By Nick Giambruno, Editor, International Man
All of us by now have seen the latest sales pitch from the Obama administration for yet another so-called "humanitarian intervention" in the Middle East. It is not hard to see that the case for war is a bunch of rubbish and will likely end in disaster for both Syria and the US.
I am not diminishing the tragedy that is going on in Syria. The events there touch me on a personal level. I have good friends who live in Damascus and have been there myself several times when the situation wasn't so hot.
As some of you may know, I used to live in neighboring Beirut while I was cutting my teeth in finance at a regional investment bank. Due to its rich history and importance today, I have long been interested in the Middle East and sought ways to combine it with my professional background in finance.
I know it may be hard to fathom given what is put forth 24/7 on the mainstream media and if you have never been there, but Damascus is actually an amazing city on many levels—that is when it is not an active warzone of course. It is arguably the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. The Christian quarter of the old city is one of the most enchanting places I have ever visited. And it's tough to beat the pistachio encrusted sweets from the legendary 100+ year old Bakdash ice cream parlor in the souk el Hamidiyeh.
Anyway, my purpose today is not give travel tips or to debunk the case for US intervention in Syria as hokum—David Galland did an excellent job of doing that in his latest piece here.
Instead I want to talk about Syria in terms of the lessons it provides us in internationalization.
It is human nature for people all around the world to have the "that can't happen here" mentality. And prior to the deterioration of the situation, many Syrians believed the same.
As Doug Casey has eloquently stated "The problem—your problem—is that any country can turn into a 1970s Rhodesia. Or a Russia in the '20s, Germany in the '30s, China in the '40s, Cuba in the '50s, the Congo in the '60s, Vietnam in the '70s, Afghanistan in the '80s, Bosnia in the '90s. These are just examples off the top of my head. Only a fool tries to survive by acting like a vegetable, staying rooted to one place, when the political and economic climate changes for the worse."
The uncomfortable truth is that, as history shows, no country is immune—especially one that has a deteriorating fiscal health—and internationalization is the ultimate insurance policy.
You won't be any worse off by moving some of your savings into multiple friendly jurisdictions and into things that are hard to confiscate, such as physical precious metals and foreign real estate. Obtaining a second passport is also an important ingredient in the mix.
Once you have taken these steps you will have insulated yourself and your family to a high degree from the uncertainty and sovereign risk emanating from your home country.
Developing your internationalization game plan takes time, and you must take action before it is too late. For Syrians, it would obviously have been optimal to have developed internationalization options many years ago.
Having a second passport and a financial account abroad denominated in a currency other than the Syrian pound, which has suffered from hyperinflation, would have gone a long way for the average Syrian today. The Syrian passport is not a great travel document; it requires a visa for most countries outside of the Middle East.
Having a second passport ensures that you will always have another place to potentially call home, another place where you will always have the legal right to live and work. In worst case scenarios, a second passport guarantees that once you get out of dodge, you won't have to live like a refugee.
A second passport can also come in handy when a government decides to starting treating its own citizens as beef cows instead of milking cows (i.e. when they need more soldiers for war) or if passport restrictions and other types of people controls are implemented.
The Syrian government, for example, previously refused to renew the passports of Syrians abroad it suspected of being associated with the opposition. This is not surprising and should have been completely predictable—any government could and would behave in a similar manner. Any government has the ability to revoke the citizenship and/or passport of its citizens at a moment's notice under any pretext that it finds convenient. Look at how the US cancelled Edward Snowden's passport by fiat.
It is not inconceivable that the US government would, for example, make it more difficult for Ron Paul supporters to travel internationally one day in the future. Heck, they have already taken the first step and labeled them potential domestic terrorists.
The bottom line is that if you hold political views that the establishment of your home government does not like, don't be surprised when they decide to restrict your travel options. In this case, having the political diversification that comes from having a second passport is even more important.
Unfortunately, getting a second passport, while necessary, is not easy. There are no solutions that are at the same time cheap, easy, fast, and legitimate. There is a lot of misinformation and bad advice out there regarding black and grey market passports that could likely end up causing you significant problems. It is essential to have a trusted resource to guide you through the process. There are definitely some options that are better than others. You can find our top picks for the best countries to obtain a second passport in and how to do it in Going Global 2013, a comprehensive guide to internationalization from Casey Research.