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10 of Thomas Friedman's Dumbest "Big Ideas"


The following is an excerpt from my piece for AlterNet on 10 lesser-known Friedmanian gems.

In conferring the honor of “Wanker of the Decade” on New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman, blogger Duncan Black observed that “truly great wankers possess a kind of glib narcissism, the belief that everything is about them while simultaneously disavowing any responsibility for anything.” The sorry “state of the world is what it is,” Black continued, “in large part because people in positions of great power think this absurd buffoon of man is a Very Serious Person.”

Most readers are presumably familiar with the most prominent theories to have emerged from the brain of Thomas Friedman over the course of his career. To name a few here:

  1. The world is flat.
  2. Countries that have McDonald’s do not go to war with each other—except when they do, in which case it is preferable if the outcome of the conflict indicates that Serbs “wanted to stand in line for burgers, much more than they wanted to stand in line for Kosovo.”
  3. By pure coincidence, the 2011 Arab uprisings were caused by some of Friedman’s own favorite topics: Barack Obama, Google Earth, Israel, the Beijing Olympics, and Salam Fayyad. (See blogger Sarah Carr’s response, in which she notes the additional revolutionary impetus provided by the 2008 Cheese-Rolling Competition near Gloucester, England.)

While conducting research for my book about Thomas Friedman, I had the pleasure of reading 17 years’ worth of biweekly dispatches from the three-time Pulitzer recipient. For the benefit of those who may lead more fulfilling lives, I’ve composed a brief list of lesser-known Friedmanian insights and policy prescriptions.

1. The Clinton administration should have dedicated itself to illegally manufacturing Iraqi currency.

In 1996 Friedman advised the following approach to Iraq: “Print dinars. The U.S. should flood Iraq with counterfeit Iraqi dinars. It would wreak havoc. Because the U.S. has blocked the sale of money-printing presses, ink and paper to Iraq, Washington can already print better Iraqi money than Baghdad can.”

Seven years later, the economic war plan was abandoned in favor of the more physical doctrine “Suck. On. This.”

2. The Cali cartel would have been a valuable partner in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

According to Friedman’s 2001 analysis, the merits of Colombian drug cartels included that “they understand that when we say we want someone ‘dead or alive’ we mean ‘dead or dead.’”

Geographical complications were resolved as follows: “The Cali cartel doesn’t operate in Afghanistan. But the Russian mafia sure does, as do various Afghan factions, drug rings and Pakistani secret agents.”

Click here to continue reading at AlterNet.


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