Monday, December 19, 2011

Riding out the perfect storm of 2012

To weater the gathering perfect storm US needs to keep to minds its business, and avoid adventures into the turbulent waters abroad.

In the ocean, rogue waves form where strong ocean currents intersect, but they can travel too. In the air, collision of highly mobile weather systems over weather can produce perfect storms. These are less regular than ocean currents, but the presence of several intense systems is good indication of trouble.

Economic and political trends going into 2012, show a similar presence of multiple intense 'systems':
Europe is likely to undergo protracted political and economic slide, and will be very needy and self-centered.

Middle East has given rise to the Arab spring, with hopes are being replaced by harsh realities. In most countries where new situation is possible: Tunisia, Lybia, Egypt the democratic forces are weaker than either Islamic factions or the military. Terrible pictures from this weekend in Egypt prove, among other things, that the interests of military are not identical with those of the democratic forces, or the public at large. During Lybia's civil war there a wave of refugees set of for Europe. In fact, the whole point of US military intervention was to help Europe manage a military and immigration situation on it's periphery. Europe will be less able to provide US assistance with continuing trouble in the Middle East as their intense economic difficulties.

In Asia there are new realities that spell trouble. A newly assertive China has recently launched a refurbished Russian aircraft carrier. Even Vietnam turned to US recently asking to help safeguards it's rights in the South China Sea, which China's first step to re-establishing itself as a maritime superpower centuries after their great exploration came a sudden stop. We could expect the same from the new China, as the old:
In 1405, the emperor Zhu Di who recently usurped the dragon throne needed to legitimize his rule and sent out a great maritime expedition led by his talented slave who became a navigator: “Zheng He has been sent overseas with gifts to declare my will. It is forbidden to bully small and weak nations”.
Officially, the maritime expeditions sought peace and friendship, but in reality achieved economic and political domination wherever they passes. “The Chinese simply arranged to replace unfriendly leaders in countries where they encountered difficulties with someone willing to trade on their terms”, summarized Louise Levathes in her book 'When China ruled the seas'.

North Korea's old leader Kim Jung Il finally died today of a heart attack. He's been replaced by his unknown play-boy son. Recently, South Koreans expressed their fears that passing of the old leader could lead to instability. North Korea is one of the most repressive nations on earth, John Bolton correctly called it 'a horrible nightmare', and this is one of the few instances when some change in that horrible situation is possible. Forgive me, if I don't pine to status quo with any zeal. Of course, destruction of the nepotistic Stalinist regime could be a very, very painful process.

Russia is in revolutionary throes. The most likely outcome appears to be increasing modern, non-lethal repression and victory of Putin in March's elections. His angry and provocative disrespect of demonstrators is increasing the scepticism of the weary public beyond thresholds which even the stout Russian soul can tolerate. It likely outcome, is a restive populace fighting modern surveillance and repression through demonstrations, and civil disobedience. The opposition to Putin is committed to non-violent means, but the question remains can they make it impossible for him to govern?

Iran has delivered a public humiliation to Barack Obama and his administration by belittling his pleas to get RQ-170 spy plane back. Given the relationship between the countries, and the spying on Iran the drone was likely involved in, there was absolutely no reason for US to subject itself to this humiliation. On top of an intelligence and technology fiasco, it gave the perception of impotence which is very dangerous in the region. Besides, do we need to give mullahs any more confidence, while they defying the world to build nuclear weapons? Iranians have recently flaunted on of their cards by holding an exercise to close the straits of Hormuz, through which a thirds of the worlds oil is shipped.

Israel is surrounded by Hizbollah, Hamas and it's ally Palestian Authority, an increasingly hostile Egypt while threats Iran makes periodic threats of annihilation. If Israel is forced to acts against Iran without direct involvement by US things would be very ugly.

United States will have to deal with a lot even before elections in presidential elections on November 2012. We can expect no leadership from Obama. I foresee a sole exception: Obama may allow an Israeli strike on Iran in the late summer of 2012, not to help Israel, but to score political points. The Supreme Court is going to rule on Obamacare in the summer, in the heat of the political battles. Things are getting hot. And we need a cool-headed leader. Recently, I wrote an article explaining why think that Romney is be the best candidate in 2012 GOP field. Romney has strong credentials and interest in domestic politics. He is relatively weak and disinterested in foreign relations.

Considering the gathering perfect storm of 2012 I see Romney more favorably because of this limitation.

With the exception of Iranian crisis, the best strategy for the US is to get its own house in order and away from the world's troubles. The world will long for the good old days of 'US hegemony', when it tried too hard to solve the worlds problems. The war in Iraq is a sad example. For the cost of hundreds of billions and several thousand lives of US armed forces, what have we achieved?
We removed a major counter-weight to Iran, and replaced it with a democracy which is already under Iranian influence.

Syria. There little motivation for US to get involved with Syria. After all US got involved in Lybia's conflict to help Europe (primarily Italy) secure its borders against refugee flux, not Lybia's quest for self-determination. I am not suggesting any military involvement in Syria, but taking a clear moral stand. Even the dictator's club of Arab league has denounced Assad more strongly that US under Obama. Obama's term was very expensive for the US, and abroad; nobody can afford another.

To weather the coming perfect storm US needs to forgo invasive foreign policy and simply get its economy in order. Meanwhile, we should express outrage against violence in Egypt, and ballot stuffing in Russia, etc. but limit ourselves to the right words, even if the world burns around us.

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