Advanced Search
Thomas Friedman
Thomas Friedman
From Beirut to Jerusalem
ISBN: 0374158959
From Beirut to Jerusalem
Thomas Friedman, chief diplomatic correspondent for the New York Times, discusses his best-selling book, From Beirut to Jerusalem. Friedman was the first Jewish correspondent to be sent by the Times to cover Middle East politics. He was assigned to Beirut and Jerusalem from the late seventies through the mid-eighties. The Muslim-Christian-Jewish conflict is addressed and he speaks of many "absurdities of life" in Beirut. Friedman also talks of daily life in Jerusalem and how such a relatively small city can command so much of the world headlines.
From Beirut to Jerusalem
Program Air Date: September 10, 1989

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Thomas L. Friedman New York Times reporter and author of "From Beirut to Jerusalem." You use a Mexican proverb in the beginning of chapter 6. "All your friends are false. All your enemies are real." Why'd you use that?
THOMAN L. FRIEDMAN, AUTHOR, "FROM BEIRUT TO JERUSALEM": Well it was really Brian I think directed mostly at the PLO and to Yassar Arafat. And it was my way of saying that in the situation that they were in Beirut they really had no friends in the Arab world who were going to come to their aid. No friends in Europe who at the end they were going to come to their aid. All their friends were in many ways false. But all their enemies particularly Israel was very real and ready to go all the way if it needed to to get Arafat and the PLO out of Beirut.
LAMB: What years were you actually in the Middle East?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I went out to Beirut in June 1979 and stayed there until roughly June 1984 with some time off in between eleven months. And then I went from Beirut to Jerusalem in one day. Literally drove in a car. A taxi. Several taxis. But you could make the trip in six hours really if you could drive directly. And I stayed in Jerusalem from June 1984 until the summer of 1988.
LAMB: The best part of living over in that part of the world?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well I think the best part of living in Beirut was the fact that you were living in the world's biggest skinner box. You were living in this environment this kind of super heated atmosphere where you really got to see how molecules behave when the temperature is really turned up. You learn more really about human beings and about yourself in a place like Beirut than in my case I did in the previous thirty some years of my life. You get to see what what people are made of. How evil they can be and how good and generous they can be. Because in Beirut everything was quite large. Everything was at the extreme edge.
LAMB: Let me ask you a naive question. From watching the news I conclude when I see Beirut why would anybody stay there?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: It's a question I get from many people Brian. And there's no one single answer. I think the first and most common explanation today is that everyone stays for a reason. Somebody..most of them are prisoners of their assets. That is people have built houses, businesses or careers around their lives in Beirut and as shattered as those careers or homes or businesses may be they just don't want to leave and start over somewhere else. It's a very human thing. So no matter how bad the situation gets and no matter how shattered those businesses and lives and careers become they always hope that the next cease fire the next lull in the fighting will bring that fundamental change that will make everything right again. Other people are staying because they've got a relative and aged grandfather or an aged father or mother who's simply too sick or too unwilling to pick up and start over somewhere else. And for others well it may be crazy and it may be dangerous and it may be surreal but it's home.
LAMB: How many people live there?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: In Beirut over a million did live there. How many live there today is anybody's guess.
LAMB: When was the last time you were in Beirut?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I was not in Beirut since 1984.
LAMB: Is or was there when you were there any part of Beirut that was perfectly normal?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well nowhere that was really perfectly normal. Yet normalcy you could still characterize a great deal of Beirut life. What makes Beirut such a wild and crazy and absurd place to live is not that people get killed. It's that they get killed playing tennis or they get killed taking their kids to school or they get killed playing golf. That's why I called the second chapter of my book "Would You Like to Eat Now or Wait For the Cease Fire?" which is a quote from a dinner party in Beirut and reflects the kind of absurd juxtaposition of life there where life was always secure enough for you to go about your day but never secure enough for you to be sure that day wouldn't be your last. So my wife and I were members in good standing of the Beirut Golf and Country Club when we were there. And when they talk about the first hole there is a dangerous par 5 let me tell you they aren't just whistling Dixie alright. The PLO had a shooting range which faced the driving range of that golf course. It was the only golf course where I was happy to go into a sand bunker. It's like the safest place you could possibly be. But people played. And there was a man I used to play with- George Beaver- who I write about in the book who played everyday of the Lebanese Civil War by himself. He'd only take out a few clubs. Some days he'd play the holes forward. Sometimes he'd play them backward. He was an Englishman who'd retired to Beirut. He gave a whole new meaning to term only mad dogs and Englishmen would play on a day like today. Well I once asked George I said, George we were out playing this is crazy. And he said yeah it's crazy that we play. But we'd be even crazier if we didn't play. And that's really the lesson of Beirut. The way you survive in a place like Beirut is not by hiding in a dark corner of your cellar. That's how you go crazy in Beirut. The way you survive is by getting out and trying to lead as normal a life as you possibly can.
LAMB: From what I've seen you've done very well on your reviews. Have you gotten any bad reviews?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I've gotten a few extremely negative reviews. Mostly from American Jews or entirely from American Jews who are I would say of a more right wing persuasion who were upset by the fact that I criticize Israel in the book. Criticize Israel I think in a very sympathetic way but nevertheless they simply couldn't countenance any kind of criticism of Israel. But I don't take these reviews seriously. The book has been warmly embraced I think in the majority of the American Jewish community. Israeli publishers competed for the right to publish it in Hebrew. There's going to be a Hebrew edition of the book. It's going to be excerpted in the Israeli newspaper Mareve (?). And it's gotten a broad and I think a sympathetic response from Jews from non Jewish Americans and from Arabs as well.
LAMB: When did you start writing it?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I started writing the book in January of 1988 and I finished it in February of 1989. It took me about 13 months.
LAMB: First book?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: First book. I wrote an essay for a book of photographs about Lebanon but it was just a short essay. This is my first real book.
LAMB: Why did you write it?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Why did I write it? Well I guess because..I mean in the simplest sense I just had more to say. After 10 years in the Middle East it wasn't that the times had somehow not allowed me to say what I wanted there as a reporter. To the contrary. It allowed me to say it for 10 years. The thing was though I really wanted to sit back and reflect on all that I had said. To try and sum it up. To try to see that patterns. To try to set a framework really for myself to understand this period of 10 years that I saw in the Middle East in hopes that that framework would serve for others to understand the Middle East both tomorrow and yesterday. And that's what I try to do in every chapter is really lay down a framework that if you read this chapter or this book you'll be able to understand the Middle East today. This is what so many of the reviewers have said and so many people have called me or written me said you for the first time I understand this place. The book's been on the New York Times's best best seller list for six weeks. And for a's number five as a matter of fact this Sunday. For a serious non fiction book on the subject like the Middle East which most people say the Middle East please okay do me a favor but I don't want to hear about the Middle East. I think that for me it's the best compliment that I've managed to present you know this part of the world in a way that's both comprehensible and if I do say so also funny and humorous. Sad and tragic as well but I think I capture all the emotions of the area.
LAMB: For our viewers this is being recorded in late August in case they say hey I've seen it up there and now it's number one in the New York Times..
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Yeah it'll be number five on Sunday the 27th.
LAMB: What does it mean to be Jewish?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: What does it mean to be Jewish? Jewish in the Middle East or Jewish period? I never thought about that actually.
LAMB: There's so comes up so often on this network. Callers call in both Jews and non-Jews the whole discussion about the..what does it mean to you?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well for me it's..I think it means being part of a particular community with certain shared values which go by the name of Jewish Values or Judaeo Christian Values in some ways now we think of many of them. But for me it's more of a communal sense of tribal almost identification not something that is for me personally a religious in the sense of going to church or synagogue type of experience.
LAMB: Was your family religious?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Wasn't religious. I would say it was a typical American..I'm from Minneapolis..Midwestern Jewish family. We went to synagogue on high holidays or Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur but it wasn't an orthodox family by anything of that nature.
LAMB: Did you run into prejudice about being Jewish in Minneapolis?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Certainly when I grew up there was anti Semitism in Minneapolis. My family couldn't join AAA for instance in the '50's because of anti-Semitism. But I think that's something that's long past.
LAMB: What does it mean to be an anti-Semite?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: It means certainly not to..someone who hates Jews as far as I know.
LAMB: And do you have any idea where..what the origin of all this is? Where does this kind of thing start?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: It's probably really beyond my my capacity as a journalist or an author to get into that really. It's a little beyond me. Beyond probably the confines of my book as well.
LAMB: Does it effect your work where ever you go?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well certainly my identity does. Of being a Jew in the Middle East which is something I talked about in the book quite a bit. You know certainly affected how I perceived the story. How I saw the story being a Jew covering the Arab world which is something I discuss in detail. It was an interesting experience. And also being a Jew the first New York Times correspondent who was Jewish sent to cover both the Arab world and Israel brought with it a lot of challenges and I think a lot of opportunities.
LAMB: If you were in a position of editor at the New York Times would you do someone else who is Jewish what they did to you?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well I don't think they did something to me. I think they did something for me.
LAMB: Okay. But would you do it again.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Yeah. Definitely, definitely. Abe Rosethall who was then the editor of the Times really thought it would be interesting to see how I would report the Arab world being Jewish and although having studied and gotten a B.A. and graduate degree from Oxford in Middle East studies so he knew I had a background in Middle East how I would cover the Arab world. And he thought it would be equally interesting for our readers in the paper to see how I would filter Israeli society. And I think considering that I won a Pulitzer Prize for my coverage of Beirut and a Pulitzer Prize for my coverage of Jerusalem he was happy with the experience as were a lot of our readers.
LAMB: When you approach this book what are the things the techniques that you used to keep people interested and to get on the best seller list?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: That a good question. By the way I approach..the best piece of advice I got before I wrote this book was from a colleague of mine David Ignatius who is editor of the Outlook section at the Washington Post and himself has written a novel about the Middle East a very good novel and he said when you're writing this book always imagine whether the reader is going to want to turn the page. Whether what you're writing, how you're writing the anecdotes you're telling will compel that reader to want to turn the page. And that's what I tried to keep in mind. Hence the book is a really a combination of analysis of history of autobiography of anecdote all kind of put in my own kind of quasarnar and comes out the other end in a way that I think really many people have said you know reads like a novel much more than any kind of non fiction book.
LAMB: Where did you write it?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I wrote half of it in Jerusalem. Or spent half the time of my year off to write the book in Jerusalem writing the book there..the apartment we lived in there. And I spent the rest of the time at Woodrow Wilson Center here in Washington D.C. at the Smithsonian Institution finishing the book.
LAMB: And you're back full time..
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Now I'm back full time. I've the Chief Diplomatic Correspondent for the New York Times covering Secretary of State Baker.
LAMB: Let me show the audience this map which is one of the few graphics in the book. You didn't use any pictures.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: No we didn't. We didn't use any pictures. It's basically just maps and my own story.
LAMB: This is Israel.
LAMB: Alright. And you focus here on Jerusalem. I don't know if we can get a real tight shot of this but can you try to explain to us what is Jerusalem?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well Jerusalem of course is the capital of Israel. It's a city that is holy to Christians, Muslims, and Jews. And it is in many ways you know the centerpiece of this conflict.
LAMB: Why?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Because everyone wants to control the city they believe is closest to God.
LAMB: And what's the origin of that? I know this..these are simplistic questions but for people who aren't thinking beyond just the daily news why is this such a sensitive place?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well precisely because so many people have attachments to it really in many ways see it as God's throne on earth whether they be Christians, Muslims or Jews and everyone wants to be buried there. You know if the Messiah is going to come whether again you be Christian, Muslim, or Jew you want to be buried in Jerusalem so you'll be first to be resurrected. So everyone has I think their own spiritual connection to this place which makes it so compelling and so much a source of both of friction and delight.
LAMB: Was it strange to you if I read you right you're not very it strange to you to live in a community that everybody running around is very religious or are they very religious?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well Jerusalem of course does have a very religious flavor to it and again you see many religious Jews in the city. You see many religious Muslims you see many religious Christians. I was more fascinated by it that alienated or repelled or put off by it. I found it part of what I liked about the place. Part of its kind of intellectual energy that you had all these currents swirling around each other. I found it fascinating.
LAMB: How big is this city?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Jerusalem's an overgrown village really. It's a city that occupies this enormous space in our imagination but in the real world is really very small and charming.
LAMB: How many people live there?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Oh probably about half a million or something like that.
LAMB: How is it divided?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well it's divided into basically predominately Arab eastern half of the city East Jerusalem which includes also the old city of Jerusalem where the holiest Muslim, Christian and Jewish sites are located and there's a newer western half of the city almost entirely Jewish half where you have basically modern Jerusalem.
LAMB: Where do the Christians live?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: They live primarily in the eastern Arab half of the city.
LAMB: And if you were to travel there and which a lot of people do can you tell the difference between east and west physically?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well today I would say they've been largely melded together but certainly not entirely. Of course the Arab half of the city you have shops where you have signs in Arabic all over the place. You'll see more people in Arabic dress on the streets and certainly the old city which is surrounded by sixteenth century Turkish walls looks like a almost Walt Disney like fortress is something nobody can miss or mistake for the modern half of the city.
LAMB: And the people that live there are citizens of what country?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: The people who live there in the Arab eastern half of Jerusalem according to Israeli law have been annexed by Israel and have the right if they want to to take out Israeli citizenship. All of those people also to this day still bear Jordanian citizenship Jordanian passports. So you'd have to ask them really to get a definitive answer to your question.
LAMB: How many Christians are there?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I don't know really the figure is..I may be..there roughly may be in Jerusalem a quarter of the Arab population.
LAMB: Can a Christian be an Israeli..member of the Israeli state?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Yes there are many Christian Arabs who are residents and citizens of the State of Israel. You have towns like Nazareth for instance in the Galilee where Jesus was raised which is predominately an Arab town that is entirely Christian or made up almost entirely Christian Arabs. So..
LAMB: Same rights as all Israeli citizens?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Certainly in theory. Obviously in practice that does not always apply as they'd be first to tell you. But in theory they're certainly Israeli citizens.
LAMB: If we had around the table and this..there's no such thing I suspect an average Christian, an average Jew, an average Muslim. What would you say about each one of those people that made them different from one another?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I wouldn't want to step into any kind of characterization like that.
LAMB: Are they different?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I think that to the extent that they see the world through a religious lens clearly each has a very different religious interpretation of both yesterday, today, and tomorrow. But as people who you'd work with in an office or a you know take a trip with I'd be hard pressed to point to any real distinguishing characteristics.
LAMB: From what you know the people who live in Jerusalem today do they get along?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: They get along to the extent that they have to get along. But I think that there's still a good deal of tension. Everyone kind of lives within his own world and his own community.
LAMB: Do you think after your experience over there and obviously you've thought a lot about it that this problem and I don't know what this problem is that the Middle Eastern problem will ever be taken care of?
LAMB: Ever resolved?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I don't think it'll ever be resolved perfectly and finally. Simply because there are too many conflicting claims. I think it is possible to resolve it in a way that might satisfy the majority of Palestinians and the majority of Israelis and the majority of surrounding Arab states. But I don't see the prospects as very high for a peace of Versailles like peace where everyone would one day sign with golden pen and parchment a final and conclusive peace treaty of the Middle East. It hasn't happened in three thousand years so I don't see why just because little Tommy Friedman form Minneapolis comes out to the area and says everyone should make nice that it's going to happen today.
LAMB: You meet many people in the Middle East that felt that it could be solved the problem?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Oh everyone believes it could be solved and everyone wants it to be solved. But everyone wants their own kind of peace. Everyone if you ask them would say yeah of course I want peace I'm all for peace but then you ask them what kind of peace. Is it a peace the other guy can live with that's another question.
LAMB: If you were to go back right now to the Middle East and you had to pick one person in the entire area you personally would want to go see who would that person be?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I don't think I could point to a particular person. I would say there are several people who I never got to meet as a reporter who I'd love to sit down and have a good long talk with. Certainly one is Menachem Begin. I never got to meet him. He had gone into seclusion by the time I came to Israel as a reporter. And I would love to have a good long talk with. Menachem Begin. Hafez al Assad, President of Syria is another man I wouldn't mind in fact I would enjoy having a good long talk with.
LAMB: He refused to talk to you?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Never just had the opportunity. I can't say that I was Syria but it wasn't like I applied and he refused to talk it just for whatever reason the opportunity never arose.
LAMB: Anybody else?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Anybody else? I wouldn't mind sitting down for a long and heart to heart chat with Yassar Arafat as well.
LAMB: Never did that?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I had many interviews with Arafat but those are all within certain confines about certain news events at a certain time. I'd love to sit down and really have a good chat with him.
LAMB: Let me reask my question because I really wasn't looking for personalities as much as the person you would call that you met and maybe written about in your book that you would find the most interesting. That you'd love to go back and see again and why?
LAMB: One or two people. Two or three people.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: It really hard for me Brian to name any one. There are hundreds maybe thousands of voices in this book and many people who I came to enjoy on this journey. And the book is about a journey really and the people I met along the way. And one of the things I've enjoyed about the book coming out is old friends from Beirut calling me. I was talking to a Arab diplomat this morning who told me that an old friend of mine a figure in the book Sab Salem , who used to be the Lebanese Prime Minister he was a very close friend of mine in Beirut he said had just had a serious heart attack in Los Angeles and was recovering and was in the intensive care ward and my friend went out to see him and he had my book by his bed and he'd already read 125 pages in intensive care and he wanted to argue with my friend about the book as a matter of fact and the doctors immediately came in and you took my friend out. He said he's in no condition to be doing that. I got an enormous kick out of that. And I've heard from a lot of people a lot of old friends and that's given me a lot of satisfaction.
LAMB: You have other stories similar to that or a story of someone who has read this book and you put the phone down and you said that's why I wrote the book?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Oh definitely. Just before I came over here a woman called me. She sounded like she was Indian. Indian from India not a native american but Indian American I would say and she said I just have to tell you I bought your book last night and I stayed up all night to read it. You don't know me. I'm not Jewish. And I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the book. I read that you report for the New York Times from the Washington Bureau so she looked up the Bureau in the phone book and called me up. And that's who I wrote the book for. I didn't write the book for experts. I didn't write the book for the officials out there. For Prime Ministers or Cabinet Ministers. I wrote the book for the average American who's been watching this story for the last 10 years or 20 years and hasn't been able to figure it out for hide nor hair and wants a way to understand it and that's who I wrote it for. And that's who I think is buying it. And that's what gives me enormous satisfaction.
LAMB: From what you know any of the leaders over there read this book?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I got a call from the PLO office here the other day saying they had received a fax from Chairman Yassar Arafat that he wanted to read the book and they asked me if I would bring a copy over for them which I did.
LAMB: Do you sense and I know you had a lot of years over there with the New York Times that the media plays a big role? And if it is..if it does how big a role is it?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well it plays a very important role. I have two chapters in the book about that. One chapter is about reporting from Beirut called "Beirut City of Versions" which is a quote from a colleague of mine the late Bill Farrow who once remarked that there's no truth in Beirut there's only versions. Because reporting from Beirut is like looking at kind of the white light of truth coming at you. But it's then refracted through a prism. A prism of all these factions and feats and religious communities so that white light comes and hits that prism and suddenly its splayed out in 15 different directions. And that's how it hits you as a reporter. You never get the truth. It's always through that prism. You get all the..those different colors and you as a reporter have to take a little of the red band and a little of the yellow band and little of the blue band and try to then paint them together in as close approximation as you can to that original sort of truth or reality. That's what makes reporting there a challenge. I have another chapter on reporting from Israel called "Under the Spotlight" which is about why this country the size of the state of Delaware the population not much greater than greater Chicago gets as much news coverage as the Soviet Union.
LAMB: Now if your over there either in..and you spent most of your time in Lebanon and Jerusalem..
LAMB: How many languages do you speak?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well I studied both Hebrew as a young man and Arabic in college. I'm not fluent in either language but had enough of a working knowledge to certainly use both languages when I needed to do some interviews.
LAMB: How much English language media is a available in both those places?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well in Beirut you have a lot of translation services. Organizations that will take the Arabic press and Arabic radio and provide daily transcripts and readouts in English for the Foreign Press and the foreign community in general. At times in Beirut there were also English language newspapers that came and went. In Israel you have the daily Jerusalem Post which is in English and you also have translation service provided by the government press office there of the Arabic press and leading editorials.
LAMB: Is the Jerusalem Press the only English language newspaper in Israel?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Yes. No now there's a new one since I left there's the Jerusalem Post and another one called The Nation.
LAMB: Because Wolf Blitzer has been here many times on the call in shows and you see him a lot in this country how powerful is the Jerusalem Post?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well within Israel it's very powerful within the English speaking community. But you have to keep in mind that the English speaking community is only a fraction of the Israeli population. So as an Israeli newspaper I would say it's influence is limited. As a newspaper for world Jewry it's influence is extensive.
LAMB: How did Beirut become the center of all this activity?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well part of it is..has to do with the physical location of Beirut. Here you have this port city on the western edge the western frontier of the Arab world. So it had the natural kind of outlet access for shipping and later purely air travel from Europe. It was the first stop as it were. The gateway to the Arab world. So to one sense Beirut faced west. But at the same time it also faced east. It looked out on the Arab world. It was an Arabic speaking country. It had and extremely dynamic and talented Lebanese population that could and did serve as kind of a bridge kind of a middle man kind of an antropoe between the Arab world and the European world. That's why you meet so many Lebanese who speak English, French, and Arabic. They..and they served as that kind of bridge so it made them a natural center point for the Arab world. Unfortunately it also made them a stage or a convenient playground as it were for the Arab world to play out a lot of its conflicts. Everyone was there in Beirut. Everyone had his tentacles into Beirut. And Syrians could get at the Iraqis there and the Iraqis could get at the Jordanians and the Jordanians could get at the Egyptians and everybody could get at each other in Beirut because the place was a little bit loose. The rules of the game there weren't real strict. And so it became kind of the off Broadway for Middle East conflicts. You know if you had the real conflicts if Iraq and Syria fought head to head as nations that would be explosive. So they played out their feuds off Broadway. And that meant in Beirut.
LAMB: Go back to trying to understand I know I asked this question earlier go back to the people the Iraqis the Iranians the Lebanese and all the people that you mentioned the Syrians and the Israelis in a place like Lebanon is the conflict based again on personal differences or religious differences among all those people you just mentioned?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I think it's based on a tribal competition for space and resources. You know in a tribal environment nobody really wants to put himself under the authority of the next guy because he's afraid in kind of a tribal world that the other guys tribe is dominate. Well they'll call all the shots. They'll monopolize all the resources. So I've got to make sure that my tribe then is dominate. And for a brief period of time the Lebanon were ready to stand back just a little bit and give just enough to create kind of a reasonably strong central government that would in a way divide the pie neutrally. But eventually that broke down when the power equation changed and one tribe the Muslims became demographically much larger much more powerful than another tribe the Marinite Christians. The Marinites didn't want to give up their tribal prerogatives that had been established when Lebanon was founded. They felt if they put their authority their lives under the Muslim tribe that their interests would not be protected. So you had a civil war.
LAMB: If if you were in the American government I know you're not and may not like this question what would you differently than what we're doing now?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: In my position as Diplomatic Correspondent for the New York Times I'll have to opt for a diplomatic answer that I can't really give any advice perse.
LAMB: Okay. Then..
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: What I do say in the book maybe. This is valid. At the end of the book Brian I have a section a chapter on how to be a statesman in the Middle East. And I say the effective statesman has to learn to play four different distinct roles. He's got to be able first of all to think like an obstetrician then he's got to be able to bargain like a grocer. He's got to be able to behave like a friend and he's got to know how to fight like a son of a bitch. And the last chapter is how to be a friendly obstetrician grocer son of a bitch. Now let me explain what I mean when I say..first of all he's got to think like an obstetrician. What does that mean? He's got to understand that we can be the greatest obstetricians for peace. We can be the greatest midwife's for peace in the Middle East. Henry Kessinger proved that in his day. Jimmy Carter proved that in his day. We can help deliver settlement. But only if the parties are ready to get pregnant. What I mean by that is only if Arabs and Israelis are ready to nurture a peace settlement together and make all the sacrifices and compromises necessary for such an agreement. Only if they're ready to do that can we be effective players in the region. If they're not ready to do that then there's nothing we can do. We can't deliver a baby for a barren couple. Now these people are famous for saying to us come on over. Come on over we want to get pregnant. Come shovel. Please come on over. But the truth is often they want to get pregnant with us the United States and not with each other. And we have to understand that and know how to deal with that situation. And that's why I say you've got to think first of all like an obstetrician and ask yourself is this couple really ready to get pregnant. Really ready to nurture an agreement together will all the sacrifices and compromises that it would entail or they just telling me that in the waiting room and then going back home and sleeping in separate bedrooms? Think like an obstetrician. Secondly you've got to be able to play the role of the friend. What does the friend do. The friend is the one first of all who walks you to school on that first day. Maybe everyday of the year. The friend is the one who lets you know that there's a world outside of the tribe that can be trusted. That everything doesn't have to be a tribal zero sum conflict where all my games or all your loses and vice versa. And it's very important to know how to be a friend because if you want to be an effective diplomat you want to be able to bring people along into a peace settlement. You've got to be able to put your arm around them and move them along sometimes but with your arm around them. The friend also always tell you the truth about yourself. The friend never allows you to delude yourself into thinking that this problem will go away if I just close my eyes. Two you've got to be a friend. Third you've got to be able to bargain like a grocer. I've a Lebanese friend who says in the book you know there're only two kind of men in the Middle East. There messiahs and there are merchants. The messiahs come and go with the political season. One season it's Khomaini another season it's Nassar and their like hurricanes they stir up everything on land but eventually they move out to sea and when they do they leave behind what was always there and that's the grocer. This is a merchant culture. And to be an effective statesman you've got to be able to go into the closet roll up your sleeves take out that apron and get into the bazaar and bargain with these people because that's what they expect and everyone will be testing you and what not. And you have to know how to be a grocer. Finally you've got to be a son of a bitch. You have to understand that Middle East diplomacy is a contact sport. Okay. That this is a part of the world where everyone plays by their own rules. And their own rules are no rules at all. And whatever peace settlement you achieve there by your efforts as an obstetrician grocer friend will always be challenged by people. And unless you're as tough an S.O.B. as everybody else in the region whatever you produce will easily be blown away.
LAMB: Let's show our audience what this book looks like and our guest is Thomas Friedman. Thomas L. Friedman who is currently a reporter Chief Diplomatic Correspondent for the New York Times. This is a book about the times he lived over in the Middle East "Beirut to Jerusalem." 1979 to 1988?
LAMB: Let me look inside here and get you to tell us about a couple things. Maybe it's obvious but why did you decide to dedicate the book to these people?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well the book is dedicated to my late father Harold Friedman and my mother Margaret Friedman because I consider this book I guess the most important achievement in my life and I wanted to dedicate it to the most important people in my life, my parents.
LAMB: How long has your father been dead?
LAMB: And then the next page..
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I thought we'd get to that.
LAMB: This..tell what this is.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well I think I'd probably be best reading it because it's hard to really describe otherwise. It is an excerpt from "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" which maybe captures in a nutshell what a lot of this book is about and about in many ways I found in both Beirut and Jerusalem. And you can indulge me Brian I'll read it..
LAMB: Absolutely. Go ahead.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: your readers. This is an excerpt as I said from Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and it is the opening page of my book. "Did you want to kill him Buck? Well I bet I did. What did he do to you? Him? He never done nothin to me. Well then what did you want to kill him for? Why nothin. Only it's on a count a the feud. What's a feud? Why where were you raised. Don't you know what a feud is? Never heard of it before. Tell me about it. Well says Buck a feud is this way. A man has a quarrel with another man and he kills him. Then that other man's brother kills him. Then the other brothers on both sides goes for one another. Then the cousins chip in. And by and by everybody's killed off and there ain't no more feud. But it's kind a slow and takes a long time. Has this one been going on long Buck? Well I should reckon. It started 30 years ago or somewheres along there. There was trouble bout somethin and then a lawsuit to settle it. And then the suit went again one of the men and so he up and shot the man who won the suit. Which he would naturally do of course. Anybody would. What was the trouble bout Buck? Land? I reckon maybe. I don't know. Well who done the shooting? Was it a Grangerford or a Shepardson? Lord how do I know it was so long ago. Don't anybody know? Oh yes. Pa knows I reckon. And some of the other old people. But they don't know now what the row was about in the first place."
LAMB: When did you decide to use that?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: As soon as I read it.
LAMB: When did you read it?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: While I was writing the book.
LAMB: Then if we continue opening the book there's something that's very helpful to somebody like me when you meet historical perspective. What is this and why did you do it?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: It's a Middle East chronology. It's really my own kind literary road map to the history of the Middle East. I take the key dates in modern Middle East history and try to explain in very brief ways what was important about them and lay a foundation for the reader in a very quick and I think easily digestible way. For the pre-history for as far as this book is concerned the history that leads up to this book.
LAMB: When you go out and speak to groups and you appear on talk shows and radio shows what are the questions or the misconceptions that the American people have about this whole part of the world that you hear the most?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well I think the main misconception they have about it is that it's impossible to understand. That it's impenetrable. And I think the thing that I try to attack in the book most of all is that. It is a comprehensible place. It follows certain rules. Strange kind of rules but rules nevertheless. And let me take you by the hand and come along on this journey and I'll explain it to you.
LAMB: If I wanted to go to any of the countries well let's start with Lebanon and Israel right now say I decide I want to go. How difficult would it be?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well Lebanon I think Brian would be off limits for you as it is for me. The New York Times won't allow any reporters to go there because of the threat of kidnapping which hangs over the place everyday. Especially for an American reporter as we both are. Israel hop on a plane.
LAMB: Let me go back to Lebanon.
LAMB: Will the State Department prevent me from going or would Lebanon prevent me from going?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: State Department would revoke your passport I believe if you went to Lebanon. Your passport is not good for travel to Lebanon.
LAMB: Even if you're a reporter?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Unless you get a special exclusion from the State Department.
LAMB: Can you do that?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Yeah. The State Department will give that to you provided you can make a case for it.
LAMB: Okay. Let's go to Jerusalem.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Hop on a plane. LL, TWA, Pan Am. They all fly there. It's easy as..
LAMB: Fly out of New York?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Fly out of New York yeah. And it's easy as pie.
LAMB: Do you need a Visa?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Not if you're an American. Not to go to Israel.
LAMB: You do not need a..
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Americans do not need a Visa. You get it at the airport.
LAMB: Alright. We want to go to Damascus.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: You want to go to Damascus then you've got a more difficult problem in that you'd have to apply for tourist Visa through the Syrian embassy here in Washington. And I don't want to speak for them but they're not that easy to acquire but certainly not impossible.
LAMB: If we went there what kind of conditions would we find?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Damascus is a fascinating city. It's got a wonderful old Bazaar. Huge market..covered market place. Fantastic shops.
LAMB: Would we be accepted.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Oh yeah Syrians..I've always found them welcoming as individuals I'm speaking here not the government but as individuals very welcoming and hospitable people.
LAMB: Now again you fly straight to Damascus?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: You'd have to go through Europe. There are no direct flights.
LAMB: Once we got to Damascus let's say we then wanted to go to Jerusalem?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Then you've got a problem. There's certainly no way to go there directly since the two countries are technically at war. What you'd have to do would be to drive to Ahmand, Jordan and then through Jordan you'd apply for permit to cross the Jordan River into Israel and drive from Ahmand to ….
LAMB: What about Ahmand, Jordan? How would we get to Ahmand from here?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: How can we get to Ahmand from here? You can fly from New York to Jordan on Jordanian airlines.
LAMB: Do you have any sense at all of how many Americans travel to this part of the world as tourists?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Not the absolute numbers. Just that there's a lot going certainly to Egypt, Israel and Jordan all the time.
LAMB: Let me ask you about money because it's the source of a lot of conversation on this network. How many American dollars are given each year to this part of the world?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well we give an annual grant of roughly $3 billion a year in military and economic aid to Israel and about $2.2 billion a year in economic aid to Egypt. That's certainly the lions share of it. Then we give something in the..probably not more that 100 million to all the other countries in the area.
LAMB: Why do we give money..why do we give $100 million to Jordan.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well we want to support Jordan which is a pro-American, pro-western country. It's been a traditional alley of the United States and the United States government has always held interest in seeing that King Hussein a friend of the United States maintains a stable and flourishing kingdom.
LAMB: And why the $2.2 billion to Egypt?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well the $2.2 billion to Egypt I think again is because Egypt certainly in the last decade has become a very pro-american country and certainly in the wake of the Camp David Peace Treaty has become a real force for peace and moderation in the region. It's a country that has enormous problems feeding itself. There are a million new Egyptians born every nine months. It is a malthusian nightmare in terms of the number of people being born every day and the limit on resources that the country lives under. And we want to prevent an explosion there. And for $2.2 billion a year it's probably a small price to pay for that.
LAMB: Who do we give $100 million to besides Jordan?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I don't know that even the figure with Jordan is 100 million. We give..I'm saying it's probably a $100 million total for all the other countries in the region.
LAMB: And are there other countries besides Jordan, Egypt and Israel..
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I would imagine Morocco probably gets a little money. Tunisia gets a little money, Algeria gets a little money.
LAMB: In addition to the money do we sell military equipment in addition to all this?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Oh definitely.
LAMB: To that part of the region?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Oh definitely.
LAMB: How much do we sell?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I couldn't give you absolute figures but I know we sell a lot of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, some of the other Gulf States and certainly to Israel and to Egypt.
LAMB: We're talking with Thomas L. Friedman. This is what the book looks like. As you can see it's "From Beirut to Jerusalem." A book that you completed on what date?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Oh I completed it..oh there was no one date since between the editing and the copy editing and the final proofing but it was probably finished last March.
LAMB: How did you write this book? Sitting at a VDT?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Physically I sat down at my IBM PC in Jerusalem and when I started the book and just started typing.
LAMB: Do you write in the morning or the evening?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I would basically my schedule would be I'd get up and read the morning paper, have my breakfast and morning coffee, ride my stationery bicycle, then go into my office, close the door and try to write for about three hours which is about at long as I could concentrate in a really productive way. And then I would take a break. I would go for a walk. I'd eat lunch and then I'd try to write for a couple more hours in the afternoon and evening.
LAMB: Did you rewrite everything you wrote once?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Oh yeah. Everything you would read in the book here certainly has been written and some cases rewritten and rewritten and rewritten.
LAMB: And what what role does the editor play in this and do they really make a big difference?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well I think again on it depends on the writer what role the editor plays. Obviously I came at the book with a lot of writing experience. I wasn't in any way a novice. But at the same time my editor I think played a very important role in helping me with organization. Sometimes you don't really see the best way to organize the book as you're writing it. And it's very helpful to have someone say you know the second half of chapter five would really make a perfect you know a first half of chapter three and the bottom half of chapter three should really be the second half of chapter seven etc. etc. It's only you know an outsider that can make those recommendations for you.
LAMB: Did you have days when you just had a block and you couldn't write at all?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Oh definitely. Or days that I just didn't have the physic energy to be creative. I think every author goes through that. You just wake up in the morning and you say I just don't feel like writing now. And then other days you just can't stop.
LAMB: Did you write from notes or write from the top of your head?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Both really. I wrote from articles that I had published already. I used to a small extent fresh interviews and notes I had taken to a large extent. And then just whatever came out of my head that was rolling around back there in the file cabinets.
LAMB: What do you expect to happen beyond the publication of this book? Is there anything else that comes out of this book?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well there's going to be obviously a paper back edition. It was sold last week. It's going to be published Anchor Doubleday. And there's also going to be a Dutch edition, a Hebrew edition and a British edition of the book and we expect more foreign sales in the near future.
LAMB: I hate to mention such a thing on this program but is there a television or a movie out of this?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Some people have thought about that some portions of the book might make for an interesting show or movie or whatever. But I kind of doubt it. But there are people looking at it with that in mind.
LAMB: How long have you been back in Washington?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I've been here now..
LAMB: In the job that you're in now.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Right. In the job since January. I started the day Bakker went in for his confirmation hearings.
LAMB: What do you think of that? Compared to this kind of thing?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well in many ways I've gone from covering a street to covering a hall. That's really how I would summarize the transition from covering the Middle East to covering the State Department. And gone from covering a human drama that was unfolding before my eyes really to covering a policy that was invisible. That is invisible. And what is the policy? It's a collection of grunts and nods and attitudes really. And you can't say I saw the policy today. It bled all over the sidewalk. I saw the policy today it wept on my shoulder. So as a journalist I think you're much more constrained in the kind of range of emotions and scenes which you are going to be able to describe. I mean there are only so many ways to say an administration official said. At the same time what I like about this story what I really and truly enjoy about it is that after 10 years in the Middle East you feel I've been to this play before. I know how it ends. That the story always always seems to go in circles. And the circle is always downward. What I like about my job now so much is that it's open ended. Who knows where the story of U.S. Soviet relations is going to end. Who knows where the story of Poland is going to end. Who knows where the story of China is going to end. And what I like about the job that I have now is that it's new it's fresh and it's open ended.
LAMB: Correct me if I'm wrong but two people that had your job before have moved on to being involved some very directly in politics. Richard Burke now is our Ambassador to..
LAMB: Star Talks.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: He was actually the National Security Correspondent in the Washington Bureau not the Diplomatic Correspondent.
LAMB: But close.
LAMB: And he also went on to be Ambassador to Germany.
LAMB: And Leslie Gelb who used to have a similar kind of job.
LAMB: National Security Correspondent.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Right. He was political military affairs
LAMB: Deputy Editor of the Editorial Page.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Right. But he did a stint at the State Department and the Department of Political Military Affairs.
LAMB: Carter Administration.
LAMB: Is there a political future for Thomas Friedman?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Right now I'm just happy as a clam as a reporter covering the diplomatic beat and traveling with the Secretary of State. Who can predict what'll happen down the road.
LAMB: But I guess I don't want to pin you down on whether you're going to announce here..
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Get those lights out of my eyes.
LAMB: ..but do you ever get a sense that being on the other side would be interesting?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Yes definitely. I certainly have had that sense before that a some point I'd be fascinated to know what it looks like from the inside. I think any journalist worth his salt wants to know that.
LAMB: Two names. Charles Redmon and Margaret Tutwiller. The reason I bring those two names up and there are others I'm leaving some out. John Hughes I think is another one and there are a lot that have pinched hitted are people that our audience again see all the time.
LAMB: You go to those briefings at the State Department?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: I do. I do indeed.
LAMB: Do you get anything out of them?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Definitely. Definitely.
LAMB: What?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well in the immediate sense you get the most immediate declaration of American policy on any subject you want to ask for. And that's really what they're important for. They're important for watching the policy involved. Now you say wait a minutes. You know Margaret you said this on Tuesday. You're saying this on Wednesday. There's been a shift. Or an event happens overseas. We want to know how is our government reacting to the new situation in Poland. You go to the noon briefing and you find out.
LAMB: Alright. When you watch and I'm a watcher you watch the Assistant Secretary come in and put her papers down and open up are there questions?
LAMB: Now is she sitting there fully briefed waiting for you to ask or otherwise you'll never hear from her?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well. Oh no. We can and do talk to Margaret both before and after the briefing and throughout the day if something breaks at 5:00 or 7:00 I'm on the phone to her. Basically she comes in there with what the various departments in the State Department think will be the questions that we'll ask. So say on a day like today where at the time we're doing this reporting Columbia now is in the news. And the South America Department will sit around early in the morning and say what might reporters ask about our policy in Columbia today. They try to anticipate the questions and then they write guidance for Margaret to use during the briefing because obviously she can't personally be up on every area of the world so she needs guidance from each department. Now if we don't ask that question about Columbia she will not read that guidance. And so sometimes we miss stories. She can sometimes have very important policy declarations about a specific subject which if we don't ask she's not going to tell.
LAMB: Is it a game?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Some extent. To some extent.
LAMB: Is..because we see more of her right now is she different behind the scenes than she is in front of that microphone?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Oh I think..I think so. I mean in front of the microphone she's got to be the stiff super serious voice of the State Department and the voice of the U.S. Government to some extent. And that's as it should be. Personally she's a warm fun extremely enjoyable person.
LAMB: Why is it that the State Department has to be so diplomatic and so careful?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Because they represent us diplomatically is know they really have got to present that kind of most diplomatic face of the country.
LAMB: When you write a story do you write much from those briefings or do you find that leg work on your own is more informative?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: No definitely the briefings are definitely important. We use material out of them almost every day.
LAMB: We only have a couple minutes left and again I want our audience to see this book. Can you tell us how many books have been sold?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well we're in our seventh printing and over 100,000. So I'm real pleased.
LAMB: How does that compare with most books that are sold?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well that's a lot of books for any hard cover book. It certainly obviously as I say a best seller. It's been number one in the Washington Post for the last two weeks in August. And I never dreamed I'd sell 100,000 copies of a serious book on the Middle East.
LAMB: Is it a book of the month club selection?
LAMB: How did that work?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: Well that's something that's negotiated ahead of time. They read the manuscript. They decide whether they think their audience the book of the month club subscribers would find this book of interest. And they give you an advance as well against their sales.
LAMB: And what role does that play in the best seller list if any?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: The book of the month club sales are not included in the best seller sales. And they haven't even started yet. They won't start until October.
LAMB: Well when people rush out to buy this book which they can find in their book stores and they come back and sit down and look through the book what is your absolute favorite chapter and that you had the most fun writing?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: My favorite chapter? I think that second one I was telling you about Brian "Would You Like To Eat Now Or Wait For The Cease Fire?" It was about what it was really like to live in Beirut. And I think it's both impelling and fun. And if there is any favorite chapter I have in the book one which I enjoyed most writing is that.
LAMB: Our guest for the last hour has been Thomas L. Friedman. And he is currently the Chief Diplomatic Correspondent for New York Times and this is what his book looks like "From Beirut to Jerusalem." Thank you sir for joining us.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN: My pleasure. Thank you.

Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.