The Friedman Phenomenon

Thomas Friedman notes today the importance of altering the shape of repressive governments in the Muslim world. He recently wrote that poverty does contribute to terrorism and that perhaps we should do something about it. Both columns were long overdue. My principal complaint with Friedman’s work over the past six months (and the commentariat in general) is that he has focused too narrowly on war as the only facet of the war on terrorism. What about lifting tariffs and quotas on the few products (textiles and the like) that the Muslim world is competitive in? What about pushing hard for real changes in the corrupt governments that we support (not to mention the ones we don’t support)? What about finding ways to make foreign aid truly effective, rather than just throwing a few more dollars into the pot? This is not flashy stuff but vital for our national security and it deserves more than an occasional thought; a presidential speech here or a Friedman column there is not enough.

Although I’m not a big fan of Friedman’s, I love the Friedman phenomenon. A foreign policy columnist getting as much attention as Maureen Dowd got during the Clinton years? Very good news.

War Psychology

You are the commander of more than 2,000 troops going into battle against Al Qaeda. What do you say to your soldiers before they board the Chinooks and Black Hawks? This Los Angeles Times story about Operation Anaconda includes a link to a scratchy Real Audio file of Col. Frank Wiercinski’s eve-of-battle speech to his fighters at Bagram air base. “There are two kind of people out there,” Wiercinski said, standing atop a Humvee. “There’s innocents who don’t want any part of this fight. And there are those out there who want nothing better than to kill an American or kill a coalition fighter. Do not be afraid to squeeze that trigger. You will know when and you will know why. Take care of one another. Take care of all of us. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world today but right here with you. Today is your climb to glory.” Because the Pentagon strictly (and stupidly) limits reporters’ access to G.I.s and their combat in Afghanistan, the leaked recording provides an unusual insight into war psychology; not the Hollywood stuff, the real thing.

The End Of Journalism?

The recent controversy over Nightline being threatened by David Letterman’s Late Show gave rise to the usual round of eulogies about the erosion of journalism on television. I think the eulogies missed the point: Particularly since September 11, the quality of reporting and writing on foreign affairs has been amazing in publications like The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and in newspapers like The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. Scattered around my apartment, and on the hard drive of my iMac, are months of excellent and important reading that I wish I had time for. This is a golden age of quality journalism.

Yesterday I scratched one item off the unread list: Samantha Power’s lengthy piece, in the September issue of The Atlantic, on the shameful U.S. handling of genocide in the 1990s. It is a powerful story that focuses on the Clinton Administration turning its back on Rwanda in 1994 even though the State Department, Pentagon and White House knew genocide was occurring there. The story was excerpted from Power’s new book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, which has received great reviews.

Author: Peter Maass

I was born and raised in Los Angeles. In 1983, after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, I went to Brussels as a copy editor for The Wall Street Journal/Europe. I left the Journal in 1985 to write for The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune, covering NATO and the European Union. In 1987 I moved to Seoul, South Korea, where I wrote primarily for The Washington Post. After three years in Asia I moved to Budapest to cover Eastern Europe and the Balkans. I spent most of 1992 and 1993 covering the war in Bosnia for the Post.