Tag Archives: global politics

U.S. Defense Policy in the Wake of the Ukrainian Affair

FT 11FEB13My Comments: I was born in England in 1941 with bombs dropping on and around us almost daily. My father, with the Royal Tank Regiment, was across the Channel in the thick of things. Today I have memories of blasted buildings and walls standing here and there, some with staircases. My mother used to put me to bed at night under the stairs since if the building came down, I was somewhat safer.

What I see happening in the Ukraine is bringing back unpleasant memories. Since the end of the Cold War, state on state conflict has slowly faded. Some of that is simply due to modern technology and some of it because as the richest state on the planet, we’ve been handed the role of global policeman.

But two extended conflicts over the past dozen years have sapped our strength and our desire to keep order. The Russians, in their zeal to Take Back Russia, have elected to return to the solutions that were common in the last century. The question now becomes do we let them, or do we find whatever way possible to kick their ass into the 21st century?

By George Friedman | Tuesday, April 8, 2014 | Stratfor

Ever since the end of the Cold War, there has been an assumption that conventional warfare between reasonably developed nation-states had been abolished. During the 1990s, it was expected that the primary purpose of the military would be operations other than war, such as peacekeeping, disaster relief and the change of oppressive regimes. After 9/11, many began speaking of asymmetric warfare and “the long war.” Under this model, the United States would be engaged in counterterrorism activities in a broad area of the Islamic world for a very long time. Peer-to-peer conflict seemed obsolete.

There was a profoundly radical idea embedded in this line of thought. Wars between nations or dynastic powers had been a constant condition in Europe, and the rest of the world had been no less violent. Every century had had systemic wars in which the entire international system (increasingly dominated by Europe since the 16th century) had participated. In the 20th century, there were the two World Wars, in the 19th century the Napoleonic Wars, in the 18th century the Seven Years’ War, and in the 17th century the Thirty Years’ War.

Those who argued that U.S. defense policy had to shift its focus away from peer-to-peer and systemic conflict were in effect arguing that the world had entered a new era in which what had been previously commonplace would now be rare or nonexistent. What warfare there was would not involve nations but subnational groups and would not be systemic. The radical nature of this argument was rarely recognized by those who made it, and the evolving American defense policy that followed this reasoning was rarely seen as inappropriate. If the United States was going to be involved primarily in counterterrorism operations in the Islamic world for the next 50 years, we obviously needed a very different military than the one we had.

There were two reasons for this argument. Military planners are always obsessed with the war they are fighting. It is only human to see the immediate task as a permanent task. During the Cold War, it was impossible for anyone to imagine how it would end. During World War I, it was obvious that static warfare dominated by the defense was the new permanent model. That generals always fight the last war must be amended to say that generals always believe the war they are fighting is the permanent war. It is, after all, the war that was the culmination of their careers, and imagining other wars when they are fighting this one, and indeed will not be fighting future ones, appeared frivolous.

The second reason was that no nation-state was in a position to challenge the United States militarily. After the Cold War ended, the United States was in a singularly powerful position. The United States remains in a powerful position, but over time, other nations will increase their power, form alliances and coalitions and challenge the United States. No matter how benign a leading power is — and the United States is not uniquely benign — other nations will fear it, resent it or want to shame it for its behavior. The idea that other nation-states will not challenge the United States seemed plausible for the past 20 years, but the fact is that nations will pursue interests that are opposed to American interest and by definition, pose a peer-to-peer challenge. The United States is potentially overwhelmingly powerful, but that does not make it omnipotent.

Systemic vs. Asymmetric War
It must also be remembered that asymmetric warfare and operations other than war always existed between and during peer-to-peer wars and systemic wars. The British fought an asymmetric war in both Ireland and North America in the context of a peer-to-peer war with France. Germany fought an asymmetric war in Yugoslavia at the same time it fought a systemic war from 1939-1945. The United States fought asymmetric wars in the Philippines, Nicaragua, Haiti and other places between 1900-1945.

Asymmetric wars and operations other than war are far more common than peer-to-peer and systemic wars. They can appear overwhelmingly important at the time. But just as the defeat of Britain by the Americans did not destroy British power, the outcomes of asymmetric wars rarely define long-term national power and hardly ever define the international system. Asymmetric warfare is not a new style of war; it is a permanent dimension of warfare. Peer-to-peer and systemic wars are also constant features but are far less frequent. They are also far more important. For Britain, the outcome of the Napoleonic Wars was much more important than the outcome of the American Revolution. For the United States, the outcome of World Was II was far more important than its intervention in Haiti. There are a lot more asymmetric wars, but a defeat does not shift national power. If you lose a systemic war, the outcome can be catastrophic.

A military force can be shaped to fight frequent, less important engagements or rare but critical wars — ideally, it should be able to do both. But in military planning, not all wars are equally important. The war that defines power and the international system can have irreversible and catastrophic results. Asymmetric wars can cause problems and casualties, but that is a lesser mission. Military leaders and defense officials, obsessed with the moment, must bear in mind that the war currently being fought may be little remembered, the peace that is currently at hand is rarely permanent, and harboring the belief that any type of warfare has become obsolete is likely to be in error.
Ukraine drove this lesson home. There will be no war between the United States and Russia over Ukraine. The United States does not have interests there that justify a war, and neither country is in a position militarily to fight a war. The Americans are not deployed for war, and the Russians are not ready to fight the United States.

But the events in Ukraine point to some realities. First, the power of countries shifts, and the Russians had substantially increased their military capabilities since the 1990s. Second, the divergent interests between the two countries, which seemed to disappear in the 1990s, re-emerged. Third, this episode will cause each side to reconsider its military strategy and capabilities, and future crises might well lead to conventional war, nuclear weapons notwithstanding. Ukraine reminds us that peer-to-peer conflict is not inconceivable, and that a strategy and defense policy built on the assumption has little basis in reality. The human condition did not transform itself because of an interregnum in which the United States could not be challenged; the last two decades are an exception to the rule of global affairs defined by war.

U.S. national strategy must be founded on the control of the sea. The oceans protect the United States from everything but terrorism and nuclear missiles. The greatest challenge to U.S. control of the sea is hostile fleets. The best way to defeat hostile fleets is to prevent them from being built. The best way to do that is to maintain the balance of power in Eurasia. The ideal path for this is to ensure continued tensions within Eurasia so that resources are spent defending against land threats rather than building fleets. Given the inherent tensions in Eurasia, the United States needs to do nothing in most cases. In some cases it must send military or economic aid to one side or both. In other cases, it advises.

U.S. Strategy in Eurasia
The main goal here is to avoid the emergence of a regional hegemon fully secure against land threats and with the economic power to challenge the United States at sea. The U.S. strategy in World War I was to refuse to become involved until it appeared, with the abdication of the czar and increasing German aggression at sea, that the British and French might be defeated or the sea-lanes closed. At that point, the United States intervened to block German hegemony. In World War II, the United States remained out of the war until after the French collapsed and it appeared the Soviet Union would collapse — until it seemed something had to be done. Even then, it was only after Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that Congress approved Roosevelt’s plan to intervene militarily in continental Europe. And in spite of operations in the Mediterranean, the main U.S. thrust didn’t occur until 1944 in Normandy, after the German army had been badly weakened.

In order for this strategy, which the U.S. inherited from the British, to work, the United States needs an effective and relevant alliance structure. The balance-of-power strategy assumes that there are core allies who have an interest in aligning with the United States against regional enemies. When I say effective, I mean allies that are capable of defending themselves to a great extent. Allying with the impotent achieves little. By relevant, I mean allies that are geographically positioned to deal with particularly dangerous hegemons.

If we assume Russians to be dangerous hegemons, then the relevant allies are those on the periphery of Russia. For example, Portugal or Italy adds little weight to the equation. As to effectiveness, the allies must be willing to make major commitments to their own national defense. The American relationship in all alliances is that the outcome of conflicts must matter more to the ally than to the United States.

The point here is that NATO, which was extremely valuable during the Cold War, may not be a relevant or effective instrument in a new confrontation with the Russians. Many of the members are not geographically positioned to help, and many are not militarily effective. They cannot balance the Russians. And since the goal of an effective balance-of-power strategy is the avoidance of war while containing a rising power, the lack of an effective deterrence matters a great deal.

It is not certain by any means that Russia is the main threat to American power. Many would point to China. In my view, China’s ability to pose a naval threat to the United States is limited, for the time being, by the geography of the South and East China seas. There are a lot of choke points that can be closed. Moreover, a balance of land-based military power is difficult to imagine. But still, the basic principle I have described holds; countries such as South Korea and Japan, which have a more immediate interest in China than the United States does, are supported by the United States to contain China.

In these and other potential cases, the ultimate problem for the United States is that its engagement in Eurasia is at distance. It takes a great deal of time to deploy a technology-heavy force there, and it must be technology-heavy because U.S. forces are always outnumbered when fighting in Eurasia. The United States must have force multipliers. In many cases, the United States is not choosing the point of intervention, but a potential enemy is creating a circumstance where intervention is necessary. Therefore, it is unknown to planners where a war might be fought, and it is unknown what kind of force they will be up against. The only thing certain is that it will be far away and take a long time to build up a force. During Desert Storm, it took six months to go on the offensive.

American strategy requires a force that can project overwhelming power without massive delays. In Ukraine, for example, had the United States chosen to try to defend eastern Ukraine from Russian attack, it would have been impossible to deploy that force before the Russians took over. An offensive against the Russians in Ukraine would have been impossible. Therefore, Ukraine poses the strategic problem for the United States.

The Future of U.S. Defense Policy
The United States will face peer-to-peer or even systemic conflicts in Eurasia. The earlier the United States brings in decisive force, the lower the cost to the United States. Current conventional war-fighting strategy is not dissimilar from that of World War II: It is heavily dependent on equipment and the petroleum to power that equipment. It can take many months to field that force. That could force the United States into an offensive posture far more costly and dangerous than a defensive posture, as it did in World War II. Therefore, it is essential that the time to theater be dramatically reduced, the size of the force reduced, but the lethality, mobility and survivability dramatically increased.

It also follows that the tempo of operations be reduced. The United States has been in constant warfare since 2001. The reasons are understandable, but in a balance-of-power strategy war is the exception, not the rule. The force that could be deployed is seen as overwhelming and therefore does not have to be deployed. The allies of the United States are sufficiently motivated and capable of defending themselves. That fact deters attack by regional hegemons. There need to be layers of options between threat and war.

Defense policy must be built on three things: The United States does not know where it will fight. The United States must use war sparingly. The United States must have sufficient technology to compensate for the fact that Americans are always going to be outnumbered in Eurasia. The force that is delivered must overcome this, and it must get there fast.
Ranges of new technologies, from hypersonic missiles to electronically and mechanically enhanced infantryman, are available. But the mindset that peer-to-peer conflict has been abolished and that small unit operations in the Middle East are the permanent features of warfare prevent these new technologies from being considered. The need to rethink American strategy in the framework of the perpetual possibility of conventional war against enemies fighting on their own terrain is essential, along with an understanding that the exhaustion of the force in asymmetric warfare cannot be sustained. Losing an asymmetric war is unfortunate but tolerable. Losing a systemic war could be catastrophic. Not having to fight a war would be best.

A Deal Over Ukraine is Ugly But Unavoidable

UkraineMy Comments: Now that the University of Florida’s march to the national title game in basketball is behind us,  (Congratulations, guys, for giving us several months of enduring pleasure as we watched you grow and succeed!) it’s time to come back to earth and consider how life is likely to play out on other fronts.

What I see happening in the Ukraine and in Crimea brings, for me, a level of unease that suggests we need to really pay attention to this. It’s a reversion to what used to be the defining method of resolving conflicts that resulted in the Great War (WW1) and my fathers war, WW2. It involves some of the same players, is state on state, and could end badly for millions of people in Europe.

The dilemma for us is that we have little stomach or even ability to respond in kind to what the Russians are doing. True, not a lot of people have died, but the end game is a long way off. The internal rhetoric in this country is essentially mindless blather. There’s little, if anything, we could have done to prevent it, and now that the game is afoot, little we can do to reverse things.

All we can do is pay attention, and where possible, pull strings and hope for the best.

By Gideon Rachman / March 31, 2014

Any western leader negotiating over the fate of smaller countries in central or eastern Europe does so in the shadow of two bitter historical experiences: the Munich agreement of 1938 and the Yalta agreement of 1945. At Munich, the British and the French agreed to Adolf Hitler’s demands for the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia – without the participation of the Czech government, which was not represented at the talks. At Yalta, the British and the Americans made a deal with Josef Stalin that, de facto, accepted Soviet domination over postwar Poland and other countries under Russian occupation – again, without the participation of those concerned.

These parallels – in particular, Munich – are weighing heavily on western leaders as they attempt to chart a way forward over Ukraine. “We will not accept a path forward where the legitimate government of Ukraine is not at the table,” said John Kerry, the US secretary of state, at the conclusion of weekend talks in Paris with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister.

Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, on Monday compared President Vladimir Putin’s claim that he is acting in defence of the rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine to Hitler’s claim that he was acting to defend the rights of ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia. The parallel has also been made by Mr Kerry’s predecessor, Hillary Clinton.

Yet even as Mr Kerry pledged not to strike deals over the heads of the Ukrainians, he was negotiating directly with the Russians – without a Ukrainian representative in the room. The reality is that if a Kerry-Lavrov agreement is eventually reached, accommodating Russian demands for a federal system in Ukraine and safeguards for Russian speakers, the government in Kiev will come under enormous pressure to accept it.

So are the Americans violating crucial principles in discussing the fate of Ukraine in bilateral talks with Russia? Or is some form of Russian-American negotiation both inevitable and necessary?

The bleak reality is that, as things stand, it is in the interests of both the west and Ukraine that talks are held with the Russians. To understand why, it is necessary to imagine the alternative scenario. There are at present thousands of Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s eastern border.

The US and the EU have made clear they will not go to war over Ukraine. Given that fact, a refusal to negotiate with Moscow is likely to be interpreted as a display of indifference rather than a display of strength. It could actually encourage a Russian military intervention, which would have tragic consequences for all concerned.

However, if further rounds of talks are going to be held with the Russians, it is crucial that they are not simply a fig leaf for a Munich-style capitulation. Fortunately, even though the west has made it clear that it will not fight over Ukraine, it still has real leverage over Russia. But if that leverage is to be used it has to be applied to protect principles that are genuinely defensible, both morally and in terms of the resources that the west can credibly threaten to deploy.

So what should those principles be? First, it is clear that the Russians would like the west simply to accept the annexation of Crimea as a fact – and move the discussion on to the rest of Ukraine. The west should reject this idea – a stance that would, incidentally, mark a clear difference with the Munich agreement, where the UK and France signed off on the annexation of the Sudetenland. A refusal to recognise Crimea’s legal incorporation into Russia could impose significant costs on the Kremlin. Crimea would become a black hole in terms of foreign trade and investment and a drain on Russian resources.

The second principle is to make clear that any Russian military move into eastern Ukraine would lead to a complete rupture in the west’s economic relationship with Russia. The EU is already studying the possibility of further sanctions. The nature and extent of any such measures should be spelt out as soon as possible – and they should exceed Moscow’s expectations.

Finally, the principle that the Russian government cannot demand changes in the constitution of a neighbouring state should be spelt out. That is simply too dangerous a precedent to establish.

Within that package of principles, however, there should be room for discussion of other Russian proposals – such as the idea of a federal Ukraine, guarantees for Russian speakers and an assurance that an independent Ukraine would not join Nato, or have a relationship with the EU that damaged Russia’s economic interests.

Any understanding that the Americans arrive at with the Russians cannot be imposed on the Ukrainian government in Kiev – both as a matter of principle and because Ukrainian politicians remain independent actors. Given that an informal Russian-US proposal on Ukraine would not come with the backing of a western military guarantee, or any certainty that it will be respected by Russia, the Kiev government will rightly be highly suspicious. But, unfortunately, Swiss standards of prosperity and security are not on offer.

For beleaguered Ukraine, a Russian-American deal, underpinned by the threat of the west’s economic isolation of Russia if it is violated, is probably the best prospect on offer at the moment. If that deal can be made to stick, it might just buy Ukraine the time to build a properly independent state.

Next Steps for the U.S.-Iran Deal

My Comments: We live in a world of competing economic forces that in the past were almost always resolved by conflict. Since the end of WW2, those types of conflicts have diminished, even though the media would have us believe its the end of the world as we know it when they happen.

All of this will influence how money is spent in this country going forward. That in turn will influence the profit/loss statements of companies in which we invest our money. In a perfect world, Iran will be re-integrated into the global economic society, they will spend money on goods and services, and millions of people will once again be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

While this sounds polyannish, the steps being taken to get this right will not please everyone, but we have to push hard to find solutions that are in the best interest of the citizens of the US. This is an clear explanation of what seems to be happening.

November 25, 2013

What was unthinkable for many people over many years happened in the early hours of Nov. 24 in Geneva: The United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran struck a deal. After a decadelong struggle, the two reached an accord that seeks to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains a civilian one. It is a preliminary deal, and both sides face months of work to batten down domestic opposition, build convincing mechanisms to assure compliance and unthread complicated global sanctions.

That is the easy part. More difficult will be the process to reshape bilateral relations while virtually every regional player in the Middle East seeks ways to cope with an Iran that is no longer geopolitically encumbered.


The foreign ministers of Iran and the six Western powers that constitute the so-called P-5+1 Group clinched a six-month deal that begins the curtailment of Iran’s nuclear program while relaxing as much as $6 billion in sanctions — basically those embargoes that do not require U.S. President Barack Obama to secure approval from Congress. Allowing Iran to enrich uranium to “civilian” levels while making sure the know-how is not diverted to military purposes will be complex.

There will be disruptive events along the way, but the normalization process is unlikely to derail. Both sides need it. The real stakes are the balance of power in the Middle East.

Iran is far more concerned with enhancing its geopolitical prowess through conventional means. Meanwhile, the United States wants to leverage relations with Iran in order to better manage the region in an age of turmoil. Contrary to much of the public discourse, the Obama administration is not facilitating a nuclear Iran.

Washington and the Middle East

The United States is prepared to accept that Iran will consolidate much of the influence it has accumulated over the 12 years since the Sept. 11 attacks. From the point of view of the Iranians, they had reached the limits of how far they could go in enhancing their geopolitical footprint in the U.S. war against Sunni Islamist militancy. The tightening sanctions threatened to undermine the gains the Islamic republic had made. Thus the time had come for Iran to achieve through geopolitical moderation what was no longer possible through a radical foreign policy.

Though the United States is prepared to accept an internationally rehabilitated Iran as a major stakeholder in the Greater Middle East region, it does not wish for Tehran to exploit the opportunity in order to gain disproportionate power. The strategic focus must now shift from nuclear politics to the imperative that the United States balance Iran with other regional powers, especially the Sunni Arab states.

The post-Arab Spring turmoil in the region has plunged U.S.-Arab relations into a state of uncertainty for two reasons: First, the autocratic regimes have become unreliable partners; second, the region is seeing the rise of radical Sunni Islamist forces.

A rehabilitated Iran, along with its Shiite radical agenda, serves as a counter to the growing bandwidth of Sunni radicalism. All strategies have unintended consequences. A geopolitically unchained Iran, to varying degrees, undermines the position of decades-old American alliances in the region. These include Turkey, Israel and the Arab states (the ones that have survived the regional chaos defined by anti-autocratic popular agitation, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and others).

Washington is not the only actor anticipating a shift in its regional ambitions. France initially challenged earlier attempts at a U.S.-Iranian accord, placing greater pressure on the Iranians — much to the enjoyment of regional states such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. Though Paris has been eying the Middle East — specifically the Sunni monarchies of the Persian Gulf — as a larger potential market for its energy firms and defense exporters, France stands to gain little from unilaterally opposing a U.S.-Iranian deal. Rather, France sought to shape the talks and regional reactions to the benefit of its domestic industries. Germany and the United Kingdom, the other EU powers present at the talks, are hoping to gain greater exposure for their energy firms and exports to Iran’s large domestic consumer base. Germany in particular enjoyed one of the largest non-energy trade relationships with Iran before the most recent sanctions program took effect.

Regional Reverberations

The United States and the rest of the P-5+1 are not the only ones attempting to reset their relationship with Iran. Ankara, though initially opposed to Iranian ambitions in Syria and competing for influence in Iraq, has pursued a warming of ties with Tehran over the past several months. Turkey is a rising regional power in its own right, but domestic infighting within Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party is coinciding with a slump in the national economy. Meanwhile, Ankara is struggling to find a peaceful, political solution to its Kurdish issue. Turkey faces an uphill challenge in moving beyond the ring of Iranian influence on its borders, but a potential normalization of relations between Washington and Iran provides some opportunities for Ankara, even at the risk of empowering Iran’s regional ambitions. The two countries face similar challenges from Kurdish separatism in the region, and the Iranian market and potential energy exports could help mitigate Turkey’s rising dependence on Russian energy exports and potentially boost its slowing economy.

For all its rhetoric opposing the deal, Israel has very little to worry about in the immediate term. It will have to adjust to operating in an environment where Iran is no longer limited by its pariah status, but Iran remains unable to threaten Israel for the foreseeable future. Iran, constrained by its need to be a mainstream actor, will seek to rebuild its economy and will steer clear of any hawkish moves against Israel. Furthermore, Iran is more interested in gaining ground against the Arab states — something that Israel can use to its advantage. The report about the Israeli security establishment seeing the deal as a positive development (in contradiction to the position of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government) speaks volumes about the true extent of Israeli apprehension.

That leaves the Arab states, in particular Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, for whom a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement is a nightmare scenario. Riyadh and its neighboring monarchies are caught in the middle of the Arab Spring, which challenges them from within, and were long concerned with the rise of Iran. But now that their biggest ally has turned to normalizing ties with their biggest adversary, these countries find themselves bereft of good options with which to manage an Iran that will gain more from normalizing relations with the United States than it did with the American response to the 9/11 attacks.

Iran has played a large and visible role in bolstering the beleaguered al Assad regime during the Syrian civil war. Iran’s potential reset in relations will bring no easy or quick resolution to Damascus. The Syrian regime will still face the daunting task of having to rout the rebels and secure large swathes of Syrian territory, a difficult task even in the unlikely scenario of a precipitous drop in Sunni Arab backing for the rebels following a more comprehensive agreement between Tehran and the West. Indeed, the Syrian conflict, Iran’s support of Hezbollah and the future of Iranian influence in Iraq will form the more contentious, difficult stages of U.S.-Iranian negotiations ahead.

The Saudis, domestically at a historic crossroads, are trying to assert an independent foreign policy given the shift in American-Iranian ties. But they know that such a move offers limited dividends. Riyadh will try to make most of the fact that it is not in Washington’s interest to allow Tehran to operate too freely in the region.

Likewise, the Saudi kingdom will try to work with Turkey to counterbalance Iran. But again, this is not a reliable tool, given that Turkish interests converge with those of Iran more than they do with Saudi Arabia’s. Quietly working with Israel is an option, but there are limits to that given the Arab-Israeli conflict and the fact that Iran can exploit any such relationship. In the end, the Saudis and the Arab states will have to adjust most to the reality in which American-Iranian hostility begins to wither.

Read more: Next Steps for the U.S.-Iran Deal | Stratfor

Edward Snowden Has Done Us All a Favour – Even Barack Obama

snoopingMy Comments: This issue has nothing to do with financial planning or investment management. However, I think it likely it will influence how this country and its values influence the future economic and politial foundations of globalization, the US led effort since the end of World War II.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with Snowden’s actions. Without his revelations, none of us would have a clue the extent to which our privacy has been compromised. While I doubt anyone at NSA or CIA or one of the other agencies gives a damn about my email messages to my friends and clients, the fact that they can is overreach and disturbing.

On the other hand, and I expressed this in a blog some months ago, the ground rules that serve to address issues like these always lag behind advances in technology. It isn’t until the world catches up with so called advances that rule changes are obvious. This is one of those times. Hopefully, Congressional leadership will do the right thing and update the rules.

By Edward Luce | The Financial Times | November 3, 2013

Whether he is a scoundrel or a hero, it is clearer all the time that Edward Snowden has done us a good turn. Shortly before Mr Snowden’s first big download in June, President Barack Obama gave a landmark speech in which he defended the US war on terror while pleading for vigilance against its excesses. Franklin Roosevelt once said: “I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it.” Though Mr Obama was talking about America’s counter-terrorist and data intelligence complexes, his speech contained a similar appeal. Shortly afterwards, Mr Snowden took him up on the challenge.

Mr Obama has yet to provide a convincing response – ask Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, or Germany’s Angela Merkel. Mr Snowden may yet force him to. From Mr Obama’s point of view there are silver linings to the National Security Agency bombshells. Something of this kind was going to happen sooner or later. If a high-school dropout could get hold of troves of classified information, so can many others. Bradley Manning, a US army private, had already demonstrated that. US intelligence agencies are meant to be smart. Mr Obama now knows how dumb they can be.

Mr Snowden has also reminded us that there is more at stake over America’s sprawling data intelligence complex than hunting terrorists. Washington has done a good job of preventing big attacks on the US homeland since the terror attacks of September 2001. Both George W Bush and Barack Obama deserve credit. Both also deserve blame for having over-learned the lessons of 9/11. US intelligence does not have a particularly stellar history. It has a tendency to bungle covert action and to miss what is coming – from the Bay of Pigs debacle in Cuba to the World Trade Center attacks. There is also its extraordinary litany of domestic abuses exposed by the Church committee in the 1970s.

In light of what Mr Snowden has taught us about the rapid growth of the NSA in the past few years, it is worth rereading the report of the 9/11 Commission – the best on intelligence failure yet written. The report blamed the failure to foresee the World Trade Center attacks on “stovepiping” between US agencies. Because of turf protection, nobody was in a position to “connect the dots” between fragmentary clues about flight schools, Saudi visas and so on.

A decade later it is plain that US intelligence overcorrected for 9/11. The days of stovepiping are long gone. Nowadays anyone can download enough classified information to construct Tolstoyan epics about US espionage. Here too, Mr Snowden’s actions have been helpful.

Most of all, Mr Snowden has reminded us that the biggest lesson from 9/11 remains unaddressed. The report said intellectual failure was the ultimate culprit in missing the Twin Towers attacks and stressed the need to “routinise, even bureaucratise, the use of the imagination”. Mr Obama needs no imagination to know how tarnished America’s brand now is.

Some of it comes from the recent Washington shutdown and default crisis. But the NSA revelations have added mistrust to complaints about US incompetence. Corrosion of trust between allies and between governments and citizens can breed all sorts of unforeseen consequences. It is the right moment for Mr Obama to start a larger debate about US intelligence.

At some point in the near future he is likely to agree to a weaker version of the code of conduct among allies that exists between the “five eyes” of English-speaking nations. It will be a polite fiction but co-operation will not have been seriously impaired. Neither side of the Atlantic is likely to curtail actual intelligence gathering. And in many cases they should not. Tapping the phones of leaders such as Ms Merkel has clearly boomeranged – as has the NSA’s siphoning of data from nodal points at the leading US data companies. But eavesdropping on Pakistan’s military should continue to be a no-brainer.

Mr Snowden has also forced us to confront the larger question of US power in a changing world. For all America’s military weight, hard power gets fewer bangs for its buck nowadays. The fate of a US-led world in the coming decades will probably not be decided by a military clash with another large power. It is more likely to be settled by the quality of America’s economy and democracy. For most people around the world who are older than 30, the US is still chiefly seen through those prisms. But, for a whole generation beneath them, it is coming to stand for Big Brother – and not necessarily a benign one. The damage to US soft power – and the weight it lends to those who want to nationalise data storage and balkanise the internet – should not be overlooked.

Why, then, does Mr Obama want to put Mr Snowden behind bars?

The question of Mr Snowden’s motives is secondary. He may be a criminal, or a saint. I suspect he had good reasons. At minimum he will pay for his sins with a lifetime of looking over his shoulder. In the meantime, the rest of us are far more educated than before about how much privacy we have lost and how rapidly. We are all Angela Merkel now.

Mr Obama is enraged and embarrassed by the hammer blows of one giant disclosure after another. But the fallout has given him the possibility of answering his own plea for greater accountability. Back in May, he issued a thinly coded cry for help to rein in the growing US shadow state. We should be grateful that Mr Snowden came forward.

U.S. and Iranian Realities

My Comments: I think the name Suicide Caucus, given to the far right by some on the near right is on the mark. There seems to be a mental pathology presenting itself with some of these people. Fortunately, the world continues to turn and the world is again watching us carefully.

This article, from George Freeman of Stratfor, explains the circumstances that surround the United States and Iran. Obama is playing the hand he was dealt, and so far is playing it well. I encourage you to read this, as the outcome will influence global economic results, and by extension, will influence how well your invested money behaves in the next several years.

By George Friedman | Tuesday, October 1, 2013 – Stratfor

U.S. President Barack Obama called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani last week in the first such conversation in the 34 years since the establishment of the Islamic Republic. The phone call followed tweets and public statements on both sides indicating a willingness to talk. Though far from an accommodation between the two countries, there are reasons to take this opening seriously — not only because it is occurring at such a high level, but also because there is now a geopolitical logic to these moves. Many things could go wrong, and given that this is the Middle East, the odds of failure are high. But Iran is weak and the United States is avoiding conflict, and there are worse bases for a deal.

Iran’s Surge
Though the Iranians are now in a weak strategic position, they had been on the offensive since 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq. They welcomed the invasion; Saddam Hussein had been a mortal enemy of Iran ever since the 1980-1989 Iran-Iraq War. The destruction of his regime was satisfying in itself, but it also opened the door to a dramatic shift in Iran’s national security situation.

Iraq was Iran’s primary threat after the collapse of the Soviet Union because it was the only direction from which an attack might come. A pro-Iranian or even neutral Iraq would guarantee Iranian national security. The American invasion created a power vacuum in Iraq that the U.S. Army could not fill. The Iranians anticipated this, supporting pro-Iranian elements among the Shia prior to 2003 and shaping them into significant militias after 2003. With the United States engaged in a war against Sunni insurgents, the Shia, already a majority, moved to fill the void.

The United States came to realize that it was threatened from two directions, and it found itself battling both Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias. The purpose of the surge in 2007 was to extricate itself from the war with the Sunnis and to block the Shia. It succeeded with the former to a great extent, but it was too late in the game for the latter. As the United States was withdrawing from Iraq, only the Shia (not all of them Iranian surrogates) could fill the political vacuum. Iran thus came to have nothing to fear from Iraq, and could even dominate it. This was a tremendous strategic victory for Iran, which had been defeated by Iraq in 1989.

After the Iranians made the most of having the United States, focused on the Sunnis, open the door for Iran to dominate Iraq, a more ambitious vision emerged in Tehran. With Iraq contained and the United States withdrawing from the region, Saudi Arabia emerged as Iran’s major challenger. Tehran now had the pieces in place to challenge Riyadh.

Iran was allied with Syria and had a substantial pro-Iranian force in Lebanon — namely, Hezbollah. The possibility emerged in the late 2000s of an Iranian sphere of influence extending from western Afghanistan’s Shiite communities all the way to the Mediterranean. Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had fairly realistic visions of Iranian power along Saudi Arabia’s northern border, completely changing the balance of power in the region.

But while Syrian President Bashar al Assad was prepared to align himself with Iran, he initially had no interest in his country’s becoming an Iranian satellite. In fact, he was concerned at the degree of power Iran was developing. The Arab Spring and the uprising against al Assad changed this equation. Before, Syria and Iran were relative equals. Now, al Assad desperately needed Iranian support. This strengthened Tehran’s hand, since if Iran saved al Assad, he would emerge weakened and frightened, and Iranian influence would surge.
The Russians also liked the prospect of a strengthened Iran. First, they were fighting Sunnis in the northern Caucasus. They feared the strengthening of radical Sunnis anywhere, but particularly in the larger Sunni-dominated republics in Russia. Second, an Iranian sphere of influence not only would threaten Saudi Arabia, it also would compel the United States to re-engage in the region to protect Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Russians had enjoyed a relatively free hand since 2001 while the Americans remained obsessed with the Islamic world. Creating a strategic crisis for the United States thus suited Moscow’s purposes. The Russians, buffered from Iran by the Caucasus states, were not frightened by the Iranians. They were therefore prepared to join Iran in supporting the al Assad regime.

The problem was that al Assad could not impose his will on Syria. He did not fall, but he also couldn’t win. A long-term civil war emerged, and while the Iranians had influence among the Alawites, the stalemate undermined any dream of an Iranian sphere of influence reaching the Mediterranean. This became doubly true when Sunni resistance to the Shia in Iraq grew. The Syrian maneuver required a decisive and rapid defeat of the Sunni insurgents in Syria. That didn’t happen, and the ability of the Shiite regime of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to resist the Sunnis was no longer guaranteed.

Iranian Ambitions Decline
In 2009, it had appeared extremely likely that an Iran loosely aligned with Russia would enjoy a sphere of influence north of Saudi Arabia. By 2013, this vision was shattered, and with it the more grandiose strategic vision of Ahmadinejad and his allies in Iran. This led to a re-evaluation of Iran’s strategic status — and of the value of its nuclear program.

It was Stratfor’s view that Iran had less interest in actually acquiring a nuclear weapon than in having a program to achieve one. Possessing a handful of nuclear weapons would be a worst-case scenario for Iran, as it might compel massive attacks from Israel or the United States that Iran could not counter. But having a program to develop one, and making it credible, gave the Iranians a powerful bargaining chip and diverted U.S. and Israeli attention from the growing Iranian sphere of influence. Ahmadinejad’s hope, I think, was to secure this sphere of influence, have the basis for making demands on the Saudis and the Gulf Cooperation Council, and trade the nuclear program for U.S. recognition and respect for the new regional balance. Indeed, while the United States and Israel were obsessed with the Iranian bomb, the Iranians were making major strides in developing more conventional power.

Iran’s regional strategy was in shambles, and the international sanctions its nuclear program triggered began to have some significant effect. I am unable to determine whether Iran’s economic crisis derived from the sanctions or whether it derived from a combination of the global economic crisis and Iran’s own economic weakness. But in the end, the perception that the sanctions had wreaked havoc on the Iranian economy turned the nuclear program, previously useful, into a liability.

Iran found itself in a very difficult position. Internally, opposition to any accommodation with the United States was strong. But so was the sense that Ahmadinejad had brought disaster on Iran strategically and economically. For Iran, the nuclear program became increasingly irrelevant. The country was not going to become a regional power. It now had to go on the defensive, stabilize Iraq and, more important, address its domestic situation.

The U.S. Challenge
There is profound domestic opposition in the United States to dealing with the Iranian regime. Just as the Iranians still genuinely resent the 1953 coup that placed the shah on the throne, the Americans have never forgotten the seizure of the U.S. Embassy and the subsequent yearlong hostage crisis. We must now wait and see what language Iran will craft regarding the hostage crisis to reciprocate the courtesy of Obama’s acknowledging the 1953 coup.

The United States is withdrawing from the Middle East to the extent it can. Certainly, it has no interest in another ground war. It has interests in the region, however, and chief among those are avoiding the emergence of a regional hegemon that might destabilize the Middle East. The United States also learned in Iraq that simultaneously fighting Sunnis and Shia pits the United States against forces it cannot defeat without major effort. It needs a way to manage the Islamic world without being in a constant state of war.

The classic solution to this is to maintain a balance of power with minimal force based on pre-existing tensions. A weakened Iran needs support in its fight with the Sunnis. The United States is interested in ensuring that neither the Sunni nor the Shia win — in other words, in the status quo of centuries. Having Iran crumble internally therefore is not in the American interest, since it would upset the internal balance. While sanctions were of value in blocking Iranian ascendancy, in the current situation stabilizing Iran is of greater interest.

The United States cannot proceed unless the nuclear program is abandoned. Rouhani understands that, but he must have and end to sanctions and a return of Western investment to Iran in exchange. These are doable under the current circumstances. The question of Iranian support for al Assad is not really an issue; the United States does not want to see a Syrian state dominated by radical Sunnis. Neither does Iran. Tehran would like a Syria dominated by al Assad, but Iran realizes that it has played that card and lost. The choices are partition, coalition or war — neither Iran nor the United States is deeply concerned with which.

Threats to a Resolution
There are two threats to a potential resolution. The primary threat is domestic. In both countries, even talking to each other seems treasonous to some. In Iran, economic problems and exhaustion with grandiosity opens a door. In the United States right now, war is out of the question. And that paves the way to deals unthinkable a few years ago.

A second threat is outside interference. Israel comes to mind, though for Israel, the removal of the nuclear program would give them something they were unable to achieve themselves. The Israelis argued that the Iranian bomb was an existential threat to Israel. But the Israelis lack the military power to deal with it themselves, and they could not force the Americans into action. This is the best deal they can get if they actually feared an Iranian bomb. Though Israel’s influence on this negotiation with Iran will face limits with the U.S. administration, Israel will make an effort to insert itself in the process and push its own demands on what constitutes an acceptable Iranian concession.

Saudi Arabia meanwhile will be appalled at a U.S.-Iranian deal. Hostility toward Iran locked the United States into place in support of the Saudis. But the United States is now flush with oil, and Saudi attempts to block reconciliation will not meet a warm reception. The influence of Saudi Arabia in Washington has waned considerably since the Iraq war.

The Russian position will be more interesting. On the surface, the Russians have been effective in Syria. But that’s only on the surface. The al Assad regime wasn’t bombed, but it remains crippled. And the Syrian crisis revealed a reality the Russians didn’t like: If Obama had decided to attack Syria, there was nothing the Russians could have done about it. They have taken a weak hand and played it as cleverly as possible. But it is still a weak hand. The Russians would have liked having the United States bogged down containing Iran’s influence, but that isn’t going to happen, and the Russians realize that ultimately they lack the weight to make it happen. Syria was a tactical victory for them; Iran would be a strategic defeat.

The Iranian and American realities argue for a settlement. The psyche of both countries is in the balance. There is clearly resistance in both, yet it does not seem strong enough or focused enough to block it. That would seem to indicate speed rather than caution. But of course, getting it done before anyone notices isn’t possible. And so much can go wrong here that all of this could become moot. But given how the Iranians and Americans see their positions, the odds are, that something will happen. In my book, The Next Decade, I argued that in the long run Iran and the United States have aligning interests and that an informal alliance is likely in the long run. This isn’t the long run yet, and the road will be bumpy, but the logic is there.

Read more: U.S. and Iranian Realities | Stratfor
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There is no one left to enforce the global rules

MyWorld copyMy Comments: And you thought I was being negative last week?!? Well, not a lot right now to encourage a positive outlook on things. Yes, my clients are making money, thank you. And yes, my case of the flu has receded, the daily deluge has stopped (maybe), and the mornings are cooler. WOW!

But the world we live in, at least the world some of us live in, continues to frustrate. I suppose it always has to some degree, but right now I’d like SOME things to work in our favor. These comments from the Financial Times reflect on the recent gathering of economic powers in Russia.

By Philip Stephens | September 5, 2013

Someone else can keep the peace. The west has had its fill of squaring up to tyrants. It is time for others to pick up the baton. So runs the shrug-of-the-shoulders response to the fires raging in the Middle East and the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. The snag, as can be seen from the paralysis in the UN Security Council, is that there is no “someone else”.

This week leaders of the Group of 20 leading nations are meeting in St Petersburg. Russia has proved a fitting venue for the gathering. The summit offers sight of a future for international relations in which competition prevails over co-operation and narrow national interests trump respect for rules. The host, President Vladimir Putin, counts such disarray a success. He sees the absence of global consensus as a cloak over inexorable Russian decline.

The purpose of the G20 was to broaden and strengthen the international system by reflecting the redistribution of power from west to east. Instead it holds up a mirror to the fractures and fissures in the emerging order. The rising nations cast themselves as guardians of state sovereignty against western imperialism. They may have history on their side: the established powers have anyway wearied of efforts to enforce international rules.

A vote in the Westminster parliament has seen Britain wash its hands of Bashar al-Assad’s crimes against the Syrian people. Were the looming decision in the US Congress to go against President Barack Obama’s call for intervention, the sole superpower would do the same. France, for all its Gallic self-regard, cannot go it alone.

The facts of globalisation have not changed. A glance at the present economic troubles faced by countries as distant as India and Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa, retells the story of inescapable interdependence.

The US Federal Reserve is reining back the extraordinary injection of liquidity into the US and world economies after the global crash. Cheap American credit fuelled growth in the emerging nations. Now they feel the pain of its withdrawal. These nations pretty much shrugged off the 2008 financial crash. It would be cruel irony indeed to be laid low by a recovery in the US.

Interdependence reaches beyond the realm of economics. Most of the principal threats to the west and the rest alike do not respect national borders. Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, climate change, state failure, cyber attacks, jihadi terrorism, uncontrolled migration and suchlike challenge the security of each and all in the G20.

So, too, in spite of Mr Putin’s barefaced denials, does Mr Assad’s decision to trample on the norms that prohibit the use of chemical weapons. What is missing at the G20 summit, however, is general recognition of a commonweal important enough to counter the hankering after narrower concepts of self-interest.

The Syrian crisis throws into relief the collision of two principles underpinning the mission of the UN. The first is the founding statute that prohibits interference in the sovereign affairs of UN members without explicit authorisation of the Security Council. The second, more recent pillar of global governance declares that sovereignty carries responsibilities as well as rights. The price of non-interference is respect for the security of the citizen.

Enunciated by the UN in 2005, the doctrine of a responsibility to protect marked the high-water mark of hopes that the new global landscape would be shaped by an extension of international rules and norms. A multipolar world represented by inclusive organisations such as the G20 would widen and deepen the traditions of multilateralism embedded in the post-1945 order.

The tides have since turned. The rising states have proved unwilling to sacrifice sovereignty to collective action. The west is far from blameless in this respect. Seen from Beijing, Delhi or Brasília, global governance has looked too much like an effort by the established powers to hold on to their privileged position. When Brazil and Turkey tried to mediate in the dispute about Iran’s nuclear programme they were told by Washington to get lost.

The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have muddled western interests with the principle of multilateral rules. China, ever fearful of insurrection at home, has taken a robustly Westphalian view of the sanctity of state sovereignty. Mr Putin fancies himself as convener of those who want to contest US power.

On the other side of the G20 table, the Europeans who not so long ago imagined their own union would serve as a model for the international system have surrendered global ambition to the effort to keep the EU show on the road. Putting aside French exceptionalism, the decision by the Westminster parliament aligns Britain with most of its neighbours.

The Middle East is on Europe’s doorstep, so it has more to lose than most from the spreading conflicts. You would not think it from the present rush to inaction. Europe is best described as a continent hiding under the bedcovers.

The central irony of the present debate, however, is that the nation calling for intervention is also the one best equipped to prosper in a world without rules. Uniquely favourable geography, abundant natural resources, economic resilience and unrivalled military power offer the US the option of disengagement. Sure, it would suffer from a breakdown of the global order, but the US is as close as it gets to a self-sufficient superpower. Today’s champions of undiluted sovereignty would be the big losers.

Barack Obama Declines to Correct His Egyptian Mistake

EgyptMy Comments: You may ask yourself why, as a financial advisor to individuals and small business owners, would I care about what happens in Egypt. Your are right in that whatever happens in Egypt is not going to greatly influence how you and I live our lives here in north central Florida. But it matters in the grand scale of things as the next several years play out, as our grandchildren become adults, and the life we live presents new challenges.

Another element to consider as we watch this play out is how it is we give the Egyptian military $1.2B every year. That goes back some 30 years to when Egypt agreed to a peace agreement with Isreal. We bought that peace and are still paying for it. Given our commitments to Israel, do we want to upset that status quo?

So this commentary that appeared recently in the Financial Times serves to help us understand what is happening and while none of us individually has any influence on the outcome, we cannot completely escape the influence it will have on our financial lives down the road.

By Ian Bremmer | August 15, 2013 5:18 pm

President Barack Obama has decided not to bring his influence to bear on Egypt. In a statement on Thursday, he spoke out against this week’s violence in the country and cancelled forthcoming joint military exercises, declaring that “our traditional co-operation cannot continue as usual.” But in effect, business as usual was what he championed. These were largely symbolic gestures that did not undermine implicit US support for the Egyptian military.

America’s link to the generals is longstanding. That is the backdrop for the decision to acquiesce in July’s military coup against the Egyptian president, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi. It was a significant foreign policy misstep, compounded by the Obama administration’s subsequent statements and decisions. In early August John Kerry, secretary of state, described the military as “restoring democracy”. At the time it was incorrect. This week, it has become a stain on the White House.

On Wednesday the Egyptian authorities moved against the Brotherhood, who had organised protests against the coup. The violence escalated; some of the opposition were armed. More than 500 people have died. The Islamists have attacked churches and police stations across the country. The pro-military and pro-Brotherhood factions are now too polarised for any compromise to take shape. How can you broker a deal when the two sides are digging in deeper?

The issue is less about whether or not there was a military coup in July but rather why the revolution in 2011 failed to take root. Depending on how you look at it, the revolution was incomplete, unsuccessful, or, more cynically, it never got rolling to begin with. That’s not a narrative that people like to hear. The military wasn’t “restoring democracy” in July because democracy never managed to take root in the first place; the military didn’t give up power. There was change – some generals were replaced – and there was hope for more. But to say the military ever reported to the new administration and then overthrew it is fiction. The military retained enormous political and budgetary authority, and the Brotherhood-written constitution codified its power.

Still, there was a real possibility that things would improve, albeit incrementally, as happened in Turkey in the 1990s. An elected government could have come in, beholden to the military, but over time, it could have stripped the military of its vested powers and the country could have lurched towards true democracy. This is the Egypt spring scenario: a trajectory that was plausible had Mr Morsi built out a broad governing coalition capable of addressing Egypt’s underlying power structure. But in November 2012 Mr Morsi declared himself above the law and served as the mouthpiece for an organisation that was (and is) in many ways anti-democratic, with attacks on churches and intimidation of its critics.

After the military’s actions in the past few weeks, there is no going back. For the US government, for Mohamed ElBaradei, for the Saudis and Emeratis, for everyone who was on board with the interim government, the chance for a settlement between the post-coup regime and the Brotherhood has evaporated. The majority either backs the military or the Brotherhood. Excluded from politics, the Brotherhood and its supporters will become more radicalised.

The military is playing to its base, which views the Brotherhood as a threat. The few who hoped to bridge the gap between the two sides can no longer play a role. The best that can be said is that Egypt is not Syria – civil war is unlikely. The military retains sufficient power to ensure the country stays together. It can put a floor under potential instability.

While Washington has had virtually no influence on developments in Egypt over the past six weeks, it does have leverage. If it wants to push the government to end the crackdowns and commit to free, fair elections and real transition by a near-term date, it could threaten to rescind aid or suspend military co-operation. Today, army commander General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is far too distracted to be concerned with or influenced by the US. But it will eventually matter to Egypt – and it would immediately send a signal to other powers.

Whether the US would really be willing to make good on these threats – moves that could leave Egypt’s military less equipped to maintain stability – is another story. Based on Mr Obama’s comments on Thursday, he will cling to the status quo as long as it remains acceptable. In Syria, the US has dragged its feet in providing support to the opposition. In Egypt it will drag its feet in unwinding its support of the military. In Syria, central authority has eroded into chaos, with neither side able to take firm control of the country. In Egypt, the recent chaos has exposed that a central authority has had firm control all along.

The Egypt spring was always a lofty goal, requiring the military, the Muslim Brotherhood and Mr Morsi not to drop the baton. All three did. And by being too passive, the US didn’t do them any favours. After this week, any flicker of hope that the Egypt spring is within reach has been extinguished.

Am I Guilty? (And if I am, What Happens Next?)

snoopingMy Comments: I’m interested in the debate about privacy, how it’s defined these days (or NOT), and as a society immersed in digital communication, how the boundaries of “acceptable” behavior are ultimately established to the benefit of ALL of us. By definition in the US Code, this blog post could be defined as “giving comfort to the enemy”, one result of which is putting my ass in jail.

Here is the issue as described by the author:

By William R. Polk July 22, 2013

VENCE, France – I have concerns over the trends toward all-knowing supervision (what former Vice President Dick Cheney called “total information awareness”) and full-spectrum dominance. (Reading such phrases drove me back to reading George Orwell’s 1984.)

I now realize that I was unduly optimistic thinking of current activities merely as trends. The future is already here.

If what is already “on the books” is not restrained by political and legal action, they are not trends but a “clear and present danger.”

So what is the law?
Continue Reading HERE...

Trans-Atlantic Ties Still Key to Renewing U.S. Global Leadership

My Comments: An attempt here to start the week with a more positive spin on what many of us see as the world in chaos. Yes, I’m supposed to see the world through the eyes of an investment specialist, and mostly, I do. But the role played by the US, and by extension, each one of us as voting members of the republic, has a bearing on the standard of living that will be enjoyed, or not enjoyed, by our children and grandchildren in the next couple of decades.

In general, I think Hillary Clinton did an outstanding job resetting the image of the United States on the world stage. My expectation is that John Kerry will take it to another level. In the meantime, however, Tom Barnett is saying that Hillary and company, either by design, or lack of vision, are missing a element that is going to greatly influence how the next two decades plays out.

By Thomas P.M. Barnett

For roughly a decade now, I’ve been advocating that America needs to be unsentimental in choosing its military allies for the 21st century. Europe and Japan are aging and seem increasingly less willing to protect their interests abroad, while India and China are becoming budding superpowers with global interests that, to a stunning degree, overlap with America’s. Most pointedly, we live in an age of “frontier integration” triggered by globalization’s rapid advance, a process in which China and India, and not the “old” West, are the two rising pillars. So it makes sense for America to focus future alliance-building efforts in their direction.

That kind of long-range argument logically requires a good couple of decades to actualize, especially given the strategic distrust visible today among all three parties. But that’s the whole idea about thinking strategically: You lock in on the “inevitable,” however inconceivable it may seem from today’s perspective, and you lay the groundwork for that future, year-in and year-out. Strategic shifts are generational tasks, so these seeds need to be planted with the Millennials now, in the hope of their fruition come 2030.

Readers familiar with my old column here will remember how I’ve taken to describing that 2030 future as the C-I-A world, as in, one run by China, India and America. But recently, thanks to a series of long-range simulations run by Wikistrat, where I serve as chief analyst, I’ve found myself thinking that renewing the trans-Atlantic bond with Europe may be the best way to assure the right kind of U.S. global leadership as we move toward that 2030 horizon.

Today’s globalization is suffering a populist blowback on a nearly global scale. Indeed, the only places not suffering such blowback are Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia, frontiers where globalization’s widespread wealth creation is still resulting in very positive outcomes. Just about everywhere else, whether in the old West, the rising East or the Arab world, we’re seeing a build-up of social anger at globalization’s inequities and excesses that is stunning in its scope and persistence. In short, the world seems destined to either re-balkanize itself over these tensions or enter into a lengthy progressive era that corrects these imbalances and cleans up these corrupting trends.

Here’s where the value of the trans-Atlantic bond comes back in. For, remember, the old West has already processed the very same sort of mega-cycle back at the turn of the 20th century, when the world’s first version of a middle class initially came into its own as a potent political force. In that scary millenarian maelstrom, as today, terrorists, revolutionaries and radical fundamentalists abounded. In the end, both extremes of the ideological spectrum reached their catastrophically evil expression in the form of Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany.

But not everybody in that old West got it wrong. Indeed, America and, to a lesser extent, Britain got it spectacularly right. Their shared Progressive Era was a classic example of co-evolution, in that both sides of “the pond” fed off each other’s experiments and successes — the women’s suffrage movement, social welfare, modern police departments, sanitation, mass transit, labor reforms, food and drug safety — while learning from their mistakes. But through it all, an economic landscape was substantially re-graded, leveled out, as it were, in a “fair deal” to the workingman that tamed all that raging populist anger. The leadership that was seen during the Progressive Era, embodied by the career of Theodore Roosevelt, is the same sort of leadership that America, and the world, needs today.

Getting back to my “C-I-A” world of tomorrow, these three superpowers — two in the making, one actual — are currently in a race to see which can process its own domestic populist rage faster and more effectively. It’s not a matter of which one arrives at 2030 “faster,” but which one, having made it further down a progressive agenda, arrives there in the best shape.

When you look at America’s competition with India and China in this light, you start to realize that neither of those two Asian giants really has anything to teach this country. Instead, both are doomed to cover a lot of difficult ground that our system has already mastered. They need to “play up” to America’s developmental level, not the other way around.

So, if the U.S. is really looking for a strategic partner for further co-evolution amid a second Progressive Era, our natural choice is Europe. We have the same problems — and the same strengths. We share common languages and heritages. We know how to screw up globalization (World War I), and how to rebuild it even better (the U.S.-engineered international liberal trade order following World War II).

And just as importantly, we know how to handle bullies given over to feverish bouts of nationalism.

America’s European security partners no longer represent a quorum of great powers able to rule the world. Those days are long gone, and frankly, the world needs China and India to eventually step up and start policing their own global interests. But what Europe and America can do together is to lead by example on efforts such as taming capital markets, shifting off oil to natural gas and renewable energy, and recasting retirement and its cost structures, among others. Such a Progressive Era 2.0 would be far more globally beneficial than the tragically antiquated logic of President Barack Obama’s “strategic pivot” to Asia. The West doesn’t need to “box in” China, or enlist India in that fool’s errand. Instead, it needs to show China and India and the rest of the South’s future rising pillars how to go about taming modern globalization.

Instead of tripping over each other to see who can simultaneously stand-up to, and kowtow before, a rising China and India, maybe the old West needs to look into the mirror and realize that this is all familiar territory: frontiers that we’ve collectively tamed before and can again, if we’re smart enough to recognize and employ our collective experience and strengths.

Thomas P.M. Barnett is chief analyst at Wikistrat and a contributing editor for Esquire magazine. His eBook serial is “The Emily Updates: One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived” (September-December 2011). Reach him and his blog at thomaspmbarnett.com.

The Feminization of Politics

My Thoughts About This: This is essentially the blog post from January 16th by Tom Barnett. Though not stated, it’s clear to me that if we are to have a rational Republican Party going forward, those old white guys now in charge are going to have to go. Otherwise, they and the party are going to be increasingly irrelevant as the future unfolds.

This picture of all the women in the US Congress (taken on the steps at the start of each 2-year session, very posed) gets bigger every time. Europe (and especially the Nordics) beat us hand down – us being the collective United States. But the real way to compare the US and Europe is to compare us in chunks with the corresponding chunks in Europe. So we have our Mediterranean types (South) and we have our Nordics (Northern Midwest and New England) and so on.

Thus, no surprise to read how New Hampshire is setting US standard for state almost exclusively headed by women (two US congressional seats, both US Senate seats, plus governor and speaker of house and chief justice of state too).

You can see this trend coming many miles away by enrollment in US law schools and grad schools in general.

Then there’s the general demographic advantage (better health deeper into lives and longer lives in general).

By the time I die (hopefully late in the century …), I expect politics to be a predominantly female occupation.

And yes, we will be the better for it. More analytical, easier compromisers, less given to unreasonable stands.

I say, bring it on ladies, because we are suffering the political leadership we have in this country.

Women will process the BS faster – you know, the stuff that’s going to happen and gets interminably drawn out.

I remember coming to Harvard in 1984 and they were still fighting divestiture on South Africa, which my undergrad school, Wisconsin, had knocked in about an afternoon several years earlier. Harvard thought it was so cutting edge, but it was VERY male dominated (not sure about today). Wisconsin? Less so.

So no surprise that New Hampshire has already dealt with gay marriage (and held off a repeal effort – truly impressive).

If the US is going to get its progressive era started and then processed with all speed, more women need to be at the helm. So this is how I vote.

Referenced from: http://thomaspmbarnett.com/globlogization/2013/1/16/the-feminization-of-politics.html#ixzz2ILRjFonr