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Saturday, May 31, 2014

America the Caring and Collaborative: Obama's Foreign Policy Speech

Imagine a foreign policy address written by a human resources officer and you have the essence of Obama's West Point speech.  Be more collaborative and cooperative (with our allies)  Operate with transparency (drone strikes). Work within the established bureaucratic framework. (World Bank, IMF.)  Do more with less. (Huge military cuts; smaller Army.) 

Little to inspire here. But it really is a foreign policy for our current mood.  Americans want all the benefits of being the "Last Remaining Super Power," but are balking at the costs.  Christopher Caldwell sums this up as us wanting to have our cake and eat it too:  http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/d6f891c0-e694-11e3-9a20-00144feabdc0.html#axzz33INKQDM8

Obama likes to present himself as the "anti-Bush," but this is only a head fake.  In essence, he has continued the Bush foreign policy on counterterrorsm, and is even more aggressive on drone strikes.  He doubled down on Afghanistan, agreeing to a troop surge.  He continued the withdrawal from Iraq, which was already happening.   (Obama's policy on Latin America also is identical with Bush's.)

In sentiment, however, Obama embodies the old Henry Wallace-George McGovern wing of the Democratic Party, which deeply distrusts America's power and intentions.

Consider how fortunate he is--we all are--that no major challenge to American power has occurred on his watch.  Yet, anyway.  Still two and a half years to go.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The "Patriot" Snowden's Interview

Snowden gives a long and dissembling interview with Brian Williams of NBC. http://www.nbcnews.com/#/feature/edward-snowden-interview   The press is slowly waking up out of its naive stupor about this guy, realizing that his NSA revelations have just benefited Russia and China. 

We should make a deal with Moscow:  give him to us and we'll hand over convicted spies Ames and Hansen to you. 

 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Freemasons and the Hidden Hand of History

Americans shy from talking about, or even thinking about, the role secret societies sometimes play in shaping our world.  I think this is because Americans tend to believe what they read, and tend to think history is largely transparent.  Latins, in contrast, tend to distrust what they read, and believe history is shaped by conspiratorial forces.  (Or else, why would a book like Galeano's "The Open Veins" be so popular?) 

Here's an entertaining and knowledgable piece on freemasonry by an accomplished historian of religion. I post it in large part because it is so unusual to see anything posted on it in a mainstream website. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2014/05/masons-and-catholics/ 

In France and Latin America you can read about the masons from time to time.  Knowledgable Africanists like to point to the still-important role freemasonry plays in cementing West African elites to the political class in France.

Freemasonry probably motivated at least some of the Sons of Liberty before the revolution.  Many of the founders, like George Washington, were Masons in "blue" lodges. (They didn't have the 33 degrees of the Scottish Rite.)  In the fun movie "National Treasure," the Declaration signer Charles Carroll was incorrectly described as being a mason. (He was a Jesuit-educated Catholic.)

The strong mason influence in the early Republic provoked the founding in New York of the Anti-Masonic Party, the first "third party" movement in the United States.  Some Anti-Masonic members later helped found the Whig Party in the 1830s.  (The Mighty Whig himself bears no grudge against freemasons.)

Joseph Smith was a freemason in NY before founding his church. 

Masons founded the Texas Republic.  An obelisk near the San Jacinto battlefield commemorates all the masons responsible in the founding, a who's who of early Texas history.  Santa Ana's freemasonry may have spared him his life after being captured in that battle. 

My guess is the 1830s represented the peak of masonic influence in the U.S.  But on the darker side of things, don't ignore the role masonry played in founding the Ku Klux Klan, especially during its great revivial in the 1920s.  (Driven to a large degree by the rise of Catholic influence in the Democratic Party and the candidacy of Al Smith in 1928.)

In 1995 Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan launched his "Millon Man March" on Washington DC.  During his speech, Farrakhan alluded many times to the Masonic founding of the Republic.  (Nation of Islam has unmistakable masonic influences; its founder Wallace Fard Muhammad was a Prince Hall mason.)

Supposedly, the Republican presidential ticket in 1996 featured two masons, Bob Dole and Jake Kemp.  The hidden hand didn't help them.

Anyway, I could go on...




Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Latin America: A Perfect Idiot Wises Up

"Hope springs eternal in the human breast!"  How encouraging it is to see Uruguayan scribbler Eduardo Galeano, the author of "The Open Veins of Latin America,"  now stepping away from his influential book.   I assumed his stupidity was incurable. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/24/books/eduardo-galeano-disavows-his-book-the-open-veins.html?_r=1#   Of course professors won't drop it from their curriculum, as the article reports.  

Maybe Galeano is becoming like American novelist John Dos Passos, a leftist who wrote "The U.S.A. Trilogy," (parts of which are great, by the way) but who became disillusioned later in life and backed Richard Nixon in his presidential runs.

"Open Veins" stands in the great tradition of Latin American literature to blame someone else for regional problems.  Probably this started with Rodo's "Ariel."   Perhaps the one good thing to come from "Open Veins" was that it inspired "The Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot,"  which may be about Latin America, but it has universal applicability. 

Explaining the Rise of the UKIP

Tim Stanley in the Telegraph, one of the better young conservative journalists today, discusses the UKIP's impressive win.  Politics is about competing idea-systems; parties get punished when they stray from their core beliefs.  http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/timstanley/100273205/european-elections-the-ukip-revolution-is-broad-radical-and-worthy-of-respect/

The British press has been killing the UKIP; will it continue to alienate a large part of its readership, like the US press has for so many years?    

Monday, May 26, 2014

Nationalism: Answering the "Who Are We? Question

The history John Lukacs pointed out (in many books) that we in the last century still were living the effects of the great nationalist wave.  But in this new 21st century--which Lukacs saw as beginning in 1989-1991 or so, nationalism is demonstrating its remarkable staying power.  The main news in the last two weeks were about elections dominated by nationalists: Modi's BJP in India, and now the European Parliament elections.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2638960/Will-earth-Ukip-confident-triggering-political-earthquake-winning-European-elections-tonight.html  In Europe, the nationalists are reacting against cruel austerity policies and the constant effort to lower wages with cheap immigration.

Nationalism is a good thing: you can't have a functioning democracy or true civil liberties without a self-identified "people."

Saturday, May 24, 2014

China and Russia: Nixon Wouldn't Approve

When I saw the picture on the front page the other day of Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin drinking a toast to their new gas import deal, I thought Nixon must be rolling over in his grave.  Our strategy now seems to be pushing Beijing and Moscow toward greater cooperation, which will limit our policy options toward either one of them.  George Friedman of Stratfor explains the significance:
This does not portend a return to the Sino-Soviet axis against the West of the 1950s. China is far too intertwined with the U.S. and European economies to attempt a grand realignment, and regional frictions, particularly in Central Asia and the Pacific, would further complicate such an alliance. Nonetheless, tighter bilateral relations would give Russia and China a stake in each other's futures. With significant investments in Russia, Beijing would have no desire to see an unstable Russia, and vice versa.
China now has sufficient interest in cooperating with Russia to avoid conflicts -- whether direct or in their overlapping spheres -- that could detract from Beijing's ability to manage attempts at containment by the United States and its allies. Russia is one of the few powers capable of significantly resisting or interfering with major U.S. foreign policy initiatives. Beijing's willingness to enhance its strategic relationship with Moscow reflects its belief that the United States poses a far greater threat to Chinese interests than does Russia. Similarly, giving another power a stake in Russian stability will help Moscow deter U.S. attempts to isolate or destabilize the country, particularly as tensions with the West continue to escalate.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Democracy's Real Problem

Iraq just had an election.  Well, it was last month, but finally the results are in: the "State of Law" coalition of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki "won."  That is, his list got more votes than the other lists.  His gang will get 92 of 328 seats.  Wait, a little mental math...that's 28 percent of the total.  Since the election, it took three weeks just to figure out who won.

Here's the wikipedia entry that accurately describes the Iraqi electoral system:
The open list form of party-list proportional representation, using the governorates as the constituencies, is the electoral system used. The counting system has been changed slightly from the largest remainder method method to the modified Sainte-Laguë method due to a ruling by the Supreme Court of Iraq that the previous method discriminated against smaller parties.
Basically, the Iraqi public is stuck with a system that requires a team of mathematicians, using a method no one's ever heard of, to figure out a non-result.   Maliki will now have to form a coalition government among an assortment of parties that hate him. This will take months. 

What a system.  But Proportional Representation (PR) is now the standard system that political scientists endorse.  And it is creating governmental gridlock and frustration all over the world.

What is the purpose of an election?  To chose a new government.  Not to have a therapeutic exercise of inclusion. 

One often hears that the US imposed democracy on Iraq.  The Mighty Whig laugh bitterly. Would we have imposed open-list proportional representation on anyone?  It is completely alien to our system.  No, the Iraqis chose this themselves, in consultation with UN (and dumb) US academic experts.

Lots of things I could say, but I'll leave you with this.  PR owes part of its popularity to the fact that it privileges small parties that would never be elected in a head-to-head contest.  It offers political seats to experts and hacks who would never be elected by a sentient public. 


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Did our Creditors Stay Our Hand on Syria?

Our external debt prevents us from going to war in the Middle East.   Journalist Eamonn Fingleton argues that our ability to power project is directly tied to our external debt obligations:
On the U.S. Treasury’s figures, America’s net foreign liabilities at last count totaled a stunning $3,863 billion. This is up nearly 16 times on a figure of $246 billion in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell. (You can see the full story by clicking here and then checking out the Excel table headed “International Investment Position, 1976-2013″.)
It seems hard to believe now but the United States was once the world’s largest creditor nation. Actually its net foreign assets peaked as recently as 1980 (at $360 billion). With mounting trade deficits under Ronald Reagan, however, the net figure rapidly dwindled and by 1986 America recorded its first net foreign liability figure of modern times.
 
Fingleton says US creditors--namely China and Europe--didn't want us to intervene in Syria ,so it didn't happen.  If our creditors don't back us, US interest rates will soar.  So, if Obama seems like a wimp, it's because financial realities makes him so.

Worth reading his whole post.  No argument from me that we must reduce our debt and restore our trade balance.  If not, American power and prosperity will be permanently undermined.

Now, as for the intervention in Syria.  We didn't respond to Assad's use of chemical weapons because Obama didn't have the domestic political backing to act.  The specter of Al Qaeda in the Syrian rebellion, and the possibility that our intervention might help AQ,  outweighed the nastiness of the Assad regime.  The administration probably believed Assad used chemical weapons.  Obama himself spiritually comes from the Henry Wallace-George McGovern wing of the Democratic Party, which distrusts the use of American power abroad.  His fail safe position is NOT to intervene militarily.

Still, worth keeping in mind Fingleton's thesis down the road.  After all, his good book "Unsustainable" helped inspire this blog!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Libya: A Coup that Seems Overdue


The US "led from behind" on Libya, providing munitions, material support, and intelligence to NATO allies during the 2011 campaign to overthrow Qadhafi.  No boots on the ground; we already were winding down Iraq and still had our hands full in Afghanistan.  But: without a stablizing troop presence, Libya has descended into disorder since.  I've actually heard people argue this.

Letting the Libyans figure it out for themselves was a good idea.  We didn't need more Americans dying from VBIEDs.  Not for Libya.

The trouble is Libya has actually had little experience in positive self government. King Idris, who had no interest in government at all, was overthrown by Qadhafi in 1968.  Qadhafi himself didn't bother to take a governing title.  Except for a national oil company, the country ran itself as a society without a state.  (Worthwhile to read the story about how Armand Hammer helped Qadhafi set up the oil company.)

Qadhafi was an evil man, but he did a few good things:  he emancipated women and suppressed the Muslim Brotherhood.  He genuinely thought (much like Saddam) that being an enemy of Al Qaida would keep him out of trouble with us.  He miscalculated, and ended by dying in Mussolini-fashion.

Since the revolution, militias have been in charge.  Some of them support the govenrment on odd days, some on even days.  Some, like Ansar al Sharia, are AQ-wannabees; its members attacked our mission facility in Benghazi in 2012.  A new constitution and permanent elected government has been long delayed.  Opportunists and legitimate protesters have demonstrated they can shut down oil production at will.   A prime minister was just ousted because he was so feckless at stopping this.

Enter Khalifa Hafter.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/rival-militias-prepare-for-showdown-in-tripoli-after-takeover-of-parliament/2014/05/19/cb36acc2-df6f-11e3-810f-764fe508b82d_story.html   Hafter's loyalists boldly attacked Ansar al Sharia in Benghazi, and then this weekend shut down the widely despised National Congress.  Army and air force units are joining him.  He has been endorsed by the rebellious group blockading the eastern oil fields.   The Muslim Brotherhood militias have pledged to stop him, but we'll see if they really have a stomach for a fight.  

Will the US government condemn Hafter?   Almost certainly he is not receiving covert support like he did in the 1980s when he turned on Qadhafi.   I'm sure policymakers are torn: do we support democracy and the Muslim Brotherhood, or order and progressive values?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Nigeria: Finally a Way to Get Noticed


I probably think more about Africa than most Americans; not much, but at least I follow the news there.  One thing I do know: Africa is a strategic backwater and it only gets attention when something unusually awful happens.  

So good for Boko Haram for getting Americans to think about Africa for 15 minutes or so.  This is the Al Qaida-affiliated terrorist group (really a localized Muslim insurgency against the central government) who name I translate as "Book is Bad."  In the press, Boko Haram is said to mean "Western Education is Sinful."  This is ridiculous.  "Book is Bad" is far more accurate and captures the group's mentality precisely.

Anyway, about a week ago Boko raided a girls' school and carted off nearly 300 of the young ladies.  Later it announced it was selling off the girls to men looking for good Muslim brides.  They supposedly had converted to Islam while being kidnapped. 

The event set off an explosion of reactions in the US, with Michelle Obama demanding the girls immediate release.  Senator John McCain insisted on US military force be used to rescue the girls, and he didn't care if Nigeria's president, a fellow hopefully named Goodluck Jonathan, approved it or not.

Various reports suggest that some form of US advisory help and drone surveillance is on the way.  But so far, no unilateral intervention yet.

The only clear winner in this story might be US Africa Command, which is based, logically, in Stuttgart.  Africom is desperately seeking a reason for its existence with the impending threat of budget cuts (Pentagon is on the hook for about $1 trillion's worth in the next ten years.)  Maybe if it helps rescue the girls, it can survive a little while longer.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs


The opponents of ObamaCare are getting an early Christmas present in the press coverage on the VA medical system.  The story goes that the administrators have been cooking the books so that the wait times seem less onerous.  Here's a good story on it in the FT:  http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/328546c0-dd10-11e3-8546-00144feabdc0.html#axzz31yMXMDRH  The story says that 970,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have filed for disability care.  But that might be deceiving: just for being a veteran, you are eligible for care. 

The budget for the VA has doubled since 2006  (now at $140 billion a year) Two lessons here: government-administered health care inevitably leads to shortages, and the costs to the public will expand constantly. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Vietnam:  World on Fire


The PRC's decision to erect an oil rig within Vietnam's Economic Exclusion Zone set of a wave of violent riots in Vietnam this week.   Factories burned, people killed, hundreds arrested.  Chinese property was the target, but the rioters directed their ire at other foreign-owned properties as well.  Recall Amy Chua's description of "market dominant minorities" in her book "World on Fire.   Much of her argument centered on the mounting frustration with successful Chinese minorities in undeveloped countries.

China appears to be a willing partner in our so-called Pivot to Asia strategy. 

BBC Map

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Cuba:  Postcard from the Caribbean Monestary


Cuba has been under a self-imposed vow of poverty for half a century.  Fidel Castro hasn't been president for six years.  His brother Raul Castro has enacted some economic reforms.  These reforms legalized certain professions and allowed them to compete for business.  When this was first enacted several years back, the professions included muleteers and palm frond cutters...

Read this detailed and depressing article by Michael Totten in the City Journal http://www.city-journal.org/2014/24_2_havana.html   It could have been written at any time in the last twenty years.  A fellow traveling professor (and former OSS officer) Maurice Halperin wrote two books about his experiences in Cuba.  The second, "Return to Havana," described how little progress the revolution had made.  Halperin concluded that all the achievements of the Cuban economy had been made in the 1950s.  The society was just living off the forward momentum of that era.  This article suggests the same thing.

The US sells about $400 million in food and medicines to Cuba a year.  Certainly we'd sell a lot more if the embargo were lifted; more, that is, if the Cubans had the money to pay for it.  Why do we still have an embargo?  Simply because no one in Washington wants to expend the considerable political capital it would take to change the status quo.  Why should anyone take a political hit over Cuba, when he stands to gain nothing for it?  Cuba certainly won't democratize or improve its human rights policies, preconditions for lifting the embargo.  In the short term, lifting the embargo might actually help the Cuban government.   No one wants to do that either.  The costs of maintain the embargo are minimal by US government standards.

Besides, our real but unstated policy toward Cuba is to maintain its stability.   Lifting the embargo might put that at risk.  Both sides of the aisle get that. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The US as the Resource Hegemon


The rise of domestic oil production promises to give the US Saudi-like powers in its ability to control world oil prices.  That, coupled with our dominant position in finance and in food production, can gives the US powerful leverage in world affairs.  Just from this perspective, we have nothing to fear from "the rise of Russia."  Dr. Gary Busch analyzes the power gap between the two countries here: http://www.ocnus.net/artman2/publish/Editorial_10/The-U-S--As_The-World-s_Resource-Hegemon.shtml

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Climate Change: If There's No Solution, There's No Problem


The climate change proponents have a dilemma: if they don't ballyhoo the urgency, no one will listen.  But if they do, everyone will realize there is nothing we can do about it. 
http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2014/05/12/climate-change_we_have_no_solution_122596.html

The United States never signed Kyoto.  But it reduced its carbon emissions anyway, largely through cleaner technology and the increased production of natural gas.  This was accomplished without an "energy policy," which in this country doesn't exist.  (The Department of Energy just regulates nukes.)

By the way, the quote in the title is attributed to James Burnham, a great realist thinker and one of the muses of this blog. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Inequality

Conservatives should not accept economic inequality as inevitable.  The strength of the United States is "the great American middle class," but that is steadily weakening.   The system today is geared in favor of the affluent or the super rich.  Conservatives should read Hedrick Smith's "Who Stole the American Dream."  Also see my earlier post on George Packer's "The Unraveling."   The gap between the rich and poor in the U.S. is expanding; this has grave consequences for the American Democracy.  Bruce Frohmen's piece identifies the role big government has been playing in exacerbating the problem.  http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/economic-inequality-and-the-hypocrisy-of-power


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Terrorism: Getting Better, or Worse?


An interest of mine, which I will post on periodically.  Just a few preliminary comments below.

Some things you read in the press every year about the magnitude of terrorism miss the point: many more Americans die from falling TV sets than from terrorists every year (as one article claimed) but a terrorist act can have a psychological and political impact far exceeding its body count.  This is common sense.  Only one man died at Dealey Plaza in 1963.

Most reports you see suggest global terrorism is on the rise, although I've found official US government reports somewhat ambivalent on this.  The annual State department report
 http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/225886.pdf
doesn't even try to make a judgment.  Only four states are now "State Sponsors of Terrorism."  I wonder if Iran comes off the list this year as part of the nuclear negotiations.

The START project at the University of Maryland--National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism--claims the numbers are going up worldwide, but I suspect it changed its methodology.  One thing is clear: Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan host about half of all terrorist acts.  Syria for some reason doesn't make the START list.  IHS Jane's has its own accounting: 
LONDON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The number of attacks by non-state armed groups around the world has rapidly increased in just five years, according to the IHS Jane’s 2013 Global Terrorism & Insurgency Attack Index from IHS Inc. (NYSE: IHS), a leading global source of critical information and insight. “In 2009, a worldwide total of 7,217 attacks were recorded from open sources. In 2013, that number increased by more than 150% to 18,524,” said Matthew Henman, manager of IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre (JTIC), which carried out the study. - See more at: http://press.ihs.com/press-release/aerospace-defense-terrorism/global-terrorism-insurgency-attacks-rapidly-increase-five-#sthash.0XbrxuYO.dpuf
Sunni terrorists--and they are the main global threat--are turning more toward sectarian and local concerns, and are focused less on international jihad.  One big exception in 2013 was the In Amenas gas facility attack in Algeria, which aimed at killing lots of "westerners."  

Syria has become the world's principle "bug zapper" for killing Sunni terrorists.  Amazing how Washington policymakers now grudgingly appreciate Assad's role in this.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Indict Snowden Now


Edward Jay Epstein gets it right in the Wall Street Journal this am.  Anyone who understands intelligence knows Snowden launched a deliberate operation that had nothing to do with unveiling a domestic spying program.  http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304831304579542402390653932
The media has hardly questioned Snowden's own version of his motivation and actions--even though he publicly admitted his mission was carefully planned.  Instead of the Pulitzer prize, the Washington Post should have received the Razzie Award. 
Perhaps the Russians were involved from the beginning.  Snowden met with Russian operatives at their consulate in Hong Kong. 

Epstein notes that to begin turning around public perception, there needs to be a federal indictment against Snowden.  Hasn't happened yet. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Venezuela's Tiananmen Square?


Hyperbole?  Okay, just a little bit.  But the Maduro regime's crackdown on student protest camps has familiar echoes. See this news account: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-05-08/venezuela-national-guard-raids-student-protest-camps.html 

By the way, these camps are in middle-class eastern Caracas, the heart of opposition country.  Chavez used to leave protests alone that limited themselves to that part of the city.  Now Maduro is going after them everywhere.  The Venezuelan students--who see their future vastly limited by the cronyism and economic stagnation of Bolivarian revolution--are the fighting element of the opposition.  They haven't given up. 

Maduro has a much more limted toolkit than Chavez, so he has to resort to overt suppression.  Notice that the body count has been a lot higher than under Chavez.

By the way, for a good blog on Venezuela, see http://devilsexcrement.com/

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Keystone: A Stone Rejected

One expert on energy and on how Washington works predicted to me some months ago that the Obama Administration would approve Keystone XL, the long pipeline TransCanada wants to build to connect the Alberta oil fields to our big hub in Cushing, OK.  His reasoning was essentially political: the administration knows that approval would help several Democratic senators vulnerable to losing their seats in November. The administration wants to approve Keystone anyway, he reasoned, and eventually political reality will win out over the desires of the environmentalists.

Where are we now?   The project has delayed anyway by the Nebraska legislature, and the State Department (because this comes from Canada) has put off approval indefinitely.  My friend the expert now despairs of approval ever happening during this administration.

Very predictable, I think.  Ideology in this case has consistently trumped politics.  The energy industry argues that Keystone would in fact be good for the environment--less truck emissions, less spills--but US-based environmentalists are way beyond that now.  Their concerns are planetary.  Keystone represents for them our continued global addiction to fossil fuel.  It is a giant heroin needle symbolizing our dependency.  Stop this now, and get on the road to recovery.  

It looks like the greens have won their fight, at least for now.  A fight to stop part of Keystone being built.  Another pipe, in a country with thousands of these things.  See map:  http://www.theodora.com/pipelines/united_states_pipelines_map.jpg

Postscript:  The White House touted their report on global warming--the third National Climate Assessment--and how it impacts everything in the country.  The administration pledges to dedicate the rest of its term in office to tackling this.  Is this part of the winning electoral strategy too?


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Benghazi and the Infamous "Talking Points"


Congressional hearing about what happened in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 grind on.  Most of the focus lately has been on whether the White House manipulated the messaging after the tragic event.  Don't expect any "smoking gun" emails on this.  This is fundamentally a story about how bureaucratic bungling led to a US ambassador being killed in a bad place.  The messaging after the fact doesn't change that reality.  To recap briefly:
  • The intelligence community knew Benghazi was "terrorist central" and getting worse.  Numerous attacks, even on the Embassy "temporary mission facility," were well documented.
  • The decision was made at Main State NOT to fund security improvements to the mission facility. (Because, well, it was temporary, and they expected to shut it down later in the year.)
  • The Pentagon-provided Site Security Team, which was beefing up the ambassador's personal protection, was not renewed. 
  • State decided to use the local 17 February Brigade militia to provide security for the facility.
The rest is history.  Read the sad details in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report here: http://www.intelligence.senate.gov/benghazi2014/benghazi.pdf  Another good report is the State Department's Accountabilty Review Board's piece, which you can find on the internet easily.

I keep hearing talking heads say, that while the attack was going on, "we needed to do something."  But what?  Read the report yourself.  Note a small but telling detail: the Ambassador's security team fired no shots during the attack. (That gives you some idea on the restricted rules of engagement in an ostensibly friendly country.)  Like I said, the real scandal was all on the front end. 

Now about those talking points.  Written by CIA and used apparently by UN Ambassador Susan Rice on the talk shows days later, they called the attacks (there were three in all) "demonstrations."  As the SSCI report shows in the appendix, the CIA's first draft called them attacks.  Then by the time the talking points were chopped on by CIA's Office of Public Affairs, they became "demonstrations."  Big difference in wording.  Why CIA's OPA would have anything to do with making such a spurious and clueless analytic judgment is beyond me.  When I read through all this (yesterday, SSCI's report came out in January) I almost started buying into Congressman Issa's belief that this process was politicized. 

Almost.  Never attribute to malice what can be easily explained by incompetence.









Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Can a Libertarian Foreign Policy Exist?

At a conference last week, I heard a speaker say that all Americans are a little bit libertarian; left or right, they just want to be "left alone."  

These days, the Republican party seems most enthralled to the libertarian ideology.  The former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul was the most salient example, but many other GOPers fall along the libertarian spectrum.  The pendulum with many of them has swung away from support of Bush's exercise of American power abroad.

In the link below, Philip Giraldi of the American Conservative, no defender of Bush, says a libertarian foreign policy would essentially be a contradiction in terms because, for one thing, libertarians hold the state in such low regard.  http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/recovering-the-founders-foreign-policy/

This was clear when I used to hear Paul discuss foreign affairs.   He assumed that if we left the rest of the world alone, the world would leave us alone.   His views seemed indistinguishable from those of George McGovern or, if you remember him, Henry Wallace. 

Not sure Giraldi is right about the founders' views on foreign policy.  I seem them as wanting to assertively defend American rights abroad. (See Jefferson's stance against the Barbary pirates.)  But his article is worth reading as it lays out how we are often trapped in the "tyranny of labels."

Monday, May 5, 2014

"Human Capital" Theorist Dies

Nobel prize winner Gary Becker passed away.  See his obit here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/05/business/economy/gary-s-becker-83-nobel-winner-who-applied-economics-to-everyday-life-dies.html?_r=0#

Becker's idea on the power of human capital is a big motivator for this website. 
Global Democracy in Decline? 

Lately the news has been discouraging: the "third wave" of democratization has stalled, and even receding in some places.  In several big countries--Turkey stands out in this group--democratic freedoms are being curtailed. Thailand and Venezuela have really taken a step back in the last decade.  Egypt just took a "mulligan" on democratic reforms.  Don't even mention China.

Part of our problem is we talk about democracy as if its definition is universally acknowledged.  There have been many attempts to establish democratic norms worldwide; see for example the Copenhagen Criteria on EU membership. 

In fact, there are different "theorems" about democracy; the liberal democracy that we hold to be the gold standard is just one of them.  Jacques Barzun wrote an insightful article about this in the Journal of Democracy years ago.  No reason to think his basic point has been refuted.

Consider:  Chavez and his people always argued that the revolution was "democratizing" Venezuela by eliminating bourgeois trappings like the Senate and introducing referenda on important topics.  Chavez hated liberalism but loved democracy.   There is no question that he had a majority of Venezuelans behind him through most of his "reforms."  We can say the same about Putin and Erdogan today. 

Liberal democracy might be a historical accident particular to the West. 

See Larry Diamond's article below.  Diamond knows as much about democratization as anyone. 
http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/05/the-deepening-recession-of-democracy/361591/   Yet I found his book on democratizing Iraq frustrating.   He missed what I think was a big factor for making democracy work in Iraq: the constitution and electoral system needed to be designed, like ours is, to orient the people toward the center and away from the extremes.  Instead, the experts recommended a proportional representation system that gave more power to small sectarian parties led by unelected clerics.