those are bad ideas, and they come out of the
Saudi education system.

And it seemed to me that in a world without walls, the only way to make us
safe is to try to partner with progressive forces over there to try to tilt
that region in another direction, so they can have the war of ideas within
and, obviously, have the more progressive forces defeat the more obscurantist
ones. We had a Civil War in our country 150 years ago over the same sorts of
issues. Terry, it may all be a fool's errand. It may all be a fool's errand.
What I hope for out of this, although I think it's way too soon to tell--but
if it is...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: ...then we're going to have to build a wall.

GROSS: You had hoped that the regime change in Iraq would be the kind of
partnering you're talking about between progressive forces...

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Yeah, but I want to really...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: ...emphasize something that's implicit in your question. I do
not think it's over, OK? And there's way too much, I don't know, out there
today of wea, hea and mea culpa. I'll take all my lumps, you know, when this
goes down. You know, I can't run away from a year and a half worth of
columns, and I have no desire to. But can we at least let this play out?
What I absolutely don't understand is just at the moment when we finally have
a UN-approved Iraqi-caretaker government made up of--I know a lot of these
guys--reasonably decent people and more than reasonably decent people,
everyone wants to declare it's over. I don't get it. It might be over in a
week, it might be over in a month, it might be over in six months, but what's
the rush? Can we let this play out please?

GROSS: So you're standing by and seeing what happens (laughs)?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: I mean, it's just--I mean, did somebody turn over an egg timer
here and say, you know, `Now is the time where for anyone who believes this
might have a decent outcome to apologize'? Who declared this `National Iraq
Apology Day'?

GROSS: (Laughs) Well, I have one last question for you. And, you know,
you've been on the show several times in the past couple of years.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Bless you.

GROSS: And one of the things you've said a couple of times on the show--and
this was just before the war in Iraq--you used what you described as a Pottery
Barn analogy that we should go into Iraq with the understanding that if we
break it, we own it, like in the Pottery Barn. You break one of their
tchotchkes, who own it; you've bought it. My understanding is that in Bob
Woodward's book, he attributes that phrase to Colin Powell. And I can't tell
you how many talk shows I've heard where they say, `Colin Powell used what he
describes as the Pottery Barn analogy.' So set me straight here.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, bless your heart, Terry...

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. FRIEDMAN: ...because you know that I invented the Pottery Barn phrase,
and I used it on your show numerous times a year before the war, OK, not to
mention on other shows and in my own column. And what happened was, in all
honesty, I used it with Rich Armitage, the deputy secretary of State, and he
used it with Colin Powell without attributing it to me. And Colin Powell used
it with the president.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: The three of us had a chat last week...

GROSS: Oh, really?

Mr. FRIEDMAN: ...and they told me what happened yeah. And Powell went on
"Larry King" and said, `It did come from Tom Friedman.'

GROSS: Oh, oh, I didn't know that. Great.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Yeah. Well, he went on "Larry King" to say, `It came from Tom
Friedman' why? Because the Pottery Barn complained. They said, `We have no
such rule. If you break it, you don't have to own it.'

GROSS: Oh, I saw that part.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: And so Powell...

GROSS: I saw the publicist talking about that, right.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Yeah, that's right. So Powell said, `It's not my fault. It's
Tom Friedman's fault.' So...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, that's great. So that's the only way you get credit, when
people want to deny that...

Mr. FRIEDMAN: That's exactly--you know, suddenly they want to sue him, you
know. It's back to my idea.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FRIEDMAN: But I'll tell you, Terry, I'm glad he used it with the
president. I'm only really sad that the president didn't listen.

GROSS: Well, Tom Friedman, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: My pleasure, as always.

GROSS: Tom Friedman is a foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times.
He reports on the migration of jobs to India in the new documentary "The Other
Side of Outsourcing." It will be shown tonight on 5he Discovery Channel.

Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews Ann Patchett's new memoir about her
friendship with the late writer Lucy Grealy. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Ann Patchett's new memoir, "Truth & Beauty"
TERRY GROSS, host:

Ann Patchett is best known for her novel "Bel Canto," which won, among other
prizes, the PEN/Faulkner Award in 2001. For almost two decades Patchett's
best friend was fellow writer Lucy Grealy. Grealy is known to many readers
for her best-selling memoir "Autobiography of a Face," which described the
childhood cancer that destroyed her jaw and left her face permanently ravaged.
Grealy's death in 2002 was deemed partly a consequence of her heroin addiction
and increasing dependence on prescription painkillers. Now Ann Patchett has
written a memoir called "Truth & Beauty" about her intense friendship with
Grealy. Book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN reporting:

About six months ago a friend e-mailed me asking for recommendations for a
literature course a friend of hers was putting together. The topic of the
proposed course was women's friendships. I e-mailed back some suggestions,
none of them startling: Jane Austin's "Emma," Vera Brittain's "Testament of
Friendship," Barbara Pym's "Jane and Prudence." Clearly I was in a Brit lit
rut.

Now along comes the book that anyone interested in accounts of women's
friendships or the equally underexplored topic of women's ambition should
read. Novelist Ann Pachett has written an extraordinary autobiography called
"Truth & Beauty" about her long friendship with autobiographer and poet Lucy
Grealy. Although it's written obviously in prose, "Truth & Beauty" also
figures as a breakthrough book for women in another overwhelming male literary
category, the elegy.

The classical elegies were written by male poets about their dead male
friends: Milton's "Lycidas," Tennison's "In Memoriam." In "Truth & Beauty,"
we have the unique situation of a female writer composing a raucous,
contemporary prose elegy for her dead female writer friend. In a
non-sentimental way, Patchett manages to do what the great classical elegists
also accomplished; she holds death at bay--in this case, Grealy's death at
bay--through the vital power of words, mostly her own, augmented by selections
from some of Grealy's letters.

Both Patchett and Grealy were undergraduates at Sarah Lawrence College.
Patchett knew who Grealy was; everyone at Sarah Lawrence did. Grealy was a
celebrity because of her elfin exuberance and her looks. Part of Grealy's jaw
was missing, the consequence of childhood cancer, and she would endure nearly
40 surgeries in her life in an ultimately failed attempt to build up her face.
The two women became friends when, out of economic necessity, they shared a
crummy graduate student apartment. They were both accepted into the
prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop. During the day they taught freshmen
English classes, and afterwards they'd write and read each other's works in
progress and talk about lovers and drink beers and dance in the kitchen.

Patchett hilariously recalls how the flat-chested Grealy, whose breasts didn't
develop because of childhood radiation treatments, decided to use a student
loan to pay for a boob job. `The best thing I ever got out of graduate
school,' Grealy happily said after the operation.

From their first days together, Patchett fell into a caretaker role. She
characterizes herself as `the sensible tortoise to Grealy's spendthrift hare.'
Patchett cleaned their apartment and cooked what they referred to `Lucy food,'
half-done pancakes and other soft food, that Grealy, with great effort, could
swallow. Grealy, as Patchett describes her, was also an emotional handful.
She craved attention and would routinely jump into Patchett's lap and ask to
be carried like a child. And she'd also succumb to bouts of sobbing. What
Grealy assumed would be her salvation, what Patchett after Iowa prayed would
rescue her from a lifetime of waitressing, was writing.

Both women, gifted with much talent and some luck, made it. And "Truth &
Beauty" chronicles their joint journey out of the garrote and onto the
literary gravy train. After her enormous success with "Autobiography of a
Face," however, Grealy hit a writing block and sank deeper into debt as well
as depression over her career and the endless series of failed reconstructive
surgeries. Prescription drugs and heroin gave her relief and finally took her
life. Patchett doesn't shy away from recording Grealy in full because,
despite her physical and psychological neediness, Grealy was Patchett's soul
mate, coming through for her in a way no one else could.

Here's how Patchett describes their friendship. It's the best description of
being with a close friend that I've ever read. `Even when Lucy was devastated
or difficult, she was the person I knew best in the world, the person I was
the most comfortable with. Whenever I saw her, I felt like I had been living
in another country doing moderately well in another language. And then she
showed up speaking English, and suddenly I could speak with all the complexity
and nuance that I hadn't even realized was gone. With Lucy, I was a native
speaker.'

"Truth & Beauty" is a magnificent memoir about friendship and the love of
literature and also, sadly, the limited consolations of friendship and
literature against unremitting pain.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "Truth & Beauty" by Ann Patchett.

(Soundbite of music)

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

52:30

Why a scholar banished from Iran 15 years ago is hopeful about the current protests

Iranian American scholar Pardis Mahdavi, who was once dragged out of a Tehran classroom by morality police while lecturing about her latest book, "On Iran's Sexual Revolution" joins Tonya Mosely to help shed light on the protests in Iran.

07:37

Remembering Sue Graham Mingus, widow of composer and bassist Charles Mingus

After her husband's death in 1979, Sue Graham Mingus worked to keep his legacy alive, forming a repertory ensemble devoted to playing his compositions. She died Sept. 24. Originally broadcast in 2002.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue