Tom Friedman's Iran problem

By Robert Wright, Jun 18 2021

This week New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman shared his views on policy toward Iran: “I support Joe Biden trying to revive the [2015 nuclear] deal. And I support Israel’s covert efforts to sabotage Iran’s ability to ever build a nuclear weapon—no matter what the deal.”

That this declaration—in the first paragraph of a piece by the dean of America’s foreign policy columnists—occasioned virtually no comment on social media is yet more evidence of how little America’s foreign policy establishment actually cares about upholding the “rules based order” that virtually everyone in it purports to care deeply about. And in this case we’re not just talking about rules like, “You’re not allowed to blow up another country’s centrifuges, since that’s an act of war and a violation of international law and is all the more indefensible when the centrifuges are being monitored to ensure that they’re not producing weapons-grade material.” We’re also talking about rules like, “You’re not allowed to have scientists in another country murdered, since that’s both an act of war and deeply immoral.”

Friedman’s piece has flashes of insight. He recognizes that “Iran’s ruling clerics cultivate and celebrate conflict with America and Israel as an essential tool for locking themselves in power…” But it’s weird that (1) this appropriately cynical interpretation of the clerics’ hyperbolically expressed hostility toward “the Zionist regime” doesn’t lead Friedman to question his belief, expressed only two paragraphs earlier, that the Iranian government actually intends to “destroy the Jewish state;” and (2) Friedman shows no awareness that every time Israel has an Iranian scientist murdered or an Iranian centrifuge blown up it is strengthening the Iranian regime’s narrative of Israeli (and in some cases American) persecution and therefore helping the clerics more securely “lock themselves in power.”

So, in the end, Friedman’s ideas fail whether they’re judged by moral ideals (such as, Murder is bad) or pragmatic dictums (such as, If you want to weaken the grip of authoritarian regimes over their people, then don’t strengthen it). In this regard they are classic Blob products.

This piece originally appeared in The Week in Blob, our weekly summary of international news and the nefarious doings of the US foreign policy establishment. This feature always goes out to paid subscribers and sometimes goes out more broadly. If you like it we hope you’ll share via email or social media and consider subscribing.

Illustration by Nikita Petrov.

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