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Archive for the ‘War & Peace’ Category

888310_40006bf856fa4889a769e8d5541e98d4The on-going clash between left and right is putting at risk the stability of Constitutional democracy, the rule of law, peace, and prosperity.  Conservatives and Liberals must stop shouting at each other long enough to notice and protect more important shared values, and to halt the destruction of institutions in motion now that threatens to destroy us all.

Left and right speak to some common goals including shared prosperity, and respect for democracy and the rule of law.  Where left and right part is the means.  Left sees state intervention on behalf of those who struggle as the means to shared prosperity, whereas right sees less fettered market forces as the means to shared prosperity.

Neocons and demagogues push the right a fatal step further – they see the destruction of the state as legitimate means to an end.  Economic self-interest has been perverted into hostility to the state, hostility to foreigners, and hostility to stabilizing international norms and institutions.  For some conservatives, it has been a convenient rhetorical tool to sell limited taxation and regulation at the ballot box.  However most conservatives never sought to destroy the institutions of democracy.

Now, reap the whirlwind.  The destruction of the state and the rise of demagogues is a danger to all, right and left.

[H]istory tells us where this leads – demonizing foreigners, domestic political opponents, and the judiciary, domestic strife, calls to violence, and the inevitable final refuge of struggling dictators – war

That brings us to Thomas Picketty, whose simple and unassailable observation about income and wealth reveals a dangerous failure to deliver on the promise.  Left and right can debate why until the cows come home.  What’s undeniable is that the status quo isn’t working well enough for too many of us.  That is an unstable situation, and it is a fundamental threat to peace, prosperity and democracy.

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The #1 most pressing problem is that left and right are dissipating all their energies debating the means to prosperity, and are missing out on the far more important shared concern.  Demagogues and authoritarians seek to destroy the state as a path to free markets and personal power.  They will take us all down with them if we do not act.  The green elephant in the room (above) threatens to destroy us all.

The hope is in a faith that unites many: Constitutional democracy, rule of law, state institutions, the international security architecture, and a kind of global integration good for all.  This is where we must turn our attention.

This is a call for good people on the right and left to put aside the questions that divide, for a time, and turn to the far more urgent problem – how do we preserve Constitutional democracy, the international security architecture, peace, and human decency against the rising tide of nationalism, foolish demagoguery, authoritarianism, and ill-informed or malevolent leadership?

If we don’t act, history tells us where this leads – demonizing foreigners, domestic political opponents, and the judiciary, domestic strife, calls to violence, and the inevitable final refuge of struggling dictators – war.

Don’t wait until it’s too late.

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600px-flag_of_the_united_states-svgHow will Trump act out his slogan, “America First”?

There are two broad possibilities, one transactional, the other strategic.  The transactional stream views each choice as a zero-sum game.  When one country gains an advantage, another loses.  The strategic stream seeks opportunities for mutual gain, sees peace and prosperity beyond our borders as good for America too, and considers whether both short and longer term consequences will be good for us.

Here are some examples:

TRADE

Transactional

  • We win if we maximize our exports and minimize our imports
  • We win if we exclude goods that can be made domestically

Strategic

  • We win if we maximize trade volume balanced equally
  • We win if we achieve full employment domestically, even if we import at high volume
  • We win if we and other countries have stronger economies, rising wages and improving working conditions

NATO

Transactional

  • We win if we have a strong military
  • Allies must take care of themselves, and be no burden to us
  • If our allies need help, we will be there if we see it as in our interests to do so at the time.

Strategic

  • We win if we and our allies all have a strong military
  • When our allies are strong, it’s good for us.
  • If our allies need help, they can rely on us 100%.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Transactional

  • We can weather the storm at home, if it comes
  • Drill, baby, drill

Strategic

  • Instability beyond our borders is a threat to us
  • We can prosper by developing and selling the energy solutions of tomorrow

ISRAEL

Transactional

  • Israel right or wrong

Strategic

  • General peace and prosperity for all is good for us and good for Israel

So the questions is not, America First or World First.  The question is, which vision of America First really does put America first?

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paxromanamapDonald Trump wants to end Pax Americana because it costs too much. Countries protected by American military dominance must pay, according to Trump, because we can’t afford our present posture.

Contrary to Trump, we can’t afford to abandon defending others. The cost of our own defense would rise, and we would endanger ourselves, if we walk away.

There’s a quid pro quo in place. Everyone benefits. Especially America. If we stop providing global stability, others would need to see to their own defense, and the fundamental post-war deal would unravel. We would trigger a dangerous return to a multi-polar, unstable world. That kind of isolationism is dangerous and misguided.

By providing a security umbrella we save others money, that much is so. But we also save ourselves, and we increase our own security. Countries under our umbrella pose no threat to us, and they pose no threat to others. Thus our potential rivals face a simplified defense posture, and so do we. They need only concern themselves with a unified western world, and we need only concern ourselves with a few rivals.

Could we ask for more from our putative friends? Yes. Specifically, we must demand that the Saudis and others abandon tolerating and promoting religious fanaticism. Their cash and their troops are secondary. Trump should know this if he aspires to be President.

If Trump has his way, and we return to a multi-polar world, all military budgets would be larger, especially ours. Each country would necessarily go after its own parochial agenda, with our ability to moderate allies’ behavior greatly diminished. The risks of local tensions escalating out of control would be much greater.

Pax Americana remains a safer and cheaper situation for all. We must not abandon it, even if Mr Trump wins the election. He claims he listens to the best people. Let’s hope he does, before he triggers a of round regional conflict and global re-militarization.

Update: An editorial in USA Today concludes, “this prospective commander in chief’s views are not just irresponsible: they are cataclysmically dangerous.”

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The Russia Game

 “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.”  

Winston Churchill

Just how Putin interprets that national interest is coming into focus, and it is a dangerous vision. Look beyond the claimed intentions, and discern the pattern emerging from the actual actions:

  • Intention 1: Re-establish for Russia the sense of might, malice, and unpredictability with which the Soviet Union was formerly viewed. The subtext is clear – fear us, respect us, for you don’t know what we will do.
  • Intention 2: Provoke, confront and test the limits of Western acquiescence to bold decisive military aggression – for example, to taking America’s proxies off the battlefield in Syria, to shooting down civilian aircraft (KAL 007 take 2), to taking Crimea, to taking part or perhaps all of Ukraine. Look for more to come – right up to, and perhaps over, the brink of live fire between Russian and American forces.
  • Intention 3: Secure Syria for Russia, with Assad as the means.

Of these, the third is the least of our concerns. The first two pose a serious threat. There is no appetite in the Oval Office for confronting Russia in the skies over Syria. Yet direct confrontation is where this all leads.

Washington will soon be forced to make a choice between a potentially apocalyptic confrontation, and abandoning the field. If there are no sleepless nights in the White House, there should be.

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It’s time to switch sides, to utilize Assad and his government as a means to defeat the Islamic State, and to cooperate with Russia to do it.  How do you do that without being seen to renounce the prior policy?

John Kerry formulated it this way – Assad’s removal “doesn’t have to be on day one or month one or whatever”.  “[W]e’re not being doctrinaire about the specific date or time,” Kerry said.

This is rhetorical prelude to what’s become increasingly obvious – defeating ISIS without Assad may be impractical or impossible.  Moreover, it may be undesirable to destroy Assad’s government, even if it were possible.

We’ve learned the hard way the chaos that resulted from destroying the Iraqi army, the Iraqi government, and the general de-Bathification.  In hindsight, that’s how we won the war and lost the peace.  We should not repeat that mistake in Syria.  We dare not destroy the institutions of government that hold a country together and make social order possible.

We should switch sides, work with the Russians, accept that we many need to retain Assad, for now, and ultimately seek to re-make the Assad government at a later stage.  Kerry’s new formulation may be the first step along that road.

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No More War

No more war. Don’t they get it in the White House?

Syria’s troubles are important, and we should do what we can to be useful and helpful. Cruise missiles, however, have no utility in this situation. We can only make things worse by injecting more violence into a situation we cannot control.

How can we be useful? Perhaps our options for genuine help are limited. I would propose this framework – work a deal with Russia to define an end-game that protects Russia’s interests as much as ours. They have a lot to lose if the war drags on, too. And so far they have blocked serious external pressure for an obvious reason – western plans to stop Assad are not in their interests. We need to solve that problem. Our bombs cannot do that.

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It’s no surprise that those who advocated perpetual war, a war on “terror”, whoever that is, with no definable victory or end, war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and so many others, are now making the case for Syria.

Cheney-conservatives (a shrinking minority of conservatives) see America’s authority in the world as primarily rooted in our ability to maintain fear of our military power and will. The thinking goes that failure to act leads to a decline in our influence. But that is a bad and dangerous mis-reading of history.

American power is based, at its core, on moral and economic progress, on the attractiveness of the American experiment, and not at all on our kinetic capability. If power alone carried the day, we could all be speaking German or Russian. But military power is only useful to America to the extent that it is seen (by the intended foreign audience) as right – engaged only as a last resort, minimally, for legitimate self defense.  Use of military power as a preventative is self-defeating and undermines the true source of our power and influence.

So where does that leave us in Syria? I’ll make common cause with the isolationist-conservatives, the Tea Party, and the anti-war liberals. There are no good options, but many very bad ones. Great caution.

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