Monday, December 05, 2016

A 'ONE TWEET' POLICY ON FORMOSA?

"Most periods between the election of a new US president and the inauguration are relatively quiet, with a bustle of appointment-related activity going on behind the scenes but a lack of hostages to fortune given in public. As president-elect, Donald Trump seems determined to up-end this tradition. If not necessarily settling on irrevocable policies that will bind him in office, he is setting out a stall that could radically change US strategy. It was the turn of Taiwan and its relationship to China on Friday. By taking a single phone call from Tsai Ing-wen, the Taiwanese president, and referring to her by that title, Mr Trump threw 40 years of established practice into question. In fairness, he is right — if indeed this is his aim — to point out America’s contradictory attitude to the self-governed and democratic island.... The US attitude to Taiwan since it was set by Jimmy Carter’s administration in 1979 could be described as constructive hypocrisy. America professes to support Taiwanese democracy and sells it arms to defend itself from its powerful neighbour, while at the same time adhering to a “one-China” policy and refusing to recognise Taiwan as an independent country. For a long while, this was a stable position that has kept the peace in a potentially inflammatory situation. But Beijing’s increasingly assertive foreign policy, particularly in the South China Sea, has made it more unstable. The US has looked ever more passive in the region and the timidity of its approach may have emboldened China. The Obama administration reacted to China’s building of artificial islands and militarisation of the South China Sea by sailing some ships and flying a few jets through the region in “freedom of navigation” exercises. China shrugged off these actions and carried on building military bases in the disputed waters. Beijing’s initial response was to downplay news of the phone call. Unless Mr Trump doubles down on the provocation, China may simply bide its time and wait for him to enter the Oval Office, assuming this is the action of someone who has not had time to consider the issues at length".
Leader, "Trump’s dangerous provocation over Taiwan: The president-elect should assume office before changing policy". The Financial Times. 5 December 2016, in www.ft.com.
"However, Trump fueled the fire on Sunday by complaining about Chinese economic and military policy on Twitter, while on Monday an economic adviser to Trump, Stephen Moore, said if Beijing did not like it, "screw 'em." Analysts, including senior former U.S. officials, said the call appeared to be at least an initial shot across China's bow to signal a tougher approach to Beijing, which includes plans for a buildup in the U.S. military, in part in response to China's growing power in the Asia-Pacific region. Jon Huntsman, reportedly among the candidates to become Trump's secretary of state, was quoted by The New York Times as saying at the weekend that Taiwan might prove a "useful leverage point" in dealings with China. Trump adviser and China hawk Peter Navarro, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, another in the mix for the top U.S. diplomatic role, have both proposed using degrees of escalation on Taiwan to pressure China to step back from its pursuit of territory in East Asia. Navarro, who has produced books and multipart television documentaries warning of the dangers of China's rise, has suggested stepped up engagement with Taiwan, including assistance with a submarine development program. He argued that Washington should stop referring to a "one-China" policy, but stopped short of suggesting it should recognize Taipei, saying “there is no need to unnecessarily poke the Panda.” Bolton though, in an article in January, countenanced a "diplomatic ladder of escalation" that could start with receiving Taiwanese diplomats officially at the State Department and lead to restoring full diplomatic recognition".
David Brunnstrom, "Trump fires opening salvo in risky test of wills with Beijing". Reuters. 5 December 2016, in www.reuters.com
'Dangerously provocative' or a 'one tweet' policy? That is the crux of the discussion currently about American President-Elect Donald Trump's telephone conversation with the President of Formosa and his subsequent 'tweets' attacking the regime in Peking this week-end just past. One does not have to like in the least Mr. Trump (as I do not) to au fond agree with his more aggressive views on Sino-American relations. And while similarly one does not have to have a very high opinion of the diplomatic talents of Messieurs Navarro and Bolton, et. al., to agree with them that the course of Sino-American relations since the late 1990's has been one long trend of benign neglect and or appeasement of the very worst sort. That the current regime in Peking is for Primat der Innenpolitik reasons pursuing an increasingly aggressive and revanchist policy in the Far East. And that only a consistent policy of militarized containment by the Americans and their allies will put a stop to Peking's dangerous and provocative policies. It is in fact Peking's consistently aggressive policies in the Far East in the past half-dozen years which is 'dangerously provocative'. Choosing to ignore or minimize it, will only make an eventual military confrontation between the Americans and Peking more rather than less likely. In this instance if in not much else, Mr. Trump (or more likely his advisors) has a better read on the diplomatic situation than the current American administration. One can only hope that it is in fact more than merely a 'one tweet' policy.

Monday, November 28, 2016

FIDEL CASTRO, 1926-2016: NI REQUIESCAT IN PACE

"Fidel Castro, the controversial Cuban leader who seized power in 1959 and ruled over the communist state for the following five decades, has died aged 90. Castro came to power as a charismatic guerrilla leader after his army of revolutionaries marched into Havana 49 years ago when he was just 32 years old. His younger bother, Raúl Castro, who took over as president of the Caribbean island in 2008, announced that the older Castro had died on Friday. Cuba will now hold a nine-day period of mourning, before a funeral is held on December 4. The 85-year-old said on state television following his brother’s death: “At 10.29 at night, the chief commander of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz, died. Ever onward, to victory.” Castro was a divisive figure who initially won admiration from many on the left after leading the Communist party to power. Hundreds of young Cubans gather at Havana University to remember Cuban leader Fidel Castro © EPA But he has also been criticised as a repressive autocrat who treated his opponents brutally".
Madison Marriage & Andres Schipani, "Cuban leader Fidel Castro dies aged 90Z". The Financial Times. 26 November 2016, in www.ft.com.
"A corpse died yesterday".
L'Humanite on the occasion of the death of André Gide in February 1951.
The atrocious mots of the rotten French Communist gutter paper, soiled by its monstrous history of lies and filth, were of course a calumny when applied to the immortal Gide. However, in the case of the now rotting corpse of Fidel Castro, the words are very apt indeed. What is the history of 'Fidel' but a history of lies, foolish ambition, wasted efforts, mass killing and murders of his fellow Cubans. Dictatorship and under-development and mis-development. All ultimately for no positive purpose whatsoever. The idea, the fantasy that Cuba could stand on its own two feet, in opposition to the United States and remain a functioning state, was of course that: a fantasy. Unfortunately, it is a fantasy that first engulfed one man, then a clique and soon, via coercion an entire people. Thankfully, if perhaps too tardily this idiocy been revealed for what it truly is. One can only hope that when Castro's equally atrocious brother Raul also meets his maker in due course, that the poor and misbegotten people of Cuba will act upon the realization of the morbid joke that almost sixty years of Castroism has proven and put an immediate and complete end to it. Before it is too late.

Monday, November 21, 2016

LA GRANDE PEUR DES BIEN-PENSANTS: OR WHY DONALD TRUMP WON THE AMERICAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

"I don't think that Trump can win, frankly," wrote Bill James on Feb. 23, before adding dismissively, “because I don't think there are enough morons to elect him." James, a revered baseball statistician and consultant whose work has transformed the business of sports, cited some back-of-the-napkin math to support his theoryNot to argue with the godfather of Moneyball, but in Donald Trump’s case, the problem may be much clearer: The problem is that there aren’t enough white men. If Trump wins the GOP nomination, he will be testing the limits of a strategy that has long haunted the Republican Party. Since the civil-rights era, Republicans have relied heavily on white male voters to overcome a disadvantage among minorities and some subsets of women. Mathematically, that was an easier strategy a half-century ago, when white men dominated the electorate. But as the GOP has failed to broaden its coalition and the demographics of America have shifted dramatically, an ever-greater percentage of the white male vote has been required to secure a GOP victory.....The math suggests Trump would need a whopping 70 percent of white male voters to cast their ballots for him. That’s a larger percentage than Republicans have ever won before — more than the GOP won in the landslide victories of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and far more than they won during the racially polarized elections of Barack Obama".
David Bernstein, "Donald Trump Needs 7 of 10 White Guys: The changing face of America means he'll need a historic sweep. What are we in for now?" Politico. 4 March 2016, in www.politico.com.
Kids were OK, they said maybe Michelle Obama can be president next time, we decided they would write to her to ask. Five-year-old was dismayed to learn that DT will be president until she is nine, which feels like forever. When we walked out the door the crossing guard on our corner shouted: ‘You remember 9/11? Well this is 11/9. Think about it.’ Lots of people were standing around on the corners just crying. When we got to school the school director and her assistant were standing at the doorway wearing black and hugging everyone as they came in. In the classroom the one kid who voted for Trump in the classroom election was running around shouting: ‘Donald Trump is president isn’t that funny?’ While the teachers gritted their teeth and the other parents stared at the floor. I couldn’t look at the father, who dresses like one of the villains from Revenge of the Nerds (popped collars, seersucker in winter). Then I went to my exercise class, where the teacher cried and then played a Martin Luther King speech set to a techno beat and then some Pearl Jam and turned off the lights and it was like one of those 1970s encounter groups, lots of skinny white women and gay men just crying and screaming incredibly loudly in the dark. At work we watched Hillary’s speech in the conference room. There was lots of crying and handing around of toilet paper rolls for ostentatious nose blowing. They ordered pizza for everyone and then the office manager walked around handing out warm chocolate chip cookies. It’s bad bad bad bad bad.
Amy Larocca< "11/9." The London Review of Books. 10 November 2016, in www.lrb.co.uk.
"To conclude: I do not care to indulge in the histrionic readings of what occurred on Tuesday, nor do I think of it as the end of the road for the White Race in America....4 I do believe that a victory for Governor Romney, who is indeed a true-blue gentleman, as opposed to his opponent, would have ushered in a more sane political atmosphere in Washington, DC. Something which is ever so needed at this time both in terms of economic and foreign policy. The pity of the matter is that au fond, the GOP is still the 'natural party of government', what our Marxist friends like to refer to as the 'historical bloc'. It is supported strongly (but not strongly enough unfortunately) by the largest & by far most important in every sense, population group in the country. What the GOP needs to do is to get a sense of proportion. As George Kennan once noted precisely about the mind-set of the more wide-eyed supporters of the Conservative Movement in America: 'It seems that this country doesn't want government....It will suffer unlimited injustices and infrigments on liberty from irresponsible private groups, but none from a responsible governing agency. Its people rather go down individually, with quixotic courage, before the destructive agencies of uncontrolled industrialism---like Ethopian tribesmen before Italian gas attacks---than submit to the discipline necessary for any effective resistance 5.' Regardless, I am sure that within either two or four years time, the GOP will regain its dominance once again. Why? As the late and splendid Harold Macmillan once put it: 'events my dear boy, events'".
Diplomat of the Future, "THE DIALECTICS OF DEFEAT: A LOOK AT THE AMERICAN ELECTIONS". 9 November 2012 in www.diplomatofthefuture.blogspot.com
It seems that the prediction that I made circa four-years ago has proven to be correct. That per contra to much of the commentariat prognosises (including I should add my own earlier from this year), the GOP has returned to power by winning the American Presidential race. And while I am not in the least enthusiastic about the victory of Mr. Trump (I would have preferred the victory of his opponent, Secretary Clinton, on the principal of the devil you know is infinitely better than the devil you do not know...), it is impossible to gainsay the fact that a mini-revolution in American and one is tempted to say Western popular politics has now occurred. The populist revolt against the rootless, post-national, cosmopolitan elites, has won an unprecedented victory. A victory infinitely more important than that represented by the BREXIT referendum in the United Kingdom. Against, most (not all mind you but most) of not only the coastal elites in New York and California, as well as almost the entire Republican party and Conservative movement intelligentsia as well as many of elected officials in the Republican party, not to speak of the entirety of the governing elites of the Western world, the American voters decided to back Mr. Trump and the Republican Party behind him. The reasons are somewhat clear, albeit it is good to remember that Trump's victory in the Electoral College was dependent upon a series of narrow wins in half a dozen states. And of course that Secretary Clinton won a majority of the popular vote. Still the fact of the matter is that as long as Trump (or anyone else on the Republican side) can rally the majority of the population which is of European origins, then the GOP will have something akin to a 'lock' on the Presidency for years to come. Especially, since it can be assumed that: a) future Republican candidates will not be as politically maladroit as is Mr. Trump; b) that regardless of 'a', that any and all such candidates will engage in similar 'sammlungspolitik', the 21st century equivalent of 'waving the bloody shirt'. The by now worn-out and discredited theory of the likes of Ruy Teixeira, that the future of the 21st century offers up the unending prospects of a 'Democratic Majority', are now hopefully put on the empirical shelf as being unproven 1. As probably by far the very best online journal for American electoral politics, 'FiveThirtyEight', has recently noted 'Demographics aren't destiny':
"The country is getting more diverse. That’s indisputable. But some analysts had argued that increasing racial and ethnic diversity meant that Democrats would have a durable, structural advantage in presidential elections. That was never true, and the results in 2016 show why. Trump was able to win, in large part, because he won over a lot of northern white voters without a college degree — in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, for example. Many of these voters had cast ballots for Obama twice. Trump’s more populist message likely helped him outperform recent GOP nominees with these voters. Political parties, in other words, are dynamic — their coalitions change. Some people, including me, were surprised that it was Trump who was able to attract these voters to the GOP. But no one should have been surprised that the country’s growing diversity didn’t guarantee Democratic victory. Only two years ago, in the 2014 midterm elections, Republicans were able to win big nationally among an electorate that was just as diverse as it was in 2008, when Democrats scored a blowout victory. A lot of Democrats dismissed that win as merely a product of a whiter, older midterm electorate. They shouldn’t have. And, no, Democrats won’t be safe even as the electorate becomes more diverse. Republicans could do even better with white voters. In some Southern states, for instance, GOP candidates win close to 90 percent of white voters. Who’s to say that won’t happen in the Midwest? Alternatively, Republicans could improve their standing with nonwhite voters. In heavily Latino Texas, for instance, Republicans have long done better with Latino voters than Republicans have done nationally ." 2
In other words, it is possible that for quite some time to come, the GOP will assume the mantel of the 'party of government' in the same fashion that it did in the post-1865 to 1912 period. Or alternatively, it is equally possible at least on the Presidential level that the Trump Presidency will be such a disaster that the mots 'governmental incompetence' and 'Republican' will be thought to be synonymous. In the fashion that the Hoover Presidency did circa 1930-1932. I for one, my distaste for Mr. Trump notwithstanding, hope that my fears proven to be unfounded. Only time will tell.
1. For Ruy Teixeira, see: The Emerging Democratic Majority (2002) [co-authored with John Judis]. For a more recent and equally wrong-headed analysis, see: "How 2016 Could Be An Even Bigger Democratic Blowout Than 2008". Think Progress. 29 October 2013, in www.thinkprogress.org; And: "Trump’s coalition won the demographic battle. It’ll still lose the war." Vox. 15 November 2016, in www.vox.com.
2. Harry Enten, "Demographics Aren’t Destiny’ And Four Other Things This Election Taught Me". FiveThirtyEight. 15 November 2016 in www.fivethirtyeight.com.

Monday, November 07, 2016

WHY I RELUCTANTLY WANT HILLARY CLINTON TO WIN TOMORROW'S ELECTION

The international order of the past 70 years is fraying, maybe even breaking down. The Brexit vote in June likely removes a pillar of the EU. The Middle East points to a shattered system; further east, in the Pacific, China is becoming more assertive, challenging America’s dominant role in the region and the postwar Bretton Woods system. Under Vladimir Putin, Russia has become emboldened, threatening Nato’s borders, spreading havoc in Syria, and apparently orchestrating leaks to influence the US election itself. This is a moment for the renewal of American leadership. One candidate has the credentials. Mrs Clinton has served as first lady, senator for New York and US secretary of state. Mr Trump deals in denigration not diplomacy. He has abused allies, threatening to remove east Asia’s nuclear umbrella, sideline Nato and unleash trade wars. Mr Trump casts himself in the role of a western strongman to stand alongside the likes of Mr. Putin. Mr Trump has demonstrated contempt towards American democracy itself. He has persistently raised the prospect of a rigged election and declined, even when pressed, to guarantee he would accept the result. He has threatened to jail Mrs Clinton. Such arrogance is unprecedented and it points to a fatal flaw in his character. The first role of the president is to be commander-in-chief, in charge of the world’s largest active nuclear arsenal. Mr Trump has a thin skin and a questionable temperament. For all his many years as a reality TV host, he is simply not ready for prime time.
Leader, "FT endorsement: For all her weaknesses, Clinton is the best hope". The Financial Times. 31 October 2016, in www.ft.com.
For all their bien-pensant mots and mentality, au fond the editors of the Financial Times are indeed correct: former Secretary of State Clinton is the better candidate for the American Presidency. As someone who has always thought of her (and her husband) as an essentially Balzacian figures: the provincial, petit-bourgeoise, arriviste as opportunist, it takes a great deal for me to wish to see Mme. Clinton in the White House. But given the fact that Mr. Trump would be a disaster as the American President, there is no alternative unfortunately. Mr. Trump's views on foreign relations are ignorance itself. One's hair stands on end at the very thought of some of his ideas. And while Mr. Trump's views on some domestic issues: uncontrolled third-world immigration, the evils of political-correctness, the problems created by the hollowing-out of domestic industry and the work-force that used to work in the very same, are cogent and indeed in some important respects correct, it is highly unlikely that such a charlatan and bounder is at all sincere in espousing the views that he does. One can quite easily imagine that the second he is elected (perish the very thought), that he would commence sliding away from the many comments (one can scarcely call them 'policies') that he has made on these and other issues. The fact of the matter is that 'Trumpism' is a horrendous combination of buffoonery and chicanery dressed up to resemble a parody of an American political campaign. The long and the short of the matter is that the mere presence of Mr. Trump so close to being elected President, is the greatest advertisement for the evils of universal mass suffrage. Only in this type of electoral system could such a character be so close to becoming the most important governmental leader on the face of the earth. Or as the late, great T. S. Eliot once cogently put it: 'stupidity is for the vast majority of people, no doubt the best solution to the problem of thinking'.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

THE 'STATE' THAT WE ARE IN AT THE MOMENT: ON THE POSSIBLITIES OF A POST-NEO-LIBERAL WORLD

"The state that looks after people (its own people) is not quite the same as the state that cares for people, of the sort that was developed in Britain after the Second World War. If May wanted to push care to the centre of her vision, a new politics of welfare would be required, one which used fiscal policy to respond to basic material and social needs, where ‘needs’ are understood as things we all have by virtue of our humanity, not our identity. A care-oriented state would have to pursue a far-reaching cultural reversal of the Osbornite condemnation of welfare recipients. There have already been signs that the more punitive end of recent welfare policies will be abandoned. It will be interesting to see how much more of that there is to come. But for the time being, it sounds as if the May government is going to listen to the fears and demands of its particular people, rather than seek to map and meet the needs of people in general.... There is no contradiction between social conservatism and economic protectionism: both are hostile to the fluidity, cosmopolitanism and perceived snobbery of liberalism. May’s declaration, ‘If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere,’ was pitched as much at bankers as it was at left-wing intellectuals. Whether it was also a ‘dog whistle’ regarding refugees probably depends on what breed of dog you are. I was surprised that a speech condemning financial elites, human rights lawyers and nationless people in blanket terms wasn’t interpreted as anti-Semitic. But as Stuart Hall recognised, rampant capitalism has a far greater capacity to undermine traditional community relations than social liberalism: the Thatcherite effort to weld social conservatism to economic liberalism was far more contradictory than the present turn to economic interventionism. This latest reconfiguration of conservatism could ultimately be more sustainable even than Thatcher’s.... Britain is now a more unequal society than it has been since the Second World War. Class is a powerful determinant of the lives people lead. It doesn’t, however, perform quite the same role in sustaining the cultural and political status quo that it did before neoliberalism, and certainly not the same role it did before the 1960s, which helps to explain why May’s ‘protective state’ has become possible and necessary. One thing that Brexit demonstrated, which May is clearly keen to exploit, is that cultural divisions no longer map tidily onto economic ones. Working-class lives are buffeted by change, including the changes represented by immigration, but New Labour only ever invited people to embrace more change. The traditional middle classes and aristocracy have not been in the driving seat of British politics for more than thirty years, as the financial elite exploited the exuberance of fin de siècle Britain, London especially. It’s been said that Thatcher wanted a society of people like her father, but produced a society of people like her son. Clearly May wants to change that. But the new cultural coalition that she aims to represent – of working-class Brexiters, pensioners, Daily Mail readers and traditionalists – scarcely holds together as an identifiable group. Nor are the boundaries around these identities very clear cut. They may well aggregate into a fearful electoral resource, which could yield May a big majority in 2020, but it is quite another thing for the state actively to intervene to look after these people, when historically it was the job of cultural institutions, ties, networks and communities to preserve their way of life. May’s cultural instincts are consistent with Burkean conservative philosophy, but that tradition is historically uncomfortable with state intervention of the sort she espoused in her party conference speech. To wed a Burkean ideal of community to a Hobbesian ideal of the protective state is problematic and potentially dangerous. The difficulty for Burkean conservatives today is that neoliberalism destroyed the resources on which ‘little platoons’ depend and thrive, so that tacitly understood conventions and rituals must now be reintroduced by the very thing that conservatives traditionally wanted to avoid depending on – namely, the modern state. The gaping hole in the Blue Labour and Red Tory agendas was always the question of statecraft: what exactly will the state do to promote the ideal of ‘faith, flag and family’? It seems likely that the state will start performing acts of conservative discrimination which historically have been performed by way of cultural capital and softer forms of power. An example of how deranged the consequences can be is Nick Timothy’s suggestion that work visas be granted only to foreign students at Oxbridge and Russell Group universities. Policy-makers may form their ideas on the basis of what goes down well in the pubs of Dorset, the comment pages of the Daily Mail or the working men’s clubs of Scarborough, but snobbery and chippiness are more troubling when they are converted into the printed word of the statute book. It sounds as if the ‘protective state’ is ready to discriminate, and won’t be ashamed to admit it. It will discriminate regarding good and bad economic activity; it will discriminate between good and bad migrants; it will discriminate between good and bad ways of life. May is not afraid of sorting the wheat from the chaff. This may be the reason grammar schools symbolise something important for her, regardless of the evidence against their efficacy. In that respect, there is some continuity with neoliberalism, which sought to divide ‘winners’ from ‘losers’ in a range of different tests and competitive arenas. The key difference is that neoliberalism uses rivalry itself to identify the worthy. The neoliberal state offers no view on what a good company or school or artist looks like. Instead, it uses rankings, contests and markets in order to find out who rises to the top. The question any neoliberal – or liberal for that matter – might now want to ask May is this: on what basis do you distinguish the worthy from the unworthy? Are we now simply to be driven by the contingency of biography, where Timothy is fuelled by the anger he felt as a lower-middle-class boy in Erdington in the early 1990s, or May is guided by the example of her Anglican clergyman father? Is the fact that liberals haven’t experienced being the victim of regular petty crime or a failing school now going to be the principal basis for ignoring them? Politicians have always used cultural tropes in order to build popularity and even hegemony. Thatcher spoke a nationalist, militarist language, while doing considerable harm to many of Britain’s institutions and traditions. Blair had his football, coffee mug and badly-fitting jeans. Conservatives have often struggled to find a coherent post-Blair cultural scheme, alternating between fake displays of liberalism (Cameron’s huskies) and the embarrassing reality of their party base. Right now, however, matters of nationality and cultural tradition do not seem like window-dressing: when the state is offering to look after some of us, but not all of us, the way you look, talk, behave and learn threatens to become the most important political issue of all".
William Davies, "Home Office Rules". The London Review of Books. 3 November 2016, in www.lrb.co.uk.
I have excerpted a considerable portion of William Davies' essay which can be found in the current edition of the London Review of Books, for the simple fact of the matter is that I believe it is an important one. The First World, the West, Christendom is in a moment of flux and transition. The neo-liberal weltanschauung / world-order has lost a considerable amount of its popular (not mind you elite) legitimacy. Commencing with the financial crisis of 2008, the foundations of the formerly hegemonic ideology known (at least among academics in Europe and the USA) as 'neo-liberalism' (AKA Anglo-American, buccaneer capitalism with a soupçon of rudimentary Fordism mixed in), have been thoroughly shaken to its very core. The lethargic growth of the Western countries since 2007, when added to the economic and political disaster that is the Eurozone, when garnished with the military and strategic disaster that was the Iraq War and following from which the partial American withdrawal from active overlordship of the Near and Middle East have brought about to a considerable degree a crisis of legitimation of the neo-liberal regime. Both in Europe and in North America. In the case of Europe, the economic crisis in the southern cone countries of Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Portugal and Italy has mushroomed to in some of these countries a political crisis. As parties of the extreme (left mostly) have either come to power (Greece & Portugual) or appear to be not too far from achieving it (Italy). In other parts of Europe, where the economic consequences of the Euro have not had quite the same harshness, the political landscape has still seen the growth of mostly radical-right (not mind you 'conservative' per se) populist parties in France, Holland, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Austria among other places. With in Central Europe this situation going further with the entrenchment in power of parties of the same ilk in Hungary and Poland. And of course in Britain we have had the Brexit referendum result and the coming to power of Theresa May as prime minister. Someone who to some extent speaks the most conservative language as Prime Minister since Stanley Baldwin in the entre-deux-guerre period 1. And of course in the United States we have the phenomenon of Mr. Donald Trump. Which if nothing else seems to illustrate the fact that Americans appear to enjoy in their politics as in so many other things, a wild sort of exhibitionism which goes beyond mere vulgarity, to something akin to what the 19th century Russian writer Gogol at his most acute rendered as poshlost. When one adds up all these political and economic variables, many quite uniform (low economic growth, growing income inequality, low productivity, a disenchantment with 'globalization', especially third-world immigration), one sees that unless there will be a very sudden change in the economic climate in the next two to four years, then there will be a new, post-neo-liberal order in much if not all of the Western world. In that respect, regardless of whether or not Mr. Trump wins or loses the American Presidential elections next week (and I for one hopes that he loses), the fact is that even the United States, the one-time premier country of neo-liberal consensus, is no longer up to fully espousing this formerly dominant ideology, and thus the situation we are facing in the West is not merely indulging a passing political tempest (viz: Niall Ferguson), but something perhaps much more fundamental 2. Time will tell of course what precisely will replace and where, the neo-liberal order. Whether it will be a Baldwin-like, nostalgic, gemeinschaftlich political regime or something much more anarchic and harsh has yet to be seen. Being someone of a Burkean cast of mind, I await the new regime with much anticipation.
1. For a concrete idea of Baldwin's political worldview, see: Philip Williamson & Edward Baldwin. Baldwin Papers: A Conservative Statesman 1908-1947.(2004), pp. For the resonances that this has with the current British Prime Minister and her coterie, see: Henry Mance, "Clues to Theresa May’s policy lie in chief of staff’s essays". The Financial Times. 2 August 2016, in www.ft.com; Isabel Hardman, "Beware the aides of May! The people who'll really run the new government". The Spectator. 16 July 2016 in www.spectator.co.uk.
2. See: Niall Ferguson, “The Populist Bomb: the Trump phenomenon explained”. The Hoover Institute Digest. Summer 2016, in www.hoover.org. In this argument herein, it seems to me that Ferguson mis-understands the politics of the ‘great depression’ period (roughly 1873 to 1896). Per contra to his argument, in Europe there was very little strictly speaking of a ‘populist’ wave akin to what has occurred in both the USA and in Europe in the past few years. Or what occurred in the United States in the 1890’s. Partly due to the fact that either the polities in question were semi-authoritarian (Kaiserreich Germany) or not yet based upon universal manhood suffrage (Great Britain & Italy) or both (Austria-Hungary). In some of these countries (France, Germany, Italy and Austria) one saw the introduction of a limited regime of protective tariffs, but in other countries one did not (Great Britain). And in no instance was there a change of ‘regime’ in the sense that the pre-1873 socio-economic set-up was significantly changed enough that it prevented a subsequent further push of economic integration that followed from 1896 to 1914. Where however I do see parallels between continental Europe in the late 19th century and the contemporary populist movements is in the matter of style. Specific ally, the late 19th century saw I believe that invention of what was in Kaiserreich Germany called ‘sammlungpolitik’, AKA, the ‘politics of rallying together’. In the case of the Kaiserreich, those adherents of the new German Reich, as opposed to those labeled as ’enemies of the Reich’ (such as Guelfs, Roman Catholics, Poles, Danish speakers, et cetera). Originally, part of a ‘integrationist’, ‘top-down’ strategy by Bismarck and his successors, later on this style of political invective assumed a life of its own by political groups outside of the charmed circle of political elites. For a look at this style of politics in the Kaiserreich, see: Geoff Eley. Reshaping the German Right: radical nationalism and political change after Bismarck. (1980). And in mis-understanding the politics of the great depression, Ferguson accordingly mis-understands I would argue the contemporary populist wave as well.

Friday, October 28, 2016

COUNTERING RUSSIAN INTERVENTION IN SYRIA: A COMMENT

"Russia’s only aircraft carrier, laden with fighter jets and flanked by a flotilla of warships, is heading for Syrian waters in the eastern Mediterranean. The way it wheezed through the North Sea — a repair tug in tow and belching black fumes like an old banger — occasioned some merriment, as though it were a parable for a subprime superpower. That mirth is misplaced. These reinforcements to Russia’s air force in Syria will soon be in place. Moscow and its ally, President Bashar al-Assad, have resumed bombing Aleppo after a meaningless pause ended at the weekend. Now President Vladimir Putin is all but telling the world he plans to flatten eastern Aleppo if that is what it takes to crush a five-year-old rebellion — and that there is nothing the US and Europe can do about it. The spotlight of the international media, moreover, has moved to the battle for Mosul in northern Iraq — a historically resonant city, like Aleppo, but one where the US and its allies are confident they can recapture it from Isis. In eastern Aleppo, by contrast, Mr Putin seems to want to face his western adversaries with a replay of the geopolitical and moral conundrum they faced five years ago in Libya, when Muammer Gaddafi’s forces threatened to massacre rebels in their stronghold of Benghazi. That was prevented by Nato action that, in Mr Putin’s view, abused a UN Security Council resolution, bending the no-fly zone remit to carry out regime change.... That might change if there is a bloodbath in Aleppo. But by then it will be too late. Yet the world is looking at another Benghazi moment. Libya’s collapse into chaos after the west walked away has served as an alibi for a standoffish policy towards Syria that has resulted in that country sinking into even deadlier mayhem. There is no alibi for turning a blind eye to atrocity".
David Gardner, "The assault on Aleppo is a moral test for the west". The Financial Times. 26 October 2016, in www.ft.com.
"Westerners find it hard to believe that a crisis, such as that afflicting Syria, cannot be stopped. “Surely, someone can and must do something” is the consensus thinking. If the UN has failed to stop it and diplomacy cannot bring it to an end, then the White House must stop the blood letting and use military power to do so. “We just cannot sit back and let this tragedy unfold without doing something.” That is the montra of pundits on TV and commentators on social media. The sad truth is that those hoping for a quick resolution to this crisis are likely to be disappointed. Contrary to expectations, the US is unlikely to enter into war with Russia over Syria. The moral argument for intervention cannot out-weigh the immense risks that the US military would be taking were it to engage in a direct and costly war with Russia. Despite the hawkish rhetoric of Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, chances are that once in the White House, she will come to the same conclusion about using American military force as President Obama. Real world constraints reduce the chance that US will deploy force in Syria. The Syrian opposition and their backers will be forced to rethink their current path".
Ehsani2 "How Will the Syrian Crisis End?" Syria Comment. 10 October 2016, in www.syriacomment.com.
One does not need to be either a apologist for the regime of Assad Fils, or for that matter an adherent to the questionable Russian narrative of the war to agree fundamentally with the comments from Syria Comment. The fact of the matter is that for good reasons or bad, Grazhdanin Putin has chosen to nail his colors to the Assad mast. There are of course manifold reasons for Putin's Syria policy and they have been discussed in this column. What cannot be doubted is that the Russian presence in Syria makes an overt American and or Western military intervention `a la Libya a complete non possumus. As the highly pertinent comments in Joshua Landis's online journal state:
"The moral argument for intervention cannot out-weigh the immense risks that the US military would be taking were it to engage in a direct and costly war with Russia".
The above fact does not even venture into discussing the issues of whether or not it makes sense from a moral perspective for the Americans and their allies to overthrow Assad. Given the aftermath of the Western military intervention in Libya and Iraq, has been chaos and unmitigated persecution of Christian and other religious minorities. Indeed, I for one have always been highly skeptical of the ideas that overthrowing the Assad regime would usher in a bright new dawn for the benighted people of Syria. With all that being said, the option for the Americans to engage in regime-change has gone forever with Russia's presence in the country. All which merely underlines the dictum of the great Goethe:
"You must conquer and rule / or lose and serve / suffer or triumph / be hammer or be anvil".

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

THE CEASE-FIRE IN YEMEN OR THE HOPED FOR END TO SAUDI MILITARY BLUNDERING

"A 72-hour ceasefire in Yemen will go into effect starting Thursday, the United Nations announced on Monday. A cessation of hostilities that first went into effect in April "will re-enter into force at 23:59 Yemen time on 19 October 2016, for an initial period of 72 hours, subject to renewal," the UN's special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said in a statement. The ceasefire opens the door for negotiations to find a political solution to the conflict. April's truce was followed by repeated rounds of talks in Kuwait between the warring sides, which did not come to fruition. Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi had agreed to the truce earlier in the day. Foreign Minister Abdulmalek al-Mekhlafi wrote on Twitter that Hadi agreed to the halt in fighting if Houthi rebels adhere to it, activate a UN-backed committee to watch the truce, and lift the siege on the encircled city of Taiz. Cheikh Ahmed said he had been in contact with the Houthis’ lead negotiator and with Hadi's government. The announcement comes after the United States, Britain and Cheikh Ahmed urged the warring parties on Sunday to declare a ceasefire, which they said could start within days. US Secretary of State John Kerry said if Yemen's opposing sides accepted the ceasefire, the UN envoy would work through the details and announce when and how it would take effect. "This is the time to implement a ceasefire unconditionally and then move to the negotiating table," Kerry said. The conflict in Yemen has killed almost 6,900 people, wounded more than 35,000 and displaced at least three million since March last year, according to the United Nations".
Middle East Eye, "UN announces 72-hour ceasefire in Yemen starting Thursday". The Middle East Eye. 17 October 2016, in www.middleeasteye.net
"The White House said it had begun an “immediate review” into its role in assisting the coalition in the wake of the attack, one of the bloodiest since March 2015, when Saudi Arabia led a coalition of neighbouring Sunni states into an air and ground campaign seeking to restore the ousted government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Yemeni officials blamed Saudi Arabia for launching about three air strikes targeting a gathering after the funeral of the father of Yemen’s interior minister, Jalal al-Rowaishan, a close ally of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been fighting alongside the Houthi rebel movement.... The US has backed Riyadh’s campaign to restore Mr Hadi’s government by providing rearmament and targeting assistance, but has become increasingly concerned about the loss of civilian lives in the 20-month campaign that has killed more than 10,000 people.... The coalition described the bombing as “regrettable and painful”, saying it would investigate the incident. In a statement, it said its pilots have “clear instructions not to target populated areas and to avoid civilians”. Coalition military officials had earlier briefed media that their jets had not struck the funeral hall.... Riyadh and its allies have been struggling to make headway against the Houthi movement, after earlier dislodging the Iran-backed militia and army units allied to Mr Saleh from the southern port city of Aden".
Simeon Kerr, "US reviews support for Saudi-led coalition in Yemen after 140 killed". The Financial Times. 9 October 2016, in www.ft.com
"It is somewhat self-evident that per se, a mere air campaign will not fundamentally change the dynamics on the ground in Yemen. That the recently ousted President, Mr. Abd-Rabbu Hadi, does not himself possess the wherewithal militarily speaking to defeat the Houthi rebels 1. Accordingly, there is much talk of a coalition of ground forces between the Saudis and the Egyptians which will invade Yemen and defeat the Houthis. Which is of course by far the best case scenario. The only issue is that neither Saudi Arabia, its Gulf allies or even the Egyptians have shown themselves in recent years able to perform anything akin to the scenario just outlined above".
Diplomat of the Future. "The Saudi military intervention in Yemen: A comment". 2 April 2015, in www.diplomatofthefuture.blogspot.com.
There is nothing in the situation in Yemen from when I first wrote about it back more than eighteen months ago, which the errata-filled Saudi-lead military intervention has not proven to be true. The military intervention other than preventing the Houthi rebels from completing ousting the government of President Abd-Rabbu Hadi, has not achieved any of its original goals. It has not defeated the Houthi, nor has it restored peace and security to this wretched country and its poor people. Instead the Saudi campaign, especially its military campaign has shown itself both ruthless and incompetent. The image that one is left with is that of Air Chief Marshal 'Bomber' Harris of World War II fame being impersonated by P. G. Woodhouse's 'Bertie Wooster'. Added to which is the sordid fact that the Saudi military intervention has perhaps inevitably resulted in a greater role for Persia in the country, as it has gradually increased its support for the Houthi. In short the Saudis have more than lived up to their previous military reputation as incompetent brutes and blunderers. At this point in time, there is little left to do but to call a complete halt to Riyadh's military campaign in Yemen and hope that the current cease-fire will last long enough to prevent this unfortunate place from becoming another failed state `a la Libya, Syria and Iraq.