Friday, February 26, 2016

Matt 24 watch, 287: Military analyst Victor Davis Hanson on the issue of post conflict stabilisation in rimland wars

Victor Davis Hanson is an expert military analyst (and writer well worth reading) in the USA. In a Townhall article on The Tough Choices of Overseas Intervention he has some sobering words regarding stabilising conflict interventions by the USA as a keystone maritime global power acting in Spykman's rimlands that are open landwards and sea-wards around the perimeterof the Eurasian landmass:
The belated entry of the United States into World War I saved the sinking Allied cause in 1917. Yet after the November 1918 armistice, the United States abruptly went home, washed its hands of Europe's perennial squabbling and disarmed. A far bloodier World War II followed just two decades later.

It may have been wise or foolish for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson to have intervened in Vietnam in 1963-1964 to try to save the beleaguered non-communist south. But after 10 years of hard fighting and a costly stalemate, it was nihilistic for America to abandon a viable South Vietnam to invading communist North Vietnam. Re-education camps, mass executions and boat people followed -- along with more than 40 years of communist oppression.

The current presidential candidates are refighting the Iraq war of 2003. Yet the critical question 13 years later is not so much whether the United States should or should not have removed the genocidal Saddam Hussein, but whether our costly efforts at reconstruction ever offered any hope of a stable Iraq.

By 2011, Iraq certainly seemed viable. Only a few dozen American peacekeepers were killed in Iraq in 2011 -- a total comparable to the number of U.S. soldiers who die in accidents in an average month.

The complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops in December 2011 abruptly turned what President Obama had dubbed a "sovereign, stable and self-reliant" Iraq -- and what Vice President Joe Biden had called one of the administration's "greatest achievements" -- into a nightmarish wasteland.
He adds NATO's intervention in Libya to the list (standing in, one supposes for much of the effect of the Arab Spring events which seem to have had inputs from agitprop interventions).

 The pivotal issue is that at least since the 1860's, if a US military action does not seem a great success within about 3 years (obviously tied to the 2 and 4 year US election cycles), pressure mounts to withdraw. Where, it is notorious that the geostrategic insight of public at large, journalists and editors as well as of too many American politicians and advisors, is patently poor and short-sighted. Quagmire, get out -- leaving those so unwise as to have supported the US holding the bag and paying the price of now facing an enemy able to frustrate out the US all alone.

I add [July 30, 2016]: Circa 2016, this is what  the global geostrategic picture looks like to me:

Cumulative message: do not ally oneself with the US unless one can so over-match the opposition that within 3 years the US support can go home. (Save for a relatively small remainder in secure bases. And one has to bargain hard for that stabilising onward presence; it is irrational idiocy to try to drive it out if your interests and those of the nation align well with those of the USA and the wider West as main maritime and now aerospace powers. Translated: does your economy depend on stable world trade and/or a reasonable tech base, and/or do you value liberty and limited government? However, the past seventy years have shown that there is no shortage of such misguided nativism.)

Unless, one can build the sort of defence against patent global threat case that led to formation of NATO. 

Failing that, have an exile strategy in one's back pocket or become a mini superpower as independent of the USA as possible.

The USA, geostrategically, is as unstable as water.

The Royal Navy, C18 - 20, was a far better bet for long term support; never mind the price tag of colonial domination. (If you are poor and threatened, you are going to face some pretty unpalatable options: the least worst/evil choice.)

 That is not a good pattern in an era where Africa is going to be in long term play and African states on the whole are weak, unstable and prone to chronic problems of underdevelopment and truly awful governance. With, the Caribbean as an extension of Africa in the Americas.

 Meanwhile the ongoing apostasy and accelerating, increasingly bizarre decadence of our civilisation is eating out its heart and gradually is alienating the very people who are most needed to provide a sound defence against enemies foreign and domestic. Back to clay and iron toes, partly strong and partly weak but fundamentally incapable of genuine unity.

All of this brings me back to the cube of governance model I put together some time back, as a framework for pondering governance trends and challenges:

The centre zone was only achievable and sustainable after the rise of printing, mass literacy and newspapers in a context of reformed, Biblically anchored Christian faith as general community view enabled a critical mass of public support for a democratic consensus.

The ongoing decay of that consensus in our civilisation due to the eating out of its spiritual heart sets up chaos of anarchic character leading to a panic and cry for order to provide security. The result is predictable: oligarchy and/or tyranny joined to a breakdown of justice. And, loss of credibility, legitimacy and commitment.

The Romans 1 world looms -- with barbarians at then inside the gates:
Rom 1:19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,[g] in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. [ESV]
The geostrategic prospects for our time are grim. Realism rather than fantasy should drive our decision-making, but history shows that such is the exception not the rule.

The dynamics of ill-advised business as usual face us, flashing warning-signs all the way:

But, are we inclined to actually listen, or are we hell bent on stubbornly following business as usual, folly as usual . . . egged on by those who tickle our itching ears with what they astutely figure out that we want to hear?

The lemmings have a word for us:

 So do the crabs in a barrel -- by way of a further example not to follow -- even as they are headed for the boiling hot pot:

 The Ac 27 test stands there in front of us, the question is whether we will listen. END

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Matt 24 watch, 286: Russia's borderlands (and so also the NATO alliance) are back in geostrategic play . . .

Strategypage observes:
While the current Russian government appears to be maintaining its popularity by calling for the rebuilding of the pre-1991 Russian Empire, opinion surveys and migration patterns indicate a mixed attitude towards the old Russian Empire. The big problem is that half the people in the old empire were not Slavs although ethnic Russians were the majority among the half that was Slavic. The problem is that despite centuries of living in the same country (czarist Russia or the Soviet Union) all these different ethnic groups never developed much affection or tolerance for each other . . . . 

The fourteen former Russian imperial possessions that regained their independence are the three Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and the five “stans” of Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan). Poland, the Baltic States and Finland escaped from the empire after World War I but only Finland managed to stay free through World War II. The Baltic States were retaken during World War II and Poland remained nominally independent but was occupied by Russian troops (and took orders from Russia) until 1989. 

Poland and the Baltic States managed to join NATO after the Cold War ended and are hoping that the mutual defense terms of the NATO alliance will dissuade Russia. Nevertheless all four, plus Finland, have increased their military readiness this year and are seeking assurances from the West that they will have help against Russia. Many Finns have called for Finland to join NATO, but a large minority has opposed this because of the fear it would anger the Russians. There was a similar division in Ukraine but now more Finns are thinking that NATO membership is preferable to trusting Russia to always behave. Even Sweden, never part of the Russian empire and successfully neutral since the early 19th century is thinking about joining NATO for protection from an increasingly aggressive Russia. 

The stans of Central Asia have another option; China . . . 
In short, while I remain of the view that Africa is the new global geostrategic pivot (as an open continent not dominated and/or garrisoned by a nuke or near-nuke power), the power games surrounding the borderlands of the Russian Empire of old are back in play, given what happened to the Ukraine.

If Finland and Sweden are looking to NATO for protection, the Russians would be well advised to think again about playing for Mackinder's classic Eurasian pivot area and heartland -- and in alliance with the Persians and Syrians, with China looking to ally with the former Central Asian provinces:

Mackinder's summary:
"Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland;
who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island;
who rules the World-Island commands the world."
(Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality, p. 150)
But then, when did history ever teach us that we ever learn from history when a new march of folly cries out so appealingly? Didn't Marx of all people warn that this is why history repeats, first time around -- tragedy, second time -- farce?


 Putin riding a bear may yet become a classic joke -- unfortunately paid for in tears. For, unfortunately, geopolitics is back bigtime in a world that seems to be ever the more unstable.

Nor, should we forget:

The four horsemen of the apocalypse -- conquest (is it an accident the Persians/Parthians of the notorious Parthian shot were horse bowmen?), war, pestilence and death on the greenish-pale horse -- are clearly at the door:

When will we ever learn from the blood and tears of history? END

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The Singapore lesson

Strategy Page (in discussing anti-terrorism)  has a one paragraph summary on Singapore that is well worth pondering:
Singapore, in context; pop 5.5 mn, area 278 sq mi,
GDP/cap nom. US$ 56,300, sust. 9%/yr avg growth '60's - 90's
The city of Singapore was founded by the British in 1819, on what was then a thinly populated island at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. The British considered the local Malays rather too laid back and brought in thousands of Chinese and Indians to work the booming port city. Within six years, the population exploded from a few hundred, to over 10,000. By the 1820s Chinese were the most numerous ethnic group. They eventually came to dominate the rich port of Singapore, providing administrators as well as traders and laborers. The British kept the key jobs but otherwise ran a meritocracy. When Malaysia, which Singapore was a part of, became independent in 1963, many Chinese in Singapore openly opposed being ruled by the Malay majority. The Malays also resented the more entrepreneurial and economically successful Chinese. Although most Singapore residents wanted to be part of Malaysia, it didn't work out. In 1965, Malaysia basically expelled Singapore, which become a separate, mainly Chinese, country. Over the next three decades, the Singaporean economy grew an average of nine percent a year, and Singapore became the wealthiest, on a per-capita basis, nation in the region.
Food for thought. END

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Sci-tech watch, 26: GE announces a move from compact fluorescent lamps to Light Emitting Diode lamps

LED light bulb (HT: IEEE)
General Electric is a global trendsetter, so it is significant to note:
Monday morning, General Electric announced it will phase out the sale of compact fluorescent lightbulbs, the standard inexpensive option for the environmentally conscious. Instead, the company will give prominence to the LED, or light-emitting diode, bulbs – a better quality and more energy-efficient cousin of the CFL.

“Now is the right time to transition from CFL to LED,” John Strainic, chief operating officer of consumer and conventional lighting at GE Lighting, told The New York Times.[more] . . .
GE Reports gives some context:
Introduced in the mid-1980s, CFLs enjoyed a spurt of popularity after Oprah Winfrey endorsed them in 2007. The bulbs briefly accounted for about 30 percent of U.S. light bulb sales. But the bulbs, which heat gas rather than a filament, were never really beloved, and last year accounted for just 15 percent of sales. Consumers complained CFL light was too harsh, didn’t work with dimmers, flickered and took too long to warm up and light a room . . . . 

The reason GE can make the shift from CFLs to LEDs today is because LED prices have dramatically declined since GE engineer Nick Holonyak (see video below) invented the first red-light LED in 1962. Today, a 60-watt-equivalent LED bulb sells at Sam’s Club for $3.33 — a price point that helped LED sales grow 250 percent last year. LEDs now account for 15 percent of the 1.7 billion bulbs sold annually in the United States. GE expects that by 2020, LEDs will be used in more than 50 percent of U.S. light sockets.
A bit on the LED story (I picked a longer account at Youtube) will help:

Food for thought. END

PS:  HT, Wiki -- where, as a rule of thumb:
. . . A standard [--> e.g.'s are based on 100 W] general-purpose incandescent bulb emits light at an efficiency of about 14 [230 V] to 17 [120 V] lumens/W depending on its size and voltage. According to the European Union standard, an energy-efficient bulb that claims to be the equivalent of a 60 W tungsten bulb must have a minimum light output of 806 lumens.

. . . lamp efficacies

Monday, February 01, 2016

Key US and wider trends -- Clinton vs Sanders, Cruz vs Trump vs Rubio, Google Alphabet vs Apple, US official debt at 19 trillions -- and Zika

Just now I looked at Drudge Report, the well-known news aggregator.

Several trends in the US -- "when America sneezes the Caribbean catches cold" -- caught my eye:

TREND 1: Red headlined . . . 

Key take-away, Rubio is seriously in the running. A good debate performance counts, and Trump's walkaway on the final pre-Iowa debate thus seems to have cost him.

U/D, Feb 2: On  the Democrats side:

. . .  it was too close to call for most of the night [and six county level precincts all went to Clinton by coin toss]. Clinton declared victory early Tuesday morning, with all but one of the Iowa precincts reporting, with 49.9% of the delegates to the state convention. Sanders was a squeak behind, with 49.6% — perhaps the real winner, with that unexpected showing.

TREND 2: Google's parent "Alphabet" has overtaken Apple as the largest market capitalisation company.  As the linked CNBC article reports:
At Monday's after-hours levels (which technically reflect an indication, but not the real-world value), Alphabet's market cap would roughly be $570 billion, eclipsing Apple's current market cap of about $535 billion.

The last time Google was more valuable than Apple was in February 2010, when both companies were worth less than $200 billion. At the time, Apple had yet to release its first iPad, the newest iPhone on the market was the 3GS, and the Mac was the company's biggest product line, accounting for one-third of revenue. Steve Jobs was still at the helm.
A year ago Apple peaked well past 700 bn, but earnings have been less than desired in recent days, and it has lost about a 1/4 bn in value. But one should not count Apple out just yet.

TREND 3: The official US National Debt has hit 19 trillions ( the implicit debt total takes the debt well past 100 trillions). As the just linked article notes:
The national debt hit $19 trillion for the first time ever on Friday, and came in at $19.012 trillion.

It took a little more than 13 months for the debt to climb by $1 trillion. The national debt hit $18 trillion on Dec. 15, 2014 . . . . 
Back in November, the debt ceiling was suspended again, after having been frozen at $18.1 trillion for several months. As soon as it was suspended, months of pent-up borrowing demand by the government led to a $339 billion jump in the national debt in a single day.
Under current law, the debt ceiling is suspended until March, 2017, meaning the government can borrow without limit until then. Obama is expected to leave office with a total national debt of nearly $20 trillion by the time he leaves office.
Such trends are significant, and we need to keep an eye on them. END

PS: In news this afternoon, WHO gave warning on Zika Virus as an international health threat. That could have significant and adverse impact on tourism. The leading regional industry.
(CNN)The World Health Organization declared a "public health emergency of international concern" Monday over the Zika virus and the health problems that doctors fear it is causing.

The agency said the emergency is warranted because of how fast the mosquito-borne virus is spreading and its suspected link to an alarming spike in babies born with abnormally small heads -- a condition called microcephaly -- in Brazil and French Polynesia . . .