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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Why just one missile that does not appear to have done much damage?

 Assuming that the Israeli response to Iran’s massive missile fiasco was a single missile that did little to no damage, I presume that there is more to the story than we now know - on both sides of the disagreement, and I confess to being curious.  I presume that eventually we will begin to get a better idea as to what is currently afoot in the inner circles, inside both countries.  My present, uninformed, wild posterior guess, is that the Israeli missile was meant to display some capability that Iran was incapable of defending against and the choice of Isfahan Province for the demonstration was an effort to tie it to Iran’s underground nuclear development facilities that are located there.  If so, it was not meant to be retaliation, but rather warning.  The grinding attack on Hamas is the retaliatory effort and it is going the way that the Israeli leadership intends.  The pending attack on Hamas in Rafah is what all of these missiles is really about.  In this connection, Sunni Arab support of Israel’s defense against the Iranian attack was seen as being very bad news in Shia Teheran.

The most important conversation between antagonists, engaged in conflict, is rarely verbal, and an outsider peeking over the fence, is at a serious disadvantage in trying to understand what is going on in the minds of people about which we know so little.  Outside observers frequently replace knowledge with speculation and that frequently results in serious mistakes.  My own experience has been that individuals in leadership roles are frequently forced to speak and act before they know as much as they would like about the situation that they are attempting to address.  Analysts considering the same situation, feel required to explain events without adequate information and describe those events so as to fit their predisposition as to the overall conflict.  This results in misinformation and confusion.

I used to do this stuff for a living and I was pretty good at it.  My success was directly proportional to the accuracy of my understanding of the people involved.  I frequently lost debates with my colleagues as to how best to deal with a given situation, but rarely was my analysis wrong, whether I won or lost the given policy debate.  It is my belief that you can predict a person’s decisions in a given circumstance, if you know enough about him or her.  I used this principal to accurately predict coups, military actions, and legislation.  More crassly, I also used it to get ahead in the bureaucracy.  I should also point out that the exact same principals apply to American decision-makers as foreign and it applies to people all through society down to the malcontent that lives down the street and harbors thoughts that are inconsistent with the best interests of the rest of us.  When I was still in harness, my objective was to shape the foreign service so that we provided far better support to our political leadership.  I’m angry with myself for giving up my quest, because of my disgust with domestic politics.  That was a cowardly, wrong headed mistake, but the objective that I was championing was valid.

I offer this advice to any and all that might be reading this:  success is easy to achieve if you truly understand the community in which you are trying to succeed.  Wishful thinking is your greatest enemy and having the courage of your convictions is the greatest test.  My current assessment of America is that we all have a serious problem in truly understanding each other, let alone the rest of the world around us.  Our escape to alternative realities is not a solution.  Quite the contrary, it is what is destroying us.  Rome had their circus.  We have our phone.  The world has problems that we are permitting to destroy us, because we are too cowardly, too ignorant, too greedy to face up to them.  Our ongoing demise is on us, not Russia, China or Iran.  If we humans intended to continue resorting to violence to protect ourselves, we should not have introduced nuclear weapons.

Friday, April 19, 2024

The disunity that characterizes America is the more important subject.

The press is, today, full of stories commenting on the unusual fact that Democrats helped pass a Republican bill on Ukraine funding in the House of Representatives.  The unusual nature of the vote being that Democrats and Republicans agreed on something.  The fact that Republicans and Democrats agreeing on something is seen to be unusual is the definition of what is wrong with us - you and me.

Ukraine is an important subject.  The disunity that characterizes America is the more important subject. 

Thursday, April 18, 2024

 The press is full of stories speculating on how Israel will respond to Iran’s recent missile attack.  There is also a plentitude of stories speculating on what the United States Government has said privately to Israeli leaders.  Nobody outside of Israel knows for certain what will be decided and how it will play out.  Speculation abounds.

I leave Israel’s national interest to the Israelis and focus on America’s national interest.  I take Iran at its’ word when its’ leaders direct crowds in chanting death to America, and see Iran as a serious threat.  I am less interested in the parameters of Israel’s response to Iran’s most recent provocation than I am in the overall strategy that guides our actions in the Middle East.  I argue that we do not have one, and flip flop back and forth between equally inadequate appeasement and confrontation, as the tide of our domestic disagreement continues to govern our foreign policy.  In our heart of hearts, all of us would much prefer to be “out of the Middle East,” rather than trying to help the people there live a better life.

I suggest that the governing structure in Teheran is a troublesome version of Islam and what is required, on our part, is a national strategy designed to deal with all aspects of the Islamic world from Indonesia to ISIS.  I take the exact same approach to our problems in Europe, Africa, and Asia.  My objective would be to minimize the need to micromanage disputes such as the one between Arab and Jew, and focus more of our attention on building stronger societies that were better equipped to manage local disputes so that they remain local and are resolved locally.

The problem with my strategy is that humans all over the globe, to include here in this country, see it as being impossible pie in the sky.  That attitude, of course, makes it so and results in all of us all over this increasingly small chunk of rock, aimlessly spinning in space, quarreling about our relationships needlessly.  Before we invented satellite guided, nuclear tipped ballistic missiles, this was an imperfect, but acceptable, way to manage world affairs.  It is not any more.  We are indeed our brother’s keeper and because we are not doing a good enough job, we are on the road to destroying ourselves.  Not just you and me - humanity, at least as we know it now

PS:  I apply the exact same reasoning to the mindless quarreling that plagues us internally.  Our rhetoric is hilarious, if you disengage, step back a bit, and listen to it.  We MUST defend democracy, diversity, and our feelings, but we shun anyone that disagrees with us about any of the minutia that makes us “different” from one another.  If “they” persist in their disorderly thinking, “we” do our very best to destroy them.  Because the real world is so confusing, we increasingly seek refuge in the pretend world that we create on our increasingly realistic devices.  We band together on social media with like-minded soul mates and increasingly shy away from having to deal with the riff raff that live down the street.  Very unfortunately more and more of “them” are developing more and more destructive capability - soon to match that which we already possess.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Drugs in America

 I am mildly addicted to beer and wine.  I used to drink large amounts of brandy on occasion as well, but for some reason I don’t anymore.  I remember getting started drinking beer as a kid, because it was the thing to do in the crowd that I ran with in my early high school years.  During my working life in the Foreign Service, I always had a well stocked bar in my home and I consumed alcohol every day, but rarely got drunk, because I was usually working the room for some lofty policy reason or another.  I thank God that I never got into anything more addicting than alcohol and I am comfortable with my lifelong beer and wine consumption.  My view of hard drugs is very negative, not because of any moral reasoning, but rather because they so obviously destroy the individual’s life.  I do not have a scientific background and am unable to talk usefully about the science of drug use, but I do have strong opinions about it based on what I see it doing to far too many people in this country.  Were I able, I would remove narcotic abuse from the face of the earth.

I am not able to do that, so I understand that we must deal with it as a major problem facing America.  I don’t believe that we are doing nearly enough to cope with it and we are therefore forced to try to deal with the secondary problems that arise from its’ presence in our lives.  Because it appears to be the easier end of the problem to deal with, we tend to focus more on denying the availability of drugs than on the mental health problems that lead to their use.  American society today is proof positive that this approach does not work.  Drugs are an important part of the destruction of America that is ongoing right now and we are ignoring it as a society.  We walk past living zombies on our city streets every day of the week and increasingly think of it as part of the landscape.  That didn’t happen when I was a kid.  We didn’t have huge numbers of derelicts on the street and we didn’t ignore the ones that did appear from time to time.  Today, we build walls around our homes and worry about China feeding our drug habit.  We do not adequately deal with the habit itself.  There are even idiots in this country that favor military action against Mexican middle men and Chinese producers of the raw materials.  

Our approach to drug use is the exact same as other difficult problems where we attempt to address symptoms rather than root causes.  This is a strategic error of significant magnitude.  I argue that we do it because the root problem is too difficult for us to address, or even admit.  In my view, what we are seeing is the failure of our society to provide adequate amounts of success to the populace as a whole and an increasingly large number of us are turning to drugs as an escape from our failure  to “succeed.”  It is an extreme manifestation of the effort to escape reality that we see all around us.  I argue that our fascination with social media and the alternate cyber world that we are constructing is our effort to build an alternative reality that we like better than the one that increasingly pushes in from the real world.  Moscow, Beijing and Teheran have not “progressed” as rapidly as have we and are still playing my yesterday’s rules.  In a world that possesses nuclear weapons that is an exceptionally dangerous situation.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Trump or Biden or Us.

 The New York Times has an article out today that explains that the world is a more dangerous place than it used to be with democracy under threat around the world and a budding alliance among nations that dislike us.  My reaction is “duh.”  Notably, the New York Times does not suggest any remedy.  I suggest that this characterizes the position of liberal America.  Conservative America, on the other hand is hell bent on electing Trump, who they believe will manage things more intelligently.  On the one hand, we are cowardly flakes and, on the other hand, we are miserly tough guys.  Neither approach is going to work.  What is required is a blend of the two, leavened with some common sense, and a massive amount of intestinal fortitude, combined with the patience of Job.

The average person tends to look at individual parts of the challenge facing us - Ukraine, Gaza, Taiwan - while ignoring the less dramatic problems that contribute significantly to the whole - Burkina Faso, Miramar, Sudan, Venezuela, Haiti, Afghanistan, etc, etc etc.  If we are to be successful we must understand that everything is related to everything else and “solutions” must address the whole, not just one of the parts.  Our piecemeal approach sometimes achieves some limited success in one area, but it is too often obliterated by failures in other areas.  Our policy toward Iran being an extreme, current example of our irresponsible foolishness, exacerbated by the flip flop nature of our political system.

We defeated the Soviet Union without engaging in direct war with them, but we failed to wean Russia away from authoritarian governance.  We moderated Mao’s China following Nixon’s opening to China, but failed to wean it away from authoritarian governance.  We sat on our hands while Iran turned from a Western oriented nation to a reactionary state governed by a radical dictatorial group of religious zealots.  We sit by while South and Central American nations increasingly give up governance to organized crime, which is but another form of authoritarian governance.  (The same thing is about to happen in our own ghettos.)  Africa is increasingly governed by military juntas.  Etc, etc, etc…. I argue that democracy is failing to solve humanity’s problems and I see the failure engulfing this country as well.  We are not going to be able to sustain our own democracy if it does not succeed in solving our problems - internal and external as well.  Trump and Biden are not the problem.  You and I are the problem.  Trump and Biden are just the superficial boil that irritates the skin.  The disease that causes the boil lies deeper inside the voting public - you and me.  All Trump and Biden do is try to say stuff that their followers, us, want to hear.

You want to save America?  Teheran, Moscow and Beijing are not the problem.  Our inability, yours and mine, to think for ourselves is the thing that is destroying democracy, but the challenge will not be met successfully by merely saving democracy.  We not only have to think for ourselves, we have to come up with viable solutions to a formidable mix of extraordinarily difficult problems throughout the entire world.  We call ourselves leader of the Free World, but we do virtually nothing useful to help anybody outside of our non-existent borders.  We take the same approach in foreign relations that we do to domestic issues here at home.  Solutions are defined in monetary terms.  That is just plain wrong in foreign affairs just as it is in domestic affairs, but we refuse to understand that money is but one of the elements necessary, and it is not even the most important.

Every one of the issues that roil international relations have their roots in domestic problems in the countries involved in each of the respective issues.  Harmonious international relations will only be achieved when the vast majority of the world is living in acceptable domestic conditions.  Our present approach to international affairs does not prioritize the fundamentals and we spend all of our time dealing with superficialities which ensures that we continue to live in an unstable world.  Our failure to understand this is the greatest danger facing democracy as a form of government and America as a place that is worth living in.  Humans only follow leaders that lead to success.  Success is more important than anything else, including the form of governance.  The only way to protect democracy is to make it successful.  The only way to do that is to stop urinating on each other and start talking to each other in civil tones about real problems in their order of importance.  The difference between six weeks and whatever is less important than starvation in wherever, for instance.

If we are too busy putting dinner on the table at home to think, actually think, about eliminating starvation in wherever, we are too busy to have a democratic form of government, no matter how nice, and caring, and well educated we think that we are.  I frankly use extremes to get my reader’s attention, but economic differences do not have to be at starvation levels of importance to generate conflict.  Humans are greedy little imbeciles and bank balances have to be in relative balance to encourage contentment.  That goes for countries as well as individual humans.  If we want to live though the nuclear age, we had better figure this stuff out sooner rather than later.  (If you want a really interesting discussion, let’s talk about why I believe that personal responsibility is the better way to achieve this understanding than is socialism, but I leave that for another day.) 

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Missles Over Israel

 Last night, Israel and the United States showed the world just exactly how good our anti-missile defenses are in blocking a major missile attack from Iran.  Without taking anything away from that absolutely amazing technological performance, I now want to know the dollar cost to Iran, Israel and the United States.  It is my understanding that the attack missiles are infinitely less expensive than are the defensive missiles.  I also assume that ship borne missiles cost far more to get into position than do land based missiles, so I presume that our overall expense is the greatest of the three.  I ask myself how many places in the world we can afford to do this kind of thing, and for how long?  I also ask myself how many of these various missiles we have in inventory and how deep our bench of trained technicians that know how to operate them is.  Assuming that we are unable to cool tensions in the Middle East, the prospect is for this kind of mindless expenditure to not only continue, but to escalate.

We tend to think about the Gaza imbroglio as being a contest between Arab and Jew, and it is, but it can also be seen as a struggle between people that agree with us, you and me, and people who do not.  Looking at it this way, sees Hamas aligned with Teheran, Moscow and Beijing.  Their individual gripes may differ but they are increasingly unified in their dislike of you and me.  In this context, last night was merely an insignificant battle in a much larger disagreement, and our opponents bled us of financial resources without any real harm being done to them.  Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine is another battle in the larger disagreement, and it is costing us dearly.  Not only do we not have the military supplies that Taiwan has already paid for, we do not currently have the capability to produce them, let alone restock our own inventories.

All of this is going on outside of our non-existent borders, while here, inside of them, none of us are discussing the problems that we face inside or outside of those imaginary lines that we draw around ourselves.  All we do is yell at each other and cancel each other.  Because we are an open democracy, this confusion is apparent to friend and foe alike.  Ukraine is literally begging us to live up to our promises, Taiwan’s former president is chatting with his soulmates on the mainland, and Teheran is on the cusp of building a nuclear weapon.  We helped our Israeli friends knock down a bunch of subsonic drones that had headlights on them and we are now telling them how to defend themselves against further aggression from Iran.  I would not be surprised if our allies thought us to be fair weather friends with little real concern for anyone but ourselves.

We can get out of the hole that we are digging for ourselves, but we have to do it together.  Neither tribe can do it by themselves, even if they quit the internecine warfare that is now going on.  We can not come together until we start talking to each other in a civil manner about real issues.  When, if, we do, we will, would, discover that we have more in common than we currently understand.  I am talking about you and me not "them," however you define "them."

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Abraham Accords and/or Nuclear War

 I do not have the faintest idea what is going to happen in the Middle East and neither does anyone else.  There are, of course, some people who have more information than the rest of us, but there is no one that knows what is going to happen because they do not know what the other guy will actually do if we do whatever.  Right now, Israel and Iran are taking increasingly dangerous pot shots at each other, but all-out-war has not yet been triggered anywhere, except inside Gaza.  A lower level of violence is, however, pervasive everywhere in the region as various smaller groups of partisans mindlessly shoot at each other and disrupt communications.  Because we still have troops in the region, ostensibly there to fight ISIS, and because we are aligned with Israel, we get wrapped into the mayhem as well.  Nobody in this country likes the situation and none of our various political leaders can come up with a satisfactory policy that has much hope of restoring calm to the region.  When pressed, conservative and liberal alike, cast their policy in terms of staunchly protecting our ally Israel and disassociating ourselves from the mess as much as possible.  Up until very recently, both Trump and Biden favored reorienting military assets away from the Middle East to the Far East to deal with the emerging threat that China poses - as though we could, by so doing, change the dynamics of what was happening in the Middle East.  That is a superb example of wishful thinking on the part of the entire American political establishment - left, right and center, - fully supported by the American people.  Nothing had changed for the better in the Middle East.  We just tried to pretend that we could change our mind.

I argue that this approach to foreign policy on our part has never been intelligent, and is now actually dangerous.  It drags us into war reluctantly and poorly prepared.  Today, our military stock piles are depleted, our military forces are undermanned and inadequately trained, and our corrupt political leaders are bleating irrational threats that they refuse to back up with any real action, because the populace is intentionally sound asleep.  Violence is everywhere in an overpopulated world that is increasingly connected with vulnerable lines of supply and communication.  A rag tag bunch of malcontents is forcing the world to reroute trade along routes that are more expensive and inconvenient while Washington introduces sanctions that further disrupt trade and make it still more costly.  Absolutely everybody in the entire world is on edge or actually engaged in killing each other and, here in this country, we are no longer talking to each other about anything substantive, yelling at each other increasingly loudly about all kinds of trivia that we can get our heads around, instead.

We are on the brink of nuclear war and you and I are refusing to understand what that means.  Always before in human history, war resolved disagreements for some period of time and people eventually accommodated to the new reality.  This next war is going to be slightly different, because it is going to involve an exchange of nuclear weapons which is going to poison some percentage of arable land.  Granted, we will also reduce population pressure to some extent or another, but I find that less attractive than it might have been in earlier conflicts, because you and I are going to be part of the group of people that are going to be done away with, no matter which side “wins.”

Any readers that I might still have at this point in my essay will now ask, in an irritated voice, “well smarty pants, what can we do about it?”  First, understand it.  Then start trying to unravel the stupidity that surrounds our bubble of irrational fantasy, understanding that it is going to be a long, difficult process that is going to require courage, intelligence and perseverance.  Trump’s effort to establish some sort of detent between Muslim and Arab in the Abraham Accords was an excellent initiative even though its’ initial success contributed mightily to the timing of Iran’s triggering of Hamas.  The Obama/Biden approach to Teheran was just as mindless as their abandonment of Crimea to Putin and their decision to give Teheran a nuclear capability was perhaps the worst mistake in the history of Western civilization.  Somehow, you and I have to find a way to discuss foreign policy without permitting intense domestic disagreements to get in the way.  The growing alliance between Teheran, Moscow and Beijing is not something that we can continue to ignore.  The age of the fetus, the price of gas, pronouns, the number of chips in the bag are just plain not as important as some of the other things that are going on outside of our non-existent borders.  Wake the hell up!  Learn!  Think!  Discuss!  Then make your voice heard and vote intelligently.