Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Tom Friedman strikes again
Friedman takes a lot of abuse, partly because he manages to infuriate people on both sides of the political spectrum with his foreign policy commentary. But sometimes that abuse is justified, as in yesterday's NYT column. He writes:

For the life of me, I simply do not understand why President Bush is objecting to the European Union's selling arms to China, ending a 16-year embargo. I mean, what's the problem?

There is an obvious compromise that Mr. Bush could put on the table that would defuse this whole issue. Mr. Bush should simply say to France, Germany and their E.U. partners that America has absolutely no objection to Europeans' selling arms to China - on one condition: that they sell arms to themselves first. That's right, the U.S. should support the export to China of any defense system that the Europeans buy for their own armies first. Buy one, sell one.

But what the U.S. should not countenance is that at a time when the Europeans are spending peanuts on their own defense, making themselves into paper tigers and free riders on America for global policing, that they start exporting arms to a growing tiger - China.

And be home by 11, Europe, remember your curfew! First, I think it's pretty rich when an American foreign policy expert starts lecturing other countries about arms sales to despotic regimes. Friedman may wish to consult some elementary facts and figures about U.S. arms sales, a category in which we continue to lead the world. Many of our arms sales go to such bastions of freedom and democracy as Egypt, the U.A.E., and Saudi Arabia. But maybe I'm being unfair to Friedman. After, all, he seems not to object to the arms sales per se, but rather the E.U.'s refusal to demand democratization in return:

Indeed, what is really sad about the European arms sale proposal to China is that the E.U. doesn't seem to be demanding any political price, even the slightest change in behavior, from Beijing in return, except some vague "code of conduct." Sure. Ask the software industry about Chinese promises not to pirate technology.

I'm sure Tom's next column will be about all the reforms the U.S. has extracted from Saudi Arabia in return for arms sales. Or wait, maybe it isn't the reforms -- those sales are upsetting the regional balance of power, which is good because when power is balanced China serves as a force for stability:

I believe China is largely a force for stability in Asia, not instability. But one reason for that is that the U.S. has countered any other impulses from Beijing by maintaining a stable balance of power among China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan - a balance that has helped the entire region prosper. The sale of advanced European weapons to China can only weaken that balance.

Of course, the U.S. has sent $17 billion in weapons to Taiwan since 1980, but we are the only ones authorized to determine what level of arms sales constitutes a stable balance of power. And Chinese arms purchases couldn't have anything to do with responding to the U.S. arming of Taiwan. Right?

Friedman concludes with some boilerplate stuff about how the U.S. is the man and the E.U. is the woman, and how the E.U. can't get it up (airlifts, of course!). He must have fallen asleep the night before with that Robert Kagan book in his lap or something. The idea that the democratic people of European do not need or desire a military as enormous and overweening as America's probably did not occur to him. The Europeans, you may recall, had themselves a bit of trouble last century with huge armies and power projection capabilities. You may forgive them if they don't feel the need to engage in an arms race to counter some non-threat from Iran or the theoretical rise of China 40 years in the future.

ADDENDUM: I do think the Europeans need to develop transport capacity, if only to contribute their fair share to the world's policing operations. I just don't think they need to get hectored by U.S. commentators for not spending as much as we do.


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