Consider Crying for Argentina

By Jay Holmes

This evening I treated myself to a theatre performance, or at least to the recording of a theatre performance. On March 1, 2014, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner addressed the 132nd National Congress of Argentina. I was forwarded a recording of the speech, but had not taken the time to enjoy the nearly three-hour impromptu performance until last night. Former First Lady of Argentina Evita Perón was great at those well-rehearsed, seemingly “impromptu” addresses. Dream though she may, Cristina is no Evita.

 

Image by Presidency of the Nation of Argentina wikimedia commons

Image by Presidency of the Nation of Argentina
wikimedia commons

 

The result was nearly three hours of speech with very little new or meaningful information. Cristina sees herself as a victim of dark conspiracies by the world’s wealthy movers and shakers. While I am no fan of the new age economic potentates, it’s not the job of the Argentine National government to whine about them. Their job is to develop effective policies to help the troubled economy of Argentina.

Cristina promised more cooperation with opposition parties, but she has yet to actually foster political cooperation in Argentina. In that sense, her speech was not altogether dissimilar to political speeches in any democratic nation.

In a theme that is gaining voice in the U.S. and some parts of Europe, Cristina claims the shale oil/gas development, known as “fracking,” will bring an economic boom to Argentina. In the U.S., the opponents of fracking like to hoist “No Fracking” signs at protests. What would it be in Argentina? Perhaps it would be something along the lines of “No Me Fraques.” It has a nice ring to it. Perhaps the more militant placards would read something like “Fraca Tu Madre.” I can’t wait.

According to Cristina, Argentina is enjoying its greatest economic growth since the Gauchos first set out to tame the Pampas. She doesn’t explain how chronically high unemployment and inflation that may be as high as 40% fits into this picture of economic Nirvana.  To many observers, the growing slums around Buenos Aires paint an altogether different portrait of Argentina’s economy.

While Cristina is only partly to blame for Argentina’s current economic crisis, she can shoulder the blame for the current failed policies that have hurt Argentina. Nationalizing the Argentine airlines and oil companies has left foreign investors unwilling to help modernize the Argentine energy sector or invest in their economy. The traditionally strong agricultural sector has grown stagnant, and in spite of food shortages around the globe, Argentina is no longer enjoying the agricultural export profits that it once took for granted.

Cristina increased taxes on rural agricultural Argentinians and indirectly instituted price controls on agricultural products. The result has been food shortages, which is bizarre because Argentina is traditionally a food-exporting nation. Held up as national heroes in the past, Cristina is now using agricultural populations as scapegoats for this problem. That sort of adversarial relationship with Argentina’s farmers and ranchers plays well in most of Buenos Aires, but it only exacerbates the decreased productivity, and in the end it hurts the poorest urban dwellers the most.

 

Wiki Falkland Islands Argentine Air Force public domain

April 2, 2014, was the 32nd anniversary of the ill-conceived Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands by a military junta that wanted desperately to distract the Argentine public from their troubles at home. Subsequent governments have marked the occasion with a more somber form of patriotism that focused on remembering the loss of life that resulted from that failed invasion. This 2nd of April, the celebration included Cristina’s introduction of a new 50 Peso note that sports a map of the Falklands, or Las Malvinas as they are called in Argentina. The Beijing government, which recently employed similar propaganda methods concerning their expansionist aspirations in the Pacific, might be wondering if they’ll get a royalty for having their idea copied. I would tell them not to bother sending a bill. Most international bills arriving at the desk of the Argentine Treasury have been ignored of late.

One of the thrilling highlights of this particular three hour Evita sequel (sans music) was Cristina’s explanation to a fascinated audience that the Falklands are used by the U.K. for all of their electronic espionage against the southern hemisphere. Apparently, Cristina has not yet heard about that marvelous new invention that we call “the satellite.” You’ll be surprised to know that the Falklands are not just a southern headquarters of British intelligence systems, but that they in fact house ICBMs for use against South America. I’m not making this up folks. Translations of her speeches are available to any member of the public that wishes to endure nearly three hours of bad theatre.

So what do Evita 2.0’s recent theatrical extravaganzas mean? Anything? The answer depends on who you ask. I will offer you my best guesses.

The U.K. Ministry Of Defense has not further reinforced the Falklands in response to Cristina’s performances. That’s because they don’t take her very seriously. The Argentine military has languished since the Falklands War. Cristina has not delivered on her many promises to the Argentine military of new and improved bases or a major expansion of the Argentine Air Force. The U.K., on the other hand, has taken the precaution of installing a modern air defense system in the Falklands and has four modern warplanes stationed there. And no, there are no atomic weapons on the Falklands.  Well, you say, certainly she would have rebuilt the Argentine fleet by now. No. She is patiently waiting to commission two modern carriers that are being built. Even though the U.K. Royal Navy currently has no carriers either, Argentina is still at a disadvantage. In all, whatever Falklands invasion Cristina Fernandez pretends to dream of won’t become a reality in the near future.

As for Cristina’s “all new, more whitening power, economic detergent,” don’t expect much change. While some critics of the Fernandez Kirchner Theatre Company are willing to compare Argentina to Venezuela, I don’t see them slipping that far. Cristina and her supporting cast can no longer count on automatic middle class support for radical economic reforms. She’s all but run her course. As well as I can guess, Argentina is unlikely to improve much in the near future, but it’s not likely to get much worse at this point. The socialist sky is not quite falling in Buenos Aires.

 

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner image by Agencia Brasil, wikimedia commons

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
image by Agencia Brasil, wikimedia commons

 

Enjoy the theatre season.

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Bayard & Holmes

Consider Crying for Argentina

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Syria and the Fading Dull Pink Smudge

By Jay Holmes

As of September 22, 2013, the civil war in Syria continues to generate more humanitarian disasters than the world’s observers can tolerate. Identifying Syria as a humanitarian crisis is simple enough. Refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey now house approximately two million Syrians. Various Syrian and non-Syrian visitors feed the media a constant stream of pictures and videos showing the daily casualties. People of all political flavors share revulsion for so many civilian deaths.

Za'atri Refugee Camp, image by US. Dept. of State

Za’atri Refugee Camp, image by US. Dept. of State

In particular, seeing the stark evidence of children killed by chemical weapons attacks or executed at point blank range by a variety of fighting groups has left most of the world with a feeling that something must be done in Syria. Only a ruthless psychopath, a.k.a. Vladimir Putin, could attempt to gloss over the humanitarian crisis. To that degree, the picture of events in Syria is quite clear. However, once we move beyond our widely-shared instinct to respond to the horrors of the Syrian civil war to the question of how to respond, the picture becomes murky.

So what should be done? As is often the case, the devil is in the details. Right now details and devils abound in Syria. When we begin to examine the question of what concrete actions should be undertaken, we find less agreement among sympathizers.

As often occurs during a major humanitarian crisis, many of the world’s ardent leftists are taking a break from their usual full-time occupation of condemning the US for its “interventionist bullying” and are now loudly proclaiming that the US’s failure to forcefully intervene in Syria is the principal cause of Syria’s problems. At the same time, many of the world’s members of the “I’m not a stinking leftist” political club are disgusted that the US has allowed Iran and its Hezbolalalala minions to use their manpower, weapons, and ruthlessness in Syria and Lebanon to suppress Syria’s indigenous Freedom fighters.

This past February, Anne-Marie Slaughter, the former Director of State Policy Planning under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, suggested that the US and any willing allies should create “no-kill zones” in Syria. These seemingly magical “no kill zones” would, in her view, expand over time and eventually isolate the Assad regime. If the allies in question would include Harry Potter and his band of merry magicians, then they might pull it off. If not, the plan needs more work.

Senator McCain, a man who is far more aware than most of us of the consequences of involving US forces in combat operations, has suggested that the US use some of its “stand off” cruise missiles to damage the Assad regime. The emphasis on “stand off” is Senator McCain’s. On the face of it, this seems like a comparatively low cost, low risk option. Depending on which particular model of cruise missile cruises into Syria, the “low cost” would be somewhere between $600,000 to $1,500,000 per missile. That would be a real bargain at today’s interventionist prices.

Senator McCain has been clear that he does not support large numbers of combat troops in Syria. However, it’s safe to say that a few sets of American boots must be on the ground there, gathering information about the dizzying array of foreign boots in Syria and trying to select out the “best boots” with which to share US-financed weapons and other supplies. With those Russian, American, British, French, and Turkish boots that are scampering about Syria trying to avoid stomping on the wrong Syrian feet, it’s difficult to generate a clear implementation of all the muddled policies being proposed by various nations.

The Gulf States are trying to support their favorite anti-Assad factions without accidentally helping all the al-Qaeda vermin that currently infest so many Syrian areas. As a result, confusion is the order of the day. The fact that the many al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda wannabes are happy to murder anyone not currently in their gangs brings even more instability and misery to Syrians. Shipping US military aid to Syria is easy enough. Finding someone likeable to hand it to is a bit more tricky.

When the Syrian civil war began two and a half years ago, members of the Western media managed to cobble together one of their exceedingly rare intelligent questions for President Obama. They asked him what the US should do about Assad’s chemical weapons inventory. The President demanded that we all let him be clear that the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces would cross a “clear red line.” Assad’s forces have since used chemical weapons and proven that President Obama’s “clear red line” was a completely meaningless, fading dull pink smudge.

"His Red Lines" by Ranan Lurie

“His Red Lines” by Ranan Lurie

From the American point of view, some interesting events have occurred since Assad’s forces urinated on Obama’s infamous red line. For starters, Vlady Putin claimed that he had proof that it was not Assad, but rather his opponents, that used chemical weapons on women and children in Syria. Those of us who are familiar with the workings of Putin and his old KGB machinery have no doubt that Putin can present “proof’ that Assad didn’t use chemical weapons. If Putin wanted, he could also provide proof that Afghanistan is in South America, and that the USSR invented ice cream. Thanks for all that Vlady.

Putin proposed that Assad send all of Syria’s chemical weapons to Russia for safe keeping. Finding himself on the wrong side of his imaginary red line, President Obama quickly agreed to a deal that will have all of Assad’s chemical weapons shipped to Russia by “mid 2014.” How many Syrian children will be murdered by chemical attacks until then was not discussed as part of the deal.

When the US led the Western world in escalating its Syrian response from frowning and grave concern to shock and dismay, the UK felt compelled to act. UK Prime Minister David Cameron clarified precisely what our “special friendship” partners in the UK would do if the US decided to directly attack the Assad regime. In response to the pressure and stress of the escalated finger waving, the UK parliament voted to surrender. The UK announced that it would not contribute to any military effort in Syria.

This declaration has farther reaching consequences than might be obvious to the casual observer. From my desk at home, I was able to imagine the cheers of joy emanating from La Casa Rosa as Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner celebrated her nation’s military victory in the Falklands. While the Falklands invasion 2.0 hasn’t occurred quite yet, Cristina is overjoyed that the Royal Navy That Has No Aircraft Carrier* will also have no support from the US should she convince Argentina’s military to conquer the oil deposits under the Falklands. We shall see.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a.k.a. la argentina feliz http://www.presidencia.gov.ar/

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a.k.a. la argentina feliz http://www.presidencia.gov.ar/

Cameron would have been much wiser to simply do the usual “Proud Fearless Lion Foot Dragging” that has been the trademark of UK foreign policy since the Suez debacle in 1956. We in the West understand that Maggie is gone, and that the UK won’t even do much of anything about the UK in the near future, let alone Syria or any place further from London than Brighton Beach. Cameron gained nothing by publicly declaring that he would not help Obama and the US. In fact, in what is being celebrated by many in the UK as a landmark moment of British tenacity and independence in foreign policy, Cameron managed to suffer damage from the Syrian war without actually showing up in Syria. Slick move, Sherlock.

In response to Cameron’s stupidity, France’s President Françoise Hollande took the opportunity to announce that France would join in military intervention in Syria. In the US, it was announced as a “France backs the US” political victory for Obama. Take note, Cameron. If you are going to profit by vague promises, this is how you do it. The US is now considering officially changing back the name “Freedom Fries” to “French Fries.” Tears of joy are flowing in Paris, and a few folks in DC are willing to pretend that it’s something other than the usual over-imbibing of wine by Parisians.

Precisely how far the US or other Western nations will go in Syria is still unclear. What is more obvious is that creating a Syria run by Syrians will be far more difficult than toppling Assad. The world’s response to Syria has created much dark comedy and inspiration for journalists and other fiction writers, but the children of Syria have little reason to join in the laughter. Their predicament is yet another reminder of how far the world community remains from operating anything like a useful “United Nations.” The children of Syria have our prayers, but they’d likely prefer to have a real country to live in and a future to contemplate. Whatever action the US takes, we must be careful that it helps the Syrian people by damaging the Assad regime without accidentally helping al-Qaeda and Hezbollah.

Syrian refugee in Turkey, image from Voice of America

Syrian refugee in Turkey,
image from Voice of America

*The UK’s Royal Navy currently has no functioning aircraft carriers, and it is completely dependent on the US Navy for air support at sea. Perhaps someone should mention that to Prime Minister Cameron.

The Falkland Islands – Wash, Rinse, Repeat?

By HOLMES

Once again, the Falklands, a small island group in the cold waters of the far South Atlantic, are demanding headlines in international news outlets. The British and the islands’ residents call their islands “The Falklands,” and the Argentinians call them “Las Malvinas.” By either name, they are on the minds of politicians in the UK and South America, and whatever’s an issue for the UK is of interest to the US government, as well.

There may not be anything like a “real ally” in the world, but Great Britain remains important to us. They will go their own way in response to public pressure in the UK, just as we in the US will, but in a world where only a minority of the world’s nations exhibit signs of civility and cooperation, the UK remains important to the USA so the Falklands issue matters to us.

Most of you will remember, perhaps vaguely if you are not an Argentinian or a UK citizen, that in 1982, the sorry and unskilled military junta of Argentina decided to pull off a quick, cheap triumph by invading the Falklands. We should also remember that the UK, lead by the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, didn’t respond as Argentinian dictator Leopoldo Galtieri predicted it would. The UK sent carriers to the Falklands, and the results were unpleasant for both nations and for Galtieri.

That three month war resulted in the deaths of two hundred, fifty-five British servicemen, three female Falklands civilians, and six hundred, forty-nine Argentinians. When it was over, Argentina had worse relations with the UK and the US, and less influence over and access to the UK island possessions in the South Atlantic.

Oddly, the war had a secondary benefit for the people of Argentina. The Junta lost its support from Western nations. Once the patriotic fervor over the brief defeat of the evil British imperialists turned into outrage over the humiliating defeat suffered at the hands of the British military, the Junta was doomed. Argentina returned to a semblance of democracy in 1983. It has not been a perfectly clean democracy (nor has ours), but by South American standards, it can be called a legitimate government.

So with all that settled, how do we find ourselves slipping backwards to a possible repeat of 1982? There are several factors that play into the situation, and many of them are similar to the conditions that caused the war in 1982.

On the Argentinian side we have President Cristina Kirchner, now in the third year of her term, who inherited a miserable economy. The unemployment rate is somewhere around 8%, but some critics claim that the figures are cooked by the government for political purposes (sort of like we do here in the USA).

Argentina has never quite recovered from its financial crisis of the late 90s, when pensions and savings accounts vanished. That crisis still affects the political thinking of voters and politicians in Argentina.

Argentina consumes about 620,000 billion barrels of petroleum per day and produces about 750,000 billion barrels per day so they do not face any immediate crisis from oil price increases. In fact, in the short term, they will profit from oil price increases if the government can manage the economy skillfully.

But there lies the big “if.”  President (and recently ex-first lady) Cristina Kirchner had her roots planted in the militant, nationalist mentality of the Peronista movement that originated with President Juan Peron and his wife, Evita. She was elected by 45% of the votes and ran on a populist agenda that included little to describe how promises would be met (sort of like most Western political campaigns). She inherited an inefficient economy and a splintered government. Inflation has made life difficult for the working class in Argentina, investment capital is in short supply, European lenders are wanting a settlement on past loan defaults, President Kirchner has worked hard to alienate the United States, and European banks are none too impressed with her “Evita” impersonation.

Kirchner began her presidency by loudly announcing that the “Malvinas” belong to Argentina. When she increased taxes on agricultural exports, the policy proved unpopular, but she was able to divert the anger with a new round of threats concerning the Falklands.

Argentinians are a proudly nationalist lot, but they are well-educated, cosmopolitan, and not the most patient of South Americans. Kirchner is approaching the final act of her “Soy de La Gente” stage production, and the audience is wanting to see some results. The Argentinians have been to a few plays before, and they might not be willing to settle for a disappointing ending. And then there’s the oil factor. Great Britain has begun to produce oil off shore of the Falklands.

Far away from Buenos Aires, the UK also has a reasonably well-educated and cosmopolitan citizenry who have their own ideas about the Falklands. The UK’s conservative Prime Minister David Cameron is not the Iron Lady. For one thing, he lacks ovaries, and for another, the iron glove that he might wish to employ in any arm wrestling with “Evita 2.0” from Buenos Aires is looking a bit tattered these days.

While on paper the Royal Navymay seem to be declining, it would be a mistake to underestimate its ability. The Royal Navy still has in service two aging but battle-ready aircraft carriers of 22,000 ton displacement, which can each operate 18 Sea Harrier aircraft. The UK also has a third carrier undergoing extended maintenance.

Two aircraft carriers would seem like enough of a reinforcement to prevent another attack on the Falklands by Argentina, but here’s the catch. The UK no longer has any Harrier aircraft, and the V-STOL version of the F-35s that will replace them are not yet in service in the UK. The UK’s carriers currently can only deliver helicopters to any battle that arises in the Falklands or anywhere else.

The RAF does maintain a flight of four Eurofighter Typhoons in the Falklands. Given the poor state of the Argentinian Air Force and their few remaining, aging fighter aircraft, those four Typhoons, in conjunction with the air defense system on the Falklands, should be enough to dissuade Evita 2.0 from staging another sneak attack on the Falklands in the near future.

Great Britain has one other very powerful but politically expensive card that it could play against Argentina if pushed to desperation. While Argentina lacks the means to blockade or harm British shipping, the UK could effectively blockade Argentina. Any blockade of Argentine shipping would be a disaster to the Argentine economy.

Evita 2.0 knows that the UK is preoccupied with events in the Indian Ocean and the Straits of Hormuz, but she also knows that if pushed into a corner, the US would very likely lend assistance to the UK in the form of returning recently purchased Sea Harriers to the Royal Navy. For the next few years, that would be enough to defeat even the greatest possible Argentine threat.

Great Britain realizes that there is little reason to match Evita 2.0 word for word in her jingoism. Cameron knows that Kirchner is preaching to her own choir, and that his responses will be twisted or ignored by the majority of the South American press. Both Cameron and Kirchner know that it would be suicidal for Argentina to attempt a Falklands invasion with the forces that they currently have available to them.

Kirchner knows that if she orders an invasion of the Falklands, the Argentine military would probably use it as an excuse to launch, instead, an invasion of “La Casa Rosada” (the presidential residence in Buenos Aires). For now, the battle for the Falklands and it’s oil reserves will remain a diplomatic battle.

Some Western intelligence sources claim Kirchner has quietly promised, outside of the hearing range of Argentine labor unions, some upgrades to the Argentine Air Force. If she is re-elected, and she manages to deliver those upgrades, then, in another five or ten years, we could see another conflict in the Falklands.

If the UK remains alert and is committed to holding the Falklands, then they will always have more than enough time to reinforce the RAF and Royal Marine strength there in time to prevent a war. For at least the next three decades, Argentina will not develop enough military might to overcome a determined UK defense of the Falklands at an acceptable price.

Despite the best theatrical performances that Kirchner and her imaginary Latin American allies might put forth, it’s the UK voters and not Buenos Aires that will determine ownership of the Falklands for the next three decades.