(Image credit: FrontPage Mag)
If the Middle East is a region we can neither fix nor ignore, what’s left? I’m for “containment” and “amplification.”
– Tom Friedman, NYTimes
Earlier this month, Tom Friedman solved the problem of the world being ‘fast’ through cushioning, exploiting and adapting. In another neatly crafted, 800 word essay this week, Friedman has turned his attention (again) to solving the problem of the Middle East. How does Friedman go about solving this problem? Firstly, with a rather candid moment of reflection. After supporting virtually every single one of the military interventions he now admits were a disaster, Friedman appears to have reached a zen like state of wisdom where he now accepts that he knows he cannot know. He writes:
Maybe the beginning of wisdom is admitting that we don’t know what we’re doing out here and, more important, we don’t have the will to invest overwhelming force for the time it would take to reshape any of these places — and, even if we did, it is not clear it would work.
Now that Friedman has made it clear that he doesn’t know what he is doing, he wants you to know that he does actually know what he is doing – kind of like ‘knowing without knowing’, or something. Here’s how Friedman would do it, using the bold concepts of “containment” and “amplification”:
How so? Where there is disorder — Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya — collaborate with regional forces to contain it, which is basically what we’re doing today. I just hope we don’t get in more deeply. Where there is imposed order — Egypt, Algeria — work quietly with the government to try to make that order more decent, just, inclusive and legitimate. Where there is already order and decency — Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon, Kurdistan and the United Arab Emirates — do everything to amplify it, so it becomes more consensual and sustainable. And where there is order, decency and democracy — Tunisia — give it as much money as they ask for, (which we haven’t done).
But never forget: We can only amplify what they do. When change starts or depends on our staying power, it is not self-sustaining — the most important value in international relations. When it starts with them, it can be self-sustaining.
If you are slightly confused by all of this, fear not. We just have to follow Friedman’s own journey to enlightenment. It goes as follows: Decide you know how to fix the problems in the Middle East. Write lots of columns to help drum up public support for military interventions. Decide you don’t really know how to fix the problems in the Middle East after it all goes wrong, but use bizarre metaphors about midwives and hot yoghurt to obscure what you first said. Then decide that you do actually know how to solve the problems in the Middle East, and prescribe more military interventionism as a solution. When this goes wrong, accept that you really don’t know what you are talking about, but do know how to fix the problems you didn’t really understand in the first place. Most importantly, use very vague concepts when offering solutions to ensure you can’t really be wrong. Management problems? Deliverables and competency. The environment? Boldness and innovation. The Middle East? Containment and amplification.
Problem fucking solved.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.