The so-called “Umbrella Revolution” of Hong Kong appears be heating up despite a softening of police tactics used against protesters. That said, the news is no longer on the actual protests or the Chinese reforms that sought to undermine Hong Kong’s political independence. What the world needs to focus on is the ripple effects of the protests.
With China attempting to block news of the protests from reaching mainland China, the world is watching while the Chinese People will eventually learn about what is taking place in Hong Kong. For this reason, it is wise for the leadership of Hong Kong to avoid using further violence against peaceful protestors, especially since resistance only seems to fuel their fire. When it comes down to it, the Chinese government will determine the outcome of these growing protests.
Although Asian Countries like Thailand have seen ongoing protests against their government with little regional impact, the Hong Kong protests may well be different. Hong Kong is a place where freedom and economic opportunity are deeply entrenched. Meanwhile, the fact any disruptions due to political instability would affect the world’s second largest economy means the world needs to pay particularly close attention to the situation. Just as the Arab Spring Revolutions were sparked by the protest of a single man unable to live a life free of oppression and poverty in a country and region ripe with unresponsive governance, Hong Kong could well be the beginning of an Asian Fall.
Should China choose to suppress the protests in Hong Kong with military might as Syria and Libya did, they will likely be sowing the seeds for a much longer, much more volatile rebellion. While crackdowns on behalf of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Myanmar ended well for those in power, all of these countries have had to make reforms to better address the interests of their Peoples. In the case of Hong Kong, the reality that protesters want true democracy means China could well be facing a scenario more akin to either Syria or Myanmar.
The unfortunate reality of turning the fight against the Islamic State into an effort to address the threat of globalized terrorism, which must be a sustained campaign to degrade established and emerging terrorist organizations, is that terrorist groups tend to be a benefit to someone. In the case of the Al-Qaeda linked Al-Nusra Front, the benefit goes to the very rebels the US and the West wish to use against the Islamic State. Consequently, dragging the Al-Nusra Front into Obama’s war on terrorism at this time was a poor strategic move.
Despite admissions by the Obama Administration that the US failed to address the rising threat of the Islamic State, America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan did distract the United States from the broader threat of other terrorist groups beyond Al-Qaeda. The lengthy conflicts also exhausted the US military, which threatened America’s ability to respond to far more imminent threats while costing the US too much in terms of treasure and blood.
Above all, a major lesson learned from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts is that America does not have enough ground forces to fully eliminate a mobile insurgency or terrorist group, especially when collateral damage leads to increased support for anti-American terrorist groups. As such, putting US troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria to deal with the Islamic State is not going to work and should not be tried. Only local populations with outside support can secure their territories without creating crippling backlash.
There is, of course, also the far more pressing and far more challenging issue of the Ukraine Crisis, which means the US has to reserve its strength to deal with Russia’s increasingly aggressive behavior, particularly if the US is going to reengage Russia diplomatically. Sacrificing America’s ability to address a threat from Russia or China, as well as lesser threats from rogue states like North Korea and Iran, for the Islamic State or any other terrorist group would be terribly short-sighted and endanger America’s broader security interests.
Rebuilding US power with altruistic leadership: Taking on Islamic State, Russia, and Ebola
The United States came to dominate the world stage during the Post World War II and Cold War Era in a way never seen before as it became the first true superpower, because it was supported by a broad coalition of allies who believed in American leadership. Unlike the colonial powers and the Soviet Union, the United States was not solely motivated by the pursuit of its own immediate interests. Making the world safe for democracy, essentially, meant looking out for the needs and wants of all Americans as well as all the Peoples of the world.
Unfortunately, egocentric, selfish tendencies started to dominate American thinking. As Americans began to focus more and more on their own interests, US public and foreign policy also started to reflect the lack of altruistic motivation. Reaching its climax in the post-Iraq Invasion Era, the world became thoroughly disenfranchised with the US. From the Ebola Outbreak to the Ukraine Crisis to the threat of the Islamic State, American leadership is once again yielding results in terms of increased global cooperation and greater support for US foreign policy. Obviously, these and numerous other global issues will take time to be addressed, but the world is finally working toward major solutions.
As evidence of America’s renewed soft power, the George W. Bush Administration following the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks proclaimed the right to take preemptive military actions inside any country unable or unwilling to turn over terrorists. Instead of uniting the International Community in a “War on Terror,” world leaders grew increasingly afraid of American military might, which only intensified with the invasion of Iraq. Today, the Obama Administration has essentially made the same justification for bombing the Islamic State in Syria as he also successfully asked the International Community for greater support to curtail the Ebola Outbreak.
While the Assad regime is clearly in no shape to take on the Islamic State threat, much of the world no longer recognizes President Bashar Al-Assad to be the legitimate ruler of Syria, so the issue of the US and its partners violating Syria’s sovereignty is only being questioned by a handful of parties including Russia. A year or so ago, the efforts of the Kremlin to curtail American power would have been met with greater support. Even before the Ukraine Crisis, the West did not fully trust Russia, but both Russia and China have been seen as a means of balancing American dominance since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Just as the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and Harry S. Truman helped sell the American vision that would move Europe beyond the vicious cycle of ever escalating wars with each other, President Obama followed action against the Islamic State in Syria by asserting the United States as the leader of all nations willing to take on globalized terrorism.
In essence, he is selling the Muslim world the same American dream of a united, peace-seeking International Community that his predecessors once sold Europeans. Because the US is offering a vision beyond fulfilling American interests and leaders of the Middle East now see the dangers associated with unchecked terrorism, political leaders appear extremely receptive to what the US President had to say.
In doing so, Obama also managed to chastise Russia for its involvement in the Ukraine Crisis while building the diplomatic framework needed to address China’s increasingly aggressive behavior. Where Putin’s efforts to dominate a Westernizing Ukraine, which it is important to recognize the Russian culture has been assimilating Western trends as well, would be acceptable under the Nineteenth Century mindset the Kremlin seems to be operating under, the majority of the world seeks the American vision of a stable International Community where all nations, no matter how weak, are free to govern.
In truth, those who believe “might makes right” are actually correct, but what people like President Obama and this writer argue is that the might of a united world can make right all the good things America has long preached.
The greatest threat to any capitalist economy is its own failure to provide for the needs of the population it is supposed to serve. Just as issues like too few Middle Class jobs, stagnant incomes, and so-called business inversions, among others, demonstrate public discontent with the failures of current economic policies, protests and other events surrounding the so-called “Climate Week” send a message that the economy is not sufficiently addressing environmental issues.
On the other hand, capitalism is essentially a mechanized, versus manual in the case of socialism, approach to the distribution of a nation’s recourses that should, ideally, lead to the most efficient economy possible. Like all machines, however, the results are not dictated by what people want the outcome to be, but rather, what the parts, e.g. economic policies and human actors, of the mechanism are designed to do, as well as how the overall machine is engineered to work.
Consequently, avoiding the impulse to embrace inefficient, unsustainable, and counterproductive socialist policies requires environmental issues like climate change to be addressed by an economy engineered to reward environmentally healthy behavior. Of course, the reality that human nature forces people to, more often not, favor their immediate interests, e.g. incomes, over their long-term interests, e.g. climate change, means any environmental policies that create a conflict of interest by harming the economy/people will be counterproductive and costly.
Efforts to pressure investors to invest in renewable energy sources, as they divest away from the coal, oil, and natural gas industries, can be part of the solution. If the goal is to divest from the commodities associated with oil, coal, and natural gas, such a campaign will only help eliminate long-term investors who are propping up energy prices by staying invested in commodities instead of cashing out at the end of the month as future traders do. All this does is help decrease fossil fuel prices and encourage more demand for fuel fossils while making alternative energy sources the more expensive alternative.
Because the costs of the environmental damage caused by oil, coal, and natural gas are hidden, the true cost of carbon-based fuel sources is not paid by consumers who drive demand for these goods. As such, it is necessary to force customers to pay the true cost of hydrocarbons in order to make the oil, coal, and natural gas companies no longer viable investments. The viability of eco-friendly investments will, therefore, determine if a strategy aimed at investing in sustainable industries can work.
Unfortunately, divesting from the coal, oil, and natural gas companies is not likely to work in the long-term, because these businesses are able to generate enormous profit and supply their own capital while there will always be investors looking for easy investments. More importantly, a failure to investment in American and other Western firms will simply shift production overseas, i.e. the West will lose the ability to regulate the industry. Given the current efforts to punish Russia for its involvement in the Ukraine Crisis, it should be obvious that this strategy would create a huge national security threat.
As a bit of a reality check, people need oil, coal, and natural gas to live, thus the long-term goal must be to make alternative energy sources more affordable and foster a transition away from dirty energy. In truth, the world is late to the game, so efforts to reduce carbon emissions are likely to have little impact on climate change until long after the world experiences the devastation of global warming. Asking countries to hurt their own economies by simply trying to force cuts to carbon emissions and/or severely punishing major polluters will do more damage to humanity, which is the paradox of the world’s fossil fuel addiction.
Although the true cost of fossil fuels means oil is not the cheapest source of energy humanity will ever enjoy, it is likely the cheapest source of hydrocarbons mankind will ever have. Accordingly, there will always be a demand for fossil fuels. Unfortunately, around 50 percent of a barrel of oil is now converted into gasoline as compared to when it was being burned off as waste during the production of kerosene. Aside from the environmental and health problems the practice creates, the burning of fossil fuels is, clearly, very costly in terms of lost opportunities. What is burned today to go five miles down the road could be someone’s cancer treatment ten years done the road.
In conclusion, the answer to fossil fuel pollution is not to simply eliminate production and prevent investments into more efficient infrastructure, it is to help slowly increase the price of oil as alternative energy sources are make cheaper and more available. The focus must be on creating viable alternatives to fossil fuels while forcing the economy to realize the true cost of burning fossil fuels over time.
It is, however, also important to incentivize the oil, coal, and natural gas industries to pursue cleaner production and make it more profitable for companies to use fossil fuels in the production of higher-end products. Economic policies that do this over time, instead of pitting the environmental movement against the fossil fuel industries, are winning strategy that avoid the stalemate both groups find themselves in.
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