Sunday, January 9


I just can't resist. Tom Friedman makes it too easy.

What is happening right now in Iraq, Israel and Palestine is a new Churchillian moment. The contours and contents of these core Middle East regions are up for grabs, only this time these contours are not being redrawn by an imperial pen from above - and will not be.

Get real. BushCo surely has imperialist attitudes, strategies and goals, and applies them in their policies on the region. What else is the Project for a New American Century but a plan for a new American imperialism?

This time they are being shaped by three civilian conflicts bubbling up from below - among Palestinians, Israelis and Iraqis. As the Israeli political theorist Yaron Ezrahi puts it, "Three volcanoes are erupting at the same time. Lava is pouring out of each of them, and we are all waiting to see how it cools and into what forms."

Like the recent tsunami, this sort of tectonic movement of geopolitical plates happens only once a century. This is a remarkable political moment that you don't want to miss or see go badly. But that's what's scary; when borders and states emerge from volcanic activity, anything can happen. What all three of these cases have in common is that they pit theocratic, fascist and messianic forces on one side, claiming to be acting on the will of God or in the name of the primordial aspirations of "the nation," against more moderate, tolerant, democratizing majorities.
[emphasis mine]

Friedman's going to get in trouble here with his Bush-supporting crowd and the current administration. No matter the reality of the situtation, they really don't like being called "theocratic, fascist and messianic." Oh, he means the radical rabbis on the West Bank, the Arafat faction and the insurgents in Iraq! My bad. But I'm still confused, Tom. Which "moderate, tolerant, democratizing majorities" would those be? In Iraq, especially? As far as I can tell, the U.S. hasn't exactly been able to identify such a "majority" --

The contours of the Middle East in the 21st century are at stake here, much as they were in 1922. If the pragmatic forces can dominate in Israel, Iraq and Palestine, it will establish positive examples that will give others in the region the incentive and confidence to try to emulate them. If all three remain roiling volcanoes, slowly devouring themselves, the social contract among Jews that the state of Israel was built upon will start to come unstuck, and Iraq and Palestine will be held up as exhibits A and B for the case that in the Arab world, states can only be stabilized by despotism, never democracy.

PRAGMATIC? Not a word I'd associate with the Bush forces. Remember, they're "faith-based," not "reality-based." Hardly the definition of pragmatic. And what was that social contract among Jews that he refers to, exactly? That's the trouble with print -- no links. Okay, to be fair, I grant that pragmatism is sorely needed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on both sides. Iraq is a different kettle of fish. Pragmatism has been missing from the Bush plan from day one.

Friedman's recent columns indicate that he's essentially a social scientist who looks at the world as his personal laboratory, eager to experiment and see what happens. The fact is, such an attitude is more typical of a Josef Mengele than of a democratic nation that supposedly acknowledges the rights of other states to determine their own destiny. Any "experiment" upon a sovereign nation that causes the deaths of thousands of innocents in the course of a "fishing expedition" -- i.e., with no clear reality-based strategy or plan of execution to attain a distinct and supportable goal -- is mere adventurism, and indefensible.


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