Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Tom Friedman has been promoting war with Iraq as a way to create a beacon of democracy in the region. You'd think on that basis, he might at some point have a thing or two to say about last Sunday's report from Iraqi opposition leader Kanan Makiya, that the administration's current plans involve a military dictatorship that would be servile to the interests of the Arab governments that Friedman wants to change. But then again, you'd have thought he'd have something to say about the months-old repeated hints from folks like Rice and Rumsfeld that an indigenous Iraqi military dictatorship was perfectly fine with them, so long as the guy running it wasn't Saddam Hussein.

But never mind all that. He's got a new rationale for the attack. As he patiently explains to the slow, dull-witted Chinese leadership, who stupidly "don't realize they have a dog in this fight":

Friends, with every great world war has come a new security system. World War I gave birth to the League of Nations and an attempt to recreate a balance of power in Europe, which proved unstable. World War II gave birth to the U.N., NATO, the I.M.F. and the bipolar American-Soviet power structure, which proved to be quite stable until the end of the cold war. Now, 9/11 has set off World War III, and it, too, is defining a new international order.

And here I was, naively thinking that what we had now was a regional skirmish to try to squelch a criminal gang, that World War III would be something else, and that avoiding it might still be a good idea. He goes on:

The new world system is also bipolar, but instead of being divided between East and West, it is divided between the World of Order and the World of Disorder. The World of Order is built on four pillars: the U.S., E.U.-Russia, India and China, along with all the smaller powers around them. The World of Disorder comprises failed states (such as Liberia), rogue states (Iraq and North Korea), messy states -- states that are too big to fail but too messy to work (Pakistan, Colombia, Indonesia, many Arab and African states) -- and finally the terrorist and mafia networks that feed off the World of Disorder.

There has always been a World of Disorder, but what makes it more dangerous today is that in a networked universe, with widely diffused technologies, open borders and a highly integrated global financial and Internet system, very small groups of people can amass huge amounts of power to disrupt the World of Order. Individuals can become super-empowered. In many ways, 9/11 marked the first full-scale battle between a superpower and a small band of super-empowered angry men from the World of Disorder.

Which is an odd way of phrasing things, given the behavior of the Bush administration, which has consistently claimed the right to behave exactly as it sees fit, and been overtly hostile to any third-party checks on its actions --- even long-standing obligations like the anti-missile treaty, which they unilaterally shredded. You can call the Cheney/Rumsfeld vision of the future the "World of Order" if you like --- but if so, then it's a world where the United States gives the orders.

You can understand why the Chinese leadership might not be terribly enthusiastic about that prospect, what with (for example) a frozen war with Taiwan which some of them may well want to thaw. But that doesn't keep Friedman from superciliously informing the Chinese leadership that

The job of the four pillars of the World of Order is to work together to help stabilize and lift up the World of Disorder. Unfortunately, China doesn't seem to realize that.

And he goes on to "explain" (as in "Shut up, he explained") that further disorder without Chinese cooperation could result in a reduction of trade, and you wouldn't want your economy hurt now, would you, Mr. Hu?

But whatever Tom Friedman thinks, Hu Jintao will decide for himself what his job is. He is the heir to a leadership which has inflicted much worse things on its people than an economic slowdown when the leaders thought it served their own long-term interests. If he sees the United States as yet another Western hegemon, prone to meddling in China's proper sphere of influence for no good reason, which could stand to be cut down a notch or two, well, so much the worse for us.


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