The first decade of the 21st century was the worst in American history: Did you know that?
That’s what Thomas Friedman of the New York Times told a packed, applauding worshipful audience at the annual Aspen Festival of Ideas in Colorado in late June.
Well – the past decade was certainly no great shakes – ongoing low level wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 3,000 innocent Americans killed on 9/11 and a very bad but least not terminal Wall Street meltdown in September 2008, which some of us, myself included – but not Friedman – were predicting on the basis of George W. Bush’s zero interest rates policies as early as 2001.
But the WORST decade in American history? Really?
Was it worse than the 1860s which saw 650,000 Americans killed on both sides in the Civil War – the proportional equivalent of 6.5 million dying in war in five years?
Was it worse than the 1950s when millions of terrified American children were drilled in hiding under their school desks as a supposed protection against thermonuclear war? And when the Soviet Union beat us to developing the intercontinental ballistic missile and repeatedly beat us in the Space Race, while its leader Nikita Khrushchev repeatedly boasted how communism was going to bury us?
The death tolls in Iraq and Afghanistan are heartbreaking and ongoing, but 10 times that number of Americans died in Vietnam alone.
Did America’s cities explode in race riots as they did under liberal Democrats Woodrow Wilson in 1919 and Lyndon Johnson in 1968? Did anyone try and turn the clock back on the admirable Civil Rights achievements of the 1960s? Must have missed that one.
Were mass graves dug in New York City’s Central Park over the past decade for the thousands of victims of cholera or other epidemics as had to be done in the 1850s? Guess not. But then, I wasn’t at Aspen so I didn’t drink the Kool-Aid.
Friedman, smooth, sleek and defeatist as ever was certainly right that America’s leadership is slipping in the world. But did he advocate any of the policies that could still dramatically reverse that trend?
He didn’t say a word about the pressing need to revive and expand Ballistic Missile Defense, even though the Obama administration -- to not a whimper of criticism from him -- scrapped the plans it inherited to build an ABM interceptor base in Poland with its guiding radars located next door in the Czech Republic. As a result, the inhabitants of New York City, the most avid consumers of Friedman’s empty pontifications, are at any time within 33 minutes of carbonized incineration by any ICBMs that Iran, or other potential attackers might fire at it across the Atlantic.
He didn’t say a word about the fact that Vice President Al Gore exposed the pulsing heart of American innovation to the world back in the 1990s by forcing the US Patent Office to put so much of the submission details it receives online and publicly accessible. Since then, China above all, but other nations too, have been free to plunder all our innovation at will and steal it from us. (Did you really think cap and trade was the only ruinous stupidity Gore inflicted on this country?)
Friedman in fact has never addressed this most crucial issue of National Defense of U.S. Intellectual Property Rights. Is that because the Chinese are paying him off? Of course not. He’s simply too ignorant and lazy to ever have realized it was going on.
And, of course, he didn’t say a word about the need to revive and protect the value-added manufacturing industries of the United States that have been gutted by China’s genuinely wise and longsighted protectionist policies.
I believe – far more than Friedman there is a lot the United States can and should learn from China – but scrapping our obsolescent ( (according to him) two party system is not part of it. And all the things we should learn from China are things he doesn’t know and never advocates anyway.
Instead, Friedman called for a new, thoughtful, moderate and sensible (round up the usual clichés) centrist party to be led in the 2012 elections by Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York City.
Republicans at least should applaud this particular eruption of Freidman’s Follies: If such a candidacy was launched, it would gut the Obama Democrats and do to them what H. Ross Perot’ candidacy in 1992 did to then-incumbent President George Herbert Walker Bush. Republicans of every strike should eagerly applaud this Friedman Big Idea and start practicing in playing “Hail to the Chief” to President Mitt Romney and Vice President Michelle Bachmann.
In fact, the signs of American Revival and the resources and potential for recovery are all over the place – Though neither President Obama nor Friedman had anything to do with any of them.
The New York Times has sneered at the Fracking Revolution which allows the cost-effective extraction of enough methane natural gas reserves from the clay shale formations of North America to power the electrical generating capacities of this nation and Canada for the next couple of centuries.
Neither the NYT nor Friedman, it’s pampered star, has drawn any significant conclusions from the fact that the US balance of payments annual trade deficit with the rest of the world has fallen by 33 percent -- a quarter of a trillion dollars – in the last five years – Coincidentally this happened when the dollar weakened, but not too much, thereby cushioning American manufacturing and other business from China’s artificially fixed undervalued exchange rates.
Thomas Friedman teaches that the rise of the rest of the world is “flat” and benign, and that American decline is inevitable, unless we follow the autocratic model of China – a nation that lost more than 150 million people murdered in endless internal conflicts over the past century and whose future political stability remains highly problematical.
Bu the threat of American decline, while real, is no at all inevitable. The potential for American revival exists: But if you went to Aspen to listen to gaze at Friedman with starry eyes and drink his usual Kool Aid, you’d never know that.
Martin Sieff is former Managing Editor, International Affairs of United Press International. He is the author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East.”