Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Abandon all Hope, ye who readeth here

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate

Thomas Friedman, writing in the New York Times yesterday, presents the idea that American foreign policy in the Middle East is--to be blunt--ass-backwards. Friedman believes change in that part of the world, real progressive change with more freedom and less autocracy, must begin in and emanate from the people there. As he puts it:
The Middle East only puts a smile on your face when change starts with them, not us. Only then is it self-sustaining, and only then can our help truly amplify it.
In that regard, Friedman goes after Romney for not "getting it," for apparently sending the wrong message with his latest speech on foreign policy:
Mitt Romney gave a foreign policy speech on Monday that could be boiled down to one argument: everything wrong with the Middle East today can be traced to a lack of leadership by President Obama. If this speech is any indication of the quality of Romney’s thinking on foreign policy, then we should worry... 
The worst message we can send right now to Middle Easterners is that their future is all bound up in what we do.
And that begs the question: does that mean we shouldn't be worried right now, that the Obama Administration is getting things right in the Middle East? In a fascinating burst of self-contradiction, Friedman goes from criticizing Romney for assuming the U.S. has direct a role to play in the Middle East to recommending that the U.S. play a more direct role in the Middle East:
If it were up to me, I’d put Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, in charge of American policy in the Arab-Muslim world. Because we need to phase out of the cold war business of selling arms there to keep “strongmen” on our side and in power, and we need to get into the business of sponsoring a “Race to the Top” in the Arab-Muslim world that, instead, can help empower institutions and strong people, who would voluntarily want to be on our side.
The Real Politik ignorance on Friedman's part here is stunning. But then, as I've noted previously, Friedman seems to have completely lost it, to have allowed his once-formidable intellect to collapse into largely mindless blatherings on issues he appears to know nothing about. I guess we could call this the "Krugman Effect," which apparently afflicts every intellectual who manages to land a column at the New York Times. Contradiction, sophomoric analysis, and partisan rants are the hallmarks of this crowd. And amazingly, it appears even when members of the group write about what is supposed to be their area of expertise.

Because Friedman knows the Middle East; he knows its history and he knows it players, it's varying cultures, and traditions. And yet in this piece, he presents an analysis seemingly produced by a cock-eyed optimist, a simple country boy as it were, not a distinguished scholar of Middle East history. Friedman wrings his hands over arms sales in the Middle East, supposing that if the U.S. removed itself completely from this equation, Russia, China, or some other nation would not step in immediately to fill the void.

But even worse than that, he seems to feel U.S. foreign policy should be about grand ideas and noble goals, first and foremost, as opposed to simply protecting U.S. interests. It's this kind of nonsense from the Western intelligentsia that helped the Soviets extend their empire for decades longer than would have otherwise been the case, as "experts" like Friedman spent the fifties and sixties extolling the virtues of Soviet populism, pressuring Western governments to adopt policies of appeasement and assistance, and hoping against reason that a free and open society would magically take the place of the repressive Soviet regime (not that they could even see this repression).

As to Friedman's criticism of Romney, Obama made his own bed with his policies and decisions in the Middle East. He embraced the so-called Arab Spring, naively seeing paradise just around the corner. At the same time, he's continued things like drone strikes and signed off on black-ops missions (like the one that got bin Laden). Thus, he's presented two faces to the Middle Eastern world. Its leaders have little reason to respect Obama and every reason to suppose he can be played with ease. Human nature being what it is, many have unsurprisingly opted for the latter. And after the recent unrest and violence, such tactics were fully justified by Obama's UN speech, wherein he felt it necessary to apologize again and again for a nothing YouTube video, ignorantly believing he would gain credibility with Muslim leaders.

In the end, Friedman offers his own answer to the Middle East Problem, every bit as simplistic and foolish as  his plan for Obama to regain his "mojo" (discussed in my previous piece, linked to above):
How does the U.S. impact a region with so many cross-cutting conflicts and agendas? We start by making clear that the new Arab governments are free to choose any path they desire, but we will only support those who agree that the countries that thrive today: 1) educate their people up to the most modern standards; 2) empower their women; 3) embrace religious pluralism; 4) have multiple parties, regular elections and a free press; 5) maintain their treaty commitments; and 6) control their violent extremists with security forces governed by the rule of law.
What would the results be if such a plan was implemented? Simple, the U.S. would lose all influence in the Middle East, probably even with Israel, whose leaders' heads would collectively explode just before their nation did the same thing. If--somehow--this fantasy-plan did achieve results, note that it would hardly be change that started from within; it would be change mandated from beyond, exactly what Friedman says can never work.

Reading Friedman's piece in full, it's hard to grasp what he actually thinks he is saying. More than anything else, it's an extended bout of navel-gazing and self-stroking, with the added bonus of being critical of Romney but not Obama. Sad.

Cheers, all.

1 comment:

  1. Considering that Friedman like many others have completely missed the fact of MB takeover of Egypt, I'd say he lost his own "mojo" a while back :-)