Walls Tumble and Crumble

Economics Destroys Walls

My brother-in-law is a geography professor at a small public university in Kentucky. He brings a unique perspective to world events, because he pulls in the geographical angle. It’s an angle I am not completely studied in, but he recently explained a few things to me that had been puzzling me for a while now.

He explained why no president would be able to do a sudden withdrawal from Iraq. Please understand that I don’t know if he is a conservative or a liberal. He will never tell anyone his personal political views, other than to say that the forces in motion mean that a true revolution will never change things in the long run. We can haz democracy, but it is an illusion that we have more than a superficial influence over national events—this is how he sees it. He thought that Hillary in the long run would run things little differently than George W; she would just have been more articulate and would have sent her appeasement to the centrists and the liberals rather than the arch-conservatives.

It’s Oil

The problem is easy oil, oil that is under pressure under the sands of Iraq and Saudi Arabia. It’s about oil the French need, the Indians need, the Chinese need, the Russians need and the Koreans need. It’s about oil that the United States and Australia need and the British need. Now, mind you, there is oil all over this planet and it is accessible—but not cheaply. For oil in the United States, we have to side drill, we have to force steam pressure into the rock to squeeze it out, and we have to continue to find ways to get it up to our SUV’s and power plants and plastics factories. The oil in Saudi Arabia and Iraq will come up to us if we stick a pipe in the ground and can contain it. We don’t have to push it up.

In geopolitical terms, it isn’t the Iraqis’ oil, it is the world’s oil. They just happen to be there. We aren’t fighting the terrorists as much as we are trying to hang on long enough to get the oil wells up and running again and flowing through American and British pipelines to be sold on the spot market to the rest of the world. If we pull out, someone else will move in. Economically, the world was better off with Saddam Hussein in power than with him gone. When we removed him, and de-Baathifcated the country, we left a huge vacuum. With “Shock and Awe,” we alienated a large force of potential allies in Iraq. Now it’s all blown up and our “best and brightest” can’t figure out how to fix it. The Republicans can’t figure it out, and neither, unfortunately, can the Democrats.

The total victory that Bush promised us would be just around the corner is a country in which we control the wells and the spigots. The terrorists are a minor inconvenience to our national interests.

That’s a brief encapsulation of my brother-in-law’s views, and I hope I have captured his thoughts accurately.

Palestinian Wall

Bathy does the palestinian wallOn the separation between Israel and Palestine, most of what we learn is the extremist rhetoric from parties who support either side. It is harder for me to sort out than even the Iraq war, and my brother-in-law the professor gave me a bit more insight than I had before, but then he threw up his hands and said, “I have no idea how that will get sorted out. If there is a Second Coming, then I don’t think even that will sort it out. Nobody has a clear picture of what is going on and no one will, because there is just too much going on to absorb the problem, much less to solve it.”

From an article at take-a-pen.org we have one side of the conflict:

The Head of the security fence or “Anti-Terror Barrier Project” (ATB) in the Israel Defense Force’s Construction Center, Lieutenant-Colonel Erez, lectured on the professional project management aspects of this project, in the Annual Conference of the Israel Society for Quality, in Tel-Aviv, on 27 November 2003. By co-incidence Take-A-Pen’s Chairman, Andre, a professional in project management himself, served as the chair of the Project Management Session of the conference, could ask a few questions from Erez, heard some new information and thus can submit to you this first-hand report.

Lt.-Col. Erez said in his lecture that the most challenging feature of the ATB project has been the need for an extremely wide integration of the great many disciplines involved, and within a very short time.

The top design criterion of the ATB has been to maximize security for the civilian population while causing minimum disruption to the local Palestinian population. In a rare consensus of all security experts in Israel, of all the diverse security forces, and even of most parties in the Knesset, except a few on extreme left and right, all agree that such a security barrier is the most effective and least violent way to save Israeli civilian lives, without endangering any other human being.

There was a wide agreement even on the design concept ‘how’ to do this: most of the line should be a slightly improved version of the traditional electronic wire fences, existing for example on the Jordanian border and around some defense sites, and only where the barrier must protect densely populated urban areas very close to the barrier, should it be built as a concrete wall. Minefields or other similar lethal means so commonly used by Syria and some other Arab states are not used in Israel’s ATB fence.

The routing of the fence was determined by the Israeli government with minimum use of Palestinian land, when necessary taken to public use strictly according to Israeli and international law, and with full compensation properly determined and paid, as it is done for example in a highway project within Israel.

And further down on the same page:

Another Arab complaint is that the fence is causing disruption of the lives of Palestinians who cannot get access to their own fields. It is really an inconvenience and a pity, but these economic type considerations are by far inferior, also by international law, as Professor Emanuel Gross, internationally recognized expert of constitutional law points out, to the importance of saving human lives. Had the Palestinians and the Arab world acted to stop Palestinian terror and not to promote it, there would be no need for the anti-terror barrier in the first place.

How blushingly naive to think that human lives are more important than economics, when economics are all about the distribution of scarce resources. Choking people off from access to supporting and feeding themselves is a major source of the violent conflict causing the loss of human lives. How can we prevent the conflict by ignoring the economics?

My brother-in-law told me that walls can’t last forever, because people on both sides of walls need something from the other side. This wall may stand for fifty years, but it will have to come down. And it won’t be brought about by goodwill nor by religious pressure for peace. It will be because the Israelis will need the Palestinians for cheap labor, to be consumers and to be vendors. It will come down for trade. It will come down whether Hamas surrenders or not. It will come down because it has to. Walls can’t last.

We didn’t get much of a chance to discuss the border fence in Texas and Arizona, but I suspect the same thing will happen with that one. Once the Texans and the Arizonans admit how much they depend on illegal immigrant labor, how much they are missing out on economically, the wall will come down. There may be other reasons given: “renewed ties with our Mexican friends and neighbors,” etc., but the true reason will be an economic one. We will have economic chaos without the immigrants since our domestic labor force won’t be able to replace them if they stop coming.

Paraphrase of my brother-in-law’s comments:

They let us think we have a democracy here. They let us think that because the Iraqis have purple stains on their fingers that they are building their own democracy. They can demonize Putin, the Chinese, the Saudis for the suppression of their people and their press, but governments choose their friends and enemies based on economics. Cheap labor and oil—those are your rulers.

Walls go up, walls come down. They never last. They didn’t last in Berlin. They won’t last anywhere else.

(He was afraid that he had bored me, but I explained that I had enjoyed learning from him. He is almost as smart as my sister.)

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