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Thomas Friedman and Bad Analogies

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William Hartung deconstructs Thomas Friedman’s dribble on the Iranian nuclear energy program.  Friedman is using the metaphor of Iran as a heroin dealer who has paused its activities after years of production:

“Gulf Arabs feel like they have this neighbor who has been a drug dealer for 18 years. Recently, this neighbor has been very visibly growing poppies in his back yard in violation of the law. He’s also been buying bigger and better trucks to deliver drugs . . .,” says Friedman.

And the metaphor goes on: after police pressure, our unfriendly neighborhood drug dealer shuts down his heroin laboratory; the police have now declared that this rogue poppy grower is not a drug dealer any more, but only by taking a narrow, legalistic interpretation of that term. But the neighbors aren’t convinced — it’s not as if he’s just growing flowers for the fun of it, and as recently as 2003 he was turning his poppy crop into heroin.

Hartung replies:

Does this analogy make any sense? Well, no. First of all, unlike the heroin dealer, Iran has never successfully manufactured the product in question (a nuclear weapon). It doesn’t even have enough poppies (enriched uranium) to make the product, and is still having considerable difficulty learning how to grow them. Meanwhile, there are neighbors who do know how to make the product (nuclear weapons) and have significant stockpiles of it. Not to mention the chief of police (the United States) who has one of the largest stockpiles of the product in the world and is in the midst of building a new improved production facility. Last but not least, the chief keeps saying that he can’t rule out the idea of burning down the alleged drug dealer’s house if he doesn’t agree to stop growing poppies.

I know, it’s a bit elaborate, but blame Friedman; it’s his metaphor, not mine. But the main point is that by echoing the Bush administration’s after the fact “spin” on the NIE’s findings, Friedman is contributing — consciously or not — to the larger effort to dismiss the impact of the estimate.

Irancove @ December 12, 2007

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