No one will claim that Thomas Friedman knows what he’s talking about, but even for one of his columns this was remarkably bad:
I confess that when I first saw the May 17 picture of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, joining his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with raised arms — after their signing of a putative deal to defuse the crisis over Iran’s nuclear weapons program — all I could think of was: Is there anything uglier than watching democrats sell out other democrats to a Holocaust-denying, vote-stealing Iranian thug just to tweak the U.S. and show that they, too, can play at the big power table?
No, that’s about as ugly as it gets.
Apparently Friedman has lived a rather sheltered life. Was it as “ugly as it gets” when FDR and Churchill sat with Stalin at Yalta and carved up Europe, condemning half of it to oppression and domination? It wasn’t pleasant, but it was most likely necessary to avoid another general war. What about when Nixon met with Mao, one of the most destructive rulers in modern history, for the sake of American strategic advantage? Was that an example of prudent statecraft, or was it “as ugly as it gets”? I ask because the crimes of the Iranian regime, while very real and awful, are as nothing compared to the crimes of totalitarian governments that the U.S. has on occasion treated as allies or diplomatic partners. Despite that, we’re going to condemn two democratic governments for attempting a constructive solution to a diplomatic impasse that our government seems incapable of resolving?
Turkey and Brazil did not do this “just to tweak the U.S.” I can’t rule out that some in their governments might have found upstaging America attractive, and rising powers inevitably clash with established ones when they begin to act more assertively, but how hopelessly self-absorbed can Americans be that we think this is purely a gesture directed against us? Turkey and Brazil have economic and diplomatic relations with Iran that they want to cultivate, they simply don’t believe in the Iranian threat as Washington does, and they are taking their moment as non-permanent members of the Security Council to use their growing economic and political clout. This is not insidious or outrageous. It is part of the reality of international relations today, and it has far more to do with relations among Turkey, Brazil and Iran than it has to with with “tweaking” America. That most American observers seem incapable of seeing that is dispiriting.
Where exactly did Turkey and Brazil “sell out other democrats”? In fact, they did nothing of the sort. It’s true, they didn’t engage in the useless posturing that Iran hawks have insisted the President engage in over the last year, but frankly that is to their credit rather than their shame. They offered the beginning of a way to settle the Iranian nuclear issue, which would, if successful, reduce the international pressure on Iran that provides Iran’s authoritarian government with unearned political capital that it can use to strengthen its position at home. That can only help the opposition. The deal would have permitted Iran to develop a nuclear program that most of its people support, and it could have avoided the continued pursuit of additional sanctions that the Iranian opposition clearly opposes. If Iran hawks got the sanctions they wanted imposed, Iran’s opposition would probably wither and disappear. Nothing could be more useful to Iran’s authoriarians than the constant outside vilification directed at Iran on account of its nuclear program. It is laughable that Friedman thinks he is “on the side of the angels” by endorsing Washington’s current confrontational course, which will do no more to delay Iran’s possible acquisition of a bomb than the deal Turkey and Brazil proposed. Instead, it will almost certainly hasten the day when Iran’s government believes it has no choice but to build nuclear weapons.
In the meantime, this confrontational course will create the crisis atmosphere in which a repressive government thrives and a peaceful democratic opposition suffocates. It is not Lula and Erdogan that have sold out Iran’s democrats. On the contrary, it has been their short-sighted enthusiasts in the West who offer them nothing but lip service and then turn around and pursue the policies that will badly weaken or even destroy their chances at realizing peaceful political change.