Sunday, September 27, 2015

The long cold war

Niall Ferguson in the Financial Times (subs. maybe req'd) --

West blew its peace dividend in 20-year party of consumption and speculation ... The world’s short peace is ending. Errors of western policy — from bungled intervention in Iraq to non-intervention in Syria — only partly explain the return of conflict. More important is the lethal combination of economic volatility, a youth bulge, disruptive technology and the viral spread of a lethal ideology. The west had its peace dividend after 1991. We blew it in a two-decade party of consumption, leverage and speculation. First came the financial hangover; now comes the geopolitical reckoning. Dealing with it will mean relearning the arts of grand strategy and war.

His view of the four-part cocktail that has contributed to the current turmoil is certainly plausible. But linking it to a supposed economic binge is not so clear -- although such an argument sheds further light on the often moralistic tones of austerity advocates: ISIS is just another blowback from fiscal profligacy!

But in any event, what about the point the end of the Cold War was wasted in geopolitical terms? Another perspective would be that the Cold War cast an especially long legacy in Islamic countries. Islamist terrorism has many roots, but some key pre-1991 milestones are the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and another al-Assad's consequence-free crushing of a revolt (Hama), the politics around that episode itself the result of Cold War calculations. Then there are the former USSR central Asian republics that never quite liberalized and of course Saddam Hussein, who had played a few cold war cards of his own in a game that had a long way to go even when the cold war formally ended.

There was an economic and financial party, with the booze flowing most freely in financial centres. But linking this to Islamism requires almost Kissingerian intellectual gymnastics.

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