LIONS AND TIGERS AND SPIES, OH MY

Who knew The Greatest Show on Earth had a black opps division? PETA is suing Feld Entertainment, owner of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s circus, on charges of conducting corporate espionage on the animal rights group, including hiring a former CIA spook to do the deeds.

Predictably, the activists are making the most out of this, media-wise.

If any PETA adversary were to run covert operations against it, I’d have figured it’d be KFC. They do have that military legacy stemming from Colonel Sanders, after all.

FOREIGN AID AS A CONTINUATION

Predictably, the recent deal between Venezuelan state-owned Citgo and the state of Massachusetts to provide discounted heating oil for the poor is being viewed less as a humanitarian gesture, and more as a politically ulterior maneuver.

Um, duh.

What’s curious is why mainstream U.S. opinion holds onto the fantasy that only perceived “rogue” regimes operate this way. The fact is, Washington — and every other country — dispenses foreign aid toward the same purposes: As an instrument of foreign policy, fulfilling both political and economic aims. Aid is just as much an example of von Clausewitz’s “continuation of state policy with other means” as war is; all these approaches are arrows out of the same quiver.

Whether they’re applied benignly or maliciously is variable, and ultimately, not relevant. National self-interest is the overriding goal; if it feeds and clothes people short-term, that’s the incidental benefit.

I know it’s a somewhat complex concept for the average citizen to grasp. It’s especially confusing when raw numbers are tossed about: A billion to Egypt, another billion to Israel, another billion to a country you never even heard of, etc. The details offer a truer representation: That U.S. foreign aid consists of one-half of one percent of the Federal budget, and that the aid is delivered not in the form of flexible cash/currency, but rather as export credits, spendable only with certain vendors and designed to establish and foster customer relationships. Political considerations factor in as well, but just about always are balanced by economic elements.

An partly-theoretical illustration might help:

The U.S. recently gave Mongolia $11 million in aid to go toward counter-terrorism and democracy-bulding efforts in that country. On the face of this, most Americans assume that Mongolia will get exactly that: 11 million bucks, if not as a check then in some form of currency.

In fact, most (if not all) of that aid package is going to be in the form of export credits, redeemable only with U.S. government contractors. So in the case of counter-terrorism goods and services, it’s reasonable to assume that defense equipment contractors are going to be selling their wares to the Mongolian government under this program. Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and the like are going to supply the firearms, surveillance equipment, training programs, etc.

The key is, this creates a situation that extends beyond a one-shot deal. Equipment wears out and requires maintenance, training methods require updates as time goes on. When that happens, Mongolia likely will go back to the original vendor, rather than junk the existing gear and start over with, say, French suppliers. The client relationship that’s established with this initial aid package creates, by design, a market for U.S. companies.

This applies to any flavor of aid: In agricultural assistance, John Deere tractors and Archer Daniels Midland fertilizers establish the market, and spare parts and crop rotations perpetuate the business.

Not to sound overly Marxist, but it’s no surprise: The state functions to help carry out the goals of commerce. To cast aspersions on any country (including the U.S.) for doing so it naive.