Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Napoleon on Ahmadinejad

There was a big fuss this week about the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, coming to New York to speak at the United Nations and Columbia University.

A few American presidential candidates frowned on his invitation to speak at the University and at least one or two stated that he should not be allowed to speak at the United Nations.

I've given this issue quite a bit of thought and it has led me to an opinion that can be summarized in three words: Let him speak.

Don't get me wrong, it is obvious to me that this man feels no obligation to include a syllable of truth that does not support his agenda. He is clearly not an individual who has many positions that are respectable or even minimally defensible. Without a doubt, some are nothing short of reprehensible.

Nevertheless, I still support him speaking in this country. In fact, I encourage it.


Napoleon Bonaparte once said, "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake."

Anyone who has ever listened to this man talk for more than 60 seconds probably sees where I am going with this. Of course, Ahmadinejad levels harmful charges at the U.S. and others with great frequency - needless to say, rhetoric we could certainly do without . But he also, with equal or greater frequency - makes statements that reveal the extent to which he is 1. completely and dangerously removed from reality and/or 2. shamelessly willing to look the world directly in the eye and lie (examples here).

We are engaged right now in an effort to prove and prevent a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program. At a time when the word of the United States government is trusted less abroad than it arguably ever has been, we are greatly aided when our adversary so foolishly shows his cards.

In addition to letting him speak, I would also like to reject the grandstanding remarks by the President of Columbia University. When "introducing" Ahmadinejad he said, among other things:

“Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,” adding, “You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.”

I must ask, what purpose do these remarks, or any insult for that matter, serve? Insults are usually the product of fear, anger and/or ignorance - and it does not serve us well to have our actions clouded by any of them. If one wants to see Ahmadinejad diminished or made to look foolish I am certain that a presentation of facts will suffice. Insults are not required.

One could reply by saying there is value is calling a spade a spade. In my opinion, this is true only when the subject's identity is not obvious or otherwise debatable. Again, thanks to Ahmadinejad's candor, that is not the case.

Americans should remember that we are still in a position of strength - militarily, economically and, in part thanks to Ahmadinejad's foolish candor, we could find ourselves in a position of renewed diplomatic strength as well. I am certainly not advocating complacency, nor am I trying to diminish the legitimate threat that a man like Ahmadinejad might pose if we leave him be.

I am only saying that out of all the things we should rally to oppose in this world, the President of Iran rhetorically walking off a cliff is not one of them.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Shocked by the Elephant in the Room

Alan Greenspan's memoir is being released later this week and it is already making some waves in the news.

The initial news reports revealed content criticizing the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress for its fiscal policies.

But another claim emerged today that is causing even more of a stir. A direct quote from the book has leaked in which Greenspan says the following: (source here)

“I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone
knows: the Iraq War is largely about oil...”

I watched the media on three different channels tonight, including Fox, express shock and/or outrage as if this were some kind of new revelation or offensive claim.

The media's reaction, not Greenspan's statement, is the only thing that should be shocking.

I am not saying we went to Iraq on an imperialist quest to seize the oil fields and steal the Iraqi people's resources - and neither is Greenspan. What I am saying is that maintaining a cheap and steady supply of oil is the reason we have (before the Iraq war) and will continue (long after the Iraq war) to have vast aircraft carrier fleets in the Persian Gulf and numerous airbases with thousands of troops in Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other neighboring countries.

For any of you that think that the primary reason we are in the region is for any type of humanitarian cause or even a grand agenda to promote democracy to fight terrorism, tell me why we do not have troops in Africa or why we are not investing equally (on a per capita basis) to ensure the establishment and survival of democracy in Afghanistan.

What should shock the American people is not that we are acting militarily to secure these supplies today, but that we are NOT taking aggressive and deliberate action to decrease our need for oil tomorrow.

Our national "debate" on the Middle East confounds me more with each passing day. For all the discussion of military tactics and diplomatic strategies, no one seems genuinely willing to pursue the only thing that could fundamentally change our strategic position in that entire region. Yes, there is and has been the "quest" for "energy independence" - but it has been over three decades since the first American politicians called for it (see Gerald Ford, 1975 State of the Union).

The only people that benefit from the status quo (let's even be generous and go back to the "good" ole 1990s) are the oil companies, defense contractors and to an increasingly lesser extent, the American auto manufacturers.

I'm not claiming a grand conspiracy here, I'm just stating the fact that every single American would be better off in ten years if we didn't need oil anymore - everyone that is, except the oil and auto executives and the people that build the weapon systems that secure that region.

So... why don't we act?

Would a ten year Manhattan Project to get us off oil cripple the economy? Could we not afford it?

We have spent over half a TRILLION dollars on the current war and there is no reason to believe that we will not spend at least several hundred billion more before we are disentangled. Can anyone even begin to estimate what we spent to deter the Soviet Union from the region in the Cold War, to fight and later contain Saddam Hussein in the 1990's, or what we will spend on the next war in the Middle East (and can any one seriously doubt there will be another sooner or later)?

Does anyone want to make the argument that the cost of eliminating oil from our economy would be more expensive than what we have spent and will continue to spend in order to keep it flowing? Let's subsidize the R&D, provide full economic assistance to any workers who lose their jobs for the sake of national welfare and I still have no doubt whatsoever that we still come out saving a fortune - and not only in dollars, but also in lives.

I fully admit that, although this is an important and essential step, taking it would not - now or upon completion - completely eliminate the need for American engagement in the region. The welfare of every nation's economy, including the United States', is increasingly tied to its neighbors and trading partners. Simply put, this means that the price the Chinese pay for oil significantly affects American consumers. Nevertheless, it seems obvious that we would still come out in a dramatically stronger position.

Finally, I want to address another course of action that some may advocate as an alternative: increasing domestic supply. We could develop the ANWR oil reserves in Alaska and other sources but it would not change the fact that oil is a global commodity with a global price. It would probably lower the price in the short term, but as China and India consume more and more, the global price will eventually meet and exceed the current record prices - and this is without factoring in the likely instability in the Middle East (which will certainly possess the bulk of oil reserves until the day we run out). Because oil is a global commodity, and because demand will increasingly outpace supply (afterall oil is a nonrenewable resource), it is painfully clear that as long as we need oil, the Middle East will continue to demand a disproportionate share of our attention.

I truly believe that historians will marvel at our society's unwillingness to break a habit that so obviously harms our economic well-being and our national security (to say nothing of the emerging environmental imperatives).

We can only hope that when action does finally come, it is the result of proactive leadership and not the desperate reaction to another bloody war or economic crisis.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Potential Remains

It's been a gloomy week if you are a news or political junkie.

The sixth anniversary of 9/11 came and went and the only thing we know for sure about Osama Bin Laden is that he is alive, relatively well and doing all he can to prosecute his war against us.

Iraq... well... I'll save that for another post soon to follow.

I noticed an article on CNN.com that I wanted to share that made me feel better about the world - or at least it's potential - so I thought I would pass it along to anybody that it interested.

It was almost 40 years ago that the United States sent the first human beings to the Moon. We don't think about this accomplishment much these days - both because so much time has passed and because it seems that little has been done to build upon it.

I recognize that many do not support the space program - and there are some respectable arguments to be made that the money could be better spent elsewhere.

But I think it would be hard for any one to argue that the Moon landings were not an extraordinary accomplishment with respect to the science, engineering and perhaps most importantly, human collaboration. History will credit Neil Armstrong with making the first footprint on the Moon, but it took took tens of thousands of people working together to get him there and back safely - and few (if any) of them got rich doing it.

For this reason, the achievement maintains extraordinary value as a symbol of what Mankind could achieve in the future given the right context and leadership.

There are cynics that think hope is worthless. I admit, it certainly won't feed your family.

But it does keep people vigilant and pursuing opportunities to improve their lives and their communities. For this reason, it is important - particularly when things are down - to remember how well things have gone in the past. This reminds us of how well things can go if we persevere.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Non-Trivial Formalities

I gave George W. Bush credit a while back for a rare demonstration of diplomatic flexibility that led to a genuine breakthrough in the quest to eliminate the North Korean nuclear weapons program.

Now I think it makes sense to ask him to demonstrate a little more.

Apparently, the North Koreans are demanding, among other things, a formal peace treaty with the United States as a precondition for eliminating their nuclear weapons program. The South Korean President, Roh Moo-Hyun, believes this request should be granted.

In an exchange the New York Times called "testy", the South Korean leader publicly (and apparently unexpectedly) asked President Bush to grant this request.

The President responded with the following:

"I said it’s up to Kim Jong-il as to whether or not we’re able to sign a peace
treaty to end the Korean War. He’s got to get rid of his weapons in a verifiable
fashion. And we’re making progress toward that goal. It’s up to him.”

Now, evil is a word that is thrown around a little too readily in political debates today, but it surely applies to Kim Jong-Il. His regimes record of cruelty and depravity could compete with any other in human history.

Nevertheless, in the interest of trying to actually solve a problem (or at least improve a situation), let me take a step that some might find distasteful. Lets look at things from the North Korean leader's point of view.

He is still technically at war with a country that he surely knows has the capacity to destroy him. He's watched us invade and annihilate an Iraqi Army comparable to his own, right after we called its leader - and him - Evil (remember the Axis of Evil speech).

Kim Jong-Il clearly does not value human life (he's brainwashed and starved millions of his own people). Therefore, what seems obvious to us - that we are not going to start a second Korean War that undoubtedly would costs tens if not hundreds of thousands of South Korean lives - may not only seem possible, but perhaps even likely to him.

If you believe that hypothesis, then it makes sense that he would demand a peace treaty before abandoning the one thing that he feels gives him a true defense against American power.

Now, one may say that the treaty demand is nothing more than another delaying tactic by a sinister and hostile regime determined to become more powerful through acquiring additional nuclear weapons. Others might say that you cannot meaningfully employ reason and logic with the likes of Kim Jong Il.

Both of those statements may very well be true. But...so what?

Neutralize Kim's excuses immediately and diminish his room to diplomatically maneuver. Back him further into a corner and give him one less thing to talk about instead of dismantling his weapons program.

A peace treaty will change NOTHING on the ground. It is a formality only - yet it is a measure that could have non-trivial positive implications for moving forward with diplomacy and nuclear disarmament.

I am NOT suggesting, nor would I support any signing ceremony that had the President of the United States standing next to this monster, much less shaking his hand. Just sign a formal statement acknowledging what the rest of the world already knows - we are not going to invade Korea.