May 13, 2012
This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.
May 13, 2012
On a balmy afternoon in late summer, Jim Price reaches into the body cavity of a striped bass and pulls out a spleen. The sixty-eight-year-old jewelry-store owner palpates the organ with long gloved fingers, checking for disease. Finding none, he sets it aside before turning his attention back to the carcass. “There’s something here,” he barks, as he slices into the stomach with a scalpel and his volunteer assistant Jerry moves in for a closer look.
Jerry is two decades younger, with bristly whiskers, a butcher’s smock, and a John Deere cap. In his cheek is a wad of chewing tobacco. The two are standing on a dock on an inlet of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, hunched over a metal table with a plastic tarp suspended over their heads to protect them from the sun. The heat doesn’t seem to faze them, nor does the stench emanating from the pile of filleted bass carcasses that fishermen have been dropping at their feet all day.
Price slides his finger along the stomach lining, a look of anticipation creasing his face. After careful prodding, he pulls out a silvery six-inch fish. “There,” he exhales. It is an Atlantic menhaden, a bony, oily fish that has been the subject of warring factions of fishermen and coastal communities for the better part of two centuries.
Price is a lifelong striped bass fisherman with no formal training as a scientist. Yet he has spent the last four decades cutting open bass stomachs in a kind of renegade ecological study, charting the precipitous decline of the lowly menhaden. Price’s interest in the species is indirect; menhaden aren’t prized by anglers. But they are prized by striped bass. The little fish has historically been the striper’s most significant source of protein and calories. In fact, menhaden are a staple in the diets of dozens of marine predators in the Atlantic and its estuaries, from osprey to bluefish to dolphin to blue crab. In a host of undersea food chains, menhaden—also known as pogy and bunker—are a common denominator. They have been called the most important fish in the sea.
Price began his study years ago when it became increasingly evident to him that the striped bass in the Chesapeake were quite literally starving. And so, at least once a week he dissects bass to see whether the fish ate recently before they died. He squeezes spleens to determine if the fish had mycobacteriosis, a serious infection related to malnutrition that affects more than 60 percent of the striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay. He relays his findings in a numerical code of his own devising. “Body fat is a ten, ovaries a two, spleen is okay, empty stomach,” he says gruffly, while his wife, Henrietta, dutifully transcribes his thoughts into a ledger. Four times out of fifty, he pulls a whole menhaden from a bass belly, weighing each one with a small scale.
Local sport fishermen are happy to help Price by leaving him the bones and innards of their catch, because his work confirms what anglers up and down the Atlantic coast know from direct experience: the menhaden are disappearing.
Like any good mystery, this one has a prime suspect. Across the Chesapeake and about sixty miles to the south of where Price stands, a seaside factory hums and buzzes, filling the small town of Reedville, Virginia, with the putrid smell of menhaden chum. The looming smokestacks, warehouses, and pretty much everything else on Reedville’s Menhaden Road are owned by Omega Protein, a publicly traded company headquartered in Houston with a long and storied history of industrial fishing in Atlantic waters.
The operation is high-tech. Spotter planes take off from Reedville’s tiny airstrip to circle swathes of ocean, looking for the telltale shadow of menhaden moving by the million just below the surface. Pilots radio Omega Protein’s fleet of nine refurbished World War II transport ships, one of which dispatches two smaller boats that surround the school with a giant net called a purse seine, drawing the fish tightly together using the mechanics of a drawstring sack, until all the members of the school can be sucked out of the ocean with a vacuum pump. The boats can “set” the net twelve to fifteen times a day; a vessel will return to port with millions of menhaden aboard.
Harvested by the billions and then processed into various industrial products, menhaden are extruded into feed pellets that make up the staple food product for a booming global aquaculture market, diluted into oil for omega-3 health supplements, and sold in various meals and liquids to companies that make pet food, livestock feed, fertilizer, and cosmetics. We have all consumed menhaden one way or another. Pound for pound, more menhaden are pulled from the sea than any other fish species in the continental United States, and 80 percent of the menhaden netted from the Atlantic are the property of a single company.
To determine whether or not Omega Protein is overfishing menhaden, the government relies on a set of methods and calculations that are mystifying in their complexity. Every time Omega’s captains return to the Reedville port, they report their daily “unload”—how many tons of fish they have removed from the water. Onshore, a government agent periodically examines a handful of fish scooped from the ship’s hold and uses them to estimate the size and age composition of the day’s catch. Information from these samples, collected over the course of the fishing season, are collated with the captain’s logs, and the data goes to a single scientist for processing at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) fishery lab in Beaufort, North Carolina. There it is gathered together with harvest information from the handful of smaller companies that fish for menhaden along the coast to sell as bait, as well as trend data from a few independent scientific surveys. This stew of data is fed into a mathematical fishery assessment model that takes many scientists and several months to run. The process generates an estimate of how many eggs the current menhaden population is producing, compared to how many eggs there would be in an unfished, pristine environment. This information is handed over to a sleepy, part-time board of regulators called the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), who decide whether fish stocks are at a safe level or if there should be concerns about overfishing…
As November’s U.S. presidential election approaches, foreign policy and national security issues are rising in importance. President Barack Obama is running on a platform of ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while demonstrating toughness against al Qaeda. His Republican opponents charge him with presiding over the United States’ decline and demonstrating fecklessness on Iran. The true story is somewhat more complicated than either side admits.
When Obama was sworn into office in January 2009, he had already developed an activist vision of his foreign policy destiny. He would refurbish the United States’ image abroad, especially in the Muslim world; end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; offer an outstretched hand to Iran; “reset” relations with Russia as a step toward ridding the world of nuclear weapons; elicit Chinese cooperation on regional and global issues; and make peace in the Middle East. By his own account, Obama sought nothing less than to bend history’s arc in the direction of justice and a more peaceful, stable world.
There was inevitable tension between Obama’s soaring rhetoric and desire for fundamental change, on the one hand, and his instinct for governing pragmatically, on the other. The history of the Obama administration’s foreign policy has thus been one of attempts to reconcile the president’s lofty vision with his innate realism and political caution. In office, Obama has been a progressive where possible but a pragmatist when necessary. And given the domestic and global situations he has faced, pragmatism has dominated.
This balancing act has pleased few and provided fodder for Obama’s critics. His compromises have been interpreted as signs of weakness, and his inability to produce clean outcomes in short order taken as an indication of incompetence. His efforts to engage competing powers have seemed at times to come at the cost of ignoring traditional allies. Above all, his approach has caused some to question whether he has a strategy at all or merely responds to events.
Such a portrayal, however, misses the point. Obama is neither an out-of-his-depth naif nor a reactive realist. He has been trying to shape a new liberal global order with the United States still in the lead but sharing more responsibilities and burdens with others where possible or necessary. Surrounding himself with experienced cabinet members who are not personally close to him, along with junior advisers who are close but not experienced, Obama has kept the conceptualization, articulation, and sometimes even implementation of his foreign policy in his own hands. Intelligent, self-confident, ambitious, and aloof, he is more directly responsible for his record than most of his predecessors have been.
He has racked up some notable successes, including significantly weakening al Qaeda, effectively managing relations with China, rebuilding the United States’ international reputation, resetting the relationship with Russia and ratifying the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), achieving a UN Security Council resolution imposing harsh sanctions on Iran, completing overdue but welcome free-trade accords, and withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
There have also been some notable setbacks, including no progress on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, very little to show on combating climate change, the United States’ continued low standing in the Muslim world, deepening frictions in U.S.-Pakistani relations, a Mexico awash in drugs and violence, an Iran still bent on acquiring the means to produce and deliver nuclear weapons, and a North Korea still developing its nuclear arsenal.
The Obama approach has been relatively nonideological in practice but informed by a realistic overarching sense of the United States’ role in the world in the twenty-first century. The tone has been neither that of American triumphalism and exceptionalism nor one of American decline. On balance, this approach has been effective, conveying a degree of openness to the views of other leaders and the interests of other nations while still projecting confidence and leadership.
Judged by the standard of protecting American interests, Obama’s foreign policy so far has worked out quite well; judged by the standard of fulfilling his vision of a new global order, it remains very much a work in progress.
Obama came to power envisioning a foreign policy based on three pillars: a changed relationship with the rising powers in Asia, particularly China; a transformed relationship between the United States and the Muslim world in which cooperation replaced conflict; and reinvigorated progress toward nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament. Even as his election was making history, however, the financial collapse made economic crisis management the new president’s top priority in domestic and foreign policy — and limited his options in both.
Arguably the most difficult steps to avert a catastrophe (such as the passage of the Troubled Asset Relief Program and actions to make possible the rescue of key financial institutions) were taken at the end of George W. Bush’s term. But Obama still had to determine which institutions to save and take other steps to arrest the economy’s free fall and stimulate growth. This had profound implications for Obama’s foreign policy, making quick collective action with other powerful economies essential. The administration worked with countries both in and beyond the traditional G-8 club of major powers, turning to the larger but still fledgling G-20, in which all the emerging economic powers are represented.
In the end, the danger of each country’s acting to protect its own economy at the expense of others was largely avoided, demonstrating a surprising degree of collaborative common sense about shared interests. But the United States’ role in precipitating the crisis through the popularization of dubious financial instruments severely tarnished the Washington-consensus model of deregulated markets, reduced deficits, and liberalized trade. A president less open to soothing the international community might have become a lightning rod for global frustrations, and Obama deserves more credit than he commonly receives for avoiding this outcome and helping keep a catastrophe at bay. This same crisis had the result of accelerating perceptions of Beijing’s economic rise and Washington’s relative decline, something that would complicate U.S.-Chinese relations during Obama’s second year in office and pose a broader management challenge for his foreign policy…
Surge of the ‘Second World’: The nations falling between the developed West and the Third World are jockeying for position in their own regions and playing powers against each other
May 13, 2012
THE OLD Order no longer qualifies as an order. The term “world order” denotes a stable distribution of power across the world. But power concentration today is in a state of tremendous flux, characterized by rapid diffusion and entropy toward a broad set of emerging powers that now share the regional and global stage. Western-centered multilateralism represents at best a partial component of a world system that is increasingly fragmented.
Nostalgia for the post–World War II or post–Cold War periods will not affect this picture. At those junctures, America had an opportunity to fashion a new world order. After World War II, America capitalized on this moment; after the Cold War, it squandered it. The world has moved beyond even the assumptions embedded in President George H. W. Bush’s famous “new world order” speech to a joint session of Congress two decades ago in which he envisioned a unipolar order managed through a multilateral system. Instead, the world has quickly become multipolar, institutionally polycentric and even “multiactor,” meaning nonstate groups such as corporations and NGOs are commanding more and more influence on key issues. This trend seems irreversible, and it needs to be digested before any kind of new global-governance mechanism can be formulated, with or without American leadership.
One leading contributor to the demise of the Old Order has been the so-called rising powers such as China, India, Russia and Brazil. These states increasingly serve as anchors of regional order and also wield influence beyond their immediate neighborhoods. By most measures, China is already a superpower; its presence is factored into diplomatic, economic and strategic decisions by nearly all countries worldwide. India, Brazil and Russia lag behind China, but it’s a reality of geopolitics that states do not need to forge new systems of order to undermine the existing one.
The set of nations that can influence global system dynamics and great-power foreign policy is much broader than just those countries famously labeled the BRICS (short for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). What I have called “Second World” nations coalesce into regional entities of significance—Latin America, the Middle East, central Asia, Southeast Asia—whose composite nations and complex regional dynamics will help shape the future of geopolitics. Second World states are important for their geographic position, natural resources and regional influence. Some of these states I have highlighted are Colombia, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Kazakhstan and Indonesia. All are pivotal Second World players whose decisions and alignments could affect the balance of power and influence among the United States, China and the European Union.
Who are the other Second World states, and precisely how will this collection of nations influence the course of world events? It is important to note that not all of these emerging states are on a linear path toward regional-power status. Some will rise while others stumble. But collectively, the ones that rise will exercise a significant pull on events. One reason I repurposed the term Second World for these countries was to emphasize their internally divided nature, embodying both First World and Third World attributes. Of the approximately two hundred states in the world today, only thirty are members of the First World club of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Meanwhile, the bottom forty-eight (mostly in Africa) are formally labeled Least Developed Countries (LDCs). In between lie the Second World nations.
There are about a hundred of them, and there is little certainty these days over which ones will rise into the First World and which will descend into the bottom category. It is important to note that most of the world’s poor today are not congregated in the LDCs but rather are spread across developing countries and emerging markets. The result is a high prospect for internal instability within those countries. No doubt the Arab Spring, which arose in what had seemed to be relatively stable regional powers such as Egypt and Syria, has its roots partially in such inequalities. But, whether Second World states rise or stumble, their emergence—and their drive to find some kind of national expression in a rapidly changing world—will exercise significant influence on global developments.
THIS TREND of Second World emergence is viewed best through a number of distinct geopolitical prisms that together forge an analytical framework. First, Second World nations do not look to great powers for leadership, especially not the Western powers that have largely dominated the globe since about 1500, but they are also wary of leading challengers such as China. Instead, they will go their own way and influence events, to the extent that they can, based on their own interests. Their alignments with Western nations, if any, will be ad hoc. Second, these Second World nations are forging new regional-power relationships that will have an impact on future world events. Sometimes jockeying for position in their neighborhoods and sometimes forging potent regional cooperatives, they will become significant global players largely through strategic activity at the regional level. And third, these emerging nations will be looking for new modes of governance and new ways of ordering their economies. Western pluralism and capitalism aren’t likely to reign as models for these countries to any significant or consistent degree, and their enthusiasm for the norms and institutions of today’s liberal international order is likely to be limited.
Looking at these developments through the first prism, it is clear that Second World nations, in going their own way, will not move toward any kind of collective action. Instead, these countries see themselves as influencing the globe’s new order by radiating outward from their particular vantage points. They do not seem interested in attaching themselves to major global players on an ongoing basis, whether the United States or China. This is one reason it is a mistake to view the BRICS, for example, as any sort of coherent bloc. Two major potential conflict scenarios exist among these five nations—namely, between Russia and China and between China and India…