Obama's Other 'Part-Time Foreign Policy Consultant' – NYT's Thomas Friedman – Mocks Israel, Congress

NewsBusters previously reported that CNN's Fareed Zakaria had met with President Obama face-to-face to discuss foreign policy. Obama's other reported "source" of information on foreign policy, New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman, mocked Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sunday on CNN, and added that he should have dutifully obeyed the demands Obama outlined in his recent Mideast speech.

According to a May 11 New York Times article, Friedman was one of two foreign policy journalists "sounded out" by President Obama for information on foreign affairs. The other, CNN's Fareed Zakaria, has previously criticized Israel's prime minister for not agreeing to the Israeli-Palestinian borders laid out by Obama in his Mideast speech.

[Click here for audio. Video below the break.]

 

Friedman, who essentially agreed with Zakaria that Netanyahu was in the wrong, dismissed the warm reception the prime minister received by Congress last week, saying that he could "stand up and read the phone book and be assured that a bunch of knuckleheads in the audience will stand and give...a standing ovation."

After thus mocking both Netanyahu and Congress, Friedman added that Netanyahu said "no" to Obama's speech when he should have said "yes."

"Let's say [Netanyahu] had stood before Congress and said, 'You know, my fellow friends and my American friends, your president, President Obama, has come to me and said that he believes that there's an opportunity here for a breakthrough with the Palestinians....When our best friend, our oldest ally, our most important strategic partner in the world, comes to me and makes the request, there's only one answer: Mr. President, yes."

Friedman added later for emphasis that "there's only one right answer. 'Yes, sir. We will do that. Barack Obama, this Bud's for you'."

However, perhaps the strangest argument Friedman made was that Netanyahu would be coldly received by student governments on college campuses across the country, the future politicians of America – as if that was a substantial blot on the prime minister's credentials.

"If you went to those student governments, they're the future. They're the future of voters. They're the future people who will maintain the strategic relationship with Israel. And there, I can tell you, as anyone who goes to college campuses knows, that people don't get Israel, what Israel is doing right now," Friedman contended.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on May 29 at 1:04 p.m. EDT, is as follows:

FAREED ZAKARIA: So what does it look like to Thomas Friedman, the author of "From Beirut to Jerusalem," winner of three Pulitzer Prizes, "New York Times" columnist. Tom, this week, whatever criticisms you may have or I may have, Bibi Netanyahu goes back to Israel and he is hailed a hero.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, New York Times foreign affairs columnist: There's no question that when you stand up to a foreign power, you assert, you know, your demands. There's going to be a constituency back in Israel that's going to support that. It's good work, Fareed, if you can get it. But what happens next week? You know, I think we have to step back and really ask the big strategic question: why is Israel popular? Why has this been an enduring relationship all these years? Why does that cameraman and, you know, that sound person support Israel, whether they're Jewish or not Jewish? It's because we see them like us. We see them as a country that shares our -- our values. And, most importantly, we see -- we see Israel as a bastion of democracy in the Middle East.

That's Israel's greatest strategic strength vis-a-vis the United States. And what, you know, those of us who have been critical of Prime Minister Netanyahu on this issue are basically saying is that's precisely what is imperiled if there is no peace agreement that allows Israel to cede the West Bank to a Palestinian authority in a safe and secure way so it doesn't absorb all those Palestinians, so we don't end up with a situation where a Jewish minority is ruling over an Arab majority between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. We know where that goes. That's called Jewish apartheid.

That – that would be the biggest strategic threat to Israel. And the way you know that is if you look at the strategy of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. What is their strategy? It is to make sure Israel must never leave the West Bank. OK? Because as long as Israel's there, that is the key to their strategy for globally de- legitimizing Israel. Why play into that strength?

ZAKARIA: But he gets 29, 28 standing ovations in Congress.

FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, there's a parallel between what the Palestinians could get at the U.N. and what the Israelis can get in Congress. They can both stand up and read the phone book and be assured that a bunch of knuckleheads in the audience will stand and give them a standing ovation.

So -- but let's think about how Bibi could have really gotten a standing ovation. That would also have been in his long-term interest. Let's say Bibi had stood before Congress and said, you know, my fellow friends and my American friends, your president, President Obama, has come to me and said that he believes that there's an opportunity here for a breakthrough with the Palestinians. I have to tell you, I personally don't believe it.

But I know one thing. When our best friend, our oldest ally, our most important strategic partner in the world, comes to me and makes the request, there's only one right answer. Mr. President, yes. You want a six-month moratorium on settlement building? I've already got 500,000 settlers in Jerusalem and the West Bank. You know what, Mr. President? That's not really a strategic risk for me. The potential payoff of that is so great, I don't believe it. I'm skeptical. But when you, President Obama, ask me that, there's only one right answer. Yes, sir. We will do that. Barack Obama, this Bud's for you. Then he would have gotten a standing ovation that would have not just included the U.S. Congress, it would have included Europeans. It would have included Arabs. It would have included people all over America. They said hey, there's a guy who's going the extra mile.

And that's my point, Fareed. I have no idea whether there is a Palestinian partner for a secure peace with Israel along the lines that President Clinton has laid out. I just know one thing. Given the implications for Israel, if it gets stuck permanently holding the West Bank, it is in Israel's overwhelming interest to test, test and test again, OK? Because that would be a huge strategic threat to Israel if it has no choice but to absorb the West Bank.

ZAKARIA: But you travel there a lot and you know the American Jewish community here. Both those crucial constituencies – it's always struck me that to get peace, you're going to have to convince a majority of Israelis because they have the land. They have the land and the guns, in a sense, that they're the power on the ground. It's drifting to the right. It's – they are less interested in the kind of deal you're describing.

FRIEDMAN: Well, you do have -- you have a more conservative on this issue, right wing, whatever you want, nationalist population in Israel now between the growing orthodox population and the Russian Jews. There's no – there's no question about that. You know, as far as American Jews, you know – you know, to me, the question, Fareed, is yes, Bibi Netanyahu, because of political reasons and campaign donations and AIPAC's influence, can get standing ovations in the U.S. Congress anytime they want, seven days a week, 24/7. How many standing ovations do you think he could get at the student government at the University of Missouri? At Stanford? At Harvard? At the University of Virginia? At the University of Texas? If you went to those student governments, they're the future. They're the future of voters. They're the future people who will maintain the strategic relationship with Israel. And there, I can tell you, as anyone who goes to college campuses knows, that people don't get Israel, what Israel is doing right now. They – some are alienated. Some – more – and this is a bigger problem, more just – I don't – it's messy. I don't want to get involved in this at all. And, you know, that's where – what (Inaudible) – don't worry about me. I mean, I grew up, you know, identifying with Israel very strongly, believing in a two-state solution that – the right of the Jewish people to a state in the Middle East, next to a Palestinian state, you're not going to lose me, you know? But what I don't see is people like me, Jews or non-Jews, being emotionally involved in this issue, growing up and caring about it. So that's – that's the long term. That's Israel's strategic strength.

But, again, Fareed, I -- I understand. This is complicated. The Palestinians have missed a million opportunities, including with the last Israeli government. And there's a really legitimate question to ask, can they get their act together? Forget for a hard-line deal, for the deal that President Clinton put out, that Olmert, the previous Israeli prime minister – I don't know. But I just know one thing, you've got to test, test and test again, because the implications of not are strategically, enormously dangerous.

ZAKARIA: When you look at Israel today, what I'm struck by is at some level it's so secure. There's – there's booming economy. It's powerful military, it's gotten more powerful every year. Nuclear arsenals, some of which is on submarines. And yet –

FRIEDMAN: They behave "like a disarmed Costa Rica," as Abba Eban once said, you know, and this is not a disarmed Costa Rica. This is a powerful country, with a – with a powerful society, a – a powerful economy. And – but, again, I understand – nine miles wide at its narrowest. I wouldn't ask Israel to take any risks that – seem unreasonable. But, boy, if they could strike a deal now with the Palestinians, when you do have actually a decent Palestinian authority, there's – that has actually built a security force that the Israeli Army will tell you has – has been effective. You know, this is what I've been saying from the beginning of the Arab revolt, Fareed, which is that when is the time to make big decisions in life? It's when you have all the leverage on your side. You see farther. You – you think more clearly. What did Hosni Mubarak do? He had 30 years of leverage vis-a-vis the Egyptian people to democratize his county. He didn't do it. He didn't use it. And then, in one week, he tried to do what he should have done over 30 years. He failed. Completely. People didn't believe a word he said.

You – you don't want Netanyahu to be the Hosni Mubarak of the peace process, where Israelis look back and say we had all this time, decent Palestinian authority to test – I'm not saying cut a deal. I don't know whether there's a deal – but to really test whether they can deliver and do what we can to embolden and encourage and empower them, and we didn't use it. We sat back and said, look, I got a good poll from my week in Washington. Well, la-dee-da, I mean, we threw you a fish. What is that good for, you know? Ultimately, you want to anchor this in a really secure relationship. You don't want to be the Hosni Mubarak of the peace process, where people say what did you do when you had all that leverage? What – you cited a poll?

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014