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September 12, 2007

Helicopter vs. Bicycle

I'm a little uncomfortable with the framing that we need to leave Iraq in order to spend more time competing against China, but in general, Tom Friedman's column today is pretty sound. And this really is a well-chosen closer:

I heard a U.S. officer in Baghdad tell this story:

His unit was on a patrol in a Sunni neighborhood when it got hit by an I.E.D. Fortunately, the bomb exploded too soon and no one was hurt. His men jumped out and followed the detonation wire, which led 1,500 feet into the neighborhood. A U.S. Black Hawk helicopter was in the area and alerted the U.S. soldiers that a man was fleeing the scene on a bicycle. The soldiers asked the Black Hawk for help, and it swooped down and used its rotor blades to blow the insurgent off his bicycle, with a giant “whoosh,” and the U.S. soldiers captured him.

That image of a $6 million high-tech U.S. helicopter with a highly trained pilot blowing an insurgent off his bicycle captures the absurdity of our situation in Iraq. The great Lebanese historian Kamal Salibi said it best: “Great powers should never get involved in the politics of small tribes.”

On the other hand, it really shouldn't worry us that the Chinese are expanding the number of students doing advanced graduate work in renewable energy development. The formation of affordable alternatives to fossil fuels is a positive sum endeavor, in which Chinese innovation will be saving the same world as American innovation. The better they do, the better we'll do. Indeed, this is the gigantic upside of Chinese development and education -- it enables that many more people to develop awesome, fun, and/or important stuff that we can all use.

September 12, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

The formation of affordable alternatives to fossil fuels is a positive sum endeavor, in which Chinese innovation will be saving the same world as American innovation. The better they do, the better we'll do.

It's called "trickle down".

Posted by: El Viajero | Sep 12, 2007 9:58:27 AM

No, it's called "not dying from an overheated planet."

Posted by: Ezra | Sep 12, 2007 10:14:25 AM

Actually, the threat from the "educated chinese" is vastly overblown, since they are all suffering from serious lead poisoning (imagine what level domestic chinese toys have); slows brain development and all that. I think the rate of elevated lead levels in chinese children is something like 40%; one would have to think mercury and such is just as bad or worse.

BTW, Ezra, you're part of the "new blogging elite" as quoted in the WSJ? Goodness, someone has a high opinion of himself . . .

Posted by: Scott | Sep 12, 2007 10:39:36 AM

No, in my quote, Sommer is. This is why you shouldn't talk to reporters, though: I used the term to explain why the new blogging moment wouldn't be different from old moments. Every profession has an elite -- non-profit journalism did, and so does broadcast, academia, etc -- and as one develops in blogging, the best way to get ahead won't be meritocratic, but social. In this way, blogging wasn't going to save us all, but just be a retread of the same old story.

That, of course, is not how the quote came out ;-)

Posted by: Ezra | Sep 12, 2007 10:47:07 AM

While I mostly agree with you that it's a positive-sum game, I think I'd prefer the position of selling alternative energy solutions to Chinese to buying them from Chinese companies. As a fallback position, it would be nice to be able to compete with Chinese companies for sales to European households. But it's not clear we'll be in a position to do that, either.

One of the things that aggravates me the most about "Republican't" energy policies is the way they refuse to see the way forward as an opportunity instead of a retreat.

Posted by: dm | Sep 12, 2007 11:50:19 AM

We're gradually evolving towards a kind of global symbiosis: the rest of the world makes shit, and the US blows shit up. It's really beautiful in its simplicity when you think about it. I'm surprised Mr. "Suck on This" isn't welcoming this new development--maybe he just hasn't thought up any good metaphors for it yet.

Posted by: Uncle Kvetch | Sep 12, 2007 12:49:22 PM

The United States: Proud to be the Earth's Klingons!

Which of course makes the Republicans the Party of Durass -- lots of ambition, no honor.

Posted by: paperwight | Sep 12, 2007 1:29:28 PM

Off topic maybe, but I'm stuck back at the assumption that the man on the bike was an insurgent. Maybe he got a long-desired booty call on his cell phone and wanted to get there before she changed her mind. Maybe he's just a guy who heard an explosion and decided the best place to be was somewhere else. Not an unreasonable assumption, is it?

My point is that we really don't know if all these people shot as "insurgents" were in fact insurgents.

Posted by: zak822 | Sep 12, 2007 3:48:57 PM

My point is that we really don't know if all these people shot as "insurgents" were in fact insurgents.

Oh, yes we do know that, for certain values of know.
--
Are they dead? Yes.
Did we kill them? Yes
Therefore...? They were insurgents.
--
See how easy that syllogism is?

Posted by: paperwight | Sep 12, 2007 7:06:05 PM

Friedman loved the war when it was shock-and-awe. He could metaphorically beat his chest and challenge Arabs to "suck on this".

Now its just knocking foreigners off bicycles its no fun anymore. Poor guy.

Posted by: Nyt | Sep 13, 2007 2:24:20 AM

I'm stuck back at the assumption that the man on the bike was an insurgent.

He was knocked off his bike, arrested, (presumably) imprisoned and beaten, as were (probably) his immediate family and friends, by the wonderful Iraqi police. If he wasn't an insurgent before, I reckon he is one now.

Posted by: ajay | Sep 14, 2007 11:44:20 AM

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