Tom Friedman at the Opera House
I don’t respect a US commentator more than this bloke. He levitates above the melodrama of presidential campaigns and White House gossip to write about globalization, the environmental wreckage of climate change, US competitiveness and technology, all of which he relates to malfunctioning American politics. He hits the carbon lobby and argues that America should go for energy independence as the best response to terrorism.
He said last night that America wasted time chasing Al Qaeda. Instead it should have responded to September 11 by nation-building at home, especially by building energy independence – that is, to deny the Saudis the oil revenue with which its princes subsidize Salafist Islam.
Friedman has an intimate knowledge of the Middle East so much so that he sounds disinclined to waste any more time on it. He is critical of the Palestinian leadership and of the Netanyahu government. He says that all the region’s Arab leaders are “dead men walking”. But he warns the Arab Spring may have come too late – the societies have been left without the tools they need to make the transitions.
His forthcoming book will barely mention China. “Our problem is not China. Our solution is not China.”
He says of China, “A country that censors Google is not setting itself up for a creative future.”
He rejects some of the simplistic pro-Chinese enthusiasms: “If supercomputers and bullet trains were the arbiters then Japan would be leading the world economy.”
He indicted the excessive partisanship in Washington. He says it is caused by the gerrymander of Congressional boundaries which rewards both parties with more safe seats than can be justified. The politicians end up, as a result, appealing to their hardcore base supporters more than to the centre. The rhetoric gets more extreme. As it does on TV where 24 hour cable news, strengthened by the O J Simpson trial, recruits extreme, hotheaded loudmouths to keep news entertaining. American politics becomes sports.
America, says Friedman, needs politicians who will cut, tax and invest.
On climate change Friedman said, in response to deniers, that if we do everything – and the climate does not change – so? We will have clean air, clean water and super-competitive industry. In the meantime we will have sensibly taken out the necessary insurance.