Fat Steve's Blatherings

Friday, February 11, 2005

Rationality Deficit Disorder

      You've heard of Attention Deficit Disorder, which keeps kids from concentrating on what they are doing for more than a few minutes.  There's a parallel phenomenon in adults, Rationality Deficit Disorder.  It limits your ability to think straight to a few minutes or sentences.

      Perhaps the most prominent victim of RDD is Thomas Friedman of the New York Times.  Consider his latest column as an example.

      He starts by talking about Democratic disparagement of the Iraq elections.  Then he says:
But those who suggest that the Iraqi election is just beanbag, and that all we are doing is making the war on terrorism worse as a result of Iraq, are speaking nonsense.

Here's the truth: There is no single action we could undertake anywhere in the world to reduce the threat of terrorism that would have a bigger impact today than a decent outcome in Iraq. It is that important.
      Excellent thinking.  But he promptly blows it.  The next sentence is:
And precisely because it is so important, it should not be left to Donald Rumsfeld.

      Friedman struggles back to rationality for a moment:
if Iraqis can't forge a social contract, it would suggest that no other Arab country can - since virtually all of them are similar mixtures of tribes, ethnicities and religions. That would mean that they can be ruled only by iron-fisted kings or dictators, with all the negatives that flow from that.

But - but - if Iraqis succeed in forging a social contract in the hardest place of all, it means that democracy is actually possible anywhere in the Arab world.
      Correct, but then Friedman goes on to say:
Democrats do not favor using military force against Iran's nuclear program or to compel regime change there. That is probably wise. But they don't really have a diplomatic option. I've got one: Iraq. Iraq is our Iran policy.

If we can help produce a representative government in Iraq - based on free and fair elections and with a Shiite leadership that accepts minority rights and limits on clerical involvement in politics - it will exert great pressure on the ayatollah-dictators running Iran. In Iran's sham "Islamic democracy," only the mullahs decide who can run. Over time, Iranian Shiites will demand to know why they can't have the same freedoms as their Iraqi cousins right next door. That will drive change in Iran. Just be patient.
      Sure, right, they fund terrorists, they kill 'infidels,' they're going for atomic bombs, but if some of the population gets restless, they'll fold like a cheap tent, allow elections, and stand aside when they lose.

      It gets worse.  Friedman writes:
Palestinian suicide bombing has stopped not because of the Israeli fence or because Palestinians are no longer "desperate." It has stopped because the Palestinians had an election, and a majority voted to get behind a diplomatic approach. They told the violent minority that suicide bombing - for now - is shameful.
      Sure, that's why the bombings went down while Arafat was still breathing.

      The last few sentences show Friedman struggling to think, and sometimes making it:
What Arabs and Muslims say about their terrorists is the only thing that will protect us in the long run. It takes a village, and the Iraqi election was the Iraqi village telling the violent minority that what it is doing is shameful. The fascist minority in Iraq is virulent, and some jihadists will stop at nothing. But the way you begin to drain the swamps of terrorism is when you create a democratic context for those with good ideas to denounce those with bad ones.

Egypt and Syrian-occupied Lebanon both have elections this year. Watch how the progressives and those demanding representative government are empowered in their struggle against the one-man rulers in Egypt and Syria - if the Iraqi experiment succeeds.

We have paid a huge price in Iraq. I want to get out as soon as we can. But trying to finish the job there, as long as we have real partners, is really important - and any party that says otherwise will become unimportant.
      Friedman's right that in the long run, turning the Muslim world against the pretend "Holy Warriors" is the big necessity.  But it won't be "ideas" that suppress the jihadis, it will be bullets, just as with any group of thugs.  The democrats in Egypt and Lebanon will probably be encouraged by the Iraqis, but the dictators oppressing them may have to be taken out by force.  Finally, getting out of Iraq "as soon as we can," and making whether we do the job of nurturing democracy dependent on whether we have "real partners" is just idiotic.

      I hope psychiatrists develop a treatment for RDD soon.  It's horrible to watch people in Friedman's condition make fools of themselves like this.



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