Meltdown in the Middle East is intensifying and spreading

Revolutions unfold in nations where our New Millennium, bi-partisan foreign policy tilted toward “regime change” since late 2001. Photo: AP/Egypt

New York, July 8, 201 3 —Fresh from celebrating Independence Day at home, revolutions unfold in nations where our New Millennium, bi-partisan foreign policy tilted toward “regime change” since late 2001.

Though riots are presently far away, some fear we may soon reap at home, seeds of discord our policy-makers have sown abroad. Should we actually worry and prepare or just bask indolently in summer sunshine?

The Economic Roots of Continuing Upheaval

At present, eyes rest upon Egypt where casualties mount daily. True, “hindsight is 20/20”; however, can we honestly say that Americans vigorously held informed debate about our realistic options, or did we peremptorily intervene there in February 2011 and again just last week?

We need remember the vaunted “Arab Spring” some hailed first took root in Tunisia, when one man set himself alight to protest corruption and the abiding obstacles to finding productive work.

Employment remains tough to get in Tunisia—sadly, self-immolation continues in that small nation.

Close by in Southern Europe, unemployment stands erect, unflinching, and unbowed before all manner of government policy.

Here in America, headlines bleated “progress” following cursory review of latest unemployment statistics. Closer analysis of the latest report from our Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that net growth in employment in June arose when a jump in part-time jobs more than offset a decline in full-time jobs.

Across the planet, the supply of labor vastly exceeds demand—actually; Karl Marx correctly understood as far back as 1844 what is bound to happen when there is a persistent labor glut:

“If the supply greatly exceeds the demand, then one section of the workers sinks into beggary or starvation. The existence of the worker is, therefore, reduced to the same condition of every other commodity. The worker has become a commodity, and he is lucky if he can find a buyer. And the demand on which the worker’s life depends is regulated by the whims of the wealthy and the capitalists.”

Incomes fairly earned satisfying intrinsic demand for goods and services are the essential support for all economic value.

Whether in North Africa and the Middle East where workers are relatively inexpensive but not well trained or in Europe, America and Japan where they are expensive compared to world scale, a persistent and growing structural imbalance between supply and demand for labor imperils efforts to forge inclusive governance models everywhere.

Reviewing the Bidding: “Nation-Building” on Shaky Foundations

Reared in abundance for decades, Americans have trouble understanding that too many nations have particular and vexing internal challenges.

A counterexample starting in the 1960s was Japan-bereft of some essential resources; this humbled former enemy rapidly became an economic powerhouse. Then in 1990, the Japanese miracle faltered—following a multi-year struggle to resurrect growth, a devastating tsunami roared inward in March 2011. Quickly afterward, stories appeared explaining that ancient residents of this island nation tried to warn of dangers building on the Japanese coast.

Some nations have exceptionally strong economic foundations and manage to evolve governance approaches that assure personal safety and protect property without squelching liberty.

America was built at enormous cost over decades by a heterogeneous mixture of settlers who sought religious freedom and economic advancement. We assume at our great peril that humans elsewhere share these goals congruently or live today in nations where realizing either objective is actually feasible.

We should admit that 21st century experiments in nation-building have yet to yield encouraging results.

In Afghanistan since 2001, we spent so much blood and treasure—now we re-engage the Taliban as we retreat to complete an exit before mid-term elections in November 2014.

In Iraq since 2003, we have so far failed to forge a lasting peace in a nation, unlike Afghanistan, that has substantial economic resources.

For the damage that de-stabilizing nations causes outside our borders and for the dangerous precedents it may set at home, the complete political spectrum should pause for a “time out” of sober introspection. Perhaps fences do make abundant sense in warmer climates that for the moment appear so much more volatile than towards the poles.

Charting a New Path through Coming Seasons of Discontent

When stubborn facts are too jarring, examples set in fiction may instruct as these lines from inspirational 18th century French philosopher Voltaire illustrate for us today:

“Optimism,” said Cacambo, “What is that?”

“Alas!” replied Candide, “It is the obstinacy of maintaining that everything is best when it is worst”.

In baking summer heat, American government officials still break billions of eggs to serve nation-building omelets few in the Islamic Middle East truly find nourishing.

To make progress, Americans must concentrate upon understanding and defining our national interests. We must finally be realistic about the potential any government may have to do what individuals will not do for themselves.

Is the form of government we practice in America truly portable to nations where Islam is so deeply rooted?

Can resource-starved countries hope to advance while competing in global markets?

How badly has America’s own lurching and erratic path since 1998 eroded our ability to lead by example?

In July 2013, it is well past time to ask probing questions and learn from evident mistakes.

Competing variants of Islamic faith do not accept American and Western wisdom that secular laws and precedents hold paramount authority. This difference in view is neither trivial nor appropriately appreciated by those who carry forward America’s foreign policies.

Furthermore, gigantic financially reckless governments have not truly “worked” well since 1998, even in rich nations whose populations realistically can now compete worldwide.

Aristotle wisely noted:

“To the size of the state there is a limit, as there is to plants, animals and implements, for none of these retain their facility when they are too large.”

American government has grown well beyond limits that make abiding sense. We risk all when we stubbornly stoke economic failure while relentlessly hiking geo-political tensions.

Our modern history began in 1776—let us hope it will not end abruptly in convulsions of our own making. 


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Charles Ortel

Charles Ortel became a lapsed member of the silent majority in August 2007 when he began alerting the public to dangers posed by structural changes in the global economy. Since then, Charles has appeared in the print, radio and television media with increasing frequency. Brass Tacks will attempt to offer non-partisan perspective on factors contributing to the unresolved, burgeoning crisis and discuss potential solutions. Graduated from Horace Mann School, Yale College and Harvard Business School, Charles tries to learn each day.  

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