Thursday, June 16, 2016

Power Disparities, Disproportionate Response, and Blowback

If you want to understand why terrorism is increasing in the United States, you might want to read a book published before it all started: Chalmers Johnson: Blowback, The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, published in 2000, the year George W. Bush took office. Apparently, the new president, his vice president, his coterie of appointees, and his successor Barack Obama and his foreign policy team never read it. Because it says what causes the terrorism we now see increasing and what is necessary to contain it.

What is Johnson referring to when he says “American Empire”? An empire is a country whose economy and raw military power is unchallenged in the world. It is logical for such a country to assume that it must be exceptional, since it achieved this status. It follows that it may also assume that the system it uses must be superior to that of other countries who haven’t achieved similar status. And it may further assume that if other countries would only adopt their system, they would be better off. Continuing this scenario can become very hubristic to the point where the assumptions don’t conform to reality due the different development paths, and ethical, cultural and religious norms adopted by other countries throughout their history.

So what happens when an empire decides to use its economic and military power to change other countries toward the goal of making everything better for them. In such an endeavor, the justification is usually righteousness. We know what will make the country better. Selfish reasons like accessing the country’s resources and controlling commerce by various financial schemes are usually presented as being necessary for the good of the country. Making political changes is a logical next step. Get the people in power who will agree with what we are trying to do. These moves usually result in resentment that the country being “helped” is losing its autonomy. Factions within the country that share this resentment are the first to rebel in some way, first in a diplomatic way, progressing to protest, and ultimately to violence. The “rebels” eventually look for a way to get back at the empire. When the empire faces this, they consider such rebels as troublemakers, interfering with benevolent actions the empire is trying to implement, and who must be rooted out. Eventually, disproportionate force is used by the empire against the rebels to suppress them. As we have seen in many instances in history, the end result is a coup that installs a government sympathetic to the empire.

But, the problem doesn’t end there. If rebels are successful by sheer numbers, or receive aid from another strong power as the case was in Vietnam, the empire is kicked out. If the empire triumphs, blowback starts. Rebel actions turn to terrorism on the empire’s assets abroad, such as the bombing of the USS Cole, or attacks on the empire’s embassies abroad. The last rebel resort is to attack the empire homeland, as was the case in 9/11, and finally inspire rebel elements in the empire’s homeland toward indiscriminate violence, which is what we are seeing now.

So what are specific acts by the empire that inspire the most violent rebel response? On top of the list is asymmetric response. Using an air force or drones, which impact the people of the country in question greatly, but hardly affect the empire are major sources. Financial sanctions and trade embargoes are just war by other means that strangle the country, but cause little harm to the empire. All of these measures are viewed as being extremely unfair and inspire rage.

As these activities escalate, destabilization eventually results. When a country is destabilized and survival is paramount, religion, ethics, and morality are secondary considerations to the suffering people and brutality increases dramatically. If the livelihood and security of the people in the country are threatened, and hope for a solution is lost, extreme blowback to the empire may even lead to destabilization of the empire. The bottom line is, when people have little to lose by losing their life, they will do whatever causes the most damage to the empire that is causing their problems.

The only logical solution is for empires to get out of other countries where they are not wanted and let whatever happens, happen unless an international body not dominated by empires sanctions a solution. Empires should not pick winners and losers. International bodies have a role in such disputes, and should not be dominated by empires. The more countries are allowed to solve their own major problems with help from international institutions, the less likely they are to have an interest in causing trouble in an empire.

The focus of empires should be getting along with other strong countries that could become empires that could challenge them. If empires challenge each other with force, or sanctions that lead to force, what results is world war, as we have seen twice in one century. For the survival of the world, it is imperative for empires to resolve their differences diplomatically and work together and with international organizations to solve the many problems to world faces, and give weaker countries the non-military help they ask for, not what empires want, without any carrots or sticks.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

The 2016 Election

I would invite anyone trying to decide how to vote in the general election to visit the sites of all the candidates to actually see the detail in their proposals posted there. You won't find much but a wish list from any of them.

As I see it, the main problems that need addressing are correcting inequality, reducing foreign wars, and reducing the burden on the middle class and small businesses. Correcting inequality boils down to shifting the tax burden to higher income people and increasing wages for working people. Eliminating duplication of government services should also be a top priority, along with eliminating old government programs aimed at problems which no longer exist, like expensive defense programs for aircraft and ships that were designed to fight the last war, not the current conflicts.

I think we can forget about any new initiatives until until the country comes back economically and the middle class is rebuilt to where it can sustain a healthy demand for good and services, particularly those which can be produced domestically. The most promising course to accomplish this is repairing our crumbling infrastructure and passing a living wage. Forget about balancing the budget until demand exceeds our capacity to produce, since only then will inflation become a problem. Right now we are in greater danger of deflation. I'm afraid we're going to have to put major changes in health care and education off until we solve these immediate problems. Of the current candidates, Sanders program has the most detail but is a bit too ambitious, Clinton and Trump the least and the most stuff that goes in the wrong direction. Check it out for yourself.

I think we will be relying mainly on the current government staffing to carry on. All of these candidates lack the experience to address our immediate problems, including Clinton, who will likely continue what we've been doing wrong all along. Sanders knows what needs to be done, but lacks the executive experience to carry it out. Trump is promising some of the right things in the area of trade and jobs, but the way he is proposing to do it will make things worse. If he continues just blowing smoke like he is now it's hard to see how he will accomplish any of the reasonable things he is proposing, and other things he is proposing will be a disaster. Forget the other three. They're either living in the past, governed by ideology, or lack any understanding of political economy.