2011/05/30

On U.S. politics

.
As a German, I'm not particularly impressed by the 'threat' that countries like Iran (which didn't invade another country for centuries) pose to world peace. Even if they were, I wouldn't be much concerned because they get a lot of attention already.
It's more likely that some threat that doesn't get the attention as such is a greater risk.
This includes especially aggressive allies.

The most interesting (potential) troublemakers are therefore in my opinion the U.S., Russia, UK and Israel.
We are formally allied with two, friendly with one and in practical relations (business-like) with another.
The UK seems to be rather disenchanted with military adventures and limited in its potential, while Israel is a strictly regional troublemaker. Russia is in a phase of stagnation if not steady decline. This leaves the U.S. as most interesting potential troublemaker.


Considering the scale of activity and the ease with which I can assess sources, I've made a habit of tracking developments in U.S. politics. In part for the entertainment value and in part because I am curious about which shitty foreign policy may come next and endanger my country (in)directly.

During the last two decades, U.S. foreign policies have indirectly led to several dozen dead or abducted Germans, while Russians, Israelis and British added pretty much none. The attention seems justified for a German MilBlogger.

- - - - - -

Now to my analysis of U.S. politics:

The political forces of conservatism and progressivism have their rightful places in a society, for neither is flawless enough to rule a sustainable society.
The conservative political forces in the U.S. are ill-represented by the Republican party and its progressive political forces are ill-represented by the Democratic party. It's a textbook version of a simple majority rule political economics.

The fundamental divide between both parties is about the question of government-organised solidarity. Democrats want the government to support unlucky citizens institutionally (social safety net) and Republicans largely reject the same. There are more conflict points, in which the Democrats typically assume the more secular position.

This lack of consensus on the fundamental nature of government is quite typical, for the U.S. has still no consensus on topics where Germans have reached (and maintained) a consensus (with overwhelming and robust majority in favour of one option) sometime between the 1880's and the 2000's: Evolution, social insurances, secularism, the age of earth, global warming, imperial foreign policy, torture, Pigou taxes...

The current political conflicts of the U.S. are (luckily) mostly of domestic nature and seem to pose no martial threat to other nations, albeit an economic threat seems to persist.

The Republicans have a simple grand strategy; they do whatever they feel they want to do when they are ruling and they attempt to defund the Democrats' attempts to realise democratic policies whenever Democrats occupy the White House.
This explains why the traditionally pro-budget deficit Republicans now fake to be the fiscal austerity party. It's all about defunding Democratic policies.

The Republican leaders in Congress do not have the outer appearance of being tough guys (a charisma-free double chin and an orange-faced guy who often cries in public), but their tactics are very tough.
A normal political compromise is a give-and-take thing. Their idea of a compromise is to take and to promise not to take even more (by defunding) - at least for a while. This partially explains Republican extremism; it generates free bargaining chips for foul political compromises. (From a German point of view, left-wing extremism in the U.S. only earns the "extreme" rating by the fact that the right wing moved so far away from it.)
This strange idea of what constitutes a compromise extended into Republican foreign policy for the last two decades and explains much of it - especially its inability to come to a cooperative conclusion in many conflicts.

The democrats are meanwhile a faint version of social democrats, persistently disadvantaged by the fact that their political program requires funding. Their political strategies lack the Republican aggressiveness, especially the preventive aggressiveness as displayed by the Republican idea of a bipartisan compromise.

Both parties are nevertheless quite exchangeable in regard to a long list of assumptions, myths, prejudices and in their pro-big business stance. Neither is able to sustain political ideologies that run counter to powerful business lobbies.
There are thus many constants in U.S. foreign policy. The methods vary, but the beliefs are largely the same.
It's therefore not possible to tell whether a Democratic or a Republican president is more of a threat to foreign countries.
There is also an advantage in this stability; the behemoth USA is unlikely to turn on Allies or (perceived) threats suddenly and without obvious early indicators. The move against Iraq was prepared in and out of government for a decade and the more general conflict with Arab terrorists was even obvious in pop culture (C-movies) for almost as long. The U.S. portrays its targets as villains long before it strikes. This is sometimes accompanied by a scare campaign; red scare, yellow scare, Muslim scare, terror scare ...

Right now, there are some early indicators for a conflict with the PR China, but this has likely to become a broader movement before the country is ripe for open conflict. Preparing the grounds for open conflict on a more popular base will likely take another 4 to 10 years. Watch out for Hollywood villains of Chinese origin not played by Jet Li.

There have also been many early indicators for a decoupling from Europe; widespread French-bashing, "Old Europe" criticism, popular derogatory remarks on different European nationalities and the myth of a Muslim invasion or take-over of Europe are concerning.
A complete decoupling may of course create the option of open conflict between European powers and the U.S., something that hasn't extended beyond minor trade wars for generations.
A reverse of this with public diplomacy and cultural influence might help to prevent open inter-Atlantic conflict in a generation or two.

A growing population share of so-called "Hispanics" (emigrants from Latin America, many of them would be considered by Europeans to be whites) and a slight increase of relations to and cultural influence from India might be very, very early indicators for increased affinity to Latin America and India.

It may be true that the behemoth USA is astonishingly easy to manipulate with money. Lobbyism and funding of manipulative popular entertainment. Entertainment programs that fake to be news programs or fake to only fake to be news programs are such an example. Powerful lobbying businesses are ready for service to customers as well, complete with fake grass-roots movement (so-called 'astroturf' projects) and revolving door former and future politicians and top administration members.
There's little reason to believe that China would be more challenged to influence U.S. foreign policy than Israel, for example. You probably don't need to do much more than some lobbying, buy some shares in TV and radio stations, meet important people and finance some Hollywood movies with a suitable narrative.


Overall, Germans are not threatened by the U.S. directly (save for a huge deal of espionage and occasional abduction), but we should pay attention to staying out of a possible Sino-American open conflict and we should perceive NATO as the bond that prevents open rivalry if not open conflict between the U.S. and Continental Europe.

S O
.

8 comments:

  1. The upcoming remake of “Red Dawn” actually swapped out the Chinese for the North Koreans (a truly laughable invasion force... but then the theme wasn't particularly realistic in the first place) when the film's overseas distributors balked.

    ReplyDelete
  2. As I found when I moved to the US, there are 2 political parties here: one is a bunch of right-wing extremists with ludicrous ideas, and the other is the Republican party. It's been quite disconcerting to find a staid centrist like myself being regarded as some nutcase communist, but thats the reality of it here.

    Oh, and on global troublemakers - you forgot France, who still have a smattering of a global empire, and the pretensions to hold onto it. This may (or may not) cause some future problems.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I would still think, that the Russians could cause trouble in the future. We had some pretty serious crisis with them in 1995, 1999 and 2008. Especially the crisis in 1999 in Kosovo was quite scary and fighting was a distinct possibility between NATO forces and Russian forces for a few days.

    I think the greatest threat the United States pose is actually what will happen the day it is no longer there. Back in the Eighties it was only implied that one day the Soviet Union would no longer be there. So many people couldn't imagine a world without the Soviet Union, but suddenly it was gone.

    I believe we are facing a somewhat similar situation today with the United States. It is only whispered that the United States as a global power might not last forever, but it is not difficult to find signs of trouble. The United States is in great economic trouble and has a debt of over 14 trillion dollars. Some would argue that this is not so big compared with other countries (say Japan), but I am especially worried because the leadership of the United States (Congress and the White House) seems so incapable of solving this crisis. Just a decade ago vice president Dick Cheney allegedly said: "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter." Well, apparently it does.

    You could also add Mexico. There is something very odd about a country, that fights wars in Libya, Iraq or Afghanistan (not to mention the smaller wars in Yemen or Somalia), while ignoring the crisis in Mexico. 30.000 people have been killed in a vicious drug war since 2006.

    The recent war in Libya actually only strengthens my worry. Back in February - with a hint of realism - sec.def. Robert Gates stated in a speech at West Point, that you should have your head examined if you proposed another great war in Africa, Asia or the Middle East. Soon after the United States and NATO began to bomb Libya. Apparently the United States (and NATO for that matter) is incapable of thinking in different solutions than those tried for the last two decades.

    Some people might think this is anti-American talk. As a matter of fact I believe the collapse of the American superpower would be a serious matter and create all kind of trouble. So if for no other reason than stability, I would prefer the United States to stay as a world power. But I don't see any changes in the United States policy, even though they are moving towards the edge of a cliff. I truly wonder if there will be an American superpower in - say - 10 or 20 years from now.

    Perhaps you have a different point of view?

    ReplyDelete
  4. The current U.S. is not sustainable, but only time will tell how it'll look in 10 or 20 years. The changes will likely not be great in 10 years because there's no real readiness for addressing the major distortions in the establishment that is profiteering off them.


    Mexico doesn't look potent enough to me to be regarded as a troublemaker. France is interventionist, but mostly so in small and short actions. I don't think they'll pull a stunt comparable to the Austro-Hungarian one of Summer 1914 anytime soon.

    ReplyDelete
  5. In the context of the Middle East Peace -

    I do not see the threat coming from Iran. I see the threat coming from the perception of a threat coming from Iran.

    This perception having been built and solidified by years and years of division is the gravity that might suck that region or worse, our world back into conflict.

    It can only be counteracted by undoing what harm years and years of miscommunication and mistrust have created in and between the affected parties.

    Something that the politics of any side seem averse at doing, or worse incapable.

    The whole region is aching for a change and this change may only be a person to person, people to people transition from national attitudes ranging from either ignorance and/or indifference to one of a total commitment to peace and authentic human community.

    If we shall continue on with determination with the path of peace, especially between Israel and the Palestinians, this perception of a threat will eventually undo itself.

    But if we allow ourselves - our family of nations - to be strategically directed by this perception, it shall lead the region to a place it does not want to be.

    I am from the Philippines and I believe all our nations have a stake in this Peace Process.

    What do you think, SO?

    Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  6. The attempt to address the basic problem by pushing for peace between Arabs and Israelis means to offer veto rights to these partially irrational conflict parties. Your attempt would depend on them - and previous attempts signal that this is not a good thing.


    Hostility to Iran will fade away if warmongers get called out as sociopaths more often, if Iran gets a less controversial head of government and if other topics crowd out the attention on Iran.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Iran will be a target of hostility as long as Iran's interests differ from other people's interests.

    As wikileaks shows, both Israel and Saudi Arabia feel that Iran pose a threat to their interests. In both cases, it is because of Iran's support for internal (and in Israel's case, external as well) actors that threaten the established political order.

    You can debate the relative moral merits of those established political orders. But from a purely practical point of view, both of those nations are right to view Iran as a threat. As as long as that is the case, the US will view Iran as a threat (at least until the political linkage between those two countries and the US is broken).

    It is unlikely that any change in the regime in Iran would change this situation as the basic problem is the struggle of the Shia for rights in region that does not recognize plurality. I can not see even a secular and democratic Iran sitting back while the gulf states beat up on the Shia who happen to live in their borders. Thus, even if we could wave a magic wand and make the jew/arab conflict go away, the Persian/Arab conflict would likely continue.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Eisenhower spoke too true about the military industrial complex. It killed the Soviet Union and it'll kill the US as a superpower because they keep the course of the comfortable, but insane, Cold War spin. The corresponding lobbies simply became too good during this conflict, infesting the whole system. The question is not if, but when the US is going to be insolvent. The current economic situation could right lead into such a situation and all her mighty engines of war won't run any more.
    As long as the US military expenditure and debt are rising and the tax income is decreasing, small countries like Germany will have to fear for their longterm prosperity and freedom in a rapidly changing environment.

    Concerning Israel, the special relationship with Germany included a number of killings by the Mossad in order to regulate weapon and technology trafficking.

    ReplyDelete