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Sunday, February 09 2003

Is that Thomas Friedman, or just David Frum wearning Groucho Marx glasses?

Sundays seem to be the day that Thomas Friedman likes to show the world just how much he is suffering from "I-am-the-story-itis" and otherwise losing his grip on reality. I was going to write something the other week when he waxed poetic about Europe, smoking and GMOs but Tom Cosgrove did a better job of it than I would have.

Today, Friedman is likening the U.N. Security Council to a poof-ball professional sporting event and suggesting that France be replaced on the U.N. Security Council by India. Now, I have nothing against India being on the Security Council, per se. But Friedman's suggestions ignore two important, not to mention "serious", issues.

The first is that giving India a permanent veto on any subject that comes before the council (Kashmir, anyone?) is practically an open invitation for Pakistan to start lobbing nuclear weapons at its neighbour to the East. I'm sure Friedman has some clever and witty solution to this problem; something along the lines of : "Let them eat Big Macs".

The second is the idea that, however borked the U.N. already is, a U.N. Security Council without any European representatives would somehow be better. This is where the annoying little right-wing pencil-necks in their Topsiders and comb-overs start having seizures and sputtering that if Britain and Russia aren't European enough for me then they don't know what is! I can only presume that what they're trying to say is that the former is "Old Europe" before it went sour and Russia is the culmination of all the potential inherent in whatever the "New Europe" is supposed to be.

Britain, for all its charm, is only barely beginning to consider itself part of Europe and would probably integrate the pound with the U.S. dollar before it did the same with Euro. Europe has so far done a remarkable, if nascent, job of putting a thousand years of squabbling, back-stabbing, bloodshed and two World Wars in the past and just getting on with it. I am pretty sure that if you scratched the surface you'd find reasons for any one country to be upset that any other, especially France, had a seat on the Security Council but I'm also pretty sure that Europeans as a whole would balk at the notion that England holds its interests to heart on anything with the possible exception that Russia is part of Europe.

Let's back up for a second. There are lots of things to fix with the U.N. and with the general bad behaviour of any one country, both past and present. The whole idea of a permanent Security Council has always struck me as not unlike wanting to have your cake and eating it too. I am not so naive as to believe that the U.N. would have ever survived the chaos that a vacuum at the center would have invited. Look the Security Council, in its current form, is a product of history and not very hard to parse: 1) the winners 2) the ones who were too big to push around (translation: they either already had nuclear weapons or were fast on their way to getting them) 3) not German. (That France and Germany are doing anything in concert is amazing enough on its own, but we'll save that for another day.)

This is pretty much why everyone else still wants nuclear weapons. Period. But Friedman seems to think that we should set up some kind of standardized test to measure "democracy and seriousness" as the criteria for membership. Presumably a day will come when all countries are democratic; just some will be more democratic than others.

(I don't give it too much credibility, but apparently some of the more hawkish hot-heads are suggesting the U.S. "liberate" China when everyone else on the Axis of Evil has been redeemed. If the mere mention of that idea doesn't give Americans pause to wonder that they're not being led by idiots, I don't know what will.)

Friedman's primary grievance with France seems to be that they've never thought America was god's gift to civilization, that it has always looked after its own interests and (warning, news flash!) just generally acts wily and duplicitous. Excuse me if I point out that almost perfectly describes the problem that everyone else has with America these days. Or to put it more bluntly : no one trusts that the Bush administration is pursuing policies for the reasons it says it is.

That may be difficult to understand for people who enjoy saying things like "When the President says jump, I don't ask 'how high?' but rather 'when should I come down?'", but there you go.

It is true that without America's participation in the second half of World War Two, Hitler's army might have conquered Europe. (The bit about the U.S. "winning" the First World War is just such conceited and self-congratulatory drivel that I'm not even going to go there.) But it carefully ignores two salient facts:

1) America had no interest in participating in the first half of the war and had to be dragged in by force and not conviction.

2) Anyone who's read any history knows that it was only due to accidents of circumstance (Hitler's over-estimation of the British radar system during the Blitz and his three week detour to crush the Yugoslavians on his way to Moscow which, it turned out, was the window during which the Russian fall became winter) that there was even a Britain and a Russia left to liberate by the time the Americans decided to do anything.

The clever wits in the Brooks brothers jackets are probably foaming at the mouth, by now, ready to accuse me of actually being a hawk on Iraq despite myself. If I didn't think that the people who are championing the war were largely the root causes of it, if I believed that the war was going being fought for principles (there is some not unconvincing evidence that the NATO bombing of Serbia served as an effective deterrent against any further genocide like that seen in Bosnia) rather than carefully scripted sound bites designed to mask raw national interests, and if I believed that the U.S. was going to stick around and fill the vacuum in the aftermath (in fairness, they have in a few notable exceptions like Kosovo) I just might be able to get behind the idea.

Put simply, I do not have any confidence that the current U.S. administration is acting in good faith and the fact that Saddam Hussein is a "bad guy" doesn't go very far to balance out the scales.

Whatever else happens, though, by his deft and skillful use of the "Survivor" metaphor to describe foreign policy Friedman has all but assured himself the 2003 Shut the Fuck Up Award.

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Saturday, February 08 2003 ←  → Monday, February 10 2003