I recently read an article by respected journalist and author Thomas L Friedman in which he advocates that the incoming Secretary of State break all the rules of diplomacy, leverage social networks and go direct to the people of foreign states, and have them agitate for change over the heads of their leaders. At first thought, this looked like a breakthrough idea; then I got nervous when I considered the consequences.
I have been a great fan of Mr. Friedman, reading most of his books and articles. I admire his travels through hostile regions of the world and his powers of observation. But our Tom tends to portray the world as flat, except in America. How much more of an incursion into the affairs of one’s neighbours would his proposed solution be? It conjures images of aircraft flying into foreign lands, dropping propaganda leaflets. Given the current open questions of whether drone attacks are acts of aggression on foreign soil, and whether waterboarding is torture, do we want to compound the situation by openly turning social media, which one could argue was invented in America, into a weapon of mass change in states that don’t share western ideology?
America took over a hundred years to go from the Wild West to a “civilized nation,” and one could argue that with its continuing need for “the right to bear arms” and the mass shootings that occur from time to time, whether it is still not out of its Wild West days. So why not give these other nations, many of whom have just emerged from their liberating “springs,” the time to find their way and evolve towards becoming “democratic” and “civilized,” and all the other labels we smugly plaster ourselves with? Providing free education to these nations on how democratic institutions work, explaining their pros and cons (for there are cons too, lest we forget), and then letting them decide, would be a better use of time and money than inciting the masses with the dropped leaflets strategy.
He goes on to propose how the Secretary could end nuclear proliferation, again using the sledgehammer approach, and I found that hypocritical. I was reminded of a club that says to new candidates, “You cannot enter our club, nor can you go out and form your own.” Why not disarm altogether, everyone, club members and non-members alike? And do it tomorrow. And let’s not forget who to-date has ever dropped a nuclear bomb(s) killing civilians; it reminds me of that truism that those who point a finger have four pointed back at them.
I don’t envy the new Secretary of State’s job. It’s a tough, demanding and often thankless job. But as America’s face abroad, the Secretary has the burden and the responsibility of being its ambassador of peace, the promoter of its values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It would indeed be demeaning of that office for the Secretary to be seen pursuing back-door end-runs on other heads of state, however flawed those heads may be. Perhaps it’s not this Secretary’s time to bring global peace, perhaps no one can, because humans, in America and abroad, are by nature aggressive, acquisitive and involved in the game of survival of the fittest, no matter how many trees we hug and how many hands we shake.
As for Tom, I will continue to read his articles for their out-of-the-box ideas, but I reserve the right to disagree with him when he proposes to walk us off the edge of his flattened world.