Thursday, May 27, 2004

Looking over Dubya's plan for Iraq on Monday, Tom Friedman, like other observers, felt the lack of an actual plan. But never fear. He has a five-point plan of his own to "do things right in confronting terrorists". In brief:
  • Embassy libraries and scholarships
  • A gas tax within America (or parking subsidies for high-milage cars)
  • Reducing farm subsidies, to help "Pakistani, Egyptian, and other poor farmers"
  • Make a "serious effort" to deal with the Palestinian issue, including NATO intervention
  • Alliances are good

Most of these are measures designed in one way or another to improve our general public image in the Arab world. It was just a year and a half ago that Friedman had another proposal for how we could do that -- he said we should invade Iraq. Now that that invasion has gone horribly wrong, he suggests, in effect, that Dubya try to change the subject. But that won't wash.

Imagine an Arab kid who goes to his newly funded embassy library and reads these items, from the Declaration of Independence:

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

and then thinks about the photos coming out of Abu Ghraib, the prisoners locked up there and subject to torture without due process, and our attempts to insure that the "sovereign" Iraqi government not alter any laws that we have dictated to it, nor, according to many reports in the British press, be able to try American soldiers for crimes commited within its jurisdiction -- well, what's that kid supposed to conclude?

But perhaps I'm just too dull to grasp the subtleties of Friedman's thinking. Take the gas tax, for instance. I understand when he suggests would reduce our dependence on Arabian petroleum, which is all to the good. But it would also hurt the economies of Arab oil-exporting states. To Friedman, that's all good as well:

There is simply no way to stimulate a process of economic and political reform in the Arab-Muslim world without radically reducing their revenues from oil, thereby forcing these governments to reform their economies, and societies, to produce real jobs for their people

Now, hearing this prospect, I'd worry instead that reducing these countries' revenue might just result in economic stagnation, privation, and radicalization of the populace, which is exactly what we're trying to avoid. Particularly since "these governments" have precious little experience building viable export industries -- but plenty raising the rabble. But Friedman sees that "these governments" could simply choose, at any time, "to produce real jobs for their people", and that the only reason they haven't is that they're too busy spending the oil money. That's why he's a highly regarded expert commentator on the Arab world, and I'm not.

Besides, another of Friedman's points, reducing agricultural subsidies, is aimed directly at developing non-oil eindustries there. Now, when thinking about this, my first concern would be that Arab countries aren't exactly situated to have major agricultural sectors under any circumstances -- they don't overflow with arable land. And an agricultural economy isn't exactly what we're trying to develop anyway.

I might also have noted that the major non-oil exports of Pakistan and Egypt are textile goods -- some of which are actually subject to American import quotas. (Even before World War II, Egypt's main farm export was cotton, not, say, wheat). We actually promised Pakistan better trade treatment with regard to those as a reward for cooperation in the Afghan war, then reneged. But nevertheless, the best trade measure we could take in the region has nothing to do with textiles -- it's agricultural price supports. Friedman says so. And he's the expert.

So when he suggests, say, NATO intervention in the Arab-Israeli conflict, we should just bow to his wisdom. After all, what could possibly go wrong?

On the agricultural subsidies -- Egypt, at least, actually imports a lot of American grain, and reducing the subsidies might help farmers there by reducing that, if we want there to be a viable agricultural sector there. But maintaining largely agrarian economies in these countries seems a strange thing for Friedman to want...


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home