Thomas Friedman's "Cabs, Camels or ISIS" column this week is either a brilliant self-parody, or a plant in the Times by the Pentagon to confuse the Islamic State:
"DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Today, I'll talk about the Paris attacks, but before I do I want to share two news stories here, in case you missed them: The first calf to come from a cloned camel was born at a research center in Dubai and a local taxi start-up is taking on Uber in the Arab world.
"You may think that these emirates start-ups — cloning camels and cabs — have nothing to do with Paris, but they do. Bear with me."
When Friedman writes, "Bear with me," it's serious. This is a man who thinks nothing of plunging readers into an essay comparing occupied Iraq to a rental car (without a steering wheel) or the Ukraine crisis to a hockey game (without a referee). So it's a somber thing when even he feels a need to brace his audience for a coming literary trapeze act.
This week's piece has everything. There's the oratorial opening, one of the mustached one's favorite lede structures: "Let me sit you on my knee while we talk about the Middle East." (The ingenious Friedman bot, ThomasFriedmanOpEdGenerator.com, uses at least one opening line that reads like this).
Then there's the goofball alliteration, the birth imagery (policies and plans are always going through messy figurative births in Friedman's work, often with the aid of a midwife), and the self-flagellating reference to taxis in the headline (Friedman is even more famous for interviewing cab drivers than he is for mixing metaphors).
Then there's the premise. The occasion, the horrific Paris attacks, seems to cry out for humble, shtick-free commentary. Instead he offers the same ham-fisted column about the wonders of globalism he's been writing since the Clinton administration.
For two decades, whenever anyone has waged war or committed acts of mass murder anywhere on earth, Friedman appeared in the Times within a few weeks offering to cure the problem with modems and cheeseburgers. Now he's going to take a figurative walk into Mosul and cheerfully suggest to ISIS fighters that they lay down their arms and invest in "the start-up of You."
It's really that bad. Friedman observes that a thousand miles south of the violently disruptive "Islamic State start-up," innovators from the global economy are "disrupting" things in a good way, using very different sorts of "start-ups," like an Arab version of Uber called Careem.com.
It's in little "islands of decency" like Kurdistan, Jordan, Kuwait and Lebanon that have opened their doors to capitalist innovation, Friedman says, that "young Arabs and Muslims can realize their full potential and build their dignity by disrupting camels and cabs — not Paris and Beirut."
Let your voice be a ladder, ISIS! Stop hatin' – start participatin'!
Still, at the end of the article, Friedman asks himself if we should continue with Obama's air strikes policy against the Islamic State, or "go beyond" that, presumably to a boots-on-the-ground invasion.
He answers: "I don't know."
Once a hard-charging advocate of "Suck on This" military action and forcible "Golden Straitjacket" missionary capitalism, Friedman now leans more and more on "I don't know" endings. His first great "I don't know" piece was "Syria is Iraq," in 2012, when he was passionately for and against bringing a "well-armed external midwife," a.k.a. occupying American troops, to Syria.
Friedman in that one reasoned that he would have been all for occupying Syria, because every birth naturally needs an armed midwife, except that we had just occupied Iraq and completely FUBAR'ed the whole operation. So it was time to just close our eyes and hope for the best.
That was four years ago.
Conventional wisdom in America is finally out of ideas with regard to the Middle East. No matter what any of the candidates on either side of the aisle say publicly about the Islamic State, privately nobody has a clue. The only thing that everyone can agree on is that ISIS scares the hell out of people, and nobody wants to get within 100 miles of even one of those crazy bastards.
Once, there were people like Friedman and Donald Rumsfeld who thought Middle Easterners everywhere, even potential terrorists, would get with our program after one whiff of a Cinnabon (and after experiencing the honor of freely voting for an American-sponsored politician).
But we're finally realizing that large parts of the region are immune to our powers of persuasion. There's not much percentage in forcing 21st-century Americana on a group of angry young religious cultists who think the 8th century smacks of dissolute modernism.
These people are nuts. They commit atrocities over beard length and think al-Qaeda are corrupt moderates. Any day now, they'll start emulating the radicals in Woody Allen's Bananas and begin forcing their citizens at gunpoint to wear their underwear on the outside.
God knows what to do about them, but can we at least stop trying to match stupid with stupid? No more can-do capitalist evangelism, no more harebrained ideas for bringing progress to the region. Let's just get the Manson family surrounded and leave our big ideas at home, for once.