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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Thomas Friedman, "From Beirut to Washington": Comparing the Tea Party With Hezbollah

Are you haunted by the past? I am.

Thirty years ago, in October 1983, Iran ordered Hezbollah, its terrorist surrogate in Lebanon, to perpetrate a series of suicide bombings in Lebanon, including the Marines Barracks Bombing, which killed 241 US servicemen. In the Behesht Zahra Martyrs' Cemetery in Teheran, a monument was erected honoring the suicide bombers.

Me? I merely guided New York Times reporters to the sites of one of these bombings, where the victims, covered with blankets and flies, had already been lined up in neat rows.

Fast forward . . .

Perhaps you recall Thomas Friedman's 1989 book "From Beirut to Jerusalem," which won the 1989 National Book Award for nonfiction. Well, in a play on words, this would-be Middle East expert today magnanimously bestows upon us a New York Times op-ed entitled "From Beirut to Washington" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/20/opinion/sunday/from-beirut-to-washington.html), which compares Hezbollah, literally the "Party of Allah" or the "Party of God," with America's Tea Party. Friedman writes:

"The Tea Party is not a terrorist group. It has legitimate concerns about debt, jobs and Obamacare. But what was not legitimate was the line it crossed. Rather than persuading a majority of Americans that its policies were right, and winning elections to enact the changes it sought — the essence of our democratic system — the Tea Party threatened to undermine our nation’s credit rating if the Democrats would not agree to defund Obamacare. Had such strong-arm tactics worked, it would have meant that constitutionally enacted laws could be nullified if determined minorities opposed them. It would have meant Lebanon on the Potomac.

WHICH brings up one last parallel: Hezbollah started a war against Israel in 2006, without knowing how to end it. It didn’t matter whether it won or lost. All that mattered was that it 'resisted the Zionists.' Hezbollah’s tacit motto was: 'I resist, therefore I am.' Early in that 2006 war, Nasrallah boasted of Hezbollah’s 'strategic and historical victory,' by holding Israel to a draw. But, in the end, the Israeli Army dealt a devastating blow to Hezbollah’s neighborhoods and Lebanon’s infrastructure. After the smoke cleared, Nasrallah admitted that it was a mistake.

The Tea Party started this war on Obamacare with no chance of success and no idea how to end it — similarly intoxicated by a self-image of heroic 'resistance.' And just like Nasrallah, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas engaged in magical thinking, declaring that the House vote to defund Obamacare — although rejected by the Senate — was 'a remarkable victory.' But most of his Republican colleagues aren’t buying it. They see only ruin."

At least Friedman acknowledges that the Tea Party is "not a terrorist group" and "has legitimate concerns about debt, jobs and Obamacare," but the comparison with Hezbollah, an Iranian terror proxy, is still inapt.

I have little in the way of sympathy for the Tea Party, whose scorched-earth attempt to defund the US government was equivalent to unplugging a patient from life support. On the other hand, I also acknowledge that the US might well be terminally ill, and I am not alone in this diagnosis. As stated by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office in September with regard to America's financial future (http://www.cbo.gov/publication/44521) (my emphasis in red):

"Between 2009 and 2012, the federal government recorded the largest budget deficits relative to the size of the economy since 1946, causing federal debt to soar. Federal debt held by the public is now about 73 percent of the economy’s annual output, or gross domestic product (GDP). That percentage is higher than at any point in U.S. history except a brief period around World War II, and it is twice the percentage at the end of 2007. If current laws generally remained in place, federal debt held by the public would decline slightly relative to GDP over the next several years, CBO projects. After that, however, growing deficits would ultimately push debt back above its current high level. CBO projects that federal debt held by the public would reach 100 percent of GDP in 2038, 25 years from now, even without accounting for the harmful effects that growing debt would have on the economy . . . . Moreover, debt would be on an upward path relative to the size of the economy, a trend that could not be sustained indefinitely."

Or stated otherwise, the CBO is projecting a drawn-out, painful death.

Notwithstanding any PTSD - if you believe in it - that I may harbor, I remain a perpetual optimist and still believe in American exceptionalism and in the possibility an American economic renaissance. But with US national debt having just ticked over the $17 trillion mark, any sustained economic recovery will not be easy to orchestrate.

Compromise and reason will need to replace partisanship and arrogance, and more likely than not, this will not happen.

The 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, which Nasrallah, in a rare moment of candor, acknowledged was a "mistake," indeed "dealt a devastating blow to Hezbollah’s neighborhoods and Lebanon’s infrastructure." (I also witnessed this conflict from up-close.) But compare Hezbollah with the Tea Party?

When US national debt spirals over $20 trillion, and then $25 trillion, I fear that Ted Cruz will be back to tell us, "I told you so."

2 comments:

  1. Over the top, even for Tom Friedman!

    btw, it really should be TEA Party, because it is an acronym for Taxed Enough Already.

    And, they DID win the election for a majority in the House of Representatives in 2010, and held it in 2012.

    The Democratic Party demonizes the GOP, when American history is proof that divided government works better than one-party rule.

    This American President chased Iran's Rouhani for a fifteen minute phone call but this same American president refuses to spend fifteen seconds in serious negotiations with American citizens.

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  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06F4zWz6k5I
    I don't suppose Thomas Friedman twitted this video to any of his friends. It should be running in loop mode at the entrance to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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