DATE April 21, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Thomas Friedman discusses post-Saddam Middle East
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest Tom Friedman says now that the United States has the primary
responsibility for normalizing Iraq, if the water doesn't flow, if the food
doesn't arrive, if the rains don't come and if the sun doesn't shine, it's
America's fault. We'd better get used to it, we'd better make things right,
we'd better do it soon. He also says that if we do it right in Iraq, we can
help remake the Middle East for the better, but if we don't do it right, we're
Friedman is foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times and is the author
of the best-selling books "From Beirut to Jerusalem," "The Lexus and the Olive
Tree," and "Longitudes and Attitudes." He won Pulitzer Prizes for his
reporting from Beirut and Jerusalem. I spoke with him this morning. One of
the goals of the war has been a liberation of Iraq, yet there have already
been Iraqi protests calling for Americans to leave, such as the recent protest
by Iraqi Shiite Muslims, who are also calling for an Islamic fundamentalist
government. I asked Tom Friedman if he expects he'll encounter a lot of such
protests against the United States.
Mr. THOMAS FRIEDMAN (Columnist, The New York Times; Author): Terry, there
are several responses to that question. One of the things that we always have
to remember is that it is very easy for Iraqis, or any post-colonial society,
to both hate their own dictator and to hate the liberator; to both hate their
own dictator and to hate us because, in some ways, when you have to be
liberated, that in itself is a humiliating experience. So just as we maybe
underestimated the level of resistance we met initially in Iraq, we should not
overestimate the amount of time we have there to stay. That would be my first
The second thing we have to keep in mind is that there are multiple narratives
going on in Iraq today, and we must be very careful not to impose our
narrative on their narrative. You know, our narrative is that this is about
liberation and, you know, our picture of Iraq--to us the story of Iraq was the
pulling down of that statue of Saddam Hussein on April 9th, and that was a
very dramatic moment. But I think we have to keep in mind, if you looked at
that picture closely, first of all, it was American troops who provided the
wherewithal to pull that statue down. And there were really only several
hundred Iraqis participating in that event.
In point of fact, the most popular thing Iraqis did on April 9th and April
10th and April 11th was to go on a looting spree. Now when I say that, I
don't in any way mean to suggest that this reflects that they really don't
want to be liberated, they're really a criminal country. That's not true at
all. In fact, I think that looting spree told us something very fundamental.
It was a spontaneous upsurge of rage against a regime that had looted them for
so many years. And this was, I think, a quite natural and understandable
response. The initial response was one of real rage against the Acheulean
regime, against Saddam Hussein. It's clear they don't want him. It's certain
they're not going to want us for the long haul. The key question in Iraq is,
will they want each other? Will Shiites and Sunnis and Kurds there,
fundamentalists and secularists want each other? And that really is the third
response that your question evokes in me.
One thing we have to understand is that in breaking the Ba'ath Party and in
breaking the Iraqi army, we have broken the most pervasive and, to some
degree, legitimate secular institution in Iraq, certainly if we're speaking of
the army. Now in the vacuum that's been created, it's not surprising that it
is religious sources of authority and legitimacy which are filling the vacuum,
because they are the ones that were there underneath the surface. And that's
why you're seeing now this immediate upsurge in Shia religious leadership and
assertion, and at the same time, to some degree among the Sunni community and
to some degree--it's less religious, more nationalist--among the Kurds. We
have to keep in mind we have broken that secular source of authority, and we
now have to quickly, again, partner with Iraqis to develop an alternative
moderate, secular source of Iraqi nationalism.
GROSS: Are you concerned about the difficulty of doing that, of creating a
government where there's only been a dictator, a government that, you know,
has been compared to Yugoslavia after the end of communism because there are
so many disparate groups that were held together only by fascism, basically?
So, you know, how do you create a government in a situation like that? Are
you worried we won't be able to do it?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Am I worried? I am absolutely terrified. This is the mother
of all long-haul projects. If you could pick a country in the Middle East
that is maybe the most difficult place to undertake this kind of
nation-building project, it would be Iraq. At the same time, if you can do it
there, you can do it anywhere. It's going to be extremely difficult. We have
to be patient. This is an Arab country and it's part of the Arab narrative,
and therefore what happens in the Israeli-Palestinian context also is going to
be very, very important.
That's why it's so important for the administration, it seems to me, to try to
make progress in the Israeli-Palestinian context. Otherwise, what's going to
happen, Terry, is that if we are seen as cooperating overly enthusiastically
with Ariel Sharon, any Iraqi who cooperates with us will either be labeled as
a quisling or delegitimized, you know, with the debate within Iraq. And we
have to be very, very sensitive to that.
And we have to be very careful how we operate in Iraq, that we not appear to
be anointing any particular Iraqi faction. We have to focus on a process, not
a personality. We have to focus on a process that allows Iraqis to choose and
nurture their own leaders, number one, and we have to be very, very attentive
to how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the resolution thereof can affect
our ability to work with Iraqis and for Iraqis to work with us. We don't want
to create a situation where America remains so radioactive in that part of the
world that the only way Iraqis can cooperate with us in the long run is in
secret, like 22 other Arab leaders.
GROSS: You've said that the West Bank is a cautionary tale of occupation gone
wrong. What are some of the mistakes that you think Israel made with the West
Bank that we should learn from and avoid?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: There are mistakes Israel made in the West Bank and there are
mistakes Palestinians and Arabs made in the West Bank, and I think the two are
interactive and so I can't talk about one without talking about the other.
The biggest mistake Israelis made was the mistake of ambivalence. The Israeli
mainstream was ambivalent about whether or not to keep the West Bank as time
went on after the '67 war, as Arabs refused to negotiate, as Israel found
itself in possession of these territories, in part not, you know, by its own
will or by its own doing, but because the Arabs refused after the '67 war any
Nevertheless, over time, Israel's mainstream became ambivalent about holding
onto the West Bank and Gaza. It evoked certain biblical and religious and
nationalist sentiments that touched every Israeli, Labor Party and Likud. And
what happens in that kind of ambivalence, Terry, is that people who aren't
ambivalent take over. And that's what happened with the Israeli occupation,
because the settlers were not ambivalent. They had a very clear idea that
these territories belonged to Israel and the Jewish people, and they were
going to do whatever they could not just to settle them, but to create
conditions under which Israel simply could not give them back.
So what happened and what really went wrong, it seems to me, with the Israeli
occupation is when the center, the great moderate center is ambivalent, those
who aren't ambivalent take over and drive their agenda, and in this case,
they've--a tiny minority in Israel has driven the agenda for the whole and
created the situation today where Israel basically will find it very, very
hard to extricate itself from those territories.
The second mistake, and it's related to the first, is that when the center is
ambivalent, what it ends up doing is taking a series of tactical decisions,
small decisions to get through this problem or that problem, and they end up
with a huge mess. And you can literally see those tactical decisions on the
ground in the West Bank in the form of, you know, scores of Palestinian
villages now surrounded by barbed wire, bypass roads that have wrecked and
scarred the landscape that connect Jewish settlements so they don't have to go
through Arab villages, checkpoints everywhere. It's really become a very sad
and, I would say, to some degree, miserable landscape.
Now the same problem applies to the Arabs. After the '67 war, their response
to Israel at a time when Israel, I believe, was prepared to trade the West
Bank, was no negotiations. And they've been, at best, ambivalent about
negotiations for many years. Then when they were finally ready for
negotiations, of course Israel was in a different place. And so they, too,
have allowed their minority, in this case Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the more
extreme elements of Fatah, to really drive their agenda, and their agenda was
not to negotiate, but to confront Israel and to confront Israel, which has
superior power. That's resulted in a defeat for them and it's resulted in the
status quo being perpetuated in the West Bank as well.
So bottom line, you know, message to President Bush: You won this war because
you had a really laserlike focus not only what you wanted to do, but what you
believed is right. If you don't have a similar laserlike focus in what you
believe is right and what you want to do after the war, woe be unto you and
woe be unto us. You will never do it right.
GROSS: My guest is Tom Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for The New York
Times. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Tom Friedman. He's foreign
affairs columnist for The New York Times and author of the best-selling book
"Longitudes and Attitudes."
Long term, how would you like to see Iraq affect the Middle East? The end of
the Saddam Hussein regime, the beginning of democracy-building--how would you
like to see that affect Israel and the Palestinians?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: That's a--what would be my dream scenario for Iraq is that
something would emerge in Iraq that exists nowhere today in the whole Arab
world, and that is an Iraqi centrist nationalist party that has a progressive
Islamic message and a progressive political message, and that is seen as
legitimate within Iraq. In other words, where the source of authority in Iraq
doesn't just automatically go to the religious and the fundamentalists, but
that an alternative source of authority is developed there that is
authentically Iraqi, authentically nationalist, authentically legitimate,
authentically progressive in the religious sense and in the political sense.
My dream scenario is that would emerge in Iraq, and my dream scenario would be
that in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait and in
Syria you would have a situation where people would stand up and say, `That is
real. That is good. I want some of that here, too.' If you see those two
things happen, Terry, this year, next year, in five years, then I believe this
war will have been all worth it, because we will have begun the process that
we want to begin, which is an ability to win the war of ideas within that part
of the world.
You know, what I've said since 9/11 myself is that we do not want a war with
Islam. We want a war within Islam. And the only way that war is going to
happen, and in an effective way, is not if we fight it, but if Arabs and
Muslims fight it with their own authentically Arab, authentically Islamic,
progressive message to counter the authentically Islamic, authentically Arab
retrograde message of the bin Ladenites and the tired old Arab intellectuals
and Arab nationalists and Nasirites. That is the war within.
For that war within Islam to succeed, Terry, in the way we want it to succeed,
which is that the authentically Arab, authentically Islamic progressive forces
that emerge also be pro-American or not be hostile to the United States--for
that to happen, it's essential that America be perceived as working to defuse,
if not to resolve, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And that means, you
know, working to nurture the alternative Palestinian leadership that's now
emerging, struggling to emerge under Yasser Arafat in the form of Mahmoud
Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, and at the same time, being equally forceful
in both telling Israelis and pressuring Israelis to, you know, shrink back the
settlements and create a context where a legitimate, authentic Palestinian
peace partner can emerge.
GROSS: Now you mentioned the importance of the new emerging government among
the Palestinians with Mahmoud Abbas as the prime minister. There's a big
struggle going on right now between him and Arafat, and it looks like that
government might be falling apart.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, in a sense, you know, Terry, there are two efforts at
regime change of a tyrant that are going on in the Middle East today. One is
the one that the United States undertook with Great Britain to oust Saddam
Hussein and the other is a velvet revolution, a quiet coup that Palestinians,
through their parliament, have been trying to undertake to oust Yasser Arafat,
to shove him aside. And both are related and they're hugely important. And
we need one to succeed in order to consolidate the other. That is,
Palestinians have been empowered by America's effort to oust Saddam and, at
the same time, to create a context in the Middle East where, you know, people
can openly cooperate with the United States. It's very important for the
alternative leadership to Arafat emerge and that for Israel and the United
States to respond to it with some really audacious and energetic diplomacy.
GROSS: Well, do you think it's likely that Mahmoud Abbas would be the winner
here or do you think Arafat might win and that would be the end of the new
leadership, the new emerging leadership?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, I think that it's too soon to tell. I hate to answer you
with such a trite answer, but this is playing out now. I think the United
States needs to be taking on Ariel Sharon in terms of the settlement issue,
and I think the Europeans need to step up and help Mahmoud Abbas literally
oust or shove aside Yasser Arafat.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: If the Europeans want to be--well, they give a lot of aid, you
know, to the Palestinian Authority, and the Europeans should simply, in my
view, announce a boycott of Yasser Arafat, that they are not going to meet
with him anymore and they're not going to give a dime to the Palestinian
Authority as long as he does not allow the will of the Palestinian parliament,
which is that Mahmoud Abbas be made prime minister, to be realized.
And so, you know, the Europeans have got to step up to this, too. They keep
calling for the Americans to, you know, have more engagement on this issue,
and as my friend David Makovsky of The Washington Institute likes to say, you
know, you want an engagement, buy a ring, and buying a ring is taking on
Arafat. Now the Europeans are also entitled to say to us, you know, `You've
got to buy a ring, too, and that means taking on Ariel Sharon.' But I think
this is a huge, huge issue, Terry, and if we ignore it, it will infect Iraq
and it will infect our ability to work with Iraqis over the long haul. If we
are perceived as radioactive on this issue because the Bush administration
simply doesn't want to follow up with Ariel Sharon, I think this is a very
serious issue for the neocons. The neocons who, you know, were instrumental
and, I think, for the most part, right in urging for this war have also been
the most outspoken in defense of Ariel Sharon. And the two don't go together,
and they are going to see the fruits of their labor in Iraq, I think,
diminished--they're not going to be completely undermined, but diminished if
the United States isn't able to diffuse or produce some kind of progress on
the Israeli-Palestinian front.
Again, this is not a call to bash Israel, to compel Israel, but it is a call
to have, for the first time, a serious dialogue with Ariel Sharon that simply
says, `Where is this going? Where are you going? Not only have you been, you
know, building legal settlements, you've been allowing tens of illegal
settlements to be built by rogue elements from the settler movement. And
we're just not going to be a party to that anymore,' just as we have to be
firm with Arafat.
GROSS: So that's what you'd like the Bush administration to say to Sharon,
that `You've gotta stop building new settlements and you have to withdraw from
settlements as well'?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, `You have to withdraw from settlements. You have to be
prepared to withdraw from settlements in the context of a deal with the
Palestinians. But what you can do tomorrow is certainly engage in two very
important symbolic gestures. One is simply announce that there will be, you
know, no more growth of settlements, period, paragraph, number one. Number
two, you could go out and simply fold up all the illegal settlements that have
been built, you know, in your tenure.' And third, you know, what I would be
doing--obviously, I would be urging--is a symbolic gesture of pulling out of
one of the settlements in Gaza that, to me, were insane to begin with--you
know, 7,000 Jews living in the middle of a million Palestinians--and would be
a hugely important and valuable gesture, I think, for the peace process and
for the United States.
I mean, does Israel owe us nothing, you know, for this war that was not fought
for Israel, but has certainly helped to create not only a more peaceful Middle
East, but a better context for an alternative Arab politics to emerge that
ultimately would be hospitable to a Jewish state in peace with a Palestinian
GROSS: Tom Friedman is foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times and
author of the best sellers "From Beirut to Jerusalem" and "Longitudes and
Attitudes." He'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross,
and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: Coming up, the connection between Iraq and the Middle East peace
process. We continue our conversation with New York Times foreign affairs
columnist Thomas Friedman. And Maureen Corrigan reviews "The Wife," the
new novel by Meg Wolitzer.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Tom Friedman, Pulitzer
Prize-winning foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times, and author of
the best-selling books, "From Beirut to Jerusalem" and "Longitudes and
Attitudes." He won his first two Pulitzer Prizes for his reporting from
Lebanon and Jerusalem.
I think it's fair to say that people on all sides of the issue about the war
in Iraq feel that it will have some impact on the Middle East peace process.
What do you think is the impact the Bush administration would like it to have
on Israel and the Palestinians? What do you think their long-term goal is for
that part of the Middle East.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: You know, Terry, I don't know. I don't really know. I don't
mean to dodge your question. You know, I hear the words coming out of the
president on this issue, and they're good words and they're thoughtful words.
You know, his speech last June about the need for a Palestinian state and an
end to settlements. I hear the words coming out, but I never see the action.
I never see the kind of really forceful action on the part of the president on
this issue, and I don't know whether that's because he doesn't want to lose
votes among, you know, more conservative Christian groups that are pro-Israel
or among American Jews. I don't know if it's because his heart really isn't
in it. I don't know, but I'm at this stage I'm in the `show me' mode. These
guys are big on words, but they're real short on strategy.
GROSS: What do you see as the importance now of the road map for Middle East
peace? Is that a document that you think can really set the stage for
reigniting the peace process?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: (Chanting "Twilight Zone" theme) Doo-doo-doo-doo,
I don't know how many times road maps and Tenet and this plan and that plan...
(Chanting "Twilight Zone" theme) Doo-doo-doo-doo, doo...
I'm just so tired of it. I can't keep track of it myself. I'm going to
really confess something to you, Terry, to you and all your viewers.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: I've never read the road map. The only road map I know, you
know, is the one that, you know, gets me to Baltimore when I get lost, and
because this is like real simple. We know what the principles are. The
principles are land for peace. The principles are, are Palestinians ready to
step up and in a full-throated way, recognize a Jewish state and develop the
own internal security organizations to sustain a peace with that Jewish state?
And are Israelis ready to step up and affirm the right of Palestinians to
their own state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and to withdraw
accordingly if Palestinians do step up? That's the issue. It's always been
the issue. Call it Mitchell, call it Tenet, call it road map, call it M&M,
call it Madonna. I don't care what you call it, that's the issue, and until
you see people ready to step up to it, we've got bupkis.
GROSS: You covered the Middle East for a long time...
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Way too long, way too long.
GROSS: ...and you wrote a terrific best-selling book about it, "From Beirut
to Jerusalem." Do you think that living in the Middle East a long time and
covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and writing about Lebanon as well,
do you think that that has affected how you see the United States' position
now in the Middle East, and how you see the war in Iraq and the future of our
relationship with Iraq?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Yeah. I mean, you know, for me, Terry, going back to the
beginning of this war, and all the columns I wrote about it, you know, people
would say, `What is your view on this war?' and I'd say `I'm for it 51/49.'
Actually what I told people, `I'm for it 52/49,' because there are some things
slightly irrational, you know, about my support for the war, and so it never
really added up, and it was always for me a struggle between hope and
You know, Lord knows, experience from having lived in Lebanon--and what is
Lebanon but just a small version of Beirut--you know, should have taught me
that the notion of nation-building and democratizing Iraq is a huge, huge
project if not a fool's errand. You know, experience, you know, should have
taught me that we just don't do, you know, these things very well. My wife
was against the war, and when I wrote that in the column that, you know, I was
leaning for it, my wife was against it, I was inundated with e-mail from
people saying, `Listen to your wife. Your wife is smarter than you. I'm glad
you sleep with someone more intelligent than you.'
And so it was always a struggle, but see, there was another side to it, and
that was the hope side. I always say, you know, there's kind of two sides to
my reporting. There's the Middle East side, and there's the middle West side.
There's the Minnesota boy and there's the reporter who went to Beirut, and
they're constantly in a struggle for my soul. And the hope side really came
from my travels since 9/11 and the number of young Arabs and Muslims who have
come up to me in the Arab world and said, `Mr. Friedman, keep writing what
you are writing. Keep calling for democracy. Keep calling for modernization
in Islam.' I've been bombarded with e-mail, particularly from Muslim women
who have made that appeal. And so every time, Terry, that I thought of coming
out against the war, it struck me as an abandonment of those people, which is
why I just couldn't pull the trigger on it, and it's why hope always triumphed
over experience, and why for me, it was always, you know, a 52/49 call.
I don't regret it. As I said, I worried then that we're not going to do it
right. I'm less worried now, but I'm still plenty worried, and I'm going to
use my pen to do everything I can to try to tilt us in doing it right. I
think it's so important, because this just isn't--for me, you know, hope
wasn't just an attitude. It's a strategy. It's a strategic issue, because,
you know, people came up to me and said, you know, `How can you believe any of
this stuff that you want to happen in Iraq is going to happen? Surely your
experience should have taught you otherwise.'
And to them, Terry, I say two things. One is that if you think the status quo
was benign in the Arab world, you're nuts. The malaise of the Arab world, it
was the status quo malaise of the Arab world that brought us 9/11, and that
was the first thing I said. And the second thing I said is that if you think
there's nothing we can do to partner with people in that part of the world, to
tilt it onto a more progressive track politically, religiously, you know,
educationally, then I have some very simple advice for you: Stick your head
between your legs and kiss your behind goodbye, because there are just too
many angry people out there, and too many proliferated weapons before one of
them just blows us all up.
GROSS: My guest is Tom Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for The New York
Times. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Tom Friedman is my guest, foreign affairs columnist for The New York
Times, former Middle East correspondent for The New York Times and author of
the best-selling book, "Longitudes and Attitudes."
Did living in the Middle East for many years and covering it for The New York
Times also affect your point of view on the use of power and aggression? I'm
thinking in a recent column about Syria, and this was last week when the Bush
administration was first accusing Syria of harboring Iraqis from the Saddam
Hussein regime, developing chemical weapons, and Donald Rumsfeld was saying he
was going to cut off oil to Syria from the Iraqi pipeline--I should say that
now the Bush administration is saying Syria is starting to cooperate; things
are looking better. But anyways, in last week's column, you wrote that we
should stay in Syria's face, keep in its face, and you were saying very
aggressive things about what the United States' attitude towards Syria should
be. Again, is that affected by your years of living in and covering the
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Absolutely. I mean, the kind of regime you have in Iraq or
Syria, which is just a twin sister, these are not regimes that respond to
social work, and you know, they understand--they rule by force, and they
understand only force, and in the case of Syria I was calling for what my
friend Steve Cohen calls `aggressive engagement,' which is something less than
military engagement of the Bush administration and something more than the
`constructive engagement' that France always opts for, which is really just a
cover for dancing with dictators.
But you know, my chapter in "Beirut to Jerusalem" about Syria is called "Hama
Rules." Hama was the town in Syria where there was a Muslim fundamentalist
uprising in 1982 and Hafez Assad had responded to it by leveling the town and
turning it into a parking lot. These countries operate by Hama rules, and
Hama rules are no rules at all. I have a fundamental rule about Middle East
politics, which has always guided me since Beirut, which is don't come to a
hockey game and expect to play by the rules of touch football. This is a
GROSS: What do you think is the biggest threat that we face from Syria?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Oh, I don't think Syria threatens the United States, per se,
at all. It is simply--it's basically, I think, a failing state. If you go
there, you know, it's like bad eastern Europe, you know, in the 1970s in terms
of the state of the economy. It's occupying Lebanon, it's been occupying
Lebanon for 27 years. It's just one of these retrograde regimes that retards
its own people and helps retard the Middle East there, but they don't threaten
us, per se.
But having said that, while they don't threaten us, they are an obstacle to a
more progressive and tolerant Middle East in two ways. They are an obstacle
in that they are occupying Lebanon, as I said, the country that is most
hard-wired for democracy and free markets and globalization. A country that
should be leading the Arab world into those trends in fact is not doing so
because it's under Syrian occupation, and Syria's basically been choking the
life out of the place. Syria still hosts Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Damascus,
groups really dedicated to only a violent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict. And you know, the Syrians today could be making a proposal to
Israel for a deal on the Golan Heights and they're not doing it. So it's just
a retrograde regime that by its actions, you know, helps retard both, as I
say, the Arab world and its own people.
GROSS: So the United States is really on the case of Syria. In today's
paper, it says that Donald Rumsfeld is hoping that we can align with China to
oust the leadership of North Korea. We're still...
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Let's get rid of everybody.
GROSS: Well, that...
Mr. FRIEDMAN: I'm after your show in fact.
GROSS: Yes, thank you. But that's the thing. I mean, how much do you think
the United States could conceivably take on in trying to remake the world.
And even if the reasons were idealistic, even if the intentions were the best
and most idealistic, which a lot of people would disagree with, but if you
accepted that they were, is it reasonable that we could change so many
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Terry, it's only reasonable, in my view, under one condition,
that we produce, in Iraq, in partnership with the Iraqi people, that three
years from now or five years from now, fair-minded people would look at and
say, `You've did good. You've produced a better place.' If we do that, then
we have the moral right and the political tools, it seems to me, to look
around the world and say, where there are places for us to partner with other
people, we should consider doing that. But until we can prove that we can
produce a better Iraq, I would be very, very wary about taking on, in a
military way, the unseating of other rogues around the world.
GROSS: Meanwhile, do you think we're any safer or any more at risk from
Mr. FRIEDMAN: In the short run, yes, I do believe we are. That's what I was
writing about yesterday, Terry, that there was a terrorism bubble that had
built up over recent years. People were doing crazy things. They were
strapping themselves with dynamite and going into pizza parlors in Israel and
blowing people up. And then their religious leaders were issuing religious
rulings justifying it. Countries were then sending money to support these
kind of people. People were hijacking airplanes and flying them into tall
towers in Manhattan, and other people around the world were applauding it as
right and justified, because, after all, America was strong, and these people
were weak, and it was the only way to get their message through. This was
crap, Terry. This was nonsense. This was fantasy, and it needed to be
punctured. And what this war was about, at some level, was the United States
going into the heart of that part of the world and going door to door, young
Marines, men and women, going door to door and basically conveying the message
that if you think we are soft, if you think all we're doing is sitting around
investing in the Nasdaq, if you think that the threat that your terrorism
poses to our open society has won, we are just going to sit back and take--and
let that bubble and your fantasy grow, you're really wrong. And that was the
message of Iraq. And I think, in the short-term, in the near term, it will
have a very salutary effect. I do believe that. In the long-term, I'm going
to come back to what I said before. It all depends what we build in Iraq.
GROSS: Now--now let me use the analogy of Israel for a minute. Israel has a
very strong military. Israel has been very in the face of Palestinians, and
that hasn't stopped suicide bombings in Israel, so are you confident that,
even in the short-term, our show of military strength will help stop terrorist
acts against the United States?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Because Israel has not built it. It's not followed up the use
of force with a political process, a political overture and a political agenda
to help Palestinians create a moquette and an alternative to those dark forces
that support terrorism. And that is the failure that they've engaged in. I
hope we don't follow that failure by not building in Iraq and nurturing in
Iraq the kind of alternative Arab leadership and voice, progressive, modern,
hopefully pro-Western voice that will argue forcefully and sustain forcefully
within their own country the notion that this is not the way, that terrorism
is not the way, that suicide bombing is not the route to dignity, that the
only route to dignity is building something of substance in our own country,
in our own language, in our own religion.
GROSS: So, Tom Friedman, do you have a safe room at home, a terrorism
emergency kit and a plan of action where you can meet up with your whole
family if there is an act of terrorism?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: I--I--I do have--not a safe room. I have a safe place. It's
called Bethesda Country Club, and I have a terrorism survival kit. It's a set
of Ben Hogan apex irons with stiff shafts and a olamar Driver. I don't
believe in any of that nonsense. I believe we have gone crazy in some of the
things we've done post-9/11. People have come up to me and said, `How are you
going to get out of the city in the event of attack?' I say, `Excuse me, have
you ever tried to get on the beltway at 4:00 and just get up to Baltimore for
an Orioles game? You think you're going to drive out of this town in the
event of a terrorist attack?' Terry, my life, my motto is very simple. I am
going golfing. I'm going to live my life. I encourage my daughters not to
read my column. I want them to have as carefree a childhood as they possibly
can, certainly as carefree as--as I did. If--if the, you know, bomb falls on
my head, then so be it, but my motto is very, very simple: Leave the cave
dwelling to Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. I am going to have fun.
GROSS: What is it like for you writing your column now on the subjects of
Iraq and terrorism at a time when most Americans are utterly obsessed with
those subjects, because our futures are at stake?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, this war was not fun for me, Terry. It was agony leading
up to the war and then even the war, itself, for all the reasons you said.
And I think it's true of others as well, or I hope it's true, is that I just
really don't want to get it wrong, you know. I don't want to get it wrong
for my country. I don't want to get it wrong for my kids. I don't want to
get it wrong for, you know, all the people reading it. And so...
GROSS: Was it agony figuring out what--what you even thought, like, what...
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Yeah, i--it was.
GROSS: ...what position to take?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: I sometimes wrote three columns a day and threw out...
GROSS: With different opinions?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: With different opinions--and threw out two and ended up with
one, sometimes by default. And because it was always this struggle between
hope and experience, at least in my own head, and--and--and--and I let hope
But, yeah, you're always worried that you're going to be urging the wrong
thing. And in this day and age, when your column isn't just read in The New
York Times, but on the Internet and all over the world, and you're getting
feedback not just from, you know, readers in New York or your mom, but
readers in--in Saudi Arabia and Egypt and in Jakarta, you take it--you take
it really seriously. In one level, this is the golden age of punditry.
Wow! I mean, thanks to the Internet, you just have this incredible audience.
And at the same time, you know--people sometimes come up to me and go, `God,
it must be great to be a columnist now. Do you know how, you know,
influential you are?' And I say, `You know, I got to tell you something. I'm
really--you may think that I get up in the morning and look in the mirror and
flex my muscles and say, "Wow, you are so powerful. You are Thor. Throw down
a thunderbolt, you know." And that is kind of this image that people have.
And in fact, I get up in the morning, I reread my column for the umpteenth
time, I hold my breath while my wife reads it to make sure she approves of it,
then I call three of my best friends to see if they think it was OK, then I
stew and agonize over it all day, you know, and see what kind of feedback I
get, because it's just such an important moment. And I sure haven't gotten
everything right, but I just want to get more things right than wrong. And if
I can do that, I'll--I'll be--I'll be really happy, but that's really the mode
GROSS: Tom Friedman, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: My pleasure. Thank you.
GROSS: Tom Friedman is foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times and
author of the best-selling books, "From Beirut to Jerusalem" and "Longitudes
Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews Meg Wolitzer's new novel, "The Wife." This
is FRESH AIR.
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Review: Meg Wolitzer's new novel, "The Wife"
TERRY GROSS, host:
Wives of great male writers traditionally have played the part of being
handmaidens to literature, tending the flame of genius, but rarely giving off
any big sparks themselves. But after 40 years of being married to a
narcissistic famous writer, the heroine of Meg Wolitzer's new comic novel,
"The Wife," decides it's time for her marriage to end with a big bang. Book
critic Maureen Corrigan says Wolitzer's novel, in the best comic literary
tradition, couches its rough truths with laughter.
Just a few paragraphs into Meg Wolitzer's new novel, "The Wife," I could tell
this was going to be a book I'd be recommending to all those people, everyone
from my close friends to my dermatologist, who routinely, but thirstily ask,
`Have you read anything good lately?' What a pleasure this novel is, smart,
really funny and socially pointed, especially, as its title suggests, about
the role women play in marriage, and in particular, about the second banana
role women play in marriages to so-called great men. This sounds like a
potentially tiresome subject, one loaded with resentment, bitterness, you
know, all that strident feminist stuff, but that's where the saving stroke of
humor enters in.
Joan Castleman, our wifely narrator, was once a star English major at Smith,
so she's up on her Jane Austin, Virginia Woolf and Barbara Pym. Joan
obviously has learned from these wry writerly sisters that when it comes to
women pointing out gender inequalities, the pun is often mightier than the
sword. Joan is 64 years old, and she's been married for far, far too long to
Joseph Castleman, one of those men who own the world.
`There are many varieties of this kind of man' Joan goes on to say. `Joe was
the writer version, a short, wound up, flat-bellied novelist who almost never
slept, who was as entertaining as anyone I have ever known, who had no idea of
how to take care of himself or anyone else, and who derived much of his style
from "The Dylan Thomas Handbook of Personal Hygiene and Etiquette."
If Joe was a kind of Norman Mailer knock-off, Joan is, or once was, just the
kind of woman a literary lion in training would have married in the 1950s. A
bookish, pretty blonde coed, who could knowledgeably admire her mate's vital
prose and retype his messy manuscripts. But a lot has changed for Joan in the
decades since. As his student in a writing class at Smith, she first fell
down and worshipped the then already-married Joe.
When "The Wife" begins, Joan is sitting next to Joe on a plane bound for
Finland, where he is to be awarded the prestigious Helsinki Prize for lifetime
achievement, a poor man's Nobel. He's daydreaming of thunderous standing
ovations. She's mulling over the divorce she's going to demand from him after
the award ceremony has mercifully ended. Throughout the next few days in
Finland, Joan fills us in on the 40 or so years of her life as Joe's better
half. There was the messy confrontation with his first wife, the details of
which Joe transformed into his debut novel pretentiously called "The
Walnut(ph)." There are their three variously unhappy kids and Joe's long
string of liaisons with minor poetesses and literary groupies. Joan makes
sharp comic commentary about the professional writing life and the characters
who populate it, like Joe's stalker of an unauthorized biographer, Nathaniel
Bowne(ph), as well as his up-and-coming rivals, like Volarian Quanoch(ph), an
amalgam of Louise Erdich and Sadie Smith, who writes self-righteously of her
childhood in a sod and snow igloo on an Inuit reservation.
But best of all, what Joan is insightful about is her own situation and the
limited options she had, and she's suggests women still have, who want to be
big-time writers. Here's the tail end of one of her ruminations.
Some women work out some version involving elaborate child care or a husband
who doesn't mind staying home all day with an infant, a husband who lactates
perhaps, or maybe they don't even want babies, some of these women, and life
opens out to them in an endless field of work. And once in awhile, the world
responds in a big way, letting them in, giving them a key, a crown. It does
happen. It does. But usually, it doesn't.
Joan, herself, was no Mary McCarthy or Lillian Hellman. She was too shy as a
young woman to be an exception, and so she became a type, the wife. But in
the very last pages of this droll, astute, and at times, moving novel, we get
a double shock of an ending, one that reveals how Joan conspired to fashion an
alternative way to be a woman of letters within the confines of her time and
temperament. Simone de Beauvoir, the public woman who wrote "The Second Sex,"
would have been appalled. But Simone de Beauvoir, the private woman, who
lived in her own special hell with another person named Jean Paul Satre, would
GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed the wife by Meg Wolitzer.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of music)
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Vocalists (In unison): (Singing) Oh a mighty wind's a blowin'.
It's kickin' up the sand.
GROSS: On the next FRESH AIR, satirist Harry Shearer. He's one of the
stars of the new folks music documentary, "A Mighty Wind." I'm Terry Gross.
Join us for the next FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Vocalists (In unison): (Singing) It's blowin' peace and freedom.
It's blowin' equality.
Unidentified Vocalist #1: (Singing) From a lighthouse in Bar Harbor to a
bridge called Golden Gates...
Unidentified Vocalist #2: (Singing) From a trawler down in Shreveport...
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