Monday, January 17, 2005

Defending Friedman

Powerline approvingly links to Tom Friedman's latest column on Iraq. He, Powerline, and I all agree that the problems in the Arab world stem from corrupt, autocratic governments that deny freedom to their people. Hence, the US actions which have sought to change that situation--in Somalia, in Kuwait, in Afghanistan, and yes, in Iraq, are laudable. But Powerline is in despair: Why, they ask, why does Mr. Friedman still seek to blame President Bush for the problems we face?

Powerline thinks the only answer can be Friedman's partisan loyalty to the Democratic party. As usual, I'll have to let slide the audacity of Powerline accusing anyone of partisanship (and their usual defense, "they're the media, they're supposed to be objective!" doesn't fly here. Friedman's an editorialist, he can say whatever he wants), and just address the claim on it's merits.

Now, everyone at the table here apparently agrees that bringing Democracy to the Middle East is the only way to provide longterm solvency to the problem. The question is--is President Bush furthering that goal? Friedman says no, and I concur. Let's start with the obvious. Something has gone awry in Iraq. We weren't greeted with flowers, democracy didn't just sprout up like magic, and a few "dead-enders" has morphed into a large and growing insurgency. Something has gone wrong.

Now, this war is the Bush administration's baby. They orchastrated it, they set the policies, and they ran the operations. The responsibilty for what has happened rests squarely on their shoulders. Now, there are two conclusions one can draw from this. The first is that the Bush administration, somewhere along the line, screwed up. Badly. One can quibble about the details (Was it disbanding the army? Or focusing too much on mystical WMDs? Or not bringing enough troops? Or not lining up world support? Or refusing to secure the country in the invasion's aftermath? Or...etc), but obviously the Bush administration did something wrong, or else the situation wouldn't be what it is today. The second conclusion is that the Bush administration did everything right. That, in turn, suggests that the current chaos and mayham is the best case scenario that could have ever come out of Iraq. If that is the position Powerline wants to take, that's fine, but it would suggest to me that perhaps their favored policy option--invading countries to depose hostile and tyrannical leaders--isn't the panacea they've made it out to be. And if Iraq is the best we can do, then Powerline and I must part ways--I cannot reasonably support actions whose best case outcome is modern-day Iraq.

But Bush's flaws go beyond specific any policy faults we might find. Contrary to Powerline's assertion, Bush hasn't adopted the same view as Friedman as to the root causes of anti-American hatred. Friedman says that the hatred stems from autocratic tyrannies which shunt simmering resentment, poverty, and misery into generic hate for the infidel. Bush, by contrast, has argued that they "hate us for our freedoms." These are hugely different arguments. Bush argues that the cultures clash and there is no commonality, Friedman argues that the commonality has been suppressed and that causes the clash. Friedman's allows for eventual inclusion, Bush's stance is constantly alienating.

Sure, some of Bush's statements have (laudably) emphasized that the Arab world is perfectly capable of embracing Western values and democracy. However, his metaphilosophy mistakenly divides the world into pure good and pure evil. In the Arab world, that means the terrorists (evil, unable to be reconciled) and the rest (good, shafting under the oppressive regime of the terrorists). That is far too simplistic. For many (I might even daresay most) of the Arab world, terrorist sympathies grow in those who would otherwise be most receptive to American ideals. These are people who feel the US has abandoned them, that the US doesn't care about Muslims or worse, is actively hostile to them. As Friedman notes, this view is badly misplaced, but Bush's "us vs. them" rhetoric exacerbates the situation by reinforcing the notion that the US will never address any of the grievances, some of them legitimate, held by the Arab world against America.

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