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The Evolving “Trump Doctrine” — The Good and the Bad.

I’m so tired of all of the desperate cries of knee-jerk revulsion at the new President Elect that pretend to know with absolute certainty that, among other things, he is a spawn of the Devil to put even the previously hated “Bush Demon” to shame, and that he is, by liberal definition, the political and geo-political AntiChrist that will usher us rapidly down the road to ruin and perdition, darkness will envelope the country shore to shore and we will all be living wretched lives in caves surely by, oh, say, mid February at the latest… 

True, Trump certainly is not a supporter of socialistic tendencies as desired by the alt-left and is, to their increasing horror, an unabashed, unrepentant capitalist.  Viewed in a vacuum, that does, I confess appeal to me in terms of economic philosophies; but that does not lend itself to quite so simple a conclusion for either side when placed in the context of a government leader as opposed to a business leader. 

But there are somethings that the business world, especially that part of it that is international in application, does better than governments, and one of those is gathering and interpreting geo-political intelligence on the areas and governments in which it must do business.  Why do I say that?  After all literature is overflowing with tales of the intelligence exploits of CIA, MI6, KGB and GRU.  As some of you know, my military service was in an intelligence capacity so I do know of the vast capabilities of governmental information gathering using both overt and covert methodologies.  But there is a huge weakness in governmental intelligence and it was seldom more evident than in my time during the Vietnam era.  It is always in the service of the political institution which oversees it and its results are too often, perhaps most often, filtered through that political filter and arrives tainted and spun for the pleasure of the administration.  This is not done by the field operators who risk their lives to gather information, but by the top level political appointees and courtiers who must present it and hopefully walk away with their jobs intact.  In my opinion, in doing so they betray the operators in the field AND their country but I admit they have to operate in an environment of political capriciousness in which I would not long survive.

Intelligence in the business world is, on the other hand, far more pragmatic.  They do not care about the political issues other than how they effect the business bottom line.  More importantly, to successfully operate under foreign authority and oversight, you have to know the reality of the situation in the areas you wish to operate whether you like it or not. 

Therefore, private intelligence, while perhaps not as granular as governmental intelligence, is, in my experience and opinion, frequently more accurate in its final presentations.  One of the best sources of business-oriented intelligence has, for many years, been the organization “Stratfor.”  And once again, they have reviewed a subject too clouded in emotion and personal paranoia (or euphoria) to yield workable conclusions for mass consumption, to wit, the geopolitical approaches and views of our about to be installed newly minted President, Donald Trump.  So with their kind permission, here is a reprint of their latest paper on the evolving geopolitical “doctrines” of a President Trump. 

As usual and typically for Strafor, they objectively present the good and the bad to help businesses prepare for the world stage which is about to change dramatically.  I would recommend this to folks who are so overwrought with the current epidemic of emotional incontinence over the election that they are polarized into the “Trump can do nothing right” or the “Trump can do nothing wrong” camps.  As usual the truth lies in the middle and Stratfor analysts are among the very few to try to objectively sort it all out.

——— Republished Paper by Stratfor on the Evolving “Trump Doctrine”———–

THE TRUMP DOCTRINE: A WORK IN PROGRESS

By Reva Goujon, Stratfor

The world is in a “frenzy of study,” Henry Kissinger said in a recent interview. At home and abroad, strategists and pundits are trying to piece together a blueprint of American foreign policy under U.S. President-elect Donald Trump from a stream of tweets, some campaign slogans, a few eye-catching Cabinet picks, meetings at Trump Tower, and a pingpong match already underway with Beijing. Highbrow intellectualism can be a handicap in this exercise. Commentators among the Washington establishment have been quick to dismiss Trump’s foreign policy moves outright as erratic and self-serving over the past few weeks. In an op-ed entitled “Trump Failed His First Foreign Policy Test,” for instance, columnist David Ignatius admonished the president-elect for the “hot mess” his phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen precipitated. Trump makes people uncomfortable. It’s what he does best, in fact. But how this quality applies to foreign policy is a question that merits deeper exploration than knee-jerk displays of stricken disbelief. After all, as Kissinger noted in his Dec. 18 interview, “a president has to have some core convictions.”

So what are Trump’s? From what we can discern so far from his upbringing, the trajectory of his career and the profiles of those who have infiltrated his inner circle, Trump prizes business acumen and a “killer” instinct for managing affairs. He has enough corporate firepower in his Cabinet to fill the next Forbes’ list. By nominating ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, he has demonstrated his belief that tough deal-making — identifying sources of leverage and showing a willingness to use them — is the secret to running a country and presiding over the international system. Trump does not fear nationalism; he sees it as the natural and rightful path for every state, the United States included, to pursue in protecting its interests. He also seems to have internalized the idea that the United States is losing its competitiveness and that internationalist foreign policy is to blame. Finally, Trump apparently believes that U.S. foreign policy has become too predictable and overwrought with diplomatic formality. Better to say it like it is and call out institutions and conventions that have outlived their usefulness.

This, at least, is the worldview at a distance. When we come in for a closer look, however, some of the cracks come into clearer view. In 1953, General Motors Co. CEO Charles Wilson was asked in his Senate confirmation hearing to become President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s secretary of defense whether his decisions in office could end up harming his company. He answered that they might but that he could not imagine such a scenario since “for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.” In fact, what is good for a business will not always be congruent with the national interest. A company is answerable to its shareholders, just as a president is answerable to some degree to Congress and the American public. But the mission of the CEO — maximizing value for its shareholders — entails different considerations when pursuing the raison d’etat and preserving a social contract with a nation’s citizenry. The latter entwines economic arguments with the social and moral obligations of the state, a nebulous territory where inefficiencies, compromise and the social consequences of massive deregulation are unavoidable.

Driving a Hard Bargain

Trump sees it as his mission to repair the social contract with the American public by bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States. This will be easier said than done, however. Across-the-board tariffs against big trading partners, such as China, might have worked 20 years ago but not in today’s globalized environment. Raising import tariffs now could cause the price of goods no longer produced domestically to skyrocket and disrupt international supply chains, turning many U.S. businesses into pawns in various overseas trade wars.

It could be argued that China depends more heavily on exports than the United States does and cannot afford to risk its vital supply lines in a major confrontation with the world’s most powerful navy. This, in effect, leaves Washington with the upper hand in its trade tussle with Beijing. In the search for additional leverage against China, Trump has shown a willingness to expire Washington’s “one-China” policy, a holdover from the Cold War that dodged the question of Taiwan’s statehood to drive a wedge between the Soviets and Communist China.

But that’s just one side of the equation. China has twin imperatives to maintain access to export markets and raw materials and to prevent an outside power from blockading its northern coast through the Taiwan Strait. If Trump’s policies interfere with these objectives, Beijing has levers it can pull to retaliate. Should the United States play the Taiwan card to try to exact economic concessions from Beijing, China can strong-arm U.S. companies operating on the mainland. Beijing can also use its enormous economic clout over Taiwan — whose semiconductor manufacturing and assembly industry is tightly intertwined with the mainland — to threaten a disruption to the global tech supply chain. Furthermore, as its recent seizure of an unmanned U.S. naval drone illustrated, China can flex its maritime muscle, albeit cautiously, to raise the stakes in a trade dispute with the United States. Though Trump would rather leave it to regional stakeholders such as Japan and South Korea to balance against Beijing, his compulsion to correct the United States’ trade relationship with China will draw him into stormy security waters in the Pacific.

A Different Kind of Negotiation

Just as Trump regards the one-China policy as a relic of the Cold War worth revisiting, he intends to update Washington’s relationship with Moscow. As Trump sees it, the United States is not fighting an existential battle with Russia deserving of Cold War-era collective security commitments. Russia is no longer preoccupied with forging an empire under an ideology that is anathema to Western capitalism. Instead, Moscow is focused on the more basic task of constructing a national identity and insulating the state and its borderlands from Western encroachment in anticipation of greater domestic turmoil to come. As Kissinger recently put it, Russian President Vladimir Putin is like one of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s characters, for whom “the question of Russian identity is very crucial because, as a result of the collapse of communism, Russia has lost about 300 years of its history.” If Russia were to try to build a state by expanding its already sprawling territory, nationalism would not be enough to hold it together. Consequently, Putin is trying to defend the areas surrounding his country and compel the West to recognize and respect that sphere of influence.

Taking a less alarmist view of Russia’s intentions, the Trump administration sees an opening to develop a new understanding with Moscow, one that could put to rest the question of Crimea and perhaps recognize Russia’s influence over eastern Ukraine. Syria, a peripheral issue for both Moscow and Washington, would be recognized as such. Since sanctions are a drag on business and Russia sorely needs investment, Trump could ease the measures to get a dialogue moving on what an understanding would look like without sacrificing the U.S. military presence along Europe’s eastern flank.

Should Tillerson be confirmed as secretary of state, Trump would rely on his knowledge of Kremlin personalities and their internal feuds to advance the negotiations. After all, if a company needs good inroads with the Kremlin to do business in Russia, the same must go for a government that wants to negotiate with Moscow. But negotiating access to Russia’s Arctic shelf on ExxonMobil’s behalf is not the same as conducting talks centered on Russia (or China, for that matter) trying to get the West out of its backyard.

Russia has no illusion that a shuffle of personalities in the White House will reverse U.S. policy and cede the former Soviet sphere to it. The United States will still be compelled to keep a check on Russia’s moves in Europe just as Moscow will maintain its levers across several theaters, from cybersecurity to arms control to proxy wars in the Middle East. Though Trump’s administration may change the tone of the conversation and broach the topic of tactical concessions, Russia will still be driven by an unrelenting distrust of Western intentions that will keep defenses up on both sides. Nonetheless, the very notion of a private bargain developing between Washington and Moscow will inject uncertainty into long-standing collective security arrangements as the European Continent is undergoing another Machiavellian moment in history where the assertion of state interests is breaking the bonds of its flawed union.

An Unlikely Precedent

Despite the changes that Trump will doubtless bring to the presidency, his foreign policy is not as unprecedented as the world’s pundits may claim. The bridge between President Barack Obama’s foreign policy doctrine and the one evolving under Trump is not entirely sturdy, but the foundation is there. As president, Obama was a realist. He considered it his mission to rebalance the United States after the country had overextended itself fighting wars in the Islamic world. His resistance to expanding U.S. military commitments in the Middle East was deeply ingrained; as he said in an interview in The Atlantic, “it is literally in my DNA to be suspicious of tribalism.” He held strong convictions that the United States would once again be trampled under a sectarian horde in the Middle East if it tried to extend its ambitions beyond the more immediate and visible threat of the Islamic State. He also pressured even close U.S. allies such as the United Kingdom to pay their fair share in security commitments because, as he put it, “free riders aggravate me.” Obama was a follower of 20th-century American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who held a rather Hobbesian view of the world as a struggle among self-interested groups. (It was Niebuhr who wrote, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”) The current president built a foreign policy on extreme restraint while addressing his own set of geopolitical anachronisms: the United States’ relationships with Iran and Cuba.

But Obama, unlike Trump, applied an internationalist lens to his realist views. He wanted his allies to pay their share but was resolute in keeping the U.S. security umbrella over their heads. He viewed foreign trade as a means to build alliances and contain conflicts. Still, protectionism was already well underway during Obama’s tenure. Since the 2008 financial crisis, the United States has led G-20 countries in carrying out discriminatory trade measures on selective industries (particularly metals), according to a report by Global Trade Alert. At the same time, Obama saw that the world was changing with technology and that old jobs would give way to advances in manufacturing. He preferred to think in longer horizons, at times to his own detriment: For Obama, the long-term impact of climate change was existential compared with the short-term threat posed by the Islamic State.

By contrast, Trump’s realism is steeped in nationalism and tends to be more myopic in assessing threats. His solution to displaced American labor is to punish foreign trade partners rather than to retool the workforce to adapt to demographic and technological change. Under Trump, climate change concerns will take a back seat to the more immediate desires to ease regulations on business. Rather than play a restrained globalist role, the next president would sooner respect countries’ rights to defend themselves, irrespective of the long-term consequences of undermining time-honored collective security arrangements. Though a departure from an already defunct two-state solution in Israel’s favor acknowledges the current reality, it also risks further destabilizing the balance of power in the Middle East as Turkey continues its resurgence and multiple civil wars rage on. A short-term escalation with Beijing over trade and Taiwan could cost Washington a much bigger strategic discussion over China’s attempts to achieve parity with the United States in numerous spheres, from cyberspace to the seas.

Keeping the World on Its Toes

Perhaps the greatest difference between the Obama and Trump foreign policies lies in what may be Trump’s biggest virtue: his unpredictability. Obama has been criticized as overly cautious in his foreign policy and thus too much of a known entity for U.S. adversaries. Trump, on the other hand, gives the impression that he is willing to throw caution to the wind and rely on instinct in shaping foreign policy. This matters immensely for U.S. allies and adversaries alike that have to be kept on their toes in developing their long-term strategy while avoiding the unexpected with the world’s superpower.

Regardless of who occupies the presidency, the United States’ strong geopolitical foundation gives it options. As opposed to more vulnerable countries in less forgiving locales, the United States, buffered as it is by two vast oceans, can debate the merits of isolationism and intervention. George Kennan, a diplomat during the Cold War era, may have captured the immense power of the country’s unpredictability best:

“[American democracy is like] one of those prehistoric monsters with a body as long as this room and a brain the size of a pin: He lives there in his comfortable primeval mud and pays little attention to his environment; he is slow to wrath — in fact, you practically have to whack his tail off to make him aware that his interests are being disturbed; but, once he grasps this, he lays about him with such blind determination that he not only destroys his adversary but largely wrecks his native habitat.”

Aloofness in international affairs is a geopolitical luxury, but it cannot be taken for granted. That may be the basis for the Trump doctrine.

Top of Form

The Trump Doctrine: A Work in Progress is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

———-End of Republished Essay on the Evolving “Trump Doctrine”———

I hope this was enlightening and hopefully a little calming.  We, as a country, need to rapidly get over our emotional paralysis and work together.  When Obama took office the left accused the right of refusing to cooperate in anything leading to a gridlock that was bad for the country.  Well, now the shoe is on the other foot and what remains to be seen is whether the left will act as they said the right should have done, or whether they will simply now repeat the old ills they once excoriated and take us into the tragically flawed state of playing tribal level “payback” and thereby guarantee the failure of us as a nation among nations.

Time will tell…

 

 

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Why does the world seem to be in such Chaos?

No wonder some groups feel the apocalypse is near, the world seems to be tearing itself apart nearly everywhere you look.  Why, when world productivity is up, when information technology easily connects nearly all of us, would this be happening?  It seems counter-intuitive so surely the only explanation can be the designs of a higher power to bring all this to an end.

There are, however, other explanations and one of the best I’ve seen has come from my favorite geopolitical intel service, Stratfor.  This is written by Dr. George D. Kaplan. He is the author of Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific, which will be published by Random House in March 2014. In 2012, he published The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us about Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate, and in 2010, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power. In both 2011 and 2012, he was chosen by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the world’s “Top 100 Global Thinkers.”  His essay, written for Stratfor and re-publishered here by permission from Stratfor, follows:

——- Stratofr Report “Why So Much Anarchy? by George Kaplan ———————

Twenty years ago, in February 1994, I published a lengthy cover story in The Atlantic Monthly, “The Coming Anarchy: How Scarcity, Crime, Overpopulation, Tribalism, and Disease are Rapidly Destroying the Social Fabric of Our Planet.” I argued that the combination of resource depletion (like water), demographic youth bulges and the proliferation of shanty towns throughout the developing world would enflame ethnic and sectarian divides, creating the conditions for domestic political breakdown and the transformation of war into increasingly irregular forms — making it often indistinguishable from terrorism. I wrote about the erosion of national borders and the rise of the environment as the principal security issues of the 21st century. I accurately predicted the collapse of certain African states in the late 1990s and the rise of political Islam in Turkey and other places. Islam, I wrote, was a religion ideally suited for the badly urbanized poor who were willing to fight. I also got things wrong, such as the probable intensification of racial divisions in the United States; in fact, such divisions have been impressively ameliorated.

However, what is not in dispute is that significant portions of the earth, rather than follow the dictates of Progress and Rationalism, are simply harder and harder to govern, even as there is insufficient evidence of an emerging and widespread civil society. Civil society in significant swaths of the earth is still the province of a relatively elite few in capital cities — the very people Western journalists feel most comfortable befriending and interviewing, so that the size and influence of such a class is exaggerated by the media.

The anarchy unleashed in the Arab world, in particular, has other roots, though — roots not adequately dealt with in my original article:

The End of Imperialism. That’s right. Imperialism provided much of Africa, Asia and Latin America with security and administrative order. The Europeans divided the planet into a gridwork of entities — both artificial and not — and governed. It may not have been fair, and it may not have been altogether civil, but it provided order. Imperialism, the mainstay of stability for human populations for thousands of years, is now gone.

The End of Post-Colonial Strongmen. Colonialism did not end completely with the departure of European colonialists. It continued for decades in the guise of strong dictators, who had inherited state systems from the colonialists. Because these strongmen often saw themselves as anti-Western freedom fighters, they believed that they now had the moral justification to govern as they pleased. The Europeans had not been democratic in the Middle East, and neither was this new class of rulers. Hafez al Assad, Saddam Hussein, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Moammar Gadhafi and the Nasserite pharaohs in Egypt right up through Hosni Mubarak all belonged to this category, which, like that of the imperialists, has been quickly retreating from the scene (despite a comeback in Egypt).

No Institutions. Here we come to the key element. The post-colonial Arab dictators ran moukhabarat states: states whose order depended on the secret police and the other, related security services. But beyond that, institutional and bureaucratic development was weak and unresponsive to the needs of the population — a population that, because it was increasingly urbanized, required social services and complex infrastructure. (Alas, urban societies are more demanding on central governments than agricultural ones, and the world is rapidly urbanizing.) It is institutions that fill the gap between the ruler at the top and the extended family or tribe at the bottom. Thus, with insufficient institutional development, the chances for either dictatorship or anarchy proliferate. Civil society occupies the middle ground between those extremes, but it cannot prosper without the requisite institutions and bureaucracies.

Feeble Identities. With feeble institutions, such post-colonial states have feeble identities. If the state only means oppression, then its population consists of subjects, not citizens. Subjects of despotisms know only fear, not loyalty. If the state has only fear to offer, then, if the pillars of the dictatorship crumble or are brought low, it is non-state identities that fill the subsequent void. And in a state configured by long-standing legal borders, however artificially drawn they may have been, the triumph of non-state identities can mean anarchy.

Doctrinal Battles. Religion occupies a place in daily life in the Islamic world that the West has not known since the days — a millennium ago — when the West was called “Christendom.” Thus, non-state identity in the 21st-century Middle East generally means religious identity. And because there are variations of belief even within a great world religion like Islam, the rise of religious identity and the consequent decline of state identity means the inflammation of doctrinal disputes, which can take on an irregular, military form. In the early medieval era, the Byzantine Empire — whose whole identity was infused with Christianity — had violent, doctrinal disputes between iconoclasts (those opposed to graven images like icons) and iconodules (those who venerated them). As the Roman Empire collapsed and Christianity rose as a replacement identity, the upshot was not tranquility but violent, doctrinal disputes between Donatists, Monotheletes and other Christian sects and heresies. So, too, in the Muslim world today, as state identities weaken and sectarian and other differences within Islam come to the fore, often violently.

Information Technology. Various forms of electronic communication, often transmitted by smartphones, can empower the crowd against a hated regime, as protesters who do not know each other personally can find each other through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. But while such technology can help topple governments, it cannot provide a coherent and organized replacement pole of bureaucratic power to maintain political stability afterwards. This is how technology encourages anarchy. The Industrial Age was about bigness: big tanks, aircraft carriers, railway networks and so forth, which magnified the power of big centralized states. But the post-industrial age is about smallness, which can empower small and oppressed groups, allowing them to challenge the state — with anarchy sometimes the result.

Because we are talking here about long-term processes rather than specific events, anarchy in one form or another will be with us for some time, until new political formations arise that provide for the requisite order. And these new political formations need not be necessarily democratic.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, societies in Central and Eastern Europe that had sizable middle classes and reasonable bureaucratic traditions prior to World War II were able to transform themselves into relatively stable democracies. But the Middle East and much of Africa lack such bourgeoisie traditions, and so the fall of strongmen has left a void. West African countries that fell into anarchy in the late 1990s — a few years after my article was published — like Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast, still have not really recovered, but are wards of the international community through foreign peacekeeping forces or advisers, even as they struggle to develop a middle class and a manufacturing base. For, the development of efficient and responsive bureaucracies requires literate functionaries, which, in turn, requires a middle class.

The real question marks are Russia and China. The possible weakening of authoritarian rule in those sprawling states may usher in less democracy than chronic instability and ethnic separatism that would dwarf in scale the current instability in the Middle East. Indeed, what follows Vladimir Putin could be worse, not better. The same holds true for a weakening of autocracy in China.

The future of world politics will be about which societies can develop responsive institutions to govern vast geographical space and which cannot. That is the question toward which the present season of anarchy leads.

————– End of Essay ————–

Some might argue that this merely narrates the mechanism by which the “End Times” is being set in motion.  Who knows?  But what is, or ought to be clear is that the world has become a far more dangerous place not a nicer one as was predicted at the “end” of the cold war.  For all of the idiocy and atrocity that transpired as two superpowers used the rest of the world as their pawns against each other, the bottom line was that both realized that a full-on confrontation was not only unwinnable by either side but that it could, with a high degree of probability, leave the planet a wrecked place truly unfit for human habitation.  And, being politically greedy but not stupid, both realized that all it would take is one radical player in one of their puppet kingdoms to do something truly stupid and we would be drawn into such a nightmare scenario whther they wanted it or not.  Remember the Cuban Missle Crisis?

The uncontested result was that the superpowers kept an ultimatly tight rein on their various puppet regimes and forced them to play relatively nice in their own sandboxes.  But that grip that kept us out of World War III was tenuous and maintained only by sometimes brutal authority.  Whine about it all we can as we pretend to some enlightenment and humanity, but the real politic on the ground shows us to be a species exactly as people like Harris and Ardrey posulated: ferociously territorial, acquisitive, and aggressive.

When the Soviet control of the Balkans was lifted, within days ethinic groups that had peacefully coexisted under the iron fist of soviet sponsored dictators, returned to killing each other wholesale.  In Africa and the middle east colonial powers, which had created working governmental infrastructures, granted independence to cultures that begged and fought for it under the assurances they were as good at governing themselves as any of the imperial powers.  The result?  Within weeks the various factions were back to committing genocide and mayhem on each other and the infrastructors collapsed around them.

How can that be?  If, as is passionately argued, all cultures are equally capable of enlightend behavior toward their own and their world, then it can NOT be happening.  But it has… and is still going on.  Kaplan’s essay addressed some of the objective reasons, but if you think about them for a few minutes they are extremely disturbing in their implications.

Is, for example, our much vaunted technical progress that has elevated our standards of living and put us in touch with the world actually an underlying cause of the anarchy and the ruin that will flow from it?  Is our enlightened desire to grant independence and self-determination to people not always a good thing for them OR for us?  Was the often brutal and always self serving actions of the superpowers in controlling their puppets actualy responsible for a quieter and safer world that the one that has resulted from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the cold war mentalities?

If that is true, even in potential, then we would be fored to ask how many other modern concepts that seem so humane, so fair, so proper, so “good” may turn out to have a very keen double edge that will, in the end, swing round and take a chunk out of us in some extremely tender spot and leave us far worse off than before we “got it” about how we should allow any and every behavior and never discriminate between “right” and “wrong” actions or choices?  And worse in today’s environment, it may force us to consider that some of the modern anarchic groups are fanning the flames of actions that will somedy burn us all down, the good with the bad?

To the “modern” progressive mind those are unthinkable possibilities.  So too is the idea that a divine power is unravelling the fabric that holds the world together and worse, He is doing so on purpose.  So what is left?  What is causing it?  That is a critical question and seeking an even more critical answer… at least if we would like NOT to see the world descend inescapably into a state of anarchy that will reduce us back to a far more primitive state and set in motion the horrid future of many negative sci-fi futures.

And given the accelerating rate of decay, we do really need to find some answers faily quickly.

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Some Perspective on PRISM and Other Spooky Stuff

As many of my close friends know, I have more than a passing acquaintance with the intelligence world. Note that I did not say, the “intelligent” world; I am currently in academia where, as Arthur C. Clark wrote, those in academia too often have had their education far surpass their intellect.  I’m talking about “intelligence” in the sense of one team trying to gain an advantage over an opposite team by learning the plans of the other team and/or when possible disrupting those plans one way or another.

On a geopolitical front, ALL of the teams, large and small, have fielded players in this global and sometimes ugly game because all have a vested interest in sustaining their futures and not being overrun by a surprise action on the part of some other team that would dearly like to see you and your homies wiped off of the face of the earth.

THe current and on-going flap over the espionage and counter-intelligence resulting from those well meaning but useful (to the other teams) idiots Manning and Snowden has roused many who were too busy or too dense to be aware of activities long ago publicized, into a state of righteous indignation even if that is based on nearly terminal ignorance of the geopolitical world.  I’ve shied away from posting about it because it would be too easy to counter that I would simply be self-serving in doing so or too biased to do it more or less objectively.  But those of you who have read this blog for any length of time know that I very much like the private intel fromn groups like STRATFOR and LIGNET, but most especially the former.

What follows, republished by permission from STRATFOR, is a report by their founder, George Friedman, giving some background and, in the end, asking the important questions we need to disxuss as a nation vis-a-vis such activities.  I think it gives the clearest context for the issue I’ve read so here it is.

——— ESSAY ON THE NSA and PRISM by George Friedman ———–

Keeping the NSA in Perspective

In June 1942, the bulk of the Japanese fleet sailed to seize the Island of Midway. Had Midway fallen, Pearl Harbor would have been at risk and U.S. submarines, unable to refuel at Midway, would have been much less effective. Most of all, the Japanese wanted to surprise the Americans and draw them into a naval battle they couldn’t win.

The Japanese fleet was vast. The Americans had two carriers intact in addition to one that was badly damaged. The United States had only one advantage: It had broken Japan’s naval code and thus knew a great deal of the country’s battle plan. In large part because of this cryptologic advantage, a handful of American ships devastated the Japanese fleet and changed the balance of power in the Pacific permanently.

This — and the advantage given to the allies by penetrating German codes — taught the Americans about the centrality of communications code breaking. It is reasonable to argue that World War II would have ended much less satisfactorily for the United States had its military not broken German and Japanese codes. Where the Americans had previously been guided to a great extent by Henry Stimson’s famous principle that “gentlemen do not read each other’s mail,” by the end of World War II they were obsessed with stealing and reading all relevant communications.

The National Security Agency evolved out of various post-war organizations charged with this task. In 1951, all of these disparate efforts were organized under the NSA to capture and decrypt communications of other governments around the world — particularly those of the Soviet Union, which was ruled by Josef Stalin, and of China, which the United States was fighting in 1951. How far the NSA could go in pursuing this was governed only by the extent to which such communications were electronic and the extent to which the NSA could intercept and decrypt them.

The amount of communications other countries sent electronically surged after World War II yet represented only a fraction of their communications. Resources were limited, and given that the primary threat to the United States was posed by nation-states, the NSA focused on state communications. But the principle on which the NSA was founded has remained, and as the world has come to rely more heavily on electronic and digital communication, the scope of the NSA’s commission has expanded.

What drove all of this was Pearl Harbor. The United States knew that the Japanese were going to attack. They did not know where or when. The result was disaster. All American strategic thinking during the Cold War was built around Pearl Harbor — the deep fear that the Soviets would launch a first strike that the United States did not know about. The fear of an unforeseen nuclear attack gave the NSA leave to be as aggressive as possible in penetrating not only Soviet codes but also the codes of other nations. You don’t know what you don’t know, and given the stakes, the United States became obsessed with knowing everything it possibly could.

In order to collect data about nuclear attacks, you must also collect vast amounts of data that have nothing to do with nuclear attacks. The Cold War with the Soviet Union had to do with more than just nuclear exchanges, and the information on what the Soviets were doing — what governments they had penetrated, who was working for them — was a global issue. But you couldn’t judge what was important and what was unimportant until after you read it. Thus the mechanics of assuaging fears about a “nuclear Pearl Harbor” rapidly devolved into a global collection system, whereby vast amounts of information were collected regardless of their pertinence to the Cold War.

There was nothing that was not potentially important, and a highly focused collection strategy could miss vital things. So the focus grew, the technology advanced and the penetration of private communications logically followed. This was not confined to the United States. The Soviet Union, China, the United Kingdom, France, Israel, India and any country with foreign policy interests spent a great deal on collecting electronic information. Much of what was collected on all sides was not read because far more was collected than could possibly be absorbed by the staff. Still, it was collected. It became a vast intrusion mitigated only by inherent inefficiency or the strength of the target’s encryption.

Justified Fear

The Pearl Harbor dread declined with the end of the Cold War — until Sept. 11, 2001. In order to understand 9/11’s impact, a clear memory of our own fears must be recalled. As individuals, Americans were stunned by 9/11 not only because of its size and daring but also because it was unexpected. Terrorist attacks were not uncommon, but this one raised another question: What comes next? Unlike Timothy McVeigh, it appeared that al Qaeda was capable of other, perhaps greater acts of terrorism. Fear gripped the land. It was a justified fear, and while it resonated across the world, it struck the United States particularly hard.

Part of the fear was that U.S. intelligence had failed again to predict the attack.  The public did not know what would come next, nor did it believe that U.S. intelligence had any idea. A federal commission on 9/11 was created to study the defense failure. It charged that the president had ignored warnings. The focus in those days was on intelligence failure. The CIA admitted it lacked the human sources inside al Qaeda. By default the only way to track al Qaeda was via their communications. It was to be the NSA’s job.

As we have written, al Qaeda was a global, sparse and dispersed network. It appeared to be tied together by burying itself in a vast new communications network: the Internet. At one point, al Qaeda had communicated by embedding messages in pictures transmitted via the Internet. They appeared to be using free and anonymous Hotmail accounts. To find Japanese communications, you looked in the electronic ether. To find al Qaeda’s message, you looked on the Internet.

But with a global, sparse and dispersed network you are looking for at most a few hundred men in the midst of billions of people, and a few dozen messages among hundreds of billions. And given the architecture of the Internet, the messages did not have to originate where the sender was located or be read where the reader was located. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. The needle can be found only if you are willing to sift the entire haystack. That led to PRISM and other NSA programs.

The mission was to stop any further al Qaeda attacks. The means was to break into their communications and read their plans and orders. To find their plans and orders, it was necessary to examine all communications. The anonymity of the Internet and the uncertainties built into its system meant that any message could be one of a tiny handful of messages. Nothing could be ruled out. Everything was suspect. This was reality, not paranoia.

It also meant that the NSA could not exclude the communications of American citizens because some al Qaeda members were citizens. This was an attack on the civil rights of Americans, but it was not an unprecedented attack. During World War II, the United States imposed postal censorship on military personnel, and the FBI intercepted selected letters sent in the United States and from overseas. The government created a system of voluntary media censorship that was less than voluntary in many ways. Most famously, the United States abrogated the civil rights of citizens of Japanese origin by seizing property and transporting them to other locations. Members of pro-German organizations were harassed and arrested even prior to Pearl Harbor. Decades earlier, Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War, effectively allowing the arrest and isolation of citizens without due process.

There are two major differences between the war on terror and the aforementioned wars. First, there was a declaration of war in World War II. Second, there is a provision in the Constitution that allows the president to suspend habeas corpus in the event of a rebellion. The declaration of war imbues the president with certain powers as commander in chief — as does rebellion. Neither of these conditions was put in place to justify NSA programs such as PRISM.

Moreover, partly because of the constitutional basis of the actions and partly because of the nature of the conflicts, World War II and the Civil War had a clear end, a point at which civil rights had to be restored or a process had to be created for their restoration. No such terminal point exists for the war on terror. As was witnessed at the Boston Marathon — and in many instances over the past several centuries — the ease with which improvised explosive devices can be assembled makes it possible for simple terrorist acts to be carried out cheaply and effectively. Some plots might be detectable by intercepting all communications, but obviously the Boston Marathon attack could not be predicted.

The problem with the war on terror is that it has no criteria of success that is potentially obtainable. It defines no level of terrorism that is tolerable but has as its goal the elimination of all terrorism, not just from Islamic sources but from all sources. That is simply never going to happen and therefore, PRISM and its attendant programs will never end. These intrusions, unlike all prior ones, have set a condition for success that is unattainable, and therefore the suspension of civil rights is permanent. Without a constitutional amendment, formal declaration of war or declaration of a state of emergency, the executive branch has overridden fundamental limits on its powers and protections for citizens.

Since World War II, the constitutional requirements for waging war have fallen by the wayside. President Harry S. Truman used a U.N resolution to justify the Korean War. President Lyndon Johnson justified an extended large-scale war with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, equating it to a declaration of war. The conceptual chaos of the war on terror left out any declaration, and it also included North Korea in the axis of evil the United States was fighting against. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden is charged with aiding an enemy that has never been legally designated. Anyone who might contemplate terrorism is therefore an enemy. The enemy in this case was clear. It was the organization of al Qaeda but since that was not a rigid nation but an evolving group, the definition spread well beyond them to include any person contemplating an infinite number of actions. After all, how do you define terrorism, and how do you distinguish it from crime?

Three thousand people died in the 9/11 attacks, and we know that al Qaeda wished to kill more because it has said that it intended to do so. Al Qaeda and other jihadist movements — and indeed those unaffiliated with Islamic movements — pose threats. Some of their members are American citizens, others are citizens of foreign nations. Preventing these attacks, rather than prosecuting in the aftermath, is important. I do not know enough about PRISM to even try to guess how useful it is.

At the same time, the threat that PRISM is fighting must be kept in perspective. Some terrorist threats are dangerous, but you simply cannot stop every nut who wants to pop off a pipe bomb for a political cause. So the critical question is whether the danger posed by terrorism is sufficient to justify indifference to the spirit of the Constitution, despite the current state of the law. If it is, then formally declare war or declare a state of emergency. The danger of PRISM and other programs is that the decision to build it was not made after the Congress and the president were required to make a clear finding on war and peace. That was the point where they undermined the Constitution, and the American public is responsible for allowing them to do so.

Defensible Origins, Dangerous Futures

The emergence of programs such as PRISM was not the result of despots seeking to control the world. It had a much more clear, logical and defensible origin in our experiences of war and in legitimate fears of real dangers. The NSA was charged with stopping terrorism, and it devised a plan that was not nearly as secret as some claim. Obviously it was not as effective as hoped, or the Boston Marathon attack wouldn’t have happened. If the program was meant to suppress dissent it has certainly failed, as the polls and the media of the past weeks show.

The revelations about PRISM are far from new or interesting in themselves. The NSA was created with a charter to do these things, and given the state of technology it was inevitable that the NSA would be capturing communications around the world. Many leaks prior to Snowden’s showed that the NSA was doing this. It would have been more newsworthy if the leak revealed the NSA had not been capturing all communications. But this does give us an opportunity to consider what has happened and to consider whether it is tolerable.

The threat posed by PRISM and other programs is not what has been done with them but rather what could happen if they are permitted to survive. But this is not simply about the United States ending this program. The United States certainly is not the only country with such a program. But a reasonable start is for the country that claims to be most dedicated to its Constitution to adhere to it meticulously above and beyond the narrowest interpretation. This is not a path without danger. As Benjamin Franklin said, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

———-End of STRATFOR Essay—————

It is so easy to see the world as simply filled with others who all just want what we want and if we would just play nice in the sandbox, so would they.  Jimmy Carter believed that and it led to one of his most important quotes when that nice belief blew up in his face, “I can’t believe the lied to me!”

But we are in a world in which some very capable and scary folks want us dead and removed from the planet.  THey do not want out good or standard of living which they see as decadent at best and blasphemous at worst.  THey just want us GONE so they can establish their theological world empire and see anyone opposing that goal as Godless sinners to be eradicated.  The problem is they are transnational and not constrained to a political state with which we could easily deal.  Their ideology has cost us lots of lives and damage.  Their diffuse organization means a decisive frontal assault is not only unlikely it is, for all practical purposes, impossible to define much less carry out.

So the only remaining question for us, as a country that at least used to be of, by, and for the people (not of, by, and for the government) is how much, if any, of our freedoms are we willing to give to that government to support its efforts to keep us safe from those and other threats and to perserve and defend the Consititution and to faithfully execute the laws passed by Congress, as they swear an oath to do?

Or maybe the more important question is, since we have already allowed that oath to be selectively kept and broken at will, do we even care anymore.  Because of we are OK with the selective breaking of that oath for things we may like, we have no standing to complain when it is also broken for things someone ELSE likes but we don’t.

As I’ve written elsewhere, if we allow the Constitution and its rules to be re-interpreted by any new regime, then it has no meaning, no rules, and though we would not have the nerve to say so, we have de facto scrapped the whole thing on the midden heap of convenience and entitlement.  Is that something we really want?

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power

San Diego:  As many of you know I am a HUGE fan of the private intelligence company STRATFOR.  Their analysis of geopolitical realities around the world and domestically sets the standard for insight and accuracy because their clients — big business — does not care about political spin such as the government imposes on the intelligence it gathers, it cares about success.  And success only comes from knowing, with accuracy, what your field of “battle” is really like.  Ideology rarely if ever defines reality.

Clearly this country is in crisis.  I watched with amazement, horror, and sadness as, on the Sunday news shows, representatives from left and right talked past one another.  They were far more interested in scoring ideological points that searching for workable solutions. In what has become typical American fashion, they debated how to address symptoms and completely avoided any discussion of underlying causes.

But not STRATFOR.  So once again I’m going to, with their permission, re-publish the analysis by their founder George Freidman and send it off with this warning: if we do not insist our politicians get off their ideological high horses and start facing then coming to grips with reality, our economy, our country, our culture and society all are sitting at the point of balance at the entrance into a black hole.

————–STRATFOR Article follows———————

Last week I wrote about the crisis of unemployment in Europe. I received a great deal of feedback, with Europeans agreeing that this is the core problem and Americans arguing that the United States has the same problem, asserting that U.S. unemployment is twice as high as the government’s official unemployment rate. My counterargument is that unemployment in the United States is not a problem in the same sense that it is in Europe because it does not pose a geopolitical threat. The United States does not face political disintegration from unemployment, whatever the number is. Europe might.

At the same time, I would agree that the United States faces a potentially significant but longer-term geopolitical problem deriving from economic trends. The threat to the United States is the persistent decline in the middle class’ standard of living, a problem that is reshaping the social order that has been in place since World War II and that, if it continues, poses a threat to American power.

The Crisis of the American Middle Class

The median household income of Americans in 2011 was $49,103. Adjusted for inflation, the median income is just below what it was in 1989 and is $4,000 less than it was in 2000. Take-home income is a bit less than $40,000 when Social Security and state and federal taxes are included. That means a monthly income, per household, of about $3,300. It is urgent to bear in mind that half of all American households earn less than this. It is also vital to consider not the difference between 1990 and 2011, but the difference between the 1950s and 1960s and the 21st century. This is where the difference in the meaning of middle class becomes most apparent.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the median income allowed you to live with a single earner — normally the husband, with the wife typically working as homemaker — and roughly three children. It permitted the purchase of modest tract housing, one late model car and an older one. It allowed a driving vacation somewhere and, with care, some savings as well. I know this because my family was lower-middle class, and this is how we lived, and I know many others in my generation who had the same background. It was not an easy life and many luxuries were denied us, but it wasn’t a bad life at all.

Someone earning the median income today might just pull this off, but it wouldn’t be easy. Assuming that he did not have college loans to pay off but did have two car loans to pay totaling $700 a month, and that he could buy food, clothing and cover his utilities for $1,200 a month, he would have $1,400 a month for mortgage, real estate taxes and insurance, plus some funds for fixing the air conditioner and dishwasher. At a 5 percent mortgage rate, that would allow him to buy a house in the $200,000 range. He would get a refund back on his taxes from deductions but that would go to pay credit card bills he had from Christmas presents and emergencies. It could be done, but not easily and with great difficulty in major metropolitan areas. And if his employer didn’t cover health insurance, that $4,000-5,000 for three or four people would severely limit his expenses. And of course, he would have to have $20,000-40,000 for a down payment and closing costs on his home. There would be little else left over for a week at the seashore with the kids.

And this is for the median. Those below him — half of all households — would be shut out of what is considered middle-class life, with the house, the car and the other associated amenities. Those amenities shift upward on the scale for people with at least $70,000 in income. The basics might be available at the median level, given favorable individual circumstance, but below that life becomes surprisingly meager, even in the range of the middle class and certainly what used to be called the lower-middle class.

The Expectation of Upward Mobility

I should pause and mention that this was one of the fundamental causes of the 2007-2008 subprime lending crisis. People below the median took out loans with deferred interest with the expectation that their incomes would continue the rise that was traditional since World War II. The caricature of the borrower as irresponsible misses the point. The expectation of rising real incomes was built into the American culture, and many assumed based on that that the rise would resume in five years. When it didn’t they were trapped, but given history, they were not making an irresponsible assumption.

American history was always filled with the assumption that upward mobility was possible. The Midwest and West opened land that could be exploited, and the massive industrialization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries opened opportunities. There was a systemic expectation of upward mobility built into American culture and reality.

The Great Depression was a shock to the system, and it wasn’t solved by the New Deal, nor even by World War II alone. The next drive for upward mobility came from post-war programs for veterans, of whom there were more than 10 million. These programs were instrumental in creating post-industrial America, by creating a class of suburban professionals. There were three programs that were critical:

  1. The GI Bill, which allowed veterans to go to college after the war, becoming professionals frequently several notches above their parents.
  2. The part of the GI Bill that provided federally guaranteed mortgages to veterans, allowing low and no down payment mortgages and low interest rates to graduates of publicly funded universities.
  3. The federally funded Interstate Highway System, which made access to land close to but outside of cities easier, enabling both the dispersal of populations on inexpensive land (which made single-family houses possible) and, later, the dispersal of business to the suburbs.

There were undoubtedly many other things that contributed to this, but these three not only reshaped America but also created a new dimension to the upward mobility that was built into American life from the beginning. Moreover, these programs were all directed toward veterans, to whom it was acknowledged a debt was due, or were created for military reasons (the Interstate Highway System was funded to enable the rapid movement of troops from coast to coast, which during World War II was found to be impossible). As a result, there was consensus around the moral propriety of the programs.

The subprime fiasco was rooted in the failure to understand that the foundations of middle class life were not under temporary pressure but something more fundamental. Where a single earner could support a middle class family in the generation after World War II, it now took at least two earners. That meant that the rise of the double-income family corresponded with the decline of the middle class. The lower you go on the income scale, the more likely you are to be a single mother. That shift away from social pressure for two parent homes was certainly part of the problem.

Re-engineering the Corporation

But there was, I think, the crisis of the modern corporation. Corporations provided long-term employment to the middle class. It was not unusual to spend your entire life working for one. Working for a corporation, you received yearly pay increases, either as a union or non-union worker. The middle class had both job security and rising income, along with retirement and other benefits. Over the course of time, the culture of the corporation diverged from the realities, as corporate productivity lagged behind costs and the corporations became more and more dysfunctional and ultimately unsupportable. In addition, the corporations ceased focusing on doing one thing well and instead became conglomerates, with a management frequently unable to keep up with the complexity of multiple lines of business.

For these and many other reasons, the corporation became increasingly inefficient, and in the terms of the 1980s, they had to be re-engineered — which meant taken apart, pared down, refined and refocused. And the re-engineering of the corporation, designed to make them agile, meant that there was a permanent revolution in business. Everything was being reinvented. Huge amounts of money, managed by people whose specialty was re-engineering companies, were deployed. The choice was between total failure and radical change. From the point of view of the individual worker, this frequently meant the same thing: unemployment. From the view of the economy, it meant the creation of value whether through breaking up companies, closing some of them or sending jobs overseas. It was designed to increase the total efficiency, and it worked for the most part.

This is where the disjuncture occurred. From the point of view of the investor, they had saved the corporation from total meltdown by redesigning it. From the point of view of the workers, some retained the jobs that they would have lost, while others lost the jobs they would have lost anyway. But the important thing is not the subjective bitterness of those who lost their jobs, but something more complex.

As the permanent corporate jobs declined, more people were starting over. Some of them were starting over every few years as the agile corporation grew more efficient and needed fewer employees. That meant that if they got new jobs it would not be at the munificent corporate pay rate but at near entry-level rates in the small companies that were now the growth engine. As these companies failed, were bought or shifted direction, they would lose their jobs and start over again. Wages didn’t rise for them and for long periods they might be unemployed, never to get a job again in their now obsolete fields, and certainly not working at a company for the next 20 years.

The restructuring of inefficient companies did create substantial value, but that value did not flow to the now laid-off workers. Some might flow to the remaining workers, but much of it went to the engineers who restructured the companies and the investors they represented. Statistics reveal that, since 1947 (when the data was first compiled), corporate profits as a percentage of gross domestic product are now at their highest level, while wages as a percentage of GDP are now at their lowest level. It was not a question of making the economy more efficient — it did do that — it was a question of where the value accumulated. The upper segment of the wage curve and the investors continued to make money. The middle class divided into a segment that entered the upper-middle class, while another faction sank into the lower-middle class.

American society on the whole was never egalitarian. It always accepted that there would be substantial differences in wages and wealth. Indeed, progress was in some ways driven by a desire to emulate the wealthy. There was also the expectation that while others received far more, the entire wealth structure would rise in tandem. It was also understood that, because of skill or luck, others would lose.

What we are facing now is a structural shift, in which the middle class’ center, not because of laziness or stupidity, is shifting downward in terms of standard of living. It is a structural shift that is rooted in social change (the breakdown of the conventional family) and economic change (the decline of traditional corporations and the creation of corporate agility that places individual workers at a massive disadvantage).

The inherent crisis rests in an increasingly efficient economy and a population that can’t consume what is produced because it can’t afford the products. This has happened numerous times in history, but the United States, excepting the Great Depression, was the counterexample.

Obviously, this is a massive political debate, save that political debates identify problems without clarifying them. In political debates, someone must be blamed. In reality, these processes are beyond even the government’s ability to control. On one hand, the traditional corporation was beneficial to the workers until it collapsed under the burden of its costs. On the other hand, the efficiencies created threaten to undermine consumption by weakening the effective demand among half of society.

The Long-Term Threat

The greatest danger is one that will not be faced for decades but that is lurking out there. The United States was built on the assumption that a rising tide lifts all ships. That has not been the case for the past generation, and there is no indication that this socio-economic reality will change any time soon. That means that a core assumption is at risk. The problem is that social stability has been built around this assumption — not on the assumption that everyone is owed a living, but the assumption that on the whole, all benefit from growing productivity and efficiency.

If we move to a system where half of the country is either stagnant or losing ground while the other half is surging, the social fabric of the United States is at risk, and with it the massive global power the United States has accumulated. Other superpowers such as Britain or Rome did not have the idea of a perpetually improving condition of the middle class as a core value. The United States does. If it loses that, it loses one of the pillars of its geopolitical power.

The left would argue that the solution is for laws to transfer wealth from the rich to the middle class. That would increase consumption but, depending on the scope, would threaten the amount of capital available to investment by the transfer itself and by eliminating incentives to invest. You can’t invest what you don’t have, and you won’t accept the risk of investment if the payoff is transferred away from you.

The agility of the American corporation is critical. The right will argue that allowing the free market to function will fix the problem. The free market doesn’t guarantee social outcomes, merely economic ones. In other words, it may give more efficiency on the whole and grow the economy as a whole, but by itself it doesn’t guarantee how wealth is distributed. The left cannot be indifferent to the historical consequences of extreme redistribution of wealth. The right cannot be indifferent to the political consequences of a middle-class life undermined, nor can it be indifferent to half the population’s inability to buy the products and services that businesses sell.

The most significant actions made by governments tend to be unintentional. The GI Bill was designed to limit unemployment among returning serviceman; it inadvertently created a professional class of college graduates. The VA loan was designed to stimulate the construction industry; it created the basis for suburban home ownership. The Interstate Highway System was meant to move troops rapidly in the event of war; it created a new pattern of land use that was suburbia.

It is unclear how the private sector can deal with the problem of pressure on the middle class. Government programs frequently fail to fulfill even minimal intentions while squandering scarce resources. The United States has been a fortunate country, with solutions frequently emerging in unexpected ways.

It would seem to me that unless the United States gets lucky again, its global dominance is in jeopardy. Considering its history, the United States can expect to get lucky again, but it usually gets lucky when it is frightened. And at this point it isn’t frightened but angry, believing that if only its own solutions were employed, this problem and all others would go away. I am arguing that the conventional solutions offered by all sides do not yet grasp the magnitude of the problem — that the foundation of American society is at risk — and therefore all sides are content to repeat what has been said before.

People who are smarter and luckier than I am will have to craft the solution. I am simply pointing out the potential consequences of the problem and the inadequacy of all the ideas I have seen so far

The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

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

We have reached political gridlock because all sides can accurately see the policies of the other side as failing.  Because all sides, as i’ve said before in this blog, are true believers with no room to compromise.  The problem is the left consists of true believers in a world that never existed and runs counter to human nature and the right consists of true believers in a rosy view of a world that no longer exists and did exist only because of very specific environmental and social factors.

There is no room to compromise when both tightly held belief systems are based in a fantasy.  Both fail to deliver becuase they cannot succeed based on those fantasies.  This article provides an opportunity for a few people, those who subscribe to their service and those readers of this and other blogs that may reprint it or paraphrase it in their own words, to step outside the malestrom of competing political fantasies, and start to think hard about the underlying realities that may need to be addressed (note, I did NOT say “fixed) if we are to pull back from the black hole.

Now, if only i believed that was even remotely likely to happen…

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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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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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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Isolationism vis-a-vis Afghanistan and Pakistan

San Diego – There is a huge difference between being an “Isolationist” and someone who believes that it is not in our best or lasting interests to keep poking around in business or affairs of other countries.  In this one thing, at least, i tend to agree with the words in King Barrack’s speech yesterday.  That distinction appears to be lost on the media and also on the public for whom labels, especially simplistic ones, are needed to define their views of the world in the face of an utter lack of knowledge sufficient to make an informed and meaningful analysis.

The true isolationist wants to essentially build a wall around the country and become utterly self sufficient and apart from the rest of the world.  Perhaps there was a time when that was possible, whether or not it was wise.  Not even Switzerland, famed for its neutrality and avoidance of foreign entanglements, attempts that sort of isolation.  But to be a good neighbor often means staying out of others’ business even when that business is confusing or abhorrent to you.  Somewhere between true isolationism and wanting to be the policeman of the world is a wiser more sustainable approach.

Whether we like it or not, we are part of a larger world in which global economies and State politics have an impact on our lives and fortunes for good or for ill.  So, inconvenient as it may be for us, we simply cannot pull out of the world as if we all lived on another planet and could simply watch and snicker at the interplay of ego and idiocy happening before us.  Treading that extremely fine line between protecting true national interests and trying to impose our will on others, tracking wisely between an understanding of the needs and sensitivities of other states not as lucky as ours in terms of defense capabilities, and a complete dismissal of those other views seeing them as enemies or potential enemies when they do something we think is counter to our own interests, requires serious leadership and wisdom… neither of which seems to be available to us at the moment.

A major case in point is Pakistan and Afghanistan. One-dimensional pundits on both left and right want us to just get the heck out if we are not willing to fight to win.  Well, to be fair, those in the left want us out period.  And i have argued that we should never engage militarily ANYwhere unless we are willing to go all out to win.  But the bottom line is the same.  And further, many on the right want to somehow punish Pakistan for seeming to work against us in the war against the islamists and the Taliban.  Once again, small minds see only the small picture and can get their minds around only the simplistic answers.  If only the world were that simple and straight forward.

Below are several paragraphs excerpted from an Intel Report from Stratfor on the situation that explains the bind we and the Pakistanis have created for ourselves. (This was presented before the President’s speech on the drawdown.)

“Sept. 11, 2001, posed a profound threat to Pakistan. On one side, Pakistan faced a United States in a state of crisis, demanding Pakistani support against both al Qaeda and the Taliban. On the other side Pakistan had a massive Islamist movement hostile to the United States and intelligence services that had, for a generation, been intimately linked to Afghan Islamists, first with whole-hearted U.S. support, then with its benign indifference. The American demands involved shredding close relationships in Afghanistan, supporting an American occupation in Afghanistan and therefore facing internal resistance and threats in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The Pakistani solution was the only one it could come up with to placate both the United States and the forces in Pakistan that did not want to cooperate with the United States. The Pakistanis lied. To be more precise and fair, they did as much as they could for the United States without completely destabilizing Pakistan while making it appear that they were being far more cooperative with the Americans and far less cooperative with their public. As in any such strategy, the ISI and Islamabad found themselves engaged in a massive balancing act.

“U.S. and Pakistani national interests widely diverged. The United States wanted to disrupt al Qaeda regardless of the cost. The Pakistanis wanted to avoid the collapse of their regime at any cost. These were not compatible goals. At the same time, the United States and Pakistan needed each other. The United States could not possibly operate in Afghanistan without some Pakistani support, ranging from the use of Karachi and the Karachi-Khyber and Karachi-Chaman lines of supply to at least some collaboration on intelligence sharing, at least on al Qaeda. The Pakistanis badly needed American support against India. If the United States simply became pro-Indian, the Pakistani position would be in severe jeopardy.

“The United States was always aware of the limits of Pakistani assistance. The United States accepted this publicly because it made Pakistan appear to be an ally at a time when the United States was under attack for unilateralism. It accepted it privately as well because it did not want to see Pakistan destabilize. The Pakistanis were aware of the limits of American tolerance, so a game was played out.

“That game is now breaking down, not because the United States raided Pakistan and killed bin Laden but because it is becoming apparent to Pakistan that the United States will, sooner or later, be dramatically drawing down its forces in Afghanistan. This drawdown creates three facts. First, Pakistan will be facing the future on its western border with Afghanistan without an American force to support it. Pakistan does not want to alienate the Taliban, and not just for ideological reasons. It also expects the Taliban to govern Afghanistan in due course. India aside, Pakistan needs to maintain its ties to the Taliban in order to maintain its influence in Afghanistan and guard its western flank. Being cooperative with the United States is less important. Second, Pakistan is aware that as the United States draws down, it will need Pakistan to cover its withdrawal strategically. Afghanistan is not Iraq, and as the U.S. force draws down, it will be in greater danger. The U.S. needs Pakistani influence. Finally, there will be a negotiation with the Taliban, and elements of Pakistan, particularly the ISI, will be the intermediary.

“The Pakistanis are preparing for the American drawdown. Publicly, it is important for them to appears independent and even hostile to the /united States in order to maintain their domestic credibility. Up to now, they have appeared to various factions in Pakistan as American lackeys. If the United States is leaving, the Pakistanis can’t afford to appear that way anymore. There are genuine issues separating the two countries, but in the end, the show is as important as the issues. U.S. accusations that the government has not cooperated with the United States in fighting Islamists are exactly what the Pakistani establishment needs in order to move to the next phase.”

Into this quagmire steps our benighted leader.  True, he did not creat it, the hated Bush Demon created it by allowing the mission to creep beyond simply stopping Afghanistan from allowing Al Qaida and other islamist/jihadists a training ground and base from which to attack us and into a full blown campaign to stabilize a nation ruled by systemic corruption that would make the Mexican Authorities look like choir boys. He leads from a position of experiential ignorance and in opposition to the military’s assessment of what is needed. (The military wanted to at least complete the 2012 fighting season before drawing down but that extends into September and did not give the political impact needed by the President for his campaign.)

The pull out period, due to both the timing and the advanced notice to the enemy will be an extremely dangerous period for our troops and very much unlike Iraq where an agreement was reached with the Sunni insurgents.  Unfortunately no such agreement currently exists with the Taliban.  And without it, Pakistan is an incredibly important piece in the puzzle as the quickest routes of retreat for all of the heavy metal that cannot easily be airlifted out is over the Khyber Pass region and into their country.

This administration has continued and expanded the Bush Demon’s initial goals into ones clearly impossible and now added to the military problems by announcing when we were leaving so the enemy can simply prepare for it and as our force dwindles to some critical mass, pounce and show the world clearly an important symbolic message that (a) the U.S. once again ran with its tail between its legs when the going got touch, (b) they could deliver major blows to this paper tiger, and (c) send a message that no one in history has STILL managed to defeat and control that region.

Just as with our economic problems, the polarized factions in our own government have so muddied the water as to make any clean end-game impossible.  Preferring going to the wall to maintain their own ideological views and seat at the table, no matter how shortsighted or counterproductive, they have been willing to sacrifice the well being of the country. There are no innocent parties here and no good sides to take anymore.  Our dear leaders have sidestepped plans that might, at one point, have solved things with some but minimal pain and reached a point where there are no good solutions left only extremely painful ones for us all, and even the tentative steps being suggested are too often proposed for all the wrong reasons and to make sure it is “them” who suffers and not “us.”  .

In a previous post asking whose side we were on, I provided the math to show what the real impact of this pull out will be on our economy if ALL military budgets now requested for the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan were eliminated.  Bottom line; it will not make even a small dent in the deficit, much less the debt.

We are no longer a country of Chess Players.  indeed we are no longer a country of Checkers Players.  In fact it would seem as if our “brilliant” leaders could not predictably win a game of Old Maid against the nearest potted plant.  The only strategic game our dear leader seems competent at is national Russian Roulette.  Thus far, Stratfor’s assessments have been spot on.  in this instance if they are even close (I encourage you to read it all from the link below) then the speech our Dear Leader gave yesterday was simply delusional especially since his own intel people are telling pretty much the same story as Stratfor.

Here again, ideology trumps reality.  And once again it adds fuel to my ugly conclusions that we are being slowly brought to our knees from within so we can be rebuilt in the Dear One’s image.  He even said as much when he said we should not be Nation Building” elsewhere but needed to do “Nation Building” here.  But we have a nation… oh wait, this is not the worker’s paradise of a nation into which King Barrack openly wishes to transform us.  For that, we must build a NEW nation, right after we effectively destroy this one.  Meantime, does that not run counter to Libya?

John Quincy Adams wrote that,

“… our task is to be the advocate for liberty everywhere, but the defender of ours alone.

Jim Webb, Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy and now a Democrat Senator said, relative to the attack against Libya,

“Was our country under attack, or under the threat of imminent attack? Was a clearly vital national interest at stake? Were we invoking the inherent right of self-defense as outlined in the United Nations charter? Were we called upon by treaty commitments to come to the aid of an ally? Were we responding in kind to an attack on our forces elsewhere, as we did in the 1986 raids in Libya after American soldiers had been killed in a disco in Berlin? Were we rescuing Americans in distress, as we did in Grenada in 1983? No, we were not.”

i increasingly think we are under sttack.  But it is not from the middle east!

Here is the link to the complete Stratfor intel report i quoted from above.

U.S. and Pakistan: Afghan Strategies is republished with permission of STRATFOR

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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