Thursday, November 20, 2003

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Tom Friedman should know better

These are the first two paragraphs of Friedman's op-ed column for today:

So I step off the plane in London and the British customs guy sees on my form that I'm a journalist and asks, "Is it true there are more police to protect your president in London than there are in Baghdad?" Then I pick up The Independent to read in the taxi and I see that London's left-wing mayor, Ken Livingstone, has denounced President Bush as "the greatest threat to life on this planet that we've most probably ever seen." Then I check out The Guardian, which carried open letters to the president, one of which is from the famous playwright Harold Pinter, who says: "Dear President Bush, I'm sure you'll be having a nice little tea party with your fellow war criminal, Tony Blair. Please wash the cucumber sandwiches down with a glass of blood."

No, Dorothy, we're definitely not in Kansas anymore.

No, Tom, but we're not exactly in mainstream Britain either. Livingstone's nickname is "Red Ken"; he was expelled by the Labour Party in 2000 (though it appears he will soon be reinstated). As for Harold Pinter, well, peruse his politics page and then try to distinguish his views from Noam Chomsky's.

Meanwhile, The same day the Guardian ran their letters to George, they also found some surprising poll results:

The survey shows that public opinion in Britain is overwhelmingly pro-American with 62% of voters believing that the US is "generally speaking a force for good, not evil, in the world". It explodes the conventional political wisdom at Westminster that Mr Bush's visit will prove damaging to Tony Blair. Only 15% of British voters agree with the idea that America is the "evil empire" in the world....

The ICM poll also uncovers a surge in pro-war sentiment in the past two months as suicide bombers have stepped up their attacks on western targets and troops in Iraq. Opposition to the war has slumped by 12 points since September to only 41% of all voters. At the same time those who believe the war was justified has jumped 9 points to 47% of voters.

This swing in the mood of British voters is echoed in the poll's finding that two-thirds of voters believe British and American troops should not pull out of Iraq now but instead stay until the situation is "more stable".

I understand why Friedman uses that opening -- to make the case for tweaking U.S. foreign policy. But using an overhyped start doesn't help Friedman's cause.

UPDATE: MSNBC has a plethora of man-on-the-street takes that are worth checking out.

posted by Dan on 11.20.03 at 01:13 PM


This is like coming to a Kucinich rally and quoting a Krugman column and saying that Tony Blair has to change his policies because Americans are embittered about the war in Iraq. Livingston and Pinter represent a non-trivial fringe in Britain's politics, but it's still a fringe.

posted by: Crank on 11.20.03 at 01:13 PM [permalink]

And the British Custom's guy, well he likes to wear pantyhose.

posted by: anne.elk on 11.20.03 at 01:13 PM [permalink]

I doubt if even I agree with much of "Red Ken's" politics, but I want to commend him for (1) adopting a use fee for private cars to enter central London to reduce congestion [Marx reborn as a free marketeer] and (2) in the face of tremendous opposition to this plan, saying if it didn't work he deserved to lose his mayor's office. No fudging around there.

I haven't checked recently, but in the first weeks after the plan was adopted, it did better than its proponents' wildest dreams.

posted by: Andrew Lazarus on 11.20.03 at 01:13 PM [permalink]

Great, in the US's #1 ally, 47% of the people believe that the war their nation was just involved in was justified. You know if this is how the coalition action is seen in one of the major participants there is a problem.

You must be so pleased with the overwhelming support.

None of my friends and family back home in England welcome George, and they are not your regular agitators or fringe figures. They are run of the mill middle class people from the home counties and London.

Also, while Ken Livingstone may not be in the center of British politics, he did get to be Mayor of London with 51.6% of the vote. Beating the official Labour candidate by 26% in the first round so his views do represent a large proportion of the population of London.

posted by: Keven on 11.20.03 at 01:13 PM [permalink]

These protests still seem much smaller than the old CND protests, though, Keven. I suppose that none of these relatives of yours supported the nuclear freeze marches at all?

posted by: John Thacker on 11.20.03 at 01:13 PM [permalink]

Daniel seems to assume that being unable to distinguish Pinter's politics from Chomsky's is somehow a negative reflection on them.

It reminds of his line about the disciplines which have to append "science" to their name.

posted by: chun the unavoidable on 11.20.03 at 01:13 PM [permalink]


That's a D.

posted by: Jon H on 11.20.03 at 01:13 PM [permalink]

“In the Mideast, now is the time for a fresh Bush diplomatic initiative to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”

Tom Friedman’s is sloppy with his rhetoric. Israeli-Palestinian conflict? No, to be more accurate, it is the Israelis and moderate Palestinians vs. the radical Palestinian nutballs. Am I deliberately ignoring the ultraconservative Israelis? Nope, they just aren’t that numerous. The real problem is with the scapegoating Palestinians enamored with self pitying socialist claptrap and Wahhabi style religious extremism.

What can be done about this long-standing problem? The Palestinian crazies must be either jailed or killed. Nothing less will do. The Palestinian moderates are helpless until these nihilists are eliminated from power. Lastly, why didn’t Friedman mention Yassar Arafat? Does our esteemed New York Times columnist really think anything can be successfully resolved while Arafat is still in the way?

posted by: David Thomson on 11.20.03 at 01:13 PM [permalink]

Dan forgets to mention another poll out thatalso says 62% of the British public think Bush is not very intelligent, not very well informed on world-affairs, and just plain foolish.

Clearly, both sides of the commentary have failed to see the big picture. Yes there is still a deep reserve of good will and friendship for America and Americans in Britain. Those rabid protestors in London neglect that when they rave about anti-Americanism. However, the British public is nuanced enough to detest many of the Bush Administration policies, and consider Bush himself an ineffectual and divisive leader.

Yes, the British don't blame the average American for us having a lemon in the White House - that doesn't mean that they're particularly happy about what American policies however.

posted by: Oldman on 11.20.03 at 01:13 PM [permalink]

Am I deliberately ignoring the ultraconservative Israelis? Nope, they just aren’t that numerous.

They are certainly a smaller percentage than radical Palestinians on the other side, but far too many to ignore. Ask Yitzhak Rabin.

posted by: Andrew Lazarus on 11.20.03 at 01:13 PM [permalink]

I'm neither particularly surprised nor in any way concerned about the lack of "popularity" of this war in England or elsewhere. War in general is hardly going to be "popular," especially with all this counterculture-inspired nonsense about "global understanding" and "world peace" that has been repeated ad-nauseam ever since World War I. People are only now getting disabused of the profoundly stupid notion that making nice with mass murderers is preferable to killing them, and much of Europe, not to mention the Third World, suddenly realizes that no, they do not get to choose what Americans do. There's bound to be friction and resentment.

The last time the world listened to the "peace"-shouting nitwits, we let another tin-pot dictator become powerful enough to take over most of Europe and kill by the millions. We can't afford another such delusion again, so I'm perfectly happy when my government takes the opposite view, even at the expense of its popularity; I don't elect the President so he can be loved. (For that matter, Blair also doesn't seem to think that his job is being universally admired. Good for him.) So frankly, I care not a whit what anyone in England, France, Canada, Bolivia, Bulgaria, or Yemen thinks of the U.S. actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, or wherever; and as far as I'm concerned, these squealing protestors are doing nothing more than annoying their fellow citizens and forcing their government to waste large sums in protecting their own city from their own stupidity. It's really quite amusing.

Yes, they made their opinion known. And I don't give a damn.

posted by: E. Nough on 11.20.03 at 01:13 PM [permalink]

Andrew Lazarus writes:

They are certainly a smaller percentage than radical Palestinians on the other side, but far too many to ignore. Ask Yitzhak Rabin.

Rabin was killed by a single extremist. Not that your point doesn't stand, but I fail to see how that was an example.

As to Mr. Thomson, I agree but from the other direction: it's not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- it's an Israeli-Arab (and indeed, Israeli-Muslim) conflict, given just how much support Palestinian terrorists get from the rest of the ummah.

posted by: E. Nough on 11.20.03 at 01:13 PM [permalink]

Dan, don't you think it's a little bit cheap to argue that the British aren't pro-Bush -- Friedman's point -- by saying they're pro-American? I'm pro-American, and I think America is generally speaking a force for good -- those beliefs just don't for the most part extend to the Bush administration or it's policies.

And, "Red Ken" or not, he was still elected as the mayor of a pretty major city, so he at least had some amount of mainstream support when he was elected. Support by a plurality of the population is generally a sufficient condition for mainstream-ness.

posted by: Anno-nymous on 11.20.03 at 01:13 PM [permalink]

A special sneak preview of Freidman's column for November 23 is available here:

posted by: Roger L. Simon on 11.20.03 at 01:13 PM [permalink]

That's a "D"? Guess I'll patiently wait for Chun the unavoidable to take Jon H to task for his bad science.

Yep, any minute now...

posted by: TammyG on 11.20.03 at 01:13 PM [permalink]

“(Yitzhak) Rabin was killed by a single extremist. Not that your point doesn't stand, but I fail to see how that was an example.”

The Rabin assassination was a very rare event. Was it even possibly the only one of its kind? It is virtually certain that many more moderate Palestinians have been murdered by the extremists living among them.

This equivalency nonsense must be combatted at every turn. The reality is this: Israel is a decent nation being attacked by scum of the earth. The vast majority of Israelis merely wish to live in peace with the Palestinians---and far too many Palestinians are racist bigots intent on driving the Jews into the sea. It’s truly amazing how the liberal media and intellectual establishment have distorted the truth. What about Pat Buchanan and the radical right? These folks have long been marginalized and relegated to the fringes of American culture. This is definitely not true of the “mainstream” liberal elite.

posted by: David Thomson on 11.20.03 at 01:13 PM [permalink]

Daniel's right, to a degree. That doesn't change the fact that, while in Britain for over four months, I only met or saw four people who supported the war--and that counts Tony Blair from a distance.

posted by: Alex Parker on 11.20.03 at 01:13 PM [permalink]

“I only met or saw four people who supported the war--and that counts Tony Blair from a distance.”

You are offering mere anecdotal evidence. The national polls contradict your experiences. Is it possible that might have been traveling in a very liberal area of the British isles? Are you a victim of the Pauline Kael phenomenon?:

“This arrogant mind-set is reminiscent of theater critic Pauline Kael's reaction to Richard Nixon's landslide presidential victory over George McGovern in 1972" "How can that be?" she supposedly said. ‘No one I know voted for Nixon.’”

posted by: David Thomson on 11.20.03 at 01:13 PM [permalink]

True true.

But I'm not quite sure what polls you're talking about.

"In fact, three out of four of those polled for the Daily Mirror feel the “war on terror” is actually making the world a more dangerous place, rather than a safer one."--this is from the MSNBC article that Drezner links to above.

English people might not object to a Bush visit, and might not think that America is overall a force for evil, but I submit that the majority of people in Britain as well as Europe are deeply distrustful of Bush, and my experience in Europe (yes, I was in a college in London and thus probably talked more to liberals, but I also talked to several Tories who didn't support the war either) has supported it, at least in my view. They perhaps do not all have Pinter-esque nastiness, but they don't think this is a good idea.

Come to think of it, one of those 4 was in Ireland. Another was in Scotland, but he was British. The other was Australian, but living in Britain. So, now that I think of it, the only pro-war Englishmen I saw in England was Tony Blair from a distance during Question Time.

posted by: Alex Parker on 11.20.03 at 01:13 PM [permalink]

These protests still seem much smaller than the old CND protests, though, Keven

No, they were much bigger. The Hyde Park one was the biggest demo ever in London (roughly three times bigger than the Countryside Alliance pro-foxhunting one) and last week's was the biggest weekday protest by a factor of four.

posted by: dsquared on 11.20.03 at 01:13 PM [permalink]

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