Debate the Last

Again, I didn’t watch.  We had a movie from the library to finish and some reading to do and I was beat.

Nevertheless, I’ve been listening to recaps and doing a little post-debate viewing and I have a couple of comments, if only to round out the trend here.

“Syria is Iran’s route to the sea.”

Romney has been saying this from time to time and it is somewhat baffling.  A look at a map shows the problem—a slice of northern Iraq separates the borders of Iran and Syria, not to mention that Iran already has considerable access to the Arabian Sea.  But this is Romney’s explanation for Iran’s pumping of support into Assad’s regime, that they want to use Syria for new bases and an extension of terrorist support.  But in that case, his phrasing is a bit…strange.

So, sure, we have a fleet in the Gulf, so Iran doesn’t actually have such easy access.  But in the other direction, from Syria, it’s the Mediterranean Sea and there are lots of fleets from Europe as well as our own presence, so how exactly would that help?

Ah, it would put them closer to striking Israel!

But it would also put them closer to getting struck by Israel, and the one thing you can say about Israel is, they don’t respond tepidly.

Plus, Assad is about to be ousted.  True, we have no idea what will replace him, but since Iran doesn’t seem to be backing any of the rebel groups, we can assume they don’t see any good successors waiting in the wings, so what exactly is Romney talking about?

Possibly he’s trying to spin this as the new geopolitical threat, that Iran has the long term goal of being the dominant player in the entire Middle East.  Tie this in with Romney’s assertion that the greatest threat we face is not Iran but Russia, and we can see a Machiavellian grasp of realpolitick in action, projecting a dominant Iran tied to an emergent Russian bear.

Except Iran isn’t that fond of Russia and Russia is having fits with politicized Islam.  It is not a clear what exactly Romney sees changing—unless he’s assuming Russian support for Syria will transfer to Iran once Iran has secured Syrian bases…

But there are all those European and American elements sitting there…

Which may be why he made the statement that we don’t have enough ships!  He sees a military gap in strength should all this come to pass!

Reagan built the famous 600 ship navy in the 1980s, which was a huge (and hugely expensive) increase in our seagoing military imprint.  Since Gorbachev was removed and the Soviet monolith collapsed, we’ve been mothballing a lot of that.

But Reagan was also funding Star Wars and ground force build-up and all manner of technomilitary development, all aimed at supposedly facing down Russia.  What often gets lost about this, though, is that this build-up was not intended to actually be deployed against the Soviet Union other than in the way it played out.

We spent the Soviet Union into penury.  Russia always—always—responded to build-ups in other countries by increasing their own, generally to their own detriment.  (The first world disarmament conference was called by Russia, through the minister and advisor Sergei Witte, in response to all the new spending in Europe.  They did this because Witte, as former Finance Minister of Russia, realized that Russia simply could not afford to compete.)  The Soviet Union was vulnerable to paranoia and economically incapable of matching our spending.  Reagan spent the Soviet Union into collapse.

(Of course, by so doing, he doubled the deficit and increased the debt, something we have yet to get a handle on, but that’s another issue.)

For all I know, Mitt Romney may have a century-long perspective of global realignment in mind in his pronouncements, but if so he’s not backed up by anyone reliable in such matters, only his own campaign staff.  Russia may well be a threat, but it will be economic, not military, and even that is a bit of a stretch as they’re still trying to figure out how to turn potential into power.

Iran is actually contained.  This gets lost on a lot of people.  Their currency just collapsed.  The sanctions (which I normally detest) are working and overtures have been made to sit down and negotiate.  The architect of all this nonsense, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is about to lose his office under a cloud of no confidence, and there is a latent revolution just under the surface in Iran.  The Iranian people are generally not thrilled to be ruled by a theocracy and it won’t take much to unseat the clerics.  If we let this happen, if we hold back on overt action, then the Arab Spring may well bloom there and the transition will be organic.

(This is something we seem impatient with.  Not going into Syria, doing the minimum in Libya, letting these things unfold on their own, this is a lesson we have come to the hard way.  The mess in the Middle East is largely the result of our machinations in the ’50s and ’60s and such interference is resented.  Stand back, let it happen, and support, if possible, whatever emerges, and we might undo a century of animosity.)

My own view is that the two biggest threats we face in the coming decades are less centered on specific countries and more on fundamental demographic trends.  But if you wish to put a name to them, there are two axes to look at.  The first is India-China.  Two enormous populations that already have resource problems and a history of border eruptions.  Their competition will spill over into the Pacific and Indian basins and lead to all manner of global resource wars, sometimes fought with armies and navies.  The growing disputes between China and Japan (and Korea and Singapore) is over food resource.  Dress it up any way you care to, it comes down to protein.

The other is Pakistan-Middle East.  This has been the problem for the last two decades.  Pakistan is a nuclear armed seedbed of modern terrorism with a real domestic problem, namely that moderate governments have notorious difficulty sitting on a growing radical population that is also strained for resources.  They are trapped between giants—India, China, the former Soviet Union—with the only natural egress through Afghanistan.  They see themselves as a global power but one that can’t feed itself and is impotent to settle simple local territorial disputes with its neighbors.

That’s the end of my prognostications.  Basically, though, it tells me that Romney has identified all the wrong problems.  Doesn’t matter what his solutions might be if they’re applied in the wrong direction.

So much for that.

But, hey, the Cardinals lost to the Giants.  What could this possibly mean?

Published by Mark Tiedemann