Thursday, January 21, 2016

Comment to Paul Graham's Economic Inequality



I read Paul Graham’s ‘Economic Inequality’ (Jan 2016) with interest (See www.paulgraham.com/ineq.htlm). There have been many negative responses to Graham’s views; I offer no remarks on these as they speak for themselves. I merely write to comment that (1) I commend Paul Graham for having the courage to address the issue; and (2) I do agree with Graham that inequality is “not just one thing” and that if you want to understand, and, more importantly, “if you actually want to fix the bad aspects of it” you have “tease apart the components.” With this in mind, I offer some 'war stories.' 


Tale 1. The Outstanding Performer In the 1980s I flew B-52s in USAF’s Strategic Air Command (SAC). We were responsible for responding to Soviet nuclear attack by taking off prior to Soviet first strikes thus ensuring the destruction of the Soviet Union. The whole concept was called mutual assured destruction or ‘MAD’ a very appropriate acronym for such ‘strategy.’

Strategic Air Command was renowned for its strict adherence to its regulations and unforgiving policies for any violation of such. “To err is human, to forgive is not SAC policy” was one of the more popular axioms regarding SAC’s lack of tolerance for error and severe punishments for any violation of its regulations. And there was a SAC regulation and supplement for everything... “If SAC wanted you to have a family, it would have issued you one."

To assess its ability to accomplish its nuclear mission, SAC conducted a yearly operational readiness inspection (ORI) on each of its operational combat units. These are rigorous and intense inspections where an entire team of SAC inspectors descended on a unit and inspected every aspect of the unit’s operation. The possible ratings were OUTSTANDING [an ‘A’ grade]; EXCELLENT [‘B’]; SATISFACTORY [‘C’]; MARGINAL [‘D’]; and FAIL [‘F’]. To pass an ORI, a unit was required to achieve a minimum of SATISFACTORY [‘C’]. Failure was not an option. If a unit failed, heads rolled, careers were destroyed, and the unit was the subject of the most intense scrutiny and micromanagement that you can possibly imagine. Naturally, you are given so many days to come back up to SATISFACTORY [‘C’] rating, while being taken-apart in the meantime.

“Variation in productivity is far from the only source of economic inequality, but it is the irreducible core of it, in the sense that you’ll have that left when you eliminate all other sources.” Paul Graham

During one particular ORI, our wing did not do too well. Largely the culprit was the intelligence division under the Deputy Commander for Operations. The Intel Division failed. Among its many sins, they misplaced some ‘TOP SECRET’ materials for a time [kiss of death]. As a result Operations received a MARGINAL. This was NOT GOOD! In order to be eligible for further promotion, flyers needed to diversify themselves by working in the Wing staff. Not being risk averse, I met with the Deputy Commander for Operations, and told him I wanted to be assigned to the Intel Division to help clean up the mess. Within two days of the meeting, I was taken off nuclear alert and found myself in the Intel division. 


There I became acquainted with one individual noncommissioned officer who prided herself for having been named an “Outstanding Performer” during the ORI. My thought on this: What does an individual outstanding performance mean in a unit rated marginal?  

As a result of the marginal, the unit was placed on 12 hour-days, 7 days a week schedule to prepare for the reinspection; including the outstanding performer. As I delved deeper into the issue, it became clear to me that this individual was focused on only her performance, and would not willingly assist other members of the unit. She was very knowledgeable in her particular area of expertise [target processing] but could not see the forest for the trees. As she prided in her knowledge, I immediately tasked her to develop procedural checklists for every task performed within that particular branch—and ensure that the checklists were in compliance with every SAC and local regulation.

What does this have to do with inequality? The point is simple: we will all swim or sink together.  

“Some of us will do our jobs well and some will not, but we will be judged by only one thing-the result.” Vince Lombardi

Paul Graham is right in saying that it is good to develop entrepreneurs who will advance digital technologies—the internet, mobile phones, and all the other tools to collect, store, analyze, and share information digitally. These are the “Outstanding Performers.”

But as a recent report by the World Bank (World Bank. 2016. World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends. Washington, DC: World Bank) notes, the expansion of opportunity for the poor and the middle class “has so far been less than expected.” (p. 2)

"Many advanced economies face increasingly polarized labor markets and rising inequality—in part because technology augments higher skills while replacing routine jobs, forcing many workers to compete for low-paying jobs. Public sector investments in digital technologies, in the absence of accountable institutions, amplify the voice of elites, which can result in policy capture and greater state control. And because the economics of the internet favor natural monopolies, the absence of a competitive business environment can result in more concentrated markets, benefiting incumbent firms. Not surprisingly, the better educated, well connected, and more capable have received most of the benefits—circumscribing the gains from the digital revolution." (p. 3)

When I read this passage in conjunction with Paul Graham’s essay, I could not help but remembering New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who during Hurricane Katrina said the Feds were completely unprepared. The Feds disaster evacuation plan essentially envisioned that ‘all New Orleans residents would pump $100 worth of gas into their SUVs and evacuate to safety.’ (Paraphrased)  As events unfolded, it became evident that not all residents of New Orleans had a SUV in which to escape or even $100 to spare.

We can debate the merits of this or that analysis or many others. But the issue is clear: simply, can we have individual outstanding performers in a marginal or failing unit [country/world]? My experience tells me that perhaps for a time, but unless active efforts are made to raise the entire unit, failure will lead to the eventual downfall of the entire unit.  


As Graham states inequality is particularly unacceptable:

“… if there are people getting rich by tricking consumers or lobbying the government for anti-competitive regulations or tax loopholes, then let’s stop them. Not because it’s causing economic inequality, but because it’s stealing.” Paul Graham

Well then, what is to be done?


Paul Graham suggests that “If we want to fix the world behind the statistics [like statistical measure that is inequality], we have to understand it, and focus our efforts where they’ll do the most good.”

A number of thoughtful books and articles have been written on the subject. In this regard, I highly recommend the January/February 2016 issue of Foreign Affairs, Inequality: Causes, Consequences, Cures, which contains a series of articles on the subject. But what can be done… I certainly don’t pretend to know any better. Again I only offer a couple of war stories.

Tale 2. The First and the Last
General Frederick M. Franks, Jr., 4-star general and commander of US Army VII Corp during Desert Shield/Desert Storm was a war hero having been awarded a Silver Star for bravery in Vietnam; he also lost a leg there. More to the point, General Franks was well-known in the Army for his concern for his soldiers. 

For example, General Franks had a rule in his command: None of his senior officers and senior non-commissioned officers ate before all of his privates, junior non-commissioned officers and junior officers had been served first. The last to eat was always General Franks.  


I was fortunate to attend US Army Command and Staff General College in 1994-1995; and General Franks was the speaker at one presentation. He told the story that prior to engaging the Saddam’s Republican Guard Divisions; he was going around the various units of his corps. He was talking to the soldiers to ensure that they understood his plan of attack and trying to quell nerves. General Franks told us of the emotion he felt when instead of him reassuring his soldiers, they reassured him, telling him: “Don’t worry about us, General. We trust you.”

Tale 3. McMurphys
I joined the US Air Force at the ripe old age of 18. I wanted to fly, fight, and to see the world. As a young enlisted guy I trained to repair radars on F-4E Phantom II fighters. After becoming an officer, I flew B-52 bombers, serving as the crew’s Electronic Warfare Officer; I jammed radars such as those that I had learned to repair. True poetic justice methinks.

Among other places, I was assigned to the 51st Tactical Fighter Wing at Osan Air Base, Korea. I fell in love with Korea and stayed there for 3 years. 

Now, a fighter wing is a very busy place. Aircraft are constantly taking off and landing on training and operational missions. Osan AB was at the tip of the spear so it was a very busy place. 

The chow [dining] halls at Osan AB were open for lunch between 1100—1300 hours [11:00 a. m. to 1:00 p. m.]. If you didn’t get there in time, you missed lunch. Unfortunately, a lot of F-4s flew and recovered during this time; and the crew chiefs had to be there to launch and recover their aircraft. The problem was that the chow hall was rather far away from the flightline. To get there on time and be back on time, the airmen had to take a bus – which may or may not make it. Many individuals missed their lunch breaks… Sometimes they would bring out box lunches to the line for those that had missed their lunch—but these were poor substitutes. But a soldier’s lot is not an easy one; stuff happens we thought and life went on…

Enter Colonel Crawford O. Murphy, the new Deputy Commander for Maintenance at the 51st TAC Fighter Wing. Colonel Murphy quickly became known as the scourge of any commander who dared to chastise or otherwise not respect his troops. Among his troops, Colonel Murphy was also known as a commander that you did not lie to or otherwise try to put anything over him. All of the maintenance officers and senior NCOs were scared to death of him; to say nothing of us younger troops.

When Colonel Murphy found out about his crew chiefs having to miss lunch; he was not happy. He shared his unhappiness with the entire wing command, and especially with the Base Commander, who was responsible for the Services Squadron—the cooks. A few weeks later, some building began to take place in one of our large hangars. It appeared that new offices were being built; but that was not the case. 

One day, a notice came out stating that between 1100 and 1300, Dinning Hall personnel would serve lunch there at the new dining facility that had been constructed in the hangar. All crew chiefs and other maintenance personnel could eat there rather than having to skip lunch. 


In honor of Colonel Murphy, the place became known as “McMurphys” [with arches built by some chiefs—and no, McDonalds never filed for trademark infringement action against McMurphys].

Methinks if some folks in Silicon Valley would arrange for some ‘McMurphys’ outside of the Valley…

Tale 4. Charles Schwab’s Webinar
Sometime in 2010, at a webinar for shareholders / clients, Charles Schwab told the audience that if every company in America hired just one more worker, this would solve the unemployment problem at that time. 

Charles Schwab’s call really got to us at our small firm. We had not been in a hiring mode, but without further ado, we decided to hire an additional assistant. In the end, we wound up hiring additional three people. Yes, it affected our individual earnings initially but we felt it was worth the hundreds of dollars less we got, as we hired some really nice and talented people. NOTE: The number one criteria we use in hiring people is enthusiasm; and willingness to learn/work. We feel that can teach/train people in all aspects of the work, but we cannot teach them to be enthusiastic self-starters.


In any case, by hiring these people, in the end it helped our bottom line as we were able to take on additional work. It was well worth the initial investment. Thank you, Charles Schwab, for the great advice.

Paul Graham states: “Economic inequality is sufficiently far from identical with the various problems that have it as a symptom that we’ll probably only hit whichever of the two we aim at. If we aim at economic inequality, we won’t fix these problems. So I say let’s aim at the problems.” 

Two observations are worth noting: “The extent to which inequality increases or decreases is ultimately a political question.” Ronald Inglehart, Foreign Affairs; and

THE BOTTOM LINE "If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin." Charles Darwin








Sunday, December 13, 2015

Problem of Historical Backwardness

From:  Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, Vol. 1, pp. 2-3.
 
A backward country assimilates the material and intellectual conquests of the advanced countries. But this does not mean that it follows them slavishly, reproduces all the stages of their past. The theory of the repetition of historic cycles – Vico and his more recent followers – rests upon an observation of the orbits of old pre-capitalist cultures, and in part upon the first experiments of capitalist development. A certain repetition of cultural stages in ever new settlements was in fact bound up with the provincial and episodic character of that whole process. Capitalism means, however, an overcoming of those conditions. It prepares and in a certain sense realises the universality and permanence of man’s development. By this a repetition of the forms of development by different nations is ruled out. Although compelled to follow after the advanced countries, a backward country does not take things in the same order. The privilege of historic backwardness – and such a privilege exists – permits, or rather compels, the adoption of whatever is ready in advance of any specified date, skipping a whole series of intermediate stages. Savages throw away their bows and arrows for rifles all at once, without travelling the road which lay between those two weapons in the past. The European colonists in America did not begin history all over again from the beginning. The fact that Germany and the United States have now economically outstripped England was made possible by the very backwardness of their capitalist development. On the other hand, the conservative anarchy in the British coal industry – as also in the heads of MacDonald and his friends - is a paying-up for the past when England played too long the role of capitalist pathfinder.

The development of historically backward nations leads necessarily to a peculiar combination of different stages in the historic process. Their development as a whole acquires a planless, complex, combined character.

The possibility of skipping over intermediate steps is of course by no means absolute. Its degree is determined in the long run by the economic and cultural capacities of the country. The backward nation, moreover, not infrequently debases the achievements borrowed from outside in the process of adapting them to its own more primitive culture. In this the very process of assimilation acquires a self-contradictory character. Thus the introduction of certain elements of Western technique and training, above all military and industrial, under Peter I, led to a strengthening of serfdom as the fundamental form of labour organisation. European armament and European loans – both indubitable products of a higher culture - led to a strengthening of tzarism, which delayed in its turn the development of the country.

The laws of history have nothing in common with a pedantic schematism. Unevenness, the most general law of the historic process, reveals itself most sharply and complexly in the destiny of the backward countries. Under the whip of external necessity their backward culture is compelled to make leaps. From the universal law of unevenness thus derives another law which, for the lack of a better name, we may call the law of combined development – by which we mean a drawing together of the different stages of the journey, a combining of the separate steps, an amalgam of archaic with more contemporary forms. Without this law, to be taken of course, in its whole material content, it is impossible to understand the history of Russia, and indeed of any country of the second, third or tenth cultural class.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Requiem for American Foreign Policy

A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
   No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down,
   Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
   An unintelligible multitude,
A million eyes, a million boots in line,
Without expression, waiting for a sign.

Out of the air a voice without a face
   Proved by statistics that some cause was just
In tones as dry and level as the place:
   No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;
   Column by column in a cloud of dust
They marched away enduring a belief
Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.

From 'The Shield of Achilles' by W. H. Auden

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Some Comments to 'We Fail Better' Should Not Be the Motto of the U.S. Military


Re October 20, 2015 Foreign Policy podcast 
The E.R.: ‘We Fail Better’ Should Not Be the Motto of the U.S. Military  David Rothkopf, Rosa Brooks, Kori Schake, and Tom Ricks wrestle with America's recent legacy in the Middle East and what's broken with the last superpower's armed forces.   
In the podcast, among other things, Tom Ricks said that he disagreed with exit strategy requirement of the [General Colin] Powell Doctrine.  The Powell Doctrine provides that:
Military force used as last resort
Clear-cut military objective
We can measure that the military objective has been reached (end state)
Military force should be use in overwhelming fashion
The Powell Doctrine was subsequently renounced by the Clinton. For example, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin concluded that such constraint would limit the military usefulness in “achieving policy objectives”. It “could lead to the military becoming like nuclear weapons in the Cold War - important, but not useful”.   Successive administrations concurred.
ISSUE
Isn’t an exit strategy exactly what is necessary to determine whether a military objective has been reached, the end state?    
 
Discussion
Von Clausewitz observed that:
Since war is not an act of senseless passion but is controlled by its political object, the value of this object must determine the sacrifices to be made of it in magnitude and also in duration.  Once the expenditure of effort exceeds the value of the political object, the object must be renounced and peace must follow.  Book One, Chapter Two, p. 92.
 
Sun Tzu illustrates the consequences of failure:
 
Victory is the main object in war.  If this is long delayed, weapons are blunted and morale depressed.  When troops attack cities, their strength will be exhausted.  The Art of War, Book II, Par. 3.
When the army engages in protracted campaigns the resources of the state will not suffice.  (The Art of War, Book II, Par. 4)
 
Hence, what is essential in war is victory, not prolonged operations.  And therefore the general who understands war is the Minister of the people’s fate and arbiter of the nation’s destiny.  The Art of War, Book II, Par. 21.
 
Gulf Conflict.  The Powell Doctrine was given full effect during the 1990-1991 Gulf War; and it was a great success militarily and its clearly stated and limited political objectives:  Iraq must get out of Kuwait—nothing more was required of Saddam Hussein.  Politically, some argue that it was a failure because we did not pursue the Iraqi Army into Iraq proper; thus allowed Saddam Hussein to survive and requiring our greater effort at a later date.   In responding to the issue, I defer to Clausewitz: 
Modifying Condition 3:  In War the Result is Never Final
 Lastly, even the ultimate outcome of a war is not always to be regarded as final.  The defeated state often considers the outcome merely as a transitory evil, for which a remedy may still be found in political conditions at some later date.  It is obvious how this, too, can slacken tension and reduce the vigor of the effort. Book One, Chapter One, § 9, p. 80.
The fact remains that this was a very successful American military operation the likes of which have not been repeated since—as the podcast discussion clearly addressed.
Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.  The Iraq and Afghan wars share that common trait that they’re largely “expeditionary military operations in hostile territories.”  Zbigniew Brzezinski, Strategic Vision:  America and the Crisis of Global Power (New York: Basic Books, 2012), p. 67
Moreover, we could not formulate an end state (much less an exit strategy) because we did not, and still do not, understand the complexity of the environment.  As a result, the Bush as well as the Obama administrations have been unable formulate realistic military and political objectives.
“In both cases, the Bush [and the Obama] administration showed little regard for the complex cultural settings, deeply rooted ethnic rivalries generating conflicts within conflicts, dangerously unsettled regional neighborhoods (especially involving Pakistan and Iran), and the unresolved territorial disputes, al of which severely complicated US actions in Afghanistan and Iraq and ignited wider regional anti-American passions.”  (Id.)
 
CONCLUSION
The Powell Doctrine needs to be reexamined in light of our largely unsuccessful expeditionary military operations into areas where our vital interests are clearly not involved. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Two War Stories on Leadership


Leadership… There’s a plethora of books, articles, comments, blogs… you name it there something on it.  I offer no comments on the merits of each, they speak for themselves.  I just share a couple of war stories based on personal experience.

Tale 1

As a young captain in the Air Force, I began to look forward to promotion opportunities. Being appointed the commander of a unit, any unit, is usually a good way to get you on the promotion list.  So I spoke to my Wing Commander about it.  Not being risk averse, I told him ‘give me your toughest job’ and I will do it.  He told me one of the organizational maintenance squadrons was having a tough time and needed new blood.  “I’ll do it” says I.
Organizational maintenance is the heart of Air Force flight operations.  The crew chiefs perform the most important and most thankless jobs in the Air Force.  They take care of the aircraft, get them gassed, clean them, inspect them, you name it and the crew chiefs do it.  This particular squadron was responsible for our bomb wing’s KC-135A and KC-135Rs air refueling tankers.
As I began to work there and got acquainted with these airmen [male and female] and the jobs they had to do, I truly appreciated them infinitely more than I did when I just flew in the aircraft.  These airmen work incredibly long days, don’t get paid a lot, yet take such pride in what they do that it was truly a humbling experience.  I committed to myself to do the very best possible job in order to earn their respect.
About a month into the job, I was tasked for weekend duty.  I was the Officer-In-Charge of the entire squadron responsible for the operational maintenance of over 45 aircraft and about 300 airmen.  I have to admit that I was feeling… good.  I was going to be ‘DA MAN’ that weekend.  That Friday, I briefed the senior non-commissioned officers (NCOs) on what were the most important tasks that weekend, etc.  They knew all this better than me did but we had to follow protocol and standard procedures. 
On Saturday morning, at 0700 I was at ‘MY FLIGHTLINE’  I was the ranking officer in charge and  it was all mine – like in Braveheart when Stephen of Ireland says “It’s my island” [re Ireland].  With my boots spit shined to a glassy black mirrors, my uniform pressed with knife-edge creases, I got into my command truck and began to make the rounds – just stopping by and greeting all the crew chiefs as they did their normal tasks.  Leadership [management] by walking around…
Suddenly on the radio:   “ATTENTION, ATTENTION.  THIS IS NOT AN EXERCISE.  Massive fuel spill on parking spot __, aircraft ____. “ This was repeated a couple of more times.
‘This is it’ I thought, my command moment…
 I turned on the flashing lights on the truck and sped to the appropriate spot.  The senior NCO in charge of the flight of aircraft was already there; nothing appeared amiss.  I drove up to him, and very formally asked him to appraise me of the situation, what steps had been taken, etc.  Now this particular NCO was… a bit on the mild-mannered side.  He gave me a detailed explanation of what had happened and his actions. 
Not fully understanding what he was saying, I declared in a baritone and authoritative command voice, that we should tow all of the aircraft away from this aircraft to ensure safety of the flightline, clear the area, etc. etc. 
He then very seriously asked “Sir, so do you want me to tow all of the aircraft to another area, etc, etc?”  And he was ready to do this….

[ MOMENT OF SILENCE ]

 Have you ever had one of those Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moments where you are jolted into a clarity of thought and vision wherein everything else fades … and only stark reality remains? 
I suddenly felt that a fog had been lifted from my mind:  I didn’t have a clue of what I was talking about yet this NCO was ready to do whatever I told him to do.
“NO!”  I said, “No.  Just continue to follow the appropriate procedures and let me know when its cleared.”   I then promptly left. 
I drove back to my office, sat down, and thanked God for having jolted me into reality. I was really shaken up.  I couldn’t believe what had just happened… I didn’t know any of the procedures regarding massive fuel spills (hell, I didn’t even know what constituted a massive fuel spill), yet this NCO was ready to do whatever I requested. 
As it turns out, ‘massive’ fuel spills are not at all unusual with tanker aircraft and what is called ‘massive’ may, in reality, not be quite massive at all.   There are well-settled standard procedures to deal with these incidents known to all maintenance personnel who work on these aircraft.
Well, I didn’t know that… 
I sat at my desk for the rest of the day … promising myself to study and prepare so that I would never again issue orders without knowing what I was talking about.  Somebody might actually do what I requested.   A very scary thought when you don’t know what you are talking about…

Tale 2

So there I was… After about a year in the Organizational Maintenance Squadron, our wing was tasked with participating in an exercise wherein we were supposed to generate aircraft [prepare aircraft for flying] in a simulated chemical warfare environment.  In English, we are supposed to do our jobs while wearing chemical warfare equipment, and pretending that this was a real world situation. 
I was appointed the on-site commander for the exercise. I was responsible for both the tanker and bomber aircraft that were part of the exercise.  I had to ensure that all of the aircraft assigned to the exercise were operationally ready to perform their mission.  Naturally, all actions were being monitored by our commanders who in turn had to report our status at various times throughout the exercise.  If you fail to meet a particular milestone, it reflects on the unit, as well as yourself… this is not a good thing. 
Wearing chemical warfare gear is not fun… I was driving around in my command truck monitoring the operations. The aircrews that were going to fly the aircraft came out to their aircraft, completed their preflight and engine runs. Everything appeared to be going well and that we would meet our timelines. 
Suddenly, there’s a radio message stating that bomber so and so has a fuel leak and is grounded.  In essence, our wing would be unable to accomplish its mission,  NOT GOOD.
I drove over to the particular aircraft.  As I came up to it, one of our young lieutenants jumped into my truck—it was supposed to be free of chemicals, so I didn’t have to wear the gas mask.  She took off her gas mask, and told me the aircraft had a fuel leak on one of the line and had been grounded.
Again clarity came over me… I told her to think about the situation.  We were supposed to be preparing to fly an operational mission; the usual normal peacetime rules of operations do not apply in such a situation.  I told her that I wanted the aircraft to be buttoned up for a one-time flight so that it could be declared mission ready.  I also told her that if the aircraft could not be flown even one time, to let me know that as well.
Now this particular lieutenant was a really smart person, with a degree in electrical engineering from MIT.  She looked at me with a look of wonder and clarity… ‘wow, I never thought of it in that way’.  Without a word, she left the truck.  Thirty minutes later, the bomber dispatcher called out on the radio that the aircraft had been buttoned up for a one-time flight and was ready to go.  Our wing was 100 percent operationally ready to accomplish the specified mission.  We passed the exercise…
Later our deputy commander for maintenance gave me thumbs up.   I felt good about this one.  Yes, I was no longer scared that someone would follow my orders…

 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Saudi Arabian Support for Taliban /al Qaeda & ISIS Terrorism


Saudi Arabian Support for Taliban /al Qaeda & ISIS Terrorism  -- Sources    


This list is but a small sampling of sources that suggest Saudi Arabia's support for terrorist organizations 
1.         Ahmed Rashid, Descent to Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia (New York:  Viking, 2008)
2.         Thomas L. Friedman, ‘Our Radical Islamic BFF, Saudi Arabia’ New York Times, September 2, 2015
3.         Kim Sengupta, ‘Turkey and Saudi Arabia alarm the West by backing Islamist extremists the Americans had bombed in Syria’, The Independent, May 12, 2015 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syria-crisis-turkey-and-saudi-arabia-shock-western-countries-by-supporting-antiassad-jihadists-10242747.html
4.         Lori Plotkin Boghardt, ‘Saudi Funding of ISIS’, The Washington Institute, Policy Watch 2275, June 23, 2014
5.         Vicky Nanjappa, ‘Why Does Saudi Arabia Support the ISIS?’, oneindia, June 29, 2015  http://www.oneindia.com/feature/why-does-saudi-arabia-fund-the-isis-1791158.html
6.         Josh Rogin, ‘America’s Allies are Funding ISIS’, The Daily Beast, June 14, 2014, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/06/14/america-s-allies-are-funding-isis.html
7.         Steve Clemons, 'Thank God for the Saudis': ISIS, Iraq, and the Lessons of Blowback’, The Atlantic, June 23, 2014, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/06/isis-saudi-arabia-iraq-syria-bandar/373181/
8.         Salim Mansur, ‘ISIS, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the West’, Gatestone Institute, June 14, 2015, http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/5956/isis-saudi-arabia-iran
9.         Michael Stephens, ‘Islamic State: Where does jihadist group get its support?, BBC News, September 1, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29004253
10.       Patrick Cockburn, ‘Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country’, The Independent, July 13, 2014. [Cockburn was former MI-6 boss] http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/iraq-crisis-how-saudi-arabia-helped-isis-take-over-the-north-of-the-country-9602312.html
11.       Joshua Keating, ‘Why the Iraq Mess Is So Awkward for Saudi Arabia’, Slate, June 13, 2014, http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_world_/2014/06/16/the_saudis_helped_create_a_monster_they_can_t_control_in_iraq.html

Sunday, August 2, 2015

War as Continuation of Politics: For Whose Benefit?


The Soviets were great writers on military affairs.  The United States Air Force translated a number of Soviet military works under the series Soviet Military Thought. 

One interesting volume is ‘The Philosophical Heritage of V. I. Lenin and Problems of Contemporary War’ (Moscow, 1972). 
The authors expand Clausewitz’s dictum that ‘war is the continuation of politics by other means’:  Precisely because all wars are, and each given war is, a continuation of politics, they are essentially not only identical but are also profoundly disparate from one another, and frequently complete opposites.  This occurs because the political content of war is determined by the social character of the classes waging it, their political goals and a number of other concretely historical conditions. (p. 25).

[COMMENT]  This is important because particularly in the US, the classes who direct the wars do not fight them directly – volunteer soldiers – no direct impact upon classes who direct and benefit from the country being at war.  Could a disconnect emerge between policy makers and those who fight our wars?  As most Americans do not / have not served in the armed forces, is the civil-military disconnect deeper within American society?  Soldiers are “Heroes” – paid in kudos and acclaim to keep military happy.  Now with decreasing benefits, will military remain subservient? 

[COMMENT]  For example, the problem with the Syrian civil war is the socio-economic and political conditions of the initial stages of the war, that is, the opponents of President Assad versus government forces was changed essentially by the advent of ISIS Daesh, transforming it from a just war against an oppressive government to Assad’s just war against a worse and more unjust threat.  The justice of the cause is from the point of view of the eye of the beholder.  The Syrian civil was whose character was that of a just war, became an unjust war because ISIS is worse threat.  The US and its ‘allies’ [joke] have fought or opposed Assad and Iran.  This is a fact.  But where, when, and who denied utilization of Assad and Iran by US in order to demoralize / destroy the common enemy, ISIS (Daesh)?
Militarism.  As a weapon serving the ruling classes to crush all (political and economic) movements.  (p. 65).  [COMMENT]  Why do we fight these wars?  Follow the money, i.e., whose interests are being advanced?  Who benefits from these wars?  Certainly not the US or the US taxpayers?  So far (2015) the ‘war on terror’ has cost 5K deaths / $2T and we’re still there.  How can our political leaders continue to advocate and pursue ill-defined, ambiguous goals and unwinnable wars?  Are we just mercenaries or cannon fodder for sinister interests that are manipulating us?  Our national security and interests are not threatened so why are we involved in conflicts in the Middle East and Central Asia?  What are we doing there? 
Are we really military adventurists the Soviets accused us of being?  These are basic questions but seem apropos to our actions post-Soviet Union—or even before.  We invaded Grenada in 1983, Lebanon 1983, Panama 1988; Gulf War 1990-91; Haiti, 1994; Somalia 1992; Bosnia 1994-95; Afghanistan 2001; Iraq 2003; Lybia 2011; Syria 2014.  What are we doing?  Is our economic system, capitalism, the cause of war?  Is war a method of resolving antagonistic conflicts based on “private ownership relations?”  (E.g., p. 72).  Are wars for the profit of the 1% at the expense of the rest of us?  Is war class based in the United States—for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many?  Are our interventions another form of exploitation? (E.g., p. 72).