Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Tom Friedman on Iraq

Tom Friedman spoke at Brandeis University last night. Friedman, a member of the class of 75, spoke on the topic of Iraq. Specifically, he said he wanted to try to fit the events there into a larger perspective and make sense of our successes, failures, and future there.

I had intended to try to live blog the event, but there was no wireless access in the venue and I only had one battery in my laptop. Instead, I took five pages of notes and starting typing them up this afternoon. I will post all of them on here.

In the places where he went too fast or I wrote too slow, I made notes. I also inserted some comments/questions that occured to me during the presentation. Everything should be clearly marked and my presentation is as accurate and unbiased as humanly possible.

Before I begin, I just want to say that Friedman is someone I really admire. I respect his approach to journalism, his desire to make sense of the world, and his ability to relate that to millions of people around the world in an interesting and understandable manner.

I use From Beirut to Jerusalem in one of my introductory classes and The Lexus and the Olive Tree in a upper level IR theory class. I have used these books three years running and I have never had a student express any dislike for them. In fact, time and time again, students love the Friedman books and say they are the best books they have read in college.

Ok, Friedman worshipping completed, here goes...

(Friedman's words in plain text - mine in bold. I use bold just so no one will confuse the two and there are lot more of his than mine).

I never believed there were WMD in Iraq. If you go back and look at my columns, you will not find a single column on this written by me. I did believe that anything Saddam did have was deterrable and therefore did not necessitate invasion for those reasons.

This did not make a whole lot of sense to me. He started out by saying he didnt think they had any, then went on to say what they did have was deterrable. I could not figure out exactly what he meant based on the comments so I just left them as is.

I did believe something needed to be done with Saddam and in regards to the Islamic world. It is important to view 9/11 in a far broader context that we have to this point. If you view Iraq in this context, it is then possible to make sense of and draw conclusions from Iraq.

I view 9/11 as the beginning of battle of the Third Totalitarian Era in international politics. The first was the challenge from the Soviets and communism. The second was the war against Fascism/Nazism which used Germany as a vehicle for its ideology. The third is the battle against radical Islamists who use globalization to impose their view of the perfect faith – political Islam.

People ask me, how the threat posed by AQ can be compared to that of the Soviet Red Army, which was backed by tens of thousands of tanks and nukes. I believe AQ poses a threat more dangerous and more pernicious than the USSR ever did.

There are three reasons for this:

1. Soviet threat was deterrable

2. US and Soviets shared assumptions on what was acceptable, what was civilized, what the rules of the game were.

3. With AQ and radical Islam, there are no shared assumptions – the boys of 9/11 hated the US more than they loved life. How can you reason with or deter that?

The threat posed by AQ is so scary because it cant be deterred plus because it uses the instruments of daily life (planes, cars, shoes) and uses them as weapons to attack the essence of what keeps open societies open. They target trust.

I trust you not to be strapped with an explosive vest. You trust me in the same way. I trust the person next to me on a plane not to have a shoe bomb etc. He used a number of examples here.

It is impossible to guard everything in an open society. AQ and radical Islam aim at the heart of open society. This must serve as the starting point for any discussion of 9/11.

Where did the boys of 9/11 come from?

They came from 2 sources:

  1. The Saudi’s or sitting around guys
  2. The Europeans

Sitting Around Guys

These were the muscle and drawn from OBL’s rolodex. There is a vast pool of these people throughout the Middle East.

The Middle East has the highest birthrate and unemployment rate in the world. (He reeled off a bunch of stats here). This serves as the raw material for the Bin Laden’s to shape, mold and use.

They are created by the Wheel of OBL, which has three spokes:

  1. deficit of freedom
  2. deficit of popular education
  3. deficit of women’s empowerment

The ME is the only region of the world where there is not one single democratic government. For these regimes to gain legitimacy, they prop up anti-modern clergy who in exchange for a platform bless the regime in place. The one thing these regimes and the clergy are good at producing is people who lack the ability to thrive and even survive in a modern, globalizing world.

The ME and Arab world are suffering a crisis of human development of serious serious proportions. He used the example of patents. Over the past 20 years, the ME has produced 267 patents. In the same period, South Korea produced over 16 thousand. Hewlett Packard produces 11 per day. In less than a month, HP produces more patents than the entire ME produces in 20 years.

The Europeans

These were the brains of the operation, opposed to the muscle. All of them were radicalized in Europe. Add on to this, Richard Reid, the assassins of Massoud in Afghanistan and any number of other terrorist plots and you find a common theme – they are coming out of European mosques.

This represents a failure of the melting pot in Europe. In the US, we have a poorly working melting pot, but one that is at the heart of the American experience. In Europe, there is no such thing.

Arabs were invited to Europe post WWII for labor much the same way that Mexicans were/are invited to the US. There has been little effort and much resistance to integrating them into their host societies. Now, we are in the third generation of Arabs that have grown up in Europe. The young especially are angry, disaffected and resentful. They gravitate toward mosques where they are radicalized by clerics selling a vision that is attractive to them.

There is an incompatibility to Islam and modern life. For Muslims, the Koran is more than a religious book and Islam more than a religion – it is the precise and accurate world and will of God.

I often try to describe this incompatibility and its consequences in computer terms. Think of it like this:

  • Muslims raised with view of Islam as God 3.0
  • They view Christians as God 2.0
  • They view Jews as God 1.0
  • They view Hinduism as God 0.0

Young Muslims are raised in this way yet as they grow up they cannot figure out how and why God 3.0 came to be below the other inferior operating systems. Radicals explain it as either 1.0 and 2.0 have cheated and keep the Muslims down or the leaders of ME states have sold Muslims out to the other operating systems.

The other non 3.0 versions have achieved multiple and improved releases – 1.01 or 2.02 etc. They have grown and transformed and modernized and this has had important repercussions for their followers, the religion, and the ability to survive in a globalizing world. For 3.0, there has been no updated release. It is important that Muslims do this and do this on their own.

This moves us to the discussion of Iraq. It provides a context and if I have learned anything in my career it is the importance of context.

The context within which people live their lives is vital. For many Muslims, this context is producing rage. Yet, if you can change the context this changes. Look at India, the world’s second largest Muslim country. There were no Indian Muslims involved in 9/11 or any that we now of involved in AQ. (He told several stories to illustrate them but I couldn’t get them all down).

The US has ignored context in the Arab world for the last fifty years. Our view of the Arab world has been similar to that of run down, dumpy gas stations. For much of this period, we wanted them to keep the pump open, keep the price cheap and otherwise do what you want. The only thing that changed was an addition to this – be nice to the Jews.

On 9/11 we got hit with everything that was growing and living in that context. I borrow this analogy from Larry Summers – “In the history of the world, no one has ever washed their rented car.” The same is true for countries. The Iraqi people and the people of the ME in general have rented countries, first from imperial powers and then from their own dictators.

I believe changing this context was worth invading. I am not a neo-con and do not believe all their nonsense… (I fell behind here but he took some shots at the neo-cons and their vision).

We ran into trouble due to Turkish domestic politics and the Bush administrations bungling of diplomacy with Turkey. This meant the war was never finished. The Sunni triangle was largely untouched and two divisions of Republican Guard took of their uniforms and went home. They now are key to the insurgency.

The second major mistake was in not establishing our authority. Zell Miller railed about calling US troops occupiers. Well, we needed to be occupiers. We needed to control the country to fix it. You cannot liberate what you do not control.

We have never had enough troops in Iraq based on these two mistakes. Rumsfeld’s view of this as a lab test has really hurt us.

There is no army in the world that can defeat our own. There is no country in the world we can rebuild on our own.

The result was looting on an epic scale – unless you saw it take place, it is near impossible to fathom the scope of it.