Friday, January 05, 2018

"ONE BELT, ONE ROAD": ILLUSION OR REALITY?

"There is a shorthand among foreign policy types that designates the 20th as the Atlantic century. The 21st, the received wisdom continues, will belong to the Pacific. The last century saw wealth and power concentrated among the littoral states of the north Atlantic as Europe and the US reached across the ocean. But prosperity and power have travelled eastward and southwards. The phrase Pacific century seems to capture China’s rise. Only in part. True, the People’s Liberation Army is building military bases on reclaimed islands in the South China sea to expand its maritime reach into the Western Pacific; and, yes, China could well clash with the US in these waters. But such tensions misread Beijing’s organising ambition. It is looking westwards rather than eastward. Mr Xi’s big play is wrapped up in his “One Belt, One Road” idea — the recreation of the sea and land routes of an earlier age of globalisation. When it looks ahead China imagines an era in which the great land mass of Eurasia becomes the vital fulcrum of global power. And guess who will be the pivotal Eurasian player? Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security adviser to president Jimmy Carter who until his death this year was Washington’s sharpest strategic thinker, long ago grasped the significance of what he called the “axial supercontinent”. “A power that dominated Eurasia”, he wrote as far back as 1997, “would exercise decisive influence over two of the world’s three most economically productive regions, western Europe and East Asia . . . What happens with the distribution of power on the Eurasian landmass will be of decisive importance to America’s global primacy and historical legacy'".
Philip Stephens, "A train that proclaims China’s global ambition". The Financial Times. 20 July 2017, in www.ft.com.
"On October 24, 2017, the Communist Party of China (CPC) adopted a new version of the Party Constitution. Along with the name of Secretary General Xi Jinping, the constitution now includes the One Belt One Road (OBOR) concept — Xi’s trademark geo-economic concept that is now used to explain almost every move that China makes outside its borders. The “Belt and Road” concept has become so inflated, that it’s no longer helpful in understanding anything about China’s relationship with the outside world, but only further obscures an already complicated picture.... These and many other theories about China’s strategic rationales behind the Belt and Road are based on Chinese sources and interviews with Chinese scholars, officials and businesspeople. The spectrum of theories reflects not only the diverse backgrounds and research priorities of scholars outside of China looking at Belt and Road, but also the wide range of opinions and approaches toward this initiative taken within China. Since Xi proclaimed the SREB idea in Astana, nearly every university, ministry, region and SOE in China has held at least one event dedicated to OBOR. Newly established think tanks in the PRC, dedicated to studying this issue, already number in the hundreds. At the same time, most Chinese officials and analysts who advise Beijing would acknowledge in private conversations, that the top leadership has not given them much positive direction about what Belt and Road actually is. The only internal instructions that have come so far, have been from Zhongnanhai, and are about banning words like “project” (because the word connotes a goal and timeline, Beijing prefers the looser term “initiative”) as well as banning the publication of official maps purporting to show the scope of OBOR. Lack of stated goals is closely tied to the second feature of the Belt and Road, which distinguishes it from a strategy — the initiative doesn’t have any performance criteria. Xi Jinping did identify five broadly defined facets of the initiative in his Astana speech in 2013, namely, policy communication, road connectivity, trade facilitation, monetary circulation (financial cooperation including promotion of local currencies), and person-to-person ties. Beijing has not, however, identified any quantifiable indicators of success or progress. This means that a great many things can be presented as progress under OBOR. Examples include, establishing a new intergovernmental commission with Russia, financing a new road project in Tajikistan, signing an FTA with Georgia, establishing a currency swap with Switzerland and holding an annual beauty pageant in Sanya.... Last but not least, OBOR doesn’t have a timeframe. No timeframe is to be found in the speeches of Xi Jinping and other officials, or in documents and roadmaps published by the Chinese government. Most of the time, when confronted directly over the timeline issue, Chinese officials and experts say that Belt and Road is a long-term goal that doesn’t have an underlying set of deadlines. Interestingly enough, not only does Belt and Road stretch into the indefinite future, it also reaches into the past. Some of China’s old projects, like the construction of Gwadar Port in Pakistan, which began in 2002, are now listed among the Belt and Road’s flagship achievements. This approach allows Beijing to re-package old deals and projects in OBOR wrapping, and present them to the world as Belt and Road deliverables. China’s current and prospective partners may find this uncertainty and lack of focus problematic. But for the Chinese political system, this lack of clarity around Belt and Road is actually a good thing. After all, the lack of performance criteria gives the government more latitude to declare positive outcomes and address the desire of all governments but, perhaps especially important to singleparty regimes, is the ability to appear successful, victorious and influential on the global stage".
Alexander Gabuev, "Belt and Road to Where?" Carnegie Moscow Center 8 December 2017, in www.carnegie.ru
"About thirty years ago the fear of the 'Yellow Peril' was the fashion. It was said that China and Japan were about to advance towards the economic and perhaps also military conquest of Europe and other regions. Much was written to stress the vast size of the yellow races, their modest standard of living which ensured the low prices of manufactured goods, the political sense of Japan, the reawakening of China after a sleep of centuries".
Vilfredo Pareto. The Other Pareto. Edited by Placido Bucolo. Translated by Placido & Gillian Bucolo. (1980), p. 258. First published on 13 June 1922.
In these days when Communist China appears to be on the fast lane to Superpowerdom, it is wise and useful to be reminded of certain realities as per the Peoples Republic. The chief one is that like most authoritarian regimes in the 21st century (think of Putin's Russia in particular) the regime in Peking is obsessed with legitimacy and with appearing successful. As the American academic at Columbia University Andrew Nathan recently commented: "the regime is hypersensitive about its image because of its shallow legitimacy at home" 1. Much of the rhetoric about 'One Belt, One Road', that the bien-pensant Philip Stephens of the Financial Times appears to accept without much by way of analysis, is as the Russian analyst Alexander Gabuev demonstrates is simply eye-wash. Pur et simple. Which is not to gainsay the fact that of course Peking would love to spread its influence west to Eurasia and from hence to Europe proper. Merely, that there does not appear to be any concrete plans or strategy behind the rhetoric, much less real investments behind the fabled (and thus illusory) expenditures that Peking is enamoured of talking about to Western journalists. Given the nature of the regime in Peking, that is just as well. Per contra to Mr. Stephens, the world will be better off, if there is no 'Asian Century'. Either now or indeed a hundred years from now.
1. Andrew Nathan, "The Chinese World Order". The New York Review of Books. 12 October 2017, in www.nybooks.com.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

PREDICTIONS FOR ANNO DOMINI 2018

"The Financial Times’s team of forecasters had a solid 2017. But not a perfect one. We — OK, I specifically — was wrong to think the US stock market would finally falter. I have therefore retired in disgrace from the prognostication game. John Authers takes over as our S&P 500 psychic this year. We also thought Venezuela would manage to avoid debt default. It did not (although its government and some bondholders are pretending otherwise). We also had too much faith in Donald Trump: we thought he would build at least some of that big, beautiful wall on the Mexican border. But all we got was some small, unattractive prototypes. Overall, the FT got 15 out of 19 questions right (the 20th question, about North Korea, was too hard to call as a “yes” or “no” so the judges tossed it out). This is not nearly as prescient as our reader forecasting contest winner, Katalin Halmai of Leuven, Belgium, who scored a cool 18 of 19. She needed the tiebreaker question to edge out our runner-up, Hamish Vance of Washington DC. Congrats Katalin — for at least one year, you were smarter than the entire FT. Please try to avoid winning next year. That would be hard for us to take. For your own shot at glory in 2018, provide your answers to the 20 questions below, plus the tiebreaker, and submit your (real) name and email. Good luck!" Robert Armstrong
"Will Theresa May remain prime minister in 2018? Yes. Mrs May lost most of her authority with the bungled snap election. But the past few months have been kinder. Sealing a Brexit divorce deal has ensured short-term job security. So until Brexit is formally complete in 2019, or an appealing alternative emerges, the Conservative party will keep her where she is. Remainers and Leavers alike wish to avoid a civil war that would be sparked by moving against her. What was thought to be an unsustainable position is proving surprisingly sustainable". Sebastian Payne
"Will the UK economy be the slowest-growing in the G7? No. This is possible, of course, but with luck, Mrs May has at least now ensured that the UK is not going to tumble over a “no deal” cliff in 2019. In December 2017, Consensus Forecasts’ prediction for the UK was of 1.5 per cent growth in 2018. Its forecasts for Japan and Italy were even lower, at 1.3 per cent. So the chances that the UK will have the slowest-growing economy in the G7 next year should be around one in four". Martin Wolf
"Will the Democrats take back the majority in the midterm election in the US House of Representatives? Yes — by an eyelash. Democrats will need to win an additional 24 seats, meaning they will have to hold on to all 12 Democratic districts that Mr Trump won last year and pick up the 23 Republican districts that voted for Hillary Clinton, plus one or two more for good measure. The math is not on the Democrats’ side, but history is. The president’s party almost always loses some House seats in the midterms, and sometimes loses big, especially when the president has an approval rating below 50 per cent. See Barack Obama in 2010". Courtney Weaver
"Will impeachment proceedings begin against Donald Trump? Yes — just. Democrats will regain control of the House of Representatives in the November midterm elections. Though they will not take charge until January 2019, they will waste no time preparing the House Judiciary paperwork. Mr Trump will label it a “witch hunt”. But another year of his surreal presidency makes it all but inevitable Democrats will campaign on a pledge to hold him to account. Whatever Robert Mueller’s investigation unearths before then is unlikely to turn enough Republicans against him". Edward Luce
Financial Times Writer, "Forecasting the world in 2018". The Financial Times. 29 December 2018, in www.ft.com.
I cannot recall if my prognoseses were as good as those for the Financial Times in Anno Domini 2017. However, there is always 'next year', which in this case, means Anno Domini 2018. So for a little bit of forecasting of my own, here goes:
i.) Will the United States fall into a recession? By June of this year, the current economic expansion will have been running for upwards of nine years. Which will make it the second longest on record (the Bush the Elder / Clinton expansion of 1991-2001 will have been longer). Given that element of longevity, it will not take very much for the American economy to fall into a recession. Certainly a few more kicks upwards to the discount rate by the Federal Reserve should be enough so that by the third quarter of the current year, the economy will commence a serious slow-down with the fourth quarter falling into negative growth, with one or more quarters of the very same in 2019.
ii.) Will President Trump be impeached? If the question is: 'will President Trump be ousted' by impeachment proceedings in Congress, the answer is 'no'. If the question is: will Congress commence impeachment proceedings in calendar year 2018, the answer is: peut-etre. Why? Simple: if President Trump fires Special Counsel Robert Mueller, then it is highly likely that impeachment proceedings will commence in the House of Representatives. And those proceedings might very well succeed, if the Republican party were to direly afraid of losing fifty or more seats in the 2018 elections due solely to President Trump. Another scenario would be that Special Counsel Mueller, prosecutes either the President's son Donald Trump, Junior, or First-son-law, Jared Kushner. And then in order to save them (and of course himself), President Trump issues a blanket Presidential Pardon of both men. That would be more than enough to force Congress, even a Republican Congress to commence impeachment proceedings.
iii.) Will Kanzler Angela Merket survive anno domini 2018? The answer is yes, but only by a hairs breath. Based upon the current reading of the situation, it is highly likely that the SPD will reluctantly decide to form another 'grand coalition' with the Christian Democrats. However, the damage done to the German body politic by having the Alternative for Germany as the 'official opposition', might be enough, barely enough to force the Kanzler out of office. However, my reading of the situation is that in the absence of some other very negative variable occurring in Deutschland (some terrorist outrage by migrants from Syria), Mme. Merkel will remain weakened, but in office.
iv.) Will Prime Minister Theresa May see out anno domini 2018? The answer is yes. As the FT above correctly notes, that it is very much a faute de mieux situation. There is at this point in time no credible successor to May and she has been very very careful to not promote anyone to the Cabinet (Jacob Rees-Mogg, Rory Stewart being the best known), who could possibly be a threat to her. However, I am not sure that this bit of luck on May's part will last much further into anno domini 2019.
And that gentle reader is the end of my prognoseses for Anno Domini 2018. We will know by this time in anno domini 2019, if my predictions are any more accurate than the accumulated wisdom of the FT.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: EYELESS IN FOGGY BOTTOM

"The foreign policy gossip in Washington largely agrees on two points. First, US secretary of state Rex Tillerson will hit the one-year mark of his tenure and step down. Second, he has taken a wrecking ball to the state department, destroying morale and driving out talent.... Mr Tillerson seems impervious to this criticism. The standard explanation is that, as a former chief executive, he sees the state department as just another business that needs slimming and restructuring. Like any successful corporate leader, he is determined to “make his numbers”. Mr Tillerson has set forth those targets, presumably encouraged by the White House, in “seven ambitious proposals with investments that will generate a minimum deliverable of 10 per cent ($5bn) in efficiencies relative to current spending . . . over the next five years, with an aspirational general interest target of up to 20 per cent ($10bn)”. Again following the corporate model, he is offering buyouts to senior staff to encourage attrition. Mr Tillerson’s language and approach are hardly diplomatic. And if he is driving out an entire generation of talented young foreign service officers, the US may feel the effects on its ability to conduct global diplomacy for a decade at least. Ms Shackelford and many others point to examples where the US is simply throwing away global leadership opportunities because of a lack of direction and personnel.... Sacrificing influence at embassies and missions around the world may not be a price worth paying. Yet although it may be heresy to say so, what if the wrecking ball approach is the only way to bring the scale of change needed to the state department? Secretary after secretary has tried to reform a calcified bureaucracy. The foreign service has not changed substantially since the 1920s, when the diplomatic service merged with the consular service. When she was secretary of state, Hillary Clinton followed the example of the Pentagon’s quadrennial defence review with a similar one for diplomacy and development, which I helped lead. John Kerry led the second such review. But, like the Republicans’ tax bill, we could get things done by adding, but never subtracting. Major change was out of the question, often fought by outsiders who suddenly became insiders. A key reason not to appoint assistant secretaries, as Mr Tillerson is doing, is that any political appointees can only survive by standing up for his or her department. Sweeping reform, such as making it possible for individuals in the private and civic sectors to come in and out of the foreign service at multiple levels, requires congressional action. That may seem like swapping one large dysfunctional bureaucracy for another but, if Mr Tillerson breaks enough china, it is possible that Congress and a new administration will be able to work together to renovate and rebuild in a very different direction. The state department building, an enormous, bland edifice, is a relic of the 1950s. For all the talent and dedication of many employees, and notwithstanding the deep need to develop civilian rather than military solutions to global problems, the US approach to diplomacy is often similarly outdated. It may take a thick-skinned outsider like Mr Tillerson to begin the process of genuine change".
Anne-Marie Slaughter, "Rex Tillerson — wrecker or reformer of American diplomacy?" The Financial Times. 20 December 2017, in www.ft.com.
"Promise was that I Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver; Ask for this great deliverer now, and find him Eyeless in Gaza at the Mill with slaves".
John Milton. Samson Agonistes. (1671).
There may be a certain amount of logic in what Mme. Slaughter, a former director of the policy planning staff at State Department states in her piece on the egregious Rexford Tillerson. What that logic is exactly I am not entirely sure, unless it is something akin to the idea that by in effect destroying the State Department from within, Tillerson and his employer, President Trump, are engaged in some type of Schumpeter-like exercise in 'creative destruction'. Of course the concept itself, and the two individuals who are allegedly engaged in it, answers (in the negative of course), the feasibility of the idea. It is a nonsense. Absolute unadulterated nonsense. Mr. Tillerson is in the context diplomacy, a lightweight (at best) and a supreme incompetent (at worse). A/K/A a gentler version of President Trump. Given these demonstrable facts, the idea that by destroying the State Department, Tillerson, et. al., are creating the possibility for 'genuine change' is simply false. Unless of course by the mot 'change', Mme. Slaughter is referring to the type of 'genuine change', that say Pompeii could have been said to have undergone when Vesuvius erupted in Anno Domini 79. The fact of the matter is that the type of genuine change Mme. Slaughter advocates for the State Department has been: a) on the table for sixty-years; b) shows little evidence that it would improve the Department's performance. The idea that 'individuals in the private and civic sectors to come in and out of the foreign service at multiple levels', sounds on first hearing a good one. It fits within an American tradition of disparaging bureaucracy and experts, for something akin to 'Citizen-Ambassadors' and diplomats. Of course in reality and as history of the State Department in the past seventy-years has shown, it is precisely the inherited traditions and frame of mind (bureaucracy) and long-term accumulated knowledge and experience of the individuals who are running it (experts) which have always been the State Department's greatest virtues. Indeed the virtues of any large scale governmental organization. Indeed, insofar as the State Department has been much more prone to be infiltrated and suborn by political appointees, many of them inexperienced (id. est., political appointees to the rank of Ambassadors), than its counterparts in the rest of the world, then the State Department has already undergone something approximating to what Mme. Slaughter advocates. And the results are in, and then do not reflect very well on Mme. Slaughters idea. Ask almost any American embassy staff with a political appointee as Ambassador. Quod erat demonstrandum

Friday, December 15, 2017

SOME OF THE ORIGINS OF THE GREAT WAR: A REVIEW OF HALL GARDNER'S LATEST BOOK

The following book review has recently been published on the online portion of the British periodical, the Journal of Intelligence History. A hard copy will appear in the Spring issue of the journal in 2018.
BOOK REVIEW
The failure to prevent World War I: the unexpected Armageddon, Hall Gardner, Surrey, England, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd, January 28 2015, 294 pp., $119.00 (hardback), 978-1-4724-3056-4
Hall Gardner’s book on the origins of the First World War is in many ways quite unique. As a political scientist, Gardner explores territory which in terms of a book length treatment, has been much more the terrain of historians than political scientists. And in terms of his thesis, Gardner is also treading on new territory in arguing that ‘the French reaction to the Prussian/ German seizure of Alsace-Lorraine (…) played a crucial role in Anglo-French-Russian-GermanAustrian-Italian diplomatic relations up until the outbreak of the war’. As per Gardner it was the Alsace–Lorraine factor which explains ‘how a “local” conflict in the Balkans between Serbia and Austria resulted in a global war’. Beginning in the prewar diplomacy leading up to the Franco-Prussian war, Gardner endeavors to show how the inability of both monarchical (1871–1877) and republican (1877–1914) French elites to accept the fact of the loss of Alsace–Lorraine, lead France to first to try to subvert the Bismarckian diplomatic ring of encirclement around it, and then with the fall of Bismarck from power in 1890, to gradually construct an anti-German diplomatic ring which by 1907 consisted of France, Russia and the United Kingdom. In Gardner’s telling, the primary goal of France’s ‘encirclement’ policy was per contra to historians like John Keiger, far from being a search for ‘security’ vis-à-vis Germany, was indeed nothing less than that ‘a French strategy of “encirclement” could press Berlin to return Alsace-Lorraine by diplomatic means’. Failing which, Paris was not above even ‘subtle threats of war’, in order to obtain its goal. Breaking with most political science and international relations treatments of pre-1914 diplomacy, Gardner in his relatively quick recounting of European diplomatic history in this period, puts paid (correctly to my mind) to the concept of the ‘Balance of Power’, arguing that ‘neo-realist concepts of “holding the balance of power” and of “balance of power and threat” are largely illusory’. According to our author, one of the great missed opportunities of prewar diplomacy was the failure of London, Paris and Berlin to ‘forge an Anglo-GermanFrench concert in the effort to forge a “United States of Europe”’. Unfortunately, as per Gardner it was a combination of French fixation on regaining Alsace–Lorraine coupled with German refusal to discuss some compromise formula over the two and London’s unwillingness (until it was too late) to forgo its policy of ‘splendid isolation’ which torpedoed the concept. Concerning the July 1914 crisis, Gardner supports the revisionist school of Christopher Clark et. al. in positing that the resulting war was as much caused by the Franco-Russian belligerence as Austro-German aggressiveness. Arguing that while it was Berlin that initiated the two-front war in order to pre-empt the Russo-French parallel military mobilizations … it is also clear that both France and Russia knew that they were playing with fire by supporting pan-Serb and pan-Slav ambitions and by seeking to ‘encircle’ the Austro-Hungarian and Imperial German empires with Great Britain’s backing. Gardner however goes the revisionist school one better by arguing that there was ‘significant circumstantial evidence of Russian if not French involvement’ in the Sarajevo assassination on the 28th of June of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne.
What is one to make of this unusual attempt by a political scientist to bravely cross the divide which separates his tribe from that of historians and in particular diplomatic historians (full disclosure: I admit to being one of the latter)? In a nutshell, one’s overall assessment is one of disappointment as the author’s stated thesis has both merit and has strangely enough never been truly explored: viz. why France post-1871 failed to reach some sort of type of rapprochement with Imperial Germany and accept the reality of the Treaty of Frankfurt? Just as Austria–Hungary learn to accept the geopolitical consequences of the Treaty of Prague in 1866 after the battle of Königgrätz? Therein lies an important book waiting to be written. In Gardner’s case, the various sins that historians normally accuse political scientists are unfortunately readily apparent: an indulgence in vapor-like political scientist verbiage which one can hardly make either heads or tails of. With an almost complete reliance upon secondary sources, the vast majority of these are in English (notwithstanding the French focus of the book), with at best a mere cursory look at the printed primary source materials and of course almost nothing by way of anything resembling archival research. Additionally, the book is littered with extraneous quotes from figures whose relation to the narrative are at best peripheral: Marx, Engels, D.E. B. Dubois, Bertrand Russell, Victor Hugo and none other than Nietzsche. The end resulting being for most readers is an unnecessary source of distraction and confusion. The structure of the book is also found wanting, as his quick recapping of European diplomatic history from 1870 to 1914 (in under 250 pages no less) fails to convey anything which has not been already recounted in such standard (and superior) treatments as found in say A. J. P. Taylor or William Langer and fails to tell the reader why exactly Delcassé and his successors were so successful in building a ‘ring of encirclement’ around Germany. Was French diplomacy and French diplomats of such superior quality that its practitioners able to run rings around its German counterparts? Or did the erratic nature of German foreign policy in the post-Bismarckian era make things easier for Delcassé and his company? The reader is not given any indication by the author his answer to this query. Similarly, given the nominal French focus of the book, there is a distinct lack of in-depth exploration of French policy in question. One would have greatly appreciated a greater exploration of the internal dynamics of French diplomacy and policy. Finally, Gardner’s idea that there was ‘significant circumstantial evidence’ of Franco-Russian involvement in the Sarajevo murders is completely without any plausible evidence of an empirical nature and best not even discussed in a serious book. Perhaps however the most serious issue that I personally have with Gardner’s book is the sheer number of errata which litter the text, indeed almost fatally so. Among some of the choicer examples: (i) the ‘Humiliation of Olmütz’ did not cause Berlin to seek ‘revenge against France’ (40); (ii) Lexa von Aerenthal was not ‘Foreign Minister’ in the 1870s (60); (iii) Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was not the ‘nephew’ of King of Prussia (42); (iv) the Gladstone Cabinet did not resign in 1886 due to the Russian threat to Afghanistan (72); (v) Bernard von Bülow was not the ‘head of the [German] Foreign Ministry under Caprivi’ (83); (vi) Joseph Chamberlain was not Colonial Secretary in 1894 (89); (vii) Lord Salisbury was not in office in 1894 (105); (viii) Marshall von Biberstein was not an Ambassador in 1896 (109); (ix) the ‘Sir Francis Hertie’ issuing threats against Germany in 1897 must surely be Francis Bertie without yet his knighthood (123); (x) Harold Nicolson, unlike his father never became a ‘British Ambassador’ (140). The errors are so voluminous that one strongly hesitates in recommending such a book to either university or graduate students (for whom the book appears to be aimed at) or the lay educated public. Which is in some sense a real shame as there is indeed
something to be said about trying to cross the divide which separates the historian from the political scientist. Something which diplomatic historians such as Paul Schroeder have shown in the past can in fact be done. Unfortunately, this book most definitely will not serve such a purpose.
Charles Giovanni Vanzan Coutinho Royal Historical Society, London, England Charlescoutinho@aol.com © 2017 Charles Giovanni Vanzan Coutinho https://doi.org/10.1080/16161262.2017.1404759

Monday, November 27, 2017

THE DOWNFALL OF DAVID CAMERON: A CONSIDERED VIEW NINETEEN MONTHS LATER

"David Cameron listed many of the achievements of his six years in office as he stood in Downing Street on the day after June’s historic EU referendum. These included rebuilding the economy after the financial crisis and legislating to allow gay marriage. But the grim reality for the departing British prime minister is that he will forever be remembered as the man who took his country out of the EU. It is an ironic epitaph for a politician who once vowed to stop his party from “banging on about Europe”, the issue that has haunted the Conservatives since Margaret Thatcher’s reign. It is an unfortunate one, too, given that he is the most successful leader of the Tories in decades, returning them to power in 2010 after a long spell in the wilderness. But as with the ill-fated Anthony Eden, who resigned after the 1956 Suez crisis, the manner of Mr Cameron’s going is likely to be remembered far more than any other aspect of his time in office. In many ways, it is right this should be the case: for Europe is the issue that has dogged his premiership above all others and on which he has failed to master his party."
James Blitz, "David Cameron pays the price of tactical failure: The PM’s biggest challenge was always going to be Europe". The Financial Times. 12 July 2016, in www.ft.com.
"The key reason why Cameron's premiership becomes so dominated by Europe is down to the Conservative Party itself and the rise of UKIP. Hague anticipates how difficult the party might be, but Cameron is caught off guard by the strength of feeling on the issue....Cameron is infuriated with his backbench Eurosceptics. They gave him no credit earlier in the year for negotiating Britain out of the European Financial Stability Mechanism....The chief whip Patrick McLoughlin is confronted by a spectrum of opponents, from ultras like Cash to those who have said in their election literature they favored a referendum."
Anthony Seldon & Peter Snowdon. Cameron at 10: The inside Story, 2010-2015. (2015), pp. 168-169.
The Tory party is run by five people….And they all treat their followers with disdain, they are mostly Etonians and Eton is good for disdain”.
Anthony Sampson. Anatomy of Britain. (1962), p. 89.
Reading the Seldon & Snowdon book (hereafter 'Seldon') is a very strange experience. The book itself was completed in August 2015, which places it a few months after the Tory Party's election victory in the May 2015 elections and of course ten-months prior to the British electorate's self-immolation via way of Brexit. Reading the book now, has the odd aspect of looking at the journal entries of a martial couple's salad days prior to said couple's unexpected and immediate breakup. The authors and those who the authors interviewed (all of the major personages it seems), are all of course oblivious of the coming debacle of late June 2016. And while there are glimpses here and there that the upcoming European Union referendum will be a less than pleasant hurdle to climb for then Prime Minister Cameron, et. al., it is readily assumed that having won the AV referendum of 2012 and the Scottish referendum of 2014, that there is no possible reason why Cameron will not emerge once again on top. The book does delve a great deal into the tensions in the Tory Party over Europe. A topic that it is fairly clear, that then Prime Minister Cameron had a limited amount of interest in. It is certainly apparent that Cameron's de haut en bas view of the United Kingdom Independence Party, was easily transferable to the 'Euro-skeptics' in the Tory Party as well. "Swivel-eyed loons" just about does it for both groups from Cameron's perspective 1. Which is not to gainsay the fact (which the book discusses at length) that Cameron was uneasy with aspects of the European Union and the EU project. It is merely the case, that Cameron feels (correctly in my opinion) that: a) the European Union was and is to a limited extent reformable from the 'inside'; b) that the United Kingdom exiting the European Union at that stage of the game (after 43 years of membership) is a 'cure' which is worse than the disease that said cure is supposed to remedy. Something which the subsequent negotiations between the European Union and the Theresa May government are showing more and more to be very much the case 2. Reading this book carefully provides readers (or at least this reader) with the whys of David Cameron's defenestration in June of 2016: au fond Cameron was politically speaking a 'trimmer' in the sense that Stanley Baldwin or (to a degree) Harold Macmillan could be said to be trimmers. The difference being that while Baldwin and Macmillan were highly experienced politicians when they became Prime Ministers, this was hardly the case with Cameron. Also, unlike these two and in particular Baldwin, Cameron failed to effectively hide his distaste for his parliamentary back benchers. Whatever Baldwin's dislike for the Tory Right-wingers in his Conservative Party, he (mostly) kept his opinion to himself. Something that Cameron for a variety of reasons was never able to do. But then again Baldwin was a Harrovian (like Churchill) rather than an Etonian. Also neither Baldwin or Macmillan ever made the mistake of informing the electorate that he was going to retire three to four years prior to doing so `a la Cameron in the Spring of 2015. Indeed, if nothing else this horrible promise provides every explanation as to why Boris Johnson and Michael Gove would jump ship and come out for Brexit when they did in the late winter of 2015-2016. And sans Johnson and Gove it is difficult to imagine that Brexit would ever have a chance in winning the referendum. In short, Cameron's ultimate failure in office is that as a politician, he was a pure tactician whose tactical skills failed him on his last try (or in fact referendum). Which in retrospect is a great pity, since notwithstanding all my disagreements with some of his policies (such as homosexual marriage), David Cameron was by any measurement a first-class politician and a very good Prime Minister. Certainly head and shoulders above his benighted successor.
1. "David Cameron ally: Tory activists are mad, swivel-eyed loons". The Guardian. 17 May 2013. In www.guardian.com.
2. Andrew Lilico, "Get ready for a no deal Brexit". Reaction. 12 October 2017, in www.reaction.life.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

THE COMING BREXIT DEBACLE: A COMMENT.

"It is highly likely that the Brexit negotiations will fail, imposing an abrupt shock on the UK economy and ruining relations with its neighbours. This view is condemned by those who insist we must be more positive. That is like advising someone who has just jumped off a building that, if only he thought positively, he could fly. To understand the state we are now in we need to understand the zombie ideas that hold so many Brexiters in their grip. The first such idea is that the EU is being unreasonable in insisting that the broad terms of the divorce (if not the details) are settled before moving on to transitional arrangements. David Davis, who is in charge of the negotiations for the UK, complained to the House of Commons that “they are using time pressure to see if they can get more money out of us. Bluntly that’s what is going on — it’s obvious to anybody.” Indeed, it is. Stop complaining: that is what strong parties do. A linked zombie idea is that the UK is really in a stronger position than the EU, because it runs a trade deficit with it. But, even in goods, UK exports to the EU are three times more important to the UK’s economy than vice versa (7.5 per cent of gross domestic product against 2.5 per cent). Even without the UK, the EU remains the second-largest economy in the world, with an economy almost six times bigger, at market prices, in 2016. The UK is negotiating with an economic superpower. How does that feel? Just ask the Canadians, now negotiating with the US over the North American Free Trade Agreement".
Martin Wolf, "Zombie ideas about Brexit that refuse to die". The Financial Times. 19 October 2017, in www.ft.com.
"Even “no deal” would not mean no trade with EU countries. We have lots of options – even without a formal trade deal with the EU. Business, industry, and people’s livelihoods are at stake here, but unfortunately this bunch do not seem to care about any of this. They care just about making ridiculous headlines. The latest comments from Tusk come on the heels of the European Council summit, where it seemed tentative steps were made towards progressing negotiations onto trade talks. Now we have the use of words like defeat and victory, which have been studiously avoided in negotiations so far. This inflammatory and contradictory language displays just how fickle the EU leaders can be – and how far negotiations have to go. There is plenty of time for EU leaders to delay and frustrate these talks and return to their more usual belligerent tone. The EU needs to stop playing games with the livelihoods of millions on either side of the Channel. Unless the EU gets real’, they risk creating a no deal scenario which will do far more damage to them than to us".
Jayne Adye, "The EU must stop playing games over Brexit". Reaction. 24 October 2017, in www.reaction.life
The chief economics commentator of the Financial Times, Mr. Martin Wolf is of course correct. And the egregiously naive or ill-informed Mrs. Adye is incorrect in assuming that (in her words): "a no deal scenario...will do far more damage to them [the European Union] than to us" 1. As Mr. Wolf cogently and ably points out, the statistics clearly show that the United Kingdom depends three-times as much on trade with the European Union than the European Union does with the United Kingdom. Already there have been plenty of noises coming out from the big Banks and other large companies who use their UK businesses as a platform to export to the rest of the European Union, that sans some sort of mutually agreed road map in place by no later than late this year or early next (say April 2018), then these businesses will commence making plans to move operations out of the United Kingdom rather than take the risk of a 'hard Brexit' or a no-deal Brexit occurring 2. As the pro-Brexit, but realistic Spectator columnist James Forsyth recently commented: "The EU knows that time is on its side. The two-year Article 50 clock strengthen its hand so it is happy to see it tick down" 3. The fact of the matter is that unless and until Prime Minister May makes a firm decision to seek the very best agreement with Brussels that will inevitably involve compromises that not everyone will like in her party, then there is a great risk of there not being an agreement in time to meet the deadline of the end of March 2019. And leave no doubt, for that deadline to be anywhere near approaching without the United Kingdom securing an agreement with the European Union will result in a catastrophic economic slide in the United Kingdom economy, based merely on the uncertainty. The fact is as the commentator Allan Massie recently & correctly noted:
"Mrs May became Prime Minister for an honourable reason : the Queen’s Government must be carried on. It may be also that she is, honourably again, attempting to secure a compromise: a soft Brexit which will enable us to retain many of the advantages of membership of the EU while freeing us of some of the unwelcome burdens. Such a compromise might well be in the national interest, but it will not satisfy the nationalist zealots. She cannot however draw back because even to hint at doing so would inflame the passions of those who believed that “Leave means Leave”. Yet to satisfy these passions and make the clean break – taking the “No Deal” option – will leave the 48 percent who voted Remain variously dismayed, aggrieved and angry. The truth is that there is no General Will. No outcome will please everybody. Every outcome will be felt as a betrayal by millions. We cannot go back to where we were before the politicians supinely chose not to abide by the principles of representative democracy and surrendered their judgement to the people who had elected them to exercise that judgement. So we are in a mess, confusion worse confounded. The best we can hope for is a very British fudge, a Brexit that satisfies nobody, but one that fools most of the people long enough to allow passions to subside 4."
A 'very British fudge' will be infinitely better than a no-deal or hard Brexit. That is a mere fact of life.
1. Jayne Adye, op. cit.
2. See a statement last week from Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein, in: Martin Arnold & George Packard, "Blankfein heaps pressure on May over Brexit as he praises Frankfurt". The Financial Times. 19 October 2017, in www.ft.com.
3.James Forsyth, "The plots thicken". The Spectator. 14 October 2017, in www.spectator.co.uk.
4. Allan Massie, "A Brexit to please nobody". Reaction. 25 November 2017, in www.reaction.life.

Friday, October 06, 2017

'HOMAGE TO CATALONIA' REDIVIVUS?

"This was in late December 1936, less than seven months ago as I write, and yet it is a period that has already receded into enormous distance. Later events have obliterated it much more completely than they have obliterated 1935, or 1905, for that matter. I had come to Spain with some notion of writing newspaper articles, but I had joined the militia almost immediately, because at that time and in that atmosphere it seemed the only conceivable thing to do. The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing. To anyone who had been there since the beginning it probably seemed even in December or January that the revolutionary period was ending; but when one came straight from England the aspect of Barcelona was something startling and overwhelming. It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs of workman. Every shop and cafe had an inscription saying that it had been collectivised; even the bootblacks had been collectivized and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared. Nobody said 'Sen~or' or 'Don' ort even 'Usted'; everyone called everyone else 'Comrade' or 'Thou', and said 'Salud!' instead of 'Buenos dias'. Tipping had been forbidden by law since the time of Primo de Rivera; almost my first experience was receiving a lecture from a hotel manager for trying to tip a lift-boy. There were no private motor-cars, they had all been commandeered, and the trams and taxis and much of the other transport were painted red and black. The revolutionary posters were everywhere, flaming from the walls in clean reds and blues that made the few remaining advertisements look like daubs of mud. Down the Ramblas, the wide central artery of the town where crowds of people streamed constantly to and fro, the loud-speakers were bellowing revolutionary songs all day and far into the night. And it was the aspect of the crowds that was the queerest thing of all. In outward appearance it was a town in which the wealthy classes had practically ceased to exist. Except for a small number of women and foreigners there were no 'well-dressed' people at all. Practically everyone wore rough working-class clothes, or blue overalls or some variant of militia uniform. All this was queer and moving. There was much in this that I did not understand, in some ways I did not not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for. Also, I believed that things were as they appeared, that this was really a workers' State and that the entire bourgeoisie had either fled, been killed or voluntarily come over to the workers' side; I did not realise that great numbers of well-to-do bourgeois were simply lying low and disguising themselves as proletarians for the time being".
George Orwell. Homage to Catalonia. Revised Edition. (2010), pp. 6-7.
"Catalonia’s referendum belongs to a very different category. It lacks legal validity and political legitimacy. In their response to the gathering storm, Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s prime minister, and his ruling Popular party have been cack-handed at best. They have unnecessarily alienated many Catalans and been sluggish and unimaginative. After the crisis erupted in 2010, when Spain’s constitutional court struck down parts of a new statute of autonomy for Catalonia, Madrid let several opportunities for talks go to waste. However, none of this makes the Spanish state the tyrannical ogre that inhabits the fantasies of Catalan separatists. There is a world of difference between the abuses committed against Catalonia under Francisco Franco, the dictator who died in 1975, and the extensive self-government and individual freedom that the region and its people have enjoyed for the past four decades. Catalan nationalists purport to speak in the name of the whole people. It is a baseless claim. In truth, the separatists are driving forward a radical agenda that deeply divides Catalonian society. This will be evident on Sunday. Large numbers of voters will refuse to take part in the referendum because they regard it, correctly, as illegal and because they do not support secession from Spain. Mr Rajoy has the right, indeed the absolute duty, to uphold the law. But his government would be wise to display restraint in coming days, so as not to play into the secessionists’ hands and create a roll-call of martyrs. At some stage, a fresh dialogue must start between Madrid and the Catalan authorities. Yet it must be on the basis of the rule of law. The separatists are treating this principle in the most flagrantly high-handed manner."
Leader. "Catalan secessionism is bad for Spain and Europe". The Financial Times. 29 September 2017, in www.ft.com.
One does not have to be a sympathizer with the idiocy of Catalan nationalism: the ultimate in a cause in search of a country, to realize that Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy made a fundamental mistaken, an erratum by sending in the police to endeavor to stop last week's referendum from taking place. Instead of giving the appearance of masterly inactivity by studiously ignoring the 'referendum' and its 'results', Rajoy played in to the worst fantasies of arch-Catalan nationalists by trying by the employment of force to stop the idiotic voting exercise. Once again: one does not have to be an adherent of Catalan nationalism or small nation nationalism per se, to make the determination that the employment of even a limited amount of force to stop a peaceful if wrong-headed political farce was absolutely the wrong way to proceed in this matter by the authorities in Madrid. Now of course the fat is really in the fire and now the ball is most definitely in the court of the authorities in Barcelona unfortunately. As the British commentator Allan Massie (no friend to Catalan Nationalism) stated earlier this week, that Rajoy would have been well advised to have borrowed the script employed by the former British Prime Minister David Cameron when the latter had to deal with the equally idiotic Scottish referendum three years ago:
"The Unionist case during the campaign was led by Scottish politicians. Mr Cameron made it clear that he hoped Scotland would vote “no”, and his Government pointed out that an independent Scotland would not get everything the Nationalists wanted. In particular It could not share a common currency with the rest of the UK. By and large however the argument was conducted within Scotland by Scottish politicians on Scottish terms. In short no legal obstacles were erected against the Nationalists.They were given their head, conducting the Referendum on their own terms; and they lost. If Mr Cameron had been less accommodating, they might have won. If he had acted as Mr Rajoy has, tens, perhaps hundreds,of thousands of Scots would have been converted to the cause of Independence. So if Mr Rajoy had called him, Mr Cameron might have said, “cool down – give them enough rope and let them hang themselves" 1.
1. Allan Massie, "Mr Rajoy needs some referendum lessons from David Cameron". Reaction. 3 October 2017 in www.reaction.life.