Tom Friedman & funding ISIL: Israel/Iran Derangement Syndrome

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Being a liberal Zionist was always a tough thing to pull off, but it is becoming increasingly just impossible. The intrinsic contradiction between wanting social justice and equity at home and supporting a militaristic and Apartheid Israel abroad produces what psychologists call cognitive dissonance. It is hard to believe two opposite ideologies at the same time. And the effort seems to have driven the New York Times‘s Tom Friedman bonkers. Many otherwise sensible people who are strong supporters of Israel have concluded that Iran is so dire threat to it that extraordinary measures against Tehran are in order. Friedman seems to have abruptly joined this group (he used to be more measured on Iran). Now he seems to suggest that if the choice is between a US grand coalition against Daesh (ISIL or ISIS) that includes a de facto alliance with Iran, or a grand coalition against Iran that might include Daesh/ISIL, he actually favors the latter. Well, he sidesteps his support by wondering why no one takes this position; but what else could he mean?

His rationale is that the US has removed Iran’s enemies twice before, overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan and then Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and making Iran into a regional hegemon. If, he seems to say, the US crushes ISIL, it will be consolidating Iranian regional power. He doesn’t bring up Israel, but his commitment to it must be driving this bizarre calculation that leads him to want to arm the beheaders and ethnic cleansers and traffickers of young girls. (He doesn’t bring up that he was all for overthrowing Saddam Hussein in Iraq, which means he was part of the problem he is now describing).

Iran is not a strategic threat to the United States. It has a small underfunded regular military and the neighborhood volunteers of the Basij that are counted by Iranophobes in their armed forces are not trained soldiers. US intelligence has dropped Iran and Lebanon’s Hizbullah as terrorist threats this year, making the opposite calculation of Friedman, that if the choice is between letting ISIL run wild or de facto allying with Iran and its Lebanese ally, the latter is far preferable.

Digby takes Friedman and Marco Rubio and others who have engaged in this reasoning apart here

But Friedman is not a Rubio. What accounts for him being in this category of Daesh-supporters when he is not a conservative (in the American political sense of conservative)? It is his Zionism. For Israel, Daesh is just a manifestation of chaos and not threatening to Israel which has the best military in the Middle East. But for many Israelis and supporters of Israel, it is the big conventional rejectionist states and armies with their potential for nuclear weaponry that are the real danger. That is why Friedman supported Bush’s Iraq War, as well. Apparently, for this strain of Zionism, the Middle East has to be in flames and broken up by constant American military invasions and special ops covert actions and coups in order to keep Israel from having any peer militarily in the region. Daesh is just a set of gangs and aids in keeping Syria and Iraq in chaos, so from this point of view, it is a good thing and should be armed to cause more chaos.

It is a monstrous point of view that would come as a surprise to most Americans when put like this, but all Middle Easterners understand that it is exactly the kind of policy Israeli hawks pursue and urge the US to pursue.

I don’t think most Jewish Americans will be able to go along with Friedman on this one. Mostly they are liberals or leftists. Liberalism in the contemporary American sense of the word is about valuing human rights more than property rights, believing the law should be equally applied to everyone, and giving everyone a chance in life. That is why liberals commemorated the Selma march but many conservatives did not. Most strains of American Conservatism accept that there are social hierarchies, that some people are better than others, and believe the poor and disadvantaged are that way mostly because they are lazy or have other character flaws, assuming they live in a society where property rights trump all the others and capitalism has an unfettered hand.

Zionism as Jewish nationalism posits that Jews have a claim to the territory of Palestine by virtue of having historical ties and ancient presence there. It is just 19th century Romantic ethnic nationalism, which imagined eternal “peoples” or “races” such as Greeks, Germans, etc., that have special ties to a territory (blood and soil). This is a stupid theory of history and completely crazy. We know when the Greeks came into the peninsula. We know when the German tribes came into Germany. And neither of those was an ethnic group, just a language. There are no “pure” “races” in the 19th century sense and linguistic and cultural groups move around quite a lot in history, and locals adopt language and culture from invaders. Zionism, like all central European theories of race and nation in the 19th century, is a lie.

Worse, as it has come to be practiced, Zionism in Israel involves making non-Jews second-class citizens inside the state, and keeping Palestinians in the Occupied territories stateless and without basic human rights. It is hierarchical. The Israeli center and left parties refuse to go into coalition with the Palestinian-Israeli parties. That is just racism– as though a Hungarian party refused to be in coalition with one that had a lot of Romany voters. Hierarchies of this sort, ethnic and economic, are supported by conservatism, not by liberalism or the left.

To keep this going (and to be fair, Friedman himself wants a Palestinian state to solve at least part of this problem) is hard to impossible, and the invidiousness of the situation attracts regional political entrepreneurs who support the Palestinians, like the current Iran regime. If the US has to play whackamole with everyone in the Middle East who objects to the sordid goings-on in Israel/Palestine, we’ll eventually be bankrupt and without regional allies, and the region itself will collapse and present more severe security threats of the Daesh sort.

In contrast, a de facto US rapprochement with Iran to squelch the Daesh/ ISIL threat before it metastasizes further (see: Tunisia) is clearly in the interest of the United States and its people, including Jewish Americans.

Related video:

The Young Turks: “Defense Industry Whores Release Nuclear Iran Ad To Scare America”

32 Responses

  1. Some years ago Elliot Abrams noted that (paraphrasing) the only country that Jews should care about is Israel, i.e. not the countries into which they have wandered. So, it should come as no surprise that Friedman and his ilk have finally revealed their true natures. “Truthful” Tom, who must be included with the other 47 “traitors”, also conveniently ignores the fact that it was the US-supported groups in Afghanistan which morphed into the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. We all suffered the blow back from those shortsighted policies of the 80s on 9/11 and beyond.
    The madness exhibited by Friedman seems to be the result of his frustration, not unlike Bibi’s, in dealing with the real world; history has its own march and anachronistic and anti-historical regimes, such as the Apartheid regime in Palestine, are on the losing side of this march.

    • “…….it was the US-supported groups in Afghanistan which morphed into the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.”

      The Taliban militia was created by the Pakistani ISI intelligence service in the mid-1990s and fought the CIA and Saudi Arabian funded and supplied warlords who led the Afghan government following their defeat of the Marxist-led government in 1992. Those warlords would become the “Northern Alliance” resisting the Taliban after the warlords were forced out power in Kabul – they would eventually defeat the Taliban with U.S. backing following 9/11.

      It is debatable whether the CIA had a direct or indirect relationship with Osama bin Laden during the 1980s when his “Afghan Arabs” fought the Marxist government in Kabul – but his fighters were only a tiny fraction of overall rebel forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Al-Qaeda was permitted by the Taliban in the late 1990s to establish training camps that would lead to the terror attacks that included the U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa, the USS Cole incident and of course, 9/11. There is no credible proof, however, that the US provided any support to Osama bin Laden while he was allied with the Taliban – although there exists some evidence that wealthy Saudi benefactors financed bin Laden in the late 1990s.

    • “… the countries into which they have wandered.”

      The hubris is astounding, some Jewish Diasporas date back to the Roman empire.

      Good thing the Irish government doesn’t make similar demands, their Island would sink to the sea floor under all the added weight.

      • Just a gentle correction. There was a Jewish Diaspora well before the advent of Rome – arguably Judaism itself is in part the product of Diaspora that predates anything “Classical”. The Jewish Diaspora in fact dates to the last 3rd (ca 722 BC) of the eighth century BC, with the Assyrain conquest. In the 590s BC Nebuchadnezzar relocated a substantial number of Jews to Babylon, while some fled to Egypt (but for modern politics and war, there might still be an ancient Jewish community in Mesopotamia – hell, even still a Babylon but for its destruction for a US air base [link to link to By the time of the late Roman Republic (the second century BC) and possibly well before, there was a substantial Jewish community in Rome (which exists to this day), and there is even a synagogue, possibly of this date, at Rome’s ancient port in Ostia.

  2. …..for this strain of Zionism, the Middle East has to be in flames and broken up by constant American military invasions and special ops covert actions and coups in order to keep Israel from having any peer…

    And, as you later point out, this is what most Middle Easterners understand Israel hawks (and I’d argue, the rest of Israel, liberal handwringing aside) want and need. But, its not just a matter of what they prefer: to divide/conquer/maintain has been implicit in Israel’s demonstrated behavior since its 1948.

    The more interested point now is how the various Israeli/American and neocon Opinion Molders have begun to come out of the closet with their core arguments, and their real agenda. Last week there was this guy from his perch at Johns Hopkins: link to

    and now Friedman. In frustration, they have beginning to show what is really driving their angst over ANY deal with Iran.

    As in many traditional, backward societies, they are beginning to boil over with green-eyed jealously as it become apparent their girlfriend may be developing a significant relationship with someone else.

    If they are no longer the center of their objects world, then who else will they have to buy them all the things they could otherwise not afford? Who else will they have to manipulate in order to feel better about themselves? Who else will they be able to abuse and otherwise beat-up publicly to convince the world of their legitimacy? And worst of all, who else would be able to shield them for the consequences of their actions?

    The consequences of Israeli hubris have always been inevitable, but the reality of their agenda and motivations becomes ever more clear as fate closes in.

  3. The “West” is still fighting Saladin: “Jerusalem now and forever” is the inalterable mindset. American Jewry, which includes me, will lose a small but significant portion of support for Israel, but when push comes to shove an overwhelming existential urge for Israel to survive no matter what – despite medievally amoral Israeli standards and practices – will prevent their cooptation to an equitable, even rational U.S. approach to Israel. The Bible-story mentality of a large majority of Americans, and what happened to Jews in the 1930s and 1940s, is too strong and unchallenged culturally and politically to overcome. That is a permanent condition, unfortunately, I believe.

    • The reason that the mad propaganda seems “too strong and unchallenged culturally and politically to overcome” (the christian-right contention that Christians are Jews although JC founded a distinct religion, and the mass media myth that Jews deserve special privileges because some of their ancestors suffered long ago and far away) is plainly that Jews and the sycophants of gold control the mass media and elections in the US, denying democracy to We the People, as well as the tools to restore democracy. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

      No doubt there were liberals and progressives among the Nazis as well, as long as their own supremacy was unchallenged. Claims of noble views are used as a pseudo-moral facade like religious attendance. The proof of fascism is in the promotion of interests of the group above all others. It is sad but not surprising that fascism unbound leads to fascism among the victims. But fascism is concealed by groups that once were its victims. It is time to call it what it is.

  4. Actually one can make at least a superficial case for a tacit commonality of interest between Israel and Daesh(ISIS). The more turbulent circumstances in Syria and Iraq the more likely the United States will be sympathetic to Israeli requests for arms, funding, and political support. Just as trumpeting a supposed Iranian menace to Israel serves as a distractión from Israeli expansionism in Palestine so does the existence of Daesh créate conditions for arguing imminent peril requires unquestioning assistance.

    The United States is being scammed.

  5. I used to think Thomas Friedman was somewhat sensible until I his appearance on Charlie Rose where he explained the ‘rationale’ for the Iraq war and told millions of Muslims to ‘suck on this’. So to me it’s not surprising his attitudes on Iran. – Interview Link

  6. I am no Thomas Friedman fan but isn’t he simply asking a provocative rhetorical question? The real solution is non-intervention but it is interesting to note that despite 10,000 articles that have appeared over the past 4 years about the USA and Saudi Arabia using jihadist proxies to destroy Baathist rule as the first step in making war with Iran, the actual policy has objectively been to accept Assad as the lesser evil.

    • I’m no Thomas Friedman either but I would like to see or read one of those 10000 articles that says Saudis and US are using jihadis as proxys to fight Baathists in Iraq, and not to weaken the Iranian influence in the region. Please post it here

      • America’s Dead-End in the Middle East: Exclusive: When columnist Thomas L. Friedman suggests the U.S. should arm ISIS – thus joining the Saudi-Israeli regional war on Iran and the Shiites – it seems time to question the sanity of U.S. opinion- and policy-makers. But that is where the muddled U.S. post-9/11 strategy has led, explains Daniel Lazare. – link to

        • Tom Friedman, Bibi Netanyahu and their neocon friends are the ones at the “Dead-End in the Middle East” because Obama’s strategy to fight ISIS allowed Iran to come in and should help his nuclear deal become a reality and soon. I can understand how any neoconservative worth his weight in dog poop would be beside himself at this point.

          When the nuclear deal with Iran does go down I just hope Tom Friedman, Bibi Netanyahu, David Petraeus, Tom Cotton, Lindsey Graham and John McCain don’t commit MASS SUICIDE.


  7. “. . . the Middle East has to be in flames and broken up by constant American military invasions and special ops covert actions and coups in order to keep Israel from having any peer militarily in the region. ”

    Yes, this is one of the consequences of our policy.

  8. I read about this yesterday and could not believe what I was reading. Once again the neocons who gave us the Iraq war and who are pushing for the US to bomb Iran….for not building a nuclear weapon….would once again put Israel’s interest above that of the US.

    If anyone would like to take a minute you can let Obama know you support his not bowing to Netanyahu and the FOX NEWS loonies who would have us create more chaos in the middle to

  9. Measuring Iran’s nuclear program could be simplified if their progress was put into different units of time.

    “Tom, in Friedman unit terms how close is Iran to making an ATOMIC BOMB???”

    “LESS THAN 2.” :(

  10. ” Zionism, like all central European theories of race and nation in the 19th century, is a lie.”


    • I second your exactly

      Professor Coles one line summary is succinct, to the point and devastating to the idea of Zionism compared to all the ink spilt on the “both sides have a point” discussions that are attempting to create false equivalencies between the parties.

      It should be on a t-shirt.

  11. The fear of the “established state of order” directed at Iran is based in power and it’s potential loss. Iran and Persia have a long history of civility, the nomadic wahabiists have none. The West and Isreal fear that which they cannot control, that being Iran as a natural regional hegemon. Today we see the Sunni Wahabiists killing over a hundred women and children in at a mosque in Yemen. Yet we are told Iran is the big “monster” in the ME. The Iranians should be aligned with the west but they would want better “terms” than what the Gulf Monarchies currently receive. Money talks and peace walks.

  12. The biggest existential threat to Israel is loss of success in scamming the patriotic faithful. Consumerist America has been taught to love being scammed to where it is now second nature. Outside the US this is less the case. The global decline of American power is as much the global recognition that Americans prefer a manipulated reality as it is the global recognition that the American military, despite its bulk and tech and ability to endlessly destroy, has many weaknesses.

  13. Friedman has gotten it wrong so many times, especially since 9/11, it boggles the mind to divine why anyone other than neocons would pay any attention to him. In the case of neocons, Friedman is feeding them more raw meat.

  14. Always considered him as a right-wing hawk than a liberal. Not surprisingly he blames Hamas for the last war and the Palestinians for rejecting terrible bad faith deals from past Israeli leaders.

    His prejudiced thinking is just twisted and dangerous. Unfortunately the threat of violence from the US and Israel, given their history and backers, is very real, and reminds me of the song by David Bowie ‘I’m afraid of Americans’.

  15. Juan’s clear statement of Israel’s “realist” objectives are plainly revealed by considering Israel’s evolving policies toward Iran during the 1980s and 1990s.
    During the 1980s, Israel was “not at all concerned about Iran’s nuclear program [nor] about many of Iran’s other activities that [Israel] now profess[es] concern about. In fact, in the 1980s, the United States wanted to impose [sanctions] on Iran for…[its] connection to the [1983] bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut. [T]he then Israeli government, in a live interview by the then Minister Ariel Sharon, said that Israel would oppose sanctions being…imposed on Iran. [Nevertheless, the US did impose sanctions in 1984. However, Israel reversed its position] not because of any change in Iranian behavior, but because the Iraqi military was [routed by the US after Iraq’s 1990-1991] invasion [and occupation] of Kuwait…[Hence,] in early 1992, you have the first visit to Washington by then Prime Minister Rabin [who] started to raise concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and the prospect of sanctions. And…in 1995…the United States first imposes its comprehensive economic embargo on Iran. So [Israel has long been concerned] about the rise of Iran in the region, [as Iran can potentially] check Israel’s…reckless impulses vis-à-vis its neighbors.” link to

    • Israel perceived Iran as a counterbalance to Iraq and did not want to weaken it.

      Although it was major news that Israel’s air force bombed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, comparatively few were aware that Iran had also attempted to bomb the same reactor during the Iran-Iraq War.

      The Osirak reactor was destroyed by U.S. Air Force jet bombers in 1991 and Israeli fears over the Iraqi nuclear program shifted to Iran.

      Iran during the 1990s was making inroads into Israeli hegemony in Lebanon via Hezbollah and in 1997 received a rude awakening when an IDF naval commando force was routed on the Lebanese coast by a joint force of Hezbollah militiamen in conjunction with the Lebanese Marines. The ongoing resistance to Israeli occupation in south Lebanon was driven by Iran’s Hezbollah proxies and eventually led PM Ehud Barak’s decision to withdraw all IDF occupation from Lebanon in 1999 after the IDF had accumulated over 1,000 fatalities during its 17-year occupation.

  16. It is not all that difficult to espouse contradictory, even mutually exclusive convictions; individuals, groups and nations do it all the time. What is difficult is to be consistent in defiance of the appeals of pragmatism and expediency, and the seductions of moral weakness.

  17. As an American Jew. I have no connection to that area, and as one of European descent why would I have a connection to the Middle East, except the mythical one fed to me at Sunday school when I wasn’t skipping class? My ancestors are Polish/Russian, i.e. not from Palestine or Jordan or Israel, also known as nowhere near it. It is very far away, so maybe I’ll go visit my heritage, in Crimea.

  18. So what were Friedman, netanyahu and the neocons thinking when they decided that getting rid of Saddam was a good idea. Did they not understand that the inevitable “democratic” Shiite government would be allied with Iran. That getting rid of Saddam would mean wider hegemony for Iran?

    Perhaps their support for Daesh means they’ve realized what was really at stake for them in their rash rush to war. But why should any sane person listen to advice from these people? I feel like the US has been a puppet pulled along by people who either don’t have a clue, or who just enjoy pulling the strings.

  19. At this late date there is no doubt that Thomas Friedman has a breathtakingly immoral view of the use of power. But “Suck. On. This.” and now his “let’s join ISIS” drum beat are in some respects among the least of his outrageous statements. It’s bad enough he’s given a platform to spew his half-baked stream of consciousness venom that helped drive the country to war in 2003. For my money though, nothing will ever top his remark in that now infamous interview with Charlie Rose when he stated with no remorse – in fact with barely restrained triumph – that “We hit Iraq because we could”. That immediately brought to mind something Bill Clinton said during the Lewinsky scandal – that he did it, he confessed, “for the worst possible reason, because I could”.

    I suppose I could go in the backyard this afternoon and hold my dog’s head in a bucket of water until it drowns, because I can. Or trap a few squirrels in my trees and stick them alive on the grill, close the lid, and slowly roast them. Heck, think I’ll head to the pond, catch a mess of fish, cut their fins off and throw them back alive. Because I can. In Tommy Friedman’s bleak Thucydidean universe, the strong do as they wish and the weak suffer what they must. Nor is this immoral in the eyes of Friedman and his ilk; they are just inheriting a law they deem immutable and are simply acting upon it, just like the Athenians.

    It brings to mind David Brooks’ dismissive quip that “the concerns of the mothers of service men don’t matter” on the PBS Newshour during the propaganda campaign that functioned as the pre-game entertainment to The Mother of All US Debacles in 2003. (You may have missed David’s remarks in the ocean of stupid excreta spewed from the orifice of so many other movers and shakers who help funnels your tax dollars away from shit you need like well fed children and cancer research to mercenary legions run by criminals and profiteers like Erik Prince, Supreme Regent of Darkness).

    Creatures like this should not be fired. They should be arrested and tried on charges of aiding and abetting the disturbing of our peace and made to serve long hours of community service in VA hospitals cleaning bed pans and latrines. Period, end of report. As a parting shot, if you are less morally self-aware than Bill Clinton, well, that says it all doesn’t it?

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