VIDEO: Post-American world! + The US as a great warrior tribe

RT’s Sophie Shevardnadze speaks to American journalist and CNN programme host Fareed Zakaria to find out what he thinks about Obama’s administration in Washington, and the U.S. influence in the world.

FOCUS: IMPERIUM
The US as a great warrior tribe

According to tribal Yemeni tradition, if a dispute has been resolved peacefully, any dagger that has been drawn cannot go back into its scabbard unless it tastes blood. Traditionally, an animal is slaughtered to satisfy its thirst and restore its holder’s honour.

Since the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact without a single shot, let alone nuclear warheads, being fired, the ‘Greater Middle East’ region has been turned into a real theatre of war.

From the Gulf war in 1991 through to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, from Somalia in 1993 to Yemen in 2010, and through Afghanistan and Pakistan, the US military has gone to great lengths to demonstrate its strategic capacity to act in faraway places and to prove its ability to guard and advance US and Western interests.

In no time, military means and out-right war and occupation replaced diplomacy and international law.

In return, the Pentagon’s budget has almost doubled from the level it was before 9/11 to surpass the combined military expenditures of all the countries of the world, all under the guise of the ‘global war against terror’.

Alas, the costly failures in Iraq and Afghanistan and other countries have demonstrated that the Muslim world is far too stubborn to be offered as a sacrifice in the pursuit of global leadership.

Tribal vs. state identities

Since then, the devastating wars of terror that have taken place in the shadows of accelerated globalisation have weakened state structures and institutions and reinforced tribal and sectarian identities. Regimes not directly affected, took preventative measures by strengthening their grip on power through increased security and tribal alliances.

The US and its regional allies have empowered and financed tribal leaders, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, to defeat unrelenting Islamist opposition or nationalist insurgencies, just as America’s enemies have tried to gain the support of tribes for their cause against the “foreigners”.

Washington followed in the footsteps of the UK, which boasts extensive experience of tribal politics in its former colonies, to arm and finance tribal leaders to fight its war in Iraq under the guise of “The Awakening” or ”The Sons of Iraq”.

Likewise in Afghanistan, where the US built on its long experience with the northern tribes in the 1980s to regain the initiative against the Soviet supported regime in Kabul.

In the process, salient – and not so salient – tribal power has been empowered in all the areas of conflict in the ‘Greater Middle East’ by undemocratic leaders. Yemen, Libya, Jordan, Palestine and, even failed states like Afghanistan and Somalia, have witnessed the emergence of tribal loyalties and power.

But the failure of the US and its allies to attain stability – let alone to declare victory – has slowly but surely transformed the political landscape into a coalition of tribes or ‘a warrior ruling tribe’ over many.

‘Sons of America’

This transformation was not limited to the Middle East. Compromised by globalisation and market diktats, the most modern countries, such as the US, just like the least modern, such as Yemen, are increasingly acting in primordial ways and means.

As their sovereignty is compromised by multinational corporate decisions, capital, labour and investment movements, as well as communication and cultural globalisation, many states make up for their diminishing role over their economy and culture through alternative means of collective identities such as rallying their people around the flag.

With the advent of 9/11 and the ‘war on terror’, anger, humiliation and fear nudged the US into wars of ‘shock and awe’, revenge, torture, and rendition – stripping their ‘enemy-combatants’ of their very humanity in far away prisons.

The politics of fear engineered by cynical racism and nationalism drove wars that have compromised traditional republican values and civil liberties just as its wars of choice undermined its ‘social contract’ and whipped US citizens into a collective frenzy.

In short, the United States of America, the most powerful and advanced liberal democracy, began acting as the most aggressive of all the world’s tribes. And although much of this change was engineered by the Bush administration under the fog of the ‘war on terror’, Barack Obama’s election has defused war criticism, diminished the ‘peace movement’ and once again united the country under the flags of war.

In the process, tribal loyalty replaced patriotism, revenge superseded legality, and “you’re either with US or against us” wrecked international solidarity and even sympathy with the US after the 9/11 attacks.

War without end

As asymmetrical warfare takes up the fight from conventional wars, battles are replaced by bombings and massacres, military bases by hideouts and remote control rooms, population control and policing by propaganda and terror, and national borders are surpassed by new fault lines passing through every minor Middle Eastern state and every major Western city.

As Afghans, Pakistanis, Yemenis and Somalis volunteer to fight and even die on behalf of their cause and collective identities, against corrupt autocratic regimes, demoralised soldiers and private contractors with fancy gear, who do you think wins at the end of the day?

Before you answer, consider two important lessons of asymmetrical war that have been ignored in the sweeping post-9/11 transformation.

Firstly, in the long term, loyalty, kinship, sacrifice and a sense of justice and belonging is more potent than firepower.

Secondly, “he who fights terrorists for any period of time is likely to become one himself”.

All of which begs for a change in the whole paradigm of the ongoing ‘global war on terror’ that holds entire populations hostage to fear and war.

To be continued …

REF: Al jazeera

Top Theorists Examine Rippling Economic Turbulence

As the financial sector shifts, so does the reach of the jolt to economic structures around the world. Economist Nassim Nicholas Taleb and his mentor, mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, speak with Paul Solman about chain reactions and predicting the financial crisis.

LISTEN TO INTERVIEW HERE

RAY SUAREZ: Finally tonight, we return to a subject on many minds these days: the financial crisis. Our economics correspondent, Paul Solman, checked back in with one particularly prominent voice in the investment world and his colleague, who guided his thinking.

Here is the pair’s sobering conversation on what may lie ahead.

PAUL SOLMAN, NewsHour Economics Correspondent: One of the world’s hottest investment advisers these days, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of “The Black Swan,” who’s been warning of a crash for years, betting on one, and winning big.

He’s been ubiquitous in the financial media of late, from cable TV’s “Colbert Report” to the BBC’s “Newsnight,” where he was infuriated by what he called “bogus accounting.”

NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB, Scholar and Author: The first thing I would get immediately, immediately, I would suspend something called value at risk, quantitative measures of risk used by banks, immediately.

PAUL SOLMAN: We sat down with Taleb and the man he calls his mentor, mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, pioneer of fractal geometry and chaos theory. And even more than feeling vindicated, they’re both scared.

NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB: I don’t know if we’re entering the most difficult period since — not since the Great Depression, since the American Revolution.

PAUL SOLMAN: The most serious situation we’ve been in since the American Revolution?

NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB: Yes.

PAUL SOLMAN: Professor Mandelbrot, can that possibly be true?

BENOIT MANDELBROT, Mathematician: It’s very serious.

PAUL SOLMAN: More serious than the Great Depression, possibly?

BENOIT MANDELBROT: Possibly. I hope not.

Complexities of the banking system

PAUL SOLMAN: Mandelbrot’s key insight came in the ’60s with a study of cotton price surges and plunges, suggesting the world moves in fits and starts, especially the human world.

Decades later, after the stock market crash of 1987, Taleb came to the same conclusion. He appeared on the NewsHour two years ago to help explain the death of a hedge fund before the current crisis. He dubbed the event “a black swan,” impossible, Europeans had always thought, because they’d never seen one.

NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB: We saw a lot of white swans. Every white swan was confirming that, you know, hey, all swans were white.

PAUL SOLMAN: Taleb’s book, published in April 2007, was called “The Black Swan” because, in 1697, Dutch explorers discovered Australia and black swans.

NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB: And, sure enough, they saw that black version and said, “Hey, one single observation, OK, can destroy thousands of years of confirmation.” So, likewise in the markets, all you need is one single bad month to destroy years of track record.

PAUL SOLMAN: In the book, Taleb wrote, “The increased concentration among banks seems to have the effect of making financial crises less likely. But when they happen, they are more global in scale and hit us very hard. True, we now have fewer failures, but, when they occur, I shiver at the thought.”

NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB: The banking system, the way we have it, is a monstrous giant built on feet of clay. And if that topples, we’re gone.

Never in the history of the world have we faced so much complexity combined with so much incompetence and understanding of its properties.

PAUL SOLMAN: But there’s been complexity before. There has been overextension of credit before. We’ve had crashes in American history many times before. We’re a resilient system. Won’t we pull out of it?

NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB: Let me tell you why it’s not like before. Look at what’s happening. The world is getting so fragile that a small shortage of oil — small — can lead to the price going from $25 to $150.

PAUL SOLMAN: A barrel.

NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB: A barrel. A small excess demand in an agricultural product can lead to an explosion in price.

We live in a world that is way too complicated for our traditional economic structure. It’s not as resilient as it used to be. We don’t have slack. It’s over-optimized.

PAUL SOLMAN: What do you mean by “over-optimized”?

NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB: Let me tell you what is happening in the ecology of the banking system. They’re swelling to large banks, OK, because it’s vastly more optimal to have one large bank than 10 small banks. It’s more efficient.

PAUL SOLMAN: Well, we’ve certainly seen the consolidation of the industry.

NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB: Exactly. And that consolidation is what’s putting us at risk, because we are — when one bank, large bank makes a mistake, OK, it’s 10 times worse than a small bank making a mistake.

PAUL SOLMAN: And I guess I’m realizing that that’s where your famous work comes in. It’s always been characterized by the work that you’re central to as the butterfly somewhere disturbs a little bit of air and, halfway across the world, a tornado hits or something, right? Is that what we’re talking about here?

BENOIT MANDELBROT: Certainly very similar. The word “turbulence” is one which actually is common to physics and to social scientists, to economics. Everything which involves turbulence is enormously more complicated, not just a little bit more complicated, not just one year more schooling, just enormously more complicated.

PAUL SOLMAN: Turbulence is why, because it’s badly understood, weather forecasters can’t necessarily get it right.

BENOIT MANDELBROT: Precisely. In fact, the basic — the basis of weather forecasting is looking from a satellite and seeing a storm coming, but not predicting that the storm will form. The behavior of economic phenomena is far more complicated than the behavior of liquids or gases.

Impacts from sudden changes

PAUL SOLMAN: So, getting back to your fundamental work and insight, this is a system that can become turbulent or is inherently turbulent, that doesn’t have enough of a buffer, and that’s the danger?

BENOIT MANDELBROT: That is not well-understood. In fact, that is misunderstood for which tools have been developed which assume that changes are always very small.

If one of them comes, nothing bad happens. If several of them come together, very bad things have happened. And the theory does not take account of that, and the theory doesn’t take account of very large and sudden changes in anything.

The theory thinks that things move slowly, gradually, and can be corrected as they change, whereas, in fact, they may change extremely brutally.

NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB: Now you understand why I’m worried. I hope I’m wrong. I wake up every morning — actually, I don’t wake up every morning now. I start to wake up at night the last couple of weeks hoping that I’m wrong, begging to be wrong.

I think that we may be experiencing something that is vastly worse than we think it is.

PAUL SOLMAN: And we think it’s pretty bad.

NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB: It’s worse. Of all the books you read on globalization, they talk about efficiency, all that stuff. They don’t get the point. The network effect of that globalization, OK, means that a shock in the system can have much larger consequences.

Hedge funds’ looming impact

PAUL SOLMAN: What is the doomsday scenario? I mean, what actually happens tomorrow, next week?

NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB: I mean, I am convinced — there’s been a package recently of $700 billion. It’s pocket money, because you don’t understand — they don’t understand the ripple effect that hedge funds have, OK, that the banks not lending to hedge funds will force hedge funds to liquidate positions.

PAUL SOLMAN: Sell off?

NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB: Sell off positions. These positions, sold off by hedge funds, will impact other entities.

PAUL SOLMAN: Driving down the price.

NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB: Driving down the price. Driving down some prices. That a supermarket, OK, needing funding, will not be able to find a bank solvent enough to lend them money against inventory to make payroll, OK?

You may have chain reactions we’ve never imagined before. And these come from the intricate relationships in the system we don’t understand.

PAUL SOLMAN: You’ve been around a lot longer than we have. That’s possible. Is it likely?

BENOIT MANDELBROT: Well, we don’t know the probability. We don’t have enough knowledge. We don’t have enough information. We don’t have enough reliable information on data which are not published. I mean, I sleep better, perhaps, than Nassim, but I don’t sleep very well.

Challenges to prediction

PAUL SOLMAN: Is it possible that what’s also unimaginable, which is that this will simply right itself, is that a possibility?

BENOIT MANDELBROT: Everything is a possibility. I mean, again, it is not — I try my best to answer questions which are scientific, and which I can respond to and which have scientific evidence and not personal opinion.

Everything is imaginable. What’s the joke, that prediction is very easy when you predict the past or something?

PAUL SOLMAN: Well, predictions are — predictions are difficult, particularly about the future.

BENOIT MANDELBROT: That’s what I wanted to remember.

PAUL SOLMAN: Benoit Mandelbrot, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, thank you very much.

NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB: Thank you.

BENOIT MANDELBROT: Thank you.

RAY SUAREZ: On our Web site, you can watch all of Paul Solman’s reporting on the financial crisis and ask him questions on the economy. Visit us at PBS.org. Just scroll down to NewsHour Reports.

Ref: PBS

LISTEN TO INTERVIEW HERE

Globalisation: New Rulers of the World

Seven Solutions

Put people first – World Trade Organisation ‘liberalisation’ agreements such as GATS and TRIPS have been a disaster for most of the world’s population. The WTO should be abolished, and a democratic body established by and with the approval of all members of the United Nations General Assembly.

Restore national control over development – Countries must be allowed to determine their own development paths, free from the ideological interference of the IMF and World Bank. Countries must be allowed to make performance requirements of multinationals investing in their territories.

End protectionism in the world’s richest countries – The tariff barriers which block developing country exports to the markets of the rich world must be removed, and targeted support provided to workers in industrialised countries who are affected by the change. There needs to be fundamental reform of agricultural systems, with the aim of making food supply fairer to farmers in the Third World, as well as safer and more sustainable. In particular, European and US governments must end the agricultural subsidies which give their farmers an unfair advantage over producers in the developing world.

Give priority to the poor – The rules of globalisation should make more provision for the special needs of the world’s poorest countries. The European Union’s first step in promising duty-free access to exports from the 48 least developed countries should be extended to more countries and matched by all rich nations.

Make multinationals accountable – The legal notion that companies have the same human rights as people should be abandoned. Companies have globalised, but the rules regulating their activities haven’t. UN agreements contain sound rules on workers’ rights, human rights, consumer protection, indigenous peoples and the environment. But there is no means for consistent enforcement of these standards. There should be a new international mechanism to regulate the activities of all multinationals across the world, with government enforcement supported by independent monitoring to ensure that they abide by it.

Build democratic space for genuine debate
– All decisions at the IMF and World Bank are taken on the basis of ‘one dollar one vote’, which guarantees the world’s richest countries an inbuilt majority. A genuine debate must exclude the assumption that these institutions, like their sponsor, the US Treasury, have an authentic interest in reducing poverty. They have no such interest; on the contrary, their policies demonstrably increase poverty.

Regulate capital markets – Financial markets must be regulated to ensure that they are stripped of their ideological power.

Ref: John Pilger