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Zachary Karabell Headshot

And on the Other Side of the World....

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Dominating the headlines in Asia, this just in from Xinhua on-line, the Reuters of China : "Over 570,000 Evacuated as Saomai Approaches!" Huh? Didn't they get the memo about Lebanon, Iraq, and the terror plot to destroy airplanes using liquid explosives? Apparently, an approaching hurricane-force storm and its devastating potential is more important than the wars of the western world and the intractable struggle between some Muslims, some Christians and some Jews.

For China, our wars are distant news, interesting, occasionally disturbing, but not particularly more relevant than the announcement that "Shanghai will soon have the largest railway station in Asia!" This is not to downplay just how serious, tragic and infuriating our issues are, but it is to say that they are our issues, not everyone's. The world may be getting smaller, even Freidmanly flat, but not everything is of equal importance everywhere.

More to the point, the most significant economic force in the world today is chugging along unencumbered by the pernicious violence, fanaticism, fundamentalism, and fear that currently defines relations between some Muslims, some Christians, and some Jews. And in spite of news to the contrary, it is still only some members, not all or even most, of the three monotheistic faiths that are at locked in a death dance, extremism breeding extremism, and violence begetting violence. But it is the extremes, which admittedly appear to be growing in numbers and intensity, that dominate public life, and they are diverting attention, time, and resources that could be used for more productive ends.

America's military alone consumes at least half a trillion dollars, which is incidently a third of the entire GDP of the Arab world, with war in Iraq adding another at least another 100 billion to that tab. The assiduous efforts of Hezbollah to build tunnels and bunkers and missile pads were time, money and energy that could otherwise have gone to building a new Lebanon. The ever-mobilized Israeli Defense Forces have been a buffer against both Israel's enemies and Israel's sustained economic growth, and Iran's Ahmadinejad spouts his rhetoric only because Iran currently spouts enough oil to compensate for what is otherwise a completely corrupt and moribund polity.

But as more energy disappears down the sink hole of the current clash, China and parts of Asia look on dispassionately. They may also look on with not a little pleasure, as they see their main competitors committing what might amount to an act of self-immolation. Why bother directly confronting the United States or worrying about secure supplies of oil from the torn Middle East when that United States shows signs of the same narcissistic decline that undid the British? Better to pay attention to storms that actually pose a threat, to typhoons and hurricanes that loom literally, than to those that look as if they will head out to sea, lose strength, and disappear all by themselves.

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