16 December 2009

around the world in 365 days

And the things you will see

Even I missed a couple of these.

1) Melting Ice. Saw this come up. Even Colbert covered the hubbub over the coming war to claim stuff under the ice. Still, in the flurry of speculation over melting ice means for everything from climate legislation and global warming to migration patterns and polar bear populations, I would imagine not many people thought of the fact that it has the potential to change global trade routes and cause some jockeying over present territorial claims to resources. But since it did involve the two superpowers of the 20th century, it's pretty hard to say that the prospect of what this means for foreign policy in a measure of great power strength flew through unnoticed. It just wasn't really covered in relation to what those great powers should be doing with that strength in order to prevent it. With the implicit assumption that they should care enough to do so. If I'm looking at this right, neither the US or Russia has a really compelling reason to be concerned about melting ice if that's all the problem is (naturally the cause of melting ice may be more regarded as disconcerting than the actual fact of it).

2) Iraq v Iraq/Kurds. Old story in a way. I suppose the lack of present violence, the lack of an obvious Bush cronyism over oil, and the pressing importance of events in Iran and Afghanistan has knocked Iraq back to page 10 news, if at all. But I've noticed a steady stream of "bomb kills 10, bomb kills 30" stories. They're just not killing Americans very often so we rarely pay attention. The problem with this being a non-issue for us is that it should very well mean something regarding our present strategy in Afghanistan. Namely, that it confuses our military mission to be one of "pacification" rather than "pursuit of international terrorists", and it then diagnoses the level of pacification as one where there is a diminished level of actual violence without really acknowledging the potential causes of violence. Afghanistan the sectarian/tribalism situation is even more obvious than in Iraq, where there are 3 main groups and to which the lack of social and legal integration between those groups in spite of relative peacefulness should give us a hint as to how well the "surge" strategy works. It does work in regards not having many deaths. It would work if our options including long-term occupation or state-sponsorship with large scale public works (on a Marshall Plan scale). Since that's not our declared and supported agenda, it fails miserably to achieve something in a quick enough time frame to merit supporting it. It is possible that a strategy like this might have made Afghanistan a better place by now had it been implemented after we essentially conquered the place with special operations and air power. Except that wasn't our goal when we conquered the place so it wasn't implemented. Retroactively applying it isn't all that great an idea because it now simply fuels opposition and resentment and creates "terrorism" that doesn't so much object to American imperialism in the Bin Laden critical way but objects to a "foreign presence" in the same way that we might object if a hypothetical army arrived and started wandering around occasionally dropping bombs on us. That's not all we do there yes, but that's more or less how we are perceived and unless we were able to change those perceptions immediately, we are not really going to succeed in changing them later on after many thousands of people have died reinforcing them.

3) Not sure how big a deal this is. I did know they've had conflicts before over Tibet. I don't think either country is all that interested in fighting the other. China has us, Russia, Pakistan, Taiwan, and the mess in Korea/Japan all as regional issues. India has Pakistan and Afghanistan, plus China. Both countries have much more focus on stable economic growth than wartime footings. But the level of sabre rattling over these mountainous regions in Central Asia, along with the continued shellings and squabbles over Kashmir, does mean that some precautionary steps between the nuclear powers involved are prudent. Given the recalcitrance with which Israeli settlements will be stopped as a matter of politics (as in, there isn't enough backbone in our government to tie our weapons and aid to following some of our rules or advice by the Israeli government), it might be sensible for us to decide to try to help resolve these impossible territorial disputes instead. I'd certainly say a Nobel Peace Prize is warranted if somebody negotiated a reasonable and potentially lasting settlement over either. Maybe even if the person doing so was also engaged in two escalated wars elsewhere (in part because the Kashmir question in particular would help us scale back in Afghanistan with fewer risks and costs to our own security, though those risks and costs are to my thinking already extremely low).

4) Housing bubble 2.0. I'm not sure I agree with the sentiments that housing speculation killed the radio star here, but whatever green shoots we're seeing in the housing sector did seem like they're premature and silly. I still think that the areas that saw the greatest increases/declines are above the trend line of growth for that sector, which means they'll probably have room yet to shrink. The downside effect is what that does to actual home values in more sustainable areas as people losing their shirts on mortgages that went from bad to worse, and some which went from decent to disaster, cannot move out to escape the maelstrom.
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