New York Times plays favorites with its evil autocrats
In his latest column on the Ukraine war, the New York Times's Thomas Friedman writes that when the leader of a superpower is a "war criminal," as Vladimir Putin is, "the world as we've known it is profoundly changed. Nothing can work the same." This is the same Thomas Friedman who not that long ago called Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders "reasonably enlightened" autocrats who are capable of imposing "politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century."
I suppose there is a semantic difference between a "war criminal" and what former Trump adviser Steve Bannon rightly calls the CCP — a transnational criminal organization — but there is no moral difference. Friedman writes that the United States should treat Putin as a "pariah," but he does not say that about China. In fact, in one recent column, Friedman speculated that China may be able to exert pressure on Putin to end the Ukraine war. China shows no signs of doing that or of being the enlightened autocrats of Friedman's dreams.
Friedman calls for implementing policies — supplying Ukraine with the "best weaponry and training," ending our "addiction to oil" (instead of ramping up our own oil and gas production), and broadcasting that "the world is at war 'with Putin' and 'not with the Russian people.'" These three policies, Friedman hopes, will "set in motion forces inside Russia that topple Putin from power." He suggests that perhaps the Russian armed forces will turn on Putin if the war goes bad in Ukraine.
There are no similar calls from Friedman to implement policies designed to topple President Xi Jinping from power. Perhaps Friedman considers Xi one of those CCP enlightened autocrats. Friedman certainly does not consider Xi a "war criminal" because China is for the time being at war only with its own people, especially Uyghurs and Tibetans. Chinese leaders, unlike Putin, are not bombing and murdering civilians of another country — yet. They have forcibly cracked down on freedoms in Hong Kong and repeatedly threatened Taiwan. And they are, by most accounts, committing genocide against the Muslim Uyghurs.
The title of Friedman's column is "How Do We Deal With a Superpower Led by a War Criminal?" And the answer is, just as we have done before, according to our geopolitical interests. In World War II, we sided with Joseph Stalin, whose war crimes exceeded exponentially anything that Putin has done in Ukraine. And during the latter phase of the Cold War, we sided with Mao Zedong, who was an even greater killer than Stalin. We could "co-exist" with those war criminals but, apparently, we shouldn't do so with Putin.
Perhaps it is important to co-exist with both Eurasian nuclear powers, just as we did during the Cold War. It's not morally satisfying, but in the real world, as opposed to the abstract visions of enlightened columnists secure at their desks in New York, morality should not be the basis of our foreign policy.
Friedman's column is noticeably lacking in any concrete strategic rationale for risking a wider European war over Ukraine, except for the claim that Putin's aggression has "shattered" the post–Cold War global order. His rationale is mostly moral, but as we have seen, that moral posturing is at best selective. Russia's aggression in Ukraine has not altered the global balance of power. In fact, Friedman writes that Putin's actions have strengthened NATO's solidarity and reinvigorated the Western military alliance. If NATO is stronger and more resilient because of Putin's invasion, how has the post-Cold War global order been "shattered"?
Russia's invasion of Ukraine, as bad and evil as it is, has not profoundly changed the world such that nothing can work the same, as Friedman claims. He is an example of the modern progressive — like Barack Obama, who ridiculed Russia's invasion of Crimea as an antiquated 19th-century move — who thinks human nature and "mankind" are evolving toward some version of Immanuel Kant's perpetual peace. Unfortunately, it is not so.
Image via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.