Monday, September 15, 2008


There are similarities in America between finance and the military, for instance while the ball is in play, the players all talk the talk, period. Confidence. "The mission".

But when the whole financial enterprise crashes and burns, there is a strong tradition for turning around and picking the bones clean, and for criticizing the "hubris" and the "folly" of those who only yesterday or the day before, were the heroes. Which is a good thing, relatively speaking.

By contrast, when the military enterprise crashes and burns, the reaction isn't the same at all. (For orders of magnitude, note that Lehman has filed for bankruptcy with $613 billion in parent-company debt, which is an amount of money, that had they earmarked it all for the military scheme in Iraq instead of for their various financial schemes, would have been enough to keep the war there going, just with that money, for several years at least. Not to mention the other Wall Street bodies). But the interesting thing is that when someone in finance tries, nevertheless, to keep on talking the talk, he is ridiculed. BOA chief Lewis said in a NYT interview this morning he thinks we have been through "a Golden Age in banking and financial services"...Check out the comments on this morning for all the fun you can have with that... One guy said he has a couple of old Bob Marley flags and a dirty glass pipe, and he wants to know how to value them as loan-collateral. Not so with the military. Run out of soldiers to occupy Iraq? Need more soldiers in Afghanistan? From there need to invade north Pakistan? All in the fight against the elusive "terror", or for the even more elusive "hearts and minds"? Having won over no hearts, no minds, no diminution in "terror"? No problem. Just keep rolling.

What's their secret? How can you spend hundreds of billions to accomplish nothing, and never have to face a Lehman moment? Obviously, finance isn't wrapped in the flag the same way the military is. Equally obviously, it's a lot easier to hide mistakes when you're the only news source. Plus there's no draft. But there's something else that keeps the ball rolling too, and that is the fact that there's always a new story. Back in 2003 it was preemption. Now it's COIN. Pretty soon it will be preemption again, or something else, maybe "liberal interventionism". The story-telling just goes on and on and on*. And that's the part of this ominous show where we can all have good seats.

*Interesting conference on up-to-date narrative techniques for a warlike nation described here.


(There are other reasons for keeping up with the comment-threads at calculatedrisk, for instance one commenter tells this story: A wealthy Baghdad merchant sent his servant to buy provisions in the market. The servant was jostled by someone and turning around saw that the woman was Death, and she made a threatening gesture to him. Returning home he told his master and asked for the loan of his horse, so he could ride at all speed to Samarra, because she would never find him there. Later the merchant went to the market and asked the woman: Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant? She replied: It was not a threatening gesture, it was a gesture of surprise at seeing him here, for I have an appointment with him in Samarra this evening).


Blogger Mike said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:52 AM  
Blogger badger said...

I didn't know you could do that.

(Anyway, Mike linked to an interesting piece by their Pakistan reporter on the expanded war, and the fact that there seem to have been unwritten agreements with Musharraf about airstrikes, that don't hold anymore as far as the elected government is concerned, but the strikes continue, or rather increase.

I'm dubious about the idea of this as a turning-point in the war(like Laos/Cambodia and Nixon), but it could be a turning-point in the story-telling (I notice "Kip" over at AbuM seems to have gotten the hook just after writing about Pakistan...)

2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, my guess is, the wars are very far removed from the everyday life of 99,5% of all Americans. Far away, out of mind. Everyone's like that, but it means these colonial-type wars are fought with little regard for the indigenous people or the actual outcome. People simply don't care very much about people on other continents.

3:57 PM  
Blogger badger said...

I disagree. There's a reason why there is a need for these stories about fighting terror, world-threatening civil wars, and so on. It is because without the hype, people would revert to a standard level of decency and would not put up with it.

4:12 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Interesting reply to my comment, Badger. I see some truth in your idea that precisely this kind of story of a "turning point" provides a kind of narrative jolt for Western audiences that is what is needed to motivate Western audiences and keep them on board and justify the Afghan war.

The reason why I'm skeptical of this idea is that there have been some real developments on the ground in Pakistan that suggest that these developments really are important. Specifically, I'd highlight the incident with Pakistani troops firing towards American troops trying to enter South Waziristan by helicopter, and (perhaps more significantly), the report that Pakistani tribal chiefs threatened to join or support the Taliban (see the Guardian for both pieces).

Narrative and media manipulation aside, don't you think that if the Pakistani military and local government agencies played a more active role in assisting the Taliban and allied fighters/warlords, there is absolutely NO way that the war in Afghanistan could possibly be winnable for the US?

Imagine if this scenario of increased Pakistani support to the Taliban came true. In this case, the US would have to take some kind of major military against Pakistan's military; obviously they wouldn't sit idly while the Taliban get even stronger. Now, if you imagine the US taking this kind of action, I think it would be very likely that Russia would step up its support to Pakistan (and possibly China would do the same). There are a number of potential scenarios, but to my mind what I've just described is not that far-fetched. The way I see it, the militants already have a winning hand in Pakistan and Afghanistan (thanks to government support or tolerance in Pakistan, to opium cultivation and other factors in Afghanistan). The US is simply speeding up this process of imperial dissolution with the new Pakistan military policy.

(I didn't know I could delete my comments either, and the reason I did so is because it was filled with so many typos.)

6:05 PM  
Blogger badger said...

I'm sure in the long run you're right, and I guess in the short run we'll soon see... Which is another way of saying I wish I knew more

9:34 AM  
Blogger annie said...

badger, when a poster logs on w/his account (as opposed to using anon or open id) there is a little trashcan at the bottom of the post only the poster can see. if you click it, you can delete your own post.

wrt your link to abu and the 'war of ideas' ie narrative, he talks about this tension in their presentations in the portrait of al-Qaeda. i agree w/you on your response to klaus, lately we here in the states have been bombarded w/the anti islam rhetoric in preparation for the elections. if the american people viewed AQ as a marginal, self-defeating movement collapsing on its own irrelevancy there would be no way they could get any support for this war mongering geopolitical resource grabbing. they are completely dependent on revving up the fear.

while it is true to some extent the war is 'removed' from peoples lives, one of the reason it is removed is because the narrative is so bizarre, huge gaps in logic and lies. the truth is i'm sure edge of your seat stuff, but who's telling the truth?

anyway i can understand how anyone outside the states would think those of us concerned were at 1%. when the journalists at the rnc protests are arrested and video confiscated and preemptive raids on protesters and down playing numbers. they are battling a narrative war here at home too.

12:38 PM  

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