La plus que ca change…

The traditional celebration of European success through superior fire-power and lack of native germ resistance Columbus Day, of which this would be the 515th anniversary, believed to be the day that Columbus’s mini-armada landed in the Bahamas, took place on the 12th of October, before our last liberal President (Nixon) started to make every holiday save the three confined to their calendar days (1 January, 4 July and 25 December) a Monday holiday (as a liberal, Nixon liked the idea of giving the workers some contiguous time off, which stimulated tourism to boot!). I spent part of my own Columbus Day weekend completing the allegedly fast (but in fact rather challenging… for me, anyway) Steamtown Marathon in PA yesterday, adding PA to CO, NY, VA, VT, CT, NJ, DE and NC, and leaving me a mere 41 to go… the same day things were warmer in Chicago, where tragedy struck during its marathon, and hit our nation’s capital as there was a fatality in the “Army Ten-Miler,” in which at least one TD friend was entered. I can’t even recall the last marathon I ran where the temp. didn’t hit at least the mid-70’s, and for most, temps went well into the 80’s… those still insistent on denying global warming may consider all of this just something else to deny… but I digress…
Thematic of this Columbus Day/European agression thing is this first-hand journalistic account sent to us from Bruce the Veep (who else?), documenting the current genocide now transpiring in the entirely-forgotten Central African Republic, a conflict so bad, that many in the C.A.R. are fleeing to neighboring Darfur for safety. And what is fueling such a horror in quite literally the middle of nowhere (and the geographic center of the African continent)? Why, European aggressors, in this case, the French military, still fresh from France’s role in facilitating last decade’s horrors in Rwanda, are keeping the world (or at least, former French colonies) safe for resource exploitation by French industrial concerns. If a few locals get in the way, by say, demanding compensation for their troubles… well, let’s see… paying millions of people fair compensation… or, buying a few attack helicopters (that can also prop out that sector of our industry while we’re at it…)? Hey– give me a hard one!
The French, while they are and should be singled out here for their particular brutality and for how effectively they are keeping their severe infliction of misery on millions of the world’s most vulnerable people a complete secret, are hardly alone in just making sure that resources their own industry needs– such as C.A.R.’s uranium for their nuclear power plants– are readily available. (Others are also in desperate need for resources in other troublesome places, such as the Chinese, who buy lotsa oil from Burma and Sudan (home of Darfur), though the Chinese often seem to behave less nastily toward these places than Westerers might!), and of course, the United States and our “vital, strategic interests” in the oil-rich Middle East; see, “Iraq”).
People have always been, and will go on, killing each other for resources, whether food or water, or farmland, or minerals, or oil, or whatever else is in short-supply somewhere, some time. This is not going to change anytime soon. While I am certainly making some kind of a point that the troubling hypocrisy about Western nations railing about human rights abuses by others, while themselves helping to slaughter civilians, propping up dictators, supporting or engaging in torture, etc. the broader point concerns (1) secrecy and (2) cost.
Until I read the Johann Hari account of the Central African Republic, I hadn’t even thought about that place since the time I read it changed from the “Central African Empire” back to the Central African Republic, probably decades ago. While with over 200 countries in the world, most will not resonate much at any given moment, I do at least try to be informed. But I had no idea what was raging there… just as most Americans have no idea that the death toll in the Congo’s civil war dwarfs most other current conflicts (including Darfur) for example. And while European complicity in the Rwandan genocide was suspected, Mr. Hari’s piece provides more evidence that foreign involvement– particularly from France– was deeper than previously thought. The secrecy in which this has been conducted is remarkable; then again, the United States is currently blessed with a government hellbent on secrecy itself. Was it Max Weber who said “secrecy is its own justification?” Just understand that if the government– any government– was up to anything good, it would want us to know about it. Big time.
The other area of concern is cost. Using military might to ensure access is arguably cheaper than paying full and fair value. Or is it? Over 20% of our government budget– and indeed, 5, 6, 7% of the American GDP goes to defense spending (more if one throws in “homeland security”). Yes, I understand that a significant portion of our economy goes to foreign trade (particularly oil and the inventory of Walmart), and its probably more than our defense outlay in gross terms. But the question, forgetting the incalculable moral cost, is whether these resources–which have limited or no value to the locals if they are stuck in the ground–would not be available anyway, through the magic of the free market, albeit without Western interention?
Many intelligent people have pointed out that the Middle Easterners themselves, for example, have every incentive to keep their oil flowing to the West… Saudi sand just doesn’t get the same price as Saudi oil. In no small part, our government insists that our military is needed to “maintain stability” in those locations in order to justify itself. In other words: the Cold War is over. Russia, while not exactly our friend, is no longer overtly hostile. China can barely project its force beyond its own borders, let alone towards us. The Europeans and Japanese are by and large close allies. Everyone else left is a rather minor irritant, certainly when compared to our foes of the past. Ah, but if the threat posed by Middle Easterners who occasionally manage to launch a terrorist attack here is wildly overblown, coupled with an insistence on expensive military hardware being deployed to the region to “control” this problem (and to “protect our vital, strategic interests in the region”), well… who can argue with spending great amounts of money “to protect ourselves”?
And that’s just it: we have taken this all for granted– not merely the question of whether we need a massive combat presence in Iraq, but whether we still need a giant blue water navy or a giant air force, both of which work best projecting force somewhere else. (Our army, which can arguably used for domestic defense if Canada or Mexico proved hostile or anyone else were capable of getting here and threatening us at that level, is actually pretty small by historical standards, and most definitely smaller than we require for our current military operations). Would oil be that much more expensive if our military weren’t heavily engaged in the Middle East? Would it be more expensive than the cost of keeping our military there?
Do I have an answer? I think the internet parlance response is “heh”. I’m really more trying to throw out the question, which I’ll phrase this way… Is our current insistence on “maintaining stability” in the Middle East through military means (I’ll confine it there) cost-effective (and for this, feel free to include the moral costs, and the human costs, of those killed, crippled or otherwise victimized, on all sides) compared to the possible alternatives.