Thomas Friedman Turns Lemonade Into Lemons

Yesterday’s Thomas Friedman column featured this clunker of a lede:

While President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have gotten a lot of things right on foreign policy, they’ve made quite a mess in Israeli-Palestinian relations… Then again, the actors they’ve had to work with were both lemons…

But you know what they say to do with lemons? Make lemonade.

Given Friedman’s fondness for hackneyed clichés, I figured this couldn’t have been the first time he deployed the lemons/lemonade frame. But he surpassed even my expectations. As it turns out, lemonade have also been or should be made from lemons in the Soviet Union, Bosnia, Iran, and Iraq:

7/28/91: “The cold war may not have ended with a single Appomattox, but if the conventional arms treaty and the German unification agreement of last November are put together with the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact last month and Mr. Gorbachev’s trashing of Marxism-Leninism before the Soviet Communist Party last week, they add up to the diplomatic equivalent of a conditional surrender. Still, from such lemons Mr. Gorbachev has made lemonade.

8/28/96: “Richard Holbrooke, the former Bosnia negotiator. Strengths: Smart. Creative. Energetic. Understands American power and how to wield it. Proved in Bosnia that he can turn lemons into lemonade.

10/13/97 (imagined dialogue from Bill Clinton): “Look, I’m dubious about Khatami’s prospects… Still, it’s worth a try… So we might as well use this mess with France and the oil companies to test Khatami. Hey, when you’ve got lemons, make lemonade.

1/31/98: “Option 3 is: When you’ve got lemons, make lemonade. Approach Russia and France and tell them that the U.S. is ready to lift all economic sanctions on Iraq immediately if the two of them can persuade Saddam to accept a total, and permanent, weapons inspection regime.”

3/19/03: “But here we are, going to war [in Iraq], basically alone, in the face of opposition, not so much from ‘the Arab Street,’ but from ‘the World Street.’ Everyone wishes it were different, but it’s too late — which is why this column will henceforth focus on how to turn these lemons into lemonade. Our children’s future hinges on doing this right, even if we got here wrong.”

11/30/03: “But here’s why the left needs to get beyond its opposition to the war and start pitching in with its own ideas and moral support to try to make lemons into lemonade in Baghdad.”

Who’s next? My money is on Afghanistan.

[Cross-posted at BrendanNyan.com]

Brendan Nyhan

Brendan Nyhan is an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College.