Leaving Iraq?

by Paolo von Schirach

February 1, 2007

WASHINGTON – The hubristic hype that characterized the first 3 years of occupation following the invasion of March 2003 — years in which the Bush administration stubbornly pursued far too many misguided policies, even when it was apparent that they were not leading to success–  has given way to the equally unchecked defeatist hype of those who were always against the war and of the many more who became disillusioned because the promised results (“Mission Accomplished”, “Mopping Up”, “A Few Die Hard Baathists”) were not reached and, many years later, are certainly not forthcoming.

As the atmosphere changed, it is now totally acceptable to describe Iraq, not only as a civil war or quagmire (which it is, at least in Baghdad, the physical and symbolic center of the country); but as a total, unmitigated disaster, now more frequently called a ‘debacle’. Now, this characterization is extreme and clearly incorrect; at least for the moment. 

Related to military affairs, the term “debacle” means the end, final defeat. Waterloo was the final debacle of the Napoleonic dream. The signing of the unconditional surrender in 1945 represented the debacle of Nazi Germany. Dien Bien Phu was the debacle of the French colonial era in Indochina in 1954.

Manifestly, in Iraq, we are not there. We did not surrender. We have yet to run, after being routed , (think of the British leaving Dunkirque), leaving the territory to the enemies. The democratic government supported by the coalition, whatever its many weaknesses, is still there, with no viable alternative produced by the insurrectionists in sight. Nor can we say that Iraq, daily carnage notwithstanding, is in total chaos, Somalia style, or Congo circa 1998.

So, let us establish that there has been no “debacle”. Yet, the casual way in which critics use terms that imply final defeat, not as a possibility, but as an obvious fact that needs no supporting evidence, is worrisome in as much it shows that in this matter we have the triumph of emotions and not of reason. An apocalyptic diagnosis is just as wrong as the unfounded sunny optimism (“We are winning”) displayed until not too long ago by the administration. In a climate pervaded by emotions it will be very difficult to conduct an otherwise legitimate debate as to what should be the way forward in Iraq.

The critics seem to subscribe to at least two separate but concurrent views.

The first one indicates that the real priority at thi stage of the conflict is to save American lives. This is really “cut and run”; but in the name of the higher moral value of saving American lives from a doomed situation in a conflict that should have never been started and by definition cannot be won.

The second view is more complex. But it can be summarized as follows: “We Americans have to convey to the Iraqi authorities how disappointed we are realizing that they cannot do a better job. As they do not improve their performance, then, with regret, we Americans will have to acknowledge that the Iraqis are not really serious about their security and their future. As the Iraqis are not really doing their share and since we should not do more than what is fair, then this is a lost cause and we should leave them to their own devices”. The parting shot will be: “Hey, we invested heavily. We tried our best, but you cannot keep on helping people who do not want to help themselves?”

It is easy to criticize the first view. From this standpoint, the primary objective of military operations is not to defeat an enemy so that we can accomplish a political goal; but to minimize our human losses. If casualties mount and there is no immediate victory, then we should withdraw, because no protracted conflict is worth the mounting loss of American lives. According to these military theoreticians, in a war, either we can achieve immediately our goals or forget about the whole thing. Apparently no strategic goal is significant enough to justify the sacrifice of American lives. 

The second school of thought, more complex and more nuanced, is however equally flawed. The objective here is in fixing the blame, not fixing the problem.

It is about scolding and punishing the Iraqis for their failures (and there are many). But this view leaves out of the equation the fundamental question as to how the US national interest is best served, regardless of what the Iraqi do or do not do efficiently. We could very well send “messages” to the Iraqis and then feel good about the fact that, before leaving, at least we tried. “We really hoped that they would shape up, but, alas, they did not. So, in good conscience, we did what we had to do and left. So there”.

This approach, of course, assumes that it is entirely reasonable to expect that the first democratic coalition government ever to be elected in the whole history of the region, ipso facto will have acquired the maturity, the sophistication, the capacity and the expertise to behave according to the standards of modern day liberal democracies. As they are clearly falling short, after a couple of “tough love” attempts that did not work, then we should accept the evidence of their terminal failure to deliver. As time and again they have proven to be unable to shape up, we have to leave. Indeed. So, we flunked the bad student. This will teach him a lesson. Right? Unfortunately, here we are not in school. There may not be other opportunities for the unfocused Iraqis to concentrate and take the test again. Has anybody considered that the Iraqis are not shaping up because, given the infancy of their political institutions and the government they formed, they are not yet capable? 

It is a very easy job for the critics to point out all the failures of the Maliki Government. But, after we have fixed the blame and thus can feel good about our choices based on undeniably reasonable standards, (if applied to ordinary circumstances), can we say that we have fixed the problem? Besides “teaching a lesson” to the immature Iraqis, (fixing the blame) have we served our long term national interest? 

Well, it depends on how the national interest is defined. If the national interest is identified in stopping, or at least drastically curtailing, as soon as possible the hemorrhaging of US blood and treasure, (just like in the first view), then, yes. But there is a question that all the reasonable critics who say, essentially, that “enough is enough” do not wish to confront. Namely: “Are there any serious strategic consequences, not for Iraq, but  for the United States of America in abandoning the Iraqis to their own destiny?”

If we leave and Iraq collapses, can there be adverse short term or long consequences that will be so dire for us that, by comparison, supporting now, at a high price, the wobbling Maliki Government, hoping that improvements on the ground will gradually come about, would appear quite appealing?

The Bush administration has been vocal in pointing out the possible (certain for them) implications of a US withdrawal. These include: collapse of any residual law and order; full scale civil war; probable foreign intervention, (Iran to help the Shia, Arab countries to support the Sunnis, Turkey to thwart any attempt to create a Kurdistan that may claim territories under its sovereignty); the establishment of al Quaida sanctuaries and training camps, and ensuing chaos in a volatile region of continuing strategic significance for the US and the whole world in light of its oil production and reserves.

The problem is that by now the Bush administration has lost all credibility. Few listen to them. President Bush has one of the lowest favorable ratings in history, largely because of Iraq. We know why. Too many misrepresentations, too much braggadocio, too much hubris, far too many mistakes. And then the really belated removal of the most egregiously incompetent leaders; conceding, but only grudgingly and obviously under the duress imposed by political defeat, that huge mistakes have been made.

To all this, one has to add the ongoing dogged persistence in confusing effects for causes on the issue of  the active threat represented by  Islamic terrorists in Iraq, before as opposed to after the invasion.

Of course, Al Quaida and affiliates, after the US invasion, seized the opportunity and made messy Iraq an important, if not key, battlefield in which to continue their jihad against the West. Whereas, as al Quaida appeared on the scene, almost at the beginning of the troubles, the Bush administration declared that, since we are fighting al Quaida (among others) in Iraq, it is a plain fact that the Iraq campaign was and is an integral, in fact indispensable, component of the larger war on terror. (Prior to this, we were told that Iraq was part of the war on terror because of the likely connections between Saddam with WMD and Islamic terrorists).

But we know that this is incorrect. We know that Saddam, whatever evil plans he had concocted, and whatever support and sanctuary he gave to some terrorists, was a secular despot, interested in increasing his own secular power. He cannot be portrayed as a religious fanatic aimed at the reestablishment of some theocracy or mythical Caliphate, with sharia law and all that. He was a dangerous enemy; but he was not another bin Laden, nor was he bin Laden’s logical ally. 

Having discounted all these arbitrary connections that insist on making Iraq and the war on terror one and the same thing, it would still be wise to examine the Iraq warnings coming from the White House, before dismissing them as more propaganda or, worse, ridiculing them as the incoherent ramblings of mono-maniacal individuals. (Indeed, as we know, many commentators and opposition politicians routinely use the adjective “delusional” to describe the state of mind of the president and the vice president regarding Iraq).

But this is not happening. The consensus is that the administration should follow majority opinion which clearly states that most Americans disapprove of the conduct of the war. Using tortuous logic, many commentators point out that even respected conservatives way back had warned against conducting long military operations without the support of public opinion. This is true. This is a democracy and public opinion is important. But this does not make public opinion right, however strong their beliefs can be. Public opinion is largely shaped by opinion leaders. So it can change; just as it changed from support to condemnation of the war, because most commentators had concluded, long ago, that the war was  lost.  

The truth of the matter is that the political leaders who favor withdrawal should also be willing to engage in a serious (as opposed to emotional) debate about the possible consequences of a failure of the American effort. So far, many have embraced withdrawal because politically this appears to be the best solution to placate a public tired of a costly stalemate. But if the public, after reviewing the possible ramifications of defeat, would be convinced instead that ending this hemorrhage of American blood through withdrawal would make things worse down the line, would they still favor withdrawal?

This is a pitfall that so far has been avoided in this debate. A weakened White House has not been able to force its opponents to take a clear position that would include taking responsibility for any adverse consequences that might emanate by following their simple solution. Nonetheless, instead of just expressing skepticism about the latest presidential plan for a surge, the opponents have an obligation to spell out their plan and their evaluation of its possible consequences and ramifications. To bring up the Vietnam analogy, stating that, just as the “the dominos” did not fall in South East Asia, there will be no special repercussions after we leave Iraq, is at the very least simplistic. Different time, different place, different players, and no oil.

To those who wish to leave: elaborate a real plan, other than just a withdrawal timetable, and engage in a serious debate about its possible consequences. To say that Bush is no longer credible and thus we should not support anything he proposes and do instead the opposite, without further analysis of the consequences of a new course of action, is short sighted demagoguery. Certainly in line with the current mood of the nation– but demagoguery nonetheless.




How Pollution May Ruin Hong Kong

by Paolo von Schirach

January 18, 2007

WASHINGTON – It was reported last December in Hong Kong that members of the British, Canadian, Australian and Japanese chambers of commerce met political leader Donald Tsang to discuss pollution.  Their call follows a warning from the American Chamber of Commerce that fresh investment was being deterred by the thick smog that regularly clouds Hong Kong. “There is widespread concern that the deteriorating environment is adversely affecting the health of our community, our citizens, our children, our businesses and our enviable international status in an increasingly competitive global landscape,” the chambers said in a joint statement.

Pollution has become a hot political issue in Hong Kong as smog levels have risen to often dangerous levels. According to some measurements, poor air quality reduced visibility to less than one kilometer (about half a mile) on more than 50 days last year.

The government says the problem is mostly due to the industrialisation of southern China’s neighbouring Pearl River Delta region, while green groups also blame local coal-burning power stations and diesel-powered buses. AmCham chairman Steve Marcopoto has urged both the local and the neighbouring Guangdong provincial governments to step up efforts to combat the problem. Nearly 80 percent of the 140 top executives polled in a survey felt Hong Kong’s allure was falling, with four out of five knowing professionals who had considered leaving or have already left due to the air quality.

Karl Marx would probably have used the current Hong Kong predicament as an illustration of the ‘contradictions of capitalism’. The economic system that wanted to expand wealth, in the end becomes responsible for increased misery; thus causing its own demise. Marx focused on the inability to spread the riches deriving from the industrial processes introduced in large scale by the capitalists. I am talking about the different but real problem of increased air pollution in Hong Kong (indirectly at least generated by the Hong Kong capitalists) and the possible consequence of eventually shutting down this powerful center of economic prowess.

Several years ago, Great Britain was adamant in its negotiations with Beijing to bring about a post colonial future for Hong Kong that would preserve its special capitalistic status, even after reverting sovereignty back to the then rather communist mainland. During the negotiations, and for some time after Hong Kong had been handed over to the PRC in 1997, the concern was that communist China might have wanted to destroy this western style enclave for ideological reasons; or that it may feel ‘forced’ to do so  in order to avoid any possible capitalist contagion with the rest of China.

But the worst fears political proved to be exaggerated. Hong Kong is not totally free; but its capitalistic economy and special status has been preserved by its new communist masters.

However it would appear that should the demise of this vibrant center of enterprise come about after all, this inglorious outcome will be brought about at the hands of the capitalist leaders of the former British colony, rather than communist machinations.

It appears that the quality of life in Hong Kong is getting progressively worse because of the polluted air that blows into Hong Kong from the Pearl River delta region. Now, this is the region where a large number of manufacturing enterprises were established with Hong Kong capital in order to take advantage of low labor and other costs in mainland China. The Hong Kong capitalists created these industrial plants and own many of them. Focusing on the highest returns, they did not care to spend more money in order to make these productive facilities environmentally friendly, at a time in which the environment did not appear to be a pressing concern, (certainly not in modern Hong Kong).

As a result of this recklessness, we have now an environmental disaster in the region with the unforeseen additional negative consequence of the foul air produced in Guandong getting to Hong Kong, depending on the prevailing winds. Apparently, this air pollution problem, unchecked for many years, has grown progressively. Today, it represents probably the single most significant threat to the continued viability of this city as the unquestioned economic and financial capital of Asia. With all its stellar top competitiveness rankings and applauded economic freedoms, Hong Kong cannot avoid the pollution blowing from a vast industrial region that it created in order to preserve the price competitiveness that it could not possibly maintain because of higher labor costs in the territories.

To make matter worse, The Economist reported recently that food stuff imported into Hong Kong from the mainland appears to have unhealthy concentrations of pollutants and various toxic substances reputed to be carcinogens. So, Hong Kong’s proximity to a high concentration of pollution seems to cause damage at several levels.

Right now it appears that Hong Kong desperately needs the full cooperation of mainland authorities so that, jointly, (probably with massive capital infusions coming from Hong Kong itself) they can drastically reduce the growing deterioration of the environment in the whole region and thus the very ability to live a more normal life in the former colony. We do not hear much about the quality of life for the tens of thousands of workers who toil in the very factories whence the pollution originates. But they can hardly be better than in Hong Kong itself.

The seriousness of the problem for Hong Kong is illustrated by the fact that many international companies are relocating or at least are beginning to consider relocation in more salubrious locales. Many expatriate executives have already moved elsewhere their children, more vulnerable to respiratory afflictions. Should things get worse and should Hong Kong begin to lose at least some of the leading international companies that have made it their Asia headquarters, this may start a general exodus, as the attractiveness of the city rests in large part on the unusual concentration of economic power and talent.

So, unless drastic action is undertaken immediately to reverse the environmental deterioration, it would appear that the Hong Kong capitalists, after all, have been more shortsighted than the Beijing communist leadership.




Recommending More Training for the Iraqis

by Paolo von Schirach

January 8, 2007

WASHINGTON – The choice of General David Petraeus as the new head of US forces in Iraq comes probably as some kind of response to the Baker Hamilton Report recommendation to vastly increase the number of US trainers in Iraq and to make this redoubled training effort one of the main pillars of the whole operation. After all Petraeus during a previous assignmene had been in charge of a key component of this effort. But why is it that training, always described by the administration as the precondition for self-sufficient Iraqi was downgraded in terms of strategic relevance to the extent that at the end of 2006 a bipartisan group of well meaning people indicates that this should become one of the pillars of the whole strategy? We were always told that it was and is a pillar.

The logic of Baker Hamilton recommendation is flawless; the choice of Petreaus inspired. But why only now?

The US objective, since the beginning in 2003, has been to create a situation whereby the new Iraqis Government, in the fastest reasonable time, will be able to provide for the country’s security, ensuring a modicum of stability (if not total peace); so that the coalition forces will be able to withdraw without leaving a void and consequent havoc. Therefore, in order to achieve this objective, we need to increase the scope of the training effort for the Iraqi forces, so that they will be capable of doing the job on their own. So says the Iraq Study Group; and it is hard to disagree. But why has this not been done all along, when everybody said that it was essential to do it? 

 Indeed, the utterly perplexing fact is that the critical role of the training effort has been underscored by the Bush administration since the beginning of the occupation in 2003. Regarding Iraq, few subjects have been analyzed and debated in Washington more than the state of readiness (actual, projected, and hoped for) of the Iraqi military and police, as a result of the coalition training efforts. This was and is the core enabling element of any exit strategy. As president Bush said many times: “As they stand up, we stand down”. This has been the mantra endlessly repeated by the administration.

 So, it was and is clear to all those even marginally interested in the Iraqi issue that for us to stand down, that is to devolve security responsibility and eventually leave, we need to concentrate on making sure that they (the Iraqi) can indeed stand up. And this has been consistently asserted and reasserted. The Pentagon and the White House have repeatedly stated that, regardless of tactical necessities, the long term US strategy was to train Iraqis, so that they would become self-sufficient in the shortest period of time and so that direct security responsibility could be handed over to them as soon as they are ready to shoulder it, regardless of the state of the insurrection or civil war or however we want to define the violence in Iraq.

 Clearly the US maximum objective should be the quick defeat of all violent groups in the country. The ensuing peace and security would then create the necessary environment to allow for reconstruction, development and at the same time the strengthening of the fledgling democratic institutions.

But since we all know that this will take a long time, an acceptable intermediate goal would be creating an effective and reliable Iraqi security apparatus capable of containing the insurrection and hopefully to defeat it sooner rather than later. But devolution in a messy, unstable environment entails reliably trained Iraqis. Given the relevance of this issue, it is utterly surprising that so few resources have been devoted to it.  

In June 2004, the same General David Petraeus, just nominated commander in Iraq, was entrusted with the training effort as head of the Multinational Security Transition Command. In recognition of the key strategic relevance of this mission, Petraeus made the cover of Newsweek as America’s point man in Iraq. Later on, in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, (September 26, 2004) General Petraeus wrote, among other things, that ?training [of Iraqi forces] is on track and increasing in capacity?.  This was more than two years ago. Apparently things did not go according to plan. (Meantime, Petraeus was reassigned).

So, what happened to training? Hard to say exactly. Michael Vickers, formerly Army Special Forces and CIA operations, now with the Center for Strategy and Budgetary Assessment, who briefed president Bush on the subject of training, in the course of a TV interview, (Newshour with Jim Lehrer on October 27, 2006), indicated that the whole training operation was woefully understaffed and thus not really effective. His explanation? It would appear, among other things, that being a trainer is not a glamorous assignment leading to career advancements in the US military. For this reason, we do not get many people who want to go, and those who do are not necessarily the best qualified people.

If this is even partially true, then we have to conclude that the sluggish progress in creating an Iraqi military force capable of defending the country and thus of providing a viable exit strategy for the US and other Coalition forces is due to the fact that being a trainer is not an interesting career path within the US military.  

We should really hope that this is not true. Still, if this is not the true reason, or if it is not the main reason, it is still utterly unbelievable that, several years into this crucial training effort, we have so few US trainers in Iraq; (between 3,000 and 4,000 in 2006). And thus it seems that we needed the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, a group of well meaning people (with only a couple of military experts in their mix), to come up with the obvious recommendation to dramatically increase the number of trainers in order to make the Iraqis self-sufficient sooner rather than later.

As Mr. Vickers noted in the interview referred to above, in Vietnam, at the end of the US effort, there were 16,000 US advisers. In Iraq only about 3,200. So, it appears that the best that we have been able to do is to deploy 3,200 men, apparently not the best and not adequately supported, to carry out training –a core element of the only strategy that could allow a credible disengagement some time in the future.

Why the US, with the largest military force in the world, has been unable to do better than this, three years after the fall of Baghdad, is something that the administration needs to understand and correct. Sending General Petraeus back to Iraq with the new rank of top military commander may indicate that training, neglected for all this time, is back on the front burner. We can only hope that this true, as this may be the last chance to establish  a real foundation for victory and for the eventual exit of US forces.




The New Immigration or the End of the Melting Pot

by Paolo von Schirach

October 24, 2006

WASHINGTON – The current immigration debate, well meaning in some aspects, acrimonious in others, misses the qualitative changes and irreversible transformations to the US society brought about by the Latino immigration waves that have already changed America and are likely to change it even more in the years to come. 

The main irreversible transformation is that the old “melting pot” metaphor that, up to the 1960s, was a fair representation of the ability of the US to absorb and homogenize varied waves of immigrants, no longer applies. The US has ceased to be this Anglo-Saxon cultural blender that overtime digested, homogenized and integrated millions of other immigrants coming from different backgrounds, thereby “converting” them into true Americans.

The US is increasingly becoming Hispanic or Latino and Spanish speaking. In turn this qualitative change has led and will lead overtime to further transformations that will involve the core of what America is and what it thinks of itself.

The current immigration debate involving the Congress, the White House and now also state legislatures and local governments is mostly about recreating some control on what are in truth broken borders. It is also about providing some path to legalization of status to the many millions who de facto reside, live and work in the US. However, whatever the approach eventually chosen for the illegal aliens:  total or partial amnesty, fines, fast track to proper immigrant status or slow track, the reality is that massive deportation, theoretically possible under current law, is so unlikely that we can rule it out as a policy option. So, most likely, these millions are here to stay. 

Furthermore, even if, under the most optimistic scenario, the US manages to regain full control of its borders, thereby halting completely any future flow of illegal aliens into US territory, there will still be, in the decades to come a significant streaming of legal immigrants from South America. This flow, current and projected, coupled with the transformative impact of the many millions that are already here, legally or otherwise, has changed America for good. Because of the impact of these massive numbers, more changes away from the old Anglo-Saxon paradigm are inevitable in the years to come.

The qualitative difference between the Latino wave and previous large immigration waves is that most of the other immigrants ?in particular the Europeans– came to the US with an awareness, implicit or not, of having permanently severed their ties with their countries of origin. Sure, in many cases they would retain, at least the immigrant generation, a specific identity within the American ethnic mosaic. So, one could easily recognize Polish Americans as different from Italian Americans. But, by and large, those who came to the US and stayed here made a total commitment to become Americans and to place any residual tie or connection with their country of origin: linguistic, cultural or culinary, on a much lower tier.

In most cases the immigrants were unable or unwilling to preserve their linguistic identity and pass it on to the following generations. (Let us consider that many of them were semi literate or illiterate within their own cultures. Thus they did not have the tools to preserve cultural complexities that they did not fully master).

Therefore, the kaleidoscope of exotic names that dots the American landscape has value for the ethnographers and historians that can identify Norwegian, Irish, Greek or German origins. But the individuals themselves, with a few exceptions, usually can barely indicate that the great grand parents came from somewhere in Ireland or Germany. Mixed marriages among immigrants confused the picture even further. Italians intermarried with the Irish and their offspring later on with others. For a third or fourth generation American today who can easily be in part German, Swedish, Russian or Greek, it is almost impossible to determine a meaningful national origin and to have strong feelings about it.

The basic difference between these old waves of immigrants and the Latino waves rests in geography. The Europeans by and large came with one way third class tickets on overcrowded steamers. Once they had landed they were psychologically and materially committed to a fast track to integration in order to better their chances of improving their lot vis a vis the other Americans. In most cases, going back to the country of origin was out of the question. Emigration was final. Thus, embracing the new world, in all it aspects, including culture and values, was necessary to have a chance to succeed in it.

The Latinos as of many years come by bus, by car or by air. For the most part, even if we take out the many that cannot cross official borders for fear of apprehension, except for the very poor, they have the opportunity to travel back and forth at least occasionally, some rather frequently. To think of Polish peasants transplanted in Illinois at the turn of the last century taking an even occasional summer vacation to visit with relatives back in the village is preposterous except for the extremely successful few who had become really rich in America.

On top of that, nowadays, even for the relatively poor Latinos, phone contact with relatives back home is the norm rather than the exception, while the gigantic remittance flows from the US into Central and South America, indicate continues involvement with families and communities in the countries of origin.

And the retention of the Spanish language as the primary language is an indication as to the fact that these immigrants do not have the same urgency to integrate and in some fashion forget about their origins. They see no need for this.

The logic of large numbers in most cases may help in shaping attitudes. No need to learn English fast in communities where the Latino population is the majority. Indeed, at least in some communities in the US it is possible to have a perfectly normal life in terms of work and opportunity without any need to acquire real English fluency, something that certainly was not the case, even in the most ethnic states, even at the height of the European immigration waves. 

Certainly there have been many large ethnic islands within the United States and many immigrants could get by with little or no English. But the understanding of all was that English was the official language of the country and that all official transactions would be conducted in English. No equivalent at that time of the now ubiquitous “press 2 for Spanish”, in any telephone help line, let alone taking driver license tests in languages other than English or the notion of officially sanctioned bilingual education.

While we would like to think that becoming an American is not about ethnicity, as demonstrably there is no “American” ethnic group, but about the voluntary embracing a set of values, it is a fact that historically most immigrants have been economic immigrants, driven by need rather than ideals. However, and this is crucial, whether they liked it or not, the old immigrants were “forced” to buy into the prevailing Anglo-Saxon political culture and become soon homogenized Americans, thus quickly shedding their origins and embracing America.

When political leaders today affirm that the strength of America lies in the diverse backgrounds of its immigrant population, they should know that this diversity is in fact rather superficial. They know that they are referring to the descendants of those Italian, German, Russian and Greek immigrants who, while they may have retained traces of their distinctiveness, at this point are homogenized Americans. Kohl, Lantos, Giuliani, Voinovich, Kerry, Tenet, Dukakis and even thick accented Schwarzenegger, just to stay within the sphere of people involved in public policy, are all ethnic names. Yet, these “including the foreign born– are Americans with a capital A. But, ten years from now, will we say the same about the Mercado, Martinez, Lopez and Rodriguez who will be the mayors and eventually national leaders of America? The difference is that the Latinos did not have the same pressure to integrate and become homogenized.

The fundamental qualitative difference between old and new immigration is that the new economic immigrants of today, most of them from Latin America, appreciate the opportunity to have a better life in the USA. However, to the extent that they can easily maintain an active connection with their countries of origin, (something that those who came along with the previous immigration waves could not do), they do not seem to have the urgency to totally and quickly transform themselves into “Anglos”.

If, while preserving the old ties, they would voluntarily choose to embrace the values of their adopted country, this would be a genuine achievement of multiculturalism. But, realistically, most immigrants will not spend sleepless nights poring over the Federalist Papers and other tomes on the Constitution in order to critically understand its underlying values.

Without the perception that, in order to have a normal life, they need to let themselves be absorbed by the new society, most people will tend to their private affairs. They will be guided by the principles that they acquired in their formative years. And, in the case of these new waves of immigrants, we cannot rest assured as to the fact that those value systems and beliefs will be the same as those that are prevalent among other Americans, simply because their backgrounds are different and their socialization took place in a different context.

And herein lays the challenge. America has worked reasonably well so far because a recognizable political culture has been preserved over more than two hundred years through a process that caused total outsiders to become integrated into this mainstream in a relatively short time. The substantial recent inflow of millions of people from nearby Mexico, Central and South America who bring different values and who see neither the obligation nor the need to subscribe to this political culture will bring about substantial qualitative change. This change will provoke new debates about what is it that we mean by “being an American”.

True, the notion that all the descendants of the old European waves have an unflinching, clear understanding as to what are the American values that they theoretically subscribe to is ludicrous. Indeed, many do not. But, at least in general, they cannot look at alternatives that derive from other perspectives that coexist in their universe. However, the lukewarm feelings about the distinctiveness of America among many descendants of older immigrants, if anything, complicates the problem, as it does not present to the new immigrants a clear picture of the value system that they should absorb.

America is a rather unique country that cannot point to a strong ethnic, religious or cultural identity. The political culture and the assumption that all of those who joined in share it has been the glue that kept this complex machinery together. We have to face the fact that this glue may not be as strong a bonding agent as it used to be.

And we have to face this fact now, when, for the first time in our complex history, we have a large chunk of new immigrants who may very well live here but who are not pressed to truly join in. This does not automatically make them disloyal or dangerous. But it makes them different. Just like the previous waves, these are predominantly economic immigrants. But, unlike the immigrants of old, they did not and will not go through the cultural indoctrination, benign or forced, willfully accepted or suffered by millions of others before them.

They are different. Their large and growing numbers will affect the culture and the values of the broader society in which they live and eventually they will radically transform it, its value system and core beliefs. How this transformation will change us all is impossible to predict. But America will never be the same.




Can the US promote democracy in the Middle East?

 

WASHINGTON – American military commanders in Iraq have been saying for some time that the insurgency cannot be won by military means alone. The U.S. military knows that there are limits to its capacity to counter, let alone destroy, the asymmetrical capabilities of the insurgents there. The alarming increase in the level of violence over the past month confirms their assessment.

Victory in Iraq will be achieved only when we will have created conditions whereby the incentives to recruit, be recruited and act in the insurgency will disappear. Victory will take place only when the insurgents see that their cause is either hopeless or totally wrong.

This would entail an ideological shift, a true conversion on the part of a critical mass of insurgents to the principles of secular democracy, tolerance and respect for individual liberties. Without such conversion, the ideological incentive to carry on the attacks will continue to brew and there will be no victory, as the United States and its allies clearly lack the means to identify and destroy all the insurgents and their rather large recruiting systems. Victory should be defined as the prevailing of the ideas underlying U.S. efforts and the end of violence.

This should not be confused with the possible successful disengagement of the U.S. military from Iraq, predicated on the build-up of capable Iraqi forces that can somehow fill the void left by departing American troops. Leaving the Iraqi military in charge of an ongoing, potentially endless, fight may be politically beneficial in the U.S. domestic context replete with demands to bring the troops home. But this would not be victory. Instead of becoming a keystone of a new stable Middle East, Iraq would then be a another factor of regional instability, a magnet for radicals. This would be worse than under Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The United States and its allies won the Cold War because America’s ability to resist Soviet military encroachments and propaganda lasted long enough to expose to a sufficient number of people living under Soviet rule the fissures, evil and rot of the system. The United States was also lucky in having at an appropriate time an unaware ally in last Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. By trying to improve a police state, he exposed its weaknesses and hastened its demise. In that contest, the West, because of its intellectual and material superiority, prevailed. But the critical factor that condemned those regimes was the open exposure of the disastrous failures of communism to the people living under it. In the end, the inability of the communist leaderships to mount a fight to defend their regimes deprived them of any residual legitimacy.

In the case of Islamic fundamentalism, we do not have on our side the record of half a century of failures of regimes; that is  egregious examples that can give ammunition to moderate Muslims to speak against the ideological insanity of such social and political models. An insanity based on a demonized view of politics that is predicated — among other things — on the destruction of the alleged enemies of the true faith: the Untied States, its allies and its agents, such as Israel.

Since the 1980s, a theocracy has been ruling Iran. But it is a theocracy that can lubricate its otherwise inefficient mechanisms with a massive oil rent, something that shields it from the full political consequences that bad models usually provoke. The Taliban in Afghanistan provided a chilling example of what damage institutionalized fanaticism can bring about. But it was an isolated regime in an impoverished country that did not last long enough to be used as a paradigm of what will go wrong, once radical Islamist factions have a chance to govern.

The U.S. political leadership wants to end the conflict with radical Islam through political means, by pushing forward the democratization agenda, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in the whole Middle East. The underlying rationale for these policies is that extreme ideologies proliferate and find adepts because those societies never had a “normal” political process based on the peaceful, open debate of ideas. Repression, authoritarianism and brutality breed factions and fanatical political movements that contemplate only violence as a means to end existing injustice.

Open up the systems, proclaims the Bush administration, create the infrastructure for viable democracies and, over time, you will create a legitimate, disciplined forum for policy debates. In time, this process should yield the emergence and consolidation of peaceful societies.

Open up the systems, proclaims the Bush administration, create the infrastructure for viable democracies and, over time, you will create a legitimate, disciplined forum for policy debates. In time, this process should yield the emergence and consolidation of peaceful societies. However, there are two major flaws in this reasoning that need to be addressed for this approach to have a fighting chance of ultimate success.

First, there is an inherent danger in trying to force feed this principle to people who may not be ready for it. To justify the global promotion of democracy as a “mission” somehow entrusted to America by the Almighty authorizes any paranoid reaction against this concept on the part of those who want their institutions to be based on their own religiously inspired principles.

To the extent that America, in the words of the president, claims some kind of transcendental justification for its policies, this will run counter to the goal of promoting secular democracies based on tolerance and respect for all beliefs.

Therefore this notion of ‘a mission’ creates an inevitable collision with those who already portray the United States in ideologically distorted form. “Who are these Americans who go around preaching and telling others what they should do”? It is this strong veneer of righteousness at the core of U.S. policies that is the primary cause of such vocal opposition to them on the part of the European allies and world opinion.

Second, we have to understand and deal with the complexities that this process entails. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice correctly affirms that, even if the outcome of recent elections in the Middle East is disappointing, this should not undermine the validity of the assumption underlying the promotion of democracy.

It may be right to embrace democracy building as the ultimate means to undermine the legitimacy of political violence as the answer to the problems of Islamic societies in transition. However, this also means that the United States for an indefinite period of time will require both the means and the will to deal with the consequences of instability in the countries where we are promoting change; including radical movements elected to power with the blessing of the voters.

Does America have the stomach and the willingness to commit resources to deal effectively with Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, a Shiite majority government in a violence-torn Iraq and who knows what else? Will the American people have the staying power to help turn radical, non democratic, movements into responsible political forces? This administration has only two-and-a-half years left.

This enormously ambitious and complex policy has value only if the American people as a whole fully understand it and if they are unequivocally committed to it and embrace it for the long term. Thus, no matter who wins the mid-term elections in November and whoever is elected president in 2008 will have to show the world that they really believe in this policy and that they will stay the course.

Otherwise “democracy promotion” will have amounted to an unsustainable, if visionary, grand strategy, discarded by President Bush`s successors because it is too costly and too complicated. The threat of terrorism will continue to be with us, as its root causes will not have been dealt with. At the same time, America’s perceived righteousness will have alienated its prestige and ability to lead. That would be a disappointing prospect to contemplate.

Originally published as an Outside View by UPI on March 29, 2006

American military commanders in Iraq have been saying for some time that the insurgency cannot be won by military means alone. The U.S. military knows that there are limits to its capacity to counter, let alone destroy, the asymmetrical capabilities of the insurgents there. The alarming increase in the level of violence over the past month confirms their assessment.

Victory in Iraq will be achieved only when we will have created conditions whereby the incentives to recruit, be recruited and act in the insurgency will disappear. Victory will take place only when the insurgents see that their cause is either hopeless or totally wrong.

This would entail an ideological shift, a true conversion on the part of a critical mass of insurgents to the principles of secular democracy, tolerance and respect for individual liberties. Without such conversion, the ideological incentive to carry on the attacks will continue to brew and there will be no victory, as the United States and its allies clearly lack the means to identify and destroy all the insurgents and their rather large recruiting systems. Victory should be defined as the prevailing of the ideas underlying U.S. efforts and the end of violence.

This should not be confused with the possible successful disengagement of the U.S. military from Iraq, predicated on the build-up of capable Iraqi forces that can somehow fill the void left by departing American troops. Leaving the Iraqi military in charge of an ongoing, potentially endless, fight may be politically beneficial in the U.S. domestic context replete with demands to bring the troops home. But this would not be victory. Instead of becoming a keystone of a new stable Middle East, Iraq would then be a another factor of regional instability, a magnet for radicals. This would be worse than under Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The United States and its allies won the Cold War because America’s ability to resist Soviet military encroachments and propaganda lasted long enough to expose to a sufficient number of people living under Soviet rule the fissures, evil and rot of the system. The United States was also lucky in having at an appropriate time an unaware ally in last Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. By trying to improve a police state, he exposed its weaknesses and hastened its demise. In that contest, the West, because of its intellectual and material superiority, prevailed. But the critical factor that condemned those regimes was the open exposure of the disastrous failures of communism to the people living under it. In the end, the inability of the communist leaderships to mount a fight to defend their regimes deprived them of any residual legitimacy.

In the case of Islamic fundamentalism, we do not have on our side the record of half a century of failures of regimes; that is  egregious examples that can give ammunition to moderate Muslims to speak against the ideological insanity of such social and political models. An insanity based on a demonized view of politics that is predicated — among other things — on the destruction of the alleged enemies of the true faith: the Untied States, its allies and its agents, such as Israel.

Since the 1980s, a theocracy has been ruling Iran. But it is a theocracy that can lubricate its otherwise inefficient mechanisms with a massive oil rent, something that shields it from the full political consequences that bad models usually provoke. The Taliban in Afghanistan provided a chilling example of what damage institutionalized fanaticism can bring about. But it was an isolated regime in an impoverished country that did not last long enough to be used as a paradigm of what will go wrong, once radical Islamist factions have a chance to govern.

The U.S. political leadership wants to end the conflict with radical Islam through political means, by pushing forward the democratization agenda, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in the whole Middle East. The underlying rationale for these policies is that extreme ideologies proliferate and find adepts because those societies never had a “normal” political process based on the peaceful, open debate of ideas. Repression, authoritarianism and brutality breed factions and fanatical political movements that contemplate only violence as a means to end existing injustice.

Open up the systems, proclaims the Bush administration, create the infrastructure for viable democracies and, over time, you will create a legitimate, disciplined forum for policy debates. In time, this process should yield the emergence and consolidation of peaceful societies.

Open up the systems, proclaims the Bush administration, create the infrastructure for viable democracies and, over time, you will create a legitimate, disciplined forum for policy debates. In time, this process should yield the emergence and consolidation of peaceful societies. However, there are two major flaws in this reasoning that need to be addressed for this approach to have a fighting chance of ultimate success.

First, there is an inherent danger in trying to force feed this principle to people who may not be ready for it. To justify the global promotion of democracy as a “mission” somehow entrusted to America by the Almighty authorizes any paranoid reaction against this concept on the part of those who want their institutions to be based on their own religiously inspired principles.

To the extent that America, in the words of the president, claims some kind of transcendental justification for its policies, this will run counter to the goal of promoting secular democracies based on tolerance and respect for all beliefs.

Therefore this notion of ‘a mission’ creates an inevitable collision with those who already portray the United States in ideologically distorted form. “Who are these Americans who go around preaching and telling others what they should do”? It is this strong veneer of righteousness at the core of U.S. policies that is the primary cause of such vocal opposition to them on the part of the European allies and world opinion.

Second, we have to understand and deal with the complexities that this process entails. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice correctly affirms that, even if the outcome of recent elections in the Middle East is disappointing, this should not undermine the validity of the assumption underlying the promotion of democracy.

It may be right to embrace democracy building as the ultimate means to undermine the legitimacy of political violence as the answer to the problems of Islamic societies in transition. However, this also means that the United States for an indefinite period of time will require both the means and the will to deal with the consequences of instability in the countries where we are promoting change; including radical movements elected to power with the blessing of the voters.

Does America have the stomach and the willingness to commit resources to deal effectively with Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, a Shiite majority government in a violence-torn Iraq and who knows what else? Will the American people have the staying power to help turn radical, non democratic, movements into responsible political forces? This administration has only two-and-a-half years left.

This enormously ambitious and complex policy has value only if the American people as a whole fully understand it and if they are unequivocally committed to it and embrace it for the long term. Thus, no matter who wins the mid-term elections in November and whoever is elected president in 2008 will have to show the world that they really believe in this policy and that they will stay the course.

Otherwise “democracy promotion” will have amounted to an unsustainable, if visionary, grand strategy, discarded by President Bush`s successors because it is too costly and too complicated. The threat of terrorism will continue to be with us, as its root causes will not have been dealt with. At the same time, America’s perceived righteousness will have alienated its prestige and ability to lead. That would be a disappointing prospect to contemplate.

Originally published as an Outside View by UPI on March 29, 2006




Green is Business

WASHINGTON – “Green” is increasingly business — good business — around the globe. True, favorable regulatory and fiscal arrangements are still necessary to guarantee the viability of many businesses that produce and market environmentally friendly technologies. But subsidies are less crucial these days. Take wind mills for electric power generation in which Europe is the leader. The European Wind Energy Association indicates that since the 1980s the cost of producing wind power has gone down by 80 per cent. For more significant penetration around the world, the International Energy Agency calculates that costs will have to be cut by at least an additional 30 percent. Yet, European wind power industry leaders are confident that continued investment in R & D and economies of scale due to increased sales will accomplish this. Demand is growing. The sector is expanding.

BP Solar, the solar power generation unit of British Petroleum became profitable in 2004 with increased sales of 30 percent worldwide. So, the non oil offshoot of a major oil company is viable.

President Bush, speaking recently at the Virginia BioDiesel Refinery in Virginia, stated that, while biodiesel made with soy beans generated only 500,000 gallons of fuel in 1999 in the US, last year it accounted for 30 million gallons. Oak Ridge National Laboratory estimates that ethanol and biodiesel combined could provide up to one fifth of transportation fuel in the US within 25 years. Clearly a long way to go. Still, who would have thought 20 years ago of a US president stating that transforming soybeans into a cleaner transportation fuel is a real business?

Well, if we had any doubt left that the environment is now mainstream business, it vanished after Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, in the course of a carefully choreographed recent event in Washington, announced that the number two U.S. corporation in terms of market capitalization intends to focus on water and energy technologies as key components of its business strategy.

Under the banner of “ecomagination” GE will aggressively increase R & D funding and devote additional corporate resources to promote at least 17 proven technologies — from energy production to efficient engines to water filtration — that will improve the earth’s environment and thus the quality of life for millions of people. The technologies’ net effects will be measurable and the data gathered will be made public, thus creating standards that may help guide public policy. Among them: cleaner coal burning power plants whose costs will be brought down through increased efficiencies; more efficient engines for locomotives, airplanes and cars with lower emissions; desalination plants to increase water supply and filtration systems to make it safe. Immelt is sure that, by providing environmentally friendly solutions that address real needs, GE will make plenty of money. So, “ecoimagination” is not window dressing. This is core strategy.

Immelt’s reasoning is straightforward. The carbon based world economy is under severe stress. Oil at $ 50 a barrel is a reminder that we in the U.S. but also in the rest of the world depend on a source of energy that is increasingly more expensive, more scarce and potentially subject to supply disruptions; not to mention the pollution byproducts. Likewise, environmental concerns are no longer just niceties. They are at the center of the quality of life that we as human beings are going to enjoy.

If this is true in general, the argument for the adoption of state of the art new technologies is even stronger for poor countries. For the many and growing billions who live in the developing world there is a desperate need for new solutions. Indoor air pollution is a killer in rural areas and air pollution a menace in huge urban areas, while rampant disease due to unsafe water and non existing sanitation is only going to grow without the massive introduction of new technologies.

Tens of millions of Chinese (7 out of the 10 dirtiest large cities in the world in terms of air quality are in China) live daily with the consequences of extremely high air pollution in terms of diseases and lost productivity. And a study by the investment bank CLSA* indicates that China, already relying on coal for 68 percent of its primary energy consumption, will see air pollution increase 4 times 1990 levels by 2030. (Victor Mallet of The Financial Times writes that air pollution blowing from the heavily industrial Guangdong province has caused a severe deterioration in the quality of life and thus economic damage to environmentally conscious Hong Kong).

China is the world’s fastest growing economy. Immelt’s GE has already estimated that China and other large growing developing economies (India, Indonesia, Turkey) will provide in the years ahead 60 percent of the company’s growth. In launching the “ecoimagination” strategy, Immelt now connects the dots. He is clearly planning to make China a big buyer of these technologies. And why not? China is committed to growth; but not at the cost of self-destruction due to environmental ruin. If GE can provide solutions that do not sacrifice growth, they’ll buy them.

Of course, other major international players such as Siemens, ABB or Suez are already doing this in China and around the globe.

But GE’s announced strategy has similarities to IBM’s decision to enter the PC market. That move indicated to all around the world that PCs were a real business with long term prospects. As GE joins the environmental technology pack, by virtue of this powerful endorsement, the pack is bound to get bigger and bolder. The promise is that this new focus will fill real needs. In the developed world it will help cut energy costs, while improving the environment. In the developing world GE and its competitors can become key enablers for true, sustainable development.

Finally, if the environment proves to be big business, then it may provide the competitive edge that the US and the West in general need in order to maintain leadership positions in the world economy. In the 1980s, when we started hemorrhaging manufacturing in America, very few thought that Information and Communication Technologies could create high value products and services and significant new employment. Maybe environmental technologies and the myriad of services that are bound to sprout and develop around them will help unleash the next wave of American innovation.

*Air Pollution in Asia: www.clsau.com