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An Empire of Self-Delusion

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"An Empire of Self-Delusion"

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Thomas Friedman’s recent “green” turn sometimes makes me feel bad that I ever said anything mean about him, but then you go read something like this:

Yes, after two decades in which U.S. foreign policy has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny— in Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, Somalia, Lebanon, Kurdistan, post-earthquake Pakistan, post-tsunami Indonesia, Iraq and Afghanistan — a narrative that says America is dedicated to keeping Muslims down is thriving.

Next time you’re asked to defend the proposing “U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War has been largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to free them from tyranny” at a debate competition, you’re probably going to want to ask Friedman to join your team. But as a real characterization of American policy, this is laughable. And, indeed, from across the pond Alex Massie seems rather amused:

In one sense it is charming that the Cousins retain such a faith in their own idealism; in another it’s infuriating that they so often fail – Friedman being a regular exemplar of this – to appreciate that their idealism is a pretty cloak for America’s self-interest. There would be less wrong with this if America’s great idealism were applied more consistently. But since it isn’t it’s unwise to boast too much about it or to pretend that it’s the only motivation for US foreign policy and that if only this were more perfectly understood all would be well.

More than “charming” or “infuriating,” however, I think this sort of thing is positively dangerous. It’s one thing to make up fairy tales to amuse the children, but the danger the United States keeps stumbling into is a tendency among our elite to start believing the fairy tales. So before the invasion of Iraq we had people like Thomas Friedman and Jeffrey Goldberg assuring us that not only was invading a great idea but that invading would have a beneficial impact on Muslims’ assessment of the United States. Now we have Friedman stumbling around, baffled, as to why Muslims don’t see our policy as primarily driven by an effort to help them out. This kind of self-deception leads to very, very bad judgment.

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