Tom Arms’ World Review

USA

Who are the MAGA Republicans that Biden claims are threatening American democracy?

For a start they support the cult of Donald Trump and cults are antithetical to democratic values. Next they propagate the lie that Trump won the 2020 presidential elections. And unless an estimated 40 million voters drank a hallucinogenic Kool-aid they know that Trump is lying. Or alternatively, America is facing a major mental health problem. Finally, they feel so threatened by the values and policies of the Democratic Party that they are prepared to jettison truth, the rule of law and a much-revered constitution in the pursuit of power.

The current battle ground for what Biden has dubbed the “soul of America” is the mid-term elections to the Senate in House in two months’ time. His threat to democracy speech this week at Independence Hall in Philadelphia was Biden’s opening salvo in the campaign. Only a few months ago the received political wisdom was that the Democrats faced a drubbing at the polls and the likely loss of both houses of Congress. But that was then.

In the intervening period Biden has proved himself a legislative mastermind by pushing through his economy and climate change package. Missing top secret papers have been found at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago hideaway. Support for the Ukraine war has grown. Abortion has become an election campaign with polls indicating most voters favouring controlled termination. Inflation has stalled and gasoline prices tumbled.

Sleepy Joe has woken up, come out fighting and rapidly climbed five percentage points in the opinion polls. Trump backers are, however, standing firm. In fact, every attack on the ex-president and every legal investigation is greeted with cries of “witch hunt” and “conspiracy.” The MAGA squad have invested too much in the cult of Trump. They cannot afford to fail and are likely to resort to increasingly desperate claims and acts. This should be one of the most interesting US mid-term elections ever.

Pakistan

Two thousand-plus dead so far. More rain. More death. More destruction to come. Baked mud homes returned to mud and washed away. A bill which so far is expected to easily surpass $10 billion. Pakistan’s monsoon floods are a humanitarian disaster and another climate change warning.

They are also the likely harbinger of major political and economic dislocation in a strategic and unstable region at a time when the rest of the world can least afford it. Pakistan and Afghanistan are joined at the tribal hip. Pashtuns in both countries have flowed back and forth across the border for centuries and Pakistan has been heavily involved in supporting their Afghan cousins. Pakistan’s Pashtuns will now be absorbed with repairing the monsoon damage and unable to spare time or money for the millions starving in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s civilian governments are notoriously inept at handling crises. When faced with disasters they tend to turn to the army which demands payment in increased political power. There is not much money to pay for reconstruction. The country is heavily in debt to China which must be concerned about damage to the highway infrastructure it financed and its key port at Gwadar. Beijing will want to protect its investment but might exact a charge for doing so.

Not only is Pakistan heavily in debt, but 25 percent of GDP is agricultural products. Most of the farms are along the Indus River Valley and currently under a 10-kilometre wide lake. The country will be unable to feed itself let alone export and the war in Ukraine has pushed food prices to intolerable levels. The UN has asked for $160 million in urgent humanitarian aid to help 1.2 million displaced by the flood waters. But it comes at a time when Western aid budgets are stretched to the limit with inflation and war. Finally, there must be a fear that India’s resurgent Hindu nationalism will tempt Delhi to exploit the floods to achieve gains in disputed Kashmir.

Taiwan

China doesn’t dare invade Taiwan. And the United States doesn’t dare send in the troops to defend it. The reason has nothing to do with the military prowess of either Beijing, Washington, or for that matter, Taiwan. It has everything to do with the peacekeeping attributes of globalisation and Taiwan’s lock on the semi-conductor or computer chip industry.

In today’s computer-driven world, semi-conductors are THE vital component in everything from cruise missiles to the braking system of the family car to the smartphone in your pocket. A severe shortage of semi-conductors would cause major global economic dislocation. In fact, the recent covid-induced supply chain bottlenecks forced several multinational car manufacturers to stop production because of a global shortage of computer chips.

If there is a war over Taiwan then troops will fight in Taiwan. If troops fight in Taiwan the island’s computer chip industry will be severely disrupted at best and obliterated at worst. The Chinese and Americans wouldn’t be able to fire their artillery at each other.

About half of the world’s semi-conductors come from Taiwan and almost all of them emerge from the premises of the Taiwan Semi-Conductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) in Hsinchu in the northwest corner of Taiwan. Small is beautiful in the computer world and TSMC and its next nearest competitor Samsung in South Korea are the only two companies capable of manufacturing 5 nano-metre chips. Later this year TSMC will become the only company in the world to produce a 3 nano-metre chips.

Both the US and China are trying to boost their production of semi-conductors. China is being hampered by US reluctance to allow the export of chip technology that will enable China’s Semi-Conductor Manufacturing Industrial Corporation to increase production and move onto the next generation.

Last month President Biden signed the bi-partisan CHIPS Act which provided $52 billion investment money in the US semi-conductor industry. The stated purpose was economic security for this vital industry, especially in regards to China.  But in practice the CHIPS Act could make America less secure by freeing up America to fight in Taiwan. As for Taiwan, their best deterrent is Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) of America and China that would occur if the TSMC foundries stopped turning out computer chips.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and the author of “The Encyclopedia of the Cold War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain” that has sold out in the US after six weeks but is still available in the UK.

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