Friday, March 4, 2011

Does Any Of This Sound Familiar? (Part 2)

A few weeks ago I began a post by one of my favorite countries in the world and where I have many dear friends: Argentina.  This is part 2 of 3 posts.

The era of the “Plata Dulce” (sweet money), was also called “Los Anos Locos” (Those Crazy Years).  For example, President Juan Peron spent over $600 million to buy the Argentine railroad from the British (it was worth half that).  But the money was there, so why manage things too professionally.  When economic times started getting tough, Peron instituted several austerity packages, but could never get a handle on his own internal government.  He set strict guidelines (most of which made little sense) for the mining industry and agriculture (his money making machines), but spent money on silver bullets that would put Argentina back in the Plata Dulce, such as steel making.  He cancelled the Pulqui II program and shut down his nuclear program (which thrilled the U.S.).  He slammed the Catholic Church and treated the officer corps, (which was his initial power base, and from whence he came), with distrust and disdain.  In 1952 there was a bad harvest and Argentina could not make its balance of payments.  
 By 1953 Argentina was in a serious economic crisis.  Peron continued to woo those who promised him get well quick ideas.  By 1955, Peron was ousted from power.  He would come back again in the 1970’s only to institute the same types of policies he had almost 20 years prior.  He and later his wife who became President when he died also used soothsayers to make the really important decisions…. 
Argentina seems to never fully matured as a country.  It is almost as if they made decisions so they wouldn’t have to become a developed nation.  It is as if they wanted to stay a “developing nation.”  Yet the country’s history since is replete with severe struggles and for the first time since the Spanish floated up the La Plata River people are hungry and frustrated--not with politics (that is a national pastime, but with building their great country).  Many of the Buenos Aires middle class have moved to gated communities.  Argentina has been blessed with incredible bounty (raw materials, self-sufficient in oil, the best and deepest top soil in the world, brilliant engineers, scientist, writers like Borges, artists like Raul Alonso, musicians like Gardel, agricultural prowess—one of the largest wheat producers in the world, the largest sunflower oil producer in the world, etc.), but they just can’t get their collective act together and build a common identity (except during the World Cup).

So the Pulqui II now sits on a pedestal at the Argentine Air Force Museum.  Ahead of its time; a beautiful machine and a point of past pride for a nation that is “the country of the future…  and always will be?”


Benjamin Franklin in the Art of Virtue suggested, “We stand at the crossroads, each minute, each hour, each day, making choices.  We choose the thoughts we allow ourselves to think, the passions we allow ourselves to feel, and the actions we allow ourselves to perform.  Each choice is made in the context of whatever value system we’ve selected to govern our lives.  In selecting that value system, we are in a very real way, making the most important choice we will ever make.”  What are your values?  What are your country’s values?  Some final thoughts next week.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pharaoh is Gone, Long Live the Pharaoh?

I decided to interrupt my planned continuation of my previous blog to insert a thought about an immediate issue.

The whole world is talking about the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.  He was forced from power in 21st century fashion that the world is also talking about and trying to understand.  There was no abhorrently violent revolt, but a revolt fueled by a society that saw their world as a non-zero sum situation.  This is a story of courage, and supported by new media (with just a little violence).  I have been thinking about a confrontation with another Pharaoh some 3,000 years ago.  Whether you believe the Biblical account of the Tribe of Israel leaving Egypt replete with challenges and miracles of deliverance, or not, there is an important lesson that is yet to play out in this modern day event.  

There are two types of slavery the Biblical account teaches us. There's a kind of slavery in which the chains that shackle us, such as was the case of the regime of the Mubarak government, are from external sources.  This Pharaoh was removed from power, rather than the people escaping the Pharaoh.  (That is the 21st century version of this historical story that has many Pharaohs around the world more than a little concerned.)  The Egyptian people today feel free. The external shackles have been removed.  

There is, however, an internal slavery that comes from our own, self-imposed shackles -- our anger, our vanity, our laziness, our greed, our disobedience to universal principles. This type of slavery is not only a problem in Egypt, but is a reality in many parts of the world and there is no place where it should not be a concern.

It's easy to think ourselves free when we overcome an externally-imposed limitation. The people of Egypt feel that way, and deservedly so.  But then we're shocked and surprised to discover Pharaoh pursuing us after we've escaped his Egypt. But the Pharaoh we see closing in on us in the desert is a Pharaoh that we took out of Egypt with us (or in the case of the Egyptians tonight who think they have ousted the Pharoh, it is the Pharaoh they are left with). The Israelites cried, "Maybe it was easier in Pharaohs Egypt.  Maybe that was better than the challenges we are now faced with."  Egyptians tonight  shout from Tahrir Square: “We've been freed from the Egypt that closed us in from without,” but they have yet to transcend the “Egypt of yesterday” in themselves.  I am metaphorically speaking of the internal struggles they now face.  The norm of baksheesh (bribes) that are commonplace, the mistrust and greed that the old regime nurtured, the pride and feelings of superiority over fellow citizens that are pervasive outside of Tahrir Square, and the void of honest leadership, are a real part of the Egyptian reality.  Egypt and Tunisia have proven they are much bigger than these internal shackles, but as societies, they have yet to fully sever those bonds.

To accomplish the freedom the people of Egypt seek, they will have to part the Red Sea of the remnants of  the old regime and the "everyman accountability" that comes with past poor choices, (which is the case in every country in the world), and penetrate the depths of who and what they are in order to uncover their truest self.  The people of Egypt and Tunisia may have taught a few Pharaohs around the world a new lesson, but they have the chance to teach the whole world something about how to break the most injurious shackles. The Egyptian youth in Tahrir Square won the day today because they saw their plight as a non-zero sum situation—they would either all win or all lose in their fight for freedom.  It is now up to the whole world to follow their example and realize the non-zero sum scenario includes us all.  This blog post may sound like an excerpt from Don Quixote as he mounts an attack on a windmill, but it is time we all consider dealing with this self- imposed slavery.  Until we do, we will never be truly free.  Until other countries in the world stop believing that ends justify the means, we will continue to experience external Pharaohs, because we have not yet conquered the internal Pharaohs that in the end give permission for the external ones to exist.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Does Any Of This Sound Familiar?

In the mid 1940’s Argentina was entering the era of “La Plata Dulce.” (Sweet Money)  They had nearly $2 billion in foreign capital reserves and possibly the largest domestic gold reserves in the world.  Through the next five years Argentina looked like the up and coming nation on the world scene.  We don’t hear about much of this now, however, because Argentina made some poor decisions when they should have been making their wisest ones.  They didn’t manage their programs well, they spent in foolish ways, the costs of the internal support of the government became bloated, even though they instituted severe austerity measures.  They began to focus on “silver bullet” projects that had little hope of pulling them out of their downward spiral.  But before we get to the failures, here is a short list of some of their incredible successes.

Between 1948 and 1952 Argentina beat the United States to become the World Basketball Champions.  Mario Fangio was the world’s top Grand Prix driver, Enrique Morea won the Wimbledon Tennis Championships (the first Latin American to do so).  Pedro Leopoldo Carrera won the World Billiard Championships.  Pascual Perez won the World Boxing Title in Tokyo.  Bernardo Houssay won the Noble Prize for Science (Medicine), again the first Latin American to win this prize.  Delfo Cabrara won the Gold at the London Olympics in the Marathon.  The Argentines had one of the most advance nuclear programs outside the United States (I’ve been to those facilities, and they were impressive).  And the topic that got me thinking about this…  In 1947 the Argentine Air Force was flying the Pulqui (arrow in the Araucana language).  

This aircraft flew at 720 km/hr.  Had a service ceiling of 45,000 ft and a range of 900km.  It had four 20mm cannons, which was excellent firepower for the day.  The U.S. fielded the F-80 in 1948 and was about equal in capabilities.  In June of 1950 the Pulqui II flew.  This jet aircraft had a swept wing design, could fly at 1050 km/hr, could fly for 2.2 hours and had four improved 20mm cannons.  It was the first fighter jet from Latin America and only the fifth in the entire world.

The Pulqui II was so impressive the Dutch sent a contingency to buy it because they considered it a better option than the British and U.S. designs of the day.  This was only the third swept wing aircraft in the world after the F-86 which would see action in the Korean War, and the MiG-15 which would have been no match for the Pulqui II.

So what happened?  Why isn’t Argentina a world power today?  What does this history have to do with the present?  Next week's blog will add to this discussion.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Rethinking Public Private Partnerships

With the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the world transitioned from “Cold War” to “Boiling Peace.”  U.S. national security interests, policy and structure are still struggling with this transition.  Two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have all but negated the “peace dividends” of the end of the Cold War.  The U. S. Armed Forces have become increasing dependent on an expeditionary strategy to meet their multiple high intensity conflicts and security requirements worldwide.  U.S. Military doctrine stresses rapid response with a “mix and match” force structure unique to each situation.  Operations continue to require lighter, leaner, and more lethal capabilities.

The United States Armed Forces face several problems, however.  First, the conflict they are engaged in are neither light, nor lean.  Second, reconstitution is required immediately.  Third, this will be an expensive shift that must take place in an environment of defense budget austerity. Fourth, these changes in the present environment require new mindsets and paradigms that will be painful for most armed forces to make.   “Peace dividends” such as BRAC in the U.S., have reduced the infrastructure, forcing most armed forces to rethink their strategies for maintaining the flexibility they need to support an appropriate readiness posture.

Beyond defense, the political spectrum also includes Development and Diplomacy as recently noted by U.S. Secretary of State Clinton.  In this era of austerity, there are two more “d’s” to add to the world’s challenges, Deficit and Debt.

Albert Einstein once reflected, “The problems which we now face cannot be solved by the thinking that created them.”  In other words, we must be willing to sacrifice what we are now for what we need to become.  We need to get our public-private-partnerships right.  We have asked the nations’ armed forces to become the diplomats and developers in the nation-building agenda in many parts of the world.  Many countries have turned to public private partnerships through contractors to provide such things as security, reconnaissance, logistics, and training.  Doesn’t that sound like the armed forces job?  This has weakened military professionalism and accelerated improper uses of civilian contractors.  Flip-flopping these roles will not only nurture military professionalism, it will significantly alleviate the pressures of deficit and debt in achieving U.S. and International Defense, Development and Diplomacy.  What is inherently governmental and intrinsically military must be returned to that milieu and those things that business can do best, should be turned over to business (including development, and to a certain extent, diplomacy).