(43) – Europe’s Subservience to the United States and Neoliberalism (25 Oct 2013)

     The Montesquieu Institute in The Hague gave me an opportunity, last Friday October 25th, to draw attention in The Netherlands to the dreadful European subservience to the United States. In this perhaps most Atlanticist country of Europe, remarks of the kind I make in this context are normally labelled in Dutch as “swearing in church”. But as it happened, in fact in a real church packed with over 600 listeners, the reception was surprisingly welcoming. 
     Former South African president Frederik Willem de Klerk, who was the other speaker for the “Europe Lecture”, is an engaging person whose demonstrated great political courage is matched with a political intelligence of the kind that allows him quickly to diagnose the state of health of political institutions and their relationships. It was an honour to share the stage with him.

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     What does the world think of Europe? It does not much dwell on it, I am afraid. 
     Our continent is not doing much that makes it an entity about which one should have an opinion at all, except for its undeniable significance as an enormous market. Diplomatically it is virtually invisible; it is not a powerbroker, and it does not offer ideas about good international living that reverberate in other continents. 
     When Japanese, Chinese, Americans, and I suppose people from Africa and South America think about it at all, they do so as an area they may want to visit because of its sublime concentration of tourist attractions; in that respect there is no place quite like it.
When serious observers of international affairs think of Europe they most likely regard it as a realm of unrealized promise. 
     In the earlier stages of European unification, the unifiers and their supporters conceived of their union as something that could and would become nothing less than a good example, something to look up to and for the rest of the world to emulate. There was talk of a “new European century”; of Europe as a paragon of international virtues. One of Europe’s foremost philosophers, Jürgen Habermas, wrote that after solving the problems of welfare systems and government beyond the nation-state, Europe was in a position to defend and promote a cosmopolitan order on the basis of international law.

     This kind of optimism used to be fairly widespread, and some of the assumptions that went into it are still taken for granted, as I discovered at the University of Amsterdam. The claim to superior political virtue and other self-congratulation have, in fact, produced rather supercilious attitudes even now, which understandably irritate non-Europeans.

     The thinking of outsiders contrasting reality with earlier expectations is not much different, then, to what a vast number of people inside the Union think. With Europeans themselves the reality comes across as consisting more sharply of broken promises with respect to everyday matters, when they see welfare provisions dwindle, job security eroded, and proliferating nonsensical rules coming out of Brussels. The central technocracy, moreover, has helped create a smoke-screen behind which national governments may hide, and escape accountability. 
     In the Southen nations and Ireland, things are of course much worse. 
     Which brings us right away to what the euro crisis demonstrates: a basic failure at the root of most of Europe’s other failures.

(42) – Obama’s Nobel Prize Speech Revisited (4 Dec 2012)

     Washington has a problem with Europeans. They do not do enough. Notwithstanding the help it gets from European NATO officials concerned with their position in the scheme of things, they only very reluctantly send soldiers to Afghanistan. They are frequently upbraided for being deficient in their attitude toward war making in general, as if wars were not sometimes necessary. In his widely sold Paradise and Power, Robert Kagan chided the European Union for its failure to acknowledge that it could only live in its beautiful and peaceful ‘postmodern’ garden because the US was patrolling the street outside and making sure that robbers did not break in. The neocons started this line of thinking, but along with other neocon assumptions it has spread through America’s journalistic bloodstream.
     Something else nags at the more articulate American minds: Europeans acting morally superior ever since their clumsy previous president made them feel ashamed of their own country. The fact that Europeans “love Obama”, a frequently repeated observation in his first term, was reason in rightwing circles to be suspicious of both Obama and the Europeans. A sentiment that spilled over into the mainstream media. Anyone of their own – leave alone their own president – ‘apologizing’ for the United States was about the last thing Americans, even liberals, wished to witness.
     True enough, a great sigh of relief went through Europe when Obama became president; I can still hear it. What was felt to be a deliverance prompted the Nobel Peace Prize committee to give him their prize in advance, an honor he earned by not being George W. Bush. At the private dinner after the award ceremony, one of the four Norwegian women on the committee (there was one man on it) effused that the women of the world adored Obama and that “women know best”. But when Obama accepted the prize he came up with the same nonsensical fiction of a necessary war as had been authored by Bush.
     At the beginning of his second term, with drone warfare having so far killed some two and a half thousand people and his new presidential ‘kill lists’ on top of the ravaging that Bush left behind, it is useful to read Obama’s Nobel speech again to grasp what is continuous in the reasoning behind America’s belligerency. 

(41) – Down with ‘Western Values’ (30 Nov 2012)

While China remains the great potential adversary in the eyes of a Washington that says it is pivoting toward East Asia as it considers policies for healthy international relations, and while West Asia continues to be wracked by strife, you may expect world news to be littered with references to ‘Western values’ as a legitimizing excuse for all manner of initiatives and interference.
     The term should be thrown out of political analysis and discussion. Its absence will improve political hygiene for the entire world. As a source of confusion, hostility and even hatred, its use is by itself a harmful complication. It is used for priming the emotions with easy indignation. And in daily usage it means almost nothing.
     ‘Values’ in its current common usage, has always been something vague. It was popularized by sociologists in the middle of the twentieth century, who needed a standard unit of account as they believed they were introducing scientific method to what they were doing. It simplified a huge complexity. The ‘values’ concept is a repository for all manner of things – principles, beliefs, likes, dislikes, prejudice, sentiments, distaste, hobbies, morals, ethics, and more – that may direct our conduct. Using these defined terms instead, would render commentary about social affairs and politics much clearer and thus more useful. 

40 – Where Political Fallacies Begin (22 Oct 2012)

The two subjects that hold European policymakers and the more serious part of the American electorate currently in suspense offer perfect and dismal examples of delusion because accompanying stories – where the euro crisis came from and President Obama's track record – have been given the wrong beginning.
     For North Europeans relying on mainstream media, the story of the euro crisis never had a beginning anywhere close to where it should have been. This deficiency was mostly due to another political phenomenon deserving more scrutiny than it receives: When governments or other institutions with authority are faced with an unpalatable subject, prompting questions that may spell deep trouble for them, they change the subject hoping that no one will notice. That is what Angela Merkel did when the credit crisis of 2008 revealed that German banks had swallowed so much of the toxic assets created by their American counterparts that this had in effect killed them. But in Merkel’s story the crisis began with a lazy Greek population, consisting of lots of tax evaders and overpaid officials who took too many holidays. The French and the Dutch authorities were similarly embarrassed with the factual bankruptcy of their banks, and gratefully endorsed the story that Merkel was allowed to dominate with in the headlines.
     This helped stoke strong indignation that spread over the northern euro countries; why should we, well-behaved taxpayers, have to bail them out? By the time the German broadsheet Das Bild had created a commonly accepted picture portraying hard-working Germans versus irresponsible Greeks there was no going back for the Chancellor. That tabloid, along with the domestic financial interests and their allies, blocked a return to rational analysis of the bank crisis, preoccupied as she was with minimizing threats to her staying on as chancellor in a new coalition after next year’s elections. 
     There were other possible beginnings that would have allowed a sound approach to the controversy from a different direction. Such as low German domestic demand compensated for by years of voluminous German exports to peripheral Europe, including Greece, which required funds for buying that German stuff; funds happily being pumped into southern Europe by German banks. As these were raking in premiums and interest, their credit risk analysts slept soundly because the credit rating agencies had given their blessings with blanket triple A ratings for all the euro countries. Is Greek governmental irresponsibility then only a figment of people’s imagination? Who cares? Merkel changed the subject. Whatever Greek conduct or motives, these did not cause the euro crisis.

39 – The Disabling Pacific ‘Alliance’ (15 Oct 2012)

    Amid news and pundit references about an alleged ‘tilt’ in American foreign policy toward Asia and the Pacific, it is useful to take a closer look at the badly under-reported story of Washington’s relations with what is habitually referred to as its number one ally in the Pacific. That focus furthermore sharpens the contours of the Sino-Japanese dispute over islands in the East China Sea.
    The label ‘ally’ is a misnomer. No Japanese government ever had a choice. Two further conditions before a bilateral relationships can be called an alliance are also absent: shared long-term objectives and consultation about how to achieve them. The same can be said, to at least some extent, with the post-Cold-War NATO alliance. But the US-Japan relationship represents an extreme case. In fact, since nothing quite like it has ever existed, we do not have commonly understood terminology ready to describe that relationship.
    Japan is not a colony, although a growing number of its exasperated thinkers like to use that term, and it is only very partially occupied territory. ‘Protectorate’ serves to some extent, except that Washington does not have the kind of leverage over Japanese domestic arrangements normally associated with that status. Remember also that not so long ago influential American voices feared Japanese economic power defeating that of their own. Japan shares a vassalage status, dating from the Cold War, with the European NATO countries, but there is something deeper, more elusive, and more desperate about its relationship with the United States. Japan’s domestic governing structure lacks something that has forced it to rely on the United States in all its major dealings with the international world and, judging by how they sabotaged a recent Japanese initiative to repair that anomaly, the Japan handlers in Washington would very much like to keep it that way. What fits squarely with the protectorate designation is that for global aims Washington takes Japan for granted as a political possession.
    Two mutually reinforcing facts about this extraordinary and geopolitically vital relationship must be kept in mind.

38 – Japanese Political Upheaval and Public Protest (3 July 2012)

On the surface the story is simple enough. Japan's most important/powerful/controversial politician has done it again: shaking up the party political world by leaving, and perhaps breaking up, the DPJ, Japan's ruling party. And that because things did not go his way. The Japanese media were, predictably, ready with their favorite epithet, ‘the destroyer’, and with quotes from political commentators that this time his star may be truly fading because the perennial polls show that the people have had it with him.
    Almost all foreign reporting trying to make sense of his latest turbulence in Japanese politics meekly follows the lead of the big national newspapers, as it has done for the last couple of decades (note that the number of regular full-time correspondents in Tokyo has dwindled to a small fraction of what it used to be). The financially oriented foreign reporting quotes resident analysts praising the leadership qualities of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, whose insistence that a law aimed at doubling the consumption tax must be pushed through Parliament triggered Ozawa's move.
    Added comment holds that the Prime Minister is better off without the recalcitrant Ozawa in his party since this makes it easier to push through a program of restarting nuclear reactors and to continue accommodating demands from Washington. This last point is not often voiced openly, but well understood. Hence, on the surface we have fiscal responsibility clashing with political egotism and obstructionism.
    As with so much else in Japan one must guard against taking this surface seriously. Looking beneath it we can observe a very different kind of struggle.