Tag Archives: Follow the money

Foreign policy by prayer


In a region noted for miracles – Israel’s prosperous if beleaguered survival, despite attempts to mobilize 360-million Arab enemies, is a recent example – prayer could be a way to make U.S. policy. Although she now contributes only by inheritance, former Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice voiced that possibility, woefully, recently: “…We have only one choice: to trust that in the long arc of history those shared beliefs will matter more than the immediate disruptions that lie ahead and that, ultimately, our interests and ideals will be well served.“

To quote John Maynard Milord Keynes, in the long run we will all be dead.

Reality is the Obama Administration cannot continue to abdicate America’s responsibility, leaving a worldwide vacuum to be filled by every would-be amateur Metternich. Obviously, policy is made with many unanswered questions. But leadership requires sorting possibilities, and decision-making, usually accepting the best of poor alternatives.

In all the uncertainties facing Egypt’s future, and indeed, the whole Arab world, by encroaching poverty pitted against rising expectations, none is so mysterious as current U.S. policy.

The talking heads more or less confirmWashington was unprepared for Cairo’s implosion. Okay, as some of us over 35 know, human events are largely unpredictable. Who could have guessed immolation by an unemployed vendor in tiny Tunisia, hardly respectable among the macho Arabs, would topple the dominoes?

But Egypt was notorious as a classically fragile third world country. There was always potential drama in rising unemployment, underdeveloped or depleted natural resources, literally thousands of years of bureaucratic malfeasance. Ruled by a highly personalized military dictatorship, no secure succession was in sight to its 83-year-old, ill, reactionary head. Yet Cairo dominated culturally a region because of its fossil fuel resources critical to the U.S. and the world economy. Yet destabilization came as a surprise? Yes, the U.S. is in a period of overwhelming domestic concern. Fickle Washington is notoriously a one-issue theater – and the Obama Administration is still winding down two wars. But surprise?

Looking for an explanation, the inevitable conclusion is the foreign policy establishment – in and out of government, for with the Inside the Beltway revolving door they are indistinguishable – is incompetent. Why?

“Group think” dominates analyses. Fads and instant expertise – instead of the long, hard, slog through history and anecdotal information – preclude originality. Even the Pentagon, supposedly noted for realism, bought into the most primitive “scientism”: the hypothesis scientific method could be applied to social problems. It spent tens of millions of dollars on “software” replacing the old crystal ball, the alchemist’s puttering, the Gypsy soothsayers on Manhattan’s Second Avenue, or the oracle of Delphi but didn’t see this coming.

Even now most media chatter trots out tired clichés. Basic problems are ignored or obfuscated. Not even the right questions are posed, at least not publicly:

1] How is any Egyptian regime going to meet growing unemployment and unrest among a notoriously young population? Will the new regime reverse largely protectionist, corrupt Murbarak policies which inhibited foreign investment and technological transfer. [Read the labels: Highly valued Egyptian cotton is made into sheets, towels and garments in India, China, Bangladesh – any place but Egypt!]

2] Fatuous rationalizations about Islam dominate the politically correct discourse. No one, probably including the Muslim Brotherhood itself, knows the fanatics’ strength in the new environment. But can there be any doubt a movement grounded in radical political and primitive Islam, threatens all modern values? Even if analyses arguing the Brothers are currently ambivalent are correct, will the obviously difficult days ahead not stir its original bowels of fanaticism as has happened elsewhere?

3] With continued military dominance likelihood, how far have the jihadists penetrated its lower echelons? Is a sergeants’ revolt likely – just as Gamal Abdul Nasser overthrew the original 1952 military coup instituting failed pan-Arab nationalism and a Soviet alliance? Doesn’t anyone remember Pres. Anwar Sadat was assassinated during a military review by the Brothers’ intellectual offspring in “borrowed” uniforms?

4] Most important, what role can America actually play? Is it wise to continue making public statements, often contradictory within 24 hours? Wouldn’t a quieter diplomacy – if such can be conducted given Washington’s official blabbermouths and wikileaks’ assistance – be more effective? Given past history in Korea, Vietnam, Nicaragua, etc., isn’t the influence of the Pentagon on Egyptian military – despite the annual $1.5 billion aid bribe – questionable? Is America’s “soft power” being mobilized? coordination between policymakers and propaganda, official and unofficial, in a world of instant replay?

Pres. Barack Obama’s ideological proclivities will have to give way to realism if the U.S. is not to stumble further. Nothing was clearer when his feathers were ruffled by admonitions from old Egypt-hand Amb. Frank Wismer advocating a transition with Mubarak.

Running American foreign policy is not community organizing agitation, but a hard-headed, facts-based choice of always difficult alternatives. Choices have to be made, quickly, quietly, and judiciously. Harry Truman had it right: constitutionally and historically the presidency of the U.S. is a strong executive, and it sometimes doesn’t matter as much what the decision is but that it be made.

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Crises – but which is the one?


Clichés come in at least two varieties: those sayings artfully worded, however empty of logic. Others trotted out because they do represent universal truths, vetted over centuries. One of the latter: “history does not travel in a straight line”. Afterward, reinforced with additional retrieved facts and by fads, we concoct a simple, “logical” timeline.

For those of us who lived through long decades of The Cold War, we look back to mistaken views of a world scene played out on many stages. Then as now, drama tended to overshadow more important currents.

Relevant, perhaps, was the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. A Soviet satellite state, incidentally Bloc leader under benighted central planning, attempted escape from Moscow’s grip. It, too, began with youngsters in a square. In part, alas! they were emboldened then too by Washington’s support for “liberation”. But when the brave stood against Communist tanks, the U.S. blinked, fearing nuclear war.

Almost simultaneously, Egypt’s military dictator Abdul Gamal Nasser used the pretext of the Eisenhower Administration’s refusal to build the Aswan Dam megaproject  to “nationalize” the Suez Canal, for a century an immensely profitable Anglo-French commercial entity. To regain control, London and Paris used another pretext, warding off but actually colluding in an Israeli Sinai occupation to insure its own passage through the essential waterway.

U.S. Sec. of State John Foster Dulles adamantly forced America’s allies to relent. NATO Sec.-Gen. Belgian statesman Jean-Paul Spaak, an unsung hero of the epoch, literally in tears, beseeched Dulles: we have sinned but grab this opportunity to secure Europe’s lifeline to Mideast oil. Dulles, forever the moralist, refused “to reward aggression”. Nasser got the Canal, reinforced pan-Arabism sweeping the region, allied with Moscow to bedevil the West until his death. But his legacy was a mess of pottage, dismally failing to produce that long-awaited Arab renaissance, leaving a further discredited secularism for the benefit of his Moslem Brotherhood enemies.

Contradicting another cliché, history does not repeat itself, no more than the same water runs under the same bridge as the stream flows on. Nevertheless, while our attention is focused on increasingly bloody events in Araby, perhaps again more important happenings may germinate the kernel of world history elsewhere:

·        The German parliament has just laid down the law to a more than willing Chancellor Angela Merkel: it will not accept a “Europeanization” of the Euro’s financial debacle. With Greece near civil war trying to impose austerity, its southern tier debtor neighbors – facing rapidly increasing borrowing costs – move inexorably toward new “bail-outs”. No all-Europe institutions or mechanisms can meet those costs. Now the Bundestag has closed the door at least temporarily on Eurobonds [with Germany as prime guarantor] which might repeat might have been an “out”. The Euro as we knew it is doomed. Can “the European project” – the effort to create a stable continent shorn of its age-old capacity for intra-European violence — survive it?

·        A huge, new wave of Muslim refugees from Tunisia, Egypt, now Libya [accompanied by “transiting” Black Africans] is flooding Italy and Europe. They come as Chancellor Merkel, French Pres. Nicolas Sarkozy, and even U.K. Prime Minister David William Donald Cameron [the youngest British leader in 200 years], publicly declare “multiculturalism” dead. Failed Western assimilation of new workers in otherwise declining populations has led to indigestible, economically deprived enclaves abetting bankruptcy for “welfare states” created in the postwar prosperity.

·        The Europeans, as the U.S., finds itself in the grip of a growing threat to physical security from totalitarian Islam but bemused by intellectual confusion reminiscent of the1930s seduction of intellectuals by the Leninist road to utopia. When the Catholic Church’s scholarly leader, Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, attempted to renew the dialogue between Christianity [and Judaism] with Islam – a 1500-year-old debate – at Regensburg in Sept. 2006, he was howled down by the politically correct. Yet native Europeans, their government – and their economies –are assaulted daily by immigrants who want to continue non-European lifestyles including some of the world’s most barbarous customs, exploiting modern Europe’s tolerance and freedom.

·        China, which within a generation has turned itself into “the world factory”, is being drawn into shaky collaborative international financial arrangements but at only a snailspace. Beijing uses its export of “capital” – slave labor and increasingly stolen technology – to blackmail its trading partners. It expands exponentially a military machine against fictitious enemies. Using largely American and EU debt, Beijing is spurring threatening worldwide inflation, uneconomically pursuing raw materials– and increasing worldwide food shortages which it has helped to create by neglect of its agriculture. Its unlimited infrastructure expansion and claptrap financial structure including unprecedented payments surpluses – now pressured by Washington’s “quantitative easing” in its effort to reflate the world’s engine, the American economy – promises a bubble bursting at any moment.

Therefore, as dramatic and seemingly all encompassing as current Arab world happenings would appear, when this period is looked back upon, it could be other contemporary world crises were more important. We, of course, will never know – which, should, inspire a little humility [admittedly not seen in this unavoidably brief review].

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