Arrias on Politics: Zimbabwe: Not in the National Interest

I had some correspondence with some friends over the past week wondering – particularly in light of apparent Chinese involvement – whether the US should do anything about the situation in Zimbabwe.

You can probably be excused for not following the activity in Zimbabwe last week. The short version is that the Zimbabwean army forced one candidate for the Presidency out of the race. The other leading candidate was already out of the country. And it appears that the current president is under some sort of house arrest.

The president of Zimbabwe is Robert Mugabe. 93 years old, he has been president for 37 years. He firmly believes in socialism for the people, and a de facto monarchy for himself. He has managed to bankrupt a country that arguably could be one of the wealthiest on the continent of Africa. But, he’s growing old. And so, he’s been grooming his wife, Grace, to take his place. She is running for president against his vice president. Last week he fired vice president Mnangagwa, who fled to South Africa, signaling that he wanted his wife to follow him in the presidency.

The Zimbabwean army then acted and Grace Mugabe fled, later to turn up in the presidential palace with her husband. Both are now under “protection” of the army, a sort of “soft” coup, and many are calling for him to step down.

It’s been noted that China is, at least marginally, involved. Is the US involved? As it turns out, the US is not, not in the least. But, as I’ve sat and listened to various folks talk about what the US might or might not do, I keep coming back to one question, the question of core interests.

I recently had a chance to work with some Navy SEALs and who were conducting their final training prior to deploying overseas. Besides the obvious – they are an amazing collection of professionals, there is the fascinating problem of needing to be prepared to, well, cover the world. Despite what it may seem in the movies, deploying to one country (in Asia, Africa, Latin America, etc.,) is not the same as deploying to any other. There are a host of variables, not simply who you might be pursuing but also who you will be working with, related rules and regulations on what you can and can’t do and how you might be able to do those things, etc. Suffice it to say, they go through a great deal of training to get a very complicated set of problems into a manageable package and still be able to do what they need to do, wherever they need to do it.

In the course of this training and rehearsals, etc., there is a good deal of discussion about where the SEALs, and other US special operations personnel, are operating. Long and short, they are spread around the globe. According to a statement released by US Special Operations Command last June, US special operations personnel had been active in 137 countries around the world in the previous year.

But they’re not in Zimbabwe. In fact, there’s no US military presence in Zimbabwe to speak of. Our embassy is small, and our overall state of relations is limited. And the reasons are fairly simply: the government is totalitarian and destructive to its people. And while it’s true that we have, and do, deal with totalitarian governments when it’s in our interest, the simple truth is that dealing with President Mugabe has not been and is not now in our interest.

On July 4, 1821, President’s Monroe’s Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, in a speech delivered Congress, noted that “America… goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

Robert Mugabe is a monster. His wife would be as much of one. But they are not monsters that concern us.

It’s on our own interests that we must remain focused. We’re already – as the Commander of US Special Operations Command has noted in testimony before Congress – spread thin. The effort to rein in our activities and focus on core US interests is consistent with our founding principles; it’s also a practical and fiscal necessity.

Copyright 2017 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias on Politics: A Coming Collision?

Saudi Arabia’s heir to the throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), sent an interesting signal last week: in a startling – but not unprecedented – action, MBS arrested 18 rich, powerful Saudis. Of course, this kind of activity isn’t unprecedented, kings and other absolute or near absolute rulers have been purging their courts for thousands of year.

While many analysts have read it as MBS consolidating his position and eliminating would-be opposition to the throne, it’s perhaps more accurate to say that MBS (and the King, this didn’t happen without the King’s approval) is engaged in a much more important effort, one we need watch with interest. Let me explain.

Saudi Arabia faces a host of problems: an unemployment rate of nearly 13% (for those under 25, perhaps as high as 30%); lower oil revenues (prices have stabilized below $60/bbl, yet government spending – have been based on oil prices of $70 or more); an economy overwhelmingly based on oil – plans to diversify require hundreds of billions in capital investment, money to be underwritten by oil revenue; and Saudi public welfare programs and government subsidies that were all estimated based on higher oil prices.

And then there’s Iran. Consider:

The Saudi war in Yemen is now in its third year, with no end in sight. Iran supports the Houthi rebels; last week a long-range rocket – provided by Iran – was launched from Yemen towards the Saudi capital of Riyadh. A Saudi Patriot missile intercepted the rocket and there were no casualties. But the fact remains that an Iranian proxy fired an Iranian missile at the Saudi capital.

Iran has a very close relationship with Qatar – based on oil interests. Qatar has used its oil money to support a number of radical Islamic groups that the Saudis (and others – Egypt, for example) see as destabilizing the entire region.

In Iraq, Iran has used the fighting with ISIS to expand its influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Recently it has become clear that Iran has reinforced and re-supplied Hezballah with weapons.

This isn’t simply the “normal” interweaving of overlapping issues: a power struggle, economics, demographics, geo-politics. Rather, at its root is the Iranian effort to take advantage of the religious rift at the center of Islam, the Sunni – Shia schism.

While about 13% of the world’s Muslims are Shia, the bulk live in or near Iran. The collective populations of Iran, Iraq, Jordan, and the nations of the Arabian Peninsula total roughly 215 million people; 125 million of them are Shia. Iran – 98% Shia, is extending its influence into Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, already has influence in Yemen (it’s underwriting that war, after all), has substantial political and economic presence in Oman, and is economically and politically closely aligned with Qatar. As ISIS has been pushed back in Iraq and Syria, Iran has expanded its presence, working closely with the Iraq government. Iranian influence continues to grow in Qatar as well, the real reason the Saudis are sanctioning Qatar.

With its own large Shia minority (at least several million Shia, mainly in the oil-rich eastern province) MBS recognizes that Saudi Arabia has little room for more trouble.

From Riyadh’s perspective Saudi Arabia is being “surrounded” by Iran. The growing Iranian influence in Lebanon, the Iranian backed Iraq actions in Kirkuk, and finally the firing of an Iranian built rocket at Riyadh paint the problem in stark relief: Saudi Arabia, and the Sunni Arab world, are under assault by Iran and it’s proxies. MBS recognizes the time to act is now.

Years after the fact, Winston Churchill wrote of the start of the First World War that: “The measured, silent drawing together of gigantic forces, the uncertainty of their movements and positions, the number of unknown and unknowable facts made the first collision a drama never surpassed.”

That North Korea continues its nuclear weapons development, a program a cynic might suggest was funded at least in part by Iran, and as China and Russia continue to expand their presence in the Middle East, East Africa, Central Asia, and South East Asia, it’s easy to believe that forces are now in motion that are both massive and ones we don’t fully understand.

Indeed, it would seem that silent, gigantic forces are once again moving, in the Mid East, and across Asia and Africa. Preparedness, and support of our allies may prevent another collision. Perhaps if we act now we might avoid our own cataclysmic drama.

Copyright 2017 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias: A Great Society?

Begin with two assumptions: 1) American society today is more liberal today than it was 75 years ago, and 2) that shift, which in some sense paralleled LBJ’s Great Society, stems from a deliberate effort to change society – ostensibly better.

So, has society changed for the better? The thought occurred to me as I listened to the latest news, to include reports that prominent men in Hollywood were taking advantage of young women (and young men).

Unfortunately, there’s nothing new about such behavior in Hollywood; the phrase “casting couch” has a sullied connotation that includes virtually all of the behavior being discussed, behavior that predates Hollywood.

Certainly, there are areas where society has improved with regard to minorities and women: the equal application of the law with regard to hiring and firing, ownership of property, access to education, etc., in these areas and others society has changed for the better, improvements that are obvious on their face.

But what about other areas? One of the mantras of the 60s and 70s, that continues to this day with only minor changes, was that women needed to be liberated. That translated into two interwoven story lines that needed changing: women as victims of men (sexual assault) and the restrictions of marriage. Both needed to be fought if we were to change society for the better.

There’s little argument that the way women are portrayed by those who would set our societal norms (Hollywood, the Media and academia) – has changed significantly. And, as any society responds to pressure, it would seem that society has responded. The question is, has the response been of benefit?

We all know the story on divorce: from the late 1800s until the 1960s divorce rates steadily rose from 3% in 1880 to 29% in 1944. Rates spiked to 43% in 1946, settled into the ‘20s’ during the 1950s, then started rising again in the late 1960s. By 1980 52% of marriages ended in divorce. Divorce rates have remained around 50% since then.

Consider the rate of rapes in the US over the last 80 years. (The figures include forcible rape, statutory rape, assault to commit rape and attempted rape): during the 1930s rape rates were regularly below 6 per 100,000. Rates jumped during the war years to over 10 per 100,000, dropped below 10 by 1960, but climbed precipitously in 1964 to 11.4 rapes per 100,000, and then continued to climb every year until 1980 when the rate hit 36.8 rapes per 100,000. Rates peaked in 1990 at nearly 43, then came back down and remained in the low 30s for more than a decade beginning in late 90s. But they’ve started to climb again. Figures for 2016 show the rate has increased in the last several years and is once again above 40.

Or, consider the black community in the US: how has the black community benefited?

In the 1940s some 15-16% of black children were born into single parent homes. By the 1960s, as Senator D.P. Moynihan pointed out, a crisis was brewing, and some 23% of black children were born into single parent homes. The federal government stepped in. Today, that number sits above 70% and has for some time.

Black unemployment was, from the late 1800s until World War II, essentially the same as the overall unemployment rate. Following the war black unemployment rates separated from the rest of the nation and have since then have been roughly twice the stated unemployment rate. (The current national unemployment rate is 4.1%, black unemployment sits at 7.5%).

Social engineering has become accepted, and the government today, despite caterwauling that President Trump is unraveling this or that, is huge, intrusive, and continues to grow. The social engineers defend this growth, and their actions, by claiming this will make society better.

But the facts don’t provide a convincing backdrop for their monologue. Rather, the facts provide, at the very best, a mixed message. Trying to make society better is a noble goal. But perhaps its time we stop looking at things through the lens of political ideology and start looking at the facts. There are some real problems in our society, problems made worse at least in part by the aggressive social engineering of the last 50 years.

If we’re really interested in making things better maybe it’s time we take a hard look at these numbers and figure out what they tell us about our current actions.

Copyright 2017 Arrias
www.viccsocotra.com

A Coastie Responds to Arrias

103117-1Arrian
(The lead ship of the Zumwalt class Guided missile destroyers, a death star that is light on the death part of the equation).

Our pal Arrias stirred up some controversy in his essay “Lattes for Peace” over the weekend. The retired Naval community can actually say what they think, rather than cower at the feet of their political masters and mistresses. One of my favorite comments was from a retired Bos’n Master Chief and Merchant Marine Master whose comments follow:

“Somehow lost in these discussions is that old long standing debate that existed so long in the pages of the Naval Institute’s PROCEEDINGS the “High / Low Debate”. For years, if not a decade, there was a periodic debate in the pages of the PROCEEDINGS over what was the proper mix of “super ships” and “cheap ships” in the U.S. Fleet;”high” referring to high costs and capabilities, and low referring to low cost and limited capabilities.

In the debate, no “low school” advocating a high ship count low cost / capability fleet ever emerged. The debate was always on the “mix”, the proportion of low cost to high cost weapons platforms. As I recall some time ago the “mix school ” lost out to the super ship school, Navy ship building budgets ever since have been committed to the high cost, globe circling, hyper capable “Death Stars” as one “Mix” advocate described them.

The “Super Ship School” always focused on global commitments, shifting hot zones and the need for range and lethality. The “mix school” liked to remind the “super ship school” that “the lesson of the BISMARK is that a bunch of cheap platforms can gang up on a “Death Star” and take it out. Big or little every ship has only so many arrows in its quiver.”

Cheap and simple little ships that aren’t easy to move out of a limited area can none the less be very lethal. Our global commitments include many areas that we must maintain a constant and capable presence in regardless of what is going on elsewhere. We won’t be able to do that with a 350 ship fleet of super ships.

The key is to separate lethality from range, size, and crew size for “constabulary forces”. A constabulary force is a fleet that maintains presence and combat capability in a limited area near a secure source of logistic support. Its ships don’t need to have trans Atlantic range. Patrols don’t have to be long. Crews could sometimes even be 2 section watches of 12 hours per day similar to the system in use in the US offshore oil industry logistics fleet.

Additional crews (watch sections) could be at the ready in the Naval Reserve if things heated up and more prolonged operations were anticipated. These constabulary vessels aren’t meant to be moved about in response to every crisis. They are meant as deterrents and first responders in areas of constant interest but sporadic threats.

This would include many areas now “protected” by our so called “Sixth Fleet” now made up of mostly visiting warships from the Atlantic Fleet.

How effective can a small ship of limited range be? Individually, that depends on how much on scene endurance and lethality you build into it. In fact many commercial “work boats” that the US offshore oil and mineral industry is virtually having a fire sale on now could easily be made very lethal with some bolt-on weaponry.

These offshore service vessels, small low free-board ships of 165′ to 250′ are built for high on scene endurance to serve as “Stand By Vessels” for offshore rigs. They are twin screw, highly maneuverable, made of mild steel with a lot of compartmentalization due to a design that anticipates occasional service carrying liquid cargoes (drilling mud).

Thus, for some constabulary forces “Craft of Opportunity” (originally designed for other purposes ending by accident in parallel capabilities related to combat). Suppose, the “Death Star Fleet has to leave a constabulary fleet on its own and the constabulary fleets’ AOR is invaded by enemy “death stars.”

Now tactics come into play. First consider the effects of networked fires just to name one smaller ship tactic, and again the the lesson of the BISMARK. Properly planned and organized a constabulary force can hold out a long time and seriously damage a fleet of big expensive war ships.

What the flag officers actually know is that we really need a 600 ship navy for our global commitments, but the High / Low debate ended before most of them graduated from the Academy. Some don’t even have words like “Craft of Opportunity” or “Constabulary Forces” in their vocabularies.

If we can teach a new generation of Flag and Senior officers the skills of craft of opportunity operations and constabulary forces and to get over their fixation on super ship weapons platforms and re-concentrate on how to apply massive amounts of kinetic energy on an enemy cheaply, we could emerge with a serious 600 ship navy for the price of about 375 death stars, not an impossible goal.

Everyone knows today’s politicians are never going to fund a 600 super ship fleet. Unfortunately, not even the Coast Guard has much in the way of officers who remember these skill sets and doctrines. The CG is now focused on its “Deep Water Project,” its first crack at a real purpose built fleet of their own design and they resist any return, even if only in part, to craft of opportunity vessels.

Probably the last people experienced in such things are elderly Merchant Marine Officers like myself, but big Navy never listened to us anyway and we’re so old as a group we are liable to suffer dementia at any moment.

Hell, I might be bonkers even as I’m writing this. But if not I hope someone in authority is listening.”

“Boats”

Having been to this movie before (a couple times) I am inclined to doubt it. But a strong Navy is an important component of the Nation’s defense. I think we ought to talk about it. And then do something.

Vic

Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra and AAB
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias on Politics: Lattes for Peace

Last week, the acting Under Secretary of the Navy suggested the nation’s fleet wouldn’t reach its target of 355 ships until after 2050, more than 30 years from now. Since our ships (except aircraft carriers) are designed to last about 35 years, that means, with the exception of just three aircraft carriers, all those ships and submarines will be ships not yet built.

Stated differently, the Acting Under Secretary is saying is that the only way the US can get to a Navy of 355 ships and subs is to start now and completely replace the current fleet with a different fleet in order to increase the numbers. His inference is that current ships are too expensive; only a less costly fleet will allow us to increase the numbers.

It isn’t an absolute, but it’s pretty close to one, that the less you spend on a ship, the less you get, in those things that matter when engaged in a war at sea: number of weapons, capability of weapon systems, ship survivability, range and performance of the ship, etc. If you want capable ships that can fight and survive, you need to pay for them.

The Under Secretary’s inference is that we can buy more, but less capable, ships and grow our Navy; or fewer, more capable ships; you can’t have it all. The same can also be said of things like aircraft – fighters and bombers, and tanks and artillery and all those things that make a modern military force.

To remind everyone of the obvious (perhaps not so obvious), the Navy is the force that keeps peace through presence abroad. A large, capable US Navy means stable international trade routes, secure friends and allies and a peaceful US. If trouble does start, it starts “over there,” not near the US.

Why is that important? Because China – and President Xi, is quite determined to make China dominant, and it continues to expand its military forces. By 2030, China will have nearly 500 ships, to include 4 or 5 aircraft carriers. And they intend to keep building. These are capable ships, every bit the equivalent of our destroyers and cruisers. We’re already in an arms race with China, but we haven’t recognized it yet.

The thing is, we’ve been trying to get by on the cheap. And that doesn’t work. The US needs a bigger, more capable fleet (and a bigger, more capable Air Force, etc.) and we can’t do that on 3.5% of GDP. Particularly with an all-volunteer force.

So, how much would it cost to build another half-dozen ships and submarines per year, starting right now? Perhaps $10 billion per year. Another $20 billion per year for new aircraft and tanks.

Which sounds like a lot. But is it?

It will, of course, be pointed out that the US spends more on defense than the next dozen countries combined. But most of those countries don’t count. China counts. And several points about China’s defense spending are relevant: they pay far less for their personnel; their labor force is cheaper, hence weapons are less expensive; and they’re probably not being quite honest about how much they actually spend.

I saw an article the other day in which the author noted, in an attempt to shock, that we’d spent $24,000 per taxpayer over the last 16 years fighting terror.

That sounds bad, but break it down: about 150 million taxpayers (out of a nation of 315 million – kids, single income families, etc…), $24,000 over 16 years equals $1500 per year per taxpayer to hold at bay the forces of darkness. Which further breaks down to $125 per month. Or $4 per day, just a bit less than one of those very tasty coffee drinks you can get at your local coffee shop – to fight terror. Sounds cheap.

And for a larger Navy and Air Force to contain China? Disregard that we could assuredly find several tens of billions of fluff in our current federal budget. Consider simply the amount. $30 billion works out to one less latte per week per taxpayer.

We need to address China now, while it’s possible – short of a real war. That means a bigger fleet. Which doesn’t seem like much if you compare it to a second latte.

So, it all just depends on what you think is important. Is that eighth mocha frappucino this week more important that your peace and security?

Copyright 2017 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias on Politics: Morning Coffee and Healthcare

Do you enjoy a hot cup of coffee at dawn?

So, how’d that Sumatran coffee get to your grocer? How did the farmer arrange for the beans to be picked up and moved to a warehouse? Who made those big bags he used? Where did they come from? Who figured out how to recognize blight early on and prevent it from damaging his crop? How’d that information get to that farmer on a hillside? Did you know that 90% of the coffee in Sumatra is produced on farms of less than 3 acres? Collectors pick up the coffee after drying and bagging and bring it to large warehouses, perhaps in Sibolga. At a certain point, bankers and insurance agents enter the arena, balancing risk and return. Shippers load and move bags from the warehouses, containers are loaded onto ships, ships are moved, containers are offloaded and trucked, bags are unloaded, coffee is roasted, perhaps blended with beans from Colombia, packaged, and sent to another warehouse for further shipment to your grocer. Amazing! Who arranged all that?

The answer for me to all the questions above is: No! I know none of the specifics. There are all sorts of steps that not only will I never know, even if I tried to understand it all I’d find some details changed even as I looked at them. Someone finds a better way to package beans, or move them or warehouse them, etc. And it moves down through the system, everything gets changed a little, and the coffee arrives a little faster or a little cheaper or with a little more flavor — or all three. And I’ll never know why.

Adam Smith called this “the Invisible Hand,” a continual process of a host of people in any market or industry, that affects every facet of the market. Insurance agents who insure ships: without them, the coffee would cost several times as much, and probably be impossible to find at times. Bankers and underwriters are needed to make money available for everyone from large warehousemen to ship owners to trucking companies to the company actually roasting the coffee beans. Each wants to maximize profits, each competes against others who are doing the same, and in the end, the folks who benefit are, in this case, the folks who drink coffee, whether from Sumatra or Bali or Kenya or Hawaii or Colombia.

And so in every industry.

Here’s the thing: how all these people make decisions and why, on a day-to-day basis can’t possibly be known by any one office or agency or group. This is the key fallacy of central planning, whether attempting to control growing of coffee or corn, or making steel or drilling for oil. Ask the wildcatters out in the Dakotas how much help they received from the government. Remember to bring an ice pack for your jaw.

The other day my brother pointed out that the electronic toll – pass system is a contractual arrangement with private firms bidding to win particular routes from various governments, and the company operating the pass system for a nearby bridge is actually headquartered in Alabama. Further, residents of one state can buy a pass from other states; you can shop around and find the deal that best works for you.

The Invisible Hand hard at work.

What does all this have to do with healthcare?

This past week the President signed an executive order allowing individuals to group together on their own and buy health insurance just as if they were a large corporation or some other organization. And they’re now allowed to shop around, buying “out of state.” The US Government isn’t going to tell them the “right answer,” they get to figure it out themselves, talking to various insurance agents and companies, coming up with a solution that works for them.

The Invisible Hand again.

The truth is no single organization can ever manage to pull all the data from all the various people and processes in a given industry and work out optimal solutions for everyone. In fact, what government traditionally produces is the optimal solution for the government; the people are more or less ancillary to the solution. Letting the Invisible Hand work will, in the end, provide the best possible answer to the most people.

This President seems to recognize that. That’s a good thing.

Enjoy your coffee.

Copyright 2017 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias on Politics: Europe Un-Unified

Editor’s Note: Barcelona- pronounced with a lisp- “Barth-alona”- is a delightful city with a vibrant street life, marvelous cafes, tasty tapas nd bold red wines. It is also the epicenter of a popular revolt against the nation-state in which it resides. This morning, Arrias examines what the implications might be for a united Europe.

-Vic


Europe Un-Unified

Amidst the horror in Las Vegas, many Americans – understandably – may have missed an event in Europe that might change everything: a Catalonian referendum to secede from Spain.

Catalonia occupies the eastern corner of Spain, bordered on the north by France, on the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea. About 12,000 square miles (roughly Massachusetts and Rhode Island combined, less than 1/10th of Spain’s area), a population of some 7.5 million (1/7th of Spain’s population), and a GDP of roughly $300 billion (almost 20% of Spain’s GDP, Catalans feel they contribute far more to Spain than they receive in return.

But the real root of their independence is that Catalans have looked on themselves as Catalan, not Spanish, for well more than 900 years, with a different language and culture. Unlike most other Spanish states, they have not melted into Spain.

While Spain’s Supreme Court declared the referendum to be unconstitutional, President of the Generalitat of Catalonia, Carles Piugdemont, said that he expects ballots will be counted this weekend and he will announce Catalonian independence on Monday or Tuesday. Spain can be expected to intervene.

Interestingly, Catalonia seems to satisfy the classic understanding of what is needed to form a state:

– Is the proposed state politically viable?

– Is the proposed stated economically viable?

– Can the proposed state control its landmass?

– Is there a distinct and meaningful raison d’être?

– Finally, while the above can be applied to any nation, within Western Civilization there is a requirement that a state have true moral intent in mind.

The problem with all this is that it flies in the face of not only Spain, but of the European Union and a unified Europe.

The concept of a united Europe is an old one, with roots that run back through the Holy Roman Empire to ancient Rome itself. Since the Middle Ages, leaders, politicians, writers and philosophers have spoken of a united Europe, from Dante to Goethe to Michelangelo. After WWII political and economic forces (rebuilding Europe in the face of the Soviet threat) led to the creation of NATO (1949), the European Common Market (1957) and eventually, the European Union of 1993.

But as the European Union — and its European Parliament – has moved forward, it’s become increasingly focused on expanding power based on economics. Deference is paid to various leftist shibboleths such as diversity, democracy and self-determination, but the real goal seems to be to create a society where everyone’s physical needs are sated, for “people with a full belly do not think of starting trouble,” in the words of Nikita Khrushchev.

The writer Luigi Barzini summed up the problem more than 30 years ago, writing in defense of a unified Europe:

“The reason why the economic union is a dead-end street is that it is based on a limited, oversimplified, and inadequate philosophy that became pre-eminent in Europe after the Second World War. It was believed to be the final solution to all problems. It holds these truths to be self-evident: …that an economy is the principal motor of history; … that an increasingly larger GDP was the only and sufficient condition for progress; … that a larger state revenue permitted the abundant distribution of unemployment subsidies, health and age pensions; that a well-paid, well-fed, and amusingly entertained population would not give governments any problems.”

Barzini suggested the only thing that might move Europeans beyond “their complacent belief in a lame Common Market” was fear of the Soviet Union.

But by 1993 the Soviet Union was no more. European politicians were free to pursue concepts of a unified Europe without fears, based on plans that did nothing to address concerns of various groups afraid of losing their social identities.

Now Catalans, a people with full bellies, want to leave Spain. It would appear to be a rejection of everything the EU stands for. Meanwhile, Great Britain has already voted to leave; economic troubles threaten much of southern Europe; eastern European nations bridle at key policies from Brussels.

Spain may yet keep Catalonia. But trend lines aren’t favorable; and leadership within the EU is not addressing the fundamental sense among many that the EU has drifted socially and politically away from the people’s interests, even as it has made their economies more fragile.

Might the EU be on the verge of unraveling? It’s certainly possible. There might be more reasons than China and North Korea to look at expanding our military capabilities.

Copyright 2017 Arrias
www.vicsocotra.com

Arrias on Politics: The Truth Sometimes Hurts

A famous world leader once said: “The facts as they are to-day cannot change the facts as they were last September. If I was right then, I am still right now.”

Conversations are almost certainly now taking place in South Korea, Japan, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran that would have been considered impossible 20 years ago. Those countries leaders are either now thinking about acquiring or building nuclear weapons, or they’re asleep at the switch. Whether they choose to do so remains to be seen. But that they must now consider it is the new reality.

Throughout the Cold War, and into the 1990s, the proliferation of nuclear weapons was, for the most part, prevented by the reality of a robust US nuclear force tied closely to the understanding the US would consider nuclear threats against friends and allies as a threat against the US.

That truth unraveled due to bad policies: first, our failure to honor a foolish and impossible guarantee by President Clinton (in 1994) to defend the territorial integrity of Ukraine if they surrendered their nuclear arsenal (left over following the breakup of the USSR). Russia correctly assessed US posture vis-à-vis Ukraine, and in 2014 seized Crimea and began to undermine Kiev’s control of eastern Ukraine. Ukraine’s final submission to Moscow is now only a matter of time.

Then North Korea reached an agreement with President Clinton (1995) to end nuclear weapons research. Clearly, they did not. Now, they’re a nuclear-armed nation.

Iran reached an agreement with President Obama to end nuclear research just two years ago. If they ever intended to honor it, events in Korea – and elsewhere in the Middle East – will lead them to rethink that agreement.

That Col Qaddafi surrendered his nuclear development program to the US in 2003, only to be overthrown by a coalition of forces that included the US 2011, proved the value of a nuclear force.

There are multiple reasons why each of these situations ended in a failure for US foreign policy, but at the root, there’s the same issue: in each case the administration and the policy professionals of Washington were engaged in wishful thinking, building on the belief that the people of various nations will act the way Washington policy mavens want them to act, rather than in pursuit of their own national interests, even as our nuclear force has shrunk, and aged.

Now, consider the horrific crime statistics in the US: 7,881 blacks murdered in 2016 (up 900 from 2015), 91% murdered by other blacks. There were 15,399 murders in the US in 2016; black men make up just 6% of the US population but roughly half the murders are by blacks (and half the victims are blacks). Between 1980 and 2008 blacks committed half of all murders in the US; black men commit 42% of robberies, and 34% of all felonies across the nation.

At the same time only 59% of black males graduate from high school nation-wide (only 20% in Detroit).

In 1965 Daniel Patrick Moynihan described an impending crisis in the black community, with more than 20% of black children born into a single parent household. If something wasn’t done about it, Moynihan warned, the black community faced disaster. Today, after two generations of aggressive government policies, more than 70% of black children are born into single parent households. One-third of these youths will spend time in prison. If they are growing up in an inner city, that number is higher.

The black community, in particular the poor urban black community, in the US has been destroyed. It was destroyed because government policies begun in the 1960s turned a crisis into a disaster.

What does that have to do with the failure of our nuclear containment policy and the impending nuclear weapon proliferation crisis? Simply this: both proliferation and the destruction of the black family – and a number of other impending crises – have their roots in the wishful thinking of “policy experts” convinced that the accepted wisdom of centuries on everything from child-rearing to economics to international relations could be readily dispensed with, and that the world would willy-nilly follow their line of reasoning. Specific policies generated these results. What we need now are new, and different, policies.

But don’t expect change from the policy wonks, they don’t change. Consider the quote above, from Neville Chamberlain, 17 March 1939, nearly 6 months after the Munich Accord was signed, 2 days after Germany invaded Czechoslovakia.

Copyright 2017 Arrias
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Arrias on Politics: A Little Leverage: Moving North Korea

“Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth” – Archimedes, Greek mathematician and physicist, on realizing the science behind the lever and fulcrum.

The President lambasted North Korea in the UN. Finally, someone stood up in that assembly and said what needed to be said. In response, Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s despot, announced that he was considering testing a nuclear weapon over the Pacific Ocean. Kim suggested he was going to demonstrate both the weapon and the delivery system, that is, put a weapon in the nose of a missile and launch the missile into the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

This would be the first atmospheric detonation since 1980 (when China conducted it’s last above-ground test). It’s been more than 50 years since any nation detonated a weapon mated to a missile.

For North Korea, launching a missile into the Pacific Ocean means the missile must overfly some other nation. A missile launched into the Philippine Sea would over-fly the Republic of Korea and certain small, Japanese islands; a missile fired elsewhere into the greater Pacific Ocean area would need to over-fly Japan, unless it were launched into the very northern reaches of the Pacific, over-flying Russia. Of the small number of live weapon tests (weapons mated to a missile) conducted in the 50s and 60s, none were ever launched over another nation’s territory.

The reasons are obvious: a system failure of any type might result in a nuclear weapon falling on – and perhaps detonating in – another country.

Whether Kim will actually do this remains to be seen. What we need to ask now is this: What might be done to prevent him from conducting such a test?

We’ve enhanced sanctions against North Korea; they are as stringent now as they’ve ever been. Yet, China continues to trade with them; China insisted on an exemption for oil shipments to North Korea via their pipeline, citing concerns about wax (paraffin) build-up if fuel flow was ended and the pipe was allowed to return to ambient temperature. So, they “need” to keep the oil flowing.

In concert with smuggling of a host of items across the border, to include missile technology, the simple truth is the Chinese government continues to pay lip service to international sanctions, confidant that no one is really going to do anything to China. China is the Middle Kingdom after all, the center of the world. The world can’t really survive without the center. That, at least is Beijing’s viewpoint.

The truth is somewhat different.

China is a net importer of food and of fuel, and the amounts imported each year are increasing. China still sends hundreds of thousands of students overseas for educations that can’t be obtained in China. Wealthy Chinese citizens send tens of billions of dollars overseas for safekeeping every month; US purchases of Chinese goods equates to – net – more than 3 million US jobs lost to Chinese manufacturers; a number that equates to perhaps twice that many (or more) Chinese laborers.

There are any number of companies, in the US and elsewhere, that would be willing and able to step in and fill that shortfall. It would mean more expensive goods. But everything can’t be reduced to a price; security – freedom from fear of Kim with nuclear weapons – is probably worth the extra costs of certain goods.

Each of these represent a problem that China cannot easily address, each represents a place to apply leverage.

Add this: Standard and Poor’s just lowered China’s bond rating. So, despite the rhetoric, China’s self-polished image of economic robustness is not a true image; there are blemishes, some of them quite large. China has serious economic flaws, many of them systemic, the predictable results of central planning.

The result is that China is, in fact, quite susceptible to economic leverage from the US and the rest of the world.

If Kim conducts the test, China must be held responsible. We need to make that clear to Beijing.

But before that happens, we need to use our leverage against China, and through China, North Korea. To keep Kim and North Korea “in the box,” we don’t need to move the world, just China. We have the leverage to do so, if we want to use it.

Copyright 2017 Arrias
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Arrias on Politics: Not Self But Country

It’s said that real love only comes with sacrifice, that real love requires placing some cause or some one first, and truly giving of yourself for that person or cause.

Several stories have “percolated out” following the two recent US Navy collisions at sea which include a number of sailors who gave their lives for their ship and shipmates…

But we’ve also heard that several senior Navy officers were aware of training shortcomings, particularly on ships stationed in Japan, and did little to correct the problems. If the stories are correct, they were apparently willing to “sign off” on these shortcomings, allowing ships to engage in activities for which officers and crew were arguably not prepared. And so, two collisions and 17 deaths.

Is this the same military that conducts incredible midnight raids to rescue hostages – or kill a terrorist; operates submarines under the icecap; flies fighter jets against any threat; or move tens of thousands of tons of material around the world at a moment’s notice?

The cognitive disconnect between the image of extreme professionalism of our nation’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that has become part of the tapestry of the nation, and this suggestion that admirals were apparently unconcerned with the declines in readiness, insufficient training, and personnel; of the operators of huge, complex systems with out-of-date qualifications – represents a chasm seemingly too wide to bridge.

How can the same bureaucracy that produces the best special operations personnel, the best fighter pilots, the best submariners – in the world, be run by admirals (and generals) who seem to fall so far short, and who’ve adopted such a laissez-faire attitude to our national security?

The short answer is that admirals and generals are human. They’re neither ten feet tall supermen and intellectual titans, nor are they conniving, self-serving seekers of ever-greater fame. Instead, they’re all remarkably human, with all the strengths and weaknesses that go along with being so. And they’ve always been so; the difference is not in them; perhaps the difference is in those they serve.

Not only has there been a steady decline in the percentage of Congress and other senior officials who’ve served – though with a slight up-tick since 2001; but there’s been a steady decline in the percentage of the citizenry who’ve served.

With service comes a host of things, among them a greater appreciation of the frailties and limitations of senior officers, and a greater appreciation of the difficulties of running a large military organization.

That appreciation is essential to Congress – and the citizenry – understanding that every sergeant, even the ones covered in medals, isn’t Sgt. Rock, every ship captain isn’t John Paul Jones, every general isn’t George Patton. More importantly, Congress – and the citizenry – needs to be able to recognize the difference between Sgt. Bilko and Sgt. Rock.

There are all sorts of steps that might be taken to address the immediate problem: fewer admirals and generals, with clear responsibility for readiness and training; slower promotions to allow greater development of professionalism; longer tours to allow focus on war-fighting skills, etc.

But we need citizens who understand that. There are many reasons why a draft should be looked at warily, but the understanding of both the capabilities – and limits – of our military (and our government) that a draft would bring is one very large reason to consider its merits.

But there’s an additional reason; one that arguably outweighs mere understanding.

Many in our country seem to like America, but they’ve never sacrificed for her and as such can only with great difficulty ever love truly her. This is particularly true among certain segments of our society, those that fashion themselves to be our leaders: whether in politics, fashion, culture, high finance or technology. Their love for America often appears to be conditional; they’ll love America when she is great, when America makes them proud, when America rewards them.

GK Chesterton once observed that Rome wasn’t loved because she was great, she was great because she was loved.

If we wish to fix our many problems – in the economy, the military, or the government as a whole – if we wish to make our country great, we must first love her; and to love her we must be willing to sacrifice for her, and to do that we need to understand, truly understand, those sacrifices.

We must first love her; only then can she be great.

Copyright 2017 Arrias
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