NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman is for many the voice of the center-left foreign policy establishment in the U.S. So much so that, in introducing him this morning, GMA host Charlies Gibson declared that Friedman's latest book should be required reading. Given Friedman's status, his nuanced and not-altogether-bleak assessment of the situation in Iraq on this morning's GMA merits consideration.
It was tempting to headline this entry with the provocative notion Friedman floated that perhaps only a Saddam was capable of holding Iraq's fractious components together. But Friedman was by no means endorsing Saddam's despotic rule, musing rather whether Saddam was a cause or an effect. As Friedman put it:
"Is Iraq the way Iraq is because Saddam Hussein was the way Saddam Hussein was or was Saddam Hussein the way Saddam Hussein was because Iraq was the way Iraq is - a congenitally-divided country that could only be held together by an iron fist? We never had the definitive answer to that question but I think we're going to real soon."
Friedman noted that "Shiites have resisted all [previous] provocations but this attack on the Golden Dome Mosque is the straw that broke the camel's back and has brought Iraq to the edge. One of two things is going to happen: Iraqis are going to stare into this abyss and pull back or I'm afraid they're going to fall into this abyss and we're going to know real soon if anything is salvageable."
Friedman's response to Gibson's query as to who would want to bomb the mosque was fascinating, as it suggested that not only has Iraq become the climactic battleground of the war against terrorism and Al-Qaeda, but that the current wave of violence may reflect Al-Qaeda's perception that it is losing the battle.
"People have often asked why has there been no terrorism in the United States since 9/11 and my answer to them is my answer to you. I believe Al Qaeda . . . their main focus right now is to defeat us in the very heart of their world. Their focus right now is on defeating us in Iraq. After all, they want to control the Middle East. They're not interested in controlling Las Vegas.
"They know if they defeat America in the heart of their world, the resonance that will have is enormous. In contrast, if we defeat them in the heart of their world in collaboration with other arabs and Muslims by putting together some kind of decent democracy there, it will be a terrible defeat. So what you're seeing is in many way acts of unspeakable violence. I mean, going into one of the most prominent Shiite shrines, the reason they're doing it is -- that in some ways they're losing. The closer we get to producing a decent outcome there, the crazier our opponents are going to get because they know if they lose it's strategic."
Will those in the center-left of our political spectrum heed Friedman's nuanced, somewhat sanguine message, or will we hear nothing but more of the "Iraq is a disaster" drumbeat from the Democratic political establishment?
Finkelstein lives in Ithaca, NY where he hosts the award-winning public access show 'Right Angle.' Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org