Archive for August, 2013
Looks like America will be flying solo – another “kinetic” intervention in the Middle East.
Everyone condemns the use of chemical weapons. Nobody but the US and Israel are willing to do anything about it. (Remember months ago the Israelis attacked Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles – now it seems America’s turn is coming.)
In fact is seems this is the pattern. Israel attacked the Iraqi Osiris nuclear power plant in the 1980’s to prevent Saddam Hussein from getting nuclear weapons. A few years later, the US led the first Gulf War against Iraq and a decade later went in for a long bloody stay, based on reports (that turned out false) of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) production.
Israel bombed what may have been a Syrian nuclear processing facility last year, and as mentioned previously, chemical weapons stockpiles a short time ago. Now the US looks like it is going to take its turn in Syria. Meanwhile, the people of Israel are stocking up on gas masks. Is any other nation having to do that?
In Iran the nuclear program was pushed back by the Stuxnet computer virus. Depending on whom you listen to, it was probably done by either Israel, the US or both together.
As for North Korea, has anyone other than the US stood up to them?
(Side note: sixty years ago we came to South Korea’s aid as part of the Cold War and because the North and South were even matches for each other. Today South Korea is far richer and incredibly more advanced technologically than North Korea. If it weren’t for the WMD question, the South Koreans should be able to easily hold off the North without our help. Yet twenty-thousand US troops still remain in that breach.)
It has been stated that Syria has violated the Geneva Conventions with this attack. That sounds about right. But were Israel and the United States the only signers of the Geneva Conventions? Don’t the other states that signed have an interest in upholding the Conventions?
Yet it seems that it is up to Israel and the US to go it alone.
The American people are tired of being the muscle for Germany, France, Saudi Arabia and other countries that are well off financially but expect Americans to always pay the price in blood and treasure.
If this Syrian adventure goes badly – you can expect a time where it will become very hard to get the US to intervene militarily without being attacked directly. Perhaps even Israel will become war-weary.
There’s an old saying that you need to pick your battles – it’s time for some of the other nations that profess to be for a stable international order – to do some heavy lifting; instead of always hiding behind the US and Israel.
We have celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
I was too young to remember that day. But I do remember when MLK was killed.
It was a spring day in New York City’s Morningside Heights. The neighborhood has since been gentrified, but back then it was a working class neighborhood – with expensive apartments overlooking Riverside Drive on the west side of the neighborhood, and the inner city of Harlem on the east side.
I was six years old. The day was clear so you could easily see down to the end of our street on Amsterdam Avenue. A portion of the grounds of the Cathedral of Saint John the Devine covered the eastern portion of our street so that you could not drive through. In those days there was a very tall flag post that stood there flying a huge American flag. (In later years it was replaced by a rather hideous statue – I don’t know if that is still there.)
That day, my six year old eyes saw the flag was half way down the flag post. Someone had explained to me that this was called “Half-mast” and it was done to honor someone who had died.
My friend Roger was riding his five-speed Stingray bicycle, with the Monkey handlebars and the Banana seat. Roger was a year younger than me and his older sister Francine was in the same grade as my brother Leo. Roger’s older brother Bryan was in the same grade as my brother Roman. Roger’s Mom worked for Columbia University in the computer department. Columbia University was my Mom’s employer too. They lived in the building next door. I even remembered the day they moved in, excited about seeing that there was a family with kids the same ages as our – kids we could hang out with.
Our families were close.
I looked at Roger and said, “They are flying the flag at Half-mast,” showing off my new vocabulary.
Roger said, “I know. It’s for Martin Luther King. They killed him.”
In the living room of Roger’s family apartment there were pictures. Almost like the ones that my parents put up of Catholic saints and being Polish, the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Czestochowa. But the pictures in the “shrine” area in Roger’s house weren’t reproductions of paintings; they were black and white photographs: of the youthful President John F. Kennedy and of Martin Luther King. These were their heroes.
Roger started to ride away on his bicycle in slow turning loops looking down the street at the flag. Usually Roger would race his bike quickly down the street – peddling fast and then braking hard to make the tires squeak. That day he was just not in the mood.
Roger was Black. That’s what we called it in those days rather than African-American. It was a bit of an odd term for Roger because his Afro was not entirely dark like his siblings, it was highlighted with Auburn. This made Roger stand out in any crowd and the consensus in the neighborhood was that he was just the cutest boy around. Since Roger was raised to be very polite by his parents, most adults liked him immediately.
I remember looking at Roger slowly ride his bike that day and feeling bad. I knew that killing a famous man, a good man like Martin Luther King was wrong. But now it was personal. Whoever had killed MLK had made my friend sad. They had hurt Roger. That made it worse.
Over twenty years later I would be fortunate enough to meet Coretta Scott King, MLK’s widow, at a charity event. In the brief time I got to spend with her I tried to express my admiration for her and her husband. I’m sure I feel short.
While nothing I felt could have compared to what Mrs. King must have suffered in 1968, my six year old mind could comprehend a simple thing.
Someone had hurt Roger – and that was wrong.
Mark Salter, who used to write for Sen. John McCain, is advocating that President Obama get tough on Syria.
Bill O’Reilly advocates a strike on Syria even though two of his guests, both retired military officers disagree.
The point being made is that if President Obama does nothing, then the “Red Line” of chemical weapons use that was drawn a year ago will mean nothing. President Obama and the US will lose respect around the world.
Okay, that is a valid point. But what credibility does the US have in the Middle East right now anyway?
We abandoned Egypt’s President Mubarak after decades of mutual support. Mubarak was a dictator for sure, but he was co-operating with US interests. We abandoned him to the famed “Arab Street” in the Arab Spring.
It led to the Muslim Brotherhood being elected to power, and now overthrown by the self same Egyptian military we supported with training, weapons and financial aid for years. Only now they don’t trust us. (Proof of who is behind the military crackdown in Egypt is the fact that Mubarak was released from prison – these are the folks who propped up Mubarak for decades.)
A side note – the military crackdown in Egypt included invading a Mosque to capture a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood. This is precisely that type of action that the US military was forbidden in Iraq or Afghanistan for fear of arousing the “Arab Street.” What result in Egypt? The “Arab Street” has quieted down. US diplomats have been more afraid of the “Arab Street” than the Arab leaders.
The Saudi Arabians are now backing the military in Egypt – which puts us at odds with the single Arab county with real clout that has been quietly been backing our policies for the past twenty years.
We bombed Libya to achieve regime change – even though Dictator Kaddafi had given up his WMD programs and started giving us intelligence in the war on terror. What did that get us? It got us Libya as a no-man’s land and a dead US Ambassador in Benghazi.
Meanwhile, Russia has stayed faithful to Assad. Yes, they are backing an unsavory character, but they are showing themselves to be a faithful ally. Plus, they have the reason of having a port in Syria – a legitimate strategic interest. If I were a Middle-Eastern leader, I would place more stock in Russia as an ally, than the US.
This, along with the Snowden affair, has put a damper on US-Russian relations. It is really a shame. Right now, the Middle East tensions are shooting up the price of oil – the whole reason the entire world cares about the region.
With the recent advancements in Shale Oil production and discoveries in the United States and elsewhere (along with the political will to create infrastructure such as the Keystone pipeline and ports that can support large Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) tankers) the US can become a large exporter of energy.
With Russia and the US cooperating – as large energy exporters – they can make the Middle Eastern oil states much less important. Together, Russia and the US cooperating on energy strategy can also hold the ambitious Chinese in check. But those considerations seem not to be considered by the media and Washington.
Humanitarian concerns are important. But this is a civil war. There are bad people on both sides (Al Qaeda partisans are a large part of the Assad opposition.) As crass as it seems, aren’t we better off with them focusing their violence on each other instead of us or Israel?
If we just launch a few cruise missiles (at the cost of several million dollars and possible civilian casualties) and Assad survives, then what was the point? If we go all in to remove Assad’s regime we risk igniting the region. A third war in the Middle East in twelve years. And all we have to gain is the respect of President Francois Hollande of France?
It does not seem worth it.
It is always interesting when smart people look at the same set of data and come to two different conclusions.
That is what we have between the views of author Dan Brown and Space Entrepreneur Peter Diamandis.
Both have written books in response to projections that we are rapidly moving towards a global population of nine billion human beings, while not having the food, water, energy and public health resources to manage such a population. Brown’s book is the novel Inferno, and Diamandis’ book is a non-fiction treatise called Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think.
Brown is, of course, the bestselling author of such books as the Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. His protagonist in Inferno is the same as in the previous novels, Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor that is an expert in deciphering symbols. Brown leads the reader down a path where the statistics about our coming nine billion person global population and the possible ramifications are all part of the plot. There are even graphs provided.
Brown carefully touches upon many of the “Third Rail” issues that such thinking brings up: Malthusianism, Eugenics, and forced population control. While he is careful to make sure that Robert Langdon and the other ”good guy” characters in his story are on then “correct” side of these issues – he leads the reader to what is at least an ambivalence, if not a resigned acceptance of a radical, involuntary, forced solution (which always seems to echo the Nazi’s “Final Solution”) to the problem. (I would expound further but I do not want to spoil the novel for those who have not read it.)
While Brown has not been a stranger to controversial views in his novel – in fact he seems to thrive upon them – in Inferno Brown has gone down a dangerous path. The fact that he is an effective and accomplished writer makes it all the more disturbing – his views will be read by many and he leads the reader carefully down the path.
While it would not make as good a novel, I wish Brown had read Abundance by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler. Kotler is a well respected journalist. Diamandis is an M.I.T. trained micro-biologist and aerospace engineer and, like Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon, has a Harvard connection: Diamandis achieved an M.D. from Harvard Medical School.
Kotler and Diamandis look at the same graphs and projections that Brown does and decided that technology can answer many of these problems. In food and water, emerging technologies and the efforts of the new generation of philanthropists are coming up with novel and low cost solutions. Similar events are happening in energy and healthcare.
Diamandis points out that much of this innovation will come from Do It Yourself Inventors and the new tech billionaires who have turned their finances and keen minds towards solving global problems – rivaling the efforts of the Carnegie’s and Rockefellers in previous generations. He also points out that the continuing multiplication of computing power (Diamandis is a Co-founder along with Ray Kurzweil of the Singularity University) will combine with the innovators to lower the cost of education and information not just in the developed world, but in the developing world too. In fact, Diamandis views the coming new billions of people in developing nations as an economic opportunity – as cell phones come on line for these people; they will be part of the global economy.
Diamandis is not wrong in this outlook – one of the wealthiest men in the world is Carlos Slim – who made most of his money in providing cell phone service in Mexico- who would have guessed that twenty years ago?
Interestingly, most of the solutions provided by Diamandis come not from governments but from the private sector. Diamandis himself is trying to take space Exploration private as a Co-founder of a asteroid mining company called planetary resources. In his future, it is private individuals and not politicians or governments that will solve problems.
Chances are more people will read Brown’s book than Diamandis’. They both deserve respect. The fact that two bright men have written books where the underlying theme is the coming challenge of a world population of nine billion means that this will be the subject of public discussion for years to come.
Let’s hope that we choose to go the route of Diamandis’ Abundance, rather than down towards Dan Brown’s Inferno.