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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #650 on: August 02, 2015, 08:49:53 PM »

 Balancing Hopes and Fears in the Middle East
Global Affairs
July 29, 2015 | 08:00 GMT
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By Philip Bobbitt

It's encouraging that reports from Washington suggest the administration has settled on a new strategy for confronting the Islamic State. Our reluctance to commit to a strategy as we sought, unsuccessfully, to find a middle ground that would minimize risks while serving contradictory objectives has been costly to the stability of Iraq and to our goal of removing Bashar al Assad's regime from Syria.

Sometimes it is less appealing to confront one enemy than to avoid advantaging another enemy. Thus England tolerated the rise of Nazi Germany, a growing threat, rather than confront it to the advantage of Bolshevism. In the Middle East, the example is quite exquisite because the phenomenon is double-sided: We cannot truly commit ourselves to the removal of al Assad because we believe his ruin will offer rich opportunities to the Islamic State, and we are equally reluctant to take some aggressive measures against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria because we surmise our success would mean further empowering Iran and increasing Tehran's influence in Baghdad and Damascus. We are paralyzed because we prefer foregoing potential but significant gains to enduring certain losses whose significance is no greater.

I suppose this a kind of strategic "loss aversion." Many studies in behavioral economics have confirmed that a consistent majority of people would rather forego a gain than suffer a loss, even when the outcomes are statistically indistinguishable. For example, psychologists have repeatedly demonstrated that an overwhelming majority of subjects would prefer to avoid a $1.00 surcharge rather than receive a $1.00 discount. Moreover, subjects routinely report that they would rather accept a 50 percent chance of losing $2.00 than a certain loss of $1.00. Similarly, perhaps, states are reluctant to risk giving an uncertain advantage to an enemy, even if inaction means certain gain for another enemy. This irrationality is of more than academic interest when we actually forego potential gains that would exceed our losses.

But, one may object, this can be no more than a metaphor states don't have "psychologies." Yet their leaders do, and they may identify the wins and losses of the state with their own. Wars fought to defend the national honor may have such a basis (as well as, of course, having practical bargaining effects).

What is Global Affairs?

Then one may object that nothing is lost by inaction because states possessed nothing of materiality. Here the answer is: hope. Some of Samuel Johnson's most acute and disturbing insights about human nature occur in his remarks on hope. "Hope," he wrote, "is happiness and its frustration, however frequent, are less dreadful than its extinction." Giving up something is giving up hope, which is much more costly than foregoing a receipt.

This paralysis is nevertheless approvingly encouraged by the counsels of inaction whenever the available options are fraught. "Don't just do something, stand there!" may be one way of characterizing this advice. By avoiding action, at least we avoid making things worse. But this ignores the fact that things may get worse without our help, and indeed inaction may be more costly to our interests because we have not been able to mitigate our losses through action. It may even be the case that the wrong decision a decision in favor of a course of action that leaves us less well off than we would have been, had we acted otherwise might still be better for us than inaction. That is often the case where the costs of inaction to the strength of our alliances outweigh the immediate costs of acting. It's often said that our alliance partners do not accord their relations with us more weight when we act recklessly, and that is doubtless true. But on whom would you rely in a crisis: the partner who comes to your aid even when, in the short term, it may not be in his interest, or the partner who carefully weighs the benefits of each action?

This is tricky; after all, didn't the arguments that a withdrawal from Vietnam would undermine our European alliances keep us in South Asia long past a sensible departure date? And how do we measure such imponderables? How does a "gain" for an increasingly assertive Iran measure against a "loss" to the deadly Islamic State?

This example of the phenomenon of "loss aversion" perhaps it is best thought of as a metaphor rather than as a matter of microeconomic analysis is also manifesting itself in the debate over the proposed agreement with Iran to restrict its nuclear capabilities. We are rightly concerned that an infusion of more than $50 billion will strengthen the theocratic state in Tehran and find its way into the forces of terror that the Iranian regime has so notably deployed. We are loath to give up a sanctions regime that has been a quite remarkable achievement in its breadth and coherence. Many thoughtful critics would rather forego the conceded benefits of a 15-year hiatus in Iran's nuclear development than lose a sanctions program that restricts so many of the regime's other activities. Alas, we cannot depend upon the endurance of the existing sanctions, and should the treaty fail to be enacted, we are likely to reap the worst of both worlds: an unrestricted program of nuclear development by an Iranian state that has been greatly enriched by the removal of those sanctions that the United States does not control. And here, too, the neglect of the impact on our alliances that is a feature of loss aversion in other contexts could well prove to be the greatest cost of all. By contrast, in the aftermath of the Iran agreement, restoring confidence in their relations with the United States is the first item on our agendas with Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf states.

Here, we must depart from the Great Cham, Dr. Johnson. For he warned us to "remember that we only talk of the pleasures of hope; we feel those of possession, and no man in his senses would change the last for the first."
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Crafty_Dog
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« Reply #651 on: August 12, 2015, 11:49:28 AM »

 Principle vs. Practice: The Unsettled Debate of Geopolitics
Global Affairs
August 12, 2015 | 08:00 GMT


By Ian Morris

In July, I did something a bit unusual, checking in to the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas so that I could take part in a public debate on war. The occasion was FreedomFest, a libertarian extravaganza that bills itself as "the world's largest gathering of free minds." (More than 2,500 people attended.)

I wasn't completely sure what to expect, but in the end the event exceeded my every expectation. It wasn't just lively, engaged and genuinely open to ideas from all sides, but also full of the frankly bizarre touches that libertarians and Las Vegas both seem to delight in. On my way to see the left-leaning, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman debate the conservative Heritage Foundation's Stephen Moore, I could (and did) stop off in the exhibit hall to buy a Milton Friedman T-shirt and fill my pockets with little tubes of sunscreen proudly labeled "Tea Party Patriot." I saw Grover Norquist, the infamous anti-tax crusader, being interviewed in front of an ad for a strip club; Donald Trump was the headline speaker.

But in addition to being a lot of fun, FreedomFest also forced me to think harder about a serious question.

I had been invited to FreedomFest because I published a book in 2014 called War! What is it Good For? This was an unapologetically realpolitik review of the history of violence across the past 20,000 years, arguing that over the very long term, war has had two big unintended consequences. First, it has been the main method through which people have created bigger societies with more effective governments. Second, the most important activity these governments have engaged in has been to suppress all use of force that they do not themselves sanction. Wars have become bigger and fiercer, but governments have pacified their own populations, with the net result that rates of violent death have slowly declined. If you had lived 10,000 years ago in the Stone Age, you would have stood a 10-20 percent chance of dying violently. Those of us who lived in the 20th century, by contrast despite the century's two world wars, use of nuclear weapons and multiple genocides stood just a 1-2 percent chance of dying violently. In the 21st century, that risk has fallen to just 0.7 percent. In effect, war has been putting itself out of business through the mechanism of government. On average, a person alive today is 10 times less likely to die violently than someone who lived in 10,000 B.C.

The decline in rates of violent death has accelerated in the past 200 years, but not, I argued, because we have all become saints. Rather, the world has become safer because it has progressed from conventional governments, exercising political control within recognized borders, to what we might call "globocops," states that have truly worldwide reach. Neither of the two globocops the world has seen so far Britain in the 19th century and the United States since 1989 has run a world empire, but neither has needed to; rather, a globocop just needs to raise the costs and lower the benefits of using force to upset the status quo, deterring other governments from doing so.

What is Global Affairs?

For a good 75 years after 1815, Britain played a major part in making sure that the world (and especially Europe) saw far fewer major wars than at any time since the height of the Roman Empire. However, Britain's defense of international free trade made it almost inevitable that other countries would industrialize and grow rich, undermining the globocop's ability to do its job. The further this process went, the greater the risks grew, not only that some power would take a chance on solving its problems with violence, but also that such a gamble might set off a general conflagration. The outcome was the 75-year struggle between 1914 and 1989, which swept away the crumbling British global order and eventually replaced it with a new American version. Since then, the United States has played a major part in making major wars even less common than they were in the 19th century.

The lesson of history, I concluded, is that if you want peace, you should do whatever you can to help preserve the current American-dominated system (or empire, if you prefer that word).

Making this case to a roomful of libertarians was, needless to say, something of a red-rag-to-a-bull experience, and I was none too surprised when the voice of the people told me that I had lost the debate. (Although, I am pleased to say, I did swing enough of the listeners to reduce the initial 2:1 vote against me to a wafer-thin majority.) The debate itself, however, raised a series of issues that I felt I had not thought about enough.

Since my book appeared, I have debated its thesis on several occasions. Sometimes the criticisms focus on details (whether we really know how violent prehistoric societies were, what Roman rule really meant for Britain, what British rule really meant for India, etc.). More often, though, they come down to what I heard a former Palestinian Authority negotiator, Zihad abu Zihad, refer to in Jerusalem during the most recent Gaza war as "the dead baby argument." Israel would inevitably lose the struggle for international support, he argued, because the more lucidly its representatives spoke about strategic imperatives, the right to self defense, or global terrorism, the more insistently Palestinian representatives would show pictures of dead babies. Global strategy cannot compete with moral outrage; Israel therefore loses.

In Las Vegas, I was relieved to find that my opponent, Angela Keaton of Antiwar.com, did not rely on the dead baby argument. However, she got to a very similar place by a different route. Freedom, she argued, is the ultimate human value, which means that American governments are morally wrong to create a monopoly on legitimate violence and then use it to compel the people under its jurisdiction to pay taxes (effectively making them state-owned slaves for part of each working day). It is also wrong to use these tax revenues to pay for its monopoly on force, more wrong still to lure people who lack alternative employment into its armed forces, and most wrong of all to use these armed forces to coerce people in other countries. Even if the end result of government action really is less war (a point Keaton was not willing to concede), all these wrongs can never add up to a right.

It seems to me that the dead baby and freedom arguments are two versions of a single claim: Ethics trump strategy. Moralizing arguments of this kind have a visceral appeal all across the political spectrum, but they seem to run directly counter to the amoral emphasis that Stratfor puts on geopolitics, economics and unintended consequences. Our debate at FreedomFest, I realized, was not really about the past and future of war at all; it was about two apparently incompatible visions of how the world works. In the rather charged atmosphere of Planet Hollywood, it was hard not to feel that one of the biggest questions of the 21st century would be which of these visions would win out in America.

In practice, however, policymakers rarely take either of these ideas to its logical extreme, if only because electorates tend to cling to a commonsense utilitarianism. Whenever winning an argument looks likely to leave us worse off, most people prefer to fudge the issues. Even the most Kissingerian of geopoliticians tend to recognize that values have a place in strategy (a good subject for a future column, perhaps) and that it is usually a mistake to sell out allies or walk away from deeply held beliefs to win a small advantage.

Similarly, libertarians who reject government completely turn into anarchists, and consequently most libertarians instead take positions like that defended by the philosopher Robert Nozick. In his influential 1974 book Anarchy, State and Utopia, Nozick conceded that there are vital jobs that only a government can do. However, he said, "only a minimal state, limited to enforcing contracts and protecting people against force, theft and fraud, is justified. Any more extensive state violates persons' rights not to be forced to do certain things, and is unjustified."

The result is that the great debate between principles tends, in practice, to fragment into multiple smaller and more pragmatic questions. If government is at best a necessary evil, where is the best balance between having too much of it and not having enough? If using force is always wrong, how do we tell whether failing to use it will nevertheless turn out even worse? And how do we justify cutting moral corners in the name of the greater good?

Whether the issue at hand is the Trans-Pacific Partnership or a nuclear deal with Iran, the answers are never obvious; the most productive places to look for them are in geopolitical details and the lessons we can draw from history. This, I think, is something that all sides must in the end agree on. It is also the main reason why, whatever our political inclinations, we should be confident that Stratfor is on the side of the angels after all.
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DougMacG
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« Reply #652 on: August 24, 2015, 01:27:11 PM »

When natural gas prices were high and supplies were scarce, Russia had Europe under its thumb. 

When oil prices were high and American supplies were scarce, Venezuela and others had a hold on America.  And Iran had the world scared sh*tless over its proximity to the Straits of Hormuz.  Does anyone remember that?

When Venezuela and Russia were gushing with oil money, puny little Cuba could stick its finger in the US eye.  Didn't need the US for anything.

When economic growth here was going gangbusters, China was a big beneficiary of that and had a level of control over our economy.

And when the Euro was stronger than the dollar, the EU had leverage in various negotiations over the US.

Now the facts are reversed.  So, a) what are we doing to capitalize on the changing balance of forces around the world?  Nothing, of course.  And b) What could we and what SHOULD we be doing differently in response to these changing circumstances?

Other than the fact that we don't have a President who would even want any of the problems around the world resolved,

Why don't we turn the heat up on Russia's presence in the Ukraine - right while oil prices dip below 40?

Why aren't we tightening instead of loosening sanctions in Iran while they feel the pressure?

Why don't we make public demands on Cuba to do SOMETHING to free their people?  Why don't we reach out with the freedom seeking opposition in Venezuela [and elsewhere] and amplify their voices?

Why don't we make a rescue mission into a portion N.K. while the Chinese attention is turned elsewhere, and shrink their evil dictatorship?

Why don't we reach out to India as a natural ally, a peaceful democracy with similar interests, beyond having them over once in 8 years for dinner?

What else should we be doing while the future of the world lies in the balance?

Even Rahm Emmanuel knew to never let a good crisis go to waste.  Did that axiom apply only to political advantage over the Republicans - or could you use it to strengthen our geopolitical position against adversaries?
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G M
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« Reply #653 on: August 24, 2015, 02:19:53 PM »

The only enemies the dems see is republican
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