Dienstag, Dezember 26, 2006
Now this is interesting (HT: Blue Crab Boulevard...)
The last line is the telling one: to paraphrase, what the Iranians are doing to themselves is
much worse than anything we could do to them.
First: Iranian oil and the accompanying revenues will start to run out over the next several years, with a 10%-12% decline per annum, meaning, according to the link, that Iran will cease to be a significant oil producer by 2015.
Second: Iran is not investing in its oil industry, and as a matter of fact has a very lopsided economy. Oil revenues are 65% of the Iranian governement's revenues, which means that the non-oil economy can only support 35% of Iranian government spending. Heavy subsidies for many basics means that the Iranians are, fundamentally, eating their oil, or at least consuming it.
Third: this explains why the Iranians are so adamant about developing nuclear power. They are faced with the devil or the deep blue sea: either they drastically reduce their exports NOW in order to supply their own domestic demand in the future - which would be actually the economically sensible path - and then face massive popular protests when Iranians realize how fundamentally poor they are - subsidies prevent that from happening right now - or they have to have an alternative source of energy.
Doesn't mean that they aren't developing nuclear weapons, it's just that they are trying to finesse acquiring them as a neccessary part of their own development.
Iran is in many ways exemplary for the Arab world and its abject failure to modernize and to make their own futures: they have squandered their oil billions, either on populistic measures that buy temporary stability or on ambitious political and military projects that serve to stabilize the government control of the population.
There are some exceptions: some of the Gulf Emirates have built up significant infrastructure and world-wide holdings that can provide them with a more than comfortable income stream for the foreseeable future. These are small countries, though, with limited demographic problems. Countries like Iran don't have that option anymore. Their demography is working heavily against them, the same demographic development that they embarked on decades ago, aimed basically at increasing their populations such that they would have more than adequate number of soldiers to throw at Israel (this followed from some analysis I saw after Yom Kippur, that basically Egypt lost because they failed to field enough soldiers that would have kept the Israelis permanently on the defensive, unable to risk an attack because of the need to maintain the necessary reserves to counter all the forces fielded).
But fundamentally the Arabs and Iran have squandered what should have been able to upgrade the economies of the area so as to provide an industrialized future.
It's intriguing to think that ultimately the Arabs and Iran invariably screw things up without the West having to do anything about them. I remember reading in the early 1980s about the Iraqi plans to establish their own aircraft industry, developing their own ground-attack aircraft and munitions, of using their oil monies to establish modern industries and develop their country. I remember reading, again in the 1980s, of the massive Iranian investments into engineering schools and technical academies in order to gain the critical mass that they needed to develop indigenous industries.
I don't think at all that their is something "wrong" with Iranians, with the Arabs. There isn't: you can see how many flourish and thrive in the West. But there is a fundamental charachter flaw in Arab, in Iranian culture: the apparent inability to maintain long-term commitments to change for the length of time needed to actually implement the changes. I put it down to the fatal flaw of these cultures. There is an inability of transformation, an inability to combine traditional ways with the demands of modern society.
It is the tragedy of the Iranian and Arab world that they have failed to understand - or have wilfully ignored, or willfully denied - that you cannot have long-term scientific development and the resulting improvement of living standards without coming to some sort of reconciliation with the past. For them, Islam is the core of life, the Koran is not merely their "bible", but rather the literal word of God and as such not subject to interpretation and "modern" rational analysis.
That is the tragedy of what they are doing to themselves. That is the greatest tragedy.
Unless, of course, they do build their own nuclear weapons and destroy Israel, with the resulting destruction of Arab and Iranian culture for generations to come in Israel's retaliation and vengeance strikes.
The question now? How to manage the coming collapse of the old-tier oil economies - not economies using oil, but rather the economies that depend on selling oil - while avoiding the human costs of general collapse in the Arab world and Iran. And while at the same time managing the transition from oil-based economies to ... something else.
Samstag, Dezember 23, 2006
Over here at the Schizoid Mansion (apologies to Jerry Pournelle) we're packing the goodies. We've got all sorts of goodies - it's been not a bad year, albeit not the best year. There've been worse, there've been better.
But we find this particular piece of stupidity here, hat tip Greg Mankiw.
So let's fisk this.
Fewer and fewer Americans support our government's trade policy. They see a shrinking middle class, lost jobs and exploding trade deficits.First of all, where's the basis for this? Fewer and fewer? Because the Democrats were elected in this election cycle? Second, the middle class isn't shrinking: it's growing. Third, jobs haven't been lost in net, but rather have increased. The only thing that is "accurate" is that the trade deficit has increased: but the proper metric isn't an increasing trade deficit, but much rather what is the proportion of net exports as a % of GDP? Further, you have to take a look at why a trade deficit is happening.
Yet supporters of free trade continue to push for more of the same -- more job-killing trade agreements, greater tax breaks for large corporations that export jobs and larger government incentives for outsourcing.Sigh. Supporters of free trade become the bogeyman: trade agreements that "kill jobs" (That's right, Mr. Lin, I'll get a discount if I fire 10,000 people? Sign me up!), tax breaks (which part of the tax code covers that one? I can just see the schedule: for every 1000 jobs exported, you get 12.4275% reduction in taxes on profits in excess of 1.2342 times your average profits over the last 10 years, exclusive of tax deductions, up to 12000 jobs exported, thereafter a 6.4456% reduction up to 100000 jobs exported; over 100000 jobs there is a uniform rate of 3.8379%...), and I guess I missed that issue of the Federal Register that covered the legislation that provided for subsidies for outsourcing.
Last month voters around the country said they want something very different. They voted for candidates who stood up for the middle class and who spoke out for fair trade. They did so because they understand what's at stake.
I'll grant the first point: they sure did. But given the first, that means that the vote was a vote of "vote the bums out". But that means that people didn't vote for, they simply voted against: that means that the Democrats are trying to read the granting of a mandate into a protest vote. And since when did the Democrats ever assume that the voters really understand what they did? We've been hearing for decades from Democrats about how stupid voters have been for voting in people like Reagan, Bush I, Bush II...
Over the past 100 years, Americans have built a thriving middle class. It's the envy of the world, and it didn't come easily.No, it didn't come easy. The Democrats have been trying to stop it for decades, increasing the taxes of the middle class whenever they can get it through: getting your tenterhooks into the middle class is the best way of raising revenues for whatever boondogle or pork you're going to foist onto the nation.
At the turn of the 20th century, child labor was common; working conditions were often abysmal; there were no enforced workplace health, safety or environmental requirements; no unemployment insurance; and no workers' compensation. Workers were attacked and killed for the sole reason that they wanted to form a union; there was no 40-hour week, minimum wage, job security, overtime pay or virtually any other limit on the exploitation of employees.
List of nasty stuff that hasn't been around for a really long time: so what? No Republican has ever, ever called for anything like a turning around of any law pertaining to any and all of these developments. None.
America was split dramatically between the haves and have-nots. It was a harsh work world for many: nasty, brutish and, too often, short.
Ohhh, Hobbes! They can quote Hobbes! What does Calvin say? Seriously, America was split dramatically between those who owned land and slaves: the Georgists were the closest thing that the US came to in developing a theory of the proletariat that would have led to socialism. But there are a myriad of reasons why this didn't happen: guess what, Georgism doesn't work.
Worker activism, new laws and court decisions changed all that during the past century. As they did, a middle class grew and thrived. By mid-century, it became the engine that drove an ever-expanding economy in which benefits were shared by tens of millions of Americans. The American Dream of a secure, well-paid job with benefits, a nice house and a high-quality public education seemed within reach of everyone who worked hard and played by the rules.
The first is wrong: new laws and court decisions changed all of that. Worker activism didn't change any laws, didn't force any court decisions. Worker activism can affect legislature via lobbyism; court decisions can be influenced by elected judges. But worker activism isn't a key part of the legislative and judicial parts of the government.
And what is the middle class anyway? Something that these idiots never define or try to properly describe. The middle class is first and foremost a statistical contruct, defined as a set proportion of the population with certain charachteristica: in reality, the middle class refers to those whose income exceeds their cost of living, allowing the acquisition of capital via savings. That is how a middle class develops. Now, how does this happen? How can anyone start saving?Simple. It's the difference between skilled and unskilled labor. In a primitive economy - i.e. non-industrialized - unskilled labor is never paid more than the marginal cost of labor, since the individual can be replaced by someone who will be willing to work for that cost. Adding skills to the equation results in wage differentiation, since that particular worker can no longer be replaced by anyone, just by someone with a similiar skill set. That only happens in an industralizing society: in a fully industrialized society, job skills become the key motive to acquiring free time in order to further improve job skills via education.
This is beneficial to anyone who can become skilled: further, it creates capital, and is fundamental to the development of capitalism as we know it today.
And people, fill me in here: when did the American Dream become a secure job with well-paid benefits, a nice house and high-quality public education? Talk about defining the field! The American Dream is nothing more than giving people the freedom to achieve what they set out to do, whatever that may be, and not to keep them under control, as is still the case today in many countries.
That is what's at stake when we talk about trade policy: America's middle class and the American Dream.
Uh, no: what is at stake in trade policy is whether people as stupid as these two are going to try and recreate the same situation we had in the 1920s and resurrect Smoot-Hawley. Which would be mind-bogglingly stupid, but seems to be exactly what is being argued here. Just in a different name and in a different form.
The new mobility of capital and technology, coupled with the revolution in information technology, makes production of goods possible throughout much of the world. But much of the world at the beginning of the 21st century looks a lot like the United States did 100 years ago: Workers are grossly underpaid, exploited and abused, and they have virtually no rights. Many, including children, work 10, 12, 14 hours a day, six or seven days a week, for only a few dollars a day.Blah blah blah. Now, if industrialization can move anywhere - which it can't, or we'd see advanced industries in Africa, given cheap labor and proximity to raw materials - then you'd see the development of the middle class in those countries as well.
And sure, most of the Third World has really shitty working conditions. But you know what? The alternative is for those people, working their tushes off, to not be employed and to be condemned to further abject poverty, of having only their muscle power to sell.
And what these two are really complaining about is that the rest of the world isn't like us: duh.
The result has been a global race to the bottom as corporations troll the world for the cheapest labor, the fewest health, safety and environmental regulations, and the governments most unfriendly to labor rights. U.S. trade agreements paved the way for this race: While rejecting protections for workers or the environment, they protected investors and corporate interests.
Right. By not being just like us here Americans, them people overseas are being downright...
Unamerican. By gum!
The results of such trade agreements are skyrocketing trade deficits -- more than $800 billion this year alone -- and downward pressure on income and benefits for American workers. Why? Because these agreements enable countries to ship what their low-wage workers produce to the United States while blocking many U.S. products from entering their countries.
Duh. The reason that the US is running a trade deficit is that the US imports more than it exports. Any sort of trade is going to put downward pressure on income and benefits for US workers: after all, given comparative advantages, those other countries produce more efficiently that US workers. And the argument that US exports are being blocked is an old one of the protectionists: the GATT works very well in addressing these problems.
Equally important, by enabling this kind of trade, the agreements force U.S. workers to accept cuts in their pay and benefits so their employers can compete with low-wage foreign producers. And those workers are the lucky ones. Millions of others have lost their jobs as corporations moved overseas to build the same products with cheap foreign labor. It is no coincidence that salaries and wages today are the lowest percentage of gross domestic product since the government began keeping track of this in 1947.
Uh, competition of any kind does this. This is pure protectionism: those damn foreigners are the fault of everything. And the idea that salaries and wages are my income is laughable: what about my benefits? This is stupid: these two lash out about the dismantling of the benefits of the middle class, but ignore them when benefits would destroy their argument.Laughable.
It took a century to build a thriving middle class and economic security here in America. We need to protect that for which we have sacrificed.
Ah, they actually say it! We want to protect... but not the interests of the American consumer, but rather the interests of our own sacred cows.
We must insist that all trade agreements have labor, environmental and other protections so that American workers can compete on a level playing field. Trade agreements must also be reciprocal. The American market is the most desirable in the world. Every country wants access to it. That gives us a great deal of leverage, if only we'd use it. Barriers to U.S. products overseas should not be tolerated.
Insist all you want. Then the Europeans will demand that American workers should not be allowed to work more than 35 hours/week and take 30 days of vacation, and that no one can be fired except for extreme cause. Welcome 10% permanent unemployment as a fact of life that no one is willing to change, and let's make sure that we don't let in too many foreigners either. The reason that everyone wants to sell here is that we are the largest single country market in the world: but put up barriers, and prices will rise, meaning that domestic makers will no longer be exposed to competition, allowing them to raise their profits. Who loses? The consumer: your choices will become limited, you won't have recourse to alternatives, innovation will slow significantly and you, the average consumer, w i l l b e p o o r e r.
What shouldn't be tolerated are these idiots.
Free-trade agreements have protected drug companies, international investors and Hollywood films, yet failed to protect our communities, our workers and our environment.
Free trade agreements have lowered prices, increased diversity of product choice available, and have led to domestic innovation in the face of foreign competition. And how the hell is the environment helped by making less productive use of limited resources???? What they are saying here is that protected industries, industries that due to union restrictions in deciding how to put their workers to use are having difficulty competing, that those have not been protected. Oddly enough, that's the user base of the Democrats...business as usual, pandering to their masters.
We believe there is a better way. Fair trade is not the enemy of more trade. It's how we expand international trade without reversing U.S. economic progress.
Fair trade is just another way of saying: we control it and decide if it is fair or not. Given that, it's not free any more. And their effects, just as Smoot-Hawley's effects, would be just as stupid.
Sigh. Both Smoot and Hawley were Republicans, and it took decades to drive that nonsense out of the party. Guess it's now the Democrats' turn to learn those lessons: but it will be, just like it was back then, the consumers and workers, who will pay the bill for the pride of ignorance.
Mittwoch, Dezember 20, 2006
Ah, the ignorance of history.
Here we have that oh-so-charming nice Mr. Ahmadinejad, who was just handed a significant electoral defeat, goes off on one of his tangents. As far as he is concerned, the West will disappear just like the Pharoahs did.
Well, besides the snide hit at the Arabs (gee, do you think he meant it like that?), that indicates we've got quite a while to go yet.
Let's look at the facts: according to your friendly local Wikipedia, the Pharoahs started ruling around 5200 years ago, and the last of the pharoahs (pharoahettes?) died around 2036 years ago. Now, let's just round things up and go for a time span of 3200 years.
If we take the establishment of the United States some 230 years ago - gee, it just seems like yesterday - then we've got, even rounding upwads, another 2950 years to go.
Way to go, Ahmadinejad: go and wait your turn. We'll give you a call in the year 4956 and give you the keys to the city hall.
But let's be nice and put the beginning date with the reformation and the birth of the West as a concept in, say, the mid 1600s: that means Ahmadinejad can come on over and collect the key to the city any old time in, say, rounding once again, the year 4800.
Gee, I hope he's being patient about that. Must be a really major bummer to have to wait that long.
Ah, the ignorance of history...
Oh, and yes, I am dating the reign of the pharoahs from the protodynastic period through the final occupation by the Romans. Why use the protodynastic period? Because that's the period where the concept of Egypt, with pharoahs, was established. One *could* start with the first dynasty, but that shaves only 200 years off the dating. Same difference.
Dienstag, Dezember 19, 2006
This links to the first clever use of Second Life.
The possibilities are getting to be mind-boggling: virtual conferences, virtual meetings, virtual almost any damn thing.
And people are using this to escape their first lives? Bizarre.
Think about it: no more need to get your clients together into a stuffy room to have their brain cells killed off by PowerPoint and get fed rubber chicken. Simply set up a Second Life to replace travel.
Of course, there's no face to face, press the flesh kind of contact: with some clients, that's probably a plus rather than a minus.
This could revolutionize the meeting business. Or, more exactly, put it *out* of business...
Montag, Dezember 18, 2006
So, Air America is going tits up. You can read what the NYT says here...
Like this is surprising?
Back when I was living in DC, one of the jobs I had was working on the fair market value of radio and TV stations. The basic methodology was to estimate the market, then the market share trend of the radio or TV station according to the demographics, and then do a discounted cash flow, based on current balance sheets and estimated cash flow from their continuation, to determine what the fair price should be, i.e. the price where the purchase is financed out of the cash flow, plus an up-front payment for the actual plant and equipment. The difference between the fair value and the actual purchasing price reflected immaterial value, such as station reputation, the DJs involved, etc. That was always fun writing up.
Air America was doomed to failure from the start, since as you can read above, they had no business plan. The professionals involved were constantly stymied by the political nature of the program, but more critically by the absolute incompetence of the left-wing supporters of the station.
But that's typical of the left: no business plan, but let's burn through lots of other people's money. They burned through $45mn, top heavy with management that wasn't worth a tenth of what they were being paid, and no attention paid to market share.
All in the name of challenging Rush Limbaugh.
What the left doesn't realize, isn't capable of realizing, is that in the radio and TV business, it isn't enough to get on the radio or TV and gab. Rush tried that with TV and failed: he is much, much better on the radio, purely on the radio.
But first and foremost you need to have a business model. But that is anathema to the left: that takes work, putting one together, and it takes real work to implement it, going out and making sure that your program is listened to in order to sell advertising.
I have the very first show that the Twilight Zone produced, made to sell the series. We all know and love Rod Serling, the man with that profound cadence and pacing of his melodious voice, the announcer of that show. He didn't pitch the show - probably the best TV material ever done, although Farscape comes close - as the best of writing and the best of acting, but rather sold it first and foremost as entertainment that would lead to people buying the advertiser's product. And he finished off his spiel with the prediction that Sanka Instant would be the best selling instant coffee on the market in the new season (I'm assuming that Sanka financed some of that first show).
That's what makes TV and radio work: not the decision to make a new series with good acting and great stories, or in the case with Air America, bad acting and political dogma, but rather meeting the needs of those who finance you.
And apparently, according to the Grey Lady, that was the last thing on the minds, if I might use that term with great liberty, of Air America.
And I disagree with the NYT on one count: I rather doubt that Air America really ever had 2.4mn listeners.
If they had, and if they had been able to get advertisers, then they wouldn't have had to go into bankruptcy. But that's typical for the at least a significant majority of the left in the US: no business experience, no ability to put a business plan together that doesn't require the destruction of capital, and above all no hesitancy in wasting other people's money.
The sad thing is that they now control Congress...
Freitag, Dezember 08, 2006
Just ran across this website for the first time: ShrinkWrapped. This is the link for the following...
The key quote is this:
Some on the left are overtly anti-American; there have always been non-democratic Americans who believe that their particular brand of Utopian ideology is necessary to save our nation. From the neo-nazis on the right to the Trotskyites on the left, these people do not believe in consensual politics. Their threat has been obvious and is not my concern at this point. Today the bigger threat comes from a vocal and integral part of the Western Political Elite, the MSM and the Professoriate. While many liberals believe Ward Churchill is a dangerous fool, too many think that his ideas, while perhaps too strongly expressed, have some relative validity. After all, the white man did take the Native American's land; shouldn't we be tolerant and understanding of their anger and the need to redress their grievances. When he argues that the 9/11 attackers are simply retaliating for our numerous misdeeds, it may be noxious to many, but isn't there some truth to his charges? After all, the United States did support tyrants in the Middle East and elsewhere. In another instance of similar logic, the ACLU is suing Donald Rumsfeld on behalf of several people who were abused by US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is a superficial plausibility to the case. After all, the chain of command does go through Rumsfeld, and prisoners were abused; shouldn't something be done to set things to right? In these cases, as in many others, the left and liberal aggrandizement of their own ideological ideas presents a serious danger to our prosecution of the war. The ACLU, people like Ward Churchill, groups like Moveon.org and Human Rights First insist that their motives are pure (while everyone who disagrees with them have motives that are typically corrupt.) They are upholding human rights; the right to be treated with respect; the right to counsel; the right to free speech. As abstractions, these rights are inviolate; as explanations for their behavior (which could appear to be harmful to our nation's interests) they are superficially plausible; yet, reality always supervenes. To be more attached to abstractions than to the welfare of others in one's community is a classic signifier of the Narcissist. It is one step removed from the narcissistic disavowal of the other: my beliefs are more important than your life.
Repeat that last thought:
my beliefs are more important than your life
and rephrase it this way:
my political career is more important than foreign lives
and I think you can understand the depravity that passes for political wisdom in Washington, DC.
Shrinkwrapped rounds the above post up by saying:
The only way we can lose this war is to undermine our efforts from the inside. When our elites in the media, academia, the judiciary, ignore or refuse to look at the words of our enemies, and support abstractions over reality, it endangers our welfare, and our rights. If a judge, who can not or will not see that this is merely one more theater in a global war, is successful in engineering the release of Jose Padilla and he then causes an atrocity (he was working on a dirty bomb, and failing that, had planned to blow up an apartment building) does anyone doubt some basic rights will be curtailed at the demands of a frightened and aroused populace? Does anyone doubt that if we are attacked with mass casualties, our restraint with Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia will be over? Our system depends on the consent of the governed; when people are told they have no right to reasonably defend themselves and that abstract rights for our "victims" (ie, those who want to kill us and destroy our country) are more important than our rights to (in Dennis Miller's immortal words) "not walk down the street and get blown up", we will see a rapid erosion of the very rights we hold dear.
And we see today the results of this stance: there are times I think that the Left actually wants the kind of repression and witch-hunting that might come after a WMD incident in the US to prove how their beliefs in the fundamental nature of the US were right. It would make no difference to them that they manufactured the circumstances: the only thing that counts is being right.
Or rather, view it in such a way that explains their policies.
Basically we don't need to worry about the establishment of a Shi'ite led New Caliphate, because the Shi'ites will do nothing but squabble. It's all just hot air and posturing. The tribal conflicts and petty power-mongering is such that the establishment of any New Caliphate will fail, since the parties have too many issues and problems with each other.
So the French view - more than a tad colonialistic and paternalistic - is that we don't need to do anything: the inhabitants of the Middle East will fuck up any and everything that they will try to do.
Might be true - I dare say that there really aren't too many obvious success stories in the Middle East besides "that shitty little country" - but doesn't mean that you can simply press on and ignore what is going on.
It's bad enought that you have a region of chaos, anarchy, tribal warfare and barbarism. It'd be much, much worse if you have that coupled with what I call container bombs (i.e. nukes that you fit in a container with international shipping as the delivery vehicle), so that the Crazies can export their violence.
France, you're part of the problem: this is not a solution.
You can find an English translation here.
Donnerstag, Dezember 07, 2006
I've got a copy of the ISG report but haven't had a chance to read it yet. That will come.
But here's another take on asymmetric warfare. Rather surprising from the LA Times, one of the papers out there with a more than alarming tendency to report propaganda rather than the news. Must be an attempt to get back a few readers.
It's a legitimate point: we've all heard the joke where the wife filing for divorce says "what's mine is mine, what's your's in negotiable".
That's the view of Islam: what once was Islamic remains so, regardless of what has happened. It must be so, after all, everything is Allah's will.
On Sunday I watched Lawrence of Arabia for the first time in many years, the two-disk DVD. What struck me in that movie wasn't the representation of the Arabs as childish and squabbling, as many have criticized the film. I've read the Seven Pillars book by Lawrence, did so while in Jordan in 1977.
What struck me is the inability of Arab culture to adapt and change.
That has been the a significant part of the problem, is a significant part of the problem, and will continue to be a part of the problem.
But getting back to the article:
Put another way, when Muslims beat infidels, it's just too bad for the latter; they must submit to their new overlords' rules with all the attendant discrimination and humiliation mandated for non-Muslims. Yet when Islam is beaten, demands for apologies and concessions are expected from the infidel world at large.
This is the asymmetry I am talking about. The Islamicists cannot accept change and defeat: they cannot, as this would contradict the idea that everything is Allah's will. A temporary setback is something that can be expected, but there is no acceptance of the rights of others to believe what they chose. In other words, an asymmetry of allowable behavior, a double standard to which the West is held but the Islamists are not.
Makes their lives infinitely simpler: they do not believe that they *can* lose: they believe, after all, that it is the will of God. And no man may abrogate the will of God.
Makes it hard to argue with such folks.
Makes it hard to even talk to those folks.
And yet that is apparently what the ISG wants the US to do exactly that.
A sad day, a day that will live in infamy. Not that infamy: the infamy of displaying your ignorance in the face of your enemy. Abject stupidity.
Sonntag, Dezember 03, 2006
The rhetoric of the chatterers is such that Iraq is "now" classified as a "disaster." One of the old media channels even calls the violence there a "civil war." And it's all Bush's fault.
Why is this wrong?
"They" believe that Iraq wasn't a disaster before the Ba'ath party was deposed and Saddam Hussein was pulled out of his hiding place. They believe that the entire region just needs some stability and then everything will get back to normal, that Bush's greatest failure was to believe that the people in the Middle East actually wanted democracy, how naive could he have been? And how stupid he has been not to have followed "their" ways of reconstructing Iraq, of having disbanded the army, of having destroyed the society. Bush's policies, they maintain, have led to the disaster, indeed have *been* the disaster.
I had a brief exchange of mails yesterday with one of FT's editors, where he raised the question of whether our choice was now between clever people without character or stupid people with it. It's a legitimate question, but underscores the popular, popular amongst the so-called intelligentsia, that Bush is stupid. And with that stupidity came an arrogance - how often that has been repeated - that America can change things in the Middle East.
The reality is that the whole region is a disaster, a catastrophe of an imposed and unsustainable attempt at stabilizing that which isn't stable. But it's not Bush who caused this disaster: it is the entire post-colonial era that is a catastrophe: this is the root cause. The problem is with autocratic rulers, creating new political dynasties in countries like Syria and Egypt; the problem lies in generations held in ignorance, manipulated by theocrats whose very existence, their lives of luxury, is deeply and permanently threatened by the secular and oh-so-successful West. The entire Middle East - and I am deliberately not naming countries, since the borders in the Middle East are arbitrary and meaningless, since they do not follow the reality of demography and society - is an abject failure in terms of economic development, scientific and technical development, social development - my god, they systematicaly mutilate their daughters - and virtually all indicators of civil society.
What has happened in Iraq is the pulling off of the blindfold. But it's the blindfold the entire western world wears: it's the blindfold that masks the critical factor.
The situation in Iraq isn't limited to Iraq: we just cannot avoid seeing it there. You can now scarcely avoid seeing it in Lebanon, where it really has been visible for many years; it is well hidden in Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iran.
You don't see it in Israel at all.
Remember, if you can, the policies of past administrations: stability in the region. Keep things stable, keep things under control, keep things manageable. Don't get the people upset (don't upset the "Arab Street"!) in those countries, everything could get completely out of control.
But what has happened is that you've had a pressure cooker that you've been keeping "under control," one that is now well past its maximum pressure. If you've ever dealt with industrial processes and controlling complex reactions, you know that the greatest nightmare is that the process gets out of control, that backpressure builds and fittings fail, that chemicals mix that must be kept apart and that the whole thing blows up.
Do you see where I am heading here?
The greatest disappointment in the Middle East since Iraq's attempted takeover of Kuweit and the lack of closure to that event has been the abdication of responsibility of the West, more specifically of those who created the problem in the first place (and yep, you old Colonial powers, I *am* speaking of you), the craven abdication of these countries, of their abandonment of their fundamental responsibilities.
Europe just doesn't have the will to go in and work to establish civil society: they prefer to finance instead the terrorists, followig their - the European's - odd sense of "justice." This isn't justice in the broad sense: this is justice in the narrow, narrow-minded, political sense, of redressing political grievances against, as a French diplomat put it, "that shitty little country."
But I'm getting off topic.
The disaster in Iraq isn't that the US went in and screwed everything up - 20/20 hindsight is at best useless and and at worst sanctimonious posturing (and yes, you progressives and leftists, I *do* mean you) - but rather that the world can now see what the real problems in the Middle East are: tribalism, crushing poverty and overpopulation, ignorance and the accompanying demagogery that passes for religion, the perversion of the modern that sees the pinnacle of western technological development - the Internet - being used to push an agenda that would have meant that the Internet would have never been developed.
And the disaster in the West is the preference of the left to pillory the right for having pulled off the blindfold, instead of working to push a progressive agenda as policy for the US in the Middle East. Help those countries in need? Sure, but tied to education of girls and health care for women; where are the feminists who decry female mutiliation and the repression of literally hundreds of millions of women across the world?
That is the disaster: that there is, amongst the left, no vision of what they want the world to be, based on their principles, but rather only a nagging gaggle of nattering negativism, dead in the water and unable to see beyond their own feet of clay. The left still hasn't understood that Marxism and all of its nuances are dead, dead, dead in the water, and not pining for the Norwegian fjords. Progressivism might have a chance yet, pushing a humanist, secularist agenda and goals, but instead has latched on to that obscure and opaque beast, transnationalism, pushing not human liberty and dignity, but rather control and repression.
Sad. The Iraqi disaster could be an object lesson in what to do and what not to do: instead the collective lie of the failure of intervention will be trumpeted from the rooftops until the Big Lie is established as memes in the collective consciousness.
Once upon a time the Left was also a critical left. Marx's critique of western capitalism wasn't poorly done (it was mistaken in more than one aspect, but that's another story entirely), but the capability for critical thought on the left was destroyed by the totalitarian parties that took the mantle of Marxism to the extreme and brutally repressed critical thought.
That reverberates today. Critical thought is as rare as hen's teeth: what passes for critical thought is rote recessitation of dogma from the left, learned and learned (pronounce those two words differently to get what I mean) uncritically and as a new catechism.