Across the Bay

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Young on Hitchens

Michael Young posted this comment on Christopher Hitchens' Iraq media coverage piece that I mentioned earlier. I didn't get a chance to comment on Hitch's piece at length, but Michael's comments are always far more interesting and articulate than mine, so I refer you to them. I have also added a link to Michael's blog, which is only temporarily out of business. Michael is now also posting on Reason's Hit and Run blog, which I have also added to my links.

Speaking of Hitch, he wrote this new piece for Slate on the Abu Ghraib scandal. Hitchens was quite harsh! Interestingly, see the addendum at the end for a rejoinder on the Chalabi business and the DoS/CIA continuous attempts to undermine him (and thereby, the DoD).

On the Abu Ghraib topic, pundit extraordinaire Tom Friedman wrote his regular piece for the NYT today, addressing the scandal. It's funny to see Friedman's recurring theme of humiliation/honor whenever he's dealing with the Arabs! Nevertheless, he made a good, if evident, point on the Arabs' hypocrisy and the US high standards:

"I also know the sort of abuse that went on in Abu Ghraib prison goes on in prisons all over the Arab world every day, as it did under Saddam — without the Arab League or Al Jazeera ever saying a word about it. I know they are shameful hypocrites, but I want my country to behave better — not only because it is America, but also because the war on terrorism is a war of ideas, and to have any chance of winning we must maintain the credibility of our ideas."

In fact, even good old Tueini made an all-too-short passing remark on the Arabs' hypocrisy whenever jails and tortures and lack of human rights are involved (even if the paragraph in the end is a praise of Europeans!).

But back to Friedman. His creative pontification lost me for a moment when he made the following "brilliant" and highly innovative suggestion for Bush:

"Mr. Bush needs to invite to Camp David the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the heads of both NATO and the U.N., and the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria. There, he needs to eat crow, apologize for his mistakes and make clear that he is turning a new page. Second, he needs to explain that we are losing in Iraq, and if we continue to lose the U.S. public will eventually demand that we quit Iraq, and it will then become Afghanistan-on-steroids, which will threaten everyone. Third, he needs to say he will be guided by the U.N. in forming the new caretaker government in Baghdad. And fourth, he needs to explain that he is ready to listen to everyone's ideas about how to expand our force in Iraq, and have it work under a new U.N. mandate, so it will have the legitimacy it needs to crush any uprisings against the interim Iraqi government and oversee elections — and then leave when appropriate. And he needs to urge them all to join in."

Excuse me?! Syria and Egypt!? Why exactly should we be apologizing to Syria and Egypt!? Secondly, make up your mind with Syria: sanctions or begging for help (cf. CIA)? As for the UN, Young has covered it well in his piece I posted a couple of days ago. Nevertheless, what does Friedman think the Brahimi involvement is all about? Enough with these empty slogans, à la Kerry. Thirdly, we're losing in Iraq!? On what basis!? And if so, why then would anyone want to bail us out while they can gloat at the mess that we've supposedly created, especially when they maintain that Iraq had "nothing to do with the war on terror" and that it has made us less safe!? Indeed, the Europeans and the Arabs (that Friedman wants Bush to apologize to) are doing that already, waiting for the US to fail and reflecting that in their media. Consequently, why should the US hand over command in Iraq to people who disagree with its entire premise! Finally, on the topic of France et al., see this ongoing email discussion in Slate between Niall Ferguson and Robert Kagan. In fact, it's worth quoting a lengthy excerpt by Kagan relevant to the issue here:

"That is one thing that changed after Sept. 11. It is easy for all of us—you, me, Gaddis, and Mead—to say that the United States needs allies. But the problem is, most of our allies no longer believe they need us. Certainly that is the case with the majority of Europeans. With the Soviet Union gone, they no longer feel threatened, and to the extent they do feel threatened, they do not believe they need the United States to protect them. Rather they harbor resentment and apprehension at American power; they see the unipolar world as inherently unjust (and that is true even in dear Britain). They are more worried about controlling American power than about marshalling it in the common defense. And, yes, we have Japan on our side. But why is that? It is because Japan still depends on the United States, indeed depends on it more than ever now that it faces a rising China on one side and a North Korea armed with nuclear weapons on the other. That is the main reason why Japan has forces in Iraq and Germany doesn't.

So what would we have to do to rally Europeans to our side? The funny thing is, Bush actually tried. In moments of candor, honest Democrats such as Phil Gordon and Ivo Daalder (another Brookings scholar) admit that if Al Gore had been president in 2003, he would not have been able to win France's support for the invasion of Iraq, either. Nor can anyone who is not working for the Kerry campaign believe that the election of Kerry will magically transform our relations with the rest of the world. As Mead correctly insists, it is "wishful thinking" that "if we can just reverse and undo the changes of the Bush years we can get back to the calmer and more peaceful atmosphere of the 'post-historical' nineties." Much less can we return to a Cold War foreign policy that was the outgrowth of the special circumstances of the Cold War. So as much as I sympathize and agree with calls for the United States to make its global power more palatable to others, I am not confident that this can be done—unless we avoid all policies and actions which others may find objectionable, for reasons both good and bad. Mead joins that group of optimists (I yearn to be one of them) who believe the U.S. and Europe "will find a common approach to the Middle East that reenergizes their partnership." I see little sign of any such thing, despite the earnest words of Joschka Fischer and Javier Solana

So before Friedman makes these ex cathedra statements, he should make sure to run them through the mill a bit. If he thinks that an "apology" to the Europeans is the key here, he's out of his mind! There is a genuine strategic and tactical divide and a concrete conflict of interests involved. Ferguson somewhat agrees:

"But it's not the idealistic ends of Bush's policy that people abroad dislike so much as the means."

So, the European masses (and likely, their governments, viz. Spain) are overwhelmingly hostile to any offensive. Let them be convinced the hard way that war is coming to them whether they like it or not, and it's not because of US "imperial urges." As Ferguson remarked:

"The obvious answer is that continued terrorist activity by Islamist zealots should eventually convince the Europeans that Bush is right to try for a radical transformation of the Middle East. There really is "something worse" out there—and it's been out there since at least the Iranian Revolution. We just haven't quite woken up to the fact that Osama Bin Laden is the Lenin of our time. Must we wait for the Islamist Stalin to appear?"

I don't think Euro snobbism would allow them to actually concede that a "stupid cowboy" had the right idea all along. So Friedman can just forget about apologies.