The Situation in Iraq

It’s clear we’ve entered a new and critical phase in the Iraq war. We can still win this thing, but only if we carefully read the signals coming from the Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish factions, and tailor a response that promotes our strategic interests.

This is where I fault the Bush administration. It seems the administration never understood the divergent interests of Iraq’s political players, and compounded that error by pursuing an ideological fantasy at odds with real-world geopolitics. It’s even possible to argue—and I stress "possible"—that the invasion itself was a monumental and unsalvageable foreign-policy catastrophe.

But whoa, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There’s still time to pull this one out. It just depends on those in power doing absolutely the right thing based on the information they have, taking into account our interests, and the interests of others in the region. I can’t put it any more clearly than that.

Lieberman’s Loss in Connecticut

If Ned Lamont’s upset victory over Joseph Lieberman means anything, it’s that a longtime Democratic senator fell out of touch with his liberal constituency.

But does it herald a sea change in national politics? I’m not so sure. At this stage, things could still break either way. We won’t know how the electorate as a whole is feeling until after the fall elections. Some people think I should make a more definite prediction. Hey, I’m a columnist, not a Vegas bookie.

Our Shared Values

Sometimes it’s helpful, in a troubled world, to keep in mind the values every culture shares.

Think about this: Every culture, from the ancient Greeks to every modern state, considers murder to be morally wrong. The intentional taking of another human life without legal justification? Out of bounds. No question.

We universally condemn other things as well. Poorly made electrical appliances, like the toaster that never gets anything golden brown. We all hate that. Overlong stays by in-laws is something else I would point to. Pederasty. Definitely high on the list. On the positive side, we all have at least one holiday on which families come together to celebrate a shared religious belief or cultural heritage.

Gives you hope, doesn’t it? We’ve just got to stay in there and keep pitching.

The Teletubbies

I’ve spoken to a lot of child-developmental psychologists, and still all I see is a quartet of emasculated babies in a post-apocalyptic landscape speaking high-pitched gibberish to a machine that feeds them custard. I’m sorry. I don’t get it.

Why They Hate Us

In 1982, when the Israeli military was shelling southern Lebanon, I had a memorable encounter with Kalil Aberzad, the proprietor of a sandwich cart in southern Beirut. I used to buy roast-beef sandwiches from Kalil, and considered him a friend. On the day I last saw Kalil, everything on the street he had called home had been laid to ruin, including his cart, which he claimed had been obliterated in a direct hit by an Israeli missile. I was skeptical the Israeli military would target a sandwich cart, but it was true that the bombs had buried the quiet corners of Kalil’s neighborhood beneath a dusty landscape of scattered concrete, twisted iron, and shattered glass.

As I made my way through the rubble, Kalil ran up to me, his shirt in rags, his hair a mess, and his skin stained with dirty sweat and blood. He grabbed my lapel and cried, “Mr. Friedman! How can we live if a country can rain bombs down on us like this? You tell me that, Mr. Friedman! You who know so much! What in God’s name are we to do?”

Moving to Laguna Beach

Like a lot of other guys, I often think this would be the answer. Nice cottage, within walking distance of the ocean. Maybe a hammock, a grill, and a close-by electrical outlet for the blender? Sailboat in the marina for when you want to be alone?

You gotta admit, it sounds pretty nice.

Why They Hate Us

I’ve said before the world doesn’t really hate us. Rather, a large number of people in the world—a majority, technically—resent our government’s support of repressive dictatorships in the Middle East and Central America, our use of radical extremists as proxy insurgents, and our failure to give due consideration to the Palestinian cause.

They don’t hate us, in other words, they just hate our foreign policy.

Fair enough. Don’t ignore me just because you don’t like the woman I brought to the dance, right?

But, at a certain point, people transfer their hatred of something to those responsible for causing it. If you don’t like the woman I brought to the dance, eventually you’ll blame me for her presence. Especially if you are the ex-wife, and you hold the woman I brought to the dance responsible for ending our marriage.

My point is, we seem to have reached a tipping point, past which the people of the world really do hate us. Not just our government. They hate us. You and me.

“OK, Tom,” I hear you say. “Great. Now they hate us. But I’ve got a job at Home Depot and three kids to support. If I could take back my vote for George W. Bush I would, but I can’t. That’s not how our system works. So what do you want me to do?”

That’s a fair question, and one I’ll be addressing in future columns, as the dynamic and direction of these problems become more clear, both to me and to the public at large. Could a sad history of misplaced American foreign-policy priorities be coming back to haunt a twilight empire?

Maybe. It’s just too early to say.