Friday, November 2, 2018

CDR Salamander: From Berlin, Beijing, to Brasilia – a New Era is Setting Up

Though human nature and geography are generally constants through history, there are pivot points where the needs, wants, and desires of people and the leaders of the nations they inhabit cause a change in the course of history.

We are clearly in one of those pivot points of how our world works.

Whatever the “Post Cold War Period” was, it’s long over. When did it end? Somewhere between the attacks of 2001 and the election of Barak Obama in 2008.

As I’ll outline below, much of what some called a new-era in the recent past were not quite right, they just saw the ending chapters of the age of their lifetime.

Though the press is obsessed with President Trump defining a change we are seeing, that is a classic case of mal-educated Amerocentrism. The shift started before him. He is just a symptom, not a cause. It isn’t even an American phenomenon. If anything we are lagging the global trend.

What period started to come to an end at the start of this century? The end of the post-Cold War as a period by itself? I don't quite buy it. There is a lot of talk of an end to the post-WWII, “Liberal World Order” (LWO). I think that might be right.

The LWO began at the end of WWII. The period after the fall of the Soviet Union that people call as the Post-Cold War Era wasn't really an era. It was either the final or the penultimate chapter of the long running LWO that the Cold War was just a longer chapter of. Even while the Soviet Union was on its death bed we saw the next chapter, AKA Bush41’s “New World Order” (NWO).

One could argue the NWO was the penultimate chapter, and 2001-2008 the final chapter of the LWO.

Hard to say right now, but if forced, I’d put my chips on that argument.

The NWO lasted less than a decade, if that. It was a period of unchallenged American dominance, but that rode on the back of the “The Liberal World Order” built in the post-WWII period.

What I would call the final chapter, somewhere from the attacks of September 2001 and the newly elected President Obama's apology tour and welcoming of a rising China, I'm not sure - but it marked a shift to something new. The pivot is not yet complete - it is a slow turn that took awhile to get here.

The last two chapters of the LWO saw the falling apart of those structures – the EU, ascendency of Western culture, extra-national international legal bodies, American dominance of the high seas - that defined the success of the old age. The vacuum left behind by them, and the fragility of remaining ones like NATO, is feeding change.

This new era is a movement of returns, reckoning, and realization. Strangely, end of the LWO can probably can be traced back to the Muslim world. They were an the early adopter or canary in the coal mine of the structural culmination of the LWO. There you find the first place where the assumptions of the ruling Western elite began to fail.

Just look at the pictures of Cairo and Kabul in the 1960s and 1970s. Western dress, cultural norms, secularism, and political systems (socialist, capitalist, or a mixture of both) dominated. At the end of the 1970s the wave crested first there when you saw decades of progress for women in the public space begin to retreat from Islamabad to Alexandria.

Those were indications that the West had lost its confidence and its appeal. Once that support goes soft, everything it underpins weakens. Much of the weakening started with the anti-Western efforts in our own universities and popular culture. Jesse Jackson’s “Hey, hey, ho, ho; Western Civ has got to go” was just one of a long series of notes to the outside world that things were well along the way to being not quite right. 

If you value Western values of tolerance and progress, how do you expect them to grow and expand abroad when you cannot support them at home? In their absence, something will fill the void.

What will it be? I think too much is in flux, too many assumptions false to really know – but whatever it is, it is forming right in front of us. Some aspects and characteristics of our new era are revealing themselves bit by bit.

Here are three items in the mix.

Berlin - Enough Self-loathing:

It is difficult for Americans to understand the German national mindset. From the end of the Franco-Prussian War to the end of WWII, the national record was a horror show for a people who for centuries contributed so much to Western culture, industry, and advancement.

For obvious reasons, the German establishment's political body remains sensitive to a wide variety of triggers, and they over-compensate. Even though they had already festering crime and internal security problems imported mostly from Asia Minor and North Africa over decades, the former East German Merkel took over from the SDP’s Russian toy Schröder, ruled well, and then decided to take Germany somewhere she didn't want to go.

Though her CDU/CSU was right of center for their politics, Merkel was more in line with center-left American Democrat – but with less patriotism to the point of refusing to wave the national flag.

As a by-product of working out her generation's German's national self-loathing, she invited millions of military age economic migrants from mostly Muslim nations who had little desire or history to assimilate – much less have skills needed in the modern German state. She even accepted the eventual forced change of their national character.

Along with the rest of her internationalist peers, she scoffed at the concerns of the German people – or at best was willfully blind to them. It was bad enough that – being that there was no place for their concerns to be addressed to the left – an ever growing percentage of the German people moved right to the AfD outside established parties, and inside the CDU/CSU moved to undermine Merkel.

As Germany was part of the EU, Merkel’s call for millions of migrants all of a sudden became an EU wide problem. All around Germany, this helped accelerate and already growing populist movement in Poland, Hungary, Italy, France, UK, and elsewhere.

The internationalist elite of Europe’s contempt for their own people and self-loathing of their culture was too much for their own indigenous populations. Merkel, who could have ruled for the rest of her natural life, is now in the process of a long goodbye. She says she will leave in 2021, but I don’t think time will be that patient with her.

The center throughout Europe is under stress. In some nations, established parties are trying to fill the void by moving in the direction of the people, but so much damage has already been done. 

This story is not even close to playing out.

Beijing – those are your rules, not ours:

After centuries of humiliation from near and far abroad, China is returning to her place in the world. Few see how huge this move will be. The scale is hard to grasp for many. You could remove the equivalent of the entire population of the USA, and China would still have almost a billion people. 

Unlike her fellow mega-nation India, China is not content with making things best inside her borders.

She wants a global stage, and she is buying as much of it as she wants to.

She was not party to this “Liberal World Order” others keep telling her about, and she is not bound to it. She reserves the right to approach international law cafeteria style; she’ll take what she wants and slide by the rest.

She has scores to settle and strategic depth to secure.
President Xi Jinping has told his military commanders to “concentrate preparations for fighting a war” as tensions continue to grow over the future of the South China Sea and Taiwan.
“We need to take all complex situations into consideration and make emergency plans accordingly,” President Xi told the officers of the Southern Theatre Command.
This is bluster, but it also is Direction and Guidance. We are close to this point already, but by the end of the next decade, American policy leaders need to have a realistic view on what they are or are not willing to go to war over. The Chinese will test where they find weakness first. 

When they do, they will pull us in close and then they will make a point. 

If I were Chinese, I would already have three COA to the east for leaders to consider. All I would ask for is a few more POMs and a bit more ripening.

This new China is growing, and not going anywhere.

Brasilia – Forever Tomorrowland:

Remember just a few short years ago when Brazil, again, was to be the vanguard of a new surge of leftist governance? I do.
And so, where does that leave us? After over a decade in experimentation of a new post-Cold War leftist governance in Central and South America, they find themselves where we Chicago School folks warned them they would be.

Of use, the basket cases of full socialism, Venezuela & Nicaragua, are right there for people to point to and say, “Let’s not do that.” Argentina, an nation a century ago that had a per-capita GDP on par with the USA, continues to struggle with decades of bad governance, corruption, and leftist economic policies. 

Uruguay and Chile are doing quite well, with the other nations in South America somewhere in between – but the superpower of South America should be Brazil. With a population 2/3 that of the USA and almost the same landmass, she only has a GDP about 1/6th the USA.

The Brazilian people are flooded with crime and corruption. Their leftist governments, the darlings of the internationalist BRIC fetishists, only built on that record of crime and corruption.

The people of Brazil were left with what option then?

All the correct people with all the correct opinions are tut-tut’n the election of Jair Bolsonaro, but what did they expect? The center-right and the center-left, again, failed to properly respond to the demands and concerns of the people who brought them to power. The left did what it always does; what it did not steal, it destroyed. The Brazilian people reacted accordingly after they saw what the left did; personal enrichment, the acquisition of power, and as President Obama once said – 
reward their friends and punish their enemies.

They wanted the correct friends, the press to write nice things about them, and invitations to the good conferences and ceremonies – with a nice picture next to Bono for the effort. They were willing to sell their nation's future for it.

We see this pattern throughout the West. As I pointed out this weekend over on twitter, the turn to populism is due to the failure of the center-left & center-right to do the basics of governing, and instead choosing either corruption or concern for extra-national internationalism over the concerns of their own people. 

I don't know what it will take for this T-Paw/Walker/Rubio/voted-for-Jeb!-3-times (R) to see a return to the center - but many of the people yelping about the tide of nationalist-populism are responsible for its birth towards the fringes. 

Make no mistake, populism is not sustainable. When you hollow out the center, all you will have are wild swings from one extreme to another – and with each swing, a wider gulf develops between the sides – the center cannot hold. Once that happens, violence follows.

If the West is to meet the challenge of this new era we need better leaders, braver leaders, and a people who demand good governance and individual liberty, instead of a call to tribal sectarianism and an ever more powerful state waiting for the next populist.

The correct path is the more difficult path in the short term, but the most rewarding in the long term.

Especially in Europe where so many of their leaders don’t even have children, asking for a long term focus in the West may be too much to ask.