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Tom Friedman on Hot Soup, Yoghurt and Midwifing Syria

Tom Friedman, The New York Time's meaningless columnist in chief published one of his best pieces yet last week - a true testament to his ability to regurgitate banal pseudo intellectual garbage week after week.
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Tom Friedman, The New York Time's meaningless columnist in chief published one of his best pieces yet last week - a true testament to his ability to regurgitate banal pseudo intellectual garbage week after week. The ludicrously highly paid Friedman churns out articles on the modern world that string baffling metaphors together, sequencing them to give the impression of coherence while laughing all the way to the bank.


In an article titled 'This Ain't Yoghurt', Friedman tackles the crisis in Syria, using his typical arsenal of childish analogies and implied comparisons to make an incredibly simplistic point that he could have tweeted in 40 characters or less.

The argument, as far as I can deduce, goes something like this:

One of Friedman's Arab friends told him a proverb about eating hot soup and getting your tongue burnt (apparently you'll always blow on your yoghurt afterwards).

Friedman then equates this with America invading Iraq and Afghanistan (tongue burnt) and the conflict in Syria (which 'ain't yoghurt', but hot soup again).

Friedman draws comparison between the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and the Arab Spring, concluding eventually that they aren't similar at all.

Friedman uses a birth metaphor about Syria being Iraq's twin and needing a midwife to become a blooming democracy.

Friedman then expresses hope Arabs can "transition from Saddam to Jefferson without getting stuck in Khomeini or Hobbes" and argues for an Arab Nelson Mandela figure to fix all their problems (or a midwife).

Friedman then concludes that none of this is possible and the only way to solve the problem is to "occupy the entire country, secure the borders, disarm all the militias and midwife a transition to democracy".

Friedman then says this is not possible and doesn't want America to get heavily involved  (remember, this ain't yoghurt).

Friedman finally concludes that we must wait until everyone is exhausted from fighting to send the midwives back in.

If you are scratching your head at all of this, don't worry. Friedman's piece makes about as much sense as standard Glenn Beck rant on Obama's closet Communism. It's not that Friedman doesn't get it - if you mine through the nonsense, he clearly sees Syria is screwed and US intervention won't do much. He just packages his thoughts in a series of garbled paragraphs that any half decent English teacher would dismiss as bullshit from the 9th grade upwards. Friedman clearly prides himself on being able to distill complicated events into easily digestible nuggets of prose - hence his relentless use of metaphors - which makes reading him all the funnier. It's like watching a mal-coordinated tennis player serving the ball into the net over and over again while strutting infront of the crowd to remind them of his athletic prowess.

And while Friedman's columns are a genuine source of comedy (see Matt Taibbi for some epic takedowns) , they should also be a cause for serious concern. The New York Times is a respected paper and Friedman has an enormous platform to spread his musings on foreign policy and current affairs. This means hundreds of thousands of people get to see the world through Friedman's dangerously simplistic eyes.

In Friedman's world, incredibly complex events can be turned into neat parables to give his readers dinner party talking points. And while they might go down a treat after a few glasses of wine, his readers should be wary that upon closer inspection, a Friedman distillation might not be as clever as it sounds. As Taibbi points out, "Thomas Friedman does not get [metaphors] right even by accident. It's not that he occasionally screws up and fails to make his metaphors and images agree. It's that he always screws it up. He has an anti-ear, and it's absolutely infallible; he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse, incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius."

Want to talk about slavery? Here's a Friedmanesque metaphor: "Slavery was the Walmart of its day, arguing against workers rights while offering slaves benefits". World War Two?: "Hitler was the big bad wolf trying to turn Europe into sheep for him to lead". [Editors note: these are made up Tom Friedman metaphors]

There are only two rules for a Tom Friedman metaphor: 1. They must be childishly simple. 2. They must not make sense if you examine them closely.

So while Friedman's "This Ain't Yoghurt" piece kind of makes sense if you boil it down its core argument (Syria is buggered and we shouldn't go anywhere near it until the fighting stops), you have to wade through a litany of stupid metaphors and analogies about midwives refereeing countries that are like post Soviet Union Eastern Europe but aren't, imagining non existent Arab Nelson Mandelas and yogurt that is actually hot soup.

Thanks Tom. It's all perfectly clear now.