Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Biblical Seven Years

August 27, 2008
NY Times
A Biblical Seven Years


After attending the spectacular closing ceremony at the Beijing Olympics and feeling the vibrations from hundreds of Chinese drummers pulsating in my own chest, I was tempted to conclude two things: “Holy mackerel, the energy coming out of this country is unrivaled.” And, two: “We are so cooked. Start teaching your kids Mandarin.”

However, I’ve learned over the years not to over-interpret any two-week event. Olympics don’t change history. They are mere snapshots — a country posing in its Sunday bests for all the world too see. But, as snapshots go, the one China presented through the Olympics was enormously powerful — and it’s one that Americans need to reflect upon this election season.

China did not build the magnificent $43 billion infrastructure for these games, or put on the unparalleled opening and closing ceremonies, simply by the dumb luck of discovering oil. No, it was the culmination of seven years of national investment, planning, concentrated state power, national mobilization and hard work.

Seven years ... Seven years ... Oh, that’s right. China was awarded these Olympic Games on July 13, 2001 — just two months before 9/11.

As I sat in my seat at the Bird’s Nest, watching thousands of Chinese dancers, drummers, singers and acrobats on stilts perform their magic at the closing ceremony, I couldn’t help but reflect on how China and America have spent the last seven years: China has been preparing for the Olympics; we’ve been preparing for Al Qaeda. They’ve been building better stadiums, subways, airports, roads and parks. And we’ve been building better metal detectors, armored Humvees and pilotless drones.

The difference is starting to show. Just compare arriving at La Guardia’s dumpy terminal in New York City and driving through the crumbling infrastructure into Manhattan with arriving at Shanghai’s sleek airport and taking the 220-mile-per-hour magnetic levitation train, which uses electromagnetic propulsion instead of steel wheels and tracks, to get to town in a blink.

Then ask yourself: Who is living in the third world country?

Yes, if you drive an hour out of Beijing, you meet the vast dirt-poor third world of China. But here’s what’s new: The rich parts of China, the modern parts of Beijing or Shanghai or Dalian, are now more state of the art than rich America. The buildings are architecturally more interesting, the wireless networks more sophisticated, the roads and trains more efficient and nicer. And, I repeat, they did not get all this by discovering oil. They got it by digging inside themselves.

I realize the differences: We were attacked on 9/11; they were not. We have real enemies; theirs are small and mostly domestic. We had to respond to 9/11 at least by eliminating the Al Qaeda base in Afghanistan and investing in tighter homeland security. They could avoid foreign entanglements. Trying to build democracy in Iraq, though, which I supported, was a war of choice and is unlikely to ever produce anything equal to its huge price tag.

But the first rule of holes is that when you’re in one, stop digging. When you see how much modern infrastructure has been built in China since 2001, under the banner of the Olympics, and you see how much infrastructure has been postponed in America since 2001, under the banner of the war on terrorism, it’s clear that the next seven years need to be devoted to nation-building in America.

We need to finish our business in Iraq and Afghanistan as quickly as possible, which is why it is a travesty that the Iraqi Parliament has gone on vacation while 130,000 U.S. troops are standing guard. We can no longer afford to postpone our nation-building while Iraqis squabble over whether to do theirs.

A lot of people are now advising Barack Obama to get dirty with John McCain. Sure, fight fire with fire. That’s necessary, but it is not sufficient.

Obama got this far because many voters projected onto him that he could be the leader of an American renewal. They know we need nation-building at home now — not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in Georgia, but in America. Obama cannot lose that theme.

He cannot let Republicans make this election about who is tough enough to stand up to Russia or bin Laden. It has to be about who is strong enough, focused enough, creative enough and unifying enough to get Americans to rebuild America. The next president can have all the foreign affairs experience in the world, but it will be useless, utterly useless, if we, as a country, are weak.

Obama is more right than he knows when he proclaims that this is “our” moment, this is “our” time. But it is our time to get back to work on the only home we have, our time for nation-building in America. I never want to tell my girls — and I’m sure Obama feels the same about his — that they have to go to China to see the future.


Anonymous said...

Allan, and Friedmann,

Granted, under a President Osama Obama, there would be lots of new infrastructure building after the Islamic terrorists take down the largest US cities with a simultaneous detonation of portable nuclear devices. Obama's refusal to defend us from Bin Laden et al would greatly increase the likelihood of such a scenario.

Jeff P

Anonymous said...

Allan, Allan....

Here you go getting into politics again. I think you just like to stir things up sometimes!

I agree with first part of article, but doubt either Obama or McCain is going to restore America's pre-eminence.

Anonymous said...

It's scary that there are so many people out there that think like Jeff P. That's why we're in the mess we're in.

Violence begets violence and the cycle continues.

Thank God we had a leader like George Bush to defend us from Bin Laden by attacking... um.... a regime that had absolutely nothing to do with al Queda. Yeah, that was a real winner.

Anonymous said...

From Investor's Business Daily:

Anonymous said...

Holy cow, who are you people? Do us all a favor, watch the debates. Get educated, from multiple sources. Watch the conventions and get to know your candidates and their positions. Then decide. It's your country. Your children's future.

Anonymous said...

McCain is an old man, a war horse, and another Republican joke of a candidate. This decades' Bob Dole.

Who cares that 12 century ago he did his job poorly enough that he got captured and put in a POW camp? It is irrelevant.

Are you better off after 8 years of George Bush- NO. He is the Republicans' "Jimmy Carter" X 5.

We need to drop the fear mongering and get working on America's problems. Clinton did some of that, oh and by the way, the stock market boomed under him.

Oh, yeah, and I WAS a life-long Republican. The party has turned into one big embarrassment.

Anonymous said...

What got us in this situation, yes I'm speaking of the war on terror. Lets take a journey back to memory lane...forgive me for forgetting the exact dates, here we go: Saddah invades Kuwait, who stepped in, US lead by GB Sr. it was down hill from there, its when there was Al Qaeda started bringing to US soil. Why did the US go to rescue Kuwait? Simple answer "OIL". It was the van with explosives in New York, I believe it was the Twin Towers that was pretty much the first attack.

Fast forward, GB Jr. comes into power, and continues his dad's legacy of fighting the fight in the middle east because this time the terrorists were successful on U.S. soil. I don't disagree with fighting terrosim, but there is a limit, now it has become an endless cycle of "war".

Whether it be McCain or Obama, its time, the time is now, we as people of this proud country need to search our souls and remember what our founding fathers tought us and has brought us to pre-GB Sr. and GB Jr. times. We do need to dig deep, bring back jobs to America, reduce our dependency on resources that are outside this country, build our infrastructure (its sad, when countries like China and South Africa who have nicer roads in major cities than the US does in major cities), educate our children as they are the future, but also make sure there are jobs in this country to avoid the brain drain of this nation.

Yes, there were a lot of immigrants who came on working visas from India and China, a significant number have gone back because, their quality of life is better and can make just as much if not in their respective countries. We attracted talent and now we are losing it along with all the jobs.

Its time to focus on our home, less clean up and tidy OUR HOUSE before we try and clean up and tidy SOMEONE ELSES HOUSE!