Tom Friedman’s Hapless Fear-Mongering

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

Tom Friedman’s latest column obviously wasn’t fact-checked before it was published:

And then, a few weeks later, Trump ordered the killing of Suleimani, an action that required him to shift more troops into the region and tell Iraqis that we’re not leaving their territory, even though their Parliament voted to evict us. It also prompted Iran to restart its nuclear weapons program [bold mine-DL], which could well necessitate U.S. military action.

Friedman’s claim that Iran restarted a “nuclear weapons program” is completely false. That isn’t what the Iranian government did, and it is irresponsible to say this when it is clearly untrue. Iran has no nuclear weapons program, and it hasn’t had anything like that for more than sixteen years. The Iranian government took another step in reducing its compliance with the JCPOA in the days following the assassination, but contrary to other misleading headlines their government did not abandon the nuclear deal. Iran has not repudiated its commitment to keep its nuclear program peaceful, and it doesn’t help in reducing tensions to suggest that they have. Trump’s recent actions are reckless and dangerous, but it is wrong to say that those actions have caused Iran to start up a nuclear weapons program. That isn’t the case, and engaging in more threat inflation when tensions are already so high is foolish. Friedman is not the only one to make this blunder, but it is the sort of sloppy mistake we expect from him.

If this were just another error from Friedman, it would be annoying but it wouldn’t matter very much. This has to do with the nature of our debate over Iran policy and the nuclear issue in particular. This matters because there is a great deal of confusion in this country about Iran’s nuclear program that the Trump administration has deliberately encouraged. They have promoted dishonest claims about the JCPOA and made unfounded claims about Iran’s so-called “nuclear ambitions” in order to make it seem as if the Iranian government is trying to acquire nuclear weapons. They have done this to justify their hard-line policies and to lay the groundwork for pursuing regime change and war. Every time that someone repeats false claims about a non-existent “nuclear weapons program” in Iran, it creates unnecessary fear and plays into the administration’s hands. The administration is already working overtime to propagandize the public and scare Americans into supporting aggressive and destructive policies against Iran, and no one should be giving them extra help.

The second part of Friedman’s sentence is also quite dangerous, because it encourages his readers to think that the US would somehow be justified in attacking Iran in the unlikely event that they started developing a nuclear weapon. He suggests that an Iranian nuclear weapons program might “necessitate” military action, but any attack on Iran under those circumstances would be illegal and a war of choice just like the invasion of Iraq that Friedman supported almost 17 years ago. Even when Friedman seems to be skeptical of something that the government has done, he can’t help but indulge in threat inflation and lend support to the idea of preventive war.

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.

9 thoughts on “Tom Friedman’s Hapless Fear-Mongering”

  1. ”…threat infliation…sloppy type of work we have come to expect from him (Thomas L Friedman)…” says Daniel Larison. Fear is the engine room of Imperial Propaganda. Thomas L. has been the biggest salesman for Globalism: the religion of Empire for over twenty one years.

  2. Where is your proof that “Friedman’s claim that Iran restarted a “nuclear weapons program” is completely false”? I’m not saying you are wrong, but people make claims like this all the time and have no proof to back it up. Thanks

    1. Nuclear weapons require physics knowledge annd specific manufacturing techniques – tracable techiques by inspection.. Tracable techniques written into an enforcable contract. Are you saying, that that European and American scientists. are not wise to these techniques? Are you saying – that Thomas L Friedman who is a well know and complete salesman for Globalism knows more than Daniel Larison? Are you saying -that the previous administtration of the US was permissive & ignorant of tracable inspection techniques? No? – perhaps you are saying that – you are unfamilar with the details, and specifics of this Agreement. Given the repeition of professioisnal liars thatta fill the American media landscape and antiIranian propagandists, the truth is often covered up to manufacture consent.

  3. And, I am not a warmonger, and I believe the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were huge mistakes. I am 100% against regime change and nation building strategies. I am not, however, against defending ourselves, which may include targeted killings of certain war leaders or players. It appears that Soleimani was one of the worst warmongers in the middle east, and appears that the Iranian people and maybe many in the Iranian govt are glad he’s gone. This may have been one of the best actions toward a more peaceful mid east that could have happened. People on your blog site are talking about Trump being impulsive and not considering the consequences of his actions, but I see just the OPPOSITE! From what I’ve read, this targeted killing was planned out over 18 months. Trump didn’t just wake up and decide “lets kill Soleimani”. The military has been watching him and spying on him, and found an opportunity…presented it to the president, who gave a thumbs up! He was briefed on the options and consequences. I’m against war, but sometimes war is a necessary thing. So, for me, war is a last option…but, when you are down to your last option, you use it.

    1. “It appears that Soleimani was one of the worst warmongers in the middle east,” He was a general, and his actions in recent years have largely got rid of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, which “we” claim we want and have done. He is only “an enemy” because Israel has convinced Trump that Iran is some sort of wicked entity that “hates us” while the JCPOA was an agreement to ensure no dangerous actions took place.

    2. Circle back to 2002
      “And, I am not a warmonger, and I believe the wars in Vietnam , wars in Granada and Kosovo were huge mistakes. I am 100% against regime change and nation building strategies.It appears that Saddam is one of the worst warmongers in the middle east, and appears that the Iraqi people and maybe many in the Iraqi govt would be glad he’s gone
      I’m against war, but sometimes war is a necessary thing. So, for me, war is a last option.”

      Options? How many options are required ? US changes goal post . USA reneges . US can’t be trusted .
      Were 2003 Feb Saddam offer or JCOPA were good options for US to agree to ? .

      Suliema works for regime just the like drone operator or Pompeo work for USA.

      Both will listen to the regimes . Iran has been asking for bargain. This travel was about a bargain and truce US had agreed to..

  4. Friedman uses his old tactics to keep the narrative straight unaltered – say few honest things and enter a flat-out lie that has been discredited but has not lost the appeal, worry,fear and has not lost the potential use as a political or moral cudgel for starting new wars.

  5. Friedman has been a tired, Third-Way neoliberal globalist for decades now. Stopped reading him during the GW Bush administration and don’t feel I’m lacking his wisdom in my life.

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