Sunday, September 16, 2018

America Could Have Been One Giant Sweden -- Instead It Looks a Lot Like the Soviet Union

Imagine an alternative universe in which the two major Cold War superpowers evolved into the United Soviet Socialist States. The conjoined entity, linked perhaps by a new Bering Straits land bridge, combines the optimal features of capitalism and collectivism. From Siberia to Sioux City, we’d all be living in one giant Sweden.
It sounds like either the paranoid nightmare of a John Bircher or the wildly optimistic dream of Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, however, this was a rather conventional view, at least among influential thinkers like economist John Kenneth Galbraith who predicted that the United States and the Soviet Union would converge at some point in the future with the market tempered by planning and planning invigorated by the market. Like many an academic notion, it didn’t come to pass. The United States veered off in the direction of Reaganomics. And the Soviet Union eventually collapsed. So much for “convergence theory,” which like EST or cold fusion went the way of most crackpot ideas.
Or did it? Take another look at our world in 2015 and tell me if, somehow we haven’t backed our way through the looking glass into that very alternative universe -- with a twist. The planet currently seems to be on the cusp of a decidedly unharmonic convergence.
Consider what’s happening in Russia, where an elected autocrat presides over a free market shaped by a powerful state apparatus. Similarly, China’s mash-up of market Leninism offers a one-from-column-A-and-one-from-Column-B combination platter. Both countries are also rife with crime, corruption, growing inequality, and militarism. Think of them as the un-Swedens.
Nor do such hybrids live only in the East. Hungary, a member of the European Union and a key post-Communist adherent to liberalism, has been heading off in an altogether different direction since its ruling Fidesz party took over in 2010. Last July, its prime minister, Viktor Orban, declared that he no longer looks to the West for guidance. To survive in an ever more competitive global economy, Orban is seeking inspiration from various hybrid powers, the other un-Swedens of our planet: Turkey, Singapore, and both Russia and China. Touting the renationalization of former state assets and stricter controls on foreign investment, he has promised to remake Hungary into an “illiberal state” that both challenges laissez-faire principles and concentrates power in the leader and his party.
The United States is not exactly immune from such trends. The state has also become quite illiberal here as its reach and power have been expanded in striking ways. As it happens, however, America’s Gosplan, our state planning committee, comes with a different name: the military-industrial-homeland-security complex. Washington presides over a planet-spanning surveillance system that would have been the envy of the Communist apparatchiks of the previous century, even as it has imposed a global economic template on other countries that enables enormous corporate entities to elbow aside local competition. If the American tradition of liberalism and democracy was once all about “the little guy” -- the rights of the individual, the success of small business -- the United States has gone big in the worst possible way.
The convergence theorists imagined that the better aspects of capitalism and communism would emerge from the Darwinian competition of the Cold War and that the result would be a more adaptable and humane hybrid. It was a typically Panglossian error. Instead of the best of all possible worlds, the international community now faces an unholy trinity of authoritarian politics, cutthroat economics, and Big Brother surveillance. Even though we might all be eating off IKEA tableware, listening to Spotify, and reading the latest Girl With the Dragon Tattoo knock-off, we are not living in a giant Sweden. Our world is converging in a far more dystopian way. After two successive conservative governments and with a surging far-right party pounding its anti-immigrant drumbeat, even Sweden seems to be heading in the same dismal direction.
Indeed, if you squint at the history of the last 70 years, you might be persuaded to believe that the convergence theorists were right after all. For all the excitement the fall of the Berlin Wall generated and the paradigm shifts it inspired, the annus mirabilis of 1989 may not have been the end of one system and the victory of the other, but an odd interlude in a much longer evolution of the two.
Bats Do It, Whales Do It
Bats and whales don’t look at all alike. But they both operate in similarly dark environments. Bats hunt at night, while whales navigate the murk of the ocean. Because neither animal can rely on visual clues, they have developed the ability to echolocate, to use, that is, sound waves to find their way around. This clever strategy is an example of convergent evolution: adaptation by different creatures to similar environmental conditions.
Some social scientists in the Cold War period looked at Communism and capitalism in much the same way that evolutionary biologists view the bat and the whale. Both systems, while structurally different, were struggling to adapt to the same environmental factors. The forces of modernity -- of technological development, of growing bureaucratization -- would, it was then believed, push both systems in the same evolutionary direction. To achieve more optimal economic results, the Communists would increasingly rely on market mechanisms, while the capitalists would turn to planning. Democracy would take a backseat to bureaucracy as technocrats with no particular ideology ran the countries in both blocs in that now-distant two-superpower world. What would be lost in participation would be gained, it was claimed, in efficiency. The resulting hybrid structures, like echolocation, would represent the most effective ways to operate in a challenging global environment.
Convergence theory officially debuted in 1961 with a short but influential article by Jan Tinbergen. Communism and capitalism, the Dutch economist argued, would learn to overcome internal problems by borrowing from each other. More contact between the two foes would lead to a virtuous circle of more sharing and greater convergence. Further exposure came with John Kenneth Galbraith’s 1967 bestseller, The New Industrial State. From there, the concept spread beyond the economics profession and the transatlantic alliance.  It even found adherents, among them nuclear physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov in the Soviet Union.
In the 1970s, the coming of détente between the two superpowers suggested that these theorists had been on the mark. Policies emphasizing “coexistence,” adopted by each of the previously implacable enemies and facilitated by scientific exchanges and arms control treaties, seemed to herald a narrowing of differences. In the United States, even Republicans like Richard Nixon began to embrace wage and price controls in an effort to tame the market, while the rise of cybernetics suggested that computers might overcome the technical difficulties that socialist countries faced in creating efficient planned economies. In fact, with Project Cybersyn, an early 1970s effort to harness the power of semiconductors to regulate supply and demand, the government of Chile’s democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende planned to usher in just such a technotopia.
Of course, Allende went down in a U.S.-backed military coup. Détente between the two superpowers collapsed in the late 1970s and, under the sway of Reaganism, American government officials began to dismantle the welfare state. At the same time, the Soviet Union, now headed by aged bureaucratic leaders like Leonid Brezhnev, sank into an economic funk before Mikhail Gorbachev made one last desperate, failed effort to preserve the system through a program of reforms. In 1991, the Soviet Union disappeared and the victory of rampant global capitalism was proclaimed.
Not surprisingly, in the early 1990s several scholars wrote epitaphs for what clearly seemed to be a conceptual dead end. Convergence was dead. Long live, well what?
The Short-Lived End of History
Even as convergence theory was bowing out ungracefully, political theorist Francis Fukuyama was reinventing the concept. In the summer of 1989, with his controversial essay “The End of History” in which he proclaimed the eternal triumph of liberal democracy (and the economic system that went with it), he anticipated the central question of the era: What would replace the ideological confrontation of the Cold War?
Several months before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the outbreak of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, Fukuyama argued that Communism would no longer pose an alternative to liberal democracy and that the European Union, the “universal homogeneous state” of his philosophical mentor, Alexandre Kojève, would ultimately be victorious. The endpoint of global political and economic evolution, in other words, was once again a political bureaucracy and an economic welfare state patterned on European social democracy. For Fukuyama, the tea leaves were clear: convergence was back as the way of the future.
What would have thrilled the architects of European integration -- and the likes of Jan Tinbergen and John Kenneth Galbraith -- was, however, a grave disappointment for Fukuyama, who was already in a premature state of mourning for the heroism that epic confrontations inspired.  The ideological conflict that had given shape to the Cold War and meaning to all those who fought in its political and military skirmishes would, he feared, be defused and diminished.  All that might then be left would be polite exchanges over minor disagreements in a boardroom in Brussels. The end of history, indeed!
Soon enough, Fukuyama’s thesis, briefly hailed here as the endpoint of all speculation about our global fate, came up visibly short as other potent ideologies reemerged to challenge the generally liberal democratic ethos of the West. There were, as a start, the virulent strains of ethno-nationalism that tore Yugoslavia apart and continued to rage across the expanse of the former Soviet Union. Similarly, religious fundamentalism, especially Islamic extremism, challenged the hard power, the multicultural ethos, even the very existence of various secular states across the Middle East and Africa. And the row of Communist dominoes toppling eastward stopped at Mongolia. China, North Korea, Laos, and Vietnam at least nominally retained their governing ideologies and their single party structures.
At the same time, the European Union expanded, absorbing all of East-Central Europe (except for a couple of small Balkan states), even incorporating the Baltic countries from the former Soviet Union. Convergence, Fukuyama-style, came in the form of acceding to therequirements of EU membership, a lengthy process that reshaped the political, economic, and social structures of its eastern aspirants. The war in Yugoslavia eventually ended, and Europe seemed to have avoided a much deeper clash of civilizations. Even in Bosnia, the Orthodox, Muslim, and Catholic factions achieved a grudging modus operandi, though the country remains far from a well-functioning entity.
Fukuyama had, in fact, suggested a variant of convergence theory -- that it would take the form of absorption. In this more ruthless narrative of evolution, the blue whale survives as the largest leviathan of the deep, while the immense shark-like Megalodon disappears. The Soviet Union made its bid for the proletariat of the world to unite and push capitalism into extinction. It failed. Instead, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany vindicated the capitalist theorists. So did the absorption of East-Central Europe into the European Union.
And once again, that was supposed to be the end of the story. The EU would be a diluted version of the Sweden that the original convergence theorists had posited -- generally peaceful, modestly prosperous, and passably democratic. The “common European home,” which Gorbachev invoked at the peak of his prestige, might one day even include Russia to the east and transatlantic partner America to the west.
Today, however, that common European home is on the verge of foreclosure. It’s not just that Russia is heading off in an entirely different direction or that the United States recoils from even the weak Scandinavian social democracy that the EU promulgates. Greece is contemplating what once was heresy, its own Grexit or departure from the Eurozone. More troubling, in the very heart of Europe in Budapest, Viktor Orban is turning his back on the West and facing East, while anti-EU, anti-immigrant right-wing parties are gaining adherents across the continent. A new axis of illiberalism might one day connect Beijing to Moscow, Hungary, and possibly beyond like a new trans-Siberian express. The vast Eurasian landmass, the historic pivot of geopolitics, is sinking into despotism with a corporate face and cosmetic democracy.
And Hungary is no European outlier, despite the EU’s censure of Orban’s authoritarian tendencies. Other leaders in the region, from the conservativeJaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland to the social democrat Robert Fico in Slovakia, look enviously at Orban’s model and his political success. Euroskepticism is spreading westward, with the far Right poised to take over in Denmark, the National Front capturing the most seats in the last European parliamentary elections in France, and the recently victorious Conservative Party in Great Britain planning to go ahead with a referendum on continued membership in the EU.
In other words, a geopolitical game of Go is underway. And just when you thought that the liberal pieces had spread successfully from the Atlantic to the western edge of Russia -- and under former Russian leader Boris Yeltsin possibly to the very shores of the Pacific -- the anti-liberals made a few key moves on the margins and the board began to shift in their favor. Croatia’s entrance into the EU in 2013 may well have been the high-water mark for that structure. An economic crisis in Greece, a political crisis in Great Britain, and a liberal crisis in Hungary could combine to unravel the most upbeat scenario for the recrudescence of convergence theory.
With the EU potentially on its way out, brace yourself for something considerably less anodyne.
Convergence American-Style
The United States prides itself on being an exception to the rules, hence the endless emphasis by American political leaders of every stripe on the country’s “exceptionalism.” The U.S. remains the world’s only true superpower. It refuses to sign a range of international treaties. It reserves the right to invade other countries and even assassinate its own citizens if necessary. How could such a unique entity converge toward anything else?
These days, it’s usually just right-wing nuts who sound like old-fashioned convergence theorists. They’re the ones who label President Obama a secret agent of European socialism and believe that his health care plan will pollute the country’s precious bodily fluids, much as Dr. Strangelove’s General Jack D. Ripper worried about fluoridation. Despite the ornate fantasies of such figures, the United States has clearly moved in the opposite direction. Today’s Democrats are considerably more conservative economically than the Republicans of the 1970s and the Republicans have effectively purged all moderates from their ranks in their surge rightward.
Instead of converging toward Scandinavian socialism, the U.S. has been slouching toward illiberalism for some time now. The Tea Party bemoans the “nanny” and “gun-control” state, but misses the deeply sinister ways in which that state has been captured by the forces of illiberality. The United States has expanded its archipelago of incarceration, our homegrown gulag, so dramatically that we have more people in prison -- in total and by percentage of population -- than any developed country on Earth. Our political system has been taken over by a club of the rich -- our own nomenklatura -- with corruption so embedded that no one dares call it by that name and critics instead speak of the “revolving door” and “voter suppression” and the “influence of money in politics.” The deterioration of public infrastructure has, as in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, turned the country into an embarrassment of falling bridges, exploding gas lines, bursting pipelines, backward railroads, unsecured power plants, and potential ecological catastrophes.
Add in spreading governmental surveillance and secrecy, unsustainable military spending, and a disastrously interventionist, military-first foreign policy and the United States is looking a lot like either the old Soviet Union or the Russia of today. Neither is a flattering comparison. America has not yet descended into despotism, so the convergence is hardly complete. But it might be only one right-wing populist leader away from that worst-case scenario.
Where Does History End?
In the long sweep of history, development is not a one-way street that leads all traffic toward a single destination. No doubt the Romans in the first century AD and the Ottomans of the sixteenth century imagined that their glorious futures would be full of successful Caesars and sultans. They didn’t anticipate any great leaps backwards, much less the future collapse of each of their systems. Why should the EU or the American colossus be exempt from history’s serpentine ways?
And yet America consoles itself that what’s happening in Russia and China is only a temporary detour. Fukuyama might have been premature in his 1989 declaration of history’s end, but his historical determinism remains deeply imbedded in how Western liberal elites look at the world. They sit back and wait impatiently for countries to “come to their senses” and become “more like us.” They arrogantly expect convergence by absorption to proceed, if not tomorrow then eventually.
But if, in fact, the signs along the highway are not all pointing toward the same destination, then maybe we should stop checking our watches to see when North Korea will finally collapse, the Chinese Communist Party implode, and Putinism grind to a halt. These are not evolutionary dead-ends awaiting another political meteor, like the one in 1989, to strike the planet and wipe them out. For all we know, they might even outlive their Western challengers. The Chinese hybrid, for instance, seems no less stable at the moment than any liberal democracy, particularly now that its economy hassurpassed that of the U.S. to become the largest in the world. Nor does Beijing appear to be intent on ending its one-party rule any time soon.
Convergence theorists expected that certain global trends, from technological innovation to economic development, would push different ideological systems toward a merger at some point in the future. They may well have been right about the mechanism, but wrong about the results. A different set of factors -- global financial crisis, widening economic inequality, increasingly scarce natural resources, anti-immigrant hysteria, persistent religious extremism, and widespread dissatisfaction with electoral democracy -- is pushing countries toward a considerably less harmonic kind of convergence. Forget about the “new industrial state.” Welcome to the new post-industrial despotism.
The ongoing convulsions of geopolitics are throwing up all manner of new hybrids. Many of these market authoritarian regimes are deeply troubling, the offspring of a marriage of the less savory aspects of collectivism and capitalism. But they are also potent reminders that, because we are not the slaves of history, we can transform our putatively triumphant liberalism, with all its manifold defects of corruption, inequality, and unsustainability, into something more optimal for both human beings and the planet. The bats did it, the whales did it, and even though it’s not inevitable, we humans can do it, too.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The reasons I love Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

George W. Bush left office with a public approval rating of just over one-third, tied with Jimmy Carter as the most unpopular president since Richard Nixon. Unpopular at home, Bush’s tenure also saw anti-Americanism reach unprecedented levels. In Germany, favorable attitudes toward the United States declined from 78 percent, when George W. Bush took office to 31 percent when he left office. In 2007, Turkey gained the distinction of becoming perhaps the most anti-American country, with only nine percent of the country reporting a favorable view of the United States. Much of the disapproval of Bush, both in the United States and abroad, centered on his administration’s response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and his embrace, at least partially, of a neoconservative foreign policy.
Much of the media, both in the United States and abroad, misconstrue neoconservatism. Too often, critics of U.S. policy use it as a straw man argument defined amorphously as opposition to whatever those critics believe. Others characterize neoconservatism as unrestrained militarism. The most malicious commentators use it as a synonym for Jewish dual loyalty. Such characterizations are nonsense, and the result of academics, commentators, and officials who believe if they can label and libel an idea, they need not debate it.
So what do neoconservatives believe? First, that democratization and traditional liberal values should be intertwined with national security policy. Rather than simply make realist calculations about what is in the United States’ short term foreign policy interest at any given time, neoconservatives believe that there is intrinsic strength in alliances among democracies, that friendship should matter in foreign policy, and that long-term security derives from transformative diplomacy. The intercession of human rights and individual freedom with foreign policy therefore becomes a national security interest. Hence, President George W. Bush’s statement in his second inaugural speech, “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.” The flip side of such belief is austere realism about the nature of some adversaries. Far from being the Utopians which some critics claim, neoconservatives see adversaries starkly. While many American and European proponents of a realist foreign policy embrace engaging adversaries, underlying such an approach to diplomacy too often is an assumption of their adversaries’ sincerity. Neoconservatives harbor no such illusions and so seek to combine diplomacy with military power. While neoconservatives are not trigger-happy, they do recognize that a strong defense can both deter would be aggressors and enhance diplomacy.
The Failure of Realism
The last quarter century validates neoconservative analysis. Take Iraq: On December 20, 1983, Donald Rumsfeld, Ronald Reagan’s Middle East envoy, met Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. Reagan sent Rumsfeld to re-establish relations with Baghdad which had been severed years before. The White House and State Department feared growing Iranian influence. While no one believed Saddam to be a liberal ally–U.S. intelligence had earlier confirmed Saddam’s use of chemical weapons–Rumsfeld did not broach the subject. Human rights were not top of his agenda. His handshake with Saddam, caught on film by Iraqi television, was a triumph for diplomatic realism.
The aftermath is well known. The Iran-Iraq War would continue for another five years, leaving several hundred thousand more dead on the battlefield. Still, U.S. officials sought to engage Saddam. On January 12, 1990, Senator Arlen Specter traveled to Baghdad where, the next day, he met Saddam Hussein. For Saddam, the visit was useful, for Specter believed the Iraqi leader’s talk of peace and, over the next few months, undercut proposals by his colleague Senator John McCain to extend military sanctions on Iraq. Hussein used the delay to rebuild his military. On August 2, 1990, he ordered his tanks into Kuwait. In subsequent years, Saddam subsidized waves of Palestinian suicide-bombers, effectively ending the Oslo peace process.
The chain of events is clear: The international community had innumerable opportunities to stop Saddam’s ambitions. The fickleness of European powers and many American administrations, more interested in contracts than in human rights or good governance, not only allowed Saddam to get away with murder, but also set the stage for further war. Saddam’s career was a model of realist blowback.
Critics attack Operation Iraqi Freedom because intelligence regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction proved wrong. This is a multibillion dollar scandal which should be more seriously investigated, but it is not a condemnation of neoconservatism. The status quo with regard to Iraq was not tenable. Sanctions were collapsing amidst French, Russian, and Arab greed. Post-war inspectors found no nuclear and few chemical and biological weapons, but they did find documents and presidency minutes which show with absolute certitude that Saddam Hussein was determined to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction program as soon as sanctions collapsed. Containment had failed.
Critics of the war in Iraq conflate two issues: First, the decision to go to war. In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, that was a decision with wide support amongst divergent policy circles. The second was the decision not simply to replace one dictator with another. That was the debate in which neoconservatives prevailed. Accordingly, as U.S. troops entered Iraq, President Bush promised freedom and democracy. But rather than establish a stable democracy, terrorists and militias began to tear the country apart. After hundreds of billions spent and the sacrifice of more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers, it is right to ask whether democracy in Iraq was not a fool’s dream.
It was not. President Harry S Truman faced similar questions about Korea. Critics accused him of embroiling America in open-ended war and losing touch with reality. They said democracy was alien to Korean culture. Time proved them wrong. Any juxtaposition of nuclear North Korea with democratic South Korea shows the value of Truman’s policy.
Is Diplomacy a Panacea?
Iraq was not the only country in which diplomacy and a realist embrace backfired. From the moment that Iranian students seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979, realists have sought desperately to engage Iran. There has not been a single U.S. administration that has not extended an olive branch to the Islamic Republic, only to have it swatted away with clerical disdain.
The European Union has fared no better. The Iranian nuclear challenge was the first major international challenge outside Europe on which the European Union sought to lead. In many ways, the coming Iranian bomb is a testament to the failure of European diplomacy. When Iranian president Muhammad Khatami spoke of a desire for a “Dialogue of Civilizations,” he played European leaders for fools. Between 2000 and 2005, the height of the dialogue, European Union trade with the Islamic Republic almost tripled. Rather than moderate Iranian behavior, Tehran invested the hard currency windfall into its military and nuclear program. Indeed, in a June 14, 2008 debate with advisors to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Khatami’s former spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh admitted as much. While Ahmadinejad is pilloried in the West because of his Holocaust denial and the illegitimacy of the 2009 election, Western diplomats too often ignore that the Islamic Republic’s reformists remain as invested in that regime’s nuclear program and, indeed, claim credit for it. Realists praise the power of diplomacy and engagement, too often they ignore how adversaries employ insincere negotiation as a means to advance weapons program. The Soviet Union developed its biological weapons capability despite agreements banning such development, and the Islamic Republic has come to the verge of nuclear weapons capability despite its protestations that it adheres to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Fighting Terrorism
Neoconservatism also provides a better answer to the fight against terrorism than does realism. Too many U.S. and European officials and academics misunderstand terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic. Those who employ it make a cost-benefit calculation and conclude that they can gain political objectives through the murder of civilians. When diplomats and academics ponder root causes and seek compromise and concession, they increase the benefit of terrorism and drive down relative costs. The Middle East provides myriad lessons as to how such conciliation backfires. The Oslo Peace Process which saw Israel evacuate portions of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon, and Israel’s complete disengagement from Gaza five years later all provide windows into how compromise with terrorists backfires.
While American, European, and United Nations officials lament cycles of violence in the Middle East, seldom do they consider that suicide bombings developed and rose in frequency after the 1993 Oslo Accords ushered in a period of engagement. Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat repeatedly used terrorism as a tactic. In 1996, a rash of suicide bombings hit Israel. Only after the West employed extraordinary pressure and Israel responded with limited military force, did Arafat reign in terrorists. Arafat’s reaction demonstrated both his culpability and the effectiveness of coupling diplomatic and military strategies. Arafat also provides an example about how diplomatic incentives backfire. Documents seized by Israel at the Palestinian Authority’s former Jerusalem office and Arafat’s compound in Ramallah detail how the Palestinian Authority manipulated exchange-rates on European Union aid to build a slush fund to pay for another five years of terror. Indeed, Palestinian terror has grown in proportion to European Union aid.
Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon was as disastrous. The day after the completion of Israel’s withdrawal, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hasan Nasrallah declared, “The road to Palestine and freedom is the road of the resistance and intifada! It should be neither the intifada that is framed by Oslo, nor that which is negotiated by the compromising negotiator in Stockholm. All you need is to follow the way of the martyred people of the past who shook and frightened the entity of this raping Zionist community.”
It was not only Hezbollah which saw Israel’s retreat as a sign of weakness, but also Iran and Syria. The Syrian government facilitated supply of Iranian missiles to Hezbollah bolstering not only rocket quantity but also quality. As a direct result of Israel’s withdrawal, Hezbollah found itself with an arsenal exceeding 10,000 missiles. Empowered by the withdrawal, on July 12, 2006, Hezbollah launched a cross-border operation which resulted in the deaths of five Israeli soldiers and the capture of two others. Within hours, Israel was at war with Lebanon. Its withdrawal backfired. The lessons of Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon are clear. Adversaries who do not desire peace will further conflict.
Israel re-learned the same lesson after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Rather than bring peace, terrorists filled a vacuum which sparked further conflict. From 2006 through 2008, Hamas terrorists fired more than 1,600 rockets indiscriminately into Israeli civilian centers. The Israel Defense Forces responded with precision military strikes against terrorist infrastructure and known terrorists. While the UN Human Rights Commission may condemn Israel for its military operations in Gaza, it is only Israel’s willingness to utilize military force which prevents Hamas and Hezbollah from renewing the previous scale of their attacks, as the Iranian and Egyptian governments have facilitated resupply of Hamas and Hezbollah so that today, every square meter of Israeli territory is vulnerable to terrorist groups wielding missiles. Nevertheless, the threat of aerial bombardment and targeted assassination prove a greater disincentive than international conferences and mini-bars at 5-star hotels.
The Importance of Democracy
Whether President George W. Bush was more unpopular among U.S. diplomats or European leaders is hard to ascertain. In many intellectual and foreign policy circles, Bush generates irrational hatred which many commentators conflate with neoconservatism. Bush’s crime, it seems, was not unilateralism, but his unwillingness to conduct business as usual. Diplomats live to engage, but Bush rightly determined that diplomacy and the validation it bestows upon partners are not always appropriate. On June 24, 2002, addressing the failure of Arafat’s dictatorship, Bush declared, “If liberty can blossom in the rocky soil of the West Bank and Gaza, it will inspire men and women around the globe who are equally entitled to the benefits of democratic government.” He applied the same policy toward Iran, placing the U.S. squarely with reformists and democrats, declaring on July 12, “As Iran’s people move towards a future defined by greater freedom, greater tolerance, they will have no better friend than the United States of America.”
Such rhetoric was not entirely new, but Bush’s initial determination to adhere to it was. On August 15, 2002, Bush warned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that the U.S. would not supply Egypt with new foreign aid in response to the jailing of a leading democracy activist. It is the White House, and not traditional NGOs, that led the drive to cool relations between the United States and the Saudi autocracy, despite continued American dependence on oil. The era of cynical realpolitik looked to be over.
In the face of a more principled policy, Europe and the United Nations proved fickle. Former French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine said moral clarity was “simplisme.” European leader remained largely silent as Libya assumed the leadership of the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
Arguments that Arabs, Iranians, or Asians are unable to grasp democracy are wrong. India is the world’s largest democracy. Lebanese and Iraqis have repeatedly braved bombs and bullets to vote. It is an irony of history that the first free elections in Syrian history occurred in January 2005, but no Syrians were allowed to vote: Only Iraqis lined up outside the Iraqi embassy in Damascus.
Afghans, too, have an unprecedented opportunity to develop because of neoconservative-driven reforms. It is trendy to say that Afghanistan never changes, but every government has created change. Precedent is difficult to reverse. Military force has stabilized a regime which, while far from perfect, has restored opportunities to women which the Taliban had denied. It is silly to say that Afghanistan must remain static and unchanged through history, and it is simply not in U.S. or European security interests to allow a vacuum to develop in which terrorists could find safe haven.
Still, elections alone do not define a democracy; although critics often use their result to condemn the spread of democracy as a policy goal. Indeed, after Hamas won Palestinian elections in January 2006, the Bush administration cooled noticeably on democratization. Hezbollah’s challenge to Lebanon and Shi‘i domination of Iraqi politics also provided fodder for critics.
The problems in these cases were two-fold. First, was a failure to address the existence of party militias. Militias exist only to impose through arms what they cannot win at the ballot box. They intimidate voters and undercut the validity of any election win. Under such circumstances, the United States was correct not to embrace Hamas’ victory. U.S. support should never be an entitlement.
Second, foreign ministries and international organizations anxious to oversee successful elections often sacrifice representation for easy management of election day. This was the problem with Iraq’s January 2005 elections. Rather than vote for individuals, Iraqis voted for political parties, whose leaders compiled lists of candidates. In descending order, one candidate would enter parliament for every 31,000 votes the party received. Under this system, aspiring politicians owed their future not to voters but to the party leaders who compiled the lists. Instead of encouraging Iraqi politicians to debate security, sewage and schooling, the party-slate system encouraged them to engage in the most extreme sectarian or ethno-nationalist rhetoric to prove their mettle to party leaders. United Iraqi Alliance leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, for example, would place politicians who toed a Shiite chauvinist line ahead of, say, moderates who sought national reconciliation. Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani tolerated no politician from Kirkuk who prioritized economic development over his hard-line position on autonomy. Demagoguery flourished, and stability faltered. Recognition that systems matter is the main reason why heated debates over election design has marked the months preceding every subsequent Iraqi election.
Neoconservatism also offers the best solution to the Iran crisis. While some hawkish pundits advocate bombing Iran, most neoconservatives do not: Bombing Iran may delay the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, but it will not end it and it will create a costly backlash. The only lasting solution would come with regime change brought not by military force, but from within because of augmented Iranian civil society. Here, it seems that neoconservatives agree with the Iranian people.
The Iranian nuclear threat is really a threat of the command-and-control over nuclear weapons. Should the Islamic Republic acquire nuclear weapons at any time, it would not matter whether hardliners or reformers were in control: more extreme elements such as the Office of the Supreme Leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps which would control their use. Only when the structure of the theocracy is disbanded can the Iranian nuclear challenge be contained.
After President Barack Obama sought negotiations with Iranian leaders, Iranian people began chanting, “Obama, Obama, Ya Ba Mah, Ya Bah Unah;” “Obama, Obama, Either you are with us or you are with them.” Rather than chant, “Down with America,” Iranians began chanting “Down with Russia,” signaling upset with Russian refusal to take a tougher line on Tehran. Signs in English have proliferated in Iranian protests. As one Iranian human rights activist quipped, “That’s not because protestors are practicing their English,” but rather because they want the Western audience to understand their wishes and desires. If true democracy came to Iran, the country may not be pro-Western: Iranian grievances against the West are real. But it is doubtful that Iran would be a threat to other countries. If the Iranian people have learned anything since the Islamic Revolution, it is to resist Islamist demagoguery. The Iranian people are far more moderate and cosmopolitan than their unelected leadership. The same is true with North Korea, Syria, Libya, Venezuela and China.

The age of autocracy should pass. The representatives of dictators should not be toasted in the West, even if they are wealthy with oil. Diplomats and policymakers should not dismiss the notion that men and women around the globe are entitled to the benefits of democracy, despite the rejoicing of Iraqis, and the growing chorus of Iranians, Lebanese, and Palestinians demanding freedom. For too long, European Commission officials, self-righteous non-governmental organizations, and self-described peace groups have subverted human-rights standards for narrow political agendas. They have done irreparable harm to those suffering at the hands of dictators and terrorists. When ordinary civilians suffer at the hands of repressive regimes, the West should not be embarrassed to substitute all manner of coercion for empty rhetoric. The cost of pretending that engagement with dictatorship is successful is often far higher than a broader strategy with transformative diplomacy at its core and democratization as its goal.

Why socialism is evil

1. Many forms of socialism are virtually identical to communism.
Many people often speak about communism as though it’s a completely separate ideology from socialism, but the truth is in many nineteenth century writings, communism is treated as a school of socialist thinking, not as a separate, more radical system. In fact, you’ll find most of the ideological positions of the modern socialist parties of Europe and the Americas are basically indistinguishable from what Marx called “communism,” and many socialist parties openly admit it. For instance, the Socialist Party of Great Britain states, “As far as we are concerned, socialism and communism are exact synonyms, alternative names to describe the future society we wish to see established and defined in our Object.”
It’s better to think of socialism as a big tent, similar to how “conservatism” is a big tent with many different subgroups. And it’s more accurate to think of communism as a type of socialism that’s essentially synonymous with Marxist socialism than it is to think of communism as a more extreme form of collectivism.

2. Socialists don’t just want market “fairness,” they want a totally classless world.
If you could sum up Marx’s primary concern, it would be that he believed the presence of classes (different groups in society with varying degrees of wealth) lead to exploitation. Marx believed the workers of the world are routinely mistreated by those who own most of the businesses and that it’s unfair the business owners receive so much of the wealth when they often don’t physically provide any labor of their own.
For Marx, the only way to stop this exploitation and prevent it from occurring in the future is to eliminate all classes and create a world in which everyone gets the same amount of wealth (whatever they need, but not necessarily what they want). How can classes be eliminated? By seizing everyone’s property, redistributing the wealth, and collectively owning and managing all industry.

Similarly, the Socialist Party USA wants to “establish a new social and economic order in which workers and community members will take responsibility for and control of their interpersonal relationships, their neighborhoods, their local government, and the production and distribution of all goods and services.”

3. Marx openly called for a radical revolution and the rejection of property rights, and many of today’s socialist parties also do.
In Marx’s “Communist Manifesto,” he explains that a revolution is necessary and that it may be required for the workers of the world to (temporarily) rule over everyone else to usher in his new, better model: “If the proletariat [working class] during its contest with the bourgeoisie [those who control most property] is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organise itself as a class, if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class.”

4. Socialism has never been fully adopted anywhere in the world, according to socialists.
One of the more surprising things I learned is that most socialists don’t consider China, Venezuela, Soviet Russia, or North Korea to be real socialist or communist nations. In fact, many socialist writers say there has never been a truly socialist nation in the history of the world, because socialism in its fullest form requires there to be no classes, and in places like Venezuela, there are definitely classes: those who rule and tens of millions of impoverished citizens who are victimized by the rulers.

It’s true that Marx and other socialist thinkers would not consider many of the countries we often think of as “socialist” as being in line with their ideology (because those countries still have classes). However, free-market advocates such as myself would argue the reason socialism has never totally taken root is because socialism is impossible to achieve! If you try to collectively own and manage everything, you inevitably end up with tyranny, and tyrants don’t often give up their power willingly.

5. Socialism requires global government.
Although some socialist parties might disagree with this claim, it’s pretty clear from reading Marx’s writings and using basic logic that for socialism to work anywhere, it must exist everywhere. Why? Remember that socialism’s primary goal is to completely eliminate classes, and the only way to do that is to take their property so that the collective can own and manage it. What would happen if you tried to do something like that in the United States today? Almost everyone with wealth would try to leave, of course, in search of a place where they won’t be punished for having wealth. That means there would be less wealth to go around in the newly formed socialist nation, causing living conditions to immediately and sharply decline.
Even if you could manage to prevent all wealthy people from leaving a country, you still wouldn’t have a classless world, because some countries have more wealth, land, natural resources, educated citizens, and infrastructure than others. That means without a global government managing all the world’s wealth, you’re still stuck with a class system: countries that have wealth and countries that don’t.

There are many more things that could be said about socialism, but one thing is abundantly clear after having read through numerous socialist works: Marx’s socialism is radical, delusional, and incredibly dangerous.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

The Case for a Space Force

The United States of America is THE dominant space power in the world. We have developed more different space rockets than any country, have launched more successful satellites to Mars, very hard to do, and have developed the most complex satellites in the world. This is why the 21st century has almost entirely been invented in the United States and with what we know, and can do, we continue to preserve our PAX Americana stopping any large military force from attacking the United States or their allies.
Imagine a civilian world without: digital maps, global internet, real time cable tv, accurate weather reports, high speed logistics, self-driving cars and the lowest number of nuclear weapons since 1965.
Imagine a civilian world with more: airline accidents, pollution, expensive agriculture, weather related deaths, slower airline flights, expensive commodities, expensive infrastructure and expensive government.
These two scenarios are what we would be living with were it not for US commercial space technology.
What we have invented with the speed of computers, space sensors, space transmitters and ubiquitous communications transmitted through space has grown the entire business world exponentially. Manufacturing has moved around the world to lower labor costs, intelligent people have been hired globally and focused on business issues that have grown companies at speeds never before seen in the history of the world. The experts in all of this speed are all in the United States of America.

The result: a stunning growth of real Gross Domestic Product, GDP. In 1969, the year we landed on the moon, real GDP was $4.9 trillion and it grew to $18 trillion by 2017 (Data from BEA National Income and Product Accounts Tables). If the growth were strictly due to population, the current real GDP would be around $7.9 trillion. At the same time, we are No. 1 in per capita GDP among the top 10 global economies and our culture, and success, captivates the world so much that millions are attempting to enter our country, legally and illegally.

The backbone of this financial and technical revolution is our commercial space infrastructure: communications satellites, navigation satellites, imagery reconnaissance satellites, weather satellites and commercial rockets so radical, even NASA and the US military are running to catch up.
Without this incredible commercial space infrastructure, we would not be the No. 1 financial and business engine of the world.
All of this speed is gone with the flash of two nuclear weapons in space.
Two large nuclear explosions with their electro-magnetic pulse (EMP), one on each side of the earth, eliminates our entire backbone of success. Every single commercial spacecraft would be fried on orbit. Our communications would slow down drastically. Our global TV would cease. Our navigation grid might crash and we could lose aircraft in flight and it could take weeks or months to get regularly scheduled flights back into the air. Commercial weather for construction projects would cease and construction projects would be significantly slowed with expanding costs. Floods, rain, hurricanes and tornado predictions would be severely degraded. Thousands may die without the warnings. Our ability to schedule and deliver logistics globally would be delayed so significantly that the cost of all manufactured goods would go up dramatically and would require realignment of global manufacturing.
One nuclear weapon launched through space and exploded in New York, Washington, D.C., or Los Angeles does the same. Where are we without the center of the business world, the center of the political world, or the center of entertainment?

A coordinated cyberattack of the USA and its infrastructure would have the same impact as a nuclear weapon. Again, where are we without a modern internet-based world?
Space is vital for our national security and our commercial well-being.
Currently, the Army, Air Force and Navy are all working in Space and Cyberspace balancing budgets which include budgets for these three missions: missile defense from space nuclear detonation, missile defense from surface nuclear detonation and cyberwarfare.
The Army is also fighting for budgets for increased air defense and increased longer distance missiles, the Air Force for their new F-35 fighter and B-21 bomber and the Navy for F-35s and maintaining their fleet. Each of these services needs to focus on their respective basic missions.
We don’t want organizations with split priorities and leadership without the requisite space background to make these very strategic budget decisions that affect the backbone of our society. We need an organization that focuses on Space.
We need a Space Force.
With a budget between $100 and $150 billion per year, we could protect what we have. This would be roughly a 0.83% investment of our GDP per year. This budget would allow our Space Force to dedicate themselves to supporting our commercial, civil and military needs of space. We can’t afford to lose the backbone of our economy and our lifestyle.

It’s America First.

The famous Rockefeller UFO Briefing Document

Throughout the 1990s, billionaire philanthropist Laurance S. Rockefeller (1910-2004) sponsored and funded a number of UFO-related projects. This has come to be known as the Rockefeller UFO initiative since in some cases they went beyond funding and included an actual lobbying effort to the Clinton White House, undertaken by Rockefeller himself and his lawyer Henry Diamond, in the early and mid-90s. This writer became actively involved in one of these Rockefeller projects, which resulted in a book-length report titled, Unidentified Flying Objects Briefing Document – The Best Available Evidence, finished in December 1995.
The project was coordinated by Marie Galbraith, wife of investment banker Evan Galbraith, who served as U.S. ambassador to France during the Reagan administration. The author of the original draft was aviation journalist and long-time ufologist Don Berliner, whose involvement in the field goes back to NICAP (National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena) in the sixties and later with the Fund for UFO Research (FUFOR), which he currently heads. I was brought in the summer of 1995 by Marie Galbraith and Sandy S. Wright of the BSW Foundation, who was involved in the early stages of the project, to help edit the document. I recommended that the international section of the report should be expanded, so in the end I wrote additional “case histories” on important UFO incidents in Russia, Spain and Canada and rewrote the sections dealing with Brazil, Belgium and France, consulting the source documents in the original foreign languages.
The Original Cover (image credit: Anotnio Huneeus)
The Original Cover (image credit: Antonio Huneeus) Click the image to go to the document.
Many other people and institutions also helped in the elaboration of the report, including the SOBEPS (the Belgian Society for the Study of Space Phenomena) and the official UFO bureau within the French space agency CNES (then called SEPRA, now GEIPAN). The copyright of the Briefing Document was given to the UFO Research Coalition, formed by the three main UFO organizations in the U.S., CUFOS (Center for UFO Studies), FUFOR and MUFON (Mutual UFO Network). The document had a letter of endorsement, dated December 15, 1995, signed by the heads of the three groups in the Coalition: Dr. Mark Rodeghier for CUFOS, Richard Hall for FUFOR, and Walter Andrus for MUFON. The original edition of the UFO Briefing Document was one thousand copies and its main purpose was to send it to selected VIPs in the U.S. and abroad.
The Rockefeller Gibbons Letter. Click to enlarge.
The Rockefeller Gibbons Letter. Click to enlarge.
A copy of the Briefing Document was sent by Laurance Rockefeller to the White House Science and Technology advisor, Dr. John Gibbons, on February 29, 1996. In his cover letter, released under the Freedom of Information Act together with many other documents related to the Rockefeller UFO initiative, the late philanthropist wrote: “I sponsored this report because it seemed useful to bring together the most credible evidence about UFO sightings in the form of eyewitness reports, official statements, and scientific views. While I do not necessarily agree with every finding and conclusion, I do believe that the evidence presented indicates that this subject merits serious scientific study. Toward that end, I hope that our government, other governments, and the United Nations will cooperate in making any information they may have available.”
Unfortunately, the success and impact of the UFO Briefing Document was limited in real political terms. Most people and the press seemed far more interested with the fact that Rockefeller had sponsored it and was interested in UFOs than with the contents of the report and its political, military and scientific implications. One significant exception was France. Because of Marie Galbraith’s extensive social and political connections in Paris from the time she had lived in Paris as the American ambassador’s wife, many copies were distributed there, including then President Jacques Chirac and the CNES. The Briefing Document eventually became the model for a similar report prepared by a number of former high-ranking French military and intelligence officers and scientists, who formed a study group called COMETA (Committee for In-Depth Studies) that led to the release in 1999 of their own famous report, UFOs and Defense: What Should We Prepare For? The authors of the COMETA Report were full of praise for the Briefing Document and particularly Mrs. Galbraith. They wrote:
“In recent years, the three main ufological associations have been brought together by a leading U.S. personality, Marie Galbraith, to conduct a joint study. She is the wife of Evan Griffith Galbraith, who was U.S. ambassador to France from 1981 to 1985. Thus she is well-acquainted with our country and our language, since she lived on Avenue Gabriel. Supported both morally and financially by Laurance Rockefeller, brother of the famous David Rockefeller, she traveled the world to meet the principal scientists interested in UFOs and to collect the best cases.’
‘She then oversaw the drafting of a clear and documented book entitled Unidentified Flying Objects, Briefing Document, the best available evidence, which was endorsed in 1995 by the chairmen of the three associations CUFOS [Center for UFO Research], FUFOR [Fund for UFO Research], and MUFON [Mutual UFO Network]. She had this work sent to more than a thousand prominent figures throughout the world and, namely, to a large number of U.S. congressmen. Her goal is to get the U.S. government and possibly other governments to end the secrecy surrounding UFOs.’
‘For the editors of the book, this secrecy is essentially military in origin: the nation that is first to reproduce the exceptional characteristics of UFOs will dominate the world. The secrecy was justified during the cold war, but it is no longer justified now given the scientific and technical breakthroughs useful to humanity that one can expect [to obtain] from the study of UFOs.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, a French translation of the UFO Briefing Document was published in 2005 by Editions du Rocher as, OVNI: Document de synthèse. The back cover description called it, “the American counterpart of the COMETA Report in France.”
Bill Clinton shaking hands with Laurance Rockefeller (image credit: Clinton Library)
Bill Clinton shaking hands with Laurance Rockefeller May, 1995. (image credit: Clinton Library)
Another place where the Briefing Document seemed to have some impact was in Chile, where I personally gave a copy in the late ‘90s to the former head of the Chilean Air Force, Gen. (Ret.) Ramón Vega, who was then a senator. Gen. Vega was amassing evidence to convince the Chilean government to open its own official UFO investigation, thus the timing was very good. Eventually, in late 1998, the government did launch its own official group known as CEFAA (Committee for the Study of Aerial Anomalous Phenomena), which is attached to Chile’s Civil Aviation agency DGAC and led by Chilean Air Force Gen. (Ret.) Ricardo Bermúdez. (Gen. Bermúdez was one of the contributors in Leslie Kean’s recent book UFOs – Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go On the Record.)

In 2000, the UFO Briefing Document finally became available commercially as a paperback published by Dell as part of a series of paranormal books called “Whitley Strieber’s Hidden Agendas.” The document was essentially the same, except for an Introduction written by Strieber. Around that time, the contents of the book were also posted on the web by Joe Firmage, a computer businessman who had taken an active role in ufology through a group called the International Space Sciences Organization. Firmage’s ventures collapsed in the cyber-crash of the late ‘90s, but the Briefing Document was preserved through TheWayBackMachine and posted by a Spanish site called, which has a huge number of obscure books and reports. The format, however, is divided by sections, so you have to consult each Case History or other segments individually. It is for this reason that Open Minds, with the permission of the UFO Research Coalition members, decided to post the UFO Briefing Document as a single pdf file easy to download and consult. We are thus proud to bring this important document back to the forefront.