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Thomas Friedman’s Confusions

The London Review of Books blog has just published my very short piece on Thomas Friedman’s Iraq war crimes, which begins:

In his most recent book, Thomas Friedman – New York Times columnist, Pulitzer Prize winner, presidential adviser – says of the Iraq War that he has ‘nothing but regret for the excessive price that America and Iraq have had to pay in lives and treasure’. The body count seems to be less cause for concern, however, than the fact that China, which has not been distracted from domestic infrastructure projects by pricey wars abroad, can now build a convention centre in approximately the same time it takes for the Washington Metro crew to repair two escalators in Friedman’s local subway station (the book is called That Used To Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back). Still, he’s come a long way since May 2003, when he said that the US military had to go ‘house to house from Basra to Baghdad’, wielding ‘a very big stick’ and instructing Iraqis to ‘Suck On This’.

Click here to read the rest of the piece at the LRB blog.

Financial Times betrays Thomas Friedman

Today marks the release of yet another book by Thomas Friedman, the New York Times’ prolific foreign affairs columnist whose articles over the years have exposed such trends as the “collective madness” of Palestinians and the progress in Mexican baby names to more NAFTA-friendly alternatives than Juan, such as Alexander and Kevin.

Friedman’s latest book, endearingly titled That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, is coauthored by Friedman’s “intellectual soulmate”, the foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum—a longtime staple of Friedman columns and a purveyor of such predictable notions as that “The real threat to world stability is not too much American power. It is too little American power”.

Despite having admitted to an audience in Istanbul that his two previous bestsellers—The World Is Flat and Hot, Flat, and Crowded, marketed as wakeup calls concerning globalization and clean energy, respectively—really “have nothing to do with technology or environment at heart” and are instead “basically cries of the heart to get my country focused on fixing itself”, Friedman managed to advertise That Used to Be Us as “the first book I’ve really written about America” during an interview with Fox’s Don Imus earlier this year.

Slightly more surprising than Friedman’s continuing habit of self-contradiction is a recent less-than-favorable review of the new book on the website of the Financial Times, the institution that in 2005 partnered with Goldman Sachs to bestow upon Friedman the first annual £30,000 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award for The World Is Flat. Friedman responded to the honor by referring to the pair as “two such classy organizations”, before finally conceding two years after the 2008 financial crisis that Goldman Sachs is perhaps in fact “utterly selfish”.

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Thomas Friedman reports progress in Mexican baby names

Havana hotel where foreign affairs columnists can afford room service but not Russian breakfast.

In the mid 1990s, before the responsibilities of The New York Times Foreign Affairs columnist were largely reduced to complaining about the deficiencies of the Arab/Muslim world, Thomas Friedman used to write with more frequency about things like Mexico.

In fact, one of the landmarks of Friedman’s journalism career occurs in a 1995 article that begins with “Ricarda Martinez, a 60-year-old Mexican peasant living in a tumbledown shack on the edge of Mexico City,” whom he describes as “peeling cactus from her garden” while denying awareness of “dollar-linked peso bonds, George Soros or Merrill Lynch’s emerging markets fund.” This is one of the rare historical instances in which Friedman identifies and interacts with someone who is not a CEO, politician, “Middle East expert Stephen P. Cohen,” or “Johns Hopkins foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum.”

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