Saturday, March 27, 2010

After Greed Exhausts One's Friends

MeanMesa sees a series of stories in the events of the world which seem to ring a tone too similar to each other to be ignored.  Now, certainly the aspects of each of these is a study in variation and diversity.  The "on the ground" details derive no commonality with each other -- in fact, they are so disparate that a studied comparison of their sameness is a bit taxing as a topic even from the outset.

To bring this phenomenon to the dinner table where it can be personalized for the benefit of our esteemed and greatly appreciated MeanMesa visitors, perhaps we can approximate it in terms of specifics, that is, in terms of events in individual relations we all might have encountered.  We have all had a friend, relative or casual acquaintance with whom we have enjoyed a very casual sort of gradually expanding understanding.

The relationship itself, although never formalized by covenant or contract, rolls along very comfortably between the two parties.  There are no egregious slights or injuries arising during the period of growing confidence and comfort.  In time, we feel -- again, quite unofficially -- that we, well, understand each other.  However temperate or intimate the relation becomes, expectations of the other continue to be met.

Then, perhaps rather suddenly, we find that the other party has drifted far too far beyond the boundaries of the comfort level we had enjoyed previously.  Instead of the comfortable and casual relation, we find ourselves, perhaps, exploited or roughly manipulated.  The other party has taken a position, adopted an ambition or simply begun to demand that we provide more than we had previously ever thought reasonable.

The comfortable becomes the uncomfortable.

We are stranded with the task of deciding whether the value of the relationship is being exceeded by the cost of the exploitation.  

All this would be little more than an abstraction to be considered in sterile academia if examples were not to be quickly provided at this point.  But first, let's attempt a generalization where the essential components can be codified into parallel and comparable aspects.  That might take this form:

Part One:  The unofficial premise which has up to this time provided the basic foundation of where the boundaries are.

Part Two:  The actions of other parties which seem to exceed these casual limits.

Part Three:  The consideration of the balance between continuing this relationship and acceding to the newly imposed demands or finding the investment required to meet those demands too high and modifying or terminating the relationship.

Part Four:  We can employ this final part as reservoir for all the complications, conditions and pending arguments which might surface as we proceed through the first three.

Let's take a look at some examples -- there are many more than the ones which appear on this list.

Example 1

The Parties:  Greece and the European Union
Part One - The Premise of the Relationship

As the EU was being formed, and subsequently, as new members were gradually admitted to the Union, there was the general perception that, since all the parties would be using the same currency and, hence, impacting its value as it was used in the economies of other members, an acceptably similar policy of fiscal restraint would be followed by all.

Part Two - Exceeding the Limits

Greece, partly as a result of its previous (prior to joining the EU) fiscal policies and partly as a result of the leadership during its membership, failed to impose the fiscal discipline implied by the agreement.

Part Three - the Balance Between Cost and Worth

As it became clear that Greece's fiscal largess was going to require EU resources for its correction, other member states were faced with the prospect of "tightening their belts" because Greece had not "tightened its belt."  The question became whether or not it was worth bailing out Greece to sustain the integrity of the EU Treaty, the value of the Euro and the prosperity of other member's economies.

Part Four - Complications

Unlike the premier economies in the rest of the Union, Greece lacks a basic manufacturing/export/resource base which would make relatively quick fiscal changes either effective or possible.  The contest will be between the domestic political ramifications of EU assistance and the extended period of rather Spartan discipline which will be required to extricate Greece from its bad habits.

Example 2

The Parties:  Israel and the United States
Part One - The Premise of the Relationship

The constant and reliable support of Israel's security extended by the United States is very much directed at its defense from any repetition of the previous Arab invasion attempts.  Implied in the agreement is the idea that Israel will not purposefully antagonize these old enemies unreasonably, drawing direct US intervention into play.

Part Two - Exceeding the Limits

Although US foreign policy has tacitly courted Israeli "tough talk" with Iran, our diplomatic policy has been based more fundamentally on its willingness to patiently but consistently draw itself closer to a "two state solution" with the Palestinians.

Part Three - the Balance Between Cost and Worth

The US finds itself stuck with its policy of continuing to sustain its military and diplomatic commitment to keep Israel safe from aggression while the Israeli state continues to provoke Palestinian intransigence toward any sort of peace agreement.  We seem to be pinned between supporting a valuable friend who  enjoys our backing for its continuing security and a stubborn and aggressive state with ambitions which can only be met by acting against our policy goals.

Part Four - Complications

Although the abandonment of Gaza was a provocative and material step, in the context of the draconian Israeli policies since then, it seems to have had little effect on moving the peace process very much.  When other issues such as the simultaneous claims of ownership of Jerusalem, the repatriation of all refugees from the region of the Israeli state, the isolation wall and water rights are added to the mix, Israel has, frankly, incorporated enough "moving parts" to provide conceptual diplomatic "cover" for its intransigence.  The Palestinian Hamas hasn't helped much either.

Example 3

The Parties:  Georgia, the Russian Federation and the US
Part One - The Premise of the Relationship

Georgia, as a burgeoning democracy among the remnants of the old Soviet Empire, was anxious and willing to accept an implied US backing for its continued autonomy in such close proximity to its recent sponsor and powerful neighbor.  It was expected to pursue gradually improving relations with Russia as it behaved in a rational, mature manner.

Part Two - Exceeding the Limits

Where an on-going negotiation might have gradually diffused domestic conflicts with the Federation in Georgia's two Northern provinces, a very poorly planned scheme of hostility erupted instead.  The ambitions inherent  in Georgia boldly confronting a super-power military as a consequence of behaving badly in its domestic affairs  ranged too far afield beyond the commitment implied by its US security agreements.

Part Three - the Balance Between Cost and Worth

Although the US hardly had an appetite for sacrificing a very visible post-Soviet ally to the "Russian bully," the prospects of antagonizing the Russian Federation was clearly too high a price to pay to sustain continuity in our support.  We let the military conflict run its predictable course -- all the while lamenting the outrage of the brusque treatment of tiny Georgia -- before initiating a very  conservative program of rearmament.

We didn't really stand up or run away.

Part Four - Complications

This whole affair unfolded during the Presidential campaigns of 2008.  The reactionary elements in the McCain camp, probably responding to a scheme cooked up by Mr. Rove and other neo-con political advisors, had quietly emboldened the President of Georgia to try such a reckless gambit based on the ill considered likelihood that the Federation would back down.  It didn't back down, and we couldn't help without rattling our ICBM's, threatening the EU's natural gas supply or permanently forsaking our hope for Russian assistance in Iran.

The List of Parties and Circumstances can include far too many other examples.  We can look at the destructively strained relationship between:

 - the neo-cons and their right wing, evangelical political hosts,

 - the "trust relationship" between the US government and its contsituency of voters

- the affections of Iranians for Americans and the rancor between 
the Iranian state and US policy,

- the Iranian people's hopeful attraction to an Islamic Iranian government and the violent repression after the election,

- the trust of Catholics in the authority and legitimacy of the Church and the cynical behavior of their spiritual leadership in the sex abuse cases.

A great number of these "conflict of interest" incidents can be laid at the boots of the autocracy's savage appetite to convert absolutely anything into a domestic political advantage by synthetically constructing innuendoes of either conspiracy, deception or betrayal in their relentless schemes to promote fear and mistrust in the domestic political arena.  The fact that either poorly designed or outrightly cynical US involvement in such matters often left either dead bodies or desperate, wrecked economies in its wake makes a thorough understanding of this an unavoidable necessity in our path forward.

We seem to be doing a little better in this with an elected, idealistic President who is not politically intimidated with the prospect of acting honorably.

MeanMesa's compliments to the President.

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