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A Voice of Moderation from the Intelligence World

San Diego — I had barely uploaded the last post when I received the latest comments by George Friedman, Geopolitical analyst of Stratfor.  I love those guys as your know.  He has a different take on the election results and how it will impact us domestically and geo-politically.  In the interest of fairness and to widen your understanding of such things, with permission of Stratfor to republish his article, here it is.  Please read it carefully.

—————— Republication of Stratfor Article Follows————————————————–

The Elections, Gridlock, and Foreign Policy By George Friedman

The United States held elections last night, and nothing changed. Barack Obama remains president. The Democrats remain in control of the Senate with a non-filibuster-proof majority. The Republicans remain in control of the House of Representatives.

The national political dynamic has resulted in an extended immobilization of the government. With the House — a body where party discipline is the norm — under Republican control, passing legislation will be difficult and require compromise. Since the Senate is in Democratic hands, the probability of it overriding any unilateral administrative actions is small. Nevertheless, Obama does not have enough congressional support for dramatic new initiatives, and getting appointments through the Senate that Republicans oppose will be difficult.

There is a quote often attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “That government is best which governs the least because its people discipline themselves.” I am not sure that the current political climate is what was meant by the people disciplining themselves, but it is clear that the people have imposed profound limits on this government. Its ability to continue what is already being done has not been curbed, but its ability to do much that is new has been blocked.

The Plan for American Power

The gridlock sets the stage for a shift in foreign policy that has been under way since the U.S.-led intervention in Libya in 2011. I have argued that presidents do not make strategies but that those strategies are imposed on them by reality. Nevertheless, it is always helpful when the subjective wishes of a president and necessity coincide, even if the intent is not the same.

In previous articles and books, I have made the case that the United States emerged as the only global power in 1991, when the Soviet Union fell. It emerged unprepared for its role and uncertain about how to execute it. The exercise of power requires skill and experience, and the United States had no plan for how to operate in a world where it was not faced with a rival. It had global interests but no global strategy.

This period began in 1991 and is now in the process of ending. The first phase consisted of a happy but illusory period in which it was believed that there were no serious threats to the United States. This was replaced on 9/11 with a phase of urgent reaction, followed by the belief that the only interest the United States had was prosecuting a war against radical Islamists.

Both phases were part of a process of fantasy. American power, simply by its existence, was a threat and challenge to others, and the world remained filled with danger. On the other hand, focusing on one thing obsessively to the exclusion of all other matters was equally dangerous. American foreign policy was disproportionate, and understandably so. No one was prepared for the power of the United States.

During the last half of the past decade, the inability to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with economic problems, convinced reasonable people that the United States had entered an age of permanent decline. The sort of power the United States has does not dissipate that fast. The disintegration of European unity and the financial crisis facing China have left the United States, not surprisingly, still the unchallenged global power. The issue is what to do with that power.

The defeated challenger in the U.S. election, Mitt Romney, had a memorable and important turn of phrase when he said that you can’t kill your way out of the problems of the Middle East. The point that neither Romney nor Obama articulated is what you do instead in the Middle East — and elsewhere.

Constant use of military force is not an option. See the example of the British Empire: Military force was used judiciously, but the preferred course was avoiding war in favor of political arrangements or supporting enemies of enemies politically, economically and with military aid. That was followed by advisers and trainers — officers for native troops. As a last resort, when the balance could not hold and the issue was of sufficient interest, the British would insert overwhelming force to defeat an enemy. Until, as all empires do, they became exhausted.

The American strategy of the past years of inserting insufficient force to defeat an enemy that could be managed by other means, and whose ability to harm the United States was limited, would not have been the policy of the British Empire. Nor is it a sustainable policy for the United States. When war comes, it must be conducted with overwhelming force that can defeat the enemy conclusively. And war therefore must be rare because overwhelming force is hard to come by and enemies are not always easy to beat. The constant warfare that has characterized the beginning of this century is strategically unsustainable.

Libya and Syria

In my view, the last gasp of this strategy was Libya. The intervention there was poorly thought out: The consequences of the fall of Moammar Gadhafi were not planned for, and it was never clear why the future of Libya mattered to the United States. The situation in Libya was out of control long before the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi. It was a case of insufficient force being applied to an uncertain enemy in a war that did not rise to the level of urgency.

The U.S. treatment of Syria is very different. The United States’ unwillingness to involve itself directly with main military force, in spite of urgings from various directions, is an instance in which even a potentially important strategic goal — undermining Iranian influence in Syria — could be achieved by depending on regional powers to manage the problem or to live with it as they choose. Having provided what limited aid was required to destabilize the Syrian government, the United States was content to let the local balance of power take its course.

It is not clear whether Obama saw the doctrine I am discussing — he certainly didn’t see it in Libya, and his Syrian policy might simply have been a reaction to his miscalculations in Libya. But the subjective intentions of a leader are not as important as the realities he is responding to, however thoughtfully or thoughtlessly. It was clear that the United States could not continue to intervene with insufficient forces to achieve unclear goals in countries it could not subdue.

Nor could the United States withdraw from the world. It produces almost one-quarter of the world’s GDP; how could it? The historical answer was not a constant tempo of intervention but a continual threat of intervention, rarely fulfilled, coupled with skillful management of the balance of power in a region. Even better, when available as a course, is to avoid even the threat of intervention or any pretense of management and let most problems be solved by the people affected by it.

This is not so much a policy as a reality. The United States cannot be the global policeman or the global social worker. The United States is responsible for pursuing its own interests at the lowest possible cost. If withdrawal is impossible, avoiding conflicts that do not involve fundamental American interests is a necessity because garrison states — nations constantly in a state of war — have trouble holding on to power. Knowing when to go to war is an art, the heart of which is knowing when not to go to war.

One of the hardest things for a young empire to master is the principle that, for the most part, there is nothing to be done. That is the phase in which the United States finds itself at the moment. It is coming to terms not so much with the limits of power as the nature of power. Great power derives from the understanding of the difference between those things that matter and those that don’t, and from a ruthless indifference to those that don’t. It is a hard thing to learn, but history is teaching it to the United States.

The Domestic Impasse

The gridlock in which this election has put the U.S. government is a suitable frame for this lesson. While Obama might want to launch major initiatives in domestic policy, he can’t. At the same time, he seems not to have the appetite for foreign adventures. It is not clear whether this is simply a response to miscalculation or a genuine strategic understanding, but in either case, adopting a more cautious foreign policy will come naturally to him. This will create a framework that begins to institutionalize two lessons: First, it is rarely necessary to go to war, and second, when you do go to war, go with everything you have. Obama will follow the first lesson, and there is time for the second to be learned by others. He will practice the studied indifference that most foreign problems pose to the United States.

There will be a great deal of unhappiness with the second Obama administration overseas. As much as the world condemns the United States when it does something, at least part of the world is usually demanding some action. Obama will disappoint, but it is not Obama. Just as the elections will paralyze him domestically, reality will limit his foreign policy. Immobilism is something the founders would have been comfortable with, both in domestic politics and in foreign policy. The voters have given the republic a government that will give them both

The Elections, Gridlock and Foreign Policy is republished with permission of Stratfor.

——————- End of Stratfor Article ————————————————–

So there you have both, my personal feelings that we are entering a profoundly negative direction, and Stratfor’s considerably more nuanced comments.  They also will halp to prepare both Obama supporters and opposers to the realities that will face his administrations, the gridlock the elections have virtually cemented in place and, in Friedman’s view, put there purposefully by the voters to ensure some period of quiet.

Time will tell…

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Posted by on November 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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So, What AM I For and Against Politically? Part 4

Here in the last module of this series, I’ll spell out my beliefs on the issues of jobs, foreign policy, energy policies, American exceptionalism, and then wrap it up.  If you ahve arrived here directly from a search on key words or tags, please, please, do both of us a favor and jump back to part one to read the set-up and foundation for this series.  Without reading that, some of this may nor make any sense to you.  Of course depending on your political orientation some of this may be preaching to the choir or set your teeth on edge but that is because I am not a party partisan, but a truly independent who thinks the country is more important than a party or its narrowly defined and self-serving platform.

Anyway, lets get this last part underway…

JOBS

The most commonly trotted out reason for lack of employment is a mismatch between the needs of the employer and the skill sets of the potential employees.  This convenient perspective is, amazingly, attractive to the ideologies from both the left and the right, though they see very different solutions to it.

The Atlantic (Spt 8, 20120) however offered a different view.

Dig deeper into what employers say, though, and the skills mismatch gets complicated. A 2011 employer survey from the Manufacturing Institute found that the top skill deficiency among manufacturing workers was “inadequate problem-solving skills.” No. 3 on the list was “inadequate basic employability skills (attendance timeliness, work ethic, etc.).” In the 2012 Manpower survey, 26% of employers complained about the lack of such “soft skills.” If the American workforce doesn’t show up on time or think outside the box, that may be a problem — but probably not one solved by more math, science, and technical training, the go-to remedies.

The Manpower survey also suggests another possibility. When firms were asked why they have difficulty hiring, 55% picked “lack of available applicants,” but essentially the same percentage, 54%, said candidates are “looking for more pay than is offered” (many more than the 40% selecting lack of “hard” skill). This is an important reminder that the labor market is a market. The U.S. conversation revolves around whether workers have the right skills. Whether firms are willing to pay enough to compensate workers for having acquired those skills is rarely mentioned. When firms post job openings at a certain wage and no one comes forward, we call this a skills mismatch. In a different universe, we might call it a pay mismatch.

This is, in my opinion, a product of the entitled, parasitical culture we are now raising.  No one is willing to, as once was a cliché, start in the mail room and work their way up.  They expect, not just want but expect, to come out of school and into the boardroom.  And schools compound the problem by implying that is what should happen.

But it doesn’t end there.  The Atlantic article continues…

In a new book, University of Pennsylvania business professor Peter Cappelli offers a different take, arguing that a big part of the reason American firms feel as if they can’t find qualified workers is because of overly restrictive hiring practices. Based on interviews with personnel managers and others, he describes procedures that screen out anyone without precisely the right academic qualifications, job descriptions that include so many different roles that finding one person to fill the slot is practically impossible, and employers who aren’t willing to hire people without specific past job titles, even if those people are otherwise experienced enough for the job.

That last paragraph points to a huge problem: the rise of “credentialism” that has accompanied the rise of importance of the HR department in businesses.  Back “in-the-day” operations people in the areas where workers were needed would interview candidates and were able to know, pretty quickly, if they had the knowledge and skills to tackle the jobs independent of any degrees or other credentials.  But as HR rose to prominence, the HR people themselves had no clue so increasingly turned to reliance on paperwork to provide the imprimatur they needed.

The result is that lots of ready and willing individuals who actually could do the job, are failing the credential screening.  And the opposite happens as well; overly credentialed individuals are also turned away without thought to their situations or willingness, especially in this economy, to do the job.

Even if the operations people knew the new hires would leave if and when the economy turned around, they also knew that were getting good workers with terrific “soft skills” that, while they were there, might be more productive than a “perfect” fit as determined by credentials.   I have been hired as an independent contractor/consultant to produce work for high pay and temporarily fill positions that would NOT have been offered me because my credentials did not match those determined by HR to be dispositive.  What I had was a portfolio of work to look at showing I could indeed do the work and which I could show directly to the manager doing the outsourcing.  But as an applicant for a job I would never have passed the initial screening through HR.

These are not problems the government can solve.  They are problems of culture, parenting, schooling, and business practices and not amenable to governmental oversight.  What IS subject to governmental restraints however is overall business productivity and the ability of government not to try to directly influence or create productivity, which it cannot do if it wanted to, but to stand back to allow the people who CAN increase productivity through management skills and creativity, to do their jobs and be rewarded for them.  Business, per se, is not the enemy here, it is, in many ways, the solution and government can only effect them negatively through direct action and interference.

Government regulations can – operative word, “can” – provide safeguards to protect potential victims of corporate abuse.  But, in typical governmental manner, a little control leads quickly to the desire for more control and quickly the regulations initially serving a good protective service become restrictive to productivity and the flexibility a business needs to survive and prosper.  The problems stem from the fact that politicians, especially professional politicians, have never had a real job not run a real business.  To solve that we need to return to the founders’ concepts of citizen legislators who were willing, for a very limited time, to come to Washington to help the government decide policies based on real-world knowledge and experience.

To work, if the regulation is actually a well thought out and proper regulation, it must be applied equally and cronies of the regulators cannot be allowed to “opt out” in order to curry favor and money for elections.

To solve that we need not only term limits but also major limits on the post-service benefits awarded to public “servants” that make them, understandable, anxious to remain in office.  Senators, Representatives, and Presidents are important, but individually are no more important than teachers and as teachers do for a career, should be willing to serve their country for a few years at the same pay scale.

Legislators who freshly come from the world of business, workers and leaders alike, would be far more likely to understand the issues and pass or remove laws to increase production and their own career when they are shortly forced back into the private sector.

FOREIGN POLICY

If history has shown us anything it is that Presidents are shaped by geopolitical events but do not themselves shape the events nor are they in any way in control of their happenings or their effects.  In this arena Presidents are but rarely able to be other than completely reactive.  Avowals of actions and approaches to the world’s situations are, and must be, scrapped in a heartbeat when reality comes knocking on their door.  Only in rare instances has a President’s statements of purpose and plan survived the interaction with geopolitical reality.

So here, their campaign promises and statements even of passionately held beliefs, are of virtually no value in forecasting what will really happen during their term in office.  Often it is those utterly unexpected world events that, in retrospect, define a presidency far more than their stated intentions.  So here I think we are better off looking to their core character and see their beliefs not from the standpoint of what they will initiate, but rather, how they will react when the other players on the world’s stage go off the rails.

Even there we are admittedly on shaky grounds since most of us are quite ignorant of the totality of realities surrounding world players and events.   What drives them to act? What limits them and us to act? What are the impact and influence of local and regional geography and history?  What do the actors on this wide stage believe about each other whether true or not?  What are the likely ripple effects of made and lost connections between nation-states is information few of us are in a position to know or even evaluate in an informed way.

The only data left open to us, and even that is not always predictive, is the character and avowed positions of the candidates going through a process well known for its hyperbole and cavalier attachment to the truth.  If, however, we can look back over that candidate’s life, review those individuals and the events and people in their lives that influenced them, what their record of actions and writings reveals vis-à-vis what they would like to have happen, we can perhaps come close to being able to predict their responses even if we can never do so with infallibility.

My personal belief is that it is, in too many cases, the unintentional consequences of our foreign meddling that has created so much discord.  Therefore I believe we should stop it all cold turkey.  For one year, there should be an absolute moratorium on all foreign aid with that money being applied to domestic issues where we really need them.  Then, after other countries have seen the value of our aid based on the sudden loss of it, even if it is just to feed the corrupted coffers of the local tyrant, we can now review it and determine future aid, if any, based on what truly best serves our own long term interests.

But not a penny should go to countries that openly or clandestinely work against our interests or support terror groups that do it as surrogates.  We should not be in the business of facilitating and perpetuating tyranny and we don’t have to.

Some say we need to do that to guarantee energy supplies.  But I beg to differ as noted below.  If we make sure we truly have a military that no other nation-state or player in the world could attack without the very real likelihood of near instant destruction, we need worry about nothing but rebuilding our own country.  If a Nation-State understood clearly that any proxy action would be deemed an action by them directly and receive the same cataclysmic response,  it would make the world a safer place.  For all of the talk of martyrdom, the ego-ridden leadership actually wants OTHERS to be martyrs for them, not the other way around.

We should be happy and open to legitimate trade.  An enlightened mercantile country depends on other successful places with which to trade.  If other places wish to hack their own people into spaghetti out of pure evil, that is none of our business unless and until they put a toe over the line.  And then, without warning or hesitation, we should cut those toes off and then go home.

ENERGY POLICIES

What a can of political worms we have allowed this topic to become.  With righteous self flagellation we have crippled our own ability to be free of all foreign influence and dependence… and basically we have done it for no discernable reward.

We have within the territorial limits of our country, more petroleum reserves than in all of the middle east but we are simply sitting on it.  I could understand that as a short sighted bit of self interest (let them run out before tapping into our own) but that totally ignores the problems of international politics if they DO completely run out and we have the goodies the whole world wants and needs.  Talk about setting us up to become an isolated target.  Whoa.

So here is what I would propose.

1.  I would create an energy commission that included top scientists in the energy field, energy producers, manufacturers of goods that require energy for power and for constituent parts, along with environmental scientists.  And to that commission I would issue the following charge and back it, as much as possible, with funds but mostly try to appeal to their ethics and interests as Americans.  I would expect them to work within the business structures from which they come and would not set up a new bureaucracy to run it.

2.  I would, just as JFK did for aerospace, set a target for the creation of alternative energy to replace all but component needs of fossil fuels and at a rate equal or lower to that of fossil fuels within 20 years.

3.  Exploration and extraction of all types of fossil fuels within our territorial borders would commence with a goal of being completely free of the need for so much as an ounce of oil from any foreign country in 5 years.

4.  Environmental scientists would work WITH energy producers so that the extraction and transportation procedures had a minimal effect on the environment and at such time as we could cut back because of viable alternative energy sources coming on line, those sources of fossil fuels could be capped and their remaining reservoirs saved with the areas brought back to a natural state as much as possible.

5.  Manufacturers of vehicles of all types would be required to work together with engineers and scientists to work toward a goal of maximum elimination of vehicle created pollutants in 15 years at a cost that did not significantly increase the cost of the vehicles nor increase pollution during the manufacturing process just to eliminate it on the back end.  It requires a certain amount of energy to move a given mass with given aerodynamics at a given velocity.  There is no escaping that.  The goal is to make that required energy total as efficient and as clean as possible.

6.  Manufacturers of products using petroleum by-products, such as plastic and other synthetic materials would be tasked with maximizing the production of materials not relying on petroleum products in 20 years.

I believe if we did that we would see a panicked OPEC drop prices immediately anyway but we should remain dedicated to the end goal and never waver from it.

AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM

There was a time when Americans were indeed exceptional.  There was a fire in their bellies that drove them to create an incredibly positive and powerful nation-state out of a virtual wilderness.   We granted more patents and made more scientific discoveries than any other place on the planet.  We were the ones to explore the depths of the oceans and walk on the moon.  We created an economy that was the model and guide for the rest of the world.  We became, finally, the only remaining superpower.   In spite of the scars and occasional lapses into ill conceived or downright evil actions, the sum total of our actions added up to something uniquely positive and powerful that was a beacon for the world.  The operative word here is, “was” and that is as inexcusable as it is tragic.

To a very large degree Americans and America were able to become exceptional because as a people we believed that we were.   As our rivals reached but fell short, again, it was to in some part because THEY did NOT believe it for themselves.  Both the winners and losers were the product of self-fulfilling prophesies about themselves.  It had nothing to do with national rhetoric or propaganda, but about individuals’ inner feelings for themselves and the collective of themselves they called their country.

But with that exceptional stand comes exceptional responsibilities.  As the political and philosophical winds changed, we grew increasingly unable to meet those responsibilities and now, fulfilling our own growing feeling about ourselves, our once great exceptional qualities are evaporating.  And we are causing it ourselves.  We are capable, as a people, of great good or great evil.  The direction will depend on our feelings about ourselves and our place in the world.

If we return to seeing ourselves as a beacon to the world, exemplified by the Statue of Libery, we have a potential for great good.  If we slip into seeing ourselves as simply a great power with the world at out feet we are capable of great evil.  But when we devolve into seeing ourselves as being, individually and collectively, as just like any other country including countries where stone-age savagery is the norm, where women are killed for thinking and bettering themselves, where major contributions are bribery, corruption, and ego-driven machisimo, then we will fade into a distant memory and be of no value to others or to ourselves.

I see that dark place as, under liberal leadership, where now we are headed.  I am opposed to it.  When we reach a point where we are afraid to or unable to identify and reject evil wherever we see it, a state I see us approaching, then we are truly lost.

——————-

So, there you have it.  A summation of my beliefs on many of the topics that I think may be at play in this coming election.  Those beliefs will find opponents in ALL of the current parties involved.  I claim none of them to house my personal belief structure.  Unfortunately, I am left, as I have been for some time now, forcing my vote to go for the least abhorrent to me; not someone I am confident in, believe in completely, or even mostly.  What remains is the lesser, even though not by much, of two bad choices.  Adding to the confusion is the reality that one of those choices offers a well known and consistent political philosophy that I do oppose almost in its entirety but the other is a far greater unknown since he seems to have vacillated on so many issues depending on the needs of the moment.  I trust the former but to do things I will really despise.  I do not trust the latter at all, but that leaves room for a potential surprise to the good side so that is how I will vote.  But it leaves me sad to think how far we have fallen as a country when these are the choices trotted out for us.

There is nothing exceptional about either in terms of the direction America in its glory was headed.  But, in my view, one will gleefully and purposefully lead us to ruin so he can transform us into his own vision.  I cannot support that because I do not support the vision.  The other may simply buy us some time to find the people we really need, but I would rather, as a country, tread water than slip under the surface being pulled down by the sharks of a world view that will destroy us and what little is left of our spirit.

How the Hell did we ever reach such a point?  The answer is that too many of us got wrapped up in our own worlds and took our eyes off of the bigger ball that was the country and its directions.  Promised goodies and freebies or selective help to un-level the playing fields in our favors we fell prey to crony capitalism and with it an opening to destroy capitalism altogether and gave rise to the parasitical generation of takers and users.  At its base it is not a political problem but an ethical and moral one.

We were told by the founders that the form of government they gave us would only work under a highly moral and ethical citizenry.  And as they predicted, when that based lost its way, the government, the government OF those people, has lost its way too.

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Foreign Policy Dysfunctional Roots

San Diego –– As you know, I hold the intel reports of Stratfor in the highest regard.  They are incisive, insightful, and most importantly, politically objective since they serve a community that needs to know the truth not some party’s spin on it.  But i’ve never seen a better analysis of why BOTH sides of our political aisle seem trapped in philosophical Never-Never Land than their latest report.

if you would like to understand the heart of the problem and perhaps, with that understanding, gain some insights into possible solutions that seem to elude our politically crippled government, do yourself a big favor and read the article from the link below.  It is not short and simple but neither is the problem.  But part of our failure to address it stems from our insistence on trying to convey everything in short sound bites and bumper stickers.

Since I cannot improve on this i give it to you straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak rather from the horse’s other end which is the source of most of our information coming out of the government on both sides…

Egypt and the Idealist-Realist Debate in U.S. Foreign Policy is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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