Watching the US presidential candidate debate this Friday has only further confirmed my belief an American would have to be either a moron or a traitor to vote for him.
What he would do as President:
1) Stay on in Iraq
And leave Russia (and every other competitor) a free hand. Even the success of the Iraqi campaign depends on the continued quiescence of the Sunni tribes that were bribed into becoming America’s friends. If relations further deteriorate, it would not be unimaginable to envisage Russia selling Iran S-300’s, which in turn could escalate anti-US attrition in Iraq from under that umbrella.
Obama plans to send more combat brigades to Afghanistan. I am not sure about the wisdom of this, considering the historically-based chances of long-term success in that region of the world are around zero. I also don’t think hunting down Osama is worth tens of billions of dollars. If I were a US policy-maker I would reduce military spending and global over-extension to focus on a) preserving the nuclear deterrant, b) intensively developing the RMA, c) maintaining a small expeditionary force so as to be able to protect national interests in small, weak countries and d) spend more on cultivating positive perceptions of the US. But since I’m not in the running to be President the choice is between Obama and McCain, and on that note a planned withdrawal from Iraq to focus on terrorism is somewhat better than continuing massive, costly deployments in Iraq and “muddling through” in Afghanistan.
Of course, given the current financial crisis which by some measures rivals the one preceding the Great Depression, questions have to be asked whether even Obama’s more modest imperial ambitions are sustainable in practice, and on that note…
2) Refuse to raise taxes
As house prices and the derivatives tied to them continue to plummet, bank liabilities soar and we are seeing bankruptcy after bankruptcy. Considering that there’s still plenty of distance before they hit the ground with a thud, things will get worse before they get better. And this isn’t just a financial problem. Faced with liquidity problems, the credit system have gone into cardiac arrest, with interbank lending drying up and “Main Street” businesses facing difficulties borrowing. Portents of recession are sprouting up all over, the latest indication being a 4.5% drop in durable goods orders for August, declining home sales and rising unemployment. If I were to guess, this is going to be comparable to Sweden’s severe recession in the early 1990’s (albeit if energy prices continue rising as fast as they have been during the past 7 years, there appears the spectre of a long depression).
Now generally speaking raising taxes during a recession is not a good idea, but with the budget deficit, debt levels and international confidence in the dollar as they are, there is little room for manouvre. (Not to mention the potential cost of the bail-out and falling revenues due to the looming recession). Obama’s proposal to raise taxes on the super-rich and closing corporate tax loopholes is far better than McCain’s potentially catastrophic continuation of the Bush-Cheney line. Aggressive investments into revitalizing the decrepit infrastructure and modernizing the energy system is costly, but vital for long-term strength and cannot be avoided any longer. McCain’s proposal to drill in Alaska is nothing but a populist gimmick, which will only make a pinprick upon US dependency on foreign oil, and even that only in a decade or so. Meanwhile the confrontational foreign policy and dearth of investment into alternative energy sources under a McCain Presidency would help contribute to soaring oil prices, and we all know who that will benefit.
3) How to lose friends and alienate people
The same qualities that induce moronic rednecks to vote for McCain repel America’s West European partners, its most important allies. And I don’t even want to think about what Sarah will get up to. Without them firmly on board, all it has left to counter Russia are the likes of The Medvedev Doctrine and American Strategy, the US now faces four geostrategic choices:
1. Attempt to make a settlement with Iran that would guarantee the neutral stability of Iraq and permit the rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces there. Iran is the key here. The Iranians might also mistrust a re-emergent Russia, and while Tehran might be tempted to work with the Russians against the Americans, Iran might consider an arrangement with the United States — particularly if the United States refocuses its attentions elsewhere. On the upside, this would free the U.S. from Iraq. On the downside, the Iranians might not want —or honor — such a deal.
2. Enter into negotiations with the Russians, granting them the sphere of influence they want in the former Soviet Union in return for guarantees not to project Russian power into Europe proper. The Russians will be busy consolidating their position for years, giving the U.S. time to re-energize NATO. On the upside, this would free the United States to continue its war in the Islamic world. On the downside, it would create a framework for the re-emergence of a powerful Russian empire that would be as difficult to contain as the Soviet Union.
3. Refuse to engage the Russians and leave the problem to the Europeans. On the upside, this would allow the United States to continue war in the Islamic world and force the Europeans to act. On the downside, the Europeans are too divided, dependent on Russia and dispirited to resist the Russians. This strategy could speed up Russia’s re-emergence.
4. Rapidly disengage from Iraq, leaving a residual force there and in Afghanistan. The upside is that this creates a reserve force to reinforce the Baltics and Ukraine that might restrain Russia in the former Soviet Union. The downside is that it would create chaos in the Islamic world, threatening regimes that have sided with the United States and potentially reviving effective intercontinental terrorism. The trade-off is between a hegemonic threat from Eurasia and instability and a terror threat from the Islamic world.
McCain basically wants all of the above – the war against terrorism, the war against Iran, the war against Russia (and against drugs, against China, against Chavez and Castro, etc). Obama shows signs of being able to compromise with Iran to reinforce positions in eastern Europe (i.e. No.1 and No.4).
Granted this essay makes simplistic assumptions, namely that Russia is intent upon reclaiming an empire, and I’m not really sure how the presence of US forces in eastern Europe are going to hinder Russia if it indeed is. (Even Yushenko is against foreign bases, including NATO/American, on Ukrainian soil, at least for now, and in any case the war there is fought via the media). But it does demonstrate well how cringeworthily McCain’s bark is much worse than his bite
In conclusion, McCain’s blustery toothless rhetoric can be laughed off, and even should he succeed in kicking Russia out of a few international institutions would be no great injury. Meanwhile, his neglect of investment in improving infrastructure and human capital and pathetic attempts to “muddle through” America’s geopolitical problems are going to supercharge US relative decline and should pave the road to the tombstone of American power on the Eurasian World Island within another decade.
As such, and rather paradoxically, Russia’s hawks are actually McCain’s best buddies. And they have the WMD to help him win. They can proclaim support for Obama.
Granted, I predicted in my other blog that Obama will almost certainly win. But of late I’ve been having my doubts. The whole sordid Palin affair has led to me believe that I have overestimated the intelligence of the American electorate. Obama may well be crushed between the Scylla of the Republican propaganda machine and the Charybdis of the Bradley effect. By praising Obama and condemning McCain, Putin, Medvedev and their buddies (Ahmadinejad, Chavez, etc), could tighten that vice on longterm American power even tighter.