Tag Archives: failed state

Think, Don’t Hoard: How to Survive the End Times

Image result for afghanistan 1999

It feels like the end times. A mysterious invisible killer stocks the land. Wild rumors abound. The government is useless. There’s no sense that anyone knows anything, much less is in charge. Could America become a failed state?

Yes, but not yet. Yes, but not because of coronavirus. Late-stage capitalism will ultimately destroy the current sociopolitical governmental system, not COVID-19. A vaccine will come online either later this year or early next year; that will be the beginning of the end of this scourge. Before then, many if not most Americans will have contracted the disease and recovered from it. Businesses will reopen. People will go back to work. The stock market will resume its climb.

In the meantime, many of us are wondering: how would/will we survive in an apocalyptic scenario without a somewhat benevolent government to run things?

I have good news for you: it is possible. Not easy. Not fun. But it can be done.

I know because I have seen it.

For decades Afghanistan was the epitome of a “failed state,” a nation whose government is no longer able or willing to supply essential services to its citizens. The 1978 CIA-backed overthrow of a Russian-supported regime prompted the Soviet invasion of the 1980s, which was followed after withdrawal by a brutal, grinding civil war partly resolved by the victory of the Taliban in 1996. They ruled until 2001 but didn’t built much infrastructure before being themselves driven out of power by the United States after 9/11. I was there under the Taliban, long before the U.S. and NATO began reconstruction in the mid-2000s.

Afghans were utterly dependent on themselves. Not only did the Taliban government fail to provide services like mail delivery and garbage collection, the Taliban made people’s lives miserable through arbitrary edicts and a psychotic religious police force that beat Afghans in the streets willy-nilly.

Try to imagine, if you can, what it would be like to live in a country that didn’t have a single inch of paved road, just muddy ruts. No one has a phone. There are no newspapers. Radios and televisions are banned, which is fine because you have no electricity and no stations are broadcasting.

Inside your house, there’s no running water. You have to walk to a communal well if you are lucky enough to have one nearby that isn’t polluted. There’s a good chance that a local thug controls the well and forces you to pay for water. It gets blazing hot in the summer, but there’s no air conditioning. It’s freezing cold in the winter but there’s no heat. You could burn some wood but you can’t find any because everyone has already chopped down all the trees.

Under the Taliban you can’t send your daughter to school. But you can’t send your son either because there probably isn’t a local school at all. No one has work as we know it. You exchange odd jobs in a 100% unemployment economy where cash has stopped circulating; everything relies on barter.

There is a certain freedom. Without a public records office you don’t need a deed to move into an empty house. But of course you can’t sell it if you leave. There’s no DMV so if somehow do you acquire a car you can drive it regardless of your age. On the other hand, if someone steals it, there’s no police to report it to.

If you did get that car, you probably would only want to drive it around your neighborhood. If you tried to drive to a different town, you would almost certainly be robbed and killed.

Sounds like it would be impossible to survive, right? But millions of Afghans did. Some of them even had children. Life went on. How? It’s almost unfathomable for us Americans, so accustomed to our creature comforts, to imagine.

Not that they could have afforded to anyway, but Afghans did not hoard. Situations in which survival is precarious require you to be nimble. That includes being able to pack up and leave at a moment’s notice. If you manage to accumulate some possessions, you want something highly portable: cash (in Afghanistan, that meant US dollars), jewelry, gemstones. A year’s worth of toilet paper weighs you down.

I have met more than my fair share of survivalists in the United States. Typically their instinct is to hunker down on a remote plot of land, stockpile weapons and supplies, fortify a perimeter and arm up to fend off potential marauders. They are foolish. When the crap hits the fan, the best armed man will not be able to fight off a dozen invaders. It’s smarter to pack up and go if your area turns into a battle zone.

What you really need to stock up on are two items: personal relationships and IQ points. Both make the difference between life and death.

Good friends welcome one other into their homes. If one home is lost, they can squeeze together into a second one. A good friend might have a skill or a possession that you might need—they can stitch up a wound or drive you somewhere in their car.

You make yourself useful in a failed state by exactly the opposite means you would use in ours. In the United States in 2020, it pays to have excellent skills in one or two areas, to be the best at what you do in your specialty. Not in Afghanistan in 2000. Dangerous places work best for people who are renaissance men and women, those with a wide variety of skills. Learn to do a lot of things fairly well. Shoot a gun, drive a car, cook, sew. Translate a foreign language, ride a motorcycle, fish, hunt. You can sell those skills to people who don’t have them.

Most of all, stay sharp and think nimbly. Hone your instincts. Watch for changes that might affect you and the people you care about. Prepare to drop everything you are doing at a second’s notice and take off if need be. We are all descended from people who lived this way. Those who didn’t died. Survival is in your DNA.

I don’t think you’ll need raw survivalism for the coronavirus apocalypse. But it’s worth keeping in the back of your mind.

 (Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Obama Destroyed Libya

Barack Obama destroyed Libya.

What he did to Libya is as bad as what Bush did to Iraq and Afghanistan. He doesn’t deserve a historical pass.

When Obama took office in 2009, Libya was under the clutches of longtime dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. But things were looking up.

Bush and Gaddafi had cut a deal to lift Western trade sanctions in exchange for Libya acknowledging and paying restitution for its role in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. In a rare triumph for Bush, Libya also agreed to give up its nuclear weapons research program. Libyan and Western analysts anticipated that Gaddafi’s dictatorship would be forced to accept liberal reforms, perhaps even free elections and rival political parties, in order to attract Western investment.

Libya in 2009 was prosperous. As citizens of a major oil- and natural gas-exporting nation, Libyans enjoyed high salaries, low living expenses, generous social benefits, not to mention law and order. It seems like a mirage today.

Looking back, many Libyans miss their former tyrant. “Muammar Gaddafi inherited one of the poorest nations in Africa,” notes Garikai Chengu of the Du Bois Institute for African Research at Harvard University. “However, by the time he was assassinated, Libya was unquestionably Africa’s most prosperous nation. Libya had the highest GDP per capita and life expectancy in Africa and less people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands.”

As a dictator, Gaddafi was guilty of horrendous human rights abuses. But life was better then than now. Women enjoyed more rights in Libya than in any other Arab country, particularly after the United States overthrew Saddam Hussein in Iraq. By regional standards, Libya was a relatively sweet place to live.

In February 2011, militant Islamists based in the eastern city of Benghazi launched an armed insurgency against Gaddafi’s central government in the capital of Tripoli. The rebels were linked in the imaginations of American newsmedia and U.S. foreign policy officials to the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt’s Tahrir Square. But the Benghazi-based rebels, with close ties to Al Qaeda, were ideologically closer to the Free Syrian Army fighters who eventually metastasized into ISIS.

Within the CIA and Defense Departments, no one was sure who the insurgents were or what they wanted. Nonetheless the Obama administration covertly supplied them with at least $1 billion in cash and weapons. CIA agents and U.S. Special Forces served as “boots on the ground,” training opposition fighters how to use sophisticated new weapons.

Obama threw Gaddafi, whose regime was secular and by all accounts had been cooperative and held up his end of the deals with U.S., under the bus.

American forces jammed Libyan military communications. The U.S. fired missiles to intercept Libyan missiles fired at rebel targets. The U.S. led numerous airstrikes against units loyal to Gaddafi. U.S. intervention turned the tide in favor of the Benghazi-based rebels.

In October 2011, one of Obama’s killer robot drones participated in Gaddafi’s assassination. Game over.

Before invading Iraq, then Secretary of State Colin Powell warned Bush about his “Pottery Barn rule“: if you break it, you own it.

Obama has broken the hell out of Libya.

The New York Times describes Libya as “veer[ing] toward complete chaos.”

In 2015, the UK Guardian reports, Libya is in danger of meeting the official international definition of a failed state: “Libya is wracked by violence, factionalism and political polarization – and by the growing menace of jihadi extremism. Two rival governments, parliaments, prime ministers and military forces claim legitimacy. One side is the Islamist-dominated Libya Dawn coalition in Tripoli, the capital. The other camp, Dignity, which is recognized internationally, is based in Tobruk and Bayda. Hundreds of rival militias exist across the country. In recent months the homegrown fighters of Ansar al-Sharia have been challenged by Islamic State (Isis), who released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians. Oil production, the source of most state revenues, has declined massively. Cash is running out and basic services are facing collapse as the financial situation deteriorates. Hopes for change generated by the Arab spring and the demise of Gaddafi’s dictatorship have faded into despair and dysfunction.”

“Libya is falling apart. Politically, financially, the economic situation is disastrous,” says UN envoy Bernardino León.

To Obama’s credit, he admits that he screwed up in Libya. Unfortunately, he drew the wrong lesson. In 2014, he told an interviewer that a large ground invasion force might have helped Libya’s post-Gaddafi government succeed. Because that worked so well in Iraq and Afghanistan. But if he really believes that, why doesn’t he order in the troops?

Obama’s real mistake was to depose a secular socialist autocrat and allow him to be replaced by a bunch of crazy religious fundamentalist militias whose factionalism ensured they’d never be able to govern.

Bush committed this error in Iraq. Obama made it in Libya. And now he’s doing it again in Syria.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

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