La Riposte

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Commonwealth Games: Slumdogs vs. Millionaires

The recent controversy surrounding the preparations for the Commonwealth Games in India ignores the root of the problem; that there is a vastly different standard of living in the “core” regions of the West, and those of “periphery” states which, yes, include even large countries such as India.

His home destroyed to improve
 the ambiance for visitors.
Let’s consider housing. The real story, that of thousands of poor Indians being displaced as their slums were razed by bulldozers to make Commonwealth athlete and guest housing more presentable was hijacked by the steady stream of athletes boycotting the games because the housing and security (from accidents, crime, and disease) were not up to Western standards. But the housing, security, and healthcare available to those athletes, even under the worst circumstances, are an order of magnitude better than the majority of citizens in the host country are obliged to live with every day – and similarly considerably better than many citizens of visiting Commonwealth countries such as Bangladesh, Cameroon, Malaysia, and Nigeria.

Notably, the countries complaining about the conditions in New Delhi have nearly all been from the more privileged of the Commonwealth nations – those with predominantly white populations and high standards of living. The source of the problem can be seen by looking back at the start of the games – which were originally called the British Empire Games in 1930, and only took on their new and somewhat more egalitarian title in the 1960s. But the real problem is the dual standard that remains worldwide as a result of the colonial imperialism without which, there would be no games, and no problem.

Colonial possessions, including India were systematically exploited for resources, a trend that continues to this day, and there is some irony in the fact that a nation where so many still live in abject poverty would spend 7.5 billion dollars on an athletic event where the only common bond shared by most of the 54 member states is that they were colonized or had their indigenous population exploited by Great Britain for over a century. 

Perhaps these games will serve to highlight for the privileged upper-class of the world that the conditions under which they would not deign to live for a few weeks are the daily reality for billions of their fellow humans around the world who live on less than $1.25 per day. If that was the message people took from this, maybe these games would be worth the cost – but instead, the focus seems to be on the privileged athletes themselves – how shocking that they, who are blessed to play games for a living, should have to spend even a little time in the real world.

- Edward H. Carpenter

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Book Burning – Bad If A Church Does It, But OK for the US Government?

The New York Times reports that the Pentagon bought up nearly every copy of “Operation Dark Heart” from St. Martin’s Press, and then destroyed all the books “to protect secrets.” (The fact is noted in 3 paragraphs at the bottom of an unrelated post regarding the latest Afghan War casualties.) 

While a redacted edition is available in hardcover and in a Kindle edition proponents of free speech must certainly hope that one of the 100 uncensored copies which escaped the clutches of government censors and are now being sold for upwards of $2000 on the Internet, will soon be released in a full-text file by WikiLeaks or a similar organization. (One copy is owned by the NY Times, which originally published the "teaser" pages shown here.) 
And who paid for this egregious act of censorship? The American taxpayer, of course, to the tune of about $50,000 dollars. As Gabriel Schoenfeld remarked in a more detailed accounting by the Times, “There’s smart secrecy and stupid secrecy, and this whole episode sounds like stupid secrecy.” That's putting it mildly, Mr. Schoenfeld. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Really, General?

David Feith’s ode to Odierno in the Wall Street Journal serves as a bully pulpit for the Army General to sing the praises of the “surge” of 2006, claiming that in today's Iraq sectarian violence is almost zero.”

Apparently the General failed to read the recent headlines, which show continuing violence throughout the country. According to the latest statistics, there are still an average of 4 deaths from gunfire and 8 deaths from bombings every day – 2798 so far in 2010.

An improvement from the height of the violence in 2006-2007 – but it’s hardly anything to crow about. And when General Odierno says of the continuing violence “Yes, there's still some terrorism but it's not insurgents anymore,” one has to wonder whom he thinks is responsible.

The General goes on to say that:
"In 2004, '05 [and] '06 you had an open insurgency against Iraq as a whole. It was many different groups fighting to really decide what Iraq's future will be. We're beyond that now—I think people know where Iraq is moving."
 Do we? Judging by the inability of Iraq’s elected politicians to form a government in 6 months, it would appear that Iraq is moving toward more violence, and the probable rise of a strong-man from the military – something that Odierno himself admits is a possibility. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Finland is Not in Asia, and Neither is Voldemort

Andrew Krepinevich’s latest opinion page in the Wall Street Journal misses the mark, and falls short to splash into the veritable sea of similar pieces regarding China’s designs in the Western Pacific.

He begins the article by invoking the spectre of the Cold War, but the “Finlandization” he describes is simply what all regional hegemons attempt to do with smaller neighbors – persuade them to support the hegemon’s foreign policy objectives.

If Krepinevich is to be believed, only the dubious advantage of the American military presence in Western Europe prevented this from becoming the lot of all European states. Ipso facto, a strong US military presence in Asia is the only way for America to prevent China from shaping the region’s foreign policy.

Unfortunately, the Western Pacific in 2010 is nothing like Western Europe in 1980. The US cannot provide a credible military advantage in this theater – even if it wasn’t bogged down in land wars elsewhere. The long-standing “cult of the carrier” has seen the American hare caught napping by the side of the road, long since passed by a slow and steady Chinese tortoise that has been willing to re-imagine naval warfare in the Western Pacific. While American Naval power was viewed in an expeditionary nature in the 1994 doctrine of “Forward… From the Sea”, China’s can very easily be condensed to “Fire… From the Shore.”

Lord Nelson opined in the Age of Sail that “a ship’s a fool to fight a fort” – acknowledging the superior firepower that shore-based weaponry could bring to bear on ships of the line. There’s nothing new under the sun, and technology has once again put the advantage firmly on shoreline – and this has implications that go far beyond China. Any country (or non-state actor) with a few million dollars in hand can purchase “missiles in a box” that will seriously challenge current expeditionary military capabilities – even those of regional hegemons such as the US, China, and Russia.

Krepinevich appears to acknowledge this fact in the middle of his article, yet makes no solid recommendations for changing the seemingly inevitable shift in military power. The remainder of the article has the obligatory China-bashing – they didn’t acknowledge North Korea’s role in sinking the Cheonan (we did, but took no real action to punish the alleged perpetrators) and characterizes the country as Voldemort – the root of the Navy’s concerns about “assured access”, but one that is not officially named in reports such as the current Quadrennial Defense Review. He closes by stating that:

Washington's longstanding allies and friends in the Western Pacific want a stable military balance in the region that will encourage Beijing to pursue its goals according to accepted international norms of behavior.

But there hasn’t been a balance of power in the Western Pacific since 1945 – the US has always been militarily predominant in this theater. The rise of Chinese military power is only now beginning to create a balance – and it is a balance that will inevitably shift to favor China – no surprise, as any test of military might in the waters immediately adjacent to the North American land mass would tend to favor the US.

It’s long past time to stop kvetching about the military aspect of China’s “peaceful rise” and acknowledge that rather than taking on the improbable challenge of matching their military, we should start laying the groundwork for bilateral cooperation in the defense sector – open ourselves to China as a true ally and partner, rather than continuing to regard them as Voldemort – the enemy least mentioned, but most feared.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

(Not) The End of Combat Operations in Iraq

The much bally-hooed end of combat operations in Iraq is indeed nothing of the sort. In the first place, all 4,500 Special Operations troops (SEALS, Green Berets, MARSOC, etc) will remain in the country – and these are not men who do reconstruction or civil affairs work. And just because we’ve stopped fighting doesn’t mean the Iraqis have. Even if all our combat troops really were withdrawn, we’d continue to take casualties in the 49,000 support troops that remain inside Iraq.