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Thursday, January 6

Welfare-to-Work Program for Despots

"Pundita, I read your [Jan 5] blog on Gordon Prather. I think you're wrong to make light of him. He makes very serious charges against Bush's handling of nuclear proliferation and he uses highly technical language to do it. I wouldn't call that acting like a nanny.
[Signed] June in Cincinnati"

Dear June:

Pundita is not sure what's highly technical about the statement, "Bush has failed to support the IAEA-NPT regime in North Korea, Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere. Consequently, your chances of getting nuked in your jammies have gone way up."

But we concede your point when Dr. Prather discusses centrifuges and other aspects of nuclear weapons technology. However, foreign policy is not rocket science. Prather's main beef against Bush's Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) is that it chases down what Prather calls "junk"--the kind of materials his expertise tells him do not pose a serious military threat to the USA. He's looking at the PSI from the viewpoint of military defense technology, which calls up the highly technical discussions.

Prather is one of many defense experts who enjoyed favor in Washington for decades. That's just why China got away with murder for decades. Every year, the White House and Congress asked the Pentagon the same question: Is China a military threat yet? Then the Pentagon consulted with experts on military systems and reported back, "Nope. Not yet."

Technically, and within the narrow limits of the question, the experts were correct. China was (and remains) way behind the United States in military systems. The same could be said for every other country. However, going back decades, China has had enough military power to allow the Chinese Communist Party to:

--Maintain a stranglehold on the Chinese and Tibetans and threaten Taiwan.

--Force Chinese into slave labor, which cranked out ultra-cheap products that the Western consumer snapped up.

--Stifle democracy movements in China.

--Sell or barter Chinese military technology, which was stolen from Western defense industries, to despotic governments who rule over peoples still trying to climb out of the Iron Age. That in turn helped those despots quash democracy movements and maintain a stranglehold on their people.

I'm not singling out China. The above formula was repeated all over the world--in every land that was the recipient of (World Bank) IDA loans and loans from the international banks, which follow in the wake of the World Bank in the way sharks follow in the wake of an ocean liner. The formula was repeated in every land that was the recipient of ongoing large-scale Western aid.

Put another way, the formula was repeated in every land that had some resource or strategic position that Western countries wanted or needed.

The results of the formula? It came down to the horrors in Indian Kashmir. It came down to genocide in Rwanda and Sudan and the bloodbath in DR Congo. It came down to government-engineered mass starvation in Ethiopia. It came down to the international megabusiness in heroin production and distribution. It came down to propping up North Korea's cannibalism supporting regime. It came down to blowing up buses of Israeli schoolchildren. It came down to the government-sponsored hanging and stoning of children in Iran. It came down to the day that Americans remember as 9/11.

So, yes--technically, the defense systems analysts are right: A country such as China or Saudi Arabia, Iran, Burma or Nigeria, etc. was never a match for America in the military sphere. It doesn't necessarily follow that governments far behind the US in military technology can't make their lands a hell on earth for their people and cost Americans blood and USD trillions.

If the formula sounds familiar--it's essentially the one that turned entire cities in America into virtual police states, as the only way to keep a lid on the crime that resulted from widescale drug addiction among the poor. Then one day, alert Americans started asking, "How is it that in a land of such wealth, we've got a permanent underclass of poor people who end up in a life of crime to support a drug habit?"

The answer was not hard to find. America had created a welfare system that was guaranteed to raise up generations of poor and keep them poor. The surprise was the extent of the connection between the welfare system, drug addiction, and crime.

Before the Food Stamp system went electronic, on any given Food Stamp distribution day in a city, you could see brokers working the lines formed outside the distribution points. The brokers offered cash on the spot for the Food Stamp booklets, which they bought at a steep discount on the face value of the stamps.

The same brokering went on in countless inner-city stores that were fronts for drug cartels. The profits from the resold Food Stamps helped fund wholesale illicit drug purchases. Then the drugs were sold on the street to the very people who sold their Food Stamps to the brokers.

Essentially the same situation has been going on in the world for a half century, and on a scale that mocks the mess the US welfare system spawned. We're making a big deal about the corruption found in the UN Oil for Food Program, but the billions skimmed from that program are a drop in the ocean. For decades, governments that received low-cost NGO loans for building projects routinely sent military operatives to steal the heavy equipment on the projects. Then the government would fence the stolen equipment in order to get hard currency to buy weapons.

That's just one scam out of countless for skimming hard currency off Western loans and aid. Then American taxpayers ask, "How do these dirt-poor governments find the money to buy so many weapons and support big armies?

So it's misleading to think of Bush's Proliferation Security Initiative as a purely military operation. The initiative is also a forceful way of telling all nations that the scams are being shut down.

If you're an Iranian despot spending $800 million to build a nuclear facility, which you swear to the international community is only for nuclear power--that's one issue. The other issue is that if you have that kind of money to spend on a 20th Century energy technology while the majority of your people still live in the 4th Century, America can no longer afford to participate in any way in the scam.

The 4th Century is generous. You saw pictures of what the city of Bam looked like before the earthquake. It was hard to tell the before-and-after pictures apart. What did those people need nuclear power for? An improved brand of candle wax and cow dung would have done it.

It's not necessarily talking trash, if a petroleum exporting government wants to install nuclear power plants. But one look at towns and most cities in Iran indicates what the Iranian government has done with their oil profits these past two decades. They plowed the greater portion into military spending. The distant second is Potemkin Village type projects, which look good on the glossy covers of reports the Iranian government shows to transnational banks they're wooing for loans. This is while the vast majority of Iranians live at borderline starvation. The Iran government had their excuse while Saddam was in power. Now we've removed the excuse.

So, Bush's PSI should not be conceived as interventionism--not given the amount of US tax dollars and investment funds that found their way into Western foreign aid and loans made by NGOs and international banks. And which propped up or created the despotic regimes we're dealing with today.

Of course the despots are huffy about Bush's tough love--as huffy as American welfare applicants when the Welfare-to-Work program was started and social workers began asking probing questions during the application interviews. Thus, the PSA campaign that put up posters all over America. The posters headlined, "Life is unfair. Get over it."

The PSI is a forceful way of saying the same to despots who spent decades whining to NGOs, "Oh we just poor developing country," every time they applied for a low-cost loan or defaulted on one.

Okay, if you're a poor developing country that depends on NGOs just to stay afloat, you don't need to be plowing your hard-earned hard currency into buying weapons material at gouge prices from black marketeers.

Granted, buying weapons is addictive because the Monkey See-Monkey Do aspect of human nature kicks in. If the government next door buys a fancy weapon system, your government wants the same system. So think of the PSI as helping depots break a habit they can't afford, and which Western taxes, defense industries and investment markets helped create.

The tough love extends to the contractors in EU nations who insist it's their right to sell weapons-related material and services to any country they want. This point also applies to Israel and FSU (former Soviet Union) contractors and African and Latin American governments that sell natural resources used in fancy weapons. Nobody is off the hook.

All such countries were on America's dole, in one form or another, for decades. If during the course they pulled themselves up enough to develop an export business from their national resources and defense industry, that's their right. It's also America's right to sit hard on allies and US foreign policy instruments (such as the World Bank) if firms in sponsoring countries insist on selling their wares and services to despots in developing countries.

Congress has not yet fully invoked the right, but Bush has made it clear that's where things are headed, if allies don't stop helping despots create regimes so well-armed and brutal they spawn insurgencies and terror groups, which falls back on America and every other democratic government.

Bush is leaving it to our Foreign Service to find reasonably polite ways to put the above points to allies and trading partners. But make no mistake; Bush wasn't kidding when he told the American people that our government would be fighting terrorism on many fronts, and in many ways that Americans would not hear announced on the nightly news.

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