This is my last column for three months. I'm taking a sabbatical to finish a book about geopolitics, called "The World Is Flat." It is not easy to take a time-out right now. But I want to step back and construct a better framework for myself to explain what's going on out there. Here's a few of the headlines I'd like to read while I'm gone.
"Iraq's New Government Quashes Rebellion in Sunni Areas — Without the Help of U.S. Troops — Thanks to Intelligence Provided by Iraqis Themselves." I believe the main reason the Abu Ghraib prison scandal happened was because U.S. forces in Iraq were facing an uprising and had no intelligence. Too few Iraqis viewed us as legitimate or able to protect them, so they did not want to, or dare to, come forward with actionable intelligence about who was attacking us. As a result, some U.S. forces tried to beat it out of them. The big question I have going forward in Iraq is this: Now that a new, decent and diverse Iraqi government will have sovereignty, will Iraqis, particularly from the Sunni Triangle, come forward with the intelligence needed for Iraq's fledgling army to break the violent opposition in Iraq, largely on its own — that is, with the help of the Iraqi people and not us? If you see that happening, it means that enough Iraqi Sunnis are ready to sign on to the new Iraq. If you don't see that, it means that the only way the rebellion can be quashed is by heavy-handed tactics, which, if they come from U.S. forces, will only embarrass the new Iraqi government, and if they come from the new Iraqi army could trigger civil war. The Islamist opposition forces in Iraq are truly depraved. They will do anything to make sure America fails, including sacrificing all of Iraq. In the end, only Iraqis can root them out.
"President Bush Stuns Electorate — Does His Own Version of Nixon to China and Announces Joint Sino-Chinese-American Crash Program for Developing Alternative Energies." Roughly 30,000 new cars merge onto the roads in Beijing every single month. Every day, the newspaper headlines in China are about energy shortages, blackouts and brownouts. U.S. officials estimate that 24 out of China's 31 provinces are now experiencing power shortages. China's foreign policy today consists of two things — Taiwan and searching for oil. China's oil imports jumped last year alone by 30 percent. This is not a healthy situation. Environmentally speaking, in 10 days in Beijing I saw blue sky once. The other days were a gray, polluted haze. Developmentally, China's growth is soon going to be restrained, if it isn't already, by a sheer shortage of energy. Strategically, China and America could soon find themselves in a dangerous head-to-head competition for fuel.
If there was ever a time for big imagination, it is now. What we need is for President Bush to surprise himself and the world and propose a grand China-U.S. Manhattan Project — a crash program to jointly develop clean alternative energies, bringing together China's best scientists and its ability to force pilot projects, with America's best brains, technology and money. "When it comes to renewable technology and sustainable energy, China could be the laboratory of the world — not just the workshop of the world," said Scott Roberts, Cambridge Energy Research Associates analyst in China. Why not?
"Bush Administration Calls an End to the 'War on Terrorism.' " No, I haven't taken leave of my senses on the way out the door. I realize that we have enemies, and they need to be confronted. But I do not want this to be all that America is about in the world anymore, and that is what has happened under this administration. I don't want the rest of my career to be about an America that exports fear, not hope, and ends up importing everyone else's fears as a result. I don't want it to be about explaining to young Chinese why my government can't give them student visas anymore. I don't want it to be about visiting U.S. embassies around the world and finding them so isolated behind barbed wire, they might as well not be there at all. Defeating "them" has begun to define "us" in too many ways.
America is so much more than just "Anti-al-Qaida Inc." — but our whole identity in the world, and too many aspects of our way of life, are getting contorted around that mission. If we're really having a relevant presidential campaign, I'll come back and find the candidates debating not who is the "toughest" guy — the jungle is full of them — but who can be the toughest guy while preserving the best of what we had and the best of who we are.
New York Times News Service