One Simple Rule To Stop Unnecessary Wars

I’m sick of war.

Officially the cost of the war on terror has been $1.3 trillion. And military spending — especially the interest on debt to pay for past wars — keeps growing year on year:

As General Eisenhower noted:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

The cost in life was been ever steeper; over a million Iraqis died.

But it’s more than cost; this a problem of responsibility. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney live a comfortable life of wealth and leisure, four years after leaving office having started two destructive, costly and ineffective wars of choice. They didn’t fight. None of their children fought. But lots of American and British soldiers and innocent Arabs got their limbs and heads blown off.

Of course, military deterrence — and sometimes military action — is necessary.

As Eisenhower noted:

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.

The trouble is that war is a great excuse for weapons contractors to make lots of money, and weapons contractors happily fund war-mongering politicians into power. That’s the self-perpetuating military industrial complex.

So the problem then lies in differentiating the necessary actions from the unnecessary.

I propose a simple heuristic for this purpose, one that if introduced would also render the war-mongering politician — the Congressman who votes to authorise, or the President who signs the authorisation into law — personally responsible:

If you start a war, you have to fight. If you cannot fight, then your nearest fit relative has to fight.

This puts the skin back into the game. You want to risk blood and treasure to start a war? If it’s that important, you’ll put your body and blood on the line before you ask any soldier to fight, or any taxpayer to pay. If not, then it must not be necessary.

Would George W. Bush have started the Iraq war had he known his two daughters would be conscripted, and shipped off to Iraq to find Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction?

I doubt it.

Time to Attack Iran?

I have already completely debunked most of the hawkish arguments on attacking Iran:

Far from plunging the middle east into the throes of war, an Iranian nuclear weapon would stabilise the region under the shadow of mutually-assured destruction — the same force that stabilised relations between the Soviet Union and America. A middle east totally dominated by a nuclear-armed Israel ensures that Israel can drag its heels in reaching a lasting peace agreement with the Muslims. If Iran gets the bomb, they would finally come to the negotiating table as equals.

The big difference, though is that with Iraq there was no threat that any “liberal” interventionism would spill over into a wider regional war.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped the slavering “liberal” hawks from dreaming up more ill-conceived military interventions.

From Matthew Koenig of the CFR:

Skeptics of military action fail to appreciate the true danger that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to U.S. interests in the Middle East and beyond. And their grim forecasts assume that the cure would be worse than the disease — that is, that the consequences of a U.S. assault on Iran would be as bad as or worse than those of Iran achieving its nuclear ambitions. But that is a faulty assumption. The truth is that a military strike intended to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, if managed carefully, could spare the region and the world a very real threat and dramatically improve the long-term national security of the United States.

The truth is that Iran (and more explicitly a strong and united Eurasia) is only a threat to America if America chooses to continue the absurd and destructive path of a world-dominating petrodollar superpower, dependent on foreign oil and resources, and with a foreign policy designed to (essentially) extort these things from the rest of the world.

The nature of such a foreign policy is inherently aggressive. Let’s be honest — who is threatening who?

Close the bases, bring the troops home, invest successfully in energy independence and global diplomacy, and trade and share technology and ideas with the world, and we in the West would have the national security we crave. Continue on the path of the overstretched hyper-power and we — the people of the West, not just our leaders — will end up with our faces in the dirt.

Decoding Putin

I think it’s fair to say that Vladimir Putin is looking like a wounded animal.

While Putin’s tough-guy demeanour and braggadocio always smacked of deep and sheer insecurity, the optimistic and brazen protests in recent days — following on from elections that took Bush vs Gore to its logical conclusion — have left his regime teetering on the brink of farce.

From the Guardian:

The thing about harsh authoritarian regimes is it’s not laws, or courts, or the rigid government hierarchy that makes them run. It is fear. And once the fear is taken out of the equation – suddenly, for the vanishing of fear is always sudden – it becomes clear that these courts, laws and hierarchies do not work. Everything just starts falling apart.

That is what happened here 20 years ago: institutions just stopped taking orders from the Kremlin. The media stopped fearing the censors who still sat in their offices at every media outlet. The police stopped applying absurd regulations, enabling the birth of private enterprise. Ultimately, the heads of the Soviet Union’s 15 constituent republics lost their fear – and the empire fell apart, in what by history’s standards was the blink of an eye.

Right now Putin is scrambling, planting his own hardliners in key positions. He has appointed his old friend, the FSB general Sergei Ivanov, as chief of the president’s staff – even though Putin has not yet been officially re-elected president. He brought back Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s odiously aggressive nationalist envoy to Nato, to serve in his cabinet in Moscow. In the coming days, he is likely to make more appointments that will show that his is a harsh, nationalist, authoritarian government. He is doing this because he is scared – and he desperately wants to bring back the fear that has enabled his rule for the last 12 years.

But Putin’s own media is already failing him. Some of his closest aides are sending out friendly signals to the protesters. They have lost the fear, and that means the whole edifice will come tumbling down. That process is unstoppable.

Could Putin not have grasped that an anonymous and technocratic two-party-regime, offering subjects — I mean citizens — the illusion of choice, is far more effective at consolidating political power in the hands of an elite? Or does he just have a fetish for old-school demagogic Stalinist grandeur and the cult of personality? Whatever: it doesn’t really matter.

What actually matters are the dangers of a vindictive and nuclear-armed regime becoming besieged and crumbling into the sand. The danger is that Putin will now be far more willing to go to war in the middle east than before, as a war will give him the opportunity to force Russians to rally around the flag and adhere to his regime. It will give him the opportunity — just as it would give Obama — to curtail civil liberties, censor the internet and launch cyber-warfare against enemies around the globe. It will give the Russian economy a war-spending stimulus.

A little psychoanalysis: Putin believes the breakup of Soviet Union was the great geopolitical disaster of the 20th Century. He has gone out of his way to resurrect many of its institutions of governance, as well as to forge a new Eurasian geopolitical alliance to act as a counterweight to American hegemony. All of Putin’s posturing and sabre-rattling, his clinging to power, and his machismo suggest that he sees himself as a messianic figure — the saviour of Russia, and the saviour of Eurasia.

Putin’s attitude can be summed up in the words of Louis XIV:

I am the State

As a messianic figure, Putin will not be afraid to lay down the lives of Russians to defend and consolidate his regime and avoid another “catastrophic” breakdown of Russian autocracy. He will not be afraid to start new wars or proxy wars in the middle east. While it is obvious to us in the West that he is a wounded animal, scrabbling to save his regime, it is obvious to him that America — dependent on foreign oil and goods, bogged down in her role as global policeman, and massively indebted to her enemies — is wounded too.

In October, Putin noted:

They are living beyond their means and shifting a part of the weight of their problems to the world economy. They are living like parasites off the global economy and their monopoly of the dollar. If [in America] there is a systemic malfunction, this will affect everyone. Countries like Russia and China hold a significant part of their reserves in American securities. There should be other reserve currencies.

All of this said, I think the notion of a nuclear war is extremely unlikely. There are ways and means to fight a conventional war — even a conventional world war — without a wider nuclear holocaust. The only nation that is dangerous in that regard is North Korea — and their dependency on foreign food aid, and their new Western-educated leader placate this danger.

Even in Russia, there are military men who will do whatever they can — up to and including a coup — to prevent the reckless endangerment of global security. In America, Admiral Fox Fallon bravely fought off the Bush administration’s hunger for a war with Iran, knowing that such an action risked a global conflagration.

But to many the allure of war will be strong, even in the West. Failing economic policy, civil discontent and social inequality can be brushed beneath the edifice of nationalistic expansionism.

The New Cold War

The United States is turning our attention to the vast potential of the Asia-Pacific region.

— Barack H. Obama

From al-Jazeera:

When it comes to China policy, is the Obama administration leaping from the frying pan directly into the fire? In an attempt to turn the page on two disastrous wars in the greater Middle East, it may have just launched a new Cold War in Asia – once again, viewing oil as the key to global supremacy.

The new policy was signalled by President Obama himself on November 17 in an address to the Australian Parliament in which he laid out an audacious – and extremely dangerous – geopolitical vision. Instead of focusing on the greater Middle East, as has been the case for the last decade, the United States will now concentrate its power in Asia and the Pacific.

“My guidance is clear,” he declared in Canberra. “As we plan and budget for the future, we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region.”

Given that a proliferation of American military hardware and components — including crucial semiconductors — are now made in China, the notion of America truly asserting itself on the Asia-Pacific region is absurd. If relations with China breaks down then trade with China breaks down, and America loses the ability to manufacture and import certain military hardware. Furthermore, it loses the free lunch of Chinese goods that furnish the heartland of American consumerism, and placate an American people whose real incomes and purchasing power have consistently fallen since the 1980s. Worst of all, it jeopardises the global energy infrastructure upon which America’s agribusiness and infrastructure depends. While America is moving closer to being able to exploit “tough oil” hotspots in North Dakota, Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, those oil production capacities cannot be brought online overnight.

Not only this, but America funds her military adventurism through unsustainable debt acquisition (a huge part of which is Chinese-held) rather than productive output. The strange reality is that American assertiveness against China can be cut off by China refusing to buy America’s increasingly debased debt. Unsurprisingly, China is already reducing her American debt holdings.

Simply, American attempts to assert itself on China risks alienating a nation upon which America is totally and inexorably dependent. While this is difficult to recognise for blustering “national security” neo-conservatives like Mitt Romney — the archangel of American imperial decline — or Obama, it is as inescapable and undeniable as the sunrise.

The remedy is not more American imperialism. It is not more debt. It is not more bravado or self-aggrandizement. It is an open and honest commitment to the truth — America’s imperial strategy, based on oil supremacy and the petrodollar — is an anachronism. Its time has come and gone. To get over this hump America needs to commit to a greater degree of energy, and manufacturing independence. American imperial policy acts as a humungous subsidy on the price of oil. Ending such a subsidy will allow the free market to do its work, and make all kinds of alternative energy — from solar, to hydro-electric, to synthetic oil, to thorium – far more competitive.

Only by accepting the changing realities of geopolitics can America prepare herself for the coming realities of the 21st Century.

Further Reading:

The Only Chinese Hard Landing will be on America’s Head 

America’s Eurasian Endgame

Huntsman Cable: China and US Trade War Heating Up

Team America: World Police

The Problem with Military Keynesianism

Jeffrey Goldberg Calls For War With Iran?

Jeffrey Goldberg, foreign policy hawk, is making the case for some more “liberal” interventionism.

From Bloomberg:

An Iran with nuclear weapons may be unbearable for Israel. It would further empower Israel’s terrorist enemies, who would be able to commit atrocities under the protection of an atomic umbrella. It would mean the end of the peace process, as no Arab state in the shadow of a nuclear Iran would dare make a separate peace with Israel. And it isn’t too much to imagine that some of Iran’s more mystically minded leaders, mesmerized by visions of the apocalypse, would actually consider using a nuclear weapon on Israel — a country so small that a single detonation could cripple it permanently.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who once told me he believes that Iran is led by a “messianic, apocalyptic cult,” is correct to view Iran as a threat to his country’s existence.

[President Barack Obama] has said, repeatedly, that an Iran with nuclear weapons is unacceptable to the U.S. Many Israelis, and many Americans, think Obama is soft on such matters. But I believe, based on interviews inside and outside the White House, that he would consider using force — missile strikes, mainly — to stop the Iranians from crossing the nuclear threshold.

We’ve been here before.

From Goldberg’s 2002  New Yorker piece calling for American intervention in Iraq:

Saddam Hussein never gave up his hope of turning Iraq into a nuclear power … There is some debate among arms-control experts about exactly when Saddam will have nuclear capabilities. But there is no disagreement that Iraq, if unchecked, will have them soon … There is little doubt what Saddam might do with an atomic bomb or with his stocks of biological and chemical weapons.

The trouble is, no evidence was ever found that Saddam Hussein had any weapons of mass-destruction. But that didn’t stop the military-Keynesians who steamrollered into Baghdad before embarking on almost a decade of wasteful, expensive occupation at cost to the American taxpayer.

In a late 2002 debate in Slate, Goldberg described Hussein as “uniquely evil” and advocated an invasion on a moral basis:

There is consensus belief now that Saddam could have an atomic bomb within months of acquiring fissile material. … The administration is planning today to launch what many people would undoubtedly call a short-sighted and inexcusable act of aggression. In five years, however, I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality.

Yes — profound morality.

Because, of course, war, imperialism, torture and mutilation are “profoundly moral” acts.

For those with strong stomachs, here’s some more explicit pictures of that “profound morality” guiding American “liberal” interventionism.

Goldberg was wrong about Iraq, and he’s wrong about Iran. Far from plunging the middle east into the throes of war, an Iranian nuclear weapon could very well stabilise the region under the shadow of mutually-assured destruction — the same force that stabilised relations between the Soviet Union and America.

The big difference, though is that with Iraq there was no threat that any “liberal” interventionism would spill over into a wider regional war.

Vatican Calls for World Central Bank

Full text here.

From CNBC:

The Vatican called on Monday for the establishment of a “global public authority” and a “central world bank” to rule over financial institutions that have become outdated and often ineffective in dealing fairly with crises.

Although it is not specific what they mean by a “central world bank” (for a similar thing already exists), we can assume that they mean something deeper and broader than the current IMF/World Bank/G20 structure, possibly a central bank in the traditional sense — the author of a new global currency, and a component of a new global government.

From the Vatican:

On the way to building a more fraternal and just human family and, even before that, a new humanism open to transcendence, Blessed John XXIII’s teaching seems especially timely. In the prophetic Encyclical Pacem in Terris of 1963, he observed that the world was heading towards ever greater unification. He then acknowledged the fact that a correspondence was lacking in the human community between the political organization “on a world level and the objective needs of the universal common good”. He also expressed the hope that one day “a true world political authority” would be created.

In view of the unification of the world engendered by the complex phenomenon of globalization, and of the importance of guaranteeing, in addition to other collective goods, the good of a free, stable world economic and financial system at the service of the real economy, today the teaching of Pacem in Terris appears to be even more vital and worthy of urgent implementation.

But a world central bank  in the traditional sense would face exactly the same problem as the ECB: monetary union without fiscal union means that governments can very easily get into hot water by borrowing money that they don’t control, and on which they do not control the interest rates. This means that unless all nations are extremely fiscally cautious there will be defaults. The highly interconnected nature of the global financial system means that one set of defaults can trigger a global default cascade, as hyper-leveraged banks quickly become insolvent.

So a world central bank would either mean lots and lots of bailouts for both banks and governments (a problem that Europe is currently struggling with), or global fiscal union. If you thought Europe had a hard time balancing the interests of the free-spending Greeks with the dynamic Germans, multiply that problem by a hundred and add nuclear weapons and fervent nationalism to apply it to America and China. Global fiscal union, much like a “true world political authority” is as politically impossible as it has ever been.

Furthermore, a world central bank would homogenise the business cycle. Global growth didn’t stop in 2008 because China and the East kept growing while the West floundered. One currency, and one central bank would mean that recessions and depressions would (by definition) be more global — and therefore more devastating — in nature. This would seem to make the problems worse, not better.

A global central bank is a non-solution. The zombified and debt-ridden nature of the global financial system is a huge weight (I called it the argentinosaurus in the room) on the back of humanity — but a weight that politicians, economic managerialists and the establishment at large seem excessively keen to retain. The sad reality is that all of this soul-searching, and all of this economic turmoil could be averted if politicians (and “global authorities”) let ailing financial systems and financial infrastructure fail.

9/11 — Ten Years On

The attacks of 9/11 were a horrendous deed.

What makes me angrier than 9/11? Making the mistake of occupying Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s exactly what the Salafis and Wahhabis want — an easy way of selling their poisonous narrative of eternal and irreconcilable conflict between Islam and the West. And it costs billions upon trillions of dollars.

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Is Venezuela Next?

Last week, Venezuela announced plans to get its gold back on home soil. Today I ask: Is Venezuela biting off more than it can chew? Presenting my must-view chart of the day:

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