Foreign Policy Lessons… from High School
Published: September 26, 2011 by RssFeed
Vedran Vuk comments on parallels between high-school brawling in the South and US foreign policy. Unfortunately, it appears that D.C. politicians didn’t learn the lessons he did.
Today I want to discuss some foreign policy lessons learned – strangely enough – from high school. Growing up in the Deep South, fights were a very regular occurrence at high school parties, football games, and even in hallways. Most folks are familiar with the stereotype of “Southern hospitality,” but constant fights are also a cultural element of the South. Perhaps this tradition grew out of 19th-century dueling culture. Who knows?
As most readers can imagine based on my libertarian tendencies, I tried to keep out of as many fights as possible. However, in high school one can’t avoid them all. And one night, I got into a fight with another kid. I didn’t start it and wasn’t looking for trouble. To make a long story short, I was clearly in the right, and he was drunk and in the wrong. Unfortunately for him, his inebriation made him quite a poor fighter, and I gave him quite a whoopin’, as the local vernacular puts it.
Justice served, right? He was in the wrong and got a beating. Well maybe; but unfortunately, right or wrong doesn’t really matter when it comes to fighting. Three months later, I’m at a house party and see this same guy. I don’t want to start any trouble, so I’m trying to avoid him as much as possible; but I notice him and his friends eyeballing me and whispering. There are three of them, and my regular crew of close friends is nowhere in sight to back me up. As the party went on, I caught the drift from overhearing a few words here and there: They are planning to jump me at some point.
I figured my chances of avoiding a fight were pretty slim, so I walked up to the guy and said, “Hey man, I heard that you guys want to beat me up. Look, we fought the other night, but I really have nothing against you. In fact, I’ve got a sixpack of some good beer. If you and your friends would like to have one, that’d be fine by me.” They didn’t see my reaction coming at all and had no clue how to respond at first. Then they took the offered beers, and we talked for a few minutes and came to peaceful terms. We weren’t great buddies or anything afterward, but the situation was defused.
I had friends in high school who took the complete opposite route – they constantly got into fights. And the more fights they entered, the bigger their problems became. Many of them would win almost every single fight, but it nearly got to the point where they couldn’t attend any social gathering without a situation like the one I faced. Someone somewhere was always looking to beat them up. It created an endless cycle of more fights and more enemies.
In my opinion, that’s where the US is right now. Sure, we’ve bombed the hell out of Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries. There’s no doubt that @$$ has been kicked, but at what price? Many countries tiptoe around the US, as if afraid to catch the federal government’s military ire, but at the same time they secretly plot to strike in case an opportune moment presents itself. And within the US, people now have to constantly watch their backs, as they’re monitored nearly everywhere, from porno scanners at airports to wiretaps on phone calls to sifting through email looking for “suspicious” words and phrases. This didn’t happen because we’re necessarily wrong – that’s just the way fights work. If you beat the living hell out of someone, that person will likely come back wanting revenge at some point down the road. It doesn’t matter if you were in the right. Unfortunately for the US, our military has been going around the world breaking a lot of bones.
In that process, there has been a lot of “collateral damage.” In Iraq alone, there have been over 100,000 civilian casualties; about 12% of those were caused by coalition forces. That’s the rough equivalent of four 9/11 attacks. Do you remember how mad Americans were on September 11th? Well, imagine many Iraqis being four times madder than that.
When a young man loses his parents or sister to an accidental US bomb, he won’t say, “Well, the US is right to be in Iraq, so I’ll forgive them. And by the way, thank you for freeing me from Saddam Hussein”. No, that person will likely look for revenge at an opportune moment in the future. The more people we knock out; the more people come looking for revenge.
The US government’s current strategy seems to be to fight everyone all the time and win every single battle. If a government can do that over the next hundred years, then that might be a reasonable security strategy. But anyone who’s been in a high school fight knows that this is a flawed strategy. It leads to either a life of paranoia or eventually being caught outnumbered in a dark parking lot, metaphorically speaking.
Continuing these wars isn’t the answer, as it perpetuates a cycle of hatred toward the US. However, the big question is how to pull out after giving about a dozen really mean guys a black eye. Unfortunately, unlike in my case, it’ll take a lot more than a sixpack to solve this problem.
[Cultural trends influence political trends… and we all know that political trends can impact investment decisions. Keep abreast of shifting political, cultural, and economic trends with The Casey Report. It’s risk-free for three months.]
Additional Links and Reads
US to Hand Over Iraq Bases, Equipment Worth Billions (Huffington Post)
Speaking of the wars, it looks like we’ll soon start turning over some bases to our “friends.”. There go a few billion more down the drain. Here’s a choice quote from the article:
And it’s not clear just what the Iraqis will do with some of those bases, once they get them.
One U.S. officer whose unit turned over a military outpost in a Baghdad neighborhood to the Iraqi Army in 2009 told the Washington Post that Iraqi soldiers looted it within hours of the U.S. departure. “When we returned to the outpost the next morning, most of the beds had already been taken, wood walls and framing had been pulled and several air-conditioning units had been removed from the walls, leaving gaping holes,” the officer told the Post. Weeks later, he added, the power generator the Americans had left behind was barely working.
One Iraqi entrepreneur indicated to NPR last year that there’s a thriving black market in U.S. items. “The Americans turn over every base to the Iraqi army and police – and they are all thieves,” he said.
Well, isn’t that charming? There go your tax dollars at work. The article finishes with a particularly excellent quote to sum up the situation:
And it’s an awful lot of stuff. “I’m thinking about the size of what was wasted there, and thinking about how what we spent in Iraq was all borrowed,” she said. “In a crazy way, what we left in Iraq was our good credit rating.”
The Altucher Confidential
I’ve met a lot of writers who obsessively read blogs and articles of others in their field or genre. Doing that just bores me to death. I find much more inspiration reading and studying source documents such as academic papers and books. If you want a fountain of ideas, you can’t get it by drinking someone else’s water. Sometimes you have to roll up your sleeves and dig a well.
However, I have one exception: James Altucher’s blog, The Altucher Confidential. The writing is excellent every time; it’s a really refreshing read. He mostly covers various topics on life and entrepreneurship with a little commentary about the markets. Most financial blogs come from a perspective of, “I’m a really knowledgeable and successful person. Hence, you should listen to me.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. We should look to more knowledgeable people for advice, but if everyone uses the same approach, it can get a bit tiresome.
Altucher comes from a completely different approach. He chronicles his constant failure after failure in life and his near-brushes with success and relays the lessons learned in retrospect. In my opinion, his blog is brilliant, edgy, and really pushes the envelope. Our readers should definitely get a kick out of it.
UBS Bankers Said to Golf in Pebble Beach After Trading Loss (Bloomberg Businessweek)
In my opinion, this article is highly irresponsible. Lots of people are still angry at the banks, so what’s better than writing a piece about investment bankers playing golf after a huge trading loss, right? A bunch of readers will click on that one. Be mad at the bankers for the bailouts, sure; but this sort of thing is just B.S.
Let’s clear up a few things. The trading and risk management divisions created those trading losses, not the investment bankers. If risk management was on vacation, then that would be a bit infuriating, to say the least. Second, does the author inform us of the regular schedule at investment banks? If you want to spend the next few years working 80 hours per week plus weekends, join an investment bank. It’s a highly paid but very intense job. In their eyes, every day of my life is a vacation, I’m okay with them playing a little golf. And third, if you have clients who pay millions in fees and enter into nominal transactions worth billions, you bend over backwards for them. If they want to play golf at Pebble Beach, you play golf at Pebble Beach. If they want you to do back flips, you do back flips. There are plenty of smart investment banks out there willing to issue their shares and bonds. This is a business where relationships are extremely important.
Furthermore, UBS recently laid off 3,000 people to save a little over $2 billion, and then had a rogue trader literally rob the bank of that $2 billion… not to mention that there has been a huge exodus of talent out of the UBS investment banking division because the company lowered compensation to a greater extent than its competitors. On top of that, the CEO just resigned. The last thing the bank needs now is some punk journalist fanning the flames based on a poor understanding of the business, just so he can get a few extra clicks to his article.
That’s it for today. Thank you for reading and subscribing to Casey Daily Dispatch.
Casey Daily Dispatch Editor
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