The Revolution Will Not Be Televised — The Sustainability Manifesto for Projects

While doing stuff and living life (which seems to take me away from writing) there were a good many interesting things written on project management.  The very insightful Dave Gordon at his blog, The Practicing IT Project Manager, provides a useful weekly list of the latest contributions to the literature that are of note.  If you haven’t checked it out please do so–I recommend it highly.

While I was away Dave posted to an interesting link on the concept of sustainability in project management.  Along those lines three PM professionals have proposed a Sustainability Manifesto for Projects.  As Dave points out in his own post on the topic, it rests on three basic principles:

  • Benefits realization over metrics limited to time, scope, and cost
  • Value for many over value of money
  • The long-term impact of our projects over their immediate results

These are worthy goals and no one needs to have me rain on their parade.  I would like to see these ethical principles, which is what they really are, incorporated into how we all conduct ourselves in business.  But then there is reality–the “is” over the “ought.”

For example, Dave and I have had some correspondence regarding the nature of the marketplace in which we operate through this blog.  Some time ago I wrote a series of posts here, here, and here providing an analysis of the markets in which we operate both in macroeconomic and microeconomic terms.

This came in response to one my colleagues making the counterfactual assertion that we operate in a “free market” based on the concept of “private enterprise.”  Apparently, such just-so stories are lies we have to tell ourselves to make the hypocrisy of daily life bearable.  But, to bring the point home, in talking about the concept of sustainability, what concrete measures will the authors of the manifesto bring to the table to counter the financialization of American business that has occurred of the past 35 years?

For example, the news lately has been replete with stories of companies moving plants from the United States to Mexico.  This despite rising and record corporate profits during a period of stagnating median working class incomes.  Free trade and globalization have been cited as the cause, but this involves more hand waving and the invocation of mantras, rather than analysis.  There has also been the predictable invocations of the Ayn Randian cult and the pseudoscience* of Social Darwinism.  Those on the opposite side of the debate characterize things as a morality play, with the public good versus greed being the main issue.  All of these explanations miss their mark, some more than others.

An article setting aside a few myths was recently published by Jonathan Rothwell at Brookings, which came to me via Mark Thoma’s blog, in the article, “Make elites compete: Why the 1% earn so much and what to do about it”.  Rothwell looks at the relative gains of the market over the last 40 years and finds that corporate profits, while doing well, have not been the driver of inequality that Robert Reich and other economists would have it be.  In looking at another myth that has been promulgated by Greg Mankiw, he finds that the rewards of one’s labors is not related to any special intelligence or skill.  On the contrary, one’s entry into the 1% is actually related to what industry one chooses to enter, regardless of all other factors.  This disparity is known as a “pay premium”.  As expected, petroleum and coal products, financial instruments, financial institutions, and lawyers, are at the top of the pay premium.  What is not, against all expectations of popular culture and popular economic writing, is the IT industry–hardware, software, etc.  Though they are the poster children of new technology, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerburg, and others are the exception to the rule in an industry that is marked by a 90% failure rate.  Our most educated and talented people–those in science, engineering, the arts, and academia–are poorly paid–with negative pay premiums associated with their vocations.

The financialization of the economy is not a new or unnoticed phenomenon.  Kevin Phillips, in Wealth and Democracy, which was written in 2003, noted this trend.  There have been others.  What has not happened as a result is a national discussion on what to do about it, particularly in defining the term “sustainability”.

For those of us who have worked in the acquisition community, the practical impact of financialization and de-industrialization have made logistics challenging to say the least.  As a young contract negotiator and Navy Contracting Officer, I was challenged to support the fleet when any kind of fabrication or production was involved, especially in non-stocked machined spares of any significant complexity or size.  Oftentimes my search would find that the company that manufactured the items was out of business, its pieces sold off during Chapter 11, and most of the production work for those items still available done seasonally out of country.  My “out” at the time–during the height of the Cold War–was to take the technical specs, which were paid for and therefore owned by the government, to one of the Navy industrial activities for fabrication and production.  The skillset for such work was still fairly widespread, supported by the quality control provided by a fairly well-unionized and trade-based workforce–especially among machinists and other skilled workers.

Given the new and unique ways judges and lawyers have applied privatized IP law to items financed by the public, such opportunities to support our public institutions and infrastructure, as I was able, have been largely closed out.  Furthermore, the places to send such work, where possible, have also gotten vanishingly smaller.  Perhaps digital printing will be the savior for manufacturing that it is touted to be.  What it will not do is stitch back the social fabric that has been ripped apart in communities hollowed out by the loss of their economic base, which, when replaced, comes with lowered expectations and quality of life–and often shortened lives.

In the end, though, such “fixes” benefit a shrinkingly few individuals at the expense of the democratic enterprise.  Capitalism did not exist when the country was formed, despite the assertion of polemicists to link the economic system to our democratic government.  Smith did not write his pre-modern scientific tract until 1776, and much of what it meant was years off into the future, and its relevance given what we’ve learned over the last 240 years about human nature and our world is up for debate.  What was not part of such a discussion back then–and would not have been understood–was the concept of sustainability.  Sustainability in the study of healthy ecosystems usually involves the maintenance of great diversity and the flourishing of life that denotes health.  This is science.  Economics, despite Keynes and others, is still largely rooted in 18th and 19th century pseudoscience.

I know of no fix or commitment to a sustainability manifesto that includes global, environmental, and social sustainability that makes this possible short of a major intellectual, social or political movement willing to make a long-term commitment to incremental, achievable goals toward that ultimate end.  Otherwise it’s just the mental equivalent to camping out in Zuccotti Park.  The anger we note around us during this election year of 2016 (our year of discontent) is a natural human reaction to the end of an idea, which has outlived its explanatory power and, therefore, its usefulness.  Which way shall we lurch?

The Sustainability Manifesto for Projects, then, is a modest proposal.  It may also simply be a sign of the times, albeit a rational one.  As such, it leaves open a lot of questions, and most of these questions cannot be addressed or determined by the people to which it is targeted: project managers, who are usually simply employees of a larger enterprise.  People behave as they are treated–to the incentives and disincentives presented to them, oftentimes not completely apparent on the conscious level.  Thus, I’m not sure if this manifesto hits its mark or even the right one.

*This term is often misunderstood by non-scientists.  Pseudoscience means non-science, just as alternative medicine means non-medicine.  If any of the various hypotheses of pseudoscience are found true, given proper vetting and methodology, that proposition would simply be called science.  Just as alternative methods of treatment, if found effective and consistent, given proper controls, would simply be called medicine.

Legitimacy and the EU Democratic Deficit

Turning to political science again, Kevin O’Rourke has an important article regarding the democratic deficit and types of legitimacy in Critical Quarterly, particularly in light of the events surrounding the Greek crisis.  He cites the late political scientist Peter Mair’s book, Ruling the Void, as providing a solid framework for understanding what is happening in Europe, and to some extent within all democracies as a result of wealth and power concentration among an increasingly transnational economic elite.

The issue that O’Rourke tackles based on Mair’s insights, is one of democratic legitimacy.  For economists and financiers who seem to have (I would argue) taken an illegitimately outsized role in determining what is good for Greece, even if Greece disagrees, the dichotomy here seems to be between what has been called input vs. output legitimacy.  I understand what he is saying here, but in political science “legitimacy” is not the same as “democratic legitimacy” and, in the end I think, this is his point.

O’Rourke, an economist himself, tackles how using this argument, particularly in regard to output legitimacy, has been hijacked so that concerns about distribution have been stripped out of the definition by the application of technocrat-speak.  I have a backlog of items for the Devil’s Phraseology from “Structural Reform” to other euphemisms for, essentially, screwing working people over, especially right now if they are Greek, Italian, Spanish, or Irish.

His article is important in tracing the subtle transformation of legitimacy over time.  For those unfamiliar with this terminology, legitimacy in this sense–if you remember nothing else but your Lincoln or Jefferson–in democratic societies is properly derived by the people.  This concept, which can be measured on the input side, is reinforced by processes and institutions that support it.  So clean elections which seek to maximize participation of the adult population; freedoms that support human rights, particularly those concerning speech, free association, and free movement; institutions that are largely responsive to the democratic will but which possess limitations to prevent the denial of human rights; and an independent judiciary that metes out justice based on due process; the absence of corruption, undue influence, unequal treatment, or graft in these institutions, etc. are all indicators of “legitimacy.”  In the context of the European debate this is known as “input” legitimacy.

Then there is “output” legitimacy.  This is the type of legitimacy on which the EU rests, since it obviously–especially since the last Greek referendum on the terms of the Troika’s terms–doesn’t seem to be based on any kind of “input” legitimacy.  Here legitimacy is based on a utilitarian measure–the ability of the EU to raise the aggregate euro value at any one time.  This is the “rising tide lifts all boats” trope.  Nice imagery, what with the JFK connection and all, but the rules of the game and economic environment have changed since 1963 to the extent that the analogy no longer applies.  A rising tide lifts all boats only if everyone has a stake in the tide rising.  Feel free to add any additional analogies now that we are beginning to understand the effect of rising tides on coastal cities as the earth warms.  An actual rising tide certainly didn’t do anyone in NOLA’s Lower Ninth and Lakeside neighborhoods any favors, but we do know that it impacted people residing in different economic strata differently.

Furthermore, output legitimacy as a utilitarian project sounds a lot like “we made the trains run on time”.  Furthermore, it wasn’t all that long ago that more than half of Europe suffered under authoritarian regimes.  Output legitimacy, I would argue, by definition is the opposite of democratic legitimacy, not one of two types of democratic legitimacy.  As O’Rourke points out, one cannot take politics out of policy, so the way in which decisions are made is important in defining the type and level of legitimacy.

Post-1989 generations have not had to come to an understanding of the fact that even oppressive regimes can possess political legitimacy that is sufficient for them to survive.  From an historical standpoint, all of those German people in the streets chanting “Heil Hitler” weren’t doing so at gun point.  The block captains and those others who denounced family members in the old Eastern Block countries largely acted independently and voluntarily.  Many Russians today pine for the days under the old Soviet Union and have a leader in Putin that channels that nostalgia.  Autocratic and authoritarian regimes simply possess legitimacy through institutions and processes that are more restrictive than those found in democratic societies, but which rests on elites, centers of power, and pluralities that allow them to function.

Thus, whether the EU will admit it publicly or not, one need only do a Google search to see that this is a generally recognized issue that the European countries seem unwilling or unable to address.  The recent charging of Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek minister, of treason at the instigation of Greek and European elites raises the ante and strips whatever remaining veil there was to hide the anti-democratic roots of the Greek crisis.  Apparently the 60% of the Greek people who voted “No” to the Troika were also traitors.

That this is happening is Greece is also problematic due to its geographical location in the eastern Mediterranean and its fairly recent transition to democratic processes and institutions.  De-legitimization of democracies is an all too familiar event in the history of the European continent and can only lead to radicalization, especially given the pain being inflicted on the Greek people.  What Europe’s technocrats have done is turn an economic recession and market failure–that could have been ameliorated and solved given the proper solutions learned by hard experience from the 1930s and immediately following the Second World War–rejected those methods and, as a result, though obstinance, tyrannical actions, corruption, and greed, have created a political and economic disaster that threatens the legitimacy of the EU.

Time to reform the reformers.

Welcome to the Hotel (Euro) — You Can Vote “Oxi” Anytime you Like but you Can Never Leave

The recent events in Greece and their ramifications for the European project have been the subject of a good many blogs and news articles lately.  From an economic perspective the most noteworthy are those by Paul Krugman, Brad DeLong, Dean Baker, Yanis Varoufakis who was on the ground as Greece’s Finance Minister, and Joseph Stiglitz, among others.

If one were to read the news in the manner of the U.S. press through its sources of record: The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, not to mention the major news networks with CNN thrown in (avoiding avowedly polemical sources like Fox, MSNBC, and the Huffington Post), one would think that the Greek issue is one caused by a profligate country that borrowed a bit too much and allowed Greeks to live over their heads.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The bottom line is that Greece and the EU decided to bail out the banks and investors who crossed the line in investing in junk paper by using public funds.  Sound familiar?  Think a Eurozone TARP.  But in the case of the EU the banks and bad paper investment houses–the inmates in this scenario–run the asylum.  With the constant drumbeat from our own oligarchs we have become as a people brainwashed to think that investors and creditors have a right to their money.  Our own more draconian bankruptcy laws imposed by the last financial industry-tainted Congress institutionalized many of these attitudes in law.  But this has not always not been the case and is not part of our legal or economic traditions.  It is certainly not anything like what Adam Smith had in mind.

The operational term in this case is “moral hazard.”  The rhetoric of the moneyed interests and their armies of lawyers have deftly tried to invert the meaning of the concept, but as Steve Waldman clearly explains in his excellent interfluidity blog, “moral hazard” is a concept that overwhelmingly falls on investors and creditors.  It means, quite simply, that you as an investor are responsible for where you put your money at risk–and that risk includes it being completely lost.  There are no guarantees.  This was the original rationale of Glass-Steagall: it was accepted that regular working people don’t have the information, time or resources to place their funds, which are meant for savings, under moral hazard.  Same goes for things like the Social Security Trust Fund.  Play with your own “play” money if you have it, but guaranteed deposits and retirement pensions are off-limits since they are backed by the sovereign currency.  Seed corn is not open to being manipulated by cheap paper–that is, until Glass-Steagall was repealed.

The European condition is a bit more complicated only because the EU has never had a consistent separation between its financial elites and civic institutions, given the differences in national traditions and political systems.  But one should be able to clearly see the connection between what is happening in Europe within the EU and in other places around the world: the attack on democratic legitimacy by oligarchs and economic elites.

As Joe Stiglitz points out in the post cited above, Greece–emerging from years of autocratic rule and third world-like conditions–was doing quite well economically until the financial bubble burst across the developed western world.  Many of the banks that invested in hyper-inflated Greek real estate and other development projects were situated in other countries.  The EU under the Euro project is a currency union, and under the Maastricht Treaty that formed this union there were some economic harmonization rules required, mostly pushed by Germany and France, but there is no lender of last resort, no central banking authority equivalent to our Federal Reserve, no centralized budget authority, nor political or cultural ties that would keep old ethnic or nationalist conflicts from flaring up in a crisis.  As Waldman explains, what these other countries did–in particular Germany–was to bail out the banks and investment houses making the debt on these bad investments public obligations.  This sleight of hand politicized what should otherwise should have simply been written off bad investments.  If the Germans wanted to have their own TARP they should have done so.  But it was so much easier to push the consequences onto the Greeks given their weaker position in the EU.

Jared Bernstein in his Washington Post article following the Greek “no” vote quoted an unnamed German economist asserting: “How do you think the people of Manhattan would like bailing out Texas?”  As Krugman rejoined upon reading the article, Manhattan (and other areas of the country) do that all the time as a matter of course.  It was done during the Savings & Loan crisis that was largely a Texas affair back in the late 1980s.  Anyone who looks at the net benefits of federal tax payments and expenditures by state can see that the southeastern states–in particular those that made up the old Confederacy, including Texas, get more in federal benefits than they pay in.  To Americans this is not a big deal–and my use of the term American to identify my countrymen is at the heart of the question.  I don’t know anyone who in reality is a Floridian.  Only buffoons and idiots identify themselves as Texans over their identity as Americans.

Here we tend to put resources where they are needed, hence the United States of America.  More than two hundred years involving waves of immigrants, over one hundred and fifty years of increasing population mobility, and two major world wars and a cold one–two of these existential in nature–during the 20th century, not to mention 9-11, has militated against the old regionalism.  It is not surprising that the assertion that displays such deep ignorance of our own system and society would come from a German economist.  I mean this as no mean insult.

When I was on active duty as a young U.S. Naval officer I met a Scottish couple in Spain who worked at the U.K. embassy there.  They were amazed by my nonchalance in moving my family from California to a home base in Virginia as part of my assignment.  “Do you now identify yourself as a Virginian?” they asked.  When I explained that–no–it was all part of the U.S., they explained that they would always identify themselves as Scots, and that within Scotland that people associated themselves with a particular village or region.  This was almost 30 years ago, and I am told that such attitudes are changing, but it does point to a weakness in the “European” project, especially given that in the most recent U.K. parliamentary elections that the Scottish nationalist party was overwhelming elected to the House of Commons.

Given my own expertise in history and political science, my concern is directed more to the consequences of Greece capitulating to the EU’s economically and politically disastrous demands.  Just ten days ago 60% of the Greek people voted against the conditions imposed by the EU, yet their parliament just approved a package that is punitive by any reasonable and objective measure.  Even the IMF has belatedly–and in a largely dishonest manner which I can only explain as some type of EU face-saving approach–clearly stated that the conditions imposed are unsustainable.

The role of Germany is certainly one of the main issues in this condition.  Given the way they handled the bad paper of their bankers, Merkel and her party have backed themselves into a corner.  So they have done what all desperate politicians do–they have demonized the Greeks.  This is all for mercenary purposes, of course, and without consideration for the long term consequences for both the Greek people and the EU.  What they have done is show the contradictory fault lines in the entire “European” project.  German Finance Minister Schaubel, by attempting to co-opt the Greek threat of a Euro exit by making such terms seem disastrous, has inadvertently made such an exit virtually inevitable.  Greece, not wanting to be left out of “Europe” has just voted against its own best interests, its government never really having a strategy for a “Grexit” because they assumed that their negotiating partners were both rational and well-meaning.  The government very well may fall as a result.

For what the Greek crisis has shown is that the European project under the Euro is neither a completely democratic one nor is it “European.”  The elites in Brussels certainly felt that they had no obligation to consider the Greek referendum on the bailout terms.  To them only the banks, the oligarchs, and the political survival of the political parties in the main assemblies of the nations that support them matter.  The “democratic deficit” of the EU, in the words of the late historian Tony Judt, and the damage that it can cause, is now on full display.  It is not yet clear what will happen, given the contradictory impulses of countries wanting to stay within the single market that “Europe” afford them, the cultural and psychological association to be part of the project, and the punishing loss of national autonomy and democratic legitimacy as the price that must be paid. (Aside from the economic depression and poverty conditions imposed by the EU as the Greeks follow the conditions imposed on them).

One final note:  I can’t help but be impressed by the ideological arguments being used as a matter of course for “helping” the Greek people in the long run.  As John Maynard Keynes noted, in the long run we are all dead.  The tremendous amount of suffering imposed by the EU on the Greek people for their own long-term good sounds much like the fabrications of the old Communists of the former Eastern Block countries who inflicted all sorts of horrors on their own populations for the “long term” good of reaching the perfect socialist state.  Now such arguments are deployed in favor of the perfect capitalist state.  It is “reform” turned on its head, like “moral hazard.”

 

 

 

 

Upper Volta with Missiles — Overreach, Putin, and the Russian Crash

Starting out the new year with some additional notes on international affairs.

The reference in the title is from a comment from former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt in once referring to the Soviet Union.  Of course, as Tony Judt noted in his magisterial book Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, there are those missiles.  Thus, this is a topic of concern to everyone, particularly in regard to the events surrounding Crimea and Ukraine.  This past April I noted the threat implicit in Putin’s actions and the need for European solidarity in opposing his actions to maintain the peace and stability of the region.  When combined with Russian violations of nuclear arms treaties this is cause for concern.

Since April much has happened, including measured sanctions by the European Union and the United States, to prevent the Russian Federation from leveraging its economic power to gain an advantage over Ukrainian sovereignty.  In addition, the depressed state of the world economy, among other factors, has created an oil glut that has also reduced Russia’s ability to leverage its oil reserves against any countries that would oppose it.  As a result, the ruble has taken a hit and Russia has made all of the wrong moves to bolster its currency.

On the middle point, certain notable voices here in the United States have pointed to an increase in oil production as the main cause but the numbers do not support this contention.  Instead, a combination of factors: alternative energy production, more efficient fuel consumption, and a drop in consumer demand have all conspired to, well, act as a market is supposed to behave.  Combine this with the refusal of major producers to reduce output to manipulate the market in order to prop up the price and you have what commodities do most often–rise and fall on the whims of the demand of the moment.  I have no doubt that eventually the world economy will recover, but keep in mind that the very real threat of Global Warming will continue to drive societies to find alternatives to fossil fuel.  That is, given that they continue to recognize the existential threat that it poses to humanity (aside from the dysfunctional geopolitics that fossil fuels seem to drive).  In the meantime, seeing the handwriting on the wall, net exporters like Saudi Arabia have little incentive to reduce production when they can sell as much as possible and gain a larger share of the market against their competitors.

For the uninitiated like Fifth Column blogger Patrick Smith at Salon.com, who apparently only sees conspiracies and control of a kind that–well–actually exists in Putin’s Russia, this is known as market competition.  Nary a peep from Mr. Smith has emanated lately (or from our own right wing plutocrats) about the Russian oligarch being a statesman running rings around our democratically-elected U.S. president or his decorated former U.S. Navy officer (and later antiwar activist) Secretary of State.  Were it only possible for the state controlled Russian press to have the freedom to make such alternative observations of its own leadership in their country.  Okay–enough sarcasm for today, but I think I made my point: mendacity and irrationality make for strange bedfellows.

Along these lines some interesting insights about Putin’s Russia have come out in the book entitled Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? by Karen Dawisha.  This is a brave undertaking given that a lot of critical writing about Russia, apart from the abolition of a free press there, has been taken down from websites.  This is not because of some mysterious ability on the part of Putin and his cronies but because of their immense international (until recently) financial power and the expensive lawyers that such money can buy.  Cambridge University Press, for example, because of the U.K.’s lax libel laws, declined to publish the book.  Thus, a U.S. publisher had to be found.  In addition, Russia has bought off columnists and politicians around the world to muddy the waters about the reality of the regime.  A very enlightening review of the book and the history surrounding it appears in The New York Review of Books by Washington Post and Slate columnist Anne Applebaum.

In summary, Dawisha’s book demonstrates that during the period when Gorbachev was desperately attempting to reform a crumbling and inefficient system that had plodded along under the Brezhnev doldrums, that KBG agents like Putin were moving Russian currency assets aboard in Europe with the intent of eventually using their economic leverage to retake the country when all of the hullaballoo blew over.  Thus, rather than a failing attempt at liberalization and democracy, what we see is the reinstitution of authoritarian rule after a brief respite.  The same old corrupt elites that had run the old Soviet Union under central planning are now simply wearing capitalist oligarch clothing.  This probably explains why the Russian central bank is moving to bolster the ruble through higher interest rates, which will only exacerbate the economic collapse.  But the general welfare is not their concern.  It’s all about the value of Russian reserves and the economic leverage that such value and power lends to control.

Globalization has made this a small world, but one still fraught with dangers.  For companies in my industry and policymakers here in the United States, I would recommend that a wall of separation be established from companies–particularly those technology companies in information systems–with ties to Russian oil and its oligarchs.

Real World — Normalization of Relations with Cuba

Family and holiday routine has interrupted regular blogging.  I’ve been working on new posts on project management and high tech that will shortly appear at AITS.org, as well as here.

In the meantime, much has happened in the world.  Among these events was the President’s announcement on normalizing relations with Cuba.  The usual suspects have squeaked but this is a policy a long time coming in sweeping away the last vestiges of the old Cold War.  As a student of both history and political science I cannot let this go by without some comment.

Those of who served during the latter part of that long standoff known as the Cold War understand that, after the initial institution of containment of Soviet imperial ambitions, that the Iron Curtain fell only after the implementation of policies such as the West German Ostpolitik under Willy Brandt and greater U. S. engagement through rapprochement.

Low level social and cultural contacts are more effective in bringing about change in oppressive regimes than isolation. An isolated people are more easily manipulated, tending to play into the regime’s hands fostering paranoia, xenophobia, and social control. This is not just opinion but the result of numerous studies tracking the incremental changes that led to liberalization and liberation in central and Eastern Europe.

It is harder to blow up the world if one realizes and acknowledges the basic humanity of one’s adversaries. We had to learn that lesson anew after the nearly disastrous ramifications from FleetEx ’83 and the similarly foolish brinkmanship of Able Archer ’83. Both of these Reagan era exercises almost led to thermonuclear war. (I participated in the first, on an LST just off the Kamchatka Peninsula, as part of the greatest naval armada ever assembled).

I think Mr. Obama has once again proven himself clear-eyed and level-headed in changing a failed policy that nonetheless has managed to survive due to political intransigence and perceived electoral politics.  The repressive regime in Cuba is no less hesitant to fully embrace this change than our own extremists. I think that this alone is a good indication that this president has made the right decision.

Note:  The links for this post did not appear in the first version.  I have refreshed them for update.

Why Can’t We Be Friends — The Causes of War

Paul Krugman published an interesting opinion piece in the Sunday New York Times entitled “Why We Fight Wars” in which he attempts to understand why developed, relatively affluent countries still decide to wage war, despite the questionable economic costs.  Many websites seconded his observations, particularly those that view social systems and people as primarily rational economic beings.  I think the problem with Mr. Krugman’s opinion–and there is no doubt that he is a brilliant economist and observer of our present state of affairs with a Nobel to his name no less–is that he doesn’t fully comprehend that while the economic balance sheet may argue against warfare, there are other societal issues that lead a nation to war.

Warfare, its causes, and the manner to conduct it was part of my profession for most of my life.  My education was dedicated not only to my academic development but also to its utility in understanding the nature of civilization’s second oldest profession–and how to make what we do in waging war–at the tactical, operational, strategic level–that much more effective.  In the advanced countries we attempt to “civilize” warfare, though were it to be waged in its total state today, it would constitute post-industrial, technological mass murder and violence on a scale never seen before.  This knowledge, which is even recognized by peripheral “Third World” nations and paramilitary organizations, actually make such a scenario both unthinkable and unlikely.  It is most likely this knowledge that keeps Russian ambitions limited to insurgents, proxies, Fifth Columnists, and rigged referendums in its current war of conquest against Ukraine.

Within the civilized view of war, it begins with Clausewitz’s famous dictum: “War is the attainment of political ends through violent means.”  Viewing war as such we have established laws in its conduct.  The use of certain weapons–chemical and biological agents for instance–are considered illegal and their use a war crime; a prohibition honored throughout World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and most other major conflicts.  Combatants are to identify themselves and, when they surrender, are to be accorded humane treatment–a rule that has held up pretty effectively with notable exceptions recorded by Showa Japan, North Korea, and North Vietnam and–tragically and recently–by the United States in its conduct in the War on Terror.  War is not to be purposely waged on non-combatants and collective punishment as reprisals for resistance are prohibited.  There are also others that apply, such as Red Cross and medical persons being protected from attack.  In the U.S. military, the conduct of personnel at war are also restricted by the rules of engagement.  But in all cases the general law of warfare dictates that only the necessary amount of force to achieve the desired political ends is to be exercised–the concept of proportionality applied to a bloody business.

Such political ends typically reflect a society’s perception of its threats, needs, and grievances.  Japan’s perception that the United States and Western Europe was denying it resources and needed its own colonial possessions is often cited as the cause of its expansion and militarism under Showa rule.  Germany’s economic dislocations and humiliation under the Allies is often blamed for the rise of Hitler, rabid nationalism, and expansionism.  In both cases it seemed that at the societal level both nations possessed the characteristics on the eve of war that is typically seen in psychotic individuals.  Other times these characteristics seemed to behave like a disease, infecting other societies and countries in proximity with what can only be described as sociopathic memes–a type of mass hysteria.  How else to explain the scores of individuals with upraised hands in fealty to obviously cruel and inhumane political movements across the mess of human history–or the systematic collection and mass murder of Jews, Gypsies, Intellectuals, and other “undesirables”: not just in Germany but wherever the influence of this meme spread across Europe, Africa, and Asia?

Nations can also fool themselves in learning the wrong lessons from history.  Our own self-image of righting the wrongs of the Old World go back to our anti-colonial roots and the perceptions of our immigrant ancestors who were either rejected by or rejected that world.  Along these lines, the example of Munich in the 20th century has been much misused as a pretext for wars that have ended disastrously or created disastrous blowback resulting from the fog of war simply because the individuals assessing the strategic situation told themselves convenient stories gleaned from an inapplicable past and ignored the reality on the ground.  We have seen this in my lifetime in Vietnam, Iraq (twice), and Afghanistan.

For all of the attempts to “civilize” warfare and lend it rationality, there comes a time when its successful prosecution requires the rejection of rationality.  This is why soldiers and combatant personnel use euphemisms to dehumanize their enemy: it is easier to obliterate a person who is no longer seen as human.  Correspondingly the public is inflamed, the press becomes a tool of the war party, and dissent is viewed with suspicion and penalized.  This is why warfare cannot be interpreted as an extension of neo-classical or–any–economics.  There are no rational actors; at least, not as it is presently conducted by modern nation-states no matter their level of economic development or the maturity of their political systems.  War is unhinged–part of the savagery found in all of us from our primate pasts.

One of my most effective professors when I was seeking my Masters in Military Arts and Sciences was the brilliant historian Dr. Roger J. Spiller–a protégé’ of T. Harry Williams.  “We are always learning,” he would say in repeating a familiar refrain in the military profession, “the lessons from the last war.”  For students at the Army Command and General Staff College it was the critique that doctrine (and therefore the organization and construction of the force) was based on the 1967 Arab-Israeli War; probably the only analogue that could be used in Iraq and–unfortunately for Russia–if they decide to turn their armor on Ukraine or any Article V NATO countries.

Aside from these few exceptions, however, the American way of total warfare that we learned first in our own Civil War and then perfected on the battlefields of Europe and Asia–and our success in its use–has rendered it largely obsolete.  It has been obsolete for quite some time because warfare has changed; its practitioners have evolved.  It has changed because its present incarnation is being prosecuted by people and groups that have no significant power and so use violence to destroy power.  This is the purpose of the terrorist.  Even the strength of this new form of warfare–Low Intensity Conflict–is transient–evident only in tactical situations.  What it cannot do is establish legitimacy or power.  Thus, meeting violence with violence only exacerbates the situation in these cases because power is further eroded and–along with it–legitimacy.  We see the results of the vacuum caused by this inability to adjust to the new warfare in the political instability in both Iraq and Afghanistan–and the rise of ISIS.

While I would argue that the use of economic balance sheets are not what we need in assessing the needs to ensure global stability and peace, we do require a new theory of war that infuses greater rationality into the equation.  Clausewitz–and his intellectual successor Antoine-Henri Jomini–in looking at the guerilla warfare in Spain against French rule, simply admonishes war’s practitioners not to go there.  It is not until T. E. Lawrence and Mao Zedong that we have a modern theory to address this new, societal form of “revolutionary” warfare and then only from the perspective of the revolutionary that wishes to establish neo-colonial, authoritarian, or totalitarian regimes.

Thus, we possess the old templates and they no longer work.  With the specter of nuclear weapons still held over the head of humanity we can ill afford to view every situation as a nail, needing a hammer.  We must, I think, follow the lead as advocated by Hannah Arendt, who distinguished the differences between power, strength, force, violence, and authority.  There is, as John Dewey observed, a connection in consequences between means and ends.  The modern form of violence through terrorism or paramilitary revolution has all too often, in the last quarter of the 20th century and the first decades of the 21st century, led to new oppression and totalitarianism.  This has probably been inevitable given the indiscriminate brutality of the struggles.  Diplomacy backed by credible power and sufficient military force to counteract such violence is the new necessary face of achieving stability.  Contrary to the assertions of neo-cons at the time, the very thing we needed in the wake of 9-11 was an effective police action in lieu of chaotic regional warfare.

Interestingly, the insight between means and ends in warfare was perceived early by George Washington when he won his struggle over the conduct of the war against the methods of Nathaniel Greene.  Greene’s irregular methods of warfare were designed to win the war but to unmake a nation, while Washington’s method–the existence of the disciplined continental army as the strategic center of the revolution–was designed to make a nation once the war was over.  Unfortunately for the French and the Russians, there was no George Washington to see this important distinction in their own revolutions.

So too in the 21st century is this connection between means and ends in the handling of conflict–and terrorism–important.  The years since the fall of the Soviet Union seem to have turned the clock back to 1914 for the pressures and conflicts that were held in check by a bi-polar world: the Balkans, the Middle East, Eastern Europe all have been engulfed in conflict.  The tragedy that can result given the new technologies and approaches for inflicting violence and chaos on civilization require that we not apply 1914 methods in meeting them.

“Evil Men Do As They Please. Men who would be good, they must do as they are allowed.”

The quote that provides the title to this post comes from a BBC television program named “Ripper Street.”  The episode concerned the moral dilemma when faced with the machinations of those who would do the world harm.  We find ourselves in one such dilemma.  Oftentimes art imitates life, but life also often imitates art.

For me at this point in history the dilemma that should be on everyone’s mind is Ukraine.

There has been a lot of bad history written about Ukraine lately that has made its way into the U.S. via the press.  This bad history tends to convey three messages.  The first is that the Ukraine has been part of Russia for centuries.  The second is that it doesn’t matter.  The third is that the U.S. has lost its legitimacy to address the issue because of its own foreign policy misadventures.

I will take the last point first because there was a lot of skepticism voiced in Europe, and on both the political right and left in the United States, about the President’s refusal to equate Russia’s actions in Crimea and Ukraine with Iraq.  This skepticism, I believe, is a knee jerk reaction by many who have other agendas, would obfuscate otherwise indefensible actions on the part of Russia, or with political axes to grind.

For my own part, I opposed from the start the military intervention in Iraq as wrong headed.  I felt that it was based on a neo-conservative expansionist ideology that was removed from reality, as most ideologies are. Years ago when I was a student at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College I was fortunate to meet General Colin Powell during the heady post-Desert Storm/Desert Shield days.  His message to the class was that military officers must present a political as well as military solution to the civilian leadership.  I left his talk troubled because I thought the message was muddled and that there was danger in drawing the line between the political and the non-political.

General Powell had, of course, used this strategy during his career to advance to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, beginning in the Reagan Administration, and he was doing what all successful people tend to do: advise others to do as his did.  Later I expressed these reservations to the General personally.  His response was nuanced but still contained, I thought, a fatal flaw–he harked back to Clausewitz that war is the achievement of political ends through violent means, he emphasized that war was a last resort after all diplomatic overtures were exhausted, that world opinion was important in considering what action to recommend, but that in the end the President must be given a political as well as military solution.   It is this last that, I believe, contributed to his later loss of credibility given the disastrous and fact free U.N. speech regarding WMDs that bolstered the argument for military action in Iraq.  He should have recognized immediately the ridiculous proposition of mobile chemical and biological labs, been aware of the post-Air campaign assessments of capabilities, and the shelf-life of what they did have stockpiled.  But, of course, stating these facts allow for equivocation and evasion about “bad intelligence.”  Politics can both seduce and distort.  It can make a man with a distinguished career say things that he knows are foolish and later come to regret.  General Powell, of course, was only one part in the war’s sales campaign, and responsibility for the war and its outcome cannot be attributed to him.  His example is a cautionary tale.

But–and here is the big but–for all of their folly and dishonesty which caused real damage to the lives of millions of people as well as damage to the credibility and internal democratic processes of the United States, it was folly and dishonesty based on the realistic goal of eliminating a dictatorship from engaging in another genocide, and in the utopian goal of achieving self-determination and self-governance for the Iraqi people.  Saddam Hussein and his sons deserved their fates.  Shed no tears for those brutal psychopaths and their all too willing followers.  The invasion was supported by a significant number of countries in the international community.  Every step the United States took was done in public for all to see.  It is unfortunate that those in power did not see that they were overtaken by self-deception.  When the folly became increasingly obvious and the truth uncovered by both public institutions and the press, our institutions reacted and moved to recover.  It is one of the challenges of our time to determine how so many institutions constructed to prevent this type of folly utterly failed while things were playing out.  In the end, the balance of power has shifted in the region to the detriment of both democracy and modernism.  The sectarian strife that began with the insurgency continues to this day.

What the United States did not do is use the nationalistic pretext of English speakers in Iraq or the significant familial connections between U.S. citizens of Iraqi descent to argue for an invasion of annexation.  The United States did not engage Iraq for purposes of territorial expansion.  The United States did not post its troops in the first post-invasion, newly-elected Iraqi parliament in 2005 to dictate its agenda.  Iraq is now free to determine its fate, such as it is.

It is important to remember that in 2003 Iraq was a failed state ruled by a military dictatorship and, as such, had the potential to wreak a great deal of havoc in the region against its more stable neighbors, in particular, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.  The rulers of Iraq had invaded their neighbors, threatened Israel and engaged in terrorist anti-Semitic actions, engaged in genocide, and deployed its agents to assassinate a former President of the United States–the last an act of war in and of itself.

Given the events of 9-11, the people of the United States were in no mood to split-hairs or find nuance.  This harks back to a conversation I had with the daughter of a Middle Eastern diplomat back in 2000.  She asked if I felt that it was possible that there could be a terrorist attack here in the United States of any significance, given the first attempts on the World Trade Center in 1993 and the subsequent attempts to carry out other attacks that were thwarted.  I replied that it was indeed possible but that it would be the exception because it would be a grave error on the part of those who carried out the attack; that the American people, once aroused, would unleash a tremendous war of retribution at the perpetrators and anyone who seemed to give them aid, and that–as with all wars–there would be great suffering for the innocents in the crossfire.  Unfortunately I and everyone else who lived through these events were able to see this very scenario play out.

I can’t help but note that much of the criticism from the world community among our allies regarding Iraq are laced with crocodile tears, happy that the United States did the dirty work to address the mess that European imperialism bequeathed to the region.  Thus, to equate Russia’s actions in Crimea to the U.S. actions in Iraq is not only dishonest and wrong headed, it invites the charge that the speaker supports the fifth column tactics that have been used in the crisis thus far.  This is particularly evident in the writing of Patrick L. Smith over at Salon.com, who charged that Secretary of State John Kerry was ignorant of history in criticizing the actions of the Russian oligarch and went so far as crowning Mr. Putin as “a gifted Statesman.”  Unlike Mr. Smith, our Secretary of State only has the experience of living with the consequences of history by having actually served in a war and engaged in combat, in his case Vietnam, and then risking everything, including the ire of his fellow citizens, to clearly and eloquently state his case to oppose that war.  Unlike Mr. Smith and the oligarch he so clearly loves, our openly and freely elected president is constrained to act by both constitutional and international processes and institutions.

In terms of Ukraine’s significance, this is borne out by its history.  Ukraine was one of the most powerful nations in eastern Europe up until the 18th century.  It has long been considered the breadbasket of Europe and that has made it a region targeted for domination by a number of powers, especially since its fall as an autonomous power.  Poland, Russia (later the Soviet Union), Germany, and Turkey (the former Ottoman Empire) have figured most prominently in eying its resources and its strategic value as a pathway both to the east and west, and to the Mediterranean through the Black Sea.  It presently also possesses a robust industrial capability.  Its neighbors have partitioned its territories at various times in history.  In popular imagination this is the land of the Russ, Cossacks, and Tatars.  Given the number of nations involved in the region and its geographical position, Ukraine is an amalgam of the many ethnic and religious groups that have crossed its land.  The people there speak a combination of Ukrainian and Russian, given the mixed history of the region by the most dominant powers, but that doesn’t make them ethnically homogenous.  One idea, however, that the people there have often pursued and given their lives in the face of foreign domination is self-determination and self-government, with this hope being stillborn after the Russian Revolutions in 1917.

But in July 1990, with the unraveling of the old Soviet Union, Ukraine was finally able to achieve its independence–a move that was opposed immediately by hardline communists, who also attempted a coup against Mikhail Gorbachev.  With that immediate threat defeated, the young country held its first elections in December 1991.  Since that time it has faced challenges as all nations have–in particular it has grappled with the issue of internal corruption and the power of money to subvert democratic processes, not an unfamiliar problem among other nascent democracies and countries in the west.  Thus, for 24 years Ukraine has been a free and independent nation.  Crimea, which has been part of Ukraine during that entire time, has been a semi-autonomous region within the country, but it too has a history of Russian interference in its politics and autonomy.

For all of the talk of the west crossing lines and Putin being provoked, the fact is that Ukraine threatened no one.  The people of the country expelled President Yanukovych for abusing his power in trying to suppress the Euromaidan protests after he had been intimidated into taking a deal by Putin to walk away from talks for the integration of Ukraine into the European Union–an internal issue that was resolved peacefully with the democratic institutions in place taking control of the levers of power after Yanukovych fled to Russia.  Ukraine’s military is weak and its objectives are to establish a working representative democracy where its autonomy is preserved.

Obviously Russia considers these goals–a strong central organizing democratic republic with its autonomy safely within the European Union–a threat; and the reasons for viewing it as such lie in the manner that Russia treated the territories it formerly occupied.  Ethnic Russians and those speaking Russian, particularly under the communist regime, were favored elites.  Across eastern Europe, Moscow encouraged the emigration of its most ardent communist supporters to move to those countries and territories for the purpose of enforcing social and political control, often treating the existing populations as second class citizens and worse.  So the history that Mr. Smith would have the west endorse and accept is an artifact of totalitarian Soviet control and racism, which was a continuation of the Czarist police state system under different guise.  These so-called Russians living in Ukraine represent both an effective fifth column and a convenient pretext for territorial acquisition.

The purpose of NATO and the support for the European Union is stability and peace.  The targets of these institutions were not just aimed at the containment of the old Soviet Union, but also to ensure the autonomy of the countries in Europe against the recurrent nationalism that often led the world to war.  Since the fall of the old Soviet Union the focus of NATO and the EU has moved east.  In Eastern Europe, the major powers who competed for dominance were Germany and Russia.  A structured framework of nations in place there will prevent such a revival of animosities.  I am not sure if in the first third of the 21st century the continent needs a reawakened and militarized Germany facing a newly aggressive Russia.  Make no mistake, Poland and the Baltic states are watching what happens in Ukraine with great concern.

Mr. Putin is threatening the peace in Europe in ways not seen since the 1930s.  He has moved to do what he wants in those areas that he has sensed western weakness.  I am not certain if the west wants to go to war over Ukraine, and even if it did, whether it could sustain operations effectively or within the time needed.  But I suspect that a reckoning will have to be faced.