Foreign Affairs

America Needs to Exploit Social Unrest Abroad For Economic Opportunity

It may be callous to ask what economic opportunities exist for America in the wake of all the social unrest and overthrowing of various autocratic governments in the Arab world, but it’s something that needs to be considered.  Not too long ago, America led the charge to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, and anti-war leftists were able to gain traction by complaining, as they dusted the dirt off their homegrown organic carrots, that “Bush did it for oil,” as though that’s a bad thing in itself.  If America and other countries are playing a part in regime change now, they’d sure better be doing it transparently for oil, resources, and other financial reasons, if only because they aren’t in a position to pass up such opportunities in a downturn economy.
 
You never hear critics complain about Russia, China, and other Socialist or Communist governments exploiting business opportunities wherever business might be found.  Leftists wail about American or Western imperialism, while granting a pass to Russia for building Iran’s uranium-powered nuclear reactors.  That’s because in the leftists’ minds, an imperialist can only be American, British, or European, much like a racist can only be Caucasian.  It’s time to shed the shame and guilt.
 
According to various reports, the Chinese economy could surpass or even double America’s sometime between 2020 and 2030.  The Chinese are constantly scouring the world for raw materials to maintain their industrial output, while their state-owned investment firms are looking to gobble up opportunities and—in the process—power and influence everywhere in the world.  Russia has adopted the same mentality—buying back the power it lost in the Ukraine during the 2004 pro-Western Orange Revolution by funneling cash into mining and production investments through oligarch investors close to the Kremlin.  Everyone knows that in Russian business, the ruble stops with ex-intel chief Vladimir Putin.  These countries understand that the field of play covers the entire planet—not just a patch within their own borders.  They transparently play Communist on home turf, and capitalist at away games.  That’s how they’ve adapted to compete in the post-Cold War economy.
 
While Obama is besieged by his domestic challenges, he can’t afford to ignore the opportunities that exist abroad.  Particularly because, as America learned with post-WWII Japan, moral influence often follows in the wake of economic influence.  Unrest and regime change in Africa provide a window for Americans to explore their options and partnerships with new, we hope, more pro-Western leaders in the region, to consider deals related to everything from mining to defense and security.  The last time this happened, President George W. Bush and his administration were criticized as “war profiteers” and dismissed as having gone to the trouble of doing the bidding of Big Oil and Blackwater.  As rational adults, we ought to be able to hold two thoughts in our minds simultaneously without all the ideological hysteria and finger-pointing:  Dictators and autocrats being deposed is a good thing.  And the inevitable business and economic window that opens in the wake of social unrest may also be a positive development worth exploring.  But how can big American businesses compete on a global playing field with state-run companies and all their government-funded resources?
 
In France, the relationship between the government and industry is so tight that the French president is expected to lay out business opportunities for corporations—including some in which it holds shares—during his foreign visits.  In America, that kind of thing tends to understandably make people nervous because they like to see a clear separation of government and business.  But when the U.S. government is bailing out corporations and propping up Wall Street with taxpayer money, it’s probably fair to ask if such a separation really exists anymore.
 
If the U.S. government isn’t actively looking for opportunities for its country’s business interests, then geopolitical and geoeconomic strategists—many of whom are former state intelligence officers—are doing just that on behalf of these companies.  But they’re at a disadvantage when up against foreign companies backed by the resources of an entire state superpower.  This is where the anti-imperialists go wrong in their logic—figuring that if a blind eye is turned to an opportunity in the interest of some higher ideological cause, then the market won’t pick up the slack.  To cite a tangible, current example:  If Obama neglects to lobby for a major port security contract on behalf of American companies during his holiday in Brazil, it’s not going to stop corporations all over the world from doing so—including those that are owned and run by foreign governments, with all the advantages of these governments’ resources, contacts, and intelligence services—and ultimately creating wealth and opportunity for non-American interests.

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