Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Perils of Being Human

I wish there was no war and that every person could live in peace on this place we call Earth. It breaks my heart that some children in Africa know nothing but war, or die of diseases that we in the West consider preventable. It tears me apart that people are still considered a property to be bought and sold for labor or sexual services throughout many parts of the world. In some countries, people are murdered and clubbed because they desire freedom from the tyrants who oppress them. I wish I had a superpower that could just end it all so no one could ever be touched by a tyrants boot or brutal hand or would have to suffer the pain of disease, but alas, I’m just one man who wonders when their will be peace in the Middle East or the last person will ever be treated like a slave. These are the perils of being human, caring too much about things that feel bigger than the whole world.

The Forgone Asia Century?

A lot of experts believe that the coming century will be the Asia century with the rise to global superpower status of China, the continued rise of India, while  developing countries escalate further down the road of development. It is believed that with the Asian rise will come a Western decline. While I believe that Asia will play a more important role in this century, we should not believe that Asia's rise is a title wave that has already been predetermined to consume the world. Read any number of books on Asia and several of them will paint these doom and gloom scenarios of coming Western ruin and Asia's technological and military rise.

The best book I’ve read on Asia to date is Rivals by Bill Emmott that argues quite rationally that a rivalry between China, India, and Japan will shape the coming decades. What I really liked about the book was the fact that it didn't come across as alarmist and presented a calm, rational statement of the facts and challenges facing Asia.Reading Emmotts' book and others on the area led me to question: Is it really a foregone conclusion that the next century will belong to Asia?

 Every country Emmott outlines has big problems: China is trying to have a capitalist economy with an authoritarian government, Japan has an aging population and their recovery both economic and psychologically from the earthquake and nuclear disaster is uncertain, and India has just started to have  robust economic growth, but because their a democracy, will a change in who's governing force a change in policy, economic slowdown...etc.?

 Furthermore, if the United States economy can grind to a halt like 2008, who's to say that, some incident does not occur in China to derail their course of economic growth? Hard to imagine such a scenario, but life teaches that all things are possible.

So, is it likely that Asia will grow in importance during this century? Yes. Will this rise be the cake walk that some analysts make it out to be? No way.

Debt and Truth

Watching both political parties point fingers and chirp like discontented birds at five in the morning over the debt ceiling and the impending crisis that would occur should it not be raised has caused me to take a giant step back to inject a little candor into the debate. The basic truth of the matter is that neither political party no matter how much hot dragon breath rhetoric they'd like to spew towards the masses or bodily appendages they'd like to point is exactly in the moral high ground when it comes to debt. Bill Clinton left office with a small surplus of money, George W. Bush engaged in two wars that cost billions of dollars, and Barack Obama passed a questionable economic stimulus We've had three presidents over the last eighteen years; both parties have controlled the so called purse at various times, so this partisan red-blue point the finger bull will find no audience here. There is no sainthood when it comes to debt, both parties are to blame and if Congress and the President can't get together on a deal, then you can all find new jobs.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Democracy Consequences

I’m reading both of Thomas Ricks books on the War in Iraq: Fiasco and The Great Gamble this week and got to thinking “Is promoting democracy throughout the world and using the military to achieve it, the right strategy? Ignoring the complications of both Afghanistan and Iraq because those have been documented to no end. I believe that democracy in all its’ forms is the best form of government that mankind has ever created that should be enjoyed by everyone in the world. However, this belief cannot be imposed on other parts of the world militarily. Democracy is a process that takes years, if not decades to implement and decades long military occupations do not compute with the current economic realities in many Western countries that strapped for cash need to shrink budgets. Advancing along the same lines, it is arrogant to believe that because you’ve tossed out autocratic ruler x, democracy will automatically follow.

Democracy should be held up as a great and virtuous thing, but the imposition of democracy on people without any preparation is a recipe for failure. Let’s take Iraq, Saddam ruled Iraq with an iron fist for thirty years, democracy isn’t going to exist there six months or a year after invasion. Democracy is a human choice that cannot be imposed upon a people particularly by the representatives of a foreign government, otherwise it becomes a foreign imposition and a strong propaganda tool for autocratic regimes fearing a democratic wave that will sweep them away. Furthermore, there’s the ensuing battle between democracy advocates and the remnants of autocracy. If one is in a multi-ethnic country like Iraq with more than one brand of religion, there can be a state of civil war that impedes the implementation of democracy and further binds down troops.

Democracy is not achieved through guns and bullets alone, but is an agreed upon consensus among a majority of people that no amount of good intentions and plans can provide.

“A Peaceful Rise”?

This posting was inspired by Peter Navarro’s Death by China, a really eye opening book about the various ways China is “killing” the worldwide competition both physically through their poisoned food and cheap goods that many Americans and others buy from Wal-Mart and other discount retailers and economically through questionable trade practices like artificial currency and so called technological exchanges with American corporations blinded by the pursuit of more greenbacks undercutting American technological advantages. Other sections lay out in frightening detail the enormous rise in Chinese military and espionage capabilities and how these Chinese advances threaten not just its’ neighbors but eventually the United States. Final sections talk about how China kills its’ own people and what the U.S. can do to prevent our own “Death by China.” One of the best books I’ve read this year, try and pick it up from a library or retailer like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.

What I wanted to talk about today is the notion of China’s Peaceful Rise. Call me jaded and cynical, but I’m not buying it…when one considers the shoddy manor in which China produces their goods with poison paints and chemicals that sicken and kill our children and pets and the provocative actions they’ve taken towards their East Asian neighbors, how can anyone consider such a rise peaceful when there’s a pile of dead bodies and ruined lives indicating it isn’t. China has also begun to make inroads within Africa and Latin America taking their natural resources and then shipping the finished goods back to Africa as one might a colony. Indeed these are not the actions of a peaceful riser. When I thought about writing this post, I expected to roundly condemn China for such practices…until I considered history.

Throughout history, none of the Western powers are beneath contempt…Brittan, France, and Germany along with Japan annexed large swaths of foreign territory to themselves most notably in Africa and Asia. Many of these civilizations treated native populations as slave labor and propagated the infamous noble savage myth. They further pitted native tribes in Africa against each other to divide the masses and maintain their tight control leaving many African nations ill prepared for independence. It is widely accepted that these colonial memories played a pivotal role in the Rwandan genocide in 1994, in which over a million Tutsis’ and Hutus’ were killed.

I’m no China apologist and reject such melamine laced pet food and toys coated in lead paint as much as the next person, but before we act like many of the tactics China employs during its’ rise to world superpower status are the most revolting activities we’ve ever seen, I merely ask everyone to look at history.

The Death of Bastard Diplomacy

Harry Truman was credited with uttering "He may be a bastard, but at least he's our bastard" when discussing the Cold War era policy of supporting ruthless, authoritarian rulers who did cruel and heavy handed things to their own people. And the United States supported such rulers because even though these rulers treated their people like dogs and chess pieces, they where not communists and served the United States interests of containing the spread of Soviet Style Communism from over-running the entire world.

I'm not here to pick a fight with every American president from Truman to Reagan because its' so easy to pick apart policy decisions in highlight because history is the ultimate judge and jurist. The policy of containment and supporting dictators must've seemed like the right decision at the time, but created problems that still hobble United States foreign policy.

The most notable example of bastard diplomacy is Iran where we supported Shah Pahlavi until the very end despite the noted human rights abuses of the SAVAK and blood flowing through the streets of Tehran. This was after we removed the highly popular, nationalist leader Moussadek because it was feared what he would do to Iran potentially bringing it closer to USSR and cutting off Iran's oil to the American market.

 Twenty seven years later, after thousands of heads had been broken, an Iranian cleric named Ruhollah Khomeini assailed the Shah as an American stooge and used his program of cushy oil deals for America and human rights abuses to assail him as an agent of American imperialism. His message swept throughout a country desperate for change and thirty two years later, we have at best uneasy and at worst hostile dealings with the Islamic republic.

Latin America is another sad exercise in bastard diplomacy as successive U.S governments supported the corrupt and brutal Somoza regime, giving rise to the Sandinista revolution that eventually began to consume itself.

The continued U.S. interference in Latin American affairs while supporting a group of dubious thug characters has left America with a crippled reputation within the region that was played out publicly in Nicaragua in 2006 when noted Sandinista Daniel Ortega defeated the American backed candidates Eduardo Montealegre and Eduardo Jarquin.

As the Middle East revolts against the Mubarak's and Assad's of the world, The United States would be best served to leave well enough alone and let the chips fall where they may because when we interfere in the affairs of another country it does not work for the American self interest and in many cases ends up in something worse than the status quo. Bastard diplomacy manifested today in autocratic strongmen who is anti-terror or serves a strategic interest through resources or base for military actions needs to fall away as we demand better treatment for all human beings throughout the world.

 I may be assailed as a liberal minded dreamer living in a fantasy land or soft of terror. The reality is that the use of heavy handed tactics by autocrats in the name of terrorist fighting is likely to create more terrorists than it will dissuade. I therefore call on President Obama and all of the Republican candidates to put greater focus on human rights in any future foreign policy because America knows the cost of ignoring the human rights of other people.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

War Powers and The Congressional Squirrel Trap

The current debate over the United States involvement in Libya has raised the ire of many members of Congress over President Obama’s perceived violation of the War Powers Act. As our so called leaders squabble over what constitutes an engagement of American forces within a so-called NATO campaign to oust the long-term Libyan strongman Mummer Gudaffi from power, there’s another question that has existed on the periphery of the debate. Some members of Congress have engaged in hot, exhaust fume, rhetoric about bringing resolutions to the floor of Congress that threaten to cut off funding for continued operations in Libya. Personally, I don’t understand why Mr. Obama doesn’t just go to Congress and get the authorization for further funding because when logical minded lawmakers consider the consequences of non action. he’ll get it.

Let’s talk about consequences of pulling funding for operations within Libya for a moment. We are all war-fatigued from ten years of operations in Afghanistan and eight in Iraq and with every news report of accident and suicide bombings our purpose there falls into greater public debate. But cutting off funds in Libya presents more long term problems than it would solve for politicians. On one hand, a politician may gain temporary brownie points from war-weary constituents. On the other hand though, if a mentally unstable Kaddafi is left standing, we’ve created the potential for a human bloodletting as his forces attempt to reassert control. Furthermore, Republicans have staked a decade of policy on the notion of being tough talking and tough acting on terror. Doesn’t cutting off funding fly in the face of this? Leaving a seething madman on his throne is stupid foreign policy. Kaddafi renounced terrorism several years ago, what the hell is stopping him from un-renouncing the tactic if we leave. Nobody can afford to be labeled soft on matters of national security, or be seen as anti troops.

So what does Congress do in this situation? My guess is that this whole thing is just one big gusty windstorm of Capitol Hill air.

Attack of the Teenage Techno-Zombies

We had a power outage in Rockford about two weeks ago, which left us without electricity for approx. twenty six hours. What does this have to do with politics, one might ask? A large majority of contemporary disaster planning has focused on attacks on buildings, water and sewage, and the fabled dirty bomb exploded in a large metropolis. These types of threats are legitimate and should be planned against with the greatest diligence, but sitting there in the dark I realized that a terrorist or rouge government would not have to go to the trouble and expense of nuclear, radioactive material or other means to inflict mass chaos on the United States. All a terrorist organization or lone wolf terrorist would need to do is to gain control of an electrical grid of a major American city. There have been suspected incursions into electrical grid and cyber arenas by state governments like China among others.

I can picture it now…Americans so plugged in with their cell phones, AIM’s, IPOD’s, laptops etc. are rendered stupefied without their Facebook, and Twitters. Within days, full technological paralysis sets in as we exhaust our supply of battery backup power and are forced to read this squarish blob of bounded text that old people used to call a book. But the black printed text proves traumatically over stimulating to eyes blissfully glazed over from staring at screens all day long. This technology withdraw begins to take a toll on a generation whose never been without computers and cell phones and they take to the streets armed with the lifeless electronics that revolve their lives and a distant glazed over look on their eyes, in search of any light. Without their technological lifelines, they become combative and war-like. Cars are overturned and smashed, stores are looted, and mobs take on the names of their martyred technological goods. As the IPOD mob encounters the unsuspecting populace, they take on a vampire like quality and attack with untold destruction.

I’m being a bit of a smart ass of course, I’d like to hope humanity is better than that. My larger concern is the technological nature of society. We’re so plugged in that I question the horrors that could occur should we be left without electricity for an extended period of time.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Power of Media: When is it Too Much

Just finished reading the excellent Primetime Propaganda: How the Left took over your TV Set by Ben Shapiro detailing how Hollywood is dominated by liberals and how liberal television creators have used this position of domination to create programs infused with their own liberal values for consumption of the masses. Probably one of the most thought provoking books I’ve read in 2011.

 Shapiro really doesn’t break ground with the idea that liberals dominate the television industry, but the access Shapiro gets to these creators and executives is simply something to behold. Television creators are apparently not a shy lot as they openly admit that their shows may have a liberal bend to them because of their backgrounds and other social factors. To hear what else Shapiro has to say check out : Primetime Propaganda: How the Left took over your TV Set from your local library or favorite bookseller.

Shapiro’s book led me to question how television has altered society since its’ inception roughly sixty years ago. I thought about how the coverage of wars has changed. Walter Cronkite reported from Vietnam war-zone and in the process galvanized a titlewave of protests against the war, for better, or worse. Fast forward to modern day conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was a high school sophomore when Iraq was invaded and sat in my United States history class as CNN and other news organizations gave a very detailed accounting of the weapons that were going to be used during the opening stages of the invasion.

Now we have embedded reporters and reports for the areas of military conflict that can be a double edged sword because although one has a greater sense of what’s going on. On the other hand, there has to be a legitimate question whether we surrender too much military secrecy and put our forces in more danger in the interest of the masses craving more information.

Social media and increased information are not bad things. Many of the revolutions collectively known as the Arab Spring have been aided at least somewhat by active Facebook and Twitter campaigns detailing plans for rallies, protests, and providing real-time updates for worldwide consumption of on the ground events. But when does the information become too much? Surely, there must be a line that cannot be crossed.

 One answer may be : “Well giving out information that puts innocent lives at risk.” In a military context for example, troop coordinates should not given out on national television because it puts operations at risk. But by media outlets releasing information on protest oriented tweets and Facebook postings aren’t lives also being put at risks because government forces can infiltrate social media and send repressive security forces to break protests?

The question I pose to the blog is: Has society become too intrusive in its' need for information?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Welcome to Book Diplomacy, my name is Michael Griswold. My goal is to combine the books I’ve read with commentary and insights about the world around me. In the interest of full disclosure, I tend to take a very moderate view towards the issues that confront this world. All views are welcome on my blog and I would encourage the good natured arguments and critiques of the topics I post on. PLEASE DO NOT start disparaging each other on the basis of race, color, creed, or sexuality and lastly I’d like everyone to remember that the line between each other beliefs is thinner than it may appear.