Politics, et Cetera

A publication from The Political Forum, LLC

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

They Said It:

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

Winston Churchill, Speech to the House of Commons, June 4, 1941.



Last week, when we heard about the terrorist attack in Orlando, we had a choice:  We could abandon the piece we had started and write instead about terrorism; or we could tackle terrorism this week after we had a chance to think long and hard about what all of this means and how it will affect the nation, the world, and the markets, going forward.  Needless to say, the piece we’ve written this week is much different from that which we would have written last week.  And in our opinion, it’s far more complete.

For us, the key question in this particular instance – and in various other instances from San Bernardino to Paris – is “why does this keep happening?”  Why is Islamic fascism/Islamist Supremacism still such a major disruptive force, now 37 years after the Ayatollah Khomeini took control of Iran, 23 years after the first Islamist attack on the Twin Towers, and almost 15 years after 9/11?  The answer, we think, has to do with the uncomfortable but undeniable fact that the powers that be in both political parties concluded long ago that the cost of defeating Islamic terrorism is greater than the cost of the terrorism itself.  Let us explain.

When we first started writing about terrorism some twenty-plus years ago, we did so based on the advice and information provided to us by experts in the field.  One of us (Mark) served on the board of directors of the Institute for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, a group started and run by Oliver “Buck” Revell, the former Assistant Director of the FBI – the highest career position in the Bureau.  Through the Institute and other acquaintances within the law enforcement and foreign policy communities, we had access to and became friends with individuals who were involved in a wide range of activities within the counter-terrorism arena.

And while the rest of the Clinton government was busy cutting defense spending and enjoying its “holiday from history,” these people were planning for the reality of post-Cold-War foreign policy and the emerging threat of radical Islam.  We learned from them and attempted to pass as much of what we learned on to our clients, not just because it was important, but because no one else seemed to be talking about it or preparing for it.

After 9/11, we revisited the information we had gleaned over the years, focusing specifically on the likely defense that the government would mount in response to this devastating attack on the American homeland.  We knew – in broad and general terms – what the intelligence community believed the response would be.  And we knew that many of these individuals and agencies had been planning to undertake such a response for years.  So we felt pretty confident in our abilities to predict the basic form of the response.  Just before 9/11, we wrote the following and then repeated it after that horrific, fateful day:

The response to a terrorist attack in the heart of a large city such as Washington or New York that causes massive numbers of causalities would clearly be influenced by politics, meaning that it would be driven by public demands for immediate revenge.  In such a case, a devastating, full blown military attack on a nation that was linked by even a smidgen of evidence to the action would not be out of the question.

In the less emotional environment of day-to-day tactical anti-terrorist warfare, the U.S. response is likely to revolve around highly aggressive covert actions against the military, economic, social and political infrastructures of nations that are known, from intelligence gathering efforts, to be supporting, either directly or indirectly, anti-American terrorism.

These will include such things as crippling attacks of sabotage on critical infrastructures, such as water supply; electrical grids; communication networks, including telephone, radio and television services; all manner and sorts of computer networks; industrial production facilities, particularly oil and gas drilling operations; and critically needed imports, particularly those related to oil and gas operations, and agricultural production.  The severity of damage could range from a total breakdown of electrical power to the incapacitation of a nation’s commercial airline by a computer ‘failure’ that destroyed all reservations.

Various other types of economic warfare will also be employed, including counterfeiting; constant transactional disruptions, which make routine international trade difficult or impossible; and the spreading of rumors that cause massive swings in the value of a nation’s currency.

In addition, actions aimed at discrediting the influence of political leaders will be employed, such as the counterfeiting of ‘confidential’ documents linking them to salacious or illegal acts, and support for insurgency operations both at home and abroad.

As it turned out, of course, we were wrong.  None of this happened.  But why?

Well, it’s complicated.  While we rightly assumed that there would be a popular outcry in favor of retaliation and retribution, we had no inkling that this pressure from the public would not be especially high on our government’s list of important considerations.  Or to be more precise, we failed to grasp the fact that other factors would – and still do – occupy a more important part of the government’s calculus.  In our defense, to the best of our knowledge, none of the so-called experts grasped this either.  Nor have they yet.

And what are these factors, you ask?  In large part, they have to do with the century old concern about economic growth and the related problem of access to foreign markets.  Indeed, access to foreign markets was one of the guiding principles of American foreign policy for most of the 20th century and continues to be so today.  Now, we know that people like Woodrow Wilson declared that they wanted to make the “world safe for democracy,” and that Jack Kennedy insisted that America would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

Still, the fact of the matter remains that markets and commerce were then and still are far more important in determining American foreign policy than such lofty, rhetorical flourishes or even the principles behind them.  In fact, from the days of McKinley’s Open Door Policy – which explicitly challenged any policy or movement that threatened American industry’s access to global markets – American foreign policy has been driven largely by commercial concerns.  Or as Wilson himself put it in a less guarded moment, while still President of Princeton:

Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed against him must be battered down.  Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process.  Colonies must be obtained or planted, in order that no useful corner of the world may be overlooked or left unused.

And on the off chance anyone misunderstood him, or thought that his beliefs might change as he neared the presidency, when he ran for the White House in 1912, he reiterated the point:

Our industries have expanded to such a point that they will burst their jackets if they cannot find a free outlet to the markets of the world . . .Our domestic markets no longer suffice.  We need foreign markets . . . We have reached, in short, a critical point in the process of our prosperity.  It has now become a question with us whether it shall continue or shall not continue . . .  our domestic market is too small.

The leftists who bitched and moaned about how George W. Bush went into Iraq because he was trading “blood for oil,” were apparently unaware that that is, more or less, what American presidents do, what they’ve always done  – especially liberal American presidents.  Wilson went to war with Germany over unfettered American access to foreign markets, which he viewed as the sine qua non of American foreign policy, and his liberal successor Franklin Roosevelt did much the same two decades later.  Roosevelt had other aims, of course, but access to markets and the viability of global commerce were always chief among them.  As the historian Robert Freeman Smith put it in an essay titled “American Foreign Relations 1920-42,” which appeared in historian Barton Bernstein’s ground breaking 1969 book Towards a New Past: Dissenting Essays in American History:

One of the basic concerns of United States policy makers from 1920 to 1941 was the establishment and maintenance of a world order which would be conducive to the prosperity and power of the United States.  Since the latter part of the nineteenth century government officials, intellectuals, and businessmen had been actively promoting various means for the extension and protection of the new frontiers created by the economic expansion of the country.  By 1920 one of these tactics had been modified (colonialism), and another had been rejected (international organization directed by the major powers).  Officials had developed a combination of other tactics, however, which they hoped would ensure an “Open Door World”; a stable world order in which the United States could enjoy the fruits of an imperial position without the military, financial, and administrative burdens of a colonial empire.  “Dollar Diplomacy,” protectorates, intervention, and the extension of the political and value systems of the industrial United States were all involved in the drive to establish this broad system of influence and control.  The belief that the nation’s prosperity depended upon free access to markets, raw materials, and investment opportunities was a basic element in all of these formulations . . .

In 1935, United States officials began to call Germany and Japan “aggressors” because of their economic activities.  A War Department memorandum in 1935 defined the ultimate “threat” in Asia largely in economic terms and stated that Japan’s desire to be the dominant power in East Asia would have “a direct influence on those people of Europe and America who depend on trade and commerce with this area for their livelihood.”  The same year Cordell Hull decided that Germany was “straining every tendon to undermine United States trade relations with Latin America.”  This anxiety over economic “aggression” grew more intense, and in May 1940, Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long commented that the subordination of Europe to German control would mean that “every commercial order will be routed to Berlin and filled under its orders somewhere in Europe rather than in the United States.”  The result would be “falling prices and declining profits here and a lowering of our standard of living with the consequent social and political disturbances.”  These arguments were repeated ad infinitum, and clearly indicate that the concept of security was thoroughly entangled with the belief that the preservation of private enter rise capitalism in the United States depended upon a world order in which this to operate with few restrictions.

We could go on and on (…and on and on).  From the First World War to the Second and beyond, commerce has always been the key.  Indeed, as then-Undersecretary-of-State Dean Acheson openly conceded in 1947, the entire post-War American global infrastructure  – from the Marshall Plan to the World Bank; from the IMF to the pledge of support for Greece and Turkey – was devised in part to protect and enhance the “capacity of foreign countries to pay” for “American products.”  And thus we see that any policy – from full-scale world war to the intentional and purposeful deterrence to war – can be and has been used by American presidents to safeguard the nation’s commercial and economic interests.

Publicly at least the Left pretends to abhor this connection.  And indeed, the leftists viewed the Iraq war as a particularly cynical ploy to protect and enhance the interests of Halliburton and Exxon Mobil, to name just two.   This conspiracy mongering was always a bit nutty, but as it turns out, it was nutty because it had the calculations completely backward.  It wasn’t just nonses on stilts; it was nonsense ons stilts turned completely upside down.

The fact of the matter is that neither the Bush administration nor its sad successor has had the political will to wage total war on al Qaeda or its successors.  Yes, Bush toppled Saddam and Mullah Omar.  And yes, Obama killed Osama.  And yes, we, as a nation, have been at war for some fourteen-plus years now.  But we’ve never waged war the way we needed to in order to defeat the enemy.

Take a look again at the list of operations that should have been expected in the wake of 9/11, the operations that those responsible for planning them anticipated and that they told us to expect.  Covert actions against the military, economic, social and political infrastructures of nations.  Crippling attacks of sabotage on critical infrastructures, such as water supply; electrical grids; communication networks, including telephone, radio and television services; all manner and sorts of computer networks; industrial production facilities, particularly oil and gas drilling operations; and critically needed imports, particularly those related to oil and gas operations, and agricultural production.  None of this happened.  And none of it happened because the commercial interests were simply too great.

Think back, if you will to the run-up to the Iraq war.  Do remember which “allies” wanted nothing to do with the invasion?  And do you remember why?

Jacques Chirac of France, Gerhard Schroeder of Germany, and Erdogan in Turkey – all member nations of NATO – refused to participate in the planning or operations related to the invasion of Iraq.  Moreover, Erdogan refused to allow the American military to use NATO bases in Turkey or to fly over Turkish airspace on their way to Iraq.  All of these men, these so-called allies, led nations that, it turns out, had significant commercial and/or oil-related enterprises in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.  And all three countries stood to lose a great deal of trade because of an invasion and change in regime.

Of course, as we all know, Saddam’s Iraq was, more or less, a sideshow in the terror war.  The real players were and ARE, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran.  The Saudis were, without question, tacitly complicit in the 9/11 attacks, and prominent members of the ruling class and even the royal family have been linked to al Qaeda and other extremists for years.  Has anyone anywhere ever suggested holding the Saudis to account?  Have there been any covert attacks on Saudi infrastructure?  Will anyone ever even release the redacted pages of the 9/11 report alleging Saudi participation?  Of course not.  To attack or even to accuse the Saudis would be to risk global economic havoc.  The United States may, technically, be the world’s largest energy producer, but the Saudis still hold many of the keys to the global economy.  And no one – from George H.W. Bush to Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton – has or ever will have the guts to call them out.  The risks to global commerce are simply too great.

As for the Syrians and Iranians, Barack Obama infamously begged off his promised attack on the Assad regime, preferring instead to let the Russians pretend to handle the Syrian chemical weapons, and even more infamously bent over backward to lift the decades’-old sanctions on the Mad Mullahs.  Sure, Syria is a mess, but the real “prize” here is Iran, as this story from Reuters makes clear:

Iran has reached a deal to buy 100 planes from U.S. planemaker Boeing (BA.N), and the two sides are awaiting approval by U.S. Treasury authorities, the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation said in remarks published by state media on Sunday.

So far, Boeing has only been granted permission to present its products to IranAir and a handful of other airlines as it tries to catch up with Europe’s Airbus (AIR.PA), which won a provisional deal earlier this year for 118 jets worth $27 billion.

Reuters reported on June 6 that Iran was edging toward a historic agreement to buy jetliners from Boeing for the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and that a deal for more than 100 aircraft could be reached fairly soon.

“Of the 250 (passenger) planes in Iran, 230 have to be replaced,” Ali Abedzadeh, the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation, told the state-run daily newspaper Iran, adding that a written agreement had been signed with Boeing to buy 100 aircraft.

So, why aren’t we winning the War on Terror?  Once again, it’s because we don’t really want to.  Or at least our government doesn’t really want to do things that would be necessary to win.  Last week, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg published the details of his latest interview with President Obama and revealed, not surprisingly, that Obama believes “that Americans are sometimes collateral damage in this fight between Muslim modernizers and Muslim fundamentalists.”  One may quibble with Obama’s definition or understanding of the term “collateral damage,” but his broader point is well taken:  some Americans have to die in order for their government to avoid going all in on the War on Terror.

This is the sad truth – and it’s a truth that has nothing to do with Barack Obama specifically, but with American foreign policy dating all the way back to William McKinley.

Did you ever stop to wonder why it is that large, multinational corporations like Microsoft, Apple, and Goldman Sachs all despise Donald Trump and why they all support Hillary Clinton, despite her own manifold and manifest deficiencies?  Ever wonder why the old-line Republican leadership hates him just as much, if not more, than any Democrat they ever encountered?  Obviously, the answers to these questions are complicated, but at least one of the reasons that all of these people hate Trump is the fact that he’s Trump, which is to say that he’s a wild card, a man with a terrible temper, no tolerance for those who question him, and no experience in the niceties of global diplomacy.  All of which is to say that he could, at some point, do something unthinkable, like, for example, respond with vigor and fury to terrorist attacks on American soil, even against alleged allies or beneficial trading partners.  At least for now, Donald Trump isn’t in on the game.  He doesn’t understand what the other, more seasoned politicians understand, namely that this “collateral damage” is something that American foreign policy has long accepted as a necessary condition of globalization.

All of this is complicated, in turn, by the fact that the “lessons” of the twentieth century are problematical and occasionally contradictory.  Wilson, as it turns out, was right.  World War I was an enormous boon to American industry and commerce.  He may not have made the world safe for democracy, but he sure made it safe for American business.  At the same time, those who opposed Wilson and his grandiose schemes, also opposed what they saw as his cynical machinations, which they believed would not lead to lasting peace, as promised, but to further war.  Henry Cabot Lodge (R., Ma.), Senate Majority Leader and Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, led that fight against American participation in Wilson’s League of Nations.  And he did so, in part, because he believed that this “world government” would be manipulated by those with nefarious – and economic – ends.  “Internationalism,” Lodge bellowed in his speech opposing the League, “illustrated by the Bolshevik and by the men to whom all countries are alike provided they can make money out of them, is to me repulsive.”

Likewise, by the 1930s, many Americans had come to detest Wilson’s “internationalism,’ believing that he had entered the Great War in the service of the “bankers” and “munitions traders.”  The neutrality acts of the 1930s were designed to limit trade with belligerent nations and thus to reduce the economic incentives for the United States to choose sides and to get involved in another war.  As it turned out, of course, these neutrality laws made the British resistance to Nazi Germany’s aggression more difficult and likely extended the length and the destructiveness of the war.

At the end of World War II, Roosevelt, Truman, John Foster Dulles and countless other “idealists” were determined not to repeat what they saw as the mistakes made by Lodge and his “isolationist” successors.  They revived and aggressively pushed the Left’s longstanding goal of “world government” succeeding far more effectively than Wilson could ever have imagined.

Today, that dream lives on, both in American business’s relentless pursuit of a new world order, dedicated principally to fostering ever-expanding markets, and in the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda, which is, more or less, the blueprint for a global super state.  The dream lives on as well in the European Union’s insistence on closer and closer integration.  George Soros has declared that a British decision to leave the EU would incite a global crash.  Likewise, he is investing a great deal of time and money in the effort to defeat Donald Trump.  Is he right that either choice – Brexit or Trump – would be shortsighted and foolish?  Or is he merely playing the same cynical game big-time bankers have played for a century, knowing that either decision could threaten the global status quo, which is good for business, if not for the lives of ordinary Brits and Americans?  Given his history, one can be forgiven for wondering.

Now, we know and you know that this dream of global government is nuts.  But that’s not to say that it shouldn’t be taken seriously.  At the very least, it shouldn’t be ignored when trying to understand the persistence of Islamic terrorism and the risks to American citizens going forward.  Foreign policy decisions and American business have been inextricably linked for better than a century now, and that bond grows tighter and tighter by the day.

Copyright 2016. The Political Forum. 3350 Longview Ct., Lincoln NE  68506, tel. 402-261-3175, fax 402-261-3175. All rights reserved. Information contained herein is based on data obtained from recognized services, issuer reports or communications, or other sources believed to be reliable. However, such information has not been verified by us, and we do not make any representations as to its accuracy or completeness, and we are not responsible for typographical errors. Any statements nonfactual in nature constitute only current opinions which are subject to change without notice.