Thomas Friedman’s Foreign Policy Sandbox

January 28, 2005

Can someone please explain to me why New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman considers certain European criticism of President Bush and America “touching”? I find that offensive.

First, in fairness to Mr. Friedman, let me try to provide the context of his statement. This enlightened Europhile, “having spent the last 10 days traveling to Britain, France, Germany and Switzerland,” believes that President Bush should deliver only one three-word speech “when he comes to Europe to mend fences next month. …: Read my ears.”

Translation: Don’t say anything; just listen. The Europeans are so thoroughly disgusted with President Bush’s decision to attack Iraq there is nothing he can say “that will change their minds about him or the Iraq war or U.S. foreign policy. Mr. Bush is more deeply disliked in Europe than any U.S. president in history.” Friedman hasn’t met one person who has “a good thing to say about [President Bush].”

How would it benefit President Bush (or America) if he followed Friedman’s advice? Well, he would deprive Europeans of the ammunition to make fun of, mock, laugh and sneer at him.

If that doesn’t persuade you, consider this bit of vicarious patronizing Friedman issues on behalf of his beloved Bush-hating Europeans:

“Listening is also a sign of respect. It is a sign that you actually value what the other person might have to say. If you just listen to someone first, it is amazing how much they will listen to you back. Most Europeans, though, are convinced that George Bush is deaf — that he cannot listen or hear. Just proving that he is not deaf, and therefore the Europeans don’t have to shout, would do wonders for Mr. Bush’s standing.”

Just for fun, let’s consider whether Friedman’s theory is likely to work in practice. One might reasonably assume that the opposition party in the president’s own country would be more receptive to his goodwill overtures than his detractors in Europe, no? So if President Bush were to try this method out on the Democrats, it ought to usher in an unprecedented era of bipartisan harmony.

Didn’t Mr. Bush employ that very approach when he came to office, doing everything he could to set “a new tone”? He treated Ted Kennedy like a king, giving him almost everything he wanted in the “No Child Left Behind” bill. But did that mollify Teddy and his colleagues?

To the contrary, they’ve been calling Bush an election thief and a liar about weapons of mass destruction for years. They have even accused him of being niggardly with federal education dollars, though he has allocated more of them than any of his predecessors in either party.

Why? Because they don’t want to get along; they are implacable. They are entrenched. They are determined to obstruct. How much more so European liberals who distrust him on their own even without the persistent encouragement from their counterparts in America.

Friedman’s mushy advice on the virtues of listening sounds just peachy, but underlying it is the presumption that President Bush has not considered the full spectrum of ideas on Iraq. It naively assumes that if he would just develop an open mind — not just open ears — he would inevitably change his foreign policy.

Why is it that liberals conclude that if you don’t agree with them, you just don’t have an open — or competent — mind? The answer is simply their stunning arrogance. The president would have to have lived in a cave not to have heard a thousand times all the arguments against his foreign policy.

But what if Mr. Bush followed Friedman’s advice? What if he listened to the European ingrates but still didn’t change his mind? Would that make them love him? No. They will only be satisfied, just like American liberals, if they are calling the shots: if Bush does exactly what they say. This nonsense about open-mindedness and listening is just puerile psychobabble.

But even more annoying is Friedman’s affectionate portrayal of the European criticism: “Some of it is very heartfelt, even touching.” Why so? Because deep down they envy us and “want America to be that open, foreigner-embracing, carefree, goofily enthusiastic place that cynical old Europe can never be.” They think Bush has turned America into “a strange new land that exports fear more than hope … a place whose greeting to visitors has gone from ‘Give me your tired, your poor’ to ‘Give me your fingerprints.’ They look at Mr. Bush as someone who stole something precious from them.” Now I’m touched.

This is almost too much to take. But even if you have the stomach to swallow this nonsense, do you think the European attitude Friedman describes would remotely change if President Bush “would just listen” to them?

We’re not playing in the sandbox, Mr. Friedman. Foreign policy is for adults.