Sunday, September 05, 2004

The Pentagon's New Map---T. Barnett

Thomas Barnett's “Pentagon's New Map” is worth checking out, whether or not you agree with him. I caught the last ten minutes of Barnett's lecture on C-Span yesterday--- it's probable they will run it again soon. Apart from the cheesy sound effects he pasted into his slideshow, I would say it's worth watching. (Click on title to link to the website.)

The most telling point the guy makes is that many problems arise from the countries in the "Middle East" region he calls "The GAP," meaning the place where FOREIGN DIRECT (i.e., “private sector”) INVESTMENT is almost nil compared to the investment by the U.S. government in military security for those countries. His point is that the reason private sector investment is so low is primarily because foreign investors have little sense that the regimes will respect those investments, because of their countries’ religious/societal xenophobia and hostilities.

This in turn, has led to a feedback loop in which countries like Saudi Arabia which has enjoyed TRILLIONS of dollars of income from sales of their oil (raw material) have NO domestic manufacturing capacity to show for all that money. In just a few generations of selling their oil without encouraging foreign investment in their country, they have gone from having a very high per capita wealth to a level similar to some of the poorest African nations. And that was accomplished, let’s recall, by NATIONALIZING the oil wells, refineries, and port/loading facilities that had been built by foreign investors. How ya gonna keep’em interested in building up your country if every time they do that, the government confiscates the stuff they built? Sounds like a reasonably effective DISINCENTIVE to me.

Saudi Arabia now has a relatively enormous population of temporary foreign workers doing the shit jobs, because their own youth have been raised in families with government-guaranteed income, education, health care, etc. paid out of their astronomical oil revenues.

Still no domestic manufacturing capacity worth mentioning. Oh, yeah--- except for those endangered rhino horn dagger handle thingies...

Their own government officials have lamented that Saudi university students are electing to pursue Islamic studies than hard sciences or public health or medicine or civil engineering. The result of the religious 7th century-traditionalist mind-set of their society is the proliferation of extremist Wahabi schools, idle young Saudi men ripe for radical recruitment, and a population growth rate that will soon break the bank of their socialist setup.

And Saudi Arabia is pretty much the ideal model for the Middle East, except that few of those countries have the vast oil reserves to sustain that artificiality as long as they have.

Well, the policies of the past are clearly not working, as the Saudi government are learning with great pain. Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda band of perverts are targeting Saudi businesses and government facilities. I don’t have the wisdom to suggest precisely what our government’s response should be. But it doesn’t take a lot of brains to see that it’s time to stop simply supportng the status quo and blindly propping up authoritarian repressive and essentially ANTI-American regimes. There must be pressures that can be brought to bear on them that are more effective than the famously impotent U.N. sanctions. Remember how very little they accomplished with Rhodesia, South Africa, and Iraq.


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