In the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003, New York Times columnist began to reconsider his support for the military option, as he became convinced that the Bush administration was going to mishandle the war and its aftermath. Fast-forward 12 years, and Friedman is making similar moves ahead of the final talks on a nuclear deal with Iran. In his Apr. 23 column, Friedman says that while a nuclear deal is desirable, the structure and context of the deal means “it will not be easy.”
The Iran deal has several major problems, Friedman says. First is that while the U.S. has made simple deals with enemies that it could trust to uphold the bargain, the Iran deal is complex and there is no reason to trust the regime’s compliance. Second, the deal relies on Iran resolving its political identity (revolution or reform?), which may never happen. Third, Iran is more powerful than its neighbors, and giving it billions of dollars in sanctions relief could destabilize the region further.
Friedman’s skittishness about the signature foreign policy initiative of a president he has done everything to defend is a sign of just how bad the deal is, and how nervous it is making even Obama’s allies–that is, those allies that take foreign policy seriously in its own right.
In his Jan. 26, 2003 column on Iraq, Friedman wrote of the problems with the Bush administration’s approach: “Does that mean we should rule out war? No. But it does mean that we must do it right.”
Similarly, in his latest column on the problems with the Iran deal, Friedman concludes: “These are not reasons to reject the deal. They are reasons to finish it right.”
The parallel language ought to be a troubling sign for the White House. Friedman has again set politics aside and is facing the reality against which his words will be remembered in retrospect. He is trying to urge reforms without opposing the administration outright. But his shift may indicate tougher criticisms to follow.