Tom Friedman’s New World Order

It was 1984. A tough, tight-lipped Israeli army colonel was leading a small group of journalists on a tour of southern Lebanon, where Israel was in the midst of a war. The journalists wore army-issue flak jackets. They listened and took notes, as if taking dictation. One correspondent, Thomas L. Friedman, challenged the officer repeatedly. The colonel stonewalled him. But Friedman’s questions were sharp and unrelenting. “He’s going to end up wanting to talk to me,” Friedman said to a Reuters reporter, “because tomorrow whatever he says is going to be on the front page of The New York f—— Times.”

Arrogant? A little. Blustering? A bit. Right? Absolutely. By the end of the press trip, the colonel and Friedman were deep in private conversation.

When, in the course of a phone interview with The Jewish Journal, Friedman is reminded of that exchange, he laughs. Perhaps because he has a book to promote; perhaps because he has an upcoming appearance in Los Angeles to discuss (see box); perhaps because he’s a bit older, the man is anything but abrasive. But the swagger isn’t entirely lacking, and that’s as it should be. Friedman’s first book, “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” received the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting. It is widely considered one of the few books you’ll ever need to read to understand Israel and Middle East peace. His new work, “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” (Farrar Straus Giroux, $27.50), takes on a slightly larger subject: the entire world.

A new book on globalization hardly matters. The buzzword and its various interpreters have been with us for more than a decade now. But a new book by Thomas Friedman really does matter. As the foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times, he is one of the most influential journalists in print today. Taken together with his regular columns on the Times’ editorial page, “Lexus” will no doubt serve as a kind of Baedeker to the new millennium. It is provocative, wide-ranging and clear — you can feel your I.Q. ping up a couple of points even as you read it.

And it will doubtlessly influence the people who make decisions about our world. “There is no one who combines a better mix of insightful analysis and good policy judgment than Tom Friedman,” Aaron Miller told the Journal. Miller is Deputy Middle East Coordinator on Arab Israeli Negotiations at the U.S. State Department.