Published on Wednesday, January 14, 2009 by Salon.com
Tom Friedman Offers a Perfect Definition of 'Terrorism'
Tom Friedman, one of the nation's leading propagandists for the Iraq War and a vigorous supporter of all of Israel's wars, has a column today in The New York Times  explaining and praising the Israeli attack on
In any event, Friedman's column today is uncharacteristically and refreshingly honest. He explains that the 2006 Israeli invasion and bombing of
Israel's counterstrategy was to use its Air Force to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical. Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians - the families and employers of the militants - to restrain Hezbollah in the future.
Friedman says that he is "unsure" whether the current Israeli attack on
The war strategy which Friedman is heralding -- what he explicitly describes with euphemism-free candor as "exacting enough pain on civilians" in order to teach them a lesson -- is about as definitive  of a war crime as it gets . It also happens to be the classic, textbook definition of "terrorism." Here is how the U.S. Department of State defined "terrorism"  in its 2001 publication, Patterns of Global Terrorism :
No one definition of terrorism has gained universal acceptance. For the purposes of this report, however, we have chosen the definition of terrorism contained in Title 22 of the
The term "terrorism" means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant (1) targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. . . .
(1) For purposes of this definition, the term "noncombatant" is interpreted to include, in addition to civilians, military personnel who at the time of the incident are unarmed and/or not on duty.
Other than the fact that Friedman is advocating these actions for an actual state rather than a "subnational group," can anyone identify any differences between (a) what Friedman approvingly claims was done to the Lebanese and what he advocates be done to Palestinians and (b) what the State Department formally defines as "terrorism"? I doubt anyone can. Isn't Friedman's "logic" exactly the rationale used by Al Qaeda : we're going to inflict "civilian pain" on Americans so that they stop supporting their government's domination of our land and so their government thinks twice about bombing more Muslim countries? It's also exactly the same "logic" that fuels the rockets from Hezbollah and Hamas into
It should be emphasized that the mere fact that Tom Friedman claims that this is
Some opponents of the Israeli war actually agree with Friedman about the likely goals of the attack on
This war on the people of
This AP article  yesterday described how "terrified residents ran for cover Tuesday in a densely populated neighborhood of
The efficacy of Friedman's desired strategy of inflicting pain on Palestinian civilians in order to change their thinking and behavior is unclear. The lack of clarity is due principally to the fact that
Still, white phosphorus can cause injury, and a growing number of Gazans report being hurt by it, including in Beit Lahiya, Khan Yunis, and in eastern and southwestern
Luay Suboh, 10, from Beit Lahiya, lost his eyesight and some skin on his face Saturday when, his mother said, a fiery substance clung to him as he darted home from a shelter where his family was staying to pick up clothes.
The substance smelled like burned trash, said Ms. Jaawanah, the mother who fled her home in Zeitoun, who had experienced it too. She had no affection for Hamas, but her sufferings were changing that. "Do you think I'm against them firing rockets now?" she asked, referring to Hamas. "No. I was against it before. Not anymore."
It's far easier to imagine a population subjected to this treatment becoming increasingly radicalized and belligerent rather than submissive and compliant, as Friedman intends. But while the efficacy of The Friedman Strategy is unclear, the fact that it is a perfect distillation of a "war crime" and "terrorism" is not unclear at all.
One might ordinarily find it surprising that our elite opinion-makers are so openly and explicitly advocating war crimes and terrorism ("inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large" and "'educate' Hamas by inflicting heavy pain on the Gaza population"). But when one considers that most of this, in the U.S., is coming from the very people who applied the same "suck-on-this" reasoning  to justify the destruction of Iraq, and even more so, when one considers that our highest political officials are now so openly  -- even proudly  -- acknowledging their own war crimes , while our political and media elites desperately (and almost unanimously) engage in every possible maneuver to protect them from any consequences from that , Friedman's explicit advocacy of these sorts of things is a perfectly natural thing to see.
UPDATE: In comments, casual_observer -- with ample citations -- objects  to my characterization of white phosphorus reports in Gaza as "unconfirmed," and argues that while the substance does have permissible and legitimate uses under the laws of war, this particular usage in urban areas can be used to sow terror in the civilian population -- i.e., is an ideal instrument for advancing The Friedman Strategy.
Quite relatedly, Iraq War veteran Brandon Friedman chronicles the truly disturbed warrior fantasies  that are becoming increasingly common (and increasingly disturbed) on the war-cheerleading Right. The relationship between that pathology and people like Friedman is too obvious to require any elaboration.
UPDATE II: In response to multiple comments protesting that Israel does not seek to kill civilians, permit me to make clear, again, that the criticism here is directed towards Tom Friedman's claims about what Israel's motives are and should be in bombing and invading Lebanon and Gaza. I'm not assuming that those are actually
It should be emphasized that the mere fact that Tom Friedman claims that this is
The other point worth noting is that for an American citizen to criticize
This objection ("why are you complaining about Israel but not the rebels in Sri Lanka?") rests on the same fallacy as the accusation that American citizens are being "anti-American" when they criticize the actions of their own government more than the actions of other governments ("Why are you complaining that Bush waterboards when North Korea starves its citizens to death and Iran stones gay people?"). Citizens bear a particular responsibility to object to unjust actions which their own Government engages in or enables. It shouldn't be the case -- but it is -- that Americans fund, arm and enable
One final note: the fact that all sorts of prior wars, including ones waged by Western powers, contain events that could comfortably fit the definition of "terrorism" isn't a refutation of the point I'm making. If anything, it bolsters the point. "Terrorism" is probably the single most elastic and easily manipulated term in our political lexicon. Who the perpetrators and victims are of "terrorism" is almost always a function of who is wielding the term rather than some objective assessment. Aimlessly shooting rockets towards civilians (as Hamas and Hezbollah do) and dropping bombs from 35,000 feet that you know will slaughter many civilians while viewing that slaughter as a strategic benefit (as Friedman advocates) are acts that have far more in common with each other than differences.
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Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs