Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Riding the Tiger over Rough Terrain

It’s not enough to be aware that we’re riding a tiger.  We need to realize that the terrain change with every mile, every turn.

What’s happening is that the countries with high standards of living and sophisticated technology are caught up in a whirlwind of disparate desires, demands and customs.  We used to talk about the number of fronts involved in a war: two was bad, three was a real headache.  We’re still thinking in terms of fronts, when the fronts are all around, no matter where we stand.

Let’s say we’re standing in Kansas, the center of the United States: there’s a drug war in Mexico, Mexico is a close ally, it could become a failed state due to narcotraffickers.

Narcotraffickers used to be headquartered in Sicily, the southern Italian island.  Now the have competitors and lieutenants in Russia, Afghanistan, to name just a few on the same Eurasian continent.

Drugs are mainly transported by sea although often hidden in backpacks, intimate body parts, shipments of food or arms.  Pirates off the coast of Somalia rake in as much as drug traffickers just by swinging out in small boats loaded with sophisticated electronic equipment and boarding unarmed merchant ships carrying food, arms, drugs, oil, cement, what have you.

The highjacked arms are sometimes intended for “legitimate” military, shipments from one sovereign government to another.  Or from a sovereign government to minorities fighting another sovereign government.  At other times, arms are shipped from one minority, or rebel group, to another.

The oil is the lubricant that keeps the world turning.  Producers previously tried to make its supply last as long as possible, by jacking up the price.  Now that wind, solar, tides, and even grass can produce energy, they lower the price to make the alternatives more expensive.

Elections constitute a big conundrum for governments of the rich world: we don’t like them to return the wrong people to power, for example, Hamas.

Hamas and its cousin Hezbollah are proteges of Iran, a country with a rich history and culture that has been a pariah for thirty years since fundamentalist Shias took over twenty years after the United States and Great Britain assassinated a left-leaning elected Prime Minister.  How to wonder that Iran held a young female American journalist in jail, convicted of spying, while North Korea holds another two female American journalists on similar charges and shoots off rockets.

The United States and Russia realize that in this multiplex scenario, nukes are more of a burden then a necessity: pirates or rebels could get hold of them.  So they’d like to get rid of them.  But half a dozen other countries also have nukes, and several others are trying to make them, including, perhaps, Iran and North Korea.  The Indians and Pakistanis both have nukes, they are at odds over Kashmir, a small territory in the Himalayas, and moreover the Indians are mainly Hindus while Pakistan was severed off to gather India’s Muslim minority.

Moving in another direction from Kansas, Australia is drastically short of water, though it has plenty of land which otherwise could take some of the population strain off Southeast Asia.

Oh, and did I mention that the world economy is more like Humpty-Dumpty than Hercules, with no one knowing how to fix it?

The tiger-riders, every one of them, can only hold on tight, giving encouragement and setting an example as they fly through the air, to others here and there who are trying to be on the right side of the issues they face in their particular corner of the world.

Strong men, if well motivated - like the good kings of fairy tales - have a role to play.  The game of democratic politics revolves around trying to prevent them from creating more bumps instead of smoothing the terrain.

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