Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Neo-Imperialism of a Future Failed State

David Seaton's News Links
After World War Two, Europe's far-flung empires all collapsed within a few years. This was not because Britain, France and the Netherlands had suddenly lost their taste for their colonial possessions, far from it. Their empires collapsed because they could no longer afford to police them. The United States of America, drowning in debt, is looking at a similar dilemma today. 

The USA can simply not afford to continue in its role as "the world's policeman", if it does, there is a serious possibility that the country will go broke. The choice is between standing by watching helplessly as much of the the Third World runs amok or standing by watching helplessly as much of the USA itself runs amok.
The war to get rid of Moammar Gadhafi, the Libyan fashion plate wreck, is already running $100 million a day. (...) But what's $1 billion when we owe China $1.3 trillion -- and the national debt meter keeps running at the rate of $4.12 billion a day, for a current total of almost $15 trillion. Federal spending is up to $3.5 trillion this year with a deficit of $1.3 trillion.  Arnaud De Borchgrave

So here we are pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war, this time in Libya, while simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing libraries, laying off teachers and police officers, and generally letting the bottom fall out of the quality of life here at home. Bob Herbert's last column in the New York Times

In short, for the first time since the end of World War II, no country or strong alliance of countries has the political will and economic leverage to secure its goals on the global stage.  Nouriel Roubini

It would be a serious blow to western credibility if, having set out to remove Col Gaddafi, the allies failed to do so. But even success in achieving this will represent only a starting point for a voyage into the unknown.  Max Hastings - Financial Times
In today's globalized world, individual states, even powerful and democratic ones, are losing the ability to control events within their borders. Their citizens find themselves helpless, just like the inhabitants of the impoverished, anarchist-hells called "failed states". The term "failed state" is thrown around a lot these days, but how might we define it?

My definition is quite broad.

First I would say that the "state" exists to protect the lives and property of its citizens and to foster their well-being, so any state -- to the degree that it fails to fulfill that assignment -- is a "failed state".

The Oscar winning documentary, "Inside Job" whose trailer tops this page, is a portrait of what appears to be a rich man's "Somalia".  One is surprised by the degree of corruption at the highest level of American government both past and present and even a surprising level (for me at least) of corruption in the intellectual elite of America's most prestigious universities.

Could America ever become a failed state or is that something that only happens to the backward and the primitive?

Many readers will automatically think of  pirate-ridden Somalia, when the words "failed state" flash upon the screen, but "Wiemar Germany", might be a more relevant example of the dangers America and others in the developed world, might be facing going forward.

When studying  the rise of Nazism in the Wiemar Republic, people often attribute it to some diabolic genius on Adolf Hitler's part, genius being by definition exceptional, unrepeatable and therefore inexplicable. On the contrary, I think that what makes studying the Nazi period useful and interesting is that Hitler was anything but a genius.

Qaddafi, the new "Hitler du Jour"
I think that instead of being a genius, Hitler was a fool. What other word than "fool" could be used to describe somebody who would declare war simultaneously on both the USSR and the USA, when even a drooling idiot would know that to defeat one of them you would have to be an ally of the other. No, Adolf Hitler was no genius and I would maintain that the world is crawling with people like him:  strutting narcissists, filled with delusions of grandeur, creeps, who if all it took was to simply press a button, would kill millions of their fellow men and women several times a day with intense pleasure.

So, when the drums are beating for war and  the drummers compare Saddam Hussein, Ahmadinejad, Qaddafi, or whomsoever it is this week, to Hitler, in a sense they are right, but the important thing is not in the similarities of their criminal bestiality to Hitler's or to a serial killer of prostitutes for that matter, but the dissimilarities between their tinpot countries and an intellectual, economic and cultural powerhouse like Germany.

The real question for me about Hitler's rise has always been: what objective social and economic conditions were required for a people who had produced Johann Sebastian Bach,  Dürer, Meister Ekhart, Goethe, Kant, Hegel and dozens of others of similar stature, to entrust their lives, fortunes and futures to a bizarre, chaplinesque, psychotic; a failed painter of watercolors: a foreigner from Vienna. In short, if it could happen in a country like that it could happen anywhere given similar conditions of collapse.

My view of this is that only some sort of  political Acute Immune Deficiency Syndrome could open the door to such a man as Hitler in such a country as Germany. It is that form of political AIDS that we have to worry about today, not the individuals who appear when the syndrome is rampant or even the precise ideology they profess when they appear. As I say, the streets are full of bizarre people with vicious fantasies, just as in the same way that our bodies are all infested with a myriad of exotic viruses and germs, which only our healthy immune systems manage to keep at bay. Even in the best of times America produces some very crazy people, so if the bottom ever falls out of the dollar... We are playing with fire.

The lesson of Nazi Germany is not the lesson of appeasement at Munich, but the lesson that every country, no matter how cultured or developed, nurtures its own "inner Somalia" and that when a state fails to protect and nurture its citizens any obscenity is possible. Protecting and nourishing its own citizens, so they don't do something crazy, could be America's fundamental contribution to world peace.

Does this mean that we can do nothing to stop violence around the world? No it doesn't.
There are two fundamental  and relatively economical things we could do that could help eliminate untold misery and violence.

Just as 19th century Britain outlawed the slave trade, we could outlaw the conventional military arms trade and just as they did, we could could use our power and influence to convince other countries to help enforce that ban around the world. That would be cheaper and simpler than firing cruise missiles to destroy those weapons later.

The next thing that America could do to make the world a safer, more law abiding place, would be to close all the tax shelters around the world, where the money from the drug and arm trades is laundered and where money goes to avoid the taxes to pay for public goods such as schools, hospitals and other vital infrastructure. I have often thought that instead of invading Grenada or Iraq, the USA should have invaded the Cayman Islands.

I am sure that just these two measures would remove more threats to peace than all the money poured down the drain in military expense over the last twenty years. DS

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why do you think the Brits choppered in spies, excuse me, diplomats protected by commandos in the first days of the "rebellion," rather than to wait and see which way the cookie would crumble?

Might it just have been that they wanted undertakings about present and future oil and Sovereign Wealth Fund deals before the "world community" decided who the "reformers" and "moderates" were.

At present prices, Libyan oil production is about $185 million a day. Amortising the development costs of weapons that are mostly exported at $100 million a day for a month is a bargain if it gets you hooked up with $200 million a day for the next 3 decades.