Refried Friedman: 'Can't Go from Saddam to Jefferson Without Going Through Khomeini'

March 2nd, 2006 7:58 AM

Is it just coincidence? Barely a week after new media from Rush Limbaugh [subscripton required] to this column found the Today show appearance of NY Times foreign-affairs maven Thomas Friedman noteworthy, Today had him back again this morning. Could the new media be driving news choices at the antique?

In any case, while the ostensible purpose of Friedman's appearance was to discuss President Bush's current trip to India, his most interesting comments came in relation to Iraq and by extension to the entire Middle East. His notion: the path from dictatorship to democracy in the region necessarily passes through a period of fundamentalist religious rule.

Katie confronted Friedman with a statement he had made in 2003 suggesting that democracy in Iraq could be a model for the rest of the region. Asked a clearly dubious Couric, citing current events in Iraq and the election of Hamas in the Palestinian territories: "do you really think Iraq can still be a role model for the Middle East?"

That's when Friedman got off his line of the day:

"Well, it depends on how the situation in Iraq eventually is concluded. I said all along, you don't go in the Middle East from Saddam to Jefferson without going through Khomeini. I wish you could but you don't. We are seeing the truth about that part of the world. When you crack regimes at the top, you go into complete free-fall until you hit the mosque. There are no civil societies, no free press."

Couric: "Is it still possible to get to Jefferson?"

Jefferson: "I am not sure. That's the grand experiment. It's an experiment that is important. If you can't create a situation where these people themselves forge their own social contract so they don't have to be ruled by an iron fist, you are looking at a future of dictatorship as far as the eye can see. That brought you 9/11, I would argue. We don't know how this will end. I would say I think we are in the end game. The next six to nine months will tell whether we can produce a decent outcome in Iraq."

Noteworthy comments again from Friedman. But query whether his theory is overly optimistic. He suggests that it is dictatorship that led to 9/11, and that rule by religious fundamentalists might only be a phase on the road to democracy.

But is the problem Middle Eastern dictatorship per se, or something inherent in Islam that makes religious rule not merely a detour on the road to democracy, but a destination? Is there no essential difference between, say, the kind of monarchy that ruled the Thirteen Colonies and the mullahs surrounding Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Finkelstein lives in Ithaca, NY. 'Right Angle', the TV show he hosts, was recently named 'Best of the Best' among public-access shows in his area. Contact him at: