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Hillary in Australia 2010 and the End of World War II

There is a point to this post. Wait for it…

Let’s start with this clip from an Australian morning show in 2010. Hillary met with Hamish and Andy for a very funny piece about the “gift” she received from the Australian people as Secretary of State. She’s relaxed, has a good sense of humor, seems genuinely authentic to me, Jon Stewart. But it gets better. Listen to the banter between the morning show hosts at the end of the clip and ask yourself what they must be thinking of Americans this year.

 

The reason I bring up this clip is because I read the editorial in the NYTimes International version this morning about the tempest brewing in the South China Sea. The piece, titled “Playing Chicken in the South China Sea“, is about a American surveillance plane’s “near miss” with two Chinese fighters while over the area recently. China has been building up islands and atolls and installing military bases on them. It’s making Indonesia and the Phillipines nervous.

Back in 2010, Clinton was an early advocate of staring down the Chinese before the tensions in the South China Sea got too touchy. That’s why she was in Australia. Her job as Secretary of State was to forge a better working partnership with the Australians to take a strong interest in area.

Why is the South China Sea so important? According to the NYT editorial:

“China has been behaving in a bellicose fashion in the South China Sea for some time as part of a sustained and increasingly dangerous effort to assert sovereignty over a vital waterway in which other nations also have claims. In a few weeks, an international arbitration court is expected to rule in a case brought against China by the Philippines. The outcome could have a profound effect on the struggle for control of the sea, which is rich in resources and carries $5 trillion in annual trade.”

That’s right, the South China Sea sees $5,000,000,000,000.00 worth of trade each year passing through its waters.

We children of the 60s, 70s and 80s know that the world is mostly water but we seem to ignore the part of the geography class that taught us about ‘straits’ and ‘canals’ and ‘trade routes’. Those trade routes haven’t changed since Magellan circumnavigated the globe nearly 500 years ago.

It’s why Hitler wanted control of the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean. It’s why the Japanese wanted the Spratley Islands in the South China Sea, why it invaded the Phillipines and why Iwo Jima was such a big deal.Take a look at the map:

resource_flows

 

That map shows liquified natural gas trade routes through the region and I think we could all make a good case that maybe increasing oil and gas trade is not such a good idea because of global warming. We should be working on energy alternatives. But it is also true that we probably don’t want someone abruptly turning the spigots on and off in order to manipulate markets and bring us to our knees before we have time to boot the Republicans out of power and get on with alternative energy research in earnest.

Plus, presumably, there’s more to trade than fossil fuels.

I think you get my point. But if you don’t, it’s this: World War II never ended. It never ended in the North Atlantic, it never ended in the Eastern Mediterranean and it certainly hasn’t ended in the South China Sea. These areas are always going to be flashpoints as long as the world’s continents stay put.

You are free to disagree with me but you can’t argue with geography.

Who would you rather see in the White House? Someone who doesn’t think we should spend money on NATO or the woman who was proactively diplomatic on the South China Sea issues 6 years ago?

To me, it’s a no brainer. But at this point in time, the rest of the world is probably getting very concerned that there are a significant number of Americans who have no brains.

 

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WWII: The Sequel

I haven’t been following the reboot of the Iraq War brought on by the ISIS atrocities.  For one thing, I don’t watch cable or network news so I missed the beheading videos.  Is it just me or should there be a law against showing that kind of thing on TV?  It feels like gratuitous snuff film porn for the purpose of horrifying people and stirring up strong emotional reactions.  I’m agin it.

I’m also against war in general but I’m not a pacifist or an isolationist.  I sat through a bajillion hours of The Last Lion, the biography of Winston Churchill and realize how dangerous pacifism and isolationism can be.  The peaceniks “at all costs” crowd are as unsettling to me as the Cheney types.  My attitude towards war is a Tolkienish one.  I don’t like it, don’t crave it, wouldn’t seek it out except for the protection of friends and innocents.

But there is a really good reason why the US can never be an isolationist country.  Going back to WWII, Churchill repeatedly threw the British Army (or what was left of it after Dunkirk) at different places in the Mediterranean and southeast asia for a purpose.  It was more than just a case of pestering Hitler like a biting sand fly.  And it did have something to do with the British Empire.  But more than that, he had to do it to maintain open sea lanes.  Take a look at the map below of the world’s chokepoints today:

If you follow the thickest blue line, you’ll notice that the most significant battles of WWII happened along it.  You can also see why the Axis came to be.  The countries that controlled the north Atlantic, Mediterranean and South China Seas pretty much ruled the world.  That big blue line represents the quickest route from East Asia to North America.  A vital choke point is right about where the Suez Canal is and what countries surround the entry and exit to the Suez Canal?  Egypt, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Saudi Arabia.  If we follow the Red Sea southward, we see Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia. Then we swing around the Arabian Pennisula and into the Persian Gulf to Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and all that oil.

Like it or not, we are dependent on keeping those chokepoints open for international trade, not only for ourselves but for the rest of the world. It helps if the country in charge of patrolling the hot spots is above reproach.  Bush and Cheney kinda ruined our global reputation in that respect.  The rest of the world has to trust us to not act completely in our own best interests.

What Bush and Cheney did was take a giant dump in a very sensitive place.  And then they left a very naive but extremely cocky novice president to keep the place in order.  The naivety, coupled with an upcoming second term, caused a series of very bad decisions.  Pair that up with local instability in the region around the Suez Canal and you have our present situation.

There probably was a better time to intervene in Syria but in general, the region is always going to be a sensitive spot.  It’s geographically important, and you can bet the people who live there know it.  The Arab Spring might have been prompted by that realization.  We are probably never going to be able to completely reduce our presence there.  Our economy depends on keeping this chokepoint open.  Until we get rid of our dependence on foreign oil, we’re going to have to be there.  And even after we move on from sucking the mideast dry, that area is still the quickest way from point A to point B for many countries other than our own.

So, there’s my take on it.  We’re still fighting the world wars of the previous century and will be for the foreseeable future.  Obama was not thinking past his re-election and anyone who made their decision of presidential candidate in 2008 based on a war vote or promises to get out of Iraq wasn’t thinking it through to its logical conclusions.  It has always been clear to me that the president who took over from Bush/Cheney was going to have to make peace with the isolationists before he or she would ever make peace with the Iraqis and their neighbors.  It was never going to be simple or easy.  The best we could hope for was an uneasy status quo for a long time.

But somebody blew it and here we are.

Next time we elect a president, we might want to choose one who is explicit about these things.

One more thing: Considering what a sensitive area the Mediterranean is, you have to wonder why the ECB is being such a dick to Spain, Italy and Greece.