Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Friedman’

New York Times prints something sane about immigration: ‘People can’t just walk in’

November 28, 2018

New York Times columnist and taxi conversationalist Thomas Friedman had what should be a historic moment on his paper’s op-ed page.

In his column published Tuesday night, Friedman said elected Democrats should figure out what their party believes in on immigration. And, he added, it cannot simply be the position that open borders are necessary and all immigration enforcement is racism, which is what they’ve been mostly preaching since late 2015.

“I don’t think the Democratic Party is just for open borders,” he wrote. But he noted also that Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., had earlier this month compared U.S. immigration enforcement to the KKK. “Alas, though, I’m also not sure what exactly is the party’s standard on immigration — and questions like Harris’s leave it open to demonization.”

Image result for sign, immigration, photos

Friedman bitterly accused Republicans and President Trump of using immigration as “a wedge issue” (a common media term for “effective policy position”), but he acknowledged that Democrats are out of their depth on the subject.

“Regarding the border, the right place for Democrats to be is for a high wall with a big gate. Democrats won’t do as well as they can nationally without assuring Americans that they’re committed to securing our borders; people can’t just walk in.”

As usual, Friedman went on to talk about the countries he’s been visiting lately — “am in Peru now” — and how hot and crowded the earth is. But the parts about immigration made the whole thing worth it. Democrats might want to read this one.


NY Times’ Friedman: Netanyahu ‘too cowardly’ to take steps necessary for peace

May 24, 2018

Top columnist also pans Hamas for its disastrous policies in Gaza since Israel pulled out; says environmental issues may soon force sides out of their corners

Times of Israel
May 24, 2018, 6:19 am


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on May 21, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on May 21, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “too cowardly” to take the necessary actions for peace with the Palestinians, while Hamas has proved a disaster for the residents of the Gaza Strip, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote on Tuesday.

In a piece titled “Hamas, Netanyahu and Mother Nature,” the veteran Times writer lamented the intransigence he felt was exhibited by both the Israeli government and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, and said environmental and humanitarian dangers could soon force both Israelis and Palestinians to look beyond their differences to increased cooperation.

Friedman said the Netanyahu government’s settlement expansion policies have made “separating Israelis and Palestinians increasingly impossible and therefore an apartheidlike situation increasingly likely.”

Netanyahu, Freidman, asserted, “wants it all,” unable to accept any significant concessions to Palestinians that a peace accord would require. “And with President Trump and the US Congress writing him blank checks, [he] thinks he can have it all. So why bother making any concessions for peace?”

He added: “I get why Israel has no choice but to defend its border with Gaza with brute force. But I find it a travesty that a country with so much imagination in computing, medicine and agriculture shows so little imagination in searching for secure ways to separate from the Palestinians in the West Bank to preserve its Jewish democracy.”

New York Times columnist, Thomas L. Friedman. (Rebecca Zeffert/Flash90)

Meanwhile in Gaza, Hamas, in Friedman’s estimation, was eligible for “an anti-Nobel Peace Prize — that is, the Nobel Prize for Cynicism and Reckless Disregard for One’s Own People in Pursuit of a Political Fantasy.”

Israel, he said, “ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005. If Hamas had chosen to recognize Israel and build a Palestinian state in Gaza modeled on Singapore, the world would have showered it with aid and it would have served as a positive test case for the West Bank. Hamas chose otherwise.”

The terror group that rules the Strip instead chose violence, using the recent marches in Gaza “to disguise its utter failure to produce any kind of decent life for the Palestinians there.”

Palestinians wave their national flag as they demonstrate near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Jabaliya, on May 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)

He said the world, including Arab nations, is “fed up” with Palestinians’ demand to return to ancestral lands which today are part of Israel. “History is full of such injustices and of refugees who have reconciled with them and moved on — not passed on their refugee status to their kids and their kids’ kids.

Notably, Friedman did not criticize the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which Israeli leaders have accused of repeatedly rejecting generous peace offers and of an unwillingness to truly accept a Jewish state.

The columnist warned that “Mother Nature” could soon “batter” both sides, noting that the ongoing blockade of Gaza and severe electricity shortages had led to sewage treatment in the Strip being virtually non-existent, and Palestinians dumping “about 100 million liters of raw sewage into the Mediterranean daily.” The sewage was now flowing north and damaging Israeli desalination plants.

View of the security fence surrounding the Gaza Strip from Israel. (Doron Horowitz/Flash90)

Meanwhile Gaza was quickly running out of clean drinking water, and Israel could soon have a true humanitarian disaster on its hands.

Friedman concluded: “If there were ever a time for Israel to take a few calculated risks to try to nurture a different pathway with Palestinians in the West Bank, it’s now. Unfortunately, its prime minister is too cowardly, and America is too slavishly supportive, for that to happen. Over to you, Mother Nature.”


Trump’s Path on Iran Nuclear Deal May Pre-Determine Fate of Conflict Between Iran and Israel

April 22, 2018

With Trump expected to announce if he is nixing the deal by May 12, Tehran is contending with a sluggish economy, the worst drought in 50 years and growing public discontent – making Russia ties ever more important


An Iranian army tank rolling past a stage decorated with a portrait of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during the annual army day parade in Tehran, April 18, 2018.

An Iranian army tank rolling past a stage decorated with a portrait of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during the annual army day parade in Tehran, April 18, 2018.ATTA KENARE/AFP

Iranian President Hassan Rohani is holding a hot potato: the Iranian rial. Last week, in a desperate move, his government banned money changers from selling dollars and euros.

At Iran’s international airport, passengers traveling to “nearby” countries can buy just 500 euros ($615), while those going to “distant” countries can buy 1,000 euros. Iranians may not hold more than $10,000 or 10,000 euros, and the official exchange rate was set at 42,000 rials to the dollar – about 20,000 rials less than the black-market rate.

The currency has plummeted by more than 35 percent since Rohani was elected to a second term in May 2017. This isn’t exactly the good news he hoped for.

It’s no longer clear who his harshest critics are: the conservatives who seek his downfall; his reformist supporters, who are disappointed and frustrated with him after five years in office; the general public, which has seen his promises of a higher standard of living go unfulfilled; or the millions of unemployed living on welfare.

The demonstrations that began last December in cities throughout Iran still reverberate. Dozens of protesters arrested then are still awaiting trial, and others have already received heavy sentences.

That same month, workers at the Haft Tapeh sugar plant in Khuzestan Province – where some 5,500 people are employed – went on strike because they hadn’t been paid in months. Some even committed suicide because they couldn’t pay their debts.

This was not an isolated case. Strikes have occurred at dozens of factories, especially those that were privatized and sold to businessmen. The results of privatization haven’t been encouraging.

Iranians standing in front of a bank, hoping to buy U.S. dollars at the new official exchange rate announced by the government, in downtown Tehran, April 10, 2018.
Iranians standing in front of a bank, hoping to buy U.S. dollars at the new official exchange rate announced by the government, in downtown Tehran, April 10, 2018.Vahid Salemi/AP

At the end of last year, the World Bank predicted that Iran’s economy would grow by 4 percent in 2018 and 2019 – about half the government’s desired pace. Industrial growth hit 18 percent during the second half of 2017, but has been just 4 percent so far this year. Production has flatlined. And the economic reforms Rohani promised to include in this year’s budget disappeared almost completely due to protests over the planned increase in prices and cuts in subsidies.

In March, farmers began demonstrating in Isfahan Province over water shortages caused by the mismanaged water economy. Even the heavens seem to be battling Rohani: This year’s drought has been the worst in half a century. The drought has also reduced the water flowing over Iran’s dams, which is expected to slash electricity production by more than 40 percent.

The regime’s woes don’t end at Rohani’s office. Demonstrators have cursed the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and wished him dead. They have also wondered why Iran continues to finance wars in Syria and Yemen. These complaints have reached the offices of Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, and Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds force.

In media outlets that support the regime, one can read loyalists’ responses. They have been entertaining the idea of putting a military man in as president instead of a civilian. It’s not clear whether their intent is to run such a man in the next presidential election – which is scheduled for 2021 – or to try to oust Rohani during his current term.

Iran’s political tradition has thus far been to let presidents serve out the two terms they are permitted under the constitution. But if the civic protests spiral out of control, changes at the top would be one possible solution.

However, other countries in the region have tried this method of appeasing the public, and their experience shows that the effect of such change is brief.

Under Russia’s protection

Iran is also tensely awaiting May 12 – the date by which U.S. President Donald Trump must decide whether his country is quitting the 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran. For Iran, this decision is critical. The waiting period has already had a tangible effect, resulting in a dearth of foreign investment; a freeze on projects already agreed upon with several different countries; and heavy pressure to reduce government expenditure.

Officially, Rohani has said Iran will continue to abide by the agreement even if the United States withdraws. He has held marathon talks with European leaders, as well as the leaders of Turkey, Russia and China – and most have reportedly said they plan to defend the agreement.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani listening to explanations on new nuclear achievements at a ceremony to mark "National Nuclear Day," in Tehran, April 9, 2018.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani listening to explanations on new nuclear achievements at a ceremony to mark “National Nuclear Day,” in Tehran, April 9, 2018./AP

Germany, France and Britain have tried without success to persuade the European Union to impose additional sanctions on Iran – even if only symbolic ones – in order to persuade Trump to stick to the agreement. But the talks held in Brussels last week ended in failure. And if the EU and the United States don’t manage to reach an agreement by May 12, America’s unilateral withdrawal from the agreement is liable to harm not just Iran but also its business partners.

Patrick Pouyanne, CEO of the French energy giant Total, said last month his company is committed to its agreement to develop the South Pars oil field, and that he will seek an exemption from new sanctions if a decision is made to impose any. Russia and China will also continue their investments, as will many European countries. But without the U.S. banking system (which is boycotting Iran), European companies will have trouble investing in the country.

An outbreak of hostilities between Iran and Israel – something New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and Israeli officials themselves have warned of – will apparently have to wait until at least mid-May.

Paradoxically, the battle between Washington and European capitals has seemingly contributed greatly to Iran’s restraint in the face of airstrikes on Syria attributed to Israel. Iran believes it can’t afford to start a new Mideast war, because that would play into Trump’s and Israel’s hands by releasing the European brakes.

The combination of the nuclear agreement and the economic crisis has backed Iran into a corner in which it is not only barred from developing its nuclear program, but also can’t risk a conventional war.

At most, it could return to the agreements in force prior to the nuclear deal – like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty without the Additional Protocol, which mandated less stringent oversight than the nuclear deal did – and scrap the nuclear deal’s detailed timetables. But if it takes those steps, it is liable to clog the pipeline of cooperation with Europe and put even Russia in a difficult position.

Its domestic constraints will also force Iran to make decisions in other arenas, especially Syria. The recent exchanges of aerial and verbal blows with Israel, and the possibility that Israel will increase its attacks on Iranian targets in Syria, require Iran to accelerate the diplomatic process Russia is spearheading.

The Israeli airstrikes will actually result in closer cooperation between Iran and Russia in an effort to reach a comprehensive agreement that will consolidate Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, demarcate both countries’ spheres of influence in Syria, set up de-escalation zones, restore control of the entire country to Assad and constrain Israel’s freedom of action in Syria.

To neutralize the danger of Israeli strikes on its bases in Syria, Iran can employ the strategy it successfully used in Iraq: embedding the militias which operate under its control into the Syrian army. In this way, it eventually forced Iraq to add the Popular Mobilization Forces to the army, which now pays the militiamen’s salaries.

Joint Syrian-Iranian army units and bases would make it harder for Israel to claim it is trying to keep Iran from consolidating its position in Syria, and every strike on a joint base would be considered a hostile act against the Assad regime.

Another way Iran could consolidate its position in Syria without hindrance is by removing parts of the Syrian population and replacing them with hundreds of thousands of Afghani and Pakistani refugees, some of whom are already fighting in Syria on Iran’s payroll and under its auspices. Both businessmen and militiamen are already buying land and houses in Syria, and are expected to be granted Syrian citizenship – which would give them the right to vote in parliamentary and presidential elections.

Any missile factories and heavy weapons plants Iran set up in Syria would also become part of Syria’s legitimate arsenal, making it difficult to distinguish between Syrian and Iranian arms.

As in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, regular Iranian forces wouldn’t need to be present on the ground in order to ensure the consolidation of Tehran’s influence. Under this strategy, Iran wouldn’t even need to set up a separate, pro-Iranian organization like Hezbollah in Syria. Instead, this role would be filled by the Syrian army, which would receive protection from the Kremlin against foreign attacks.

These steps, if they actually happen, could help the Iranian regime cope not only with the Israeli threat, but also with the domestic pressures it is likely to face if the United States decides to quit the nuclear deal.

Sure, the public protests against Iran’s continued participation in the wars in Syria and Yemen have been forcibly suppressed, but they haven’t completely disappeared. The regime is prepared for them to break out again.

Tehran’s need to reconcile the consolidation of its influence in Syria with assuaging public anger over the financial bloodletting the war in Syria has caused to its economy is ultimately what will determine how it acts toward Israel.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Threaten Israel: ‘Finger’s on the Trigger, Missiles Ready for Launch’ — “The United States has been defeated.”

April 21, 2018

Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami says ‘Israel is surrounded and you have nowhere to escape to except to fall into the sea’

.Iran's President Hassan Rohani reviews a military parade during the 37th anniversary of Iraq's 1980 invasion of Iran, September 22, 2017.
Iran’s President Hassan Rohani reviews a military parade during the 37th anniversary of Iraq’s 1980 invasion of Iran, September 22, 2017.Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

A senior commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guardsthreatened Israel with destruction on Friday. “The finger is on the trigger and the missiles are ready at any given moment that the enemy conducts something against us, and we will launch them,” said Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards, before Friday prayers in Tehran.

Image may contain: 1 person

Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami,

As for the American presence in Syria, “We have learned the formula of how to overcome the enemy and can harm his strategic interests anywhere,” added Salami. “The United States has been defeated in Syria because the Americans did not have a clear strategy and policy, and every action they take makes them look ridiculous, like the operation they did a few days ago, because they have no strategy. Today we are much stronger than ever before in all areas.”

>> Why Israel needs to escalate its threats against Iran – right now | Opinion >>

Concerning Israel, Salami added: “We know you very well, you are exposed to great harm because you have no depth, you are surrounded from every direction and you have nowhere to flee except to fall into the sea. Don’t put faith in your military bases because they are in firing range and we can attack them and prevent them [from operating].”

“You are living from the mouth of the snake and the resistance today is much stronger that what it was in the past. Don’t think that the new wars will be like the Second Lebanon War. You saw what the axis of resistance did to the heretic groups [in Syria] and how we succeeded in uprooting them. Don’t place you hope in the United States and Britain, when they arrive you will already have disappeared and so don’t make incorrect calculations,” said Salami.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the treats from Iran saying, “We are certain of our capabilities to protect ourselves with our own power.” Netanyahu made his remarks at a special cabinet meeting held in honor of Israel’s 70th anniversary at Independence Hall in Tel Aviv.

“Israel’s soldiers are prepared for any development and we will fight anyone who tries to harm us,” said Netanyahu. “We will not be deterred by the price, and those who want to kill us will pay the price. The IDF is ready for its mission, and the people will rise up to it.”

On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Israel targeted an advanced Iranian air-defense system at the T4 base in Syria the week before in addition to attack drone deployment. Haaretz previously reported that the strike apparently targeted armaments aside from the drones, which could have reduced the Israel Air Force’s freedom of operation in Syrian airspace.

Earlier in the week, a senior Israeli military official admitted to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman that Israel targeted T4, adding that “it was the first time we attacked live Iranian targets – both facilities and people.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, Iran began bolstering air defenses following an escalation triggered by Iran sending an armed drone into Israeli airspace. Israel shot down the drone and retaliated with strikes in Syria, during which an Israeli F-16 war plane was downed.

The Israeli official told the New York Times that the incident “opened a new period,” adding that “this is the first time we saw Iran do something against Israel – not by proxy.”

Iran’s Threat of Revenge Overshadows Israel’s 70th Independence Day Celebrations

April 17, 2018

The mistaken activation of Syria’s air defense system emphasizes the high alertness on the northern border. Meanwhile, the IDF is working overtime to tell the Iranians: Your troops are exposed

.Aerial photo of Deir al-Zor air base with Iranian drones.
Aerial photo of Deir al-Zor air base with Iranian drones.

The missile fire in Syria early Tuesday, which for several hours led to speculation about another Israeli attack, turned out to be the result of excessive anxiety within the Syrian air defense system. Tensions on Israel’s northern borders remain very high in light of the American punitive attack against the Assad regime and the expectation of Iranian retaliation for a strike attributed to Israel. Unusual air traffic was apparently interpreted by the Syrians as preparations for an attack, prompting the mistaken firing of missiles that, as far as we know, hit nothing. The Syrian military admits it too now – somewhat belatedly.

Aerial photo showing Iranian UAV crew at Sayqal Military Airbase in Syria
Reconnaissance photo of Sayqal Military Airbase in SyriaAerial photo showing Iranian UAV crew at Sayqal Military Airbase in Syria

This is far from being the end of the story. The Trump administration has, as far as it is concerned, gotten the job done, and the Americans are not showing any signs that they intend to leave troops in Syria, despite French President Emmanuel Macron’s optimistic assessment early this week. Washington is again leaving the Syrian theater to Russia and Iran. And the Iranians, as they say every couple of days, have a score to settle with Israel after the strike on the drone base in Syria last week.

This is the background for the energetic activity by Israel’s public diplomacy apparatus, which is working overtime in a week that is naturally flooded with military and security issues. Yesterday, The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman quoted a senior IDF official as admitting Israeli responsibility for the attack last week, a step that Israel has officially refrained from taking so far. This morning saw the distribution to several Israeli websites of wide-ranging information about the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ aerial systems in Syria, whose officers and advisers were killed in the recent attack.

The information shows the depth of Iran’s military buildup in Syria. It is possible to surmise that there are two messages Israel is sending to Iran. The first: We are determined to continue to confront you if you decide to expand your military in Syria. And the second: Your military is transparent to Israeli intelligence and is therefore very exposed to additional attacks.

skip – Raw: Social media video shows missile over Syria

Raw: Social media video shows missile over Syria – דלג

As Iran and Israel exchanged threats, Hezbollah‘s deputy chief released a statement saying he expects retaliation against Israel. However, in an interview with pro-Hezbollah news outlet Al-Maydin, he made sure to say that the response will be Iranian – in other words, not through its proxy, Hezbollah. He also emphasized that the “axis of resistance will not allow its freedom restricted in Syria.”

These comments may indicate the outline of a possible response on the Israeli-Syrian border – and it seems that if a clash is in the cards, then that may be where all sides prefer that it play out.


Hezbollah is gearing up for parliamentary elections in Lebanon on May 6, and Israel hopes to keep the organization’s fire power away from the possible clash to minimize its force. It’s also doubtful that Iran is interested in harnessing Hezbollah for a full-on confrontation whose fallout is hard to gauge.

The latest declarations and developments from all parties point in one direction: This year’s Memorial Day and Independence Day will take place in an atmosphere of notable tension concerning security matters, in light of the possibility that Iran will choose this opportunity for retaliation. If such a scenario does become reality, the results of the Iranian operation will be what dictate the nature of Israel’s response, too. A huge gap exists between a noncommittal volley of missiles into an open area and an intentional attempt to disrupt the Independence Day ceremonies.

Image showing Iran's Mehrabad International Airport with Iranian forces
Image showing Iran’s Mehrabad International Airport with Iranian forces

We must assume that the decision makers in Tehran are aware of the risks involved in a direct confrontation with Israel, given that Iranian personnel are quite exposed in Syria and Iran’s military presence is inadequate for waging a war – if they do not want to drag their resource-heavy project in in Lebanon into a war with Israel.

Still, the regular assessment, in which Israel has for years been only a two or three mutual mistakes away from a war in the north, seems truer than ever this week.

Israel conducted April 9 strike on Syrian airbase: NYT quotes Israeli military source — The Real Next War in Syria: Iran vs. Israel

April 16, 2018


JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel maintained its official silence on Monday over its possible involvement in an April 9 air strike on a Syrian airbase after the New York Times quoted an unnamed Israeli military source as saying Israel had carried out the raid.

Syria and its main ally Russia blamed Israel for the attack, near the city of Homs, which followed reports of a poison gas attack by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces on the rebel-held town of Douma.

Israel, which has often struck Syrian army locations during its neighbor’s seven-year civil war, has neither confirmed nor denied mounting the raid. But Israeli officials said the Tiyas air base was being used by troops from Iran and that Israel would not accept such a presence in Syria of its arch foe.

Iran’s Tansim news agency said seven Iranian military personnel had been killed in the attack, which contributed to a sharp escalation of tensions between the West and Russia.

 Image may contain: one or more people and car
Damage at the T4 base in Syria afer the israeli raid.

“(The Tiyas strike) was the first time we attacked live Iranian targets — both facilities and people,” New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman quoted the Israeli military source as saying.

Friedman described the seven Iranians killed as members of the Qods Force, a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps that oversees operations abroad, and one of them as a commander of a drone unit.

Asked about the claim of Israeli responsibility cited in the New York Times article, which was published on Sunday, an Israeli military spokeswoman said: “There is no comment at this time.”

While acknowledging that it has carried out scores of strikes in Syria against suspect Iranian deployments or arms transfers to Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, Israel generally does not comment on specific missions.

The attack on Tiyas came days before the United States, Britain and France launched 105 missiles targeting what Washington said were three chemical weapons facilities in Syria in retaliation for the suspected poison gas attack.

Assad has denied using chemical weapons.

Israeli soldiers taking part in a training session last week in the Golan Heights.CreditJalaa Marey/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Despite the Israeli source’s comment to the New York Times that the killing of Iranians at Tiyas was unprecedented for Israeli missions in Syria, a 2015 air strike there that Hezbollah blamed on Israel killed an Iranian general along with several of the Lebanese guerrillas.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones

See also:

The Real Next War in Syria: Iran vs. Israel


Our obsession with China says much about our parochial fears

June 1, 2015


China: Students review at No 1 Middle School in Gu’an county, North China’s Hebei province, on May 6, 2014. China’s annual national college entrance examination will be held in early June. (Photo / Xinhua)

By James Palmer
The Washington Post



Whenever I want to be cheered up about the future of my adopted country, I turn to American pundits. The air here might be deadly, the water undrinkable, the Internet patchy and the culture strangled, but I can always be reassured that China is beating America at something, whether it’s clean energy, high-speed rail, education or even the military.

Over the past decade, American audiences have become accustomed to lectures about China, like a schoolboy whose mother compares him with an overachieving classmate. “That used to be us,” Thomas Friedman writes, citing the “impressive” Tianjin Meijiang Convention and Exhibition Center (thrown up in a few months) as an example of China’s greatness and glacial U.S. construction projects as an example of America’s decline. China is “kicking our butts” because the United States is “a nation of wusses,” according to then-Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who in 2010 lamented his state’s inability to handle snow.

Rendell ignored the time snow paralyzed southern China in 2008, stranding millions of people, cutting off water supplies to major cities and killing dozens. Friedman ignored the buildings that collapsed like a soft pile of dofu across Sichuan in an earthquake that same year because they were rapidly erected by crooked contractors. I’m not talking here about arguments over China itself, like the dueling predictions of magical reform or sudden collapse so brilliantly dissected in James Mann’s “The China Fantasy,” or about the delusional fears of Chinese plots from analysts like Michael Pillsbury . The people telling these tales aren’t interested in complexities or, really, in China. They’re making domestic arguments and expressing parochial fears. Their China isn’t a real place but a rhetorical trope, less a genuine rival than a fairy-tale bogeyman.

For Chinese residents, daily life is a constant reminder of both how far the country has come and how far it has to go. One morning recently I went to the coffee shop at the end of my central Beijing alley for a superb latte, where the owner teasingly chastised me, as he has before, for paying with cash like some peasant rather than with my mobile phone through the WeChat Wallet service. That evening, I came home to one of our small compound’s regular power failures, and I wrote this in the dark on a laptop battery and a neighboring building’s thankfully unshielded WiFi signal. In heavy rain, our alley becomes a swimming pool, and even newly built Beijing streets disappear under a foot of water because the drainage is so bad; in storms in 2012, people drowned in cars stuck under bridges.

China’s mega-projects are often awesome, but they’re also often costly and corrupt. The more than 10,000 miles of recently built high-speed rail came in well over the original $300 billion budget, and all but a few lines run at a loss. The process of creating them was so crooked that the Ministry of Railways ended up broken into three parts and most of the top officials ended up in jail. It’s understandable why visitors, especially those who don’t stray beyond the metropolises, might be overwhelmed. What’s not forgivable is how rarely pundits try to look further, content with an initial vision of glittering skyscrapers and swish airports that can be conveniently shoehorned into whatever case they’re trying to make.

And because China is so vast, its successes can be attributed to whatever your pet cause is. Do you oppose free markets and privatization, like John Ross, former economic policy adviser for the city of London? Then China’s success is because of the role of the state. Do you favor free markets, like the libertarian Cato Institute? Then China’s success is because of its opening up. Are you an environmentalist?


China is working on huge green-energy projects. Are you an energy lobbyist? China’s building gigantic pipeline projects. Are you an enthusiast for the Protestant work ethic, like historian Niall Ferguson, who describes it as one of his “killer apps” for civilizations? Then credit China’s manufacturing boom to its 40 million Protestants — even though they’re less than 5 percent of its 1.3 billion people.

With a massively changing country, correlation and causation are easily confused. China’s boom years in the 2000s, for instance, correspond nicely with an explosion in the number of pet dogs; perhaps some canine enthusiast is even now explaining how this is evidence that Bo, not Barack, should be making policy.

There are fields, such as education, where China’s supposed achievements are almost pure illusion. Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) statistics, which show China topping the lists in reading, math and science, are often cited by Common Core advocates in the United States and by proponents of traditional teaching methods in Britain, such as former education minister Michael Gove. Yet these PISA statistics cover just an elite group of Shanghai schools, where entry depends on bribery and string-pulling. In the rest of the country, classes average 50 students, only a third of rural children make it to high school, and I’ve found innumeracy to be just as common as in the United States.

This takes about a half-hour of research to discover, or five minutes of conversation with anyone who went to an ordinary Chinese school. But the Western educators and politicians who fawn over China’s schools can’t be bothered with the realities of crumbling rural classrooms, students forced to bribe teachers to get a seat in front, or the mind-numbing “politics” classes that kids and adults alike sleep through. China is a lead-in anecdote to their arguments, not somewhere they’re actually interested in.

Purveying China fantasies in the service of your own vision isn’t new. Voltaire pioneered the technique 2 1 / 2 centuries ago, depicting a government of refined Confucian deists in counterpoint to the barbarities and superstitions of Europe. He took this portrayal from the missionary letters of his archenemies, the Jesuits, who themselves sought to triumph in theological argument by portraying China as moral, civilized and awaiting the Gospel. Yet the priests, working on the ground in Peking, had a greater interest in the tense and complicated political and intellectual rivalries of Qing China than the philosopher did; for him, reality was a far second to argument.

In Voltaire’s era, perhaps a few hundred Europeans had spent time in China, and the country was an arduous, months-long journey away. In the 1960s and 1970s, the few Westerners allowed into the country were almost inevitably fellow travelers with Maoism, led by the nose by guides who were trained to parrot the triumphs of socialism and who were happy to regurgitate the pap they had been fed to foreign audiences. Today there are tens of thousands of Americans in China, and millions of Chinese in the United States, but the level of nonsense seems to have only marginally diminished.

Finding China’s realities can be hard simply because lying is so common here, whether it’s fraudulent government data, false ambulances or tainted baby formula. The collapse of social trust as a result of decades of Maoism, followed by a get-rich-first ethos, has made honesty a rare quality. With no external controls from a free media or civil society, Potemkinism is an everyday skill across the country, whether directed at outside investors or official inspectors.
Some claims move from the exaggerated into the outright sinister. Take University of New Mexico professor Geoffrey Miller, who has written about the nation’s one-child-rule exceptions, which mostly benefit underdeveloped rural areas and ethnic minorities, not the elite. Miller claims that China is engaged in a long-term eugenics program to increase its national IQ, and that the United States must copy this or fall behind. No such program exists, although it’s true that China’s disability laws drew upon the language of early-20th-century eugenics as late as the 1990s before advocates campaigned for changes. Miller’s particularly ugly arguments mix a projected fantasy of Chinese super-babies with a dubious pro-eugenics agenda; in that way, they are not that different from the essential refrain of others: “China is beating us, and to succeed we must become like them.”

The damage done by such arguments goes beyond their individual cases. They reinforce the seductive, and false, notion of efficient authoritarianism. According to this vision, Washington dawdles because of special interests or democratic debate while Beijing, directed smoothly from the top, drives forward to the future.

Invisible in this is the massive role of vested interests in China and their ability to block or divert reform efforts, the contentions between local governments and the center, the authorities’ constant and fearful swinging between cracking down on and pandering to public opinion, and the intense and sometimes murderous politicking behind the scenes. Pandering to state power is exceptionally dangerous at a time when democratic states such as Turkey and Hungary increasingly turn toward Chinese- or Russian-inspired models of centralization and oppression.

In actuality, one of the great strengths of the Chinese system over the past 35 years has been cautious experimentation, from health-care reform to open markets, in a few villages; then, if successful, ramping projects up to the provincial level; then to a national scale. This is how private farming began in 1979. Some of China’s ambitious projects have been genuine successes, some abysmal failures, but most have the mixed and complicated legacies of any political scheme. If we praise Beijing for the wrong reasons, we miss the lessons it is actually trying to learn.

And when we treat China as a fantasyland of instruction for ourselves, we end up ignoring the Chinese. Like Voltaire’s mandarins or the happy peasants of Maoist propaganda, they cease to be real people and become perfect puppets deployed for rhetorical ends. The Chinese can be just as dumb, lazy and pig-headed as anyone else. They can also be just as smart, determined and empathic. They deserve better than to be reduced to examples.

Twitter: @BeijingPalmer

James Palmer is a writer in Beijing. His most recent book is “The Death of Mao.”

Obama’s Inaction On Syria: Defense of Democracy and Human Rights Not a “Core Interest” of the United States

April 20, 2015

By Fred Hiatt
The Washington Post

One of the most surprising of President Obama’s legacies may be the eclipse of “Never again” as an aspiration of U.S. foreign policy.

I don’t mean that Obama is the first president to stand by as atrocities unfold. He is not. Just as Obama has watched passively as Syria has unraveled, with hundreds of thousands killed and more than 11 million — half the nation — displaced, so President Bill Clinton did nothing to stop genocide in Rwanda, and President George W. Bush failed to stop the depredations in the Darfur region of Sudan.

But Clinton expressed remorse for his inaction in Rwanda. Americans in churches and synagogues demanded that Bush take steps to “save Darfur.” The political will was lacking, but there was at least a sense of unease, even shame, that the United States would stand aside as so many innocents were slaughtered.

Syria’s four-year-long descent into hell, amply foretold and arguably the most preventable of the three calamities, has prompted little such soul-searching.

Why the change?

It’s true that fewer people have died in Syria (220,000) than in Rwanda (upwards of 800,000), and over a longer time. But it is the most horrific humanitarian catastrophe of the past two decades, U.N. officials have said.

Valerie Amos, U.N. under-secretary general, wrote recently in The Post that ordinary Syrians “have been bombed out of their homes, tortured, abused and denied food, water and health care. Families have been torn apart. Communities have been destroyed. . . . During every visit I was asked the same thing: Why has the world abandoned us? Why does nobody care?”

The fashionable Washington answer to those questions today is that the world is doing nothing because nothing can be done. Muslims will kill Muslims, Sunni will hate Shia, and the civilized world must watch regretfully from the sidelines until the fever burns itself out.

This is always the argument for inaction. We heard it about Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda, and about Serbs and Croats in the Balkans.

And always the argument refutes itself. If these are such ancient and implacable hatreds, why were people not killing each other a few years back, and why are people in the Balkans no longer killing each other today? Political forces unleash hatreds, and political forces can — often with far greater difficulty — restrain them.

Obama has had multiple opportunities to take actions that might have prevented the crimes against humanity that continue today.

When Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad began waging war against what started as a peaceful movement for democracy, Obama could have authorized training for a moderate, multi-sectarian resistance. When Assad began dropping shrapnel-filled barrel bombs on apartment buildings full of children — the signature weapon of his war, as machetes were to the Rwandan genocide — Obama could have destroyed Assad’s helicopters or given the resistance the weapons to do so. He could have, with allies, offered air cover for a safe zone in northern Syria where people at least could find some refuge from Assad’s attacks.

At each turn, many people, including his own advisers, warned that a failure to act would allow extremists to extend their sway. Now the fulfillment of those warnings — the presence of extremists — provides one more pretext for inaction. Meanwhile more than 3 million children have been forced to leave their homes — a lost generation, most likely. “Some years from now the world will look back and ask why so many of us did so little,” former British premier Gordon Brown wrote recently.

No action available to Obama would have been risk-free or guaranteed to succeed. Almost by definition, these problems are difficult; that’s why Clinton and Bush also failed to act.



What’s different about Obama is his assertive defense of inaction. Shortly after his reelection, in an interview with the New Republic, he asked, “And how do I weigh tens of thousands who’ve been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?” Later in 2013, speaking to the United Nations, he defended U.S. reticence in Syria by asserting that defense of democracy and human rights was not a “core interest” of the United States — unlike, for example, ensuring “the free flow of energy.”

Some may welcome this dry-eyed realism; after all, what good did Clinton’s admission of fault do the Tutsis? Better that people know not to await a U.S. rescue that is never going to come.

Yet if preventing genocide and crimes against humanity is no longer even an American ideal, surely we will have given up something of value. Obama himself seems uncomfortable with the implications of his 2013 doctrine; just this month, he told Thomas Friedman of the New York Times that it is a “core interest” after all “that children are not having barrel bombs dropped on them, that massive displacements aren’t taking place.”

Maybe Obama’s successor will take those words to heart — and act on them.

Read more from Fred Hiatt’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

On September 12, 2014, President Obama told the nation and the world that his strategy in Yemen and Somalia had been successful for years. Sadly, that is not a true statement today.

Syrians reportedly killed by Chemical weapons. Photo from August 20, 2013

Some parts of Syria are totally in ruins.

Refugees from Syria

Syrian children killed by chemical weapons

Obama’s Iran Nuclear Deal Sparks Political Battle; His Supports Say “The Obama Doctrine” Deserves to Be Tested

April 6, 2015


President Obama must overcome skeptical Republicans as well as some Democrats in Congress

President Obama discussing the Iran nuclear framework Thursday.  
President Obama discussing the Iran nuclear framework Thursday. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
By Carol E. Lee
The Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama’s bet on a diplomatic agreement to deter Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon faces an immediate test at home, where he must overcome the politics of skeptical Republicans as well as some Democrats in Congress.

The political struggle—part of the most complex battle of Mr. Obama’s presidency—is already under way as the GOP-controlled Congress aggressively presses for a bigger role in reviewing the nuclear-framework agreement reached last week between Iran, the U.S. and five other nations.

Mr. Obama also must navigate the complicated leadership factions in the Middle East against the backdrop of the region’s increasing volatility. And he has to do all this amid a hotly contested presidential contest.

“The stakes are huge,” said Robert Einhorn, formerly one of the Obama administration’s top officials in negotiations with Iran. “It’s a major component not just of his foreign policy, but of his presidency. And it’s a major battle.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) said Sunday that Congress should play a larger role in reviewing any final nuclear pact with Iran, which negotiators aim to complete by the end of June. “It’s very important that Congress is in the middle of this,” Mr. Corker said on Fox.

Senate Republican leaders are planning an April 14 vote on legislation by Mr. Corker that would prevent the Obama administration from lifting sanctions on Iran for 60 days. The delay would allow Congress to review and potentially vote on a final Iran agreement, which envisions removing sanctions. The White House has threatened to veto the bill in its current form, saying it could derail negotiations.

Related Coverage

“I think Congress will require any deal negotiated with the Iranians to come to the Congress for our review before we lift congressional sanctions,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) on CBS, while adding that he supports giving negotiators time to put a final deal together by the June 30 deadline.

Mr. Corker said Sunday his legislation is close to having the 67 votes needed to override a presidential veto. Acknowledging the strength of bipartisan support for Mr. Corker’s bill, administration officials recently said Mr. Obama is open to compromise legislation that gives lawmakers more limited oversight of a deal.

“My hope is that we can find something that allows Congress to express itself but does not encroach on traditional presidential prerogatives—and ensures that, if in fact we get a good deal, that we can go ahead and implement it,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman on Sunday.

The White House has significantly intensified its outreach to lawmakers, in particular Mr. Corker, who said he has spoken to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz three times since the framework was announced. Top administration officials plan briefings for lawmakers on the framework. Mr. Moniz, one of the pact’s negotiators, said Sunday on CBS that under the agreement the U.S. will “have blocked all of these pathways to a bomb.”

That administration view was aggressively challenged again by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an ardent critic of the Iran talks. Mr. Netanyahu insisted Mr. Obama is cutting “a bad deal.”

“The real concerns in the region” are “that this will spark a nuclear arms race among the Sunni countries in the Middle East,” he said Sunday on ABC. “That’s a global danger.”

The framework, while more detailed than many observers had expected, leaves open some key questions, including the timing of sanctions relief for Iran, restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear research and development, and dealing with the military dimensions of its past nuclear work.

Mr. Netanyahu’s criticism drew a sharp rebuke from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who said he should tamp down his campaign to scuttle an Iran deal. “I wish he would contain himself,” the California senator said on CNN. “I don’t think it’s helpful.”

Mr. Netanyahu’s decision last month to deliver a speech to Congress at the invitation of Republican leaders and without signoff from the Obama administration—a talk in which he excoriated any Iran deal—has made relations with the White House toxic and angered some Democrats.

While Mr. Obama has confronted high-stakes challenges since taking office, including the U.S. economic crash, budget brinkmanship and a fight over his health-insurance law, he hasn’t faced the sort of global test diplomatic outreach to Iran presents.

In many ways no president has, experts say, given the confluence of potentially destabilizing factors at home and abroad and the global impact of the success or failure of the White House’s strategy.

“This is not just business as usual. This is something that’s broader and deeper in terms of the intensity of the disagreement in Washington and around the country,” said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former George W. Bush administration official. It is unfolding, he said, “at a moment when the Middle East is unraveling.”

The deal also risks fueling unrest in the Middle East. U.S. allies in the region, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia, are concerned a final deal would empower Iran.

Mr. Obama’s pursuit of the pact has strained traditional American alliances in the region. He had a lengthy phone conversation with Mr. Netanyahu after the deal was announced Thursday, a senior administration official said, and plans to convene a meeting this spring with leaders of Gulf nations at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.

“What he is going to want to do is to reassure them about the nuclear deal and try to discourage them from taking unilateral action that the U.S. believes would be counterproductive,” Mr. Haass said. “In Israel’s case that means to discourage them from a military strike; in Saudi Arabia’s case, it means to discourage them from buying a nuclear weapon from Pakistan.”

A number of senior Arab officials have warned the White House in recent months the Saudi government could seek Pakistan’s aid in developing nuclear technologies.

Mr. Obama has outlined the stakes in stark terms, saying failure of his diplomatic pursuit could plunge the U.S. into another Middle East war.

Critics of the Iran deal dispute that contention. “I believe there is a better deal. I don’t want a war,” Mr. Graham said.

Mr. Obama’s drive toward a final agreement with Iran is poised to overshadow the remainder of his time in office. Even if negotiators can complete a final agreement by the end of June, the implementation of its terms will drag well into 2016 and is likely to remain a key focus after Mr. Obama’s successor takes over in January 2017.

The president’s decision to spend the bulk of his second-term political capital on a dialogue between two nations that have been estranged for more than three decades underscores how personally important a nuclear pact is to him.

“Over the course of his presidency, other than the war in Afghanistan and terrorism, Iran is an issue that he’s spent more time on than any other issue,” a senior administration official said after the framework agreement was announced. “The first negotiation that he had on this started in 2009.”

— Andrew Ackerman contributed to this article.

Write to Carol E. Lee at

Corrections & Amplifications:
Richard Haass referred to an effort to discourage Saudi Arabia from potentially buying a nuclear weapon from Pakistan. An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Iran potentially buying a weapon. (April 5, 2015)


The Obama Doctrine and Iran

By Thomas Friedman

In September 1996, I visited Iran. One of my most enduring memories of that trip was that in my hotel lobby there was a sign above the door proclaiming “Down With USA.” But it wasn’t a banner or graffiti. It was tiled and plastered into the wall. I thought to myself: “Wow — that’s tiled in there! That won’t come out easily.” Nearly 20 years later, in the wake of a draft deal between the Obama administration and Iran, we have what may be the best chance to begin to pry that sign loose, to ease the U.S.-Iran cold/hot war that has roiled the region for 36 years. But it is a chance fraught with real risks to America, Israel and our Sunni Arab allies: that Iran could eventually become a nuclear-armed state.

President Obama invited me to the Oval Office Saturday afternoon to lay out exactly how he was trying to balance these risks and opportunities in the framework accord reached with Iran last week in Switzerland. What struck me most was what I’d call an “Obama doctrine” embedded in the president’s remarks. It emerged when I asked if there was a common denominator to his decisions to break free from longstanding United States policies isolating Burma, Cuba and now Iran. Obama said his view was that “engagement,” combined with meeting core strategic needs, could serve American interests vis-à-vis these three countries far better than endless sanctions and isolation. He added that America, with its overwhelming power, needs to have the self-confidence to take some calculated risks to open important new possibilities — like trying to forge a diplomatic deal with Iran that, while permitting it to keep some of its nuclear infrastructure, forestalls its ability to build a nuclear bomb for at least a decade, if not longer.

Read the rest and see video:



Fighting talk amid the shrinking of American might

May 31, 2014


President Barack Obama

Obama arrives for the commencement ceremony at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York

Obama at the commencement ceremony at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York Photo: REUTERS

Obama is seeking to scale back US global responsibilities without signalling a retreat

By Christopher Caldwell

It looked like Barack Obama might do something rash when he travelled to West Point, New York, on Wednesday to deliver the commencement address of the US Military Academy. Foreign policy thinkers in both parties have accused the president of being unwilling to provide US leadership in the world. They urge him to look to his “legacy” and to think big. The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recommended the Ukraine crisis as a “legacy opportunity” and even suggested a series of activist steps.

This is, alas, a typically American way of looking at history. The late historian Christopher Lasch marvelled in the early 1990s at the way Bill Clinton arrived in office “already obsessed with his ‘place in the history books’ . . . as if ‘history’ were just a kind of protracted version of the publicity industry, and you could reserve a room just by phoning ahead with a little advance hype”. Mr Obama does not need to bully anyone to secure a “legacy”. Changing US foreign policy after George W Bush’s two terms is the main thing he was elected to do. He has done it.

Mr Obama’s problem is different. When he says “America must always lead on the world stage”, there is no reason to doubt his sincerity. But such leadership comes at a price, and he is disinclined to pay it. He proposed bombing Syria at a point last year when Bashar al-Assad was alleged to have used chemical weapons but then abandoned the idea in the face of voter rage. He would rather gain a reputation for indecision than make a blunder. He cited a predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower: “War is mankind’s most tragic and stupid folly; to seek or advise its deliberate provocation is a black crime against all men.” Mr Obama’s feelings on the matter may explain the uncharacteristic gracelessness with which he sometimes criticises Mr Bush.

Whatever they think of Mr Obama more generally, Americans share his diffidence about using force. Last autumn, a majority told the Pew Center, for the first time since 1964, that their country ought to “mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own”. Today, the public is opposed to taking a “firm stand” against Russian mischief in Ukraine – only 29 per cent want that, according to a March poll by Pew.

Mr Obama is unpopular. His presidency is much diminished in recent months. But there was a lot of the old Mr Obama in his West Point speech, as he insisted that leadership and bellicosity are not synonyms. He has announced an end of the US Afghanistan mission by 2016 and sharp troop cuts by 2017. That would bring the size of the US army below 450,000 soldiers, the lowest since before the second world war. The goal of Wednesday’s speech was to arrive at a doctrine that would present this downscaling of responsibilities as something other than a retreat. Mr Obama did this by dividing US responsibilities into two kinds: national defence and “issues of global concern”, from counterterrorism to climate change. It is this second group of issues that really animated the president.

He is proposing that the US, through skilful use of international organisations, can exercise undiminished influence over the affairs of men, at diminished cost in blood and treasure

Mr Obama wants to convince Americans that the US can be confident when it acts through international institutions – including Nato, the UN, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and international courts – because it has shaped them. In turn, these institutions will give America a fairer shake if it becomes a better global citizen – if, for instance, it is “more transparent” about drone strikes. He used every rhetorical tool at his disposal to sell his new approach. He was by turns boastful (insisting the US is still what Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state, called “the indispensable nation”), patriotic (speaking of “my duty to you, and to the country we love”), politically correct (congratulating West Point on its “first all-female command team”) and idealistic (calling on America to act “on behalf of human dignity”).

The cadets in attendance appeared to be sitting on their hands. Mr Obama’s doctrine is squeamish. It will be uninspiring to martial minds. Where most presidents go to West Point to speak of sacrifice and honour, he promised the assembled warriors: “You will work as a team with diplomats and development experts. You will get to know allies and train partners.” International organisations can be very efficient redistributors of goods and power. Americans often distrust them for just that reason. But Mr Obama is not so far off the mark. He is proposing that the US, through skilful use of international organisations, can exercise undiminished influence over the affairs of men, at diminished cost in blood and treasure. It amounts to eating your cake and having it – an unrealistic foreign policy, and the very one Mr Obama’s voters have asked for.

The writer is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard