Monday, August 18, 2008

Spot, is there a chill in the air?

Yes, grasshopper there is. And it's not an early fall. You know, maybe it is, come to think of it. While George "Butt Thumper" Bush and much of the rest of the country have focused on medal counts, the geopolitical situation of the United States has taken a sudden turn for the worse. Some of Spot's favorite opinion sources have commented on it.

For example, James Kunstler, today:

Meanwhile, Russia got its house in order under the non-senile, non-alcoholic Vladimir Putin, and woke up along about 2007 to find itself the leading oil and natural gas producer in the world. Among the various consequences of this was Russia's reemergence as a new kind of world power -- an energy resource power, with the energy destiny of Europe pretty much in its hands. Also, meanwhile, the USA had set up other client states in the ring of former Soviet republics along Russia's southern underbelly, complete with US military bases, while fighting active engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, if this wasn't the dumbest, vainest move in modern geopolitical history!

Here comes the indictment of the balsamic vinegar generation:

We could have spent the past ten years getting our own house in order -- waking up to the obsolescence of our suburban life-style, scaling back on the Happy Motoring, reconnecting our cities with world-class passenger rail, creating wealth by producing things of value (instead of resorting to financial racketeering), protecting our borders, and taking the necessary measures to defend and update our own industries. Instead, we pissed our time and resources away. Nations do make tragic errors of the collective will. The cluelessness of George Bush is nothing less than a perfect metaphor for the failure of a whole generation. The Boomers will be identified as the generation that wrecked America.

With some help from the Magic Fingers of the Invisible Hand! All the free market types who thought energy, transportation, and banking would all just take care of themselves without any planning or oversight were engaged in some pretty magical thinking all right.

Here's a graf from yesterday's Sunday New York Times Magazine article about the work of Nouriel Roubini, an economist also known as Dr. Doom:

The '90s were an eventful time for an international economist like Roubini. Throughout the decade, one emerging economy after another was beset by crisis, beginning with Mexico's in 1994. Panics swept Asia, including Thailand, Indonesia and Korea, in 1997 and 1998. The economies of Brazil and Russia imploded in 1998. Argentina's followed in 2000. Roubini began studying these countries and soon identified what he saw as their common weaknesses. On the eve of the crises that befell them, he noticed, most had huge current-account deficits (meaning, basically, that they spent far more than they made), and they typically financed these deficits by borrowing from abroad in ways that exposed them to the national equivalent of bank runs. Most of these countries also had poorly regulated banking systems plagued by excessive borrowing and reckless lending. Corporate governance was often weak, with cronyism in abundance.

Does that sound like anybody you know, boys and girls?

Dr. Doom was mocked a couple of years ago when he predicted a financial crisis in the United States, but not anymore. He even has a blog. (So he must be good, right?)

Finally, we turn to Bernard Chazelle, the computer science professor who blogs at A Tiny Revolution. He has some observations about the brilliant thinking that led us the believe we could and should encircle Russia:

Pretend for a minute, if you will, that you're Russian.

Look back and what do you see? A Western power invaded you 67 years ago and killed 20 million of your compatriots. If you fear the West, perhaps you're entitled to your paranoia.

Look around and what do you see? In virtually every country in or bordering your defunct Soviet Union, US military forces as far as the eye can stretch. Please follow me on a quick tour of US military installations. Counterclockwise, you've got the NATO countries, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania. Outside NATO, you've got Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Georgia, all of which have a US military presence. Then Russia's near-abroad, Afghanistan, Iraq, and more NATO countries, eg, Bulgaria and Turkey: again, an arsenal of US weaponry.

So there you are, entirely surrounded by hostile US military forces. And all you hear from the Americans is that a missile defense system aimed over you toward Iran is on its way to Poland and the Czech Republic. All you hear is that Georgia and then the Ukraine need to join NATO just to complete the perfect encirclement of your Western front. All you hear is that it's perfectly OK for Kosovo to secede from Serbia but a triple Nyet for South Ossetia to bolt out of Georgia's hated mini-empire.

Chazelle sums up Putin and Bush:

Putin is a thug (ask Groznians). President Saakashvili gave him an opening and he took it. In 6 days, Putin has undone the 6 years of US-led military buildup meant to bring Georgia up to NATO standards. Perhaps not since Pearl Harbor has so much US military equipment been destroyed so quickly. Or sent to "enemy" labs for reverse engineering.

Bush is a thug (ask Fallujans). But there's a big difference between the two leaders. Putin has won every war he's fought. Bush hasn't won a single one. Worse, he's helped his friends lose their own (Lebanon'06, Georgia'08). No time for glibness, but if you want to lose a war a good first step would be to follow President Saakashvili's lead and rename the main road to your airport "George W. Bush Street," as a starstruck Saak gleefully did. Perhaps he could have gone one step further and renamed the nation of Georgia "GeorgiaBushi." Saak was so flattered to welcome thousands of US and Israeli military advisors to his country. Now, that really helped.

The fact is, boys and girls, after all the military adventurism of the Bush years, we couldn't guarantee a car loan, much less the territorial integrity of a landlocked country like Georgia. Not that we should, according to Chazelle:

NATO is a dangerous charade. If Georgia had been a member, does anyone seriously believe that the West would have gone to its rescue by risking war with the world's second nuclear power? In her recent trip to Georgia, Condi Rice, America's professional pouter, only confirmed America's weakness. She can huff, she can puff, but in the end it's up to Sarkozy to arrange a cease-fire. McCain is dispatching Lieberman to the region and Obama is sending Biden on the Great Senatorial Pilgrimage of Impotence.

America has no business encircling Russia with US military forces. Perhaps war is the only way Americans learn geography. But is it also the only way Americans will learn they don't own the planet?

Well, it's dawning on us, Professor.

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