Obama Accepts Nobel Prize

In Oslo, Norway today American president Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In his acceptance speech, the president outlined his vision for peace and the role which the United States must play in achieving it.

Recognizing the horrors of total war and genocide, Obama named the League of Nations and the United Nations as instruments in the preventing of another world war. At the same time he stressed the continued necessity of force. “A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies,” he said and “negotiations cannot convince Al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms.” American weapons of war have kept the peace in many parts of the world since the end of World War II although the advent of the Nuclear Age still poses a danger to world peace. Read more “Obama Accepts Nobel Prize”

Sino-American Naval Conflict of 2015

A recent post on The Best Defense grabbed my attention. It gives a quick review of an issue of Orbis magazine’s article by Commander James Kraska, a professor at the United States Naval War College, who sets out a hypothetical conflict in which China sinks the USS George Washington.

The writer has this to say about it:

I usually like this sort of article that attempts to look back from a possible future event and explain how we got there. But I didn’t find this article … particularly persuasive.

Commander Kraska points to current counterinsurgency operations as a weakness for the United States Navy and says that they are taking their “eye off the ball” and not focusing on the Navy’s primary role: protecting the United States from blue-water threats and safeguarding American interests abroad. Read more “Sino-American Naval Conflict of 2015”

Reid Compares Health Care to Abolitionism

Speaking before the Senate on December 6 Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid compared the struggle for health-care reform to the abolition of slavery. The Republican naysayers, he stated, reminded him of the people “who dug in their heels and said slow down” when the United States “belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery.”

Was it not a Republican president who abolished slavery? Was it not the Republican Party that was willing to wage civil war on the issue? Were it not Republicans who passed the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments and the Civil Rights Act of 1866? Were it not Republicans who established the Freedmen’s Bureau? And was it not a majority of Republicans who voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 over considerable opposition from Southern Democrats? It is not surprising therefore that up until President Johnson launched his “Great Society” many African Americans voted Republican.

Since the 1960s the two parties have switched roles somewhat. Once progressive, today’s Republican Party is a conservative movement, in recent years heavily influenced by the Christian Right while the Democrats, once staunchly conservative and even separatist are now politically leftist.

When it came to acknowledging “the wrongs of slavery” however it were Democrats “who dug in their heels and said slow down” up until the 1960s. Republicans by then had fought against slavery and segregation for more than a hundred years.

Reid doesn’t do himself nor his party a particular service by drawing the country’s painful history with racism into the modern day health-care debate. His misreading of that history is offensive and bound to further discredit the Democrats’ attempt to reform health care in the United States.

Fareed Zakaria Explains Why India Matters

In the wake of Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh’s state visit to the United States this November we opined last week that India matters. President Obama recognized that when he declared the country “indispensable” in the building of “a future of security and prosperity for all nations.” Nevertheless, in India, there is doubt about Washington’s sincerity.

Obama Administration officials publicly questioned the nuclear deal that was struck with India under George W. Bush — a deal that India considered the greatest recognition of its great power status in years. There is also worry that the United States is leaning too much on China and Pakistan in its attempt to successfully end the war in Afghanistan. And India dreads the prospect of American protectionism.

Writing for Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria neatly outlined once again why India is of much greater importance to American interests in the region than China, let alone Pakistan.

India matters in Afghanistan. Its economic potential is literally a hundred times greater. As the Taliban were forced out of power, “the cuisine, movies, and money that flowed into the country were, naturally, Indian.” With $1,2 billion in aid, India is the world’s fifth contributor to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, investing much more than China is. After all, it stands much to lose should the United States and NATO abandon the country. Pakistan might succumb to total chaos with terrorism dripping over the border into India.

American policymakers do not seem to grasp in full that India’s objectives in Afghanistan, unlike Pakistan’s, are perfectly aligned with their own — “to defeat the Taliban and to support the elected Afghan government.” Islamabad, on the other hand, “has long argued that it has a right to see a pro-Pakistani government in Afghanistan,” lest “India reign” in the word of one Pakistani general.

Zakaria concludes with the following wise words on why the United States should pursue the alliance with India above anything else:

Obama must keep in mind that South Asia is a tar pit filled with failed and dysfunctional states, save for one long-established democracy of 1.2 billion people that is the second-fastest-growing major economy in the world, a check on China’s rising ambitions, and a natural ally of the United States. The prize is the relationship with India. The booby prize is governing Afghanistan.

The New Atlantic Order

The financial collapse of 2008 and the subsequent global economic downturn have left American prestige badly damaged. For years its free-trade rhetoric dominated debate within fora like the World Trade Organization and urged second-rate powers to privatize and reduce tariffs. Whatever its political course, American economic leadership seemed unchallenged. It was the era of the Washington Consensus.

Today, the American economy lies in shambles and eight years of George W. Bush have obliterated a great amount of the international leverage and respect that the country could previously count on. American management of globalization is contested as is American predominance on the world stage. Rising powers as Brazil, China and India and old world players as Europe and Russia all demand a place in the Obama Administration’s “multilateral” game.

Serious attempts are made in that direction. The G20 is a fine example of what Henry Kissinger called for last January in “The chance for a new world order“: “creating an international political regulatory system with the same reach as that of the economic world.” A promise that the United Nations has never been able to fulfill, the G20 now revives by shaping the political and financial framework of the future. Read more “The New Atlantic Order”

China Can Help in Pakistan

Finally, the United States seems to have found a role for China to play in resolving the war in Afghanistan. As Washington now openly admits, stability in Pakistan is as crucial to winning the fight against extremism across the border as the war effort itself. Throughout the past several years, American military aid has been flowing into Pakistan with, it seems, limited result. Government buildings and local army headquarters are targets of attack every so many weeks still. Unmanned bombing against suspected Taliban hideouts has only helped to aggravate resentment against the American involvement in Pakistan; an involvement that the Pakistani government, also, has begun to question.

The Pakistanis are understandably cautious. They feel that the Americans once left the region to its own devices — which in fact brought about the whole problem of the Taliban — and won’t hesitate to do so again. That fear is not entirely without foundation. Should the surge fail to do for Afghanistan what it did for Iraq, it is not unthinkable that NATO, perhaps including the United States, will abandon the war. Moreover, Pakistan is suspicious of Washington’s increasingly close ties with India: a good thing for Washington but not so good for Islamabad that just recently accused India once again of sponsoring terrorism against it. Read more “China Can Help in Pakistan”

Participation — Why Bother?

Participate? Why? You’ve got enough people in your movement that I shouldn’t have to participate. I don’t need to join your group, you guys will do the work for m–

A free glossy magazine? Group potlucks? A tote bag with a logo on it? Why didn’t you say so?! I’m in!

The above is just one illustration of how leaders of informal political processes mobilize people; by offering selective benefits (as Mancur Olsen and many others suggest), a group can gain members, money, and thus power. Because public goods are, by definition, public and usable by all, they have the opportunity to fall victim to the tragedy of the commons–overuse by selfish (or perhaps rational-thinking?) individuals.

Indeed, Olsen and many others wonder why Joe the UPS Delivery Man Who Never Comes On Time and Jane the Part-Time Working Mother Who Is Completing Her Master’s Degree At Night School bother to participate in informal processes at all — why fight for something that other people can fight for for you? Read more “Participation — Why Bother?”

Five Hundred Is Not Enough?

As we’ve been recently been informed by the various media, Gordon Brown, the prime minister, has pledged five hundred new (presumably) combat-role servicemen to Operation Herrick — the British mission in Afghanistan. Five hundred would boost the British presence to a total of 9,500 service personnel from all the services including the Royal Air Force and the large Royal Navy training body. Within your humble correspondent’s lifetime, Britain deployed whole divisions to operational theatres such as Northern Ireland, where three brigades numbering several thousand kept the police in support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. A task force of 9,500 does little to compare to the 68,000 American service personnel in “Afghan.”

American defense spending is a staggering 41 percent of the global total. Its armed forces population is so large that the United States Marine Corps is bigger than the entire British Army and due to its all-arms nature, considerably more effective. At a time when American military expenditure dwarfs the whole of the British economy, it is hardly surprising that there is some difference in capability here.

Therefore it is curious that the British media remain shocked that British forces get little mention in American strategic and military dialogue about the region. What is more surprising is that American commentators and possibly even politicos expect a greater contribution from the British Armed Forces.

The briefest of glances at the history of the services from 1945 onward will provide anyone with the knowledge that defense cuts by both parties across all successive governments have neutered the operational capabilities of state. The possibility of fighting the Falklands War in 1982 was small enough, now it would be next to impossible. With the end of the Cold War and the subduing of the Troubles in the Province, further cuts and reductions seem not only economic but dare I say it sensible, certainly in the Army. That this hasn’t been taken on board by our erstwhile journalists is probably due to the myth of the special relationship, on which I have spoken on in the (scarcely) public domain before.

What is certain is that until required reforms in the British Armed Forces are implemented, five hundred troops is about as much as can be deployed with political constraints, and without them there wouldn’t be that much more.

A New START

Pressing the “restart” button — that is how the Obama Administration, literally, initiated its policy toward Russia after the cool Bush and Putin years. Now, in an interview with Fox News, National Security Advisor Jim Jones suggests that the president might win another foreign policy success on one of the very issues dear to him: nuclear proliferation.

“All of the dialogue is encouraging, they’re positive,” said Jones about the negotiations that are going on in Geneva, Switzerland these days. Russia and the United States are attempting to draft an arms control deal to replace the existing START agreement that expires new Saturday. “We’re down to the last few paragraphs and sentences.”

That is good news for Obama who hopes to have a new treaty signed by the time he heads for Oslo, Norway next week to pick up his Nobel Peace Prize. The reduction of nuclear weapons is said to be the subject of his acceptance speech.

The current START and SORT treaties limit both the number of nuclear and conventional weapons that Russia and the United States may possess. Still each maintains nuclear arsenals of thousands of warheads. The United States is estimated to have about 10,000 warheads of which 2,623 are operational. The Russian number more ambiguous: it said to have 4237 warheads operational in 2007 but this might be an exaggeration. There is no doubt however that the country has between 8- and 10,000 of such weapons in storage. (For comparison, the world’s third nuclear state, France, maintains about 300 warheads operational.)

The Geneva negotiations focus only on the operational warheads but its goal is more ambitious than any agreement signed between the former Cold War adversaries so far: both intend to cut their arsenals of operational warheads to between 1,500 and 1,675 within the next seven years. Should such an agreement come about, President Obama can boast an enormous step forward in the fight against proliferation.

Dean Rehabilitates Socialism

In a speech delivered in Paris, France on May 4, 2009, Howard Dean, until January of this year the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, declared that the debate about whether to “have” capitalism or socialism is over. “We are going to have both,” said Dean.

After comparing President Obama with John F. Kennedy and taking pride in the multiculturalism of modern-day America, Dean claimed that both capitalism and something he calls “communitarianism” are part of “human nature.” According to Dean, all people feel the urge to care for others besides themselves or, as he puts it, all want to be “part of a community.”

Apparently Dean sees no contradictions between capitalism and socialism for he innocently suggests that America ought to figure out “which proportion of each” it is going to have “in order to make this all work.” In Dean’s words, this is the “sensible” thing to do.

In fact, there is nothing sensible about it. Capitalism and socialism are almost perfect opposites of each other and cannot coexist. Where the first depends on the individual, the second is concerned only with the wellbeing of the collective; where the first promotes ingenuity, the second demands conformity; where the first favors freedom, the second relies on cohesion because altruism, regardless of what Dean might say, is not part of human nature. Rather altruism, although the foundation of any collectivist ideology, goes against it; it goes against the most primal human will: the will to live.

Socialism has held so many nations under oppression; it has condemned so many people to self-destruction and death that is almost unimaginable that an American of all people, a citizen of the very country that resisted socialism with reason and with force for half a century, should now champion it in blissful ignorance of its cruelties and hardships.

Whether you hold capitalism as a system responsible for the current recession or not, socialism is most certainly not an alternative. No socialist state has ever prospered economically for it denies the very human qualities that drive progress. Denying that is inexcusable.