Monday, June 16, 2008

No world for old men... or young ones either

A lesson in how dangerous problems should be handled
David Seaton's News Links
It's time to take off from Obama baiting and rolling in the dust with his supporters and talk about something of real importance.

We earthlings are at present facing the sort of conjunction of intersecting disasters that America's war fighters colorfully call a "cluster fuck" and which William Butler Yeats more poetically described in his famous, "The Second Coming".
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned

Whoever takes the US presidency next January is going to be facing a world which we little understand and less control... and neither will he.

As Professor Immanuel Wallerstein writes about a more than probable Obama victory:
His election will mark - mark, not cause - the end of the counterrevolution of the world right of the 1980s. He has rekindled hope, and created space for a more progressive world. But this space is structurally cramped by the constraints of an ever more anarchic world-system. The basic question is not whether he will transform the world and/or restore U.S. leadership in the world-system - he will do neither - but whether he will do as much as it is possible to do in allowing us all to push our way forward. Even if this is less than the world might wish he could do.
I don't think that either the creaky, cranky Senator McCain, or even the winsome Senator Obama, the "latte Lincoln," or "macchiato Mussolini" is really up to the job, but perhaps no one is. Things will be exploding before, during and after the US elections and the Inauguration ceremony.

Let us look at just one coming disaster that would change the world we live in almost beyond recognition: hunger driven "regime change" in Egypt.

Today I'm clipping a piece by Thomas Friedman from Sunday's NYT.

I'm not a huge fan of Friedman's ... (massive understatement) ... but he is a guru for many and he gets around a lot and talks to a lot of people, tardo-capitalism's cheerful chipmunk, a cheerleader for globalization. It is important that precisely Thomas Friedman and not Naomi Klein or Noam Chomsky is writing the following:
The current global energy-food crisis is, understandably, a pocketbook issue in America. But when you come to Egypt, you see how, in a society where so many more people live close to the edge, food and fuel prices could become enormously destabilizing. If these prices keep soaring, food and fuel could reshape politics around the developing world as much as nationalism or Communism did in their days.
Here it is essential to remember that Egypt is the most populated and culturally most the important country in the Middle East. It is also the home of the Muslim Brotherhood, it is potentially the most revolutionary, even more than Iran: if Egypt ever destabilizes, then poof, there goes the Middle East.
For Egypt’s poor, who make up 40 percent of the population, food makes up 60 percent of their household budget. When wheat prices double, because more U.S. farmers plant corn for biofuels, it is devastating for Egyptians, who depend on imported American wheat for their pita bread. Bread riots are now a daily occurrence here.
I said, "poof". What goes "poof" first? The Camp David Accords. Here is how Wikipedia describes their significance:
The agreement also resulted in the United States committing to several billion dollars worth of annual subsidies to the governments of both Israel and Egypt, subsidies which continue to this day, and are given as a mixture of grants and aid packages committed to purchasing U.S. materiel. From 1979 (the year of the peace agreement) to 1997, Egypt received $1.3 billion annually, which also helped modernize the Egyptian military, turning it into the largest in the Middle East. Soviet-supplied until 1979, Egypt now received American weaponry such as the M1A1 Abrams Tank, AH-64 Apache gunship and the F-16 fighter jet. In comparison, Israel has received $3 billion annually since 1985 in grants and military aid packages.(....) The time that has elapsed since the Camp David Accords has left no doubt as to their enormous ramifications on Middle Eastern politics. Most notably, the perception of Egypt within the Arab world changed. With the most powerful of the Arab militaries and a history of leadership in the Arab world under Nasser, Egypt had more leverage than any of the other Arab states to advance Arab interests. Sadat's alacrity at concluding a peace treaty without demanding greater concessions for Israeli recognition of the Palestinians' right to self-determination incited enough hatred in the Arab world to bring about Sadat's assassination in 1981. Egypt was also suspended from the Arab League from 1979 until 1989. The Camp David Accords also prompted the disintegration of a united Arab front in opposition to Israel. Egypt's realignment created a power vacuum that Saddam Hussein of Iraq, at one time only a secondary power, hoped to fill. Because of the vague language concerning the implementation of Resolution 242, the Palestinian problem became the primary issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict immediately following the Camp David Accords (and arguably, until today). Many of the Arab nations blamed Egypt for not putting enough pressure on Israel to deal with the Palestinian problem in a way that would be satisfactory to them.
Neutralizing Egypt was probably the greatest triumph of American diplomacy since the Marshall Plan and will ensure that history grants Jimmy Carter much more admiration than his contemporaries ever have.

Not much has been heard from the Egyptians since then (that was the whole idea) and those readers who have no memory of Gamal Abdel Nasser may think I am exaggerating Egypt's keystone quality in the Arab and Muslim world. Rest assured I am not.

An Islamic Egypt in these times would electrify the entire Muslim world... The entire world.

Friedman continues to describe the situation that is developing:
What’s happening is that the basic bargain between the Egyptian regime and its people — which said, “We will guarantee you cheap food, a job, education and health care, and you will stay out of politics” — is fraying. Even with the growth of the last three years, government subsidies and wages can’t keep up with today’s food and fuel price rises. The only part of the bargain that’s left is: “and you will stay out of politics.”
Fuel and food, fuel and food... and the gap between the few and the many, the rich and the poor... more Friedman:
From Shubra we drive into the desert toward Alexandria. The highway is full of cars. How can all these Egyptians afford to be driving, I wonder? Answer: The government will spend almost $11 billion this year to subsidize gasoline and cooking fuel; gas here is only about $1.30 a gallon. Sounds like a good deal for the poor — only the poor have no cars, and the fuel subsidies mean less money for mass transit. Think about these numbers: This year Egypt will spend $6 billion on education and $3 billion on health care, far less than the subsidies for fuel. This is a terrible trap. The subsidies should have been phased out when food and fuel prices were lower. Now that they have soared, the pain of removing the subsidies would be politically suicidal. So education and health care get killed instead.
Now, if I ever saw a recipe for an Islamic revolution, that is it.

Egypt is a much more technologically advanced country than Iran and I have been told they could have an atomic bomb in the twinkling of an eye.

And if I ever saw the recipe for a general war in the Middle East that could collapse the world economy, that is it.

It might be that most of America's troubles stem from trying to control and to dominate forces that are too powerful and too chaotic to be controlled. Instead of steering a course through the debris, disaster is multiplied by trying clumsily to "take the bull by the horns", instead of caping the bull artfully... Too many irons in too many fires, too many cooks, too many broths. DS


Anonymous said...

My favorite disaster comeback would be the big California earthquake. I mean that would really sober them up, wouldn't it?

RC said...

The Muslim Brotherhood is a name you don't hear much these days, but they are making a big comeback and the Egyptian destabilization due to plain old hunger is not limited to just Egypt or just the Middle East.
Maybe the US agricultural interests ought to get their operations in Mexico vastly expanded as soon as possible. The ethanol delusion really should have its own little die off this summer. Let's just buy the sugar based ethanol from Brazil as long as they still have some to offer. The bizarre idea of making
fuel out of corn deserves some kind of reverse Nobel, in fact the Ignoble is not a strong enough derision.