An aspect of Friedman’s work that makes it so popular is that he constantly invents simple new theories and catch phrases to explain Middle East politics. After reading his column it is possible to believe that one has easily achieved understanding of the region. Of course, the reason that he must come up with so many theories is that they almost always fail.
Now he has a new, materialistic explanation for why Islamists will become moderate: they need the money. He cites how Egyptian Islamists have issued conflicting statements about allowing tourists to have alcohol and bikinis as proving that they must make lots of accommodations with reality. No oil money, you see.
But I heard similar things about Iran in the late 1970s — they’ll have to be moderate because they need to sell the oil — and about Yasir Arafat at the start of the peace process in the early 1980s — he’ll have to be moderate because the Palestinians he rules will demand garbage collection and decent schools. One might just as well have posited that the Turkish government would never turn against Israel because Israeli tourists brought in so much money.
There have been many examples of the Friedman theory since Karl Marx first wrote that the means of production detemined the shape of society. When Lenin invoked the New Economic Policy to get the new-born USSR through its tough, post-World War I period, naive Westerners announced that Communism had been tamed. My relatives and their neighbors in Poland — I can document this — comforted themselves by thinking the Germans wouldn’t kill them because the Nazis needed their forced labor.
It is awesome how our political geniuses simply don’t learn from history.