"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"The New Cold War"

Thomas L. Friedman of the NYT takes a lot of ridicule from both left and right, depending on whose ox he gores. But he's an original thinker, and most importantly, he's one of the very few who actually travels to all the corners of the earth and talks with the people who live there before he pontificates on the problems of mankind.

Tom Friedman puts himself wherever the rubber meets the road. No ivory-tower type or bland theorist. He has earned every man's ear.

This is one of his very best, IMO. Excerpted here, but his entire essay is worth your time:

The next American president will inherit many foreign policy challenges, but surely one of the biggest will be the Cold War. Yes, the next U.S. president is going to be a Cold War president - but this Cold War is with Iran.

That is the real umbrella story in the Middle East today - the struggle for influence across the region, with America and its Sunni Arab allies (and Israel) versus Iran, Syria and their nonstate allies, Hamas and Hezbollah. As the May 11 editorial in the Iranian daily Kayhan put it, "In the power struggle in the Middle East, there are only two sides: Iran and the U.S."

For now, Team America is losing on just about every front. How come? The short answer is that Iran is smart and ruthless, America is dumb and weak, and the Sunni Arab world is feckless and divided. Any other questions?

4 comments:

Michael Simpson said...

I hate to disagree with the great TVD, but Tom Friedman stumbling on an original insight is the proverbial blind squirrel finding the nut. He's a fellow whose thinking is guided more by clever juxtapositions than serious reflection and his travels? Well, remember when he went to Saudi Arabia and announced breathlessly how the king (or maybe it was the prince) had a peace plan in his drawer?

But here's the problem with the analysis. The US and USSR had a Cold War because a direct conflict threatened annihilation. What's more, by the 1960s, the Soviets' messianic fervor had subsided and they were in a classic Great Power struggle with the US, though because it was bipolar, its resolution would leave only one - and spell doom for the other's system. Finally, the Soviet system held great ideological appeal around the world (even if its own citizens hated it). I don't think any of these conditions hold for Iran: a serious confrontation will bring about real problems for us and their destruction. They can't even really stand against Israel, never mind us. More importantly, they can't make this a global struggle. They can hit globally through terrorist acts, but they are in no position to create satellite states 90 miles from our border or foment revolution all over the Third World.

Color me unconvinced.

Tom Van Dyke said...

That's fair, Michael. I think of Friedman like Dick Morris---always a unique take on things even if their conclusions are often wrong. and that's important.

And yes, we certainly lose perspective about how easy we have it these days, that nothing compares to the specter of nuclear war on a global scale we had with the USSR. Our cold war with Iran is a mere nuisance in comparison.

Nidsu said...

I think that Michael had a good post. I definitely think that it might be a little overstated to call the standoff with Iran the next Cold War but wouldn't you agree that it is going to be a very difficult situation for the next president.

Whether it turns out to be Obama, McCain, or Hillary this situation will be very difficult. That government is not going to talk, the UN is not going to take a stand, and none of the three candidates can/will act without the UN.

Add to that if you believe that we should remove troops from the Middle East, what is your move? More sanctions?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Nice to hear from you, Mr. Nidsu.

Your point about sanctions is well-taken. In fact, Madeleine Albright confessed on 60 Minutes that the Clinton-era sanctions on Saddam had killed 500,000 Iraqi women and children.

The figure was incorrect, but Osama bin Laden used the figure, and most of the Muslim world believes it to this day.

By comparison, Bush's actual war has killed far fewer people, and many of them were bad guys, not innocent atall. And Iraq has a legitimate chance at peace and freedom, something sanctions cannot yield.

Your call.