Wednesday, September 3, 2014

“You are not going to succeed . . .”

“The chicken that came home to roost from the Syrian debacle is called ISIS. It is not Al Qaeda. But, as the journalistPatrick Cockburn has noted, Al Qaeda ‘is an idea rather than an organization, and this has long been the case.’ ISIS grew through American weakness — the setting of objectives and red lines in Syria that proved vacuous. But the deepest American and Western defeat has been ideological. As Ghaffar Hussain [the managing director of the Quilliam Foundation, a British research group that seeks to tackle religious extremism] said, ‘If you don’t have a concerted strategy to undermine their narrative, their values, their worldview, you are not going to succeed. Everyone in society has to take on the challenge.’” [The Making of a Disaster, Roger Cohen, The New York Times, 25th Aug 2014]

“The list of American errors is long: Bush’s ill-conceived and bungled war in Iraq; a failure to deal with the fact that two allies, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, have been major sources and funders of violent Sunni extremism; an inability to seize opportunity in Egypt, home to nearly a quarter of the world’s Arabs, and so demonstrate that Arab societies can evolve out of the radicalizing confrontation of dictatorship and Islamism; a prolonged spate of dithering over the Syrian war during which Obama declared three years ago that ‘the time has come for President Assad to step aside’ without having any plan to achieve that; a lack of resolve in Syria that saw Obama set a red line on the use of chemical weapons only to back away from military force when chemical weapons were used; an inability to see that no one loves an Arab vacuum like jihadi extremists, and a bloody vacuum was precisely what Obama allowed Syria to become; and inattention, until it was too late, to festering sectarian conflict in a broken Iraqi society left to its fate by a complete American withdrawal.”

I read that piece from The New York Times on the day my wife and I were at The National WWII Museum in New Orleans. And had the chance to listen to the words of Eisenhower: “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.” My wife’s reaction: that’s a man of character. It was from the historic speech the free world did not want to hear – and, thankfully, didn't. Hastily scribbled on piece of paper, Allied supremo General Dwight D. Eisenhower jotted down what he planned to say had D-Day . . . been a disaster. The little-known document, known as 'In Case of Failure', was quickly drafted by the commander of Operation Overlord in the event of the landings ending in bloody failure. The 66-word script reveals the U.S. general and Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill would have withdrawn the thousands of troops from the Normandy beaches rather than let them fight to the death.” [Leon Watson, Mail Online/, 5th Jun 2014]

The big picture indeed is history repeats itself. If the cost of the First World War or the Great War turned the average American into an isolationist, the Iraq war and that in Afghanistan did too. And their consequences and impact on the American psyche gave Roger Cohen footing to write the above article. In both cases, the Americans were less prepared than they would like to be. In 1933 when FDR was elected president, the Great Depression had taken its toll. And the country was not equipped for war. In 2014 despite the turmoil in the world, America notwithstanding its mammoth military capability “was not equipped” because of its economic woes. In short, an isolationist and economically poor Uncle Sam is no better today than in 1933.

PHL may be that far from Ukraine or the Middle East but my Eastern European friends are directly affected by the Putin adventure in that part of the world. Of course, his message of nationalism earns him the support of the Russians – but the similarity to the Hitler’s nationalism message was palpable as my wife and I sat through the different presentations of the events leading to WWII at the museum.

Read recent reports from Ukraine where my friends do business: “Consumers were suffering from UAH (Ukrainian currency) devaluation, inflation and military operations in Donbas . . . Fortunately in Lugansk and Donetsk we have strong and self-driven distributors who keep operating even when others have stopped their businesses . . . Some companies . . . had paused their shipments to Ukraine – or if they have gotten back, raised their prices by 25% . . . The market looks very unstable so there is huge potential if one is smart with pricing strategy and has strong distributors . . . Despite the military confrontation in Donbas we continue sales there unlike in Crimea, which currently is shut for business.”

Will the average American be able to put his nose to the grindstone and do the supposedly impossible like they did to get into WWII when push comes shove? Japan Inc. was reckoned to cripple Corporate America yet it was Japan than went through the lost decade. Unfortunately the US may be going through its own lost decade counting from the financial crisis of 2008.

News items: Goldman Sachs, U.S. agency in mortgage settlement worth $1.2 billion, Reuters, 22nd Aug 2014; Bank of America has agreed to a $16.65 billion deal with federal and state authorities, The New York Times, 21st Aug 2014; J.P. Morgan, U.S. Settle for $13 Billion, The Wall Street Journal, 19th Nov 2013; Citigroup to pay $7 billion to settle U.S. mortgage probe, Reuters, 14th July 2014. Do they represent a mammoth guilt trip like The Economist argues – and bad for the rule of law and capitalism? And is it also human if not American nature of overcorrecting, like a driver oversteering in the other direction to avoid a collision or a similar hazard? And given the whole world suffered from the greed courtesy of bankers, something had to give, beyond Madoff, especially when white-collar crimes have proved difficult to prosecute as in establishing and pinning beyond reasonable doubt on individuals [e.g., SAC Capital’s (the big hedge fund) Steve Cohen is yet to be criminally charged though 8 of his lieutenants have been charged and 6 have pleaded guilty] in a typical large enterprise even when the veil of corporate fiction is pierced because the decision-making process could be collegial?

Poll: Amid foreign crises, more Americans support U.S. action, Susan Page, USA Today, 28th Aug 2014. “In a new USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll, Americans see the world as a more dangerous place and the U.S. role as diminished. Even with a war-weary public, that has helped convince a growing number that it's time for the United States to do more around the globe.”

“After years of retrenchment in the wake of two costly wars, a new USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll finds that Americans increasingly are open to a larger U.S. role in trying to solve problems around the world. The public remains conflicted over just how much the United States can and should do to address global challenges. But the initial shifts in public opinion could make it easier for President Obama to order more muscular options in striking Islamic State terrorists in Syria and Iraq. If the trend continues, it could help shape the 2016 campaign to succeed him . . . ‘This runs counter to this conventional wisdom that the public is isolationist,’ says Bruce Jentleson, a former State Department adviser in the Obama administration who is now a professor at Duke and a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. ‘It's not trigger-happy, but it's also not totally gun-shy.’”

What’s the point if not the principle? Call it maturity thus the self-criticism and taking personal responsibility even beyond one's borders when the free world needs fixing and for which leadership is called for and others have the lesser capacity – and why Pope Francis supports limited action against Islamic State, similar to the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s. [National Catholic Reporter, 22nd Aug 2014]

We may see the faults in others yet we can’t be less than mature ourselves if we are to move PHL forward as an economy and nation? “Everyone in [PHL] society has to take on the challenge.”

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