Posts by KofasJon:
- On 19 March 2016, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission team for Greece held a meeting on how to force Greece into further austerity measures. These would entail deeper wage cuts, more social security cuts, higher taxes and more rapid conformity to IMF-EU policies intended to transfer capital from the middle class and workers to wealthy Greek and Western creditors. The conversation between two IMF officials (Poul Thomsen, head of the IMF’s European Department, and Delia Velkouleskou, IMF Mission Chief for Greece) and an EU official was recorded and someone managed to pass it on to WIKILEAKS. In essence, the IMF representatives were essentially plotting a strategy to force Greece to accept harsher conditions of austerity after five years under such failed policies.
By Jon Kofas.
ETERNAL ENEMIES: US and Russia 100 Years after the Bolshevik Revolution
On the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, which changed not just East-West relations but of the entire world in the 20th century, this brief essay examines some of the dynamics of the seemingly eternal conflict behind US-Russian relations. As Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston stated before the House of Commons in March 1848 amid the eruption of social revolutions erupted throughout Europe, countries have no eternal enemies or eternal allies, only eternal interests. Although national interests as defined by a government mold relations between allies and enemies, US-Russian relations since the Bolshevik Revolution illustrate how such interests account for eternal enemies.
As the stronger power of the two, the US has dogmatically pursued confrontation in most cases since the Bolshevik Revolution and made faint efforts to derive the benefits of cooperation only when there was no alternative as in the case of World War II where the USSR was absolutely key to forcing Germany into a two-front war. Besides dropping atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the US sent a strong signal to Moscow that Washington reverted to the “eternal enemies” mode by promulgating the Truman Doctrine.
Owing to domestic and foreign policy dynamics that reflect the goal of maintaining imperial America’s role in the world, the “eternal enemies” mindset is deeply ingrained in the American society and prevalent in its political culture. Institutions that were built around this confrontation, politicians and military officers, academic and think tank analysts carved careers around it, the existence of consulting firms and corporations depend on its permanence.
Apologists of the “eternal enemies” thesis would never question whether a mid-20th century approach to foreign policy and Cold War doctrines promulgated by Truman, Eisenhower and Nixon has any relevance in the early 21st century. Whereas the US from Truman to Nixon could claim superpower status as a military, economic, and political global force, it cannot make the same claim in 2017 amid a polycentric world structure in which America’s ability to determine the balance of power is limited.
To manage the post-war global order, the US, USSR and China respected each other’s spheres of influence that defined the essence of the Cold War between Communist East and capitalist West. While the Cuban Missile Crisis proved an aberration that brought US and USSR very close to war, there was general agreement about each side’s spheres of influence – a 19th century Northwestern European imperialist concept. In the post-Cold War order, both Beijing and Moscow concede that the US is the hegemonic power in the Western Hemisphere and would not attempt to challenge is historic role in the Pan-American System. They further concede that the Atlantic Alliance is a security foundation for which the US would risk war if members are threatened, but both Moscow and Beijing, among other countries such as Iran and India, are suspicious of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expansion.
Washington has placed no restrictions on its expansionist role when it comes to intruding in the spheres of influence of both China and Russia. The US has been expanding both NATO with the intent of weakening Russia by integrating more members in the Baltic States and Eastern Europe, and trying to contain China by having India under Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra Modi join the US-led Asian defense alliance system based on the old model of the South East Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO, 1955-1977). Neither Russia nor China has imposed military containment policies on the US, despite a number of countries proposing that the solution to US military interventionism and covert operations is a containment policy.
The source of the underlying confrontation between the US and its former Communist rivals rests on Washington’s insistence for an asymmetrical military relationship that permits the US to define itself as the world’s policeman unilaterally and without limits. Proudly proclaiming that the doctrine of “Exceptionalism” (US has a mission to transform the world because it is superior to all other nations) rooted in historical precedent permits the US to pursue imperialism as part of a “mandate from providence”, Washington remains wedded to Pax Americana, as though the world has been standing still since the Truman Doctrine for the “American century” to continue forever unchallenged.
As anxious to maintain the Cold War status quo, in some respects even more so as they proved recently when the Trump administration suggested that NATO was anachronistic, the Western European governments see the Atlantic Alliance as leverage for their continued efforts at global economic expansion that favors their multinational corporations. Just as interested in the continuity of the “eternal enemies”, Japan, Canada, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, South Korea Taiwan, among others want to keep the Cold War strategic status quo a generation after the collapse of the Soviet bloc. However, realism has sunk in about the evolving polycentric world power structure and there is increased divergence between military dependence on the West and economic integration with China.
Historical Roots of the “Eternal Enemies” Thesis
Like the US, Russia is nearly self-sufficient in raw materials, but unlike the US it has struggled to maintain its national sovereignty throughout its history owing to autocratic regime under the Tsars geared to sustain about 150,000 aristocrats at the expense of the peasants and workers. Lagging behind the West economically since the Scientific Revolution that Peter the Great (1682-96) so admired, and focusing on military development instead of strengthening the economy to the degree that it could sustain a strong defense, Russia sacrificed multidimensional development so it could maintain a Medieval political economy and a social order based on serfdom abolished in 1861 four years before the US abolished slavery. Part of the East-West eternal clash is owing to the huge gap between Russia’s potential to realize its great power status and the reality of a country on the verge of falling into dependency on the West.
For Russia the eternal conflict with West has deep historical roots during the Tsarist era when the country lapsed into a virtual economic dependency of the West while retaining its Great Power military status. In as much as the Bolshevik Revolution was an attempt to end external dependence and reaffirm its sovereignty, The Bolsheviks achieved their goal at the price of compromising social justice to maintain high defense spending. This is partly because they confronted a hostile world trying to undermine the revolution by invading Russia with about three-quarter of a million troops during the Civil War.
One hundred years after the October Revolution, Russia finds itself in the unusual position of fighting for its sovereignty under a nationalist-authoritarian regime backed by the armed forces, police (Federal Security Service, successor to KGB), and state-supported oligarchs whose capital is well integrated in the world economy. Weakened by the chaos of the Soviet Union’s collapse, the Russian Federation was relegated to a status similar to that under the Tsars when it was militarily powerful but economically dependent on the West, importing manufactured goods and exporting raw materials.
Integration in the world capitalist economy during the 1990s meant that Russia surrendered its superpower status and reverted to a regional Eurasian power surrounded by former Soviet republics that Europe and the US targeted for integration. During the Boris Yeltsin decade of the 1990s, Russia witnessed very aggressive European and US integration efforts throughout Eastern Europe and Eurasia that seriously compromised both its sovereignty and its historical zones of influence.
Having left Communism behind, Russia after Vladimir Putin’s presidential election in 2000 opted for a strong state structure, although very corrupt quasi-authoritarian bureaucratic system of capitalist clientism linked to the Kremlin. This was geared to defend national sovereignty while trying to safeguard some spheres of influence. The state structure model was based on the historical precedent of internal colonization that goes back to the reign of Ivan the Terrible (1547-84) when the Cossack rebel Vasiliy “Yermak ” Tomofeyevich Alenin and fur trade interests launched the era of territorial expansion with the conquest of Siberia.
From the Tsarist era to the current post-Soviet nationalist period, Moscow has pursued internal colonization that invariably entails creating a greater Russia to rival its neighbors. Western Powers from the 18th century to the present have viewed such policy as threatening because it clashed with their own outward expansionist integration goals. From the Crimean War (1854-56) until the current Western sanctions (April 2014-present) over the Crimea and Ukrainian conflict, Moscow has perceives Western expansionism in all its forms from military actions to economic domination of neighboring countries as a form of containment that threatens its security and national sovereignty.
Some argue that the East-West conflict (eternal enemies thesis) really dates back only to the Yalta Agreement of 1945 that divided the Communist East from the capitalist West into zones of influence and set up the stage for the Cold War. This theory fails to take into account the Russian Civil War in which Western Powers and Japan sent troops to bring down Leon Trotsky’s Red Army fighting against Tsarist remnants. President Woodrow Wilson quickly realized that Japan and European governments were using the Bolshevik Revolution as a pretext to carve territory from the fallen Russian Empire.
Even before the Bolshevik-led Revolution of 1917 that afforded the Great Powers the pretext of military intervention, the Europeans had a policy of containment toward Russia; a policy that they continued during the interwar era to the degree that they viewed the rise of Fascism and Nazism as counterweights to Bolshevism. One hundred years after the Bolshevik Revolution, the US and the West are living that legacy of containment and interventionism, striving to stop time and refusing to accept that the polycentric world order of the early 21st century has created new dynamics and makes the eternal conflict anachronistic and highly costly for all participants.
From Moscow’s perspective, the US and its Western and Asian allies do not want a strong Russian state asserting its national sovereignty and protecting its regional interests because such a state prevents the expansion of Western imperialism not just in former Soviet Republics constituting a buffer zone for Russia but in the Middle East as well. Stuck in mid-20th century Pax Americana mode of thinking, the US reserves the right of the long-standing postwar “transformation policy” as a superpower whose national security interests defined by the Truman Doctrine.
Russian Internal Colonization vs. Western Extra-Continental Expansion
Inheriting Europe’s containment policy toward Tsarist Russia, the US since the Bolshevik Revolution has been Russia’s eternal enemy for ideological, political, economic and military reasons. The historical coincidence of the Bolshevik Revolution and the rise of Pax Americana in its nascent phase in 1917 and the fact that the US emerged much stronger after WWI made the eternal enemies struggle possible. Despite sharp ideological/political differences during the Soviet era, the US-Russia “eternal enemies” conflict represents a clash of geopolitical interests with consequences in the domain of economic integration for Eurasia, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the Middle East.
Most noticeable under the Soviet Union, and lingering to the present day under a post-Soviet nationalist regime, the eternal clash dates to the Tsarist era of internal colonization at a time that Europeans engaged in extra-continental colonization. Less about ethnic, religious, cultural, and political chasm that has existed between Russia and the West, the eternal conflict in essence about what countries would determine the regional balance of power and the clash of Eurasian expansionism that Russia from Peter the Great (1682-1696) to Vladimir Putin pursued as a regional integration policy vs. the outward expansionist policy of global integration that the West was pursuing. While the integration policies on both sides have been obstacles to political cooperation and the source of long-standing confrontation, the US and Europe isolated the USSR in order to preserve the capitalist world order.
Unlike post-WWII America, the USSR and the Russian Federation did not have a transformation policy as an integral part of their foreign policy. Soviet intervention was invariably linked to its regional security zone and in accordance with the Yalta Agreement about such zones of influence. Clearly violations of national sovereignty, Soviet intervention in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968) aimed to support pro-Soviet regimes, just as the intervention in Afghanistan 1979-89, rather than to engage in regime change policy. Nevertheless, the US and its allies pointed to those interventions to argue that Moscow was interested in perpetuating East-West confrontation by refusing to permit any of its spheres of influence to integrate with the West and using the nuclear deterrent to achieve its goal.
Typically identified with the nuclear arms race during the Cold War is as natural as the sun coming up every morning, the long-standing East-West confrontation serves both foreign policy and domestic policy goals. Because the eternal enemies have rarely achieved rapprochement, it is part of the mass psychology on both sides to view the other with profound mistrust and cynicism. Just as Westerners, especially Americans have a deep distrust of Russia, so do Russians of NATO and the US. After all, from Napoleon to Hitler, the Europeans invaded Russia four times (Napoleonic War 1812, Crimean War 1854, WWI 1914, WWII 1941) with devastating consequences, especially in WWII when Russia lost at least 20 million people and possibly many more depending on the source.
When there was NATO vs. Warsaw bloc competition amid sharply different ideological/political differences, it is easy to understand the ‘eternal enemies’ mode of thinking. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the goal became. the thorough economic integration of all former republics in the capitalist world economy and NATO encirclement of the Russian Federation. Moscow reaction against such Western designs has been a strong nationalist response with the forging of regional alliances, especially with China that shares Russia’s goal of preventing the US in achieving its goals in Eurasia and Trans-Caucasus region.
Perpetual Confrontation with Intervals of Cooperation
Throughout history, every power pursuing expansionist policies always had one or several enemy states to rally public support behind the flag as a means of unifying the country and justify unpopular domestic policies. The institutionalization of the “eternal enemies” mindset in US-Russian relations is so deeply imbedded that the US government views all conflicts, including the “war on terror”, which is highly unconventional, from the prism of the very conventional East-West conflict. This is not because people serving in US government agencies, think tanks and academia are bankrupt of ideas to the degree that they are unable to differentiate between facing a conventional state like Russia and unconventional militants scattered in more than forty countries and operating as cells. Ideologically and institutionally they have been captives of an archaic mode because this is what government and corporations fund and it is what ideologues backing both Republican and Democrat parties are advocating.
A segment of the Russian political and military elites have historically accepted the “eternal enemies” thesis as readily as their American and Western European counterparts. Russians also developed institutions around the “eternal enemies” thesis because they believed the rivalry meant a strong military state identified with “Great Power” status, while maintaining internal cohesion and conformity to the status quo by keeping nationalism as the secular religion of the masses. In fact, the existence of the rivalry is symbolically a status-affirming sign not just for Russian elites but for the masses indoctrinated in nationalism that the regime uses to its advantage as much as the US and its NATO partners.
Naturally, it is not true that the “eternal enemies” mode has meant obviating Lord Palmerston’s dictum about pursuing interests as government defines them. When absolutely necessary, there has been and there still is limited and focused cooperation on military issues, on scientific and space research, cultural and trade issues, assuming there are no Western sanctions imposed on Russia. During the Second World War, the “eternal enemies” suspended confrontation for the sake of achieving the larger common goal of defeating the Axis Powers and restoring order in the world.
When the nuclear arms race seemed out of control amid the MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) doctrine, they cooperated by signing the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, SALT – I 1972; SALT – II 1979; Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, 1987; Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, START – I 1991, and START – II 1993 – ratification 1996. Following a number of agreements in the 1990s to avoid East-West military conflict, in 2002 Moscow and Washington with its EU partners created the creation of the NATO-Russia Council. Although these have been the highlights of focused cooperation, the constant reality is confrontation on which institutions and vested interests are based in the US and Russia.
At the end of WWII, the US had a choice of cooperation or confrontation with the USSR. In 1948, former vice president Henry Wallace representing the dovish wing of the Democrat Party criticized Truman’s confrontational militarist approach that sought to create crises rather than engage in diplomatic solutions. Forging a bipartisan foreign policy of confrontation, Truman decided that imperial interests were best served through diplomatic confrontation backed by an arms race that would at the same time maintain conformity to the status quo at home. Making a geopolitical decision to reindustrialize Western Europe to counter the menacing threat of the Soviet bloc, Truman’s decisions reflected a global transformation policy under the aegis of the US. Reindustrializing Japan, the US helped with the industrialization of Taiwan and South Korea as counterweights to Maoist China that formed what US policymakers wrongly perceived as a monolithic Communist bloc with Moscow at the core.
Once the Nixon administration opened the door for China and laid the groundwork for its reintegration in the world economy, the decision was to strengthen it economically as part of a geopolitical plan to weaken the Soviet Union. US Cold War strategies to the “eternal enemies” problem came at a very high cost, namely, economic decline, suffering chronic balance of payments deficits and with public debt of about 105% of GDP (2016) and expected to rise rapidly in the next decade.
From the Bolshevik Revolution until the end of the Soviet bloc, the eternal conflict was justified on the basis of the ideological, political, economic and cultural chasm between East and West. Under the New World Order of the 1990s, the US expectation was that it would be the single superpower determining the world balance of power. America’s refusal to accept the reality of its relative economic decline and China’s emergence as the inevitable economic superpower entailed a clash of visions not just between Moscow and Washington about the structure of the world order but between Beijing and Washington. This clash became more evident after the deep recession of 2008.
The US was found itself mired in contradictions about how it wanted to manage its global economic and geopolitical interests, resorting to destabilization tactics in the Middle East, North Africa and encroaching in zones of influence historically under Russia’s purview. Neo-isolationists and economic nationalists, after 2016 siding with Trump, questioned multilateral institutions that the US established at the end of WWII designed to manage the world economy under American political, military and economic leadership.
Because multilateral institutions that the US established no longer favored US global economic and political hegemony, many in Trump’s camp favored bilateral relationships and weakening of multilateral institutions that were just as advantageous to the European Union, Japan and China as to the US. This shift was in itself a contradiction forcing some to rethink the eternal conflict with Russia, while others whose ideological framework, careers and fortunes dependent on perpetual confrontation remained skeptical about rapprochement. Both the neo-isolationists and the “eternal enemies” advocates realized that the US cannot possibly have an eternal conflict with China without self-destructive consequences, other than maintaining a containment policy militarily especially targeting North Korea, while at the same time pursuing economic engagement. Simply put, Russia is a good fit for a policy crying out for an eternal enemy.
Eternal Enemies and Confrontation beyond Communism
Could there be a manufactured ‘clash of civilizations’ that applies to Russia as it does to Islamic countries? The “clash of civilizations” (Samuel Huntington’s theory) between Islam and the West as many conservatives, various ultra-right wing populists including neo-Fascist ideologues, and Western militarists and interventionists operating under the guise of democracy want people to believe, has no relevance for Russia. Huntington developed the “clash of civilizations” theory after the Soviet bloc collapsed and never intended it to apply to Russia under Boris Yeltsin. If the clash persisted, it had nothing to do with culture but rather US-led integration of as much of the former Soviet bloc as possible under the Western sphere interested in securing raw materials and markets, while containing Russia.
The two graphs below indicate that with the exception of Poland for obvious historical reasons, Europeans are not as concerned about Russia as a real threat as are the Americans, with the exception of the Poles. Even more interesting and indicative of how political propaganda has been effective in the US, the second chart shows that the unfavorable rating of Russia was much higher from 2014-2017 than it was just before the Soviet bloc collapsed. Anti-Russia sentiments expressed by Cold War Democrats and Republicans, the mass media, and think tanks analysts whose salary is paid by corporations funding them have worked to convince the public that today’s Russia is more menacing than the Soviet Union in its declining years.
Russian Military Threat
Russia’s Quest for Eurasian hegemony and US Reaction
Although the East-West conflict may appear “natural” like snow in Siberia, there was a period in the 1990s during the weak regime of Boris Yeltsin (1991-99) when it appeared that rapprochement was possible. This rested on the “End of History” theoretical construct of Western neo-conservatives and it entailed US superpower hegemony (hyperpuissance, as French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine called the US in 1999) over the entire world and the considerable retreat of the Russian Federation to a regional status that reflected its weak economy and institutions in transition.
On the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, Russia is not as weak as it was after the October Revolution, followed by a foreign invasion intended to support the Tsarist forces against Leon Trotsky’s Red Army. However, Russia is hardly the mighty power it was in 1949 when the Kremlin proudly announced the successful testing of the first atomic bomb coinciding with Mao’s victory over US-backed Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists. By contrast, the US is much more powerful in 2017 than it was in 1917, but much less so than in 1949. While the road to global ascendancy was still in its nascent stage during the Wilson presidency reaching its zenith in 1945, in the early 21st century the US is experiencing a downward slope of its global hegemony.
For all practical purposes, the US has retreated to a position from “hyperpuissance” in the 1990s, to a military-police-state superpower two decades later. Its strategy of destabilization reflects as much a dogmatic adherence to early Cold War transformation policy as sheer desperation amid contradictions of its own domestic and foreign policies that continue to weaken it. Instead of addressing structural problems in its economy as the foundation for its global economic role, the US is spending its way into higher public debt on defense and the vast police-state (everything from Homeland Security to the entire intelligence, police, and criminal justice system). This is where the “eternal enemies” thesis is convenient as a justification of staying the course with a system detrimental to the majority of the American people. Republicans under George W. Bush and Democrats under Obama played catalytic roles in molding public opinion to accept the “eternal enemies” thesis in order to continue with the militarist-police state regardless of rapidly rising public debt and eroding living standards.
China and the Contradictions in the “Eternal Enemies” Thesis
In June 2016 during Putin visit to Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping stated that his country and Russia are bound by “eternal friendship,” in sharp contrast to the “eternal confrontation” of Russia and the US. “President Putin and I have unanimously decided that the more complicated the international situation, the more determined we should be, guided by the spirit of strategic cooperation and the idea of eternal friendship,” President Xi was in fact targeting the US and its EU allies that had imposed economic sanctions on Russia over Ukraine and sending the message that China presents the best hope for integration as the US was focused on military adventurism rather than economic cooperation.
While pursuing improved economic ties with the US, China’s “One Belt-One Road” is a global economic integration initiative and an integral part of its economic diplomacy countering US military diplomacy that has alienated not just rivals but allies as well. Considering the inevitability of China as an economic superpower in the 21st century and the relative decline of the US as a superpower in all respects except military, does the “eternal enemies” thesis make sense in a polycentric world power structure either for the US or Russia?
China has shown that it will not permit the US and NATO to weaken Russia and its zones of influence bordering the Russian Federation and that any overt of covert policies such as in the Ukraine and Syria meet resistance not only from Russia but China as well. In short, the “eternal enemies” thesis is flawed by design because the US confronts Beijing backing Moscow and that is too great a challenge for Washington and its military allies as inexorably linked to the Chinese economy as the US.
Although the history of Communist regimes in the 20th century demonstrated that nationalism transcended Communism, it seems that the US government and many analysts in the West remained oblivious to this reality. This was partly because of ideological blinders, partly political and cultural, partly sheer opportunism linked to careers and profits of the eternal enemies apologists. Stuck in the mindset of mid-twentieth century, the American political, military, and economic elites as well as the media and academics in the service of the establishment are caught in all sorts of contradictions about pursuing the “eternal enemies” thesis and failing to appreciate that the Russian demand for a limited US global role reflects the limits of American power.
US policy of economic engagement and simultaneous military containment toward China is not analogous to US policy toward Russia. However, it places Beijing in a delicate position of balancing its strategic ties with Moscow with its economic ties to the West which are essential if it is to realize its goal as the world’s preeminent economic power. Containment of China has entailed not just strengthening strategic alliances with Australia, Japan, and South Korea, but challenging Beijing in the South China Sea and when it comes to North Korea as its satellite that acts as a counterweight to South Korea. Because China has enormous economic leverage with the US and globally, it is able to counter Washington’s strategic containment policy much more effectively than Moscow. However, this is a clear case of the US taking on much more than it can possibly handle in confronting both Russia and China and risking destabilizing itself.
Beijing has demonstrated by its cooperation with multilateral institutions – WTO, IMF, World Bank, etc. – that it is much more interested acting as a guarantor of stability than the US openly challenging multilateral institutions under Trump. Moreover, Beijing favors political solutions to regional problems such as North Korean ballistic missile testing. China’s proposal to de-escalate a military arms race in the Korean Peninsula or a possible war has fallen on deaf ears in Washington. This clearly illustrates that the purview of the “eternal enemies” mindset encompasses a policy toward China as well as Russia, viewing them monolithically. This is not flawed only empirically, but reflects a reckless approach because at best it will result in mutual chaos and at worst open conflict perhaps by accident, misunderstanding, or hastiness. As stated above, it illustrates the refusal of the US to respect the Chinese sphere of influence, while it expects China to accept the US definition of national security extending over the entire world.
Pursuing a policy of containment toward China and “eternal enemies” confrontation toward Moscow in the 21st century inadvertently strengthens China as it affords it leverage with Russia while enhancing its global leadership and allows it to focus on expanding global trade and securing an even stronger economic leadership role. Despite the jihadists as a common enemy, Russia and the US are hardly prepared to end the “eternal enemies” rivalry that in essence helped to bring down the USSR and has slowly weakened the American economy.
Trump, Putin and Political Propaganda
During the presidential election of 2016, political observers in the US and around the world were optimistic that under a Trump administration the “eternal enemies” foreign policy thesis would end. Naturally, if Hillary Clinton was elected, they expected the continuation of antagonistic relations, building on Obama’s revival of the Cold War and destabilization policy toward the Middle East. Considering the statements of personal praise by both Trump and Putin for each other, against the background of the obvious victory of Russia in weakening ISIS in Syria, the US felt embarrassed about its diminished military role in the Middle East. Not that Syria is so essential to US national security interests, but considering the reality of Iran as the undisputed Middle East power adamantly opposed by US Arab allies and Israel, the question was about which power would determine the balance of power and claim credit for combating ISIS.
As a predatory capitalist, Trump viewed the issue in one-dimensional economic terms. He wondered why the US simply did not seize Iraq’s oil assets, thus admitting that the goal of wars of imperialism is economic benefit not just nebulous diplomatic victories with a large defense bill left over for the taxpayers. Viewing the war on terror as an immediate threat, Trump called ‘stupid’ those not interested in improved US-Russia relations as a means of fighting ISIS. By questioning the “eternal enemies” thesis, which Democrat and Republican lawmakers as well as analysts and the media insisted on promoting, Trump was depriving the military industrial complex of its reason to develop more weapons, despite raising the defense budget by 10%, while questioning the entire public and private sector institutional structure built around the “eternal enemies” thesis.
There have been reports about the Trump family making millions in Russia and several of his advisors and cabinet secretaries with links to Russian money. There is no doubt that Russia is a very corrupt country and the closer to the Kremlin hierarchy the better the chances of upward socioeconomic mobility and clinetist capitalism. While Norway and perhaps the rest of the Scandinavian countries could level criticism at Russia for its public-private sector corruption, does the US have any moral or political authority to do the same considering its considerable financial/banking scandals alone since 2008 and the hundreds of billions they have paid to the Justice Department in fines – $110 billion alone in mortgage-related fines?
To stop Trump from ameliorating relations, and challenge his domestic policies, Democrats argued that Russians were behind WIKILEAKS that released the DNC-related emails in 2016 and CIA documents in 2017. The March release of CIA documents proved particularly embarrassing to the CIA that has the ability to spy on any cell phone, computer or even a smart TV, despite claims it does not violate the privacy rights of US citizens. Without focusing on the essence of the leaks of both the DNC and the CIA, the “eternal enemies” advocates focused instead on the hackers, presumably the Kremlin, although there has never been any evidence presented to prove the allegations.
Let us assume that everything the US intelligence agencies and media have alleged is 100% true. If instead of Russia, Israel had been accused of hacking into US government and political party computer systems there would not have been an issue. If Trump and his cabinet officers and advisors had the exact same allegedly corrupt financial interests with the UK or Germany instead of Russia there would have been little media coverage and no political issue. However, because of the “eternal enemies” thesis deeply inculcated into the American institutional structure and psyche, any links with Russians is an anathema.
From 1946 until 2000, the US interfered in foreign elections 81 times, excluding the numerous US-sponsored coups and military interventions intended for regime change. Moreover, because of the Snowden and WIKILEAKS revelations, it is a matter of public record that the US intelligence services constantly spy on the rest of the world as well as their own citizens regardless of the Constitution and the law. It never escaped the attention of the Kremlin that since the Clinton administration, the US has interfered in the internal political affairs of former Soviet republics with the aim of weakening their ties to Moscow and reducing them to Western satellites as part of a larger containment strategy. This was especially the case with Georgia’s Rose Revolution 2003 and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution 2004 and Euromaidan movement of 2013-14.
Not just politicians, but the media, think tanks and most in academia analyze US-Russian relations as though we were back during the Cold War and there was still a Soviet bloc with Maoist China to back it up. In a recent CNN report regarding the Russian Ambassador’s role in the Trump administration, the news anchor called Sergey Kislyak him “comrade”, deliberately to give the impression that Russia under Vladimir Putin is still the same old Soviet Russia that is so markedly different from the capitalist West. This is intriguing because Russia’s Communist party has about 20% popular support while Putin’s nationalist bureaucracy and capitalist oligarchs behind him are running the country. Even more intriguing, Americans do not have analogous views about China, which is one-party state under the heirs of Mao’s Communist rebels, despite carrying the torch of capitalism and globalization.
This is not to excuse any possible Russian hacking or covert operations intended to undermine the US electoral process and tilt the vote toward Trump whose family and advisors may have deep financial ties with Russians. Is it time to review US-Russian relations and adopt a new course that best reflects the broader national interest, rather than the narrow ones of the military industrial complex and the many thousands who earned a living in the public and private sectors promoting the “eternal enemies” thesis?
“Eternal Enemies” as Catalyst for Regional Blocs
American apologists who advocate US-Russian confrontation always point to European security, and specifically NATO as the oldest and most stable alliance system that non-European nations also support. How significant is NATO to EU security, considering that France and the United Kingdom have a nuclear deterrent. Isn’t true that collective continental security would give the Europeans greater military sovereignty, greater stability and improved relations with Russia? Even more significant, considering that Europe is increasingly turning to China for trade and investment does it make sense to have military interdependence with the US while pursuing greater economic interdependence with China?
A number of East European and Balkan countries, Turkey, Syria, and Iran have been and could likely remain more accommodating toward Moscow for a variety of reasons ranging from geopolitical to economic. Besides profound disillusionment with the US offering military solutions and instability rather than economic development, these periphery countries have become just as disillusioned with the EU that follows in the footsteps of the US model of exporting weapons and instability. By contrast, the Russian gas pipeline going through some of these countries is vital to their economies, while benefits from EU integration have diminished substantially since the austerity crisis following the global recession of 2008.
Considering the political and military uncertainty in EU-US future relations, the “eternal enemies” thesis no longer works as a catalyst to maintain solidarity of regional blocs because individual nations see greater benefits integrating with Russia and China. The majority of the people in four NATO members believe that Russia offers more stability and security for their countries than the US. Echoing the skepticism toward EU and NATO, Serbian former Prime Minister Alexander Vucic of Serbia recently cautioned that many look to Moscow for economic and political leadership, not the West. According to a Gallup poll, the majority in Serbia view Russia more favorably than NATO, a sentiment reflected across the Balkans, especially Greece but also Spain and even France. In a public opinion poll, the majority respondents In Germany and Italy replied that they would oppose a conflict with Russia. http://www.dw.com/en/nato-faces-hitches-in-public-opinion/a-18536217
Because the US and its Western EU partners realize the diminished role of the West in areas of rising Russo-Chinese influence, their reaction has been to infiltrate Georgia and Ukraine, while cultivating closer ties with the Baltic States. More than any other periphery region, the Baltic States and Poland are the easiest to accept the “eternal enemies” thesis because of their history with Russia. Despite attempts to determine the balance of power in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States primarily through military means without offering an economic development component, can the US counter Russian political influence considering that Europe needs cheap energy and the EU is becoming more interdependent with China?
The Georgia-Russia conflict (August 2008) revealed that EU-Russia and China-Russia inter-dependence takes precedence over US ambitions to determine the trans-Caucasus balance of power as it does in the Middle East through satellite countries. It is inevitable that Russia and China will increasingly be partners in determining the balance of power in areas where they have vital economic and strategic interests and where the US is threatening to destabilize as it has in the past two decades. The question is whether the US-Russia eternal conflict will evolve toward a new arms race, as it now seems inevitable if we are to take Trump’s rhetoric seriously, with the possibility of war between the great powers over small regional conflicts – Iran and North Korea as prime US targets.
Despite the rising tide of rightwing populism and economic nationalism as a reaction to globalization after BREXIT and Trump’s election, delinking from the world system and adjusting development policies to serve internal needs rather than foreign capital is not a real prospect at this juncture. The Western World and a number of non-Western nations are experiencing a resurgence of rightwing populism and nationalism as we have never seen since the interwar era of Fascism and Nazism. In the absence of Communism as a pretext for the rightwing political tilt, politicians, capitalists, the corporate media and apologists of the “eternal enemies” thesis believe that society’s greatness is defined through its military strength no matter the cost to society.
In as much as it reflects a nationalist-militarist-authoritarian political course, surprisingly not very different from what Putin is pursing, Trump’s election favors rightwing populism. There is hardly a strong leftist or progressive grassroots force to slow down this rightwing course that could have repercussions in globalization that China favors and economic nationalism that Russia has been pursuing. While the rightwing is on the move, leftist political parties and groups have been thoroughly co-opted by the liberals who are just as responsible for the foreign policy of confrontation as the conservatives.
Given the bankrupt leftist movements in the Western countries, any revolutionary impulse is almost non-existent, and after the failures of Arab Spring certainly not sufficiently strong to put an end to alter interventionist and militarist US foreign policy. The combination of new alliances and alignments between nations and regional blocs and internal contradictions will undercut the anachronistic “eternal enemies” model on which US and EU institutions are based.
No US president can alienate entrenched interests that benefit from the US-Russia confrontation; not just the defense companies, the Pentagon, the intelligence agencies, the think tanks, consultants, academics, and journalists all whose career fortunes are made on the “eternal enemies” thesis. Recently a National Public Radio (NPR) expert guest on cyber-security argued that there cannot be international agreement on cyber security with “totalitarian” countries like Russia, only with NATO members. The term totalitarian came out of the NAZI-Fascist era to describe the regimes in Germany and Italy. It was then adopted by the US during the early Cold War to lump together Russia with the former Axis Powers that Stalin helped to defeat. Nevertheless, in 2017 US “foreign policy experts” use the exact same term as Truman’s Secretary of State Dean Acheson in the 1940s when there was a need to justify the Truman Doctrine.
Even in the absence of the Warsaw Pact, the US-dominated Cold War regional “military blocs” model is one that many US allies still favor despite China increasingly integrating more countries under its economic umbrella. More than any other country, China has benefited from the “eternal enemies” rivalry economically and militarily because it does not have to worry about Russia given that the US keeps it in check.
As stated above, there have been and still are areas of Russian-American cooperation because the dictum of Lord Palmerston regarding eternal interests transcending eternal allies or enemies has validity. Even areas where mutual cooperation appears to be a policy goal, as the war on terror since 9/11, there are tensions and confrontations just beneath the thin veil of cooperation. It is no secret that the US “regime change” operations in Libya placed the government in Washington on the same side as al-Qaeda. It is no secret that the US backed Saudi Arabia not just financing ISIS in Syria, but Sunnis in Yemen against Iranian-backed Shiite rebels. In short, the goal is influencing the balance of power even if it means supporting jihadists directly or indirectly by selling arms to Saudi Arabia.
There are alternatives to the global balance of power resting on the US checking Russian power and the latter using its influence with Iran and Syria to influence the regional balance of power. When does it become too costly financially as the US budgetary deficit spirals out of control, when there is a sharp rise of anti-Americanism around the world, even among allies, when the militarily in the absence of achieving its objectives to police the world simply demands greater budgetary allocations? As the US continues to shift resources from the civilian economy to defense, homeland security, and intelligence operations, and as the rising public debt continues to erode middle class and working class living standards, while China remains focused on global economic expansion, there would have to be a serious reassessment of the “eternal enemies” thesis that has been a driving force in policy and a more narrowly focused rationale for the military industrial complex.
Trump’s intentions notwithstanding, Washington will not pursue a cooperative relationship with Russia, something that many hawkish anti-American nationalist elements in Russia do not mind. The anachronistic “eternal enemies” thesis, which has been around since the Bolshevik Revolution, precludes both Russia’s and America’s optimal economic development and ability to solve conflicts through diplomacy rather than armed conflict. In the absence of defining limits on both sides, both the US and Russia appear nostalgic for the old East-West confrontation that had divided the world into ideological and political camps.
In retrospect, Georgi Arbatov, Soviet advisor to Mikhail Gorbachev on US-Russian relations was wrong in the 1980s when he said in a number of forums that Moscow’s secret weapon was to deprive the US of an enemy. Although the US found Islamic terrorism as the new enemy, it just did not measure up to the old conventional rival. Besides underestimating his own country’s need of an enemy, Arbatov failed to appreciate the deep roots of America’s “eternal enemies” institutional structure. Decrying the Reagan administration’s “campaign of demonization, of dehumanization of the other side,” Arbatov did not live to see that US-Russian relations were not much different under Obama in the second decade of the 21st century than under Reagan in the 1980s.
Not Communism, but nationalism and Russian refusal to accept integration under Western aegis is the common thread between the USSR and Russia. The reaffirmation of the nationalist aspects of the Westphalian System in the US and Europe will inevitably clash with the realities of a highly integrated world economy influenced more by Asia than the West. As globalization under a neoliberal corporate welfare state weakens the American national economy, Washington will focus even more on US military power status as global leverage to promote its economic imperial interests.
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By Jon Kofas.
In the age of “fake news” and President Donald Trump claiming that Sweden was riddled with terror attacks which of course never took place, and of perpetual corporate and state-media propaganda passed on as real news, it is very difficult to separate fact from fiction. Making matters worse, hyperbolic rhetoric goes a long way to confuse the public about what is real and what is propaganda. Just as there is no shortage of disinformation on all countries, North Korea is especially on the propaganda radar of the West because it is part of the “Nuclear Club” and eager to remain on the road of militarism.
It is no secret that the government of the authoritarian-militarist Kim Jong-Un periodically seizes the opportunity to respond with bellicose rhetoric. At the same time, the Korean dictator has shown no predisposition to replace the long-standing Cold War policy of confrontation with closer cooperation any more than the other side interested in North Korea’s cheap labor and raw materials. North Korea’s claims to Communism notwithstanding, the nation is hardly a model of a harmonious society where social justice prevails. However, none of this means that it is the global military threat that the US portrays it. On the contrary, because of its global military might, the US poses a far greater threat to regional and global stability, as China keeps insisting, than does North Korea with its limited capabilities.
On 29 January 2002, President George W. Bush’s state of the union address labeled North Korea as part of the “Axis of Evil” (Iran and Iraq were the other two), because they were sponsoring “terrorism” and seeking weapons of mass destruction. Since 2002, the world discovered that Bush used the speech to justify US intention to invade Iraq and impose very tough containment policy on Iran and North Korea. As to the merits of Bush’s arguments regarding Iraq, history and the facts proved he was simply lying as the British Chilcot Report of July 2016 proved coming as no surprise to the IK and US intelligence community that knew the facts but chose to massage them because they did not fit the political goals. http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/
This is not to argue that North Korea does not have the nuclear deterrent or that it is shy about demonstrating its military might as it feels threatened and isolated by much of the international community. However, the US has a major military presence in South Korea and Japan, in addition to 7,700 nuclear warheads in its arsenal with the capability of thoroughly destroying all of Asia several times over in a nuclear holocaust. China has an estimated 260 nuclear warheads, while North Korea an estimated 20-40 in its arsenal, but without the capability of delivering them across continents. The US annual defense budget $581 billion – China’s $155 billion; US military aircraft 13,444 – China 2,942; US aircraft carriers 19 – China 1; US submarines 75 – China 68; US destroyers 62 – China 32; US serviceable airports 13,513 – China 507. South Korea defense budget $33.2 billion – North Korea $7.5 billion; South Korea aircraft 1451 – North Korea 944; South Korea Helicopters 979 – North Korea 202; South Korea transport aircraft 348 – North Korea 100; South Korea destroyers 12 – North Korea 0; South Korea submarines 15 – North Korea 70.
Given the disproportional military strength of China-North Korea in relationship to US-South Korea, the question is whether the US is simply aiming more at China than North Korea in this historic conflict that has its roots in the Korean War of the early 1950s. And if so, is there a military solution given China’s economic power and nuclear deterrent? Does the status quo in North Korea best serve the geopolitical goals of all parties concerned and are they all using it to their benefit? No matter how many times there is a special meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the North Korean security threat, and no matter the international sanctions, the status quo remains because of mutual interest. Deviating from it could spell disaster for everyone.
If North Korea truly poses a security threat to the US and to its Asian allies, why have the US and its strategic partners retained the status quo since the end of the Korean War – signing of the Armistice in 1954? Why have China, Russia, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea not been anxious for unification and are content keeping the deterrent both conventional and nuclear? It is true that there have been some faint attempts at economic integration, but those had limited success as the realization of status quo serving all sides sunk in. Contrary to the hyperbolic rhetoric on the part of the US and its regional allies about North Korea as an imminent threat, no country wants a change in the status quo to the degree that it would risk regional war and drag China into the conflict, with Russia almost certainly to follow, largely because of Vladivostok as its prized commercial and strategic port.
The relative economic decline of the US in relationship to China in the first two decades of the 21st century largely shaped the debate on Korea as the US used its historical role as a military patron for its regional allies that have been increasingly absorbed into the Chinese economic orbit of influence. Because the US is thoroughly integrated with China’s economy, the contradiction in its militarist containment approach has severe limitations. Not only would the US disrupt the entire trade network of the Asian continent, but the entire world economy, if it deviates from a policy of respecting the status quo.
If everyone wants to preserve the status quo as history has shown because of mutual interest, then the intermittent noise is about containment at the very least and North Korea’s integration with the international community at best as history has demonstrated. Certainly with the rise of China’s preeminent economic influence in Asia and throughout the world and its insistence of military hegemony over the South China Sea, it is extremely unlikely that Beijing would simply forfeit North Korea as a useful sphere of influence any more than the US would renounce its historic “Pan-Americanism” hegemony in the Western Hemisphere.
Even with its five successful nuclear tests since 2006, without intercontinental ballistic missiles to deliver them, North Korea does not pose a national security threat to the US; and no analyst would claim otherwise unless they are either ideologically driven or working as consultants for the defense industry or right wing think tanks. No matter the level of inane propaganda unleashed by both government and corporate media in the West, North Korea is the rough equivalent of Cuba during the Cold War amid the Soviet-American confrontation. There is no denying that it is governed by an internationally isolated one-party dynastic regime with the bureaucracy and military behind it, but so is Saudi Arabia which has meddled militarily in the Middle East far more than North Korea.
Naturally, the nuclear deterrent affords North Korea security cover and leverage, as far as its neighbors are concerned given the range of its missiles. However, China is there to keep North Korea fairly contained because China has proved it is far more interested in stability and preservation of the status quo than the US. Furthermore, Russia is hardly anxious to see North Korea become any more powerful given the share a border and its strategic Vladivostok port 700 km. In January 2016, Moscow strongly condemned Pyongyang for nuclear tests threatening border security and violating international law. http://siberiantimes.com/other/others/news/n0545-russia-condemns-north-koreas-nuclear-bomb-test-a-threat-to-national-security/
Despite the realities about the internal and external limits of North Korean military power, Western neo-conservatives, and establishment political and military elites have been presenting North Korea as part of the “Axis of Evil” as did Bush in 2002, implying that it is an ominous military threat every time it tests a missile in the Sea of Japan or makes a bellicose statement. This line of argument is unrelated to North Korea’s actual power, as shown above, and directly linked to the US declining regional position and desire to retain its global military role. Claiming to be a Pacific Power to counterbalance and contain China, the US does not want to lose the hegemonic role it has enjoyed with traditional allies since defeating Japan in 1945.
If North Korea is not an existential global security threat to the degree the US portrays it, than the issue must be the economic interdependence of China with Asian allies historically militarily dependent on the US. This along with China’s increased military strength is at the core of this issue and not any schemes by North Korea to expand through military means. The US knows about the asymmetry between military and economic power because it is a scenario that took place during Spanish-American War during the McKinley presidency.
The dying Spanish Empire controlled Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, but the US was in the position of thoroughly integrating them economically, thus imposing its political hegemony and acquiring them as part of its imperial network. In the early 21st century, the US is a declining global economic power with diminished role in Asia. The only way to hold on to its imperial network is to use it as leverage to foster trade relationships. This is exactly how the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) evolved during the second term of George W. Bush. http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-origins-and-evolution-of-the-trans-pacific-partnership-tpp/5357495
Both a US-dominated economic integration bloc and a strategic one, TPP now defunct because Trump opted out and favors bilateral trade deals, was a broader containment mechanism aimed as much at China as to strengthen US-based multinational corporations. As China’s historic satellite and strategic buffer zone, North Korea has actually served to preserve stability and Pyongyang has shown no inclination to deviate from its historic role. With the exception of the invasion of South Korea in 1950, North Korea has no history of imperial expansion nor could it have such ambitions given that China and Russia would not permit it.
By maintaining a large military network relative to the size of its civilian economy, North Korea affords all of its neighbors the pretext to maintain a strong military presence. Furthermore, it allows the US the pretext to use its military muscle as political and economic leverage – the US has over 28,000 troops in South Korea and about 170,000 in East Asia and the Pacific theater of operations with large bases both in Japan and South Korea. Besides using North Korea as a pretext for such heavy military display of power, the US has on its radar screen South China Sea claims by Beijing as the legitimate strategic zone of influence. Beijing will not negotiate the South China Sea territorial disputes that the US and its allies wish to internationalize (deprive Chinese control). However, US provocation short of war will remain ongoing so that it can remain a Pacific Power amid the inevitable reality of its economic decline. http://www.janes.com/article/66919/china-warns-against-south-china-sea-intervention-as-us-signals-tougher-stance
As much as the US likes to act unilaterally, the reality of its declining economic power combined with skepticism about its role by most of its Asian allies does not permit unilateral action in Asia. After what the US and its allies did in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen during the Bush and Obama administrations, the prospect of Pyongyang agreeing to an Iran-style denuclearization deal is out of the question for the near future, especially with a simple-minded righting Trump administration in office that fails to appreciates the complexities of international relations at all levels from trade to political influence. Just as the Iran nuclear deal was multilateral, any diplomatic negotiation on North Korea will involve the regional players – the 10 ASEAN states – and especially China, Japan, and South Korea.
As the US under Trump is looking to ameliorate relations with Russia, to the degree that Cold War Democrats and Republicans will permit and that is highly unlikely, it is essential to have enemies that help to justify increased defense spending as the Republicans have promised and Cold War Democrats acquiesce. Not just China, as president Xi Jingping noted at the Davos Conference in January 2017, but corporate interests in the US and throughout the world want to preserve the status quo and do not want instability and adventurism using North Korea’s rhetoric and missile testing as a pretext.
Everything from the price of commodities to exchange rates and securities markets hinges on stability. It remains to be seen the degree to which US corporations will prevail on the White House and congress to maintain the status quo in the Korean peninsula as all presidents have done since the early 1950s. As congress assumes greater powers on the realization that the executive branch is reckless and simple-minded in its approach to foreign policy, the status quo may indeed be the only game in town even under Trump who barks but cannot bite unless the attack dogs of congress are behind him and behind them Wall Street.
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By Jon Kofas.
Contrary to the Hegelian assumption that civilization progresses in a linear mode, the contradictions of capitalism between the promise of prosperity for all, on the one hand, and the reality of perpetual capital concentration, on the other, undermines bourgeois democracy and leads toward a more militaristic-police state. The nexus of structural and behavioral violence has not been lost even on apologists of the status quo who question the degree of the militarized police in America. No one should be surprised with the US adopting police-state solutions with behavioral violence at home, considering it mirrors its military-solution approaches to political problems abroad.
The way a society approaches solutions to foreign policy crises and crime at home reflects its values and commitment to actualizing the social contract not for the privileged elites but for the people. Deviating very far from the liberal bourgeois ideals of the Enlightenment on which the American Republic was founded, militarist policies in the foreign and discriminatory policies in the domestic arena intended at social exclusion and marginalization of the lower classes reflect a country whose elites are prepared to sacrifice the Enlightenment values of the Republic in order to maintain their privileges. http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27901-noam-chomsky-talks-us-militarism-and-capitalism-at-home-and-abroad
Jeremy Travis, chair of the Committee on Causes and Consequences of High Rates of Incarceration in the United States wrote in the Preface to a study on the subject: The transformation of U.S. punishment policy during the rise in incarceration reflected not just deep changes in society, but also a change in thinking. The country experienced a tumultuous period of economic and political change, rapidly rising crime rates, and changing race relations. The politics of criminal justice policy became much more punitive. Policy makers enacted laws that were meant to send many more people to prison and keep them there longer. These changes reflect a shift in emphasis among competing values. Public and professional discourses moved from a focus on rehabilitation as the predominant purpose of punishment to just deserts, or retribution, as the primary goal. Stated in colloquial terms, “tough on crime,” “do the crime, do the time,” and “adult time for adult crime” became the public narrative. https://www.nap.edu/read/18613/chapter/1
This brief essay shows that the US approach to the multi-dimensional and complex crime problem is not much different that the failed “war on drugs” and the “war on terror”. Policies of social exclusion and economic marginalization combined with criminalization of minor offenses rather than rehabilitation reflects an authoritarian approach to social problems that does not address the root causes of crime. Just as there has been a sharp rise in drug use since Reagan signed the anti-Drug Abuse Act (1986) and declared the ‘war on drugs’, and a similar rise in global jihadist activity since the “war on terror” it is inevitable that there will be a rise in crime as social exclusion and marginalization increases. The deliberate absence of examining root causes and proposing political solutions to address them rather than focusing on the symptoms is a prescription for failure. All three cases have in common an expedient political use as propaganda by the state and the elites to maintain a culture of fear and conformity. All three have been the result of a political economy that seeks capital accumulation on a world scale that marginalizes the vast majority that it then seeks to repress by military force abroad and police force at home.
The Nexus of Structural and Behavioral Violence
In all societies throughout history there is a direct correlation between the level of violence and the state structure that reflects the social order and value system. If society is geared toward a militaristic/police-state model and celebrates the culture of violence it is hardly surprising that there would be manifestations of social violence and criminal activity, as in modern US history that predates the rightwing Trump administration. Because structural violence imbedded in the state structure gives rise to behavioral violence, invariably the solution has been more punitive measures without addressing structural issues thus exacerbating the cycle.
Until the study on crime and punishment by the Enlightenment thinker Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794), the Western World had dogmatically accepted the “Cain and Abel” (good vs. evil) Biblical assumptions to explain criminal behavior. Therefore, punishment as Hellish condemnation for the accused was morally justified from a religious dogmatic perspective; despite its inhumanity and regardless if it addressed the intended goal of crime prevention. Influenced by John Locke’s empirical philosophy on human nature (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1689), Beccaria like other Enlightenment thinkers focused on how societal environment shapes human nature and determines human actions, including criminal behavior. Interestingly, both Locke and Beccaria had a profound influence on the American Founding Fathers, although Beccaria strongly opposed the death penalty and torture. http://digitalcommons.hamline.edu/jplp/vol37/iss1/1/
With Western industrialization that ushered the advent of mass politics in the last two centuries, scholars made the connection between behavioral violence and a violent society geared toward militarism and police state methods intended to preserve a socially unjust society regardless of the social contract promising egalitarianism. From Rosa Luxemburg to Nikolai Bukharin and modern existentialists like Albert Camus, the correlation between the state as an agent of injustice and behavioral crime was very real and could not be obfuscated by any justification in the name of law and order, or crypto-Social Darwinist theories thinly veiled in liberal rhetoric. Structural violence leads to behavioral violence in reaction to social injustice. This has always been the case from the slave rebellion of Spartacus’ Third Servile War (73-71 B.C.) in ancient Rome to modern America’s more tamed mass protests such a Black Lives Matter and others since the anti-war Vietnam era. http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/22498-coming-home-to-roost-american-militarism-war-culture-and-police-brutality; http://www.laborstandard.org/New_Postings/Luxemburg_imperialism.htm
Structural violence is a long-standing policy of the US political elites seeking to engender sociopolitical conformity of the masses by several methods, inculcating fear of the violent enemy within and outside of the country, and mass incarceration of minorities mostly for lesser crimes. The contradiction in such an approach is that the hegemonic culture celebrates violence in everything from the militaristic manner it conducts foreign policy to the way the police deal with unarmed black and Hispanic youth in the inner city, to the mass media glorifying militarism as patriotism, and motion pictures glorifying gun homicides as a sport that enthralls the human spirit. The hegemonic culture that promotes violence on a mass scale with small and large-scale wars abroad turns around and violently crushes behavioral and political violence as an expression of resistance to the status quo. Astonishingly, Republican lawmakers in ten US states went as far as proposing criminalizing political protests. In Indiana legislators proposed the police use any means necessary against demonstrators, and in North Dakota allowing motorist to run over and kill demonstrators in the way of automobiles. In short, the punitive method of dealing toward criminals – behavioral crime – extends to political dissent. http://billmoyers.com/story/gun-culture-and-the-american-nightmare-of-violence; https://theintercept.com/2017/01/23/lawmakers-in-eight-states-have-proposed-laws-criminalizing-peaceful-protest/
Structural violence refers to systematic ways in which social structures harm or otherwise disadvantage the lower classes; minorities much more so than the white majority, as much in the US as in post-apartheid South Africa. Institutional forces of violence such as police, military, and all organs of the state employing such methods enjoying legitimacy have license to subjugate non-conformists outside of the privileged social classes. Social exclusion and marginalization of large segments of the population from mainstream institutions with the goal of perpetuating a hierarchical social structure, and the use of institutional violence to maintain such social order, necessarily leads to the creation of behavioral violence that the state criminalizes. http://www.structuralviolence.org/structural-violence/
Because the US ranks as one of the world’s most violent societies, certainly number one in gun violence among all industrialized nations, it would stand to reason that there would be more resources to scientific research on gun violence and prevention. However, exposing the ugly reality of the convergence between behavioral and structural violence in a neoliberal society where corporate profits and the preservation of the institutional order is the only priority, the US congress since 1996 has blocked funding for such scientific research. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-guns-scientists-idUSBRE90915F20130110; http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-gun-research-funding-20160614-snap-story.html
The US has more gun homicides per capita than any developed nation, and more people killed by guns at home, given that there more guns per capita than any other country. Not just hunters or people with legitimate security reasons are able to purchase guns, but individuals that the FBI has on a terror watch list. If Congress has its way, even the severely mentally ill will be able to purchase guns without any background checks, indicative of the celebration of the Second Amendment (A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.) that transcends all other considerations in society.
Although there is a lot of data on gun violence, scientific research has been thin since 1996 when government cut funding to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) by passing the Dickey Amendment. The goal was to prevent any scientific study on a topic related to gun violence that would then be used by gun control advocates and liberal politicians to pass more restrictive laws. According to the World Health Organization the gun-related murder rate in the US is 25 times higher than in 22 other high income nations. One could argue that the absence of laws on gun regulation is a testament to the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) lobbying influence that gun violence research is limited to about a dozen people and most of the funds come from private sources. However, the issue goes beyond the NRA, its political allies and the profits of the gun and ammunition manufacturers. American militarism and the police state model applied to a political and socioeconomic problem is at the heart of the issue. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-u-s-gun-deaths-compare-to-other-countries/
Whether in the battlefield as a soldier, as a police officer in a minority neighborhood or a petty thief holding up a liquor store and killing in the process justify the action either ideologically and/or as a matter of self-preservation. Invoking the Catholic Church’s (Thomas Aquinas) “just war theory”, one could argue that there is no moral equivalence of a soldier following orders to drop bombs that kill thousands, and a gunman killing in the process of a robbery. By the same token, one could argue that the police officer gunning down an unarmed black youth is acting in the name of law and order, similar to the soldier acting in the name of national security. Therefore, both the soldier and the police officer are morally absolved killing en mass in the name of preserving the social order rather than social justice. But does such moral equivalence obfuscate the thin line between behavioral and structural violence, the latter which gives rise to the former because it is the instinct of every species to survive? (David DeCosse, Authority, Lies and War: Democracy and the Development of Just War Theory, Theological Studies, 67, 2007; http://www.iep.utm.edu/justwar/)
Certainly a segment of American society believes that the structural violence causes behavioral violence. Similarly, they believe that deadly violence by police targeting minorities is a very clear illustration of this argument, regardless of what politicians and judges argue. In December 2015, Harvard University Medical scientists requested US public health agencies to record deaths that the police cause (1058 killed in 2015) as an endemic public health issue. It is not just a segment of American academia that is convinced of structural violence reflects a society immersed in militaristic and police state policies, but most of the world sees the US as a very violent society whose history of warfare and its own lack of social justice reflects these conditions.
In a 2016 Global Attitudes survey, half of those surveyed characterized Americans as greedy, arrogant and violent, with 68% of Australians and 57% of Britons seeing the US as a violent society, percentages greater than we find in Muslim countries. Half of US Democrats polled also see their society as violent, while just 29% of Republicans agree, indicative of a huge gap in the value system, ideology and tolerance for structural and behavioral violence. In other words, the attempts by the corporate media and political elites to accord legitimacy to structural violence and separate it from behavioral violence has limited appeal with people around the world and within US borders; much more so with Republicans. More than two million Britons have signed a petition not to permit President Donald Trump to have a state official visit, many holding a widespread view that government is the source violence owing to racism and xenophobia. http://usuncut.com/black-lives-matter/harvard-medical-police-killings-public-epidemic/; http://www.pewglobal.org/2016/06/28/americas-international-image/; www.independent.co.uk/news/home-news/britain-racist-violence-bullying-rise-far-right-groups-hail-donald-trump-election/
Selling Guns to the Mentally Ill
One could argue that to murder another human being requires temporary or absence of suppression of empathy either through indoctrination, environmental (existential) conditioning, and the temporary or permanent dysfunction of the brain or a combination of such factors. It can be argued that human beings are predators and enjoy killing as an instinctual predilection of survival like some other predators. However, mass killing of its own species is uniquely human and an integral part of structural violence rather than behavioral. If we are to accept that a segment of the population suffering mental illness could be prone to harm against others or self, does it stand to reason to make firearms available to those people? http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/09/human-violence-evolution-animals-nature-science/
Shortly before leaving office, President Obama blocked the Social Security administration from providing disability benefits to individuals with mental disorders from applying to buy guns. Because so often the perpetrator is killed rather than arrested, it is difficult to determine with accuracy the percentage of murders carried out by mentally ill people. It has been estimated that at least one-quarter of gun violence acts, especially mass shootings, are carried out by individuals deemed mentally ill people. Despite the broad recognition about the dangers of having mentally ill people own guns, the House of Representatives on 2 February 2017 voted 235 (all Republican except for 6 Democrats) to 180 Democrats to lift the Obama ban on gun sales to the severely mentally ill. After all, President Trump ran a campaign on a stronger militaristic and police state society, so the Republican-controlled House was in line with the Executive Branch.
Theoretically and for all practical purposes, mentally ill people are not able to have gainful employment but they ought to be able to buy a weapon as far as the majority of the House is concerned. Gun sellers would no longer be required to submit background check information about the buyer to the FBI. On the pretext that the “Obama rule” also applied to some benefits recipients needing assistance managing their benefits, 235 congressmen confirmed that the state as an agent of structural violence withdraws any restrictions that would prevent behavioral violence. Ironically, every time there is a mass murder or random killing, the media and authorities immediately relegate the incident to terrorism unless it is disproved after the investigation, thus using violence to further the political goal of justifying militarism and police state methods because terrorism is ubiquitous. http://www.politicususa.com/2017/02/02/house-republicans-voted-severely-mentally-ill-people-buy-guns.html
Is there scientific evidence that there is a direct correlation between mental illness and gun violence?
It is estimated that 32,514 people die from guns each year, with an average of 17,000 under the age of 19, and another 75,962 injured annually. Yet, congress has allocated ten times more money to CDC to research the common headache than to address the public health danger of gun prevention. Although 5% of those killed by guns fell victims to confirmed mentally ill perpetrators, authorities admit there is a gap of the diagnosed mental ill because so many die along with their victims. http://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-community/health-care-policy/article/mental-illness-really-behind-most-gun-violence
Psychiatric studies have concluded that while not all mentally ill people are violent because of their illness, there is a direct correlation between mental illness and violence. Those who were male, poor, and abusing alcohol and drugs were much more likely to engage in violent acts. In1968, the Gun Control Act prevented people with a mental illness history from purchasing firearms. As part of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, the law of 1968 was reinforced after a fierce political battle, but was loosely enforced until the National Instant Criminal Background Check System Improvement Act of 2008. http://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/ps.41.7.761?journalCode=ps; http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/almost-link-mental-health-gun-violence; https://psmag.com/what-we-actually-know-about-the-connections-between-mental-illness-mass-shootings-and-gun-violence-4d550c45ee90#.k3np08eun
About half of the NRA annual political contributions have gone to congressmen that will advocate for the mentally ill to own guns. As if giving guns to the mentally ill is not sufficiently worrisome, it is estimated that the FBI has between 5000 and 15000 people on such a terrorist list, all eligible to buy a gun. In December 2015, the majority of the Senators voted against Sen. Diane Feinstein’s proposed legislation to block gun sales and explosives to those individuals on the various terrorist data bases of law enforcement Just as US lawmakers have no qualms about restricting firearms sales to terrorist suspects at home, similarly, they have no such qualms about providing massive military sales to countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar that in turn support various jihadist groups from Yemen to Syria. http://www.factcheck.org/2016/06/suspected-terrorists-and-guns/; http://www.salon.com/2016/10/11/leaked-hillary-clinton-emails-show-u-s-allies-saudi-arabia-and-qatar-supported-isis/
It defies logic that the same “law and order” Republicans and Democrats argue in favor of defeating terrorism at home and abroad have no problem with suspected terrorists buying arms and explosives. Beyond the gun lobby and the gun and ammunition manufacturers that provide campaign contributions to politicians, at the heart of the problem is American glorification of violence and militarism with a value system that places the rights of the individual to own guns above those of societal harmony and peace, not just with the current Trump administration but historically. http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/38711-war-culture-militarism-and-racist-violence-under-donald-trump
Despite legal battles at the federal level for stricter gun laws, states circumvented federal procedures allowing mentally ill people the right to purchase firearms. Because of a series of mass shootings during the Bush and Obama presidencies, carried out by mentally ill people (Virginia Tech, Tucson, and Aurora, among others), and because the mentally ill had legally obtained guns, there was popular and political drive to address the problem. The same simplistic arguments always emerge, namely, “people kill not guns, criminals have guns and so must honest citizens to protect themselves, and terrorists and illegal aliens are the culprits for much of the gun violence.” This too is a deliberate effort to pursue mass incarceration and more police state methods rather than address the problem by looking at the political economy that marginalizes and excludes large segments of people. http://csgv.org/issues/guns-and-mental-health/
Gun Violence and Rightwing Ideology
There are an estimated 270-310 million guns in the US, or just about one gun per person, while guns kill 85 people per day, or more than auto accidents. About 5% of the world’s population, the US is estimated to have gun ownership rate of at least 35%. According to a PEW research study: “Roughly three-quarters (74%) of gun owners are men, and 82% are white. Taken together, 61% of adults who own guns are white men. Nationwide, white men make up only 32% of the U.S. adult population. Gun owners and those who do not own guns differ politically. While 37% of all adults identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, that proportion jumps to 51% among gun owners. Among those in households without guns, just 27% identify with the Republican Party or lean Republican, while a majority (61%) are Democrats or lean Democratic.” http://www.people-press.org/2013/03/12/section-3-gun-ownership-trends-and-demographics/#who-owns
Hardly convinced by the need for a class struggle against the tyranny of capitalism, it is evident from the Pew research profile of gun owners that they are ideologically and politically conservative. The American Dream of the rightwing gun owner is to be capitalist, a dream intertwined with the gun culture of xenophobic and racist groups that would have no problem ending the existing liberal bourgeois system and supporting an outright authoritarian regime. In fact, there is a direct correlation between the profile of the average gun owner and the militarist/police-state advocates.
From the KKK to survivalist groups, ‘gun-Fascists’, as some liberal groups call them, have been used by the political and financial elites to break the solidarity of the popular classes and to inculcate fear into them so they submit to police-state institutional structure. As Newsweek noted in an article early in 2016, rightwing gun owners have killed more people in the US than jihadists since 9/11. Authorities have no way of documenting the degree to which survivalists, KKK, neo-Nazi, and other varieties of rightwing ‘gun enthusiasts’ mentally stable. http://www.newsweek.com/2016/02/12/right-wing-extremists-militants-bigger-threat-america-isis-jihadists-422743.html
Apologists of the political economy, insist that America is not a quasi-police state as critics contend, and the lifting of the ban on mentally ill to own a gun proves nothing. After all, officials are elected from within the two-party system and the division and separation of powers proves that there is no concentration of power as would be the case in authoritarian countries. Despite differences in style and procedure as well as catering to different identity politics groups, of which the gun lobby and gun control advocates are a part, both political parties serve the same socioeconomic elites.
As far as the division and separation of powers, judicial decisions from the lower courts all the way up to the Supreme Court reveal that the system is the sentinel of the political economy and social order. Politicians and the courts alike have equated gun ownership with liberty as though it is a civil or human right. Absolving the gun and ammunitions manufacturers, the legislatures, the courts, socioeconomic conditions and unjust policies that give rise to behavioral violence, politicians and the media blame the individual, invariably arguing that it is the jihadist-inspired terrorist, the Mexican immigrant, inner city black youth, and minority drug gangs that are at fault.
Hate-peddling in national and local politics is intertwined with culture. Xenophobia, racism, sexism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and bigotry in all its forms is an integral part of a society where the dominant culture reinforces divisions. Solutions, interventions, and fixes that take symptom for cause often push the deeper problems into the background like untreated wounds. For the elites and their followers that want to keep things as they are, it is convenient to blame the individual and never the institution for what takes place in society as though the individual lives all alone on Mars.
Does a federal law easing gun control restrictions make any difference against the background of states passing the own laws?
Besides the federal government’s schizophrenic gun policy as part of the root cause of structural violence, the states also play an important role. Massachusetts and New Jersey, which have relatively strict gun-control laws, had an average of only 3.4 and 4.9 firearm-related deaths per 100,000 people, respectively, each year from 2007 to 2010, while Alaska and Louisiana, which have some of the loosest laws, had 17.5 and 18 per 100,000 people, respectively, the study revealed. “More than 20,400 pieces of gun-related legislation have been proposed following mass shooting events in the past 25 years. Of those bills, more than 3,000 have become law, according to a working paper recently released by researchers at the Harvard Business School. If you have a Republican legislature in your state and you have a mass shooting, the net effect if you look at the actual bills that get passed is there’s a significant increase in bills that loosen gun restrictions.” http://www.npr.org/2016/07/12/485726439/mass-shootings-influence-spike-in-gun-related-laws-at-state-level
During the Obama administration there was a rise of police shootings of unarmed black youth. Yet, the African-American-led Justice Department rarely launched an investigation. Instead, it defended the police force and left it to the local courts and municipalities to deal with the issue. The courts rarely convicted police officers, leaving the black community to view structural gun violence so detrimental to all blacks that it gave rise to the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
At the same time of rising legal gun violence, a number of states introduced legislation to modify federal laws regarding firearms, or even make them inapplicable if it pertained to guns and ammunition produced, sold, and used within the state. The NRA and Republicans backed the states’ challenge to Congressional authority to regulate commerce of the states extending to guns. Although the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) contested states’ rights in this domain, it was never easy operating in a political environment of majority Republican state legislatures and governorships..https://www.nraila.org/articles/20170203/when-laws-collide-federal-preemption-and-state-firearm-freedom-acts
The nexus of structural violence as the source of behavioral violence can be seen very clearly by what the federal government has done to foment violence in the inner city. In 1994, President Richard Nixon’s domestic advisor John Ehrlichman admitted that the administration deliberately criminalized small use and drug dealing, mainly targeting the black community and ‘white hippies” amid the anti-Vietnam War movement. It is important to stress that the billions from the drug trade that were laundered through banks and other legal businesses such as real estate in places like southern Florida remained beyond the reach of law, while the small time dealer and user languished in prison. This issue has received little attention by the corporate media because it is so explosive in its political dimensions. http://harpers.org/archive/2016/04/legalize-it-all/
In the 1990s, the CIA was dumping crack-cocaine coming from Latin America and flooding black communities especially in Los Angeles, California. When that case came to the forefront, the corporate media defended the CIA and kept their focus on the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/10/gary-webb-dark-alliance_n_5961748.html The violent results in the streets involving guns can be traced to institutional root causes. If it were not for the ubiquitous drug problem, the rate of gun violence would be far less considering that drug homicides averaged 1,100 a year from 2006 until 2011. “The number of people murdered in the drug war inside the United States between 2006 and 2010 exceeds the US-troop death toll in the Iraq War since it was launched in 2003, according to a Narco News analysis of FBI crime statistics. The US drug-war homicide tally also is nearly three times greater than the number of US soldiers killed in Afghanistan since the first shots were fired in that war in 2001.” http://narcosphere.narconews.com/notebook/bill-conroy/2012/03/drug-war-related-homicides-us-average-least-1100-year
The media, the politicians, the judges, and of course most ‘expert analysts’ from corporate-funded think tanks never mention the structural-behavioral nexus because it exposes the entire political economy, institutional structure and social order as the culprits of violence. Focusing on the symptoms and on the individual, the political establishment and business elites demand locking up more people of whom the vast majority are minorities at the end of the chain of crime that starts with the elites.
Gun violence symptomatic of a culture that glorifies violence rooted in a militaristic/police-state
There are countless books scholarly and media articles arguing that at the root of the gun violence problem is a culture that glorifies it. However, it is more than just the issue of culture, even the hegemonic commercial culture. This issue extends to the larger matter of militarism and police state approach to maintaining the social order and mass conformity. Obviously, we cannot compare the US or to a utopian society but to other nations like Japan with low violence rate that operates under the same capitalist world economy. Switzerland is one old society as a bastion of finance capitalism but so is Japan for that matter albeit very different in demographic composition. (Toni Hart, Gun Culture in the USA, 2016; http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-38365729
While the US ranks number one in the world for gun ownership, Switzerland ranks fourth behind Yemen and Serbia. Switzerland has a population of around 8.4 million and its firearms legislation is not much different than that of the US. In Switzerland, there are at least 600,000 automatic rifles and 500,000 pistols, according to one source. The percentage of gun ownership has remained steady through the years, whereas in the US gun ownership has doubled since Nixon took office and it really took off during the Obama presidency. Whereas the murder rate by gun in Switzerland is at 3.08 per 100,000, it is 10.54 in the US, or roughly three-and-a-half times higher. There can be similar comparisons with US and Japan for example, and the results are indeed eye-opening when looking at the data of homicides and suicides by guns. http://crimeresearch.org/2014/03/comparing-murder-rates-across-countries/
America has a culture of gun violence that goes back to the Westward Expansion era of the late 19th century when the settlers with the army’s help cleared out the Indians from their land and forced them into reservations to make room for mining, commercial agriculture, railroads, etc. Nowhere on earth is gun violence celebrated more in the popular culture than in America. Motion pictures and TV shows are predominantly about gun violence as are comic books, video games, and novels.
As much as the US prides itself as a law-and-order society it has a long history of celebrating the outlaw culture of gun violence and romanticizing those who live by the gun whether cops or mobsters. Despite mass shootings in schools, shopping centers, and other public places carried out in some instances by mental ill individuals, the national psychology of gun violence is dominated by a political climate the supports the right to own guns as a gesture of patriotism and identity, setting aside all other considerations.
Chicago Gun Violence and the Police State
“What’s going on in Chicago?” asked Trump rhetorically following with the police-state suggestion of sending federal reinforcements to crush the violence that has dominated in low-income neighborhoods. A recent wave of violent crime in Chicago has captured the attention of the national political debate with Republican President Donald Trump proposing to deal with the problem by reinforcing the city policy force with a federal force. Interestingly, he proposed sending US feds to Mexico to deal with its drug-related crime there as though Mexico is a colony of the US. Without addressing the causes of the problem because that would expose the structural flaws, the predictable solution is to meet street violence with greater police enforcement and punitive measures than already exist, thus exacerbating the vicious cycle in Chicago land of Al Capone and some of the most notorious historic links between organized crime and local politicians, police, and judges. The irony regarding the police-state solution is that it has been in effect for more than two decades, but violent crime actually kept rising sharply during that period.
In February 2015, The Guardian published stories about the connection between the Chicago police department “black site” at Homan Square and the Guantanamo prison where terror suspects have been kept as political prisoners without ever been charged. An interrogation facility where prisoners were denied due process and subjected to torture, Homan Square operated secretly but its inmates were not jihadist suspects but local minorities. The mainstream media in Chicago and across the US largely ignored these revelations, giving them very little coverage because they exposed the de facto police state and its shortcomings, as well as flagrant human rights and civil rights violations. It is worth noting that the democratic mayors of Chicago collaborated with both Republican and Democrat US administrations in operating this facility, defending it in the name of “national security”. The Homan Square case illustrates the inexorably link between structural violence and behavioral and how the state violates it own laws – committing crimes and exempts itself from the law. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/homan-square
There is no doubt, that Chicago has a violent crime problem. Scholarly studies attribute the causes of crime to poverty, racism, and an institutional violence that reinforces individual violence. People have been alarmed by the estimated 4331 shooting victims in Chicago and the government and media constantly reinforce the assumption that criminal activity is an innate trait that must be dealt with mass incarceration and deadly force. An estimated 75% of those killed are black and 71% of those doing the killing are also black. Deaths by shooting are at 83.4%, with 90% of the victims male and young in a city that has a black population of just 33% according to the census of 2010. http://www.intellectualtakeout.org/blog/chicago-75-murdered-are-black-71-murderers-are-black
Chicago homicides are the largest in the US, reaching their historically high levels in 2016. Studies on Chicago crime point to certain common characteristics we see with crime in the inner city throughout America, namely, drugs, gangs and endemic poverty from one generation to the next linked invariably to minorities permanently marginalized by the institutional structure. Historically, the city spends the lowest percentage of taxpayer money in minority neighborhoods for schools, parks and recreational facilities, road maintenance, sanitation, and community development.
Above all, the absence of job opportunities and low wages, to say nothing of substandard housing with prison-like bars on doors and windows is reminiscent of an impoverished Third World country; that is, until one drives just a few miles to the east and north where multi-million dollar condos line Michigan Avenue by the lake. The police are there to protect the rich from the poor whose neighborhoods are gang-infested owing to poverty and the breakdown of the family on the south side and the west side that have not changed ever since the Johnson administration constructed the so-called ‘projects’ to concentrate blacks into these reservations of chronic poverty.
Symptomatic of poverty and no hope for the future, the rise in gang and drug activity has been accompanied by a rise in illegal guns. Although Chicago’s homicide rate is not that much higher than in New York, when guns aren’t involved, gun violence in Chicago stands out in comparison to the rest of the nation. In theory at least, Chicago has strict gun laws. However, in 2010 federal courts struck down the city’s ban on handgun ownership, and in 2014 courts struck down a ban on gun sales. Of course, one could easily drive to nearby East Chicago, Gary and South Bend (all on the FBI highest crime areas in Indiana) to purchase a gun. http://abcnews.go.com/US/chicagos-control-violence-produces-762-homicides-2016/story?id=44402951; https://www.roadsnacks.net/most-dangerous-cities-in-indiana/
The Chicago violent crime case very clearly illustrates that public policy creates the endless cycle of poverty and violence. Contrary to Trump’s simplistic police-state approach to this complex problem, sending federal agents to Chicago’s south side and west side at a huge cost to the taxpayer instead of beginning to address structural problems will only increase violent crime long term even if it contains it short-term. The open society claiming to be a ‘democracy’ and preaching freedom to the rest of the world would suffer another blow by the police state methods. The only option for Chicago is to start addressing root causes of the problem and work out long term plan so that the next generations will not suffer as the ones before them. Because the neoliberals and militarists drive US policies, I fear that things in Chicago will remain the same if not become much worse.
Does “Identity Politics” help advance or hinder the gun control?
The politics surrounding gun regulation is an integral part of identity politics, both rightwing “macho politics” mostly in rural and semi-rural areas, and bourgeois liberal politics appealing predominantly to suburban housewives and the educated urban professionals. Although police officers have a history of killing black and Hispanic youth, Democrats embracing identity politics advocate for the minority community in isolation of the larger social order and within a socially unjust system, instead of seeing the issues from a class perspective. After all, it is the poor minorities not the wealthy blacks and Hispanics who have more in common with their white counterparts of the same class than they do with members of their ethnic communities.
Precisely because politicians, the media, the gun lobby and advocates on both sides have relegated this issue to identity politics of conservatives and liberals, it has failed to mobilize support of the overwhelming majority who see the issue more from an ideological and cultural perspective and less from a class one. No matter the very high rate of gun violence in America vs. every other developed nation, the gun advocates will defend gun ownership as a matter of identity and patriotism. However, there are even progressives who believe that gun regulation goes against the spirit of Jeffersonian democracy in so far as federal regulation supersedes the power at the state and local level. In short, there is a false assumption is that states’ power and local power equals grassroots power that the central government must never usurp. Because of identity politics, gun control advocates accept the assumptions of their opponents and never address the issue of behavioral gun violence as symptomatic of structural violence and societal inequality. This weakens the gun control group that has been relegated to just another Democrat interest group trampling of the rights of people exercising the Second Amendment and the rights of states.
Correlation of American Militarism and Domestic Gun Violence Culture
If structural violence leads to individual behavioral violence, then the solution can only be structural change rather than isolating cause from symptom or confusing the latter for the former and subordinating the larger issue to bourgeois identity politics intended to placate those concerned about gun violence. A very vivid case of transformation policy defaulted to unconventional warfare acts against the US is that of the tragic and reprehensible attack on the US on September 11, 2001. Nine days after 9/11, President Bush in an address to the Joint Session of Congress tried to explain why there was an attack on US soil by jihadists. “They hate our freedoms — our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-wallechinsky/why-do-they-hate-us_2_b_957277.html
Is there any empirical evidence that radicalized Muslims engage in unconventional war against the US mostly in the middle do so because of what Bush stated? Or is it because the US has a long history of overt and covert military operations in the Middle East to the detriment of the people in the region? Not just its massive military, economic and political support of Israel against Palestinians and various wars and covert operations against Arabs since the 1940s, but the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and military occupation of Pakistan simply proved the widespread perception that Muslims like the rest of the world detests US militarism for destabilizing their countries and denying them national sovereignty. How is a Muslim to interpret Trump’s statement about “while we were there (Iraq), we should have taken their oil”, a flagrant violation of international law that exposes the real intentions of US militarism.
In contrast to assumptions about the driving motivation of Muslims that many American politicians, the media, and well-paid think tank and academics entertain, according to public opinion polls Muslims see the US as a government denying their national sovereignty, diluting their religious identity and value system, and collaborating with the corrupt authoritarian rulers to exploit the natural resources as the key problems in the relationship. In a public opinion poll of Muslims around the world, 66% view Americans as violent, 64% as greedy, and 68% as selfish, traits inconsistent with Islam and hardly virtues to emulate. There is nothing in the poll to indicate any envy for American freedoms, because Muslims like European Christians are aware of how the US treats minorities and the poor. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/07/22/muslims-and-islam-key-findings-in-the-u-s-and-around-the-world/
The flagrant hypocrisy of the US political elites and the media invoking the doctrine of “Exceptionalism” is hardly lost on Muslims any more than it is on Australian or Canadian Christians. As the world’s largest military and police power, the US political and bureaucratic system reflects a violence-oriented ideological, political and cultural orientation. If we consider that Switzerland has a very high percentage of gun ownership, yet, it is one of the world’s lowest rates of gun violence, then how do we explain that gun ownership alone does not necessarily lead to gun violence?
Unlike the US immersed in a militaristic-police state culture, Switzerland has no military, and its police force is bound to protect civil liberties of all people within the boundaries of the law without resorting to violent force. Some could argue that the absence of structural violence in Switzerland translates into a low rate of behavioral violence because it is so small and does not have military operations around the world as does the US. But how does one explain that Canada is much closer to the Swiss model than the US and that Canadians like Australians and Britons view the US as a very violent society?
During the Obama administration, it was easier to contain popular outrage in minority communities. That will not be as easy with an administration ideologically right wing, committed to police-state and militaristic solutions and very unpopular in minority communities. Public opinion polls indicate the economy, good paying jobs and living standards is the number one concern of Americans. Yet, on 6 February 2017, Trump chastised the media for not focusing enough on terrorism by providing a list that included some well-covered terrorist acts and some fictitious ones as part of the “alternative truth” people have come to expect from the new president. To distract from the reality of false promises he made regarding improving living standards and weakening both the political establishment in Washington and the economic establishment on Wall Street, Trump knows he can only weaken the middle class and workers that voted for him because he will be providing more tax breaks and corporate subsidies for the rich. Therefore, terrorism and foreign enemies abroad and crime at home are very convenient vehicles of social conformity as they were throughout the Cold War for all administrations trying to keep people loyal to the flag and distracted from the issues pertaining to everything from improved living standards to health and education.
The government cannot strengthen the capitalist class and have an eroding middle class and working class unless it becomes more militaristic abroad and adopt more police state methods at home. This will translate into more structural violence that would raise street violence and popular dissent at all levels, such that the US has not seen since the Nixon administration. America’s reaction to its relative decline in the world has been and it continue to be with more militarism abroad and police-state methods at home which is a prescription for taking closer steps toward authoritarianism. This regardless if it is under a brash tough-talking Trump administration or one that employs bourgeois liberal rhetoric with a smile while it deploys drones abroad and militarizes the police at home as was the case under Obama.
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By Jon Kofas.
Comments Off on Divided America: Root Causes and the Road Ahead
By Jon Kofas.
There is a great deal of continuity in Russian history from the reign of Peter the Great until the present. There was clear discontinuity during the Bolshevik Revolution and the brief period when V. I. Lenin was in power, but then the USSR reverted to some very traditional practices in domestic and especially foreign affairs. Just as Tsars Peter the Great and Catherine the Great endeavored to modernize the country economically in order to strengthen it militarily so it would be competitive with Western Europe, so did 20th century Soviet leaders use economic modernization as a means of military strength rather than pursuing greater social justice.
Naturally, the system collapsed under its own weight because it became corrupt and inefficient serving the few in the party bureaucracy to the detriment of the many. When Mikhail Gorbachev realized that another modernization attempt entailed scrapping the old Soviet system and its very expensive foreign policy of supporting satellites (spheres of influence), he unleashed a new era of an oligarchic crony capitalist system that the West welcomed as a triumph over the ashes of Communism. Because Russia does not have the tradition of Western European Enlightenment era bourgeois liberal tradition, its political economy was merely another layer upon others already there with more similarities of the Tsarist and Soviet past than with liberal-bourgeois democratic West.
In foreign affairs, Tsarist Russia had been on the defensive throughout the 19th century largely because Western Europe, especially Great Britain and France, had a policy of contained as manifested in the Crimean War (1854-56). At the same time, Tsarist Russia was financially beholden to Western banks and it was as economically dependent on and exploited by the West as Latin America by the US. The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and the Putin nationalist-authoritarian regime of the early 21st century represent an attempt to assert greater Russian autonomy and lessen dependence on the West while claiming the traditional spheres of influence around their borders. The obstacle to such goals by the Kremlin has been Western imperialist policy as much under the Tsars and Soviet era as in the 21st century under the authoritarian—nationalist capitalist political economy.
Against the historical record of the Russian Empire and the USSR, one can easily understand contemporary Russian foreign policy, especially if we consider that the breakup of the Soviet bloc and ensuing NATO expansion has entailed a much weakened Russian Federation. In the geopolitical arena where Moscow feels the greatest pressure, the policy of encirclement by the US and its European partners is at the core of the renewed East-West confrontation, rather than Russia annexing Crimea (March 2014) and using its role as protector of the ethnic Russian minority in the Ukraine since 2013.
Russia has taken advantage of the relative decline of the US as a superpower at a time that China has been rising as the world’s preeminent economic power invariably siding with Russia not just to preserve the balance of power in Eurasia but also in the Middle East. If China had been on the side on the US and NATO on foreign policy issues impacting everything from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Iran and Syria, then Russia would have been substantially weakened in its efforts to insist on preserving or even expanding its historic spheres of influence in Eurasia and the Middle East. The shifting global balance of power from the West to East Asia has actually created power vacuum that Moscow filled, taking advantage of the incalculable contradictions in US foreign policy – in general opposing jihadists, while selectively and indirectly supporting them as in the cases of Libya, Yemen and Syria. These contradictions that entail instability do not serve Chinese interests as the government in Beijing has made abundantly clear as it seeks stability around the world to expand its economic empire. China is hardly interested in strengthening Russia, but only using it as a counterweight of the imperialist West that seeks to destabilize because it sees this course of action as its only option to retain its global supremacy.
Taking advantage of the global destabilizing role of the US and its contradictory foreign policy, Russia took limited risks both with regard to Ukraine and Syria to assert itself as a regional power with rights to spheres of influence. This is at the core of the renewed Russian-American renewed confrontation and the propaganda by both sides over cyber wars. According to US intelligence services, in 2016 Russia without question broke into US Democrat Party computers and manipulated the American people when it came to choosing between presidential candidates in 2016. Although it WIKILEAKS released hacked emails during the last three months of the presidential campaign of 2016, and although Julian Assange denied securing information from the Russians, the US maintained that the source was Russia. For its part, the Kremlin asked for proof that it is behind the hacking, although it hardly concealed its enthusiasm for the defeat of the Democrat Party in the presidential and congressional elections.
Russia’s role in Syria where the US was eliminated as a player in the negotiations of cease-fire and post-civil war plans could be one reason for the Obama administration insisting that the Kremlin was responsible for hacking which no one seriously believes changed the outcome of the presidential or congressional races. After all, the idea that an unemployed auto worker in Ohio voted for the Republican candidate because of Kremlin influence is too absurd to defend even for the most enthusiastic apologist of the renewed Cold War.
Another reason that Russia made a convenient target was the challenge of Obama and the Clintons for control of the Democratic National Committee against those supporting Senator Bernie Sanders fighting for the party’s future. It could also be a naked attempt to weaken the incoming Trump administration that has individuals with close financial ties to Russia and seems more interested in targeting China as the new enemy than Russia. It is also the case that US is so institutionally immersed in anti-Russia propaganda going back to the Wilson administration (Bolshevik Revolution of 1917) that Russia always makes such an easy target. After all, China can only be alienated up to a point because of the immense US dependence on Beijing to buy government bonds and trade.
Moreover, the world economy’s fate is just as dependent, if not more so, on China than on the US. Finally, Russia makes a convenient distraction because of the reality of decline not just in the economy but of the middle class and democracy in a country that preaches freedom and democracy to the rest of the world. If Russia is blamed for all of America’s problems, then there is no need to look at home for root causes for the twilight of bourgeois democracy. Whereas Trump wants to blame jihadists, Mexican illegal workers, China’s supposedly unfair trade practices, and globalization that takes jobs out of the US, the Democrats and establishment Republicans see Russia as a weaker and easier target to demonize.
Did Russia manipulate “American democracy”? On the one hand, there was Trump the billionaire authoritarian charlatan who uses TWITTER obsessively even before taking office just to make his views known on everything from refusal to de-link himself from his business interests to the need for more nuclear weapons and engaging in trade war with China. On the other hand, there was Clinton the Cold War Democrat with a long documented history of corruption and questionable ties to Wall Street and wealthy foreign businesses and governments. She made it clear that she would become president on behalf of ‘identity politics’ rather than class-based politics that Bernie Sanders pursued. No “basket of deplorable” working class stiffs who lack the education and refinement to vote for a Wall Street neoliberal like her need bother voting because the Republican populist Messiah had hypnotized them with promises of making America great again.
Amid such stellar ‘democratic’ choices, both candidates chosen and backed by the elites, the voters were asked to choose between a traditional Cold War neoliberal and an authoritarian populist promising even more tax breaks for the wealthy and more deregulation. Neither candidate was committed to social justice, equality and civil rights. Instead, they debated lifestyle issues as though they are the core concerns of the majority chasing the increasingly costly American Dream. They also debated the role of Russian computer hacking as catalytic to the electoral process, with Trump casting doubt on the legitimacy of the intelligence services as non-political entities, while some Republicans and all Democrats castigating the Kremlin for hacking into US computers.
The Obama administration, the media and well paid analysts became anxious to drive across the point that American democratic society is in sharp contrast to Russian society where authoritarian politics and crony capitalism prevail. Unlike authoritarian crony-capitalist Russia, democratic US has never meddled in foreign elections; it has never tried to overthrow governments using the armed forces, CIA counterinsurgency operations, or any other means ranging from US multinational corporations and US government spending funds to help elect a favorite candidates. Nor has the US ever engaged in foreign surveillance through the NSA and CIA with the intention of manipulation foreign elections. In this oasis of democracy, the aggressive Russian bear, reverting to its previous Communist tactics, dared to disturb the political harmony by pointing out the occasional wart on the otherwise refined façade of the US.
To convince the American people and the world that Russia is the arch enemy of the entire world because it breaks into computers of other countries, in sharp contrast with the non-interference policy of the US that has never dreamed of lowering itself to such practices, various unnamed US intelligence agencies provided news organizations, including the Washington Post, with evidence that Russia hacked the Burlington Electric Company’s main computer which controls the power grid. Of course, the company in Vermont denied that was the case, announcing that a laptop was infected but it was not linked to a mainframe.
At least the corporate media did its duty reporting the information as the government passed on to protect citizens from the Russian menace, even if that information lacked any basis in truth. If there were those still unconvinced of Russia engaging in an act of war by revealing Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s emails among others, then the US government, corporate media and corporate sponsors have made available well paid analysts, journalists, and “experts” to convince the entire world that they are all in danger of manipulation by Russia. A number of European countries preemptively announced that they too could be targets. In order for world to keep its focus on Russia, here are just some of the activities the US has planned.
1. 24/7 News and analysis coverage of “America Held Hostage by Russian Hackers”. Although hard evidence cannot be provided because it is simply too sensitive and will compromise sources, it is the duty of every God-fearing American or citizen of any Western nation to accept everything government and corporate media dish out without requiring empirical proof just as you require no proof that God exists.
2. There will be special TV and radio programs of how “The Russians did it and Must be Punished for it”. This special coverage will be repeated ad-nauseam to convince skeptics and Trump supporters that Russia, not the backing of the elements of the corporate media (FOX NEWS), billionaires, and populists frustrated with the establishment elected Trump. We know this to be an incontrovertible fact and we must punish the Commie Russians with more sanctions until there is nothing left to sanction including their fine caviar and vodka.
3. TV movie of the week and perhaps a series to follow called “Armageddon: The Showdown with Russia”. This will allow the viewer to realize that the reason for lower middle class and working class living standards has nothing to do with the political economy resulting in capital concentration. No, the real enemy is Russia and that’s why the minimum wage in Omaha is not rising, that’s why housing is unaffordable for about one-third of the population, that’s why college debt is $1.3 trillion, that’s why credit card debt is at $850 billion and auto loans $1.4 trillion. It’s all Russian hacking to blame and it is your patriotic duty to accept it.
4. A Sondheim Broadway musical production of: “It’s Springtime for Trump and Putin: Hackers Can’t Fool the CIA and NSA!” If you enjoyed Mel Brooks’ “It’s Springtime for Hitler”, you will simply be enthralled by the Putin-Trump love story with the CIA and NSA just one step behind them singing melodious medleys for Hilary and Obama in “E Flat minor”, as the most comfortable note to sing in for the minority political party.
5. “Russian Hackers Must be Destroyed Now!” video game now available with a new app for either your cell phone or laptop. If you enjoy such wonderful games as “Full Spectrum Warrior” “Destroy the World” and others some used to train soldiers, we have a great one that will keep you and the whole family entrained while wanting to kill every Russian until they admit they did the hacking.
6. Merchandizing of everything from costumes to bumper stickers reading “Russia did it and we Know it” now available on AMAZON and other online retailers. By displaying this merchandise, you have the opportunity to let your friends, neighbors, and co-workers know how you really feel about that Commie Russia enemy of ours hiding behind Wikileaks, another Commie front organization pretending to do honest journalistic work. Remember part of the proceeds will go to fund the good deeds of the Democratic National Convention against rebel types like Bernie Sanders and the defunct New Deal wing of the party.
7. “Anti-Russia Hacking Parades and County Fairs” soon coming to your town or near you. These parades will be featuring not just Cold War Democrats and Republicans but a media circus sponsored by your friendly defense contractor whose patriotism can only be measured by cost overruns for the latest fighter jets. Soon there will be anti-Russian hacking parades at county fairs so people can enjoy shooting a full size doll of Putin while enjoying a corn dog and a Bud. For every successful hit of the Putin doll, the Cold War Democrats and Republicans will score another point with the public proving they are there to protect you from our eternal enemy.
8. Comic strips to run in all major newspapers and magazines entitled: “Do your Duty and Report Russian Hackers Near You.” Now the whole family can join in the fun by reporting to the FBI any neighbor or co-worker that doubts Russian hacking, or even a friend or relative that has just become a bit too annoying. This is the chance for all patriotic Americans to prove they are not US intelligence skeptics that is tantamount to being Russian internet trolls.
9. For skeptics who insist on hard evidence, CNN and other corporate media giants will make available a video game entitled “Can We Trust the Russians?” This entertaining video game approximates how Russian hacking was actually carried out in the world of virtual reality. Without revealing the identity of any US operatives conducting their own covert operations against “The Enemy”, this video game will convince you once and for all it was our eternal Cold War enemy behind all the calamities that have befallen upon us, including the lead poisoning in Flint Michigan.
10. In light of the US insistence that the Kremlin deliberately hacked into US Democratic Party and Podesta’s computers with the aim of undermining American democracy, the US government is announcing the creation of a new agency: “Anti-Russia and anti-Wikileaks Hacking Intelligence Network; aka Putin and Assange Are Undermining our Perfect Society by pointing out our imperfections.” The agency will track our enemies foreign and domestic, and God only knows there are a lot of them. If anyone does not believe us, then Homeland Security will declare them traitors of democracy to be blacklisted and in extreme cases face deportation regardless of their citizenship status.
There are fundamental policy considerations at work that go to the heart of America’s inability to live without demonizing its former Cold War rival. There are ideological, political, geopolitical, economic, cultural and institutional issues involved that demand a continued Russian-American confrontation. Even if there is amelioration of US-Russian relations by the Trump administration, in order to weaken or slow down China’s global ascendancy, the US will find it difficult to let go of its Cold War rival. In a future essay, I will analyze the highly politicized intelligence both rooted in fact and manufactured. There are obvious benefits to the financial and political elites for perpetuating the Cold War paradigm with Russia as the new old enemy and intelligence is only one dimension of this very complex issue. Unless the US decides what limits it needs to place on its own global reach and what perimeters it and its allies must place on Russian spheres of influence, the absurdity of the current policy will continue.
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By Jon Kofas.
Introduction: Is the EU Integration Model Viable?
Alessandro di Battista, deputy of Italy’s Five Star Movement that helped to defeat the government’s Constitutional reform proposal in December 2016, has hinted that voters decide a possible exit from the euro-zone during the next election for prime minister. This may or may not take place, but Italy remains a possible candidate for exiting the euro. This hardly comes as a surprise after the referendum revealed a decidedly anti-EU sentiment amid the banking crisis and economic stagnation the country is suffering.
Is the EU on the eve of disintegrating, or can it survive without England and Italy with other countries to follow? Does it really make much difference if it dissolves, considering that countries will forge bilateral and multilateral trade, investment, environmental and other agreements? Is the current EU integration model viable for all its members or merely for Germany enjoying economic hegemony over the euro-zone?
Shortly after the deep recession that started with the subprime mortgage bubble in the US in 2008 that eventually spread around the world, the EU began to transform in significant ways. Just about everyone was so focused on the immediacy of the recession that there was no focus on the transformation of the integration model. The integration model under which the EU was founded changed to reflect the sharp division between the hegemonic core members led by Germany and France vs. the weaker periphery ones in Southern and Eastern Europe. Largely because the financial sector needed to absorb capital otherwise going to the middle classes and workers, the state became the conduit for altering the integration model by using the common currency, EU rules on GDP-to-debt ratio as a means of limiting public spending, loans and subsidies, all as leverage to enforce neoliberal policies and preserve the hard currency. The result was middle class living standards began to decline along with the prospects for upward social mobility as reflected in high youth unemployment, including college graduates, as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) noted. https://data.oecd.org/unemp/youth-unemployment-rate.htm
Founded on the inter-dependent integration model, the EU led by Germany adopted the patron-client model once the great recession began to impact the banks requiring massive capital injections. Intended to raise GDP and living standards in the periphery countries that joined the euro-zone, the inter-dependent integration model was replaced with the patron-client model on which NAFTA and other US-dominated Inter-American trading blocs are based. The goal was for the hegemonic country to capture greater market share under low tariffs and low asset values ranging from labor costs to raw materials.
Under the aegis of Germany, the EU adopted the patron-client model in order to remain competitive on a world scale by transferring capital from the periphery to the core through austerity measures as well as neoliberal policies. These measures entailed the considerable downsizing of the public sector that sold public assets to corporations, lower wages and benefits, deregulated market in everything from pharmacies to transportation, lower taxes and loopholes for big business while small businesses found it more difficult to compete because their taxes and costs of doing business were higher.
Because it imposed on its members budgetary deficit restraints as part of the neoliberal economic course, the EU forced its members to eliminate the state as an agent of stimulating growth in the periphery countries. There are many ironies in all this, but I will only mention two as glaring examples. First, privatizing public utilities and selling them off while eliminating public service jobs was self-serving for the core countries where the private companies were based.
Interestingly enough, France, for example, that had tried privatizing water, had such a bad experience that it reverted back to public control, given the issue was both of cost and health. Second, behind the change in the integration model and neoliberal policies were some of the most corrupt banks in the world, including Deutsche Bank which is still waiting to find out the amount of fine imposed by the US Justice Department – originally $14 billion, but still in negotiations for a reduction. These multinational corporations driving policy not just in the EU but across the world and backed by the IMF and World Bank brought immense pressure on the periphery to adopt austerity measures that further wrecked fragile economies and made them more vulnerable to foreign economic dominance.
The illegal and fraudulent practices of banks included not only deceptive practices in residential mortgages and fixing rates, but money laundering, tax avoidance and terrorism financing, all of which the EU Commission has admitted drained capital from state treasuries and undermined the economies. The “Panama Papers” of the law firm Mossack-Fonseca revealed that major banks including many in the EU were deeply involved in illegal activities including transferring funds into offshore companies where money is hidden from tax authority. People are well aware that tax evasion by the wealthy entails that the tax burden falls disproportionately on the middle and lower classes. The EU, member governments, and the financial elites expected the average citizen to bail out the banks in the aftermath of the recession in 2008, never raising the option of fair and shared sacrifice.
Concurrent with the change in integration models was the very clear and sharp decline in the social welfare state and rise in corporate welfare and neo-liberal policies that transferred income from small businesses and professionals that make up the middle class. Governments also launched an assault on labor unions and workers with the goal of exacting concessions on wages and benefits, diluting collective bargaining and strike laws, and imposing longer working hours. The argument was that workers were to blame for the recession because they enjoy generous wages and benefits. By embracing anti-labor and anti-middle class policies, governments of conservative, centrist, and Socialist parties across Europe began to lose credibility that the social contract at the national and regional levels was working for the benefit of all people. For their part, the EU, member governments and its apologist argued that downsizing the social welfare state and lowering living standards from the broader working and middle classes was necessary to remain competitive with East Asia where wages were low.
Globalization under neo-liberal policies resulted in a sociopolitical reaction across Europe and polarized the electorate looking for alternatives to the mainstream parties. However, the ultra right wing was far more serious in opposing the EU than the non-Communist left running on reformist platform but invariably co-opted by the neoliberal establishment. Italy’s referendum defeated by both the reformist left and the extreme right was the latest example of voters rejecting the government’s anti-labor neoliberal corporate welfare policies intended to concentrate capital in the name of ‘saving the ailing banks’ while calling it ‘reform’ as though it is beneficial for the majority of the people.
Italy’s Referendum and its Symbolic Significance for the EU
On 4 December 2016, Italian voters dealt a major symbolic blow to neoliberal-corporate welfare policies that the EU has been imposing across the continent since the start of the great recession in 2008. Voters rejected Prime Minister Mateo Renzi’s proposals for a stronger executive and a weaker legislative branch intended to push through neoliberal and austerity reforms that large banks and corporations demanded at the expense of smaller businesses, the middle class, and workers whose living standards have been on a steady decline since 1994 and accelerated after 2009. In 2006, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi tried a similar reform of the constitution of 1948 but he did not have any better luck than Renzi ten years later. The goal was a stronger executive to pass legislation that would benefit big capital within the EU.
With the decline of the middle class came lower living standards for workers and higher poverty rates, with more young educated Italians leaving their country for a better job; a process that will accelerate in the coming years regardless of whether Italy stays or leaves the EU. Italy is the Euro-zone’s fourth largest economy and the world’s eighth largest in nominal GDP along with Brazil. Interestingly enough, like Brazil, Italy has major structural problems. Its rising public debt is at 133% of GDP, but without the large informal economy estimated at $233 billion in 2014, debt to GDP ratio is closer to 150%. This is accompanied by unemployment of 11.6 percent, or three times higher than Germany’s but half of what Greece and Spain. Unlike Greece which has no industrial sector of any consequence and relies heavily on imports while suffering from unsustainable public debt and high chronic unemployment and underemployment, Italy has a solid industrial sector that offers some hope for its massive public debt problem and banking crisis.
To address both the public debt and banking crisis, Renzi, backed by finance and corporate capitalists as well as the entire weight of the EU establishment, proposed a corporate welfare scheme to transfer income from the middle and lower echelons of society to the banks and corporations. This was intended to keep the banks under private control by injecting public funds, rather than nationalize them. The prime candidate for nationalization is Banca Monte dei Paschi that has failed stress tests and it has considerable international links that could have consequences for the entire banking industry in Europe. Recapitalization and ridding itself of bad loans required more time than the ECB was willing to permit the bank to raise an estimated at 5 billion euros.
That the ECB rejected Monte Paschi request for state bailout just a five days after the referendum meant inevitable losses for shareholders and bondholders as well as Italian taxpayers. Of course the prospect for some EU assistance remained a possibility because of the domino effect fear across the EU. Against this background, if the US Justice Department imposes a heavy fine ($14 billion) on Deutsche Bank it would mean the only way to save that bank would be for the German government to bail it out and that would then set off another round of crises across the EU.
The political attempt to resolve Italy’s banking crisis suffered a temporary setback because the anti-austerity, anti-EU Five Star Movement opposed Renzi’s proposals along with the nationalist right wing xenophobic ‘Lega Nord’ (Northern League). For different reasons, all political parties opposed Renzi’s constitutional reform proposal, but it was the populists of the left and the right claiming victory over the neoliberals who represent international finance capital and the multinational corporations in Italy and in Europe. It should be kept in mind that former prime minister and billionaire Silvio Berlusconi, who in 2006 tried the same constitutional reform tactic as Renzi, sided with the Lega Nord against Renzi. This illustrates that not all Italian capitalists favored existing EU policies and the integration model, just as not all British capitalists favored remaining in the EU that they perceived as German-dominated.
Renzi announced his resignation because it was a clear defeat of his policies and a resounding rejection of the disastrous road that southern Europe has been following under the aegis of EU and IMF since 2010. Nevertheless, in the days after the vote, EU stock markets rose sharply and the euro did not lose its value as a reserve currency as the neoliberals had been warning to scare voters into supporting Renzi’s policies. Short-term stock market speculation aside, the reality of Italy’s GDP growth close to zero, youth unemployment at 40% right behind Spain and Greece, and an economy about the same size as in 2000 hardly speaks well for Italy’s progress under the aegis of the EU.
There are many dimensions to the Italian vote. I would like to focus on the following.
1. Why did Renzi call for the referendum?
By substantially reducing the size of the senate, it would be easier for the executive to pass ‘austerity and neoliberal reforms’ through the Chamber of Deputies. The changes would entail hastening the process of tax and labor reform that would in effect weaken labor and transfer income from the broader social classes to the banks and larger corporations. Italian banks carry a disproportionate number of unserviceable loans – roughly one-third of EU’s bad loans for an economy inexorably linked to the rest of the EU and suffering a growing public debt.
Because the investment in Italian banks goes beyond the country’s borders, the banking crisis poses a major risk to financial stability in the EU unless reforms are enacted that would in essence transfer funds to strengthen the banks at the expense of the social welfare state and the working class. The insolvency of the Italian banking system will drag down with it the EU banking system under the ‘contagion syndrome’ that links the EU financial system, unless Germany permits the EU to inject billions to save the banks thus further driving down the value of the euro.
2. Why were public opinion polls wrong as they were in the case of the UK referendum and the US presidential election?
By now people across the entire Western World cannot take seriously public opinion polls because in 2016 in three different countries the corporate media has been wrong about election results. First, the case of BREXIT clearly showed that public opinion polls were either manufactured or the polling companies deliberately preselected a targeted audience for their questionnaires, so that they could achieve the desired result and influence the undecided voters to join the fictitious majority. More or less the exact same thing took place in the US, although one could argue that Clinton won the popular vote and still lost the Electoral College.
Italy represents the third case in 2016 where public opinion polls were wrong leaving people to wonder if this was part of a pattern reflecting the interests of corporations backing a certain politician, political party or policy. It is one thing for polls to be off by the typical margin of error (3 to 5%) and another to be completely off the charts as in the case of BREXIT, USA, and Italy. If indeed they conducted honest polling, then one would think that they would be reconsidering the flawed method of research. However, it is hardly coincidence that corporate public opinion polls are not intended to reflect how people will vote but to influence the result. In short, polls have lost credibility as much as the biased corporate media that will go to great lengths to mold public opinion in support of neoliberal and corporate welfare policies as the panacea for the masses.
3. Was the Italian referendum a ‘personal issue’ and ‘insignificant’ as many European officials and corporate CEO’s contended?
There were also those who argued that the vote reflected societal shifts within the country about national sovereignty and the EU’s role in hindering growth and development. It was amazing to watch various European TV programs where Italian and European corporate representatives and EU officials argued that the vote meant essentially nothing and ‘reforms’ (anti-labor, neoliberal and corporate welfare) must continue as though the peoples’ vote was a futile exercise. Some argued that Italians did not vote to leave the EU as did their British counterparts in summer 2016.
Others insisted that the vote was meaningless because it was all about personalities, namely Renzi vs. Giuseppe “Beppe” Grillo of the Five Star Movement and Silvio Berlusconi representing the populist right wing. Still others noted that this vote simply meant a more flexible policy toward the Italian banks by the European Central Bank. Some noted that the vote is not as serious because populists on the center left led by Beppe Grillo could never come together with the rightist populists of the Northern League. Therefore, the era of coalition government in Italy simply means a weak state that permits neoliberal and corporate welfare policies to prevail.
4. Did the Italian referendum weaken the EU and the neoliberal and globalization course or was it a brief pause until the establishment political forces with the backing of big capital mobilize for a new strategy of co-opting both the League of the North and the Five Star Movement?
Russian politicians hailed the vote in Italy’s referendum as a blow to EU unity, but that may have been wishful thinking because the blow was not to the head of the EU integration model. Nevertheless, no matter how much lipstick and makeup EU apologists of globalization and neoliberal policies try to apply on this little pig, it is still a pig and voters across Europe see it as such. This is the reason that a percentage of them turned to populism on the right or the left, leaving an increasingly weaker centrist arena to become more right wing by embracing xenophobia and racism. In short, this is not just a matter of the banking crisis but a crisis in bourgeois democracy.
5. Do the Italian referendum, the US election of Trump, and UK exodus from the EU indicate a rising tide of right wing populism undermining globalization and neoliberal policies?
It is indeed possible that we could see increased support for economic nationalist measures across the EU if the US goes that route as Trump has indicated. However, the structural course of globalization, neoliberal policies and corporate welfare are so deeply grounded in the political economy that it will be very difficult to reverse course. The symbolism of right wing populism is actually more important in so far as periphery EU countries may opt to follow this path that Trump and Putin hail as the new trend. Because the structure of the economy will remain essentially the same in the near term, living standards for workers and middle class will not improve and people will keep moving away from the centrist parties and toward the left or the xenophobic right, a phenomenon not just in Italy but across Europe.
As long as the EU represented the possibility of higher living standards and a higher quality life, people regarded integration in appositive light. Once the evidence began to show very clearly that the EU was a mechanism for the hegemony of big capital at the expense of the rest of society, the EU’s appeal began to decline. This manifested itself in right wing populism and ultra-nationalism across the continent, especially in Eastern Europe but also in France and Great Britain. Although Communist and non-Communist leftist political parties have expressed adamant opposition to globalization, neoliberal policies, and the patron-client integration model, political momentum rests with the right wing that has been riding the populist wave across Europe.
Imminent Demise or Temporary Setback for the EU?
Contrary to many analysts warning of Italy sending the EU into chaos if it voted against Renzi’s proposed reforms, Italy’s prospects after the vote are about the same after the referendum as before. Considering that the banking crisis of Italy can be dealt within the EU by an injection of both European Central Bank and Italian government capital combined with private and consortium investment, stability is possible although at a heavy cost to taxpayers. Moreover, despite the referendum, neoliberal and corporate welfare policies at the expense of social welfare will continue in Italy as they have in Greece, Spain, Portugal and much of the EU since 2010.
Given the relative absence of inflation in the EU, and the European Central Bank’s projection that inflation will rise from 0.5% in 2016 to just under 2% by the end of the decade, the policy of monetarism (keeping a strong currency by tightly controlling the money supply) has been responsible for capital concentration, low jobs-creation climate, and income redistribution from the middle class and workers to the top ten percent of the wealthiest individuals across Europe.
Speculation by many academics, journalists, stock market analysts, and politicians that the EU is on its deathbed seems motivated more by ideological and political factors in some instances or trying to influence securities speculation in other cases. In most instances, people simply analyze headlines circulating around the mainstream media. This is not to suggest that the EU is not at its nadir since the Treaty of Rome in 1957, not that the EU is more stable after the Italian referendum than before. However, it is one thing to argue that the EU is indeed suffering a crisis, and it is entirely another matter to underestimate its resiliency because of hasty analysis or because analysts are paid by firms speculating on the euro and/or bonds and stocks, or for ideological and political reasons.
Contrary to alarmist rhetoric from people in different ideological camps, as the world’s wealthiest economic bloc with NATO backing up its political and economic global reach, the EU is not in imminent danger of disintegration. Despite setbacks it suffered in 2016 with the United Kingdom leaving, Italy in serious banking and public debt crisis, and Greece remaining in permanent austerity mode after six years of EU-IMF measures that have only made the economy much worse than it has been at any time in its post-military Junta era (1974-present), the EU can revive assuming Germany and France modify the patron-client model of integration and dilute corporate welfare and neoliberal policies that have wrecked the economies and undermined bourgeois democracy.
BREXIT was indeed a major blow to the regional economic bloc, but the UK was never part of the euro-zone and its economic role will continue with some modest modifications that will result in higher indirect taxes for the consumers. Considering the performance of the stock markets across Europe, including England since BREXIT, the alarmist rhetoric about UK leaving the EU now appears overblown and indeed politically motivated to persuade UK voters to stay. Not just biased media reporting, but biased public opinion polls proved that big capital was determine to go to great lengths in support of maintaining the integrity of the bloc. The barrage of EU threats against Britain were also revealing about the lengths to which big capital and its political backers will go to oppose any model of economic nationalism, even if that model continues with aspects of neoliberal and corporate welfare policies.
The Italian referendum was a major setback for multinational corporations, banks and neoliberal-corporate welfare advocates. However, it is a stretch to argue it signals the beginning of the end for the EU. The doomsday rhetoric about the consequences did not materialize immediately as the pro-EU forces claimed and the European Central Bank as well as central banks of individual member nations is prepared to support the regional bloc with injections of capital.
Because Italy’s banks need time to recapitalize and Moody’s rating agency changed Italy’s outlook from stable to negative, short-term stock and bond speculators influence the entire political landscape about EU’s dim prospects when combined with the reality of a rising anti-EU right wing xenophobic tide across Europe. The current ECB 80 billion euro a month of bond purchases continued until March 2017 and scaled back to 60 billion until December 2017 is intended to stimulate growth in a sluggish regional economy. Monetary policy is a major tool that keeps the regional bloc viable. Considering the modest GDP growth of the core members of the EU, combined with the stronger than expected revival of China’s economy in the second half of 2016, the world’s largest trading bloc will remain strong but still wobbly in the next five years.
Neither BREXIT nor Italy referendum will bring down the EU, but the glaring contradictions within the regional bloc will. One such contradiction is that members share a common currency and each member government must abide by certain fiscal policy restrictions despite the obvious uneven structure of the region’s economies. It defies rudimentary logic that import-dependent southern and Eastern EU members share the same hard currency as Germany that is a major industrial power on a world scale. This contradiction points to further problems that will only become worse under the current patron-client imperialist model which further strengthens the strongest members at the expense of the weaker ones.
Europe’s ‘periphery economies’ (Southern and Eastern Europe) cannot sustain long-term growth and be regionally or globally competitive under a hard currency, fiscal and trade restraints imposed by the EU intended to continue with neoliberal policies, and an integration model designed to strengthen the strongest members at the expense of the weaker ones. Nevertheless, the large companies and capitalists in the regional economies share common interests with their northwest EU counterparts and they enjoy considerable political influence in their respective countries’ political decision to stay in the EU.
Besides the scenarios under which the EU will dissolve revolve around the inescapable contradictions of the regional bloc, as I noted above, there is also the political decision of the larger members to end the bloc under pressure from national elites advocating greater national control of the economy and society. Unless Germany and France as the largest members and pillars of the bloc since the 1950s decide that it is time to end integration because their national economies would be better off, the EU will continue to exist until the next global recession.
Even if the EU dissolves after domestic and regional political and economic pressures because it will cease to serve the majority of the people, a new integration model of European trade-financial realignment will replace the existing one. Geography cannot change any more for Europe than for the Western Hemisphere. For the near future, there will be some policy modifications at the national level and by EU at the central level in Brussels to accommodate the rising tide of right wing populism and critics from the left demanding to save the social welfare state. It is inevitable that the pro-EU political parties would be able to mobilize support and win elections because they will move closer to the positions of their right wing populist political opponents.
Alarmist rhetoric is in long supply by political element on the extreme right because they espouse nationalism inseparable from xenophobia and racism. They see EU integration compromising their national sovereignty and they use the migration issue as a fear mongering tactic. Encouraged by the rising xenophobia amid the wave of Middle Eastern and North African migrants, Marine Le Pen of the French National Front and other ultra-nationalists across Europe has been riding the wave of anti-EU populism but with limited success as the elections in Austria showed in December 2016. The containment of the far right is partly due to the conservative parties adopting some of the right wing rhetoric and espousing the platform of the far right, especially talking tough about migrants, blaming largely non-white, non-Christian immigrants for all the problems facing the white Christian continent.
The transition from the EU inter-dependent model of integration to a patron-client imperialist model that Germany espouses will eventually precipitate the downfall of the EU from within as the regional bloc is the cause for massive wealth concentration and increased social and geographic inequality. Considering the widening gap between the few wealthy and the increasingly squeezed middle class and workers, there will be more social and political instability forcing people to choose between the populist right wing political camp and the varieties of center-left and left political parties.
There are many positive elements about European society that enrich it and make it unique in the entire world and permit it to make worthy contributions to its citizens and to the world. Those include the absence of capital punishment and respect for human rights, openness to global cultural influences, diversity of newspapers and political parties representing the entire political/ideological spectrum from the far right to the far left, identity with the nation-state and the EU, to mention just a few things that make EU members more democratic than many other advanced nations, including the US where authoritarianism has become mainstream and not just because of Trump who only reflected prevailing trends and took advantage of them to secure election to the presidency.
There are also very dreadful elements of European policies. Those include the expansion of NATO and huge defense budgets in the post-Cold War era intended to carry out direct and covert military campaigns with the US as the senior partner under the pretext of ‘the war on terrorism’. The direct consequence of such militaristic policies have been jihadist attacks on innocent people in European cities, which in turn has entailed a sharp rise in Islamophobia and xenophobia as the platforms of conservative and extreme right wing political parties. These scapegoat issues distract from the core ones that concern the integration model and social order responsible for the downward mobility in Italy and the periphery member nations.
Naturally, the mainstream media and politicians reinforce xenophobia by the manner they cover related issues, thus contributing to public distraction from the core issues. Given the current economic, and sociopolitical trends, Europe will find itself at some point in the not too distant future in the same course toward authoritarianism as the US. In a continent that has experienced Nazism, Fascism, and varieties of authoritarian regimes in the last century the signs are evident that indeed history is not a steady Hegelian line of progress but one of regression that reflects the irrational in human nature.
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By Jon Kofas.
America’s Future after the Presidential Election of 2016
Right wing political groups throughout the world are celebrating Trump’s victory but rather prematurely. They traditional conservatives and liberals are sufficiently delusional to believe that they are somehow far removed from Trump-style authoritarian politics when in fact they laid the groundwork for Trump to succeed. Meanwhile, some traditional conservative political leaders around the world are wondering if right wing populism flirting with Fascism is the way to political victory, never questioning if their policies drove people to the far right. Others are questioning if BREXIT and the Trump victory really mean popular discontent with globalization under the neoliberal development model. Many analysts are already decrying the rightwing course of the American electorate, as though Clinton was a New Deal Democrat rather than a Rockefeller Republican with a more pro-Wall Street and more hawkish foreign policy than Trump.
Political correctness aside, the US was already a quasi-police state before Trump under both Bush and Obama. Therefore, the socio-cultural-political landscape was fertile for the new populist Republican leader, especially considering the corruption scandals that plagued Clinton. It is not at all the case as many have argued that US democracy suddenly became bankrupt because of Trump’s victory, because this was the case throughout history, with some exceptions when reformism became necessary to strengthen capitalism under the pluralistic society as during the Progressive Era and New Deal.
Behind the new authoritarian figure that will become America’s president, and behind the Republican victory of both houses of congress, the real power is corporate America as it always has been. Wall Street, not Washington, will determine policy under Trump who promised economic nationalism vs. globalization, isolationism vs. interventionism, job-growth oriented economy vs. jobs export oriented economy. Mainstream politicians, the media, and the entire institutional establishment have always projected the image that elections are equated with democracy.
The establishment wants people to believe that the electoral process affords legitimacy to the social contract. No matter how manipulated by the political class, financial elites and the media, elections put a stamp of legitimacy on what people believe constitutes popular sovereignty. As shocking as it was for many across the US and around the world, a Trump victory represents the illusion of democracy at work in a country where voter apathy is very high in comparison with most developed countries – the US ranks 27th in the world below Mexico and Slovakia in voter participation.
Besides the illusion of popular sovereignty, elections inject a sense of hope for a new start in society – the eternal spring of politics intended to maintain the status quo. An even clearer picture emerges regarding the distasteful “steak or fish” choices, as President Obama alluded during the correspondents’ dinner a few weeks before the election to indicate with pride that there is no third political choice. The larger problem is the lack of differences between ‘steak and fish’ (Democrats and Republicans) in every policy domain, except social, cultural/lifestyle issues.
Of course, the very high percentage of ‘negatives’ for both presidential candidates and the absence of alternatives other than those that the political and financial establishment chose for people to give their final approval reveals that people were voting for what each side deemed the ‘lesser of two evils’ – the ‘steak or fish’ choice that the establishment places on the menu and then the media ‘guides’ voters to choose one over the other as though it really makes much difference. This is hardly a manifestation of democracy and a testament of a system far removed from popular sovereignty.
Unlike elections in many developed countries, American elections have an aura of finality about them. It is as though everything has been decided at the ballot box until the next election cycle and people must conform. Elections invalidate expression of dissident voices, but not for corporate lobbyists influencing legislation. Despite the aura of finality and the historic election of populist Republican supporting economic nationalism, after the presidential election the US remains more bitterly divided than it was during the last years of the Vietnam War under President Nixon; certainly more undemocratic because of the ubiquitous surveillance state and Homeland Security regime that is here to stay. Although these divisions are not expressed as part of a class struggle, given the absence of working class solidarity, they find expression in varieties of smaller social, religious and cultural groups at odds with each other.
This is not to suggest that the US is as authoritarian as other countries claiming to be democratic. Nevertheless, there is considerable underlying sociopolitical polarization in a country hardly democratic as its apologists insist. Because of factionalism (socio-cultural-religious conservatives, isolationists/anti-globalist libertarians, traditional fiscal conservatives), Republican infighting will invariably manifest itself when the executive branch tries to push measures that congress will reject because corporate lobbyists oppose them. Animosity within the Republican Party and between the two major parties in congress will result in more gridlock despite a sweeping Republican victory of all branches of government. This is what Wall Street wants. Gridlock projects the image that both sides are fighting for the interests of the people when they are really fighting on behalf of corporate interests. Nevertheless, they present the process as the essence of democracy and the media reinforces that view.
Trump’s quasi-Fascist America will be unacceptable to many Democrats who believed that pluralism and multiculturalism in a country with changing demographics must become a reality with a first female president symbolizing these changes. On the other hand, Trump voters will be very disappointed once reality sinks in that the flamboyant charlatan billionaires cannot deliver in the promise to make America great again in terms of raising living standards. Trump had raised expectations so high that he the first to be disappointed will be his own voters. However, he will deliver on the implied promise to take America back a few decades when white male supremacy was rarely questioned at home or abroad.
Just days before the election, a FOX NEWS poll of its own audience indicated far greater pessimism about the country’s future than the general population. These people also fear deepening division in the country because the liberal establishment is an anathema to their cultural identity. With a Trump victory, the Republican popular base watching FOX NEWS will be hoping that their right wing messiah will lead them to the promised land of the early Cold War of the 1950s and to the elusive American Dream of yesteryear. Disillusionment has already set it on the part of many on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party who see their dream of greater social justice far removed.
Regardless of Trump’s promises to improve the lives of the poor and the middle class by bringing jobs back home, the only certainty is the hegemony of markets over the state resulting in continued political polarization in society that has turned sharply to the right even more than it was under Reagan AND Bush-Cheney. Globalization and neoliberal policies (the model based on state empowering the private sector in every domain and incentivizing it through fiscal policy and subsidies) will continue no matter what Trump promised/threatened, and that will result in further capital concentration and downward pressure on middle class living standards and sociopolitical polarization will become more evident.
Parading the confederate flag and a hunting rifle, the Trump voter will continue to feel one with the apartheid culture of the past. Trump’s supporters will feel marginalized and will become more fanatical. By contrast, the Clinton voter supporting trans-gender rights and the woman’s right to choose will be optimistic that the time has come for pluralism to expand the all-inclusive socio-cultural net. By the end of Trump’s first hundred days, neither the Trump nor Clinton voter will see much evidence to celebrate a future rise in living standards.
Many academic economists, private investment firms, the IMF, the World Bank, and OECD estimate that low growth will be accompanied by market concentration and jobs exported to cheap labor markets, keeping American wages low in the coming years. The average median net worth of Americans ranks lower than 18 other nations and dropping as personal debt is rising. Misplaced optimism on the part of Republicans will soon be replaced with pessimism almost as intense as that of the Democrat voter.
Campaign promises to raise living standards have been made by every presidential candidate in the last four decades. Living standards have been declining and they will continue on that trajectory according to all studies on future economic prospects. Considering the low-growth global economic environment, the high US debt under a system that encourages more capital concentration and export of high paying jobs, no one expects inflation adjusted improvement in living standards during the next four years. Moreover, the low interest rates, which stimulated some very modest growth since the recession of 2008, are ending. The absence of monetary stimulus will further impact middle class credit and the consumer-driven economy.
Contrary to appearances, Trump will be limited in what measures he can pass through congress that relies heavily on wealthy donors and lobbyists for campaign finance. The executive branch will be weaker than it was when Obama succeeded an unpopular president in 2008 amid a deep recession and US military intervention. The legislative branch will be more aggressive toward the executive branch than it was under Obama. The result will be greater political division that only helps corporate America. The share of the economic pie for the middle class and workers will continue to shrink This in no small measure because the sharp rise in the public debt will require higher indirect taxes, cuts in entitlement programs, and higher interest rates to attract buyers for US treasury bonds – presumably a risk free asset threatened by rising rapidly rising debt levels undermining the dollar’s value.
Besides the structurally weak economy under neoliberal policies and corporate welfare, several factors will lead to sharper political division in the next four years. First, Republicans will be predictably hostile to any Democrat policy proposal from background checks on guns to relief for college debt aimed to further the Democratic Party’s popular base. Second, many conservatives will use the Trump victory to rally popular support for an extreme right wing agenda to keep the populist wing of the Republican Party strong. Third, Trump already set the divisive tone by alienating every social group in the country, but was well rewarded for it, thus reflecting the ideological, political and cultural milieu of the American mainstream now entrenched on the far right of the spectrum.
People who voted Trump will feel vindicated about their attitudes toward women, minorities and foreigner from Latin America and the Middle East. As their living standards decline, they will become more fanatic. Their church leaders and local civic leaders along with right wing talk radio and FOX NEWS will encourage right wing fanaticism because they all have an ally in the White House. To appease the Republican voters, along with local law enforcement, many in the military generally accepting of a police state, President Trump will likely focus on an infrastructural development program to create some new jobs. At the same time, he will strengthen defense while fighting out with mainstream Republicans about rapprochement with Russia and withdrawal from regime change foreign policies.
Co-optation of the Popular Base
For both political parties, the biggest challenge will be to co-opt the masses while serving Wall Street and the defense/intelligence industry establishment. The Democratic Party is indeed an umbrella that includes elements ranging from Rockefeller Republicans especially suburban women opposed right wing populism, to progressive social democrats and even some espousing a form of socialism. As middle class living standards continue to decline, in accordance with IMF predictions among others, the ability of the Democrat party to remain a large umbrella will be diminished, especially after Clinton’s crushing defeat.
Unless the Democrats revert back to FDR’s New Deal politics of the 1930s, something that neoliberals and their wealthy donors adamantly oppose as do Republicans, the party will have to choose between remaining in the camp of Rockefeller Republicanism like Clinton, or abandon its neoliberal commitments and move closer to the Bernie Sanders camp.
The election of 2016 proved that Republicans have moved farther to the right than anyone could have predicted. Nevertheless, divisions remain between traditional economic/fiscal conservatives, some Libertarians, and populist socio-cultural-religious conservatives, including the Ku Klux Klan that endorsed Trump. For now, Republicans have the luxury to ignore the changing demographics – Hispanics and African-American voters along with younger voters.
No matter how charismatic the Republican or Democrat political leader, it will not be easy to compensate for the growing chasm between rich and poor. As much as ideology matters, in the end the Democrat voter cannot pay her bills with LBGTQ bumper stickers any more than the Republican voter can do so with the confederate flag. No matter the obfuscating political and media rhetoric about disparate social groups transcending social class, socioeconomic factors determine class as they always have. Both parties will try to indoctrinate their voters to live by ideology alone, as churches convinced the faithful masses that salvation of their soul was the only thing that matters.
Suppressing class struggle evident in all aspects of society, the media will continue to propagate for class collaboration using nationalism as the catalyst. Subservience to capital identified with the national interests is a historically rooted belief that has remained in the social consciousness as secular dogma and taught in schools as gospel truth. The media perpetually delivers the message that if there is a problem in the political economy the culprit is the political class, the elected official and not the financial elites; certainly not capitalism as a system engendering structural inequality.
Trump will be no different than politicians of both parties that try to distract public opinion by directing attention away from domestic issues to foreign enemies new and old alike; pursuing the dream of Pax Americana despite its costs and limitations in a multi-polar world order where East Asia plays a dominant global role. The only leverage of the US is to keep Asia divided by demonizing China, as Trump has done repeatedly. Demonizing a foreign enemy to distract from focusing on domestic problems worked during the Cold War to engender sociopolitical conformity amid the triumph of Pax Americana. In the absence of a Communist bloc, the counter-terrorism ideology that replaced anti-Communism will be intensified under a Trump administration because it is in the interest of the defense industries.
As we have seen since 9/11, there are limits and monetary and political costs to the counter-terrorism, considering that US policy and practices actually contribute to the growth of terrorism not its elimination. Even the most gullible right wing Trump fanatics realize that polluted water in Flint Michigan has nothing to do with ISIS, and everything to do with the massive tax breaks of the state’s Republican governor to corporations and the rich of that state. Similarly, people are aware that after several trillion dollars spent in Middle East wars and counter-terrorism, the US public debt has risen sharply and the economy weakened.
Sociopolitical Polarization under Corporatocracy
Even for the apathetic masses that do not bother with elections, the magic of the ballot box affords the illusion that people have a voice in the political arena. Politicians, pundits and the media remind the public that they have only themselves to blame for their elected officials. They rarely mention rich donors behind the political class that decides who runs for elected office. The realization that people’s prospects are not improving, that their children are not experiencing upward socioeconomic mobility, and policy works to benefit a small segment of society drives some to the extreme right and others to the left.
The weakened center that Democrats claimed to represent in fact causes more people to rebel from the right because it is socially and ideologically acceptable as it has deep historical roots going back to the Civil War. Trump’s victory offers ample proof of this reality. By contrast, the US, unlike many countries around the world, has no historical tradition of sustained strong left wing politics, and see right through the hollow liberal rhetoric behind which is Wall Street financial interests.
Just beneath the thin veil of conformity that the media, politicians and mainstream institutions promote, there is lingering sociopolitical polarization that will become more pronounced now that Trump is elected and legitimized neo-Fascism in America. The mainstream media actually reinforces sociopolitical polarization mainly caused by structural conditions in the economy and a political system representing corporatocracy (rule by the corporations). FOX News, right wing talk radio, among others advocates a more authoritarian/militarist/police state course for society. The rest of the media presents itself as ‘objective’ propagates for the façade of a pluralistic society that permits cultural diversity, but it is as committed to corporatocracy as the right wing. In short, corporatocracy led to the election of a populist Republican who is as close to an authoritarian leader and open to Fascism as any in the past.
Regardless of whether it supported Republican or Democrat candidates, the mainstream media in search of the culprit for the public debt is critical of social security, subsidized housing and health care for the lower strata of society, school lunches, and social programs. At the same time, the media echoes Wall Street in blaming government for the conditions of poverty that the political economy creates. Trump’s ‘drain the swamp’ slogan referring to Washington never mentioned the source of the swamp which is Wall Street and its lobbyists. Therefore, the media never blames corporatocracy but the elected officials serving it in order to preserve the system. By embracing the authoritarian Republican leader, the majority voters are revealing that they see greater hope for their future under such a regime that promises to fight corporatocracy than they do under a Democrat leader linked to Wall Street.
Political Co-optation Strategy
In their struggle to broaden their popular base, aspects of Bonapartism, the political strategy of projecting the impression of rising above classes, have been embraced by both political parties, especially the Republicans. Unless the political parties representing capital co-opt the disillusioned middle class and working class elements; unless they give them an outlet to express their disapproval with a political economy favoring the rich; unless they give them hope that the system works for them, then bourgeois democracy collapses and a form of authoritarianism ensues. This is already a reality in Trump’s America.
A precursor to Fascism in Europe, Bonapartism would not be possible unless all mainstream institutions and not just the political parties and media contributed to the promotion of institutional conformity. Although a segment of the population sees past such efforts at conformity and supports the reformist candidates – Bernie Sanders in 2016 – invariably those candidates are co-opted by the mainstream and bring along the masses. This was the case with Senator Sanders who managed to lead a grass roots movement only to deliver it in the hands of the Wall Street candidate, as Sanders described Clinton.
Partly because of the Sanders candidacy, Clinton succeeded to some degree in co-opting the progressive elements of the left into the Democrat Party. A continuation of the defunct Tea Party behind which was energy corporations and right wing billionaires, Trump’s populist ‘revenge anti-establishment politics’ was even more successful in co-opting the masses that the Democrats. While the Democrats efforts focused on de-radicalizing the progressive elements by securing loyalty of their leaders into the mainstream, Republican efforts focused on driving them even farther toward fanaticism as an expression of dissatisfaction with the Democrat status quo that implicitly castigated the corporate elites.
Co-optation of the masses by Republicans necessarily entailed a populist appeal to social/cultural conservatives, mostly angry whites who feel besieged by demographic and structural economic changes in society. Instead of analyzing the root causes of structural inequality built into the system, Trump backers blame other social groups, but refused to criticize the political economy because it is unpatriotic to question capitalism. They believe that if all minorities somehow disappeared and no immigrants ever entered the land, then their social and economic problems would disappear as well and their status would magically flourish.
Because of demographic changes and downward income pressures, the traditional Republican appeal confined only to fiscal/economic, and defense-security conservatives is no longer sufficient to elect a president. Revenge politics of extreme right wing populism was more the message of the Trump team promising to clean up Washington, to distance itself from the UN, dilute NATO, exit from international trade agreements or re-negotiate them, and discipline corporations while first incentivizing them so they do not take jobs into cheap labor markets overseas.
Disgruntled social/cultural conservatives liked Trump’s vitriolic rhetoric against the political and economic establishment, against minorities, Muslims, and women. His emotional appeal similar to that of the Nazi Party (‘give people someone to hate’) worked because Republican right wing populism has deep roots and offers hope for reverting to a racist/sexist/xenophobic America of the past instead of the one that exists now under current demographic and economic conditions.
The irony is that Obama’s America operated under a regime many would justifiably label quasi-police state and institutionalized racism was evident despite an African-American president. Police officers were shooting unarmed black males and a criminal justice system reflecting institutional racism not so far off what Trump and many of followers openly or covertly advocate as a reaction to political correctness and equal opportunity institutional access (affirmative action).
Weak Executive Branch, Strong Wall Street
Wall Street pharmaceuticals and defense-related stocks celebrated with a sharp rise to welcome a Trump victory. However, a weak executive branch is inevitable under the new president, but it should not be confused with a weak governmental structure typically characteristic of developing nations. In much of Africa, and parts of Latin America and Asia, states are unable to raise taxes and deliver basic services to their citizens. Although the state structure in the US is hardly like that of developing nations, there are signs that it is weakening at the expense of the masses under the neoliberal regime Trump will follow no matter his hyperbolic rhetoric against globalization. The only certainty about the US election outcome is policy continuity, which is what the markets want, regardless of a president-elected who mobilized popular support by appealing to racism, xenophobia, sexism and authoritarian style politics.
To maintain corporate hegemony over the state, Wall Street and the media it owns can only prevail if the legislative branch is compliant and checks the powers of the executive that may dilute corporate welfare policies in order to maintain the social order by providing certain basic social programs from affordable health care and social security to affordable education. One glaring contradiction of the political economy is that people must be convinced that their interest is inevitably linked to the fortunes of big capital and not contrary to it; that big capital is not responsible for declining living standards for America’s middle class and workers in the last forty years; and that the enemy is the politician.
The media helps to keep the focus on the politician (establishment political class of both parties) as the evil force behind the calamities that befall society; never on the capitalists on whose behalf the politician conducts policy. The media will always examine tantalizing stories of all sorts about the personal lives of politicians, stories that deserve attention because they reflect integrity of character. However, the media never examines the politician as a servant of big capital and the massive influence of corporate lobbies in determining legislation. The media will never cover social justice issues, because they lead back to the structural inequality built into the political economy. In other words, the business of perpetual mass indoctrination and distraction is essential to keep the majority under the illusion that they live in a democracy – rule by the people – when in fact it is Corporatocracy. In winning the presidential election, Trump gave the illusion to his followers that they have hope for structural change.
Culture wars and personality conflicts as distraction from social justice issues will remain front and center to distract people from focusing on the root causes of downward social mobility. While market hegemony is a reality of the nexus between state and capital, the media and politicians have convinced people into believing in the illusion of choice – ‘the future is in your hands’ and ‘the people have spoken’, as media headline read. The question for capitalists who were divided between Clinton and Trump is how to manage the economy and what role the state must play against the background of intense global competition and shifting balance of power from the West to the Far East. This is not to minimize the intense political rivalry, the partisanship of law enforcement and other institutions at all levels of government, or the ongoing struggle for policy influence.
CONCLUSIONS: Revolt of the Extreme Right
Trump’s victory temporarily sets into hibernation the majority popular base of the Republican Party while emboldening its more extreme right wing elements. There is nothing like the illusion of identifying with a political victory to appease those feeling marginalized among the lower layers of the social pyramid. Once it becomes evident that domestic conditions will continue as they have in the recent past, contrary to Trump’s lofty promises to the middle class and working families, disillusioned voters will have to be content with the Republican cultural agenda, strong law and order position, and strong defense policy. Republicans are more likely to support leaders advocating greater reliance on militarism and police state methods and less tolerance for dissent. The elements for an authoritarian society are already deeply rooted in the culture and will eventually come into the forefront more pronounced than ever.
Ironically, both Republican and Democrats are responsible for the underlying causes of a revolt by the masses rallying around a right wing demagogue appearing to be in a struggle against the establishment. Judging by the performance of the US stick market, the establishment knows he represents Wall Street and not the unemployed worker in Cleveland. The media has convinced the average American that it is anathema, un-American to rebel from the left against the unjust system but patriotic to do so from the right. With the exception of the Klan label, there is no stigma attached to rebelling from the right against the establishment which includes not just Washington but corporate America. The job of the right wing politician will be to co-opt the popular base and keep it loyal to corporatocracy.
While the corporate media sings the praises of globalization and subtly criticizes Trump’s economic nationalism, it can only carry that message up to a point without appearing unpatriotic. The dilemma for the corporate elites is not to be caught in contradictory messages when trying to rally support of the masses, something that has become exceedingly difficult because of the downward socioeconomic mobilization. This is where it becomes convenient to blame politicians, and to keep the executive branch weak and government divided so that people blame everything on politicians who are actually in gridlock in the first place because they differ about which segment of the economy and which corporations benefit more than others as a result of policy.
Political campaign promises are like happy endings in children’s novels. People enjoy reading and dreaming about such things but they do not really expect that everyone lives happily ever after. The lives of the vast majority of Americans will not improve no matter who had won the White House in 2016. Symbolically and not just because she is a woman, but also in terms of engendering greater social harmony among the disparate demographic groups, Clinton was better suited for the sake of continuity from the Obama administration. However, Trump will serve Wall Street and neoliberal policies and globalization just as faithfully because corporate America will give him no choice.
Because of objective domestic and international conditions in the early 21st century, the middle class is on a continuing downward slope that radicalizes people either on the right or the left will realize cannot be fixed by populist right wingers or mainstream Democrats. Hence polarization in society will continue and it will become much worse after the next deep recession in the US because the political economy is increasingly serving a much narrower social base than it has since the 1920s. Trump has broken all political and ideological taboos about crossing the line from traditional conservatism to flirting with Fascism. This is America’s political future and it has been here for some time only to manifest itself more candidly in Trump.
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By Jon Kofas.
From 1953 when the CIA staged a coup in Iran to topple the democratically elected government of Mohammad Moddeq in 1953 until the Obama administration’s endeavors to replace the Assad regime in Syria, destabilization has been at the core of how the US policy toward the Middle East. US destabilization policy is not a post-9/11 phenomenon that can be defaulted to the ‘war on terror’ nor is it an aberration from US foreign policy and the mainstream media and various analysts claim.
Regardless of warnings by neo-isolationist and anti-interventionist critics that the costs of such destabilization policies rooted in counterinsurgency operations and militarism are unsustainable for the economy, the US is unlikely to change course in the near future not only because such policies serve certain corporate interests in the US and Europe, but because the political culture in the US is immersed in a ‘military-solution mode’ to political crises in developing nations and especially the Middle East.
Neo-conservatives advocating the preservation and expansion of Pax Americana and neoliberals interested in securing global market share for US and EU-based multinational corporations realize the gradual decline of the West amid the ascendancy of East Asia. In 1918 Oswald Spengler warned about the decline of the Western World. Europe’s decline took place because of the wars of Imperialism (1880-1914) that led to WWI, followed by the Great Depression and WWII. Inadvertently, Europe’s decline in the first half of the 20th century helped to propel US global ascendancy by leaving a global power vacuum after 1945. The US is not in a comparable position as post-WWII Europe. Nor does the ‘social cycle theory’ of repeating cycles of historical patterns adequately explain the complexities and uniqueness of the global power structure in the 21st century. Peter Turchin, Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall, 2003)
The demise of the Soviet bloc and rise of Asia with China at the core of the world economy and the inevitability of global power shifts at a time of relative US economic decline actually coincided despite academics, media and politicians alike celebrating America’s winning the Cold War and enjoying ‘the peace dividend’. All indications are that the ‘American Century’ is winding down, though this does not mean the US would lapse very far from the core of the world economy in the evolving cycle that Asia will dominate.
Cycles of rising and declining empires are nothing new in history. People who live through such cycles hardly notice the subtle changes that appear to evolve at a snail’s pace; a theme developed by Fernand Braudel in his analyzing the transition from the feudal/manorial structure to capitalism (La Méditerranée et le Monde Méditerranéen à l’Epoque de Philippe II (1949). Militarism and destabilizing policies are archaic policy modes of a declining empire from the Roman Empire to the British Empire. Despite losing its global power status after WWII, Great Britain for example remained militaristic as a NATO member. The irony in transitions of global power shifts is that the entrenched elites in the declining country revert to militarist policies of the past when the country enjoyed preeminent power that the economy could support. The reason is not only ideological but it also serves the privileged interests of the political and socioeconomic elites to preserve the status quo.
Naturally, policies that have been successful when a country is at the zenith of its power will actually hasten the decline simply because the economy cannot sustain the costs thus irreparably damaging the civilian economy. This is exactly the case of the US that experienced the zenith of its power during the Truman administration but began the long road to decline shortly after the Suez Crisis of 1956-1957 when the IMF secretly warned the Eisenhower administration that the dollar as a reserve currency was artificially overvalued because of chronic balance of payments deficits. Despite the warning that Eisenhower issued regarding the dangers of the military-industrial complex absorbing capital from the civilian economy and weakening the US, this monster dictating foreign policy remained alive and well, determining in large measure US foreign policy no matter the scope of the crises it has been creating since the early Cold War.
The driving force behind US foreign policy has been to maintain the economic, political and social status quo at home by keeping its hegemonic role in the world. This is a foreign policy that the US adopted from the mother country – the sort of Empire as a Way of Life, as William Appleman Williams argued when explaining the historical continuity in US foreign affairs from the early years of the Republic until the Vietnam War. Destabilization as a modality of foreign policy in essence serves a multifaceted purpose, everything from maintaining the imperial network with military bases throughout the world and regional alliances, to securing a global market share and keeping the dollar as the dominant reserve currency. Above all, it serves to maintain the status quo at home by placing security above social justice and the need to address social justice and economic justice issues of the citizenry.
Post-Cold War Crisis Convergence
The post-Cold era was supposed to mark the triumph of American capitalism and its hegemonic role in the world – hyperpuissance as some French analysts labeled the US to describe its comprehensive superpower status. The end of the Soviet-American confrontation did not mean the end of US-Russian rivalry but rather its revival through client states allied with one side or the other. This was inevitable as the US and Western Europe scrambled to secure former Soviet republics into the Western political, economic and strategic zones of influence.
Crisis convergence in the Ukraine and the Middle East during the Obama administration posed challenges for US foreign policy and its future prospects as the world’s policeman since the early Cold War. This seemingly irresolvable crisis with millions of victims in the theaters of military operations also demonstrates glaring contradictions and credibility gap in US foreign policy not just today, but as a historical phenomenon that has been evident since the early Cold War. This is not to suggest there is no logic to the Truman Doctrine for the time it was promulgated in 1947 amid the Greek Civil War and US goal of creating a security zone across Greece, Turkey and Iran (Northern Tier) to make sure that the Middle East remains free of Communist influence and the oil keeps flowing West.
Similarly, there is an imperial logic to the strategy of “Military Keynesianism” introduced during the Truman administration (increased defense spending that would in turn result in broader economic growth) as part of a containment strategy of the Communist bloc and the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Russia that led to the arms race. However, there is a price to be paid for remaining the world’s number one military power and pursuing an interventionist foreign policy as leverage for global economic hegemony when the dollar as a reserve currency is so artificially high for more than half a century and the public and private sector debt undermines the real economy. The result is the inevitable relative economic decline of the US in relationship to East Asia and Europe, and the four-decade decline of the American middle class.
In the post-Communist era (the New World Order), US foreign policy is impractical given the status of the economy and its prospects. Sailing in turbulent ocean without any sense of direction or realism of where it wishes to go and for what purpose and resting on the foundations of a manufactured ‘war on terror’ that has only been expanding without any end in sight, US foreign policy has nowhere to go except to anachronistic Cold War models. Containment of Russia, a policy with roots in 19th century Britain and France, combined with US-NATO attempts to deny Moscow any role in influencing the balance of power in the Middle East and even with its own neighboring states have proved unsuccessful and costly for the West. This is partly because Russia is nearly self-sufficient in natural resources. Moreover, China that may have an interested in a weaker Russia than when it was part of the USSR cannot permit the weakening of its neighbor to the degree that it would afford the US and NATO hegemony in Eurasia.
The situation in the Ukraine clearly poses challenges for Russia’s regional strategic interests that the US and its EU partners have been working to undermine during the second term of Obama’s presidency. Although there was no military solution for the situation in the Ukraine, just as there was none for Syria, which Russia, China and Iran supported, the US and its EU partners, especially Germany and Poland, pursued covert military means to bring down a corrupt pro-Russian government only to have it replaced by an equally corrupt pro-West billionaire totally dependent on the West for everything from military to economic assistance.
In the absence of reaching an agreement with Moscow on natural gas supply and a host of other economic and strategic issues, as well as protection of the Russian-speaking minority, the Ukrainian crisis was as hopeless a failure for the Obama administration as regime change in Syria, even if Bashar al-Assad ultimately leaves as the US demands. As the power behind the client regime in Kiev, the US refused to reconsider a confrontational course reviving the Cold War that was destructive for the vast majority of Ukrainians given the horrible state of the economy and state finances. Western sanctions on Russia have proved a two-edged sword impacting Europe’s low-growth economies as well. Given the political opposition to any Keynesian measures to stimulate economic growth, the only course of action to stimulate growth amid a relative slump since the great recession of 2008 has been to increase defense spending, justifying on the basis of the threats that Russia and jihadist terrorism pose. Eventually the EU and the US will return to the negotiating table once there is no choice other than pursuing a political solution because the costs are too great to withstand.
Similarly, the US is not backing down on the reckless military solution it has been pursuing in Syria, a manufactured civil war crisis that in June 2014 spilled over to Iraq and threatened regional stability even more than it was prior to the US and its European and Middle East allies trying to secure Syria as a Western satellite. Why has the US been pursuing destabilizing policies toward the Middle East and Ukraine? If the answer is containing Russia and Iran to determine the balance of power in the Middle East then the question is whether destabilization of existing regimes is the best course of action.
I do not subscribe to theories that the people conducting US foreign policy are asleep at the wheel, dumb, uncreative, and lack the experience of their brilliant critics inside and outside of the US government. Nor are policymakers and professional diplomats implementing detrimental policies to US interests because they lack common sense. Foreign policy bipartisan consensus has been the rule rather than the exception since Truman, bringing into account geopolitical as well as corporate interests. The US has opted for covert operations, destabilization and militarism as a first option when dealing with developing countries while a multilateral approach that involves the United Nations has largely been a last resort only when it was absolutely necessary and the outcome favoring the US.
Only when there was no other way but to negotiate a political solution with tangible political, military, and economic advantages, as in the case of the deal with Iran on the development of nuclear weapons, have the US and its partners abandoned the military option and destabilization policy (March-April 2015 – Permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany). The ‘Iran—P5 + 1 deal’ proved that the people conducting and implementing US policy follow certain perimeters and conforming to guidelines from top down after political consensus is reached between government and disparate business interests that stand to gain either by a military or political solution to US policy. While one cannot disregard ideological reasons behind US policy, invariably they serve to justify military/strategic and economic interests that play a catalytic role.
Causes of Destabilization in the Middle East
There are many causes that account for instability in the Middle East both internal and external. One long-term external cause stems from the fact that in 1916 the European colonial powers drew the regional map arbitrarily to serve their geopolitical and economic interests, rather than permit any sort of self-determination for the people affected in artificially-created nation-states. As the Ottoman Empire had lapsed into an economic dependency of Europe unable to retain control of its Arab provinces after the Greek War of Independence in 1821, England and France reduced the Middle East into economic dependency. In 1916, the French and British governments drafted the Sykes-Picot Agreement that drew the map of the Middle East along Europe’s neo-colonial interests. The Treaty of Serves in 1920 formalized the end of the Ottoman Empire and forced the Turks to renounce any claim in the Middle East and North Africa where the European imperialist powers had already laid claim.
Despite the wish of some Arabs throughout the the 20th century for solidarity if not unity, pro-Western Arab rulers and a comprador bourgeoisie were content with neo-colonial conditions. At the same time, the Western European, Israeli, and American governments have been undermining any chance of Arab solidarity. However, the main sectarian divisions, which predate Western interventions, remain a major internal cause of regional instability. Besides tribal identity, religious fanaticism does extraordinary things to the human mind, including driving people to sacrifice themselves while taking down their brothers and sisters in suicide bombings. Added to religious sectarianism that has fanatics on all sides embracing military solutions, there are tribal and ethnic identity issues intertwined with alliances based on the cult of personality and clientist relationships built around it.
Although there is no clash of Civilizations (Samuel Huntington, 1996) inherent between Islam and the Christian West that is divorced from political, military and economic motives on both the colonial powers and colonized, the concept of national identity is very different in Iraq, Libya and Yemen than it is in Norway, Canada or Germany. In the Middle East, alliances and alignments with disparate interests from the socioeconomic elites to the military are complex and often contradictory. In part, this is because capitalist integration entails broader societal integration in the culture while maintaining strong ties to Islamic institutions and traditional identity. This is evident not just in Turkey struggling to keep the legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (founder of the Republic of Turkey and modernizer during the interwar era) but also Egypt once a non-aligned leader under Gamal Abdel Nasser where the Muslim Brotherhood and the military have long-standing historic roles influencing society. Authoritarian regimes based on consensus of domestic elites and foreign alliances have been the mechanism to keep society together in most countries.
Another chronic source of division is the gap that exists between the Muslim-based culture, values system and way of life opposed to the forces of modernity identified with the increasingly xenophobic Christian West which is more materialistic/hedonistic in practice and much less spiritual than its religious and political leaders proclaim. Modernity encompasses everything from science and technology necessary for material progress and the ability to remain competitive in the world, to consumerist culture and value system that help to buttress capitalism in the age of globalization.
It is difficult to adjust to the modern economic system that creates a middle class and materialistic values while clinging to traditional values and institutions rooted in religion at the core of society. This ideological clash was evident in Arab Spring uprisings in the first half of the 2010s and it continues to manifest itself among political opposition groups. Clearly, governments use Islam as a means of social conformity and political manipulation just as Western countries have used religion as a conformity mechanism. For example, under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey has been playing the Muslim card by forging a coalition of nationalists looking back to the glory of the Ottoman Empire and counterbalancing the entrenched Kemalist elements.
Another cause of internal divisions in the Middle East is directly linked to perpetual foreign influences through international financial and trade organizations, including the International Monetary Fund that promotes austerity and neoliberal policies resulting in wealth concentration and rising rich-poor gap. Geopolitics and political motivations primarily by the US have determined IMF and World Bank lending policies geared to open domestic markets to Western corporations. (J. Harrigan and H. El-Said, Aid and Power in the Power in the Arab World: IMF and the World Bank Policy-based Lending in the Middle East and North Africa, 2014). Along with the impact of economic integration that benefits a few wealthy nationals and foreign corporations, covert and overt military intervention by the US and its NATO partners has historically kept the Middle East structurally underdeveloped even in oil-rich nations.
Largely because of the importance of oil and Israel’s regional role that the US identifies historically with its own national interest, the influence of Western powers has been much higher in the Middle East than any other part of world. During the era of the non-aligned bloc when Nasser’s Egypt played a major role in the 1960s, nationalism and Arab autonomy gained some momentum but it was short-lived both because of regional and Western influences undermining it. As a nationalist reaction to the domestic (comprador) bourgeoisie and US support of the puppet Shah regime, the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was as much a reaction to the West as the non-aligned despite the heavy reliance on Islam as a catalyst on the part of Iran.
The M idle East-North African reaction to the hegemonic West continued to manifest itself with regimes that embraced strong nationalist leaders that the US adamantly opposed. Although under a corrupt dictatorship, Libya under Muammar al-Qaddafi was relatively stable as was Syria and Iraq when compared with what took place after US-Western military intervention. With all of his considerable shortcomings as a dictatorial leader, Qaddafi had managed to forge a popular consensus since 1969 and kept the country unified; a challenging task as history proved after the US, France and the UK toppled the Qaddafi regime and left the country deeply divided and in perpetual chaos in every sector from the political arena to the economy.
This is not to say that Libya’s population was enjoying social justice and human rights before 2011. However, neither did Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States that the US and its EU allies have been supporting. Of course, it is now well documented that much of the funding sources for what the US identifies as Islamic terrorism originated in Saudi Arabia, while Qaddafi was secretly working with Western intelligence to combat jihadists in his country and abroad. Choosing what regime to overthrow and what regime to preserve was never about freedom and democracy, but about economic, political, and military advantages accruing to the West.
In the years after the US-NATO intervention in 2011, justified supposedly on the basis of enforcing a 1973 UN Security Council resolution, Libya remained chronically unstable. Suffering a marked absence of any human rights, Libya’s national sovereignty surrendered to the West and its prospects for economic development that would help its population were much worse than under Qaddafi. Worse of all, the country was reduced in a semi-civil war conditions with regional-local-tribal divisions and political violence raging on, and thousands of people trying to cross the sea over to Europe as refugee that Europeans do not want. Jihadist activity, symptomatic of the US-NATO intervention considering that the US and its allies assisted to remove Qaddafi from power with jihadist collaboration, backfired on the West and its puppet regime in Tripoli. The West found itself having to assist its newly-acquired satellite militarily to combat ‘domestic terrorism’ that Western destabilization (regime change) policy emboldened, while Italy was left to deal with Libyan refugee problem that became a European-wide political issue impacting British voters’ decision to leave the EU.
Like Libya, Egypt is now under a façade of a democratic regime, a very thin facade. The BBC was correct to label General el-Sisi’s regime something of a giant company running the country on the basis of a corrupt and decadent clientist system with ties to foreign corporations. As of August 2016, the IMF struck a deal with this corrupt regime to bring about austerity and neoliberal policies that would in fact transfer even more income from the lower classes to the wealthy. Everything from basic foodstuffs to utilities is much higher, adding to the political turmoil that the pro-Western regime has created. Even the pro-business magazine Fortune headline betrayed the ugly truth of what the IMF is doing in this poor country: In Egypt, IMF Deal Brings Austerity Few Can Afford. (fortune.com/2016/08/20/imf-egypt-austerity-consequences)
Following the Egyptian uprising of 2011 that set off Arab Spring, the US proclaimed that it was on the side of popular democracy and against authoritarianism. Like Libya, Egypt surrendered its sovereignty along with any trace of social justice, merely because this was the way to survive for the Sisi government and it was what the US and its allies demanded. The West refused to accept the Islamic Mohammed Morsi regime that took power in June 2012 and deposed in July 2013 by the armed forces and army chief General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The Islamic Brotherhood which Morsi represented was marginalized and repressed even more than it was under Mubarak, while the human rights situation is no better than it was before Arab Spring.
What has taken place in Egypt under General el-Sisi is hardly much different in terms of forging a democratic facade than what existed under Hosni Mubarak. It is true that the ultimate goal of the US and its EU partners was to create more opportunities for multinational corporations and not have the economy under the tight control of Mubarak’s cronies. However, the assumption is that more globalization under neoliberal policies would benefit the majority of the people and strengthen the national economy; assumptions that have proved totally false as much in developing nations as in the advanced capitalist countries. Therefore, we have in Egypt as much a suppressed minority situation as in Libya with lesser commitment to democracy and human rights than what existed under the previous authoritarian regimes.
Both Libya and Egypt are in this current state of affairs in part because of deeply divided social-political groups but also owing to US-EU interference, with the participation of Saudi Arabia and some of the Gulf States. In both Egypt and Libya the end result was that the people were much worse off after the formation of pro-Western regimes than they were before Arab Spring that the West manipulated to make sure a pro-West regime secures power. Largely because of covert and overt foreign intervention, all of North Africa and the Middle East became far less stable than it was before Arab Spring.
This is not to suggest the futility of popular uprisings or a Western conspiracy is operating in the Middle East, but rather a systematic US-NATO policy intended to keep the region politically, economically, and strategically subservient to the West, and its natural resources and markets secure. This precludes any attempt at national sovereignty Nasser-style of the 1960s, or Iranian style that resists integration under the ‘patron-client model’ with the hegemonic West. It further means denying Russia and China the region as a sphere of influence, and maintaining a containment policy toward Iran. In short, US destabilization policy makes perfect sense if one considers that its goal is to keep the region dependent on the West as it has been since the Sikes-Picot agreement in 1916.
US invasion of Iraq and its Consequences
1. As the British ‘Chilcot Inquiry Report’ (July 2016) made very clear, blatant lies on which the US and UK invaded the country, namely: a) Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and b) There was a link to al-Qaeda, when it was well known that the al-Qaeda organization was made up primarily of Saudis with which the Bush family as well as a number of well-connected Republicans had multi-billion dollar interests. The real reasons were the oil reserves, the US obsession to counterbalance Iran, and strengthen the defense industry in which Republicans and Democrats had personal financial interests. It is interesting to note, that the US defense and intelligent budgets skyrocketed as a result of this war combined with Afghanistan, while the US economy continued losing ground to China.
2. War and occupation destroyed Iraq, resulting in millions of people displayed as refugees spread through neighboring nation s and others fleeing for the West. During the occupation, US forces committed war crimes, but the International Court has not dared to charge any US official. Just as the US destroyed Vietnam where it committed war crimes, and just as Vietnam has taken many decades to rebuild and it is still in the process of doing so, similarly it will take many decades to rebuild Iraq that the US and UK left in ruins. Yet, there is no talk about helping with the reconstruction of Iraq as there was with Japan, Germany and Italy after WWII; only about dividing and exploiting Iraq’s oil reserves and using the country as a strategic satellite.
3. US tax payers paid for a war in order to advance the profits of Republican party-linked corporations in which the Bush family, Dick Cheney, Jim Baker, Donald Rumsfeld and others in the Republican administration were connected to corporations such as the Carlyle Group and Halliburton that defrauded the US government of millions of dollars in contract work in Iraq. This is the same Halliburton against which Nigeria filed corruption charges against Cheney as CEO, and the same company that was partly responsible for the Deep Horizon oil disaster in autumn 2010. This does not mean that Democrats, including the Clinton Foundation, have been above the money that influenced Republicans in their pursuit of a militarist foreign policy.
4. Before the US-UK invasion of Iraq was not among the top 20 most corrupt countries in the world, but it advanced to the number #2 spot during the occupation! The US reduced the country into a concentration camp where corruption was the way of doing business. Focused only on oil and counterbalancing Iran, the US was unable to do anything with Iraq other than leave a devastated country that its people must rebuild.
5. The issue of federalism and/or breaking up Iraq was one that concerned American politicians, think tanks, journalists, and academics after the US invaded. The question is why? While the Kurdish population has historically wanted autonomy, the US has never been interested in this minority group, otherwise it would demand that Turkey also submit to some type of federalist system. The goal is to keep Iraq weak and dependent on the US so that it can exploit its oil and counterbalance Iran, while also determining the regional balance of power.
Iraq and Afghanistan represent the twilight of Pax Americana, the last vestiges of an imperial democracy operating on a foreign policy based on a predominantly Protestant missionary pretext about the White Anglo-Saxon Christians ‘saving’ the weaker dark-skinned non-Christian brethren whose land just happens to have natural resources that the West needs, and it just happens to be located in a place of strategic interest. The larger issue here is the credibility gap in US foreign policy, considering that ISIS would not exist if it were not for the US and its allies trying to remove Assad from power. ISIS was made possible by the US and its allies, including Sunni-dominated Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
US Divide and Conquer Policy in Syria and Iraq
To demonstrate the logic of US destabilization policy, greater analysis is needed on the multifaceted reasons for US-led interference and intervention. Demonizing the US and the West, deflecting focus from internal political problems and regional conflicts owing to religious, political, and geopolitical reasons, or implying that the US and its allies are solely responsible for all the divisions among Muslims who are no different than Christians when it comes to sources of divisions does not explain underlying policy motives. By the same logic, modern versions of “White Man’s Burden” theories intended to blame the victim of imperialism as the Israelis blame the Palestinians for the latter’s chronic subjugated condition hardly reflects the realities of very complex problems.
Having engaged in many wars since the founding of Islam, Muslims are not strangers to conflict in the last fourteen centuries; not much different in this respect than Western Christians who undertook the crusades (1095-1291) not just for the glory of God, but trade routes that Arabs and Byzantines controlled. In so far as wars go, it is Christians who have been responsible for some of the bloodiest conflicts from the era of the Crusades to the present, mostly against each other over land, ethnicity, spheres of influence, military, and political hegemony. The ‘Sacking of Constantinople’ and the creation of the Latin Empire (1204-1261) proved that the Western crusaders were in the last analysis more after land, trade, and power and much less for the glory of God.
It is hypocritical for Western politicians, the media and analysts that reflect mainstream views to argue that Muslims create political problems entirely on their own for no apparent reason other than the historic Shiite-Sunni differences, innate personal traits rooted in Islamic culture, or the whole Middle East-West conflict is rooted in a clash of civilizations owing to religious/cultural issues.
There were no Muslims during the Vietnam War when the US became involved in a covert war (CIA operations via AIR AMERICA) in Laos and Cambodia and backed the Khmer Rouge because Washington was losing the military conflict with North Vietnam. Just as the US created a catastrophic situation in Cambodia because of its covert operations intended to win the unwinnable Vietnam War, similarly, almost half a century later the US has created another monstrous mess in the Middle East. This is in part because it has been trying unsuccessfully to determine the regional balance of power where Iran is at the core in the region.
One result of US destabilization policy is the Jihadist offshoot of al-Qaeda known as ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). Part of the blame for the people failing to unite behind their governments must go to the corrupt and divisive regimes in Damascus and Baghdad for pursuing clientism and crony capitalism that neglect to serve the broader public interest. In this sense, Western critics are correct to argue that governments in question ultimately have the responsibility for their policies that only feed sectarianism and social strife. At the same time, however, it is reprehensible that Washington, London and apologists of Western imperialism without any sense of historical context and self-criticism insist that the ongoing civil war and rebel activity is a problem solely created by the Arab political leadership and disparate factions. Without the money, guns and ammunition, political support, and covert operations to facilitate such rebel operations intended to secure the goal of regime change how far would ISIS succeed in carrying out its operations?
No one should be surprised at the arrogance of Western politicians and well-paid consultants and analysts echoing official policy when it comes to the Middle East and victim blaming which is official policy in Israel regarding the Palestinian Question and adopted by both Republican and Democrat politicians and the US media. This is archaic imperialist mindset applied by the West to the non-Western World dating back to the era of European colonialism. The Nixon administration, which created the tragedies of Laos and Cambodia in the 1960s and early 1970s, turned around and condemned the very monstrosity it had created, blaming the very people it had been supporting against Vietnam. Even more hypocritical, the US covertly cooperated with the Khmer Rouge remnants during the Reagan administration at a time that the US was castigating terrorist activity by Iran, a country with which it also secretly collaborated in order to undermine Nicaragua’s duly-elected regime.
In November 1986, the world discovered that the US had made an arms sales deal to Iran to finance the Nicaraguan Contra rebels and in exchange for release of US hostages held by Lebanese-based Hezbollah. Despite the numerous legal violations, including the Boland Amendment (1982-1984) prohibiting arms sales to the contras, as well as failure of congressional oversight in this Watergate-style scandal involving a number of top Reagan administration officials, the bottom line is that the US accomplished nothing other than to destabilize both Central America and the Middle East through its double-dealing that violated US laws. Parenthetically, one could point out that defense companies, consultants and right-wing ideologues benefited but at what cost to the broader interests of the US? (L. E. Walsh, Firewall: Iran-Contra Conspiracy and Cover-Up, 1997)
In the summer of 2014, the US and Western European governments announced that they had done all they could to “help Iraq”, just as they “helped” Afghanistan. Considering that the thorough destruction of both countries by the US and its allies, the term ‘help’ must have been a reference to achieving the goal of regime change. It seems that the history of US interventionism and double-dealing is repeating itself in Iraq where there was a secular regime under Saddam Hussein, albeit a dictatorship aided by the US in the 1980s against the war with Iran. When Saddam became too independent of US policy, the latter decided to topple him because of the possession of non existing weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda. In June 2014, President Obama claimed: “We can’t fix Iraq”, reference to nation-building policy.
It was indeed ironic for the US and Europe to argue that they had done ‘all they could to help Iraq’ at a time that they were doing all they could in Syria as well. Responsible for destroying Iraq during the first decade of the 21st century at a cost of $2 trillion dollars and half a trillion owed to veterans ($3.7 trillion when the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan are included), and incalculable catastrophic costs to Iraqis, the US and Western Europe were prepared to ‘help’ in so far as securing the country as a strategic satellite. These grandiose proclamations were made was more than two years ago. Western ‘help’ promises for the people of Iraq have yet to materialize. (www.reuters.com/article/us-raq-war-anniversary-idUSBRE92DOPG201303)
Arrogantly, the US and the Western Europeans declared in 2014, as they were deeply immersed in the destabilizing campaign against Syria, that it was time for the government in Baghdad to defend itself if it was under attack by ISIS Jihadists. This was indeed ironic, considering that Western allies Saudi Arabia and Turkey were helping ISIS logistically and financially while proclaiming they were trying to bring down the tyrant Assad. Two years later Turkey would turn on ISIS, but that was because of Western-Russian pressure and ISIS turning against Turkey.
Until November 2015, the convergence of the goals of ISIS Jihadists to destabilize Syria converged with those of the US and its EU partners. Naturally, the ISIS goals went beyond the struggle against Assad to include the campaign to carve out a larger Islamic fundamentalist state in the Levant. Not until they started using operatives in a number of countries including Libya and even in Europe to carry out attacks against civilians did the West change its tune to contain ISIS. When the jihadists started targeting Europeans in the heart of their cities with Paris hit first in November 2015 with 137 dead, the US was forced closer to Moscow’s position on ISIS, while never abandoning the goal of regime change in Damascus.
US volte face from collaboration with jihadists to confrontation is all too familiar a story. In the 1980s, the US-backed Mujahedin in Afghanistan fighting against the secular regime backed by the Soviets. After 9/11, the war on terror had replaced the Cold War as a permanent institutional structure of US foreign policy. However, the continued practice of selectively opposing and collaborating with terrorist groups remained. Even as the US and the West publicly proclaimed their resolve on the war on terror and opposition to ISIS, in June 2015 the Wall Street Journal carried a headline calling al-Qaeda affiliate Nursa Front in Syria a lesser evil and proposing that: “In the three-way war ravaging Syria, should the local al Qaeda branch be seen as the lesser evil to be wooed rather than bombed?” http://www.wsj.com/articles/to-u-s-allies-al-qaeda-affiliate-in-syria-becomes-the-lesser-evil-1434022017 In November 2015,
When ISIS bombed a civilian Russian plane in over northern Sinai on 31 October 2015, followed by an attack on Hozbollah in Beirut two weeks later, Western governments and media had no problem because the targets were pro-Assad. In fact, the Western media criticized President Vladimir Putin for striking ISIS targets, prompting the US to assist ISIS indirectly by providing air cover to protect certain pro-West assets in Syria along the Turkish border. Always reflecting US official position, the US media sent the message to the world that the problem at hand was really Putin and Assad, rather than the barbaric ISIS that Russian fighter planes were targeting; that is until the Paris massacre. The double-standard behind which rested the destabilization policy as a priority was revealing. It was one reason that eventually prompted even some Republican isolationists to accuse the Obama administration of promoting ISIS.
Contradictions of US Policy Goals
It is much more revealing of US goals in the Middle East top actually follow real practices, including logistical support, military aid diplomatic and intelligence support rather than following political rhetoric that does not always correspond to actions. What exactly are US policy goals in the Middle East depends whom you ask in different branches of government, in Congress, think tanks and various analysts.
A) Deliver freedom and democracy? B) Fight terrorism? C) Closer economic, political and military integration with the West, while also safeguarding the interests of Israel that is not always in agreement with US goals? D) Redraw the map so it can determine the balance of power and limit Russia and China influence? E) Patchwork of different goals at any given week, mired in contradictions? F) A combination of all of the above with instability at the core to preserve its historically hegemonic role?
From the Iranian Revolution (1979) to the present (2016), the US and its junior strategic partners in NATO have been trying to determine the balance of power in the Middle East based on the early Cold War model that divided spheres of influence, a model itself based on 19th century European and American Imperialism in Asia. The US and its partners contend that the goals of interference at the very least and military intervention at worst is to ‘help’ stabilize the region economically by integrating it into the Western-based market economy, promote “freedom and democracy” and secular institutions accordingly, and to secure strategic alliances that ‘help’ stabilize the region as part of the Western zone. Public statements notwithstanding, independent analysts assess policy based on results and the impact on societies at the receiving end of US-NATO actions rather than rhetoric intended for propaganda purposes.
1. Have the US and its partners achieved any of their publicly-stated goals, including democratizing and stabilizing the Middle East?
2. Has the US and the West delivered social justice, greater national sovereignty and economic prosperity to the region since Truman or has their only goal been to exploit its natural resources and geopolitical importance in the global power struggle with its rivals Russia and China?
3. Is the Middle East more stable because of US-NATO interference and aggressive intervention in the late 20th and early 21st century, or has the refugee crisis and chronic internal exposed the myths of the West?
4. With the exception of a handful of corporations, has US-NATO intervention helped to stimulate economic growth and sustainable development in the Middle East?
5. Has Iran, Russia and China, all rivals of the US and NATO, been weakened or strengthened as a result of US-led interference, military intervention and destabilization policies?
6. Has the US-led interference and intervention in the Arab Spring revolts engendered greater democracy or simply resulted in recycled dictatorships of various types, massive refugee problem, and economic hardships for the people involved?
Even the most pro-Western and pro-Israel analyst of US-Middle East relations would not conclude that the US and its allies have achieved their stated goals. Instead, they strengthened Islamic fanaticism and destabilized the Muslim areas from Pakistan to the Middle East and North Africa to parts of sub-Sahara Africa. This is in part because of the very selective course of action at times fighting against jihadists and others siding with them because of common goals centered on destabilization of regimes. At the same time, the US war on terror has given all countries around the world the pretext of defining their own terrorists that often include political opposition groups fighting for human rights, ethnic minority rights, and social justice. China for example has its own domestic enemies Uyghurs Muslim separatists it deems terrorists, while the US has refused to add this minority group in Xinjiang into the terrorist list. Moreover, the US has demanded that China join US war on terror and stop taking advantage of the spoils of war as in the case of Pakistan and Afghanistan. China’s response has been to promote ‘stability’ so it can continue its global trade expansion.
One could argue that the US is destabilizing the Middle East because it is becoming increasingly integrated under Chinese economic influence and to some degree Indian. Meanwhile, Russia has also been striving to keep its foot in the door as a regional power. Engagement and containment is official US policy toward China which uses its considerable economic power to capture market share in the Middle East and Africa. While the US continues to promote globalization under a neoliberal model, it is interested in doing so under its aegis rather than China’s in the Middle East and Africa. For the US to weaken nuclear-club members China and Russia directly would be self-destructive. However, it is practical, although costly, resorting to destabilization policies of countries under the influence of the Kremlin and Beijing.
The nexus of power between economic and military hegemony is very real to Washington while for Beijing, at least judging by the fact it spends ten times less on defense than the US, much less so as they are focused on economic expansion. This is not to suggest that Russia and China are not imperialistic or just as determined to secure market share and have access to raw materials. They are just as intent on securing zones of influence to enhance their power and deny them to the US as the Western countries. In this respect, Spengler’s social cycle theory has a modicum of validity considering that some patterns of the early 21st century global power structure resemble those of the early 20th century when wars of imperialism led to the Great War.
From Axis of Evil to Rapprochement: US-Iran Relations
On 29 January 2002, President George W. Bush made the following statement in his “State of the Union Address”: “Iran aggressively pursues these weapons [of mass destruction] and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people’s hope for freedom. … States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.”
If Iran was part of the Axis of Evil and at the core of world terrorism in 2002, why collaborate with that country to stabilize Iraq during the second term of the Obama administration, even before the conclusion of the deal on nuclear weapons development? If Bush was promoting war propaganda in order to secure public support for US military solutions to ‘manufactured crises’ of Islamic terrorism, what does the current ISIS crisis reveal about US policy failures?
In 2012, I wrote an article arguing the assumption that Western governments have the arrogance to decide the kind of regime in Baghdad, Kabul, and other Muslim countries, while they would hesitate to do the same for predominantly Christian-Caucasian European countries, Canada or Australia. If Russia or China were doing exactly what the US has been doing in the Middle East since the invasion of Iraq, the US and Western media would label it imperialism, just as they label Moscow’s conflict with Ukraine as such and Beijing’s role in the South China Sea.
In 2012, it was difficult to predict that the fiendish imperialist scheme to divide Iraq would actually backfire on the US and its allies, resulting in the situation of summer 2014 when ISIS was threatening to draw the map of the Middle East and targeting Western European civilian targets in suicide bombings. All along, Iran and Russia were fighting against the jihadists, not out of humanitarian principles, but national interest to deny US hegemony over Syria in a post-Assad era. US foreign policy actually brought Iran uncomfortably closer to Russia over the Syrian/ISIS crisis, just as it did China.
After years of negotiations, the US-Iran nuclear deal, which Israel and American right wing politicians and the media for the most part adamantly opposed, was an integral part of cooperation to stabilize Iraq and contain ISIS. Examined in isolation of the broader US-middle East policy, the Iran nuclear deal was a deviation from the long-standing US destabilization policy. The nuclear deal, which includes an Iranian commitment to further economic integration with the West – massive capital goods purchases to benefit Western multinational corporations – does not mean however, that the US has abandoned its policy of containment toward Tehran or giving up on its long-time US allies Saudi Arabia and Israel counterbalancing Iran’s role in the region. Besides the $40 billion dollar US aid for the next ten years that the Obama administration offered Israel, which it rejected as unsatisfactory, Washington has also been selling weapons to Saudi Arabia that is as anti-Iran as Israel, if not more so as the lingering civil war in Yemen has demonstrated in 2015 and 2016.
On 16 June 2014, the US accepted Iran’s proposal for collaboration to stabilize Iraq by working together against ISIS. When the Islamic Republic of Iran is trying to maintain Middle East stability by respecting the status quo and fighting Sunni jihadists, while the US and its allies, which accuse Iran of destabilizing the region, has in fact been a major source of instability, though by no means the only one given the many regional players at work, the only conclusion is that US, Israel and Saudi Arabia benefit from instability.
There is something seriously wrong that the US is in the odd position of having no choice but to selectively go along with Iran’s goal of stabilizing Iraq from ISIS jihadists, an admission of US policy failure both in Syria and Iraq. The glaring contradictions of US foreign policy have in fact resulted in Iran determining the balance of power, a point on which Israel and Saudi Arabia agree and vehemently object. If the goal of the US was to determine the balance of power in the Middle East and exploit its resources, then it has failed miserably toward that goal and in the process it has only created more problems for itself.
ISIS and the Western Media
After the jihadist Paris attacks on civilians in November 2015, the Western mainstream media began investigating the sources of ISIS financing and Turkey’s role. One question is why did the US tolerate its closest allies – Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, all Sunni and all under a form of dictatorship – money transfers to ISIS going through Turkey? The US refused to listen to Iraqi premier Nouri al-Maliki about ISIS financing sources because the enemies of the Jihadist offshoot of al-Qaeda were against Iran and Syria that the US and its junior partners adamantly opposed. Therefore, it was not until after the Paris massacre of innocent civilians by jihadists that the issue of financing sources for ISIS began to concern the US. Once the imminent break up of Iraq and the consolidation of Jihadists who are greater enemies than Iran or Syria became a clear threat and once the ISIS operatives began to attack Europeans where they live, there was a policy adjustment, but only an adjustment.
Just as the US had turned a blind eye to ISIS financing until the Paris jihadist attacks, the Western media hardly covered ISIS as the world’s menacing terrorist organization. Even after the Paris attacks received world-wide publicity, the media’s attention only focused on the organization’s role in Iraq, not the devastation it caused in Syria and the millions of people displaced. After the Belgium suicide bombings in March 2016, the focus was on the influx of Middle Eastern refugees and Muslim immigrants in general as the root cause of terrorism in Europe. Ignoring Western counterinsurgency operations In Syria as a root cause of the refugee crisis, governments and the media focused on xenophobia and Islamophobia as the real problem confronting Europeans.
Mainly backed by Saudi Salafi-Wahabi elements and covertly the Turkish government, ISIS have been spreading terror not just among Shias, but anyone standing in their way, including Sunnis. Yet, the media had not revealed anything about the Saudi-Turkish-ISIS connection, or the US indirect links to ISIS through third parties, including Ankara and Riyadh. Once the destabilization problem seemed to be affecting Western European interests, the Western media changed its tune about ISIS, following the main line of their governments.
One of the most blatant lies to come out of Washington and repeated by the media was that the US intelligence agenies were taken by surprise when Jihadists moved in so aggressively against Iraq, coming so closely to the capital in June 2014. The Pentagon and CIA, among other agencies had tons of information not just about the movements of the Jihadists, but also their sources of financing and their ambitions to establish an autonomous state. In other words, the media was at the core of creating and perpetuating public distraction, blaming lack or faulty intelligence, misrepresentations of analysts’ reports, and other such details intended to cover up the obvious role of the US government and its allies in order to keep silent about the Jihadists until they became a serious threat to Iraq and hit European civilian targets. Manufacturing Consent is nothing new for the corporate media that has served to promote conformity to imperial policies since the Spanish-American War.
It is understandable that journalists and analysts receiving a paycheck from an employer who reflects the US or a Western government official position simply present the official version, concealing from the public all sides of the issue. Some of the journalists and analysts have a poor command of the history of US-Middle East relations or even of the facts regarding the ‘war on terror’. Others, cover up the role of the US and its allies in the destabilizing campaign of the Middle East because if they do not their editors will not approve the story and eventually they will have no job. The credibility gap in US foreign policy is not just with the US government but the media as well, although one could argue that opportunism is imposed by the institutional structure and that the first responsibility of the individual is to her/his survival and not to social justice and human rights principles.
US Foreign Policy Credibility Deficit at Home and Abroad
When Obama was elected president in 2008, many people in the US and around the world believed a new era in US foreign policy would begin; a sort of a Good Neighbor Policy applied globally and in sharp contrast to the military interventionism by the Bush presidency. There was the assumption that the US learned its lessons from the Iraq-Afghanistan-Pakistan wars that failed to achieve publicly-stated goals and left the occupied nations seriously damaged. After eight years of Obama, the world discovered the harsh reality of continuity in US policy and an even greater inclination to pursue destabilization after Arab Spring than under Bush. Obama resenting himself as a US president presumably less inclined to embrace military solutions to crises and more open to political negotiations and conflict resolution by addressing root causes of problems was nothing more than pre-election campaign slogan. The reality was drone warfare in East Africa, Pakistan and Afghanistan where civilians were often casualties (collateral damage not war crimes), and military operations to destabilize North Africa and Syria.
In the summer of 2014, the US and its NATO partners found themselves in the unusual position of sending military assistance to the Shiite Iraqi regime in order to stabilize it and protect the oil fields that ISIS Jihadists coming in from northwest Syria were threatening. Just a few days before the ISIS crisis in Iraq erupted in late spring 2014, Obama candidly admitted that it would be naïve to assume that the US can fight global terrorism on its own, proposing instead a broader partnership and putting $5 billion on the table toward that end. Although the new “terrorism” assistance program was in addition to others, it was extraordinarily naïve to believe that those programs mostly aiming at police/military solutions would be any more effective than spending one trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan chasing ghosts that have returned with real guns and threaten the very regimes the US set up through military means.
When ISIS insurgents were threatening to take control of major parts of Iraq and disrupt oil flows, the question was where do they stop and what about the symbolism of their victories? Having seized Nineveh that includes Mosul, ISIS was disrupting cities and villages and planning to head south to complete their conquest of more territory. Although Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Peshmerga had been helping Iraq against Sunni Jihadists, preventing them from taking over the strategic city of Kirkuk, the government in Baghdad appealed for broader assistance to preserve the country’s territorial integrity. The approach from the EU and US was not to repeat the mistakes of the past by becoming involved with ‘boots on the ground’ as was the case under Bush in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Iran had repeatedly suggested helping in cooperation with the US, a prospect that entailed the US would have to be on the same side with its arch-enemy in the region. Furthermore, it would mean that the US finally recognized Iran had been and would continue to determine the regional balance of power. In other wor4ds, stability actually benefited Iran not the US. The Jihadists that the US helped to create in the Syrian civil war seized major towns and oil refineries were roughly 60 miles from the Iraqi capital by summer 2014, prompting the US and its NATO allies to consider yet another form of intervention but still focused on bringing down Assad by military means. One problem for the West was that the Erdogan government was secretly facilitating the transfer of ISIS-produced oil, while also focusing on its own historic enemy the Kurdish minority and its political arm PKK as the real terrorist organization rather than ISIS.
Mired in contradictions of strategy and goals, US policy makers were scrambling to justify why ‘limited intervention’ was the only option and it was up to Iraq to solve the problem that the US created. The irony of all this was that US intervention this time resembled the manner that the US helped to create al-Qaeda in its nascent stage in the 1980s when the Soviets were helping the secular regime in Afghanistan. Confronted with home grown jihadists given birth more by endemic poverty than ideology, many Middle East and African governments were seriously concerned that what had taken place in Syria and Iraq could easily take place in their own countries. Al-Shabab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria, for example have been among the more active jihadist guerrilla organizations, though the West hardly pays much attention to them in comparison to ISIS that has hit Western cities.
In the second decade of the 21th century, the world power structure resembles the “Wars of Imperialism” era (1870-1914) when the Great Powers were in a struggle for spheres of influence, global markets and access to raw materials. The small wars of that era eventually led to a global conflict. The ‘long fuse’ (1870-1914) finally lit in summer 1914 because the Great Powers, especially Germany, did not see an alternative to war. One key difference today in comparison with the ‘Age of Imperialism’ is that the Great Powers possess nuclear weapons which impose self-restraint, forcing governments to step back from the madness of the planet’s destruction.
Promulgated a year before the founding of the state of Israel, the Truman Doctrine afforded the US status as the world’s policeman, using Communism as the ideological justification for the struggle for raw materials, markets, and geopolitical advantage. How different the world would have been if the US had chosen the East-West co-existence path of Commerce Secretary Henry Wallace and how different the Middle East would have been if Washington pursued an even-handed policy toward Palestinian and Israelis. One could argue that in the early 21st century the US needs a new doctrine to reflect its actual economic power in the world and the reality that the global power structure is very different in the second decade of the 21st century than it was in the 1940s when Truman promulgated his doctrine of the US as the world’s policeman. The old Cold War policy intended to keep Pax Americana alive hardly has much relevance in the post-Communist era China at the forefront of the world economy enjoys such immense leverage in determining the balance of power.
Ever since the Vietnam War, Pax Americana’s decline preserved itself by diminishing the national political, economic, and military sovereignty of other countries over which it exerted inordinate influence. Yet, the American middle class and workers are now paying a heavy for the privilege of maintaining America’s global role under the New World Order in which the US desperately tries to retain its superpower glory of the past. One of the reactions for the globalization process under US hegemony is nationalist reaction from other countries, an underlying cause of jihadist terrorism, among others related to local, national and regional issues. One has to wonder if Western militarism and economic imperialism, complemented by Western racism and religious prejudice is the most effective method of combating jihadist terrorism. If the only issue is to perpetuate a counterterrorism culture for a variety of reasons already discussed in this essay, then of course imperialism, militarism and destabilization make sense.
By the end of the Obama administration, there were much greater and wider forms of terrorism than when the Bush announced the war on terror after 9/11. Intended to project the idea that government has the solution at hand and it is in position of protecting its citizens, public diplomacy and media propaganda run against the reality of rising terrorism. Jihadists already reside within the nations that they wish to strike and history has demonstrated that unconventional war has never been won by conventional military means.
It is difficult to know the number of jihadists around the world, but estimates have it between 100,000 and 200,000 identifying with a group out of a total Muslim population number 1.6 billion. Even the US State Department statistics on “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” has the number of jihadists under 200,000, or roughly 25% fewer than the Homeland Security workforce. Meanwhile, 72% of Muslims in opinion polls disagree with violence as a political weapon, although this number can change depending on the perceived or real Western threats to Islamic societies. Alienating the vast majority of Muslims around the world with racist conduct and interventionist policies coupled with economic imperialism is hardly the way to win the war on terror on the part of the US and its European allies. Nevertheless, this is exactly what will continue to take place because it serves the Western elites and even some Muslims who are on the outside and want to be part of the power structure. (http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/26/opinion/bergen-schneider-how-many-jihadists/; https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140506/14033627137/how-many-terrorists-are-there-not-as-many-as-you-might-think.shtml)
The prospects for the future of the Middle East, at least for the next five to ten years, do not look very good even under the most optimistic scenario. Part of the reason for pessimism is that there is low likelihood of any kind of resolution to the Palestinian Question. Historically, Arab governments, especially Saudi Arabia, have opportunistically used the Palestinian Question to show perfunctory solidarity when in fact they did absolutely nothing to democratize their own societies or help with a constructive solution in the Palestinian case. Blaming Israel as the ‘devil of the Middle East’ served as a distraction from problems Arab governments were unwilling to confront. At the same time, it is highly unlikely the US will change its pro-Israel policy or its Cold War militarist orientation and destabilization methods to embrace a multilateral approach through the offices of the UN General Assembly. As China becomes economically stronger and Putin consolidates power under nationalist policies driven in part by the anti-Russian US-led campaign, the US will continue to seek ways to destabilize Muslim countries. Destabilization is here to stay, until there are uprisings in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States where the US has vested interests.
Destabilization is part of a larger policy to expand NATO and SEATO as a means of containing Russia and China as well as their regional allies has been set and it will absorb higher resources in defense and intelligence allocations. Brown University’s Watson Institute estimated the costs of US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan at just under $4.4 trillion, an amount is roughly a quarter of the US public debt when Homeland Security is included. Over 7.6 million have been displaced and reduced to refugee status and more than 210,000 civilians killed. This does not include the numerous human rights violations and charges by governments and international human rights organizations about wars crimes. The US and NATO always defaulted crimes to individual soldiers carrying out the acts and never to governments who conduct policy. http://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/
The prospect of militarism hastening Pax Americana’s decline is not a perceptible reality for the vast majority of the political and socioeconomic elites any more than for the majority of the American people who accept the official policy version that the media constantly hammers into peoples’ heads. Although the majority of Americans polled want less military involvement, they favor greater defense spending because they view Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and Muslims as a national security threat. Of course, the media, consultants, academics, pundits and lobbyists, preachers and politicians mold public opinion in the process of manufacturing consent, as Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky argued in the late 1980s. Because opinion makers have vested career interests, they rarely bother with the cost-benefit analysis of militaristic policies impacting society in general. Instead, they focus narrowly on militarism advancing security and corporate profits identified with the ‘national interest’ as defined by Wall Street and the Pentagon.
Just as there was a culture of anti-Communism that existed throughout the Cold War and it was responsible for shaping American society and its institutions that revolved around it, similarly the government and private sector created a culture of counterterrorism after 9/11. It is not just the Department of Homeland Security, all intelligence and law enforcement agencies that revolve around this culture, but hundreds of billions of dollars flowing into everything from foreign mercenaries and intelligence outsourcing to domestic consultants and companies selling the latest high tech equipment whose fortunes depend on the existence of a counterterrorism culture.
Contrary to the impression of some critics that half-crazed ideologues in their cubicles in the State Department, Pentagon, and CIA are trying to figure out how to destabilize the next Syria and Libya, the reality is far more disturbing. There is an entire institutional structure with hundreds of thousands of people working toward a common goal as an integral part of the culture of counterterrorism used to justify the continued strength of the military industrial complex. Whether policymakers or ordinary citizens, it would never occur to the people immersed in the counterterrorism culture to ask if a foreign power subjected the US to destabilization and militarist policies how they would react and whether a small segment of their countrymen would engage in armed resistance against foreign intervention.
Because of the long history of American Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny rooted in American society, not just the political and socioeconomic elites, but ordinary Americans believe that the US is unique among nations and it has a mandate to transform the world after its own image. Moreover, conduct it condemns on the part of other nations and/or groups is excused and justified in the case of the US because its transformation doctrine justifies it. After all, implicit in American Exceptionalism is the concept of superiority of other nations. Since the US-Mexico War in the 1840s, outward expansion was attributed to the mandate from divine providence.
As integral parts of US foreign policy, American Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny are unfolding horrifically before the eyes of the entire world that reduces them to the lowest common denominator as ideological justifications for imperialism. The political and socioeconomic elites immersed in this ideology and driving policy are wearing institutional/cultural blinders deceived themselves that the mythology of American Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny inherited from the early 19th century is the road to greatness. They refuse to accept America’s inability to carry out transformation policy on a world scale as it did from the end of WWII until the end of the Vietnam War. They are blind to the dangers ahead resulting from such policies as much for countries on the receiving end of US conduct as for the US itself.
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By Jon Kofas.
On 10 August 2016, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump accused president Barak Hussein Obama and Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton of co-founding the jihadist rebel organization ISIS (Islamic State) operating mainly in Syria and Iraq but with operative in many Middle Eastern countries and around the world. Trump used Obama’s full name to provoke a racist-xenophobic response from the public about the Arabic-sounding name rooted in East Africa. Immediately, critics insisted that Trump made outrageous and ignorant comments about complex foreign affairs matters he does not fully comprehend.
The following day Trump clarified that he meant exactly what he said and not that Obama’s foreign policy inadvertently led to the creation of ISIS. Did Obama and Clinton create ISIS, or is this more of Trump right-wing populist hyperbole intended to rise in polls where is far behind Clinton? Considering that Trump has neo-isolationist tendencies, do such comments about Obama and Clinton creating ISIS make sense, or is he indeed an ignorant wealthy right wing populist appealing to the fears and prejudice of many citizens bombarded by media foreign policy distortions on a daily basis?
On the day that Trump accused Obama and Clinton of creating ISIS, Turkish President Erdogan accused the US of protecting Turkish billionaire Fethullah Gulen who lives in Pennsylvania. Erdogan considers Gullen and his ‘movement’ a terrorist organization that was behind the attempted military coup in July 2016. Moreover, the Turkish president considers the US a protector and promoter of terrorism, unless it hands Gulen over to Turkish authorities. Turkey is a NATO member, committed to the same goal as the US of regime change in Syria, and a frontline state to combat ISIS and terrorism; but what is terrorism and who is a terrorist? If Turkey and the US agree on publicly stated policy goals, despite the reality that Turkey itself has had a long-standing backdoor collaborator with ISIS and considers terrorist the Kurdish political organization PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) which the US does not.
Beyond the obvious reality that terrorism is a very subjective political reality that means something very different to each country, there remains the massive confusion within the US political arena because Trump’s accusation is one usually uttered by critics of US foreign policy around the world. Only critics of US foreign policy have been advancing the thesis that ISIS and other jihadist groups would not exist if it were not for the financing, diplomatic, military and logistical support by the US and its European and Middle East allies like Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Turkey. I know of no serious critic rooted in scholarly arguments that would argue what Trump did. In a number of articles, I have pointed out that the US goal of regime change in Syria led the US and its allies to back various rebel groups from which ISIS emerged in the last five years.
The US plan was to gain greater leverage in the Middle East and deny Russia the geopolitical leverage it has historically enjoyed in Syria. This became important especially amid negotiations for a nuclear deal with Iran and the reality that Iran emerged as the dominant player in the Middle East largely because of US military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan where the results have been an unmitigated disaster measured by the criteria and goals that the US set out to accomplish.
Why then did the US pursue policies that in fact create terrorism through destabilization policies of anti-jihadist regimes, a policy replete with contradictions and one ultimately backfiring? Why support jihadist groups in a number of countries from Libya to Yemen, from Syria to Iraq when the result is greater jihadist activity throughout the Middle East and random hits against innocent targets in the West? Post-Cold War US has a need to keep feeding the military industrial complex whose presence in Washington is strong given their lobbying efforts among elected officials. However, that does not explain fully the war on terror on the one hand, and policies that promote terrorism on the other.
Besides the pressure from the defense industries for more government contracts to meet the dangers of our times, which includes ‘Islamic terrorism’, and besides the regional balance of power argument that diplomats advance, there is the question of using the war on terror to maintain the status quo at home in the face of external threats. Conformity to the status quo, especially amid a declining middle class and massive gap between the very rich and the rest of the citizens becomes paramount for the two political parties. This may actually be the biggest argument for creating terrorism than feeding more contracts to the defense industry and various parasitic consulting firms repeating what the hawkish elements in both political parties want to hear about a strong defense as a panacea to all of society’s problems.
The lesson here is not that the term terrorism is generic and meaningless. Now that the Republican presidential candidate has given legitimacy to the theme that the US creates terrorism, a theme that is hardly new among serious analysts of the war on terror, the argument takes center stage no matter how much both Republicans and Democrats try to dismiss it. Trump’s comments reflect a populist frustration with a wayward government pursuing destabilization policies filled with contradictions and lack of clarity both in terms of procedure and outcomes. The lesson here is not just the lengths to which a presidential candidate would go to secure more popular support using rhetoric one would associate with politicians in less developed countries where political opponents have no qualms suggesting it may not be a bad idea to eliminate the other. The lesson is that no matter the propaganda by the media, pundits, politicians, academics, and all who pretend that terrorism came like the blob from another planet are now unable to hide behind this enemy.
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By Jon Kofas.
The Rising Cost of Higher Education
Political Resistance to Changing the Neoliberal Model of Higher Education
The Media and the Corporate Model of Higher Education
“In Kentucky, Papa John’s pizza founder John Schnatter teamed up with the Koch Brothers Foundation to fund business school programmes at the University of Louisville and at the University of Kentucky. Both donations came with the caveat that the donors can stop funding if they do not feel that their mission – the teaching of free market economics and business practices – is being carried out to their satisfaction. To some, such stipulations imply that students will be taught by professors sympathetic to the political and economic views of the donors.”
Corporatization of the University and College Administration
“But one of the things we very firmly believe is that as it has been for the last 50 years or so, that federal aid money must follow the student, and stay with the student.” In other words, do what you will with public schools, as long as federal and state funds also flow into private schools based on student choice. “There is no trend we can discern yet that suggests schools are going to start cutting back on the amounts of money that they need for the expanding services they offer. There may be a decrease in growth if tuition increases, but nobody is decreasing tuition, nobody is decreasing the number of services offered, and therefore schools are continually getting more expensive.”
University of Phoenix at $35.5 billion
Walden University – $9.8 billion;
DeVry – $82 billion;
Capella University – $8 billion;
Strayer University – $6.7 billion
Kaplan University – $6.7 billion
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“Modernization Theory” and “Third Wave Democracy”: Internal and External Impediments to Democracy and DevelopmentMay 3rd, 2016
By Jon Kofas.
The “Third Wave” and the Modernization Theory as “Cold War Democracy”
The Third Wave, Arab Revolution and Counter-Revolution
If the ‘Third Wave’ did not result in the type of social justice that one would associate with a Norwegian model of democracy but rather with a Latin American one, why would the imaginary ‘Fourth Wave’ be any different taking place now in the Middle East, especially after the failed uprisings that NATO countries and regional players like Saudi Arabia subverted as part of a counter-revolution that followed? Furthermore, the suggestion that modernization can come solely or primarily as a result of diffusion of ‘ideas’ from the West to the rest of the world is in many respects a reflection of Western imperialism, merely another version of Kipling’s White Man’s Burden thesis.
The Arab Spring uprisings were heterogeneous in their ideological orientation, as much as the Iranian Revolution of 1979 that the Shiite clergy eventually dominated and used to create an Islamic Republic. Precisely because of the heterogeneous nature of opposition to authoritarian regimes in Islamic countries reflecting largely the urban-secular middle class vs. the rural and some urban traditional masses clinging to Islam as the unifying force in society it became easier for the armed forces as in Egypt or comprador bourgeois class linked to foreign interests to prevail over the disparate masses. The question for the advocates of Modernization theory is whether revolution inspired by Islam intended to bring about social justice to society fits the theory, a question that a number of scholars raise as they try to place Arab Spring into a theoretical framework.
Using the “jihadist” theme, implicitly intertwined with the war on terror, as the explanation for siding with the new elites that emerged from counterrevolution, analysts argued that there must be an alternative to jihad as the opposition force to regimes – authoritarian or elected – closely integrated with Western interests and policies. Crony capitalism that existed before Arab Spring continued after the dust settled, just as the Western influence that existed before remained very much alive in geopolitical and economic domains. Post-Islamism manifesting itself in the rise of urbanization and youths embracing the new communications technology as a means of grassroots organizing and consciousness-raising was just one factor in the revolts during the first half of the 2010s. This does not mean that there is a shortage of hypocrisy on the part of leaders in the opposition embracing the uprising in the name of Islam any more than on the part of rulers claiming to defend the faith. Piety has its limits when it comes to political goals as much in the Islamic Middle East, as in the Christian West. Nevertheless, there is no stigma of “jihadist terrorism” attached to Christianity and Judaism. Whereas the identity of a Muslim emanates from the faith as well as the nation-state, social status and lesser factors, the identity of a Christian in France or US is rooted in multiple institutions mostly secular, that may or may not include nation-state and faith.
Accepting some of the theoretical assumptions of the Modernization theory, French-Moroccan author Rachid Benzine emerged in Europe as a representative of the Arab Spring generation to articulate the events and dynamics in North Africa and the Middle East in the early 21st century. Following a long-standing tradition started by Bernard Lewis, Fazlur Rahman, and Edward Said who was a critic of conventional scholarship, Benzine argued that the failure of the Arab world, and more widely the Islamic world, to undergo an intellectual revolution (Renaissance and Enlightenment like Europe), invariably linked to social development, owed to a ‘misreading’ of the Koran and in failing to recognize and respond to specific historical situations?
Undermining Self-determination and Popular Sovereignty in Traditional Societies
Neo-liberalism and the Decline of Democracy in Core Countries
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By Jon Kofas.
That the IMF was actually caught plotting to force a sovereign nation onto the verge of bankruptcy while creating chaos with EU members sounds like a conspiracy theory, if it were not for the fact that the entire conversation was recorded and released through WIKILEAKS. The IMF conspiracy reveals that blackmail tactics are used by the Fund that have absolutely nothing to do with its original mission when it was created at Bretton Woods in 1944. The IMF covert plot reveals the extent that the organization is willing to go in order to achieve its goal of imposing austerity conditions that results in the impoverishment of nations and massive wealth concentration in the hands of creditors. However this also reveals the extent to which governments of periphery nations have lost all pretenses of any control over their own policies affecting the fate of millions of people.
Clearly, there is convergence of several factors at work here. 1. The Syrian-Iraqi refugee crisis in Europe through Greece; 2. The real possibility that the United Kingdom may not stay in the European Union, and even if it does it would continue to be a thorn on its side; 3. The desire of the IMF to make sure that austerity and neoliberal policies that results in massive wealth concentration continue uninterrupted; 4. The real possibility that the European Union is weakened not just by austerity but also the refugee matter that US-NATO foreign policy has created, and the possibility that the future of the regional bloc would continue to weaken.
This means that Troika (IMF ECB, and European Commission) funds would be withheld forcing panic conditions in Greece. Athens under SYRIZA, a leftist government that has fully embraced austerity and neoliberal policies just as its arch conservative predecessors, has repeatedly accused the IMF of using delaying tactics that prevent funds from flowing into Greece. At the same time, Greece has a major problem with private banks’ “non-performing loans” that essentially have driven the stock prices of the banks down to a tiny fraction of the pre-austerity values. These are the tactics that the IMF has been using to make sure that even harsher measures, deeper cuts in the social security system, deep cuts in wages and public sector jobs, and higher taxes are impose on a country bleeding from IMF-EU austerity since May 2010.
All of this would take place against the background of the United Kingdom’s vote on the referendum either to stay or leave the EU in June 2016. At the same time, the IMF would threaten to abandon TROIKA, thus forcing Germany to go along with the Fund’s proposal for debt relief. Debt relief would be in the form of extended maturities for existing EU loans, longer grace periods, and very modest interest rate reductions; all issues that the IMF has proposed in the past but Germany rejected. The tool the IMF would use is the bailout tranche, which it would delay using the pretext of “Review”. This would then entail that Greece is unable to meet its interest payment obligation to the IMF, thus a “credit event” would be created artificially that would in turn afford all leverage to the IMF vis-à-vis Greece for much more severe austerity measures, while also putting pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel for debt relief.
The IMF scenario assumes that the UK vote on remaining in the EU may not be favorable, and that would impact the entire European continent. Poland and Hungary may start creating noise about staying if the UK leaves. Greece would most likely use the occasion to secure easier terms for itself so that it does not continue cutting wages and pensions while raising taxes that only lowers living standards and raises the GDP to debt ratio, forcing the country into an endless downward cycle of debt relief just to meet interest payments in foreign loans.
Austerity has meant that: 1. Massive exodus of college graduates and professionals seeking opportunities around the world. 2. Public hospitals lack just about everything from essential medications to treat patients to toilet paper that patients’ family bring from home. 3. Social unrest in every sector from journalists to farmers demanding an end to austerity. 4. Massive devaluation of all asset values, especially real estate. 5. Continued NATO pressure to keep defense spending at pre-austerity levels despite the loss of about 25% of GDP. The following statistics further illustrate the failures of austerity to deliver on its promises.
1. Greek GDP-debt ratio: 173.8% (2015), while in 2009 before austerity GDP-debt ratio was 129%.
2. Unemployment: 12% in 2010 – 27% 2015 and expected at around 20% in 2020 – youth unemployment 50%.
3. GDP: $330 billion 2010 – $235 billion 2015.
4. $31,700 annual average per capita – 2008 – $18,900 – 2014.
5. GDP growth rate: 2010 -5.45%; 2011 – 8.86%; 2012 – 6.57%; 2013 – 3.9%; 2014+0.77%; 2015 – 2.27%
The emphasis of the IMF and its TROIKA partners has been to realize “primary government budget surplus” no matter the sacrifice in terms of raising the unemployment rate, driving wages and pension lower and taxes higher. The IMF is even more determined that Greece maintain such a surplus, as though the economy is at the same level of dynamic growth and development to sustain the hard currency as Germany using the same currency. When the WIKILEAKS revelation made headlines around the world, the Greek government immediately demanded clarification from IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde. Instead of calling for a political unity to leave the European Union entirely, the Greek government engaged in rhetorical threats and grand standing to demonstrate that it has a modicum of control over national sovereignty when in reality it has none.
The decision to target periphery nations for austerity has always been political since the founding of the IMF in 1944. The US and the core countries essentially decide that the periphery nations undergo austerity as a means of remaining in the periphery of the capitalist world system. Just like the US decided to reindustrialize Germany and Japan for essentially geopolitical reasons, and just like it did likewise with Taiwan and South Korea, it also decided that Latin America and Africa would be relegated to the periphery. More recently, the Balkans is in the same category and for this region the decision was made in Germany with the help of the IMF and the cooperation of northwest core European countries.
In January 2015, Greece elected a government that called itself Socialist and promised to end austerity and neoliberal policies; to restore national sovereignty and the social safety net; to give the country back to the people. In about six months after its election the regime embraced fully the exact policies it had renounced and pursued the exact same road of foreign dependence – a semi-colonial role – as its conservative predecessor. The people are thoroughly demoralized and deeply divided ideologically and politically. Some are convinced that there is nothing they can do because the pro-austerity, neoliberal media – some of the journalists actually re-trained by the IMF – owned by barons whose fortunes are tied to foreign capital and the EU constantly project the impression that the alternative is to wind up isolated like North Korea.
BREXIT may actually present the best opportunity for Greeks to rebel and overthrow the pro-austerity regime. The possibility that a military dictatorship could emerge is not so farfetched. The EU does not permit its members to have non-elected authoritarian regimes. However, the IMF-EU austerity since 2010 has been a form of authoritarianism and foreign control of the country that is hardly any different than a 19th century semi-colony. Even if BREXIT does not take place, the EU will continue to weaken because the pressure will increase from rightwing ultra nationalist elements across Europe against the regional trading and monetary bloc that has deprived nations of their sovereignty for the benefit of large capitalists in each nation and ultimately to allow for German hegemony that in some respects is just as intrusive and detrimental in the lives of Europeans as policies pursued in the Age of Imperialism (1870-1914).
For all practical purposes, Greece a semi-colony as are all of the Balkans whose role is not much different today than it was during the late 19th century. The future of these periphery countries entering the EU integration model based on a patron-client relationship means almost total absence of national sovereignty on important issues from financial and social policy to defense. This also means even less focus on social justice in the near future. While one could argue that the masses would rise up to rebel against such conditions, the more likely scenario is sociopolitical polarization and probably an increasingly stronger right wing course justified by the fear of Muslims entering Europe because foreign-instigated war has drove them to refugee status. Indeed, the US-led war on terror and interventions in the Middle East only help to strengthen the right wing across Europe. This leaves very little room to be optimistic for those hoping that social justice. The angry masses are clearly divided but the right wing has the upper hand because historically the right wing in Europe has played a greater role than the left that is currently very weak and divided.
Comments Off on AN IMF PLOT, GREECE, THE EU and BREXIT
By Jon Kofas.
Is Trump a reflection of America, at least a segment of the population that has proved it wants him as the next president, or is he a historical accident, an aberration from the norm in politics? Despite both Republican and Democrat, conservative, liberal and leftist critics that Trump is not a reflection of the American mainstream, the astonishing results of the primary voting process reveal a very different story for a man who could easily win the nomination. This would be especially the case if the Republican Party establishment owned by billionaires like Trump supports his candidacy instead of undermining it in every respect possible.
Although Trump has opportunistically toyed with right-wing populism – racism, xenophobia, misogyny, jingoism – and although he is indeed a con-artist as Marco Rubio calls him and a fraud as Mitt Romney calls him, he is very much a reflection of mainstream America as much as Bernie Sanders representing the anti-neoliberal pro-Keynesian wing of the Democrat party. It is indeed true that he is an embarrassment at home and overseas because of who he is and because he is a right wing populist approaching as close to neo-Fascism as any candidate for president.
However, Trump is a product of and reflects the traditions and institutions as much as any Republican who in essence represents the same ideological and policy position. Nor can it be argued that the corrupt billionaires and Republican political establishment is against Trump on moral grounds as though these people are on a higher moral plane like Pope Francis who criticized Trump for lacking compassion for the poor trying to cross the border. Therefore, the issue comes down to the degree to which the Republican political and business establishment wants Trump as its presidential candidate no matter what the voters want, and the degree of control the party machinery and billionaires wish to exercise in the political arena as they are looking beyond the presidency to House and Senate seats that may be at risk because of Trump at the head of the party ticket.
Legitimacy and Democracy
Regardless of whether Trump becomes the nominee or the next US president, the larger issue is one of a “bourgeois democratic” society’s institutional mechanisms and sources of legitimacy. If legitimacy rests with the party machinery and the wealthy people funding it, then the system parading as democratic is a fraud, and it is not just Trump. The issue of legitimacy is at stake in American democracy and especially with this campaign of 2016 where the frontrunner and presumptive nominee after striking a deal with the party bosses finds himself isolated from the party bosses and those funding the party.
In US, does legitimacy emanate from the political party apparatus that chooses candidates and presents them to voters for election? If the people by majority vote for a candidate that the political party establishment has chosen to be on the ballot but does not want that candidate does this mean that popular vote is meaningless as is the electoral process? According to 19th century German sociologist Max Weber, the sources of legitimacy converge in an open society and they are based on tradition, charismatic leadership and legal authority. Based on a constitutional system and laws, legal authority by elected and/or appointed officials is one source of legitimacy.
The powers of legal authority are not without limits considering checks and balances in the US democratic system and popular consent as the underlying source of political power, at least in theory. It should be stressed that Max Weber never created linkage between social justice and political legitimacy, whereas his contemporaries ideologically to the left did exactly that. The question of popular sovereignty and legitimacy is one with limits in American history that had excluded slaves, women, and for all practical purposes the poor and minorities from the voting process. Although in the early 21st century the system ideally permits for all citizens to vote for pre-selected candidates of the party machinery, the issue of legitimacy remains a big question mark because the preservation of the public and private institutions take precedence over any elected official whose goal must be to serve the institutions and not change them without congressional authorization.
The Historical Role of the Wealthy in Politics
Historically in Europe the very wealthy recognized the symbolic significance of not running for office and simply manipulating the political process from behind the scenes. After all, money has always bought political influence at all levels of government, and one way of protecting the interests of capital has been to rely on the legislative branch of government because one never knows if the executive deviates from serving capital as faithfully as the socioeconomic elites expect. This rule of the very wealthy staying out of politics was broken in the Age of Imperialism in Europe (1870-1914) when the stakes became so important that competing interests at the national and international levels were fighting for market share on a world scale.
More recently, there have been billionaires like Silvio Berlusconi who was Italy’s prime minister and many European politicians have used their political office as a vehicle of moving into the socioeconomic elite class. Last spring a millionaire businessman Juha Sipila was elected to Prime Minister of Finald by promising to make the country competitive just as Republicans have been advocating, never mentioning income inequality or social justice. Therefore, Europe is not entirely free of the businessman-politician promising the moon to voters.
From its founding, the US carved a different path than Europe that tended to be skeptical of wealthy oligarchs in political power. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt were all multi-millionaires and saw their class interests converging with the nation’s interests, without necessarily neglecting completely the marginalized in society. It is true, of course, that after 1850 and the era of Lincoln we have layers and professionals with a record of public service running for office, but they were just as representative of big capital’s interests as the wealthy presidents. The Gilded Age (1870-1900) proved as much despite presidents in the White House that were not super wealthy like Washington and Jefferson. There are remarkable parallels between the late 19th century Gilded Age and the new Gilded Age of the late 20th-early 21st century America.
The Progressive Era (1900-1920) that started at the local level in Wisconsin during the age of mass consumerism as the Industrial Revolution was expanding the economy prompted calls by the rising professional middle class for limits on the role of the wealthy in politics. After all, American politics was blatantly bought and paid for by the wealthy in all levels of government to the degree that calling such a system democracy could not be taken seriously.
Ironically, Theodore Roosevelt who was very wealthy and a Republican favored the role of the state as an arbiter of capital and he favored reforms that would rationalize the political economy. He recognized that capitalists left to their own devices were predatory and the rise of big business meant the need to create large government bureaucracies to regulate and assist the private sector. In short, Roosevelt had no illusions that capitalism must be rationalized otherwise it would cause havoc in society and destroy democracy rooted in pluralism. He knew first hand that the wealthy had politicians in their back pockets and tried to broaden the process to integrate the lower middle class into the political mainstream largely to afford legitimacy to a corrupt system. Progressivism only regulated big businesses and hardly placed restrictions on capital accumulation to the detriment of labor.
The Great Depression forced Franklin Roosevelt to expand on many programs of the Progressive Era that started at the turn of the century under Roosevelt and continued under Wilson. Despite opposition by the wealthy who did not want the state used as an agent of growth and development and an arbiter in society, FDR had no choice if he wanted to save a system from chaos and collapse. He broadened the political process and co-opted the lower classes into the Democrat mainstream, thus affording legitimacy to the system. When the Second World War ended, however, the US began to slowly deviate from the premises of government’s role in society, justifying it on the basis of the Cold War and the need to compete in the world considering the US was the world’s number one economy having inherited Europe’s and Japan’s imperial role.
Just as people today complain of wealth concentration among the top one percent, so did the people in the late 19th century. Just as people today complain that government is corrupt, bought and paid by the rich, so did the people in the Gilded Age (1870-1900). Just as people today are receptive to populism from the center-left and the extreme right because the so-called middle represents the very rich, so did people in the Gilded Age. The fundamental difference is that the US economy was expanding very rapidly in the late 19th century in every sector from agriculture, mining, manufacturing and services. In the early 21st century there is no comparable expansion, making politics and the role of the billionaires in society much more controversial. Finally, whereas in the late 19th century the US had room to expand its middle class, in the recent Gilded Age from Reagan to the present the middle class has been contracting and the future prospects are very bleak for upward mobility.
Billionaires and Trump
The challenge for Republican or Democrat party politicians who represent the existing social order and capitalist political economy has always been to forge consensus by securing a broad popular base in order to govern in what is supposed to be a bourgeois democracy. It is never easy to convince people from the middle class and working class that their interests rest with a political representative of the rich, although it has been done around the world for the last two centuries. The politicians with the ability to make their case and secure public support win elections.
The Republican Party invited Trump knowing that it needed a “star quality” candidate, a celebrity billionaire with mass appeal to broaden the party’s popular base. This is exactly what this man did but the idea was to broaden the popular base, not to win. Someone more mainstream establishment would actually be the one to win the nomination. Political parties have always sought popular figures to run for office precisely because of their mass appeal and ability to convince voters to identify with the candidate, despite the reality that the candidate is beholden to those who chose him/her to run for office.
The Trump brand in the age of pop culture sells as much in real estate development as in politics. After all, Trump made hundreds of millions of dollars selling his name that he equated with business success; this despite massive losses and three bankruptcies, failure of an airline business, the phantom Trump University, etc. Just like the Democrats, the Republicans are a well oiled political machine and no one can run without the blessing of the party hierarchy as Trump is doing with self-financing campaign, which in essence means he does not have to answer to campaign donors. The billionaires and party operatives invited Trump to run because they knew he was selling the brand name to voters, mostly white and male without a college degree that aspire to dreams of becoming billionaires or at least identify with the anti-establishment nationalist rhetoric, often bordering on Fascist considering he has borrowed quotes from Mussolini that Trump preaches to win votes.
Just in case there is any doubt that the wealthy own politicians, just follow the money trail and look at newspaper endorsements and media coverage. The media built up Trump as a political messiah so that people would vote Republican. The media follows the marching orders of its billionaire and millionaire owners. On 3 March 2016, FOX news instructed its reporters and guests to stop giving Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio any sort of favorable coverage. In itself this is hardly newsworthy that a news organization would pick favorites, considering this is how it has been throughout the history of the press. However, it does reveal the factionalism within the Republican Party at a time that the economic elites in the US are split over which candidate even within their own party best represents finance capital. Usually, the wealthy rally around one candidate and recognize the need to sell that individual to voters as though he is a popular choice. There have been cases from the 19th century to the present when the elites have been split about political parties and leaders, mostly obviously during the election of 1860 that brought Abraham Lincoln to the White House.
A number of billionaires, including the founder of Home Depot, the Ricketts family that owns the Chicago Cubs, the Koch brothers and many others have become public with their adamant opposition to Trump. Considering he too is from the billionaire class just like Mitt Romney who ran on the Republican ticket in 2012, there is no reason to oppose Trump if his policy positions are not so very different from Romney’s and if he is as malleable as some like Jimmy Carter believe. There are of course many reasons that conservative billionaires oppose Trump to the degree that some have publicly stated Hillary would make a better president.
The underlying assumption that there is solidarity among capitalists is simply wrong, although there is indeed a common interest among them to keep profits high, and wages and their taxes low. There are competing capitalist interests and always have been in the political economy.
- The inability to buy the election, as Bernie Sanders and Trump have argued, frustrates billionaires, even if the candidate is one whose policy positions are very close to theirs.
- There are competing interests that believe Trump will favor one or the other. For example, he has argued that drug companies are engaged in price gauging and that Apple is taking away jobs from the US and shipping them to China. Clearly, he would probably favor construction firms because he is on record favoring rebuilding of the aging infrastructure, probably with mob-connected firms, although there is hardly a difference between mob money and legitimate one given the interactivity that takes place between banks and the mod.
- His proposal of taxing Hedge Funds has not been well received by Wall Street and the banks involved in such products.
- Defiance toward congress, even toward Majority Leader Paul Ryan that Trump threatened of getting along or paying a big price is no way to forge alliances in Washington and on Wall Street. This kind of bravado and reckless rhetoric is what the billionaire-politician Romney alluded to when he asked Americans to oppose Trump.
- Promising to do something about illegal immigration but in essence winking at the elites that the Obama policy will continue does not sit well with right wing ideologue billionaires of the Republican party.
A closer examination of Trump’s positions on policy, without actually knowing what he would do once in office if elected, reveals that he is indeed no different than his colleagues still in the race and hardly different on many issues from Hillary Clinton a many issues once the hyperbolic populist rhetoric is taken out.
- Ever since Republican presidential candidate announced he would run for office. Trump began to denigrate Mexicans, women, Muslims, and just about every non-white male Protestant group, including Catholics offended by Trump’s trashing of Pope Francis. The reasons for this is that a segment of American society that includes the establishment agree with Trump, but disagree on the modality of expressing such views considering one must abide by political correctness to cover up bigotry in America.
- Although he proposed assassinating the families of ISIS jihadists, a war crime as the United Nations defines it, the media stayed silent because they agree and would never dare support international law.
- When he berated the Pope, the media sided with Trump against Francis who argued that Christians built bridges not walls. Pope Francis is the most leftist Pope in modern history and a critic of American consumerism and the culture of greed that the US media and establishment support as part of the value system.
- When he proposed sending back more than 11 million illegal aliens, conservatives found it difficult to justify defending illegal aliens, except to argue that they do provide cheap labor and it would cost too much to ship them back. How could they oppose Trump considering this is a core issue for the Republican Party that rhetorically opposes non-white immigrants but in practice uses them for cheap labor just as Trump has in his hotels and construction projects?
- When he argued that he would go to an economic war against China, Japan, South Korea and Mexico, no politician or media bothered pointing out that the world economy is tightly integrated and economic nationalism makes no sense for the US at the core of globalization. How could anyone argue that that products coming from Mexico and China are made by US firms and in Japan and South Korea exporting companies in which US investors have a stake. How could anyone argue that Japan finances the US debt and unleashing an economic war would also have geopolitical consequences that would only strengthen China and weaken US strategic allies in Asia?
- When he argued that he would have the Chinese “get rid of” the leader of North Korea, no one criticized such a proposal because political assassinations and coup d’etat hardly pose a problem for either Republican or Democrat.
- When he proposed cutting the Department of Education, no Republican or the press asked why because they agree. After all, the teachers and their unions have a long-standing history of usually voting Democrat. Moreover, the media and the Republicans have cultivated the perception that the Department of education is to blame for all calamities befalling the country’s educational system. Never mind that schools well funded in rich communities have excellent schools while the ghetto suffers along because its schools are underfunded owing to funds going to support prisons.
- When Trump argued that he would send in massive forces to defeat ISIS, no one in either political party or in the media bother pointing out that jihadists operate in roughly fifty countries and employ unconventional methods of warfare that have proved almost impossible to eliminate with conventional means in the last two decades.
- When this man employed the nebulous slogan “Make America Great Again”, only Clinton insisted that America is already great because she is running on the Obama legacy, such as it is with a record of pursuing neo-liberal policies that make the rich richer. No conservative dared to argue that America is already great because that would be an endorsement for Obama. Therefore, Trump reflects their view.
- When he proposed eliminating OBAMACARE, no Republican or mainstream media objected because it is an anathema for the conservative elites and big business to support social welfare. However, they have no problem when Trump proposed lowering corporate taxes at home and to have corporate money repatriated. How could the media and the conservatives criticize Trump for wanting to erode social welfare and strengthen corporate welfare?
- When he proposed cutting funding for Planned Parenthood, there was no criticism from the Republicans because they advocate the exact same thing.
- When he offered unqualified support for the Second Amendment, neither his Republican colleagues nor the media argued that something must be done to bring under control the epidemic of shootings with handguns.
- When he admitted that he hates to pay taxes and there are reports he pays very little taxes, no one had a problem with this issue because it is ubiquitous among conservatives who want the working class and middle class to carry the brunt of the tax burden through direct and indirect taxation. There are studies indicating Trump’s proposed tax cuts for the rich would cost an estimated $1 trillion per year; this in a country that has $19 trillion in public debt soon to rise at $21 trillion. The irony here is that Trump has said his plan would lower the debt but non-partisan groups looking at his tax policy insist the opposite would be the case.
- Although he is on record opposing the war in Iraq, and argued that Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest “funder of terrorism”, he has repeated the need to bomb ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and placing troops on the ground to bring down Syria’s Assad.
- Trump alarms US allies so he is unacceptable. Reagan alarmed allies as did George W. Bush, but they were both presidents that much of the world viewed very unfavorably and destabilizing for the world. Why would Cruz or Rubio be any less destabilizing for the world than Trump the deal maker? It is indeed true that conservatives, centrists and leftists around the world are amazed that the US has Trump as a frontrunner, but they would be more interested in making sure he does not pursue economic nationalism or start new wars as his hyperbolic rhetoric would suggest. They have the exact same concern about Cruz and Rubio, and they realize that any president would have constraints from congress.
- When he publicly stated that he wants to repeal the law to after the media legally on libel cases, there was no outcry by politicians, business people or even most of the media about the First Amendment and freedom of the press.
- Even when he was forced to repudiate David Duke, a well known KKK member, many conservatives argued that this is not as bad as some present it because the late West Virginia Democrat Senator Robert Byrd was also a former KKK member in his youth during the 1940s. Ultra right winger Mike Huckabee among others noted that Sen. Byrd endorsed Obama and that was acceptable but Duke endorsing Trump is an anathema. In short, we are all Klansmen here under these three-piece suits so let’s just stop pretending. Trump’s hesitancy to denounce emphatically the KKK has been cited as proof he does not belong in the Republican Party. However, institutional racism as manifested in the criminal justice system, the educational system, infrastructural policies such as the Flint Michigan water poisoning afflicting blacks, all these are acceptable.
- Business deregulation that would be in line with the neoliberal mainstream all administrations have pursued since Reagan. This would result in fewer environmental, labor, health and safety regulations.Republicans and many Democrats hardly have a problem with neoliberal policies such as these considering this is the general direction they have been going in the last three decades.
Many critics of Trump pretend as though he is a recent visitor from a distant planet, as though he is not a reflection of the Republican Party and at least a segment of American society. Although “Trumpism” has similarities with “Reaganism”, among them Nativism and xenophobia, underlying racism and sexism, jingoism and right-wing populism embodying the popular issues already part of the Republican Party mainstream, there are many who insist he is outside the mainstream of Republican politics.
Organized Crime: It is true that he may be an embarrassment because Trump has worked with organized crime in New York. When confronted with the allegations, he replied that he had to work with organized criminal elements to have his hotels constructed because organized crime controlled the cement business. A number of US banks have paid fines for laundering drug money, so why should Trump be an exception to major banks?
Trump University: He may carry a stigma because he created an unaccredited makeshift real estate university that was in essence a “get-rich quick scheme” where students’ tuition ran as high as $35,000. Trump University turns out to have been another of the billionaire’s many ways of making money promising the moon and delivering nothing. The US government has been investigating a number of online and brick and mortar colleges that promise the moon and deliver fast food jobs to their students. Why should Trump be any different?
Illegal Workers: It is true he may have hired illegal workers knowingly and had to pay more than $1,000,000 in fines. He publicly justified on the basis of worker shortage, not low wages. It is also true that he used tax abatements to make money in real estate and there are reports he probably pays very little or no taxes.
KKK: Only when Trump was not emphatic and categorical about disavowing former Ku Klux Klan member David Duke and the Klan did some elements of the mainstream media turn on him. It is one thing to embrace aspects of the Klan’s belief and entirely another to remove the thin veil of political correctness that exposes a mainstream politician as just another Klansman and neo-Nazi. White Anglo-Saxon Protestants want to project the appearance of respectability by distancing themselves from neo-Nazis and the Klan, while all along wholeheartedly supporting institutional racism as evidence by the criminal justice system that weighs heavily in the black and Hispanic communities; poising blacks in Flint Michigan for profits; police shootings of black youth in the inner city; black youth unemployment at 50%, and a series of other real life measures that keep the apartheid society alive and well. Obama not Trump has been the president in the last seven years when all of this has taken place. If Obama is not doing much about racism, why should a right-wing populist trying to win the White House?
It hardly stretches credulity to conclude that Trump is not the ideal candidate for a “normal” individual to be displayed at a psychologists’ convention. Nevertheless, within the realm of what is acceptable as normal in politics, Trump may be granted a generous pass. One could argue that a politician would have to be inhuman to propose massive displacement of 11 million illegal immigrants; or the deaths of thousands of innocent people as a result of a jingoistic foreign policy? But Reagan and George W. Bush were harsh toward minorities and carried out foreign interventions resulting in millions dying and displaced. Yet, Reagan and Bush are heroes, while Trump who advocates similar measures is outside the Republican mainstream?
I am amazed that even leftist critics of Trump have difficulty assessing the situation. Some have argued that the Trump phenomenon represents white anger and fear because society is changing demographically and the economic pie is becoming smaller. Demographic change and smaller economic pie has actually hurt minorities more than whites, but it is true the absence of upward social mobility among whites has driven a segment of them to the right politically. Another critique by the left is that the Trump phenomenon represents a breakdown of society and or the two-party system essentially representing the same class. It is true that both parties have always represented the same capitalist class, but it is just as true that American society was on verge of breakdown during the depression of the 1890s and of the 1930s. Yet, it bounced back and revived itself.
What is so different in the early 21st century? The US has actually slipped very rapidly into a role of interdependence with China that is headed for global economic hegemony. This is hardly good news for those who believe in the American Dream accessible to all who work hard. The increasingly secondary role of the US in the world economy and its dogmatic insistence on policing the world as political and economic leverage is running its course and will continue to erode living standards.
All candidates agree that the debt at $19 trillion will rise to $21 and probably well in the upper 20s in the next ten years. This means that unless there is a radical shift in the political economy, America of the 2030s will probably resemble that of the 1930s. The political arena reflects the ugly realities in the economy and society. In the end the larger question is how the electoral process has exposed the reality of the wealthy in control of the political class trying to sell a dream to voters, a brand like the “Trump band” when in fact there is nothing but empty air behind it because the real economy is faltering under the existing system. The future is bleak and the stakes very high for the wealthy trying to make sure they retain their privileges as the economy is on its way to a long steady decline relative to China and Asia at large.
Comments Off on Art of the Deal Politics, Billionaires’ Wars, and the Decline of America
By Jon Kofas.
The entire world is well aware of the humanitarian crisis arising from Muslim refugees fleeing war-torn countries that include Syria, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The countries are all Muslim and the common trait they share is that the US and its European and Middle East allies engaged in military solutions to political crises that have not spilled over into a massive trans-continental refugee crisis. The refugee tragedy is a massive humanitarian one according to the United Nations, and it is becoming worse because the principal country, namely the US, causing the refugee crisis is absolving itself of any responsibility from this crisis and only focuses on where to create the next military intervention. This does not mean that Russia backing the Assad regime is free of culpability. However, the Russians are trying to weaken the jihadist elements in Syria that are forcing the mass displacement of people. http://www.thenation.com/article/europes-refugee-crisis-was-made-in-america/
In the official White House web site, the US states that 12 million people or half of Syria’s population has been displaced since 2011 and it is entirely the fault of the Assad regime.https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/09/15/what-you-need-know-about-syrian-refugee-crisis-and-what-us-doing-help\ The US position is that along with the Syrian government, Russia, Iran and to a lesser extent China are really responsible because they would not permit the US and its regional allies – Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states – to remove Assad from power and place a regime of their liking. In other words do exactly what they did in Libya where things have worked so remarkably well since the US and its allies along with al-Qaeda removed Muammar Gaddafi from power.
Although by no mean the sole culprit, the US was the driving force behind military interventions that destabilized every one of these countries and caused the dislocation of four million refugees from Syria lone and millions more from the other Muslim war-torn nations that the US and its allies decided to destabilize for geopolitical and economic advantages in the last fifteen years. Although the West presents itself as humanitarian, developing countries host more than 80% of the world’s refugees. According to the United Nations, the world refugee population hit 60 million in 2014 and it surpassed that figure in 2015, largely because of conflicts invariably created not owing to local opposing groups – government vs. rebels – but foreign interventions of one type or the other. http://www.unric.org/en/world-refugee-day/26978-new-report-developing-countries-host-80-of-refugees- \http://www.unhcr.org/558193896.html
Those who read about the refugee crisis from a distance may see Greece as Europe’s warehouse. However, a closer examination of the refugees in Greece reveals that this tiny Balkan country could evolve into Europe’s concentration camp in many respects minus the “final solution”. This is not only because of the dreadful conditions that prevail for refugees everything from lack of food and medicine, but because the number one reason for the humanitarian crisis and the reaction of the entire Western World is racism. Non-white Muslims trying to enter the predominantly white European continent is an anathema to Europeans whether they are neo-Nazis, conservative or even liberal in many cases who do not want their way of life, social structure and culture contaminated with Muslim influences. Of course the European businesses love the cheap labor migrants provide, but they detest the people that provide cheap labor. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-02-25/greece-warns-of-humanitarian-disaster-from-isolation-on-refugees
European racism and religious prejudice toward Muslims has deep roots that date back to the crusades. The Muslim refugee crisis has intensified such latent prejudices and it has made the Muslims the scapegoats for all calamities that have fallen on Europe amid contracting economies and slow job and income growth. People would much prefer to blame the Muslims running from their war-torn countries that the West ravaged than their governments and corporations responsible for the crisis in the first place. The US war on terror resurrected racism and xenophobia to new heights and the Muslims are now the new Jews of the Western World. (J.L. Thomas, Scapegoating Islam;http://socialistworker.org/2016/02/08/europes-rising-tide-of-refugee)
On 25 February 2016, the EU interior ministers meeting in Brussels centered on Austria’s proposal to lock out all refugees from entering Europe by essentially keeping them in Greece. This would mean that Greece, which has lost an estimate 30% of its GDP because of IMF-EU imposed austerity since 2010, would be saddled with the Muslim refugee crisis that many around the world predict would explode into a massive humanitarian crisis very shortly. Considering that one-third of Greece’s population is in effect below poverty and official unemployment is 25% with unofficial rate at closer to 35%, the country would revert to its 1950s status as one of the world’s poorest nations, if the refugee crisis is added as a permanent feature to the rest of the economic problems it is facing.
Greece simply lacks the physical facilities to accommodate refugees that need housing, hospitals and clinics, food and clothing until a permanent solution is found at the EU and/or United Nations level that seems to be doing very little to solve this crisis. Imagine one nurse per 25-30 patients in a hospital that frequently runs out of bed sheets and all kinds of basic medication. Imagine a country that can hardly feed its own people having to feed an additional one to two million refugees in the next few years.
The EU expects Greece, a country that is in complete shambles because of austerity, to stem the refugee flow to Europe. Dimitris Avramopoulos, Greek conservative politician and EU commissioner for migration warned earlier this month that the humanitarian crisis in very real amid a deadlock among the EU members on the issue and the US wiping its hands clean and arguing it is a European problem. The irony here is that the entire world knows the culprit is the US that caused the crisis by going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan and destabilizing the rest of the Middle East by backing various jihadist rebels from Libya to Syria that eventually turned against the West. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/10/eu-gives-greece-one-month-to-improve-conditions-for-refugees
Even a number of Republicans have argued that the Obama and Bush administrations caused the crisis in Muslim countries that gave rise to the refugee problem. However, no Republican or Democrat is willing to provide the appropriate humanitarian assistance or accept refugees that the US created. No Republican or Democrat is willing to open the borders for Muslim refugees. On the contrary, there are those like Donald Trump who want to keep all Muslims out and screen them on a case by case basis because the assumption is they are terrorists, even if they are children. Of the 50 states I the US, 31 have declared they will not accept Syrian refugees. If the US refuses to accept its responsibility for the crisis it has created with its allies, and the Europeans are very divided on this issue with Germany playing the role of moderate, this leaves the problem for Greece. http://time.com/4126371/these-5-facts-explain-americas-shameful-reaction-to-syrian-refugees/
Since January 2015 Greece has been under the SYRIZA Party that calls itself leftist but whose policies are a mirror image of the neoliberal ones that the previous conservative government followed. Under the SYRIZA regime, the country deteriorated faster because the IMF and EU demanded even greater cuts in pensions and wages, even greater cuts in social programs, including health and education, and higher indirect taxes that fall on the masses. On top of impoverishing Greece by imposing austerity, the EU plan according to SYRIZA leader and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is to reduce the country into a refugee warehouse. On 24 February 2016, the prime minister stated: ” We will not accept the transformation of our country to a permanent warehouse for human beings, while at the same time we continue to operate in Europe and at summit meetings as if nothing is happening. We will not put up with a series of countries that not only erect fences on their borders but at the same time do not accept to put up a single refugee.” http://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/
Greece is a country that is in shambles politically, economically and socially, and Tsipras is partly to blame because he won election on the promise to end austerity and he has continued it to the detriment of the popular base that elected him. The austerity measures that the Greek government has accepted and the capital flight by the country’s few thousand wealthy people has resulted in the complete de-capitalization and utter dependence on the EU. Instead of leaving the EU and making a fresh start under a national currency, Greece opted to remain under the German-imposed patron-client model of integration. This integration model relegates them to a status not very different from that of the rest of northern Balkan countries. On top of the financial and economic crisis that essentially dismantled society as the Greeks knew it before austerity, the EU imposes a refugee problem on a country that is essentially not much better off than its northern Balkan neighbors.
As I stated above, most refugees in the world are in fact in developing countries. There are more than four million Syrians who are now refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and even Iraq a country from which people are leaving for the West. Although the EU struck a deal with Turkey not to allow refugees across the Aegean Sea into Greece, the Turkish government accepted the promise of $3.3 billion payment from Europe in exchange for cracking down on the refugee trafficking business that is very lucrative for human smugglers.
Turkey has allowed about one million refugees through the Aegean Sea and by land into Greece. It is estimated that more than 3000 have drowned and many thousands died along the way trying to reach Western Europe. For its part, Turkey argues that it cannot perform miracles and stop refugees from crossing over to Greece. There are stories of tragic proportion with children having lost track of their parents and continuing to walk across Greece trying to reach northwest Europe only to be stopped somewhere along the way in Eastern Europe because Hungary is adamant about taking any refugees in the country. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/02/turkey-refugee-crisis-time-europe-action-160210115931274.html
Much of eastern and northwest Europe as well as the UK refuse to accept the slightly more generous German proposal for shared responsibility. If nothing else, the refugee crisis has fractured the otherwise weak EU solidarity threatened by the UK as well as Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and of course the perennial Greek crisis. German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has stated that his country could accept up to 500,000 refugees per year for several years, but he demands the rest of EU share the responsibility. Recognizing that Greece will simply become Europe’s concentration camp for Muslim refugees, the German government is asking for cooperation partly because the crisis has intensified nationalism at all levels and some countries are openly questioning the benefits of staying in the European Union. http://www.ecfr.eu/refugee_crisis
The tragedy of the US-made refugee crisis in the Middle East that has spilled over into Europe is that a) it will probably take a long time to be resolved and b) the US will continue creating such crises in the near future regardless of whether a Democrat or Republican is elected president in 2016. The EU has shown that at its core racism, xenophobia and anti-Muslim prejudice runs very deep and it is unlikely to change. Muslims are as much the new Jewish scapegoats of Europe as they are for the US. Although anti-Semitism is not exactly erased in the Western World, the new focus of white Christian prejudice is on Muslims whose lands the West has been ravaging since the era of European colonialism in the 19th century. No European leader could win political office advocating a more tolerant policy toward Muslims any more than an American politician can win office without advocating a tough position on the war on terror, a euphemism for the continued military-solution option to US-instigated political crises in the Middle East.
The US will probably start another military intervention and most certainly continue to destabilize the Middle East under its next president, whether Republican or Democrat. This will lead to a more intensified crisis that will mean more refugees and an even greater humanitarian crisis than we are seeing in 2016. The defense industry in the US is very powerful and the political and ideological orientation toward militarism is deeply ingrained in the culture of PAX AMERICANA. War, intervention and destabilizing governments are all part of a way of life for the imperial America that continues to see itself as the world’s policeman and the world’s preeminent superpower despite its rapidly eroding economic role against the reality of China’s global economic hegemony.
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By Jon Kofas.
In the battle between a giant multinational corporation known for its record of tax evasion around the world as well as its hypocrisy of manufacturing in Asia not because of low wages but “talent availability”, APPLE is not yielding to the FBI/Justice Department request for hacking into the cell phones because the big winner will be SAMSUNG and the other ten largest cell phone companies in the world. APPLE has argued that the US government wants to unlock the cell phone that the shooters in the San Bernardino killings used. However, the goal of the US government under Obama claiming to be the protector of civil liberties is to gain access to all cell phones and carry out surveillance for all users at will. This is not only a constitutional issue that essentially touches on the Fourth Amendment – right to privacy – but it also opens a Pandora’s box because other governments would demand same access as the US has. When it became known that the NSA was spying at home and abroad using the giant tech companies of Silicon Valley, the position of Obama administration officials was that foreigners were not protected under the Fourth Amendment, while US citizens needed to understand that national security is above their Constitutional rights.
On 16 February 2016, the US government convinced a California federal judge to have Apple reveal encryption security features in its cell phones. APPLE has been fighting back both with public opinion campaigns as well as using its lobbying efforts in Congress as a counterweight to the Justice Department. Because it is well known that APPLE along with GOOGLE and all major tech companies had secret agreements with the US government to conduct illegal surveillance at home and globally, it seems somewhat puzzling at this juncture why APPLE is fighting the Justice Department. Is APPLE so interested in protecting citizens for idealistic reasons, for the sake of furthering democracy, or is it simply a case of protecting its global market-share?
Thus far, no government in the world has made the kind of demands of APPLE that the US has made. However, the US of course invokes American Exceptionalism against the background of the “war on terror”, just as it invoked anti-Communism during the Cold War when civil liberties were readily trampled. However, that they are asking APPLE to provide code access to cell phones clearly indicates that the Department of Homeland Security, Justice Department and the FBI have not been doing their jobs as effectively as they claim. Moreover, the question is where does surveillance stop? If there is no privacy of any kind, as we have discovered after the Edward Snowden revelations regarding National Security Agency violations of the Fourth Amendment, then why not suspend the Constitution altogether and declare a State of Emergency? Why go through the motions and the thin faced of a democratic society at all?
For APPLE the argument is hardly the constitutional rights of citizens but global market share. I repeat that if APPLE yields on this issue, the other twelve major cell phone makers in the world will prevail in the global market, most notably SAMSUNG. It is a myth that APPLE or any cell phone maker is concerned about privacy when these dozen large phone companies around the world have been violating the privacy of consumers for many years by illegally collecting and commercializing information of their users without their knowledge. APPLE along with SAMSUNG is among the biggest violators when it comes to privacy, so it stretches one’s imagination to come up with reasons why it is fighting the FBI/Justice Department now. If there was a financial incentive for APPLE to give the FBI what it wanted, it would have done as secretly as it collects information and never discloses it to its users. However, there is no incentive, but there is massive potential harm from the competition.
The America people know very well that their government violates the constitution in the name of national security and it does so randomly and not just in extreme cases such as that involving the unique incident of the San Bernardino case. The surveillance state would not have been possible in the absence of the tech companies cooperating with government. This is not an issue of whether is the US is moving closer to a police state. By its own criteria as defined in the Constitution the US has been practicing police state methods that go back to the early Cold War when Communism was used as the justification. Today, it is terrorism, which ironically the US helps to strengthen by its own policies in Islamic countries, including Syria where ISIL has been operating with the considerable support of US allies in the last five years. After all, there was no ISIS before the US and its EU and regional Middle East allies decided to overthrow Assad in Syria. Even when the Russians were bombing ISIS targets, the US and its allies were critical, giving the impression to ISIS that the priority was removing Assad not ISIS.
- The APPLE issue reveals very clearly that the more technology dependent a society becomes, the more it slips down the road of a police state at home because it is pursuing militarism abroad. This does not mean that technology in and of itself is a bad thing – no Luddite thesis here – but that the use of technology by corporations and the state makes it easier to have a police state. Civil liberties are eroding very rapidly in the US and one reason the country ranks at about the same level as Turkey when it comes to social justice is because its practices are about as democratic. The “security hoax” which the government has been pursuing at home and abroad has actually helped to strengthen not just the military industrial complex but tech companies that receive multi-billion contracts from government agencies. The state-corporate nexus has been responsible for the evolution toward a police state that has become more necessary than ever as society is becoming increasingly polarized socioeconomically. Security is the last resort of the state to defend welfare capitalism that accounts for the downward social mobility in America and the increasing alienation of citizens who believe their government serves the top ten percent of the wealthiest people –
- 63% of Americans say money and wealth distribution is unfair
- These attitudes are substantially unchanged over past 30 years
- Slight majority of 52% favor heavy taxes on rich as fix http://www.gallup.com/poll/182987/americans-continue-say-wealth-distribution-unfair.aspx
(For more on how technology promotes police state methods see: http://thedailycoin.org/?p=63700;https://www.corbettreport.com/police-state-gadgets-and-the-technology-of-enslavement/;http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/the-daily-need/are-we-becoming-a-police-state-five-things-that-have-civil-liberties-advocates-nervous/12563/)
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By Jon Kofas.
The thesis of this brief article is that reformism does not work and only leads to even greater sociopolitical conformity. This is as much the case today in Greece that has tried it, as in Spain endeavoring to try it under its new progressive PODEMOS party, as it has been throughout history. One reason that EU and US investors are bullish on Spanish securities, despite a temporary setback the day after the elections is because they know that the anti-austerity PODEMOS party will conform exactly as SYRIZA in Greece and neoliberal policies will prevail no matter who is in government.
Spain’s PODEMOS and Greece’s SYRIZA: Doomed Reformism
The general elections of Spain on 20 December 2015 sent mild shock waves across Spain’s markets, especially the banks that have benefited from government bailouts at the enormous expense of the general taxpayer. However, the rest of the European markets actually rose on the news, precisely because politicians and investors know it is highly unlikely that the anti-austerity party PODEMOS coming in with roughly 22% of the vote, third behind the Socialists and the ruling Conservative party, will not amount to any systemic change. The markets, politicians, and the world learned this lesson after the Greek anti-austerity party SYRIZA became even more pro-austerity than its conservative Socialist predecessor despite winning on an anti-austerity platform in January 2015. In short, the progressive reformist agenda of Greece’s SYRIZA which was very similar to PODEMOS quickly transformed into a neo-liberal pro-IMF monetarist one once in government.
Does PODEMOS have a different agenda than SYRIZA under Alexis Tsipras, and thus a different fate awaits it because its secretary-general Pablo Iglesias will stick to campaign promises of reform? Although the mainstream media focuses on the cult of personality in our age of celebrity politicians and businessmen, the reality is that even after Tsipras embraced austerity and neoliberal policies, Iglesias continued to support him. This is indicative that PODEMOS is more or less a party of petty bourgeois reformism that will quickly fold within the neoliberal mainstream, although it arose from the need to fill a political gap that the Socialists left when they embraced austerity and neo-liberalism.
The Socialist parties of Spain, Greece, Portugal and France that prevailed in the Reagan-Thatcher decade of the 1980s converted to neoliberal parties and were hardly different than their conservative counterparts in policy, despite the leftist rhetoric. Both Iglesias and Tsipras had roots in leftist (Euro-Communist – anti-Stalinist) politics in their youth, but both moved toward a more reformist social-democratic orientation that built careers against neoliberal policies and austerity. Just as in the 1980s when neoliberal policies prevailed against European Socialist parties advocating social-democracy, and just as the populist nationalist parties of Venezuela, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia have caved under the pressures of globalization promoting neoliberalism, the fate awaiting Spain’s PODEMOS will be no different. The sooner their voters absolve themselves of such illusions and seek a genuine alternative to neoliberalism and austerity the better chance they will have to escape the fate of their counterparts in other countries that tried the road of bourgeois reformism.
The pro-neoliberal media in Spain and Greece and across the world have been labeling PODEMOS and SYRIZA as “far left”, “radical left”, “ultra-left wing” and anti-capitalist, which aspires to create a regime similar to that of the later Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Although it is true that the rhetoric of both PODEMOS and SYRIZA, parties that have declared solidarity, share some ideological elements of Socialism, they are also committed to “enlightened capitalism”, Keynesian economics, and a return to the old EU integration model based on interdependence rather than German political and economic hegemony. If we set aside the ideological rhetoric intended to win the disgruntled voters, which is not so different than EU Socialist parties fully committed to austerity and neoliberalism, and if we focus on the reformist contradiction of promising to change the neoliberal model into a rational enlightened capitalist one that would have a broad middle class as its social base, the question is whether finance capital would voluntarily yield its privileges for the sake of social harmony under a democratic system.
PODEMOS arose from the ashes of the politically bankrupt and corrupt Socialist Party that had embraced neoliberal policies and austerity as have the Socialist parties of France, Greece and Portugal. Its appeal is the disgruntled middle class of Spain that sees its future in doubt and fears that the EU’s fourth largest economy is not so different than Greece. After all, Greece and Spain have the highest unemployment in the EU above 20 percent, they both have contracting economies, they both have rising debt-to-GDP levels despite five years of austerity, and they both have dim prospects for recovery that would improve living standards for the working class and middle class.
Above all, a segment of the population in Spain that backs PODEMOS knows that the EU of today is not the EU of pre-2008 that rested on an integration model of interdependence, with EU funds subsidizing the weaker economies to lift them closer to the levels of the northwest core in Europe. The PODEMOS voters know as do those in SYRIZA that the hard euro currency only helps to strengthen large capital in the EU and within it Germany that exerts financial control and through it determines fiscal policy, trade policy, labor policy and everything impacting society from health to education. In short, PODEMOS backers know very well as do their Greek counterparts that there is no such thing as national sovereignty, no such thing as popular mandate, no democracy because the new model of integration based on a patron (core sector)-client (periphery and semi-periphery) is now in effect and it is no different than the US model of regional integration that has kept US southern neighbors in a state of dependency since the Spanish-American War.
PEDEMOS appeals to young intellectuals for the most part who are still idealistic enough to believe in reformism, just as their Greek counterparts who are now thoroughly disillusioned that SYRIZA has turned out to be much worse than the Conservative and Socialist party in terms of caving to IMF-German austerity and neoliberal policy demands. The structure of the young-reformist appealing party will end up as SYRIZA in Greece because it has no commitment to grassroots organizing and to systemic change that will end the patron-client integration model and assert national sovereignty based on a social justice framework. If PODEMOS comes to power, its fate will be exactly as that of SYRIZA that served to co-opt the disgruntled anti-austerity, anti-neoliberal masses, de-radicalized them and served them on a silver platter to the neoliberal political and financial establishment of EU and international capitalism.
Like SYRIZA in Greece that has actually taken austerity and neoliberal policies even farther to the right than the previous right-wing government, PODEMOS will follow the same path, assuming it comes to power. As long as it is in the opposition, it will insist that it is against austerity and neoliberal policies, that it represents the middle class and workers, that it wants a new kind of integration model because it supports Spain’s place within the EU; in other words, arguments that the Greek SYRIZA voters heard many times until they faced the reality of a party that betrayed every single promise made and caved to domestic financial and global financial and political interests.
Not just the “austerity” countries of southern Europe but the entire continent is struggling for new leadership that breaks away from representing the finance capital. Some voters have drifted to the far right. However, as the election results demonstrated in France, the Marine Le Pen’s National Front came in third because the political pendulum has shifted so far to the right that the traditional conservatives have embraced a segment of the extreme right wing agenda. On the left, voters cannot go to the bankrupt Communist parties because the memory of a failed Soviet bloc remains too close and the majority of the people want to maintain the crumbs they have under the existing political economy rather than risk a new social order.
Despite its NAZI past revealing itself in financial, economic and political hegemony under a conservative-led coalition government, Germany has managed to dilute if not efface national sovereignty in the EU because capitalists of all countries see greater benefits accruing to them under the patron-client model than under national capitalism that Russia is pursuing. In short, the fear of isolation from the regional and global economy forces the established elites to embrace the devil they know. PODEMOS and SYRIZA come along to co-opt a segment of the population that wants reforms that include national capitalism and national sovereignty as part of the mix but not outside the framework of international capitalism. This blatant contradiction simply does not work because it is irreconcilable. The end result is that reformist parties like SYRIZA and PODEMOS opposed to neoliberal and austerity (monetarist) policies only wind up de-radicalizing the masses and marginalizing them by reinforcing the idea that the political, business and social representative of neoliberalism advocates, namely there is no choice other than what exists now because the quest for social justice is futile as it will lead to social, economic and political insecurity.
The result of SYRIZA’s betrayal of voters’ trust was that one-third of its elected parliamentary members left the party, arguing that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras betrayed the goals of national sovereignty and national capitalism in exchange for political power and benefits that accrue to him and his political supporters under crony capitalism that has always worked to the detriment of the vast majority in Greece since the nation-state was founded in 1832. Assuming it comes to power, PODEMOS will face the same dilemma as SYRIZA and in the end it will follow a similar path because the neoliberal political, business and social establishment have the ability to crush any reformist opposition. Popular grassroots movement intent on systemic reform is the only fear of the neoliberal establishment, and this is not what PODEMOS and SYRIZA represent.
The fact that we have a capitalist international order in the last five centuries is indicative that reformism has never worked to bring about systemic change. Attempts at “reform from within the system” are actually a conservative concept first introduced by the conservative British MP Edmund Burke immediately after the French Revolution. In short, those backing the existing social order argue that if the social contract is not satisfactory to a segment of the population we can have a few changes but without altering the system in which the privileged elites retain their roles. Both SYRIZA and PODEMOS have accepted the conservative definition of reformism, deluding the voters that there is hope for change when in fact structural change does not come via reforms because it never has. Having the best of all possible worlds, capitalism that entails a hierarchical society where social justice is lacking, but at the same time achieving social democracy is a glaring contradiction.
In Greece there are just 12 families that own 80% of the wealth and enjoy dominant influence in the media and political arena, there is also the role of international capitalists whose interest public policy takes into account because of IMF-EU-imposed austerity policies since 2010. In the last five years, the wealthiest people in Greece have actually become wealthier because of austerity and neoliberal policies that transferred wealth from the public sector and lower income groups to the upper class and foreign financial interests. Is the situation so different in Spain than it is in Greece? Just ten billionaires own the vast majority of the wealth, headed by Amancio Ortega worth more than $80 billion, making him richer than Bill Gates.
The massive capital concentration in Spain as well as Greece is largely the result of fiscal policies that drain income from the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder and transfer it to the top and from the southern EU countries to Germany and the northwest. This is a prescription for: a) unsustainable GDP growth; b) chronic high unemployment; c) low living standards and downward socioeconomic mobility; d) high debt-to-GDP levels that rises as austerity and neoliberal policies continue; and e) the inevitability of political apathy, which is exactly what the political and financial elites want, and polarization in society. This means increasingly authoritarian policies disguised under neoliberalism as democratic because people have the right to vote. SYRIZA has proved that reformism is an illusion that causes more damage to the struggle for social justice than the traditional European conservatives and Socialists embracing austerity and neoliberal policies. If it ever comes to power, PODEMOS will prove the same thing.
Greece continues to have a rising debt-to-GDP ratio because its GDP has been shrinking owing to austerity policies that have slashed consumption by about 30%, or the equivalent of the drop in GDP. The patron-client model means that Greece will be reduced to a periphery dependent semi-colony with living standards roughly equal to its Balkan neighbors, exactly as Germany demanded. Because social security benefits have dropped dramatically and the new retirement age has been raised to 67, this means labor values have dropped as well along with all asset values. The reason that foreign investors are optimistic about Spain is precisely because they see asset values continuing to drop as they are in Greece, led by labor value declines.
The failure of reformism in Greece and Spain may not necessarily lead to a rise of a genuine grassroots anti-capitalist movement under a leftist political party. On the contrary, neo-Fascism lurking about throughout the Western World has been laying the groundwork as socioeconomic conditions deteriorate and more people lose confidence in the consensus around which the parliamentary system has been built. As the mainstream conservative parties incorporate aspects of neo-Fascism, using counter-terrorism as the pretext, people would not need to gravitate to the openly neo-Fascist and neo-Nazi parties, just as the case of France demonstrated in the recent elections. The crisis of parliamentary democracy is already apparent in a number of EU countries, merely by the fact that people lack trust in any of the existing political parties and in the constitutional system as representative of the broader masses. As capitalism continues to polarize social groups, and as reformism proves that it is not more than another broken promise to voters, a segment of the population will look to ultra-right wing populist leadership for solutions, and therein rests the danger of neo-Fascism in the 21st century.
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By Jon Kofas.
According to the latest statistics, including the CIA, the US suffers the worst level of inequality of any advanced nation and ranks among some of the most unequal societies on the planet, while its politicians, business leaders, media and pundits proudly promote it as “democratic” rather than a plutocratic which in reality reflects reality. If the CIA publicly states in its reports that the US is more unequal than Nicaragua and Venezuela, both countries that the US has covertly tried to undermine in the past because they were “less democratic”, what does this say about the US and its ‘democracy’?
Has the US in fact become a “banana Republic” as the statistics of the CIA and every other agency compiling such statistics? Given that this is the case, what political or moral authority does the US have to lecture other nations about democracy and equality? Is the US exporting democracy, freedom and equality as it claims when intervening in the Middle East, Ukraine and around the world militarily and economically, or is it actually exporting inequality to reflect what is happening at home?
It is no secret that the US has been heading toward wealth concentration since the end of WWII, a trend that rapidly accelerated after Reagan’s tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans in the 1980s, combined with massive government subsidies to corporations that account for the phenomenon of the corporate welfare state we have today. For example, in 1970 the worker to corporate CEO wage gap was $45 (for the CEO) to $1 for the worker. In 2014 the CEO-worker wage gap is $830 to $1, thanks to the fiscal policy that both Republicans and Democrats have been pursuing.
According to the latest statistics by the Institute for Policy Studies, a mere 20 individuals own $732 billion or more than 152 million people own combined. If we consider that the 400 wealthiest people control $2.34 trillion in an economy totaling $17 trillion, it hardly takes a genius to figure out that this kind of wealth concentration is the result of a fiscal policy that transfers wealth from the bottom income earners and shifts it to the top.
According to The Guardian: “The top 0.1% of families now own roughly the same share of wealth as the bottom 90%. The picture actually improved in the aftermath of the 1930s Great Depression, with wealth inequality falling through to the late 1970s. It then started to rise again, with the share of total household wealth owned by the top 0.1% rising to 22% in 2012 from 7% in the late 1970s.” (http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/nov/13/us-wealth-inequality-top-01-worth-as-much-as-the-bottom-90)
The result has been an anemic economy and a social fabric breaking apart with very dim prospects for the future, considering that both Republican and Democrat politicians favor the top 1% of the richest Americans who are the ones able to buy influence through various means, including lobbying and direct campaign contributions. It is estimated that 62% of the American people have savings of under $1000, while 21% have zero in their savings. This at a time of a ticking time bomb with regard to college loans amounting to about $1.2 trillion, with the bottom one-third finding it difficult to ever repay them because the economy of wealth concentration is not producing new jobs and certainly not high paying ones to allow college graduates the opportunity to meet their obligations. Of the 62% Americans with under $1000 in savings, the reality is that they would be unable to meet any kind of emergency – medical, large home or car repair, etc. The interest fact here is that 62% with under $1000 in savings is the highest since the Great Depression, a number that rose sharply after the deep recession of 2008 when the percentage was 57.
In one survey after the other, the majority of Americans expect their children to be worse off than they were. One third of Generation X (35 to 55 years old) have zero savings, while about 28% of the baby boomers (55-65) and millennials (18-34) surveyed have zero savings. In short, the problem is not generational but class based. Apologists for the existing political economy based on corporate welfare where the state transfers income through various means but essentially the fiscal structure from the bottom income earners to the top, argue that this is needed to help investment and make the economy more competitive.
Considering that the US economy is an integral part of a world capitalist system, the US through various international institutions, especially the IMF, spreads its neoliberal policies on a world scale. Therefore, inequality has been rising not just in the US in the last four decades, but also in Europe, although the Scandinavian countries remain the most equal in the world. When US-based multinational corporations, such as Pfizer refuse to pay taxes at home and take their profits overseas using non-US based companies to shield profits from taxes, this impacts the host country’s fiscal structure overseas that must provide safe haven for Pfizer, thus burdening its genera taxpayer as much as the US does.
Has the US become more or less competitive as wealth concentration rose from the 1980s to the present? The reality is that we have witnessed rapid deindustrialization and along with that phenomenon there has been downward socioeconomic mobility owing to steady income drop in working class and middle class incomes. In other words, the exact opposite of what Nobel Prize winning economists, politicians and the media has argued is what is taking place. People know all of this not by looking at the real economy, but examining their own situation and the prospects for their children.
Apologists of the grossly unequal system, which compares with Third World countries instead of Western Europe, Canada and Australia, further argue that the whole thing is just cyclical and eventually there will be upward mobility. Again, when we look at statistics from 1970 to the present, the trend is very clear that this is systemic and has absolutely nothing to do with cycles. In short, the neoliberal policies of using the state as a vehicle to strengthen the private sector at the expense of the public sector, the working class and the middle class is one that has deep roots and it is here to stay because the top 10% of income earners, and especially the top 1% who actually decide the course of policies, are adamant about not changing course toward any policy mix that would redistribute wealth from the top down to stimulate economic expansion in an economy dependent on consumer spending at the rate of three-fourths of GDP.
The International Monetary Fund has now inducted China’s currency – yuan – into the basket of reserve currencies, putting pressure on the euro and the dollar, and reflecting the reality that China is indeed well on its way to forging ahead as the world’s number one economy – already there if we measure it in terms of PPP index. Both Republican and Democrat parties have every intention of strengthening the already super-wealthy one percent of Americans to the detriment of the 99%, thus sinking the economy into more frequent and deeper recessions that would in turn create even greater wealth gaps than already exist.
Whether Hillary Clinton or any Republican candidate wins control of the White House in 2016, they will pursue the same fiscal policies that have brought America to the present situation where 20 individuals own more wealth than 50% of the population. They will continue with corporate welfare that redistributes wealth from the workers and the middle class and they will most certainly continue to pour money into the parasitic defense sector, hoping that the US can retain its global competitive edge when in fact all empire of the past 2000 years have declined and fallen because of excessive defense spending and reckless militarist adventures. While people may feel good that NATO is string and keep adding new members that surround Russia, this only adds to socioeconomic inequality at home because more money is devoted to the parasitic defense sector and does absolutely nothing about creating new and high paying jobs to allow young college graduates to repay their student loans.
Contrary to what the media and pundits argue that the destiny of the country rests on the people, the reality is that the media and the entire institutional structure determine what people think about public policy, everything from corporate welfare to black youth unemployment and the war on terror that has been used to engender sociopolitical conformity and distract from socioeconomic inequality comparable to Third World country. The political reaction to take the country even more toward a rightwing orientation with underlying racist and overtly xenophobic messages finds an audience among a segment of the population that wants someone to blame, other than the Democratic and Republican party conducting policy to strengthen even more the very rich and weaken even more the workers and the middle class.
This is a prescription for sociopolitical polarization. Already using the war on terror to forge a police state, the future of America with banana Republic socioeconomic inequality as the CIA describes it entails erosion of democracy and even more authoritarian policies while continuing to hold on to claims of defending democracy that no longer has any meaning in the lives of the bottom 90% of the population. Exporting inequality is inherent in any imperialist system and not unique to the US in the contemporary period. What makes it unique is the public campaign of the US that its mandate from God is to spread democracy, equality and freedom when in fact its only goal is to export inequality that mirrors the domestic socioeconomic structure.
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By Jon Kofas.
The bombing that took place in Paris with many casualties was a human tragedy and a political disaster for Western anti-terrorism policy. A day before ISIS suicide bombers in Paris, the bombing in Beirut, Lebanon demonstrated the ease with which jihadists fighting against the Assad regime are able to operate. In both cases the jihadist group ISIS operating in Syria and Iraq claimed responsibility and celebrated its success in retaliation for those trying to strike at ISIS targets. It is also likely that an ISIS affiliate in Egypt bombed a Russian passenger plane killing 224 people on 31 October 2015.
Three bombings within a remarkably short span of time demonstrate the reach of an organization that was once backed by US allies in the Middle East, and possibly by the US indirectly in the war that the US started to bring down the Assad regime, all in the name of freedom and democracy, just as the US has been delivering freedom and democracy in Libya. The quest to destabilize and ultimately overthrow Assad has failed in the last couple of years and made matters worse for everyone, above all the people of Syria. The US and its European and regional allies have managed to create a new force that has some appeal at least with the radicalized Sunni Muslims not just in Syria and Iraq but across the Middle East and beyond. Now that US secretary of State John Kerry has been in talks with Russia about how to stabilize Syria, perhaps agree on limited spheres of influence as imperialists, so that the greater threat of ISIS is contained.
Based on the results alone, one could conclude that the US policy of destabilization that helped to create the conditions for ISIS to operate is a miserable failure with horrible consequences. Of course, if one advocates a policy of redrawing the map of Syria and Iraq, as many Westerners and Zionists do, then the policy has been a resounding success. After all, both countries are already badly divided along sectarian and ethnic lines, and what could be a better way of limiting the influence of Iran in Iran and Syria and Russia in Syria other than redrawing the map just as Western imperialists almost did a century ago?
One would think that the lessons learned from the US policy of supporting jihadists in the 1980s in Afghanistan against the pro-USSR regime had become a lesson for policy change that would actually yield the desired results. On the contrary, as a status quo power immersed in Cold War ideology, the US does not change policy just because it backfires with dire consequences for itself and its allies. The military solution option is the only one on the table for the US for a combination of reasons. This means that cycle of jihadist attacks will continue as will the response with conventional militarist solutions that would in fact produce more unconventional warfare. Looking beyond the military solution to the root causes – social, economic and politic injustice – is out of the question during the era when neoliberal thinking prevails across the Western World.
1. The obsession of projecting strength through raw military power in the world as a way of retaining Pax American alive.
No matter the failures of the military solution, and unintended benefits to US rivals Russia, China and Iran that do not want the US to have exclusive role in determining the balance of power in the Middle East, policymakers in Washington, backed by the corporate world and media do not deviate from the failed military solution option until there is no choice as was the case with Iran and the nuclear deal. The empirical evidence suggests that while military solutions as a means of maintaining Pax Americana began to show weaknesses as far back as the 1960s during the Vietnam War. Yet, the US will not abandon a policy that has failed to deliver. Pax American was dead and buried during Vietnam, and President Johnson implied as much when he announced on TV that he would not seek reelection, knowing the failure of Vietnam was a resounding failure for Pax American he was supposed to guard and expand. However, the lessons of Vietnam included everything but political solutions to crises. Instead, a commitment to go deeper into debt as a nation – currently $17 trillion or about equal to GDP – so that Pax Americana’s glory could live on if not in the real world, at least in the minds of delusional politicians while defense contractors made huge profits.
2. Ideological commitment to militarism and imperialism, despite the evolution of new multi-polar world in which China plays a determining role.
The diehard ideologues to right-wing solutions have been around from the early days of the Truman administration advocating unilateral action in a world where the US defined its national security interests not just within its sovereign territory, not just in the Western Hemisphere as part of the long-standing Pan-Americanism perspective that dates back to the Monroe Doctrine, but across the world as the reckless and dysfunctional world’s policeman. Unable to exist as a society that is content with playing a role commensurate to its actual economic, political and economic power in the world, the ideologues advocating unilateralism, militarism and imperialism (intervention via over military action or covert operations) have proved detrimental to the security of the nation and to the destabilization of all places where there is intervention.
The US invaded and occupied Iraq under Saddam Hussein on a series of blatant lies, created chaos and divisions with an otherwise unified country, and above all it is responsible for millions of refugees that are a huge problem for neighboring nations. Similarly, the US goal to bring down Syria’s Assad and make that country a US satellite instead of one where Russia and Iran enjoy influence has entailed the creation of millions of refugees for which the right-wing American ideologues want harsh punishment instead of amnesty by EU nations. Blinded by the notion of an invincible America pursuing its destiny to exert preeminent influence if not dominate the world, these ideologues making money as consultants, politicians, media analysts and above all defense contractors thrive on destabilization and what they call crisis management; ironically for crises they create but then propose to “manage”.
3. Tangible interests of profits by defense contractors who hire former politicians and high level defense and intelligence officers to work and lobby for them.
President Eisenhower’s warning to the American people about the military industrial complex that was actually forged during the Wilson administration to manage World War I may have come too late. To this day, no one takes seriously the Eisenhower warning, partly because he was then advised by the IMF that the dollar as a reserve currency was becoming weak and would ultimately become even weaker owing to balance of payments deficits. Although the US could hardly afford both guns and butter, Johnson pursued such a reckless policy by escalating the Vietnam War to the delight of defense companies.
Because there is instability, jihadist terrorism, regional conflicts, and neglect of diplomacy as the first rather than the last option to resolve conflict, the profits of defense contractors rise as their stock market price indicates, and indeed the profits of every company from food and soft drink suppliers to defense to makers of drones. One cannot possibly ignore the power of the defense contractors and all industries feeding off the defense and intelligence budgets that simply drive up the public debt and weaken the civilian economy.
These people thrive on events that drive governments raise defense spending just at the time they should be cutting it and considering political solutions that may actually work against the reality of unending military solution failures that only generate more “unconventional warfare” or terrorism. As cynical as it may sound, all those making a living from the defense and intelligence domain delight in events such as that of Paris on 13 November 2015. These people know that peace and stability means cuts in their business, so they have no interest in political solutions to conflict.
4. The media is always there to pump up militarism as the sole solution.
The Western media had no problem with ISIS striking down the Russian plane and Beirut where Hezbollah was the target. In fact, the western media was criticizing Russian president Putin for striking at ISIS targets, prompting the US to indirectly assist ISIS by sending air cover to protect certain pro-West assets in Syria along the Turkish border. The media, reflecting US official position, sent the message to the world that the problem at hand was really Putin and Assad, rather than the barbaric ISIS that Russian planes were targeting; that is until the Paris bombing that had some arguing drive the idea into peoples’ heads that it is possible to wipe out unconventional type of war, or terrorism by simply striking hard at the enemy.
While the media does not create terrorism, it celebrates militarism by selecting news analysts and by reporting on stories of military solutions to conflict. It may be argued that the media must reflect the status quo and mirror what governments are pursuing. Editorial decisions are made on what stories to cover, how to cover them, and what spin to put on them, not just on FOX NEWS that has been called out by a number of organizations for extreme right wing coverage, but the New York Times that many regard as liberal newspaper, yet it hardly differs in goals from FOX.
5. Will Terrorism Subside or proliferate.
Contrary to what many politicians including the French President announced about closing the border and adopting other such “security measures” to preempt any strikes on French soil, and contrary to what British PM announced about striking down and ending jihadist activities, terrorism will continue and proliferate. This is because the underlying causes of terrorism are not addressed, and they include Western militarism and economic imperialism, complemented by racism and religious prejudice.
In 2015, we have much greater and wider forms of terrorism than we did when the US announced its war on terror after 9/11. The public relations exercises intended for mass consumption project the idea that government has the solution at hand and it is in position of protecting its citizens. However, jihadists already reside within the nations they wish to strike and history has demonstrated that unconventional war has never been won by conventional military means. One could argue that the Russian Tsars in the 19th century lacked the sophisticated science and technology available to the West in 2015.
Fair enough, but how do then explain the Paris bombings taking place when France is well known for its sophisticated intelligence and technology available? This does not mean that measures cannot be taken for greater security of citizens, but it does mean that there will never be a full proof method of combating unconventional warfare (terrorism) because of its nature unless the underlying causes are addressed. The political solution remains the only option to eradicate terrorism which is simply a publicity stunt that never brings about systemic change toward greater social justice because it lacks grassroots support and alienates people that would otherwise sympathize with the cause of social justice.
In the aftermath of the Paris bombings, the response I expect from the Western countries is one similar to the US in 9/11, although Russia will take advantage of the situation and once again propose a multilateral approach for a conventional strike against ISIS. One would think that if ISIS was able to bring down the Russia plane over Egypt, hit at the heart of Hezbollah in Beirut and hit Paris within a few days, there must be a wide network of support behind it with significant links.
There are still questions about which governments, corporations and varieties of businessmen still maintain indirect ties to this group that needs such cooperation to manage its considerable economic and strategic affairs. Similarly, there are questions about the US policy toward Syria that one the one hand, claims to be fighting to undermine ISIS, but on the other hand, it wants to bring Assad down and undermines Russia efforts to fight ISIS. Clearly, a coordinated policy between US-NATO with Russia, China and Iran could go a very long way to contain ISIS. However, this is not how US ideologues see the matter resolved; this is not what the defense contractors want, and this is not what the populist Republicans and rightwing media advocate. It makes sense that they keep citizens living in a state of perpetual fear as a means of imposing sociopolitical conformity amid a period when the socioeconomic gap has been widening on the US despite a modest economic recovery. Unless systemic problems of the Muslims – social justice issues – and the relationship of Muslim nations with the West are addressed, terrorism is a reality that will become more prominent in the next decade.
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By Jon Kofas.
This essay argues that Africa is undergoing changes in its economies in the 21st century, not only because of the role that China is playing but owing to intense competition from other Western countries and the Middle East. China’s role is within the capitalist world economy and within the patron-client model of integration that the Europeans followed after African countries achieved their formal independence from colonization. During the second half of the 20th century, northwest Europe remained the conduit for African integration into the US-centered global economy, despite the role of US-based multinational corporations. According to Pew Research Center polls of African nations, the issue concerning the vast majority of the people remains the gap between rich and poor. This is directly related to the international competition for market share in Africa as well as the security issue intertwined with local rebels groups and what the US labels Islamic-inspired “terrorism”, or another form of guerrilla warfare. This essay examines many of these issues for a deep understanding of Africa today and its future prospects.
Part I: Structural Obstacles to Development and Social Justice
Decades after the decolonization of Africa and after Frantz Fanon (Wretched of the Earth) depicted the social, economic, political and cultural problems associated with the legacy of colonialism there has been no structural change in the political economy of the 54 African nation-states any more than in ending endemic poverty as the UN and other organizations have been promising for decades or closing the rich-poor gap. It is misleading and a remnant of imperialist political labeling to lump all African countries under one category, just as it is misleading to place all of Latin American countries in a single category, although they do have common characteristic and a common legacy of colonialism and current reality of foreign control of resources and market share.
There is a huge difference between South Africa now part of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) economy, and Somalia ranking as one of the world’s poorest nations with political instability and dim prospects for economic growth. It is just as difficult to make comparisons between Islamic North Africa with sub-Sahara Africa, despite political instability that is a common characteristic in most as the continuation of foreign economic dependence after the end of colonial rule. With this caveat in mind, for purposes of this very short essay I will address some common features and note differences as well in development models.
Apologists of capitalism argue that Africa’s current problems are strictly cyclical because the prices of metals, oil and other commodities, especially coffee and cocoa that have been declining amid a deflationary international climate. While it is true that the slowdown in commodities demand in China has obviously impacted Africa, the majority of the people were not better off when prices were rising. Regardless of capitalism’s expansion and contraction cycles, from the 1950s to the present, living standards for the African people have not improved, no matter the lofty claims from Western governments, NGO’s and other organizations about helping Africa become self-sufficient.
In the second half of the 20th century, Africa’s division of labor and national institutions – everything from military to banking and foreign trade – was largely determined by the core countries – US and northwest Europe – with the considerable assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and its affiliates, African Development Bank and a number of United Nations agencies, and of course, the explosion of NGO’s some of which are fully funded by governments trying to peddle political and economic influence. In short, the external mechanisms of Africa’s dependence became stronger and more solidified in the last six decades than they were during the era of colonial rule.
In fact, there has been a downward trend in living standards for the vast majority of Africans from 1990 to 2015, despite the remarkable uptrend cycle in commodity prices and massive new investment from China. This is evident by examining all indicators from life expectancy to access to clean water and sanitation. There are those who point to periodic drought primarily in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia; local wars and rebel conflicts in the drought-stricken countries as well as others especially where Muslims have influence such as Sudan, Nigeria, and Libya.
Besides endemic poverty that creates fertile grounds for Islamic or tribal inspired rebel movements throughout many part of the continent, the population explosion, corrupt politicians, contraband and informal economy, absence of infrastructural development, and modern technology to help the continent achieve capitalist development comparable to that of the West are obstacles to progress. It is noteworthy that some of the arguments made today on why Africa cannot catch up with its Western counterparts were also made one hundred years ago when Africa was under European colonization, with the colonizers blaming everything but imperialism as the root cause of underdevelopment.
One cause for the systemic underdevelopment of Africa has been and remains that more capital flows out than comes in, invariably foreign loans having the role as catalysts to the process of de-capitalization. The cycle of public foreign debt and de-capitalization continues across the continent under the watchful eye of the International Monetary Fund and foreign financial institutions that represent big banks in the US and Europe and large corporate interests.
It is indeed a monumental step forward that Africans have served as heads of the United Nations and in key positions of international organization. From a symbolic perspective, it was great to see Kofi Annan as the UN secretary-general, but was Africa better off when he left the UN than when he came in; or was there any structural change in the political economy of the entire continent from Egypt to South Africa, from Nigeria to Kenya? Inordinate dependence on the foreign–dominated and outward-oriented primary sector of production owing to failure to diversify the economy remains the major obstacles to raising living standards.
Many observers of the African political economy argue that there have been success stories, among them, South Africa freeing itself from white majority political rule though keeping white majority economic hegemony. With the exception of Israel and rightwing elements in the US, the entire world celebrated the end of South Africa’s apartheid a generation ago. Nelson Mandela became a symbol of freedom and self-determination for Africans. However, high unemployment, low living standards among blacks, lack of upward mobility, and the rich-poor persisted, with the country occupying the world’s last place for life expectancy.
Although South Africa was on its way to catching up with Brazil, India and Russia, enjoying 38% GDP growth in the last decade, this was not indicative of social mobility but rather capital concentration. In 2015, South Africa suffers unemployment at the same level as Greece that has been under IMF-EU austerity since 2010. Socioeconomic and political conditions are worse in the rest of Africa, and this includes Muslim northern Africa that has suffered US-NATO direct and indirect military interference in its social uprisings during the Arab Spring revolts that once represented the promise of a democratic Africa free of dictators linked to large domestic and foreign capitalists.
Judging from the unemployment statistics in Africa’s two largest economies, Nigeria and South Africa, both dependent on extractive industries exports, there is not much difference between them with all of those natural resources, and Greece suffering five consecutive years of IMF-EU-imposed austerity and downward socioeconomic mobility. One could argue that 26.4% unemployment for South Africa and 24% for Nigeria are understandable owing to the cyclical nature of the commodities market – both gold and crude oil are sharply down from their highs, along with all commodities. However, the core issue is not capitalism’s cyclical contraction, but the high levels of structural unemployment and underemployment in the continent’s richest countries, as well as the vast income gap between the very few wealthy individuals and the vast majority of the masses.
Obstacles to development account for a division of labor that has remained about the same in the last half century. This is despite reductions in extreme poverty (under two dollar a day category) in the last two decades. By all indications, globalization has accounted for the downward mobility of most Africans, although this may not be as clear when looking at GDP statistics of certain countries, including South Africa and Nigeria. The world economic structure has not changed, no matter the rhetoric about globalization and neoliberal policies uplifting all economies across the world. Just the opposite, the overall economic picture of Africa is one of steady decline since the 1980s. The continent’s share of global trade was 3.1% in 1955 in 1990 it was a mere 1.2%.
Largely because of China as a major new player in the region’s trade, there was a rise after the recession of the early 1990s, but this too was limited to the primary sector of production. The China factor did not help the continent lift its GDP amounting to under $300 billion in 1997 while the debt was $315 billion. This allowed the IMF to impose austerity and neoliberal measures of privatization, corporate tax reductions, and trade barrier removals that further weakened the national economies. The austerity measures not only prevented upward socioeconomic mobility, but actually drove more people into lower living standards.
In December 1993,UN secretary-general Boutros-Boutrros Ghali argued that the solution for Africa’s socioeconomic problems rested with greater integration. In an essay on this issue, Robert J. Cummings noted that: “From the 1950sto the present, more than 200 organizations have been founded on the continent of Africa for the purpose of fostering regional and sub-regional integration and economic cooperation. The performance record of these myriad organizations historically have not been sterling.” R. J. Cummings “Africa’s Case for Economic Integration” (www.HU Archives.net )
The efforts on the part of the UN, World Bank and other Western institutions and governments to forge African integration have not lifted altered the dependent structure of the economy based on the primary sector of production nor have such efforts resulted in higher living standards and upward social mobility despite some reduction in poverty in the last two decades. Integration on the patron-client model is at the core of neo-colonialism in Africa and favors the multinational corporations, thus perpetuating external dependence and underdevelopment.
The most significant challenge of Africa in the next few decades will be to transform itself from a largely “dependent outward-oriented” economy (primary sector production exports) providing cheap raw materials for the advanced capitalist countries to an inward-looking (producing to meet domestic demand through import substitution industrialization) integrated via an intra-continental model and develops more equitable terms of trade with developed countries. The uneven terms of trade, the inherent lower value of African exports vs. its imports from the developed countries has been and remains a core problem in development.
To achieve the goal of self-sufficiency Africa would need more than NGOs and UN intervention that only target emergency areas during war and famine. Africa would need more than China funding infrastructural development intended to accommodate extractive mining and agricultural regions, and more than regional integration that the World Bank has been advocating and without success by its own admission, and only intended to strengthen the role of multinational corporations trying to dominate key sectors of the raw materials economy.
In the absence of a systemic political change, just as took place in England (1689) and France (1789) that paved the way for economic modernization, Africa cannot achieve its goal of self-sufficiency no matter the rhetoric by politicians on the continent or Western organizations like the World Bank and corporations employing the self-sufficiency rhetoric but operating as imperialists not much different in results than the colonialists of the 19th century.
PART II: CHINA’S ECONOMIC ROLE IN AFRICA
Is China threatening to displace the Europeans from Africa at some point in the second half of the 21st century, as the mass media in the US has been hinting since the global recession 0f 2008? Or is EU-Chinese capital so intertwined that what may be counted as China’s market share in Africa could very well be yielding profits for French, British and German multinational corporations? If capitalist China is such a threat to the West, why has the very Western World Bank been collaborating with China on a number of fronts? Is it merely the fear of the US that China as the inevitable number one economic power in the world will corner the most abundant and cheapest markets in Africa?
In 2010, the Wikileaks organization published the US concern about China helping to develop the infrastructure strategically in those countries in Africa where it plans to do business. Two things alarmed the US: a) no strings attached to infrastructural development, at least no direct strings as the US and EU always impose on the recipient country; and b) the clever way the Chinese are including the World Bank and European governments and EU-based multinational corporations. In short, China’s multilateralism as a strategy of secur5ing market share has been upsetting to American unilateralists who see a fiendish plan that would entail Africa transferring its historical dependence from the West to East.
Another issue regarding China is the scope of its role in Africa in 2015, considering that the Western media present it as hegemonic and potentially threatening to “US and Western interests”, thus invoking national and trade bloc capitalism as a populist tactic. In reality, as we will see below, China currently has a small role while the Europeans, US and wealthier Gulf Arab states enjoying the lion’s share of the market.
What has alarmed the Western capitalists and politicians is the reality that African exports to China went from a mere 1% of world share in 2000 to 15% in 2012, and likely to continue rising for the indefinite future. Despite the inevitable cyclical economic slowdown in China, it is just as inevitable that by the 2030s we can safely predict much closer trade, investment and overall economic dependency of Africa on China. This in itself poses not just a threat to Western capitalism but to Western geopolitical designs on a continent with very rich in natural resources. Because the US does not compete with China in Africa using the same tools of economic integration, about the only response the US has is to flex its military muscle and secure as much as it can for US-based multinational corporations.
Before we assume China’s role is benign, the issue of China as the panacea for Africa is one that many have emphasized, given that European and US economic, military and political roles throughout Africa have not resulted in improvements as judged by standards the West has been proclaiming – democracy, freedom, economic development and higher living standards. Some in and outside of Africa believe that China’s integration model which starts with infrastructural development that would help the domestic economy as well as forge greater regional integration while stimulating the export sector is promising. After all, the European imperialists had done nothing but pillage Africa from the start of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 15th century when the Portuguese landed until the more subtle late 20th century policies of assisting corporate exploitation of natural resources. Moreover, if China is so well integrated into the global economy and it is helping to forge a new integration model in Africa, this presents new opportunities for African counties, at least for those rich in natural resources.
The bottom line is whether China will help Africa develop or merely perpetuate underdevelopment as did the Europeans and the US. Underdevelopment is a process just as development that takes place amid domestic and international political and economy dynamics. Development is not a matter of a country having a surplus labor force, or having near self-sufficiency in minerals and raw materials, or enjoying an infrastructure that can accommodate rapid development to buttress the capital-intensive export sector mostly of extractive industries. Africa is one of the richest continents on the planet in natural resources and it certainly has a surplus labor force at the lowest cost on the planet in comparison with the other continents. Can Chinese investment do something with these cheap assets to help itself while also help Africa?
In order to secure a segment of Africa’s natural resources for its own growth and development at the lowest possible cost, China has been investing in the continent and counting on it for rapid export growth in the 21st century. Despite its rich resources and new investment from China as well as Gulf Arab countries, Europe and US, the persistence of underdevelopment in Africa defies logic at least on the surface beyond the GDP growth numbers and marginal decline in extreme poverty. Why is there reason to believe the Chinese will change a history of five centuries of colonialism and neo-colonialism?
One could argue that the structural causes have everything to do with the corrupt and incompetent political regimes combined with the uneven development complicated by the periodic famines and droughts in a number of sub-Saharan regions. Another argument that the apologists of globalization and neoliberal politicians make is that Africa has not fully integrated into the world capitalist economy, leaving much of its productive capacities underutilized or outside the domain of international trade owing to persistence of tribalism. Is Africa’s problem underutilization of natural resources or uneven terms of trade, chronic exploitation of low labor values, massive capital concentration in the hand of very few comprador bourgeoisie linked to foreign capital, and of course corrupt politicians that foreign corporations bribe to secure contracts.
Another issue that Western analysts are constantly making is that there is instability owing to civil conflicts in a number of countries, from Sudan and Nigeria to Central and East Africa where rebels are an obstacle to stability and development. In the Islamic countries north of the Sahara, there is the instability caused by jihadist elements as there is in the East; activities which also impact Africa more broadly. However, Jihadist conditions, as we will see below, are of fairly recent origin and even so a reaction to neo-colonial conditions, among other causes related to tribal and religious differences. If we were to sum up, the Western analysts conclude that the fault for the absence of development in Africa rests squarely with internal dynamics and has absolutely nothing to do with Western imperialism as a chronic presence.
When we examine the lofty promises of growth and development by the UN, World Bank and Western governments whose only interest is to assist corporate control of Africa’s resources and market share the result is that by 1995 25% of the people in the sub-Sahara region had no job and were homeless. Even more alarming, Africa’s agricultural growth rates have been declining since 1965. From an annual average of 2.2% (1965-1973), to 0.6% (1981-85), per capita food production continued to decline throughout the 1980s and 1990s, necessitating four times as much food aid. Why is anyone surprised that there is the level of rebel activity, including Jihadist as of late, when the question really ought to be why is there not more such activity given these conditions that people in the West would not tolerate and demand change?
There are those who argue that China’s presence actually helps to tame the sociopolitical mood throughout the continent. China is investing in everything – Hydro-power, dams, water and sanitation, ports, railroads, roads, mining, timber, fisheries and agriculture. At the same time, France and the rest of Europe as well as the US and the rich Arab countries have been competing with China and want to maintain market share. What exactly this entails for the people of Africa and the development model that would eventually lift the majority of the people from abject poverty is another story.
The Chinese are not in Africa to lift living standards for the population but to strengthen their global competitive position. China will need Africa’s raw materials, everything from foodstuffs to minerals in order to remain a global economic power in the 21st century. China accounts for about one-fifth of the planet’s population, but it only has 6 percent of the planet’s water and 9 percent arable land, forcing its government to look outside its borders to sustain its growth and development. Just as Africa provided cheap raw materials and cheap labor for Europe and the US from the era of colonialism until the rise of China as a global economic power, in the 21st century it will play a similar role with China competing for Africa’s cheap raw materials and labor. Investment has risen from a mere 210 million in 2000 to 3.17 billion 2011 and it is expected to skyrocket.
Africa is the world’s fastest growing continent for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), but it starts out at such low levels that it can only go higher. While historically FDI went primarily to the extractive industries, there is new emphasis on manufacturing with energy as a key industry where revolutionary methods could make a difference in bringing electricity to more people than ever and make manufacturing even cheaper. The continent’s global share of FDI rose from around 3% in 2007 to 5% in 2012, a period of global recession. Among the top 25 countries in the world with the highest incoming FDI, Africa is nowhere to be found; and if it were not for South Africa, the continent as a whole would be at the very bottom along with some of the Eurasian countries. As miraculous as it may appear, China’s share of overseas direct investment in Africa is a mere $26 billion, while France and UK continue to lead in this category. On the other hand, few would argue that China is poised to impose economic hegemony of some type over Africa under an integration model presumably better than what the French and the British had imposed after decolonization.
By extending concessional loans – more generous terms and longer term – to the tune of $10 billion amid the global recession of 2009 to 2012, China bought itself enormous influence without literally dictating terms down to the minute detail as do the IMF and World Bank. Chinese President Xi Jinping doubled the concessional loan commitment to Africa from $10 billion to $20 billion in the 2013-2015 period, and the Chinese EXPORT-Import Bank announced an ambitious financing program of one trillion dollars by 2025; something that could be scaled back owing to the slowing Chinese economy in 2015.
Although Africa accounts for such a small percentage of Chinese global investment, Africa has been a top foreign aid recipient. Aid donors have always used it as a policy instrument and leverage in every respect to influence not only investment and trade policy of the aid recipient but defense and foreign policy as well. In providing various types of aid to Africa, from medical and humanitarian to debt relief and development, China is investing in fact investing in good will diplomatically as well as economically for the future market share that it wants in Africa.
Can we expect from China what we have seen on the part of the European and US companies in Africa since the 1960s? From the early 1960s to the present, large foreign companies secure public financing for privately-operated projects that have been uneconomic across Africa. However, the foreign firms risk no capital of their own because their loans to finance their operation are guaranteed by their governments or developments banks, as are interest and profits. Because most of the investment is invariably in mining and commercial agriculture, involving multinational companies like Monsanto, the Carlyle Group, Shell, and other Wall Street and EU giants, the goal is to strengthen the export sector by taking advantage of cheap labor without much benefit for the broader economic diversification in a continent desperate for greater self-sufficiency.
Although China has followed this pattern, its focus on developing the infrastructure in a number of African countries has the potential of laying the foundations for a sustainable diversified inward oriented economy. After all, China has provided assistance for schools and some textile factories, but it often labels loans as “aid”, and most of its investments go to those countries rich in natural resources.
Foreign investment in Africa, under terms no developed country would permit is virtually unregulated, thus constituting a drain of natural resource wealth. Suffering the lowest labor values on the planet, Africa attracts foreign capital investment because it is the next frontier to realize high profits. Moreover, foreign capital flows because foreign businesses demand that African countries provide local financing under government-guaranteed loans and very generous terms that include profit repatriation, liberal terms on the environment, and minimal labor protection.
According to the World Bank that has partnered with China on many projects, the goals in Africa include (i) accelerating industrialization and manufacturing; (ii) making special economic zones (SEZs) and industrial parks work; (iii) infrastructure and trade logistics, including regional integration; (iv) creating the conditions to accelerate responsible private sector investment, (v) skills development for competitiveness and job creation, and vi) improving agricultural productivity and expanding agribusiness opportunities.
These are indeed lofty goals, and one could argue that all countries undergoing industrialization had to suffer, so must Africa, despite its unique relationship with industrialized nations. If we analyze each of the above points that the World Bank has outlined, we conclude that the goal in Africa is to create a climate conducive to foreign corporate investment under the best possible terms. There is nothing about protecting workers rights, collective bargaining, livable wages, appropriate affordable housing, hospitals and schools, and above all under a political regime that respects human rights and civil rights pursuant to principles of social justice. The only concern of the investors, governments, and international organizations assisting them in Africa is the investment itself not the social, cultural, economic and political welfare of the people.
PART III: The New Scramble for Africa, Narcotics and Human Trafficking
There is a 21st century version of “the scramble for Africa”, a continuation of what started in the 19th century (1880-1914) by the Europeans who pillaged the continent’s resources, systematically exploited its people, caused tribal and regional wars, destroying its culture; and all of it by invoking social Darwinism and other Eurocentric theories, including ethnocentrism and ‘Exceptionalism’, to justify white hegemony. The new round of neo-colonial race to carve up Africa’s lucrative agricultural lands, mineral wealth, fishing rights within its territorial waters also extends to its geographical location that makes it so convenient for South American cocaine trade through West Africa and heroin-cannabis trade through East Africa.
According to the World Bank (September 2010), more than 110 million acres of farmland (the size of California and West Virginia combined) were sold during the first 11 months of 2009. This was all in a mad rush of foreign private and government investors to secure cheap land (and labor to work the land), and all during the most serious economic recession in the postwar period. Between 1998 and 2008, the World Bank provided $23.7 billion for agribusiness around the world, much of it in Africa promoting what it calls ‘efficient and sustainable’ agriculture. Along with the erosion of subsistence farming that sustained families, there is the corresponding erosion of subsistence fishing owing to competition from European and Asian commercial fishing operations in coastal Africa. All of this is an integral part of the corporate control of Africa with the support of governments in the advanced capitalist countries and with the backing of the IMF and World Bank Group’s subsidiary agencies like the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
In 2010 the IFC has invested an estimated $100 million for agribusiness in sub-Saharan Africa, compared with merely $18 million per year in the previous decade. Naturally, IFC and World Bank investment which runs into the billions focuses solely on corporate agriculture that displaces the small farmer. This despite the advice from experts in sub-Saharan countries who argued that the best use of farmland is to distribute it to villagers (about 12 hectares per family) and give them the means to cultivate it to end hunger while also generating a potential surplus for trade. Foreign-owned agribusiness backed by their governments and international financial organizations such as the IFC produce commercial crops for export, while the native population remains poverty-stricken. It should be noted that foreign aid for Africa’s agriculture dropped by 75% since 1980, thus creating the need for private foreign investment in the sector. This is all in the name of furthering the goals of privatization that Western neo-liberal push across the world with devastating consequences for workers and peasants.
In the last one hundred years, agriculture in the industrialized countries has undergone a revolution that has resulted in just a small segment of the labor force earning its living from farming, animal husbandry and fishing. Technology and science applied to the sector has raised production and made agriculture less labor intensive just as specialization and concentration has resulted in higher productivity. Modernization of the primary sector of production entails that large commercial operations in the primary sector of production, backed by favorable government policies, have taken over the sector that requires expensive agrochemicals and machinery, and a distribution network to secure steady profits. In Africa’s case, only large invariably foreign-owned commercial enterprises are able to operate under this model of development, forcing the small farmers and peasants into poverty.
With each recessionary cycle more small farmers in Africa and around the world are squeezed out of the business, while neo-liberal apologists not just in the corporate board rooms and the media, but in government and UN continue to sing the praises of large scale commercial operations as the panacea for capitalism. The transition from subsistence to commercial agriculture in first in Western Europe and then in US freed the surplus labor force for the manufacturing and service sectors of production. In the case of Africa, however, there is no manufacturing or service sector large enough to absorb the surplus labor force that is uprooted from subsistence farming and animal husbandry.
The assumption by governments, banks, and mainstream economists is that commercial agriculture in the form of agribusiness is a necessary development of modernization. Another assumption is that only large-scale agribusiness, which is subsidized by government and international organizations like the World Bank and IFFC among others, can meet the rising demand the world’s rising food demand while keeping costs low. After all, manufacturing is just around the corner for Africa, although it promises to be the kind of manufacturing we have seen in Bangladesh and other south Asian countries where living standards are very low and working conditions very poor.
Given the trend toward corporate agriculture, in the last fifteen years, governments and private firms from around the world have been investing in sub-Sahara Africa because corporations chase the highest return for the lowest possible investment under the most favorable conditions to capital possible. Besides agribusinesses acquiring more land, banks, hedge and pension funds, commodity traders, foundations and individual investors have been buying land as part of portfolio investments for an average of $1 per hectare. This is in an attempt to cash in on low-cost land and labor amid a growing demand for raw food products and bio-fuels.
The EU is hoping to reduce carbon emissions by using at least 10% bio-fuel of all fuel products by 2020. The US is aiming to reduce its foreign dependence on oil by 70% in the next 15 years. With the help of the World Bank and IFC, the EU and the US have been looking to Africa – more than 700 million hectares appropriated for agribusiness – as the continent to invest in bio-fuels; this at a time that the Europeans have also been eyeing Africa as the next frontier for solar energy. Latin America is also a target for bio-fuel and other agrarian investment, but Africa offers even more attractive prospects in part because of the Arab and Chinese interest as well.
In the past decade, India, China, Japan, and Arab countries have joined the 21st century scramble for Africa, in some cases because governments are concerned about soil, water, and natural resources conservation in their own countries. Private investors and governments are aggressively seeking to partition Africa’s rich agricultural land as the cost of agricultural commodities is expected to rise once the current recession ends. Saudi Arabia has set aside $5 billion in low-interest loans to Saudi agribusinesses to invest in agriculturally attractive countries. Another reason for the new scramble for Africa is because of what the UN Food and Agricultural Organization calls ‘spare land’, areas not under cultivation, or underutilized.
Developed countries have used Africa for its raw materials and as a consumer of imported manufactured products and foreign business services, but not as roughly equal trading partners as is France and Germany. Rather, Africa has been the victim of unequal terms of trade, and external control of its key extractive sectors. In short, Africa remains semi-colonial and continues to become increasingly dependent on developed countries for overvalued manufactured products and services while exporting raw materials at prices commodities markets in the West determine based on speculative interest.
One is favorably impressed by the rhetoric regarding “sustainable development” that the media, governments, the World Bank, and even corporations promise as though such development translates into social justice. After all, the hypocrisy of corporate responsibility regarding the eco-system has been exposed repeatedly not just by oil companies operating in Nigeria, but even by Volkswagen as its flagrant scandal regarding emissions manipulation proved in October 2015. The EU and US quest for bio-fuel development in Africa, and for that matter in Latin America, has nothing to do with ‘sustainable development’ or engendering greater ‘self-sufficiency’ or helping to ‘develop’ Africa – rhetoric that the UN, World Bank, western governments and multinational corporations are using to make ‘the new scramble for Africa’ more palatable to the world. The rhetoric is obligatory to placate the masses to retain their trust in the corporate world.
Will the people of Africa solve the chronic problems of poverty and disease as a result of the exploitation of land and labor to satisfy the demand for food and bio-fuels in Western nations? Africa’s food requirements will double in the next two to three decades, a point that foreign agribusinesses, governments and IFC and World Bank are using to justify the commercialization of agriculture under foreign ownership. In the process of the neo-colonial land-grab, evictions of peasants and small farmers, entire villages uprooted, civil unrest, and citizens’ complaints of ‘land grabbing’ have been common. Protests owing to social injustice do not stop governments from approving agribusiness deals backed by powerful forces. One common justification used for the new scramble for Africa is that the acquired territories are not utilized or ‘wasteland’. Governments often do not charge agribusiness for the water they use. Just a single agribusiness belonging to an Arab investor in Ethiopia, for example, uses as much water as 100,000 people – water of course is the most precious commodity in many parts of Africa. This is the reality of agribusiness and its role in drought-ridden East Africa.
One reason for the rise of the informal economy that includes everything from hand-carved wood statues to cocaine from Colombia and heroin from Afghanistan using West and East Africa as hubs before sending the product to Europe is that the neo-liberal model of development has failed. In fact, it has failed so miserably that young impoverished Africans join rebel groups inspired by radical Islam or tribal loyalty. At the same time the combination of rebel activity, and violence linked to narcotics as well as human trafficking and weapons, also linked to radical Islam and tribal allegiances in some cases, is a reflection of a neo-colonial system, no matter the lofty claims by Western governments, NGOs, media, the UN and World Bank that they are looking after the interests of African people.
NARCOTICS TRADE IN AFRICA
Africa’s structural problems have contributed to a thriving narcotics trade through the Western and Eastern areas because of geographical considerations. Given that in sub-Saharan countries the percentage of labor force involved in agriculture, animal husbandry and fisheries ranges from 50 to 75, the result of agribusiness is to create a larger percentage of wage laborers instead of engaged in the subsistence economy. A percentage of this population will choose to make a living in illegal activities – human trafficking, weapons, and narcotics trade; others in piracy, still others in the thriving teenage prostitution business that has a ready market around the world.
All of this is an integral part of an informal economy that according to the African Development Bank contributes 55% of GDP in the sub-Sahara region and accounts for 80% of the labor force. “Nine in 10 rural and urban workers have informal jobs in Africa and most employees are women and youth. The prominence of the informal sector in most African economies stems from the opportunities it offers to the most vulnerable populations such as the poorest, women and youth.” http://www.afdb.org/en/blogs/afdb-championing-inclusive-growth-across-africa/post/recognizing-africas-informal-sector-11645/
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has been warning for many years that a number of West and East African countries are now immersed in the international drug trade, a reality that has consequences for criminal activity and the overall subterranean economy and politics of Africa. Because the drug trade is so lucrative, the income it generates is often larger than the entire GDP of some African countries. This is the case with Guinea-Bissau where the cocaine trade amounts to more than $2 billion and where violent crime in this former Portuguese colony has been rising steadily. The situation is not very different in Senegal where the airport at Dakar has been used to transport cocaine from Latin America to Europe.
While West Africa is a hub for cocaine from Colombia and Peru, East Africa is a hub for heroin and cannabis coming to the region from South-East and Southwest Asia by air and sea, often onboard vessels that transport legitimate commodities, and often owned and operated by European shipping tycoons and of course European banks to launder drug money. A number of Greek shipping tycoons have been linked to the illegal narcotics trade in Africa, but they invariably enjoy European connections for distribution and laundering of enormous amounts of money considering the street value is 20 times higher than its original value when the products land in Africa.
While the drug trade may appear that it is outside the mainstream of economic activity, it actually operates under the same laws of capitalism and in practice under similar routines. The laws of supply and demand apply as does the cooperation of government, albeit at a sub-level of illegality through bribery no different than when a multinational corporation bribes officials. Moreover, just as the extractive industries drain Africa of capital so does the narcotics trade. People involved in this business are in fact businessmen running operations of an illegal product but observing all other rules of the market within which they operate and which makes no distinction between drug money and corporate money. The bottom line for Africa is that both the corporate and drug business result in taking capital out of the area and leaving behind all the social and political problems.
The process of de-capitalization, especially amid recessionary cycles in the world economy as in the current case of depressed commodity prices, only increases the problems with the informal economy that is a mere extension of the overall outward-oriented dependent economy and a colonial remnant that gives rise to illegal activities. East Africa around the Gulf of Aden is already the pirate center of the world, and this in addition to the weapons and human trafficking trade. Everything from illegal handicraft items to diamonds and gold are illegally traded. West Africa is slowly transforming itself into the new world center for South American narco-traffickers. Guinea, Mauritania, Guinea Bissau, Ghana, Benin, Sierra Leone, and Senegal are among the most significant intermediary narco-traffic countries linked to the Colombia-Venezuela coca trade.
In the absence of official cooperation, everyone from custom officials, port authority, police, army and navy, all the way up to cabinet officials, the drug trade would not be possible. In short, the drug trade in Africa is an integral part of the political system and informal economy that enjoys protection from a wide variety of players. This makes transport low-risk in comparison with the Caribbean. With Russia as a new player in the international drug trade and oligarchs behind the regime, the activity has increased in the last decade.
During the “just say No!” campaign of the Reagan era the US had the highest per capita use–US population was around 4% but consumed 25 to 40% of the world’s illegal drugs–and this is not to say that a legal pill-for-everything panacea in the US is not at its root a cultural trait. Today, however, both UK and Spain surpass the US in per capita use of cocaine, and both countries along with Portugal and France are the major destinations for coca that comes from Latin America through West Africa.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that Somalia, currently in the process of establishing a central authority, is host to widespread illegal transactions, including drug and arms trafficking. There are two important international airports in the region, servicing the capitals’ of Ethiopia and Kenya, which are used as transit points for drugs. Both airports have connections between West Africa and the heroin producing countries in South West and South East Asia. There is also an increasing use of postal and courier services for cocaine, heroin and hashish.
Heroin trafficking from Pakistan, Thailand and India to East Africa has been rising in the last two decades. Some of this heroin finds its way to West Africa that also exports to Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya through Ethiopia. Increasing number of Tanzanians and Mozambicans are involved in the trafficking of heroin from Pakistan and Iran, given that there the limited options in the formal economy. West African and East African drug syndicates are inter-connected as they are to smugglers from Latin America and South Asia, reflecting high level of organization.
Considering that multinational corporations from Shell Oil to Siemens have a long history of bribing African officials as they do non-Africans, narcotics traffickers’ mode of operation is no different than that of “legitimate” businesses. And if the opportunity presents itself to make a living why is “dirty money” any less valuable than “clean money,” the latter of which seems to be less than $500 a year for most Africans? Judging on the basis of postwar recessions when per capita income has dropped as much as 50%, this means that in this current crisis Africa will not only suffer greater impoverishment than the rest of the world, but its economic problems will cause more ethnic and tribal conflict, more epidemics, more intra- and inter-continental emigration, and more political turmoil than any developed nation can expect.
Such a climate is ideal for more piracy, more weapons and narcotics transfer, more human trafficking, and all of it part of the colonial and neo-colonial legacy of outward oriented economy benefiting the developed countries. Though the continent is in need of debt-relief and development assistance for the short-term, the solution for a small segment of unemployed and destitute young Africans is drugs, guns, and human trafficking that generates money, although most of that money does not stay in the region and creates violence that disrupts legitimate economic activity.
The social fabric disrupted yet again by ‘the new scramble for Africa’, continued political instability is a guarantee as much as a rise in crime and social unrest. Amazingly, the same institutions that contribute to Africa’s devastation claim that they are acting in the name of ‘progress, sustainable development and efficiency, helping to raise productivity and exports, to create jobs by bringing foreign investment,’ etc.; the modern versions of “The White Man’s Burden”.
The ‘politically palatable’ rhetoric of ‘efficiency and sustainability’ has resulted in an outward-oriented agrarian sector catering to foreign markets instead of inward-oriented economy designed to meet the rapidly rising population’s food needs. In 16th century England, farmers switched to animal husbandry owing to rising demand for wool textiles. Peasants starved as the cost of grain increased, thus “sheep ate people”. In this century, ‘agribusinesses will be eating Africans’.
Apologists of agribusiness justify their support by various arguments including ‘no country has developed’ with two-thirds of its labor force living off the land and dependent on extractive industries. It is an interesting coincidence that just as sub-Sahara Africa has been targeted by drug lords in the last few years, it is also targeted by corporate farm investors whose mode of operation is to use the low-valued land and labor and corrupt public officials in order to serve foreign market demands. Rural poverty will rise as a result of foreign corporate investment in African agriculture. Will the ‘new scramble for Africa’ by corporate investors and drug lords result in the elimination of famine and disease; will it result in higher rising living standards for the native population, or will it be another form of neo-colonialism in the name of progress?
Using the pretext of “terrorism”, a guerrilla movement under the flag of jihadists in recent years, the West and pro-West regimes default all problems on such fanatics in Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Niger, Cameroon, Mali, Uganda and Mauritania. In other words, the US and its European partners would have the public believe that for decades when there were no Islamic jihadists, sub-Sahara Africa under colonial and neo-colonial rule enjoyed social justice and upward social mobility under democratic regimes. Even more insulting is the implication that the Islamic militants are the cause and not the symptom of Western exploitation of Africa and that if they are eliminated the continent would have no problems. As counterproductive as jihadist warfare has been, and as futile in achieving its goals, it is not the cause but one more symptom of the neo-imperialist structure in the continent from Libya to South Africa, from Nigeria to Kenya.
Besides defaulting Africa’s problems on Islamic ‘terrorism’, there are also the advocates of the neo-Malthusian theory – too many people too few resources, rather than unequal income distribution. It is true that drought is a cyclical natural disaster in parts of Eastern and Southern Africa and generally a problem in a few other parts as well. However, does drought justify Malthusianism and does it explain structural impediments to African development? This is not say that a form of managed population control is not desirable, but this is a matter of resources and education for the general population.
Uniting and organizing at the grassroots to end racist neo-colonial exploitation whether in the form of the formal economy based on mineral and agricultural exports or in the informal economy that includes narcotics is the only solution for Africans. Working toward sustainable development can only come from indigenous movements that first change the externally-dependent political regimes and then undertake to change the social order that would engender economic growth under an inward-oriented model. Given the deep historical tribal and ethnic antagonisms in Africa for which westerners are partly to blame, and the even stronger western neo-colonial foundation the prospects of any of this taking place in the forthcoming decades is highly unlikely. Africa will remain the continent of contradictions with the world’s poorest people, but some of the world’s richest natural resources.
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By Jon Kofas.
There are very clear signs that structurally the world is moving increasingly toward further consolidation of the polarizing model that divides the world geographically – rich or developed, semi-developed, and poor or underdeveloped countries – and socioeconomically. This polarizing model, in existence since the evolution of the market economy in the 16th century, rests today on the massive influence of financial institutions – banks, brokerage firms, and insurance companies – over the state. However, the model also rests on large corporate influences and the phenomenon of comprador bourgeois political and socioeconomic class. The race to forge new trade blocs on the part of the US, EU and China only reflects the rising intensity of global competition as wealth is concentrated in the core capitalist countries. These regional blocs help to expand the role of the “comprador” middle class that is often in conflict with the national capitalists, labor organizations, environmental, cultural and religious groups all dreading the preponderate influence of globalization.
What is the “comprador bourgeois” class? This class of middlemen emerged during the era of European colonialism when the colonizers needed local operatives as middlemen to function, whether in Africa, India, China, or Latin America. The fortunes of the comprador socioeconomic class were totally dependent on the colonial economic system that also gave rise to a comprador political class when decolonization took place in the 20th century, especially after WWII. Through the formation of such a class, the Great Powers were able to reduce the dependent country’s economic system into an extension of the mother country under the imperial system, as we can see by examining the global operations of the European colonial powers since the 16th century as well as US after the Spanish-American War of1898.
This is not to suggest that the market economy has not rested since its inception on uneven development, uneven terms of trade, and preponderate influence of market forces on state policy. Nor is this to suggest that both the national and comprador bourgeoisie did not co-exist within a complex system where individual capitalists engaged in competition for profits and an ever larger share of the market. The state of course facilitates and advances capitalist accumulation for both national and comprador bourgeoisie, although not always evenhandedly. Clearly, in the weak state structures of developing countries the comprador capitalists dominate because international capital dominates, while national capital plays a dominant role in core countries.
It would not be possible for England to operate in 19th century China without comprador bourgeoisie any more than it would be for the US to operate in Latin America after the Spanish-American War. Both puppet bourgeois class and puppet regimes were and are necessary for the operation of the polarizing global system. Comprador economics necessarily created a comprador political class. Without the political class advancing policies intended to promote thorough economic integration of the national economy with the international economic system where the large corporations enjoy clear dominance integration would not be possible. In fact, where there is no colonial structure, the comprador political class is a precondition to the creation of comprador socioeconomic class. This means that while capitalism operates under a more representative model in the advanced countries, there is considerably less representation and less sovereignty in the countries under the comprador political and socioeconomic class. This is evident not just in underdeveloped nations, but in much of Southern and Eastern Europe.
In the early 21st century, we have many examples of this process not just in Africa, but also in Latin America and Europe as well. This became evident when Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban blatantly stated in a Budapest rally that: “We will not be a colony. We will not be second class citizens”. Orban made these comments to more than 100,000 cheering Hungarians on the anniversary of the Revolution of 1848, a revolution that swept across Europe and marked the publication of the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels. Similar speeches have been made by politicians in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland, and East European countries that are under the economic hegemony of northwest Europe; a northwest Europe dominated by Germany operating as a patron over client member EU states. While Southern and Eastern Europe underwent austerity measures after 2010, which in essence entailed weakening the middle class and national bourgeoisie along with the working class, the beneficiaries short and longer-term are international capital concentrated in Germany Northwest Europe that imposed austerity as a means of transferring massive capital from the periphery to the core, as all empirical studies indicate.
In the early 21st century, governments of the Great Powers (G-7) struggle to strengthen the national capitalist class by providing varieties of assistance, ranging from diplomatic and other ministerial services such as Commerce and Trade departments provide, to pouring money in the national capitalist class through the fiscal system – everything from direct subsidies to tax breaks. The same holds true for nations pursuing quasi-statist policies, including China, India, Russia and Brazil; all nations that endeavor to escape the fate of having the Great Powers impose their hegemony by using the integrative market system, namely, globalization under neoliberalism.
Within the Great Powers there is global competition for market share and the way to achieve the goal is by having a strong state structure while endeavoring to weaken the state structure of ‘dependent societies’. Whether it is the UK, US, or Germany, the goal is the same, given that the state – mainstream political parties in power – is the pillar of the economic system whose backbone is banking and the ultimate goal is capital accumulation concentrated in core nations where there is a strong national bourgeoisie. Naturally, without the state behind it, the national bourgeoisie would be unable to survive, just as the comprador bourgeoisie would be equally unable to survive in the absence of the state supporting it.
In the case of the weaker countries, the bottom 180 nations that collectively own 20% of the world’s assets owing to the economic system rooted in grossly uneven distribution of wealth, the struggle is to opt for development by following the rules of dependent capitalism – comprador politics and economics – that the Great Powers impose, or to deviate from those rules by trying to strengthen national capitalism.
In mid-April 2012, Argentina announced nationalization of YPF, the oil and gas company that was part of Spanish energy giant REPSOL Company since 1999 when Argentina was undergoing very serious financial and economic problems operating under IMF austerity. Considering that US-led sanctions on Iran have meant that the Islamic Republic recently decided to cut off oil supplies to Spain’s REPSOL, the YPF expropriation is more bad news for debt-ridden Spain, which has replaced some of the lost Iranian supply with Saudi oil. Since then, oil prices have dropped, partly because of market conditions, such as slowing demand, but also because Saudi Arabia and its allies decided to use it as a weapon against Iran and Russia.
Not just Spain, but the entire EU argued that Argentina’s move signals a violation of the rules of international free enterprise economic system; a system that has always worked to keep dependent capitalist countries like Argentina from having a strong national economy that caters to internal needs of society. By making the bold move to nationalize a privately-owned oil company under foreign ownership, Argentina asserted state-supported economic nationalism, a long-standing tradition in Latin America, and one that is not associated with Mexico in the 1930s or Cuba in the 1960s, but more recently with Venezuela, Bolivia and other republics.
Argentina has been on the path of national capitalism for about a decade when it decided to throw out the IMF and try its fate with a different policy mix that would afford it greater control over the economy and society. National capitalism is antithetical to the neo-liberal ideology and to globalization that helps to strengthen multinational corporations and international finance capitalism intended to transfer wealth from the bottom 180 nations of the world to the top 20 nations. This does not mean that national capitalism is “ethical”, “good”, etc. in comparison with comprador capitalism. Nor does this mean that national capitalism deviates sharply from the integration models that exist at the regional and global levels. Argentina is a capitalist country operating within a framework that favors capital accumulation and the same is true for other Latin American countries, including Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia.
The Argentinean example is the one that the Great Powers, along with the WTO, IMF and World Bank do not want other countries to follow, for it would mean the undermining of international capitalism benefiting the core nations. While the Great Powers and the IMF encourage privatizing public enterprises and deregulating the economy while making assets cheaper for foreign ownership, Argentina is trying to go the opposite direction as a means to gain control of its assets in favor of national capitalists; a long-standing tradition that dates back to the 1930s. Note that one reason for the expropriation of YPF is that new oil and natural gas reserves would fall under national control instead of going to foreign-owned REPSOL.
Comprador politics and economics is not merely a question of economic and political dependency as we see in the case of hegemonic US over some Latin American countries or northwest Europe (mainly Germany) over Southern and Eastern Europe, but it is also a question of national sovereignty. The issue of national sovereignty was partly at the root of Arab uprisings, although the US and northwest Europe made sure that they were involved in the opposition so they can integrated those economies into the international market system once the dust settled. The global division between strong national sovereign countries limited to the G-20 and within those the G-8, on the one hand, and the weak comprador nations as represented by the bottom 180 poses a major question of whether democracy can exist in societies whose destiny rests in the hands of the Great Powers.
The most significant question is whether the model of a divided world between national and comprador bourgeoisie, strong national state structures confined mainly to the G-8 vs. weak ones for all others can yield global economic development, and social harmony that is essential to political stability. The signs we have so far from the situations in the Arab Spring uprisings, in the European grassroots movements and other popular protests from Russia to Chile is that the global model of concentrated capitalism that divides the world geographically and politically results in lack of development and lack of stability. One solution on the part of the Great Powers to impose the polarizing world order is to wage war and use military means combined with or independently of economic sanctions.
There are of course limits to military solutions – judging by results in Iraq and Afghanistan – and the question still remains whether growth and development on a sustainable basis can be achieved under the polarizing model of national vs. comprador bourgeoisie. Now that China has opted for an imperial expansionist economic model so it can compete with Japan, EU and US, the global division becomes even more intense. How long will the waning middle and lower classes endure exploitation before they take to the streets to overthrow a system of socioeconomic and political inequality?
Revolution may be inevitable in the 21st century, and as was the case in the 20th century. It will come from countries where the state is weak and dependent and society operates under a comprador political economic model. The comprador societal model was the root cause of revolutions in Russia, China, Vietnam, Cuba, and it will be so again in this century. More than Communist revolutions, these were anti-imperialist-nationalist revolts intended to take back the national sovereignty from the Great Powers.
This is not to suggest that early 20th century Communist regimes would be making a comeback in the 21st century. On the contrary, history does not repeat itself in such manner because dynamics in society are in a constant state of change. Nor is this to suggest that in the absence of policies and institutions based on social justice, national sovereignty by itself is just fine for society. Nor is this to say that national capitalists are any less exploitative than international ones supported by comprador bourgeoisie and politicians. However, given that the nation-state structure remains strong, no matter the efforts of the globalized market economy to erase it, national sovereignty remains at the core of the social contract as many people in pluralistic societies understand it; and its absence entails not only surrendering the right to have a society that caters to its own population first, but it means surrendering rights that are fundamental to any concept of democracy. We are at the beginning of a new era of revolution in the early 21st century, a revolution that can be prevented if the global polarizing model is somehow modified to permit for the social contract to accommodate the majority of the people.
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