It’s difficult to believe Thomas L. Friedman was the first choice for Class Day speaker.
I hope the committee invited Donald H. Rumsfeld, my Nobel Peace nominee, to expound on our exciting new doctrine of pre-emption. Or Colin L. Powell, to proclaim a new Marshall Plan or a different Powell Doctrine. Or Condoleezza Rice, to challenge us graduates to participate in what President Bush has called a “decisive decade in the history of liberty.” Maybe a retired statesman such as George P. Shultz, who nearly 20 years ago advocated then prophetically, now irresistibly, a security strategy that goes “beyond passive defense to consider means of active prevention, pre-emption, and retaliation.”
I’m not sure any of them would have come. Invading a country is less embarrassing for these men and woman than setting foot on an Ivy League campus. Administration officials opt for “safe” schools, like Notre Dame and Pepperdine. Those leftists who embrace the world as it is and pretend it is the dream they wish it to be do exist here, but they are a vocal minority. Most students — a silent majority, I would say — are eager to confront the world as it is in order to repair it into the world it should be.
I doubt Thomas Friedman will show us the way. Friedman is dean of the wishy-washy school of journalists, skilled in representing “both sides” in an argument — here his background as a reporter serves him well. Friedman’s writing is chatty, engaging and intensely stylized. He has a talent for the telling anecdote and fine character sketch. His first book, “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” demonstrates these qualities well. Friedman has a good ear and transmits ideas from a broad range of sources.
What does Friedman believe? Not much more than conventional wisdom. Like Yale, Friedman is in love with “globalization.” One of his theories — until it was proven wrong — was that countries with McDonald’s do not go to war against one another. Friedman does comparative religion, too. Islamists don’t like Judaism and Christianity, he says, because they believe their religion to be Version 3.0 whereas Judaism is 1.0 and Christianity 2.0. Well, there we are.
Perhaps this is what the National Association of County Executives likes to hear, mixed in with some Beltway gossip, at its annual convention at the Paris Paris hotel-casino, but after four years of academic study, including courses in diplomacy, economics and religion, these ideas are tawdry and patronizing.
And wrong. Friedman neglects the important role of military power in ordering the chaotic system in which states operate. And globalization is not an elixir: information and technology do not wipe away nationalism and Islamism. Globalization will neither make the lion lie down with the lamb nor will it make them go into business together.
To be sure, Friedman is not all bad. Though often wrong, he is not a member of the immoral set, like France abroad or own Yale Peace Coalition — all who believe “peace” is consistent with the maintenance of Saddam Hussein.
But when it comes to taking a stand, Friedman fills his column with so many questions and warnings and doubts and conditionals, the result is sitting in paralysis. Friedman represents the equivocation of so much of the Western world today: the Democratic Party, Europe. If we follow this lead, the future will be determined by others, and they will be the most brutal.
If a Class Day speaker is intended to appeal to everyone, or at the very least not offend anyone, Friedman is not a bad choice. He can tell us our world is one of clashing systems — some people like Apple, while others use Microsoft. But the Class of 2003 doesn’t need to be spoken down to. We witnessed Sept. 11 and the liberation of Iraq in college and are ready to hear our public calling. I rather doubt Thomas Friedman, Class Day Speaker ’03, Version 1.0, is up to the task.
Davi Bernstein is a senior in Ezra Stiles College. His column appears regularly on alternate Mondays.