New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman appeared on Wednesday's "Good Morning America" to gush that the very act of Barack Obama going on his Middle East trip makes one think "he comes back a little wiser, a little smarter." Friedman also asserted that the candidate's middle name, Hussein, would be a plus for him as president. He opined, "I was in Cairo a few weeks ago. And one of things that was so striking is how impressed Egyptians were, simply with the prospect that after 9/11, Americans might actually elect a man whose middle name was Hussein."
(Of course, members of the media became apoplectic when radio talk show host Bill Cunningham used Obama's middle name at a campaign rally for John McCain. In this case, apparently, it's okay.) GMA co host Diane Sawyer set up the Friedman critique by very carefully offering qualifiers about how "we know [Obama] is absolutely American. Absolutely a Christian." She then offered up the new spin that Obama's heritage could be a presidential positive: " ...But in the greater Arab world, does his parental history, his father's history, mean he can move the Arabs more than someone else might be able to?"
On a topic unrelated to the 2008 race, Friedman snidely suggested Americans were like crack addicts in their use of foreign oil. He scolded Obama and McCain for believing the U.S. has a "gasoline price problem." He then analogized, "Well, I don't think that's the problem any more than a crack addict has a crack price problem."
Earlier in the segment, the NYT columnist found another positive assessment for the Democratic presidential candidate. Agreeing with Sawyer that Senator McCan was "right" about the surge, Friedman claimed, "And what the surge, though, has ironically done is make Iraq safe for Barack Obama's foreign policy and the prime minister of Iraq Nouri al Maliki's domestic policy."
He added, "So the sad thing from McCain's point of view is, yes, he was right, but the story has moved on quickly past 'Were you right or wrong about the surge?' to the effect of the surge on the whole region and the American presence in Iraq." Well, who is moving the discussion past this point? Wouldn't it make sense for Friedman and other journalists to question just how badly Obama got the surge wrong and what else he would misjudge as president?
A transcript of the July 23 segment, which aired at 7:09am, follows:
DIANE SAWYER: And as Obama moves on to Europe, perfect time to hear from Washington from one of the best known guides to the Mideast world and the world at large for that matter, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, author of "The World is Flat." Good morning, Tom.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Good morning, Diane.
ABC GRAPHIC: How the World Sees the Race: Tom Friedman Weighs In
SAWYER: What about Charlie's question? Was something accomplished here by this trip? How did Obama do as a player on the Mideast stage?
FRIEDMAN: Well, he sort of didn't make any visible gaffes so far. You know, Diane, as someone who is a columnist and deals with foreign affairs, I've always had a motto: If you don't go, you don't know. And I've never taken a trip abroad that I didn't learn something by interacting with people on the ground, smelling, hearing, listening and I'm sure he has, as well. Did he just get a Masters degree in Middle East studies? No. But you have to think he comes back a little wiser, a little smarter.
SAWYER: And what about the reaction to him overseas? How have they been reporting it? And we know he is absolutely American. Absolutely a Christian, but in the greater Arab world, does his parental history, his father's history, mean he can move the Arabs more than someone else might be able to?
FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, I was in Cairo a few weeks ago. And one of the things that was so striking is how impressed Egyptians were simply with the prospect that after 9/11, Americans might actually elect a man whose middle name was Hussein. Many of them, you know, think he is of Middle Eastern origin or has some Muslim background, which he doesn't, but it was actually quite a compliment by them to America, because many of them look around at their own societies and ask, could someone like that, someone from such a minority background ever be elected president of our country? And the answer is no and they're actually quietly impressed with America for simply giving Obama the chance they've given him so far.
SAWYER: Let me address for a minute, McCain-- Senator McCain's reaction to the trip. He's had sort of a two-pronged reaction. One is to complain about the vaunted media coverage of it all but the other was to keep saying, no one is holding Barack Obama accountable for opposing the surge in Iraq. I'm going to play the clip and ask you if he's got a fair point.
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: The surge has succeeded. It has succeeded. We are winning the war. If we'd have done what Senator Obama wanted, we'd have lost.
SAWYER: So is he right that if Senator Obama's wish not to have a surge had been fulfilled that we would have lost?
FRIEDMAN: Well, you know what I wrote this morning, Diane, is that you can understand where McCain is coming from. As someone who supported the war and had, you know, himself beaten up for four years for that, he took a very strong, early position in support of the surge and he was right. And what the surge, though, has ironically done is make Iraq safe for Barack Obama's foreign policy and the prime minister of Iraq Nouri al Maliki's domestic policy. What do I mean by that? You know, Obama has kind of been in the same place for a long time. Once I'm president, he says, "I will withdraw all combat forces from Iraq within 16 months." And basically that position now, now that the surge has worked, has a certain viability on the ground. At the same time, the prime minister of Iraq now that the surge has worked understands that Iraq is going to have parliamentary and provincial elections and the issue of the American presence in Iraq will be a political issue. And that's why the prime minister of Iraq is also saying, "Hmm, I think that Obama guy has got it right," 'cause he doesn't want to be outflanked by any of his domestic opponents in terms of calling for the Americans to withdraw. So the sad thing from McCain's point of view is, yes, he was right, but the story has moved on quickly past "Were you right or wrong about the surge?" to the effect of the surge on the whole region and the American presence in Iraq.
SAWYER: Must be confounding politically to the McCain camp to have that happen. One quick question to you. You've been tough on the Bush administration for the failure to lead America off of dependence on foreign oil or to begin to, anyway. Called the president "the addict in chief." Anything you see from either of the two candidates, Obama or McCain, that leads you to believe that they will break dependence on foreign oil?
FRIEDMAN: I really haven't seen anything serious coming from them. They continue to focus really the same way the President does, to tell the American people, we have a problem. We have a gasoline price problem. Well, I don't think that's the problem any more than a crack addict has a crack price problem. Our problem is we're addicted to a fuel, fossil fuels, that are causing petro dictatorship all over the world, shipping billions of dollars abroad weakening the dollar, causing climate change, and that's our problem and our solution is to break that addiction, not to bring the price of our crack, fossil fuels, lower.
SAWYER: Thomas Friedman, always great to have you here. Thanks so much.