Setting the Record Straight

August 12, 2008

What’s Putin Up To?

Cold War II?

         Back in July, almost as a throw-away line in an Outside the Box item on Afghanistan, we noted the United States is the world’s sole super power, “until Vladimir Putin gets Russia back up to the old Soviet strength….”
         Later in the item, we noted we defeated the U.S.S.R. not with warfare, but with money, with the U.S.  ability to spend more money than the Soviets in the Cold War arms buildup. Finally, Mikhail Gorbachev, thankfully with a modicum of training as an agriculture economist before he became the Soviet Union’s last president, could see the end game, quit the Cold War and folded the Soviet Union in 1991.
         Since then, the Soviet Union has contracted back into its pre-Stalin boundaries, largely areas that never spoke Russian before the expansion of the Russian Empire in the 1800s. That contraction allowed restoration of the sovereign nation of Georgia, which sits astride the stretch of land between the Black and Caspian Seas, just above the oil-rich Middle East. It also established its own democratic government.
         Today a pipeline vital to Russia is stretching from the Caspian Sea into Georgia, past its capital of T’bilisi and across Turkey to the Mediterranean Sea. That is a valuable outlet for Russian oil, which, along with natural gas, is the base of the new nation’s economy. Russia has become the world’s second largest exporter of oil and the largest exporter of natural gas.

         Putin was a two-term president of Russia, and before he had to step down from that job as required by the Russian Constitution, he arranged to hand-pick his successor to serve as his presidential puppet and in return name him the next prime minister earlier this year. There is little doubt he will use that office to remain Russia’s leader.
         So what is Putin up to in Georgia? The attraction of controlling the former Soviet portion of the pipeline seems obvious. That would take Russian troops next into Azerbaijan, across which the pipeline begins its journey from the Caspian.
         Does he see Russia’s energy-based economy growing to the level the country without the burden of its Communist-era satellites, could once again compete with the United States in Cold War II? The United States is not looking any too strong itself, right now.
         So weak is the United States thanks to the Iraq-invasion lunacy and its own oil-price economic woes, it is likely to have almost no diplomatic influence on the outcome of what already has been termed a war between Russia and Georgia.



July 26, 2008

Outside the Box: Afghanistan

 Make Bribery, Not War

     Instead of spending a trillion dollars in Iraq/Afghanistan in a fruitless attempt for a conventional military victory, what if we spent a fraction of that bribing our way to victory?
     Let’s start with bribing Afghanistan, i.e., afghanis for Afghanis.
     We cannot defeat the Taliban, Al-Queda or any other guerrilla force with U.S. boots on the ground. The problems in Afghanistan are easily identifiable. So why don’t we take what we know about them and bribe our way to victory.

     Afghanis depend for a lot of their gross domestic product on the poppy plant. The Afghan guerrillas , as well as the various warlords depend on the poppy for their financial strength. The welfare of the Afghanis logically lies with the guerrillas and not with the United States.
     What if we offered each of the 7.5 million households in Afghanistan the equivalent of $250, or one year’s average income. That would amount to less than the $2.3 billion we spend in one month now in Afghanistan short 10,000 troops on a fruitless venture.
     Naturally, we would attach strings. To receive the money, Afghan farmers would have to quit growing poppies and grow crops for human or livestock consumption, alternative energy, anything but addictive purposes. Their earnings would be on top of the year’s worth of income we already gave them. Additional support in subsequent years would be provided as needed.
     Non-farming Afghans would have other requirements, but coupled with incentives to earn additional income beyond the year’s stipend we gave them.
     We would still need a military presence to maintain order and try to fend off the cheaters. But our military presence could include a new type of warrior, one who is more sociologist than fighter and could include warriors trained at least in a semblance of other professions.
     With a new-found wealth, the populace would have a new-found strength to make new-found demands on its government. Eventually, having tasted capitalism, it is likely to embrace that system of government. It may not choose to be democratic, but as with other countries embracing capitalism, democracy likely will come with time. Until then, we would at least have a new trading partner.
     We could use the same bribery to get our way in much of the rest of the undeveloped world, if that is what we are going to continue insisting on, with less loss of life and less outlay of dollars.
     The evils of the world thrive on poverty. They are hard put to exist where there is little of it. 


     Sure. We could list hundreds; others would list 10 times more, from those fearing copiers of “The Mouse That Roared” to people citing real problems. That’s the way it is with thinking outside the box.
     For example, in Afghanistan, actually administering that bribery system (first, we would have to use a better-sounding euphe- mism) would cost far more than the $2 billion initial bribe. But we are now spending $2.3 billion a month there before we even begin to build up our troop strength.
     For example, can we guarantee making bribery, not war would work? Of course not. But we can guarantee that waging war against a guerrilla force the same old way will not work and will be far more costly in both the short and long runs.

     But first, we think.



July 16, 2008

Surge, or InSURGEncy Shift?

Winning, or Moving the Game?

     Ever get the feeling the famous “surge” of troops in Iraq actually is no more than a change of venue for inSURGEncy?
     For months now, we have been hearing about how successful the “surge” of troops to Iraq has been. It sounds like a grandiose plan  en- compassing all of Iraq, but as applied by the Bush administration at the beginning of 2007, the surge of troops never was intended to do more than secure only Baghdad and the province that encompasses it.
     The figures are not dramatic, but check them out anyhow. Between January, 2007, when the Iraq surge began, and mid-2008, 1,117 U.S. lives have been lost in Iraq. During the previous 18 months, 1,258 U.S. lives were lost, meaning the “surge” has resulted in about an 11 percent decrease in U.S. fatalities.
     By contrast, during the same 18-month period in Afghanistan, 198 Americans died, compared with 136 during the previous 18-month per- iod, or about a 45 percent increase.
     Of those latest deaths, 28 occurred this past June alone, the highest U.S. fatality count since the United States attacked Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11 with the backing of most of the rest of the world.
     The U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan in mid-2008 was 32,000, the largest number since that post-9/11 attack.
     One has to wonder, if we had stayed committed to Afghanistan and seeking Osama bin Laden, and had committed just half the 160,000 troops we now have in Iraq (80,000, more than tripling the troops we have in Afghanistan now), what the situation would be like today in Afghani- stan. And what the fate of Bin Laden might have been.
     Could we still pull out of Iraq and shift our full attention to Afghani- stan and save face? Even Nouri Kamal al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, wants a timetable for U.S. withdrawal from his country.
     In the spring of 1975, the United States suffered the most ignomin- ious defeat in its 200-year history. The scene is forever etched in history books and the memories of Americans over 50, one of helicopters landing on the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon to extract the last of the Americans and/or their Vietnamese supporters, leaving behind thousands of other Vietnamese to their fate.
     The United States not only offered no formal surrender, it never has acknowledged a surrender, let alone a defeat. More than 58,000 Americans died in that stupid war, and to what end?
     Today, it is just Vietnam; there is no distinction between north and south. In 1975, the communists of Hanoi took over the south and made one country that now is a struggling, but thriving nation. Vietnam, much as China has, embraced a form of parental capitalism that enjoys a great deal of investments from its former enemy, the United States, both the private and government funds.
     The great specter our government had before the fall was of Vietnam as the first of a series of Communist dominoes falling across South Asia. Somehow, the dominoes never fell and the great crisis of a communist takeover of all of Vietnam never became a threat to anyone. And where is the shame the United States has carried since? It only lies within, and is a fading one at that—we still have our macho image as the world’s bully.
     Fast-forward now to Iraq. If our intentions there are as the Bush administration presents them in its inimitable garbled fashion (as an effort toward democratization even though it favors undemocratic means to achieve its goal), and are not an effort to control the country’s oil riches, then what is our problem in extracting our troops.
     Yes, this is overly simplistic and likely would leave that area of the world in an all-out war from within and without. But consider it as a starting point: leave Iraq, concentrate on Afghanistan and try to make sure the ensuing civil wars in Iraq do not spread beyond its borders.
     If Vietnam and its 58,000-plus U.S. fatalities is any indication, perhaps we should send a fleet of helicopters to that vast new U.S. embassy in Baghdad now, extract the Americans and leave Iraq to determine its own fate, and probably thrive on its own, while we concentrate on finishing the job we began in Afghanistan post 9/11.



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