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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Escalation a liability for Obama

Barack Obama has been consistent in one thing: his policy in Afghanistan. While Obama promised change from Bush-era policies for a lot of things, he was always a hawk on Afghanistan. Swayed by Barack's charisma, many of his followers wrongly assumed that change meant reason in Afghanistan.

Obama did promise a departure from Iraq. If his hawkish position on Afghanistan is a constant, we can hope he'll be equally consistent on Iraq.

Without change, the outcome is clear: more devastation in Iraq and Afghanistan. Afghanistan is occupied by a rapidly growing American military force while Iraq's appears to be gradually declining, without an exit though. Thanks to the Bush-era SOFA agreement with Iraq, the US military has basing rights and plans to keep 50,000 troops there indefinitely. (The constitutionality of SOFAs in general is questionable as they're de facto treaties with other countries, which must be approved by the Senate-Iraq's wasn't...)

The base where a battle a few months ago in a remote base that took 10 American lives has been abandoned. If they died protecting it, why abandon it? A hallmark of our Vietnam experience was taking then giving up territory. Look at the movie Hamburger Hill for an idea of the impact on morale that kind of fighting strategy made.

Killing from afar is far easier than confronting the enemy up close. Starting in the Gulf war, our military was criticized for fielding a Nintendo-type force, using high-tech weapons far from their targets.

We've expanded the 9/11 retort to include Pakistan, who's ravaged by drone attacks by anonymous triggermen, presumably American operatives in some faraway location. These strikes are said to target terrorists but we have no way of knowing just how many civilian deaths are caused. In this sense, anonymous drone attacks are a convenient accountability-dodging method, one the CIA probably would have loved to have during Vietnam.

Vietnam was marked by low morale, and led to fragging: intentional friendly fire. I can think of no more visible sign of distress within a military than when they start killing each other.

We had the modern equivalent of a fragging occur down at Fort Hood the other day. The alleged shooter Hasan can't be justified in murder, except perhaps in some twisted sense that he was protecting Muslims. Many of the casualties were coming back, not going out, so I don't think he can claim to be protecting Muslims. There have been numerous incidents of Afghan soldiers murdering American and NATO troops in cold blood. Similarly, in VIetnam, many in the South Vietnamese army harbored sympathies for the enemy and contributed to many lost American lives.

Obama's been sold on the mistaken belief that more troops will mean a different result. Obama has raised "N-strength"--Pentagon jargon for the number of troops. Does the equation of N times firepower multiplier equal a number capable of winning the war? And what is the impact of time? How does extending the time frame increase the likelihood of "winning"? I think Vietnam, our longest war prior to Afghanistan, showed that the longer a force occupies a country, the less it's tolerated, and the more nationalistic and pan-Muslim support builds in opposition. Israel's ongoing animosities with its Arab neighbors and the Palestinians may give an indication of kind of deep-seated animosity we'll have to contend with, being infidels in a Muslim land.

Discussing the Afghan war with a supporter recently proved a touchy subject. When I said we were losing, he refuted me, saying we were winning. Next, when I asked why we there, my ideological opposite came short of any reason, plan, or goal. How then can the military achieve its goal--to win--if it doesn't have coherent goals?

I'm not going to pigeonhole supporters of the war, saying they're neo-liberals even if they are. Nor will I say that Obama is a pure hawk. Instead I'll say that supporters of escalation in Afghanistan suffer from a lack of good reasons for the actions of their commander-in-chief. Why escalate?

If we'd seen more progress with time, I guess extending our presence would be a positive. But the escalation hints at the inability to achieve our goals, not success, which would encourage a draw-down.

In time the reasons will come, floating to the surface out of stream of sewage regurgitated by the lamestream media. If nothing else, the Washington establishment stage-manages wars, albeit to an audience that appears majority antiwar both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Consummate media master, Obama, Axelrod, and his crew of showmeisters will try to repackage the Lie that escalation will help us.

Politically, the escalation is a gamble. The tradeoff for escalating might be swaying Republican voters and Democratic conservatives, who've made their visceral anti-abortion positions known in the recent Health Care Bill.

The Reagan Democrats may be easily convinced that escalation is necessary. But I doubt the Democratic base will rally behind Obama, even if he keeps his promises about Iraq.

Obama thinks he can gain some Republican votes by escalating, but this is true only if the Republican candidate is to the left of Obama on other issues. A socially moderate candidate like a McCain might lose the conservative Democrats to Obama based on the militarist/expansionary position in Afghanistan. A conservative's conservative need not fear Obama's hawkishness, he can always pander ever farther to the right on foreign policy, militarism, and ultranationalism.

Any Republican candidate will endorse militarism/escalation in a rush to grab votes on the Right. The Republicans will try to appear even more hawkish than Obama, no matter how far right he strays.

Closet militarists, DINOs (Democrats-in-Name-Only) will support the escalation. Bothered by Big Government, Reagan Democrats will secretly vote against Obama anyway, based on their predilection to support Republicans in matters of national security.

Limited to a duopoly, the net result of the status quo is a persistent absence of a candidate opposed to escalation. In this regard, the establishment wins--it continues to impose its consensus favoring escalation no matter which of the two candidates are elected. It's kind of like Goldman Sachs--they win no matter who wins.

The protest vote might make a huge impact in 2012 based on disillusion based on Obama's rightward turn after his election. Take out 3-4% for a Nader/McKinney/Paul and perhaps a number of betrayed-feeling liberals sitting out the election and Obama's second term is out. Yet if the Republican candidate is ultranationalist, anti-environment, etc., a Bush, maybe the lesser of evils thing will work in Obama's favor. Personally, from what I know about the Far Left and hardcore libertarians, the protest movement will oppose Obama.

The political winds may have already shifted. Two governorship and a House seat were at stake in recent elections, Republicans won in Virginia and New Jersey. The media played down the significance of the losses but I'm guessing the DNC is worried. The health care bill has provided the Republicans with a lot of ammunition.

Three Democratic Congressmen in Indiana were going to vote against the measure, concerned about the possibility of Federally-funded abortions; an amendment to the bill persuaded Baron Hill (D-In) to vote in favor.

Ellsworth, in the western part of the State, is seeking over a billion dollars for a new terrain I-69 through the southwestern portion of the state. Funding might be jeopardized by the imminent budget shortfall we have, considering the $1.4 trillion deficit we're running. Then again, what another billion of top of that?

I don't expect Obama to win in 2012, and I think the midterms are shaping up into a catastrophe for Democrats. The Democrats' lack of conviction and leadership in foreign policy sends a double message. Unfortunately, a lack of a real antiwar candidate will steer the military industrial complex onward, depleting further our national treasure and sacrificing ever more American lives.

Eventually, we'll have to change our policy in Afghanistan, and downsize or even get out. But we're there because of ignorance and apathy among Americans, and their willingness to surrender our foreign policy to well-established foreign policy lobbies like that of Israel.

Obama's been too Bush-like in the lack of prosecutions on practices like extraordinary rendition. Even if our Courts don't hold participants responsible for the illegal practices like harsh interrogations, other nations can. An Italian court just found 23 American former CIA employees guilty, making them fugitives from justice.

Obama's defended warrant-less eavesdropping, the practice of spying on Americans. We're building massive data warehousing facilities that will track and store communications between Americans, and few people seem to care. If we continue to lose our civil liberties, it'll be because we've offered them up, in exchange for promises of security.

I can understand why many people might support an escalation, but I'll never agree with them. The reasons for disagreeing really don't matter any more. We'll simply have more war, no matter who's in charge. The Washington establishment is too firmly rooted, and the depth of American ignorance and apathy legend.

It's only when things get bad enough that Americans will understand that their government works not for them but for corporations, many of which who thrive off the ongoing death machine that our out-of-control Pentagon has become. Results of these wars will be years in coming and probably financial depravity will be the outcome.

Like all wars before it, the government's overspending will force inflation onto the public, a stealth tax. With inflation, lenders will lose while borrowers--cheif among them the government itself--will be able to repay good money with bad.

Energy prices are headed straight up, thanks to the Carbon Tax and Trade policies that are heading through Congress. Americans will have to use energy more efficiently, or face higher taxes on their consumption of carbon-based energy.

The overspending will eventually manifest into hyperinflation--flooding the world with dollars. Already the dollar has dropped to a multi-year low against other currencies. Spending their dollar reserves, India just bought tons of gold from the IMF. China is awash in dollars. For the first time, they publicly scolded the US on our spending (Reuters). A danger faced by any inter-government lender, the Chinese are rightfully concerned that we'll just print up we owe and send it to them.

Producing far less than we import, our nation is unable to export our way back into prosperity. So we're left to push piles of money around, or work at reduced wages in what's sold as a "service economy." No wonder we're experiencing so much unemployment--by allowing free but unfair trade, foreign competition has gutted our manufacturing sector.

How best to restore the economy? Recently, I saw an idea that we should fully nationalize the banks. Government could loan out at reduced rates directly to the public.

It's been said that for the amount of the TARP loans, we could have bought outright most of our nations' banks. With a staggering amount of derivatives still on the banks' books, nationalization will be a likely solution offered in the event of another collapse. It's doubtful Bernanke/Geithner and whoever might be President could weather a storm like that they had over TARP a second time. The American people wouldn't accept it.

Right now, the banks aren't lending. They're content to sit on billions in Federal debt. Why take the risk of lending if they can make a virtually risk-free 3% or so?

The Federal Reserve has either two ways to go: raise rate or lower them. Raising interest rates gives even more reason to sit on cash and earn more risk-free return. With interest rates near zero, we can't do option #2--lowering them. Maybe we'll end up like Japan, where deposits earn negative interest.

As a consumer economy, we're dependent on lending. Until loans expand, growth can't come except through government spending, which if paid off represents a future transfer of wealth from private control to the public sector, through taxation.

Money gets more expensive in response to scarcity. When more is spent, each dollar buys less. To limit overspending, interest rates need to be higher. That's why the economy is so slow to recover--consumer spending remains down.

To keep a lid on inflation and overspending, money needs a value. An interest rate gives it that. When interest rates are low, there's little incentive to save, so people spend. By increasing interest rates, the opportunity cost for not investing grows. When the opportunity cost of not saving grows, people are less likely to spend.

Savers are rewarded with higher rates but spending has dried up, even with rates near zero. It appears that huge amount of capital in home and stock equity have simply disappeared. And the lack of employment has also minimized the impact of so many billions of dollars flowing into the economy. If the bankers opened their checkbooks, or unemployment were to drop radically, we'd be staring inflation right in the face.

Nationalization might ease the pain, but only momentarily. In time, the banks would become bloated entities, with limited appeal to investors. Look no farther than bankrupt Freddie Mac, which just posted a $5 billion quarterly loss (link). Absent competition, nationalized banks will grow increasingly inefficient, like Amtrak, and require ever more money.

Removing the private bankers won't help long-term, appealing as their demise might sound. Not long after nationalization, Congress would be doling out benefits to various industry groups with the most influence in the capitol. Favorable loans would be extended to politically influential industries.

It's a certainty that Obama's economic policy team--Bernanke, Geithner, and Summers--have determined an acceptable level of unemployment. In business school, the jargon "full employment" is used. Most conservative economist/ free marketeers choose a rate of full employment higher than their more liberal counterparts, so politics plays a role in how economic contractions are defined.

The political goal to gain reelection will affect economic policy, particularly as we approach the elections.

The misery index, a combination of inflation and unemployment, shows just how bad things really are. Whatever Washington might try to spin, the hard economic numbers dictate reality, and it's not pretty.


Paul Craig Roberts' "Evil Empire."

See the post by Keith Fitz-gerald, "Four Reasons Hyperinflation Hasn't Hit the US...Yet", here.

Antifascist-calling: "Obama Regime: toss NSA Warrantless Wiretapping Lawsuit", here.

Full blast here from Bob Chapman's International Forecaster, "A New System for the Privileged is Not A Remedy for the Economy."


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  • At 1:34 AM, Blogger jbpeebles said…

    I must be writing about issues of utmost urgency. Twenty-four hours after this post Huffington Post obtained information about Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, publishing the article "Fannie and Freddie Fire Their Own Inspector General."

    The point I'd made in several posts had been how inefficient those government-run entities are, and prone to further bailouts.

    I talked about anonymous operatives fighting a Nintendo war using drones in Pakistan and yo and behold, TomDispatch ran a post on it November 10th: "Droning On."

    I've also suppressed the desire to forward articles providing numerous examples of how well things aren't going in Afghanistan to a supporter. I could fill his inbox quickly. One example is Chris Hedges' article, "Afghanistan's Sham Army." (see also Tom Engelhardt's posts on 11-5 and 11-9, which includes a link to a WaPo article, " Fort Hood has felt the strain of repeated deployments.")

    If things aren't getting better with our military, how can supporters of the war claim it hasn't damaged readiness? Forty thousand more will increase the strain on our all-volunteer Army. Fortunately for recruiters, the depreciated economic environment has increased enlistment.

    Suicides among active duty troops are up to crisis levels, another sign that PTSD and psychological issues aren't being adequately addressed. It's worth noting that over 50,000 Vietnam veterans committed suicide after that war, equaling the number of casualties lost to enemy action.


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