It’s question hour!

Please post your questions in the comments.  FM and this site’s readers will take shots at answering.

Please ask only about issues discussed on this site.  Geopolitics in general, about the specific matters discussed in the categories appearing in the FM Reference Library (top right side menu bar).

Please make your quesions and answers brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to the above challenge.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

29 thoughts on “It’s question hour!”

  1. What do you reckon is the nature of this “impending geo-political drama” as highlighted here.

    My own commentary there aside, what are these geo-politico’s so worried about?
    Fabius Maximus replies: I don’t see anything here on which to comment. The Mudville Gazette article is just a rehash of the article by Dr. D. H. Williams at Dailynewscaster. Which is just a mish-mash of unrelated items, strewn on the same page to create a spurious significance.

  2. Question: What is behind Russia’s more assertive attitude towards the West? I seem to be caught between our general disregard by pushing into Russia’s backyard and we simply were not paying attention, Russia was always on this path, we just noticed it!
    Fabius Maximus replies: Great powers always push back to intrusions in their sphere of influence. The United States did so when it was just a dot on the globe’s power map, with the Monroe Doctrine. Why should we expect Russia not to do so?

  3. Why are urban-dwelling/internationalist-oriented ethnic Jews who work in finance, economics, and government disproportionately involved in this financial crisis as they have been in so many others?
    Fabius Maximus replies: I know of no evidence that this is in fact true.

  4. I have a question, but I don’t expect a clear answer, because there might not be one: It seems like the world is moving towards some sort of a large crisis. Financial crisis, rising population, the age problem, global warming, pollution, declining resources (oil, gas) etc. But is the world becoming a worse place or a better place? Are we actually moving forward at all? Does mankind have a future at all?

    When I was a child I remember a teacher telling me he imagined a future where the world leaders would sit down at conferences and finally decide to make the world a better place. It didn’t seem so unlikely back around 1990, when the cold war began to fade away and the world witnessed a large degree of cooperation between old enemies. But today you can have all the conferences and meetings you want and nothing really changes, because the world leaders don’t have so much power anymore. They are still big players, but when it comes to the question of war and peace they are perhaps not so relevant anymore because most wars today are waged by groups without a state behind them, while large economic questions are in the hands of large companies. None of them elected.

    I also believe there is a lot of confusion relating to the fall of the pundits and experts. Of course they will always be there, but they have been hit hard by the war against Iraq (the missing WMD’s) and their failure to predict the current financial crisis. If world was according to Alan Greenspan we would still be in a boom without an end. Instead we have scared world leaders and business men who can hardly conceal their panic when they speak to the media. It is clear they have no clue about what is going on and what to do. This of course raises a lot of questions: Are there more crisis around the corner they will fail to predict? And are we trying to solve the wrong problems at the same time? Who should we trust?

    To sum up: The world seems more confusing and scary today than ever before. Are we moving forward or backwards? Who can we trust and who should we listen to?

    I hope this is not too vague. But I would really appreciate the opinions of others if they fell they can answer this one.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I believe some of your assumptions are not accurate.

    (1) The world always has been a horror show, a maelstrom of hatred and violence. We are attempting to move beyond that. Since God neglected to provide an operating manual, progress is slow. But it is real. The drivers of evil — such as racism, sexism, and slavery — have been weakened. The grinding poverty that was the lot of most people throughout history has begun to be lifted. We have gained much control over the physical world, to the great betterment of humanity.

    (2) Pundits serve to light the way by helping us look forward and see altnerative futures. There are no prophets, so their error factor is high.

    (3) No way this is true, excepting the fear of atomic war: “The world seems more confusing and scary today than ever before.” Any reading of history will disprove this.

    As for you last question: Listen to yourself, your intellect and instincts. That is all we have.

  5. While I get the sense that FM is right about the conspiracy-theorist mishmash, there is at least some potential reality to the notion that a Democratic victory would prompt the Israelis to attach Iran. The Cheney faction has been trying to get that going for a while, but been pushed back on by our military and saner minds even in the Bush administration. Besides Palin and the other nonsense, the ubiquity of the odious Lieberman near McCain has always been distressing precisely for this reason… clearly he wants that to happen and would goad McCain into it incessantly. One does wonder, though, if the Israelis might not be better off acting before the Inauguration.

    The hope is that saner minds in Israel prevail and realize what a disaster this would be for them and for the US and for the world economy. Ahmadinejad or whatever his name is has no ability to start a war, and the ayatollahs are not about to start something that ends with all their seminaries and holy places becoming uninhabitable areas of radioactive glass. The nuclear fear of Iran is as baseless now as the same fear was for China back in the sixties. Ridiculous. Paranoid. But nonetheless something we may have to deal with, if only because of the actions of an ‘ally’ that technically is not one, because to be an ally you have to have a treaty, and to have a treaty you need to have recognized borders, and Israel doesn’t. Anyone know how many UN resolutions they are in violation of? When they get to 17 do we depose their government? Or are there two sets of rules on that one?

  6. What is coming: Inflation or deflation?
    Fabius Maximus replies: Inflation and deflation are largely choices, and not exclusive choices (we can both, sequentially). We can guess which path America will choose, but our choice is not inevitable — hence unpredictable. As I said in “The post-WWII geopolitical regime is dying” (21 November 2007):

    “How will this play out? The end of the post-WWII geopolitical regime is like a singularity in astrophysics. We cannot see beyond it, because we do not understand the choices that will determine our fate — or how we will choose. It also resembles a singularity in that what lies on the other side is unimportant until one survives the passage through it.”

  7. Do you really believe anyone in government is up to the task(s) described on this site with respect to mitigating the current financial crisis? I don’t think the power elite of this nation have had any original ideas for several generations, so why would they start now? Frankly, I don’t think anyone truely capable, considering the task at hand, is waiting in the wings. They are all products of their environment. We need a FDR, but, instead we’ll get Jimmy Carter (at best).

    The instant news cycle prevents anyone capable of thoughtful action from ever considering a career in national politics. Who want to have their personal life potentially paraded around for all to see? (Only the shallow or a sociopath.) In addition, only those of means have a chance. Who else could afford to quit their job for a year to campaign when most Americans live paycheck to paycheck? As such, neither leaders or advisers, will never represent the people as few can directly relate. They may have been poor or middle class once, but they are not now.

    This is not 1929. Any comparison is superficial at best, and an error at worst:

    1. People do not trust authority. Any attempt at declaring a national emergency will be met with suspicion and hostility. Americans will not be easily mobilized, and would likely rebel (one way or another). I have to agree the Lind and others that believe the nation state is on the way out.
    2. This economy is global, therefore a global solution is needed. Such an effort would be akin to herding cats (especially in a situation where many nation states do not really control their own territory).

    Your thoughts?
    Fabius Maximus replies: We speculate about the future in order to better understand events, not that we have good odds of predicting them. At some level analysis becomes a function of your beliefs, your faith or lack of it. I have faith in the American people; apparently you do not. Time will show who is correct.

    See this for a statement of my view on this: “An important thing to remember as we start a New Year.”

  8. Can you please give me your views on the prospects for Chinese economic growth in the short, medium and long term?
    Fabuis Maximus replies: High growth economies tend to have large swings (i.e., high volatility). China is perhaps the ultimate high-growth story, being an important part of the first sychnronized global business cycle. They could have a short-term bust and strong long-term growth, which is my bet. The medium-term is highly path-dependent, and too foggy to forecast at this time.

  9. They are simply warning that someone might throw a quick jab as soon as Obama steps into the ring. And that his reply might be surprising. Nothing else to see there.

  10. The US gross public debt to GDP ratio is currently somewhat reasonable at about 60% (

    The government would have access to perhaps 6 to 10 trillion of raw cash (ie unsecured debt it can issue without having to back it with any assets) before the debt ratio gets to 100% to 120% of GDP. This is unsustainable in the long run but may be acceptable to creditor nations, at least for some uncertain period of time.

    With the above in mind do you think that the US economy and finance systems will be able to maintain some sort of holding pattern during which the system can keep chugging along driven almost entirely by government debt? In other words, now that private consumers have reached their debt limit, could the day of reckoning be postponed by the government issuing enough new debt to take over from consumers? And for how long? Months? Years? Even only 6 trillion dollars could fund the current account deficit for 8 years at current rates.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Let’s look at this more closely. First, none of these numbers include State and local debt. More importantly, the gross public debt is commonly used because it is available. It is also nonsense. Write yourself an IOU for $1 trillion dollars. What has changed?

    The net public debt — net of intra-government debt — is what matters. The gross debt is almost $10 T, but the net is only $6 T (source). So the government’s debt is far lower than suggested by that comparison (few other government’s attempt to fool the public by issuing themselves bonds).

    Second, Japan was able to run their debt up to 120% of GDP during the 1990’s. But they were (and are) a creditor nation. For a nation already having massive foreign debts to do so is much more problematic. To do so during a global recession is very problematic, as every nation need funds to stimulate its own economy.

    Third, running up debts is easy so long as nobody worries about paying our future liabilities — now $57 T; $62 T including State and Locals (see this for more info). But the boomers will start retiring in large numbers very soon, and those liabilities for pension and medical benefits will start to loom large in people’s vision.

  11. FM, totally off topic, how do you do this? Have you a job. Are there 10 of you (hmm secret US clone program). A CIA front organisation, that would explain the clones ;). Or a complete nonsleeping workaholic, now there a few of you around, mostly in the financial area (e.g. Mish Shedlock, but he claims he never sleeps, though he does admit to falling asleep at his PC at times).

    Ok what is it, artifical intelligence system, colony of clones, CIA (or even KGB) agent, Govt employee with too much time (hey I don’t care I don’t pay your salary), secret underground cell to make more people thoughtful (tsk, tsk, how dare you).

    I bet on the clone theory. I know how to find you, just wander around the US for a while and when I see 10 guys looking exactly the same (with the same bald spot) I’ll go up and say “gotcha FM”.
    Fabius Maximus replies: You are referring, of course, to Doctor “Tiger” Ninestein — major genius and commander of the Terrahawks, he is the ninth clone created by Dr. Gerhard Stein. Would that this was so!

  12. swio – I do think your reference is out of date. The national debt is at around 10 or 11 trillion, far more than the 60% of GDP you claim. The recession will cause a further drop in GDP, and the consequences of our bailout (which, while poorly planned, structured and executed, is better than nothing) will add several trillion more. While I don’t think that FM’s Master Settlement of 2009 will take place (I think it would be too big of a blow to our national conscience and pride; an unrealistic happening given the our current mindset), I do think that a restructuring of how the debt is bought and sold will happen. We might not have round table discussions on CNN with the Chinese and European Central Banks, but I do think concessions might be made sooner rather than later.

  13. For an alternative to my optimistic view, rather than the delusional nonsense of James Howard Kunstler, I suggest reading folks who have actually traveled in the real world. Such as P. J. O’Rourke’s Holidays in Hell. Very depressing but realistic, esp the Epilogue.

  14. How has the current financial crisis and the subsequent massive drop in commodity prices affected the global outlook of peak oil? I realize the question probably cannot be answered directly, as not enough research exists to inform us of even pre-crisis conditions of oil, but what are your thoughts?

    The ultimate irony would come if we later discovered that this gigantic financial bungalo pushed back Doomsday just long enough so that we had enough time to skirt the energy crisis without massive, Savinar-esque repercussions.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I plan to write on this. Here’s the brief version.

    (1) It pushes the date of peaking back, in the sense that consumption falls.
    (2) It makes a supply-demand crunch (not the same thing as peak oil) more likely during the recovery, as energy R&D and capital investments will be cancelled (this process has already started). Few alternative sources are economical with oil under $100/b. Few unconventional sources (e.g., deep sea, coal to oil, oil sands) are economical under $80.
    (3) It means that our preparation for peak oil (aka as “Mitigation”) will not only stagnate, but actually reverse. If peaking occurs during the next 10 years we will be far less ready, and the consequences worse, than if oil prices has remained above $100.

  15. Follow Up to #7

    It’s not the “American People,” but rather the institutions of government in which I have absolutely no faith. Besides, I don’t believe the “American People” exists, anymore that the “Soviet People” existed. A people is not a government. Still I hope I am wrong, but I have not yet been in 7 years…

    Besides, as far as disunity is concerned, it’s pretty self-evident. McCain’s ugly campaign rallies are a case in point. (Obama could acheive worse if he were to denounce McCain as a “Warmongering Fascist,” which is an even easier sell than calling someone whose money comes from the rich–it would be impossible to raise the funds he has otherwise–and has a tool of the banking industry–as any Senator from Deleware must be–as a running mate, a “socialist.”) After this election, no matter the winner, how can anyone truely believe that people are just going to come together? The new President will be hated, despised and disrespected by millions. (Remember Clinton being denounced as “Not my President?”) Any other analysis is simply a “Pollyanna” view of an America that no longer exists, and never will again.
    Fabius Maximus replies: By the numbers.

    (1) A government is an abstraction, esp in a democratic republic — in which ultimate responsibility rests with us, the people. We the people.

    (2) I doubt that you have not been wrong in 7 years about any reasonably broad field, government or geopolitics.

    (3) To consider our election campaign “ugly” you must have little knowledge of campaigns throughout American history. This is tame compared with many. Jackson was a bigamist, Eisenhower played around, Kennedy’s election would make the Pope our ruler, and countless ugly stories about FDR (his VP, Wallace, was a commie). In general, your party are all servants of evil — darkness personified — and my candidates are angels of light.

  16. Roberto Buffagni

    In your kind reply to a previous post of mine, you wrote that USA did not voluntarily seek WWII (nor any of its wars since the Spanish – American war in XIX century. I’m afraid that I disagree.

    It certainly is true that the the large majority of the American people had to be dragged into that war, and that without Pearl Harbor, or some other casus belli of that magnitude, no Presidency could have declared war. But dont’ you think that President Roosevelt’s policy towards Japan amounts to actively seeking war? I could elaborate further about WWI, too, but I do not want to be too long.

    Thank you for your courtesy, and for your very interesting and useful work.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Absolutely not! Our policy was that Japan could invade China — that was none of our business, despite our long and close ties to China (not just business, but also the vast missionary efforts). But Japan had to do it without our raw materials, including oil. The “moral embargo” had started in 1938, and slowly broadened. In July 1940 we stopped exports of aviation fuel and high-grade scrap iron. In September 1940 the embargo included scrap iron and steel, after Japan invaded Northern IndoChina. On 25 July 1941 FDR froze Japan’s assets in the US, and on 27 July sent a proposal to “neutralize” IndoChina. After no response to that, on 1 August he embargoed exports of oil.

    That was IMO an ethical, careful, and responsible policy. Their response, unleashing widespread war, was despicable. I suspect my sentiments would have been the same as Admiral William Halsey Jr in December 1941 when the Enterprise entered Pearl Harbor: “Before we’re through with them, the Japanese language will be spoken only in hell.”

    With our distance from that time, we can adopt more measured views. We are not watching our sons, brothers, fathers, and friends be forced to fight, suffer, and often die in the Pacific to stop Japan’s dreams of conquest.

    Today the people of both sides of WWII are passing from the world, and these events should not color our actions. Except in one way: to see that they do not happen again.

  17. I read Stinnet’s book on PH and must confess that I am convinced it was no surprise attack. Despite tens of thousands of documents being shredded, some were filed in the archives, release in 1995 (50 years vs. usual 25) and clearly show that the attack was no surprise. That doesn’t nullify all your arguments above, but it makes them somewhat irrelevant. Additionally, FDR’s administration stonewalled negotiations between Germany and Poland that would have obviated the resultant conflict.

    I don’t have the exact quote handy, but Churchill himself admitted that the Allies chose war, it was by no means forced upon them.

    America chose WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam and now Iraq, not to mention many others.

    It is a belligerent State, simple as that.

    I share your faith in the American people but people have rarely had much say in what their ruling elites do – except during narrow windows of bloody uprising – and certainly that is very much the case today.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Total nonsense with regard to WWII. Very few major events are a surprise, including the current unpleasantness and 9-11. Yet these things often catch us (i.e., humans) unprepared. No doubt things are different in Heaven, if that is your standard of comparison.

    I don’t know what you mean about WWI, as it was burning hot long before America’s involvement. Certainly our involvement was discretionary, as no vital national interest was at stake. America had deep historical ties with England and France, which often tug nations into otherwise irrational wars.

    Korea and Vietnam were typical hegemonic wars, of the sort that litter history. Great powers fight these sort of wars; it is almost their defining characteristic. I see no basis for belief that they were fought for non-geopolitical reasons — such as to provide an economic stimulus — which was the original point of this discussion.

  18. Question : Who do you think benefits from the “global banking crisis ” ?

    I’m in UK ; I think we have slightly similar societies. Usually everything our gov’mt shouts about, indicates the opposite, has a hidden agenda, or is burying bad news. So who is benefiting ?

    I can think of : Anyone who has cash ( to buy shares , houses , etc ). ” Anyone “, of course , could be an individual , a business , a gov’mt, or a group . Who has cash. Anyone who wants to have an excuse to make savage cuts in their manpower or commitments , while maintaining moral high ground .
    In UK , problems for individuals have been caused by the rising cost of energy and housing . Nothing to do with credit . In animal training , its generally accepted , that if you see a behavior increase , you must be rewarding it . Who is getting rewarded ?
    Fabius Maximus replies: To ask who benefits implies causation. We are all in the same boat, and I doubt anyone responsible for this sees themselves as benefiting. The financial sector as a whole will be far more than decimated; it probably will shrink in many metrics (such as income, both personal and corporate) somewhere between 1/3 and 2/3’s (similar to brokerage industry shrinkage in the 1970’s).

    On a larger scale, such as that of historians looking back, these events tend to concentrate wealth. The savings of the middle class are greatly reduced. The poor have no savings to lose — but take the brunt of the unemployment and suffering.

  19. “Today the people of both sides of WWII are passing from the world, and these events should not color our actions. Except in one way: to see that they do not happen again.”

    Unfortunately, people today receive national narratives based on extremely distorted reportage. If they had the truth, then they might ensure it doesn’t happen again.

    A large majority of US citizens believe that Saddam Hussein was connected with the 9.11 attacks just as most Brits believed that Germans roasted babies for supper in WWI or made soap from Jewish fat in WWII, as probably most people today still believe.

    Things haven’t changed. We haven’t learned.

  20. You recently suggested that the US debt burden required to resolve the financial crisis will change the geopolitical landscape. China, Saudi Arabia, etc. may have doubts about continuing to fund our deficit. Presently, however, treasuries are in very high demand as the only safe place to park money, and the dollar is stronger than it has been in quite a while. How do you reconcile this state of affairs.
    Fabius Maximus replies: We know what is happening, but can only guess as why. The stock market’s ticker tape tells how many sold at what price — but not the reasons why for either the buyer or the seller.

    The immediate shock phase — like now — is like a quake. The dials gyrate wildly. We can only guess why. Perhaps “flight to safety.” Perhaps repatriation of funds by US-based speculators. Perhaps expectations that other nations can lower rates more than the US. Perhaps none of the above.

    But the reluctance of foreign central banks to fund our deficit is a medium or long-term phenomenon. As I have often said, central bankers are cautious, reactive, and incrementalist. In a crisis they become even more so. Hence there is no basis for expectation for them to change now, IMO.

    If the current account deficit widens next year — a big if, given the large uncertainty about almost all economic factors — then we might see some changes. Ditto if they decide their own nations need the funds, esp if the trade deficit narrows far faster than the current account deficit.

    Also, treasury rates should have declined substantially during this crisis — as US investors (at the very least) flee risk assets for the safety of treasuries. They have done so only at very short maturities (t-bills), which is odd. The picture is more complex than your summary suggests.

  21. Is there really any evidence that world poverty is beginning to be lifted, as you asserted in an answer to another question above? For example, according to a UN report on the slums, for example(The Challenge of Slums) by 2030 the urban population of the poorest (Asian and African) cities in the world is expected to double, and with it the amount of people living in the slums. Combine that with trends of people heading into the city…
    Fabius Maximus replies: (1) The rise of average incomes in East Asia (esp China) since WWII is just by itself — is sufficient to move the dial of global poverty. Singapore was a hellhole in 1954 (James Bond was afraid to go there). This is stronger evidence than a forecast about 2030. The former is fact while the latter is just speculation about the future. BTW, I suspect forecasts about the world in 20+ years have a near-zero record of accuracy.

    (2) Why is the movement of people from rural areas to urban slums evidence of increased poverty? Probably they did so knowing about urban conditions, but believing that this would improve their standard of living.

  22. Roberto Buffagni

    Being a patriot myself, I understand and respect, of course,your warm patriotism, but I must say that the adjective “moral” glued to the substantive “embargo” do not strike me as a good qualification of President Roosevelt’s attitude towards Japan. It surely was a good slogan. American rulers have an adolescential habit of morally sweeten by a neat carapace of moralistic rhetoric their power politics that will never end to amaze, and, to be completely true, disgust me; even if, being an Italian and a practicing Catholic, hypocrisy should have no secret nor surprises, to me; maybe, it’s the American sincere need to be loved by everybody while you carry (and lavishly administer) a big stick that makes me shudder.

    Japan was a country on the way to conquer an empire, just like every country powerful enough to try it has done in history, and a winning sector of USA’s ruling class decided, on a sound analysis based on national interest and national imperial projects, to break their effort, substituting itself as imperial power in the Pacific area. If you want to say that American imperial rule on those peoples has been more benign than Japan’s would have been, we could discuss for a long time about that, and maybe some judge in Heaven could give you the prize. I do not know; being not an Oriental, I do not feel qualified to discuss the matter.

    However, I do not think that the Gods of Morality uncorked their best champagne, when President Truman decided to launch two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while Japan was hopelessly defeated and was trying to open a negotiate for armistice, just asking that its Emperor were not dethroned.

    I think that you’ll certainly agree on the fact that the official justification for Hiroshima and Nagasaki (that it spared an invasion of Japan’s mainland, and the hundreds of thousand American lives which it would have costed) is just as true as the official justification (weapons of mass desruction, complicity in 9/11) for the invasion of Iraq: i.e., totally false, even if more artfully concocted.

    Being composed by islands, lacking oil, steel and raw materials, being its fleet and its air force utterly destroyed, in 1945 Japan had not a single possibility to fight back the USA.

    A (moral?) naval blockade would have been more than enough to back up a diplomatic intercourse and end the war with a profitable peace, unless what the American negotiators wanted was a public beheading of the Emperor, the central symbolic authority of Japanese culture.

    Instead, Mr. Truman decided to annihilate some hundreds of thousand of Japanese civilians because he wanted a) send a clear message to Mr. Stalin b) show off c) encourager les autres d)revenge.
    Where’s the morality, for God’s sake?
    Fabius Maximus replies: You are moving the goalposts. We were talking about the “moral blockade” (which was its name; not my term), not the conduct of WWII. You have given no rebuttal to the points I raised.

    Instead you talked about the war that followed Japan’s insistance on conquest. Terrible things usually happen once the dogs of war are let loose. the cool rationality and balance of your analysis — sitting in your home or office amidst peace and plenty — is impossible in the fires of such conflicts. This is one of the horrors of war, a reason it is to be so strongly condemned — and punished.

    “Japan was a country on the way to conquer an empire, just like every country powerful enough to try it has done in history, and a winning sector of USA’s ruling class decided, on a sound analysis based on national interest and national imperial projects, to break their effort, substituting itself as imperial power in the Pacific area.”

    This is not worth rebuttal. I suggest a contrast of Japan’s treatment of its new colonies with America’s treatment of the lands it conquerored in WWII. We did steal their resources or levy taxes? Despire your assertions, not only are we not rulers — they are free and independent nations. What is your basis for saying we are an “imperial power?”

    On a deeper level I find this view repugnant (language toned down from my actual feelings). The time of empires, of obtaining wealth through conquest is past. This change was effected through war (moral suasion having failed), but WWII was a different kind of war. The allies defeated powers that had conquerored much of the world, and the (other than the USSR) liberated both the defeated powers and their conquests. You seem unaware of the uniqueness of this event, and have constructed imaginary parallels to disguise it.

  23. Follow up to #15

    1. I don’t believe the US is a democracy or even a republic. It’s more a plutocracy.

    2. Maybe “never” was an aggegeration, but look at the following policy/operational disasters since 9-11:

    a. Afghanistan (The Taliban is now rising)
    b. Iraq (not to mention the graft and waste)
    c. The credit crisis
    d. The housing bubble
    e. Katrina/decaying infrastructure

    So what has the elite done right?

    3. At least as directed toward a candidate, the racial angle is something previously unseen in a US presidential election. (The closest was probably Kennedy.) It’s probably a big reason for Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama. (Although, I don’t believe McCain condones the neo-Klan types, but his campaign draws them like flies since they have nowhere else to go.) I don’t think any other presedential campaign has been quite as racially charged in the direct sense (as a black man has never been on the verge of winning). The elite mud-slinging (not to mention other nastier metaphores) is nothing new, but hearing people should “kill him” is not a good sign. What would you suggest be done about it?

    Anyway, you have a good blog here. Even if I don’t always agree, keep on keepin’ on. At least, you try to be constructive and positive.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Many aspects of the US resemble a plutocracy. But it is not. Votes are cast and the elections reasonably accurately counted. The elected representatives actually govern, as such things go.

    That we choose not to control the government is our choice. However comforting it is to blame our elites — or the devil, or whatever — we have the power and the responsibility. Finding easy cop-outs accomplishes what?

    On your secondary point, I agree that our elites are dysfunctional. That is a big problem, with no easy solution.

  24. Roberto Buffagni

    “What is your basis for saying we are an imperial power”?

    Maybe, your military bases all around the world. Why do you think that there are American bases in Europe and in Japan, while there is no European or Japanese military base on U.S. soil? If you had foreign extraterritorial military bases on U.S. soil, would you call the United States of America an independent nation? The Land of the Free?

    “You moved the goalposts”
    If I did, I beg your pardon for the unfairness. My point was, and is: Roosevelt’s politics “short of war” intentionally drove Japan into a confrontation with the U.S.A., which Japan hoped to avoid. Yes, Japan had a choice: the choice to give up its imperial project, and to leave room for the American imperial project (which was and is, I completely agree, altogether different, not being based on military occupation and rule of the defeated countries, but which all the same amounted, and amounts, to their loss of political, cultural and spiritual independence).

    “Terrible things usually happen once the dogs of war are let loose”.

    No doubt. The same we could say for the slaughters of civilians perpetrated by the Japanese troops, so partially justifying them with the heat of passion.
    But I think that the slaughter of Chinese civilians in, say, Nanking, has been politically decided just like the “terror bombings” of Tokyo or Dresden, or the atomic annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which was not the irrational act committed by a man blinded with anger and fear in the heat of fight, but a cold political decision, seriously analysed by competent men and processed through various levels of the American government.

    The difference between Nanking and Hiroshima mainly lies in this: that slaughtering civilians by sword and gun needs direct, personal violence, while annihilating them by dropping from 30.000 feets a single atomic bomb is an administrative act, which leaves much more room for clean hands, clean conscience, and self-righteous rhetoric. I admit that “on a deeper level I find this view repugnant (language toned down from my actual feelings).”

    “The time of empires, of obtaining wealth through conquest is past”

    Sorry, I never realized it. Then, the fact that the U.S.A, simply by printing dollars, have been able to accumulate a debt which – everybody knows it – will never be repaid to its foreign creditors, has nothing to do with their nuclear arsenal, nor with its status of world hegemon. It’s a new perspective on world history, thank you.

    To sum up, please take no offence, but it’s very difficult, for me, to believe that the USA are a nation chosen by God and/or history for teaching and enforcing good manners on us all evildoers; I think that it is not true, and that “you have constructed imaginary parallels” (i.e, what political science calls ‘American exceptionalism’, the myth of ‘the city on the hill’, etc.) “to disguise it”.

    Please do not misunderstand me: I am not trying to say that you, as a nation, are bad, evil, oppressors, etc. I am trying to say: please, gentlemen, while thinking and doing history, beware that inner, almost built-in persuasion of necessary innocence which is a distinctive trait of American culture (“America can be in error but can’t be guilty”).It’s very dangerous!

    Thank you for your articulate reply. My best regards.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Do you have any evidence for these things? For instance, this…

    “Then, the fact that the U.S.A, simply by printing dollars, have been able to accumulate a debt which – everybody knows it – will never be repaid to its foreign creditors, has nothing to do with their nuclear arsenal, nor with its status of world hegemon.”

    So China has loaned us a trillion dollars to finance their exports — against their will. Threatened by US atomic weapons, or the other military strikes, they have lifted their people from poverty and build the world’s greatest industrial machine.

    The difference between fantasy and fact is evidence. I doubt you can produce anything meaningful to support this.

  25. Roberto Buffagni

    Dear Sir,
    dollar kept on being the international reserve currency even after Nixon’s 1971 exit from the gold standard because U.S.A was and is the world hegemon, both in economic and in military terms, not because everybody likes their green colour. Please be courteous as a gentleman should be (and how you usually are) and do not distort my words.

    Of course I did never think, nor write, that the American Government menaced China of annihilation if they did not buy T-bonds, in mutual economic interest.

    On “the things” about which you ask for evidence, well, I have plenty; and you have, too, if you’ll be kind enough to remember the many American academic works about, say, the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, some of which you probably have read yourself.

    “The greatest obstacle to unconditional surrender by the Japanese is their belief that this would entail the destruction or permanent removal of the Emperor and the institution of the throne”. So explained Under Secretary of State Joseph Grew, who had been U.S. Ambassador in Japan for ten years, speaking to President Truman. ( Walter Johnson, ed., Turbulent Era, Joseph Grew, Vol. 2, pg. 1428-1429).

    Then, in a June 18, 1945 meeting with Truman and his military advisors, Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy argued that Japan should be permitted to retain the Emperor and should be given a warning of the atomic bomb in order to bring an earlier and less deadly surrender. (Walter Millis, ed., The Forrestal Diaries, pg. 70-71; Len Giovannitti and Fred Freed, The Decision To Drop the Bomb, pg. 134-136)

    In the end, for a complex of reasons, the political decision to bomb was taken by President Truman. Some twenty years later, another American President said: “it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.” (Ike on Ike, Newsweek, 11/11/63, pg. 108).

    About a moral and philosophical analysis of Hiroshima, you might find useful to read the works of the German thinker Gunther Anders (Hanna Arendt’s husband), who says, in many more and much better words, something like what I’ve briefly sketched in my post.

    Here I stop, not wanting to bore ore annoy you, nor the guests of your stimulating blog.

    If you want to seriously further our exchange, I’ll be happy to. If not, what can I say? It’s your home, it’s your country: le privilége est à vous. Best regards.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I reply as a general rule using direct quotes, so I do not see how I am distorting your words. This is not a discussion about the ending of WWII, which you introduced with (so far as I can see) as a distraction with zero relevance. The question here is your assertion that the US is running an empire.

    “Maybe, your military bases all around the world. Why do you think that there are American bases in Europe and in Japan, while there is no European or Japanese military base on U.S. soil? … Then, the fact that the U.S.A, simply by printing dollars, have been able to accumulate a debt which – everybody knows it – will never be repaid to its foreign creditors, has nothing to do with their nuclear arsenal, nor with its status of world hegemon.”

    If you do not believe the US threatens to use force against China, Europe, and Japan to enforce its will, then what does this statement mean? What is the basis for the American “Empire” you alledge?

  26. Roberto Buffagni

    If “Empire” means direct political rule of defeated and militarily occupied alien nations (continental empire) the United States of America are NOT an Empire.
    If “Empire” means indirect rule of alien nations, whose sovereignty is formally intact, but factually severely limited by presence of military bases and political pressure, the United States of America ARE an Empire.
    As I asked you before, would you call the United States a sovereign, independent nation, if on its soil you had some hundreds of foreign extraterritorial military bases? Just in Italy (300.000 square km) we have about 107 U.S. military bases.
    BTW, we began talking about the end of WWII because the military presence of the U.S.A on European and Japanese soil dates from 1945, following the Allied victory. You say that for Japan and Europe it has been JUST a liberation, I try to suggest that it was a defeat, an occupation, and a loss of independence TOO.
    (Please take note that I DO NOT SAY THAT I WOULD HAVE PREFERRED AN AXIS VICTORY IN WWII. I DO NOT, REPEAT DO NOT SAY IT. For us Europeans, and maybe (I don’t know) for Japanese, too, the Allies’ victory has been a minor evil, because of the nature of the nazist political regime. But regimes come and go, nations and geopolitics stay.
    Now, for us Europeans the military presence of U.S.A on our soil means, inevitably, a loss of independence and sovereignty, which are great evils. Of course, the responsibility for tolerating this situation is on Europe, not USA, which naturally enough make use of their hegemonic position. BTW, this was the point of view of general Ch. de Gaulle, who, as you know, was NOT a fascist.
    Fabius Maximus replies: That is as I expected. We may be an “Empire” by your personal definition, but not in any standard sense. And you are totally unable to support your assertion that anyone believes our forces would be used to impose America’s political will on our allies. This is, in other words, fantasy.

    Through the Looking Glass“, by Lewis Carroll — excerpt from CHAPTER VI:

    But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.

    `When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

    `The question is,’ said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

    `The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master — that’s all.’

  27. The issue of US bases / missile defence systems in Europe ( E )( the U is a bit variable ) raised by previous poster is an interesting one. As someone ignorant about missiles , I imagine a missile aimed at the US , shot in E space , would crash its radioactive bits on E instead of US . Enlighten me please.

    Secondly , their presence implies E’s unwavering support for US , since they could probably be used without our control. Or perhaps used against us in our own lands ; imagine the US , one day , voting in a charismatic facist President.

    Thirdly , do we pay money for these things ? Something hired carries less obligation than something lent . We seem to be in moral thrall to the US in eternity ,for ‘ winning WW11 for us ‘. Unlikely , but not impossible , that we could have done it without you . ( Few know that we paid for the supplies and hardware . )
    Fabius Maximus replies: These are local missile defenses, defending against missiles aimed at Eastern Europe. Which pretty much trashes all three points. Except that the US pays for them, which really trashes the theory. As the US does for all the US forces based in Europe and Japan (dwindling totals that they are) — which renders this theory six steps beyond absurd.

  28. Roberto Buffagni

    Dear Mrs. Nicholas,
    as our guest quoted, the heart of the matter is Humpty Dumpty’s question: “Which is to be the master – that’s all”.
    And as general de Gaulle said, when leaving North Atlantic Treaty Organization, you cannot be the master in your own home, if on your soil you have foreign military forces out of your control.
    WWII ended 63 years ago. USSR ended 17 years ago. What if we thanked our American friends, wave them good bye, and make our own army, bases, missiles, etc.? Let’s hear what they think about it. They spend, out of sheer generosity and friendliness, so much money to keep up their European military bases! In this difficult economical predicament, I’m sure that they’ll be happy to spare a few bucks. Or not?

  29. “US bases are to protect Eastern Europe .. ”
    Oh . I honestly thought , based on media reports ,they were to protect US , officially from The Axis of Evil , unoffcially from Russia . But you are saying they are to bat Russian missiles , aimed at eg Poland , back into Russia ? And what happens if an intercepted Russian missile explodes in space over eg Poland , compared with what happens if it explodes on hitting an intended target in eg Poland ?
    I know I am often sarcastic , but this is a straightforeward Q not intended to be sarcastic .
    Fabius Maximus replies: They call atomic war strategies MAD for good reason. The short answer is that Poland believes these defenses are in their national interest, otherwise they would not allow them to be placed there. They are adults, and probably have a reasonable idea of their own needs — which I think we should respect, rather than mock.

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