Tag Archive 'United States'

The Rise of Decline

You know you’re in an American recession when British observers start reflecting on the inevitability of American decline, and volunteering their allegedly privileged perspective gained from the fall of the British Empire (Mark Steyn, as always, excepted). So it is that Matthew Parris joins an old tradition and writes this of the incoming Obama administration:

Though he may not yet know it, the role for which the US President-elect has been chosen is the management of national decline.
(The Times)

It should still be within our memory of course, that it was widely believed that Richard Nixon held this dubious distinction in 1968. Indeed, Nixon himself believed it, and his assessment that the United States had passed into decline informed almost all of his foreign policies. Mr. Parris’ countryman, the historian and strategist Paul Kennedy, had thought even more seriously on this issue and concluded in 1987 that the apex of American power had been reached in the 1970s, after which the United States had passed into another ultimately nonexistent long-term decline.

Retrospectively, this is all rather embarrassing. The United States is naturally vastly more powerful today than it was in the 1960s or 1970s, and the structure which enabled those gains commercially, socially and politically, remains unassailed. Given past experience, it’s entirely likely in coming years that we will feel similarly embarrassed by the current declinism.

But Mr. Parris is obliquely correct on one matter though:

Mr Obama will have to find a way of being honest with Americans about their country’s fall from predominance. Reading, as I often do, the furiously chauvinistic online reaction from US citizens to any suggestion that their country can be beaten at anything, I quail for him.
(The Times)

The experience of Nixon –pursuing policies to cushion the fall of an America which was just beginning to scale new heights– might suggest that it doesn’t really matter what Obama thinks. But if Americans themselves genuinely started to believe in their impending decline, and shelved their ambitions in favor of the crowded retirement home of great powers, they could actualize the prediction.

As with American greatness in light of her continental scale, vast and growing labor force, enormous capital resources and limitless dreams, a prophecy of American decline is largely contingent on whether or not Americans can be persuaded to self-fulfill it. If they cannot, that faint light on the horizon is another dawn, not an inevitable sunset. After all, the retirement home for the false futurists of American decline is an even more crowded house.

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Implications of the Pletka Purge

Roland picks up an interesting piece by Jacob Heilbrunn for the National Interest, describing an ongoing purge of neoconservative intellectuals from the American Enterprise Institute, allegedly instigated by Vice President Danielle Pletka. So far Michael Ledeen and Reuel Marc Gerecht are gone, with Joshua Muravchik soon leaving. Others are said to be soon in following.

This could signal the reemergence of an old conflict over machtpolitik and just war doctrine, which used to exist in Republican security policy circles (ie, coercion-for-values vs. coercion-for-interests). If Pletka is indeed purging with intent, we may even expect AEI to shift its attitude toward the Middle East, Asia and Africa, given how much more amenable authoritarian regimes tend to be to interest pressure.

And the idealism of the AEI departed is considerable. Gerecht for instance wrote a fascinating but bizarre book I read in the late 1990s under the pen name Edward Shirley, in which he smuggled himself into Iran in the trunk of a car, essentially for the romance of it.


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Eichmann Endures

Jerry Burger at Santa Clara University, has succeeded in partially replicating Stanley Milgram’s famous social obedience experiment, whereby test subjects torture strangers with electrical shocks when told to do so. Depressingly, mankind appears to remain as obedient to evil as he did during the Miligram experiment in 1961. In Burger’s new study, test subjects followed orders to inflict pain at maximum voltage 70% of the time.

Miligram’s original intent in devising his experiment was to test whether or not Adolf Eichmann’s defense –that he was only following orders as anyone else would– was credible. It was one of the more terrifying discoveries of the twentieth century that in his defense, Eichmann was at least speaking for the majority. Miligram argued in his agentic state theory, that the essential transformation Eichmann made was to perceive himself as an exclusive instrument to serve the wishes of another. Once he had done that, he was genuinely mystified how anyone could consider him responsible for his actions.

It’s always been even more troubling for me personally, that such high percentages of compliance could be achieved in the United States, using American test subjects. Historically, Americans tend to revere personal rebellion and individualism more than most cultures on Earth. If you achieve 70% obedience here, you should be able to achieve total social control elsewhere. It may be that man has not yet been visited by his worst and perfect despot.

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China’s Hurt Feelings

Blogger FangKC queried the archive of the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece, and discovered that 19 countries and organizations have been officially accused of hurting the feelings of the Chinese people. You can anticipate some such as the Japan and United States, others are quite unexpected.

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The Philippines as Red State

Filipino writer Benjamin Pimentel is surprised to discover that his countrymen were among the very few foreign populations to prefer John McCain to Barack Obama in a Gallup international survey. A happy place for Republicans in a lonely world apparently, as in the Philippines the outgoing Bush administration enjoys a 66% approval (more than twice its abysmally low domestic support).

Pimentel then speculated somewhat interestingly that had the Philippines ever applied for US statehood or multi-statehood (the most recent proposals call for the country to be broken into three states: Luzón, Visayas, and Mindanao), McCain would handily win the general election. The Philippines 91 million plus population would easily dwarf the combined advantage of Democratic California and New York in the electoral college.


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A Clear Blue Sky

WTC attack from space

Today is the 11th. The unwelcome anniversary. Everyone remembers where they were when they heard. I was awoken by a phone call on the day. “The country’s under attack!” the phone said. You wake up rather fast when that’s yelled into your ear early in the morning.

Shortly after that I was glued to my television set with a client on the phone yammering about God knows what. It hadn’t sunk into her yet what was happening. It was 9:59EST when the South Tower collapsed and she started screaming. I guess I hung up.


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A Rosy Future for Anti-Americanism?

Longtime Clinton ally Leon Panetta pronounces Barack Obama “intimidated” by Sarah Palin, and lost in a deepening cycle of reactive defense. With McCain now winning a majority of independents and erasing the gender gap, the blood is most definitely in the water. It’s now a legitimate question to ask whether McCain can finish him off. My sense is that the Obama campaign isn’t too many more mistakes removed from a serious structural collapse in a significant segment of its support outside the Democratic ranks. Panetta is quite right, Obama needs to regain the initiative and fast.

On that matter Jonathan Freedland is pessimistic. So much so, that he is evidently consumed with stomach pains of grief. He warns us that the entire planet will seek revenge against the United States if we fail to appoint Obama president.

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A Shattered Idol in the Black Garden

Baku skyline
(photo: Rahim Alizadeh)

In Verdi’s opera Nabucco –the namesake of the western gas pipeline to Europe that holds the promise of partial independence from Russian energy reliance– the Jewish patriots take the daughter of the Babylonian king hostage, in order to compel his charity for Jerusalem. Today, after the Georgian invasion, Azerbaijan is a victim of a not dissimilar hostage-taking by example, and it’s just as perilous.

So much a captive to the gambit is Azerbaijan, that it had to be seen embarrassingly consulting with the Russian president, while the American vice president was left to rant to reporters in their captial. Cheney wanted a Nabucco pipeline endorsement from Azerbaijan, although he didn’t get the rejection portrayed in the press, he didn’t get approval either. He got the thing Dick hates most: strategic ambiguity.

Sympathy for the Azeri position here is mandatory. Their heart is with the United States, but their survival instinct forces them to withdraw into balance. An overt endorsement of a pipeline under American pressure would have potentially been against every instinct for a country that has been playing the game of pacifying powerful neighbors for far longer than the Americans have even been aware of the region. Any pipeline threaded through Turkey to Central Europe –which Iran has been refused access to, and is designed specifically in order to bypass Russia– has long promised the Azeris hostility from her two invidious and lethally powerful neighbors. (more…)

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Medvedev’s Caribbean Dream

A depressingly confused analogy from Medvedev on US aid to Georgia:

“I wonder how they would like it if we sent humanitarian assistance using our navy to countries of the Caribbean that have suffered from the recent hurricanes.”

We’d welcome that. It’s distressing that the Russian government hears only our resistance, without our reasons for it. And here again, there is a certain naiveté to Medvedev that always makes one think it might someday be possible to penetrate the reality distortion field of Putinism that imprisons his imagination.


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Declinism as Exceptionalism

Francis Fukuyama argues in the Financial Times that the United States should have traded European missile defense and/or Kosovar independence in order to pacify a resurgent Russia. This strange proposal of strategic charity work for the Kremlin, is animated by his belief in an inevitable diminution of American moral authority by course of the Iraq War, and alleged American provocations of Russia which have in his view, inaugurated a decline of American global power.

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China and Provincial Secessionism

Extremely interesting post from Seth Weinberger on the opportunity for pulling China in the pro-Georgia camp, after the SCO failed to endorse Russian actions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Seth is as mystified as I am that the Russian foreign ministry could possibly have believed it would persuade China to endorse ethnic separatism and provincial secession. If there is such a thing as an enduring Chinese ideology from ancient times, it is the idea of struggle against separatist disorder and provincial independence. A fear that is only amplified to extraordinary degrees by the prospect of other great powers assisting in the dismemberment of traditional territorial unity.


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Georgia Cuts Loose

Saakashvili has finally severed all Georgian diplomatic ties with Russia. A bit overdue, I must say.

Meanwhile, Putin, in his ongoing effort to legitimize the Russian invasion of Georgia, again compared his country’s actions to the NATO intervention against Serbia –which Russia and Putin himself still opposes in principle as illegitimate, but nevermind. Putin argued that NATO intervened because the “White House gave the order and everyone carried it out,” in a rather pathetically ahistorical appeal to transatlantic discord.

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Bernanke has a solution

FROM: Dr Ben Bernanke
Central Bank of United States of America

Lagos, Nigeria

Dear Friend:

I have been requested by the regional members Federal Reserve of the USA to contact you for assistance in resolving a matter. The Federal Reserve of the USA has recently concluded a large number of contracts for credit derivative investment vehicles “CDIV” in the Wall Street region of the USA. The contracts have immediately produced moneys equaling US$40,000,000. The Federal Reserve of the USA is desirous of CDIV in other parts of the world, however, because of certain regulations of the USA Government, it is unable to move these funds to another region.

Your assistance is requested as a non-USA citizen to assist the Federal Reserve of the USA, and also the investment bank community of Wall Street USA, in moving these funds out of USA. If the funds can be transferred to your name, in your Nigerian account, then you can forward the funds as directed by the Federal Reserve of USA. In exchange for your accommodating services, the Federal Reserve of USA would agree to allow you to retain 10%, or Nigerian $4 million of this amount.

However, to be a legitimate transferee of these moneys according to USA law, you must presently be a depositor of at least $100,000 in a USA bank which is regulated by the Central Bank of USA.

If it will be possible for you to assist us, we would be most grateful. We suggest that you meet with us in person in New York, NY USA, and that during your visit I introduce you to the representatives of the Wall Street USA, as well as with certain officials of the Central Bank of USA.

Please call me at your earliest convenience at 18-555-1234. Time is of the essence in this matter; very quickly the USA Government will realize that the Central Bank is maintaining this amount on deposit, and attempt to levy certain depository taxes on it.

Yours truly,

The Esteemed Arch-Chairman

Credit: Barry Ritholtz

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Saakashvili has a Future

Last night Joshua argued that Saakashvili, having quite obviously failed to recapture his renegade territories, is certain to be finished one way or the other. Either overthrown by the Russian army, or by the Georgian people at the ballot box. This is a bit of an analyst consensus as you look around the web. Not so fast, says me.

It should be said that the mere fact of the Russian demand to remove him has supplied a method for his political redemption — which is why it was so important for the United States to leak the Russian foreign minister’s views on this. If Russia fails to bring him down, he can easily emerge as a defiant patriot who defeated the one Russian objective they most desired, through force of personal will.

The trouble with pressing your advantages and changing your objectives to increasingly ambitious goals, is if you get to a point where you cannot (or will not) actualize the final measure, you can create the circumstances for a political defeat. With the world aware that the Russian goal is to remove Saakashvili, if they don’t do it now, that can (and probably will) rescue him as a political leader.

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The United States pulverizes China 101-70.

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Choosing Sides on South Ossetia

After an ambiguous initial reaction, the State Department appears to have realized that despite whatever Russia contends, it is physically impossible for Georgia to invade its own country:

“We call on Russia to cease attacks on Georgia by aircraft and missiles, respect Georgia’s territorial integrity, and withdraw its ground combat forces from Georgian soil,” she said.

But whose side are we really on?

“We have been appreciative of the American efforts to pacify the hawks in Tbilisi,” [Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov] said. “Apparently these efforts have not succeeded. Quite a number of officials in Washington were really shocked when all this happened.”

Perhaps someone should remind the Bush administration of the moral dimension of Georgia’s best troops being in Iraq, assisting her ally the United States without complaint. One would think that should count for something when Georgia could use some assistance herself.

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A Line in the Sand

*Gasp* Is that a border? A real, defined, fenced, national border? For our country?? Trick photography surely.

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A New Libertarianism of Paranoid Revolt

Jordan Page (who is a kind of Ronpaulist Joan Baez) reflects on the “Revolution March,” a July 12th Ron Paul protest rally in Washington DC, in part organized by Adam Kokesh (who of late believes the Washington police are involved in a clandestine conspiracy against him).

Now, I grew up in the libertarian movement such as it was. Although I no longer consider myself a libertarian out of respect for the philosophy, I think I knew it well. My libertarianism was of the rightish sort, but fundamentally a movement for liberty through reason. A movement of the great economists and political philosophers of the Austrian School and the University of Chicago. The movement of Mises and Friedman. But this paranoid, revolutionary rubbish presented by Page as libertarianism, is utterly unrecognizable to me.


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How Supermarkets Can End Poverty

Namibian supermarket selection (photo: Olivier Peyre)

One of great inequities in the modern world is that in relative terms, food in poor and starving countries often costs far more than in the wealthy developed world. That’s because industrial countries tend to be dominated by large supermarket chains, which can achieve enormous economies of scale in volume sales, and thus are able to offer dramatically cheaper food prices to consumers.

The difference between the benefits of traditional and supermarket retail food sales can be staggering even within the same country. In an unevenly developed country such as India, which is divided between urban chain supermarkets and rural traditional markets, the cost of vegetables is 33% cheaper in the city than for the rural poor dependent on small local stores.

This has larger economic implications than is generally acknowledged, as food purchases consume a far larger share of national wealth in the developing world. In poor countries such as Nepal, food spending can account for as much as 50% of consumption expenditure in middle income households, compared to 15% in the United States. Thereby a cruel kind of trap is created through high food prices, which precludes consumer spending on goods and services that command higher wages than agriculture can provide.

Thus, if you were able somehow to reduce the cost of food in the developing world, and thereby the share of consumer income it eats, you could free up large reservoirs of capital to the benefit of the broader economy’s development.


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Russia Speaks to the American Electorate

Dmitry Medvedev

Sober, secular and educated new residents to New Mexico can often be found painting the frames of their doors and windows a vivid bright blue. Having seen the habit practiced on the homes of locals, the newcomers invariably assume it’s a quaint regional decorative touch. They’re unaware of course that the locals have painted their frames the color of the Virgin, and the purpose isn’t decoration, but defense.

In superstitious, Catholic New Mexico, the Virgin’s color is believed to prevent the nomadic witches that prowl the streets at night from entering the house and murdering its inhabitants. Such is the manner in which old and very sinister traditions can be unknowingly perpetuated by people who have no interest in original intents.


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The Tidal Empires of War

Bashar Assad stickers in Syria
(photo: Charles Roffey - Charles & Fred)

Someone once said that in Damascus you truly can get a little bit pregnant. It’s a good aphorism, because if you asked the foreign minister of almost any state in the Middle East or the Mediterranean what his government’s policy relationship was with Syria, he would automatically furrow his brow and call it “complicated.” You always seem to be about half-way somewhere with Syria. Lately that appears to be true even for Tzipi Livni. If so for Israel, doubly so for Lebanon.

Surveying it, Jihad Yazigi describes the situation that exists between the two countries as customarily “complicated”, but the dimension of complication he’s seeing is something relatively new. Where before thirty years of Syrian military occupation (and often not very covert political subversion) might be the most obvious locus, Yazigi is today talking about labor and direct investment in Syria by Lebanese:

Syria would probably not be liberalizing its economy and going through a revival of its services sector without the thousands of Lebanese managers that are running Syrian firms. Lebanese managerial know-how is being exported throughout the Arab world and Syria will continue to need it if it wants to further the opening up of its economy.
(The Syria Report)

That’s a very new economic relationship, as historically it is Syrian labor that has traveled to liberal and cosmopolitan Beirut. It is Syrian enterprise that has worked to create a paternalistic relationship between the two countries with one-way investment, generally government directed.


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A Retreating Periphery

Indian Frontiers
(photo: Mani Babbar)

After 9/11 widened Al Qaeda’s ambitious war against most of the world, Osama bin Laden described his own axis-o-evil as being composed of “Crusaders, Zionists and Hindus.” But at some point, without anyone much noticing, that seems to have changed for Hindus.


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Another Western Way of War

Victor Davis Hanson

From a somewhat shocking interview of Victor Davis Hanson by Swiss newspaper Junge Freiheit, Abe Greenwald clips a portion where Hanson ferociously thrashes the contemporary European Weltanschuuang. He calls it a secularized, socialist pacifism, that has deluded a continent into a perilously ephemeral sense of pride and “arrogance.” The degree and form of the animosity exhibited by Hanson is so striking, that it is actually evocative of the antagonistic criticism of the United States we hear so often from the European intelligentsia. Because of that, one is reminded that however much Europeans bemoan American indifference or dismissal of their views and values, it is very rare indeed that anyone dishes them back some of their own rhetorical excess in such similarly adversarial terms.

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Inside Al Qaeda’s Crisis in Iraq

Iraqi CLC in Anbar
A Concerned Local Citizens (CLC) member in Arab Jabour, Iraq (photo: DoD)

In extraordinary documents confiscated in November by the United States, we get an enemy’s eye view of the Awakening in Iraq, and further confirmation about how debilitating the effects were for Al Qaeda. An AQ commander, Abu-Tariq, relates that his own unit declined from 600 terrorists to less than 20 over the summer.

“We were mistreated, cheated and betrayed by some of our brothers,” he says. “Those people were nothing but hypocrites, liars and traitors and were waiting for the right moment to switch sides with whoever pays them most.”
(The Times)

A second unnamed commander acknowledges awareness that Al Qaeda’s hopelessly misguided tactics alienated the population and crippled their capabilities:

“We helped them to unite against us . . . The Americans and the apostates launched their campaigns against us and we found ourselves in a circle not being able to move, organise or conduct our operations.”

“This created weakness and psychological defeat. This also created panic, fear and the unwillingness to fight. The morale of the fighters went down . . . There was a total collapse in the security structure of the organisation.” The emir complained that the supply of foreign fighters had dwindled and that they found it increasingly hard to operate inside Iraq because they could not blend in. Foreign suicide bombers determined to kill “not less than 20 or 30 infidels” grew disillusioned because they were kept hanging about and only given small operations. Some gave up and went home.
(The Times)

The unnamed emir recommends a change of tactics, but one that seems to have taken few lessons from their devastating defeat in Anbar. He suggests offering bounties for killing traitors, using Iraqi doctors to murder Americans and giving gifts to tribal leaders. Strategically he recommended a shift in focus toward Diyala and Baghdad. However, Al Qaeda has met with equally strong resistance in their attempt to do so.

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The Hottest Governor

Sarah Palin
Draft Sarah Palin has some excerpts from Alaska Magazine’s profile of “America’s Hottest Governor.” Palin also happens to be the most popular governor in America. Indeed, with approval ratings often in the 90s, the conservative Republican is perhaps the most popular governor in the history of the United States.

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The Single Mother Country

What would a war be without a baby boom(let)? Alone in the Occident, Americans continue to invest in the future with strong population growth, while Europe continues to die off faster than it reproduces. Will these new babies be the inheritors of a lonely world in Steynian fashion?

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