Ep. 114 - Thomas Friedman

Update: 2017-01-19


Thomas Friedman, three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times, talks with David Axelrod about the prospects for the Middle East peace process in the Trump era, the rapid changes transforming society which he chronicles in his latest book, and why he disagrees with President Obama's decision to not pursue more direct American intervention in the Syrian civil war.

Following script is auto-generated by Speech to Text Technology:

the board for the acts files comes from rockin' mortgage my Quicken loans lift the burden of getting a home loan with rockin' mortgage and get a secure transparent home loan approval in minutes skip the bank of the waiting then go completely online at Quicken loans dot com slash X Files This podcast is brought you by sixty DB listen to conversations that go beyond the headlines business sports politics today's news plus all of your favorite podcasts download the free sixty DB at today the the the the and now from the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN The X Files with your host David Axelrod The The The The Tom Friedman is a certifiable a brilliant journalist and public intellectual no one has written more compelling Lee over a long period of time about the Middle East about climate change and a whole host of issues ago to our society our culture and our world became by the Institute of Politics the other day to talk about his new book Thank you for being late and optimists Guide to thriving in the age of acceleration zz and we sat down later to talk about his life his career and just what he means by the age of acceleration and what we do the the uh the the Tom Friedman welcome thanks for always good to be with you and we just came from a brilliant presentation at the Institute of Politics about your new book which we will discuss later because it's very very relevant right now well a talk about you great I mean three time Pulitzer Prize winner and honored public intellectual columnist for The New York Times but you didn't spring from from your beginnings that Wait Tell Me a little bit about grown up in St Louis Park Minnesota so I was born in Minneapolis on the Northside and fifty three in my parents are part of the great Jewish immigration Exodus from the folks they warrant immigrants themselves I know they were both born in Minneapolis to actually and where did you when is my family come on my turn a century basically great grandparents who I knew the password when I was was quite young but my parents moved out to Sims Park this big sort of look big suburb small town outside of Minneapolis in nineteen fifty six I was born fifty three I grew up there went to public schools with the same group of kids that today are still my best friends went to Sam's park I my life and David really changed my eyes intent great I want to be a professional golfer basically still plague us to play golf a few rounds with the president got to play with the president once it does know what your handicap on a five handicap yeah let's let's be honest I mean he's leaving office we can reveal secrets you're better golfers especially early on he's gotten better he tells is replayed but as so awed by the way Bowl bowled a thirty seven in Altoona during the two thousand and eight campaign which became a huge issue he's got his head his own bowling years and he's become pretty proficient bowler I'm sure he will challenge him to catch up with you a lefty to golf was not really designed for lefties but listen good lefty players like Phil Mickelson but anyways to be a fresh call for and then in tenth grade two things happen to be when I had a legendary journalism teacher my school had Steinberg and she really turned me on to germ had she been a journalist all she was so she always taught journalism are from mushers from Nebraska arm but when she passed away a column about her call my favorite guests and it's still the most email column I've ever written turns out everybody had a favorite teacher yes you know I did Mrs. Roth and in first and third grade to expose us like little kids to do in civil rights movement did Jane yeah all the issues of the day that was my first exposure to the New York Times and my two was actually in her class she taught me that journalist are today reading the New York Times which is then mailed a day later basically to Minneapolis in Sims Park anyways in December of that year did my older sister had gone to junior broad to tell of university and I know you guys a religious family where Bob sort of just modern conservative I would describe it is religious but conservative Jewish families or even the mainstream than armed and are over that Christmas my parents took me to Israel and it was the first time I'd been on an airplane and was the first time I'd been out of the state of Minnesota except for excursions into Wisconsin for summer camp and I maybe I've gone to China first or grease first aid to be something else but the Middle East just captured me so I Oh I know is so different it was exotic I do believe in a previous life I was a bizarre emergent somewhere you know oh but it was all three summers high school I went back and done a kibbutz in Israel and Israel just took over my life and remember this nineteen sixty eight sixty seven war the kind of heroic Israel of that time i just wanna tell you that when I was young report The Chicago Tribune A for Nagel a trip to Israel to write features as well as paper said budget just write another said send us and let us write a series of feature stories and we had a bureau chief John Broder but I stayed there for months and you know I come from Jewish element of those Jewish immigrant but I was taken so much to Ashley thought about staying the reason was at that time there was still this pervasive sense of things being more about life and death and every day being worth living in the material sort of culture that had that so defined America wasn't there than it was really much more there was a romanticism still a sense of experimentation Frontier yeah I was very exciting back in sixty eight more so than the caboose all three summers of high school so tenth grade really changed my life I'd cut interest in journalism in the Middle East and was interested in those ever after basically I then started taking Arabic as a freshman college and awe started University of Minnesota did a semester at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the American University in Cairo dog got a Marshall Scholarship to go to Oxford graduate school but I to study right you did a couple years Brandeis I did my graduate from Brandeis ultimately I was interested as interest because I read that you perhaps you wrote that that you you were you confronted some skepticism on the par your classmates because you'd gone to Egypt yes absolutely nutty object and you spoke Arabic yeah and this offended some of your bluish clouds actually ran dies I had to deal with that and sort of very intense Zionist group that I'm at that time we didn't even have an American embassy in Cairo years after the seventy three war and Dom o So I I I've been I learned a very x Just About On How to talk about that issue ought to defend yourself how to defend your views on and anyway I spent much of a first year in England at the School of Oriental and African Studies on London and that's where I met my wife and who was doing her masters Ritalin School of Economics and I really got my start in journalism in nineteen seventy five and I were walking down the street in London this is really high cut started truly on Friday my school papers a little college but not much on and Jimmy Carter was running against Gerald Ford and we walk into the streets in the London Evening Standard have those blaring rat to Jen were finished you know it is still true exactly happened that the blaring on Carter to Jews colon if elected I promise to fire Doctor K and I start my then girlfriend now wife and I said Don't look at that of Jimmy Carter's running for president and try to win Jewish votes by promising to fire the first ever Jewish secretary of state isn't that odd and I know what possessed me but I went back to my dorm room and I wrote a column about it from my then girlfriend now wife someday Moines Iowa happened to be of neighbors of Gilbert Greenberg who is the editorial page editor of The Des Moines Register and she took it home on vacation on break she gave it to him he liked it and printed it on a half page of the day Moines Register and they paid me fifty dollars but is it right I thought that was the most amazing thing I had been walking down the street I had an opinion it up and someone paid me fifty dollars and I was hooked ever after and you want to work for the UPI yes so what happened was that I actually wrote ten op ed pieces for the day Moines Register and that the Minneapolis Star Tribune while I was Oxford and that was my sort of pile Eclipse so to apply for a job I applied I was in London I got a degree in Arabic and Middle East studies aside a classic British Air based education at St Anthony's mom has Lawrence of Arabia's papers and I apply to AP and UPI in London on Fleet Street an AP said kid you've never covered a two alarm fire right you recover to cityhall meet you got these op ed but UPI be UPI kind Avis to appease her and said Take a Chance on the kids studied Arabic there's an Iranian revolution they seem to have the same squiggles you know and we can teach other cover fire if you can write op ed pieces you know so they took a chance on me and hired me and ninety seven I have a parallel less lofty story when as here at the University of Chicago and back at the time I was sitting there doing it I wouldn't even happen after the year eighteen hundred I was very interested in politics it here and what in political science I don't think I'll be remembered for the scholarship attorney has writing for newspapers are and I got I walked into the I Park Herald and talked him into hiring me as a political columnists when I was eighteen I By the time I graduate I about Chicago politics just and I went to my city other day I got an internship with Tribune me and the editor said to me sue the editors said you know we can put you on politics right now because you know all about all the Byzantine ward stuff the United The Reporter so you're going on nights and I spent two and half years and is probably the best education I could absolutely and you know really exposed me to things I never would have seen as well as taught me how the reporter breaking right on the exactly absolutely so you did some of those I know on for UPI cover taxi strikes and I covered the oil stocks OPEC was just emerging around nineteen seventy nine Iranian revolution was happening anyways I was on Fleet Street for your UPI and the Number two man in Beirut the chopped the number to a UPI in the year by a man robbing a grocery store on Commerce Street jewelry store on the street if using and he said I want to go home I don't want to collect two hundred dollars I don't want to pass go get me out here and UPI came to me I was twenty five and said Would you like to go to Beirut the middle of a civil war and be our number to correspond and I turned to my now wife and then wife and now we just got married from De Moines and said we're going to Beirut and so went off well in nineteen seventy nine of the Civil War she didn't say the hell knew when she married me that was part of the deal was part of our marriage contract they were going extent sometime in the Middle East and almond so went to Beirut nineteen seventy for UPI first night were there the Commodore Hotel I heard the gunfire actually was the first gunshot I never in my life and I heard a lot of difference between Minneapolis and world absolute is not exactly true so where for two years for them The New York Times on my work they offer me a job brought me back to New York for a year as a business reporter interesting because I've been covering OPEC to and Dom are then sent me back to Beirut in April nineteen eighty two and a pretty eventful and Israel invaded Lebanon six weeks later and it suddenly became this amazing story I covered the embassy bombing the Israeli invasion sovereignty love the Marine bombing of AI AI AI covered all the stories it was incredible drama and from a journalist's point of view be in the quarter core right place at the right have you won your first Pulitzer I was irked by coverage of sovereignty deal for that yet you love and how is adapting to war war coverage on you know it was so he was challenging on what I always tell people in retrospect what I know it when you got no you don't get killed playing golf no absolutely although I did play golf and a rule on it there with a thirty hole course that actually the driving range faced a Palestinian shooting range and other British ambassador is used to say it's the only course you happy to be in a bunker ok so whole poem but it was an adjustment but what I cherish about it and funny yesterday was just with some dear friends from Beirut of those days the Lebanese ambassador to the UN the salon was really my oldest Lebanese friend and spend a lot of time together and um we were on the Titanic together and serve a special bond with people because when she was searing experience together and what I appreciated about it was you know you really only understand how molecules behave in very high temperatures and the spectrum of human emotions you get to see in a war is so much wider than you get to see covering the White House US State Department you know and so about myself and other people what they're capable of both good and evil of the in those four years five years and better than it ever possible actually think the White House's since it's an honor to co though as in certain ways one of the least satisfy new cover the White House for your one year and Howell Raines of the times are great editor used to say none dare call it journalism yeah I know you're basically they're waiting to be fed it's a cross between babysitting and on and just saw I'm not even sure what the other thing is but it's not satisfying than I did it for when you're covered for sure Bill Clinton which was Mr. toads Wild Ride I happen to you and arm but that was enough for me and I don't know if it's going to be babysitting the next administration the benefit is me love spanking oh absolutely absolutely shudder to think will be light so to just turn back to the Toure experience very you know we had Steve Kerr on this show every park as I covered is that incessant yeah and it was really riveting to hear him talk about his dad experience and the fact that his dad returned to Beirut to take over the years either at a time when it was to vet it was dangerous and he was frightened he felt honor bound to come to us to follow through on his commitment shortly after we got there he was assassinated so I told the story in the book because Malcolm for socks I'd studied Middle East Studies Malcolm Kerr was a real tight in the field and arm what I loved about him was not only is inside you wrote the classic work on the air of Cold War but she was a very balanced sky when he came to Israel Arab stuff you know and you can see that in Steve you can see it and his mom so on we had been at their house for dinner oh and a few weeks before and never forget you know bears a very conspiratorial place everything's a conspiracy there and were having but just because you're paranoid doesn't mean owns an oh absolutely but we're having dinner at over their house by my wife and I with sand and Malcolm in a few other couples and there was a terrible rainstorm broke out and a member Malcolm saying you think the Syrians did oh yeah and tragically a few weeks later I got the call from the police radio that time he'd been shot I ran over to the university I was in the hallway where he was shot I can still see the bullet holes in the wall and I wrote that story when your time's to the reconstruction you know just a few weeks ago with Steve it was I had no idea they're doing it but I picked up the paper to discover the little quote from my new story that day you know what happened you up you've probably lost more than one boyfriend absolutely in these conflicts how you hate how you cover the the assassination of a friend you know um obviously you're first thing that takes over just instinct in you cover it on but on the way I've compartmentalized be rude in Jerusalem I saw enormous amount of violence there too and knew people who'd been killed as they say is that I simply dealt with that as a knot in the purity and weight but I knew that I was having an emotional experience that was really unusual and I was getting an insight into how I behave how I reacted to those kind of things other people did who did what how how did you build resilience and that kind of situation on and it grew me up fast this little whenever people whenever I describe my encounter with Middle East Beirut and Jerusalem it is always a Minnesota boy goes to Beirut what I mean by that acts as well talk about in a later i grew up in a real community and people say what you see in Beirut I say I saw community breakdown other people might say something else I say I saw everybody going to their own confessional schools dividing of sandbags I came from the embrace of an incredibly pluralistic community and then I went to a place I saw it all break down we will talk about that because I think that this retreat to tribalism is something that we're seeing all including our own country and the breakdown of community and it's probably the single most threatening totally thing that we face hearings manager will talk about why we're there when we talk let me just say one thing about that because it's a backdrop to maybe a Segway to talking about the book in the sense that somehow segue way to quick look I don't do other things but I want of the water on it because it is so appropriate which is on some psychiatrists who would put me on the couch now and I would say doctor here's really what happened and so I spent the first really twenty five thirty years my journalism career pushing all these Middle East hopes OS lo yes spring Iraq I hoped it would become as among the lowest of all of these things I really pushed all those rocks in the end they all came tumbling down over me and I got steamrolled and so on I came home and um oh and I started reading about nation building in America and something in Fresno by this resonate that is why I really felt a bond is all that energy was put in the Middle East was a great home to America and then I discovered we were turning into Sunnis and Shiites that the same kind of tribalism that had driven out of there was now infecting Washington D C and so I basically did what really in some way stimulated this or next is that I decided to go home to the one source of optimism and community right where I started first of all just to see if it was true or did I just make it all up and I year exactly tight idealized so I went back home and I didn't make it up you know I went in to view my teachers and my my colleagues and the kids I went to school with and it was remarkable today as it was then and therefore could I draw lessons from it that I could share my politics really shrink you know from from that middle east heroic a peacemaking back to Washington back I ended up where I started to take a short break and we'll be right back with Tom Friedman rocket mortgage by Quicken loans proudly supports the X Files when it comes to the big decision of choosing a mortgage lender it's important to work with someone you can trust leisure best interests in mind with rockin' mortgage you'll get a transparent online process that gives you the confidence you need to make an informed decision skip the bank of the waiting and go completely online at Quicken loans dot com slash X Files equal Housing lender license in all fifty states and MLS consumer access dot org Number thirty thirty you mention are slow of I was in the nose in Israel in nineteen ninety four with a group and we visited with three leaders we visited with Bibi Netanyahu was the leader of the opposition in time we met with Shimon Peres who I believe was the foreign minister problems and and would it suck Rabin who is who is the prime minister and the same person in the group asked the same question to each of which was what are you going to tell the settlers if the Oslo accord goes through who have to leave their homes and a B so I won't have to tell him anything because they won't have to leave their homes if I'm the prime minister Peres said in a way that I didn't think he realized sounded as um as it did but he said I'll tell them they're free to stand or Palestinian rule Andrew being said I will tell I would tell them he said so we're early as was his way I will tell them that too much blood has been shed we've lost too many of our children and peace has a price and this is the price and you could see why he was the leader absolute right and I raise that because I know you were gone by nineteen ninety four but I was going back regularly and I saw a ravine week before he was killed I always think I've thought since that time that the young man who killed him was probably the most destructive person in history since the person who shot the arch Duke Ferdinand to touch off a World of home what was lost when Rabin was assassinated and where are we today and is it recoverable is the prayer is that is the prospect of peace between Israel and Palestinians is it is a day lost I hope so what was lost were three things on the acts of firsts was a unique leader who blended what on of my friendly and weasel teacher called and he was a bastard for peace remaining in other words he was a progressive he believed in peace but Israelis trusted him yes because a they are not a general and use a general they knew the river that this wasn't because he has some illusions about Palestinians at all converted a love that you know he he knew just the region he knew what he was doing and so they trusted me was a bastard for peace on what was lost was that unique talent which very few people have Sharon had to come he was more bastard and his Maker but he got out of Gaza and really involved these are the second intifada write this right and evolved into exactly and on but was lost was time because um when Rabin was killed I would guess there were about one fifty to seventy thousand settlers some point that today there's almost half a million you know and so you could think about that question you raise what we tell the people we have to move them fifty thousand people o member took Israelis fifty thousand police and military to remove a thousand people from Gaza so you're talking about four hundred to five hundred thousand the West Bank it's actually inconceivable and what does the the sky I know you wrote a fairly strong I feel very very strong column recently about the Trump emerges Trump approach to the two that to that issue into the Middle East and his appointment of David Freese and as the Ambassador what do you think that means in terms of um notch the peace process but the prize but the prospect of stability yeah well first of all just a little warning to your listeners access I can ruin any dinner party and I do weddings I do weddings and Bar mitzvah is going to be under lute I believe the two state solution is over I believe are locked into one state situation on it still salvageable in the sense of Israel offered Palestinians radical autonomy I think you can imagine I'm some kind of stable outcome is for a while but um if if Trump points but his bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman who is on record are proudly as saying that Jews who believe in a two state solution the equivalent of Jews who collaborated with the Nazis in concentration camps which I said in that home is actually the most vile thing I've ever heard and you say to another and I've covered this issue my whole adult life but a lot of friends on the Israeli right people I talk to all the time I've never heard anyone talk that way not about me I must say he may be to the right of the Israeli radio I actually think that this if he is appointed ambassador was a huge problem for BP for the first time a state of an ambassador to Israel to his right right I always thought it was useful as much as he didn't get along with Obama argued on controlling is right absolutely you know I'd love to do this but that bastard a bridal dress that was his favor line Garmin and so I don't think Deb's thought this through it all there's been a rush to embrace Trump and all of this that is madness to me but I do believe the two state solution is basically over I think it if it was wrong for us to abstain at the United Bono is absolutely right was it was only right now to try to administer one last jolt of reality but a fire Obama and Kerry I want to be on record as we truly tried I thought Kerry speech was actually a remarkable historical document as he went through the whole record in a very balanced way now we are here for two reasons we're here because Bibi Netanyahu talked about wanting to have a two state solution and never once put a plan on the table you know that is the president to do with that for last eight years so what does that really say for all so here I have to say it's because the Palestinian yes basically had a leader us alone for God who very lot of people really see that written and on and what was his idea it was just like designers list builder institutions for zz judges courts police economy governing institutions and then once we got the institutions then we declare a state and on the current Palestinian leadership pushed him out on because they're much more comfortable with that kind of corrupt cronyism in every Arab country today an unfortunate Israelis and we I would say let that happen and we should have on when the Europeans because Europeans pay for the occupation they actually fund the Palestinian Authority and Europeans that said if i odd goes our money goes I think he was that important actually coined a term called Fiat isn't a whole different kind of Arab leadership that says judge me by my performance not by whether I am against the Jews whether against the Americans well I'm shouting louder than him judge me on whether I get the sewers fixed the roads clean the lights working the police and the jobs and Fiat is and I and um and so the Palestinians fire the prime minister of Israel today I would be giving them a state they're in no position to govern themselves is rookie of the West Bank Hamas is there tomorrow and so you've got to nurture something totally different now but I received a B B you won you won you won you are now the father
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Ep. 114 - Thomas Friedman

The Axe Files with David Axelrod