Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Friedman and Fallacies

Caution: Try not to slip on Thomas Friedman's newest banana peel analysis in today's NY Times op ed. 9/11 has not made us stupid. At least not all of us. It has, evidently, made Tommy-boy stupider. Not to mention unapologetically and blindly arrogant to the point where he can't distinguish fantasy from reality, spin from truth, or fact from lies.

Talk about being out of touch. He actually still believes that Bush's goal was to 'spread democracy' instead of control the oil fields and build empire. Incredibly, he still thinks that the attempt to forcefully turn Iraq into a model of democracy was not only a good idea, but achievable. The only mistake, according to Tommy, was in "thinking it would be easy." The pre-war lies? Oh, that.

Equally appalling, he doesn't see the irony in Dr. Wafa Sultan's view of the "real problem:"
"The clash we are witnessing ... is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality. It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights, on the one hand, and the violation of these rights, on the other hand...."
I don't know about you, but, unlike Tom, I had a hard time figuring out which description referred to "us" and which to "them."

Is rendition civilized? Is torture barbaric? Are stolen (black box) elections democratic? Is labeling dissent as unpatriotic--freedom? Is attacking a sovereign nation of no threat to us (Iraq) oppressive? Is secretly and illegally spying on American citizens--a violation of human rights? Oh that.

Seems Tom and George have the same problem: they're living in one, big, fantastic, black and white bubble. No color, no nuance, no shades of grey.

Most of us were brought up to appreciate the world's complexities, to avoid oversimplifying profound problems, but not Bush and Friedman, God bless them. For them, life is a box of black and white crayons with which they create the world the way they want to see it--in all it's one-dimensional glory--reality be damned. It's a lethal, creative arrogance they've all but defined.

Perhaps most shocking, Friedman doesn't acknowledge the most obvious problem of all: The Arab and Muslim nations of the world never asked us to "save" them from their primitive selves. In fact, most of their citizens would prefer we mind our own business and leave them the Hell alone--before we shock and awe every last one of them to modernized smithereens. He doesn't see that our unwelcome interference in their countries' affairs is what has caused the biggest problems of all--despite the fact that al-Qaida has been black-and-white unambiguous on that point for years. Oh, that.

And then there's Friedman's conclusion that what he dubbs "the Dubai policy" will promote peaceful Arab-Muslim transformation from within and solve all of our problems. Port security is a non-issue--despite Bush screaming, "Fear Muslims! Fear Arabs! Fear Islam!" ad nauseam. Despite the fact that we have no port security to speak of. Despite the fact that the Dubai deal was consumated in secret. Despite reported Dubai related security breeches in the past.

The issue is this, Tom: Why is this Dubai deal more important to you and BushCo than our own national security? Me thinks it has far more to do with behind the scene machinations involving trade deals and big, big sums of moolah.

But you've been doing your best for years to obscure the real reasons behind this administration's policies, haven't you, Tommy-boy? Which makes me wonder, how much exactly is BushCo paying you to write this dreck?

Dubai and Dunces
By Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times
When it came to the Dubai ports issue, the facts never really had a chance — not in this political season. Still, it's hard to imagine a more ignorant, bogus, xenophobic, reckless debate than the one indulged in by both Republicans and Democrats around this question of whether an Arab-owned company might oversee loading and unloading services in some U.S. ports. If you had any doubts before, have none now: 9/11 has made us stupid.

We don't need any more pre-9/11 commissions. We need a post-9/11 commission, one that looks at all the big and little things we are doing — from sanctioning torture to warrantless wiretaps to turning our embassies abroad into fortresses — that over time could eat away at the core DNA of America.

What is so crazy about the Dubai ports issue is that Dubai is precisely the sort of decent, modernizing model we should be trying to nurture in the Arab-Muslim world. But we've never really had an honest discussion about either the real problems out there or the real solutions, have we?

The real problem was recently spelled out by an Arab-American psychiatrist, Dr. Wafa Sultan, in a stunning interview with Al Jazeera. Speaking about the Arab-Muslim world, Dr. Sultan said: "The clash we are witnessing ... is not a clash of religions, or a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality. It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights, on the one hand, and the violation of these rights, on the other hand. It is a clash between those who treat women like beasts, and those who treat them like human beings."

The Al Jazeera host then asked: "I understand from your words that what is happening today is a clash between the culture of the West, and the backwardness and ignorance of the Muslims?"

Dr. Sultan: "Yes, that is what I mean."

Dr. Sultan voiced truths that many Muslims know: their civilization is, in many places, in turmoil, falling further and further behind the world in science, education, industry and innovation, while falling deeper and deeper into the grip of crackpot clerics, tin-pot dictators, violent mobs and madmen like bin Laden and Saddam.

President Bush keeps talking about Iraq and the Arab world as if democracy alone is the cure and all we need to do is get rid of a few bad apples. The problem is much deeper — we're dealing with a civilization that is still highly tribalized and is struggling with modernity. Mr. Bush was right in thinking it is important to help Iraq become a model where Arab Muslims could freely discuss their real problems, the ones identified by Dr. Sultan, and chart new courses. His crime was thinking it would be easy.

I don't know how Iraq will end, but I sure know that we aren't going to repeat the Iraq invasion elsewhere anytime soon. Yet the need for reform in this region still cries out. Is there another way? Yes — nurturing internally generated Arab models for evolutionary reform, and one of the best is Dubai, the Arab Singapore.

Dubai is not a democracy, and it is not without warts. But it is a bridge of decency that leads away from the failing civilization described by Dr. Sultan to a much more optimistic, open and self-confident society. Dubaians are building a future based on butter not guns, private property not caprice, services more than oil, and globally competitive companies, not terror networks. Dubai is about nurturing Arab dignity through success not suicide. As a result, its people want to embrace the future, not blow it up.

What's ironic is that if Democrats who hate the Bush war in Iraq actually had a peaceful alternative policy for promoting transformation in the Arab-Muslim world, it would be called "the Dubai policy": supporting internally driven Arab engines of change.

That's why Arab progressives are stunned by our behavior. As an Arab businessman friend said to me of the Dubai saga: "This deal has left a real bad taste in many mouths. I mean this was Dubai, for God's sake! You could not have a better friend and more of a symbol of globalization and openness. If they are a security danger to the U.S., then who is not?"

So whatever happens with the Iraq experiment — but especially if it fails — we need Dubai to succeed. Dubai is where we should want the Arab world to go. Unfortunately, we just told Dubai to go to hell.

Photo credit: Thomas L. Friedman. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

Related articles:

United Arab Emirates: Leader Chosen

Zayed bin Sultan Is Dead; Gulf Leader and Statesman

Hussein's Regime Skimmed Billions From Aid Program

4 Arab Nations Agree to Reduce Debt Owed by Iraq

Understanding Islamism
"The wide extent of triumphant political Islamism provides important clues about its real meaning and impetus for those who wish to see the real world, rather than imagine a more exotic and menacing world out there. Islamists of various hues and shades have won big, or become a significant opposition force, virtually every place they have competed politically in the past few years, at municipal or national levels, from Turkey, Pakistan and Iran, to Palestine, Egypt, Morocco, Iraq and Lebanon, to mention only the most notable.

This wave of victories is not due primarily to a longing for virgins in heaven or the end result of lousy primary schools. It is the consequence of a modern history that combines the grueling, cumulative pain of poor, often corrupt and brutal, domestic governance, with foreign military occupations and threats (mostly from Israel, the United States and the U.K. recently). Huge numbers of ordinary Arabs and Asians consequently feel they have long been denied their cultural identity, political rights, national sovereignty, personal freedoms and basic human dignity. Islamist groups have responded with a powerful package that speaks to their citizenry about religion, national identity, legitimate good governance and resistance to foreign occupation and subjugation.

There is nothing surprising about victorious Islamists who appeal to their constituents with a religio-nationalist message, any more than a victorious George Bush who makes similar successful appeals to his voters. The best response to the triumphant Islamists, whether you like or dislike them, is to understand the political, national and personal issues that have generated their victories and to address those real grievances, rather than to wander off into intellectual swamps and fantasylands."


jamal said...

Her arguement is flawed.

The Unknown Candidate said...

Quite flawed, Jamal. I agree.