New York Times columnist Tom Friedman has been the butt of jokes and object of criticism recently for his numerous columns complimentary of China.

Well, maybe the backlash has had an effect on readership, or maybe his bosses at The New York Times think he’s gone past the “hate America” line a bit too far, even for the Times. Whatever the reason, Friedman has dialed it back in his latest column, criticizing China (sorta) and, even if backhandedly, praising his own country:

When Britain went into decline as the globe’s stabilizing power, America was right there, ready to pick up the role. Even with all our imperfections and mistakes, the world has been a better place for it. If America goes weak, though, and cannot project power the way it has, your kids won’t just grow up in a different America. They will grow up in a different world. You will not like who picks up the pieces.

Read further, though, and you find that he claims China’s treatment of Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo is the cause of his disillusionment. It’s clear, though, that he’s disappointed in China not because he realizes it’s a scurrilous regime, but because it broke his lefty heart:

Honestly, I thought China’s leaders had more self-confidence than that. Clearly, they are feeling very insecure. Think if China had said instead: “We disagree with this award and we will not be attending. But anytime one of our citizens is honored with a Nobel, it is an honor for all of China — and so we will pass this on to his family.” It would have been a one-day story, and China’s leaders would have looked so strong.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda. Hey, Tom, totalitarian regimes a) don’t care what the rest of the world thinks, and, b) will never give credence to a democracy activist by attending a Nobel ceremony honoring someone who undermines their entire system. You’d think someone working at The New York Times would understand that.