Jewish World Review Jan. 7, 2002/ 23 Teves 5762


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Friedman's Fog -- BEFORE the massacres at the World Trade Center and Pentagon last September, The New York Times' Thomas Friedman was an annoying fixture on the paper's op-ed page, word-processing Democratic talking points twice weekly. Since then, engaged in the progress of the war, Friedman's output isn't nearly as worthless, since he actually has something to write about. For example, he appears to have an open mind about military tribunals.

His Jan. 2 effort, however, is a howler. Friedman begins: "All hail to President Bush for how he has conducted the war against Osama bin Laden. Mr. Bush has emerged a far better commander in chief than anyone [in the columnist's social circles, at least] predicted. In the war on terrorism he has shown steely resolve, imagination, leadership and creativity. Thank you, Mr. Bush. And now, I wish Al Gore were president."

Well, that's quite a leap. Friedman's reason for this preposterous desire is that Bush is exploiting "the tremendous upsurge in patriotism" to "drive a narrow, right-wing agenda from Sept. 10 into a Sept. 12 world. It's wrong. It won't work. It sells the country short and it will ultimately sell the Bush presidency short." The foreign-relations guru repeats the outdated notion that the war is about oil, Saudi Arabia's in particular. He calls for "a program for energy independence, based on developing renewable resources, domestic production [not that he recommends drilling in ANWR] and energy efficiency. Not only would every kid in America be excited by such a project, but it also would be Mr. Bush's equivalent of Richard Nixon going to China-the Texas oilman weaning America off its dependence on Middle East oil. That would be a political coup!"

Oh yes, another benefit: "It would also be Mr. Bush's best response to foreigners who are enraged by America's refusal to join the Kyoto treaty to stop global warming."

You tell me: Who's living in a Sept. 10 world? First, the Kyoto treaty is almost as dead as the ABM. And who cares about the foreigners who are allegedly still "enraged" by Bush's wise decision to not join hands with Gore-like Europeans who bleat that the Earth isn't balanced?

Second, Friedman writes as if the war is over, rather than just beginning. Bin Laden's still at large, Afghanistan is predictably unstable and, more importantly, Saddam Hussein and Yasir Arafat are still in power. I agree that Saudi Arabia's government is corrupt, but Bush's burgeoning alliance with Vladimir Putin-and the Russian oil that'll be available to the U.S.-will eventually force the Saudi rulers to play by American rules.

As for Bush usurping patriotism for an ideological agenda, Friedman sounds as dumb as those hopeful commentators who think that Tom DeLay's likely promotion to majority leader next year will demonize the Republican Party. DeLay, a wily legislator, cannot possibly be vilified by Democratic fundraisers more than he already has been.

And what exactly is Bush's "right-wing" program? Letting Teddy Kennedy craft an expensive education bill that doesn't include school vouchers? Appointing a well-meaning but politically tone-deaf treasury secretary who hasn't pounded his lectern for immediate, across-the-board tax relief? Allowing the Democrats to expand their donor base by demanding that airport security personnel become union members?

As many Democrats have privately conceded, it's fortunate that Al Gore isn't president. The thought of his foreign policy, a let's-all-get-along global seminar, with George Mitchell heading up probably a dozen task forces, is a real nightmare. And while noblesse oblige columnists like Friedman (and his employers) wince when Bush speaks in blunt, common language that most of the country identifies with, can you even imagine the goo-goo wooden rhetoric that Gore would've put the nation to sleep with in the midst of its gravest crisis since World War II?

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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