Sunday, June 08, 2008

Wherein chuckling analyzes the geopolitical implications of technical innovation and diplomatic dialogue

Thomas Friedman writes another jaw-dropingly stupid and destructive article in today’s New York Times, apparently to shore up support for some kind of bombing or invasion of Iran, or at least shore up support for McCain and his party's ridiculous stance against diplomacy.

He reports that Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made another prediction that Israel is destined to be a failed state. In response, Friedman argues that Israel will endure no matter how badly it is governed because of the industriousness of its people and their dedication to technological innovation. All fine and good. Hopefully, the people of Israel can find a way to good government and economic well-being at the same time. One hopes they are not mutually exclusive.

But Friedman goes on to diss technical innovation in Iran, arguing that they have bet the farm on oil and have no interest in developing their own technology.

Boaz Golany, who heads engineering at the Technion, Israel’s M.I.T., told me: “In the last eight months, we have had delegations from I.B.M., General Motors, Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart visiting our campus. They are all looking to develop R & D centers in Israel.”

Ahmadinejad professes not to care about such things. He was — to put it in American baseball terms — born on third base and thinks he hit a triple. Because oil prices have gone up to nearly $140 a barrel, he feels relaxed predicting that Israel will disappear, while Iran maintains a welfare state — with more than 10 percent unemployment.

Iran has invented nothing of importance since the Islamic Revolution, which is a shame. Historically, Iranians have been a dynamic and inventive people — one only need look at the richness of Persian civilization to see that. But the Islamic regime there today does not trust its people and will not empower them as individuals.

That’s strange, I thought. I could have sworn I had recently read something about Iran’s determination to be technological self-sufficient and the successes they were reaping in that area . Sure enough, just three days ago the Washington Post ran a big article on that very subject.
Iran's determination to develop what it says is a nuclear energy program is part of a broader effort to promote technological self-sufficiency and to see Iran recognized as one of the world's most advanced nations. The country's leaders, who three decades ago wrested the government away from a ruler they saw as overly dependent on the West, invest heavily in scientific and industrial achievement, but critics say government backing is sometimes erratic, leaving Iran's technological promise unfulfilled.

Still, Iranian scientists claim breakthroughs in nanotechnology, biological researchers are pushing the boundaries of stem cell research and the country's car industry produces more cars than anywhere else in the region.

"Iran wants to join the group of countries that want to know about the biggest things, like space," Richter said to the students during his speech at Sharif University, which draws many of the country's best students. Every year, 1.5 million young Iranians take a national university entrance exam, or "concours." Of the 500,000 who pass and are entitled to free higher education, only the top 800 can attend Sharif, considered Iran's MIT.

At Sharif, students work in fields including aerospace and nanotechnology. While some end up advancing Iran's nuclear program or finding work in other technological fields in Iran, many, especially PhD candidates, are lured by employers or universities in Australia, Canada and the United States.

"Our visitors are flabbergasted when they come to our modern laboratories and see women PhD students. Often they had a completely different image of Iran, not as an academic country," said Abdolhassan Vafai, a professor at Sharif. "Here, we educate our students to solve problems that affect all humanity, like hunger, global warming and water shortages."

Maybe Friedman doesn’t read his hometown paper? More likely, he is just doing his part as an establishment propagandist.

I think we should view Friedman's propaganda (or stupidity, whatever) in the context of Senator Obama’s challenge to the establishment regarding the improvement of diplomatic relations with Iran, if not cover for Bush to have one last fling with mass murder before he scurries off the national stage.

In order to get a people to oppose diplomacy and support unprovoked mass murder, it’s necessary to dehumanize the enemy. Talks, diplomatic relations, those kinds of things have the opposite effect. Those who want war are right to oppose them.

The question we need to ask ourselves, and then our leaders, is "Why is Iran our Enemy?" It's a question I've never seen asked in the mainstream press, much less answered.

Are they really a threat? We spend 40 times more on the military than they do. As has been mentioned, we can obliterate them any time we want.

Are we a threat to them? In the past 60 years or so we have overthrown their democracy, set up a brutal dictator and supported Sadaam Hussein's invasion of their country which resulted in the deaths of between 500,000 and 1 million, including more than 100,000 by poison gas. And now we openly discuss the liklihood of bombing, even obliterating them. You wonder why they're building rockets?

Do we just want to control their oil? That's always a part of the equation, but it's no doubt a more complicated equation. Could it be that the real threat we see is that, as Friedman notes, Iranians have historically been a dynamic and inventive people and that they are capable of being technologically self-sufficient, even leading edge? Do we just want to keep them down technologically and economically? Just another oil state with a corrupt monarchy ruling a motley population of camel herders? Is that really in our best interests?

History shows again and again that stupid brutal regimes eventually collapse under the weight of their corruption and incompetence. Time tells us that unless these are expansionist regimes wantonly invading their neighbors, it's more effective to maintain a dialogue and wait them out than it is to give them an enemy to rally against.

These history lessons are not secret. We need to question why our establishment ignores them. It's all too easy predicting that if we bomb those 500,000 students and their shiny new universities bombed to smithereens, the survivors will turn their attention from discovering medical advances to discovering means of effective retaliation.

Update: I see David Ignatius at the Post parrots the anti-Obama and/or pro war talking points this morning as well.