Tag Archives: economics

The Real Conflict: Ethics and American Values Versus Realpolitik

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“A country that demands moral perfection in its foreign policy will achieve neither perfection nor security” Henry Kissinger

There are a times in a nation’s life that its leaders are confronted with situations that present conflicts between a nation’s values and realpolitik.

The fact is that there are “tribes” in foreign policy and national security debates. Some are the idealists, others pragmatists and some realists. There are gradients between the levels and sometimes depending on the situation an idealist might gravitate toward pragmatism or even realpolitik and visa versa. Sometimes it is a matter of politics, sometimes ideology and sometimes even  and no leader of no political is immune from these tensions.

The situation in Syria is one of those times where the conflicting agendas of the different foreign policy tribes conflict and where no matter what happens in Syria the conflicts between the tribes will remain and perhaps even grow more pronounced. The fact is that I often can find myself on several sides of the same argument. It might be the PTSD “Mad Cow” is causing these conflicts but it could also be that there are good arguments to be made on all sides of the argument. What is ultimately the right course or the wrong course is actually hard to say.

If we argue for the idealist position, which would argue that American values of stopping human rights violations and the use of chemical weapons, something prohibited under the Hague convention and the more recent Chemical Weapons Convention of 1992 against the realpolitik of what are the actual National Security interests of the United States, the vital interests which involve the survival of the nation itself, major interests which could impact national security or tertiary interests which might have some importance but do not threaten the survival of the nation, even of they are terrible crimes against humanity.

Whether one likes it or not these are legitimate ethical and policy conflicts. On one hand there is the position that the United States has taken following World War Two and the Nuremberg trials as well as its participation in the International Criminal Courts has a moral obligation to confront the use of chemical weapons even if other nations or international bodies stand aside. On the other hand the argument that what happens in Syria is not in the vital interests of the United States and that the United States should not take military action to stop the use of those weapons. The fact is that those that advocate military action in Syria be they politicians, pundits, preachers or profiteers need to remember the words of Carl Von Clausewitz that “No one starts a war – or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so – without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” I really don’t think that we have thought this through as a nation.

Of course these two positions are not exclusive. There are also ranges of action which span the full spectrum of action between the either or situation that most Americans seem to find themselves caught between. The fact is that the National Security Strategy of the United States is not based on military might alone, no matter how much it has been used as the first choice by American leaders. The reality is that military force is only one element, and perhaps the weakest element of the elements of national security police known as the “DIME.” That is the Diplomatic, the Informational, the Military and the Economic power of the nation. What we seem to have forgotten is that the other elements of the DIME other than the gut level military response have value and are perhaps even more important.

I think that a large part of this conundrum is found in the reflexive use of military force as the preferred means of action since the attacks of September 11th 2001. On that day the United States was attacked by the terrorist attacks of Al Qaeda militants and while the victims of those attacks were overwhelmingly American the citizens of over 60 other nations we killed in the attacks.

Those attacks demonstrated the vulnerabilities of this nation. When one looks at our actual national security policy it is clear that those vulnerabilities are not always fixed by military action in other countries. In fact they sometimes can become even more glaring as resources required for Homeland Defense and economic recovery are spent on military operations of dubious strategic value and which at times undermine efforts to build trust with other nations, build coalitions based on shared values and to undercut the efforts of extremists using diplomacy, information and economic power.

What we have to answer now is how we address a situation in Syria that is both a violation of international law but which military force alone cannot solve. Of course there is a conflict between our ideals and what are vital national security concerns. I would suggest that the real threat of military action can be a part of the answer if it helps the United States and the world make the case through diplomacy, information and economic pressure not only to stop the slaughter but to hold those responsible for it accountable in International Criminal Courts for the commission of war crimes. At the same time the reality is that the United States and the world cannot allow an Al Qaeda dominated organization such as the Al Nursa Front gain control of Syria.

The fact is that despite how clear cut we want things to be as Americans that much of what happens in the world takes place in a world of more than 50 shades of gray. Unfortunately American conservatives and liberals alike prefer to see foreign policy in the “either or” world of using pure military force or doing nothing, neither of which of themselves are the answer. The full continuum of national and international power must be brought to bear in these kind of situations, recognizing that not everyone shares our values or has the same strategic interests.

It may not be comfortable for anyone but it is reality. How we navigate it is key, maintaining our values while ensuring that our nation survives. If military action is decided on one has to remember what Clausewitz said: “The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and the means can never be considered in isolation from their purposes.”

To make a decision without understanding this or as we did in Iraq ignoring it is to risk disaster. Such are the stakes. I personally would rather see more negotiation in the hopes that the Syrian chemical and biological weapons are secured and those responsible for using them, be they Assad, his government or even the rebels attempting to frame the Syrians and deceive the United States against the Syrian people are brought to justice.

This is a messy business and not for the faint of heart. Lives of thousands of people in Syria, the region and potentially around the world are at stake and a military strike that fails to accomplish the political object would be worse than none at all.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Foreign Policy, History, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events

Our Bottom Line is our Honor: Padre Steve Talks About Wall Street

“It was the mystical dogma of Bentham and Adam Smith and the rest, that some of the worst of human passions would turn out to be all for the best. It was the mysterious doctrine that selfishness would do the work of unselfishness.” G.K. Chesterton

The United States is one of the most religious of Nations especially in what we worship. I’m not talking about God her I’m talking about money. The High Priests of this religion are those that run the financial institutions as well as much of what is sometimes described as “American” business. The bottom line is their honor and profit their goal.

I tell you what there is no such thing as an “American” Banker, Investor, Broker or President of any major corporation based in the United States they are men and women without a country with their only loyalty being their profits and what benefits their bottom line. The truth is as Napoleon Bonaparte said so succinctly “Money has no motherland; financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their sole object is gain.”

This has never been in more evidence than today.  The situation has been worsening since the end of the Cold War when under the name of “Free Trade” financial institutions and multinational corporations based in the United States have been selling us short once they figured that they could do better elsewhere like in Communist China as well as Third and Second World countries controlled by tyrants and despots who couldn’t give a damn about human rights.  Mind you that for many years it was American money, the American people and military power that enabled them to prosper particularly in the days when Presidents like Theodore Roosevelt maintain protectionist policies that actually helped them and the country at the same time.

The United States was never stronger than when we practiced protectionism. It benefited out people as well as businesses.  But when people like Teddy Roosevelt saw things that business did which were criminally irresponsible either in the treatment of workers or the environment business cried foul and it has been that way ever since. All “good” conservatives and libertarians have worshiped at the foot of the God of Capitalism and its prophets and the sacred doctrine of Free Trade.

The end of the year numbers are out and it looks like Wall Street and Major U.S. based corporations are doing quite well thank you while doing everything that they can to avoid being good citizens to the people of this country that made them what they are. Profits are up as are stocks and Wall Street is living high on the hog despite having made a mess of things to the point that the American Government had to give them our money, and lots of it to stay solvent and not crash the entire economy. It is as Thomas Jefferson once said “I sincerely believe, with you, that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies; and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.” To be blunt “American” financial institutions have raped this country and now that they are done with us are willing to take our money, use our military to protect or even enhance their operations overseas are willing to throw us under the bus because they can make more money elsewhere.

Well it seems that there is happiness in Mudville or shall I say on Wall Street as the year end numbers roll in.  Unfortunately for many Americans those profits won’t benefit this country.  Unemployment remains high, our personal and government debts are skyrocketing and deficits are killing the country while good paying technical and industrial jobs are moved overseas as supposedly American business shutters their U.S. production centers.  Meanwhile business and financial leaders carp about the United States not being a “friendly corporate environment” with “too much government regulation” and too many “powerful unions” as the reason for them to invest elsewhere.  Little things such as safety, the environment and even God forbid the lives of the people that work for them are of little concern, if the citizens of the U.S. or any other country decide that they want a bit more control of such issues then they are thrown under the bus by the financial institutions and corporations. If the U.S. Government asks them for anything it is “screw you” we’ll move to India where incidents what happened like the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal India don’t matter too much and Communist China which does its damndest to violate the human rights of its own people and run roughshod over its neighbors.

Andrew Jackson, perhaps the last President with the guts and moral principles to stand up to the likes of such people said:

“Every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add… artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society — the farmers, mechanics, and laborers — who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their government.”

What Jackson said then is just as applicable now. Nearly every law that is passed in Washington is full of loopholes and benefits for the rich who then after bankrupting the country have the nerve to complain about government social programs. Usually they say that caring for the poor is the voluntary responsibility of individuals, churches and private charities which on principle I agree with, but on the whole is not practical because the need is too great mostly due to the power of the financials and the incompetence of government agencies.

The attitude of these supposedly “American” financial institutions and corporations seems to be all about “Free Trade.” The sad thing is that the moniker of “Free Trade” is somewhat Orwellian if you ask me.  The reality of “free trade” is that these interests should be able to do whatever they want, however they want without anyone being able to regulate them of tell them what to do.  In reality their carping about this not being a “business friendly environment” is them dictating to us that they should be able to operate for free from here while trading wherever they want without any responsibility or return to the country and people that made their success possible in the first place.  I would argue it is the financial houses and multi-national corporations based in the United States that are the real power in the world and that they have used us up and are now in the process of dumping us like they have so many World powers before us.

Napoleon saw this and said: “When a government is dependent upon bankers for money, they and not the leaders of the government control the situation, since the hand that gives is above the hand that takes. The late Marine Corps Major General and two time Medal of Honor winner Smedley Butler said back in 1933 concerning the way that financiers use the government, in particular the military to advance their interests:

“I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism….I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.”

Let’s fast forward on this while American soldiers get killed by Improvised Explosive Devices in Iraq and Afghanistan, many made with the assistance of Iranian agents the Treasury Department granted over 10,000 permits for U.S. corporations to trade with Iran with you guessed it my friends, some of the Largest U.S. banks reaping the profit.  This has been going on for years and while the bulk of such trade is limited to food items like Louisiana Hot Sauce it has also included deals which allowed other U.S. corporations to trade with Iranian companies that are suspected of involvement in terrorism or weapons proliferation.  http://www.foxnews.com/world/2010/12/23/report-treasury-okd-business-iran/#ixzz19SAQIwIu Pardon my ignorance but isn’t that like blood money when our troops die from Iranian assisted attacks?

Don’t worry though, we are in good company as such people have done the same to those that came before us as well, just look at Britain, once business bled her dry they cast her aside.  You see my friends our government doesn’t really control anything. It is the corporate and financial elites that run the country and dare I say the world.  James Madison saw it coming noting that “History records that the money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments by controlling the money and its issuance.”

Financial institutions and many multinational corporations have acted in the most unseemly of fashions literally bankrupting nations and individuals while they continue to prosper and it seems that they can never get enough.  Great Americans have warned of the dangers of the financial elites controlling both national as well as private lending institutions. In fact if you look at the leadership of the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department there is an almost incestuous link between them and Wall Street. Dwight Eisenhower talked about the danger of the “military-industrial complex” but that threat is nothing compared to the control that those that come out of Wall Street Investment Banks have over the nations’ economic and monetary policy and over the legislators that supposedly exercise oversight of such institutions. Thomas Jefferson noted that:

“If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their money, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them (around the banks), will deprive the people of their property until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”

While Andrew Jackson lectured the leaders of the 2nd Bank of the United States before (probably unwisely) withdrawing U.S. assets from the Bank and eventually destroying it:

“Gentlemen, I have had men watching you for a long time and I am convinced that you have used the funds of the bank to speculate in the breadstuffs of the country. When you won, you divided the profits amongst you, and when you lost, you charged it to the bank. You tell me that if I take the deposits from the bank and annul its charter, I shall ruin ten thousand families. That may be true, gentlemen, but that is your sin! Should I let you go on, you will ruin fifty thousand families, and that would be my sin! You are a den of vipers and thieves.”

I think that even though Jackson’s decision hurt the economy which resulted in the Panic of 1837 but his reasons were sound:

It concentrated the nation’s financial strength in a single institution.

It exposed the government to control by foreign interests.

It served mainly to make the rich richer.

It exercised too much control over members of Congress.

It favored northeastern states over southern and western states.

Banks are controlled by a few select families.

Banks have a long history of instigating wars between nations, forcing them to borrow funding to pay for them.

Now tell me what has changed in this? If I hadn’t said that Jackson used these reasons to abolish the Second Bank of the United States one might think that I am talking about Wall Street and the Federal Reserve.  Let’s see….it looks to me like the only people getting rich are the Wall Street financiers and those that they favor. It seems that foreign nations, particularly the Chinese Communist have us by the balls holding a huge amount of our debt.  It seems that Congress under both Democratic and Republican control is in their power and will do anything that they want in order to “help the economy” but in reality secure their own power and I could go on but won’t.

Now I’m sure that some of my conservative friends and readers will label me as a liberal or Socialist but I’m not, I just want to see those that benefit from the security that our military provides and the hard work of Americans just actually start helping our side rather than looking to their our filthy money grubbing interests. Some things never change do they?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under economics and financial policy, History, laws and legislation, Military, national security, philosophy

Japan’s Self Defeating Attempts to Become Economically Self Sufficient in the 1930s

This is the first of a two part series that explores the similarities of the United States in 2009 to Japan of the early 1930s.  It explores the topic of economic self sufficiency or “autarky” and how nations can put the proverbial cart before the horse in terms of seeking ways to become self sufficient.  The Japanese chose the path of military conquest seeming to forget the fact that they were dependent on natural resources and manufactured equipment to wage such a war by the nations that they were attacking.

In the early 1930’s Japan’s desired to emulate the economic self-sufficiency of the United States or to achieve autarky controlling its own economic destiny by securing sufficient natural resources.  Japanese industrial and military leaders felt that such was needed for economic expansion as well as military preparation and expansion.  Key resources such as oil, specialized steels and alloys, iron ore, coking coal, machining tools and even cotton were not readily available in Japan proper.

Japans’ goal was unrealistic based on the differences of the two countries. In the early part of the 20th century the United States was self-sufficient in most critical natural resources and was a key supplier to the world of oil, iron, coal and grain.  Additionally most of the United States’ resources were contained within its borders or provided to it in trade with nations that needed what the United States had to offer in manufactured goods.  Japan did not have this.  As a nation it had few natural resources on the home islands and even suffered food shortages that resulted in famine at times.  It was dependant on other nations for basic natural resources to power its economy and to feed its population. As a result some of its political, economic and military leaders looked to achieve autarky through conquest.

Unfortunately for the Japanese they were surrounded by numerous powers that stood in their way.  To the north was Russia, which they vanquished in the 1905 war, but in doing so ended up nearly bankrupt, though they gained the Korean peninsula. However, the Japanese now faced the Soviet Union with its immense military on the Manchurian border and subterfuge in the politics of China by their support of Mao Tse Tung’s Red Chinese forces.  The Japanese were able to gain some possessions by participating on the Allied side in WWI at the expense of Germany and China, though they did not achieve all they wanted and felt cheated by the Allies at the Versailles peace conference. The first step was to invade Manchuria and seize its natural resources in 1931.  However to gain more than what they could garner in Manchuria the Japanese would have to do so at the expense of China and the Western Colonial powers, France, Britain, the Netherlands and United States. Japan’s quandary was how to achieve autarky without resorting to war with multiple enemies.

The Japanese faced a sort of “chicken or the egg scenario” as to what came first. In order to wage war Japan needed iron ore, coking coal and industrial salt from North China, oil from Borneo and Southeast Asia, cotton from America to make finished products for the American market. Likewise it needed special steels and alloys from the US to supply the war effort. The US was also the primary source of Japan for machine tools and other sophisticated industrial equipment needed for Japanese industry.  To go to war the Japanese required the imports of the very nations who stood in their way.

Yet to go to war entailed great risk, Japan did not have the resources, especially oil and metals with which to sustain their war effort without maintaining foreign trade with the very countries that they would have to engage in war.  All of these factors together made autarky in the style of the United States unreasonable through military means alone. It is likely that the Japanese could have achieved more by using more skillful diplomacy during the 1930s.  Had they built a mutually beneficial alliance with China, did more to exploit the natural resources of Manchuria and negotiated favorable trade deals with the United States they probably would have accomplished more than they did through using military force.  Some Japanese reformers attempted to make some of these reforms but were unsuccessful as the military particularly the Imperial Army, the government and industrial concerns became locked into the military option.

By contrast during its growth period the United States did not have to deal with significant military powers as it moved west across North America, only Native American Tribal groups.  The only power capable of stopping the United States was Great Britain.  While there were tensions between the United States and Great Britain along the Canadian border and Pacific Northwest during the 1850s, the United States never faced a significant external threat.  Thus the United States using very little military power gobbled up the continent and established its status as the Hegemon of the Western Hemisphere.  Japan could not do what it needed to do unless it negotiated with or conquered the powers that had significant military power to confront the Japanese and economic ability to strangle the Japanese economy.

This period should interest to any student of history, foreign policy and economics.  The study of the period of Japanese history needs to be considered by policy makers when considering war to obtain natural resources or critical supplies not indigenous to their country or for which they are dependent on potential hostile suppliers.  Like Japan in the 1930s the United States is not currently self sufficient in many natural resources especially oil and is dependent on other nations, especially China for critical items in its economy.  Having surrendered much of its industrial capacity and having failed to exploit alternatives to fossil based fuels, especially oil the United States faces a conundrum similar to the Japanese in the early 1930s.  The United States is militarily strong yet deeply politically divided and possibly unstable.  The United States is dependent on many nations, some who outwardly hostile to us for the very lifeblood of its economy.  Like the Japanese the military is singularly incapable of securing all of these resources and engaged in multiple wars that are tying up close to half our ground forces when one considers troops in theater and those unavailable because they slated to go or having just returned from combat deployments.  Additionally like the Japanese who were in the midst of the Great Depression the United States is going through what appears to be the worst economic times since that period.  Policy makers need to be careful when dealing with situations where economic factors are diminished and natural resources have to be imported to sustain the economy. Autarky is fine if you can do it but the United States has more in common economically with Japan of the 1930s than the we would like to admit.  Something to think about.

The second concluding section of this will be published in the next few days, the Deity Herself permitting…

Peace,

Steve+

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Filed under History, Military