Thomas Friedman and World War III

Thomas Friedman, the New York Times’ foreign policy guru, claims that he has finally fully grasped what has happened in Ukraine: “I thought Vladimir Putin had invaded Ukraine,” he writes in a recent column.

“I was wrong. Putin had invaded Europe” in what Friedman calls “the biggest folly in a European war since Adolf Hitler invaded Russia in 1941.” Apparently, we are in the early stages of World War III.

Friedman claims that in European eyes—and apparently his own eyes—Putin’s invasion “is seen as a 21st-century rerun of Hitler’s onslaught against the rest of Europe.” And, Friedman contends, it has awakened Europe’s leaders, NATO, and the European Union (EU) to the apparently existential threat Russia poses to Europe. As proof of this awakening, Friedman cites Germany’s announcement that it is increasing its military budget and will send arms to Ukraine, Poland’s willingness to accept Ukrainian refugees and to funnel arms to Ukraine, the EU’s imposition of tougher sanctions against Russia, and Finland and Sweden applying to join NATO.

But if this is truly seen as a “rerun” of Hitler’s aggression against Europe, why aren’t the countries of the EU and NATO declaring war against Russia? If this is equivalent to Hitler’s invasion of Russia in 1941, why aren’t Europe’s armies on the march? Friedman’s historical analogies are fraught with errors unless he views Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as the opening salvo of World War III.

Image: Map of Europe in 1939. Public domain.

So, we are back to the “Munich” analogy once again. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine allegedly signals his intention to invade and conquer all of Europe. The next Friedman column will probably warn us that Putin is planning a Blitzkrieg-like attack against Poland, the Baltic states, the Czech Republic, Germany, France, and then perhaps Putin’s version of Operation Sea Lion—a planned assault on the British Isles.

Does anyone other than Thomas Friedman believe this nonsense? But Putin as Hitler makes for good, dramatic headlines, and sells newspapers. And visions of a united Europe with America’s help fighting against the evil dictator warm the hearts of our ruling class—that imagery gives them a “higher” purpose than the drudgery of balancing budgets, effectively fighting inflation, working for energy independence, and helping to negotiate an imperfect but realistic resolution to this regional war.

“War,” the writer Randolph Bourne said during the First World War, “is the health of the state.” It is also the health of the military-industrial complexes in Europe and the United States.

Even Friedman acknowledges in his column that “some EU leaders are already encouraging President Joe Biden to call Putin and explore terms of a cease-fire.” Perhaps in his next column, Friedman will envision Joe Biden telling his NATO “war cabinet” that we will fight on till the end or until we are all on the ground choking on our own blood, as Winston Churchill did in May 1940. Joe Biden as the 21st century Churchill—that would be Friedman’s biggest fantasy yet.

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