Does an Unfortunate Needle Point to War?

By Todd Harrison  JUN 08, 2010 11:30 AM

Calmer heads must prevail.


“War's going on across the sea, street soldiers killing the elderly. What ever happened to unity? It's like that, and that that's the way it is.”
- Run DMC

I'll be the first to admit I'm no geopolitical expert; to be completely honest, I’ve got my hands full making sense of the steps directly in front of me .

Evolving socioeconomic strife was, however, one of my Ten Themes for 2010. As discussed in early January,

The Tricky Tri-Fecta


"In 2007, we previewed the deterioration of the middle class and the friction between the “have’s” and “have not’s.” In 2008, we forecast percolating societal acrimony and last year, we spoke of the migration towards social unrest and geopolitical conflict.

"As this dynamic evolves, real risk remains across the spectrum of social strife. While this assumes many shapes and forms -- populist uprising, the rejection of wealth and an emerging class war -- we should remember that global conflicts have been historically triggered by financial hardship.

"An Israeli strike on Iran remains a top-line concern, as are uprisings in South America (Venezuela), protectionist policies in China (isolationism is the death knell of globalization) and saber rattling in Russia."

Fast Forward to Today

While some of those dynamics proved true -- societal acrimony, including a bulls-eye on the back of Goldman Sachs (GS), BP (BP) and politicians, and select cases of social unrest, as witnessed abroad -- others thankfully haven’t, at least not yet.

I'm reminded of these lyrics by Robert Hunter, as sung by the Grateful Dead.

"We used to play for silver now we play for life
And one's for sport, and one's for blood at the point of a knife
And now the die has shaken, now the die must fall
There ain't a winner in the game
He don't go home with all, not with all."

The talented Mr. Hunter was right -- there are no winners in war. In the immortal words of Joshua, "The only winning move is not to play."

Dude, before you call me a barefoot tree-hugging pacifist, I realize that while the notion of world peace is wonderful, it's likely unrealistic. I ate dinner with Don Graham of the Washington Post a year ago and he asked what worried me the most. Before I could self-edit, I said "World War III. Global conflicts are historically born from economic hardship and that's where the needle seems to be pointing."

I'm not talking nuclear Holocaust, mind you. That's, well... game over (or as my niece would say, "NG"). I'm talking about friction reaching a tipping point, sovereign nations protecting themselves, and lines being drawn in the sand -- and those lines being defended.

As referenced above, protectionism is the “other side” of globalization and that makes this topic fair game in the ‘Ville. We strive to see both sides, even when the other side isn’t particularly pleasant. Optimism and realism make for strange bedfellows but they beat the pants off ignorance and apathy.

Why share these thoughts now?

From the Flotilla friction to reports that Turkey declared Jihad on Israel to saber rattling on the Korean Peninsula, to Osama bin Laden was reportedly spotted in Iran with European social strife, untenable debt, austerity measures, and a global play for crude mixed in for good measure, sovereign posturing is ever-present and on the rise. Can you feel it?

We learned the hard way that it's one thing to write about "a prolonged period of socioeconomic malaise entirely more depressing than a recession," as Minyanville did in 2006 and 2007, and an entirely different thing to actually live through it. No matter how prepared we were -- and Minyans were more prepared than most -- reality's bite was much worse than its loud and unpopular bark.

As the world turns and tensions churn, calmer heads must prevail to avoid a similar sense of déjà vu. The current heading is in nobody’s best interest; this is not a story one wishes to foretell. Quite hopefully, awareness and engagement will serve as the first steps towards preparedness or better yet, avoidance.

There is a difference between loss and loss; let’s hope that it won't take something bad to make us realize that as hard as it currently is, we've still got it pretty good.

May peace be with you.


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