Tough to realize dreams with imagination in short supply

March 30, 2004|By Thomas L. Friedman

WASHINGTON - I have a confession to make: I am the foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times and I didn't listen to one second of the 9/11 hearings and I didn't read one story in the paper about them. Not one second. Not one story.

Lord knows, it's not out of indifference to 9/11. It's because I made up my mind about that event a long time ago: It was not a failure of intelligence, it was a failure of imagination. We could have had perfect intelligence on all the key pieces of 9/11, but the fact is we lacked - for the very best of reasons - people with evil enough imaginations to put those pieces together and realize that 19 young men were going to hijack four airplanes for suicide attacks against our national symbols and kill as many innocent civilians as they could, for no stated reason at all.

Imagination is on my mind a lot these days, because it seems to me that the only people with imagination in the world right now are the bad guys. As my friend Stephen P. Cohen, the Middle East analyst, says, "That is the characteristic of our time - all the imagination is in the hands of the evildoers."

I am so hungry for a positive surprise. I am so hungry to hear a politician, a statesman, a business leader surprise me in a good way. It has been so long. It's been over 10 years since Yitzhak Rabin thrust out his hand to Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn. Yes, yes, I know, Mr. Arafat turned out to be a fraud. But for a brief, shining moment, an old warrior, Mr. Rabin, stepped out of himself, his past, and all his scar tissue, and imagined something different.

It's been a long time.

I have this routine. I get up every morning around 6, fire up my computer, call up AOL's news page and then hold my breath to see what outrage has happened in the world overnight. A massive bombing in Iraq or Madrid? More murderous violence in Israel? A hotel going up in flames in Bali or a synagogue in Istanbul? More U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq?

I so hunger to wake up and be surprised with some really good news - by someone who totally steps out of himself or herself, imagines something different and thrusts out a hand.

I want to wake up and read that President Bush has decided to offer a real alternative to the stalled Kyoto Protocol to reduce global warming. I want to wake up and read that 10,000 Palestinian mothers marched on Hamas headquarters to demand that their sons and daughters never again be recruited for suicide bombings. I want to wake up and read that Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia invited Israel's Ariel Sharon to his home in Riyadh to personally hand him the Abdullah peace plan and Mr. Sharon responded by freezing Israeli settlements as a goodwill gesture.

I want to wake up and read that General Motors has decided it will no longer make gas-guzzling Hummers and that Mr. Bush has decided to replace his limousine with an armor-plated hybrid car that gets more than 40 miles to the gallon.

I want to wake up and read that Vice President Dick Cheney has apologized to the United Nations and all our allies for being wrong about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but then appealed to our allies to join with the United States in an even more important project - helping Iraqis build some kind of democratic framework. I want to wake up and read that Rep. Tom DeLay called for a tax increase on the rich in order to save Social Security and Medicare for the next generation and to finance all our underfunded education programs.

I want to wake up and read that Justice Antonin Scalia has recused himself from ruling on the case involving Mr. Cheney's energy task force when it comes before the Supreme Court - not because Justice Scalia did anything illegal in duck hunting with the VP, but because our Supreme Court is so sacred, so vital to what makes our society special - its rule of law - that he wouldn't want to do anything that might have even a whiff of impropriety.

I want to wake up and read that Mr. Bush has announced a Manhattan Project to develop renewable energies that will end America's addiction to crude oil by 2010. I want to wake up and read that Mel Gibson just announced that his next film will be called Moses and all the profits will be donated to the Holocaust Museum.

Most of all, I want to wake up and read that John Kerry just asked Senate colleague John McCain to be his vice president, because if Mr. Kerry wins he intends not to waste his four years avoiding America's hardest problems - health care, deficits, energy, education - but to tackle them, and that can only be done with a bipartisan spirit and bipartisan team.

Thomas L. Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun.

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