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Noah Smith: A Second Cold War With China

Noah Smith: A Second Cold War With China

Two old-school bloggers debate the China threat, mass immigration, and more.

Noah is a journalist who covers economics and geopolitics. A former assistant professor of Behavioral Finance at Stony Brook University and an early blogger, he became an opinion columnist at Bloomberg in 2014. He left after seven years to focus on his own substack, Noahpinion, which you should definitely check out.

You can listen right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app). For two clips of our convo — on why we should fear a military strike from China, and the good news about tech and the economy we don’t pay enough attention to — pop over to our YouTube page.

Other topics: the amazing story of Fawlty Towers triggering Noah’s birth in Oklahoma; raised in Aggie country; his father the psych professor; Noah’s clinical depression after his mom died young; trolling X File fans on the early web; the internet as an escape back then, before social media ruined it; joining the early blogs; Jonah Goldberg and Liberal Fascism; Noah living in Japan after Battle Royale gripped him; Yakuza burning down his apartment; the MAX show Tokyo Vice; debunking stereotypes about Japan (e.g. xenophobia); his tech optimism; Ozempic and HIV drugs; wages and wealth growing in the US; tuition falling; inflation leveling; the YIMBY movement; how AI will empower the normies; the collapse of global poverty; the China threat; EVs and tariffs; industrial policy as means for national security; risking global war over Taiwan; Noah downplaying the chips factor; the chance of another Pearl Harbor — from China; TikTok and controlling US media; the woke wars as a distraction; “information tournaments”; debating mass immigration; agreeing about the asylum clusterfucker; questioning whether the US was ever a melting pot; Biden catching up on the border and inflation; how he’s more likely to tighten the budget than Trump; debating which nominee is losing his marbles more; and why Ukraine and Gaza are diversions from China.

Browse the Dishcast archive for an episode you might enjoy (the first 102 are free in their entirety — subscribe to get everything else). Coming up: Nellie Bowles on the woke revolution, George Will on Trump and conservatism, Lionel Shriver on her new novel, Elizabeth Corey on Oakeshott, Tim Shipman on the UK elections, Erick Erickson on the left’s spiritual crisis, Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy on animal cruelty, and the great Van Jones! Send any guest recs, dissents, and other comments to

From a fan of last week’s episode — and Bill Maher in general:

My main reason for subscribing to MAX is for Real Time, which is one of the only shows I watch regularly. I’m one of those rare types who makes a habit of getting news and opinion from across the spectrum, but when people ask me which thinkers I admire, I usually mention people who are professionally excellent, who share my interests, and who I tend to agree with: Glenn Loury, Sam Harris, David Frum, George Packer, Caitlin Flanagan, and you of course.

And I include Bill Maher. Sometimes that provokes guffaws, but I say he’s become an important voice in our times. He’s smart and courageous; he has good habits of mind; and, as he showed in your podcast, he’s disarmingly knowledgeable about the topics he weighs in on. 

And Bill, if you are reading this, you have had a significant impact upon my life beyond providing entertainment and food for thought. You helped persuade me not to get married! Obviously there’s more to the story, but I’m not joking. Remaining single has brought ups and downs, but I’m confident it was the right decision for me. Thanks Bill!  

Another fan:

Great episode! Gotta say, Bill Maher is funnier than Trump, more serious than Biden, and has an established constituency to boot. Is it too late to mount a Maher 2024 campaign?

Another listener jumps into the Israel debate:

Thank you for your episodes with Bill Maher and Eli Lake. The conversations solved nothing, of course, but they helped me organize the jumble of contradictory ideas and feelings that have been roiling since October 7.  Here’s the summation:

  • The Netanyahu mass destruction response was wrong. Biden’s sympathetic advice — i.e., “Don’t make the same mistake we did” — was right.

  • The moral argument regarding massive military response to terrorists who purposely shield themselves with children remains inconclusive. However, the practical objection is inarguable: it was wrong because of the predictable international response it provoked, thus doing Hamas’ work for it. 

  • Nevertheless, the die has been cast. Now the job of destroying the last vestige of Hamas governance cannot be left undone. As Eli Lake seemed to be trying to say toward the end of your conversation, and to paraphrase, “If you go after the terrorists, make sure you kill them.”

  • Thanks in part to Biden, Israel now seems to be proceeding in Rafah in the “right” way. It is too late to get international recognition for restraint, but at least it can make CNN work harder to come up with fresh images of dying children.

  • “The day after” remains an unavoidable problem with no predictable outcome.   The worst case is all-out occupation. The idea of a functional non-Hamas governing entity is pie in the sky. The best case one might hope for without sounding absurd is probably pan-Arab reconstruction and governance with relatively discreet Israeli security. 

That pretty much sums up where I’m coming from. This next listener dissents over my exchange with Bill on Gaza:

Equating Hamas to the Nazis and ISIS is just empirically wrong. Even taking into account their appalling mass murders, rapes, and crimes against humanity on October 7, they have not committed atrocities at anything like the scale as the Serbs did in the 1990s, or the Viet Cong did, or the Tatmadaw have in the ongoing genocide of Rohingya Muslims.

Ideologically, Hamas is extremely different than ISIS. Hamas does not seek to establish a caliphate or conquer the world or re-establish Islamic slavery. They haven’t even Islamized the legal system in Gaza in 17 years, for which ISIS has condemned them as apostates. It’s just a low-info and demagogic comparison to call them ISIS or the Nazis. 

Hamas supporters are also very different than ISIS supporters. For one, as a range of polling confirms, ISIS was a radical fringe, despised for their genocidal-sexual atrocities by almost everybody in the Arab world. Conversely, Hamas is probably the most popular government in the Arab world right now, supported not only by Muslims but by the solid majority of Arab Christians, Coptic Christians, and Druze (outside of Israel).

I am appalled by Arab support for Hamas, and that support has sadly extended to many personal friends. (I think I’ve mentioned to you before that I am half-Egyptian and lived in the region for a few years.) But the ideological motivations for this support are very different — and the supporters far less horrifying — than supporters of ISIS or Nazis. 

I do not believe Hamas has a plan or intention to exterminate the Jewish people anymore. From their updated charter in 2017:

Hamas affirms that its conflict is with the Zionist project not with the Jews because of their religion. Hamas does not wage a struggle against the Jews because they are Jewish but wages a struggle against the Zionists who occupy Palestine. … Hamas rejects the persecution of any human being or the undermining of his or her rights on nationalist, religious or sectarian grounds. Hamas is of the view that the Jewish problem, anti-Semitism and the persecution of the Jews are phenomena fundamentally linked to European history and not to the history of the Arabs and the Muslims or to their heritage. 

Of course you will correctly retort that Hamas ordered and carried out a savage massacre on October 7. Yet this massacre was carried out pursuant to a general order to massacre (or kidnap) the civilians Hamas got their hands on, and so the victims included many Arab-Israeli citizens and Thai migrant workers. The attack was an act of nihilistic desperation and sociopathy: they wanted to cause massive pain, death, and suffering to provoke a reaction from Israel and the world.

Massacre as a political strategy has numerous precedents in the 20th century apart from the context of ISIS and the Nazis. Israel, for example, ordered the massacre of all civilians in the village of Qibya in 1953. The massacre was carried out by Ariel Sharon’s Unit 101, which went door to door shooting men, women, and children, for a total of 69 civilian deaths. Like Hamas’ massacre, Israel’s was carried out for strategic reasons, not genocidal ones. 

These are all decent points. However, I cannot get out of my head some of the videos Hamas took celebrating the personal murder of Jews qua Jews. It’s a form of pathological demonization and hatred that absolutely evokes the Nazis.

A dissent over something Bill said:

Bill Maher is ridiculous if he thinks Republicans are the most likely to “fall in line.” Nicki Haley may have semi-endorsed Trump, but the left are the people who keep a straight face when someone refers to men menstruating.

Several more dissents to come, including:

Your conversation was civil and instructive, except for the ignored giant issue of America’s un-regulated worship of the First Amendment. America can have its hands-off free speech ethos, OR it can have a democratic republic — but not both.

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