NY Times Columnist Thomas Friedman Wants LOTS More Time To Decide If Iraq War Was Worth It

Author: March 22, 2013 8:08 am
New York Time columnist, Thomas Friedman; image @ThinkProgress

New York Time columnist, Thomas Friedman; image @ThinkProgress

If you want to see the poster child for the culpability of the D.C. chattering classes in bringing us the disaster that was the Iraq War, you need not look any further than author, columnist, and Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman. Mr. Friedman could have used his reputation as a “centrist” and his prime real estate on the New York Times’ editorial page to urge caution and push back against the lies and misleading claims peddled by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and their neocon cronies. Instead, Mr. Friedman put forth a series of arguments in favor of war, including echoing the lies and fear mongering about weapons of mass destruction, offering the “suck on this, Iraq” theory, and contending that invading Iraq to displace Saddam Hussein would enable us to work with moderates in Iraq to build a modern democracy there.


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After the Iraq War started, it quickly became obvious that WMDs would not be found and that the invasion was the disastrous mistake that opponents of the war had predicted. Yet the war dragged on for nearly seven-and-a-half years, in large part because war cheerleaders such as Mr. Friedman constantly said that success was right around the corner. After Mr. Friedman repeatedly claimed over a period of at least two-and-a-half years that the next six months would be critical to the success of the Iraq War, the six-month period came to be known as a “Friedman Unit” (or F.U.), a neologism coined by the blogger Atrios.

Earlier this week was the 10th anniversary of the launching of the Iraq War, which means the war started 20 Friedman Units ago. Mr. Friedman marked the occasion with a New York Times column, Democrats, Dragons or Drones?, in which he argued that it will take at least twenty-one years and nine months – i.e. the length of time for a new generation to be born – before we know “what exactly we overpaid for in Iraq.” Or, as “Matt” summarized in his comment on Mr. Friedman’s column:

Apparently, it takes 43 1/2 Friedman units…21 years and 9 months, on top of the 20 units already invested. Just be patient!

Friedman Unit Iraq

While Mr. Friedman apparently still cannot decide if the war that he cheerleaded was worth it, we can explain it to him in very simple language – the Iraq War was not worth it. Instead, it was a disastrous mistake. It cost the lives of more than 4,000 American troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. More than 32,000 of our troops came home injured. More than 2 million Iraqis were displaced. The total economic cost will be in the trillions. And we lost significant moral standing in the world, along with encouragement of an even more cynical view of our government.

And what did we get for this? Yes, we removed Saddam Hussein from power, one of the multitude of brutal dictators who ruled countries throughout the earth. But we are also left with a nation that continues to be torn by violence. A government that is more closely aligned to the latest enemy du jour, Iran, than it has been in the past 40 years. And a distraction from dismantling the organization that actually attacked us on 9/11.

We don’t need to wait any more Friedman Units to determine that the Iraq War was an epic mistake. In fact, we knew it was before it even started.

We’d like to highlight one other point regarding the run up to the Iraq War, and that is the importance of avoiding false equivalencies between the two political parties when discussing how we got into that war. In an otherwise very good editorial about the lessons of the Iraq War and the warning it provides that the neocons’ desire for military action against Iran would also be a disaster, the New York Times suggested false equivalency by stating that “Mr. Bush led the war, but Democrats as well as Republicans in Congress endorsed it.” It is certainly accurate that far too many Democrats voted for the Iraq War and those Democrats should politically be held to account for those votes. But it is also critical to remember that the Iraq War was a Republican creation to which virtually no Republicans objected, and that a sizeable number of Democrats did oppose.

In the House, the majority of Democrats voted against the Iraq War by a 126-82 margin. House Republicans, meanwhile, voted for the war 215-6. In the Senate, 29 Democrats unfortunately voted for the war, but 21 of the 23 no votes in the Senate were cast by Democrats (the other two “no” votes in the Senate were by Lincoln Chafee – a Republican who later became an independent – and Jim Jeffords – a Republican who became an independent in 2001). And, I would argue, it is safe to assume that if Al Gore, rather than George W. Bush, had been allowed to assume the Presidency that Gore won, we would not have responded to 9/11 by attacking a nation that had nothing to do with the attack based on lies about WMDs.

So, we urge our readers to reject efforts to pretend that the Iraq War was really a bi-partisan mistake that somehow proves that both sides are “just the same.” The reality is that there is strong evidence that the Iraq War would not have occurred if Democrats had been in control. Unfortunately, they were not, a fact that we are still paying the price for twenty Friedman Units later.

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