(note: primer on the FJM can be found here)
We always knew this day would come.
Unless someone writes a musical comedy about the Symbionese Liberation Army, Thomas Friedman's attempt to re-invent himself as a progressive will stand as the most baffling, compelling, I-gotta-see-this event of my lifetime. His entire worldview has collapsed around him recently, so he wrote a book in his inimitably idiotic literary anti-style about his concern for the environment. That'll sell books to the kids and the liberals, right? Were it that easy, Mr. Friedman. Were it that easy.
New book persona aside, The Unit's weekly NYT columns show that he still has plenty of vigor for the kind of jingoistic, libertarian tent-pitching that made him famous. To wit: "Paging Uncle Sam," which is either the title of his column or an upcoming Charles Bronson movie that I absolutely have to see. The call is from rhetorical Excellence; is Friedman man enough to accept the charges?
Seoul, South Korea
Knowing what we know about this mustachioed twit, this simple byline foreshadows unspeakable horrors. We all know that 75% of this column is going to be based on throwaway comments from conversations with random Korean people. I wish I could have been there to see the puzzled Koreans trying to mind their business on the subway and thinking "Why is this caucasian porn star asking me about tariffs?"
It is very useful to come to Asia to be reminded about America’s standing in the world these days.
Yep, nothing like randomly encountering some people in a foreign country to prompt some grandiose generalizing about what "the world" thinks about America.
For all the talk in recent years about America’s inevitable decline, all eyes are not now on Tokyo, Beijing, Brussels or Moscow — nor on any other pretenders to the world heavyweight crown.
Belgium? Belgium??? Are they even in the conversation? Is this like the NCAA tournament where we have to include Winthrop, Iona, UNC-Asheville, Siena, UM-Baltimore County, and Coastal Carolina because they won whatever turnip truck of a conference crowned them champion? Belgium: the token Benelux entry in the field of new world powers. Take that, Luxembourg!
All eyes are on Washington to pull the world out of its economic tailspin. At no time in the last 50 years have we ever felt weaker, and at no time in the last 50 years has the world ever seen us as more important.
Friedman talked to the world. This is what it said. Verbatim.
While it is true that since the end of the cold war global leaders and intellectuals often complained about a world of too much American power, one doesn’t hear much of that grumbling today when most people recognize that only an economically revitalized America has the power to prevent the world economy from going into a global depression.
Little late to be talking about prevention, Tom. I suppose that "one doesn't hear much of that grumbling" in your social circles.
It was always easy to complain about a world of too much American power as long as you didn’t have to live in a world of too little American power. And right now, that is the danger: a world of too little American power.
National Review's Michael Leeden: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." That's the kind of power they want us to assert.
Somewhere in the back of their minds, a lot of people seem to be realizing that the alternative to a U.S.-dominated world is not a world dominated by someone else or someone better.
"(A) lot of people" "seem to be realizing" things. The depth of research, the empirical support! Stunning.
It is a leaderless world. Neither Russia nor China has the will or the way to provide the global public goods that America — at its best — consistently has. The European Union right now is so split that it cannot even agree on an effective stimulus package.
Maybe they lack your Napoleon complex, Tom, your need to dominate and control and subjugate, i.e. "lead."
No wonder then that even though this economic crisis began in America, with American bad borrowing and bad lending practices, people have nevertheless fled to the U.S. dollar. Case in point: South Korea’s currency has lost roughly 40 percent against the dollar in just the last six months.
Ah, the rock-solid American Buck! Given the extent to which the governments of Asia have gone all in on the dollar as a reserve currency, what you call fleeing to the US dollar has the desperate feel of good money chasing bad.
“No other country can substitute for the U.S.,” a senior Korean official remarked to me.
Guy next to Friedman on the plane? Auto rickshaw driver? Bartender?
“The U.S. is still No. 1 in military, No. 1 in economy, No. 1 in promoting human rights and No. 1 in idealism. Only the U.S. can lead the world. No other country can. China can’t. The E.U. is too divided, and Europe is militarily far behind the U.S. So it is only the United States … We have never had a more unipolar world than we have today.”
It's uncanny how much this unsourced, unverifiable quote supports the author's thesis! What a happy coincidence. I'm not saying Thomas Friedman fabricated this quote, but Thomas Friedman fabricated this quote.
Yes, many Asians resent the fact that Americans scolded them about their banking crisis in the 1990s, and now we’ve made many of the same mistakes. But that schadenfreude doesn’t last long. In random conversations here in Seoul with Korean and Asian thinkers, journalists and business executives, I found people really worried.
"When I threw loaded questions at random people, their responses confirmed my preconceived conclusions. Amazing!"
This is a region where Western brands carry great weight, and for people to see giant U.S. financial brands like Citigroup and A.I.G. teetering is deeply unnerving.
Not to mention the weight Western brands carry with Friedman, the man who can't go three paragraphs without dropping a trademarked name.
“There is no one who can replace America. Without American leadership, there is no leadership,” said Lee Hong-koo, South Korea’s former ambassador to Washington. “That puts a tremendous burden on the American people to do something positive. You can’t be tempted by the usual nationalism. When things don’t go well, most people become nationalistic. And in the economic world, that is protectionism"
Uh oh! Throw in the Aerosmith CD, dim the lights, and let the free-market dry humping begin!!
"We are pleased to see President Obama is not doing that. Americans, as a people, should realize how many hopes and expectations other people are putting on their shoulders.”
Clearly the President's goal should be to do what makes other nations happiest: refuse to treat their goods the way they treat ours.
And that’s just on economics. President Obama’s first big security test could come here — and soon. North Korea has gotten crazier than ever; it has been made even poorer by the global economic crisis and by the withdrawal of aid by the new South Korean government.
This is a different column, but OK! I guess this is kinda important.
Now the North is threatening to test one of its Taepodong-2 long-range missiles, which may have the capacity to hit Hawaii, Alaska or beyond.
Was that a multiple choice question? Because I totally pick Alaska.
The North last tried such a test in 2006, but the rocket exploded 40 seconds after its launch. If the North does test such an intercontinental ballistic missile again, American forces will have to consider blowing it up on the launch pad or shooting it out of the sky.
YEAH! And then we gotta use our photon torpedoes and death rays and Dr. Manhattan and all kinds of other weapons that are as non-existent as a functioning Anti-Ballistic Missile system.
We never should have allowed the North to get a nuclear warhead; we certainly don’t want it testing a long-range missile that could deliver that nuclear warhead to our shores, or anywhere else.
So the fact that they do (or, more accurately, may) have nuclear warheads is a reason that we should start a war with them and WHAT THE HELL ARE WE EVEN TALKING ABOUT I thought this was about the economic crisis and leadership.
Never more inward-looking, never more in demand: that’s America today. This moment recalls a point raised by the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum in his book, The Case for Goliath.
No, to me it recalls a point raised by a more noted scholar, Rudyard Kipling, in his poem "The White Man's Burden" or perhaps by Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra.
When it comes to the way other countries view America’s pre-eminent role in the world, he wrote, “whatever its life span, three things can be safely predicted: they will not pay for it; they will continue to criticize it; and they will miss it when it is gone.”
If this logic worked for colonialism, I guess it'll work equally well for neo-colonialism!
Welcome to Friedman's world, a world desperately seeking a Caesar. When someone like Tom says "leadership" it means control; "setting an example" means establishing hegemony; "she was all over me" means date rape. This is in many ways the sickest and most dangerous worldview, one in which the rest of the world not only needs American hegemony, they want it. Just look at how they're dressed.