The United States, so obsessed with policing its own borders, shows precious little concern for those of other countries. When it comes to waging war, the Pentagon is like a little kid with crayons and a coloring book. It has great difficulty staying within the lines.
Last week, for instance, Special Ops carried out a helicopter attack on a small Syrian village six miles from the Iraqi border. U.S. forces went after Abu Ghadiya, a leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. It’s still not clear whether he was killed, though several Syrian civilians certainly were.
“Numerous questions abound about the timing, purpose, and legality of the strike,” writes Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF) contributor Farrah Hassen in Strange Strike. “Was the attack directed specifically against Syria, which has cooperated with the United States in the War on Terror and the Iraq War, or is it more of a desperate pre-election move by the Bush administration to showcase the image of stability and U.S. resolve? Other pundits have called the attack a ‘parting shot’ from President George W. Bush and neoconservatives in his administration, who have long advocated but failed to bring regime change to Damascus, particularly in response to Syria’s early opposition to the invasion of Iraq.”
It wasn’t the first time that the Pentagon crossed the line with Syria. In 2003, Special Ops botched a cross-border operation that left 80 people dead. Syria barely protested the violation of its sovereignty. This time, although Damascus has officially registered its complaints, the media has been buzzing with rumors that Syria approved of the raid in order to curry favor with the United States and get rid of an insurgent it didn’t particularly like.While the Iraq War has spilled over into Syria, the war in Afghanistan has long involved border areas in Pakistan. For a while, “our man in Islamabad,” Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf, allowed us to treat his country’s borders like Swiss cheese. After at least 15 U.S. cross-border missile strikes and one commando raid just since August, the new Pakistani government is drawing the line. Or, rather, Islamabad is pointing out that the line was drawn many years ago, and the United States should start respecting it.
October is now past, and the U.S. presidential election is upon us. There have been no surprises. The Bush administration didn’t begin a new war against Iran or launch a preemptive strike to wipe out North Korea’s nuclear program. Instead, Washington merely continued with business as usual: fighting two failed wars and spreading the collateral damage as widely as possible. Over the last seven years, the Pentagon has bombed indiscriminately. Finally, though, one of those bombs seems to have found a just target. On Election Day 2008, it looks as though someone called in the wrong coordinates and the Party of War is going up in flames. Who would have thought that collateral damage could taste so sweet?
The Iraq War might have fatally weakened the Bush administration — and its top cheerleader John McCain — but it has been the plummeting economy that sealed its fate. To get out of the hole, the next administration will be looking at a variety of different strategies to repair the damage. Cutting the military budget to free up money to reinvigorate the economy would seem to be one common-sense approach. But the administration will likely try to use military spending as a shovel to get out of the pit.
“There will be pressure to approve any program that is said to create jobs, including programs to sell military equipment and nuclear technology overseas,” writes FPIF contributor Neta Crawford in The Financial Crisis and 9/11. “The long-term counterproductive aspects of these programs will be deemphasized. We need to resist the jobs-at-any-cost mantra and emphasize not only how military spending is less productive than other modes of spending, but also how military and technology export programs have a tendency to ‘blow back.’”
The crisis precipitated by subprime mortgages here in the United States has spread through the borderless world of finance. With the World Trade Organization paralyzed over trade disputes, and both the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in difficult financial straits, the entire global economy is up for grabs.
“This isn’t the first time we’ve heard widespread calls for ‘new global financial architecture,’” writes FPIF contributor Aldo Caliari in We Only Need One ‘Bretton Woods II.’ “Such calls abounded in the 1990s, yet nothing came of them. Now we’re paying the price for that. Today’s global financial crisis, as Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf recently said, is the worst anyone alive has seen — unless you have lived for longer than 100 years. The distributional results of the approach are also clear as developing countries start to feel the pain of reduced remittances, lower demand for their exports, increased costs of debt payments, and threats to future aid. Sadly, this is happening despite the fact that these countries sustained painful reforms of their national financial systems in the name of that earlier call for new ‘architecture.’”
One region that may weather the storm better than others is Latin America, where the Mercosur trade bloc is the third-largest in the world and both Brazil and Venezuela are leading the way to build South-South economic cooperation. Moreover, writes FPIF columnist Conn Hallinan in Latin America’s New Consensus, “Brazil and Argentina paid off their IMF debts ahead of schedule and concentrated on building infrastructure and alleviating poverty. The result has been a steady economic growth, with expansion this year of 4.4%, which, according to Citibank forecasts, will fall next year, but probably not more than a percentage point. In contrast, U.S. and European growth rates are projected to drop to 1.5%, or even to zero. Latin America is ‘a better-built boat,’ says the World Bank’s chief economist for the region, Augusto de la Torre.”
We recently held a forum at the Institute for Policy Studies on the U.S. presidential election and the issue of the global economy — you can watch the video here.
Food Crisis Continues
Our strategic focus on the food crisis finishes up this week with two essays. In her analysis of biofuels policy, FPIF contributor Karen Hansen-Kuhn dissects the complex relationship between rising food prices and subsidies for biofuel production. Not only has the diversion of corn into ethanol production contributed to the rise in food prices, but other unanticipated consequences have resulted.
“ActionAid Guatemala reports a significant rise in land conflicts as large landowners rush to increase sugar and palm oil production to take advantage of the biofuel markets in both the United States and Europe,” Hansen-Kuhn writes in Flawed Biofuel Policies. “This has increased the concentration of land ownership, as farmers sell land titles to investors, and land ‘re-concentration,’ as large plantations are consolidated and tenant farmers evicted.”
One less-covered aspect of the food crisis has been the differential impact on women and children. “In part, this disproportionate impact is because women in poor rural communities have less access to resources, transportation, and communication networks,” writes Katharine Coon in The Food Crisis and Gender. “Any effective resolution to the food crisis must incorporate an understanding of this differential impact on gender roles.”
Sudan and China
The Bush administration has been increasingly playing nice with Sudan, the same regime it has accused of genocide. Some sanctions remain in place, and Sudan is still on the state sponsors of terrorism list. But FPIF contributors Kevin Funk and Steven Fake point out in an excerpt from their new book that “as stated baldly in the 2007 budget justification, ‘The United States will maintain its strong support for countries on the front lines in the War on Terrorism, especially Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Sudan.’ Due to this fruitful intelligence-sharing relationship and Washington’s desire to gain a foothold in Sudan’s booming oil industry, the United States publicly announced in spring 2008 its offer to normalize relations with Khartoum, provided that the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) is implemented and a resolution is found to the Darfur conflict.”
Finally, I offer a capsule review of Dutch journalist Floris-Jan Van Luyn’s new book, A Floating City of Peasants, which chronicles the stories of China’s many internal migrants. These millions of peasants-turned-city dwellers are creating a staggering new urban landscape. “There are 182 Chinese cities large enough and connected enough to qualify as international metropolises,” I write. “Of these, 89 have populations larger than a million (compared to only 37 in the United States). This migration in China will not only affect energy use, climate, and agricultural production. It will inevitably shift global power from West to East as these Chinese cities become centers of finance, politics, and art.”
FPIF, November 4, 2008