Thursday, September 4, 2014

The doctrine of the Stupid Shit Funnel

Lest I be accused of running a hate site against Club Troppo after my previous article criticising aspects of their wonkery, today's Troppo joint on the West's reaction to ISIS is excellent.
Whose going to win if the West gets entangled in this maelstrom? Well for a while it will be our fearless leaders as their chest thumping arrests their slide in the polls and simplistic News Corp pundits who love a good war, but in the end the West will once again waste blood and treasure.
And the winners? Well I bet Vladimir Putin reckons he’ll be a winner as the West gets distracted and weakened in the Middle East – but no we’ll feel the need to have a go at Putin after this one.  Our last hurrah quite possibly
No I think It’s pretty clear that when all is said and done the winner will be the nation who best absorbs a lesson from  Sun Tzu’s Art Of War.  “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”  That nation, appropriately will be China.
This Rex Ringschott piece is of a piece with this other piece in the Atlantic detailing the always-wrong perma-hawks who dominate US media, and when you piece them together it forms a jigsaw of G.W. Bush era recidivism, where no lessons from the failed Iraq and Afghanistan forays have been learned at all.

Having said all that, I am not going to connect the dots and narrow down the focus to Halliburton, Blackwater and crony capitalism in the military industrial complex. I acknowledge that there is a genuine philosophical underpinning to the neo-con thought process on this one. It is, as Ringschott mentions, the "simplistic moral argument" of the sanctity of human life. The slaughtering of Western journalists is a terrible thing (albeit that Muslim journalists were slaughtered in exactly the same way weeks before and the West ignored it). It reminds us that ISIS is committing atrocities on innocents, as Saddam Hussein did, the Taliban did and Al Qaida did. Opposing these people seems like a "good" thing to do, even if you don't want to touch the concept of them being "evil". Lives can be saved; not just Christian lives but Muslims and those of many other faiths and races.

I am on record as having some sympathy with that viewpoint, as in the asylum seeker debate. One should always pay respect to a credo which has as its foundation the primacy of human existence. In the case of asylum seekers, the figures are in and the deterrent, while individually abhorrent, has been shown to work to prevent the rush of asylum seekers by boat, and remove the prospect of hundreds of horrific deaths at sea. It seems rather mercenary to balance one poor bastard getting septicemia or shot in a prison riot with hundreds of corpses in the Arafura Sea, but that's the equation we're faced with and I'm prepared to accept the utilitarian argument from the right on this issue.

In the case of war in the Middle East - and in most other regions where rival superpowers funnel weapons to opposing sides and let them fight it out as proxies for their imperial ambitions - the figures are also in, and the effect of starting the Iraq war was to destabilise the region and cause more deaths than it would have saved. Specifically, the rise of ISIS is everything to do with George W. Bush's decision to remove Iraq's power structure, ship tonnes of ordnance to the Iraqi theatre and then leave all that firepower in the hands of underprepared locals who have mostly abandoned their posts or been mown down.

The lives that Australia and other Western nations have saved directly through combat boots on the ground were then forfeited when they left. Ah, the right might say, so it's Obama's fault for withdrawing troops? First off, that was a withdrawal signed off by Bush before Obama came to office, as part of setting up an independent Iraq. Second, how long is the West supposed to occupy Iraq for? Are we actually there to "liberate", or is the right's paternal instinct too strong to let the kids leave home?

Funnelling arms to Iraq has only caused more bloodshed, not less. It's as if the right wants to go against Obama's "don't do stupid shit" doctrine by doing all the stupid shit it can, but funnelling that shit into foreign war zones where their ideological beliefs can be tested in experiments using other people's lives. The Stupid Shit Funnel has been poised over Iraq and Afghanistan for a long time, raining down a steady stream of weaponry and armoured vehicles, and now it's also making detours to Ukraine.

Ringschott's conclusion - that the winners would be those who don't play, China in particular - dovetails nicely into my conclusion from my discussion with Noah Smith. Winners don't do war.

PS: I am seeing that "blood and treasure" phrase around a hell of a lot lately. It's 2014's version of "known unknowns" in trendy military jargon that pundits use to make them seem like insiders. Also, the word "wus" is not spelled correctly; it's either "woos" or "wuss". This concludes today's instalment of Slang Nitpickery!

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