Monday, June 07, 2004

Sorry for this rather short post, but somehow I lost time in which I could complete it.
It was going to be about Niall Ferguson's [NYU page out of date] television programme American Colossus [the book].

Ferguson is a member of the leather jacket brigade, ardently refusing to become the patched tweed-jacketed academic. As the latter is believed to be part of a system of pauperising, modest obtuseness, it might be suggested that Ferguson is the polar opposite as denoted by his apparel. He has made himself unpopular with some of his fellow academics by demonstrating a publicity-aware mercenary spirit (although only a certain sort of academic could think that using one's job to earn money was a contemptible action). Perhaps he is too aware of his own glories, but he has the ability and opportunity to popularise socio-political theories, or at least prompt related thoughts. This cannot be a universally bad thing.

But I'm getting distracted from the main point - the programme that prompted this posting. Other than missing the first quarter of it [I'm guessing American wish for expansion, British refusal due to treaties with the natives, problems over taxation, American War of Independence (Revolutionary War?), colonisation of a continent, including gaining other countries' colonies, and forays elsewhere] the programme seemed both enthusiastic and damning.

For example, one recurring theme was the American government's lack of commitment to it's engagements. In the Korean and Vietnamese wars, the US fights over a fixed battle-zone. But in both of these support for the opposition was coming in from outside this zone. As anyone who has played any war-game will tell you, you can't win by waiting the skirmishes to come - they keep coming. Swapping pawns does not weaken the enemy. If you want to win, you have to remove the supply chains. This means bombing the industrial cities, torpedoing the Atlantic convoys [1]. Therefore to win you need to take out the connections from the opposing powers. Unless you can create a ring around the state at war, you have to attack the sponsors of the war. In the above wars that means damaging China and Russia. This kill the hive mentality may not be popular [and it might only require the shock of a warning shot to achieve the effect, 2], but is effective and probably necessary for winning.

Not that I'm saying Shanghai ought to have been nuked, merely if victory was required, then it might have been necessary. It all depends on how necessary those wars were.

[1] One of the main reasons Germany didn't win power in Western Europe was that Pittsburgh was out of range. And the area of German rule spread too quickly for its resources [including humans].

[2] Although restricted defeats tend not end well. They usually end in "the second X war", where X might be something like Gulf or World.

Though he mentioned an interesting concept - whether one can create colonies without large numbers of colonisers. America being the land of the huddled masses escaping the rest of world, very few Americans are willing to leave it to make a new [better] life elsewhere. One of the few examples where this might happen is Israel. Perhaps I can see their point.

So America feels uncomfortable about being colonial [but does it anyway]. She[3] apparently lacks the attitude required for colonisation and the problems incurred by such action [especially in the light of CNN]. She also lacks the emigrants needed to prop up a colony. Which leaves one mode of achieving successful colonisation [4] - money. Bribery on a grand enough scale will pretty much buy the world. Using bribery to mean any [perceived] gain provided to achieve a suggested result, and much of the colonising process fits into this category. New infrastructure, new hospital, new school, new presidential jet? Fine, we'll fund it, just don't forget who did. Oh and by the way, those pesky oil-reserves of yours...

[3] Are countries she? I think so, but now I'm not sure. But working on the model of ships, cars and of things men love being she's, I'm guessing yes.
Pensions and healthcare crisis.

[4] Not necessary the "we came, we saw, we conquered" meaning - I'm using this as term to include the nurturing of suitable local regimes, promotion of western education, culture and standards, and flexibility on the part of the locals. In other words, a certain sort of diplomacy that America has been experimenting with for generations.

So one fairly successful way of getting power and influence, and so controlling countries, governments and people, is through buying power. Works fine assuming you have enough money. And at this point, certain factors start popping up. Very large external deficit? On it's own, not that worrying, as that's how economies sometimes have to work nowadays. Strong likelihood of rising interest rates? Oh. Rapidly aging population, with the children of a population boom hitting [a full and active] retirement? Worrying and worsening pensions and healthcare commitments? A government pandering to popular whim, lowering taxes and raising retirement and healthcare benefits? How far can the deficit grow? Bear in mind continents do not get repossessed, and countries cannot declare bankruptcy. This could get a little tricky.

Better hope Iraq becomes a very beneficial trading partner, because there might not be time to make another country into a proto-colony. So how about it Mr and Mrs Average Joe of Carbondale, Illinois? The same weather as Israel, but with [statistically] less gunfire. The land of milk and honey, and possibly tomatoes on a good day, ambushes and tank-drivers permitting.

I think I may have wandered off the point a little [such as neglecting the original point that spreading liberalism (through empires) is not inherently bad]. Oh well.

A Google search turns up some interesting things (not least a lot of plagiarism of articles about him).
A review of the book to accompany the programme by the Guardian
Contributor to, and editor of, boxmind - a collection of presentations/lectures by assorted academics. An interesting concept, but they want money for it.
An interview in The Atlantic [whatever that is]. The question using NF's stages of American attempted colonisation are interesting, especially given the current activity in Iraq [although his answer shows the man definitely has a distinct ego].

Most of this posting is thoughts stimulated by Niall Ferguson's programme, and as such is a mix of his views, my paraphrased versions of his views, and my views - although don't ask me which is which. I think there are some interesting points, but also some slightly odd suggestions. I need to think about this more. [I find myself half agreeing with some of his thoughts, and then being very embarrassed when I realise what I'm thinking].

And maybe this post isn't that short.


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