Opinion

The Great Debate

U.S. military giant, diplomatic dwarf?

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate— Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own —

The U.S. armed forces, the world’s most powerful, outnumber the country’s diplomatic service and its major aid agency by a ratio of more than 180:1, vastly higher than in other Western democracies. Military giant, diplomatic dwarf?

The ratio applies to people in uniform (or pin-striped suits). In terms of money, the U.S. military towers just as tall. Roughly half of all military spending in the world is American. Even potential adversaries in a conventional war spend puny sums in comparison. The 2010 defense budget now before Congress totals $534 billion, not including funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. China’s defense budget is $70 billion, Russia’s around $50 billion.giant_dwarf_w350

Is the huge imbalance between the size of the U.S. armed forces and the civilian agencies that make up “soft power” — chiefly the foreign service and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) — destined to remain a permanent fixture in the political landscape?

The gap is not likely to shrink dramatically, despite a growing internal debate over how to balance the instruments of power. Ironically, the man who has provided some of the most memorable statistics illustrating the hard power-soft power gap is Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the only holdover from the cabinet of George W. Bush and President Barack Obama’s most inspired choice.

Iran sanctions and wishful thinking

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate
– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

So what’s so difficult in getting Iran to drop its nuclear program? All it needs is a great American leader who uses sanctions to break the Iranian economy so badly that popular discontent sweeps away the leadership. It is replaced without a shot being fired.

That simplistic solution to one of the most complex problems of the Middle East was part of a keynote speech greeted with thunderous applause by 6,000 delegates to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The speaker: Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and a likely Republican presidential candidate in 2012.

Drugs, elephants and American prisons

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate–Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own–

Are the 305 million people living in the United States the most evil in the world? Is this the reason why the U.S., with 5 percent of the world’s population, has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners and an incarceration rate five times as high as the rest of the world?

Or is it a matter of a criminal justice system that has gone dramatically wrong, swamping the prison system with drug offenders?

Killer robots and a revolution in warfare

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

They have no fear, they never tire, they are not upset when the soldier next to them gets blown to pieces. Their morale doesn’t suffer by having to do, again and again, the jobs known in the military as the Three Ds – dull, dirty and dangerous.

They are military robots and their rapidly increasing numbers and growing sophistication may herald the end of thousands of years of human monopoly on fighting war. “Science fiction is moving to the battlefield. The future is upon us,” as Brookings scholar Peter Singer put it to a conference of experts at the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania this month.

Obama and flawed logic on Cuba

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate

– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

The U.S. case for isolating Cuba and keeping it out of international meetings such as this week’s Summit of the Americas sounds simple: the country doesn’t have democratically elected leaders, it holds political prisoners, it violates human rights and its citizens can’t travel freely. All perfectly true.

But if the logic used for isolating Cuba were applied consistently, neither China nor Saudi Arabia, for example, should have taken part in the London G20 summit. The U.S. State Department estimates China has “tens of thousands” of political prisoners and describes it as “an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party … is the paramount source of power.”

Arabia and the knowledge gap

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own. –

Think big. Think global. Spare no expense. That could be the motto for an ambitious effort by the United Arab Emirates to close the knowledge gap with the West and eventually restore Arab learning to its former glory.

Headlines from Dubai, the second-largest and most flamboyant of the seven emirates that make up the country, have been dominated by the bursting of a spectacular property bubble and an exodus of foreigners who lost their jobs as the global recession slowed down the economy. One thing that is not slowing –an education drive without parallel in the Arab world.

Drug wars and the balloon effect

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate
– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Why have billions of dollars and thousands of anti-narcotics agents around the world failed to throttle the global traffic in cocaine, heroin and marijuana? Blame wrong-headed policies, largely driven by the United States, and what experts call the balloon effect.

Squeezing a balloon in one place makes it expand in another. Destroy drug crops in one region and cultivation moves to another. Cut a supply route in one place and another one springs up. Take the example of Colombia and Mexico, at present a focus of U.S. attention because of large-scale violence that threatens to spill across the border.

In American crisis, anger and guns

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate
– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. —

In the first two months of this year, around 2.5 million Americans bought guns, a 26 percent increase over the same period in 2008. It was great news for gun makers and a sign of a dark mood in the country.

Gun sales shot up almost immediately after Barack Obama won the U.S. presidential elections on November 4 and firearm enthusiasts rushed to stores, fearing he would tighten gun controls despite campaign pledges to the contrary.

The Dow at 36,000 and the end of history

dow36000

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate — Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

It’s no longer in print but you can get it over the Internet and $1.99 (plus shipping and handling) buys you a well-preserved copy of Dow 36,000, a book that has become an emblem for really, really wrong forecasts.

With the Dow Jones Industrial Average below 7,000 and the U.S. in its worst financial crisis in 80 years, re-reading the book is a bizarre experience, as well as a lesson that being wrong does not necessarily harm the prognosticator’s career.

Setback for America’s pro-Israel hawks

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

“The brutal oppression of the Palestinians by the Israeli occupation shows no sign of ending … Israel no longer even pretends to seek peace with the Palestinians, it strives to pacify them … American identification with Israel has become total.”

These are excerpts from a 2007 speech by Charles (Chas) Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, whose appointment as chairman of the National Intelligence Council was announced on February 26 and is turning into a test case for the strength of Washington’s right-wing pro-Israel lobby.

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