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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Barack on Deck


North Korea warned Friday that U.S.-South Korean plans for military maneuvers put the peninsula on the brink of war, and appeared to launch its own artillery drills within sight of an island it showered with a deadly barrage this week.

The fresh artillery blasts were especially defiant because they came as the U.S. commander in South Korea, Gen. Walter Sharp, toured the South Korean island to survey damage from Tuesday's hail of North Korean artillery fire that killed four people.

And rumours of war

Work is picking up on what appears to be China's first aircraft carrier, the Shi Lang. For eight years now, China has been tinkering with a half finished Russian aircraft carrier. Two years ago, this ex-Russian aircraft carrier, Varyag, was renamed the Shi Lang (after the Chinese general who took possession of Taiwan in 1681, the first time China ever paid any attention to the island) and given the pennant number 83.


And the sinews of nations:

China and Russia have decided to renounce the US dollar and resort to using their own currencies for bilateral trade, Premier Wen Jiabao and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin announced late on Tuesday.

Chinese experts said the move reflected closer relations between Beijing and Moscow and is not aimed at challenging the dollar, but to protect their domestic economies."About trade settlement, we have decided to use our own currencies," Putin said at a joint news conference with Wen in St. Petersburg.

The two countries were accustomed to using other currencies, especially the dollar, for bilateral trade. Since the financial crisis, however, high-ranking officials on both sides began to explore other possibilities.

And a President on duty:

President Barack Obama needed 12 stitches in his lip after taking an errant elbow during a pickup basketball game Friday with a group of family and friends visiting for the Thanksgiving holiday, the White House said.

First word about the injury came in a statement from press secretary Robert Gibbs nearly three hours after the incident saying that Obama was inadvertently struck by someone's elbow. The individual was not identified.

Wow. I'd hate to be that guy. I mean the President.

Sure, it's Thanksgiving Day and the leader of the free world is entitled to some time off. It's that the President's conduct after nearly two years in office reflects a kind of insouciance about his job. He's always in a b-ball frame of mind. From time to time he gets a bloody nose, but it's all just a game.

A sweeping health care package, of bewildering complexity, is imposed against the widespread opposition of the American people. Spiralling stimulus costs, whose benefits have amounted to little more than a super-sized pork barrelling project. Meanwhile dangers to the Republic gather. 

A China that is openly contemptuous of American power in the Asian Pacific rim. An Iran that is perhaps months away from developing a nuclear weapon. A North Korean foreign policy that is redefining the meaning of the word brinksmanship. The American dollar being turned into toilet paper through the euphemisms of quantitative easing. The last is perhaps the most insidious, as it may provoke competitive devaluation, where other major powers also turn their currencies into toilet paper. The goal? To pursue the mercantilist mirage of "export driven" growth. QE2 could wind up being a modern day Smoot-Hawley.

And little is being done to curb these dangers. The capacity of the United States to defend its interests globally is being withered. Some may cheer the end of the "American Empire." Let us not share their naivety. However bad an American dominated world has gotten, it is infinitely preferable to the alternative. We are today seeing more than the decline of one world world power, we are seeing the possible collapse of an international system that has lasted nearly seven decades. If the American yoke seems harsh to some, image China as the center of world affairs, a nation whose neighbours have spent decades seeking succour from Washington. 

The aloof slacker-in-chief shares something important with his critics on the American far Left and far Right. They both labour under the dangerous illusion that foreign policy doesn't matter. Instead they project their utopias outward. That, somehow, if their particular Jerusalems are built in America's green and pleasant lands, the world's affairs will right themselves as a matter of course.

We are all human under the skin, but the human beast is as diverse in habitat and thought as any species on earth. We are potentially monster and saints. The difficultly of stepping out of ourselves, and imagining not just alternate paths, but alternate ways of being, is enormous. Americans (like everyone else) tend to think that people around the world are basically like them. They speak in funny accents, wear different clothes and worship different deities but they aspire to get the same things out of life. To an extent this is true. Most human beings want to be materially secure, have good personal relations with family and friends and be physically safe from harm. What we want is usually the same, how we go about getting it is what defines individuals and societies.

Take Africa, the most backward and primitive of the world's continents. Ask the typical North American why they are poor, and we are rich, and the answers tend to circle around "corruption." The governments are too corrupt, the police are too corrupt, or the people themselves are too corrupt. If only their governments were more honest, these societies would in time flourish. 

Pause to consider the honesty theory of economic development, which is widely believed even by educated and intelligent people. Let's reposition it: Do you believe that the prosperity of Canada and America is dependant on the personal integrity of our political class? That we are a few corrupt pols away from becoming Somalia with snow? Politics is a consequence, not a cause.

Blaming social problems on culture is a cliche. Like many cliches, it's also true. Culture can be used as a sort of intellectual short-cut, the intelligent man's shrugging of the shoulders at the alien and inscrutable. Yet it is real. Anyone who has lived in a culturally diverse area can see this in action, both for good and ill. Some groups display certain traits and behaviour, others do not. It's a topic avoided gingerly by most, for in modern North America the charge of bigotry is the most damning. Yet it is there. 

The poverty of Africa is not because of corrupt rulers, which is a universal problem that varies only in how brazenly it is conducted. Africa is poor because it is tribal. The nation state is today disparaged as either an engine of bigotry, or an anarchism in a modern globalized world. Whatever its fate in the decades ahead, the rise of the nation state was an important milestone in human development. Virtually all the institutions that make our modern standard of living possible, emerged within a national context.

Elected legislatures, the rule of law and the market economy emerged in nation states. Certainly earlier forms of government had elements of these institutions, but very limited in scope and scale. What allowed these institutions to become major forces in our lives, and generate our very high standard of living, is a national framework.

A nation state is a community of trust that extends beyond personal relations. In tribal or feudal societies, all relations are personal. The individual is bound to clan, tribe and lord. He rarely trusts anyone beyond this circle. Contracts are marginal elements in these types of societies, as are impersonal institutions (like the law). The personal bond is all important. Nationalism creates a commonality between individuals and groups who are not immediately related. They may share language and religion but are otherwise strangers. Yet that commonality allows for relationships to form and develop.

A common allegiance allows complex institutions to form. While more is needed to create a prosperous society than just national identity, there are plenty of poor nations with a strong national identities, it is a necessary condition. The nation allows room for the individual to free himself of the tribe. The danger always exists of the individual then becoming a slave of a national state, but it is far harder to establish a tyranny over many than over a few. An insight at least as old as James Madison. 

The leap between the tribal and national is one the peoples of Africa, and much of the world, have not fully made. They still live in the largely Hobbesian world of the tribe. We the citizens of Lockean states, should remember to keep that mind.

Posted by Richard Anderson on December 2, 2010 | Permalink


Good article Publius

The leap between the tribal and national is one the peoples of Africa, and much of the world, have not fully made. They still live in the largely Hobbesian world of the tribe. We the citizens of Lockean states, should remember to keep that mind.

This is the part our politicians do not seem to understand. Afghanistan is the best example of this and is the primary reason all our efforts to bring these people into the 21 st century will fail. No one has ever asked these people if they saw their life as being inferior to ours when they see us as a immoral godless culture that thrives on war and conquest. Most of them do not even know why we are there, either trying to kill them or kiss their asses. They just see us as infidels who are trying to destroy their main export (opium) and bring nothing but suffering and destruction. Rest assured that the Russians are enjoying the show while giving us the thumbs up while secretly giving us the middle finger knowing we will eventually leave with our tail between our legs. Payback for supplying Stinger missles to the Taliban and insuring their own defeat.
Afghanistan will stay tribal and unite only when they have a infidel enemy. When the war is over it will revert to what it was before. We will learn that at great cost.

Posted by: peterj | 2010-12-03 9:12:46 PM

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