Thomas Friedman and the Murder of Civilians

by Paul Street, January 5, 2006

Maybe New York Times columnist and corporate globalization champion Thomas Friedman should consult his paper's news desk before crafting his creepy, power-worshipping editorials.



On page A21 of yesterday's Times, Friedman praises the supposedly benevolent United States for "provid[ing] the basic governance that keeps the world stable and on a decent track." America provides this noble service, Friedman argues, "through its vast military deployments, diplomatic engagements, and vital role buttressing the global economy and its rules" ("Social Insecurity Crisis," 4 January 2005).

In support of this nationally self-congratulatory thesis, Friedman cites leading academic foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum's claim that (in Friedman's words) "most countries in the world like" American global dominance. "They like it," Friedman says, "because they know that the U.S. is not a predatory power" and that American rule "is helpful to every country in the world."

Friedman gives a lovely quote from the professor's recent book, "The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World's Government in the 21st Century." The U.S., Mandelbaum writes (to Friedman's applause), "is not the lion of the international system, terrorizing and preying on weaker animals in order to survive itself. It is, rather, the elephant, which supports a wide variety of other creatures - smaller mammals, birds, and insects- by generation nourishment for them as it goes about the business of feeding itself."

"The best evidence" for this benevolent "elephant" thesis, Friedman feels, "is the fact that no military coalition has ever formed to counter America's global governing role - as happened with other hegemonic powers in history."


After reading Friedman's ode to Mandelbaum and Uncle Sam, readers of Wednesday's Times could turn to page A8 to find a jarring and curious example of the "nourishment" and "stability" the noble American "elephant" gives to the world system's "weaker animals" through virtuous "military deployments" and "diplomatic engagements." According to Times correspondents Richard A. Oppel and Omar Al-Neaml, "American F-14 warplanes killed nine members of an Iraqi family, including women and young children, during a bombing and cannon strike on Monday night that obliterated a home near the northern industrial city of Baiji,American officials said the warplanes had been pursuing insurgents who had been observed setting up a roadside bomb. They fled to a building, and the American planes struck the building and destroyed it. The attack enraged Iraqi officials in Baiji, about 150 miles north of Baghdad, who said that the airstrike was unjustified and that it had destroyed an innocent family."

By Oppel and Al-Neaml's account, "a preliminary investigation indicated the blast had killed the wife of the home's owner, his daughter-in-law and seven children and grandchildren, including one son who worked for the police." "The owner of the house is a very simple man," an Iraqi official reported, adding that "the American forces did not provide us with any justification for the attack. Agence France-Presse in Baiji," Oppel and Al-Neaml note, "reported that eight bodies had been pulled from the rubble along with three survivors - two unconscious women and an 8-year-old boy whose cry for help alerted rescuers. A Baiji police colonel," the reporters ad, "told Reuters that the family members killed in the bombing did not include any suspected insurgents" ("U.S. Strike on Home Kills 9 in Family," 4 January, 2006).


The American Empire's deadly attack on a family home in Baji (a story that actually belongs on the Times' front page) is all-too consistent with its record of "terrorizing and preying on weaker animals" in its illegal, diplomatically disengaged occupation of Iraq. Iraq Body Count (IBC)'s recently published "Dossier of Civilian Casualties in Iraq, 2003- 2005" ( reports that roughly 30,000 - 1 in every 1000 ---- Iraqis was violently killed between March 20, 2003 (the day after the beginning of the U.S. invasion) and March 19, 2005. By IBC's tabulation, 42,500 Iraqis have been wounded by violence during that period.

Who has done the killing and wounding? By IBC's meticulous account, based on multiple verifiable media reports, anti-occupation forces have killed less than 10 percent of the total number of the nearly 25,000 dead for whom killers can be identified. "Criminal elements," who have thrived in the lawless environment created by the destruction of Iraqi civil authority, killed 8,935 or 36 percent.

The biggest killers have been U.S.-led armed forces, who ended the lives of 9,270 Iraqis or 37.3 percent. And "at least 21,000 of the 45,000 reported injuries," IBC adds, "were caused by U.S.-led forces."

In separate databases that include real-time observations from reporters on the ground, IBC presents a number of journalistic accounts of Iraqis killed by their supposed American "liberators." IBC's "Falluja Archive" contains (to give one among many examples) an April 2004 Associated Press (AP) story relating how more than 600 Iraqis, "mostly women, children, and the elderly," were butchered during Uncle Sam's massive "retaliatory" (after the resistance killed U.S.-funded Blackwell Security mercenaries) campaign in Falluja. "Iraqis in Falluja," the AP noted, "complained that civilians were coming under fire by U.S. snipers."

In a May 7th (2004) dispatch reproduced by IBC, New Standard correspondent Dahr Jamail reported that "rows and rows of fresh graves" occupied by civilians killed by their American "liberators" "filled the football stadium in Fallujah. Many of [the graves]," Jamail noted, "are smaller than others. My translator Nermim reads the gravestones to me: 'This one is a little girl.' We take another step. 'This is one is her sister.' Next to them is their mother."

"We walk," Jamail continued, "slowly under the scorching sun along dusty rows of humble headstones. She continues reading aloud to me: 'Old man wearing jacket with black dishasho, near industrial center. He has a key in his hand.' Many of the bodies were buried before they could be identified. Tears are welling up in my eyes as she quickly reads: 'Man wearing red track suit.' She points to another row: 'three women killed in car leaving city by American missile.'"

Jamail quoted an Iraqi man who "'saw American snipers shoot a woman while she was hanging her clothes'

"Another man" interviewed by Jamail pointed to a mosque and recalled that "Marines entered the mosque before they bombed it and slit the throats of refugees. This," the man asked Jamail, "is their democracy? This is their freedom?'"

"One of the bodies brought to the [Falluja] clinic," wrote Jamail on April 14th, 2004, "was that of a 55-year old man shot in the back by a [U.S.] sniper outside his home, while his wife and children huddled wailing inside. The family could not retrieve his body for fear of being shot themselves. His stiff corpse was carried into the clinic, flies swarming above it. One of his arms was half raised by rigor mortis" (


Even before the re-initiation of formal U.S. military hostilities in Iraq in March 2003, it is worth recalling, the economic sanctions imposed on that devastated nation by Friedman's beloved Clinton administration murdered at half a million Iraq children. Friedman's favorite Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, publicly described this massive juvenile body count as "a price worth paying" in the advancement of benevolent, U.S.-imposed global order.

Of course, Uncle Sam's terrorization of Iraq under Clinton and the two Bushes is part of a broad and venerable pattern of American imperial depredation that fosters (contrary to Friedman's notion of a world that "likes" American power) rampant global fear and hatred of "rogue state America."

Most of the planet's politically cognizant populace actually sees Friedman and Mandelbauam's friendly elephant the U.S. as the single greatest threat to world peace and prosperity. The preponderant majority of the world's citizenry, we can be sure, supports the development of effective international institutions and rules to "counter America's global governing role," which consigns more than 2 billion people to life on less than a dollar a day. Absent such institutions and rules, military coalitions to check deadly Uncle Sam are a certainty in the 21st century.


Paul Street ( is a writer, teacher, and activist in Iowa and Illinois. He is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 ( and Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York, NY: Routledge, 2005)

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