25 December 2014

Opinion: Dysfunctional geopolitics

By Arnaud de Borchgrave
Dec. 21, 2014 

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) arrives at the Capital International Airport of Beijing on November 9, 2014. Putin is in China's capital to attend the 22nd Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders' Meeting. UPI/Ma Ning/Pool

For the average Russian, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, African, Arab, Iranian, or any other race or nationality, America is now no better or worse than any other global scoundrel.

And we are not referring to a sophisticated reader and world traveler but even among those we now hear sarcastic comments about American exceptionalism.

NATO now has little credibility left as a deterrent to Russian meddling in NATO's sphere of influence, and even less in countries that don't benefit from the NATO umbrella, such as Ukraine.

The future has seldom been less predictable. Russia's Putin is backed into a geopolitical corner -- and lashes out unpredictably. He appears to be playing his geopolitical cards tactically with no long-term strategy.

The collapse of oil prices has dealt him a ghastly hand for his next ad lib round. The ruble has lost 50 percent of its value in less than a year. Panic for the wealthy, mere desperation for the poor.

With the ruble rubble there is no point in further punishing Putin as the only ones getting hurt are the Russian people who then close ranks with their leader.

One estimate shows more than 80 percent of members of Congress have never traveled abroad outside of Canada and Mexico. Russophobia by amateurs thus becomes a volatile mix.

China in the rest of the world is no longer measured as a totalitarian dictatorship vs. a U.S. democracy, but more as a superpower vs. another. And one that is rapidly gaining geopolitical clout in the global contest for influence.

Much is being said and written about an American economic bubble. But there is also a Chinese one, admittedly easier to contain in what is still essentially a politico-military dictatorship coupled with a fair amount of business, commercial and travel freedom.

What little global order there is appears to be falling apart. Iran is gaining more influence than the U.S. in the outcome of what is essentially a proxy war against ISIS in Iraq.

The U.S. is trying to fight an unwinnable two front-war against both ISIS and the Assad regime in Syria, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the enemy of my enemy is my ally, if only in the short term.

More than 90 percent of the bombing of ISIS positions in Iraq is done by the U.S. Air Force and Navy. And most of it is ineffective as the enemy has learned all the techniques of concealment.

For a majority of Americans, this a historically propitious moment for the United States to look inward and prioritize long overdue and neglected domestic crises, from collapsing infrastructure coast to coast, to the rapid erosion of America's backbone -- i.e., the middle classes -- and alarming growth of poverty.

Foreign visitors to the nation's capital see the same potholes year in and year out -- only deeper. Air traffic was backed up for almost a week in one third of the country because of what one disgruntled employee did to the system -- with no backup alternative.

More and more of the world's crises do not lend themselves to national remedies, let alone solutions. But the breakdown of America's system of government and moral authority in the world opened the floodgates to a new class of super wealthy.

Global billionaires are at an all-time high: plus 7 percent from 2013 to a record high of 2,325 (plus 57 in the U.S. alone).

The combined wealth of the world's billionaires increased to $7.3 trillion, or more than the combined market capitalization of all the companies that make up the Dow Jones industrial average.

The average billionaire is 63 and his/her net worth is $3.1 billion. Bill Gates and all his good works still top the list at $76.6 billion.

With the spread of global discombobulation, Cuba did not seem like a bad bet for a U.S. geopolitical gambit now that the Kremlin is in bad odor in Havana.

Unlike Iran, Cuba's old guard is much longer in the tooth and a new Internet generation is muscling in. But in both countries, budding rock bands are getting a bigger hand than aging leaders.

For a majority of Americans, the time is at hand to regroup on the home front, and shed or drastically reform a dysfunctional political system. It is now no longer apt to cope with a new on-line world where national sovereignty is increasingly meaningless to the 3.5 billion human beings now online, or half the world's population.

And this is just the beginning of a new world that national governments appear powerless to confront, let alone cope with, in any meaningful way.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is still stuck in the Afghan mire after 13 years of warfare. From "Operation Enduring Freedom" to the current "Operation Resolute Support," 2,300 U.S. military have been killed along with some 200,000 Afghan civilians. Among the almost 7,000 US WIAs, medical costs will be incurred through the end of this century.

Although the U.S. officially has military plans for Afghanistan through Jan. 1, 2017, there is little indication the U.S. Congress will continue to vote $7 billion to $10 billion a year to keep the Afghan army in a protracted conflict -- witness the hurried Vietnam exit.

Afghanistan was the graveyard of two previous empires -- British and Soviet. This time, China, with its unquenchable thirst for raw materials, has its geopolitical sights firmly focused on Afghanistan's deeply entrenched treasure trove.

Conventional wisdom holds that the U.S. still has a vital strategic interest in Iraq where a functioning army is yet to be recreated. Iran and Saudi Arabia, rivals in the region, also have strategic interests at stake.

Unless the U.S. is ready to agree to yet another multi-billion dollar military enterprise in Iraq, including a new commitment of U.S. ground troops for years to come, the enterprise would be doomed from the outset.

The bottom line is that the U.S. is now faced with a historical choice. It is high time to regroup on the home front and shed a dysfunctional political system that still poses as a functioning democracy.

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