Question time on the FM website – chapter 6

Ask any question about geopolitics, broadly defined. We’ll attempt to answer it in the comments.   Links to other episodes appear below.

Like Jeopardy, your comments must be in the form of a question!

Questions received so far:

  1. What are the best geopolitical webposts, ever?
  2. Might China ally with Cuba as a counter to our support for Taiwan? Does the possible oil field off the Cuban coast increase China’s interest?
  3. Who is the best geopolitical columnist?
  4. Excluding Pakistani nukes, what explosion or explosions could you envision here for the worst scenario for the world?
  5. Which solidly conventional sources would you recommend I read as an antidote to reality?
  6. Are there historical precedents for a nation recovering from political capture by elites without either collapse or revolution?
  7. Do you feel that there will be a trade/currency war with China over the bill that “punishes” them for undervaluing the Yuan?
  8. Is America the source of all the world’s troubles?
  9. What do you think of the people of the survivalist movement?
  10. What make a blog worthy of inclusion on the FM website’s blogroll?  On what basis are blogs (eg, Informed Comment) deleted?
  11. Why should we assume that loosening the restrictions on enfranchisement and state-sponsored social mobility are a sign of democratic health.
  12. If you were a foreign intelligence officer, what items would be on your Indicators and Warning List to monitor if the US Government is progressing towards government collapse or civil war?
  13. Some unsupported statements about US history.
  14. A statement about the coming disasters in the US.
  15. Are the coffers of the US government broke?

Previous episodes

Earlier episodes were big successes. My thanks to all who participated!

35 thoughts on “Question time on the FM website – chapter 6

  1. Amidst the thousands of webposts about geopolitics, three stand out as the best ever IMO. Here they are:

    1. The Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics“, Matthew Yglesias, 10 June 2006 — The key to understanding US foreign policy
    2. If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Would Ride — A Pony!“, John & Belle Have a Blog, 6 March 2004 — The ur-rebuttal to libertarianism
    3. The Priest-Avatar of the State“, Fafblog, 18 August 2004 — About American leadership.
  2. Might China ally with Cuba as a counter to our support for Taiwan? Does the possible oil field off the Cuban coast increase China’s interest?

    I’ve not written anything substantial about Cuba, other than (from memory) comparing it to our insane long-term policy of ignoring Red China.

    Might China become a major player in China? China has no visible geopolitical ambitions, other than being regarded as a great power (status) — only self-interest. Hence their primary military goal is projecting power in its regional sphere of influence (esp over Taiwan) and building the “string of pearls” to guard its vital trade routes. Cuba is irrelevant to both.

    Commercially China is far more active, with its brilliant foreign policy (discussed in several posts — see the tag China on the right-side menu bar). Does Cuba have anything China wants? Certainly oil, although Cuba is in the wrong ocean for China. But they might finance its exploration and development; that would be a smart move.

    Posts about China:

    1. China becomes a super-power (geopolitical analysis need not be war-mongering), 9 July 2008
    2. Another big step for China on its road to becoming a great power, 27 July 2009
    3. Update about China: a new center of the world, 13 December 2009
    4. How China builds its commercial empire, 12 July 2010 — About its innovative foreign policy.
    5. A look at the future (it’s already here, but it’s not in the USA), 29 September 2010
    6. Why China will again rise to the top, and their most important advantage over America, 11 November 2010
    7. Will China become a superpower?, 9 September 2011
  3. That’s easy. Amidst the drek stand one of the few beacons of light: Stephen Walt’s columns at Foreign Policy.

    About Israel:

    1. Goldberg’s latest silly sally“, 9 December 2010 — Easily ripping thru an attempted denial of the Israel lobby’s power.
    2. Who’s paying?”, 20 July 2011 — American think-tanks working for other nations
    3. The greatest elected body that money can buy“, 11 August 2011 — During the August recess nearly a fifth of the U.S. Congress will visit Israel paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation.
    4. Well, Duh…“, 18 September 2011 — Yes, it’s obvious.
    5. Can you spell ‘supine’?, 4 October 2011

    Other geopolitics:

    1. The “safe haven” myth, 18 August 2009
    2. Why They Hate Us (I): on military occupation, 23 November 2009 — About the home court advantage
    3. Best of all: Top 5 reasons we keep fighting all these wars“, 4 April 2011
    4. How not to learn from past mistakes, 12 September 2011 — About our geopolitical experts, steering us onto the rocks
  4. Your dude William Lind takes such an optimistic view when he writes {in “On War #234 – A Ticking Bomb“, 25 September 2007}:

    “If this downward spiral of events in Europe [c.1914] reminds us of the Middle East today, it should. There too we see a series of crises, each holding the potential of kicking off a much larger war. There are almost too many to list: the war in Iraq, the U.S. versus Iran, Israel vs. Syria, the U.S. vs. Syria, Syria vs. Lebanon, Turkey vs. Kurdistan, the war in Afghanistan, the de-stabilization of Pakistan, Hamas, Hezbollah, al Qaeda, and the permanent crisis of Israel vs. the Palestinians. Each is a tick of the bomb, bringing us closer and closer to the explosion no one wants, no one outside the neo-con cabal and Likud, anyway.”

    Excluding Pakistani nukes, what explosion or explosions could you envision here for the worst?

    1. As so many geopolitical experts have explained, we’re in an era in which mass warfare is futile — at least between atomic powers. Martin van Creveld:

      Since nuclear weapons were used for the first time in 1945, they have brought about a remarkable transformation in international politics. First the superpowers were prevented from launching large-scale attacks on one another and were compelled to confine their conflict to threats on the one hand and to limited regional wars by client states on the other.

      Next, the close allies of those superpowers became almost as secure against full-scale war as the superpowers themselves and this was as true in Central Europe as it was, from 1950 onwards, in the Korean Peninsula. Nor was this the end of the story. As nuclear weapons proliferated, they also prevented the Soviets and the Chinese, and the Chinese and the Indians from fighting each other in earnest.

      Nuclear weapons have made a difference even in the volatile Middle East. Between 1948 and 1973 Israel and the Arab states went to war no fewer than five times. Since then, Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons having become a near certainty, there has not even been one. The hostilities between them have been limited to just one day’s fighting in 1982 (when Israeli and Syrian forces clashed in Lebanon) and a few missiles launched by Iraq in 1991.

      What is true in other parts of the world is equally true along the Indian-Pakistani border. Each side may like to bare their teeth at each other but this is partly for internal political reasons. Both have now developed and deployed fighter-bombers and surface-to-surface missiles capable of putting a nuclear warhead on the centres of each other’s national power.

      So what’s left? Peace, everybody singing Kumbayah? Not likely. Economic warfare, proxy wars, and 4GW — with the former having the greatest material impact, and the last being the most significant in terms of casualites.

  5. I am afraid that reading your blog is radicalizing me and making it almost impossible to engage in polite political conversation with my real life acquaintances. Which solidly conventional sources would you recommend I read as an antidote?

    1. Read the New York Times for a nicely written version of daily Pravda.

      More interesting is why it has become so difficult to discuss current events. I have a draft article about that I hope to post this week. In brief, our leaders discover that we are gullible. Each wing of our ruling elites has established a set of beliefs (a mixture of values, facts, partial truths, and lies) as totems defining loyalty and obedience. This puts each group in a different world, making communication almost impossible. We’ve become like people in the ancient world — divided by our belief in tribal gods, which makes everyone else either infidels, apostates, or heretics.

      Divide and conquer. Overcoming this is the key to reforming America. I have no idea how to even start this process. Perhaps only a crisis or time of troubles can shake us loose from these lies.

      For more about this see:

      1. It’s is not just McCain who believes we’re dumb – it’s a crowd, 3 September 2008
      2. Our leaders have made a discovery of the sort that changes the destiny of nations
      3. The easy way to rule: leading a weak people by feeding them disinformation
    2. So, as FM concludes:

      “More interesting is why it has become so difficult to discuss current events … each group in a different world, making communication almost impossible. We’ve become like people in the ancient world — divided by our belief in tribal gods, which makes everyone else either infidels, apostates, or heretics.”

      I spoke with a good friend, a former legislator, from the other side of the aisle — you know, the elephant people. He used to regularly rely on working with the opposition to get ideas and to craft needed and responsive compromise legislation on the regional level. He thinks the current state of affairs, so neatly summed up by FM, is deplorable and a very bad sign.

    3. “He thinks the current state of affairs, so neatly summed up by FM, is deplorable and a very bad sign.”

      Everything is good news and bad news.

      1. The current state of affairs is good news for America’s rich and powerful — those are in our ruling elites.
      2. It is bad news for most of the rest of us (not for the servants of the rich: their bankers, attorneys, propagandists, politicians, barbers …).

      The American people and the land will both continue, no matter what happens to our political regime and economy. These trends are, If continued long-enough, the death-knell for the Republic. The Second American Republic, build on the Constitution. That’s an important context. We tried something before the Constitution, and will try other mechanisms in the future.

      The big things to remember:

      1. Nothing is written.
      2. Our fate lies in our hands.
      3. Hope is not a plan.
  6. Though the details differ, many current writings I see assert in some form that in the United States (or perhaps in most all of the “Western world”), democracy has become theater: in which a relatively small pool of persons and interests rules, but goes through the motions of constitutional government to gain the useful mantle of legitimacy conferred by the appearance of democracy and rule of law.

    If this is the case: are there any historical precedents to suggest that a nation can recover from this kind of political capture without either collapse or revolution?

    1. That’s an important question! The answer is YES.

      Almost every democracy (broadly defined) starts with concentrated power (tribal chief, oligarchy, aristocracy, tyranny). People organize — methods differ — and gain power, usually slowly over time, in stages.

      There are steps backwards along the way. Look at America in our first 150 years. Rough democracy, followed by broadening of participation in the age of Jackson and afterwards. Concentration in the late 19th century, as the robber barons and decades of deflation crushed the small farmer and craftsmen classes. Then broadening under the “Fair Deal”, the “New Deal”, and the civil rights era. Now we’re sliding backwards, again.

      There is always hope for the future.

    1. First, some background.

      1. China is manipulating the its currency (the RMB, aka the yuan).
      2. Manipulating its currency to boost trade violates China’s WTO obligations.
      3. The pending legislation would punish China for this.
      4. Reliably predicting what Congress will do is difficult for experts, and I’m not an expert.
      5. China has been allowing the RMB to appreciate vs. the USD, steadily.
      6. Doing so benefits China (eg, reduces inflation), but rapid appreciate can prove destabiizing (see Japan in the late 1980s)

      All that being said, my guess is NO. There will be harsh words, perhaps gestures — but nothing more. Our relations with China are too important and too complex to mess with. Especially with both the US and Chinese economies so vulnerable.

  7. May I suggest another few questions : who undertands that the USA created Israel in 1948 (after England began the process in 1917} . Who understands that the USA and England overthrew the government of Iran in 1953 and installed the Shah ? Who understands that the USA installed Saddam Hussein .? It may seem a silly set of questions , but most people blame the Muslims for all the worlds` troubles when in fact it was .. us

    1. To say that America is responsible for all the world’s ills implies a lack of agency in the world’s other 6.4 billion people — and that the world would be in better shape had the US disappeared (or turned isolationist) in 1946. I believe both of those things are false.

      By the standards of history the US has used its influence as a great power in an extraordinarily benign manner. We have worked for peace, mostly. We have promoted free trade, education, and a host of other good things — even human rights, sometimes. The UN Agencies (eg, UNICEF) are largely our creation, and have done great work.

      We have often used our power for our own benefit. We have often used our power unwisely or even ignorantly. Welcome to the real world.

      Let’s put this in sharper relief. The British Empire ruled to a far greater extent (in terms of area, population, and economic dominance) than has the US — and has a great reputation compared to its predecessors (eg, Rome, Spain). And we’re heroes and saints compared to the Brits.

      To take just one example, they frequently starved their subjects when commercially “necessary.” Such as the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-52 to the Bengal Famine of 1943.

      For some details see this from “The Good Empire – Should we pick up where the British left off?“, Vivek Chibber, Boston Review, February/March 2005.

        Excerpt:

      As it happens, the Victorian era provides a strong test of Ferguson’s claims about the quality of British statecraft, since it was marked by a series of severe droughts in areas of colonial rule. Thanks to Amartya Sen, we now know that famines are not naturally occurring phenomena; they can largely be averted, or at least minimized, if authorities intervene swiftly and decisively. If drought does turn into severe famine, it is most likely because of a breakdown in, or an absence of, well-functioning social institutions. On the Indian subcontinent, which relies heavily on the timeliness of the annual monsoons, droughts occurred periodically. Over the centuries, local elites and villagers had built up a rudimentary apparatus—in effect, an insurance system—to blunt the worst effects of the crop failures, and the British inherited this system as they took over. So at the very least, a regime that prided itself on good governance ought to have performed at least as well as its predecessors in minimizing damage from droughts.

      In reality, the Victorian era witnessed perhaps the worst famines in Indian history. Their severity, and the role of colonial authorities in this pattern of disaster, has been brought to light by Mike Davis in his stunning book Late Victorian Holocausts. Even before the onset of the Victorian famines, warning signals were in place: C. Walford showed in 1878 that the number of famines in the first century of British rule had already exceeded the total recorded cases in the previous two thousand years. But the grim reality behind claims to “good governance” truly came to light in the very decades that Ferguson trumpets. According to the most reliable estimates, the deaths from the 1876–1878 famine were in the range of six to eight million, and in the double-barreled famine of 1896–1897 and 1899–1900, they probably totaled somewhere in the range of 17 to 20 million. So in the quarter century that marks the pinnacle of colonial good governance, famine deaths average at least a million per year.

      Two factors contributed to this outcome. First, the structure of the colonial revenue system—with its high and inflexible tax rates—drastically increased peasant vulnerability to drought. Whereas pre-colonial authorities had tended to modulate revenue demands to the vagaries of the harvest, the British rejected this tradition. Agrarian revenues during the 19th century were critical to the colonial state, and to funding British regional and global military campaigns. So the screws on the peasant were kept tight, regardless of circumstance. This remorseless pressure drove a great number of peasants to the edge of subsistence, making them deeply vulnerable to periodic shocks in the agrarian cycle. Hence it is no surprise that, according to a report of 1881, 80 percent of all the famine fatalities came from the poorest 20 percent of the population—precisely those peasants who lived on the brink of disaster.

      The second, more proximate factor was the administrative response to famine, which is neatly summed up in the Report of the Famine Commission of 1878: “The doctrine that in time of famine the poor are entitled to demand relief . . . would probably lead to the doctrine that they are entitled to such relief at all times . . . which we cannot contemplate without serious apprehension.” So Viceroy Lytton sent a stern warning that administrators should stoutly resist what he called “humanitarian hysterics” and ordered that there be “no interference of any kind on the part of Government with the object of reducing the price of food.” British officials energetically held the line against humanitarianism as grain prices skyrocketed upward. “Sound” public finance — according to Ferguson, one of the great gifts of Victorian governance — trumped even the most meager efforts at relief the moment they strained at the exchequer. Curzon, who oversaw the decimation wrought by the 1899 famine, warned that “any government which imperiled the financial position of India in the interests of prodigal philanthropy would be open to serious criticism; but any Government which by indiscriminate alms-giving weakened the fibre and demoralized the self-reliance of the population, would be guilty of a public crime.”

    2. Thanks for those excerpts, Fabius– I had read about Victorian-era Indian famines before, but had not been aware of the role that explicit British policy played. From the quotes you provided, it sounds as if the British attitude was heavily informed by the English experience with enclosures and poor law reform in the 1830’s, when masses of previously productive peasants who had been kicked off their land were reduced to pathetic dependency on the traditional English welfare system. The answer to this situation had been to severely reduce poor relief, thus forcing the wretches to find jobs in the factories or the mines or starve. Of course, very few actually did starve– how very different an effect this same policy had when blindly applied to a very different situation!

    1. America is the land of freedom. Throughout our history some people have used that to engage in pursuits the rest of us thought odd. Polygamy, celibacy, chasing UFOs, preparing for the end times (happening soon), and going over the hills or up into the hills seeking the promised land.

      It’s the pageant of America. Each seeks his own path. I give my best wishes to those who have taken different paths than I. This is the second and equally important meaning of e pluribus unum!

  8. I use your blogroll links as my daily reading list. What make a blog worthy of inclusion? Also, I have noticed some blogs have been removed (e.g informed comment among others). Why is that?

    1. I seek websites providing reliable information or analysis about geopolitics (broadly defined) different than the pablum and nonsense that dominates the news media and Internet.

      I dropped two websites that joined the American pro-war consensus — with Libya. I understand the temptation. It’s an easy way to gain audience and acceptance. For us war is big and bold, striking blows for goodness. Unfortunately it requires lies and misrepresentations. As we saw in abundance with respect to Libya. Lies about the President’s power to make war. Passing on lies about the events in Libya.

      For details see these posts about the Libyan War:

      1. Libya’s people need uninvited infidel foreigners to save them!, 1 March 2011
      2. “You just have not seen enough people bleed to death”, 8 March 2011
      3. About attacking Libya – let’s give this more thought than we did Afghanistan and Iraq, 6 March 2009
      4. Our geopolitical experts see the world with the innocent eyes of children (that’s a bad thing), 14 March 2011
      5. We’re at war, again. Another shovel of dirt on the corpse of the Constitution., 21 March 2011
      6. A war monger review, looking at the articles advocating a US war with Libya, 22 March 2011
      7. What will the world’s tyrants learn from the Libyan War? Get nukes., 25 March 2011
      8. Who are we helping in Libya? Here are some answers., 27 March 2011
      9. In America, both Left and Right love the long war, 30 March 2011
      10. Can the UN give Obama the authority to send US forces in the Libyan War?, 1 April 2011
      11. Tearing the Constitution is a bipartisan sport!, 4 April 2011
      12. Why the Libyan War is important to us – and to our children, 9 April 2011
      13. A status report on our intervention in Libya. Historians will find this farce fascinating., 17 April 2011
      14. A child-like credulity is required to be a US geopolitical expert, 25 April 2011
  9. Ok, here is a follow-up question to your answer on another question (whether democracy can bounce back):

    Why should we assume that loosening the restrictions on enfranchisement and state-sponsored social mobility are a sign of democratic health? The social wars, the enfranchisement of the Latin tribes and the Marian reforms marked the death of the Roman Republic.

    1. I don’t believe the situations are at all similar.

      You describe changes in the late Roman Republic and late Empire regimes. Change is always problematic, potentially destabilizing. .

      Today the change is the undermining of the Second Republic, ripping the Constitutional machinery asunder. Also these changes are the opposite of the examples from Rome — limiting enfranchisement and reducing social mobility — both of which are keys to the health of the Republic.

    2. Well, in your previous post you said:

      There are steps backwards along the way. Look at America in our first 150 years. Rough democracy, followed by broadening of participation in the age of Jackson and afterwards. Concentration in the late 19th century, as the robber barons and decades of deflation crushed the small farmer and craftsmen classes. Then broadening under the “Fair Deal”, the “New Deal”, and the civil rights era. Now we’re sliding backwards, again.

      From which I infer that for you, trends and events like the removal of property requirements on voting, Jacksonian populism, New Deal programs, and Great Society programs, were all things that defended the Republic, that pulled it back from the brink. Indeed, that is a very conventional characterization fo those trends and events. And my question is, should we necessarily accept this characterization as accurate?

      My understanding of Roman history– and please correct me if I get any of the details wrong, because I’m pretty sure I have not read as much on it as you and other commenters– is that the social wars, the enfranchisement of the Latin tribes that was the end result of those wars, and the Marian reforms, which dramatically increased the social mobility of landless citizens, all occurred in the period immediately preceding the rise of Julius Caesar. In other words, immediately preceding the fall of the Republic. So let us consider the broadened enfranchisement and increased social mobility brought about by these events– were they obstacles to Caesar’s rise, which nevertheless he overcame? Or were they neutral, non-issues? Or did they pave the way for Caesar, hastening the onset of Empire? I will leave the answering of this question to one better versed in Roman lore than myself.

      More broadly we may ask– between the Optimates and the Populares, who had the best interests of the Rome most at heart? Between Marius and Sulla– who defended the Republic, and who destroyed it? These are the kinds of questions that make me also question the conventional interpretation of American social and political history.

  10. If you were a foreign intelligence officer, what items would be on your Indicators and Warning List to monitor if the US Government is progressing towards government collapse or civil war? What would you recommend your government do to accelerate the process?

    1. No need to watch subtle or obscure indicators. Watch the level of violence. Against the government. By the government. Among the population.

      But don’t jump to hasty conclusions. As so many have said (eg, Adam Smith and Lord Keynes), there is a lot of ruin in a country. The US has always been a violent society, with bursts of violence above its usually high average. The KKK killing Blacks. Corporate executives having union organizers and strikers killed. The massive race riots in the 1960s 1970s, with some of our great cities occupied each summer by the national guard. The ongoing drug wars.

      As for accelerating the process, that’s folly. Foreign nations have at best a mixed record when manipulating foreign societies (ie, large scale tinkering, beyond the usual bribery and propaganda). The great rule: “Never interfere with your enemy when he is making a mistake.”

  11. So you think the national debt (default) , loss of faith in governance/corruption, illegal immigration (occupation), transnational crime, radicalization, and failed criminal justice system are irrelevant? The aggragate of these issues and a single national event could easily serve as a tipping point.

    You think the US didn’t look at ways to accelerate the collapse of the Soviet Union?

    The breadth of your assessment seems a little short sighted…

    1. (1) There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of factors that contribute to national “collapse or civil war”. Without any useful theory to provide an analytical process, plotting these just creates chartjunk — significant data but operationally useless for forecasting. Which is why revolutions almost always surprise the CIA, for all their resources (both monetary and staff).

      On the other hand, levels of violence are a useful indicator, in a modest sort of way.

      To see how these things work in practice read The CIA’s forecast about the Iranian Revolution – and the revolution prediction tool, 6 January 2010. This directly addresses your question.

      (2) “You think the US didn’t look at ways to accelerate the collapse of the Soviet Union?”

      I said no such thing. I said that if it tried, it almost certainly had little effect. That’s the historical record — esp in large states (your example was the US, after all).

  12. As for accelerating the process, that’s folly (I think your original post said dumb). Foreign nations have at best a mixed record when manipulating foreign societies (ie, large scale tinkering, beyond the usual bribery and propaganda).

    There is a decent amount of anecdotal evidence that the USSR had an interest in both the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement in the 1960/70s. 1968 was the closest the country came to civil war in the past 150 years and clearly they understood the importance of influencing the will of the American people – and clearly this was a significant factor in losing the Viet Nam War. I would hardly call it tinkering -although it never fully lead to all out civil war. Fast forward to the information age and globally connected information systems and groups of people. The US has developed extensive psyops/IW/Influence capabilities, so have our enemies. Because of the US population has become dependent on the info systems as a way of life, they are more vulnerable to outside influence. If you were an adversary and wanted to affect change in the US, would you do it by building more ships or would you try to exploit a strategic vulnerability?

    Could the US hold together today under similar circumstance? The national coffers are empty, there are 20 million occupants with no loyalty to the government within our borders and an increasingly large percentage of the US population is disenfranchised – even enraged – with the current government structure. If you think civil disturbances are an issue now, wait until significant austerity measures kick in. Madison should be seen as a harbinger of things to come – factor in loss of basic services, and that situation would have been significantly worse. As a few scholars have noted after the London Riots, when this situation occurs in the US, it will be orders of magnitude worse – the US is a pressure cooker waiting to explode. Again, build more ships to challenge the military or stir the pot on US domestic issues?

    1. (1) Your original comment asked about predicting “collapse or civil war”. The record is clear: that is beyond the state of the art. Before moving on, you should acknowledge that simple fact.

      (2) Your original comment asked what a foreign intel group could “do to accelerate the process {of collapse or civil war}.” The record is clear: except for small or third world states, that lies beyond the state of the art.

      A major foreign policy objective of the US for decades (during the Kennedy Administration it was one of the top priorities) has been collapsing or overthrowing the Castro regime. It looked like a reasonalbe goal Cuba was small, poor, adjacent to the US, with Cuban refugees giving the US excellent intel (in the broadest sense) about Cuba. Success: zero.

      There are a host of other examples. Such as the efforts of the US and USSR in Afghanistan. Things there have developed in a manner not necessarily to our advantage, in Emperior Hirohito’s immortal words.

      (3) And in rebuttal you say:

      “anecdotal evidence that the USSR had an interest in both the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement in the 1960/70s.”
      Yes, the USSR had an interest. There is near-zero evidence that they had a significant influence on those events.

      “clearly they understood the importance of influencing the will of the American people ”
      Yes, but that does not mean they have been able to do so successfully. Intent and capability are quite different things.

      “and clearly this was a significant factor in losing the Viet Nam War.”
      Malarkey.

      I lost interest at this point. The rest of your comment is mostly (not entirely, but mostly) exaggerations or falsehoods.

  13. A question extracted from Redteamer’s comment #14: Are the coffers of the US government empty? More specifically, is it broke?

    Note: as I explained in this post: Governments cannot go bankrupt (in the specific technical meaning of the term).

    1. The gullibility of the US public is astonishing. We are easily provoked to panic. Over AIDs, over Alar (a carcinogen, but not deserving of the hysteria), over the speculative and distant effects of continued global warming, over jihadism — and now our government’s finances.

      In fact the government’s balance sheet has been weakening since Reagan discovered the political benefits of massive deficits. Clinton briefly stabilized the situation, but Bush Jr resumed the destruction of the government’s solvency. But it’s a slow process, and still reversible.

      But its not an immediate problem. The easy, rought measure of a entity’s credit is the interest rate at which it at borrows. The US government is borrowing at near-record low nominal rates, showing that investors have no immediate conerns. Net debt/gdp is roughly that of our peers.

      As for the future — the US government is, as the head of the CBO once said, a pension plan with an army — whose owners don’t want to fully pay for it. Something must change.

      1. Military spending is crazy high vs. that of our foes.
      2. Taxes as a percent of GDP are near post-WWII lows.
      3. Social security is slightly underfunded, by roughly 2% of gdp (ie, easily fixed)
      4. Health care expenses are rising from already unaffordable levels.

      The last is the key. We pay roughly 1/3 more than our peers for equivalent results. The liabilities (future benefits) for medicare, medcaid, tricare, and Federal employees will rise to unpayable levels. That is our most serious financial problem. That’s the good news.

      Serious problems are those that are potentially terminal and without known solutions. Every other developed nation has evolved workable health care systems. It’s a solved problem. We lack only the will to reform our system. Necessity — the sight of the gallows — will provide that, eventually.

      For more about the solvency of the US government see:

      1. Death of the post-WWII geopolitical regime, III – death by debt, 8 January 2008 – Origins of the long economic expansion from 1982 to 2006; why the down cycle will be so
      2. Beginning of the end of the Republic’s solvency. Soon come the first steps to a reformed regime – or a new regime., 14 August 2009
      3. Update on our government’s deteriorating solvency, 1 October 2009
      4. A look at our government’s debt – rising because we like to spend, 29 December 2009
      5. Would a default by the US government help America?, 21 February 2010
      6. Worry not about America becoming like Zimbabwe. Worry about becoming like Argentina., 4 March 2010
      7. We might default on our governments’ debt in the future. Do you know how often we’ve done so in the past?, 5 March 2010
      8. See the very essence of the US government’s financial problems (clue: it’s us), 2 April 2010
      9. Governments cannot go bankrupt, 2 April 2010
      10. Our government’s finances are broken. How do we compare with our peers?, 8 April 2010
      11. Is there any way out from the burden of government debt?, 10 June 2010
    2. I thought you took your ball and ran home – but I see you’d like to continue…

      “(1) Your original comment asked about predicting “collapse or civil war”. The record is clear: that is beyond the state of the art. Before moving on, you should acknowledge that simple fact.”

      I acknowledge that fact and refer you to Garbo’s book on Strategic Surprise written in the 1950’s and Peter Shwartz’ Art of the Long View. I hardly think predicting the collapse of government (or revolution or civil war are beyond the “State of the Art”). Just because it has not been done well in the past doesn’t mean it cannot be done in the future or isn’t theoretically plausible. Use Greece and other EU countries, it doesn’t take a super forecaster to see what some of the potential outcomes are. Please prove your theory as to why this type of forecasting is beyond “State of the Art”.

      (2) Your original comment asked what a foreign intel group could “do to accelerate the process {of collapse or civil war}.” The record is clear: except for small or third world states, that lies beyond the state of the art.

      If you examine any nation from an insurgency or failed state perspective three factors that can generally be attributed to recovery or failure: Governance, Economics and Internal Security. Each of these factors can be impacted by foreign influence or direct involvement. Therefore if a country is heading toward collapse or becoming a failed state, each of these factors become a vulnerability. Now I know at least one of the FM posters understands the concept of red teaming, so put yourself in the enemy’s shoes, If you wanted to disrupt the US would you attack our military or attack one of these three factors and attempt to move us towards collapse or at least weakening our stance on an issue – say military presence in the Pacific? Despite a few historical examples, this is within the “State of the Art”.

      “question extracted from Redteamer’s comment #14: Are the coffers of the US government empty? More specifically, is it broke?”

      Thank you for having a little honesty on this one – you twisted what I posted in order to go on a tirade and dig up some previous posts that gained no traction. Our coffers are indeed empty and in fact, they have a negative balance. Yes, there are a number of things the gov’t could do to continue operating while continuing to lose more money but the fact is we are broke and getting “broker”… However I completely agree with your call for change in that section.

      “anecdotal evidence that the USSR had an interest in both the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement in the 1960/70s.”
      Yes, the USSR had an interest. There is near-zero evidence that they had a significant influence on those events.”

      Admittedly these events were before my time. I’ll provide you first-hand accounts from an FBI official and a KGB officer. Now rather than randomly dismissing my research, provide evidence that disproves their first hand accounts.

      1. “The KGB and Soviet Disinformation: An Insider’s View” by Ladislav Bittman
      2. “Hoover’s FBI: The Inside Story by Hoover’s Trusted Lieutenant” by Cartha D. DeLoach

      Again I know there is at least one intelligent person in your group who understands the red teaming concept. If you wanted to counter US efforts to undermine the spread of Communism in the Cold War, why wouldn’t you commit resources to help foment the revolutionary US counter culture movement in 1960s?

      “and clearly this was a significant factor in losing the Viet Nam War.”
      Malarkey.

      Malarkey? What does this statement mean? a US Army Colonel encountered a North Vietnamese counterpart in the Hanoi International Airport. The US Army Colonel pointed out that the North Vietnamese had never achieved a tactical victory on the battlefield. North Vietnamese Colonel Tu countered, “that may be true, but it is also irrelevant.”

      I would assert that the NVA, lead by Ho and Giap, understood strategic communications and they targeted the US public – this was our Center of Gravity. Our political and military leadership at the time didn’t help and provided them plenty of ammo to use against us. Again prove that this information based attacks on the US public had no impact on the outcome of the VN war.

      Now for my favorite misinformed response “I lost interest at this point. The rest of your comment is mostly (not entirely, but mostly) exaggerations or falsehoods.”

      My comment was “If you think civil disturbances are an issue now, wait until significant austerity measures kick in. Madison should be seen as a harbinger of things to come – factor in loss of basic services, and that situation would have been significantly worse. As a few scholars have noted after the London Riots, when this situation occurs in the US, it will be orders of magnitude worse – the US is a pressure cooker waiting to explode. Again, build more ships to challenge the military or stir the pot on US domestic issues?”

      Please read the statements of Dr. Jeff Sachs from Columbia University on FAREED ZAKARIA GPS, 30 January 2011 — “Unrest in Egypt

      Come on now, even you can see a growing trend in US civil disturbances. Even you have posted an excellent series on the collapse of US Criminal Justice System – there is no deterrent and no effective response to this trend. Hopefully you can regain your interest long enough to prove your assertions of “falsehoods and exaggerations”.

    3. There is not much here warranting a response, but a few specific points.

      (1) “I hardly think predicting the collapse of government (or revolution or civil war are beyond the “State of the Art”). Just because it has not been done well in the past doesn’t mean it cannot be done in the future or isn’t theoretically plausible. ”

      That is the exact meaning of “state of the art”. It cannot be done now, but might be possible in the future.

      (2) “Each of these factors can be impacted by foreign influence or direct involvement. Therefore if a country is heading toward collapse or becoming a failed state, each of these factors become a vulnerability. ”

      It’s so simple! At least on paper. As so often in war, the reality differs from the theory. My comment was about the actual history, not the dreams. In fact, this has proven almost impossible to do except in limited circumstances (eg, small third world nations).

      (3) You do not correctly understand the significance of the conversation you quote. It’s beyond the scope of this thread to discuss. BTW, here is the correct citation:

      “You know you never defeated us on the battlefield”
      ”That may be so,” he replied, “but it is also irrelevant.”
      — Conversation on 25 April 1975 in Hanoi between Colonel Harry G. Summers, Jr. (Chief of the U.S. Delegation, Four Party Joint Military Team) and Colonel Nguyen Don Tu (Chief, North Vietnamese Delegation), from Introduction to On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War by Harry G. Summers Jr. (1982)

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