Monday, June 14, 2010

AFGHANISTAN GOES GOLD

And they say History is dead. Or at least doesn’t repeat itself.

Gold and lithium and other great stuff discovered in (under, really) Afghanistan! Or so they say.

Take a moment to give a thought to the Count Duke Olivares. He pretty much Moved and Shook Spain in the increasingly queasy days of the early 1600s. A hard-worker, vain and a little fussy and verrrry techy about his honor and his clan (so many of them were back there and then) yet a hard-working, conscientious senior civil servant trying to keep Spain’s finances going in the service of his young King, Philip IV, of the Spanish Habsburgs.

He had inherited the ducal title, but on his own earned the higher rank of Count – but he got the King, who relied on him greatly, to allow him to combine both titles; hence the odd combo-title: Count-Duke.

Neither of them had a good time of it. They were born into the task of keeping Spain going as a world-hegemon Empire just as her fabulous ‘free’ riches (silver, gold, nice shiny stuff) trickled out. And what there still was to be loaded onto ships was now subject to the more or less official predations of an English navy (not quite yet the Royal Navy of yore – which itself now has, alas, more admirals than ships – just like the US Navy now, come to think of it, but let me not digress).

But the Count-Duke Olivares (hereinafter: the CDO) had a deeper level to him: he was concerned for Spain’s moral and spiritual decline, noting that after all the hegemon-ing, the Castilians, in his opinion, had developed an aversion to hard work and were getting soft. He may well have sensed the specter of Rome standing in a dark chill pool of air just behind him; not the glittering and gaudy Papal Rome of the early 1600s but the tottering late Empire, sliding down into the choppy waves of History in the 4th and 5th centuries A.D.

Spain, he saw with the eyes of a practical mystic, was caught like Laocoon in the toils of mighty forces arrayed against her, both within and without. She was surrounded by burgeoning national monarchies, and within beset with unhappy colonies (the occupied Netherlands the most vitally troublesome) and even unhappy peoples and regions within metropolitan Spain herself.

She was caught in an awesome vortex: in order to retain her Empire she had to have a lot of money, but the taking of huge chunks in taxes or tribute (the plunder now dying out) was creating deep and active unrest among the ‘partnered’, those – not only peasants as in the Medieval times, but also the merchants of the growing cities and the landed classes who had seen taxes as being rather beneath them – who were exhorted to come to the aid of their monarch with purses and wallets; only thus could the still-numerous (but never quite numerous enough) Spanish armies, once the military wonder of the West, be kept in the field – as garrisons, as occupying forces, and – oy – as tax collection enforcers and to keep Spaniards themselves in line.

No cash, no power – but the more power you exerted to get the cash, the more cash you burned more quickly, and then you had to start the whole thing over again to get more cash.

It has a certain familiar ring to it, no?

So the CDO had to support both increasing numbers of wars and increasing domestic taxation. And try to make it seem like a Good Idea that Would Work if Everybody Just Gave It Some Time, Shut Up, and Forked Over More Cash to the government.

Yes, a very familiar ring tone indeed.

Spain’s cycle of vigorous but increasingly inefficacious decline continued on. Like Rome, she took a long time to die – surviving until the early American Republic, when she lost Louisiana to Napoleon (whose ‘French century’ would last a little over 15 years) and then into the Modern Industrial Age, when in 1898 her obstreperous Cuban possession and her hugely well-placed (location, location, location) Philippine possession offered the so-underestimated McKinley the chance to loudly send Admiral Dewey to Manila Bay to crush the Spanish squadron there and to quietly send America’s first overseas military expeditionary force to squash the natives and provide them instead with a change of imperial occupiers.

And Washington elites have been making History jump through their hoops ever since – or so they say.

But here, just now in American history, as the entire field force of the Army is tied up in the oversold campaign to liberate Iraq and the always-in-progress victory in Afghanistan (colloquially known as the Graveyard of Empires, but Washington elites make History, they don’t read it), and with the national economy down on the ropes never fully to recover its erect stance again, ‘The New York Times’ – in its official role as cheerleader to the elites – reports that Gold Found in Afghanistan!

YEEEEEEEE-HAWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!

California in 1849, Alaska in the late 1890s, and now Afghanistan!

Of course, there IS the minor point – which may not have occurred to more recently educated readers – that the former two venues were the property of the United States – bought and paid for in blood or cash and a bin full of solemn treaties – whereas the latter is currently the property of a tribal confederation whose quaint dress and customs (young boys, among many others) belie the fact that they have updated an ancient and ferocious warrior competence with the most modern weaponry and would pretty much like to be left alone. Unless there’s a few bucks to be made – in which case they will want to be left alone after they have separated the current overconfident whackjob ‘partners’ from their folding money.

Compared to the millennia-long Afghani competence on their own home-turf, the bemedalled ‘warriors’ and ‘warriorettes’ of the American hegemon bring to the intricately-prepared local table a pile of fast-food indeed. And I don’t think this is all going to turn out like a made-for-kiddies Hollywood goo-goo flik, where the solemn and death-matured locals melt in front of the gushing kiddies of the hegemon, put down their sour pusses and weapons, and learn to love supersized sodas and fries as the glorious new normal. A hippopotamus will dance classical ballet in a tutu before that happens … although the Boomers – true to form – may think that that Sign of the Fulfillment has already happened under the administration of Mr. Walt Disney, who was perhaps president somewhere in there between Lincoln and Rose-a-belt. Or maybe he was the Veep, like Cheney only nicer.

Anyhoo, now – they say – there’s gold in them thar hills.

Our Sioux brothren and sistern can attest to what happened to solemn treaties when gold was discovered in the Black Hills back in early 1876, and the events of June 25th of that year on the Little Big Horn.

Is there gold there?

I only ask because at this point, alas, it is not inconceivable that a Beltway that has gotten itself so deep into such tectonic doodoo figures that it can make folks (formerly known as The People) back home think that things are great so go on vacation and go shopping.

Already the Beltway – ever thoughtful – is thinking about how little the Afghans know about running big businesses, and how little they know about environmental protection (let alone about making their womenfolk CEOs), and how their not-so-far-away Chinese neighbors might want to drop by and set up shop.

Perhaps, then, like so many natives before them, the Afghans need to be ‘partnered’ for their own good – that thus they might more deeply and wisely enjoy the blessings of liberty, modernity, and the full panoply of Correctness. Like’ the children’, they need to be protected. At all costs.

Thank God, then, that Our troops are already there. God worketh in mysterious ways, if He (She) were to exist.

And perhaps, with the national kids (formerly known as The People) stuffed into the back of the national family SUV or minivan and mindlessly squealing and chirping about mountains of ice cream and lots of easy fun, the elite National Parents in the Beltway can glean a few minutes of peace and even garner a bit of congratulation.

After all, the National Parents have been following a whole lotta baaaad policies that have come a cropper in a heepa baaaad consequences – foreign and domestic – and yet still haven’t lost their authority … not when they promise ice cream and easy, sempiternal fun.

Which is why kids are great, but not when you’re trying to run a Constitutional Republic. For that you need adults – rather serious-minded ones, not unlike the Afghanis, come to think of it, whatever their personal affiliative predilections.

But even if there is gold and lithium (critical for the AA and AAA batteries without which the imperial gendarmerie of warriors and warriorettes cannot function) in them hills, there’s only a trillion bucks or so. And – what would the CDO and the Hapsburgs say? – a trillion or so doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this world of debt that We are in now.

Afghanistan is not going to be Our ‘New World’ that saved the bacon of Spain in the 1500s. It’s the 1600s now and things have gone far above the poor power of a measly trillion bucks.

We are in History’s world now.

ADDENDUM

We are now informed that the General commanding Central Command, David Petraeus, passed out briefly while being quizzed about the war by Senator McCain.

Are We to believe that Senator McCain is so acute and intimidating an interrogator that he can make 4-star generals pass out from fright?

Or are We to believe that the situation is so bad over there that Petraeus was shocked into passing out by having to make his report?

Or are We to believe - the official excuse - that he hadn't had his breakfast that morning and had forgotten to hydrate himself (civilian translation: drink enough water)? I have often commented on the decline in resilience of the pampered or at least un-challenged, and certianly underparented, children of the Me generation and its follow-ons: the weakening of standards of strength (characterological and maturational as well as physical) as double-standards became lowered standards. But now it appears that general officers, and a Theater Commander to boot, are unable to 'go without breakfast' without getting sick.

But that this man forgot to drink water? He has a rather large staff precisely so that he doesn't have to remember to do anything and thus can focus on winning the campaign. They'd remind him to change his undies if they had to.

Or was this a ploy to get out of a session where either the questions were taking an ugly turn or - perhaps with the sympathy of understanding congresspersons - nobody officially involved really wanted to go into the subject at length? Or perhaps the PR squad figured the best way to go was to provide a soap-opera Moment that would distract from whatever unhappy information actually arose in the session.

There are many possibilities. But there is one possibility that is simply beyond belief: that a 4-star general, Commanding in a theater of operations where combat is not developing as well as had been promised, forgot to eat his breakfast or drink some water and fainted because of it.

If that's really the truth, then things are much worse than anyone had dared imagine. On so many levels.

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