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02 August 2009

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Different Clue

Many people here in the Great Lakes Basin region rejected the whole concept of Free Trade. Our Congresspersons reflected our sentiments in voting against NAFTA. Some of them even voted against WTO and MFN for China. Free Trade remains a source of cold sullen bitterness for many here in the Great Lakes Basin area. (Maybe we could call it "the Basin" for short). I don't know how people feel in the rest of the Midwest.
So the Congressfolk from "the Basin" voted pretty strongly against Free Trade, but the nonBasin outvoted the Basin and the rest is history; still unfolding.
If dissident economists can start and systematise a branch of economics which could be called survival economics, they will attract interest and people away from the partisans of growth economics; once it becomes clear that growth economics has no growth, or hope of growth, left to offer.
And that bourgeois house from many posts ago will look even more attractive as a place to put in bourgeois gardens and micro-orchards and roofwater rainbarrels.

Redhand

Implicit in his [McChrystal's] stated intention is the task of creating a new and grand Afghanistan that will be a stout hearted ally of the United States in our quest to make the world an unsafe place for takfiri jihadi folk.

If this is so, the Russians must be bent over double laughing at us given their lack of success reshaping this leaky bag of a country into a model soviet satellite. This region has been one of the most godforsaken places on earth for centuries; I still can't figure out why it was a prize in the 19th Century "great game" between Imperial Russia and the British Empire. "We must have Afghanistan because it's there"?

I wish I had answers on this, but I don't. I also agree with your assessment of the economy. Can someone please tell Larry Summers to stop congratulating himself for helping pull us back from the precipice by pouring trillons in to Wall Street, so that it is once again safe for GS rapacity?


confusedponderer

It must be clear to McCrystal that this is a great task, that will probably last longer than the US are willing and able to finance it. But he is suggesting the 'comprehensive COIN' approach anyway?

I think it is a narrative they're writing.

The armed forces won Iraq, and only lost Afghanistan because of the weakness of popular will and/or of the political leadership. The armed forces will be left blameless, which probably is not an unimportant concern.

Mistakes have been made, but the army fought valiantly and was victorious!

PirateLaddie

One intriguing explanation of "the fall of the Roman Empire" (for lack of a more accurate description) focuses on the degradation of farm lands and the growing economic inefficiency of the Army. The argument is that the Empire grew by stealing gold and labor from folks it conquered, first Italy, then later further afield. To sustain the system, they built roads, maintained local rulers, etc.

As long as there was "easy gold" to seize or mine, the system worked. But as the metropolis grew, more and more resources were drawn from the hinterland -- eventually including grain ships from Mediterranean "clients."

As the legions moved farther afield, they encountered less compliant folk (the "Pathans" of Germania, as it were), campaigns required greater logistic support (even with no KBR in that day), and the resource pay out (ROI) was less and less.
The old argument about "bread and circuses" goes part of the way, but the weight of an increasingly expensive military, one increasingly unable to bring home the bacon and increasingly beyond the control of a diminished Senate and Emperor, is what really put paid to the Empire.

J

It's sad that nations choose not to learn from history. Afghanistan is a 'destroyer of Empires'. While Alexander 'conquered', he could 'not' retain 'control' over Afghanistan. 'Empires' ever since down the road of history to our present modern day, seem bent on making the same mistake in that they 'assume' because they are an 'Empire' they can 'conquer/maintain control' over Afghanistan. Well the Afghans have a different idea, after all it's their land and their society.

Now our modern day empire of D.C. wants to make another mistake with the land of Persia.

D.C. relying on Israeli lies and kooked intelligence will in the end if D.C. listens to the Israeli lies, be our U.S.'s undoing.

For your listening pleasure this Sunday, Chris De Burgh and Arian. Enjoy.

http://www.bia2.com/video/Arian-Band/Noori-ta-abadiat-(Ft-Chris-De-Burgh)/

John Howley

At its base, the relationship between net imports and net borrowing is an accounting identity: We can consume more than we produce only by borrowing from abroad.

We can enjoy the various benefits of the dollar being the reserve currency only if we maintain a net outflow of dollars with our trade deficit. We got ourselves locked into this arrangement in the 1970s after Nixon ended the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates backed by government transfers of gold in 1971.

The resulting large flows of dollars in and out of the country and around the globe are helpfully managed for us by our friends on Wall Street. These banks have made themselves indispensable to the international economy as presently structured.

However, the games they play to skim larger and larger amounts of cream out of those financial flows grow more risky and dangerous as we have seen.

The pre-71 Bretton Woods system limited both trade imbalances and international financial flows. Perhaps we should have stayed in that world.

Returning to a world of balanced trade will be painful and strenuously resisted by Wall Street. The pain, like the prosperity, will not be equitably shared.

That process will begin after the US financial oligarchy is overthrown, not before.


HJFJR

Pat,

Take a look at my post at OPFOR.com entitle "The Dangers of Making Everything a COIN Fight." Not sure you will agree with everything I wrote, but nevertheless I think part of our problems lies in our failure to understand the region we call Afghanistan.

Hank Foresman

Babak Makkinejad

All:

Afghanistan cannot be transformed by any one state at any price. This is an impossible task.

The future of Afghanistan lies with her neighbor's and not with distant powers such as US & NATO. The grand strategy game that US & EU are playing against SCO is just that - a game not worth even the chips.

Cato the Censor

"People like Mitt Romney and Haley Barbour may have more of a future than one might have thought a while back, but what sane person will want the job?"

As you yourself noted, Colonel, the key word here is "sane."

N. M. Salamon

Colonel:

Unfortunately your prognostication re USA econemy is correct, a long and painful decline in living standards. That people do not realize this is due to two major faults:
1., instead of REAL data the government publishes SPIN [unemployemnt rate, GDP, Inflation, Stress test, etc ad infinitum]; and,
2., too many citizens [as in Canada, UK et al] are totally miseducated, thus can not analyse REALITY [only REALITY TV].

Gen. McChrystal is greatly mistaken in his analysis and proposed solution of the Afganistan [and Pakistan] REALITY, as was Gen. Petreus in Iraq. Occupation is non-vialable, and extremely expensive [see Israel]. The Alpha charactersitc of these two Generals does not permit themselves to see that their plan leads to the bankrupcy of USA economy [as per USSR and Afganistan] ere there is a chance of Democracy either in Iraq or in Afganistan or Pakistan [the length of the supply route, its costs, its reliance on non-to-friendly powers, and NATO's other members' proper analysis precludes any major military help to USA [the coalition of the willing is over in Iraq, and soon in Afganistan - the other NATO members want to save their own economies rather than play imperial nonsense.

curious

Afghanistan is over. A 5 yrs old with ADD would have better chance creating coherent framework and get things done than current crew.

the good news:

- All economic indicators says Afghanistan is healing fast. (GDP, agriculture production, export/import, trade, etc)

- General stability exist. enough to create economic growth, people start settling down and farming again, normal activity emerges. (after 30 years of war, that's impressive)

- Central government exist, albeit not very effective and pretty corrupt. But the subtle difference between a CIA backed kabul warlord vs. an existing central government is significant achievement. warlords don't roam as freely in most part of afghanistan. It almost feel like a nation.

- Some form of afghan army exists and start to be able to function in limited condition. (again, this is not warlords and their army.) pretty impressive.

- Basic understanding how taliban operate and function on the ground. (The opium, the ideologue, how they organize for an attack, international geopolitics reality)

- FATA is now seriously dealt with.

- af-pak border, Pakistan mass politics, Pakistan-india talk. Recognition between Indo-Pakistan tension vs talibanism. (This is a noteable progress. Big credit for the crew who pulled it off.)

- Recognition that as long as there is no functioning state that can fill power vacuum, taliban will thrive.

Bad news:

-Times up. It is fairly obvious, what needs to be done to achieve stated goal cannot be accomplished with current strategy, politics, economy and civilian set up. The window ofopportunity is too small to accomplished the designed goal. The structural limitation demand much more time, money, manpower and political backing that can be given. (not to mention afghanistan competent leader)


--- Military operation

-Majority area are ok. It's the last stuborn stronghold, primarily in north east, helmand and pakistan border. unfortunately Kabul and surrounding is located next to it. (Western Pashtunistan, af-pak left love handle)

-The conflict changes from complete wild ghoose chase of everybody shooting everybody, we, being just another warlord in gangland style territorial war, to we shooting insurgency in elaborate coin operation. The population doesn't understand what happens, ambivalent, and probably prefer to stay away. (One can call it progress, but hardly meaningfull in context snuffing al qaeda.)

-the individual operation itself is fairly effective. taliban lost a lot of men. But in grand scheme of things, the lost is small, since taliban can retrain the few thousand men/year they lost. The foot soldiers main purpose is to undermine government legitimacy and operation, and low level guerilla war, not open warfare. this is not complicated training.


- taliban as a movement/short hand of constantly shifting groups. (fringe idologue, Islamic militas, drug gang, armed political group, etc, etc what a zoo) are alive. The core leadership, 100-200 most experienced hands are intake. They are able to analyze, adjust and regenerate/retrain operative. (let's face it, taliban is low cost operation. their big attack is 50-100 man with machine gun mowing a small area, taking out opponent village leaders, civilian services (school, police station, businesses, etc then setting up station/road block) Their other effective operation is planting road side bombs. Few pound of heroin will fund stuff for years. Bottom line, taliban aka. mujaheedin/freedom fighters doing what they are originally designed to do. And they are doing it quite well.


-- civilian side

- Let's face it. Karzai is a knob. He is all about knowing the DC lingo and old CIA connection. He is to afghanistan what Lon Nol was to Cambodia. He get there because we put them there, that's why nobody in afghanistan listen to him. That's why he is so ineffective. Majority of afghanis who matter simply say fuck off. While most people doesn't care if it is Karzai or a jalapeno on a stick is in charge. (I watch a snippet of his campaign speech and how local react/interact with him. This guy is pathetic.) Nobody listen to him. He is just another clown in the circus. No wonder taliban is so effective. They are more credible.


- refugee centers, training camps, extremist madrasah, charities, drug operation, weapon bazaar, anti government radio, etc. Are all operating freely feeding talibanism. (this on top of government backed drug operation.) The afghanistan goernment doesn't have anything similar to compete and fill the vacuum.

-reconstruction. It's major corruption. Take very basic material cement & fertilizer, without which no recontruction can occur, hence no genuine national reconstruction. They dont even appear anywhere on plan. So, one can conclude, no afghan army bases, no road, no civilian structure, no chance draining refugee camp, poppy farming, major cities remain in ruin, etc. central government doesn't exist beyond the moment there is a military operation. after that, taliban come in, start shooting, and doing whatever they are doing. (specially in north east mountain and helmand.)

-this is all fairly amazing, considering afghanistan has very few population centers.

(see below. old story, but still relevant. total fubar.)
http://cursor.org/stories/karzai.htm

- 10 years from now. Afghanistan would be Pakistan ver.2.0. A pathetic, over populated client state in constant verge of war. Filled with drug cartels and black op to the eye ball. Imagine Columbia combined with Pakistan.


-- International diplomacy
The geniuses in charge still don't comprehend the complexity of central asian game. They think all their tricks, bargaining and scheme are clever. Every other week, we have war with Iran talk, soviet containment, whacking commie chinese, odd bargaining with India, who knows what in Pakistan, kicking sands, poking eyes, this and that ...

we don't know if afghanistan is nation building, coin, part of GWOT, creating central asian toehold, launching pad for Iran offensive, piece of zionism diplomacy, soviet containment, part of scheme to undermine china, Pakistan-India bargaining piece vis-a-vis China, soft underbelly of Soviet-China, rehash of cold war diplomacy, ... completely fubar.

In the end, nobody is happy, and everybody is grinding their axes. So we got, major military training, regime change, assasination, border skirmish, trade snub, price instability, logistic nightmare, afghanistan domestic instability, afghan trade/international relationship inconsistency, etc. All leading to big conflict.

Just a reminder there are FIVE nuclear powers in that thight spot. Make is six if Israel launches and seven if Iran declares. And afghanistan comes complete with nasty history.

EVERYBODY HAS NUKE down there.

hello...?


So we have corrupt& innefective taliban leadership that force military to solve non military problem while window of opportunity is closing fast. All that on top of foreign policy that lead to afghanistan instability.

-----------

The final big question:

given curent state of operation, size of opportunity window, the immediate task of eleminating Al qaeda... what can be done?

Extreme of spectrum:

- carefully planned, well callibrated, Effective and coherent nation building. emphasize on stability, security, and creating basic, clean and functioning government to fill vacuum. (Sorry, not happening. There are too many corrupt idiots up top. too many incoherent competing interest.)

- minimal Al qaeda hunting operation (basically turning the entire af-pak area into a giant hunting ground. 2-3 huge operatinal bases. UAV, small bombing operation, numerous small team of Tag-snatch-destroy-grab. ) Anything that looks like al qaeda on screen is gone. This type of operation is small enough to be sustained for decades.

- wrap it all up and fly home. (probably not an option. Al qaeda ver. 2.0 will emerge in the chaos out of the original al qaeda remnant.)

Fred

“Our worship of "free trade" has caused us to export our manufacturing base.” This is the failure of vision of those who believe in ‘free trade’ theory with the religious ferocity of a jihadist. “Conservative’ has been linked to ‘free trade' since the Gingrich revolution. It has harmed America’s strategic capabilities while concentrating material wealth as never before.

DC: “Our Congresspersons reflected our sentiments in voting against NAFTA.” This is patently false. Go back and look at the votes in ’93 when this first passed. Ask Michigan Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Pete Hoekstra his position. Just what has he and the members of the Michigan Republican delegation done to stem the outsourcing of the US manufacturing base? I suggest you take a look at the ‘Club for Growth’; Grover Norquist’s ‘Americans for Tax Reform’ and even the doctrine of Dick Devos.

After years of ‘conservative’ leadership the Iraqi army is incompetent and corrupt; the Afghan government and army are worse. General McChrystal wants a full blow COIN operation? Good luck. America’s waking up from the Bush years with the realization that the “$1 trillion’ number being bandied about for national health care just happens to coincide with the cost of the Iraq war. America has little to show for it and plenty of pent up frustration.

“People like Mitt Romney and Haley Barbour may have more of a future than one might have thought a while back, but what sane person will want the job? “ Pat, they might have a future but their past is linked irrevocably to supporting the ‘free trade’ theories that led to the exportation of our manufacturing base. They made little effort to influence Republican policies on Iraq. I wouldn’t count on the GOP’s Old Guard to be restoring the conservatives to the oval office.

F B Ali

Colonel,

Welcome back! With your unerring instinct you have pointed us to the two stages upon which are unfolding the latest acts in the tragicomedy that future historians will write about as The Decline and Fall of the American Empire. The causes are essentially the same as in earlier times, including the control of the empire passing into the hands of conmen and clowns – and whores (of whom there appear to be plenty in Congress and your media). The appearance of the odd Marcus Aurelius or Barack Obama does not appreciably change the outcome.

History warns of angry generals returning from the far marches of the empire, blaming their inability to defeat the barbarians not upon themselves but upon the failure of the emperor to raise more legions for them. And Shakespeare’s Caesar warns of men with lean and hungry looks. “Such men are dangerous”, he said.

Robert in SB

Afghanistan is "Braveheart" with AK-47's. The reality for afghans is 15th century tribal society that the world passed by. They have allegiance to blood kin and the high bidder only. Tough, shrewd hillbillies who are viciously unforgiving to anyone who crosses them and can't buy their way out, or vaporize them with superior weapons.(?-ask the Brits and Russians how it worked out for them). Watching the US military leadership chase its tail there is like watching the 4 guys in the movie "Deliverance"
take way to long to realize that they aren't in the Kansas anymore and best get their asses back where they belong. Fast.

Patrick Lang

Robert in SB

I like the comparison. Watching some of these hyper-ambitious generals try to deal with the reincarnation of Wallace's people would be hilarious if it were not so fraught with danger. I will offer the thought that maybe Obama let Gates sell him on McChrystal, COIN et al. Rodriguez was Gates' military assistant. (He sat in the anteroom.) McChrystal was Rodriquez' roomie and classmate at WP. McKiernan is not a ring knocker. "We'll sing our reminiscences of Bennie Haven's, oh!" Hmmm. pl

curious

This is going to be waaayyy interesting. (in get out of hand sort of way.)

US backed anti-chinese uighur mixed with al qaeda. oh yeah. Bin Laden hit the jack pot.

I am marking places on the map that will be destroyed in conflict between US vs. Chinese interest. Lots of people are going to die.

http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2009/08/uighur_terrorist_lea.php

Uighur terrorist leader threatens attacks against Chinese interests across the globe

Background on Abdul Haq and links to al Qaeda

Haq, who is also known as Maimaitiming Maimaiti, became the leader of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party in late 2003 after Hassan Mahsum, the group’s previous leader, was killed in Waziristan, Pakistan. Haq was appointed as a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive leader council, in 2005, according to the US Treasury Department, which designated him as a global terrorist in April 2009. The United Nations also designated Haq as a terrorist leader.

Haq is considered influential enough in al Qaeda's leadership circles that he is dispatched to mediate between rival Taliban groups as well as to represent the Shura Majlis in important military matters. In June, Haq was spotted in Pakistan’s tribal areas attending an important meeting with Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan’s overall Taliban commander. Haq and a senior delegation of Taliban and al Qaeda leaders traveled to Pakistan’s tribal areas to discuss the Pakistani military's operation in South Waziristan. Among those in attendance were Siraj Haqqani, the military commander of the deadly Haqqani Network; and Abu Yahya al Libi, a senior al Qaeda ideologue and propagandist.

crf

Who's the sovereign in Afghanistan?

If Karzai is the sovereign, we should let him direct the war, with a free hand, with our troops.

If we don't want to do that, why are we there? Don't say it is to provide support for his government. If we don't support him enough to let him be sovereign over his own country, and direct its own wars, according to what he wants to do, then we should f*** right off from Afghanistan.

Robert in SB

In using the Braveheart with AK-47's to create an image that Westerners can make a synaptic connection with; Who was their William Wallace? Ahmad Shah Massoud was Afghanistan's Braveheart. He was assasinated 9/9/2001, by Binladen/Taliban. I have always felt that some thing greater died with Massoud's killing- He was his county's last, best hope.
For anyone who is interested, pick up a copy of Sebastian Jungers book, "Fire". He was at Massouds side in the months leading up to 9/11, and documents the urgent requests for assistance that fell on deaf US ears. The Neocons and Bushies left them twisting in the wind when we could have dealt the Taliban a body blow,summer of 2001. Spent the summer in Crawford instead, reading and then ignoring memo's about planes used as flying bombs.

Norwegian Shooter

First timer, been reading a month or so, it's a good blog, thanks.

Obama's moves with regard to Afghan were to send more troops, cast it as the "good" war vs. Iraq, and try to convince NATO to send more troops and/or make the current troops more active. Your original most makes it sound like McChrystal is promoting his own ideas. I agree with your comment above that strategy is likely coming from Obama/Gates/Petraeus, but not necessarily in that order.

However, what got me to comment is your economic point. Free trade=bad is an easy and quick point to score, but that doesn't make it right. Free trade is the classic case of widespread small benefits and localized large costs. If you're in the hard-hit industries,* you got screwed. But the benefits to the entire society were much bigger than the costs. Everyone has a higher standard of living because of cheap consumer goods. Free trade makes the economic pie bigger. The rub, which is a political problem, is to give some help to those hurt the most.

But my main disagreement is even mentioning free trade with regard to the present crisis. It just isn't anywhere near the other factors that are being discussed. Also, balance of trade deficits aren't as easy as you make them out to be, either. Yes, Americans bought lots of imports, but they paid for them with decreased savings and borrowing against the increasing value of their house. That's our fault, not free trade's.

*Different Clue - I don't what exactly you meant by the Basin economy, but if you're talking cars, free trade isn't to blame. In fact, protectionism let US automakers make a crappy product for far too long. When it ended, and it eventually does end, Japanese and then Korean cars gave better quality at a cheaper price. And even some of the jobs lost to better foreign cars eventually ended up in the non-union South, so the country's hit was far smaller than the cost to the Basin. If you want a good example of free trade wiping out an industry, look at textiles.

curious

I still can't figure out why it was a prize in the 19th Century "great game" between Imperial Russia and the British Empire. "We must have Afghanistan because it's there"?
Posted by: Redhand | 02 August 2009 at 05:32 AM

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Game

From the British perspective, the Russian Empire's expansion into Central Asia threatened to destroy the "jewel in the crown" of the British Empire, India. As the Tsar's troops began to subdue one Khanate after another, the British feared that Afghanistan would become a staging post for a Russian invasion of India.

It was with these thoughts in mind that in 1838 the British launched the First Anglo-Afghan War and attempted to impose a puppet regime under Shuja Shah. The regime was short lived, and unsustainable without British military support. By 1842, mobs were attacking the British on the streets of Kabul and the British garrison was forced to abandon Kabul due to constant civilian attacks.


---------

Othr point of view: (British way to draw france & Russia attention away from european conflcit and duke it out in central asia instead.)

http://books.google.com/books?id=FzmkFXSgxqgC&pg=RA1-PA74&lpg=RA1-PA74&dq=Russia+Britain+afghanistan+great+game&source=bl&ots=ndtGB0q2ow&sig=UOxtU-gS0emhwmJjk6x4eDYS2sQ&hl=en&ei=XyR2Su6DC8-StgfF1NGWCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3

R Whitman

On the economy. As Adam Smith wrote: You add to the wealth of the nation if you grow it, mine it or manufacture it. In aggregate we still do well, even though we have ceded labor intensive manufacturing to other nations.

The strength of the USA for the last 200 years has been innovation and invention. Here we do better at this than any other nation. I fully expect some American in the coming years to devise some sort of Disruptive Technology to win the X-Prize for a practical 100mpg automobile or an "order of magnitude" breakthrough in the efficiency of conversion of solar energy.

We are good at these game changers. Look at our technological history.

Patrick Lang

NS

This sounds like academic twaddle to me.

"the larger society?" What? Is this envisioned society the U.S, North America, the world, the universe?

Maybe just the people with all the money? pl

J

Colonel,

Today is both a day of sadness and a day of thanksgiving. CNN says that Navy Capt. Michael 'Scott' Speicher's remains were finally located and flown to Dover AFB and positively identified. Remembering the loss in the first phase of the air campaign of Operation Desert Storm, and the frantic searching to locate Speicher's downed FA18 and the empty feelings on the part of many not being able to locate him. That sadness of loss has remained with many to this day who fought the air war in those initial hours of the air campaign. Now a feeling of thanksgiving that he will be never be lost on foreign soil, but will be where his family will now have their loved one 'home'.

Please, take a few moments of silence and bow your head in remembrance of Capt. Speicher and for the speedy healing of his family.

May God bless and comfort the Speicher family, and may God bless Scott forever, AMEN.

curious

We are good at these game changers. Look at our technological history.

Posted by: R Whitman | 02 August 2009 at 08:34 PM

Game changer is all over the place throughout history. We aren't all that special. In fact, in the last 200 yrs, we've been pretty slow compared to other. Only in the last 50-60 years/post WWII we maintain the top ladder. Top dog of the world come and go very fast.

for eg. Japan. Meiji restoration (1862–1869) before this, it was a scattered and bickering canton. Around this time, the emperor decide to unite everybody and make all the samurai give up weapon and be part of the imperial power. They have no modern army, no navy.

Now watch this

- 1871, they form imperial Japanese army
- 1873 mandatory conscription
- 1872-1880 France mission (training)
- 1874 Taiwan expedition
- 1894 first sino japanese war
- 1904 Russo Japanese war
- 1931 Manchurian invasion (14 divisions strength)
- 1941 pacific war

Imperial japanese navy is even more impressive in term of build up from nothing. They started with nothing i 1870. by 1921, they spend 32% of their national budget building war ships. By opening of WWII they were the biggest navy in pacific, designing their fleet specifically to defeat US navy. (they were the first to implement aircraft carrier strategy btw. And nobody use it like they did.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_Japanese_Navy

Same with WWII germany, Post war Japan, Postwar Korea, Taiwan, France under napoleon, Soviet Army, Spain during colonial era.

----------
Once a country snap into high gear. It only takes 3-4 decades to get on top. Place like China with gigantic and homogeneous population will go even faster.

I would say It will take China less than 2 decades to start strutting their navy. They move from meaningless merchant ship network to biggest one in the world in about 3 decades.

(plus, they gonna pile up $1T reserve every 2 years soon. They gonna have to unload that somehow.)


David Habakkuk

Norwegian Shooter,

'Free trade is the classic case of widespread small benefits and localized large costs. If you're in the hard-hit industries, you got screwed. But the benefits to the entire society were much bigger than the costs.'

Historically, in some circumstances the benefits of free trade have outweighed the costs, in others they have not. The argument that successful economic development has more typically been achieved on the basis of the protectionist ideas advocated by the nineteenth-century German political economist Friedrich List than on the basis of pure free market principles is made in the 2007 study Bad Samaritans by the Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang, who teaches at Cambridge (England).

In relation to your argument about the nefarious effects of protectionism on the U.S. car industry, it may be of interest that Chang argues that Japanese cars were able to outcompete American precisely because companies like Toyota had been protected at the stage when they could not have competed. As Chalmers Johnson -- himself a noted expert on East Asia -- observed in a review of the book, Chang:

'is frankly contemptuous of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s best-seller “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” (2000) and its argument that Toyota’s Lexus automobile represents the rich world brought about by neoliberal economics whereas the olive tree stands for the static world of no or low economic growth. The fact is that had the Japanese government followed the free-trade economists back in the early 1960s, there would have been no Lexus. Toyota today would be, at best, a junior partner to some Western car manufacturer or, worse, have been wiped out.'

(For Johnson's review, see http://www.truthdig.com/arts_culture/print/20080124_chalmers_johnson_on_the_myth_of_free_trade/.)

Free trade can have immensely beneficial effects, but can also have deleterious ones -- it is all a matter of the specific circumstances. As to whether in the specific circumstances facing the contemporary United States free trade is an unambiguous good, it may be of interest that marked scepticism was expressed in a notable 2004 article by Paul Samuelson, one of the most influential post-war American economists.

(For a summary by Robert Kuttner, see http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0929-04.htm.)

None of this demonstrates that protectionism provides some magic way by which the deterioration in the living standards and job security of very many Americans over the past years can be reversed -- and it is certainly eminently possible that it might make things very much worse.

But, as Colonel Lang has noted in other contexts, devising a rational policy is commonly a matter of making a choice between unpalatable alternatives. Simply reiterating the free-market orthodoxies of recent years as though their truth was established beyond question does not help in assessing what are the least worst options now.

And from the point of view of the foreign and security policy questions which are at the heart of this blog's concerns, a critical point remains that Americans strategists need to take into account the likelihood that highly costly solutions to strategic problems will prove unsustainable. In addition, it would be prudent to take into account the need to reduce the burdens of defence spending on the economy.

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