Commentary: Alarm bells in the U.S.


WASHINGTON, May 29 (UPI) -- Gen. David Richards, the British chief of staff, in the understatement of the week, says the strategic landscape is "worrying" and the outlook "bleak."

The United States as the world's strongest geopolitical player has become ungovernable, saddled with a dysfunctional Congress. House and Senate together, with 535 members, maintain 250 committees and subcommittees and micromanage muscular government decisions into unworkable policy directives.


No fewer than 108 committees have oversight jurisdiction on Homeland Security.

The latest book of Edward Luce, the Financial Times' chief U.S. commentator, and former FT Washington bureau chief (2006-11), is titled, "Time to Start Thinking: America in the Age of Descent."

America, he says, is sleepwalking into economic and geopolitical decline.

Ian Bremmer in "Every Nation for Itself" writes about "Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World."

Fareed Zakaria, a leader of the "Successor Generation" to Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft and a single handful of others, understands the United States' leaderless dilemma better than most. His weekly CNN program "GPS" dramatizes the negative trends now coming together in a "perfect storm."


What purports to be democracy in action reminds this long-time observer of the French political situation in the days of the Fourth Republic (1945-58). Governments toppled every six months with tedious regularity. France, saddled with eight years of rearguard fighting in Indochina, faced defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, a heroic last stand of empire.

But this was not to be the last. Eleven men, led by Ben Bella, attacked a post office in Algeria, which triggered another 8-year war that led to a French military buildup of half a million men, the killing of half a million, including 100,000 French, and the exile of 1.4 million French settlers.

France, under Charles de Gaulle's democratic authoritarianism, miraculously recovered from its seemingly endless series of geopolitical defeats. He turned Algeria -- long considered an integral part of metropolitan France -- into an independent state and refocused France's attention to a prosperous future – nuclear power, the Caravelle commercial jet in 1958, the supersonic Concorde in 1969 that spanned the Atlantic in 3 hours.

The Afghan war is beginning to look like Vietnam II. There is no solution without Pakistan and there is no solution with Pakistan. The Pakistani doctor who helped U.S. intelligence confirm the exact location of Osama bin Laden has been sentenced to 33 years in prison.


Most Pakistanis -- even at a high level -- will tell you that 9/11 was a conspiracy plotted by the CIA and Mossad. Books "documenting the conspiracy" have sold millions of copies all over the world.

We forget bin Laden was a Pakistani hero before and since 9/11.

This writer was in Pakistan during the post-9/11 period when we interviewed a former head of Pakistan's notorious Inter-Services Intelligence, Hamid Gul. He was the first to launch the monstrous canard, adding the U.S. Air Force was also involved as no fighters were scrambled to intercept the suicide aircraft.

The reminder that such a plot is preposterous, if only because three can keep a secret provided two of them are dead, elicits guffaws about our own naivete.

Millions of youngsters who reached college 10 years after 9/11 have no reason to doubt the conspiracy when professors themselves say the full story remains to be told.

The NATO exit from Afghanistan, as described in Chicago's final summit communique, strikes most commentators as a stop-gap palliative. The 10-year extension of U.S. and NATO protection and payments to the Afghan army beyond the 2014 exit date for all combat troops widened the credibility gap.

In the United States, the defense budget will be in decline caused by the sequestration imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Alternatively, a "grand bargain" may occur over government spending and taxes, which more likely than not will be larger cuts than the $487 billion over 10 years imposed by BCA.


The Center for Strategic and International Studies' Clark A. Murdock and Kim Wincup were two of 30 leading defense and budget experts who published a report on "how a deeper drawdown should be conducted and provides a set of recommendations on what decisions (the Department of Defense) should make (or one-third reduction from the FY2010 peak, implemented over the course of 12 years)."

The CSIS study team's approach "includes an analytic method of differentiating between capabilities that are must-have, nice-to-have, and not-needed."

CSIS "will implement a 7-step methodology in a final report to be published in November 2012, which will recommend a roster of 4 to 5 distinct force mixes, each representing different strategies for how (the Defense Department) should spend its scarce resources in 2024."

It is clear that nothing is going to be the same -- from al-Qaida and its associated movements to the U.S. defense establishment, from NATO to the U.S. pivot to Asia to counter China's threatening posture in the South China Sea -- and that everything is in a state of flux.

The future of warfare, as this long-time observer reads the signals, is cyberterrorism and cyberwarfare coupled with robotic warfare. There are now more drone aircraft in the U.S. arsenal than conventional fighters and bombers.


The 11 aircraft carrier groups in the U.S. Navy can't do much against swarms of small suicide boats, like the two-man terrorist boat that rammed the USS Cole in October 2000 in Aden harbor, immobilizing a $1 billion warship for two years of repairs, killing 17 U.S. sailors, injuring 35. This operation cost al-Qaida $10,000 (as indicated by documents seized in an al-Qaida safe house in Kabul after U.S. troops captured the city in October 2001).

The real threat from China is non-military, the deployment of almost 6 million civilian workers from Brazil to the Bahamas and from Libya to Angola, building markets for future exports (as the United States did in Western Europe after World War II).

Small Caribbean island nations all have full-fledged Chinese embassies. Four of them have no U.S. diplomatic representation of any kind (the U.S. State Department's budget has been cut to the bone). In the Bahamas, a short drive from Nassau airport, 6,100 Chinese workers are building the largest casino complex in the Caribbean.

During Libya's 2011 revolutionary upheaval, the Chinese successfully evacuated tens of thousands of Chinese workers before the U.S.-chartered boat for U.S. evacuees reached a Libyan port.

On another front, U.S. infrastructure -- from the century-old pipes under the nation's capital, to roads and streets all over the United States, to the nationwide electric grid, bridges and schools -- has been sadly neglected for decades. Any recent visitor to Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Muscat (Oman), Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, Bahrain and Kuwait saw clear evidence that the U.S. priority on defense spending over several decades has relegated many parts of the civilian infrastructure to Third World status.


After a spectacular victory in the Cold War, the United States blew a good chance for a new world economic and military order by inviting the newly freed Russia into NATO, rather than pushing NATO's frontiers up against Russia's and reviving old fears of encirclement. This was first suggested by Cold War hawks -- e.g., the late Fred Ikle, undersecretary for Defense Policy under the Reagan administration – but it was too far sighted to be digestible inside the Beltway.

As the tile of the Financial Times' Ed Luce suggests, the "Time to Start Thinking" is now. It's not too late but time is running short. Remember Sputnik?

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