Who are the bad guys?
Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
For example, the CIA once backed Osama bin Laden when, as part of the mujahideen, he was helping get the Soviets out of Afghanistan…
And imagine the poor landser — a German infantryman — in 1943. From a good family in Hamburg, dragooned into Hitler’s Wehrmacht, and sent to the Eastern Front.
He was cold, miserable, hungry, and hunted by the ‘terrorists’ in the woods. Meanwhile, millions of Soviet soldiers — including the dreaded Siberian troops — were determined to kill him.
He looked so sharp in his new uniform when they sent him off. He was told that he was defending the Fatherland from the Bolsheviks. He believed it. He had confidence in ‘Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer.’
But now…doubts were sneaking into his thoughts.
We’ll come back to the first part of our series, ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,’ in a minute. Our premise: In a world where everyone is a lawbreaker, it’s hard to spot the real criminals.
First, we check in with the financial news…
A perverse worry
US stocks experienced some major swings on Friday.
‘Mixed close after rate hike concerns,’ read one headline.
Friday’s jobs report was surprisingly good — if you didn’t look too closely. This led to the perverse worry that an improving economy might embolden the ‘data-dependent’ Fed to take away the punch bowl of ultra-low interest rates…bringing the party to a close.
We — and maybe we alone — would welcome the end of this shindig. It needs to end someday. The sooner the better, in our opinion.
A long ‘Ice Age’ with frozen asset prices and glacial economic growth? Or a quick meltdown — washing away malinvestment, bad debt, and the bad decisions of the last 20 years?
Economists call this kind of thing a ‘depression.’ But a friend helpfully suggested a better way to describe it: a ‘reboot.’
Computers accumulate ‘viruses’ and ‘malware,’ unwanted files that clog up hard drives, and mixed-up commands…
Our email inbox overfloweth with messages about products that are ‘as seen on Oprah.’ And now we’re getting an email labelled ‘Sexually Explicit.’ (How did we get on that list?)
No matter how careful you are, if you use your computer often, trash collects like leaves in a storm drain. And eventually that drain will clog up. Your computer may get blocked completely.
Is that so different from an economy?
Over time, debt, regulation, mistakes, malinvestment, zombies, and cronies cause it to run slower. Sooner or later it needs a reboot!
So does a government….
From terrorist to freedom fighter
Let’s go back to our imaginary German soldier on the Eastern Front in 1943.
He had seen civilians shot dead by his fellow troops. He had helped to send Russian and Polish prisoners to the camps, where…it is rumoured…few survive.
Some of his fellow soldiers talked openly of ‘exterminating’ the Slavs and the Jews. They referred to them as ‘subhuman,’ as if they had no right to live.
He may have even encountered Einsatzgruppen — the SS paramilitary death squads Hitler sent to Russia to carry out mass killings.
And to make it worse, now he was in retreat.
Sitting in his foxhole, he may have turned to his friend…
‘Klaus, vat do you think? Are vee ze bad guys?’
And if he didn’t ask, he should have.
And who are the bad guys today?
The Iranians? The North Koreans? The Russians? ISIS? The Sunnis? The Kurds? The Ba’athists?
We read the papers. But we can’t keep up any better than the government.
Last week, for example, the British government set free Bherlin Gildo, a 37-year-old Swede it had charged with aiding and abetting terrorists.
The Brits arrested Gildo last October and accused him of joining a Syrian ‘terrorist’ group and providing them with weapons.
Here was a bad guy, for sure!
Oops…The government dropped the case against Gildo when his lawyers argued that he was supporting the same Syrian opposition groups as the British secret service.
In minutes, Gildo went from terrorist to freedom fighter.
Saints and sinners
That has been the story in the Middle East for a long time: Good and evil can’t seem to make up their minds.
A man is a sinner. Then he is a saint. He is redeemed not by faith but by the curious politics of shifting meddles.
Once upon a time, Osama bin Laden was one of the ‘good guys’ — backed by the CIA — when he was fighting with the mujahideen. Then he became the baddest of bad guys when he formed al-Qaeda and turned against America.
Saddam Hussein, too, was a CIA man; it practically put him in charge of Iraq. Later, Washington gave him billions of dollars to help his fight with Iran. But something must have gone wrong in the relationship; America later took him out.
CIA fingerprints are all over the Middle East — causing confusion and mayhem almost everywhere. One meddle leads to another.
The US supported the rebels against the Syrian government. But these were often the same rebels who were a part of ISIS, who were believed to have horns and tails.
What to make of it? Which side are we on? Who are the good guys?
The security professionals — at the FBI, local police, the CIA, NSA, and more than a dozen other zombie agencies — were supposed to be the good guys. They were supposed to be delivering us from evil.
But after so many reports of torture, illegal spying, lying, assassination, murder, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, rape, railroading, and drones — we can’t help but wonder.
Is God still on our side?
More to come…as our series continues…
For Markets and Money, Australia