Monday, September 17, 2012

First Get the Grand Strategy Right

In the incompetent muddle of the Obama foreign policy, it is well to step back from the tactical fog and think about the bigger question.

There is not much we can do about the local Middle East politics where political groups jockey for local support.  No doubt it wouldn't hurt to pull back a little aid from countries that don't protect our diplomats.

And maybe it doesn't matter much which Arab nation we align with and which Arab nation we oppose.

The bigger question is the grand strategy.  Do we believe that our democratic capitalism culture and economy and politics is better than the pre-modern culture of the Arab Middle East?  If we do then we should act on it.

In a way, it probably doesn't matter what we do about it.  All we need to do is support democratic capitalism at home and abroad and make things difficult for non-democratic non-capitalist actors.  But first of all we have to believe that our way is best.

If you look at things that way then you start to understand why the Obama administration is having problems at the tactical level.  You can start with the documentary 2016: Obama's America.  It tells us that Barack Obama believes in the notion of anti-colonialism, that the problems of the former colonies of European empires were caused by the imperial oppression of Europe.

There's a grain of truth in the anti-colonialist notion.  European culture has devastated pre-modern cultures all over the world in the last half-millennium.  Europeans sailed all over the world in their ocean-going ships, and they traded and colonized.  Nothing was ever the same after the Europeans arrived.

Was the devastating change due to imperialism?  Or due to the wealth-generating miracles of capitalism?

Put it this way.  The facts on the ground are that, wherever European capitalism caught hold, prosperity has gone from $1 to $3 per person per day to $130 per person per day.  What would have happened if the Euros went all over the world and didn't make an economic difference?  Would the Europeans have conquered the world?  I doubt it.

The point is that capitalism has transformed human life on this planet wherever it has touched down.  Almost everywhere that transformation has included traumatization of traditional cultures and economies.  Because capitalism means constant creative destruction of the economy and the culture: not just for the peoples of Africa and Asia but for the peoples of Europe and North America.

The people of the Middle East have made a very small adjustment to the new capitalist order, and the discovery of oil has allowed their peoples to live without making the capitalist adjustment, by just making money off oil discovered and developed by western oil companies.

But now the rules have changed.  Now that horizontal drilling and fracking has revolutionized oil and gas exploration and brought in resources all over the world, the geopolitical importance of the Middle East will subside.  Thus, the people of the Middle East have to figure out how to connect to the global economy by making and doing stuff that other people want to buy beyond their present suite of hydrocarbon products.

The future is going to be ugly, but there is no reason why the West should truckle to the Islamic countries as they struggle to prosper in the modern world and deal with the humiliation of their backwardness.   Let's get our grand strategy right, let's believe in ourselves, let's tell the world, and let's leave the tactics to take care of itself.

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