In a dazzling bit of research, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting has collated no less than fourteen of Thomas L. Friedman's predictions about Iraq – and found that he has been saying for two and a half years that the "decisive" six months are just ahead. As FAIR notes, "A review of Friedman's punditry reveals a long series of similar do-or-die dates that never seem to get any closer." Read sequentially, Friedman's observations are quite funny:
"The next six months in Iraq—which will determine the prospects for democracy-building there—are the most important six months in U.S. foreign policy in a long, long time." (The New York Times, November 30, 2003)
"It might be over in a week, it might be over in a month, it might be over in six months." (NPR's Fresh Air, June 3, 2004)
"What we're gonna find out, Bob, in the next six to nine months is whether we have liberated a country or uncorked a civil war." (CBS's Face the Nation, September 3, 2004)
"Iraq will be won or lost in the next few months." (The New York Times, November 28, 2004)
"I think we're in a six-month window here." (NBC's Meet the Press, September 25, 2005)
"Maybe the cynical Europeans were right. Maybe this neighborhood is just beyond transformation. That will become clear in the next few months as we see just what kind of minority the Sunnis in Iraq intend to be." (The New York Times, September 28, 2005)
"I think the next six months really are going to determine whether this country is going to collapse into three parts or more or whether it's going to come together." (CBS's Face the Nation, December 18, 2005)
"We're at the beginning of I think the decisive I would say six months in Iraq." (PBS's Charlie Rose Show, December 20, 2005)
"The only thing I am certain of is that in the wake of this election, Iraq will be what Iraqis make of it—and the next six months will tell us a lot." (The New York Times, December 21, 2005)
"I think that we're going to know after six to nine months whether this project has any chance of succeeding." (Oprah Winfrey Show, January 23, 2006)
"I think we're in the end game there, in the next three to six months." (CBS, January 31, 2006)
"The next six to nine months are going to tell whether we can produce a decent outcome in Iraq." (NBC's Today, March 2, 2006)
"I think we're in the end game in the sense it's going to be decided in the next weeks or months whether there's an Iraq there worth investing in." (CNN, April 23, 2006)
"Well, I think that we're going to find out, Chris, in the next year to six months—probably sooner—whether a decent outcome is possible there." (MSNBC's Hardball, May 11, 2006)
Comment: For my earlier and later writings on Friedman, see "From Beirut to Jerusalem" and the updates that follow the book review's text. For my 2001 critique of Friedman's understanding of the Middle East, see "The education of Thomas Friedman." And for some fun at the columnist's expense, see the anonymous "Write your own Thomas Friedman column!" in the New York Observer. (May 16, 2006)
June 11, 2006 update: Asked about the above pattern by Howard Kurtz on CNN, Friedman labored to obfuscate:
KURTZ: Now, I want to understand how a columnist's mind works when you take positions, because you were chided recently for writing several times in different occasions "the next six months are crucial in Iraq," the next six months. And now you've written a column saying that Americans are simply not going to tolerate this kind of anarchy for another two years and deadlines have to be set. Were you conscious that you were now shifting your position on this?
FRIEDMAN: Not really. You know, the problem with analyzing the story, Howie, is that it doesn't—everyone, first of all, this is the most polarized story I've certainly written about, so everyone wants, basically, to be proven right, OK? So the left—people who hated the war, they want you to declare the war is over, finish, we give up. The right, just the opposite. But I've been trying to just simply track the situation on the ground. And the fact is that the outcome there is unclear, and I reflected that in my column. And I will continue to reflect.
Sep. 2, 2006 update: Starting with blogger "Atrios," the tongue-in-cheek term "a Friedman Unit," or F.U., which equals six months (of course) has come into being. For details, see the Wikipedia entry (yes, this is one time when it's appropriate to cite Wikipedia.)
Mar. 1, 2015 update: Friedman's prediction on a quite different topic, the production of automotive batteries:
In 2010, after visiting the Tianjin battery facility of electric car maker Coda Automotive, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman lamented that America is lagging behind what he called "China's moonshot": electric vehicles. He was not alone in his lament. But the many pundits who pictured millions of Chinese hopping straight from bikes to Volts were actually projecting onto China what they wished to see in the United States. The problem is that the moonshot never happened. … Coda Automotive filed for bankruptcy protection in 2013.