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The Unbearable Lightness of Tom Friedman's Thinking

Tom Friedman thinks that the American people are stupid.

Not all of us, mind you. Just those of us who believe 9/11 was an act of war committed by representatives of an ideology intent on destroying us. Whether they are capable of doing so is not the point. Whether the “war” against this murderous ideology is a “real war” in the classic sense of the word or not doesn’t matter. Our enemies believe they are at war with us and think they can destroy us.

But Friedman believes that 9/11 “has knocked America completely out of balance.” War has a tendency to do that, but you’d never know it by listening to people like Friedman, who wring their hands over the fact that their nice, comfortable existence was upended by what happened on that horrible day.

This curiously petulant op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times has Friedman announcing that the 9/11 era is at an end and it’s time to move on to 9/12. He bemoans the loss of “openness” in America. He worries that people don’t like to come here anymore because of our restrictive visa and entry policies. He pines for the good old days before Iraq, before Guantanamo (which he wants to see closed and made into a free health care clinic for “poor” Cubans – as if there were any other kind) when the American “brand” was “Where anything is possible for anybody.”

He cites a study by a group with a vested interest in making it easier for foreigners to enter the United States as “proof” that our entry procedures are stopping people from visiting. No mention by Friedman how many terrorists the procedures have stopped from coming here but then, that’s beside the point, isn’t it? The point is, we are wildly unpopular and our global “brand” can now be described as “Give me your tired, your poor and your fingerprints.”

Clever but a gross exaggeration. There are many reasons for the fall-off in business travel to America, and I’m sure our visa and entry processes are part of the problem. But to change policies that have worked at keeping us safe because we are now an unpopular destination is just not rational. Given the choice, most Americans would prefer to have government policies reflect the notion that we should keep people out who wish to do us harm. Anything we can do to facilitate that goal is preferable to pandering to the sensibilities of a bunch of Euro-tourists who sniff at everything American in the first place and pass up no opportunity to criticize us anyway.

In short, Friedman wants to live in a 9/12 America – except the America he wants to live in is where the 2001 calendar shows September missing a day close to the middle of the month.

Friedman doesn’t want to move on from 9/11. He wants to pretend that 9/11 never happened. He wants to return to the time where our “openness” cost us dearly. This is not to say that reforms shouldn’t be made to policies that have shown themselves to be stupid or ineffective. That too would be irrational. But Friedman’s thesis is that the precautions we have taken since 9/11 are making us unpopular around the world and have roiled our politics here at home.

I must admit he has a valid point about politicians and 9/11. In an obvious dig at Rudy Giuliani, Friedman writes that he won’t vote for anyone for president who runs on 9/11. I, too, am through with the pols exploiting the tragedy for one reason or another, trying to show one side stupid and the other unpatriotic. I am sick to death of the arguments over who was more at fault, what should have been done differently, and most of all, the 9/11 truth movement, whose shrill stupidity is a most unwelcome addition to the history of that tragic date.

But you can’t move on to 9/12 without acknowledging that 9/11 happened. It is apparent that Friedman believes the US would be a better place if 9/11 never occurred and we never had to respond to the dangers it exposed. This is not only stating the obvious but calls into question Mr. Friedman’s cognitive thinking skills. What else is one to think when he writes something so blatantly obtuse as this:

9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 – mine included – has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again.

It is not that I thought we had new enemies that day and now I don’t. Yes, in the wake of 9/11, we need new precautions, new barriers. But we also need our old habits and sense of openness. For me, the candidate of 9/12 is the one who will not only understand who our enemies are, but who we are.

Excuse me, but didn’t many of those “old habits” lead to 9/11 in the first place? Even a cursory reading of the 9/11 Commission Report reveals a nation where those “old habits” of thinking about our safety and security directly led to the tragedy. And how America viewed its own security played a huge role in how “open” we wanted our society to be. Thus, how can we reacquire those “old habits” without pretending that 9/11 was just a bad dream?

At bottom what Friedman pines for is a country that can take its safety and security for granted. In the end, so much of what we were and how we saw ourselves prior to 9/11 was wrapped up in our absolute certainty that we were invulnerable. Arguments about whether we are safer today as a result of our policies are irrelevant. The fact that we are having the discussion in the first place is what matters – a topic of conversation that was absolutely unthinkable on September 10, 2001.

I sympathize with Friedman’s desire to put 9/11 in some kind of perspective. We can blame the politicians and political polarization for preventing us from doing that. But by placing 9/11 in the context of “who we are” and narrowly defining the parameters of its consequences as Friedman wants to do, we run the risk of losing sight of why the changes that 9/11 has forced upon us are necessary. We may not like many of them. We may wish to alter (not abandon) some policies that have been shown to be inconsistent with our national self-image. No doubt if a Democrat is elected president next year, such reforms will be mandated by the will of the people.

But no matter how 9/11 settles itself into our national consciousness, we cannot ignore its imprint on the American psyche. Friedman isn’t only saying that 9/11 should no longer color everything we do. He is asking us to forget its lessons and substitute an easy familiarity with the horror for the dire warning it must be taken as.

A huge price to pay for living in Friedman’s 9/12 world.

Rick Moran blogs at Right Wing Nut House.