The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Thomas Friedman and the Elections in Lebanon

with 5 comments

Well after a blogging hiatus due to exam-study-related pressures, I’m back!

While I was slaving away over a hot MacBook (and cold microeconomics theories) I did manage to stay connected to the world of politics via Twitter (which we all love & adore, right?) Thank you to the wonderful #cairospeech, #LebanonElections and #IranElection hashtags for making me that much more sane during exam period.

My mind’s like a sieve (might be a good reason why the exams are such a problem) so I’m not going to bother writing or summing up the elections above, but what I will do is post about my further disgust at another writer (no it’s not just Vikas Swarup that draws my ire, ladies & gents), namely Mr. Thomas Friedman. The man who is adored by millions for writing so badly that even the simple layman can understand his ignorant, uninformed crap. *Sigh* When we have people like Tony Karon, Marc Lynch and Robert Fisk… why do people still love Thomas Friedman? God only knows.

In any case, a piece came through his column in NYT (I know, I know, but I gave up on them long ago) about the elections in Lebanon… and boy was it galling to read.

The bile started building up from the first few sentences:

I confess. I’m a sucker for free and fair elections. It warms my heart to watch people drop ballots in a box to express their will, especially in a region where that so rarely happens.

That’s right, layman’s politics and layman’s orientalist, democracy-obsessed, US-idolising, bullshit. This is from the man who graphed 30 years of global “Freedom” on a napkin for his latest “book”. I wonder if the free & fair elections in Palestine that delivered Hamas warmed his heart, something tells me that they didn’t.

It was indeed free and fair — not like the pretend election you are about to see in Iran, where only candidates approved by the Supreme Leader can run.

Wait… let me get this straight. So elections in Iran are not “free & fair” because the candidates have to be approved by the Supreme Leader… but elections in the US *are* “free & fair” despite the fact that not only can a US citizen who happens to not be born in the US not run for President, but more importantly, candidates have to raise cajillions of dollars which means they have to sidle up to big business. So… Supreme Leader – unobjective decider of presidential candidate, Corporate America – objective. Yeah, bullshit.

But wait, here comes the best part:

No, in Lebanon it was the real deal, and the results were fascinating: President Barack Obama defeated President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.

“What does he mean?”, you may ask. “But… neither man is Lebanese! Neither man was running for President! I am confused! Please hand me my worn-out copy of The World is Flat so I can decipher what he means… maybe there’s a napkin graph I can refer to in there somewhere…” It’s ok! Mr. Friedman knows that you’re confused!

O.K., I know. Neither man was on the ballot, but there’s no question whose vision won here. First, a solid majority of Lebanese Christians voted against the list of Michel Aoun, who wanted to align their community with the Shiite Hezbollah party, and tacitly Iran, because he viewed them as being best able to protect Christian interests — not the West. The Christian majority voted instead for those who wanted to preserve Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence from any regional power.

That’s right, Mr. Friedman is actually suggesting that the Lebanese people give enough of a shit about what Barack Obama says versus what Ahmadinejad says to make it the key election issue, overriding all local, domestic, economic, administrative, etc. issues! The Lebanese people vote for who Barack Obama tells them to! Hooray for Sheikh Obama!

No, actually I don’t think it’s that simple, Mr. Friedman. Politics is local, always, first. In fact, I think Mr. Friedman has about the insight of a small turnip, when it comes to Lebanese politics. I’m guessing he flew into Beirut, stayed at the Hilton, played some golf, watched CNN for the election news… and lo & behold… came up with his magnum opus.

Of course Mr. Friedman goes further, his nose so pressed to the Lebanese street that he can even gauge, by looking at pure statistics, who has moral authority over the leadership of the country:

But to the extent that anyone came out of this election with the moral authority to lead the next government, it was the coalition that wants Lebanon to be run by and for the Lebanese — not for Iran, not for Syria and not for fighting Israel.

God, Lebanese politics are so simple aren’t they? Hizbollah just want to fight Israel. Saad Hariri just wants to run Lebanon by and for the Lebanese. Hmm. No wait, but didn’t Friedman just say that Hariri was “Western-backed”? So umm… whats the difference between being “Western-backed” and Iran/Syria-backed? How does being “Western-backed” automatically mean that the party will be pure and good, as Friedman seems to suggest. Is it because “the West” are “good” and the rest are “bad”? No that can’t be right since we no longer believe in Bush-era absolute good/evil. Is it because “the West” wont meddle in Lebanese politics? No, that can’t be right either, geopolitics is structured in a way that the US always meddles and has a decades-long track history of meddling in the Middle East.

And on Hassan Nasrallah he has the following to say:

All the fiery rhetoric and threats of the previous weeks were gone. I have no doubt that he will do whatever Iran dictates. But he can no longer pretend that he has some mandate to drag Lebanon into war with Israel again.

Err yeah… unless of course Israel decides to shell the shit out of Southern Lebanon again in response to the currently thriving hotbed of  military training camps (many not even linked to Hizbullah). But they probably won’t do that because we all know how that ended… not well for Mr. Sharon to say the least. However, I would say the indiscriminate bombing of your country is enough of a “mandate” to defend oneself.

But yeah, here’s the best part:

While the Lebanese deserve 95 percent of the credit for this election, 5 percent goes to two U.S. presidents. As more than one Lebanese whispered to me: Without George Bush standing up to the Syrians in 2005 — and forcing them to get out of Lebanon after the Hariri killing — this free election would not have happened. Mr. Bush helped create the space. Power matters. Mr. Obama helped stir the hope. Words also matter.

Yes George Bush deserves such credit for “standing up to the Syrians”. Seriously? George Bush has always hated the Syrians. The Lebanese people are the ones that stood up to the Syrians and George Bush should give them credit for getting the Syrians out of the country. As for Obama’s speech? I smell bullshit. But it’s ok guys… because “more than one Lebanese whispered” to Friedman… who these mysterious Lebanese whisperers were, and why they were whispering, is beyond anyone’s guess. Who knows what goes on in the Beirut Hilton behind closed doors… or in “a school in the mountain village of Brummana” where Mr. Friedman supposedly watched the voting.

What is this “Brummana” you may ask? Luckily I consulted the oracle of oracles and found out some interesting points about this “Brummana”

– 85% of the population is Christian. Perhaps Mr. Friedman should have travelled to a shi’a muslim part of town and seen what the people have to whisper over there. Oh wait, no he wouldn’t, Friedman doesn’t have the balls for real investigative journalism.

– The town is also the summer home of Arab (Kuwaiti, Emirati, and Saudi) tourists. So what does that mean? Rich Khaleeji tourist money!!!! And why is that important? Because we all know Mr. Friedman will only visit a town if there’s a five-star hotel and a golf course. Perfect to have his ear pressed to the Lebanese street!

And finally, no Friedman column would be complete without his obligatory trite play-on-words/metaphor/weird analogy. The one for today is:

Again, you don’t want to exaggerate what happened here. But in a region where extremists tend to go all the way and moderates tend to just go away, seeing moderates stand their ground and win somewhere — with ballots, not bullets, no less — well, that’s worth applauding.

Mmmm…. “ballots not bullets”… yep the US “moderates” sure used that in Iraq, Pakistan & Afghanistan. Real moderate. The best part is that Friedman’s MEast knowledge is so immensely strong that he can sum up the region as one where “extremists tend to go all the way and moderates tend to just go away”. I’m assuming by extremists he means… the ones that oppose US policy… and by moderates he means… the ones that support US policy due to arms shipments which they can then use to oppress their own people with and prop up their shady regimes. Awesome. One has to wonder though where this is coming from since in the Middle East almost every single regime, apart from Yemen (who cares), Iran, Syria and Hamas, is in the US pocket. So who are the extremists again? And where have the moderates all gone? Ohh yeah to their palacial presidential mansions funded by US aid.

Good work Mr. Friedman, once again you’ve outdone yourself.


Written by alexlobov

June 12, 2009 at 5:24 pm

5 Responses

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  1. Applause, Mr Lobov! Friedman deserves to be exposed for his never-ending supply of bullshit.

    Saba Imtiaz

    June 12, 2009 at 5:32 pm

  2. thank you Saba… *sigh* the bullshit just never ends. 😦


    June 12, 2009 at 5:44 pm

  3. Amazing post, Alex! Totally opened my eyes because, honestly, I don’t know that much about middle eastern politics. I really want to learn more. I know a bit about Iran, but haven’t read too much about Lebanon. Interesting!

    I think Thomas Friedman is adored because of his books, and so people assume his columns are great as well. But beyond the fact, the average person is really quite uneducated about international issues & politics, especially the average American. That’s the problem – the media is saturated with people like Friedman who give a skewed view of the world and often an American ethnocentric view, and so the American people really don’t know what’s actually going on in the rest of the world. When they don’t really understand the issues in the first place, you can’t blame them for not catching all the biases in this (and many other) articles.


    June 12, 2009 at 8:08 pm

  4. Thanks Akhila! Some good bloggers to follow on MidEast Politics are the ones I mentioned above, Tony Karon, Marc Lynch & Robert Fisk, google them and you should find their things. I know Karon writes for Abu Dhabi’s The National and Fisk writes for the Independent. Fisk also has some excellent books that are quite widely distributed that you might want to check out. Another good starting point to give you a general run-down is “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani, who is a really well-respected Arab historian.

    As for Friedman, to be honest, I find his books even worse than his column, I mean the man is a terrible writer and has very primitive view of politics and the things he writes about. We’re talking about the man who said that Iraq was “a vase we had to break to get the putrid water out”. Wtf? Matt Taibbi (writes for Rolling Stone and the New York Post) gives an excellent critique of his novels, heres a link, you will die laughing, I promise –


    June 12, 2009 at 9:02 pm

  5. […] you should either stop reading or double check the byline to ensure you haven’t mistakenly begun reading a Tom Friedman article. Unfortunately, this cannot be credited to Friedman – it was written by David Schenker for […]

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