Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Winners And Losers

I was reading an article about China being the real winner of the Ukraine-Crimea crisis/standoff, and it occurred to me that we need a new language to describe a multi-polar world.  Both the "Great Game" of the late 19th century and Containment strategy of the Cold War created a framework of "winners and losers."  If Russia advanced into Afghanistan, that was - de facto - a loss for the West.  As you can see from that example, there are problems with this framework already.  America "gained" Iraq and Afghanistan under Bush, but few people seriously argue that "winning" those wars created a gain for the US.  In fact, the "winner" in Iraq was Iran.  Except Iran continues to struggle under sanctions and a decaying, kleptocratic economy.  So what does winning mean?

It is clear that there are losers in international affairs.  The US lost prestige, moral authority and military readiness in Iraq.  But Islamic terrorist groups also lost. As did the Iraqi people who died, were maimed or uprooted.

Finding losers is easy.

But finding winners is tricky.  Because the parameters of victory change over time.  The US "lost" Vietnam, but "won" the Cold War.  Could the US have "won" the Cold War without going into Vietnam?  Or was Vietnam the price we paid for containment and keeping the Russian economy on a war footing it could not sustain?

Winning and losing is binary.  As noted logician, Ricky Bobby, has noted, "If you're not first, you're last."  And as his biological father notes: "That doesn't make any sense."  This is the logic that makes an Olympic silver medalist a "loser."

The obsession with winning and losing makes foreign policy somewhat hysterical.  McCain and Graham are typical of this manic obsession with "winning and losing" that typifies the foreign policy "thinking" that passes for elder statesman status in DC.

Washington has been called Hollywood for ugly people, but I think we can also call it Thunderdome for cowards.  (Not McCain, but Graham, Kristol et al)  There is a need to swagger and overcompensate and posture that is entirely wrapped up in this fallacy of winning and losing.

Putin "won" in Crimea.  Yet he is delivering a blow to a fragile, top-heavy resource-based economy whose weakness is already denting his domestic popularity.  The US "lost" because... I don't know exactly why the US "lost" except that Putin "won".  In fact, economically sidelining Putin in the G-8 could redound to the West's benefit.  Maybe it pushes Ukraine closer to the West, which allows them to sideline their neo-fascist factions?

Who knows?

In free trade circles, it is understood that both countries "win" with free trade.  With NAFTA, the US gets cheap consumer goods and Mexico gets a wider industrial base and higher wages.  This does not obscure that industrial workers in the US and farmers in Mexico lose, but the economies of both countries purportedly win.

Until we can embrace some nuance and subtlety in our understanding of internatioal affairs, we are going to be constantly and maniacally ping ponging from one "crisis" to the next.

Ironically, the mass of Americans - who don't give a shit about Crimea - already seem to understand this.

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