Europe and the United States

Posted on September 25th, 2010 in Culture,Politics,War by Robert Miller

The mainstream news media in the United States have drawn a circle around the country. From their viewpoint, we stand as an island-nation with global reach through our wars and confrontational politics. Oddly enough, we don’t like to hear about the wars we conduct (there is no David Halberstam employed by the major news media and no one with his journalistic standards is in the field covering our conflicts/wars) or the cultural theater in which they take place;  we hear even less about the world outside  our war theaters. And, at the bottom of our outside news priority list, is Europe. We hear very little about Europe, which is going through a transformation that has already substantially  impacted on us, though not quite in the way we would like. We are flummoxed by European behavior, in part because we feel they are not living up to their NATO agreements–they should be sending more troops to Afghanistan, yet, in fact, they are bringing them home and disengaging. Western Europe does not approve of our American wars and they see much better than we do the futility of fighting in a country where the end result is to behave as a primary recruiting service for the enemy. We are also very poor at defining who the enemy actually is and we have the Vietnam war experience in our past to substantiate that allegation.

Recently I met a prominent German scientist who works at an  America research university and has lived in this country for many years. He was born during WW II and all the males in his immediate family were killed at the Russian front. He had just completed an extensive travel through Europe and told me that everywhere he went, when people learned he lived in America, Europeans were quick to indicate that America is a country in steep decline and is on a self-destructive trajectory. Europeans have many other issues which occupy them and have become indifferent to the interests of the United States.  They no longer view themselves as the American satellites we forced on them at the close of WW II. Increasingly, we think of Western Europe as having a very “unEuropean” attitude towards us because they are no longer behaving like our old dependent satellites, when NATO was a household word.  William Pfaff, an American who writes from Paris for the International Herald Tribune, keeps his eye on both continents and is thus a frequent source of insight about relations between the U.S. and the evolving attitudes of Europeans towards us.  Of course, you cannot talk about the history of our relationship with Europe, without understanding the impact of WWII and the Cold War. But this is post-Cold War Europe and they are trying to shape their own destiny and increasingly view the United States as unwanted baggage.  In the process, they are not in favor of the war-like island state across the Atlantic because it poses too much risk for them as members of NATO. If Afghanistan doesn’t actually break up NATO, it has certainly robbed it of any meaningful European participation, at least in the foreseeable future.

Once the Cold War was over, I  thought it made sense to dissolve NATO and reformulate relations in Europe that eliminated the encirclement and isolation of the Soviet Union. The European union has sought to partially achieve that objective by admitting Eastern European countries, while NATO has behaved as if encircling Russia was still an objective by admitting many former Soviet block countries into the alliance. The recent war in Georgia was in reality, Russia opposing its NATO encirclement. That aggressive posturing remains as one of the reasons that Russians have a low opinion of the United States. It very easily could have been otherwise. Not only did we continue our militaristic posturing towards Russia, but we participated in forming the ruling oligarchy that sold Russian assets and created a few wealthy Russians, while plunging the country into an economic crisis. Today, Russia is doing better, primarily because they have oil and gas and we are now competing with the Chinese to find as many stable sources of gas and oil as we can: preferably outside of the Middle East, but, because of their vast oil resources, that is always hard to do.  Perhaps we need to look at the panic we have about our energy future as the straw that broke the camel’s back and finally, truly ended the Cold War, but with a comma rather than an exclamation point.  NATO will probably exist in name only.

RFM

China surpasses U.S. in energy consumption

Posted on September 24th, 2010 in Energy,Politics by Robert Miller

On July 20 of this year, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Fatih Birol, told The Wall Street Journal that  China had surpassed the United States in total energy consumption and was now number one. While there may be many causes to this sudden shift in energy consumption rankings, including our own recession, less travel and reduced industrial activity, etc., this news has shaken Washington and has far-reaching implications for our future. With our help, China is rapidly becoming one of the greatest industrial juggernauts in history and now needs oil just as much as we do. While we seem to love to go to war and fight unresolvable conflicts, China has been garnering oil and gas contracts, in some cases where we thought we might get them, such as those in oil-rich Iraq. But, this behavior is consistent with China’s  present and future needs and has for some time created a far more competitive environment for energy security, at a time when everyone agrees that the world is running out of oil. We are drilling deeper and more often with fewer returns, such that large oil fields are now under more pressure than they have ever been before.  Will we face this challenge as a military issue or can it be resolved at the negotiating table? If there was ever a time for an international agreement on energy, if that’s at all possible, this is about as timely as it can get. Michael T. Klare, author of “Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet(an excellent book which covers this very topic), discusses the ramifications of this new reality in an article in TomDispatch. We all need to be aware of this new reality and its implications.

RFM

The fall election and a new camera from Sony

Posted on September 23rd, 2010 in Politics,Technology by Robert Miller

It’s admittedly odd to be juxtaposing these two topics, but in the midst of thinking about the coming fall election and the self-destructive divisiveness within the Democratic Party, I came across a temporary reprieve in the form of reading about a new, very innovative camera, recently announced by Sony. Ordinarily, it may seem a bit obtuse talking about an item of consumption in our consumerless economic downturn, but the review in the NYT this morning caught my eye and the camera itself seems like a major advancement over the conventional SLR cameras; it’s an improvement that I thought should have happened a long time ago, because the optical quality of beam splitters was improved dramatically many years ago. However, let’s first share a brief note about politics and the fall election:

Isn’t the Democratic Party supposed to have a big tent? Right now, it  seems more like an overnight backpackers tent. Aren’t the Democrats supposed to be opposing Republicans rather than the President? What’s all this fuss about Obama doing war within his own party? He’s condemning Democrats who are complaining because they didn’t get the Public Option in health care? Has he done the math? 86% of Democrats wanted the Public Option, so why shouldn’t they raise this as an issue and convey their disappointment? It’s an issue which clearly separates them from their Republican opponents who want to eliminate the new healthcare bill in its entirety. What we are seeing in election politics from the White House this year is what happens when you get elected by a surge of Democratic voters and Independents and then turn around and do the economy and the healthcare bill as if it was the Republicans that got you elected–well not really the Republicans, but serving the interests of those who serve Wall Street more than Main Street and keeping the for-profit healthcare industry satisfied with the healthcare bill, even though they betrayed their commitment to Obama on holding back their negative campaigns against reform.

Obama made the choice to keep the same Clinton-like relationship with Wall Street that Clinton had created in the 1990s, as Goldman Sachs was one of his largest campaign supporters. He owed them something but there is a big negative public reaction to the fact that Obama is keeping Wall Street happy, while doing virtually nothing for the troubled home owners. Many view this as a betrayal to those who elected him. Obama now knows that putting Larry Summers, the Clinton holdover, in as his financial adviser was a big mistake. With Summers stepping out of the picture, Obama now has an opportunity to fix his Presidency and focus on the needs of those that actually elected him. By now he must realize that in an economy which is 70% consumer-based, there is no way that we can restore economic vitality without developing a new economy with new consumers and that will take time, more so since banks won’t lend to small businesses. A bigger stimulus package and one focused in the right way would have helped insure against what appears to be more misery ahead of us. It is my impression that if the Democrats lose big this fall, it will be because Obama’s policies didn’t go far enough to the left, where polls were showing broad support for things like the Public Option and more punitive behavior and less financial support for Wall Street. Throw in the teabaggers and you have an election that is Wall Street vs Main Street, although very few will frame it in that way. Obama has muddied the water for this election all on his own; whether he can rescue his party and his image by blaming Republicans for holding up tax reduction legislation because they want to keep the millionaires happy, remains to be seen, but it appears to me that it is a strategy that is too narrowly focused to be a central theme for a hotly contested election. The best hope for the Democrats is that the teabaggers will turn Republicans and Independents off and they will stay home for this fall’s election. I hope I’m wrong, and there is a way to go before the election, but at this point it seems that Obama can generate great speeches, but evokes ambivalence because his policies don’t match his rhetoric. He’s a Clinton Democrat at a time when the country needed an FDR and, unfortunately, when he aroused the public into supporting him, we all thought we had elected an FDR. He gave speeches in the Spring of 2008 that made it seem like he understood everything. That’s why many of us are so disappointed. On the flip side, yes we are relieved to wake up from the nightmare of GWB, a former president that should by now be on trial for war crimes, but that’s another story and one that also involves Obama.

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