Thomas Friedman Is Wrong on Ukraine

Thomas Friedman - Artist's ConceptionYesterday, Thomas Friedman wrote another of his grand columns, Go Big, Get Crazy. It’s one where you can imagine him delivering it from a podium with big hand gestures that proclaim, “We will expand this great system of ours and let freedom ring…” On Mars or something. Actually, Friedman’s idea this week is for America to become energy independent to spite Putin. Instead of his old “Suck on this!” it is more “Suck on the ground to get them hydrocarbons!”

But Friedman wants to do it in an environmentally friendly way. But he’s no fool. He realizes that compromises must be made! And just like the “third way” moderate he is, all he thinks it will take is a little leadership™ on the part of Obama:

Obama should summon the congressional leadership to Camp David and put his own plan on the table: Offer the Republicans the Keystone XL pipeline, expanded oil drilling and fracking (but only at the highest environmental standards) and, in return, demand a revenue-neutral carbon tax, a national renewable portfolio standard that would require every utility in America to gradually introduce more renewable power, and a national California-level home building code for energy efficiency. I would also toss in incentives for expanding the share of nuclear power in our energy mix.

I think I have a new name for the man: Rip Van Friedman. Because he sounds like he’s been asleep for six years. Obama is not a Republican so there will be no compromise by the opposition. Remember the budget deal where John Boehner got 98% of what he wanted? That was the deal he turned down. This deal would be one that was overwhelmingly on the Democratic side. I don’t think there is a major environmentalist around who wouldn’t exchange Keystone for a carbon tax. The kind of deal that the Republicans would take would be Keystone in exchange for maybe some day considering a debate about the possibility that maybe we might want to think about global warming after Manhattan is under water.

Dean Baker was quick to hit back on the ridiculous economics in Friedman’s article, Thomas Friedman’s Big Deal on Fracking and Global Warming:

The same applies to his proposal for a carbon tax coupled with approving the XL pipeline. The tar sands oil that would go through the pipeline would be especially hard hit by a carbon tax. That would likely make it unprofitable, a point that Friedman himself notes. For this reason the industry is unlikely to see the XL pipeline as much of quid pro quo for a carbon tax. In short, it doesn’t seem like he has much of the basis for a deal here.

But the whole article is predicated on the idea that we must do something about Ukraine. Now, I don’t like what’s happening in Ukraine either. But it is a whole lot more justified than the United States’ invasion of Iraq. And Thomas Friedman was not only a big supporter of starting that war, he was a big supporter of it long after things had gone terribly wrong. I just don’t see how he is in any position to complain about Russia at this point.

After the Ukrainian revolution, Thomas Friedman was on the Sunday talk shows to gush about how great it all was. He said, “The West didn’t do this. The United States didn’t do this. The EU didn’t do this. The Ukrainian people did this.” Not really. Patrick Smith explained in Slate at the time:

Every one of the above sentences reflects what we are supposed to think we have just witnessed in Ukraine. And every one is false. The “revolution” in Ukraine was orchestrated, not bottom up; the West by way of the Europeans and Americans did the orchestrating, and the Ukrainian people—that portion who favor a Westward tilt—were the instruments, not the composers.

It’s interesting that Mr Globalization is also Mr Nationalism. But it isn’t surprising. That’s the thesis of Ha-Joon Chang’s Bad Samaritans (my last discussion of it: Bad Samaritans). The whole free trade business is really about enriching the advanced countries and keeping down the developing countries. But even apart from that, Friedman should shut up. He has no credibility to complain about Russia doing something that is more justified than policies he’s recent led cheers for.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Thomas Friedman Is Wrong on Ukraine

  1. Poor Milton! (Oops, Thomas.) He’s been pimping this "green energy enhances our national security" angle ever since the Iraq war went horribly (predictably) wrong.

    And honestly, it’s not the foulest thing in the world to pimp, as you note — Freidman’s on the Great Scorer’s ledger for much worse. What’s pathetic about Friedman is how he honestly believes his little columns have been read and taken seriously by people in power. He appears to have no clue that his role was always one of a propagandist, not a contributor to some sort of high-level debate. And that if he pimps for policies power has no interest in implementing, he’ll quickly be replaced on all the guest lists.

    Say one thing for the Limbaughs and O’Reillys; they know exactly what they’re doing.

  2. @JMF – I agree: that pimping is actually good. The interstate highway system was sold that way. Whatever it takes to justify good policy.

    The terrible thing is that Freidman [i]is[/i] listened to by a lot of influential people. He is the great sage of the Very Serious People. I think he keeps up his nonsense because he literally never talks to anyone in the US who doesn’t think he’s super keen. I don’t think he knows quite what a nitwit most people think he is. But he does get some clue when he’s outside the US.

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