Thomas Friedman is a Pompous Fool

I don’t usually read Thomas Friedman’s editorials in the NYTimes. As the title says I don’t have a great deal of faith in his intellect. Its not that he is not smart. I’m sure he’s summa cum laude from Harvard or some such place where they give degrees in Latin and he obviously knows a great deal. The problem I have is with his understanding, or rather the lack of it, of world history and human behavior. On any given day I’m happy to let his editorials slip by into the pages of innocent readers, hoping that the sensible folk also see through the nonsense within. But this time its different. Because Thomas Friedman is advocating conflict and I hate war-mongering.

I’m referring to this piece in Times dated Dec. 14, 2010. He begins with these words:

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

Friedman is trying to make the, old and easily refuted, argument that the stability of the – whatever that means – depends crucially on good ol’ Uncle Sam carrying the burden of upholding justice and liberty for all. And that if the U.S., as is inevitable, starts to play a lesser role in world affairs then Red China will sink its capricious teeth into every decent democratic country out there and all the puppies and kittens in the world will be turned into menu items. Ok I made that last part up.

And what method does Mr. Friedman use to convince his readers? Logic? Argument? Reason? Nope, nope and nope. He resorts to the tool favored by war-mongers throughout history – FEAR. Of course, he’s subtle about it. The best war-mongers are. Even after the bang-up job he did in promoting the Iraq war he has managed to slip under the radar without being called out as say Sean Hannity or Judith Miller. That’s because he’s subtle with his use of language. There is no overt declaration of hostile intent in his writing. No “mushroom clouds” on the horizon. Just the gentle reminder that if America goes weak (Friedman’s words, not mine) then the world will go to pieces. He doesn’t paint your nightmare scenario for you. He’s far more generous than that. He wants you to pick up the brush to fill in the blanks in any scary way you feel like. If you want to implant fear in the populace its far more effective if you are vague and incoherent about the actual causes for concern. Because if he actually did the analysis, perhaps you would see that there’s not much to be scared about – even if America is no longer the sole superpower, but only one of the four or five great powers on the planet.

Nowhere in his article does Mr. Friedman directly advocate conflict. But that is the upshot of his words. His pleas for a strong America are disturbingly familiar. His scare tactics about China’s own scare tactics serves the purposes of those who do wish for war. It is imperative for U.S. policymakers to come to grips with the new world we are living in. Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa – these aren’t just the initials of a new acronym (BRICS) – they are nations finally waking up from a centuries old slumber to take their rightful place in the world. And as they do so the limits of American influence are certain to be tested and to be pushed back. The United States is a great and powerful country, but so are other nations. A multipolar world is not something to be scared of, but something to be embraced.

Yes, there are very valid concerns about Chinese intentions. Just as there are valid concerns about American intentions. After all, it is not China which has military bases in more than a 150 countries and it was not China who waged a cruel and illegal war in Iraq and continues to wage a cruel and unnecessary war in Afghanistan whose legality is doubtful at best.

However, the relentless advocacy of unbridled American power will not help us come closer to resolving any of these and other problems. If anything it will push America towards decline faster than any economic shock can. America needs to regroup its forces and energies rather to continue on the steroidal binge as it has for the past two decades and counting. An overextended and bankrupt America will be of no use to anyone, least of all to the values of freedom and democracy that we all cherish !

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