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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Can Old Empires Give Way to New Communities of Peace?
on 2011/6/16 10:50:00 (11 reads)

Paris, June 14, 2011 – Looking backward, there is a great deal to be said for leaving well enough alone, which is more difficult than one might think. Western Europe in the nineteenth century is now generally looked back upon as having constituted a pinnacle of Western civilization. Certainly in literature, music, and the plastic arts this was so, the last-named in the century’s final decade, when painting ceased its period as domestic decoration and exploded into a myriad of ways to perceive not only the external world but the interior universe as well.

The modern western intelligence was invented then, and the world has since played variations on nineteenth century political themes: nationalism, colonialism, imperialism, populism, class liberation, revolution, anarchism, class and racial warfare. The Napoleonic wars began the century and transformed its political institutions. The Franco-Prussian war ended the century, setting the scene for the hyper-destructive twentieth century. Better to have stayed in the peaceful years of the nineteenth century.

The Ottoman empire finished the century in decline, its political implosion impending, certainly with the West Europeans observing or actively promoting the Balkan and Crimean Wars, trying to take the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires apart (“the “Eastern Question,” to western statesmen of the period), and finally succeeding in doing just that in what was appropriately named “the Great War” (it became the “first” world war only when the “second” one arrived).

There was an article in the papers a few days ago (in The International Herald Tribune), by Anthony Shadid, writing in Gaziantep, Turkey – an old Hittite city, bordering Syria, strategic during the Crusader wars, center of Turkish resistance to the French occupation in 1920-21. He wrote of its people’s nostalgia for the Ottoman past when Turks and Syrians “were brothers.” “What really divides us?,” asks one of the people Shadid spoke with in Gaziantep, having been born across the border, in present-day Syria, once an ancient Ottoman province, and before that a center of Arab Empire.


Columns : Preparing for War with China
on 2011/6/8 10:20:00 (1033 reads)

Paris, June 7, 2011 – U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Kabul at the start of June talking about withdrawal -- or non-withdrawal -- from Afghanistan, but before he went home he was in Singapore to talk about an enlarged American military engagement in Asia. That was a speech to an International Institute for Strategic Studies meeting, in support of “a robust [U.S.] military presence in Asia.” He said that one of the “principal security challenges” to the United States is that some nation would try to keep it out of Asia.

He said that for some time American naval and air force chiefs “have been concerned about anti-access and area denial scenarios,” and planning how to overcome any effort to block American free movement and deployment “in defense of our allies and vital interests.” This was despite “myopic souls” at home, isolationist spirits, daunted citizens, who doubt the American nation’s strength and determination, and might not support America’s place “as a 21st century Asia-Pacific nation,” imposing itself wherever it will, despite whatever obstacle.

He ended the Singapore talk by telling a questioner who doubted the permanence of a quasi-proprietary U.S. oversight of the South China Sea and other Chinese foreign preoccupations in the region, including the Taiwan relationship and the North Korean problem, that he would wager 100 dollars that the influence of the United States in Asia would be stronger five years from now than it is today.

Now 100 dollars is not a great deal of money, especially to Mr. Gates, who is accustomed to spending trillions of dollars in military expenditures connected with the global U.S base system, as well as running three simultaneously ongoing wars, or less than ended wars, or prospective wars, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.

Columns : The Cowardice that Dominates Washington
on 2011/6/3 12:20:00 (697 reads)

Paris, June 1, 2011 – To the wayfaring American citizen, the view of Washington from abroad is as bizarre as of Oz. One cannot believe that it is happening. How can Republican leaders have convinced themselves that the way to be reelected is by doing away with Medicare and Social Security -- about all the security that America’s old people have to hang onto these days. (Not the rich ones; there are not very many rich old people in the United States; look around you.) When the Republicans lose a ”sure” Republican congressional seat to a Democrat on this issue, as they did in May in New York State, they display genuine bewilderment.

They think that voters are all single-mindedly obsessed with the national debt and the present fight over the forthcoming budget. I mentioned Oz; but of course the Wizard proved to be a warm-hearted montebank who knew how Dorothy could get back to Kansas. Montebanks there now are aplenty in Washington but they have nothing to offer Dorothy, who was just a poor farm girl from the Great Plains (where, incidentally, the American Populist movement of the late nineteenth century started, nearly electing president the great orator William Jennings Bryan on a “free silver” ticket) .

If the government would like three trillion dollars to round out the budget for next year, why not call off the wars that nobody can any longer explain? Afghan operations alone are set to run to $113 billion this fiscal year, according to The Washington Post. The Pentagon is asking for $107 billion in the next fiscal year for Afghanistan alone.

The cost of maintaining a single American soldier in Afghanistan for a year is one million dollars. That’s because of the stupefying cost of transporting supplies to troops in Afghanistan, and the continuing building of bases there. (But aren’t we supposed to be leaving?) The cost of an Afghan national army, which the country has never felt necessary in the past, but which the United States now wants it to possess (so that it can execute missions which Washington considers vital, not to them but to us) has cost $28 billion thus far, and the U.S. training effort for 2012 is a requested $12.5 billion.

If we take seriously the claims of Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, the United States, because of its drone and air campaigns there, is on the brink of being identified by the Afghans not as an allied force but a hostile army of occupation. He implies that this new Afghan army might find that its historical role in Afghanistan is to drive the United States out.

Given the even greater hostility towards America in Pakistan, it is possible that the two countries might cooperate in that effort. In that case the “terrorist” Taliban would gladly join in. U.S. officials replied mildly to Mr. Karzai’s threat, since they are habituated to assume that he and his Pakistani counterparts can readily be replaced. We made ‘em; we use them; we can break them.

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