You’re Out of Your Element, Tommy

Tom Friedman “writes”: “Readers of this column know that I rarely write about nuclear proliferation.”

It shows.

People who know about proliferation would not write that “the solution [to proliferation] is so ridiculously obvious there isn’t much to say.”

[One could, however, anticipate such piffle from someone who “said”: the Iraq debacle was a justified response to terrorism because the US needed to “go right into the heart of the Arab world and smash something.”]

It’s great when a pundit evidently believes that we can dispense with careful study of states’ motives for going nuclear and rely on his back-of-the-envelope pseudo-analysis.

Tommy F has concluded that US can do nothing about Iran and North Korea because the policies need to be all-stick and Washington’s already whacked Tehran and Pyongyang as much as it can.

TF asserts:

bq. the real problem is that those parties with the leverage to make a diplomatic difference refuse to use it. (We have already largely isolated Iran and North Korea. There is nothing much more America can threaten, short of using force.)

Proliferation Expert has not, apparently, considered a key element of IR: discerning which combinations of incentives and disincentives shape other states’ behavior.

Of course, T-Fried doesn’t need to bother because the _Times_ will pay him to write this nonsense:

bq. North Korea’s nuclear program could be stopped tomorrow by the country that provides roughly half of North Korea’s energy and one-third of its food supplies – and that is China.
All China has to say to Kim Jong Il is: “You will shut down your nuclear weapons program and put all your reactors under international inspection, or we will turn off your lights, cut off your heat and put your whole country on a diet. Have we made ourselves clear?” … if China played hardball that way with North Korea, the proliferation threat from Pyongyang would be over.”


bq. If the European Union said to the Iranians: “You will shut down your nuclear weapons program and put all your reactors and related facilities under international inspection or you will face a total economic boycott from Europe. Which part of this sentence don’t you understand?”…that is the kind of explicit threat that would get Tehran’s attention.

One could list lots of reasons why Friedman is wrong (the Agreed Framework was largely successful, North Korea survived a serious famine, Iran has signaled a willingness to compromise with the EU3, Iran’s facilities are ALREADY under IAEA safeguards, etc.).

Perhaps, however, the most infuriating life-form on planet Friedman is the assumption that neither the Chinese nor the EU3 will compromise their own (presumed) selfish interests:

At the end of the day, the Chinese would rather live with a nuclear North Korea than risk a collapsed nonnuclear North Korea, and the Europeans would rather live with a nuclear Iran – that Europe can make all kinds of money off of – rather than risk losing Iran’s business to prevent it from going nuclear.


Are the Europeans and Chinese behaving cynically? Of course, these are the very countries constantly complaining about U.S. “hegemony,” and calling for a “multipolar world.” Yet the only thing they are really interested in being a pole for is to oppose the U.S. – not to actually do something hard themselves to stabilize the global system.

So the situation is hopeless because the EU and Chinese are too cynical to threaten the Iranian and North Korean economies. How sophisticated.

Just more evidence that those who supported the Iraq fiasco really need to STFU, stop lecturing the rest of us about foreign policy, sit in a corner, and think about what they did.

9 thoughts on “You’re Out of Your Element, Tommy

  1. Dan

    Well put (although I usually avoid denunciations of Tom Friedman unless they include a thorough mocking of his metaphors), but why is there a cat on the dude’s lap?

  2. Max Postman

    Furthermore, North Korea has said explicitly that they would consider economic sanctions to be an act of war. If Friedman had picked up a newspaper literally once in the last year and a half he might have known this. To quote the Guardian:

    “Giving its first response to an ultimatum issued on Monday by the International Atomic Energy Agency, a statement by the Korean Central News Agency said: ‘Sanctions mean a war and the war knows no mercy.&#8221

    That sure sounds like an explicit threat to use nuclear weapons to me. So, Friedman’s solution to the problem of nuclear proliferation is for a nuclear power (China) to deliberately provoke another nuclear power (North Korea) into a first strike.

    Thomas Friedman’s caveman politics have no place in a nuclear world.

  3. JLo

    Indeed. I’ve just reviewed this frame (I’m pretty sure it’s where the Jesus has just rolled and is eyeballing the Dude & Co.) and did not see a cat. Doesn’t matter whether you rented it shoes or bought it a beer. Is this a clever way of calling TF a nasty name?

    [I changed the photo. Mark it 8, Dude. ACW]

  4. Jeffrey Lewis

    Just to pile on old Flathead.

    “… put your whole country on a diet.”

    Wow, nothing is funnier than a child dying of hunger. That’s a fucking hoot, the thought of some kid slowly starving to death.

    A famine, by the way, is looking likely in any event in North Korea this year. North Korea is sending millions of people into the countryside to work on farms each weekend, prompting Anthea Webb, spokeswoman for the World Food Program, to say:

    Unless something happens very soon, by the end of August, the only people we’ll be feeding are 12,000 children in hospitals.


    Our people are beginning to be very concerned that this combination of factors in a worst-case scenario could put us back to a situation of the early ’90s. The potential for famine is quite strong.

    Boy, I’ll tell, there is nothing quite as funny as kids dying from famine! Pass the scotch, let me tell you the one about the Priest, the Pastor and the Rabbi who walk into a bar …

    What an asshole.

  5. Ben Alpers

    Max, why should Friedman pick up a newspaper when he could instead talk to yet another international businessman in yet another airport? They all have such fascinating things to tell him about global capitalism (and they’re all so suprisingly positive about it!).

  6. catherine

    If Indian and other non-European businessmen all stopped traveling on planes for, oh, say, the next month, would that keep Flathead from writing anything about globalization ever again?

    Oh, please say yes. How could we get them to do this?


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