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Friedman’s Love Letter to a War Criminal

Sometimes newspapers publish credulous fluff pieces about their subjects, but Tom Friedman leaves them all in the dust with his encomium [1] to Mohammed bin Salman (MBS):

Unlike the other Arab Springs — all of which emerged bottom up and failed miserably, except in Tunisia — this one is led from the top down by the country’s 32-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and, if it succeeds, it will not only change the character of Saudi Arabia but the tone and tenor of Islam across the globe. Only a fool would predict its success — but only a fool would not root for it.

It would be more accurate to say that only a fool would be so quick to take all of this at face value. I don’t see the news value in having a prominent columnist working as a foreign leader’s publicist, but it is extremely useful for the crown prince to be given a major platform to deliver his spin to someone who will uncritically endorse it. There is practically nothing in the long profile that might displease its subject, whose assurances are taken as proof that he is the zealous “reformer” that his cheerleaders say that he is. Friedman tells us that he couldn’t find anyone with a bad word to say about MBS’ purges, as if anyone there would feel free to do so after the dramatic mass arrests that the crown prince has orchestrated.

I would like to dismiss this piece as the latest example of Friedman’s terrible, superficial analysis of the rest of the world, but unfortunately his eager acceptance of MBS’s self-serving claims is all too typical of Western reactions to the crown prince. Western pundits are always on the lookout for foreign leaders that say the right things about tolerance and reform, and when they find someone mouthing the words they tend to cast aside their skepticism and start “rooting” for that leader. Friedman swallows MBS’ propaganda hook, line, and sinker:

This anticorruption drive is only the second-most unusual and important initiative launched by M.B.S. The first is to bring Saudi Islam back to its more open and modern orientation — whence it diverted in 1979.

The Saudis have been spreading one of the most virulent, destructive forms of Islam around the world for decades, and they have been doing quite a lot to stoke sectarian hatred against Shia Muslims even more in the last decade. Even if Islam in Saudi Arabia before 1979 was “more open and modern” than it is now, I don’t buy for a second that that the same person who has been busy destabilizing the rest of the region in the name of hostility to Iran has a genuine interest in creating a “more open and modern” Islam. This is the sort of thing one says to get credulous Westerners to overlook the enormous crimes being perpetrated right now by the Saudis and their allies in Yemen.

Friedman does mention Yemen once, but it mostly amounts to reciting what MBS told him:

He insisted that the Saudi-backed war in Yemen, which has been a humanitarian nightmare, was tilting in the direction of the pro-Saudi legitimate government there, which, he said is now in control of 85 percent of the country, but given the fact that pro-Iranian Houthi rebels, who hold the rest, launched a missile at Riyadh airport, anything less than 100 percent is still problematic.

There is a reference to the “humanitarian nightmare” in the country, but Friedman has nothing to say about who is primarily responsible for creating that nightmare. He might have said that the tightening of the Saudi-led blockade was an outrageous act of collective punishment and a ridiculous overreaction to a single missile launch, but instead he said nothing at all. Friedman’s interview took place as the tightened coalition blockade was swiftly bringing about what the U.N. warns will be the worst famine in decades, and yet one looks in vain in this very long profile for the words blockade or famine. Imagine if someone wrote up a conversation with the head of Myanmar’s military and never said anything about the genocide they are carrying out right now. That is what Friedman did in his glowing, enthusiastic description of MBS’ agenda. MBS is only too happy to use prominent Western media outlets to launder his image, and the outlets that oblige him in whitewashing his government’s war crimes do tremendous harm to their credibility.

24 Comments (Open | Close)

24 Comments To "Friedman’s Love Letter to a War Criminal"

#1 Comment By Stephen J. On November 24, 2017 @ 9:25 am

Interesting article by Daniel Larson, I believe there are a lot of “War Criminals” out there. More info at link below.
November 24, 2017
The Slaughter of Millions by “The Good Guys”

#2 Comment By Me Profit On November 24, 2017 @ 10:44 am

Friedman has long been a sap for progressive tyrants. Now he is simply a pitiable irrelevance.

#3 Comment By Christian Chuba On November 24, 2017 @ 11:02 am

According to Friedman, the Houthis resorted to firing on a civilians because they are on the verge of losing their last bastion of territory to the Saudis. Wow, I’d love to know the list of websites he reads to get his version of reality.

I read Neocon websites and even there I haven’t heard this drivel, where is he finding these gems.

Great analogy regarding foreigners who know how to say things that people in the U.S. want to hear, funny how we always fall for it.
1. Chalabi in Iraq, 2. Libya with their govt in exile crowd, 3. MEK, and now MLB. We ignore rulers who actually have a track record governing their countries because they don’t bow to the U.S.

#4 Comment By Susan Citizen On November 24, 2017 @ 11:29 am

I read Friedman’s article in the NYT and was left speechless. The naïveté!

Quoting MbS (not M.B.S.)” It’s “ludicrous,” he said, to suggest that this anticorruption campaign was a power grab. ” Of course, if he denies that it is a power grab, it can’t be. As credible as Trump citing Roy Moore’s denial of kiddie-fiddling.

I lived in Saudi Arabia from 1978 to 1999 and agree that it became more conservative during that era. Completely veiling became more, not less common during that period. And persecution of Shiite Muslims became the norm as Iran gained power.
Saudi Arabia was hardly a paradise of liberty prior to that. The first state run school for females did not open until around 1960 and I never saw any Saudi women dressed the way Friedman describes. Magazines and newspapers were heavily censored both for political reasons and to preserve “modesty”.

The royal family, for whom the country is named, has always viewed the resources of the country as being their personal possessions to be shared only as a way of maintaining power. MbS is just narrowing ownership to his particular branch of the family. His preference for quasi-Western modernity does not justify his claim. This is a blatant power grab that may or may not turn out well for the Saudi people. But whatever its outcome it should not be seen as a late flowering of the Arab Spring. It is pure realpolitik, authoritarian-style and I am dumbfounded that Thomas Friedman should be so taken in.

#5 Comment By MEexpert On November 24, 2017 @ 12:37 pm

MbS is an Israeli stooge. It is Friedman’s assignment (by Israel) to make him look good in the United States. They were mistreating Shias even before the Iranian revolution. I taught at a Saudi University in the 70s and later Saudi Air Force personnel in the US. I personally heard horror stories from the Shia students. Saudi Arabia always had the fanatic Wahhabi doctrine. They only started exporting it after 1979. Friedman is losing his marbles.

#6 Comment By Ken On November 24, 2017 @ 1:54 pm

Friedman’s opinion piece is terrifying. MBS is a major war criminal. The fact that the NYT should be trying to whitewash him is an ominous sign.

#7 Comment By peterc On November 24, 2017 @ 1:58 pm

Thomas Friedman is sinking into irrelevancy.
His articles have a pleasant format – he is a good writer.
But the contents of his writings range from fake to insane!

#8 Comment By Ben On November 24, 2017 @ 4:19 pm

First thing I read today was the Friedman piece… which immediately fell into the “yeah, but” filter. Glad someone else tore this apart with out all the glad handing to the crown prince. I will agree with Friedman on one point, we can always hope. Trust, but verify.

#9 Comment By Raising Hell On November 24, 2017 @ 11:47 pm

“MBS is a major war criminal. The fact that the NYT should be trying to whitewash him is an ominous sign.”

But it’s a fine old NYT tradition. Goes back at least as far as Walter Duranty’s love letters to Stalin. They’ve hired some real filth in their time. Friedman may not be quite the least of it, but he’s far from the worst.

Meantime, MBS seems to have hired Americans who work or worked for some iteration of Blackwater to torture the Saudi princes he had arrested last month. Alwaleed was reportedly hung upside down before MBS’s American torturers went to work on him.

#10 Comment By Rusty Shackleford On November 25, 2017 @ 1:02 am

In rightly criticizing Friedman’s piece and Saudi Arabia’s role in the humanitarian disaster in Yemen, you forgot to mention the important role that the U.S. military is playing in it. We’re enabling it and we shouldn’t be surprised if our actions breed extremism and violence against us as a result.

#11 Comment By M On November 25, 2017 @ 7:59 am

In our country the main governing instrument is the Constitution and its understood application is in the thinking of Mr. Madison and the Federalist papers and the Declaration of Independence. Saudi Arabia has a similar methodology Quran, Sunnah of Mohammed and the Learned in Al Islam let us demand that they hold to those things or call them what they are.

#12 Comment By JoaoAlfaiate On November 25, 2017 @ 9:20 am

Despite Saudi Arabia’s lack of water they still managed to sell Friedman the Brooklyn Bridge.

#13 Comment By Orest Slepokura On November 25, 2017 @ 9:47 am

Judith Miller et al at the NYT sold people a war on Iraq on a false WMD premise in ’03. Friedman’s just another cog in a machine cranking out lies.

#14 Comment By cka2nd On November 25, 2017 @ 9:57 am

Me Profit says: “Friedman has long been a sap for progressive tyrants. Now he is simply a pitiable irrelevance.”

Really? Please point me to similar puff pieces by Friedman about Castro, Chavez, Aristede, Lula and Gaddafi, all of whom mmight be called progressive, if not a tyrant.

#15 Comment By cka2nd On November 25, 2017 @ 10:01 am

My mouth fell open as I read more and more of this piece. Friedman has always sucked, but my goodness, he seems to be taking stupid pills now.

#16 Comment By Anon On November 25, 2017 @ 1:22 pm

Yes, MbS is a war criminal.

But, so is Bush & Obama.

#17 Comment By Procivic On November 25, 2017 @ 1:28 pm

One has to question Friedman’s knowledge of world affairs when he compares the wildly irresponsible acts of the Saudi bogus “prince” to the Arab Spring. If he was a Middle Eastern journalist readers would say he is a beneficiary of Saudi largesse or he has a political motives in light of Israel’s opening to the Saudi regime.

#18 Comment By jk On November 25, 2017 @ 1:55 pm

An advertisement like this in the NYT should require a FARA registration. And liberals wonder why “deplorables” despise the MSM.

NYT employees columnists that only vary on the “Centrist” neo-lib to neo-con spectrum. They varied on how enthused they were to vote for Hillary. And they all have season tickets to Hamilton.

Though I admit Friedman is a good writer of many, pleasant to read, middle-brow, geo-political books.

#19 Comment By jk On November 25, 2017 @ 1:59 pm

And here is the complete opposite, gritty, and real story:

“Saudi Arabia still barring aid to Yemen despite pledge to lift siege”


How many times can pundit be wrong and not lose any credibility from the Stupid Iraq invasion to the present Saudi cheerleading?

#20 Comment By Liswat On November 25, 2017 @ 7:17 pm

I wonder how much money Friedman received by MBS just like how the Saudis spend millions on think tanks in DC whom many former U.S. officials work for writing propaganda in favor of the butchers of Saudi Arabia. MBS is nothing but another Saddam Hussein in the middle-east who will be coddled by our establishment until his services are no longer needed. Then, Friedman and the like will write their true colors about MBS. Yes, MBS is a thug tyrant (which I don’t care for it’s saudi Arabia’s issue) and a war criminal and an abuser of human rights. It is he who shall be in the Hague along side those Bosnian Serbs.

#21 Comment By sglover On November 26, 2017 @ 1:02 pm

And they wonder why American newspapers are dying, would be dead were it not for the odd oligarch willing to snap them up for fire sale prices.

#22 Comment By Offertory On November 26, 2017 @ 2:44 pm

@Susan Citizen : “I read Friedman’s article in the NYT and was left speechless. The naïveté!”

Would that it were naivete. It is almost certainly very deep cynicism. Deliberate distortion and lying. What to do you want to bet that Friedman was queued up for a nice interview of marshmallowy questions on Charlie Rose, until, ah …

These Establishment types aren’t naive. They’re dirty. Dirty to the marrow. Rose’s creepy sex moves and Friedman’s puffing and enabling of a butcher like MBS are of a piece.

#23 Comment By Horribilis On November 26, 2017 @ 5:19 pm

Just as butchers, murderers, and torturers were once presented in emollient or euphemistic terms by the New York Times because they seemed to be “on the right side of history” politically, they are now presented that way because they play nice with Israel. You can kill, dispossess, and torture as many of your other neighbors as you like so long as you don’t criticize Israel or support whomever Tel Aviv happens to dislike at a given moment.

In short, an MBS who did what he is doing to Yemen and called for the destruction of Israel would be dubbed a monster and an intolerable menace to humanity. But an MBS doing the same things to Yemen who shares enemies with Israel and says nothing about what Israel does to his fellow Arabs, well, that MBS is just fine …

#24 Comment By liberal On November 27, 2017 @ 10:25 am

Offertory wrote,

Would that it were naivete. It is almost certainly very deep cynicism. Deliberate distortion and lying.

In Friedman’s case, the answer to “stupid or evil?” really isn’t so clear. The man is clearly not intelligent.