Saturday, August 09, 2008


Aphorism of the Day: "Communism means more stability"

“Communism means more stability,” Mr. Shu, the chief financial officer of Texhong, said, voicing a common view among Asian executives who make investment decisions. At least a few American executives agree, although they never say so on the record. —Keith Bradsher reporting in "Investors Seek Asian Options to Costly China"

By "communism" Mr. Shu meant the capitalist systems of China and Vietnam, shorn of the democratic hypocrisies required of their counterparts in the West. In the preceding paragraph Bradsher noted what a capitalist paradise looks like—

Vietnam’s biggest selling point for many companies is its political stability. Like China, it has a nominally Communist one-party system that crushes dissent, keeps the military under tight control and changes government policies and leaders slowly.

It looks like a truly "conservative" government to me if you substitute "Republican" for "nominally Communist"—the sort of thing our businessmen have been trying to establish here at home with the assistance of their Republican cadres and Democratic fellow travelers.

I probably wouldn't have noticed Bradsher's story if the Washington Post's Harold Meyerson hadn't gone on about it at some length. He writes

Doing business in China is beginning to cost real money. Not that Chinese workers are buying second homes or anything like that: Their average wage is still a little short of a dollar an hour. But so many Chinese have now left their villages for the factories that the once bottomless pool of new young workers is beginning to run dry, and the wages of assembly-line employees are rising 10 percent a year.

Worse yet, new labor laws are making it harder for employers to cheat their workers out of their wages and benefits. Many American businesses that do their manufacturing in China had warned against those laws; the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai had flatly opposed them. But the good old days of Maoist labor discipline, when the government could send tens of millions of skilled workers down to the farms to be toughened up and periodically tortured, are gone. Mao's heirs, though not above a touch of torture here and there just to keep the system humming along, are concerned, as he was not, with achieving social harmony, even if that means compelling employers to sign, and honor, contracts with their employees.

Confronted with such appalling squishiness, what's a good, cost-cutting American business to do? Many are fleeing south of the border -- not our border (Mexico costs way too much) but China's.

All fine and good coming from the only avowed socialist I know of who writes for the mainstream media.

But then Meyerson goes over the edge, tossing around the word "communist" as if he were the last of the Cold War warriors—

Now, far be it from me to begrudge the Vietnamese their moment in the sun before global capital finds them too costly and moves on to Bangladesh and Somalia. But didn't we fight a war to keep Vietnam from going communist? Something like 58,000 American deaths, right? And now American business actually prefers investing in communist Vietnam over, say, the more or less democratic Philippines? In all likelihood, it would prefer investing in communist Vietnam to investing in a more chaotic, less disciplined democratic Vietnam, if such existed.

It's one thing to call a spade a "spade." It's quite another to call an antidemocratic spade a "communist."

But Meyerson does finally get to the crux of the matter in his own befuddled way—

Let's imagine, just as an exercise, that we're trying to explain this to those 58,000 Americans and their loved ones.

... we could argue that our onetime opposition to communism was noble and all that but that, unburdened by the illusions of the past, American business, backed by the American government, has realized that the problem with communism wasn't that it was undemocratic but that it was anti-capitalist. And that once communism was integrated into a world capitalist system, its antipathy toward democracy not only wouldn't be a bad thing but would actually be good. That is clearly the political logic that underpins our involvement with China. It's a little dicier to say this about our growing involvement with Vietnam, since all those Americans whose names are on that wall on the Mall probably didn't realize how compatible with global American enterprise Vietnamese communism would turn out to be or how the cause of democracy would turn out to have been of no real importance at all.

I have no doubt that if Marriott manages to open new hotel-retail complexes in Iraq and Afghanistan and Exxon has Iraqi oil flowing freely, some latter-day socialist will bemoan the deception of the public into the belief that these wars were fought for "democracy."

I just hope the writer will be a little more careful with the language. Governments that serve capitalist interests aren't communist, and they sure as hell ain't democratic.

Related posts
The death of the Left (11/27/04)
Superfluous beliefs (6/10/05)
Red Scare II: Mayday! Mayday! It was May Day all over again (5/03/06)


Tuesday, August 05, 2008


Surging ahead: The trade of one war for another

On cable news recently an emissary from the McCain campaign derided Barack Obama for not supporting the surge of troops in Iraq, which has been a success, he said. The spokesperson for the Obama campaign made no protest. That the surge "worked" has now become conventional wisdom and a bedrock of the media's narrative on Iraq. Maybe it's just as well that the Obama spokesperson didn't try to inject reality into the debate. But a darker possibility is that she believed it herself.

Even more incredibly, many newspaper readers were treated last week to an analysis by AP writers Robert Burns and Robert H. Reid bearing the title "Analysis: US now winning Iraq war that seemed lost." Of course, the U.S. won the Iraq War years ago. It was the occupation that seemed lost. Burns and Reid write

Systematic sectarian killings have all but ended in the capital, in large part because of tight security and a strategy of walling off neighborhoods purged of minorities in 2006.

Put another way, the U.S. confirmed the Shia's expulsion of Sunnis from Shia neighborhoods of Baghdad by policing the sanitized zones and building walls to enforce the segregation.

Scattered battles go on, especially against al-Qaida holdouts north of Baghdad. But organized resistance, with the steady drumbeat of bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and ambushes that once rocked the capital daily, has all but ceased.

Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told the AP on Thursday that the insurgency as a whole has withered to the point where it is no longer a threat to Iraq's future.

The day after this analysis appeared we read that

Three blasts in Baghdad killed at least 28 Shia Muslim pilgrims heading for the city's Kadhimiya shrine.

The attacks, which wounded about 90 people, were carried out by women suicide bombers, police said.

If a similar attack had occurred within the U.S., I doubt that Ambassador Crocker would be declaring that "the insurgency is no longer a threat to our future."

That said, what is indisputably true is that violence in Iraq has lessened. I won't attempt to reanalyze the factors contributing to this since Brian Downing did an excellent job of it last week in Asia Times. But the important point is that if the "surge strategy" is viewed as the cause of this happy development, we will naturally want to attempt it elsewhere—and most immediately in Afghanistan, as Barack Obama seems to be proposing.

Downing concludes

... the impact of the "surge" on reducing violence is greatly inflated in Washington and the Green Zone in Baghdad alike. Similarly, much of the American public subscribes to this attractive story line, resonant as it is with popular views of the resourcefulness and determination of their military....

A likely though possibly harmful consequence of this is that Petraeus, on becoming commander of the US Central Command this autumn, will confidently use the "surge" play book in Afghanistan, where the important if not decisive attendant dynamics might not be present.

Other analysts have issued similar warnings. Immanuel Wallerstein warns

... [Obama] has always argued that the United States should do more in Afghanistan. This explicitly includes sending 10,000 more troops as soon as possible. He does not seem to think that the war there is somehow dumb. He does seem to think that the United States can "win" that war - with more troops and with more assistance from NATO. Once president, he may be in for a rude surprise.

And the anonymous pundits at Swoop report

US officials caution against believing that increased attention to Afghanistan will bring short-term security gains there. “There’s no quick fix in Afghanistan,” a Pentagon official commented to us. Commentators warn that Washington still lacks a coherent understanding of the region's cultural and political geography. This deficit applies equally to Obama's advisors as it does to the current Administration.

Meanwhile, Obama, who is anxious to demonstrate that he's as ferocious a warrior as McCain, appears to be proving his militaristic side by focusing on Afghanistan—

An Obama foreign policy adviser told us: “Shifting to Afghanistan makes political sense for us. But we know that we must limit expectations of success. We do not want Afghanistan to become Obama’s war.”

Unfortunately Afghanistan does look to be "Obama's war" with a "surge" as the strategy. Does no one remember Vietnam, where the utility of the surge received its greatest test?

Meanwhile the "Islamist threat" remains not in Iraq, not in Iran, not in Afghanistan but where it has always been—in Pakistan, which is inconvenient to say the least. The war in Afghanistan is taking the shape of a proxy war between the U.S. and Pakistan. Such wars can go on for a very long time.

Related posts
The Butler Report and "AQ Khan" (7/16/04)
Training the Iraqis: A contrary view (7/19/07)


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