The term is in reference to a May 16, 2006, article by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) detailing the repeated use by Friedman of “the next six months” as the period in which, according to Friedman, “we’re going to find out… whether a decent outcome is possible” in the Iraq War.
As documented by FAIR, Friedman had been making such six-month predictions for a period of two and a half years, on at least fourteen different occasions, starting with a column in the November 30, 2003, edition of The New York Times, in which he stated: “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.”
In tribute to Friedman’s ridiculous prognostications, blogger Duncan Black coined the eponymous unit.
One Friedman Unit is thus equal to six months, specifically the “next six months”, a period repeatedly declared by the New York Times “expert” Friedman for over two and a half years.
The quagmire in Iraq have produced similar predictions by others. For example, Zalmay Khalizad, US Ambassador to Iraq, had said in June 2005 that “the next nine months are critical”, now interpreted as predicting that in 1.5 Friedman units the US might finally gain a better grasp on the terrible situation they had helped to create.
Journalist Spencer Ackerman referred to the unit to measure the progress of American goals in other Middle Eastern countries, such as Afghanistan in 2009: “Ah, the Friedman unit, that beloved Internet tradition denoting the six-month increment many pundits believe will prove decisive in any war, only to be subject to an endless addition of … Friedman units.”
A Way with Words noted that Friedman had also been calling for more Friedman units in other situations.
The Wikipedia entry on Friedman Units tracks over 30 different cases between 2003 and 2007 in which someone labeled the “next six months” as the “critical period in Iraq”, but apparently the worst offender is journalist Thomas Friedman after whom the unit was named (8 different predictions in 4 years).
The quote that sums up Friedman better than any other, is from a column written in 2004 for New York Times: “The war in Iraq is the most important liberal, revolutionary US democracy-building project since the Marshall Plan. It is one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad.”
Friedman is a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner who is a weekly columnist for The New York Times. He has written extensively not only on the Middle East, but also on foreign affairs, global trade, globalization and environmental issues.
He received the 2004 Overseas Press Club Award for lifetime achievement and the same year was named to the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth. In May 2011, The New York Times reported that President Barack Obama “has sounded out” Friedman concerning Middle East issues.
During the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, Friedman urged the US to destroy “in Belgrade: every power grid, water pipe, bridge [and] road”, annex Albania and Macedonia as “US protectorates”, “occupy the Balkans for years,” and “[g]ive war a chance”.