Mick Jagger once sang, “I could use a lemon squeezer!” Thomas Friedman is seeking lemon squeezers, too, but of a different sort. He’s a pollyanna pundit, not a rocker, who’s fond of using the cliche, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”
Years ago I dated a well-off woman who liked the same cliche. She was upbeat and seemed decent enough, but she turned out to be a libertarian, strongly opposed to things like labor unions and universal health insurance. Life had never handed her lemons, but she loved dispensing advice on how to make lemonade.
I don’t think Friedman is a libertarian but he loves telling other people to squeeze lemons, as he did last week in a column proposing an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that has either raged or simmered since Israel became an independent state in 1948.
Friedman’s plan would bypass pesky obstacles to peace — little things like the enmity of Hamas toward Israel and the Israeli refusal to dismantle settlements on the West Bank. He would “make lemonade” by updating the 1947 resolution calling for separate Jewish and Arab states. The final deal would be sealed through the U.N. “with land swaps, so theoretically the five percent of the West Bank where 80 percent of the [Israeli] settlers live could be traded for parts of pre-1967 Israel.”
Nothing to it, right? Except that Friedman’s idea was greeted with scorn by both Palestinians and Israelis, because both sides see his idea as a rehash of failed proposals.
But the lemonade king is confident. All the quarreling parties have to do is do it his way.
Friedman’s ideas on the Middle East remind me of his stance on other problems. Outsourcing of American jobs? His lemonade recipe, in The World Is Flat, involved replacing millions of lost jobs with new hi-tech jobs, something almost everyone agrees is never going to happen.
He also has a glib solution to our involvement in nation-building — “It has to start with them,” which means we shouldn’t get involved in regime change. Except that this stance contradicts his gung-ho support of the disastrous war in Iraq, which only cooled down after the U.S. started handing out massive amounts of cash, not lemonade, to Sunni insurgents.
Friedman has a right to enjoy his lemonade in private, but it’s a disservice to readers that he gets to roll forth lemons in The New York Times twice a week. His simplistic brand of optimism amounts to little more than a determined wish to dumb down complex issues and ignore on-the-ground realities of the poor and dispossessed.
Not coincidentally, this description of Friedman’s approach to writing opinion columns also describes the approach of many if not most mainstream reporters these days.