Being Nice to Dictators

Being Nice to Dictators

This is what American foreign policy has come to. We give dictators whatever they want in order to keep the peace and to keep migrants from flooding Europe and by extension, eventually, America (and for oil). Today Trump announced that he will end the sanctions against Turkey in exchange for a cease fire in the land grab against the Kurds in Syria and to end the presence of a minority group despised by Turks for reasons that are rooted in ancient animosities. Ending sanctions may not be a done deal yet, but it most likely will be. Next the Russian sanctions will end by executive decree because Trump likes to imagine that he is a strong man, despite the fact that he is just a corrupt bombastic pawn.

Once again the president exerts his executive power as if Congress does not exist. He does not see this as breaking an oath to uphold the Constitution because he sees the executive branch as all-powerful and he finally has a Chief Justice who agrees with this self-serving interpretation of our founding documents. Once again the president of America chooses to please Putin in Russia and Erdogan in Turkey, both “strong men.”

We have been wary of backing these men because their goals in Europe (and now in the world) are imperialistic as well as political, and because the spread of authoritarianism was something we have opposed for decades as democracy offered the world more freedoms. Now that capitalism has spread everywhere, perhaps we see that greed was our true goal, and now that we achieved our economic goals our humanistic goals of encouraging nations towards democracy have become expendable.

So we remain silent as the citizens of Hong Kong demonstrate to preserve freedoms they already own from being taken away. China’s business is China’s business, until one day in the not-so-distant future it becomes our business. We don’t want a war with China, but we should take a principled stand in support of human freedoms and telegraph that we mean what we say. We do not usually knuckle under to dictators until now when the economy of the entire world is so tied to the new capitalist China that stock portfolios trump humanitarianism.

China has also become a bit scary. It is so big and it is a giant machine run by one man. There is no way to be disloyal to the leader in China except from jail or from exile. Capitalism run by one leader is intimidating enough; the thought of a military with unlimited human resources run by one leader who demands absolute loyalty is terrifying. If we are afraid to stand up to China on the small things, I think we can one day expect to have to face this giant on some fairly big things, or perhaps we will just capitulate and keep our thoughts to ourselves. Isn’t love of freedom the reason we are usually not nice to dictators?

Of course we can’t have this conversation without a few words about North Korea and the mythic-dispenser-of-cruelty-to-his-own people, and dictator supposedly in a “love affair with our President. Sometimes people are so convinced of their own deity that no amount of “tough love” will change the way they behave. North Korea is a bit quieter but it could be a silence that is covering up a plan to treat the world to some future dastardly deeds with killer results.

It is difficult to believe that someone as egomaniacal as Kim Jong-Un plans to go peacefully into the sunset. Exactly what his plans are it is difficult to discern but if he ever teams up with Russia, China, and Turkey he will have access to some pretty enormous pieces of world real estate and whatever assets and weapons the leaders of these nations choose to grant him. Perhaps this is the reason that Trump thinks cozying up to all of these nations is a necessity right now. Sadly what seems to be the case is that he would like to become a member of this “strong man” group.

Goodbye freedom. Goodbye Republic. Goodbye democracy and free speech, including freedom of the press. Learn to follow orders blindly and just do the tasks assigned to you by the Big Brothers and you will be fine. Life will be a grim business and mercifully short. This could be our future if we don’t figure this out now. This is what being nice to dictators wins us.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – BBC

Celestial Splendor and Politics

In this last week of February in the leap year of 2012 we enjoyed a celestial event. Jupiter, the Moon and Venus made a triangle in the evening sky that was quite spectacular. The Moon was actually a perfect crescent moon, round side down, tips up. We often miss celestial phenomenon here in my home town because our night sky is usually clouded over, especially in winter. But I did happen to see this particular configuration in person and it was far larger in the sky than it appears in photographs (however the heavenly bodies were not tagged). It was truly stunning and dominated the night along with Orion, the Hunter, also spectacular, and visible in spite of city lights. If it hadn’t been so cold I would have liked to stand under that night sky for quite a while.
This was also the week that I listened to a discussion about our race to space under President Kennedy. The speaker, whose name I did not catch, felt that we should have been concentrating on colonizing space in those heady days, and that if we had we would have people (scientists) living in space already. Sadly, he said, our only goal was to beat Russia, to not let Russia get the upper hand in space. So we spent tons of bucks just to go there, with no more ambitious goals to justify the dollars. It was just an expensive episode of saber rattling. Perhaps the most positive outcome is that it did distract everyone from starting WW III. Of course, there are no do-overs in history, at least until we perfect a time machine, so we will never know what would have been accomplished if we had a more cosmic agenda.
In an article called “The New Space Race” by Paul Spudis posted on February 9, 2010 in the online publication called SpaceRef, Mr. Spudis says that “China is stepping up their program to send people to the Moon.” It asks the question, “Are we in a race back to the Moon? And if there is a ‘space race’ today, what do we mean by the term? What are the implications of a new space race?” Is it NBG? “The so-called ‘Moon race’ of the 1960’s was a Cold War exercise of soft power projection, meaning that no military confrontation was part of it, but rather, it was a competition by non-lethal means to determine which country had the superior technology and by implication the superior political and economic system.”
The article traces the history of the American space program and concludes in this way.
There is indeed a new space race. It is just as important and vital to our country’s future as the original one, if not as widely perceived and appreciated. It consists of a struggle with both hard power and soft power. The hard power aspect is to confront the ability of other nations to deny us access to our vital satellite assets of cislunar space. The soft power aspect is to a question: how shall society be organized in space? Both issues are equally important and both are addressed by a lunar return. Will space be a sanctuary for science and PR stunts or will it be a true frontier with scientists and pilots, but also miners, technicians, entrepreneurs and settlers? The decisions made now will decide the fate of space for generations. The choice is clear; we cannot afford to relinquish our foothold in space and abandon the Vision for Space Exploration.
While I very much agree with this point of view, in order for this to happen we will have to hope for some kind of financial miracle. We are a competitive group, so the reality that we are not in a mad rush to colonize the moon before China is a clear sign that we currently have other issues on our minds. Meanwhile we will have to be satisfied with the celestial wonders we can see from earth.