Sunday, September 15, 2013

US and Syria: A Super Power Primer

America's Super Power "Contract With Reality"
MeanMesa responds to Vladimir Putin's editorial

Any contract stipulates "rights and duties."  That is the nature of contracts.  Generally the terms of such a contract are negotiated between the parties, and once the terms are acceptable, the contract is executed.  After that, the parties are, to a certain extent, bound by the terms they both found agreeable before.

We like to say that the parties are "bound by honor," but here, in a nation which loves laws and litigation for fun and profit, contracts are enforced judicially.  When a court with jurisdiction rules that a contract has been breached, remedy is established, and the "settling the spiff" goes on from there.

Why all this talk about contracts?  About rights and duties?  Even -- about terms which have been negotiated and accepted?

The answer to all these question, especially with respect to really, really big "contracts" is that sometimes there are neither courts, jurisdiction or laws of remedy.  This is the case with the United State's "contract" with the world to fill the role of super power.

We all know how we got here.  After enduring a few nerve rattling decades of ideological MAD [nuclear "mutually assured destruction"] between two super powers -- each with thousands of ICBMs bristling from Kamchatka to Nebraska -- one of those super powers collapsed on its own weight.  For the arithmetically challenged that left one super power, [2-1=1] the United States.

Although the rest of the world never really got to "negotiate terms" with US "super power-hood,"  it turns out the most of the planet's governments were, at least slightly, relieved that this country managed to emerge from the race still standing on its feet.  The US performance in this elevated role has been far from the abstract profile of an perfect "contract partner," but given the choices, the "contract" was generally accepted as desirable over the alternative.

Right here it is important to remember that the old USSR -- now re-imaged as the Russian Federation -- still had thousands of ICBMs the day after the Berlin Wall fell.  We may as well take the opportunity to also remember that both the resurrected version of the old USSR and the matured super power "survivor," the United States, have both embraced "evolved priorities" as they journeyed through the post Cold War seasons.

The old, raw, single issue ideological priorities [Of course, these conflicting issues of ideological purity, while generously touted as the fundamental issue of the Cold War, never really were.] have been reborn primarily as wealth redistribution schemes as Russian and American oligarchies replaced, each in their corresponding countries, the old military commanders as policy directors.

This admittedly abbreviated history of world "super power-hood" is presented here for a purpose.

The roughly sixty year journey from, say, 1950 to now contains the history of modern super powers.  This tells us that for sixty years the citizens of the industrialized world have thought about all sorts of issues in terms reflecting the acknowledgement and full comprehension of the presence and role of super powers in global affairs.

After the official demise of the Soviet Empire in 1990, another twenty or so years have passed in which Americans have understood and accepted the fact that the United States had taken the position as the primary surviving, planetary super power.  There have been plenty of "second string" powers along the way.  These have been large and powerful, but not super powers.  For examples we can consider the Peoples' Republic of China, Japan, the New Russian Federation, NATO and the like.

Over all these years in which both the concept and the reality of nations enjoying such a status were constantly present, other "maturing" changes have occurred in the perception and expectation of the historic implications of the phenomenon.  The recent geopolitical morass of the Syrian crisis has revealed some rather interesting observations of the state of both the phenomenon itself and the widely help perceptions of it.

A confusing clutch of poorly similar historical comparisons flew out from the networks almost immediately. Previous events such as Clinton in Kosovo, Obama in Libya, Reagan in Lebanon and Thatcher in the Falklands were all proffered up to establish public recognition of the gravity of Syrian intervention and to spur fleeting memories to recall the corresponding justifications which accompanied the state violence in each case.

However, along side these relatively painless memories of "comparatively more modest" military adventures and their widely varied respective successes were the devastating nightmares of Afghanistan and Iraq.  These Bush W. disasters could only generously be characterized as "elephants in the living room." Realistically considered they, instead, invited alternate idiom metaphors such as the "vulture in the canary cage."

The scope and scale of the Bush W. calamities rose quite above the other, short term adventures in that list.  Each of the stumbling Bush W. political adventures was agonizingly transformed into a murderous meat grinder which ran for decades while producing nothing which could particularly be assessed as a victory or a loss.  Quite contrary to the hyperbolic rhetoric which accompanied both expeditions at their outset, both of the victim countries now holds a cordial terror and hatred for the United States.

The Syrian crisis has "brought the broken egg back to the nest" with respect to the background presumptions Americans have about their super power status -- its worth, its responsibilities, its price, its advantages and its dangerous potential.  Now, with this in hand, we're ready to consider both the traditional definition of "super power-hood," and the actual, profoundly confused, modern manifestation of American "super power-hood."

 The 1991 "Dream" of US Super Power "Orthodoxy"

We have to indulge our fantasies just a little here.  To make the point of this post, we must do our best to imagine what might have been the answer had we asked an American in 1991 to describe the "new ideal" of super power behavior one could expect now that the Cold War had ended, that is, roughly, what kind of international player did we think the US should become once it had prevailed in the struggle.

Naturally, one of the first comments might have been concerning the constant danger level of the previous phase.

"I'm really glad that the Soviets have dropped out of the contest.  It's been terrifying to think about being vaporized by an incoming SS-18 at any minute for most of my life."

However, once the prospect of "geo-political peace" had taken root for a year or so, our commentator may well have turned to more abstract facets of the "new normal."

"Now that we will no longer need to pour every spare nickel and dime into our strategic nuclear arsenal, we'll have resources freed up to really get to work improving conditions both for ourselves and for the people on the planet.  There's are plenty of problems which need to be addressed."

"It's also surprisingly nice to retire in the evening with almost no chance of being suddenly incinerated."

"Now that the United States is the sole remaining super power, I'm beginning to really believe all those things about our country being 'exceptional.'  This means that all sorts of historic American social cultural propositions -- you know, things such as 'free enterprise,' the Monroe Doctrine, efficient government, 'unfettered capitalism,' and so on -- have been 'proven' with the test of time."

"In fact, it turns out that our American ideals and processes have been validated to an extent from which they will never again require any more arduous 'soul searching' or uncertainty. 

Boy Howdy!  We've finally gotten it right!"

Compassionate, Inspired, Idealistic, Planetary Altruism

The Cold War providing a sort of "birthing creche" to hone the competitive talents of the players.  Of course, the science of ICBM's, various styles of h-bombs and the conventional arms technology for the Warsaw Pact and NATA were the obvious contested matches, but below this bellicose surface, an equally competitive race developed for non-military things.

As a nation we had already passed through the phase where we imagined that ourselves and our incredibly powerful nuclear might could be transformed into a "planet saving gift" driven by our -- by then famous -- geopolitical altruism.

We could blast harbors, dams and even farmland into existence where none had been before.  Once we began to use our nuclear bombs "for good" instead of "evil," we could usher in  a new prosperity for everyone with the good sense to cooperate with us.

The "space race," born of the seed of SPUTNIK, expanded beyond the purely military to encompass the partially scientific, the partially ideological propaganda and the partially military industrial economic. The competition offered another "heady brew" which could excite the mass populations of civilian "cold warriors" into the contemplation of a bright style of "science fiction" future while still not straying too far afield from the real business of MAD - mutual assured destruction.

Returning to our interview, we might have heard just a bit more of the optimism about this super power's future.

"It's become clear that our technology is on the verge of solving everything!  Why, thanks to all the left over Cold War rocket parts and Star Trek, we're officially on our way to colonize outer space with our capitalistic culture!"

"Further, now that the rest of the world is completely convinced that we are not only so incredibly powerful, but also, so incredibly 'right,' we should expect that our country will be loved and respected by just about everybody.  All sorts of other countries will be simply overjoyed when they see US business interests showing up at their doors because they will know that a prosperity and security quite similar to our own will be just around the corner."

The 2013 "Super Power Toothache"
Cancer Stage Capitalism - where dreams went to die.

The United States population, it turns out, didn't do such a great job of maturing into the potential "super power force for good" that we had envisioned in 1990.  Instead, we succumbed to a number of the temptations which accompanied that fleetingly secure status, sliding into something quite removed from our indulgent, yet perhaps fallacious, over estimations of the possibilities for both ourselves and our world.

Although the following over view of these undesirable developments may seem somewhat harsh, please bear in mind that MeanMesa has "orbited the sun" throughout this entire, dismal chapter of homo sapien history.  This post's foul, geriatric reflection was precipitated by domestic events in the Syrian crisis, but the unsettling relevance extends far beyond that relatively minor occurrence.

Let's consider the failings of Americans who find themselves as citizens responsible with duties required to operate a more or less representative super power government.  Under the constant editorial threat of being overly dramatic and maudlin, we can compare these defective areas to the infamous "Seven Deadly Sins."  Of course, these are not the equivalent of the "high stakes" Biblical sins, but as far as running a representative super goes, they are gravely serious.

1. Cultural Fear and Demands for Certainty

The Syria incident revealed how incredibly intimidated Americans were with respect to risking anything whatsoever in the pursuit of national goals.  When the question of "arming the rebels" arose, Americans were willing only so long as there would be no possibility of "arming the wrong people."

Of course, much of this trepidation was directly engineered by the right wing think tanks and the subservient media, but by the time the gutless wonders in the Congress had finished exploiting the predictable wave of public opinion which the scheme had generated, the bold President was left, essentially, without a constituency to support his arms supplies and Tomahawk missile threat -- threats which, it turns out, were absolutely necessary for the consummation of any rational, material progress with the crisis.

Likewise, when the Russian Federation finally offered material assistance with the chemical weapons problem, the same think tanks and the same subservient media immediately went to work sabotaging the White House again.  The clear message was dismally consistent: trust no one; the President is being manipulated; and,  the Russians and the Syrians are setting a trap.

The US - Russian Federation match up is detente' between two respective groups of oligarchs.  The lower classes are mere cannon fodder.  However, even in this perilous power structure, yet one last distinction can be proposed.

The Russian oligarchs are a bit livelier than their American counter parts.  Most of them clawed their way to top of the economic ladder fairly recently -- after the Soviet system's death.  In the United States most of the billionaires inherited their fortunes from fathers who began earlier.

Unfortunately, the masses of the world and certainly the masses of these nations continue to pretend that the power to direct policy remains with the electorate.
While the President was playing high stakes chess with the "big boys," the country was screaming uncontrollably about the dangers, the lack of easily recognizable, painfully simple objectives, and a plenitude of poorly formulated, crassly imagined, emotional similarities to the military disasters of the autocracy.

Facts meant nothing.

The possible vindication of national ideals was frenetically mixed with everything from ObamaCare, abortion to gun control by malicious players such as Limbaugh, Hannity and O'Reilly and redefined as "unrealistic, impossible and unrealistic."  These same fear mongering voices pursue literal careers directed at relieving Americans of any impulse toward idealism and replacing this with desperate survivalism.

Yet these fear mongers run unchecked.

Terrified pragmatists, after all, become willing to do almost anything in their frantic search for refuge or security, and, thus, are far more easily manipulated.  This kind of incessant fear driven hysteria hardly represents the foundation for a great nation to pursue great policies.

A super power driven by a population devoid of ideals has a predictably desolate future.

2. Social Obsession with Guarantees and Control

Many attributes of codependent behavior were on display.  Perhaps foremost among them in this recent case was an almost psychopathic resistance to taking any chances of any size or any sort with any national policy on Syria.  Codependents have a fundamental psychology which tells them that they are not in control and cannot be.  This constant voice convinces them that any behavior of any type which might -- even possibly -- offer such control is entirely justifiable.

Codependents, although they may act otherwise, abhor responsibility.  Rather than looking for solutions to the challenges they face, they seek targets for blame.  When we consider rhetoric designed to exploit this failing, we suddenly find ourselves facing the right wing media's editorial policy.

The maxim used to be "if it bleeds, it leads," but the modern media's form is "if it terrifies or spurs hopeless mistrust, it leads."  This practice can only produce its desired results when its audience is codependent.

One additional attribute of this codependent behavior is an almost primal fear of confrontation. Moments of confrontation, as seen by codependents, are moments leading to an entirely uncertain [out of control...] outcome.

Rather than proclamations of what might be "right," we observed the constant reversion to references of "international law," "crimes against humanity" and the like -- as if firmly attaching one of the extremely genteel labels to the Syrian monsters would present a final and lasting solution to our displeasure -- and as if there was someone somewhere who might perform and enforce that solution.

We forgot that the reason such vocabulary might produce such results is also the precise leverage a super power player might lend to the balance.  Calling people names doesn't matter much in this modern world, but threats of Tomahawk missiles raining down does.

The American public is codependent, a frame of mind not at all useful in the direction and operation of a super power stateThat state of mind is dangerously indulgent, and it was made acceptable or even possible as a result of "never having to say you're sorry."

3. Avarice and Opportunism Justified by Power

The rapaciously obedient domestic media has not over looked even the slightest opportunity to proclaim Americans and the country as "victims" of the violent and outrageous behavior of others.  Not to grant too much credibility to Putin's diatribe [Putin's NYT op ed], we may still have to agree with him on this one.

With an overpowering media effort since the autocracy's nationalistic dichotomies of the 9/11 era, Americans no longer comprehend even the possibility  that much of the world is a "victim" of our treatment.

Ranging unfettered under the cloak of US super power status, our fellow travellers -- American corporatists -- have ruthlessly exploited almost every world nation unable to resist their avarice.  Why should we be shocked when decades of festering animosity suddenly reaches an explosive state?  We've purloined oil, minerals, parasitic trade agreements and cheap, abused labor, transporting the generated wealth back here to the pockets of our oligarchs.

Frankly, we did things which would never have been possible without the protective shield of our super power might.  Without it, all along the way we would have faced resistance not only to such practices, but we would have faced open condemnation for even considering such practices.  In more than a few cases, our mercantile actions would have incited national military responses, but as a super power, our "free market" corporatists were given a preemptory "get out of jail free" card.

Our early dream of being a super power included a certain restraint, a certain discretion in dealing with the world.  This part of our super power dream vaporized almost immediately with the hypnotic availability of overwhelming military intervention when things -- including business matters -- "headed south."

4. Failure to Restrain Corporations, Billionaires and Political Corruption

It's only natural that creatures such as oligarchs and the ones we find too often in corporate board rooms, once having tasted the rewards of the market economy, turn their eyes toward "gaming the system."  In the case of the United States this takes the shape of political influence, and recently that shape has grown to a grotesque level.

For example, during the Eisenhower Presidency the US economy was very successful.  Granted, war-making with the Soviets turned out to be a great business opportunity, but amid the remainder of the economy we saw CEOs and bankers making business decisions based on platforms which included the national interest, often at a higher position than their own profits.

For these businessmen success and profit models were founded on the existing legislative "rules of the day."  When the allure of "gaming the system" reached its current state of full obsession -- usually while the country was under Republican "management" -- these same success and profit models came to be based on controlling the "rules of the day."  Everyone else lost.

The lethal high stakes competition with the Soviets encouraged American business to play by the rules because during that time they existed under the constant enforcement of supporting this country.  A loss to Soviet expansionism would have been "bad for business," bit it would also have effectively curtailed any prospect of both future successes or even anything resembling a satisfying, prosperous life as an individual here.

We don't have to wonder who this is. (image)
Protected by US super power military and economic might, opportunistic American business interests demonstrated an opportunistic arrogance leading to an almost equally outrageously "mercantile fever." The predictable animus resulting severely complicated idealistic goals and the super power's constructive potential, and -- especially with case of supporting local dictators -- alienating vast populations.  Giving free reign to American business to exploit populations and nations unable to resist was a horrible policy reminiscent of the 1800's "

For anyone suspecting that this is an over statement, consider the anti-democracy intervention in Iran decades ago and the current fear and hatred still resulting from it.

No matter how magnificent your military and economic power, other people still count.  Avarice may construct a convenient, temporary "disconnect" between the two, but, inevitably, reality will ultimately balance the equation.

5. Isolationism and Risk Aversion

Obama addressed this during the 2008 primary campaign as he referenced the popular descent into "guns, god and gays" among the low information electorate. His observation was that these "easier isolationist priorities" had replaced the slightly more difficult -- but incredibly more necessary -- alternative of basing decisions on larger and more rational issues. "They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." [read the article here]

The shocking American isolationism revealed during the Syrian crisis is the traditional "tip of the iceberg" with respect to so many other "popular opinions" held by the US electorate.  Americans watched the videos of the atrocity and dutifully proclaimed how disgusted they were by it, but the emotions seemed to stop there -- some miles still distant from a willingness to actually, well, take action.

Arguments supporting a strike that were justified by the prospect of similar attacks threatening American troops in some future conflict dropped from sight as the overly nervous, incredibly short sighted, memory impaired Americans marched in zombie-like legions to proclaim "No War."  No one seemed to realize -- or even make an effort to realize -- that the President was doing everything possible to avoid exactly that.

Even Assad and Putin were apparently doing all they could to avoid "war."

But none of this held any value for the suddenly peace-loving mob mentality already set totally aflame thanks to the over simplification of reporting by the controlled media.  Ideals were simply too expensive and dangerous to enter into the consideration. The artfully engineered "survival desperation," although materially lacking any particular justification, was in full sway. Mistrust was nearing 100% even though this President had a record of actually accomplishing foreign policy goals which included the use of the military.

This rather cheaply manipulated timidity on the part of the American people may be evidence of their exhaustion after being so mistreated by the careening motives of the recent autocracy, but it shows no evidence of the traditional strength of will and confidence which would seem to be expected by the population of a super power, even after set backs which were, interestingly, absent in this case.

6. Decades of Peace Left Americans Uninterested in Real War

Even as far back as WWII the continental United States has never experienced the wide spread damage inflicted by military aggression conducted by other states.  This is the history which explains our country's  obscure over reaction to the attacks on 9/11.  It also explains the strategic values which were selected as particularly vulnerable while that attack was being designed by its perpetrators -- where ever and whom ever they may have been.

The country's significant military and diplomatic prowess was fully displayed in its emergence from the real terror of the Cold War, but in no time, the relief experienced then was transformed into a stoic lack of interest by Americans with respect to foreign policy.  The twenty years of the Vietnam War presents ample evidence of this.

That conflict was distant and, at least as it began, quite under reported.  The Presidential and Congressional leadership also remained fairly "un-opinionated" until actual media reporting began to transmit the horror of it into American living rooms -- and ballot boxes.  The elitist policy for military conscription bothered Americans almost as much as the pictures and stories about combat.

Still, having apparently forgotten the historical facts of the last half century, modern Americans would have difficulty in even so much as pointing to Syria on a globe.  To test this premise, ask your conversation partners to explain a few things.

"Where is Aleppo?  Homs?  Who is Lavrov?  Who is Assad?  How did he become dictator of Syria?  Which ethnic, religious and political groups make up Syria's population?  Who are the warring parties in the civil war?  Why does the President want to attack?" and so on.

Why no one knows what's happening. (image source)
MeanMesa predicts that you will almost immediately note a shocking lack of current information [see number seven -- below -- on this list] but also a grotesque lack of interest.

A super power inevitably moves around in the world -- in a sense, performing "super power" duties.  These are not blissfully discretionary, either, that is, there are actual responsibilities involved which dictate what at least some of those duties might be.

If you're still in the dark with this, return your thoughts to the possibility of actual national ideals.  Next, think carefully.  "Whose interests would be served by our abandoning those ideals?"

Even more unsettling, "What priorities would direct the policies of a super power as an alternative to direction based on priorities representing national ideals?"

George W. Bush taught us many things, but importantly, he taught us that the quality of national leadership for a super power means almost everything -- not just for this super power nation, but for the world.  We are responsible for our own future.  We meet that responsibility by demanding that our national behavior be consistent with our national ideals.

7. The End of Cold War Competition Fostered Being Uncompetitive

Embarrassingly, the very politically active "Syria question" revealed far more about the American electorate than anyone here would have wished.  Once the controversy began, that is, once the "go ahead" was received in the editorial rooms of the domestic corporate media, our national stupidity was splayed forth into the limelight in a glittering, and, for the rest of the world, probably unsettling, display for the remainder of the world to see.

Think of it as making our national "exceptionalism" public.

One unavoidable aspect of this extravaganza was "Obama phobia" effortlessly crowding out all other priorities -- such alternate focal points as national security, foreign policy execution and national cohesion, not to mention, high school geography.  The usual collection of intellectually challenged "mouth junk talkers" waddled up to their right wing microphones and "set their chickens free."

In no time the drifting invectives had migrated from any actual discussion of the issue to the right wing's favorite, incendiary things.  The racism was so palpable that one needed to cut through it with a knife.  The right wing's base -- the hill billlies and drawling bigots -- immediately infested the social media like locusts on a fall barley crop.

In fact on one occasion the normally reserved and temperate MeanMesa responded sarcastically to one Face Book comment with "We just can't allow the Negro to send the army out again."

That comment was met with "Damned right. That ain't American."

This is presented here as an example of an unpleasant excursion into the frayed remnant of political discourse in contemporary America.  However, even a fleeting audio visit to one of the broadcast hate factories more than explains the comment.

Of course we expect these predictable outcomes in a nation with a failed public education system, text books furnished by the Texas State Board of Education and a spectacular void of actual political discourse.  It's hardly a case of a lamenting reminiscence from citizens who remember "the old days when we actually discussed these important things."

It's been so long now that hardly anyone can remember.  Our modern collective mental process has the depth perception of a 140 word limit Tweet.

Worse, being "educated" and being "informed" have come to be known as discretionary indulgences.  All this might be an advantage for a super power directed by an un-answering, un-contradictable autocratic authority, but for a super power still more or less controlled by a representative democracy and constituent opinion, this similarity to a "rudderless  battleship" -- one raging at full speed with an uninterested captain who is both frightened and angry -- spells real trouble.

Being "educated" and being "informed" as a super power citizen have a direct bearing on the success -- and validity -- of the state.  Collectively these high priority responsibilities have been sorely neglected within the United States, and the Syria crisis, with or without Putin's admonitions, reveal this in stark clarity.

A MeanMesa Note to President Putin

You mentioned "growing trust."  We're wary, but ready.

MeanMesa's compliments to the President.


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