Thomas Friedman: China, Iraq and the US

Thomas Friedman actually has a mildly interesting column today [TimesSelect], though I’m not sure what his real point is. Simply put, he notes how delightful it is that China has been able these past six years to devote just about all of its time and energy and money to preparing for the Olympics, without worrying even a little bit about Iraq, without pouring half its treasury down the toilet to combat “global terrorism.” At the same time, not only was the US going insane over iraq and falling apart politically and economically, it was also going on a massive shopping spree, spending itself almost into oblivion. Writing from the WEF in Dalian:

I heard China’s prime minister, Wen Jiabao, address an international conference here in Dalian, and what impressed me most was how boring it was – a straightforward recitation of the staggering economic progress China has made in the last two decades and the towering economic, political and environmental challenges it still faces.

How nice it must be, I thought, to be a great power and be almost entirely focused on addressing your own domestic problems?

No, I have not gone isolationist. America has real enemies that China does not, and therefore we have to balance a global security role in places like the Middle East with domestic demands.

But something is out of balance with America today. Looking at the world from here, it is hard not to feel that China has spent the last six years training for the Olympics while we’ve spent ourselves into debt on iPods and Al Qaeda.

Friedman’s column is interesting but kind of bizarre. He quietly banged the drum for this war, always expressing caution (“we won’t know until six more months”) while making it clear the war had his support, until it didn’t. With this column, it’s pretty clear he’s given up. He says specifically of the Iraq debacle, ” We’re wasting our brains. We’re wasting our people. We’re wasting our future. China is not.”

China avoided all that, instead focusing on fuwas and Bird’s Nest stadiums and happy happy signs at the overhauled airport – a strategic decision that I respect (much as I loathe the creepy fuwas); China had a goal to reach and all of these steps were in keeping with it. As the war fucked us over and bled our spirits and our pocketbooks, China only moved forward. America’s goal fell apart; Soon no one even knew what we were fighting for.

No matter what you think of China’s goals and its methodologies, it can’t be denied that they set their sites on what they wanted (to redefine their nation through an Olympics unlike any other in sheer scale, scope and worldwide attention), funneled all their energy toward meeting the goal and so far have done a fairly impressive job (though that chapter is still being written). So Friedman looks at this rather amazing story, compares it to what America did over the same six years (i.e., fell to pieces) and bewails America’s paralysis, its feet caught in the quicksand of Iraq, while China forged ahead. And there’s something to say for this argument, though Friedman is coming around to it awfully late in the game.

Is this a bit two-faced of the sensible, prudent columnist? As mentioned, this was a war he wanted. Will we see more columns like this as he seeks to rehabilitate his image in the wake of America’s inevitable withdrawal without victory? I don’t now, but judging from the tone of this column – the first I can remember in which he sounds utterly resigned to defeat, with or without that magical “six more months” – I’d says that’s a pretty safe guess. When you read Thomas Friedman stating matter of factly that China has soared forward while America plummeted back, you know you’re seeing something of a tectonic shift.

______________

Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 32 Comments

Well, actually China didn’t do just nothing. They bought all those Dollars, so consumers in the US and the government could go on spending without limits.

Rebcca Mckinnon had an interesting post recently about that WEF entiteled “Thomas Friedman gets the middle finger in the Middle Kingdom”, in which she writes:

A couple years ago a Chinese academic who advises the Chinese government on foreign policy issues told me that the best way for China to build global power, good will, and international credibility over the long run is to mind its own business, avoid criticizing the U.S. whenever possible, sit back and let the U.S. destroy its own power and credibility by itself. This is a classic Art of War strategy. Whether or not that actually is the official strategy, it seems to be working.

http://tinyurl.com/2vjoms

September 13, 2007 @ 12:20 am | Comment

let the U.S. destroy its own power and credibility by itself.

I don’t think China wants to see the U.S destroy itself or even be harmed significantly. I guess they’re still happy when they get closer to #1 on those meaningless lists, but they don’t crouch over a table in a dimly lit room discussing world domination with Ling Ling the Panda as freepers, Blue Team and other retards seem to think.

September 13, 2007 @ 7:01 am | Comment

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. That charlatan Friedman is the Wizard of Oz purged of all personal charm and humility.

The wisest and most decent response to Friedman is just to ignore him. I’m more interested in what the homeless winos at the bus station have to say about world politics.

September 13, 2007 @ 10:02 am | Comment

regardless of what the pundits say, I’ve personally never understood why my tax dollars are going to make others lives better when people in areas of America need help, too. when our education system doesn’t require people to read in order to graduate (well, only in some states) I just don’t get why we spend our money on things like Iraq…

… on wait, duh, oil.

(when will we get solar-paneled cars, hmm?)

September 13, 2007 @ 12:49 pm | Comment

China’s enemies are mostly those of its own making (its neighbors who sit on rightfully chinese territory and the environment) especially THOSE JAPANESE!

And China does have alot to focus on internally, especially feisty reporters, disloyal religious followers and those would simply like an honest redress for deadly consumer products.

September 13, 2007 @ 2:33 pm | Comment

Ivan is right. The sad part is not that Friedman is wrong, it is that he is still gainfully employed as a pundit despite being utterly wrong nearly all the time on key issues. Imagine if the media searched for pundits with the same intensity as the NFL searched for starting quarterbacks, or the universities searched for high powered researchers, or corporations for key talent. Quality is good business…

Michael

September 13, 2007 @ 5:05 pm | Comment

I am a Friedman skeptic. He is unconsequential. He has lost all credibility as far as I am concerned. He is a salesman of his own snake oil.

September 14, 2007 @ 12:02 am | Comment

OY! Richard, would you contemplate bringing back the Open Thread?

I mean, now that old-timers like me and Fat Cat are back?

Ah’m a just askin. Because all too often your/our threads get hijacked by the likes of ferins and all the fun gets dried up really fast. Would you consider reviving our old custom of an “open thread”, just to see how it goes?

September 14, 2007 @ 4:10 am | Comment

how can you compare America to China like that? Its just terrible, what are you thinking? China is so great because it what? Because it didnt start a war in Iraq? How many countries did not start a war in Iraq? So they are all better than America and can be compared just like that? How rediculous.

“China” is totally screwed up m’kay, it is not stable whatsoever. The CCP is on the brink of being busted and totally sucks! The people are all messed up and cant tell truth from lies, cant even produce normal thoughts. So whoever is comparing China to America with respect to with dealing with domestic & international issues is smoking something bad. The CCP is totally against human rights so to speak of them “dealing” with terrorists is the biggest joke!

Look up terrorism and research the CCP, its the same thing, yeah usually a terrorist top priority is not fighting terrorism eh, or they would be throwing themselves in jail.

However if we erase the stupid comparison, yeah, American has been dumb on this Iraq business, so far most people see no justification for the invasion eh, well, this will teach people to be more alert and active in their society hopefully, I think complaceny leads to governments turning into total frankensteins…

Peace

September 14, 2007 @ 9:33 am | Comment

Ivan, how come you dont wanna talk to “the likes of ferins”?

It reminds me of something from that movie ‘sicko’, when Micheal Moore told the story of how there are groups against his way of doing things and one had a website against him, and it needed money, and because Mr. Moore respected his right to his opinion, he helped the guy financially with his anti Micheal moore website, now thats really extreme and probly just so he could say that in his movie er whatever, but, its still an interesting thing…

Dont be like CCP eh (I know you are far from it) they dont allow thinking and criticism and debate and thats part of how they are evil. I think if people cant listen to different stuff they are afraid of that different stuff somehow…

September 14, 2007 @ 9:47 am | Comment

The people are all messed up and cant tell truth from lies, cant even produce normal thoughts.

This is complete bullshit. When my great uncle was stuck in pre-1978 China he knew everything being forced on them was a lie. But what was he going to do? Assassinate Mao and kill the entire PLA single-handedly? Life isn’t a James Bond movie. There’s nothing wrong with their thinking, they just aren’t allowed to express much dissent. Do you think all Chinese people are mentally retarded or something?

His family and my grandfather’s had been fighting the CCP some time already and they lost, no thanks to Showa Japan.

So what do you suggest? Liberate China? Should have done that in 1937 or 1945.

September 14, 2007 @ 11:31 am | Comment

Ivan, I got tired of the open threads. They worked back in the glory days when I had Lisa and Martin blogging nearly fulltime and traffic was through the roof. What if I put up a thread and nobody came?

September 14, 2007 @ 1:20 pm | Comment

Richard, yeah I see your point.

Snow, “Ivan, how come you dont wanna talk to “the likes of ferins”?”

Because he’s fathomlessly ignorant, a fraud pretending to be Taiwanese, and more boring than dessicated shrimp-shit.

September 15, 2007 @ 3:31 pm | Comment

In addition to wondering why Friedman is still published (familiarity and inertia, I suppose) I wonder whether people who egged on the disaster in the Babylon Oil Colony will be allowed to get away with just forgetting about it, suffering no consequences.

When it all falls apart and the U.S. has to retreat in defeat from the bloody shambles it has made, will people like Friedman, Kristol, the Kagans et. al. be able to seamlessly start writing about something completely different, with no calling to account? And that’s to say nothing of Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith and so many other flesh-devouring cockroaches who actually engineered it. Will they suffer no official opprobium like international arrest warrants to be hauled before international war crimes trials at the Hague? Will they not have to hide like Ratko Mladic?

But who am I kidding? As long as the U.S. has nuclear weapons to protect these murderers, they’ll get away with it. I don’t know why I bother to write this and wonder aloud, other than the fact that I like to hear myself sputter.

September 15, 2007 @ 11:04 pm | Comment

Taiwanese can be brainwashed as well yu no.

September 15, 2007 @ 11:14 pm | Comment

Bukko, it’s partly the fault of that awful liberal media. Why don’t they simply show us what Perle and Kristol et. al. were saying back in 2002, and point out the simple fact that they have no credibility whatsoever, that they sold us a bill of goods, that they fucked their country? No, the liberal media is too busy covering the important stuff, like whether MoveOn got a special rate on its anti-Petraeus ad (which they didn’t).

September 16, 2007 @ 12:16 am | Comment

Richard et al.,

So we’re “falling to pieces” here in the US, right? By what measure? The US GDP is over 13 trillion (for around 300 million people). China’s GDP, in contrast, is around 2.6 million (for 1.3 billion). I think I can trust you to do the math. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve traveled through China and love their energy. I’m happy to see their successes. It is not a zero-sum game. Both the US and China can prosper together.

And a UN report just announced that Americans are the most productive workers in the world. Jeez, that doesn’t sound like we’re “falling to pieces,” does it?

Everyone in my family is busy, prosperous, raising our children to follow us, and happy to be Americans. Today is Saturday and a lot of us will be taking a little time off to watch college football (Go Hawks!).

Richard, what are you going to do if Guiliani is elected president? Or a hawkish Clinton? By the time you’re completely satisfied with an election — enough to end your protest-residence outside the US — you’ll be an old geezer for sure.

*

September 16, 2007 @ 1:13 am | Comment

Richard, what you say about the media focusing on trivia like whether MoveOn got a special ad rate makes me glad once again that I’m not so exposed to the U.S. media. (Especially TV.) Down here, it’s the government-run TV news programmes that I find most unbiased. How odd is that?

September 16, 2007 @ 4:36 am | Comment

So we’re “falling to pieces” here in the US, right? By what measure? The US GDP is over 13 trillion (for around 300 million people).

By the only measure that counts — what we were in the past. Sure, we look awesome compared to Kenya circa 2007. But the issue is how we look circa America in 1979 or 1995. And by that measure, with the bottom 80% of income tiers looking at declining incomes, with 30-40% of Americans without health insurance, with our military broken in two lost wars, our citizenry polarized, our racial situation worse than its been since the 1960s, and our industry being shipped abroad, well…..

Michael

September 16, 2007 @ 1:32 pm | Comment

I am actually glad that Friedman (or someone) wrote on this topic. I’ve been feeling the exact same way ever since I arrived in China couple months ago. While back in the States all you hear on TV are “Iraq”, “Suicide bombs”, and “Iran”, in China the only topics occupying the airwaves are economic development, trade surplus, and Olympics. Of course I know media is not free in China, however I do get the feeling that even if there’s freedom of speech over here, Iraq and terrorism still won’t make the headlines. Which all makes sense, Iraq war is America’s war, not China’s. While America is wasting its dwindling reserves on a war it could never win, China is quietly growing its economy and expanding its reach to corners of world been ignored by Western powers (i.e. Africa). Somehow the interplay between U.S. and China reminds me of one of those stories from the Warring States Era…

Speaking of Warring States, I came across this pearl of wisdom by Sun Zi in his “Art of War” yesterday, which I found to be exactly the opposite of how America has acted in the Iraq war, no wonder we are in such a mess (please excuse my poor translation): ” The best form of a generalship is to thwart the enemy’s strategies, next in order is to win through diplomacy, the next is to defeat them in the fields, the last option is to attack a besieged city.”

September 16, 2007 @ 3:39 pm | Comment

Chestnut, I have tried to make this point here before about how negative the mood is in the US in stark contrast to the buoyancy here (whether it’s manipulated or rational buoyancy or not isn’t the issue). And each time I am accused of hating America and sucking up to the CCP. Sorry, but it’s simply a matter of fact. There’s a well-justified sense of anguish in America at the moment, and it’s a wonderful time to live elsewhere.

September 17, 2007 @ 12:26 am | Comment

“”"”"”"I have tried to make this point here before about how negative the mood is in the US in stark contrast to the buoyancy here (whether it’s manipulated or rational buoyancy or not isn’t the issue)”"”"”"

Richard, rethink, whats real whats fake and what do you value. Read 1984, im sure there were some peole who really enjoyed that strile environment.

September 17, 2007 @ 1:13 am | Comment

Michael Turton,

But the issue is how we look circa America in 1979 or 1995.

You must be either very young or very misinformed. 1979 was a low point in American history. First of all, Carter was president. No one has anything positive to say about his presidency. Carter was the dimwit who went to Iran and toasted the Shah and said what a great guy he was. And then all hell broke out. And Carter continued to bungle everything. Second, because of Carter’s insane micromanaging bungling, we had high unemployment and a very sluggish economy.

In the last four years our economy has generated more wealth than probably any other ten countries combined.

Richard,

I’ve been in China and I live here in the US. Believe me, your claim that we in the US are suffering under a cloud of negativity is simply your own projection of how you would like us to be feeling under a president that you don’t approve of. It’s just a projection of your own wishes. It’s not real. There are 300 million Americans and we’re doing just fine. It’s a beautiful fall day here in New York City and I’ll be taking a nice bike-ride later in the day myself. And guess what? We’re doing just fine without you. Stay in China as long as you want. Enjoy. We’ll be here when you return, still happy to welcome back such a partisan malcontent.

By the way, on my bike-rides out in Queens I hear probably thirty different languages spoken and I see smiles from one end of the borough to the other. Even the Chinese smiles out in Flushing are not those famous “Chinese smiles” but good ol’ American smiles.

*

September 17, 2007 @ 1:29 am | Comment

Jeffrey, each of us sees the world throughhis own filter. All of my friends are distressed and fearful about the economy, the war and lack of leadership. Literally everyone, including my parents. Are they still going out and having fun? Yes. But their angst is real, and it is reflected in every kind of media out there. If you can look at where we are today and feel chipper and jolly about it, more power to you. You are in the tiniest of minorities and are projecting your own feelings onto the masses. This is the saddest and most insecure time in America’s history during my lifetime. You can choose to see only the happy shiny side of things, but you are only fooling yourself. This is a wonderful time to be living in China.

September 17, 2007 @ 1:47 pm | Comment

“In the last four years our economy has generated more wealth than probably any other ten countries combined.”

Only on paper. It’s a fake economy fueled by an unsustainable housing bubble and unsustainable dependence on cheap oil.

On the other hand, China’s fragile and unsustainable fake economic “miracle” is interdependent with America’s, and when it bursts I hope (nay, I know) Richard will have the sense to get out of there before cannibalism breaks out like it did under Mao.

September 17, 2007 @ 5:57 pm | Comment

I dont know what this says in English, but it sure reminded me of…

http://qxbbs.org/viewtopic.php?t=198757

Right, a great time to be living in China, yeah… Look I dont know the inner workings of your mind, so I wont criticise you, there are probably legitimate reasons to enjoy certain things about China, like cool people and interesting social clashes…?

And like you said, the weather is nice, I dont think the CCP contrived the weather to control your perception he he he.

I just think it odd if some people willingly choose a lie because it feels better, that is selling your soul. Anyway, like I said, I dont know you and I am not criticising you either.

Peace

September 17, 2007 @ 10:26 pm | Comment

But the issue is how we look circa America in 1979 or 1995.

You must be either very young or very misinformed. 1979 was a low point in American history.

I’m 44 and very well-informed, thank you. Lots of us have good things to say about the Carter presidency.

First of all, Carter was president. No one has anything positive to say about his presidency. Carter was the dimwit who went to Iran and toasted the Shah and said what a great guy he was. And then all hell broke out. And Carter continued to bungle everything. Second, because of Carter’s insane micromanaging bungling, we had high unemployment and a very sluggish economy.

No, that was because Carter was a popular president who lost because the Fed Chair broke the economy to push Carter out, and because the Rethuglicans persuaded the Iranians to retain the hostages until after Carter had lost the election.

I once looked up the figures. For many Americans in the middle and lower income brackets, 1978-9 were the last good years they knew. After the disastrous tax cuts and wild deficit spending of the Reagan years, the economy began re-orienting itself and household incomes have more or less stagnated since, with income inequality rising since the late 1970s.

The historical income tables are available from the Census.

http://www.census.gov/hhes/
www/income/histinc/h01ar.html

Michael

September 17, 2007 @ 11:02 pm | Comment

No, that was because Carter was a popular president who lost because the Fed Chair broke the economy to push Carter out, and because the Rethuglicans persuaded the Iranians to retain the hostages until after Carter had lost the election.

Huh? Which Fed Chair are you talking about? Paul Volcker? He had to tank the economy through tight monetary policy to end the stagflation. It has nothing to do with politic. He is actually a democrat. Of course, the Republican adminstration is the one screwed up the economy in the first place.

The problem with Carter is that he lack the ability to make hard decisions and follow the polls like a zombie i.e. no leadership skills. Wait, that’s most of, us, democrats. :( I have to give Obama a shout for breaking out of the mold, and hopefully, we will see more democrats like him.

September 18, 2007 @ 5:03 pm | Comment

Arty, AFAIK Volcker was and is a lifelong republican. But I can’t find any certain info.

Carter made plenty of tough decisions. You simply seem to be repeating Republican propaganda. Carter’s budget deficits were miniscule, he got the deregulation of many industries going, he purchased the weapons that Reagan claimed as his own, and he was far ahead of the presidents after him on renewable energy. Had he not been defeated in 1980 we’d have had a different, and much better, America right now.

Michael

September 19, 2007 @ 6:27 pm | Comment

Carter made plenty of tough decisions.

What? Any example? Do you mean how he promotes human rights yet saying Shah is a great guy. That must be a tough decision for someone is so into human rights, and knowingly selling out his principles.

I am a democrat, and I am fully aware what’s going on. Just like how democrats is trying to bail out our housing market with the money we don’t have by increase FHA insure limit to 417,000 now. Give me a break. Of course, Republicans are guilty, too.

And it gets old pretty quick if you keep saying something you don’t agree on “the propaganda.” I listen to Air America (finally the left realize that need to take control of the media), there are fair amounts of left wing propaganda, too. Wait do I say propaganda? I mean the truth.

September 20, 2007 @ 2:40 am | Comment

This is more important than anything Friedman is saying at the moment:

The dollar, as predicted is being crushed. We are now at Par with the Canadian Dollar, the Loonie as it is called. This was all so predictable. You cannot run an 800 bilion dollar trade deficit and have your currency in demand. We have a lot farther to fall. Within 5 years from 2008 we should see the Canadian Dollar worth 25 % more than the U.S. dollar. The Euro at 1.40 now, should move to near 2.50, as China buys more and more of the Euro.
The pound at 2.04 as I write this will be near 3.00. Be ready for CHINA. When they finally let their currency float it will appreciate 70% over a 36 month period. The US trade deficit will be cut in half and then some by 2020.

September 21, 2007 @ 8:35 pm | Comment

Although I do not agree with Friedmann on political issues, especially the Palestinian – Israeli conflict, I find his book “The World is Flat” very informative. A good deal of praise to China.

China is a great country. Soon it will be the greatest country. Why not when you are the sons of Sun Tzu.

Well done China.

http://www.izzat-sajdi.blogspot.com

September 22, 2007 @ 5:12 am | Comment

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