One would expect that a ‘businessman’ in the Whitehouse would understand some fundamental concepts in strategic analysis that are taught in places like Wharton!
I know … I know, many in Washington would say foreign policy … indeed national policy is not precisely a business enterprise, but I respectfully disagree. At the end of the day, the whole purpose of establishing and executing on a policy is to provide greater national prosperity. It has clearly been shown, that this can only happen if the nation’s businesses prosper relative to their competitors globally.
In a hyper competitive world, business success is a function of a company’s profitability. Profits, can only be generated if a company leverages fundamental capabilities into (defendable) revenues and then profits. In a world where buyers have literally infinite buying options, winners ‘win’ business by exhibiting competitive advantages vis a vis other client options.
Competitive advantage(s) generally emerge from a business, an enterprise, a country … having unique sets of skills and resources that differentiate it. These are called core competencies – and it applies as much to ‘nations’ as companies!
I submit that the case for ‘dominating’ the middle east has no strategic value and leverages no fundamental competencies that the United States has (or wants to have in the future).
There was a time when oil was a critical commodity for U.S. national security, but that time has gone. U.S. has ample oil and gas resources that are available because of hydraulic fracking innovation. The U.S. is NOT dependent on oil imports any more. U.S. exports energy now. And, yes, U.S. has major global companies in the oil and gas sector, but they are now a smaller part of the U.S. economy than in the past. There are literally dozens of other sectors that generate more value.
There is no compelling case for U.S. involvement in the Middle East. But why is U.S. meddling in middle east?
There is a new argument as follows: If we control China’s energy supplies, or Europe’s for that matter, we will be able to dominate … be the senior Rooster! Really?? What an idiotic concept!
That’s like a 20th century …maybe even 19th century concoction. It doesn’t apply in the 21st century. Going forward “Big Data” is (and will remain) the most traded and most valuable commodity globally. Oil is being replaced in the information age! And in fact, renewables are replacing oil and gas at an extremely fast rate – to a point where it basically doesn’t matter. There are many days now where European countries are fully supported with renewable energy without a drop of oil used for electricity generation.
So how does it make sense to control the middle east… to control China or Russia for that matter, when trillions of dollars of new value are being created in the information economy. The top 10 IT companies are now worth more than the top 10 energy companies. And this has happened in the past 10 years! America’s resounding advantage is technology! That’s America’s first and foremost core competency.
Oh, you could say … but America’s a big country and it has many core competencies. And American companies dominate in many areas, thus government policy should not be directed or focused on one industry (tech) alone.
I don’t subscribe to this view; because, I submit that in EVERY industry where U.S. is dominant – including energy (oil, etc.) American companies that dominate globally do so because of their commitment to superior technology. The national core competency is ‘technology’! And technology intensity meets all the tests for a national core competency.
Let’s be clear what a core competency is. A core competency is a defining capability or advantage that distinguishes an enterprise or organization or nation from its competitors
Core competencies are the collective learnings, especially how-to co-ordinate diverse production skills and integrate multiple streams of technologies…core competence is communication, involvement and a deep commitment to working across boundaries…core competence does not diminish with use. Unlike physical assets, which do deteriorate over time, competencies are enhanced as they are applied and shared.
There are three tests to determine whether something is a core competence:
- First, a core competence provides potential access to a wide variety of fields (i.e. applications, markets etc.)
- Second, a core competence makes a significant contribution to the perceived benefits (attractiveness of the product, service, etc.)
- Third, a core competence is difficult for competitors to imitate because it is a complex harmonization of skills.
Some would argue that in fact America’s huge military capacity is a major core competency – as relevant as technology itself. I disagree.
The military is a tool. It’s a special tool, in a nation’s political tool kit. It’s a means to an end – NOT the end. You don’t go around picking fights because you have a great military. You pick fights because you are fighting someone for a resource that you must control.
And war in the middle east is a unique effort – and the skill base required to fight there does not really apply to fighting elsewhere on the planet. Thus, a military capacity to fight there is a futile effort and reapply doesn’t provide ‘accesses’ to a wide variety of other areas. I’m talking about dry – desert, and language skills … how does that help the U.S. in Guatemala or Korea?
So, we end up having many different militaries … and carrying a huge political tool kit … for what? What is it that we really want?
Oil and gas? Well we have plenty!
Control of the world’s natural resources? Why? To grab everyone by the balls! Again, one more time, physical resources are less and less relevant. Its Big Data, informational resources that are key. If you manage the world’s data, that’s more valuable than gold… oil … everything else.
These wars are distractions. The middle east is a distraction.
We don’t speak the languages, we don’t have the personnel, we don’t have on the ground intelligence, its far away, its expensive, we don’t understand the culture or history, and we have weird partners (the Saudi’s and Israelis). We have no legitimacy, and must rely in phony experts and intelligence from other countries to make any sorts of decisions … because we have no real knowledge of the region.
It’s ridiculous. We have no competency at all. And, by the way, we don’t need the resources out there to support any of our core competencies in the U.S. the only resource that has value is human capital from the region, but then the U.S. doesn’t want Muslims coming to America!
What are we fighting for? Pride? For Israel? Or the Brits? (Yes, we invaded Iraq, but the Brits have all the oil fields).
The Afghan conflict, is now the longest in U.S. history. Do we have the strategic patience to stick this war out for decades to come? What for?
The truth is, middle eastern conflicts have no military solution, and we cannot (and have not) added value to any place in the region. American involvement in the middle east is bankrupt.
The Iraq War cost the United States more than $3 trillion, according to the calculations of at least one Nobel prize-winning economist (that compares to 2003 Bush administration estimates that it would cost a mere $50 billion to $60 billion). The $3 trillion figure has some fancy economic effects in it, but the direct cost to the taxpayers was well into the trillions. Even if it was only a trillion or two, what do we have to show for it?
More than 4,400 U.S. military personnel lost their lives and another 32,000 were wounded in action in the Iraq fighting. That’s about double the number of U.S. casualties in Afghanistan. Of course, because of the 9/11 attacks on U.S. territory, Osama bin Laden’s base in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s refusal to relinquish bin Laden, the Afghan War is easier to justify as a war of defense or perhaps retaliation. Among the idiotic qualities of Operation Iraqi Freedom was the distraction from Afghanistan, as President Obama has often argued. Even that war, for which the justification was considerably better, is drifting toward an inconclusive conclusion.
Perhaps something in the neighborhood of 1 million Iraqis died as a result of the U.S. decision to liberate them from the tyrant Saddam Hussein (although that number is easily disputed, it’s still rising). You could oversimplify the costs and benefits. And it is normal, natural and in some sense hideous and amoral that we focus so much more on our own casualties than on those of the enemy. But, of course, a huge portion of the Iraqi dead were not our enemies. They were neither soldiers of Saddam Hussein nor terrorists. They were just Iraqis who were in the wrong time and place when this war blew things up.
The United States often likes to justify its wars as part of its (self-assigned) mission of spreading democracy. Yes, elections have occurred in Iraq, certainly much more legitimate than the one-candidate-allowed-and-he-gets-100-percent-of-the-vote elections that Saddam used to stage. But Iraq has not been turned into anything that could seriously be called a stable democracy. Who knows what the future might bring? But the nation seethes with ethnic, sectarian, tribal and ideological grievances. All of the post-war governments have been corrupt. Hundreds of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars intended for post-war “reconstruction” of Iraq have been wasted or stolen.
Operation Iraqi Freedom failed to send a wave of democracy cascading across the Middle East, as the war’s architects had envisioned. You can try to credit the Iraq War for the recent “Arab spring,” although it seems like a reach. It remains to be seen how many stable democracies, if any, will emerge from the “spring.”
From a purely U.S.-national-self-interest point of view, it’s hard to argue that — if the day ever comes when Mideast countries have governments that reflect the real sentiment of their populations — those governments will be friendly to the United States or its interests or its main ally in the region, Israel.
Personally, I think the United States should promote democracy more by words, and aid, and alliances with other democracies, and by our example, and less by guns and bombs. Frankly, running elections is not one of America’s core competencies either. In my life time, 4 elections were stolen fraudulently in America. Nixon bugged the Democratic campaign headquarters and had to resign. Reagan, ran a clandestine program to keep U.S. embassy hostage to humiliate carter (now called the October Surprise). “W” had his hanging chads and disqualified voters in Florida. And Trump is elbow deep in a Russian hacking scam in DC and 21 states. We know nothing about how to hold fair, and clean elections, to pretend to teach anyone anything about democracy.
The weapons of mass destruction that comprised the chief public justification for the war were, to put it politely, never found – because they did not exist. The murderous thug Saddam certainly bears a significant portion of the blame for his refusal to cooperate with international weapons inspection regimes. The ridiculous cat-and-mouse games Saddam played with the various inspection teams — often, for example, requiring advanced before inspectors were allowed access to suspected weapons sites — surely contributed to the reasonable suspicion that he was hiding something. And, it turns out, what he was hiding was that he had no WMD nor active programs to acquire them.
So why is U.S. meddling in middle east? We can’t seem to add value to the region! How can meddling in the region be a core competency or feed into a core competency?
Fourteen years ago, America’s warrior-president George W. Bush declared victory from the USS Abraham Lincoln, promising an era of security, freedom, prosperity and democracy in Iraq, but it doesn’t take much effort to see that none of that ever materialized/
The invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq brought insecurity and subjugation to foreign powers, invited poverty and destitution, and spawned instead of one, dozens of mini dictators.
“Today, we are certain that Bush meant the opposite when he made those promises,” Abu Tahsin, a man who had his 15 minutes of fame when he appeared hitting a statute of Saddam with his shoes in 2003 following the fall of Baghdad, told The New Arab. “I am truly sorry for my excessive optimism at the time, because Iraq has been taken centuries back.” Even those (once) in favor of intervention agree.
Liberating Iraq from Saddam’s regime was “like curing cancer but killing the patient,” Samir Ali, editor of The Voice of Freedom published by US forces following the occupation, told The New Arab. “Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed, millions are living in tents and the country is in a dismal situation,” he added.
Ruined by the numbers: Up to 430,000 Iraqis were killed between 2003 and early 2017, the figures show, with the casualties concentrated in Baghdad, Diyala, Anbar, Salah al-Din, Nineveh and Babel provinces.
The worst fatalities were recorded in 2006, during which 59,000 people were killed in terror attacks and killings by militias, compared to 38 to 43,000 Iraqis killed in the first year of occupation.
The number of people injured in the same period was around 620,000, a third of whom receiving life-changing injuries. Up to 58,000 Iraqis remained missing by December 2016, and 271,000 detained, including around 187,000 who are yet to be referred to the courts.
Up to 3.4 million Iraqis are displaced outside the country in 64 nations, added to 4.1 million internally displaced persons including 1.7 million living in camps across Iraq. Up to 5.6 million Iraqis aged 0 to 17 years are recorded as orphaned, while 2 million Iraqi women aged between 14 and 52 are recorded as widowed.
Up to 35 percent live below the poverty line (less than $5 per day). Up to 6 percent are addicted to narcotic substances. And up to 9 percent of children (below 15 years of age) are in the work force
Up to 6 million Iraqis are illiterate in a country of roughly 15 million. Unemployment has soared to an average of 31 percent, with the highest rates seen in Anbar, Diyala and Babel, followed by Baghdad,
There is now only one hospital bed per 1,000 Iraqis. Free healthcare is a thing of the past. Nearly 40 diseases and epidemics have spread across the country, including cholera, polio and hepatitis while cancer and congenital disease rates have skyrocketed.
13,328 factories have been shut down since the occupation. Iraq now relies on imports for food, building materials, and various necessary supplies. And once agriculturally self-sufficient, Iraq’s farmed areas have dropped to 12 million dunums from 48 million.
The same figures show Iraq needing 2.6 million housing units to cope with its housing crisis. In education, 9,000 schools are partially or totally damaged out of 14,658 schools, which is about 11,000 schools less than Iraq needs to accommodate its school-age children.
Financially, Iraq’s debt has hit $124 billion held by 29 different nations, the IMF, and six Western oil companies. Interestingly, Iraq is now home to 126 local and foreign security companies, and 73 different
Almost everyone in Iraq now regrets the invasion! One leader said: “Saddam Hussein was no good man, and the people were waiting to be rid of him. But those who came after Saddam made the people wish they could return to his days.”
And Afghanistan is no better.
Over a 12-year period (2002 to 2014), the country has reportedly cultivated 1,868,000 hectares of land and produced a total of 69,200 metric tons of opium poppy. In 2013 and 2014, the cultivation and production of opium poppy in Afghanistan reached record levels despite millions of dollars spent by the international community on eradication, alternative livelihoods, and law enforcement programs.
In Afghanistan, many sub-national government officials, particularly law enforcement agents, in key strategic border provinces and border crossing points, are inextricably associated with drug trafficking networks and transnational criminals. Given Afghanistan’s precarious situation, the central government in Kabul does not have the ability to oversee and monitor these rogue elements.
Over the past 13 years, the government has systematically failed to disarm their armed groups or to dismantle their drug trafficking networks; indeed, the government, for the most part, has facilitated their growth and strength. While Taliban and other anti-government elements provide protection to the farmers to cultivate poppies in those areas that they control, in many border provinces government officials and their networks have facilitated the trafficking of narcotic drugs from Afghanistan. Many claim that the involvement of senior government officials in the drugs is more serious than the Taliban’s own connection with drug cultivation and production.
The indirect interaction among the rogue government elements and their networks at the sub-national level, drug traffickers, warlords, and the Taliban insurgents inside Afghanistan has sustained a cycle of violence, extremism and corruption.
During the past decade, senior government officials at the sub-national level and drug traffickers have managed to form and strengthen their own networks, stretching back to senior political officials at the center of Afghan state institutions (line ministries of the executive branch, judiciary, and parliament). Some police units and officers that were supported by the international community to fight drug trafficking either lost their jobs or were shifted to less important, administrative positions. One police officer who used to work for a counter narcotics intelligence unit in northeastern Afghanistan believed that drug-lords have the power to sack any government official or police officer involved in counter narcotics:
Afghanistan and its nascent democratic institutions are being sucked into the vortex of the drug industry – much of which ends up in America itself. Just by the way, deaths and overdoses in the U.S. linked to opiates has sky rocketed and is now considered an epidemic.
Afghanistan’s national security remains highly fragile, with the Taliban insurgency pummeling Kabul and other key cities with waves of suicide attacks and other military skirmishes on the periphery while the political leadership struggles to maintain a national unity government. Warlords, drug kingpins, corrupt officials, and religious extremists who either spent substantial amounts of money to support one candidate during the presidential elections or simply jumped on the bandwagons of one of the ethnically divided camps, are busy arranging the appointment of their cronies to key government positions at the national and sub-national levels. This is further compounded by certain incumbent security officials who are using the status quo to expand their stakes in the narcotics trade.
The day the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, total opiate production was below 1 ton a year! Basically, Afghanistan’s been turned into a narco-state – by the U.S. and its allies.
Is this a core-competency America can be proud of?
If we can’t add value, we need to get the hell out. It’s that simple.
And now with talk of imminent war with Iran, what exactly is the U.S. planning for Iran? What does it hope to achieve …for Iran or indeed for itself?