DATE September 5, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Tom Friedman discusses the possible war on Iraq and
other international crises
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Ever since September 11th, my guest Tom Friedman has been writing about the
war on terrorism, the Middle East, the Islamic world and the Bush
administration's ambition to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Friedman is foreign
affairs columnist for The New York Times. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his
post-9/11 columns. They're collected in his new book, "Longitudes &
Attitudes," which also includes a journal of his travels. He's won two other
Pulitzers for his reporting from Lebanon and Israel. His book "From Beirut to
Jerusalem" won a National Book Award.
Yesterday President Bush said that he would seek the approval of Congress
before taking any military action against Iraq. A vote on a congressional
resolution is expected in four to five weeks.
Tom Friedman, it seems that every time we speak, there's a world crisis:
September 11th, the war on terrorism, the Middle East. Now we can add to that
the strong possibility of going to war against Iraq. The official reasons
we've heard so far from the Bush administration is that Saddam Hussein has
weapons of mass destruction and he'll have more soon, and that he's a brutal
dictator who oppresses his own people. Do you think there are unofficial
reasons that the Bush administration isn't talking about publicly?
Mr. TOM FRIEDMAN (Author/Columnist, The New York Times): No, I think, Terry,
what you see is what you get. I think that their public arguments have been
pretty consistent. He does have weapons of mass destruction, or is at least
trying to acquire them. He's a man who has raped the neighboring country,
Kuwait, once. He's destroyed the future of two generations of Iraqis. And if
he acquires weapons of mass destruction, it would certainly enable him to
shield himself while he, you know, visits more, you know, destruction and
death on his own people and neighbors. And they've been pretty much saying
that from the start. I don't think there's any kind of hidden thing going on
besides that. I don't think it's about oil or anything like that.
GROSS: You asked a very interesting question in a recent column about Iraq.
You wondered if Iraq has a dictator because only a dictator could hold
together a country that's basically the Arab equivalent of Yugoslavia. It's a
highly tribalized, artificial state that was drawn up by colonizers. Why is
that an important question to ask?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, it's an important question because if we are
going to go in, break apart this country and rebuild it, we better understand
the raw material we're working with. And if what we are working with is a
Arab Yugoslavia divided between a Shiite plurality and a Sunni Muslim and a
Kurdish Sunni Muslim minority, three factions, each of which control a
different part of the country, you know, these could be very unstable
chemicals. You know, one of the things I did in that column was look back at
the history of Iraq before Saddam, which a lot of people have forgotten about,
the period from 1958, when the king, King Faisal of Iraq, the young king of
Iraq, was brutally murdered in his courtyard, up to 1968, when Saddam
eventually took over. And what you see in those 10 years before Saddam is
really a history of unremitting savagery, ethnic violence and political
assassination. So we're dealing here with a roiling pot.
Again, none of this is a reason not to do anything, but it's a reason to go in
with your eyes open, understand the raw material here, that we could go into
Iraq and one of two things we could discover. One is that the country falls
apart in our hands into Kurdish and Shiite and Sunni fragments, and we truly
are starting with nation-building from scratch and have to sew all this
together, or that, lo and behold, the country is congealed into a
nation-state, you know, so many decades after its original boundaries were
drawn by British colonizers and that it will be possible in relatively short
order to find at least a nice general, a nice dictator who can preside over
some kind of transition there and possibly a longer-term democratization of
My Iraqi friends--and all I could do is consult, you know, the person I knew
best, you know, to answer this question--told me anyone who tells you that
they know, you know, which Iraq we're gonna find when we break this place
open, if we break it open, doesn't know Iraq.
GROSS: So you see the possibility of the United States basically having to
install its version of a dictator in Iraq if we overthrow Saddam Hussein.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Yeah. I mean, I see the possibility that George Bush will have
to become the Iraqi strongman to replace the Saddam Hussein strongman. And
there's really not--I mean, Douglas MacArthur was the strongman of Germany or
Japan after World War II. On the face of it, there's nothing necessarily
wrong with that, provided it's only as a transition. And if we can quickly
transition out of that role into some legitimate autonomous leadership that is
ready to undertake the long transition to democratization, then that's a good
thing. But if we go in there, discover that we're a strongman and none of the
factions underneath want to live with each other, want to work with each other
and are, in fact, you know, deeply contentious, then we could become the baby
sitter of a very big problem.
So I think you have to go in assuming the worst, and you have to go in
assuming this could be a long occupation. And that's why I want congressional
approval. I want people--I don't mind all this debating going on, Terry. You
know, a lot of people are saying, `Oh, my God. Woe is me. The Bush
administration is divided.' Well, these guys have been divided from day one.
You know, one of the points I tried to make during the campaign was people
said, `Oh, you know, Bush may not know much about foreign policy, but at least
he'll have smart advisers,' to which I pointed out then, `What happens if his
two smartest advisers disagree?' which is exactly what's happened here between
Powell on one side and Rumsfeld and Cheney on the other.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: And there's a lot of division there, but you know what? I'm
glad because I want to see all of this aired. I want to see it all debated.
I want to see it all out on the table in front of the president and let him
make his call, but at least on the basis of really knowing what the
alternative possibilities are.
GROSS: What do you make of the rift within the Republican Party now? You
were saying that this is a rift that's been there right from the start, when
President Bush was elected. But, you know, recently on Op-Ed pages we've seen
Republicans who were in the Cabinet of Bush Sr., like Brent Scowcroft and
James Baker, arguing against an immediate invasion of Iraq, arguing against
invasion unless we know more or are more confident about what the outcome
Mr. FRIEDMAN: I just see it as really healthy. I think, Terry, when it comes
to taking apart another country, as I said, from a standing start, you should
come at that task with enormous humility and a lot of questions.
GROSS: But aren't you surprised that some of President George Bush's advisers
are now advising, you know, Bush's son against what Bush plans on doing? I
mean, it's a kind of public...
Mr. FRIEDMAN: It is unusual. There's no question that...
GROSS: It's a public airing that I think is kind of surprising.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Yeah.
GROSS: You'd expect maybe they'd be collaring him behind the scenes, but not
necessarily writing Op-Ed pieces for The New York Times.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: (Laughs) It is unusual, but I say God bless it and let a
hundred flowers bloom because I want to hear from these people. And the
reason you're hearing from them is because they've been to this play before,
in 1991, and they faced many of the same decisions. And many might now say
that they were wrong for stopping at the boundaries of Iraq and not going into
Baghdad and eliminating Saddam at the time. But, you know, all we know right
now is, you know, what happened as a result of them not doing that. We don't
know what would have happened had they done that. Maybe it all would have
gone peachy-keen and swimmingly had they gone, in 1991, all the way to
Baghdad, and maybe we'd still be Iraq's occupier today. I just don't know.
All I know is when it comes to this story, Terry, I know how little I know.
Do you really know what goes on inside Iraq? Do you know anyone who knows
what goes on inside Iraq? Do you know anyone who understands the real
character and political currents inside that country between Shiites and
Sunnis and Muslims? Do you know anyone who could tell you with any certainty
exactly what will happen if and when we decapitate that regime? I certainly
don't, and that's why I approach this issue with great humility, and I think
whether you are an ardent opponent of this or an ardent proponent of it, you
really have to come to it with humility.
GROSS: My guest is Tom Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for The New York
Times. His post-September 11th columns, which won a Pulitzer Prize, are
collected in his new book "Longitudes & Attitudes." We'll talk more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest, Tom Friedman, won a Pulitzer Prize for his post-September
11th columns in The New York Times. They're collected in his new book
"Longitudes & Attitudes."
You've traveled a lot around the Arab world in the past few months. What have
some of the--what have some of your sources in the Arab neighboring countries
of Iraq warned you about pertaining to the possibility of America's invasion
Mr. FRIEDMAN: I would say...
GROSS: And I don't mean warned you that, you know, like of how they would
retaliate, but warned you about what the consequences might be.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: You know, people that I've spoken to about this, they tend not
to warn you about, you know, what the consequences would be in terms of Iraq,
like, `If you do this, you know, we'll be into you because X, Y and Z will
happen inside Iraq.' What you get more is kind of a more knee-jack
anti-Americanism, you know, `How dare you even contemplate going in and
changing the regime there? Don't you understand that, you know, Israel is
worse and Ariel Sharon is worse, and you're responsible for starving Iraqi
What you find in the Arab world when you talk to people about this, I think,
and I have to say very sadly, is a real refusal to acknowledge what a terrible
man Saddam Hussein is. Iraq is the country probably that, given the oil
wealth that it's been endowed with and the educational level of its
population, has more human potential and more natural potential to succeed at
modernity than any country in the Arab world.
Its future, the future of two generations of Iraqis, have now been destroyed
by a megalomaniac in Baghdad named Saddam Hussein who has drawn his country
into war with Iran which cost the lives of a million Iraqis--and I defy you to
tell me what that war was about--then drew them into a war with Kuwait which
has led to international sanction that has been incredibly onerous on the
lives of and opportunities and future of all Iraqis. This is a bad guy. This
is a really bad guy.
And what I sort of find so disappointing is that there's kind of a refusal to
even acknowledge that. You know, there's kind of the sense, `Well, you know,
he's our problem, but let's talk about Jenin,' you know. And, well, that's OK
if you want to talk about Jenin, we'll talk about Jenin. But this is a bad
guy. And every Arab who aspires to more freedom, more opportunity for the
next generation of Arabs, should want us to go into Iraq and remove this guy.
GROSS: Well, you know, Israel's former Prime Minister Ehud Barak had an Op-Ed
piece in The New York Times this week saying that we should overthrow Saddam
Hussein, and if we wait until we're certain that he has nuclear weapons or
other weapons of mass destruction, then it will be too late. I was kind of
surprised to read this in the sense that Israel stands to be a victim if we
invade Iraq because they're an easier target than we are, and Saddam Hussein
might use Israel as a target. They're already preparing for the possibility
of smallpox and other attacks.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, I think there's no question that Israel is a potential
target, and I think Israelis know that, whether they speak out or not. I had
a slightly different reaction to it, Terry, which is...
GROSS: Yeah, what was yours?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: My reaction was I think that, you know, former Prime Minister
Barak's logic is impeccable. But I think the right position for an Israeli
leader today, either in office or out, is total silence.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Because I don't believe it's at all healthy for Israel to be
seen in any way as beating the war drums for America to go into Iraq, because
this could go wrong. I hope it goes really well. I hope it goes really well
if we choose to do it. But if it goes bad, I don't think Israel in any way
wants to be seen or should be seen as having in any way instigated this war
or been beating the drums for it. I think it's a real mistake.
GROSS: You said that when it comes to the possibility of invading Iraq, what
the Bush administration says is what you get; you don't think there's any
hidden agendas there. But I think a lot of people are wondering: What about
the oil agenda?--because, after all, President Bush, Vice President Cheney,
they're oilmen and, you know, Iraq is an oil country; it's surrounded by oil
countries. Where do you think oil fits in, if at all, to the Bush
administration's hopes of invading Iraq?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, let me lay out the logic of what could happen
with oil, and then let's talk about who might benefit from that. But the
fact is, if we were to go into Iraq, replace the regime with a nice Iraqi
leader--OK?--what would be the impact on the oil market? Well, Iraq, you
know, has the potential right now to pump about two million barrels of oil a
day. It's actually pumping far less right now, but it has that potential.
And if we were to go into Iraq and, say, remove the leader and put in a nice
regime, Iraq's actual potential, Terry, its full potential, is five million
barrels a day.
Now if Iraq were to add today--and it would take a long time; it would take
probably a year for Iraq to get up to its full potential; that is, if it was
able to rebuild and repair its oil fields. But if Iraq were to go up to five
billion--five million barrels of oil a day of production and exports, that
would put enormous strain on OPEC, because all the other OPEC countries would
have to stand aside. All these countries--Saudi Arabia, Nigeria,
Venezuela--are desperate for cash. They all have huge unemployment problems.
And so in the long term--while in the short term, any disruption or war in the
Gulf would spike oil prices, in the long run, something that brought Iraq's
full production back on the oil market is something that will definitely
depress prices. That's good for oil-consuming countries like ourselves and
Japan and Europe, and it's bad for the oil-producing countries which is why
maybe one reason Saudi Arabia likes Iraq exactly where it is, isolated and
with limited production, so that it can't really disrupt the oil market.
So then if you said, `Well, what is the interest of the oil guys here in the
Bush administration?' I mean, If you were looking at it from a very--if you
were just totally cynical, you wouldn't want to do this war because oil
companies tend to profit more when prices are going up, when crude oil prices
are spiking and they can pass on big increases to consumers than when oil
prices are going down. And so that's why I don't think there's a big oil
factor in this, other than a very positive one that it could, over the long
term, depress oil prices, bringing Iraq back on stream, and give us a lot more
leverage vis a vis Saudi Arabia if both Russia, that is in the non-OPEC oil
countries, and Iraq were back full steam in the market.
GROSS: I'm interested in hearing what you make of Russia right now. My
impression is that President Bush seems to be hoping that Russia will become a
source of oil so that we're not quite as dependent on oil from Arab countries.
But on the other hand, Putin is talking with Iraq about selling them arms and
more trade. What's going on with Russia and our relationship with Russia?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, Putin is definitely off the reservation these days when
it comes to Iraq or the Iraq-America-Russia triangle. I think what you're
seeing, Terry, is a little bit of a backlash against the Bush administration.
You know, the Bush administration came in, said, `We're getting rid of the ABM
Treaty. We're strong, you're weak, and you're going to have to eat it. We're
expanding NATO. We're strong, you're weak, you're going to have to eat it.'
And remarkably, for a lot of reasons, Putin ate it. He ate a big plate of ABM
crow, and he ate a big, big dinner of NATO crow. And a lot of people in the
Russian establishment were not happy about that. The Russian people really
didn't care much; they're just trying to make ends meet.
And I think what you're seeing here with the kind of thumb in your eye that
Putin's giving us on Iraq is a little big of a backlash from that. It's Putin
playing to his domestic audience and his own military-industrial complex and
saying, `Look, I'm not going to be pushed around by these Americans. They
pushed me where they had me over a barrel, and I've got them over a barrel.
So suck on this.'
GROSS: So do you see him as an American ally or as a wild card right now?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: I see him as a wild card but who, at the end of the day, would
not oppose us or do anything to interdict this operation for a very simple
reason: Iraq owes Russia about $7 billion. It owes the former Soviet Union
$7 billion, and that is to say Russia today. And the best chance of Russia
getting that money back is a change of regime in Iraq and Iraq being able to
fully expand its oil production. And I think Putin's real philosophy here is,
`Show me the money, show me the money,' OK? That is what he's saying to Bush
is, `I want to be assured that if Saddam is toppled and you have a nice
dictator there, that Iraqi oil companies will have a fair chance at pumping
Iraqi oil as much as American ones. And you show me that money and I will
stand down. You don't show me that money, then I'm gonna use my advantages
that I've got right now.'
GROSS: There's the bottom line in action.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Absolutely. This is a matter of high principle. These are all
GROSS: Tom Friedman is foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times. His
post-September 11th columns, which won a Pulitzer Prize, are collected in his
new book "Longitudes & Attitudes." He'll be back in the second half of the
show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, why the World Trade Center towers were built on such a
gigantic scale, and the structural problems posed by their height. We talk
with reporters James Glanz and Eric Lipton about their cover story in this
Sunday's New York Times Magazine, and we continue our conversation with
Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Tom Friedman.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Tom Friedman. He's
foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times. He won a Pulitzer Prize for
his post-September 11th columns. Those columns are collected in his new book,
along with a journal of his travels. The book is called "Longitudes and
One of the major reasons the Bush administration has given for its proposal of
invading Iraq is that Saddam Hussein is a brutal dictator who has ruined the
lives of the people in his country. You have devoted many of your columns
recently to the idea that America is using a double standard here, because,
yes, Saddam Hussein is a brutal dictator and, yes, he's ruined the lives of
the people of his country. On the other hand, there's several other bad
dictators in neighboring Arab countries, but if those countries are our
allies, we're kind of leaving the dictators alone. We're not complaining
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Yeah, my view, Terry, on this is very simple and it's the
epiphany that I had after September 11th, which is this: You know, we looked
at the Arab world, certainly the oil-exporting Arab world but the Arab world
in general, before September 11th--we looked at them as though they were just
a big, dumb gas station. Just a big, dumb gas station. And all we cared
about was that we drove our big SUV up front, that the gas pumps were open and
the price was reasonably cheap. And as long as that was the case, we didn't
care two cents what was going on out back. OK? We didn't care what was going
on in the garage, what was going on in the office, how they were educating
their kids, how they were treating their own people.
And in adopting that attitude, we really laid the basis for the sucker punch
that happened on September 11th, because a lot of the people out back were
really mad at us. They were really mad at us because they saw in our
indifference to them, in our indulgence of the dictators who owned the gas
station, that we were really participating in their repression. And that has
produced an enormous amount of anti-Americanism in that region, from Saudi
Arabia to Egypt, you know, to north Africa.
And so I have a very, you know, simple approach now, and that is, you know,
fool me once, shame on you, but fool me twice, shame on me. And I believe I'm
not going to be fooled twice. Democracy is the only way you are going to
create the opportunity in these societies, I think, to participate in
modernity. Democracy is the only way these societies will be able to manage
the strains of the transition to modernity, and democracy is the only way you
are going to see a reformation of Islam the way Christianity went through a
painful reformation and Judaism went through a painful reformation for it to
embrace modernity and separate mosque from state.
You know, where is the only mosque that I know of in the Muslim world where
women felt empowered enough to demand the right to pray in the mosque
alongside men? In India, in Hyderabad, India. Isn't that interesting? And
only in a democracy do women feel empowered to raise these issues. So I
believe in now democracy and democracy for all. I believe it should be our
policy all across the Arab Muslim world. It should be consistent. It doesn't
mean elections tomorrow. It does mean, though, asking our friends and allies
in that part of the world to begin to take the steps to produce the rule of
law, the constitutionalism and competitive political parties that are the
foundation of democracy and make voting a valuable exercise and a meaningful
GROSS: But isn't the...
Mr. FRIEDMAN: I want to see that transition begin.
GROSS: Well, one of the arguments is that if...
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Can I tell you what the argument is?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: I'll tell you what the argument is, OK, he said, taking
the other--give me that mike. The argument is, `Oh, no, Tom, we can't do
that. If we do that, we'll have people spewing hatred and terrorism at us.'
Oh, really? Well, what do we have now? What happened on September 11th?
What we have are regimes who stay in power by deflecting the wrath and anger
of their repressed people at us. Instead of taking a mirror and looking
themselves in the eye, they take a mirror and reflect all their people's anger
into our eyes. So thank you very much, OK? We've already got the nightmare,
which is these countries exporting hatred in their press and in their public
statements and in their schools and in their young people toward us. It can
only get better.
People say, `Oh, my God, though, if Islamists are elected, you know, it'll be
one man, one vote, one time.' Yeah, it'll be one man, one vote, one time for
one term, in my view. I want the Islamists to be elected. I want the
craziest crackpot mullahs in Saudi Arabia to be elected. I want the
hard-liners in Egypt to be elected because I want them to then have to wrestle
with modernity. I want them to have to look their people in the eye and say,
`Folks, we're not going to export oil anymore to those American Satans, but
you are going to have to give up, you know, your car and your trip to Disney
World this year or your trip to Beirut.' I want to see them have to be
responsible for their own radicalism because only when they are will they tame
that radicalism from within, and only when it's tamed from within will it be
GROSS: My guest is Tom Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for The New York
Times. His post-September 11th columns, which won a Pulitzer Prize, are
collected in his new book, "Longitudes & Attitudes." We'll talk more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Tom Friedman is my guest. He's a foreign affairs columnist for The
New York Times. His post-September 11th columns, which won a Pulitzer Prize,
are collected in his new book, "Longitudes & Attitudes," which also includes a
diary of his travels.
You write in your new book that some of your most depressing conversations
after September 11th happened on American college campuses with professors and
students who just didn't seem to get it. What didn't they get, in your
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Yeah, what I found in some cases--and I don't want to
generalize--but there is a certain inability and unwillingness to recognize
that there are evil people out in the world. There is something called
radical evil and there are people who hate us, not for what we do but for who
we are. And they hate us in many ways because they are envious because they
are failing at modernity and they come from societies that are failing at
modernity. As Ali Salem, the Egyptian playwright, said of the 9/11 hijackers,
they're envious. That's what drove them. These are dwarfs and as dwarfs they
look for tall buildings, they look for towers to bring down. And that's what
they did on that day.
And, you know, this kind of `I'm OK, you're OK,' you know, `this isn't about
religion, it's not about Islam, it's not about the Arab world, it's not about
modernity, it's all about American policy,' that's crap. You know what?
That's really nonsense. And at some point, you know, you've just got to call
it by its real name. They're always trying to tell you, `It was really about
Israeli behavior, it was really that we had troops in Saudi Arabia protecting
Saudi Arabia, it was really because we had too many McDonald's in the Middle
East.' Well, guess what? The hijackers didn't leave a note, because they
didn't need to leave a note because their act was their note. And if you ask
me, the note they would have left would have been very simple: `Which part of
this sentence don't you understand?' OK? Their act was an act to destroy our
society, our civilization, our way of life. And we didn't leave...
GROSS: Well, you're putting...
Mr. FRIEDMAN: ...a note on D-Day, either.
GROSS: You're putting things very unequivocally, but you were just saying a
few minutes ago that we saw the Arab world as this big gas station not too
long ago and that we screwed up there, we did anything that would keep the oil
flowing as cheaply as possible and that we're, in a way, seeing the result of
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Absolutely. There is no question. As I say in what I read,
Terry, `We ain't perfect.' We're far from perfect. We have a lot of stupid
things that we do and a lot of stupid policies, but there isn't a single thing
we have done in that part of the world, either by design or by ignorance, that
can in any way justify hijacking four planes with their passengers and ramming
them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with the aim of killing as
many innocent civilians as possible.
GROSS: At the same time that you feel you've been exposed to left-wing
political correctness on campus and you've written about that, your newspaper,
The New York Times, is being pilloried by the right which sees The Times as
being the enemy of the Bush administration and opposing it on its plans to
invade Iraq. And I'm wondering how--like if there are repercussions that
you're feeling because of that or...
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, the only thing that that proves--it's a very good
observation, Terry. The only thing it proves is that the far right can be
just as silly as the far left. I mean, just like...
GROSS: Do you find that reassuring? I mean...
Mr. FRIEDMAN: I guess, um, not really because the far right happens to be in
power right now. You know, the notion that, you know, we shouldn't report
things because they might be perceived as, you know, diminishing public
support for a war, you know, against Iraq, the notion that our editor and my
good friend, Howell Raines sits up in New York and says, `I'm a liberal. I
want liberal stories. I want anti-war stories. Bring me anti-war stories,'
that's really nonsense, OK? But we're doing, you know, for the most part, I
think, a right and proper job of trying to raise as many questions,
appropriate questions as we can about what would be a huge undertaking,
invading, occupying and reshaping Iraq.
GROSS: I think what part of The New York Times' critics oppose about The
Times now is the fact that The Times leaked information about the Bush
administration's planned invasion of Iraq. Were you completely comfortable
with The New York Times publishing what information it had about those plans?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, I would rephrase your sentence slightly, Terry, to say we
were leaked upon, OK?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: We didn't leak. People came to our reporters, obviously, with
information, you know, about war plans, and those people were...
Mr. FRIEDMAN: ...if we assume those stories are accurate, which I do, came
from very high up in the Pentagon. And so to me we were doing what we, you
know, should be and always do and, you know, reporting what we know as long as
no American lives are at stake. And considering the fact we haven't even
declared war on Iraq, let alone moved one troop or soldier into the field, I
don't have any problem with running those stories. I would have a problem if
I were in the administration seeing those stories leaked because it would be a
clear sign to me that there are people in my Pentagon who are so desperate for
this operation not to happen, who have so little confidence that it can work
that they are ready to actually leak at least some version of the war plans to
a major American paper; and not only our own. You've seen them in the Post,
And I would also say, Terry, don't rule out that this wasn't a feint. Maybe
The New York Times isn't guilty of overzealous journalism; maybe all the
newspapers who have been carrying these war plans are guilty of being used by
the administration to fake out the Iraqis. I mean, you know...
GROSS: Well, I've thought about that. I thought like `Is that a
possibility?' But do you really believe that that's a possibility? And to
what would that serve?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: I mean, I don't know. We're dealing with the Bush
administration. And this administration, when it comes to information, you
know, is so tight-lipped that we suddenly get these war plans dropped on us,
you know, I don't know anymore. I don't know anymore in this administration
what is feint and what is real and, you know, what is division and what is
not. But who knows? Who knows?
GROSS: As we approach...
Mr. FRIEDMAN: My view on these...
GROSS: Yeah, go ahead.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: ...things in general, Terry, just from experience in
Washington, is those people who really know what's going on don't talk, and
those people who talk don't really know what the plans are.
GROSS: Well, Tom Friedman, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: A pleasure.
GROSS: Tom Friedman is foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times. His
post-September 11th columns along with a journal of his travels are collected
in his new book, "Longitudes & Attitudes."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: James Glanz and Eric Lipton discuss the structure of
the World Trade Center
TERRY GROSS, host:
Ever since the attack on the World Trade Center, New York Times reporters
James Glanz and Eric Lipton have been covering stories related to ground zero.
This coming Sunday, they have the cover story of the New York Times Magazine.
It's called The Height of Ambition, and it tells the story of how the twin
towers were built and the design decisions that determined how they fell.
There's a quote in your piece that really stunned me. It's by a former New
York Times architecture critic, Ada Louise Huxtable. And the quote
reads--this was written in 1966, by the way, before the World Trade Center was
even completed. And it reads: `Who's afraid of the big bad buildings?
Everyone, because there are so many things about gigantism that we just don't
know. The gamble of triumph or tragedy at this scale, and ultimately it is a
gamble, demands an extraordinary payoff. The Trade Center towers could be the
start of a new skyscraper age or the biggest tombstones in the world.'
What an amazing quote.
Mr. JAMES GLANZ (The New York Times Reporter): I think that you have to read
that quote in the context of the times, and she was looking at the buildings
both metaphorically as an architectural jumping-off point, and that's part of
what she was referring to when she said `the two biggest tombstones in the
world.' Now she also had an intense interest--and, by the way, she's probably
the greatest architectural critic who ever lived and she's around. I spoke
with her a couple of months ago. She had an intense interest in the
engineering, and she realized, not in detail, but in sort of an overall Gashal
sense, that these things were being put together as no buildings ever before
had. And in all those ways, she saw this as a gamble. I don't think,
though--and, in fact, I've asked her this question--that she saw in straight
line clear fashion how the whole story was going to end up. I think it was
more of a general statement she was making at the time. Still, obviously in
retrospect, incredibly powerful.
GROSS: At the time the World Trade Center towers were built in the 1960s,
what was considered the biggest problems that a building had to solve to hold
up the weight, to support such a behemoth structure?
Mr. GLANZ: What they were really trying to do was create a new kind of
skyscraper design, one that had never existed before. Earlier in the history
of the skyscraper, the builders rely on a kind of a cage structure that was
what is now called overbuilt. It had a lot of redundancy. If one piece
failed, there were plenty of other pieces to take up the slack. And when it
got to the commercial realities of putting 10 million square feet into the
sky, as they eventually did with the World Trade Center, they had to find
another option. They had to find a way to get those columns out of the way
and transform that space into rentable space for the offices who were going to
pay the rent. And what they did was create an entirely new kind of skyscraper
design in which most of the resistance to the wind, which is crucial in a big
building like this, because it's like a big sail, was carried by external
columns, columns around the facade of the building rather than peppered
throughout the floor plan, as they were in the Empire State Building, and that
in itself was a great achievement. It also gave the World Trade Center a
combination of remarkable stalwartness on September 11th and eventually some
vulnerabilities as well.
Mr. ERIC LIPTON (The New York Times): One of the issues they also had to
figure out was how were they going to get that many people that high into the
sky quickly enough so that they could get to their offices and want to work
that high, and initially they were conceiving that the tower perhaps could go
no taller than 90 floors, because the elevators would just take up so much
space in the lobby level that there would be nothing left to rent out, because
they'd have to have so many elevators--there were so many people that were
going to go into the building. So they actually had to conceive of a new
elevator system, which, we're told the story that perhaps is true--we never
really were completely able to determine--but that perhaps it was modeled
after the express and local subway system in New York City and that what they
ultimately settled on in the World Trade Center was an express elevator that
took you to what they called the sky lobby, which, for example, one of the sky
lobbies was on the 78th floor, and then you'd switch to a local elevator. I
mean, there are many buildings that from the lobby only go to certain floors,
but there are not too many buildings where you go from the lobby to a sky
lobby and then take another elevator. And this allowed them to build fewer
elevators in the lobby level because they built these 55-person huge cattle
cars almost that were superfast and that brought people up really high very
quickly. And that was a technological innovation that was critical to the
construction of the towers, as well.
GROSS: One of the great paradoxes of the story of the World Trade Center is
that the architect who designed it was afraid of heights. How did he get
chosen as the person to design this tall building? And did he deal with what
was required of him when building it?
Mr. GLANZ: Yamasaki had never designed a building that was taller than 28
stories at the time that he received this commission in 1962, and so--but even
then he did have a fear of heights that he writes about in his own
autobiography. And it is obviously ironic to think that the guy who was
scared of being high up in the air built two of the tallest buildings in the
But one of the things that he did, and that affected fundamentally the design,
was that he made the windows extremely narrow at the World Trade Center and,
in fact, in many of the buildings that he designed, high-rises. And so you
could stand at the windows and put your two arms along the columns and he felt
there was a certain security that the building was there with you and that you
were never sort of out there just with the glass and the sky and, you know,
the horizon. And so that was his way of dealing with his fear of heights.
But it meant that the views were not nearly as great perhaps as they could
have been. And there certainly--there actually was a fight between Yamasaki,
the architect, and one of the officials in the Port Authority named Guy
Tazoli, about how wide the windows should be at the Windows on the World,
which resulted in the windows being wider than Yamasaki wanted.
But he had never built a building so tall. And to some extent, the way that
the design of the World Trade Center came out, it's unclear how comfortable he
was with the building on that scale, because his efforts to try to add
certain, you know, Gothic toucheries--I mean, certain elements that reduced
the harshness of the vertical columns, the Gothic arches in the base seemed
overwhelmed by its height, and he never built a building as tall again.
GROSS: My guests are New York Times reporters James Glanz and Eric Lipton.
They wrote the cover story of this coming Sunday's New York Times Magazine.
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guests are New York Times reporters James Glanz and Eric Lipton.
Their article on the rise and fall of the World Trade Center is the cover
story of this coming Sunday's New York Times Magazine.
When they were built, the World Trade Center towers were the tallest buildings
in the world. And as you get higher and higher in a skyscraper, there's more
and more sway because of the wind. How did they calculate how much sway was
going to be in the towers and what they had to do to protect against too much
sway or against dizziness on the part of the people who were working on those
Mr. GLANZ: The fact is, they didn't know how much sway people would be able
to take for the simple reason that they never had to know in the past.
Engineers had never built a structure like this. Which because of its very
scale would inevitably sway back and forth when the wind blew against it; the
only question was how much. How much should they allow the building to sway?
And how much could people take up there? So they set about trying to figure
They set up one set of experiments in wind tunnels off in the hinterlands,
as far from the New York press as possible, because they didn't want this to
be publicized at a time when they were trying to sell space in the towers.
And they set up a second set of experiments out in Eugene, Oregon, of all
places. They found a psychologist out there who agreed to create sort of a
secret experiment in which they brought people in for what they said was a
free eye exam into an office building in downtown Eugene, got them to go in
the door, get set up for the eye exam and, unknown to the people who were in
there, a big set of hydraulics started shaking the room back and forth as they
were taking the exam. And when they began to look confused, dizzy, as you
said, disoriented and said, `Oh, my gosh, what's happening?' they'd turn it
off and say, `Well, we finished this experiment. We've discovered, for this
person at least, what the threshold for this kind of motion is,' and they
found something that was very disturbing. They found that people are very
sensitive to the motion of the room they're in and they had to redesign, in
essence, the twin towers as a result. They have never published that work.
It was done in secrecy then and it remains secret, but that was a crucial part
of the design.
GROSS: How was the design changed to compensate for the swaying?
Mr. GLANZ: Well, there was an engineer, a young hotshot at the time, named
Les Robertson, who's still around, and he thought this through. He knew that
he had to do these experiments because he understood that this knowledge that
was crucial to the design of the towers just wasn't there. But when he found
out how sensitive people were to motion, he pulled out all of the tricks in
his book and he did quite a few things. One, he put in for the first time
what amounted to shock absorbers in a building. You never saw them when you
were inside the Trade Center, but hidden away in the floors were these little
sort of gluey plates. It's hard to describe them. They were steel plates
with glue between them that slid back and forth a little bit and they were
connected both to the floors and to the columns, and when the building swayed
these things would--you know, the plates would just slide a little bit and the
glue would sort of hold them like a shock absorber. He put 10,000 of those in
each building and it kept the wind from shaking those buildings back and forth
more than people would be comfortable to feel.
He also redesigned some of the steel structure in the towers. He made the
exterior columns a little larger. And he put a funny structure on the top of
both buildings called a hatrus that connected the core columns to the exterior
columns with a very strong set of steel bars that also reduced the sway.
GROSS: The subtitle of your New York Times Magazine cover story on the
architecture of the World Trade Center reads: In the epic story of how the
World Trade towers rose, their fall was foretold.
Mr. LIPTON: I mean, I think that what we mean is that the way that they fell,
the fact that they were so resilient that they initially stood, the fact that
they ultimately did fall. And I think it's a broader point, which is that the
whole--the reason that they became a target, the reason that they were as tall
as they were, as big as they were, the reason that they ultimately became
successful economically and that they became a symbol of global capitalism and
the United States' prowess in the world, those are all things that come
through the history of that place and to a certain extent, therefore, foretold
what occurred on that day after terrorists decided that they wanted to attack
Mr. GLANZ: It's a little like a Greek tragedy. In "The Iliad," Achilles
falls because of his Achilles' heel. And in retrospect, that became the
telling point, the thing that could have told you, if you knew just a little
bit, that he had a vulnerability even though it didn't seem to be there during
most of his, you know, heroic life. These towers had a heroic life and they
also had an Achilles' heel. And what I mean by that is they did very well
against the impact of the planes. But as it turned out, their design was just
such that they weren't very good at warding off big fires.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you both very much for talking with us.
Mr. GLANZ: Our pleasure.
Mr. LIPTON: Thank you.
GROSS: James Glanz and Eric Lipton's article on the rise and fall of the
World Trade Center is the cover story of this coming Sunday's New York Times
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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