Commentary Magazine


Topic: Tom Friedman

Tom Friedman, Autocratophile

Last week I was in Warsaw, taking a taxi from the airport to the hotel, when I saw a poster commemorating the 25th anniversary of the fall of Communism in Poland. I asked the taxi driver but, alas, I speak no Polish and he spoke no English. We drove past the poster and next to it I saw a short, squat man with a mustache and I thought, “Every country seems to have short, squat men with mustaches. Poland had that guy and we have Tom Friedman.”

And that led me to consider: Poland was a land under Soviet domination, a country in which people struggled for freedom, and so I wondered, “What does Tom Friedman think about freedom?” Alas, that’s an easy question to answer, but not in a good way, sort of like when the “check engine” light went on in my 2003 Nissan and I wondered what that meant as my car sputtered to a halt.

Just as babies have a soft spot on their heads (or so my Polish taxi driver probably said, although I can’t be sure because of the language barrier), Friedman has a soft spot for dictatorship. His paeans to China are both legendary and embarrassing. When Friedman was a young student and journalist, he backpacked around the Middle East and was astute in his observations. From Beirut to Jerusalem was a good book. But there is a reason why a peace corps volunteer or backpacker in Haiti have a better idea of society than tourists who book five-star trips and tend not to learn much about the troubles and travails of the societies which they visit. Taking a Royal Caribbean cruise to a private beach in Haiti does not make one an expert on Haitian politics, corruption, or earthquake reconstruction. It simply suggests one is rich. There’s nothing wrong with being rich—unless, of course, you are a senior Chinese Communist party functionary, in which case you likely got your money upon the blood of the tens of millions of people your party has murdered. But most rich people are smart enough to realize that luxury tourism doesn’t make them smart.

But then again, Tom Friedman isn’t most people. Any analyst or writer knows not to simply parachute into a country, talk to politicians for a few hours or a few days, and then wax eloquently about how enlightened and forward thinking that polity is. But, alas, Tom Friedman is not just any analyst. Earlier this month, Friedman visited Iraqi Kurdistan as a guest of Barham Salih, a Kurdish politician currently aspiring to the Iraqi presidency, if he can overcome the animosity of Hero Ibrahim Ahmed, Iraq’s current first lady. Barham gave Friedman the royal treatment. They hiked in the mountains. Kurdish journalists wrote on Facebook about seeing the two in local restaurants. Friedman gave the keynote at the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani, an impressive university for which Barham deserves credit, even if it is not as free from politics as Friedman imagines.

Friedman then wrote a predictable column:

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Last week I was in Warsaw, taking a taxi from the airport to the hotel, when I saw a poster commemorating the 25th anniversary of the fall of Communism in Poland. I asked the taxi driver but, alas, I speak no Polish and he spoke no English. We drove past the poster and next to it I saw a short, squat man with a mustache and I thought, “Every country seems to have short, squat men with mustaches. Poland had that guy and we have Tom Friedman.”

And that led me to consider: Poland was a land under Soviet domination, a country in which people struggled for freedom, and so I wondered, “What does Tom Friedman think about freedom?” Alas, that’s an easy question to answer, but not in a good way, sort of like when the “check engine” light went on in my 2003 Nissan and I wondered what that meant as my car sputtered to a halt.

Just as babies have a soft spot on their heads (or so my Polish taxi driver probably said, although I can’t be sure because of the language barrier), Friedman has a soft spot for dictatorship. His paeans to China are both legendary and embarrassing. When Friedman was a young student and journalist, he backpacked around the Middle East and was astute in his observations. From Beirut to Jerusalem was a good book. But there is a reason why a peace corps volunteer or backpacker in Haiti have a better idea of society than tourists who book five-star trips and tend not to learn much about the troubles and travails of the societies which they visit. Taking a Royal Caribbean cruise to a private beach in Haiti does not make one an expert on Haitian politics, corruption, or earthquake reconstruction. It simply suggests one is rich. There’s nothing wrong with being rich—unless, of course, you are a senior Chinese Communist party functionary, in which case you likely got your money upon the blood of the tens of millions of people your party has murdered. But most rich people are smart enough to realize that luxury tourism doesn’t make them smart.

But then again, Tom Friedman isn’t most people. Any analyst or writer knows not to simply parachute into a country, talk to politicians for a few hours or a few days, and then wax eloquently about how enlightened and forward thinking that polity is. But, alas, Tom Friedman is not just any analyst. Earlier this month, Friedman visited Iraqi Kurdistan as a guest of Barham Salih, a Kurdish politician currently aspiring to the Iraqi presidency, if he can overcome the animosity of Hero Ibrahim Ahmed, Iraq’s current first lady. Barham gave Friedman the royal treatment. They hiked in the mountains. Kurdish journalists wrote on Facebook about seeing the two in local restaurants. Friedman gave the keynote at the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani, an impressive university for which Barham deserves credit, even if it is not as free from politics as Friedman imagines.

Friedman then wrote a predictable column:

But it was the Kurds who used the window of freedom we opened for them to overcome internal divisions, start to reform their once Sopranos-like politics and create a vibrant economy that is now throwing up skyscrapers and colleges in major towns of Erbil and Sulaimani. Everywhere I’ve gone here, I’ve met “reverse immigrants,” Kurds who’ve come back to their homeland in northeastern Iraq because of all the opportunities.

Kurdistan represents everything that has not happened in Shiite-dominated Baghdad and the Sunni regions of Iraq, where Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has behaved like a visionless, pro-Shiite sectarian chief and violence remains rife. Maliki was “our guy.” So you could say that we left two big “gifts” behind in Iraq: an American-installed autocrat and an American university that is teaching the values of inclusiveness that Maliki doesn’t practice… Kurdistan is an island of decency in a still-roiling sea. But the power of example is a funny thing. You never know how it can spread. More American universities, please — not just drones.

Kurdistan has achieved a lot, but hagiography does not make it a beacon of freedom any more than Vogue’s profile of Asma al-Assad made the Syrian regime a beacon of progressivism. Kurdistan has not rid itself of its internal divisions; they are just more easily hidden. Both major political parties maintain their own separate security forces, much like Hamas and the PLO. Perhaps Friedman ignores this fact because he couldn’t figure out a way to blame settlements.

Friedman apparently doesn’t realize that the skyscrapers he so admires in Iraqi Kurdistan have occupancy rates of around 20 percent according to numerous Iraqi Kurds who live there. Much of the land they are built on was either appropriated by Barham’s political party or simply given as gifts to those who supported Barham’s political party. This wasn’t Barham’s fault, but it is the reality. The family of one of my former students—and, here, unlike Tom Friedman, I cannot mention name or age because in the reality of Iraqi Kurdistan, that can lead to a prison sentence—was forced from Kirkuk by Saddam, and then forced from their home by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan—Barham’s party—so that a brother-in-law of party leader Jalal Talabani could speculate in real estate.

Nor is Kurdistan really that much of a democracy. How powerful it would have been had Friedman actually given a shout-out to the young journalists—theoretically his real protégés—whose families today mourn their sons because they had the courage to write about corruption and nepotism in Iraqi Kurdistan. Barham probably did not mention that the party that he presides over and that of Masud Barzani have run death squads. That may sound harsh, but that’s the proper word for the politicized security forces sent out to kidnap and kill those who disagree. Friedman may not have been aware that the same street he drove down to get to the American University campus was the scene of a shooting by Kurdish security forces on protestors during Barham’s premiership. Barham could have resigned rather than allow his reformist reputation to serve as cover for such action, but sometimes it is easier to talk about reform than actually implement it. Regardless, the perpetrators in each case remain at large. So much for “the values of inclusiveness” that Friedman observed.

Barham is smooth but he is a political player. There’s nothing wrong with that. Politics can be healthy, especially in a country which aspires to democracy. But dirty tricks are dirty tricks. Convince a visitor to bash Maliki in a widely-read American paper? That’s good politics for someone who has tied his fortunes to Maliki’s competitors. Last year, Barham invited another writer and convinced him to criticize Kirkuk, a town which the writer had not visited but which is booming economically and happens to be governed by a man from Barham’s party who happens to be one of Barham’s chief rivals. Kudos to Barham, because he gets his point across and his guests often do not seem to realize they are being used.

True, violence is worse in Baghdad but discrimination is as bad in Kurdistan. Just ask any non-Kurd humiliated at the region’s borders. In January, I drove from Tikrit to Erbil and it wasn’t a pretty sight. Corruption is rife in both Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. Even Friedman’s host has dabbled in business. And while Friedman castigates Maliki for taking the fight to al-Qaeda, what does he expect the prime minister to do? How luxurious it must be to criticize Baghdad’s leaders on one hand for insecurity and on the other hand for fighting to restore security. Maybe the drones would have been helpful after all.

What else did Friedman forget? In praising the Kurds, he appears unaware that rather than step down at the end of his second term, Kurdish President Masud Barzani simply extended his tenure. So much for democracy. Barzani can hire and fire ministers on a whim. They answer to him. He trumps the prime minister of Kurdistan, who happens to be his nephew, and the chief of Kurdish intelligence, who happens to be his son. Not so in Baghdad, where the nature of compromise and political pluralism means that the prime minister is saddled with ministers whom he may not trust and whom he cannot fire, even if they are incompetent, corrupt, or abusive. If he even tries, people label him autocratic. But for Friedman, autocratic in Baghdad is democratic in Kurdistan. Maliki has faults, indeed many. But at least he subjects himself to elections. But in Friedman’s world, democracy is about dictatorship and dictatorship is democracy.

Kurdistan is impressive and, I must admit that after spending time in Basra or Baghdad, it’s a pleasure to go to Sulaymani, sit in an outdoor café and have a beer or tea with friends. And to Barham’s credit, he (and current Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani) do tolerate more dissent than either Hero Ibrahim Ahmad, Masud Barzani, Masour Barzani, Falah Mustafa, Fuad Hussein, or Karim Sinjari. But for all of Kurdistan’s success, it is on a trajectory to become not a new bastion of democracy, but yet just another dictatorship. But then again, that may be what attracts Tom Friedman—or at least his subconscious—to it the most. Friedman likes making up words and catchy phrases. Perhaps he illustrates one: Autocratophile, the love of dictators.

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Thomas Friedman and the New Anti-Semitism-Part One

Though the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman invariably characterizes himself as a friend of Israel, his most recent column illustrates the slippery slope along which critics of the Jewish state invariably slide as they attempt to shout down those with whom they disagree.

In an effort to simultaneously bash Republican supporters of Israel as well as the Israeli government, his frustration with Israel’s enduring popularity has led him to engage in smears more typically associated with fringe intellectuals such as Israel Lobby authors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. It’s not just that Friedman disdains Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney’s belief in the U.S.-Israel alliance, but that in order to justify his contempt, he finds himself having to paint Israel as being intrinsically unworthy of any support.

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Though the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman invariably characterizes himself as a friend of Israel, his most recent column illustrates the slippery slope along which critics of the Jewish state invariably slide as they attempt to shout down those with whom they disagree.

In an effort to simultaneously bash Republican supporters of Israel as well as the Israeli government, his frustration with Israel’s enduring popularity has led him to engage in smears more typically associated with fringe intellectuals such as Israel Lobby authors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. It’s not just that Friedman disdains Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney’s belief in the U.S.-Israel alliance, but that in order to justify his contempt, he finds himself having to paint Israel as being intrinsically unworthy of any support.

First, Friedman is wrong that Newt Gingrich’s line about the Palestinians being an “invented people” means Israel wants to rule the West Bank indefinitely. Rather, the injection of some truth about the history of the conflict ought to highlight a fact that journalists like Friedman have done so much to ignore: the inextricable link between Palestinian nationalism and a belief in the destruction of Israel. The point that Gingrich and many others have tried to make is that unless and until the Palestinians reinvent their identity and political culture in such a fashion as to drop their desire to extinguish the Jewish state, peace is not possible.

Second, let’s address one of the primary slanders at the heart of his piece: that the standing ovations Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received last spring were “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” Rather, they were the result of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans–Jew and non-Jew alike–think of Israel as a friend and ally. They, and their representatives in Congress, believe the Jewish state’s security is, contrary to Friedman’s formulation, a vital U.S. interest in the Middle East. It is true, as Friedman says, the applause may not have been a personal endorsement for Netanyahu, but that’s because it was also a stiff rebuke to President Obama’s attempt to ambush the Israeli prior to his visit with his speech about the 1967 lines, whose purpose was to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians.

The notion that the only reason politicians support Israel is because of Jewish money is a central myth of a new form of anti-Semitism which masquerades as a defense of American foreign policy against the depredations of a venal Israel lobby. This canard not only feeds off of the traditional themes of Jew-hatred, it also requires Friedman to ignore the deep roots of American backing for Zionism in our history and culture.

Friedman goes on to embarrass himself by contrasting the reception Netanyahu received on Capitol Hill to the one he might get at a center of leftist academia such as the University of Wisconsin. There’s little doubt he would not be cheered there. But the same would be true of most American politicians or thinkers who deviated from leftist Orthodoxy. The notion that liberal campuses are more representative of opinion about Israel than Congress is laughable. It is the sort of whopper one has come to expect from the liberal chorus on the Times op-ed page and shows Netanyahu may have a better feel for what Americans think than Friedman.

My next post will have more about Friedman’s manipulation of the facts about Israel.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

More European nations in trouble. “The debt crisis in Europe escalated sharply Friday as investors dumped Spanish and Portuguese bonds in panicked selling, substantially heightening the prospect that one or both countries may need to join troubled Ireland and Greece in soliciting international bailouts.”

More evidence that the IRS is targeting the hawkish pro-Israel group Z Street. Wouldn’t it be front-page news if J Street were asked if it supported Iran sanctions?

More reason to doubt that the Obami have a clue about what to do about North Korea. The State Department’s PJ Crowley tweets “SecClinton talked with Chinese FM Yang today and encouraged Beijing to make clear that North Korea’s behavior is unacceptable.” Is “unacceptable” really the strongest they can do? Or is “unacceptable” (as in “A nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable”) just diplomat-speak for “We’re sorry to see X happen.”

More criticism of Obama’s approach to Egypt. “The president and his secretary of state have brought up democracy and human rights in private conversations with Egyptian leaders but shied away from them in public. They have failed to make any connection between Mr. Mubarak’s domestic repression and the more than $1 billion in U.S. aid Egypt receives every year, much of it directed to the military. They have not supported efforts in Congress to pass legislation or even nonbinding resolutions linking bilateral relations to political reform.”

More defensiveness from Sarah Palin. Not helpful for a presidential contender. Dead-on for a conservative community organizer.

More nonsense from Tom Friedman. No, Tom, too much texting by American kids is not a bigger problem than North Korean nukes. Another example of not-very-smart liberal punditry.

More problems for Rahm Emanuel. “Through an odd chain of events, Mr. Halpin, a 59-year-old industrial real-estate developer here, has become the face of a movement to force Mr. Emanuel out of the race to become Chicago’s next mayor. A lawsuit filed with the Chicago Board of Election Commissions Friday by a Chicago attorney on behalf of two city residents charges that Mr. Emanuel, the former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, is ineligible to run because he lost his Chicago residency when he rented his home to Mr. Halpin in 2009.” Really, wasn’t the entire race an excuse to get off the sinking White House ship?

More evidence that the GM bailout was no success for the taxpayers. The union? Well, that’s another story. “General Motors Co.’s recent stock offering was staged to start paying back the government for its $50 billion bailout, but one group made out much better than the taxpayers or other investors: the company’s union. Thanks to a generous share of GM stock obtained in the company’s 2009 bankruptcy settlement, the United Auto Workers is well on its way to recouping the billions of dollars GM owed it — putting it far ahead of taxpayers who have recouped only about 30 percent of their investment and further still ahead of investors in the old GM who have received nothing.”

More European nations in trouble. “The debt crisis in Europe escalated sharply Friday as investors dumped Spanish and Portuguese bonds in panicked selling, substantially heightening the prospect that one or both countries may need to join troubled Ireland and Greece in soliciting international bailouts.”

More evidence that the IRS is targeting the hawkish pro-Israel group Z Street. Wouldn’t it be front-page news if J Street were asked if it supported Iran sanctions?

More reason to doubt that the Obami have a clue about what to do about North Korea. The State Department’s PJ Crowley tweets “SecClinton talked with Chinese FM Yang today and encouraged Beijing to make clear that North Korea’s behavior is unacceptable.” Is “unacceptable” really the strongest they can do? Or is “unacceptable” (as in “A nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable”) just diplomat-speak for “We’re sorry to see X happen.”

More criticism of Obama’s approach to Egypt. “The president and his secretary of state have brought up democracy and human rights in private conversations with Egyptian leaders but shied away from them in public. They have failed to make any connection between Mr. Mubarak’s domestic repression and the more than $1 billion in U.S. aid Egypt receives every year, much of it directed to the military. They have not supported efforts in Congress to pass legislation or even nonbinding resolutions linking bilateral relations to political reform.”

More defensiveness from Sarah Palin. Not helpful for a presidential contender. Dead-on for a conservative community organizer.

More nonsense from Tom Friedman. No, Tom, too much texting by American kids is not a bigger problem than North Korean nukes. Another example of not-very-smart liberal punditry.

More problems for Rahm Emanuel. “Through an odd chain of events, Mr. Halpin, a 59-year-old industrial real-estate developer here, has become the face of a movement to force Mr. Emanuel out of the race to become Chicago’s next mayor. A lawsuit filed with the Chicago Board of Election Commissions Friday by a Chicago attorney on behalf of two city residents charges that Mr. Emanuel, the former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, is ineligible to run because he lost his Chicago residency when he rented his home to Mr. Halpin in 2009.” Really, wasn’t the entire race an excuse to get off the sinking White House ship?

More evidence that the GM bailout was no success for the taxpayers. The union? Well, that’s another story. “General Motors Co.’s recent stock offering was staged to start paying back the government for its $50 billion bailout, but one group made out much better than the taxpayers or other investors: the company’s union. Thanks to a generous share of GM stock obtained in the company’s 2009 bankruptcy settlement, the United Auto Workers is well on its way to recouping the billions of dollars GM owed it — putting it far ahead of taxpayers who have recouped only about 30 percent of their investment and further still ahead of investors in the old GM who have received nothing.”

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Double Standards Regarding Political Civility

Courtesy of Hotair comes this clip of MSNBC’s Ed Schultz at the “One Nation” rally this weekend. I do hope that liberals who are so eager to argue for civility in public discourse might have a word or two to say about Mr. Schultz, who, among other things, refers to conservatives as the “forces of evil” and says that while conservatives talk about our forefathers, “they want discrimination.”

Now, I don’t expect much more from someone like Ed Schultz. But liberal commentators (E.J. Dionne, Jr., Eugene Robinson, Tom Friedman, Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, Jonathan Alter, and Jim Wallis, for starters) who complain about political discourse only when the offending parties are on the right would do themselves and the nation a favor if they spoke out against haters such as Schultz and Representative Alan Grayson. (Grayson’s deeply dishonest and repulsive ad, accusing his opponent of being “Taliban Dan Webster,” can be found here.)

If pundits like E.J. Dionne and others remain silent when people who share their philosophical and ideological precepts cross the line, then it’s reasonable to assume, I think, that their counsel for civility is being driven by partisan impulses rather than a genuine concern about the quality of public discourse.

Courtesy of Hotair comes this clip of MSNBC’s Ed Schultz at the “One Nation” rally this weekend. I do hope that liberals who are so eager to argue for civility in public discourse might have a word or two to say about Mr. Schultz, who, among other things, refers to conservatives as the “forces of evil” and says that while conservatives talk about our forefathers, “they want discrimination.”

Now, I don’t expect much more from someone like Ed Schultz. But liberal commentators (E.J. Dionne, Jr., Eugene Robinson, Tom Friedman, Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, Jonathan Alter, and Jim Wallis, for starters) who complain about political discourse only when the offending parties are on the right would do themselves and the nation a favor if they spoke out against haters such as Schultz and Representative Alan Grayson. (Grayson’s deeply dishonest and repulsive ad, accusing his opponent of being “Taliban Dan Webster,” can be found here.)

If pundits like E.J. Dionne and others remain silent when people who share their philosophical and ideological precepts cross the line, then it’s reasonable to assume, I think, that their counsel for civility is being driven by partisan impulses rather than a genuine concern about the quality of public discourse.

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Silly Things

As I noted, peace talks tend to induce silly comments and amnesia among the chattering class. No one chatters and forgets more than Tom Friedman. He writes:

President Obama is embarking on something I’ve never seen before — taking on two Missions Impossible at the same time. That is, a simultaneous effort to heal the two most bitter divides in the Middle East: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Shiite-Sunni conflict centered in Iraq.

Um, except for George W. Bush.

As I noted, peace talks tend to induce silly comments and amnesia among the chattering class. No one chatters and forgets more than Tom Friedman. He writes:

President Obama is embarking on something I’ve never seen before — taking on two Missions Impossible at the same time. That is, a simultaneous effort to heal the two most bitter divides in the Middle East: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Shiite-Sunni conflict centered in Iraq.

Um, except for George W. Bush.

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Global Warming Isn’t Proved by Summer Heat or Disproved by Winter Snow

Last winter, when the Northeast was buried under record snowfalls, some political activists had a little fun at the expense of global-warming alarmists by quipping that it was going to keep snowing until Al Gore said “uncle.” Those who peddle environmental hysteria denounced this argument, which was obviously tongue-in-cheek, as the sort of know-nothing idiocy that you can expect from all those who refuse to accept the true religion of global warming. Flash forward to what is proving a hot summer in the Northeast and, amazingly, we find the New York Times’s economic columnist Dave Leonhardt using the same sort of logic as that of the pranksters who built an igloo on Capitol Hill last February and dubbed it Al Gore’s new home. The only difference is that the Grey Lady’s economic wise man is putting forward his case without irony or apology.

The lede of Leonhardt’s column on Tuesday used the current heat wave as the opener for his complaint against members of Congress who refuse to pass President Obama’s energy bill, which would inaugurate a system of massive tax increases on business under the guise of a “cap-and-trade” system that would supposedly decrease carbon usage. Increasing numbers of Americans are skeptical about the theories that assume human responsibility for any climate change, in part because the Climategate scandal showed the lack of integrity on the part of the scientists who have hyped alarmist scenarios rather than sober science. But Leonhardt repeats, again without irony, the talk about the Himalayan Glaciers melting, without noting that his own newspaper reported that the much-ballyhooed assertion that the glaciers would melt by 2030 was a fraud based on bogus science.

Obama’s cap-and-trade scheme won’t pass, despite the laments of both Leonhardt and his fellow Times-man Tom Friedman, largely because most Americans are appalled at the idea of such a massive power grab by the government and know that imposing these sort of punitive taxes at a time of deep recession is a prescription for an economic disaster.

But the point here is that Leonhardt’s effort to whip up support for global-warming legislation because of a heat wave in the middle of summer is as silly as anyone who claimed that the fact that it snowed in the winter meant the opposite about global warming. The problem with global-warming science is the manipulation of data to prove a preordained conclusion, such as the now discredited “hockey stick” diagram, which “proved” global warming. Leonhardt’s arguments in favor of his statist solutions to the possibility of climate change are weak. But his attempt, based on the current temperature spikes, to shame members of Congress who wisely want no part of this fiscal catastrophe in the making shows a lack of intellectual integrity that strips his advocacy of any credibility.

Last winter, when the Northeast was buried under record snowfalls, some political activists had a little fun at the expense of global-warming alarmists by quipping that it was going to keep snowing until Al Gore said “uncle.” Those who peddle environmental hysteria denounced this argument, which was obviously tongue-in-cheek, as the sort of know-nothing idiocy that you can expect from all those who refuse to accept the true religion of global warming. Flash forward to what is proving a hot summer in the Northeast and, amazingly, we find the New York Times’s economic columnist Dave Leonhardt using the same sort of logic as that of the pranksters who built an igloo on Capitol Hill last February and dubbed it Al Gore’s new home. The only difference is that the Grey Lady’s economic wise man is putting forward his case without irony or apology.

The lede of Leonhardt’s column on Tuesday used the current heat wave as the opener for his complaint against members of Congress who refuse to pass President Obama’s energy bill, which would inaugurate a system of massive tax increases on business under the guise of a “cap-and-trade” system that would supposedly decrease carbon usage. Increasing numbers of Americans are skeptical about the theories that assume human responsibility for any climate change, in part because the Climategate scandal showed the lack of integrity on the part of the scientists who have hyped alarmist scenarios rather than sober science. But Leonhardt repeats, again without irony, the talk about the Himalayan Glaciers melting, without noting that his own newspaper reported that the much-ballyhooed assertion that the glaciers would melt by 2030 was a fraud based on bogus science.

Obama’s cap-and-trade scheme won’t pass, despite the laments of both Leonhardt and his fellow Times-man Tom Friedman, largely because most Americans are appalled at the idea of such a massive power grab by the government and know that imposing these sort of punitive taxes at a time of deep recession is a prescription for an economic disaster.

But the point here is that Leonhardt’s effort to whip up support for global-warming legislation because of a heat wave in the middle of summer is as silly as anyone who claimed that the fact that it snowed in the winter meant the opposite about global warming. The problem with global-warming science is the manipulation of data to prove a preordained conclusion, such as the now discredited “hockey stick” diagram, which “proved” global warming. Leonhardt’s arguments in favor of his statist solutions to the possibility of climate change are weak. But his attempt, based on the current temperature spikes, to shame members of Congress who wisely want no part of this fiscal catastrophe in the making shows a lack of intellectual integrity that strips his advocacy of any credibility.

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Power Dirge

Passage of the Democrats’ health-care bill back in March was so historic, we were told, it not only established President Obama as a superstar against the backdrop of our political past; it would also secure his future standing in the pantheon of great American leaders. “Obama’s health care win ensures his legacy,” blared the McClatchy news service  headline.

This achievement was no end in itself. It heralded an Obama “power surge” of global reach. “In Washington, for the first time in his presidency, Obama is feared,” wrote the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart. “Suddenly, Democrats are not so terrified about the midterm elections. …The Russians have backed down and signed an arms-control pact that doesn’t scrap missile defense in Eastern Europe.”

Pffh. Slaying the Russian bear with insurance regulation was just a warm-up. “Mr. Obama could retire into the history books, many presidential scholars say, on the health-care achievement alone,” wrote Helene Cooper in the New York Times. “But there is a swagger emanating from the White House that suggests he may now have acquired a liking for the benefits of sticking his neck out to lead.” Also in the Times, Tom Friedman assured us that health care’s passage made Obama a more formidable international player. “You don’t have to be Machiavelli to believe that the leaders of Iran and Venezuela shared the barely disguised Republican hope that health care would fail and, therefore, Mr. Obama’s whole political agenda would be stalled and, therefore, his presidency enfeebled,” he wrote.

Obama was on course to take out the Republicans, Russians, Iranians, Venezuelans, Martians, Aztecs, and Incas and still make tee time at Pebble Beach.

Too bad the power surge died before the spring. “Americans are more pessimistic about the state of the country and less confident in President Barack Obama’s leadership than at any point since Mr. Obama entered the White House,” runs an extraordinary lede in today’s Wall Street Journal. A new poll shows that the country is losing faith in the abilities of the world historic president who just three months ago passed historic legislation. That’s not nearly all. The White House is losing its grip on the military, getting smacked down by the judiciary on its drilling ban, and going into battle with about 15 states over health care. Oh, and the Russians ate us for breakfast on that arms treaty, the Iranians had us for lunch on UN sanctions, and the Venezuelans are seizing our oil rigs for dinner. Finally, pace Beinart, Democrats are “terrified about the midterm elections.”

How could this be? Leadership through Nancy Pelosi’s prop gavel and the imposition of mystery legislation doesn’t confer actual power? Go figure.

The big historic health-care victory was nothing more than a procedural high-wire act. Kind of like getting your package to FedEx at 7:55 p.m. on a rainy Friday. Never mind that the package is empty or, worse, that its contents are dangerous. ObamaCare’s popularity sinks with each day’s new frightening analysis.

What people do want are jobs. The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that Americans chose “job creation and economic growth” as their top-priority issue for the federal government to address. “The Gulf Coast oil spill and energy” was second. Health care came in at a distant number six, beating last place “social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.”

Like Tom Friedman says, you don’t have to be Machiavelli to see that Obama isn’t competently addressing the most important issues; you just have to be American. In fact, you don’t have to be Machiavelli at all. You just have to be effective. People instruct the president to get mad or get compassionate. But he only needs to get things done. All the “impressive leadership” stuff comes after a leader actually accomplishes something. For now, the new poll does at least partially vindicate Peter Beinart: people are certainly afraid of Barack Obama.

Passage of the Democrats’ health-care bill back in March was so historic, we were told, it not only established President Obama as a superstar against the backdrop of our political past; it would also secure his future standing in the pantheon of great American leaders. “Obama’s health care win ensures his legacy,” blared the McClatchy news service  headline.

This achievement was no end in itself. It heralded an Obama “power surge” of global reach. “In Washington, for the first time in his presidency, Obama is feared,” wrote the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart. “Suddenly, Democrats are not so terrified about the midterm elections. …The Russians have backed down and signed an arms-control pact that doesn’t scrap missile defense in Eastern Europe.”

Pffh. Slaying the Russian bear with insurance regulation was just a warm-up. “Mr. Obama could retire into the history books, many presidential scholars say, on the health-care achievement alone,” wrote Helene Cooper in the New York Times. “But there is a swagger emanating from the White House that suggests he may now have acquired a liking for the benefits of sticking his neck out to lead.” Also in the Times, Tom Friedman assured us that health care’s passage made Obama a more formidable international player. “You don’t have to be Machiavelli to believe that the leaders of Iran and Venezuela shared the barely disguised Republican hope that health care would fail and, therefore, Mr. Obama’s whole political agenda would be stalled and, therefore, his presidency enfeebled,” he wrote.

Obama was on course to take out the Republicans, Russians, Iranians, Venezuelans, Martians, Aztecs, and Incas and still make tee time at Pebble Beach.

Too bad the power surge died before the spring. “Americans are more pessimistic about the state of the country and less confident in President Barack Obama’s leadership than at any point since Mr. Obama entered the White House,” runs an extraordinary lede in today’s Wall Street Journal. A new poll shows that the country is losing faith in the abilities of the world historic president who just three months ago passed historic legislation. That’s not nearly all. The White House is losing its grip on the military, getting smacked down by the judiciary on its drilling ban, and going into battle with about 15 states over health care. Oh, and the Russians ate us for breakfast on that arms treaty, the Iranians had us for lunch on UN sanctions, and the Venezuelans are seizing our oil rigs for dinner. Finally, pace Beinart, Democrats are “terrified about the midterm elections.”

How could this be? Leadership through Nancy Pelosi’s prop gavel and the imposition of mystery legislation doesn’t confer actual power? Go figure.

The big historic health-care victory was nothing more than a procedural high-wire act. Kind of like getting your package to FedEx at 7:55 p.m. on a rainy Friday. Never mind that the package is empty or, worse, that its contents are dangerous. ObamaCare’s popularity sinks with each day’s new frightening analysis.

What people do want are jobs. The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that Americans chose “job creation and economic growth” as their top-priority issue for the federal government to address. “The Gulf Coast oil spill and energy” was second. Health care came in at a distant number six, beating last place “social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.”

Like Tom Friedman says, you don’t have to be Machiavelli to see that Obama isn’t competently addressing the most important issues; you just have to be American. In fact, you don’t have to be Machiavelli at all. You just have to be effective. People instruct the president to get mad or get compassionate. But he only needs to get things done. All the “impressive leadership” stuff comes after a leader actually accomplishes something. For now, the new poll does at least partially vindicate Peter Beinart: people are certainly afraid of Barack Obama.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Clueless. Tom Friedman has made a career — a lucrative one — ignoring the less-flattering side of certain regimes. So the obvious is always a revelation (“here he is, sojourning among the Turks again, explaining to us, in case we, too, have shunned the news, that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has joined the radical jihadi camp”).

Exasperated. From the Huffington Post: “I am really not entirely sure what the point to this Oval Office address was! Were you looking for something that resembled a fully-realized action plan, describing a detailed approach to containment and clean up?”

Fretful. From the Daily Beast’s Tina Brown: “His reinforcement of a six-month moratorium on deep-sea drilling for safety checks reprised my conviction, that Obama, for all his brilliance, has no real, felt understanding of management structures or of business.” Reprised? Funny, she hasn’t made a big deal of this before.

Hopeful (Republicans, that is). From Fred Barnes: “Dino Rossi is the 10th man. Republicans need to pick up 10 Democratic seats in the midterm election to take control of the Senate. And they probably can’t do it without Rossi, a top-tier challenger in Washington to three-term Democrat Patty Murray.”

Lunacy. At the UN, of course, and confirmation we have no business being on the Human Rights Council: “Delegates from Islamic countries, including Pakistan and Egypt, told the United Nations Human Rights Council that treatment of Muslims in Western countries amounted to racism and discrimination and must be fought. ‘People of Arab origin face new forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance and experience discrimination and marginalisation,’ an Egyptian delegate said, according to a U.N. summary. And Pakistan, speaking for the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said the council’s special investigator into religious freedom should look into such racism ‘especially in Western societies.'” Let’s have an investigation of sexism and racism in Arab countries, shall we?

Disgusting. From Josh Rogin: “The U.S. taxpayer-funded Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, led by former Congressman Lee Hamilton, is giving out its annual award for public service Thursday, and the winner is … Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu! … The Turkish foreign minister has been in the news a lot lately, such as when he said the Israeli incident aboard the Gaza flotilla ‘is like 9/11 for Turkey.’ He was also a key figure in the Brazilian-Turkish drive to head off new U.N. sanctions on Iran by striking an 11th-hour fuel-swap deal, an agreement the Obama administration has dismissed as inadequate and unhelpful.” The runner-up was Ahmadinejad?

Welcomed (but overdue). The AJC calls for the removal of the UN Human Rights Council permanent investigator for his anti-Israel venom. But if that’s the standard, wouldn’t the council have to disband?

Wow. Chris Christie – again — impressive. Note how he can pull off both the “jovial warrior” against the media and liberals and the down-to-earth conversations with voters.

Clueless. Tom Friedman has made a career — a lucrative one — ignoring the less-flattering side of certain regimes. So the obvious is always a revelation (“here he is, sojourning among the Turks again, explaining to us, in case we, too, have shunned the news, that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has joined the radical jihadi camp”).

Exasperated. From the Huffington Post: “I am really not entirely sure what the point to this Oval Office address was! Were you looking for something that resembled a fully-realized action plan, describing a detailed approach to containment and clean up?”

Fretful. From the Daily Beast’s Tina Brown: “His reinforcement of a six-month moratorium on deep-sea drilling for safety checks reprised my conviction, that Obama, for all his brilliance, has no real, felt understanding of management structures or of business.” Reprised? Funny, she hasn’t made a big deal of this before.

Hopeful (Republicans, that is). From Fred Barnes: “Dino Rossi is the 10th man. Republicans need to pick up 10 Democratic seats in the midterm election to take control of the Senate. And they probably can’t do it without Rossi, a top-tier challenger in Washington to three-term Democrat Patty Murray.”

Lunacy. At the UN, of course, and confirmation we have no business being on the Human Rights Council: “Delegates from Islamic countries, including Pakistan and Egypt, told the United Nations Human Rights Council that treatment of Muslims in Western countries amounted to racism and discrimination and must be fought. ‘People of Arab origin face new forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance and experience discrimination and marginalisation,’ an Egyptian delegate said, according to a U.N. summary. And Pakistan, speaking for the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said the council’s special investigator into religious freedom should look into such racism ‘especially in Western societies.'” Let’s have an investigation of sexism and racism in Arab countries, shall we?

Disgusting. From Josh Rogin: “The U.S. taxpayer-funded Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, led by former Congressman Lee Hamilton, is giving out its annual award for public service Thursday, and the winner is … Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu! … The Turkish foreign minister has been in the news a lot lately, such as when he said the Israeli incident aboard the Gaza flotilla ‘is like 9/11 for Turkey.’ He was also a key figure in the Brazilian-Turkish drive to head off new U.N. sanctions on Iran by striking an 11th-hour fuel-swap deal, an agreement the Obama administration has dismissed as inadequate and unhelpful.” The runner-up was Ahmadinejad?

Welcomed (but overdue). The AJC calls for the removal of the UN Human Rights Council permanent investigator for his anti-Israel venom. But if that’s the standard, wouldn’t the council have to disband?

Wow. Chris Christie – again — impressive. Note how he can pull off both the “jovial warrior” against the media and liberals and the down-to-earth conversations with voters.

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Obama Instructs His Lessers

Taegan Goddard calls our attention to this portion of Obama’s commencement address at University of Michigan:

Still, if you’re somebody who only reads the editorial page of the New York Times, try glancing at the page of the Wall Street Journal once in a while. If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship.

A nice sentiment — but one that reflects Obama’s assumptions and condescension toward his audience — and Americans more generally. As we know, a high percentage of Internet readers do precisely what Obama is advising. Pete, drawing on David Brooks’s column, noted, “It’s fashionable these days for many in the political class to complain about the Internet for, among other reasons, allowing people to ideologically self-segregate. But like much of conventional wisdom, this widespread view appears to be wrong.” But Obama feels compelled to instruct us to be more open-minded.

Frankly, this gets back to a lack of self-awareness. This is a president who derides political opponents, fails to engage them on the merits, and has perfected the straw-man and ad hominem attacks. It was his White House that declared war on Fox News. So it is the height of hypocrisy for him to now tell the rest of us to up the tolerance and intellectual diversity quotient in our lives. It’s sort of like Tom Friedman telling us to consume less and reduce our carbon footprint.

Taegan Goddard calls our attention to this portion of Obama’s commencement address at University of Michigan:

Still, if you’re somebody who only reads the editorial page of the New York Times, try glancing at the page of the Wall Street Journal once in a while. If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship.

A nice sentiment — but one that reflects Obama’s assumptions and condescension toward his audience — and Americans more generally. As we know, a high percentage of Internet readers do precisely what Obama is advising. Pete, drawing on David Brooks’s column, noted, “It’s fashionable these days for many in the political class to complain about the Internet for, among other reasons, allowing people to ideologically self-segregate. But like much of conventional wisdom, this widespread view appears to be wrong.” But Obama feels compelled to instruct us to be more open-minded.

Frankly, this gets back to a lack of self-awareness. This is a president who derides political opponents, fails to engage them on the merits, and has perfected the straw-man and ad hominem attacks. It was his White House that declared war on Fox News. So it is the height of hypocrisy for him to now tell the rest of us to up the tolerance and intellectual diversity quotient in our lives. It’s sort of like Tom Friedman telling us to consume less and reduce our carbon footprint.

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In the Shadow of Iran, Holocaust Remembrance Must Have a Purpose

At synagogues and community centers, as well as city halls and statehouses around the country, Americans gathered yesterday and today to mark Yom HaShoah, the date in the Jewish calendar that commemorates the tragedy of the Holocaust. The choreography of these events is invariably the same. Community leaders, clergymen, and politicians, as well as representatives of the dwindling band of survivors, will speak of the importance of remembrance of this great crime and vow that “Never again” will the world stand by and watch as a people is slaughtered. Prayers will be said and songs that invoke the pathos of the victims as well as the heroism of those who resisted the Nazis and their collaborators will be sung. All this is right and proper and appropriate. And it is also utterly insufficient.

The notion that the example of the Holocaust would be used to mobilize the world to prevent subsequent acts of genocide was always a bit optimistic.  Yet some well-meaning educators thought the memory of the Shoah must be morphed into a more general concern for humanity lest it be seen as merely a parochial concern. In addition, those who sought to downplay contemporary threats to Jewish life particularly derided the idea that Holocaust remembrance must have specific lessons for Jews about powerlessness and sovereignty. For those like New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who once referred to Israel as “Yad Vashem with an air force,” the worry was that Israel and its friends were so obsessed by the Holocaust that they were unwilling to make peace with the Arabs. This was an absurd charge against a country that would spend two decades making concessions and peace offers to Palestinian groups that still refuse to recognize the Jewish state’s legitimacy within any borders.

But in 2010 these post-Zionist dismissals of the existential threats to Israel are even more out of touch with reality than in the past. Even as the speakers at Yom Hashoah ceremonies recited the words “never again,” the leaders of the Islamist regime in Iran (whose president ironically denies the Holocaust while plotting a new one) were happily noting the international community’s weak response to their plans for the development of a nuclear weapon. The entire world is threatened by this prospect but we all know that the priority target for Iran and its terrorist allies Hezbollah and Hamas is the State of Israel. Whether the Iranians actually detonate such a weapon or merely use it to blackmail other countries, the peril to Israel and its population of more than 6 million Jews must be seen as imminent.

Yet the idea that America, let alone an indifferent Europe, is prepared to actually do something to stop Iran is not taken seriously by anyone. Last week even President Obama, who spent his first year in office attempting to engage and appease Iran, more or less acknowledged that his weak attempts to enact toothless sanctions on Tehran might not convince the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime to change course. That means that it is only a matter of time until the day comes (perhaps on Obama’s watch) when the world will wake up to the nightmare of an Iranian bomb.

The question is, what are American Jews — the vast majority of whom voted for Obama as loyal Democrats — prepared to do to convince their president to act before it is too late? There is no evidence to suggest that there is a pervasive sense of alarm or outrage about the administration’s feckless Iran policy or its perverse insistence on hostility toward the democratically elected government of Israel. Thus, for all of the attention devoted to observances of Yom Hashoah among American Jews, it appears as if the actual lesson of the Holocaust has no resonance for all too many. Though it was always true, this year the mere recital of expressions of sorrow for the Six Million are not enough. Acts of remembrance that do not lead us to draw conclusions about the present are of little use. For all the care and money that has gone into the proliferation of Holocaust memorials around the United States, it must be understood that the best and only true memorial to the Shoah is to be found in the creation and the survival of the State of Israel and of the Jewish people itself. Those who weep over fate of the Six Million but say nothing as Barack Obama lets Iran off the hook have learned nothing.

At synagogues and community centers, as well as city halls and statehouses around the country, Americans gathered yesterday and today to mark Yom HaShoah, the date in the Jewish calendar that commemorates the tragedy of the Holocaust. The choreography of these events is invariably the same. Community leaders, clergymen, and politicians, as well as representatives of the dwindling band of survivors, will speak of the importance of remembrance of this great crime and vow that “Never again” will the world stand by and watch as a people is slaughtered. Prayers will be said and songs that invoke the pathos of the victims as well as the heroism of those who resisted the Nazis and their collaborators will be sung. All this is right and proper and appropriate. And it is also utterly insufficient.

The notion that the example of the Holocaust would be used to mobilize the world to prevent subsequent acts of genocide was always a bit optimistic.  Yet some well-meaning educators thought the memory of the Shoah must be morphed into a more general concern for humanity lest it be seen as merely a parochial concern. In addition, those who sought to downplay contemporary threats to Jewish life particularly derided the idea that Holocaust remembrance must have specific lessons for Jews about powerlessness and sovereignty. For those like New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who once referred to Israel as “Yad Vashem with an air force,” the worry was that Israel and its friends were so obsessed by the Holocaust that they were unwilling to make peace with the Arabs. This was an absurd charge against a country that would spend two decades making concessions and peace offers to Palestinian groups that still refuse to recognize the Jewish state’s legitimacy within any borders.

But in 2010 these post-Zionist dismissals of the existential threats to Israel are even more out of touch with reality than in the past. Even as the speakers at Yom Hashoah ceremonies recited the words “never again,” the leaders of the Islamist regime in Iran (whose president ironically denies the Holocaust while plotting a new one) were happily noting the international community’s weak response to their plans for the development of a nuclear weapon. The entire world is threatened by this prospect but we all know that the priority target for Iran and its terrorist allies Hezbollah and Hamas is the State of Israel. Whether the Iranians actually detonate such a weapon or merely use it to blackmail other countries, the peril to Israel and its population of more than 6 million Jews must be seen as imminent.

Yet the idea that America, let alone an indifferent Europe, is prepared to actually do something to stop Iran is not taken seriously by anyone. Last week even President Obama, who spent his first year in office attempting to engage and appease Iran, more or less acknowledged that his weak attempts to enact toothless sanctions on Tehran might not convince the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime to change course. That means that it is only a matter of time until the day comes (perhaps on Obama’s watch) when the world will wake up to the nightmare of an Iranian bomb.

The question is, what are American Jews — the vast majority of whom voted for Obama as loyal Democrats — prepared to do to convince their president to act before it is too late? There is no evidence to suggest that there is a pervasive sense of alarm or outrage about the administration’s feckless Iran policy or its perverse insistence on hostility toward the democratically elected government of Israel. Thus, for all of the attention devoted to observances of Yom Hashoah among American Jews, it appears as if the actual lesson of the Holocaust has no resonance for all too many. Though it was always true, this year the mere recital of expressions of sorrow for the Six Million are not enough. Acts of remembrance that do not lead us to draw conclusions about the present are of little use. For all the care and money that has gone into the proliferation of Holocaust memorials around the United States, it must be understood that the best and only true memorial to the Shoah is to be found in the creation and the survival of the State of Israel and of the Jewish people itself. Those who weep over fate of the Six Million but say nothing as Barack Obama lets Iran off the hook have learned nothing.

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George W. Bush Gets His Due

Tom Friedman has not exactly been a cheerleader for democracy around the globe. Truth be told, he’s rather partial to autocratic states, especially ones he and his New York Times comrade visit. But even he cannot deny the triumph of Iraqi democracy — nor of the U. S. president who made it possible. He writes:

Of all the pictures I saw from the Iraqi elections last weekend, my favorite was on nytimes.com: an Iraqi mother holding up her son to let him stuff her ballot into the box. I loved that picture. Being able to freely cast a ballot for the candidate of your choice is still unusual for Iraqis and for that entire region. That mother seemed to be saying: When I was a child, I never got to vote. I want to live in a world where my child will always be able to.

And unlike the Obami on Iraq, who — as Ann Richards once said of George H.W. Bush — effectively woke up on third base and thought they hit a triple, Friedman gives credit where credit is due:

Yes, the U.S.’s toppling of Saddam Hussein helped Iran expand its influence into the Arab world. Saddam’s Iraq was a temporary iron-fisted bulwark against Iranian expansion. But if Iraq has any sort of decent outcome — and becomes a real Shiite-majority, multiethnic democracy right next door to the phony Iranian version — it will be a source of permanent pressure on the Iranian regime. It will be a constant reminder that “Islamic democracy” — the rigged system the Iranians set up — is nonsense. Real “Islamic democracy” is just like any other democracy, except with Muslims voting.

Former President George W. Bush’s gut instinct that this region craved and needed democracy was always right. It should have and could have been pursued with much better planning and execution. This war has been extraordinarily painful and costly. But democracy was never going to have a virgin birth in a place like Iraq, which has never known any such thing.

Now why can’t Obama say the same? It would dispel the notion that he is peevish, small, and unable to accept his own errors in opposing the war — the results of which Friedman and the West now cheer.

Tom Friedman has not exactly been a cheerleader for democracy around the globe. Truth be told, he’s rather partial to autocratic states, especially ones he and his New York Times comrade visit. But even he cannot deny the triumph of Iraqi democracy — nor of the U. S. president who made it possible. He writes:

Of all the pictures I saw from the Iraqi elections last weekend, my favorite was on nytimes.com: an Iraqi mother holding up her son to let him stuff her ballot into the box. I loved that picture. Being able to freely cast a ballot for the candidate of your choice is still unusual for Iraqis and for that entire region. That mother seemed to be saying: When I was a child, I never got to vote. I want to live in a world where my child will always be able to.

And unlike the Obami on Iraq, who — as Ann Richards once said of George H.W. Bush — effectively woke up on third base and thought they hit a triple, Friedman gives credit where credit is due:

Yes, the U.S.’s toppling of Saddam Hussein helped Iran expand its influence into the Arab world. Saddam’s Iraq was a temporary iron-fisted bulwark against Iranian expansion. But if Iraq has any sort of decent outcome — and becomes a real Shiite-majority, multiethnic democracy right next door to the phony Iranian version — it will be a source of permanent pressure on the Iranian regime. It will be a constant reminder that “Islamic democracy” — the rigged system the Iranians set up — is nonsense. Real “Islamic democracy” is just like any other democracy, except with Muslims voting.

Former President George W. Bush’s gut instinct that this region craved and needed democracy was always right. It should have and could have been pursued with much better planning and execution. This war has been extraordinarily painful and costly. But democracy was never going to have a virgin birth in a place like Iraq, which has never known any such thing.

Now why can’t Obama say the same? It would dispel the notion that he is peevish, small, and unable to accept his own errors in opposing the war — the results of which Friedman and the West now cheer.

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Ridiculous Writings on Totalitarian Countries

I don’t know why, but I am still amazed by the credulity of some reporters. In researching my history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism (tentatively titled Invisible Armies), I have been running across some startling quotes from Western journalists who visited Communist-held areas of China in the 1930s and ‘40s. Sample:

The Chinese Communists are not Communists — not according to the Russian definition of the term. They do not, at the present time, either advocate or practice Communism…. Today the  Chinese Communists are no more Communistic than we Americans are.

That’s from the 1945 book, Report from Red China, written by the photojournalist Harrison Forman. He took seriously Mao Zedong’s statements to him that “we are not striving for the social and political Communism of Soviet Russia. Rather, we prefer to think of what we are doing as something that Lincoln fought for in your Civil War: the liberation of slaves. In China today, we have many millions of slaves, shackled by feudalism.” He also reported uncritically about Mao’s vow that the Communists would not establish a “dictatorship of the proletariat” and would instead set up a “democratic government” that would include “landlords, merchants, capitalists, and petit bourgeois as well as peasants and workers.” Apparently, Forman was unaware of the bloody campaigns the Communists had already carried out against “landlords” and “rich peasants.” Forman couldn’t understand why Mao didn’t change the party’s name to “Neo-Democracy” or “Democraticism” or “some such” name! (Mao’s canny non-reply: “If we were to change suddenly to some other name, there are those in China today — and abroad, too — who would make capital out of it, would accuse us of trying to cover up something.”)

And then, of course, there was the infamous Edgar Snow, whose Red Star Over China (1938) introduced Mao & Co. to much of the world — including to much of China.  Snow actually thought Mao, who would become arguably history’s worst mass-murder, was “a moderating influence in the Communist movement where life and death were concerned.”

This is hardly an isolated phenomenon, given how many boosters Stalin and Castro, Ho Chi Minh and even Pol Pot had among the Western press corps. The tradition continues today with some prominent writers (like Roger Cohen of the New York Times) offering apologetics on behalf of Iran, while his colleague, Tom Friedman, exalts China’s current lack of democracy. Someday, I trust their writings will be as ridiculed as Forman’s and Snow’s deserve to be.

I don’t know why, but I am still amazed by the credulity of some reporters. In researching my history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism (tentatively titled Invisible Armies), I have been running across some startling quotes from Western journalists who visited Communist-held areas of China in the 1930s and ‘40s. Sample:

The Chinese Communists are not Communists — not according to the Russian definition of the term. They do not, at the present time, either advocate or practice Communism…. Today the  Chinese Communists are no more Communistic than we Americans are.

That’s from the 1945 book, Report from Red China, written by the photojournalist Harrison Forman. He took seriously Mao Zedong’s statements to him that “we are not striving for the social and political Communism of Soviet Russia. Rather, we prefer to think of what we are doing as something that Lincoln fought for in your Civil War: the liberation of slaves. In China today, we have many millions of slaves, shackled by feudalism.” He also reported uncritically about Mao’s vow that the Communists would not establish a “dictatorship of the proletariat” and would instead set up a “democratic government” that would include “landlords, merchants, capitalists, and petit bourgeois as well as peasants and workers.” Apparently, Forman was unaware of the bloody campaigns the Communists had already carried out against “landlords” and “rich peasants.” Forman couldn’t understand why Mao didn’t change the party’s name to “Neo-Democracy” or “Democraticism” or “some such” name! (Mao’s canny non-reply: “If we were to change suddenly to some other name, there are those in China today — and abroad, too — who would make capital out of it, would accuse us of trying to cover up something.”)

And then, of course, there was the infamous Edgar Snow, whose Red Star Over China (1938) introduced Mao & Co. to much of the world — including to much of China.  Snow actually thought Mao, who would become arguably history’s worst mass-murder, was “a moderating influence in the Communist movement where life and death were concerned.”

This is hardly an isolated phenomenon, given how many boosters Stalin and Castro, Ho Chi Minh and even Pol Pot had among the Western press corps. The tradition continues today with some prominent writers (like Roger Cohen of the New York Times) offering apologetics on behalf of Iran, while his colleague, Tom Friedman, exalts China’s current lack of democracy. Someday, I trust their writings will be as ridiculed as Forman’s and Snow’s deserve to be.

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A Balanced China Policy

George Gilder has been one of our most interesting and important public intellectuals since the 1970s, so his pro-China commentary today in the Wall Street Journal deserves a more serious response than, say, the mindless boosterism of the average Tom Friedman column. In fact, I agree with him that it is hardly worth wasting American diplomatic capital with China on the issues of global warming and the value of the Chinese currency.

I am surprised, however, to see Gilder — who has been an Internet visionary — so blithely suggest that the U.S. government has no stake in Google’s battle with China over Internet censorship and hacking. “Protecting information on the Internet is a responsibility of U.S. corporations and their security tools, not the State Department,” he writes. That is like saying that protecting downtown New York is the responsibility of the corporations headquartered there, not the FBI and NYPD. Cyber infrastructure is fast becoming even more important than physical infrastructure to the functioning of the U.S. economy. Accordingly, it is, indeed, an issue for the State Department — and not only the State Department but also the Defense Department, the Justice Department, and other government agencies.

I am even more surprised to see Gilder — known as a relentless defender of Israel — seemingly write off another embattled democracy: Taiwan. His stance here is a bit contradictory. On the one hand, he writes: “Yes, the Chinese are needlessly aggressive in missile deployments against Taiwan, but there is absolutely no prospect of a successful U.S. defense of that country.” On the other hand: “China, like the U.S., is so heavily dependent on Taiwanese manufacturing skills and so intertwined with Taiwan’s industry that China’s military threat to the island is mostly theater.” Those propositions would seem to be at odds: is China a threat to Taiwan or not? In any case, neither proposition is terribly convincing.

Conquering Taiwan would require China to oversee the biggest amphibious operation since Inchon. Stopping such a cross-Strait attack would not be terribly difficult as long as Taiwan has reasonably strong air and naval forces — and can call on assistance from the U.S. Navy and Air Force. Taiwan doesn’t need the capability to march on Beijing, merely the capability to prevent the People’s Liberation Army from marching on Taipei. It would be harder to prevent China from doing tremendous damage to Taiwan via missile strikes but by no means impossible, given the advancement of ballistic-missile defenses and given our own ability to pinpoint Chinese launch sites. Moreover, giving Taiwan the means to defend itself is the surest guarantee that it won’t have to. Only if Taiwan looks vulnerable is China likely to launch a war.

The notion that such a conflict is out of the question because of the economic links between Taiwan and the mainland is about as convincing as the notion — widely held before World War I — that the major states of Europe were so economically dependent on one another and so enlightened that they would never risk a conflict. If the statesmen who ran Austria and Germany and Russia and France and Britain were, in fact, primarily interested in economic wellbeing, they would never have gone to war. But other considerations — national honor and prestige and security — trumped economics back then and could easily do so again, especially because the legitimacy of the Chinese regime is increasingly based on catering to an extreme nationalist viewpoint.

That doesn’t mean we should engage in needless and self-destructive confrontations with China over global warming and currency, but that also doesn’t mean we should mindlessly kowtow to China’s every whim. As I argued in this Weekly Standard article in 2005, we should pursue a balanced approach to China, tough on security and human-rights issues but accommodating on trade and currency policy. In other words, we should make clear to China that we are prepared to accept it as a responsible member of the international community but that we will not overlook its transgressions, like its complicity in upholding rogue regimes (Sudan, Iran, North Korea) and threatening democratic ones (South Korea, Taiwan).

George Gilder has been one of our most interesting and important public intellectuals since the 1970s, so his pro-China commentary today in the Wall Street Journal deserves a more serious response than, say, the mindless boosterism of the average Tom Friedman column. In fact, I agree with him that it is hardly worth wasting American diplomatic capital with China on the issues of global warming and the value of the Chinese currency.

I am surprised, however, to see Gilder — who has been an Internet visionary — so blithely suggest that the U.S. government has no stake in Google’s battle with China over Internet censorship and hacking. “Protecting information on the Internet is a responsibility of U.S. corporations and their security tools, not the State Department,” he writes. That is like saying that protecting downtown New York is the responsibility of the corporations headquartered there, not the FBI and NYPD. Cyber infrastructure is fast becoming even more important than physical infrastructure to the functioning of the U.S. economy. Accordingly, it is, indeed, an issue for the State Department — and not only the State Department but also the Defense Department, the Justice Department, and other government agencies.

I am even more surprised to see Gilder — known as a relentless defender of Israel — seemingly write off another embattled democracy: Taiwan. His stance here is a bit contradictory. On the one hand, he writes: “Yes, the Chinese are needlessly aggressive in missile deployments against Taiwan, but there is absolutely no prospect of a successful U.S. defense of that country.” On the other hand: “China, like the U.S., is so heavily dependent on Taiwanese manufacturing skills and so intertwined with Taiwan’s industry that China’s military threat to the island is mostly theater.” Those propositions would seem to be at odds: is China a threat to Taiwan or not? In any case, neither proposition is terribly convincing.

Conquering Taiwan would require China to oversee the biggest amphibious operation since Inchon. Stopping such a cross-Strait attack would not be terribly difficult as long as Taiwan has reasonably strong air and naval forces — and can call on assistance from the U.S. Navy and Air Force. Taiwan doesn’t need the capability to march on Beijing, merely the capability to prevent the People’s Liberation Army from marching on Taipei. It would be harder to prevent China from doing tremendous damage to Taiwan via missile strikes but by no means impossible, given the advancement of ballistic-missile defenses and given our own ability to pinpoint Chinese launch sites. Moreover, giving Taiwan the means to defend itself is the surest guarantee that it won’t have to. Only if Taiwan looks vulnerable is China likely to launch a war.

The notion that such a conflict is out of the question because of the economic links between Taiwan and the mainland is about as convincing as the notion — widely held before World War I — that the major states of Europe were so economically dependent on one another and so enlightened that they would never risk a conflict. If the statesmen who ran Austria and Germany and Russia and France and Britain were, in fact, primarily interested in economic wellbeing, they would never have gone to war. But other considerations — national honor and prestige and security — trumped economics back then and could easily do so again, especially because the legitimacy of the Chinese regime is increasingly based on catering to an extreme nationalist viewpoint.

That doesn’t mean we should engage in needless and self-destructive confrontations with China over global warming and currency, but that also doesn’t mean we should mindlessly kowtow to China’s every whim. As I argued in this Weekly Standard article in 2005, we should pursue a balanced approach to China, tough on security and human-rights issues but accommodating on trade and currency policy. In other words, we should make clear to China that we are prepared to accept it as a responsible member of the international community but that we will not overlook its transgressions, like its complicity in upholding rogue regimes (Sudan, Iran, North Korea) and threatening democratic ones (South Korea, Taiwan).

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Time to Short Tom Friedman

Tuesday, January 12 was a hard day for Thomas Friedman. Or at least it turned into one. That morning, the New York Times ran Friedman’s latest—and possibly last—900 word panegyric to the unstoppable wonder of China’s economy. His column had, as it occasionally does, a personal edge. He was essentially writing to the American investor James Chanos. Friedman had read that Chanos thinks the Chinese bubble is about to burst and is looking to short China’s economy for profit.

And undo all Friedman’s cheerleading??? No sir. Friedman explained to Chanos, and to us, that while China has some things to deal with, “(the most dangerous being pollution)… it also has a political class focused on addressing its real problems, as well as a mountain of savings with which to do so (unlike us).”

You know, it’s not the cleanest place in the world, but its wise leaders will put a few billions toward a country-wide clean-up crew (hey, maybe they can put some of those good-for-nothing Charter 8 signatories and Uighers to work!) before their world domination gets properly started. Friedman’s parting shot was all class, maturity, and circumspection: “Shorting China today? Well, good luck with that, Mr. Chanos. Let us know how it works out for you.”

I’d imagine it’s working out rather well. For on the same morning, a shortsighted, ignorant little entity of no importance called Google announced that it too was shorting China, and ceasing to do business there so long as they had to comply with Beijing’s strict censorship requirements. This puts Chanos in fairly good company.

But did Google miss the Friedman memo? China is rich and focused, “unlike us.” Moreover, as Friedman never fails to mention, “China also now has 400 million Internet users, and 200 million of them have broadband,” —unlike us, of course. Invest away. Shockingly, Google had an issue with China that went beyond the country’s investment mechanics. As the company’s statement read, “we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties.” Human rights? What does that mean? Any regular reader of Friedman knows that China’s is a “reasonably enlightened” dictatorship. How else could they achieve what Friedman calls their “Green Leap Forward,” “the most important thing to happen” in the first decade of this century? Google, it turns out, made a principled decision.

After this news broke, I wondered how Friedman would respond. Courtesy of yesterday’s New York Times, here comes his Yellow Leap Backward: “Your honor, I’d like to now revise and amend my remarks. There is one short position, one big short, that does intrigue me in China. I am not sure who makes a market in this area, but here goes: If China forces out Google, I’d like to short the Chinese Communist Party.”

You see, he’s still bullish on China, just bearish on the Chinese Communist Party. Makes perfect sense. Kind of like cheering the rise of eggs and the simultaneous demise of chickens. If it’s a confusing proposition, never fear. There is no wrong-headed opinion that Thomas Friedman cannot reduce to a childishly digestible formulation.

There are actually two Chinese economies today. There is the Communist Party and its affiliates; let’s call them Command China. These are the very traditional state-owned enterprises.

Alongside them, there is a second China, largely concentrated in coastal cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong. This is a highly entrepreneurial sector that has developed sophisticated techniques to generate and participate in diverse, high-value flows of business knowledge. I call that Network China.

It’s rare to see one wrestle so transparently with cognitive dissonance. Friedman asserted one thing about China. That thing was proved wrong in real time. To handle the contradiction, he splits China into two parts. What he said still applies to one China, not the other. Then he quotes some Non-Fiction Best-Sellerese from a recent book by John Hagel:

“Finding ways to connect with people and institutions possessing new knowledge becomes increasingly important,” says Hagel. “Since there are far more smart people outside any one organization than inside.” And in today’s flat world, you can now access them all.

Can you really? Here’s a challenge for Tom Friedman: There is a very smart person, a scholar even, named Liu Xiiaobo. Can Friedman reach out across “today’s flat world” and get in touch with him? You see, Liu was just sentenced to eleven years for “inciting subversion of state power” by the Chinese government. If Friedman gets hold of him, he should ask Liu which China he’s in. Maybe it’s called Autocratic China or, if we’re being adult about it, just China.

Let’s make it easier on Friedman. Finding one Chinese political prisoner in a sea of them is a bit daunting. How about he reaches out to one of the 20 million inhabitants of the Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government has blacked out all online access for an area three times the size of Texas. What is that China called? Is it safe to short?

Well, good luck with that, Mr. Friedman. Let us know how it works out for you.

Tuesday, January 12 was a hard day for Thomas Friedman. Or at least it turned into one. That morning, the New York Times ran Friedman’s latest—and possibly last—900 word panegyric to the unstoppable wonder of China’s economy. His column had, as it occasionally does, a personal edge. He was essentially writing to the American investor James Chanos. Friedman had read that Chanos thinks the Chinese bubble is about to burst and is looking to short China’s economy for profit.

And undo all Friedman’s cheerleading??? No sir. Friedman explained to Chanos, and to us, that while China has some things to deal with, “(the most dangerous being pollution)… it also has a political class focused on addressing its real problems, as well as a mountain of savings with which to do so (unlike us).”

You know, it’s not the cleanest place in the world, but its wise leaders will put a few billions toward a country-wide clean-up crew (hey, maybe they can put some of those good-for-nothing Charter 8 signatories and Uighers to work!) before their world domination gets properly started. Friedman’s parting shot was all class, maturity, and circumspection: “Shorting China today? Well, good luck with that, Mr. Chanos. Let us know how it works out for you.”

I’d imagine it’s working out rather well. For on the same morning, a shortsighted, ignorant little entity of no importance called Google announced that it too was shorting China, and ceasing to do business there so long as they had to comply with Beijing’s strict censorship requirements. This puts Chanos in fairly good company.

But did Google miss the Friedman memo? China is rich and focused, “unlike us.” Moreover, as Friedman never fails to mention, “China also now has 400 million Internet users, and 200 million of them have broadband,” —unlike us, of course. Invest away. Shockingly, Google had an issue with China that went beyond the country’s investment mechanics. As the company’s statement read, “we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties.” Human rights? What does that mean? Any regular reader of Friedman knows that China’s is a “reasonably enlightened” dictatorship. How else could they achieve what Friedman calls their “Green Leap Forward,” “the most important thing to happen” in the first decade of this century? Google, it turns out, made a principled decision.

After this news broke, I wondered how Friedman would respond. Courtesy of yesterday’s New York Times, here comes his Yellow Leap Backward: “Your honor, I’d like to now revise and amend my remarks. There is one short position, one big short, that does intrigue me in China. I am not sure who makes a market in this area, but here goes: If China forces out Google, I’d like to short the Chinese Communist Party.”

You see, he’s still bullish on China, just bearish on the Chinese Communist Party. Makes perfect sense. Kind of like cheering the rise of eggs and the simultaneous demise of chickens. If it’s a confusing proposition, never fear. There is no wrong-headed opinion that Thomas Friedman cannot reduce to a childishly digestible formulation.

There are actually two Chinese economies today. There is the Communist Party and its affiliates; let’s call them Command China. These are the very traditional state-owned enterprises.

Alongside them, there is a second China, largely concentrated in coastal cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong. This is a highly entrepreneurial sector that has developed sophisticated techniques to generate and participate in diverse, high-value flows of business knowledge. I call that Network China.

It’s rare to see one wrestle so transparently with cognitive dissonance. Friedman asserted one thing about China. That thing was proved wrong in real time. To handle the contradiction, he splits China into two parts. What he said still applies to one China, not the other. Then he quotes some Non-Fiction Best-Sellerese from a recent book by John Hagel:

“Finding ways to connect with people and institutions possessing new knowledge becomes increasingly important,” says Hagel. “Since there are far more smart people outside any one organization than inside.” And in today’s flat world, you can now access them all.

Can you really? Here’s a challenge for Tom Friedman: There is a very smart person, a scholar even, named Liu Xiiaobo. Can Friedman reach out across “today’s flat world” and get in touch with him? You see, Liu was just sentenced to eleven years for “inciting subversion of state power” by the Chinese government. If Friedman gets hold of him, he should ask Liu which China he’s in. Maybe it’s called Autocratic China or, if we’re being adult about it, just China.

Let’s make it easier on Friedman. Finding one Chinese political prisoner in a sea of them is a bit daunting. How about he reaches out to one of the 20 million inhabitants of the Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government has blacked out all online access for an area three times the size of Texas. What is that China called? Is it safe to short?

Well, good luck with that, Mr. Friedman. Let us know how it works out for you.

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The World Inverted?

“For a while the world was flat,” writes Roger Cohen in today’s New York Times. “Now it’s upside down.” His thesis is simple: today, the developed world depends on the developing one. Those fortunate enough to live in the latter control the minerals, and now they have cash. They’re buying up American and European companies with theirs, now larger than ours. So sorry, Tom Friedman, your flat-world paradigm, once so popular, is simply out of date.

We should forgive Cohen for taking every trend today and assuming they will continue indefinitely. After all, he’s following in the footsteps of extremely distinguished company, Fareed Zakaria, for instance. The title of Zakaria’s most recent book, The Post-American World, tells you all you need to know about the direction of geopolitical thinking.

With economic might comes power. Therefore, we’ll just have to expand the G-8 to include China, India, Brazil, and others. And the Security Council? As Cohen tells us this morning, “The 21st century can’t be handled with 20th-century institutions.” Therefore, the UN’s power center will, of course, have to be enlarged to reflect our new multipolar international system. Cohen even suggests that the West will need all the charity it can get from the upstarts.

So will the next American President have to view the world while standing on his head, as Cohen suggests? When economic development has evenly spread wealth from nation to nation, it will be impossible for a country with just 4.6 percent of global population–that’s the United States, by the way–to produce 25.5 percent of the world’s economic output, as it did in 2007. Eventually, a China five times more populous than the United States will have a gross domestic product five times larger than ours-and armed forces five times more powerful. Our fate, in short, is to be swamped.

There’s only one minor clarification I wish to make. Cohen’s scenario will not happen in our lifetime. It won’t even happen this century. The homogenization of the world economy, like the Age of Aquarius, is further away than any of us can imagine.

Why? History absolutely refuses to travel in straight lines. For instance, the political conditions that created globalization–the removal of barriers to international commerce after the failure of the Soviet Union–will inevitably go back up again. Check out “progress” on the Doha Round if you want to understand why the days of free trade across the globe could be coming to an end. Moreover, the authoritarian states are banding together around Russia and China, and this is bound to cause extreme difficulties for the American-led international system. Remember that the second most optimistic period in history–a time when many thought trade and globalization would usher in a period of permanent peace–was followed by the First World War, the most destructive conflict up until that time.

Even in the absence of intercontinental warfare, the resource-rich nations of the developing world will probably falter. If there is any common reason why none of Iran, Venezuela, or Saudi Arabia will sit on the Security Council, it is because a country’s form of government is critical to national success. Each of these states is struggling to adjust to a modernizing world where the tone is generally set by the capitalist democracies. In the last few months as China’s one-party state has been rocked by one internal crisis after another, talk of “the Chinese century” has largely disappeared from international discourse.

So Cohen may look brilliant today, but let’s put all this talk about the end of Western dominance into context. Yes, it is unlikely that we will ever be as powerful in relative terms as we were in the days immediately following World War II, but we have to remember that all of the periods of American decline since then were followed by extraordinary recoveries. And if there is anything that sets America apart from the rest of the world, it is the ability to renew itself. Despite all the troubles that lie ahead, we are living in the Second American Century.

“For a while the world was flat,” writes Roger Cohen in today’s New York Times. “Now it’s upside down.” His thesis is simple: today, the developed world depends on the developing one. Those fortunate enough to live in the latter control the minerals, and now they have cash. They’re buying up American and European companies with theirs, now larger than ours. So sorry, Tom Friedman, your flat-world paradigm, once so popular, is simply out of date.

We should forgive Cohen for taking every trend today and assuming they will continue indefinitely. After all, he’s following in the footsteps of extremely distinguished company, Fareed Zakaria, for instance. The title of Zakaria’s most recent book, The Post-American World, tells you all you need to know about the direction of geopolitical thinking.

With economic might comes power. Therefore, we’ll just have to expand the G-8 to include China, India, Brazil, and others. And the Security Council? As Cohen tells us this morning, “The 21st century can’t be handled with 20th-century institutions.” Therefore, the UN’s power center will, of course, have to be enlarged to reflect our new multipolar international system. Cohen even suggests that the West will need all the charity it can get from the upstarts.

So will the next American President have to view the world while standing on his head, as Cohen suggests? When economic development has evenly spread wealth from nation to nation, it will be impossible for a country with just 4.6 percent of global population–that’s the United States, by the way–to produce 25.5 percent of the world’s economic output, as it did in 2007. Eventually, a China five times more populous than the United States will have a gross domestic product five times larger than ours-and armed forces five times more powerful. Our fate, in short, is to be swamped.

There’s only one minor clarification I wish to make. Cohen’s scenario will not happen in our lifetime. It won’t even happen this century. The homogenization of the world economy, like the Age of Aquarius, is further away than any of us can imagine.

Why? History absolutely refuses to travel in straight lines. For instance, the political conditions that created globalization–the removal of barriers to international commerce after the failure of the Soviet Union–will inevitably go back up again. Check out “progress” on the Doha Round if you want to understand why the days of free trade across the globe could be coming to an end. Moreover, the authoritarian states are banding together around Russia and China, and this is bound to cause extreme difficulties for the American-led international system. Remember that the second most optimistic period in history–a time when many thought trade and globalization would usher in a period of permanent peace–was followed by the First World War, the most destructive conflict up until that time.

Even in the absence of intercontinental warfare, the resource-rich nations of the developing world will probably falter. If there is any common reason why none of Iran, Venezuela, or Saudi Arabia will sit on the Security Council, it is because a country’s form of government is critical to national success. Each of these states is struggling to adjust to a modernizing world where the tone is generally set by the capitalist democracies. In the last few months as China’s one-party state has been rocked by one internal crisis after another, talk of “the Chinese century” has largely disappeared from international discourse.

So Cohen may look brilliant today, but let’s put all this talk about the end of Western dominance into context. Yes, it is unlikely that we will ever be as powerful in relative terms as we were in the days immediately following World War II, but we have to remember that all of the periods of American decline since then were followed by extraordinary recoveries. And if there is anything that sets America apart from the rest of the world, it is the ability to renew itself. Despite all the troubles that lie ahead, we are living in the Second American Century.

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Friedman’s New Cold War

“The next American president will inherit many foreign policy challenges, but surely one of the biggest will be the cold war,” writes Tom Friedman in this morning’s New York Times.  “Yes, the next president is going to be a cold-war president-but this cold war is with Iran.”

Clearly the Iranians see it as Friedman does.  To support his cold war thesis, he cites a Sunday editorial from Kayhan, an Iranian daily: “In the power struggle in the Middle East, there are only two sides: Iran and the United States.”  Yet just because Tehran sees us as its principal adversary does not mean that we have to view Tehran as ours.  And I believe that we should not.  After all, Friedman has violated Oscar Wilde’s first rule of international relations: “A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.”

Once a nation chooses its enemy, it inevitably selects its friends.  If Iran were the Soviet Union, then we would naturally side with Tehran’s adversaries, the generally autocratic and corrupt Sunni Arab states.  Indeed, Friedman lists them as our allies in his “cold war.”  This makes perfect sense if the United States were, like England once was, just another offshore balancer.

Yet America is more than one of those.  If there is any justification for us to exercise power beyond our borders, it is because we stand for a set of important principles.  Because Iranian leaders oppose all that Americans believe-representative governance and free markets, for instance-they are by definition our foes.

And to defend our principles we should avoid the unsavory bargains that nations tend to make when they see themselves involved in global existential struggles.  Nothing undermines us more than failure to adhere to what we believe.  We can achieve short-term objectives with cynical arrangements-like supporting the Shah, for example-but we usually end up creating more problems than we solve.

Yes, we should oppose Iran today.  But we can do that best when it is in the context of an effort to defend values and international norms.  The goal for “Team America,” as Friedman calls us, is not to prevail over “Iran.”  It is to establish a just and peaceful international system-with a free and democratic Iran as a part of it.

“The next American president will inherit many foreign policy challenges, but surely one of the biggest will be the cold war,” writes Tom Friedman in this morning’s New York Times.  “Yes, the next president is going to be a cold-war president-but this cold war is with Iran.”

Clearly the Iranians see it as Friedman does.  To support his cold war thesis, he cites a Sunday editorial from Kayhan, an Iranian daily: “In the power struggle in the Middle East, there are only two sides: Iran and the United States.”  Yet just because Tehran sees us as its principal adversary does not mean that we have to view Tehran as ours.  And I believe that we should not.  After all, Friedman has violated Oscar Wilde’s first rule of international relations: “A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.”

Once a nation chooses its enemy, it inevitably selects its friends.  If Iran were the Soviet Union, then we would naturally side with Tehran’s adversaries, the generally autocratic and corrupt Sunni Arab states.  Indeed, Friedman lists them as our allies in his “cold war.”  This makes perfect sense if the United States were, like England once was, just another offshore balancer.

Yet America is more than one of those.  If there is any justification for us to exercise power beyond our borders, it is because we stand for a set of important principles.  Because Iranian leaders oppose all that Americans believe-representative governance and free markets, for instance-they are by definition our foes.

And to defend our principles we should avoid the unsavory bargains that nations tend to make when they see themselves involved in global existential struggles.  Nothing undermines us more than failure to adhere to what we believe.  We can achieve short-term objectives with cynical arrangements-like supporting the Shah, for example-but we usually end up creating more problems than we solve.

Yes, we should oppose Iran today.  But we can do that best when it is in the context of an effort to defend values and international norms.  The goal for “Team America,” as Friedman calls us, is not to prevail over “Iran.”  It is to establish a just and peaceful international system-with a free and democratic Iran as a part of it.

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Friedman’s Folly

Thomas Friedman is the second- or third-best columnist at the New York Times. Admittedly that’s damning with faint praise. But he does know a fair amount about the Middle East and some other topics, and even if he repeats himself far too often (especially on the need for ending oil dependency), and gets a lot of things wrong (such as his support for the Oslo Peace Process), and exaggerates in those areas where he’s basically right (his support of globalization), I find him often worth a read, which is more than I can say for some of his colleagues. But in yesterday’s newspaper, Friedman sounded more like a talk-radio blowhard than the Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign-affairs columnist for the Newspaper of Record. (Read his column free here.)

In yesterday’s Times, Friedman went for cheap and easy populist point-scoring. He excoriated Iraqi parliamentarians for taking August off while our troops swelter in the Iraq heat wearing body armor. “Here’s what I think of that: I think it’s a travesty,” he exclaimed—words you can easily imagine coming out of the mouth of Lou Dobbs or Bill O’Reilly or someone else not normally to be confused with Tom Friedman.

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Thomas Friedman is the second- or third-best columnist at the New York Times. Admittedly that’s damning with faint praise. But he does know a fair amount about the Middle East and some other topics, and even if he repeats himself far too often (especially on the need for ending oil dependency), and gets a lot of things wrong (such as his support for the Oslo Peace Process), and exaggerates in those areas where he’s basically right (his support of globalization), I find him often worth a read, which is more than I can say for some of his colleagues. But in yesterday’s newspaper, Friedman sounded more like a talk-radio blowhard than the Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign-affairs columnist for the Newspaper of Record. (Read his column free here.)

In yesterday’s Times, Friedman went for cheap and easy populist point-scoring. He excoriated Iraqi parliamentarians for taking August off while our troops swelter in the Iraq heat wearing body armor. “Here’s what I think of that: I think it’s a travesty,” he exclaimed—words you can easily imagine coming out of the mouth of Lou Dobbs or Bill O’Reilly or someone else not normally to be confused with Tom Friedman.

The rest of Friedman’s column was equally simplistic. He proposes that we “draft the country’s best negotiators—Henry Kissinger, Jim Baker, George Shultz, George Mitchell, Dennis Ross, or Richard Holbrooke” and send them to Baghdad to either force the Iraqi factions to reach a political deal to settle all their problems, or report back that no such deal is possible. Friedman gives no reason to think that any of these gentlemen would have any better luck than the negotiators we’ve had in Baghdad before—diplomats of formidable accomplishment such as John Negroponte and Zalmay Khalilzad.

While it’s true that the long-term solution in Iraq must be political, we won’t achieve a political deal unless we can create a more secure environment in which to negotiate. Thus, as I argued on the Times op-ed page in an article designed to deflate the very argument that Friedman now makes, our focus at the moment has to be military, not political or diplomatic.

We need above all to defeat Shiite and Sunni extremists who are holding the more moderate elements of their communities hostage. In this endeavor, U.S. troops are hardly alone. Iraqi cops and soldiers are fighting alongside them and actually suffering higher casualties—two to three times more killed and wounded. So much for Friedman’s offensive inference that Americans are dying to save Iraq while Iraqis won’t lift a finger to help their own country.

His attempted analogy between U.S. troops (“fighting in the heat”) and Iraqi legislators (“on vacation in August so they can be cool”) is bogus in any case. The better parallel is between Iraqi and American legislators. The Iraqis could certainly do better, but they are also risking their lives and their relatives’ lives to serve, not something that could be said of American senators and congressmen.

For the past few weeks—before they take off on their own August recess—our legislators have hardly been a profile in courage or perspicacity. Democrats and some Republicans have been loudly screaming to “end the war” even while showing scant interest in what will happen after U.S. troops are gone.

This Los Angeles Times story features some hair-raising quotes from the advocates of withdrawal about the consequences of their preferred strategy:

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s horrendous,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-Wis.), who has helped spearhead efforts against the war. “The only hope for the Iraqis is their own damned government, and there’s slim hope for that.”

“I believe, if we leave, the region will pull together,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma), a founding member of the influential House Out of Iraq caucus. “It’s important to them that Iraq stabilize.”

“The Out of Iraq caucus really has not looked beyond ending military involvement,” acknowledged Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a caucus leader and Pelosi ally. “Now that the environment is changing pretty significantly . . . everybody may be starting to look at what happens after the United States leaves.”

In their combination of naiveté, ignorance, and irresponsibility, our lawmakers almost make the Iraqis look good.

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