My post last week on the Third Iraq War, resulting from Stratfor’s report based on anonymous Defense Department sources, was followed by the DOD discussing the initial preparations in a little more detail. It’s a start, but hardly enough. At least the subject is beginning to get more attention. Again, I am not calling for support of, or opposition to, this Third Iraq War. I only ask that whatever is done, is done well. We owe that to the men and women of all nationalities and backgrounds who must put their lives on the line.
And the public deserves to be kept informed as well. We don’t need to know the details, but we do need to know what is being done in our name. I have no love of these Islamo-fascists at all, but this administration at least has a responsibility to provide some transparency for its efforts. The prior administration did a far better job of that. How sad.
The Islamic State is not a wave of the future, it is a ripple of the past, the distant past. They offer nothing constructive to the rest of us or their own people, only pain and misery. Future Brief is focused on the future, particularly the rest of this decade and the next. I will be looking carefully at the major global trends that will affect all of us, very likely far earlier than most of us think.
But there are at least two other “ripples of the past” that are causing damage today and threatening more in the very near future that warrant mentioning here as they take our eyes off a future we need to contemplate now.
The first is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Leader of a nation with a declining population, a variety of foreign and domestic problems, and a struggling economy (thanks to Mr. Putin in great part; he is his own worst enemy), his attempt to create a pale imitation of the last century’s Soviet Union is nothing short of pathetic, another ripple of the past.
Lost in the present, fearful of the future, Putin is doing what we all sometimes do at times like that. To borrow from the late Marshall McLuhan, “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror.” That is no way to drive a car, but that is a pretty good way to set up a crash. This approach will not succeed for Putin either, but it will force us to keep an eye on him, just like the Islamic State, when we have far more important things warranting our attention.
The second is much more of a concern. The European Union. Past names like “Common Market” and “European Economic Community” made sense to me in general, but “European Union” never made sense to me. The idea that any one of its 28 members is allowed to veto a foreign or security policy supported by the other 27 is ludicrous and was reason enough to reject “union” as a noun too far.
In its early stages following World War Two, this experiment was often called a “United States of Europe”. Well, I feel sure if any single US state government had had the power to veto any federal foreign or security policy, the US would not have survived for long.
Worse yet, Europe’s idea of setting up a single currency to be overseen by a European Central Bank “cooperating” with (currently) nineteen national central banks was and remains an open invitation to fiscal and monetary chaos. In case anyone doubted that at the time, the last half-dozen years serve as a lesson.
I will not go into this in any detail today. That has been done elsewhere and often. But there is a basic point that unfortunately needs to be made. Europe’s leadership seem determined to turn their former wave of the future into a ripple of the past on their own. As the years come and go since the financial crisis of 2009, Europe seems incapable of coming to grips with reality.
It reminds me of the victim who is offered two ways to die. He can be slowly strangled or he can be shot in the back of the head. The former will be very painful, but allows for the possibility that someone might come to his rescue, no matter how unlikely. The latter is fast and as painless as possible, but eliminates the hope of rescue. The EU has chosen strangulation and, frankly, I have no idea who they expect to come to their rescue.
But what makes this different than the victim who chooses strangulation is that the EU, including its eurozone, had and still has a third alternative. Their leadership can sit down and recognize that the EU and euro have been hugely successful in many ways, but obviously terribly damaging in others. They need to restructure both and fast. Like the old English saying, “You don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water”, European leaders should focus on saving the baby and getting rid of the bath water, but they just cannot do it. And they cannot do it because the EU is not a “union” and they have no commitment to it that can overcome their commitment to themselves and their immediate political careers.
Yet this melodrama cannot go on forever. If their leaders can’t do it, the European public will have no choice but to intervene. The results of that could be very counter-productive. In that event, it will not be the leadership “elite” who decide or the poor, it will be the European middle class. They are intelligent and well-educated, but they demand leadership. The failure of their current elite to provide it is forcing them to look elsewhere. Therein lies the threat to both the Union and its “zone”. The elite knows that, but they are still paralyzed. If that continues, future historians will not look back on them kindly, and neither will we.
The Stratfor report on the plans for a Third Iraq War provided a segue to today’s discussion of Putin’s Russia and the EU/eurozone. In turn, they provide a segue to the focus of this weblog in the weeks to come. I will be discussing this old 20th century term, “middle class”. It remains a useful generalization sometimes, but, more and more often, it is what I call a “glittering generality”, a term that sounds right because it is common and we think we know its definition, but a term which is in the process of quietly being redefined by the very people it pretends to describe.
The shift of “middle class” from useful generalization to glittering generality is not an event, it is a process that is already underway and will continue to unfold over time, but far less time than we might like. It offers great potential, but that leaves us with a question – potential for what? There is more than one possible answer to that question now, but there will be a final answer soon enough and it will have a massive impact on every one of us. That answer, that “wave of the future”, is my focus here at Future Brief.
If you would like to join me on this journey, feel free. I will be walking it anyhow, but congenial company is always welcome.
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