Sunday, August 10, 2014
Risky Games of Empire and Glory
(Author's notes: 1. As always excuse the typos. 2. If this rant bares any resemblance to reality you should be afraid, very afraid because I often feel I am simply nuts.)
Just a few short years after the demise of the Soviet Union I stumbled upon a magazine article with an uncharacteristically dark and dire view at that time of the coming decades. This article came out in the mid-1990's when the United States was awash in a soapy bath of pride and self-righteousness at being able to stand over the rotting corpse of its political and military enemy. Even among the other nations of the West the prevalent idea was that democracy and free enterprise had triumphed over Marxist-Leninism and that in time the whole world would fall in line with the winning team. In short, the general view among many was that we were seeing the “end of history.”
This troubling article I read, running absolutely opposite to the generally happy and optimistic view at that time, predicted not a world dominated by a benign and wise United States but a multipolar world filled with squabbling and dangerous nations all wanting their day as the global king of the mountain. However, with news like McDonald's opening its first fast food place in Moscow and the People's Republic of China going capitalistic faster than the fictional starship Enterprise can cross the distance between stars hardly anyone wanted to worry about possible wars.
Without a doubt the overly warm and fuzzy optimism of the post-Cold War, pre-Millennium era went straight to the proverbial dust bin of history after the 9/11 attacks. Well in truth, I've got to exempt all the proud and defiant Cold Warriors from that statement who were positively suicidal when it looked like world peace was breaking out all over the place. There was nothing more pitiful and more than slightly terrifying than hearing the intelligence briefing I got in my final days while in the active army from a newly minted Second Lieutenant who was convinced that crumbling of the Iron Curtain was an elaborate and clever deception. The arrival of a new and shadowy enemy was a godsend to those for whom peace and cooperation are bywords for stagnation and social decay.
Since then thing have gone from, and excuse the tired but awkwardly modified metaphor, from the fryer to the boiling cauldron of watery poop. Let's see where to begin, first and foremost I would be remiss if I did not mention the utter disaster of the Iraq War. If humanity survives for any length of time I am sure the Bush/Cheney Iraq War will go down in history as one of the stupidest strategic mistakes up there with the Athenian Expedition to Sicily during the Peloponnesian War.
While the American Army was not wiped out like the ancient Athenian force the combined deaths of Iraqi civilians and American military along with estimates of over a trillion dollars being spent on a war based on lies more than makes it an equal to that disastrous ancient Greek campaign. My main point being that the result of the war was not a free and democratic Iraq but a near complete destruction of the social and political fabric of not just that country but of the entire Middle East. Let's face the fact that Bush/Cheney twisted every piece of intelligence data in attempting to tie Saddam Hussein to 9/11 as well as create an illusion that he was some Arab version of Hitler just waiting for his chance plunge the world into war. In short, the Iraq War was a post-colonial conflict that flouted international laws and proper behavior to secure oil and a new section of the globe for the American Empire. Excuse me if I see the ghost of Thucydides shaking his head in disgust at the Iraq War while the one for Pericles looks a lot like Dick Cheney.
Since the nation of Iraq is an artificial construct merging three main groups who on the whole hate the others, disturbing this Frankenstein's Monster, even in the name of freedom, threatens a wider war that at least endangers hundreds of millions if not the entire planet. Of the three main Iraqi groups Sunni and Shiite hate each other, and the Kurds are just looking for a chance to declare independence. That these centuries-old religious and ethnic problems could drag Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey into a regional war which in turn could pull in the nuclear armed big boys should give any rational diplomat plenty of sleepless nights.
Throw in the brutal fighting between the Israelis and Palestinians where the innocent are suffering far worse than the warmongering monsters on both sides makes the regional birthplace of the three monotheistic religions, who each proclaim peace and love is the best way, a farce far more surreal than any piece of fiction a talented writer could create. If the world was still the technologically primitive and sparsely populated place it was for the majority of human existence these conflicts could continue without endangering the rest of humanity but we don't live in that era. The modern world is based on a complicated and highly interconnected existence. Seemingly small things like nuclear and possible genetically engineered biological weapons employed by any of these ancient enemies could pile our neatly crafted twenty-first lifestyle on top of the ashes of the Soviet Union in the historical dustbin.
Part of problem to me involves how all through human history we seem to have based the rules of behavior between political entities on some overarching imperial power whether it be malicious or benign. You could go all the way back to Sargon ofAkkad to our era in the possibly waning days of Pax Americana but basing international behavior on some imperial power is losing proposition for everyone. All empires weaken and eventually fall, when that happens there is always a period of chaos where largely the innocent suffer as a new order is established. Yeah, the handover from Pax Britannia to Americana seems smooth until you think about how the United States didn't really assume global authority until after the Second World War with Britain financially bankrupt and war weary.
Global flash points do exist outside the tortured Middle East, in eastern Europe Vlad Putin is attempting to emulate Hitler's demand for lebensraum by slicing off pieces of surrounding countries. His latest adventure in Ukraine is uncomfortably close to Hitler's actions in Sudetenland back in the 1930's. This is after spending years imposing a new authoritarian regime that stifles over most forms of dissent. Frankly, I find the years where he allowed someone else to keep the presidential chair warm after his first two terms only to retake it for his current stint as leader of Russia hilarious. More petty dictators with delusions of omnipotence need to be as observant to the rules of protocol and decorum.
In areas off the coast of mainland China the People's Republic is intimidating its neighbors by claiming large areas of open ocean. This is mainly for oil and mineral exploration. China's fishing fleets, as well as many other nations, already strip the oceans clean trolling with nets that stretch up to ten to twenty miles long.
Please don't think I am directing my ire just at just nation-states. Multinational corporations flaunt national laws and avoid taxes at will by searching for the best place to, at best, temporarily call home. Most attempts by national governments to get these huge businesses to support the infrastructure that allows them to make profits far greater than some countries usually results in them whining about being abused and then running off to some other place that will not disturb all their job creation.
Truthfully, I not exactly sure at the point I am trying to make other than humans need a far better way to manage and regulate issues that cross all political and geographic lines. There is far too many of us alive now crowded together on a planet whose resources are nearly exhausted if not dangerously polluted. It depresses me to no end that many people, especially here in the United States, desperately cling to the mindset the Earth's resources and its ability to absorb our waster is limitless. For Americans this is an easy concept for us to believe since we are still on top of the international power structure. For example, the fact that drinkable water is damn near nonexistent in some places around the globe, while we play in our own backyard swimming pools, a hard idea to accept. Exceptions in the form of rational and globally aware people exist but they are outweighed by idiots who tend to blame poverty and famine on local ignorance, laziness, and bad government.
Personally I can't seem to escape the idea that nation-states are outdated forms of government for all the reasons I have listed above. Nation-states love achieving global imperial status while abhorring any type of perceived imperial weakness which usually sends every nutcase into a power-grabbing feeding frenzy.
Some believe this is a good thing, that losers in our constant battle for global dominance are incorporated into larger societies where the winner develops a more effective government to stay in power longer thus promoting peace and prosperity. Yeah, but once again, all empires eventually weaken and fall prompting another round of fighting. Add nuclear and possible biological weapons and now going for the global brass ring of empire now might mean human extinction if not a sterilized planet.
So there we have it, while I feel an effective world government is out of the question for the foreseeable future I cannot see how we can continue our current level of technological civilization without strengthening our current global organizations. The problem, of course, is that even the best and most enlightened countries would sooner die than give up sovereignty while most national populations still fear the “outsider” or “alien” on an instinctive level even though we are all Homo sapiens.
You might be thinking why in the hell do I give a damn? Well because I am a parent with children who I want to grow up healthy and strong with every chance to make the most of their lives. Stealing a line from an old television drama I have suffered through various verbal slings and arrows for my strange beliefs, often being called a witless wonder for my ideas. But maybe it the quality of wits that matter instead of the quantity because even I know that in our world unless basic human rights ultimately apply to everyone and we develop the ability to look beyond things like nationalism, religious beliefs, and ethnic hate there will be no safe place for your children or mine.