14 Comments

Friedman was always at his best on the Middle East. Then he whiffed so completely on Iraq that he lost all credibility on the region and had to take up other topics in order to be listened to (he who controls the electrons controls the universe, the world is flat etc). But 20 years on from the start of Iraq there’s a crisis where his long perspective is valuable, and his failure is distant enough that he isn’t automatically dismissed. The fact that he was being used to float test balloons on a Saudi- Israeli deal doesn’t hurt either.

Expand full comment

I very much like the idea of term limits! I subscribe to the NYT and no longer read most of their columnists regularly, because it's all but impossible for anyone not to get repetitive - and they do, regardless of their political stances.

In response to Robert Krawczak, I think that there is a key difference between columnists (which of course Dan Drezner was) and bloggers. Drezner is, as far as I can tell, an expert in international relations - a subject I know little about, but which interests me a lot - and, yes, he has a point of view. I subscribe to this blog because I WANT THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE WRITER and because I learn something about the field, including accounts (from a critical perspective) of those who hold different views. I believe that I understand (always questionable) that his is only one person's viewpoint - and if and when I start to find him repetitive, I can stop reading him at any time. But I'm not likely to stop subscribing to the NYT because there is too much else besides the op-ed page that I can't easily get elsewhere (or in one organ). So now I tend to read their 'guest essayists' more often than the regulars, as their perspectives aren't (yet) over-familiar.

Expand full comment

Good God, man, I just briefly scanned it, and it isn't readable at all, no more so that his columns about Iraq, almost 20 years ago. And I say this as a Friedman fan before that; reading this, it's as though history didn't start until the 1990s.

Expand full comment

I don’t think it’s just about his region. He screwed up badly Re Iraq, which is part of the Middle East, but was quite prescient re Ukraine. https://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/14/opinion/14friedman.html?smid=url-share

Expand full comment

A simpler method would be to put Friedman on the Middle East plus North Africa, West Africa, South Asia and Indonesia beat as a reporter/columnist. No domestic stuff.

elm

took him awhile to break with bibi; glad he did

Expand full comment

I was waiting for a final paragraph or two on how your two points of reflection apply to you.

Expand full comment

I've been more impressed with resurgence that Norman Finkelstein has had.

Expand full comment

What an imaginative, apt analogy to compare Friedman to "the country singer who cracked the pop charts but then returns to their country roots in a later album." Clever creativity there, Daniel.

Expand full comment

Was a staunch supporter of the Iraq folly blaming in on execution and never acknowledged this obvious blunder.

Expand full comment

Friedman has been a lap-dog for Conventional Wisdom for so long---the most over-rated columnist in existence---so this is hard to believe, but, if true, welcome.

Expand full comment
Nov 17, 2023·edited Nov 17, 2023

Dan - Good piece, I agree completely that columnists should come with an expiration date. I've long been skeptical of many pundits and columnists - how can one person have an informed view on so many subjects? I agree with Philip Tetlock's assertion in his book Superforecasting that too many people opinion writers excel mainly at expressing opinions with (over) confidence. This, for many readers, an attractive quality because confidence sells.

Dan, as someone who writes about a lot of subjects, how do you avoid falling into this "I need to have and express my view on everything" trap? Do you sometimes start a piece and then stop when you realize you're talking out of school?

Expand full comment

The thing about Friedman is that he got into that same zone as Robert Kaplan and a bunch of other 'ideas' guys whose knowledge of places started to be "I stayed in a hotel there two nights and talked to a taxi driver" where nobody ever was allowed in-house or on stage to challenge them--they never had to talk to people who actually knew shit about the places they started talking about. Yes absolutely to making people who want to be in these kinds of intellectual spaces go there and spend time, really doing the work.

Expand full comment

"Even folks who rubbish Friedman’s later books and op-ed columns tend to praise his first book."

As someone who joined IPE at a time when seemingly every IPE article and book began by strawmanning Friedman, I have had a nagging sense for the past few years that we did Friedman dirty. Post-Trump/Brexit/etc almost all of academia (plus most major political parties in consolidated democracies) have adopted a "Lexus vs Olive Tree" frame without acknowledging that that's what we're doing, while complaints about the Big Tech era of erosion of privacy and weaponization of interdependence is very "World is Flat".

Expand full comment