Turkish Realignment: Prospects amid Uncertainty

3 Dec

In recent months the Turkish President, Recep Teyipp Erdoğan, and his principal advisors have not made it a secret that they are reconsidering Turkey’s relations with neighbors, with the countries of the region, and with leading geopolitical actors.

 

The Early Agenda of AKP

 When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002 it set about almost immediately to fashion a post-Cold War foreign policy based on the idea that it was time to supersede the Cold War posture of almost total Turkish deference to the United States, especially within NATO and bipolar contexts, and depict a conception of Turkish interests developed in Ankara rather than adhere to Washington’s blueprint. In its early period of national leadership, the AKP seemed to pursue four interrelated international goals:

            –resolve the Cyprus conflict;

            –give priority to seeking full membership in the European Union (EU);

            –improve diplomatic and political relations with Arab World;

            –seek continuity in U.S./NATO/EU relations, but with overall independence.

 

During the Foreign Ministry of Abdullah Gul, reflecting and incorporating some of Ahmet Davutoğlu ideas and his ambitious conception of the proper Turkish international role, this new assertiveness of Turkish foreign policy achieved with impressive results. Turkey’s signature approach of ‘Zero Problems with Neighbors’ (ZPN) was initially seen as the adoption of a regional conflict-resolving perspective, and given early credibility by transforming relations with Syria from hostility to harmony. Syria became the poster child of ZPN, and the new approach was reinforced by a rapid expansion of economic and cultural relations with countries throughout the Arab World. Beyond this, Turkey extended its foreign policy with substantial economic and diplomatic success to the non-Arab parts of the Islamic World, as well as to sub-Saharan Africa. Istanbul, rather than Paris or London, quickly became the preferred hub for a wide variety of international political gatherings of interest to the Global South.

 

There was also a large emphasis placed by during the early AKP years on the acceleration of accession diplomacy with the EU, leading to an unexpected civilianizing of the Turkish government in ways that reduced the leverage of the armed forces in domestic politics and definitely moved in the direction of meeting the preconditions of human rights, democratization, and secularity that would seem to qualify Turkey to become an EU member, comparing favorably with the record of several East European countries that gained membership in the EU without confronting strong accession obstacles. The AKP also had domestic reasons to build a firewall against any future coup by the armed forces whose leadership was imbued with Kemalist belief, including a feared encroachment of political Islam on the governing process.

 

While developing a more pro-active and independent foreign policy, the AKP leadership continued to affirm its relationship with the United States, and as a staunch NATO ally. This affirmation was somewhat tested in 2003 when Washington pressed Turkey to allow a portion of the planned attack on Iraq to proceed from Turkish territory. The Turkish Parliament refused to give its consent, and the Erdoğan leadership under pressure from the United States, submitted the American request a second time with an executive recommendation of approval, but Parliament again withheld consent. It remains uncertain as to whether Erdoğan was pretending to seek parliamentary approval or was genuinely willing to allow Turkey to become directly involved in the attack upon neighboring Iraq. When the attack against Iraq proceeded without UN authorization, Turkey adopted a low profile approach that included a readiness to cooperate with the American-led occupation of Iraq, which sought to restore stability to the country. In effect, the new AKP foreign policy wanted to achieve freedom of maneuver for Turkey but without shaking the foundations of the foreign policy that had guided the ardently secular leadership of the country since the origins of the republic.

 

 

Revising AKP Foreign Policy

 Five major changes of circumstances undermined this early AKP approach to foreign policy: First of all, the deterioration of relations with Israel that became dramatically manifest at the 2009 Davos meetings of the World Economic Forum when Erdoğan sharply confronted the Israeli President, Shimon Peres, on Israel’s massive attack (Cast Lead) on Gaza, and climaxed in 2010 when Israeli commandos attacked the humanitarian flotilla bringing medical supplies to Gaza, killing 9 Turkish nationals on the Mavi Marmara, the largest ship in the flotilla of ships challenging the Israeli blockade. Clearly, Israel was sending a warning message to Turkey that it would push back against any Turkish challenge, including those of civil society, to the Israeli approach to Palestinians living under occupation. This encounter challenged Washington to seek restored normalcy in Israeli-Turkish relations so that it would not have to choose sides or juggle relations with both. Energetic diplomatic efforts by Barack Obama sought to heal this breach between these two principal strategic American allies in the region.

 

The second development involved Turkish reactions to the 2011 uprisings in the Arab World, the so-called ‘Arab Spring.’ It should be remembered that Turkey was among the first countries to affirm unconditionally these uprisings against authoritarian rule, treating the political upheavals as welcome expressions of democratizing passions on the part of the citizenry. Turkish prestige in the region reached an all time high, and there was talk throughout the Middle East of the applicability of ‘the Turkish model.’ It was often overlooked that Erdoğan went to Cairo in the Spring of 2011 to encourage Egyptian political forces to follow the Turkish example of political secularism, and not try to embody religion in the governing process. This view not appreciated at the time in Egypt being interpreted as a neo-Ottoman effort to interfere with Egyptian internal rights of self-determination.

 

The third development was the gradual Turkish realization that their prospects for EU membership were declining despite their internal good faith efforts to comply with accession expectations. The main explanation for this decline involved the rise of Islamophobia in several key countries in Western Europe whose political approval by national referendum would be necessary before Turkish membership could be formally approved. With the virtual disappearance of this European option, the pragmatic case for internal political reform in Turkey was weakened while making the benefits of a geopolitically more equi-distant diplomacy more evident, being implemented through Turkish openings to Iran, Russia, India, and China. In other words, facing a demeaning rejection by the EU even if not directly expressed, Turkey partially turned eastward, or at least contemplated such a turn away from Europe and the West, given dramatic emphasis by Erdoğan’s display of embittered anger in reaction to EU criticism. This dynamic was further aggravated by the controversial 2015 agreement with the EU by which Turkey would slow the flow of Syrian refugees across its borders in exchange for a monetary payment and visa-free travel to Europe for Turks. From a human rights perspective, it should be noted, this kind of treatment of refugees, misleadingly called ‘migrants,’ is highly questionable, instrumentalizing their destiny as an inter-governmental bargaining chip rather than respecting their vulnerability by establishing a humane protective regime.

 

The fourth development relates to the various signs that Erdoğan was assuming a more authoritarian role in the Turkish governing process, especially in the aftermath of the AKP electoral victory in 2011. In these years Erdoğan overtly embraced a majoritarian view of democracy weakening the republican character of the Turkish government. This dynamic was accentuated after he became President of Turkey in 2014, and in response to a renewal of hostility with the large Kurdish minority, especially as represented by the Peoples Workers Party (PKK). Erdoğan’s blunt political style, combined with Turkey’s earlier shows of independence and break with Israel, encouraged a much more critical tone in the international media treatment of the AKP leadership in Turkey. This shift amounted to a sea change if compared to the more balanced approach taken between 2002-2011. The anti-Erdoğan hostility peaked in response to the Gezi Park incident in 2013 when Turkish police used excessive force to break up a series of Istanbul demonstrations by opposition forces. It seems notable that the criticisms of Turkish encroachments on human rights were given far greater international attention than the far worse contemporaneous encroachments by the Sisi regime in Egypt and the Saudi monarchy. This difference in international perceptions reflects the overseas influence of anti-AKP activists as well as the divergence of policy as between Ankara and Washington, Brussels, and Tel Aviv.

 

The fifth development is associated with the failed coup of July 15th.

The Turkish Government and internal Turkish public opinion were strongly convinced that the coup perpetrators were linked to the Fetullah Gülen (or Hizmet) movement, and that the United States Government had some prior knowledge, and if circumstantial evidence is to be trusted, quite possibly signaled a green light to the perpetrators. In the course of the coup, and during its aftermath, neither the US nor Europe expressed their support for the democratically elected government of Turkey, adopting a wait and see attitude that seemed poised to accept, if not welcome, the outcome had the coup been successful. Beyond this the US Government has not been responsive to the Turkish formal extradition request, failing to detain Fetullah Gülen while the legal process proceeded. Again international coverage of post-coup Turkey gives almost all of its attention to the Erdoğan crackdown on those suspected of involvement with the Hizmet movement, which while excessive and troublesome, does not depict the context in which it is reasonable for the AKP leadership to feel threatened from within by the continued Hizmet penetration of the organs of government and as a result of Kurdish militancy and ISIS terrorism. At the same time, it is fully understandable that international forces hostile to the AKP should highlight the massive dismissals from academic institutions and widespread media closures as amounting to a witch hunt.

 

 

A Turkish Foreign Policy Reset?

Against such a background, it is hardly surprising that Turkey should in this period be exploring its foreign policy options. Indeed, the exploration preceded the coup attempt of the past year. The impulse to reset Turkish foreign policy reflected a retreat from the more principled and rigid foreign policy positions associated with Davutoğlu’s influence and the endorsement of a pragmatic attempt to minimize hostile regional and global tensions.

 

Most controversially from an American perspective, the pragmatic turn seemed to regard as its centerpiece improved relations with Russia. The goal was broad based cooperation with Russia in recognition of shared interests, including a possible compromise on how to establish a sustainable ceasefire in Syria. From the perspective of the American national security establishment cooperative Russian/Turkish relations were viewed as an unfavorable development at least until the electoral victory of Donald Trump. When the prospect of Hillary Clinton becoming the next America president was a near certainty, there existed a general expectation that the West would soon confront Russia in a more determined way than during the Obama presidency. In Turkey this encouraged the belief that the US national security establishment was sufficiently opposed to any closeness between Russia and Turkey as to have explained its possible support for the coup attempt of last July, or at minimum, its ambivalence toward the outcome. This suspicion, although widely shared in Turkey, remains without evidence, and is purely conjectural.

 

With Trump becoming the next American president it seems more likely, but by no means assured, that relations between the West and Russia will again be guided by a realist logic of mutual interests. This prospect is also encouraged by the recent emergence in Europe of several political leaders that favor accommodation with Russia. There may be an initial collision of policies if Trump follows through on his campaign pledge to renounce the nuclear agreement with Iran or significantly increases pressure on its implementation.

 

Tensions with the EU over the migration deal and in reaction to freezing accession talks also inclines Turkey to evaluate various additional forms of realignment, including a reported consideration of joining informal international groupings that are led by China and Russia.

 

In the end, if Trump follows through with a non-interventionist approach to the Middle East, and Turkish internal stability is restored, it seems most likely that there will be a weakening of relations with Europe and the United States, but no break, and no move that deserves to be labeled as ‘realignment.’ Turkey will probably place greater emphasis on economic and diplomatic relations with Asia, as well as with a renewal of interactions within the Middle East and North Africa, minimizing ideological differences.

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

There is more uncertainty with respect to global politics than at any time since the end of the Cold War. This uncertainty reflects the rise of authoritarian leaders in many important countries that enjoy the backing of a mobilized right-wing populism that pushes against economic globalization and gives an impetus to exclusionary forms of nationalism. Turkey is part of this wider international trend, and seems caught between contradictory pressures toward continuity and discontinuity in the conduct of its foreign policy. With Trump’s ascendancy the same can be said of the United States.

 

In general, it seems encouraging that Turkey has again seems to be opting for a foreign policy that is pragmatic rather than programmatic and normative, although it is not at this time exerting the kind of wider influence and leadership in the region and beyond that characterized the Davutoğlu approach. The times are different, calling for less ambition and greater stability.

 

How this pragmatic repositioning of Turkey in relation to East and West, North and South, will finally crystallize remains highly uncertain. Whether it results in major changes in orientation depends largely on whether Turkish ties to the West are maintained, Middle East turmoil is contained, and Turkish internal politics calms down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harmony with Nature: Toward an Earth Jurisprudence

30 Nov

 

[Prefatory Note: This post consists of my responses to four questions asked of 189 ‘experts’ around the world by a project of the UN Harmony with Nature Network, as assembled through the good offices of my friend, Barbara Baudot. To have access to the responses of others go to www.harmonywithnature.org. This corpus of work is a rich depository of global wisdom relevant to the most original and daunting challenge ever to have faced humanity as a whole. My own approach is based on the biopolitical imperative in this historical period of developing an ecological consciousness for the sake of human wellbeing, and possibly species survival. Reestablishing rapport with nature has become a postmodern necessity. It is helpful to recall that rapport based on the recognition of human dependence on nature had been an essential feature of pre-modern reality.]

 

2016 Virtual Dialogue on Harmony with Nature – Theme Earth Jurisprudence

 

  1. What would the practice of Philosophy/Ethics look like from an Earth Jurisprudence perspective? How is that different from the way that Philosophy/Ethics is generally practiced now? And, what are the benefits of practicing Philosophy/Ethics from an Earth Jurisprudence perspective?

 

My concerns have concentrated upon the ethical, legal, and philosophical dimensions of international political behavior. From a disciplinary orientation there was almost no attention given to Earth Jurisprudence perspectives beyond occasional concerns for local pollution issues until the 1970s when there was a sudden surge of interest associated with limits on the earth’s capacity to deal with a variety of pressures caused by global industrial growth and demographic trends. The publication of Limits to Growth became a major event, anticipating the need for drastic changes in consumption patterns, industrial behavior, resource conservation, and population increase within a matter of decades to avoid ecological disaster. This surge of concern also produced negative reactions to such dire assessments of the global situation, dismissing the recommendations as alarmist and exaggerated.

 

More moderate reactions suggested that environmental regulation should be enhanced, but that the basic earth ecosystems were not at serious risk. In this respect, there did emerge a certain awareness that the normative order could no longer proceed without taking account of ecological factors, but at the same time, technological innovation many believed could extend the limits of the earth’s carrying capacity almost indefinitely. In this regard, a dominant disciplinary orientation of ecological complacency allowed the basic dynamic of economic growth and expanding consumer demand to continue without surrounding sensitivities to the surrounding realities of nature. There was also present a resolve in the non-Western countries to reject any policy claims based on environmental protection that encroached upon the primacy of economic and social development.

 

The onset of global concerns about climate change from the early 1990s has increased the disciplinary recognition of ‘earth jurisprudence’ for normative guidance encompassing philosophical speculation, legal guidelines, and ethical imperatives. As such, there have evolved two sets of dominant approaches: (1) a public/private partnership perspective in which ecologically responsible behavior is introduced into the operations of business, the formation of governmental policy, and the opinion-shaping role of the UN and other international institutions. (2) a critical perspective skeptical about the reconcilability of either a market-oriented economic order or a state-centric system of world order to cope with the challenges of climate change, biodiversity, and especially to meet these challenges in a manner responsive to the priorities of the climate justice movement. In (1) reliance is placed on a top-down approach that regards technology and rationality as providing the vital ingredients for an appropriate earth jurisprudence. In (2) reliance is placed on a bottom-up approach that is value-driven in ways that question prevailing ideologies associated with neoliberal globalization and nationalism, giving primacy to the reconstruction of civilization around ecological principles of sustainability and a collaborative relationship with the natural environment.

 

By and large, the academic disciplines associated with normative concerns have not identified the central structural obstacle that limits the influence of earth jurisprudence—the absence of institutional capabilities and ideological understanding to identify and implement the global public interest or the 2

 

human/nature interest. One line of conjecture is whether to conceptualize earth jurisprudence as ‘ecological humanism’ or ‘humanistic ecology.’

 

 

  1. What promising approaches do you recommend for achieving implementation of an Earth- centered worldview for Philosophy/Ethics? (Note: depending on the discipline, approaches could also be theoretical, although practical approaches should be prioritized).

 

Worldwide appreciation of the climate change challenge is exerting a significant impact upon how normative disciplines conceive of their relationship to reality, with a much greater realization that ecological sensitivity is bound up with species wellbeing, and even survival. This impact is still marginal because the majority of scholarship continues to be devoted to traditional concerns such as security, uses of force, trade and investment with no attention paid to adverse effects on the natural surroundings. Security studies are particularly notorious, focusing inquiry on counterterrorism and asymmetric warfare with the main normative interest directed toward whether international humanitarian law needs to revised or selectively abandoned in response to the sort of transnational tactics being employed by non-state political actors with extremist goals.

 

I think it is long overdue to bring an earth-centered view into war/peace studies. I attempted to do this to some extent more than 40 years ago in my book This Endangered Planet: Prospects and Proposals for Human Survival. Unlike other treatments of ecological dangers in the 1970s, which almost totally ignored ecological considerations associated with war except in the context of a rather distinct concern with the environmental effects of a major nuclear war (‘nuclear winter’ and more recently, ‘nuclear famine’). There was some attention paid to earth effects in response to the deliberate burning of oil fields by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the Gulf War of 1992. In my book, the basic idea put forward was that ‘the war system’ as such was inconsistent with a prudent and humane approach to the overall dynamics of human/earth interactivity.

 

In the course of a 21st century inquiry into harmony with nature I think it is long overdue to question war itself as a source of systemic disharmony with nature. A second emphasis would be on giving priority, morally, legally, and politically, to nuclear disarmament for its own sake, and as a first step toward the demilitarization of political relations on the planet. These fundamental questions of war and peace should be put on top of the agenda of work associated with the philosophical and ethical inquiries into harmony with nature.

 

 

  1. What key problems or obstacles do you see as impeding the implementation of an Earth- centered worldview in Philosophy/Ethics?

 

There are several obstacles that block the adoption and implementation of an earth-centered worldview in ethics and philosophy. For the most part mainstream thinking for several centuries in the West has been anthropocentric in its outlook, assuming above all that aside from the vertical relationship between humanity and the sacred there was no serious challenge to a species centered view of reality, and that policy and practices should be shaped to fulfill the values and goals of human society no matter how a particular political community was being governed.

Less philosophically fundamental, but more immediately relevant, is an economic logic that connects material growth, as measured by GNP, with human wellbeing, and also gives priority to the efficiency of capital in promoting this growth. Given such priorities, the ravaging of the earth has been a 3

 

consequence, and even minimally necessary environmental regulation is widely opposed as constraining economic activity. The development premise of growth as the key to progress also encourages the inflation of demand through advertising and other forms of manipulation of human desires.

 

It is also relevant to take note of the global fragmentation that results from the dynamics of a state-centric system of world order, where those who act on behalf of states are seeking to maximize the national interest without worrying too much about the human or ecological interests are at stake. Governments are dependent on fulfilling the expectations of the nation, with little thought given to the natural surrounding or to the implications for the earth.

In discussions of nuclear weaponry, and what to do about them, there is rarely present an earth- centered participant. Most of the debate about the dangers of such weaponry to produce catastrophic warfare centers upon speculation that any use will cause massive human suffering. Even commentary on effects of use in causing a nuclear winter or nuclear famine are directed at what such an event will do to human society and civilization.

Overall, to get beyond the Anthropocene will require a new earth-centered imaginary that is only beginning to be understood as related to the wellbeing and survival of the human species. The essence of this imaginary is a recovery of the pre-modern awareness of many indigenous peoples and others that human society would succeed only so long as there was maintained a harmonious relationship with nature, and that it was natural events more than human endeavor that determined whether society did well and persisted.

 

The challenge to contemporary philosophy and ethics is to fashion an earth-centered jurisprudence that can reshape the dominant imaginary in ways that privilege a collaborative relationship between human activity and its natural surroundings. To move in this direction is to move beyond the Anthropocene and to transform the logic of profitability that continues to control economic activity. If this kind of transition is to have systemic effects it must also challenge the dominance of neoliberal capitalism and the ideological predispositions of nationalism. Earth-centeredness also implies wholeness, conceiving of the species and world as forms of unity, and rejecting the logic that now gives priority to the part as distinct from the whole whether it be the individual versus the community or the state versus the world.

 

 

  1. What are the top recommendations for priority, near-term action to move Philosophy/Ethics toward an Earth Jurisprudence approach? What are the specific, longer-term priorities for action? (Note: give 3 to 10 priorities for action).

 

I begin with a reflection questioning whether an emphasis on disciplinary orientation is not itself as aspect of the prevailing imaginary that privileges the part over the whole. Whether we can see holistically, yet remain within the confines of our particular discipline, informs the search for the contours of an Earth Jurisprudence. What is important is to establish a moral epistemology that is guided by a post-Anthropocene imaginary.

With respect to philosophy and ethics I am not sure that it is helpful to posit priorities for action until the recommended orientation emerges with coherence and is supported by a consensus of those deemed wise and respected in different world civilizations. 4

 

For longer term, the obvious emphasis should be placed on creating balances between resources and carrying capacity of the earth with suitable attention being given to beauty as an integral aspect of achieving harmony with nature and to the spiritual appreciation of living within the confines of an ecological civilization.

 

It seems to me that the short-term priorities are a matter of acknowledging that a planetary state of emergency exists, and calls for urgent responses to avoid raising risks of catastrophe brought about by irresponsible behavior. Such responses include the following:

–imposing a carbon tax to reduce the global warming effects of rising levels of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere; creating a monitoring and verification mechanism that ensures that the behavior of all states is established and efforts made to restore compliance with pledged reductions;

–a crash course to educate the peoples of the world as to the waste of resources associated with the war system, including costs in terms of human suffering that derive from uses of force to resolve conflicts among states;

–establishing a tribunal to determine all claims by governments and civil society actors relating to questions of ecological sustainability.

 

For the longer term, the development of an earth-centered imaginary that replaces current reliance on a state-centric geopolitical agency is a vital task confronting 21st century philosophers. Such an imaginary would permit the reformulation of international law as global law that embodied an ethical imperative to serve the human interest as transcending in normative authority the national interest that currently steers public policy.

Escaping ‘Fortress Earth’

23 Nov

 

 [Prefatory Note: the essay below is a response to a stimulating visionary exploration of how the future might be reconstructed so avoid the current drift toward what Paul Raskin in Journey to Earthland dubs as ‘fortress earth.’ My response is one of many that can be found at the following link: http://greattransition.org/publication/reflections-on-journey-to-earthland. The link to the landing page of the initiative is http://www.greattransition.org/publication/journey-to-earthland. Raskin’s Journey to Earthland can be ordered from this Website or via Amazon. The essay itself, published here in its original text, can be properly cited as Richard Falk, “Reflections on Journey to Earthland: The Great Transition to Planetary Civilization,” The Great Transition Initiative (November 2016), http://www.greattransition.org/publication/jte-reflections-falk].

 

Escaping Fortress Earth

Reading Journey to Earthland is an extraordinary experience. Paul Raskin is not only a master navigator of the complexities of our world but someone who conveys a vision of the future that manages to surmount the unprecedented challenges facing humanity at several levels of social, cultural, and ecological being. His vision of a humane future for the peoples of the world is fully sensitive, as well, to the need for transforming the modernist relationship with nature based on domination, exploitation, and alienation that has resulted in an ecological backlash that threatens our well-being, and even raises doubts about the survival of the human species. And perhaps most remarkable of all, Raskin not only depicts a future that is convincingly portrayed as necessary and desirable, but also shows us that its attainment is within the domain of the attainable, although not presently politically feasible. Raskin is also realistic enough to acknowledge that his whole project is vulnerable to a counter scenario, Fortress World, which could with tragic results supersede his vision of a humane and sustainable future.

 

To make Raskin’s ideas about a desired and desirable future a viable political project is the underlying mission of JTE. To succeed with such a mission requires mobilizing sufficient support based on a credible conception of why we are not foolish to enlist in the civil society movement dedicated to take us from where we are to where he wants us to be

In an important sense, the book falls outside the typical genre of futurist writing because it is preoccupied with how to close this gap between the necessary and the feasible, and in the process situate a desirable future within the realm of the attainable. It is in this regard, with a certain exuberance of expectations, that Raskin pins his hopes on the emergence of a robust global citizens movement that will challenge the status quo by mobilizing people around the world sufficiently to reach a tipping point that allows a new political consciousness to take over enough venues of governmental, economic, cultural, and spiritual authority to facilitate transition to the humane future being advocated. There is no doubt in my mind that this book is a culminating expression of Raskin’s own journey, as well as an indispensable gift to the rest of us, providing the best available set of conceptual tools to engage interactively with human destiny and, especially, to see bright shafts of light beyond the darkness being produced by present trends. In what is essentially an extended essay, Raskin sets forth concisely, with flourishes of intellectual elegance, all we need to know and do to achieve this benevolent future.

 

JTE describes the contours of a desirable future, including the adjustments that must take place at the level of values and consciousness, essentially a turning away from consumerist and materialist conceptions of the good life without relinquishing the gains of modern science and technology. What Raskin envisions is a more spiritually enlivening sense of the meaning of life to be realized qualitatively through leisure, enjoyment of nature, inner serenity, and a satisfying lifestyle that is liberated from the tensions and anxieties of a typical capitalist life experience. The society thus envisioned would no longer be appraised by the quantitative criteria of growth and wealth, which have led to gross disparities of life circumstances—extremes of poverty for the many and wealth for a few—disparities that can only be sustained over time through reliance on manipulation and coercion.

 

Raskin imaginatively shapes a socially attractive future based on post-materialist core values and the accompanying need to gain political empowerment through reliance on the renewed energy of persons awakened to this challenge and inspired by the potentialities of the journey. He is clear about the need for people in civil society to be the main vehicle for realizing this transformative vision, and is convincingly skeptical about such a desirable future being achieved by existing economic and political elites whose consciousness is largely a captive of the modernist embrace of neoliberal structures, militarism, and a materialist understanding of the human condition. In a fundamental respect, Raskin’s call to action rests on an ethics of responsibility that asks each of us to join in this great work of composing a different future than what is being shaped by the dominant macro-trends of the world as now constituted.

 

We need to keep in mind that a desirable future remains possible despite present trends appearing to prefigure a disastrous future (that is, Raskin’s Fortress World). Under these circumstances, we who believe in the JTE vision need to be responsive to a double challenge—first, the strong responsibility to act, and second, the duty to learn to become trusted navigators throughout the long journey to Earthland. This burden of civic responsibility is the essential feature of what it means to feel, think, and act as a global citizen, inspiring a pilgrimage from the here-and-now to the there-and-then. Because this is a hazardous journey to be undertaken without the benefit of a map that charts the proper route, I have described the ideal global citizen as “a citizen pilgrim,” an image that Raskin also affirms, which disavows dogma and blueprints of the future, and is reliant on innovation, flexibility, and a readiness to make course corrections en route.

 

Let me turn to raise a few questions that might prompt further reflection and commentary. I have read JTE while on a lecture tour in Pakistan, and have been struck by the relevance of social location. I spent several days in Karachi, a security-obsessed, impoverished, yet vibrant city of over 22 million people, most of whom are struggling with the multiple urgencies of daily existence while the privileged elites seal themselves off from the masses in heavily guarded gated luxury housing. True, there are many young idealistic persons in Pakistan devoted to human rights and environmental protection who are active in an array of local communities, but these brave souls are often threatened by religious extremists who reject any solution for the torments of the present that are not centered on a prior embrace of fundamentalist versions of Islam. I found that social priorities in Pakistani society are overwhelmingly preoccupied with the immediate and the local: paying for the necessities of a bare life, opposing forced evictions from their homes in the city to make way for a shopping mall or a gentrified neighborhood, protesting the assassination of a social activist who was perceived as a threat to religious zealots, and lending emergency assistance to the victims of a natural disaster—flood or earthquake—by providing desperately needed medical supplies, food, and shelter. What I am asking myself, while hoping for guidance from Raskin, is whether Pakistanis can read JTE without dismissing it as the musing of a Westerner not faced with the intense existential pressures that dominate the lives of most residents of Karachi, and much of the Global South, as well as many inner cities in the North.

 

In effect, how relevant is social location and cultural ambience? Would Raskin write the same book if his consciousness had been shaped by a lifetime of struggle in Karachi-like circumstances? These questions raise others. Is there more than one journey to Earthland? Are there alternative Earthlands? Do we need a multi-civilizational articulation of desirable and possible, and hopefully convergent, futures written by ethically and spiritually sensitive individuals who see the world around them and a preferred future from within the imaginative spaces of their varied social locations and cultural milieus?

 

Are there practical ways to overcome or diminish this reality characteristically prevailing in the West with that in the Global South? What might deepen understanding, and even help reduce the obstacles, would be to convene a worldwide gathering, perhaps an online forum, of public intellectuals from around the world to engage in a continuing dialogue on the main theses of JTE. The objective would be to produce a collective response to JTE, or if that proved to be impossible, then to solicit alternative visions of desirable planetary futures, including the politics of transformation. Along the way, a global community of citizen pilgrims would form, and set its own agenda. Would it not be illuminating and potentially transformative to have such a gathering, either digitally or preferably in a face to face format, dedicated to planning “a journey [or journeys] to Earthland”?

 

On the basis of recent experience in various parts of the world, I believe that political and economic systems as now operating would do all in their power to break the will and organizational integrity of any global citizens movement that managed to get off the ground. I happened to be in Tahrir Square in Cairo two weeks after the Egyptian people made history in 2011 by suddenly rising to overthrow a corrupt and oppressive tyrant, Hosni Mubarak. There was much popular excitement in the aftermath of this historic occasion, the thrill of an empowering nonviolent populist movement giving rise to confidence that the future would bring to Egypt a democratic political order, a far more equitable economy, and respect for the dignity of individual Egyptians. And yet, two years later, the Egyptian people again exhibited their agency, but this time to support a bloody coup against the elected political leadership that has brought to power a more repressive military governing process in Egypt than had existed during the three decades of Mubarak’s dictatorial rule. This improbable political reversal reflected the strength of counterrevolutionary forces that will do whatever it takes to prolong the ascendancy of the old order that privileges dominant elites at the expense of the citizenry as a whole. Applying this understanding to the vision of Earthland, isn’t it important to envision the future from a less linear, and more dialectical standpoint, as the unfolding of an epic struggle between opposed worldviews and their civilizational embodiments? In historical periods of transition, contradictory responses reflect forces of deep discontent and alienation on one side while exhibiting the aspirations of the hopeful and compassionate on the other.

 

This leads to another concern. In the aftermath of the Cold War, there was a widespread belief that democratization was the inevitable wave of the future. After the collapse of the Soviet Union (and Russia’s subsequent eagerness to be part of the neoliberal world order) and the opportunistic participation of China in the capitalist structures of trade and investment, it seemed that there was an emergent planetary future premised on a victorious combination of market-oriented economics and constitutional democracy. Almost three decades later, it is evident that something has happened to that firm ground of political legitimacy on which we seemed to be standing after the fall of the Berlin Wall. We are now increasingly living in an era of the popular, and not just the populist, autocrat who, once elected, administers a strong state with an iron fist. That is, peoples in many countries are electing leaders by democratic means that are blatantly dismissive of human rights and political freedom, and oblivious to the mounting dangers of climate change.

 

In every corner of the world, right-wing ultra-nationalist, militarized governments that promise to bring order and security are being chosen by voters over those that offer the rewards of democratic pluralism and responsible attitudes toward climate change, nuclear weapons, and other challenges of global scope. Whether it is Putin in Russia, Abe in Japan, Modi in India, Duterte in the Philippines, Erdogan in Turkey, or Sisi in Egypt, the pattern of popular authoritarianism is evident even if explanations in the various national settings are quite diverse. This distressing pattern of regressive politics can also be seen in the resurgence of proto-fascist parties in Europe, arising in the wake of mass discontent with existing economic and social policies. Their anti-immigration and chauvinist priorities prefigure the character of a Fortress World. The Brexit vote in Britain and the Trump phenomenon in the United States are likewise illustrative.

 

In other words, in even the most benevolent transition from the modern to the planetary that Raskin so clearly depicts, it is important to appreciate that bad things are bound to happen along the way. Such awareness guards against disillusionment. This surge of populist passion for ultra-nationalism from below and securitization from above poses a serious challenge to the JTE project. Maybe it is necessary to begin asking ourselves whether under the pressure of the times we, the peoples of the world, can abide the uncertainties of substantive democracy (human rights, diverse political movements)? In effect, how should this global crisis of democracy be properly introduced into a discussion of the role of the global citizens movement that is integral to Raskin’s transformative hopes?

 

It is possible that this disturbing populist trend currently sweeping the globe will be short-lived, dying of its own deadening weight. There are definite steps that can be taken to restore public confidence in democracy and human rights, which seem indispensable features of a humane Earthland. It is important that the dynamics of economic globalization become committed to diminishing inequality within and among states. It is also necessary to balance a preoccupation with the efficiency of capital and the statistics of economic growth against the goals of ending poverty, addressing climate change, and creating conditions of work and human and ecological security that enhance the quality of life for rich and poor alike. Other kinds of constructive policy initiatives include reducing the waste of resources on militarization and ending reliance on forcible intervention in foreign societies without proper UN authorization.

 

A further relevant effort would be the recognition that some of the pressures being mounted against democracy in the West arise from the mass migration of desperate people seeking to escape from war torn conditions and the havoc caused by global warming. Until the root causes of these migrations, and the accompanying terrorism generated by extremist political reactions, are addressed, it will not be possible to reverse this right-wing populist trend. These migrations occur when conditions become intolerable, and the pressure to escape to safer places becomes so intense that desperate persons willingly take huge risks. When large numbers of such people in need arrive at the borders of prosperous countries in the West, especially given manipulated fears that terrorists are lurking in the midst of the migrants, right wing demagogues have a field day. The most constructive response patterns are to do all that can be done to remove the conditions that give rise to the intolerable conditions, that is, deter migration at its source.

 

I suppose, in the end, I am saying that there are some issues that need to be more fully addressed before people outside the still relatively liberal democratic West can be expected to sign up for the journey to Earthland. In effect, in places like Pakistan where the struggle to find out how to be a constructive national citizen seems such a current preoccupation for those who seek to be politically responsible, an essential challenge is how to present Raskin’s message of the responsible global citizen in forms sufficiently relevant that it is sensitive to the fears, hopes, and concerns of this part of the world.

 

In conclusion, it may appear captious to expect more when JTE already gives us so much. At the same time, when Raskin raises hopes this high, it becomes even more important to begin the journey with eyes wide open. Otherwise, the prospects of early disillusionment are high. Remembering that this is a planetary journey already underway in a variety of forms may be of some help, along with the realization that there exist multitude points of entry throughout the planet. The recognition of this multiplicity ensures that a truly global citizen acts inclusively toward the range of civilizational identities.

 

Anticipating the Trump Presidency

13 Nov

 

 

[Prefatory Note: The post below was commissioned by the global-e journal ( http://www.21global.ucsb.edu/global-e ) and appears there as Volume 9, No. 3, November 2016.]

 

 

In the weeks prior to the American presidential election I received a large number of independent messages from progressive friends abroad who were either expats or citizens of other countries. I was not too surprised that almost every message expressed hostility to Hillary Clinton, but I was shocked that so many were opting for Trump to win the election or advocating a stay-at-home boycott or third party vote believing that neither Trump nor Clinton deserved support, and there was no basis for making one preferable to the other. I shared some of these sentiments, but overcame my doubts about the better option as the campaign wore on, becoming increasingly definite about supporting Clinton, initially as the lesser of evils and later more affirmatively, as she had become a woman unduly victimized by the nasty virulence of Trump’s hurtful misogynist slurs. I increasingly felt that my overseas friends were out of touch with the internal dynamics of American society, specifically, not appreciating that Trump’s election, in view of his campaign, would be a dark day of foreboding, hurt, rejection, and despair for African Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, women, and supporters of progressive causes.

 

The views of my pro-Trump foreign friends have over the years been consistently humane and congenial. Their various reasons for being anti-Clinton or pro-Trump resulted from adopting predominantly structural outlooks or reflect preoccupations with specific substantive concerns. The structural arguments were two-fold: first, that both political parties in the US were equally subservient to the logic of neoliberal globalization (‘the Washington consensus’) that they believed was the source of many of the worst evils in the world, making Trump seem almost like a third party candidate who was challenging the core elements of economic globalization. For them, the only moral response was either to boycott the election altogether, as it made no difference which side won; or alternatively, take a chance with Trump, as he at least seemed likely to repudiate NAFTA and kill the TPP.

 

A second structural argument, often overlapping with the first, was that the military industrial corporate complex was embraced by the mainstream of both parties, making American global militarism bipartisan. Such a view was reinforced by the degree to which the Washington national security establishment and neocon think tanks overwhelmingly stepped forward to support Clinton, including many prominent Republicans, fearing that Trump would choose a security path that was adventurously dangerous or, worse, might even pursue an anti-militarist neo-isolationist foreign policy. Trump so threatened the Republican national security establishment that Washington’s political elite generally agreed he would make an unreliable and irresponsible leader of the American ‘global state.’ Trump’s repeated calls to rebuild America’s allegedly broken military capabilities were almost irrelevant, given his disorienting comments about alliances, nonproliferation, and regime-changing interventions. Although Trump’s challenge to political correctness in the security domain was anathema to Washington’s political class, it was music to the ears of my foreign friends.

There is a third version of structural analysis, ignored by my friends abroad, that seems helpful in explaining what happened in the American election. It is the extent to which various forms of ultra-nationalist populism are succeeding in electing leaders throughout the world by large margins, including Russia, India, Japan, Turkey, Egypt, Philippines, and now the United States. The Brexit vote in Britain, along with the rise of right wing political parties in Europe, exhibit a similar backlash against globalizing tendencies and foreign interventions that have in turn engendered menacing transnational migrations of desperate people fleeing war torn zones and escaping from extreme poverty. These migrations fuel chauvinism in the West that toxically interacts with economic stagnation, high levels of unemployment, terrorist anxieties, and closely related threats to indigenous ethnic and racial identities. In effect, right wing populism is a response to the failures of Western political, economic, and cultural systems to protect the material and psycho-political wellbeing of their respective national populations.

 

Over all, my foreign friends were generally opposed to Clinton’s global security agenda, especially as it pertained to Russia and the Middle East, and preferred Trump’s vague generalities and even regarded his inexperience as an asset. The pro-Trump arguments here concentrated on Clinton’s past record of support for regime-changing military interventions in the Middle East and her support for a No Fly Zone in Syria whose establishment would almost certainly result in a confrontation with Russia that could escalate into yet another American-sponsored regime-changing intervention in a Muslim country. Such an intervention was particularly feared as it could easily lead to a new cold war, with hot war dangers. More than a couple of my correspondents quoted her chilling remark in Libya shortly after Qaddafi’s capture and grisly execution, “We came, we saw, he died,” feeling that it embodied the heartless geopolitics in the Middle East that had produced the current regional turmoil.

 

Although these perceptions are anecdotal, I find them revealing and disturbing. Because American elections, especially this one, seem so important to people in other countries, the results are watched closely, sometimes more closely than their own national elections. Early reactions to the Trump victory in Mexico and Russia reveal contradictory priorities in various parts of the world. The Mexican reaction has been reported to be one of uniform shock and sorrow, as well as feelings of deep concern for their relatives and friends living in the US or worries that remittances from America for very poor families would now be in jeopardy or heavily taxed. In the streets of Moscow, there was rejoicing, since Russians, whether they liked Putin or not, seemed convinced that Trump would act as a practical business man and work toward cooperative relations that would help both governments diminish the frightening tensions currently associated with NATO, Ukraine, and Syria, and avoid any further downward spiral in relations that they quite reasonably feared would be the trajectory of a more ideological Clinton presidency.

 

Outside the U.S., many people, whether American or not, tend to view the Trump victory and the Clinton defeat through a single-issue optic that mostly pertains to international economic and security policy. In contrast, those living here in the United States, if drawn to Trump, are likely to be attracted by his anti-establishment outsider outlook combined with their own internal preoccupations with national economic policy, especially jobs and trade, and cultural liberalism (e.g., gays, pro-choice, race, immigration, and recreational drugs). Trump supporters with a more self-consciously conservative bent believe he would keep the Supreme Court appointment process in Republican hands for the next four years. This prospect alone apparently led many wavering suburban Republicans to vote for Trump in the end, disregarding qualms that might otherwise have kept them home on election day.

 

In his victory speech, Trump sounded gentle and benign, promising to govern for all citizens as a unifying leader, stressing the need to rebuild the decaying American infrastructure and even offering gracious praise to Hilary Clinton for a hard fought campaign. Unfortunately, this cheerful aftermath is bound to be short lived. Major struggles loom, and will begin as soon as Trump announces his appointments of cabinet members and key staff. Not long after some doubtless provocative choices, bitter policy controversies will emerge a he seeks to implement his programmatic priorities: scrapping Obamacare, NAFTA, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and the Iran nuclear deal. Altogether, this will sadly erase from the books the best parts of the Obama legacy. It is not a pretty picture without even considering whether Trump will follow through on his most notorious pledges: mass deportation of ‘illegal’ immigrants, imposition of an airtight anti-Muslim immigration ban, and the construction a police friendly ‘law and order’ regime to combat ‘black lives matter’ activism and inner city crime.

 

In this period, American resilience will certainly be tested, probably as much or more than at any time since the American Civil War. The haunting uncertainty is whether the likely incivility of the Trump presidency will decisively darken the political destiny of the country, or only be a transitory period of regression. Can the creative energies of resistance and reform build a transformative movement of sufficient strength to balance the Trump juggernaut? On this slim possibility, somewhat prefigured by the primary campaign of Bernie Sanders, our hopes rest for a resilient and resurrected America again dedicated to achieving peace abroad and justice at home.

 

There is a final observation that deserves commentary and reflection. It should not be overlooked that Clinton won the popular vote by a comfortable margin (thanks to California) despite her high unfavorability ratings. If not for that peculiar anachronistic American institution—the Electoral College—Clinton would be the winner, Trump the loser, and political gurus would be busy telling us why such an outcome was inevitable. With real world clarity, it is mere cocktail party phantasy to think that American democracy will sometime soon be democratized by counting every person’s vote equally. Entrenched Republican Party interests will never let the US Constitution be so modernized, but what this popular vote does confirm is that country is almost evenly divided, and that progressive values continue to enjoy a slight majority. It is therefore wildly premature to think that this election signals that the American people have descended into the swamps of racism and nativism, but it will still take a vigilant opposition movement to prevent Trump’s government from imposing its horrendous agenda on our collective future.

 

 

 

 

In the weeks prior to the American presidential election I received a large number of independent messages from progressive friends abroad who were either expats or citizens of other countries. I was not too surprised that almost every message expressed hostility to Hillary Clinton, but I was shocked that so many were opting for Trump to win the election or advocating a stay-at-home boycott or third party vote believing that neither Trump nor Clinton deserved support, and there was no basis for making one preferable to the other. I shared some of these sentiments, but overcame my doubts about the better option as the campaign wore on, becoming increasingly definite about supporting Clinton, initially as the lesser of evils and later more affirmatively, as she had become a woman unduly victimized by the nasty virulence of Trump’s hurtful misogynist slurs. I increasingly felt that my overseas friends were out of touch with the internal dynamics of American society, specifically, not appreciating that Trump’s election, in view of his campaign, would be a dark day of foreboding, hurt, rejection, and despair for African Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, women, and supporters of progressive causes.

 

The views of my pro-Trump foreign friends have over the years been consistently humane and congenial. Their various reasons for being anti-Clinton or pro-Trump resulted from adopting predominantly structural outlooks or reflect preoccupations with specific substantive concerns. The structural arguments were two-fold: first, that both political parties in the US were equally subservient to the logic of neoliberal globalization (‘the Washington consensus’) that they believed was the source of many of the worst evils in the world, making Trump seem almost like a third party candidate who was challenging the core elements of economic globalization. For them, the only moral response was either to boycott the election altogether, as it made no difference which side won; or alternatively, take a chance with Trump, as he at least seemed likely to repudiate NAFTA and kill the TPP.

 

A second structural argument, often overlapping with the first, was that the military industrial corporate complex was embraced by the mainstream of both parties, making American global militarism bipartisan. Such a view was reinforced by the degree to which the Washington national security establishment and neocon think tanks overwhelmingly stepped forward to support Clinton, including many prominent Republicans, fearing that Trump would choose a security path that was adventurously dangerous or, worse, might even pursue an anti-militarist neo-isolationist foreign policy. Trump so threatened the Republican national security establishment that Washington’s political elite generally agreed he would make an unreliable and irresponsible leader of the American ‘global state.’ Trump’s repeated calls to rebuild America’s allegedly broken military capabilities were almost irrelevant, given his disorienting comments about alliances, nonproliferation, and regime-changing interventions. Although Trump’s challenge to political correctness in the security domain was anathema to Washington’s political class, it was music to the ears of my foreign friends.

There is a third version of structural analysis, ignored by my friends abroad, that seems helpful in explaining what happened in the American election. It is the extent to which various forms of ultra-nationalist populism are succeeding in electing leaders throughout the world by large margins, including Russia, India, Japan, Turkey, Egypt, Philippines, and now the United States. The Brexit vote in Britain, along with the rise of right wing political parties in Europe, exhibit a similar backlash against globalizing tendencies and foreign interventions that have in turn engendered menacing transnational migrations of desperate people fleeing war torn zones and escaping from extreme poverty. These migrations fuel chauvinism in the West that toxically interacts with economic stagnation, high levels of unemployment, terrorist anxieties, and closely related threats to indigenous ethnic and racial identities. In effect, right wing populism is a response to the failures of Western political, economic, and cultural systems to protect the material and psycho-political wellbeing of their respective national populations.

 

Over all, my foreign friends were generally opposed to Clinton’s global security agenda, especially as it pertained to Russia and the Middle East, and preferred Trump’s vague generalities and even regarded his inexperience as an asset. The pro-Trump arguments here concentrated on Clinton’s past record of support for regime-changing military interventions in the Middle East and her support for a No Fly Zone in Syria whose establishment would almost certainly result in a confrontation with Russia that could escalate into yet another American-sponsored regime-changing intervention in a Muslim country. Such an intervention was particularly feared as it could easily lead to a new cold war, with hot war dangers. More than a couple of my correspondents quoted her chilling remark in Libya shortly after Qaddafi’s capture and grisly execution, “We came, we saw, he died,” feeling that it embodied the heartless geopolitics in the Middle East that had produced the current regional turmoil.

 

Although these perceptions are anecdotal, I find them revealing and disturbing. Because American elections, especially this one, seem so important to people in other countries, the results are watched closely, sometimes more closely than their own national elections. Early reactions to the Trump victory in Mexico and Russia reveal contradictory priorities in various parts of the world. The Mexican reaction has been reported to be one of uniform shock and sorrow, as well as feelings of deep concern for their relatives and friends living in the US or worries that remittances from America for very poor families would now be in jeopardy or heavily taxed. In the streets of Moscow, there was rejoicing, since Russians, whether they liked Putin or not, seemed convinced that Trump would act as a practical business man and work toward cooperative relations that would help both governments diminish the frightening tensions currently associated with NATO, Ukraine, and Syria, and avoid any further downward spiral in relations that they quite reasonably feared would be the trajectory of a more ideological Clinton presidency.

 

Outside the U.S., many people, whether American or not, tend to view the Trump victory and the Clinton defeat through a single-issue optic that mostly pertains to international economic and security policy. In contrast, those living here in the United States, if drawn to Trump, are likely to be attracted by his anti-establishment outsider outlook combined with their own internal preoccupations with national economic policy, especially jobs and trade, and cultural liberalism (e.g., gays, pro-choice, race, immigration, and recreational drugs). Trump supporters with a more self-consciously conservative bent believe he would keep the Supreme Court appointment process in Republican hands for the next four years. This prospect alone apparently led many wavering suburban Republicans to vote for Trump in the end, disregarding qualms that might otherwise have kept them home on election day.

 

In his victory speech, Trump sounded gentle and benign, promising to govern for all citizens as a unifying leader, stressing the need to rebuild the decaying American infrastructure and even offering gracious praise to Hilary Clinton for a hard fought campaign. Unfortunately, this cheerful aftermath is bound to be short lived. Major struggles loom, and will begin as soon as Trump announces his appointments of cabinet members and key staff. Not long after some doubtless provocative choices, bitter policy controversies will emerge a he seeks to implement his programmatic priorities: scrapping Obamacare, NAFTA, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and the Iran nuclear deal. Altogether, this will sadly erase from the books the best parts of the Obama legacy. It is not a pretty picture without even considering whether Trump will follow through on his most notorious pledges: mass deportation of ‘illegal’ immigrants, imposition of an airtight anti-Muslim immigration ban, and the construction a police friendly ‘law and order’ regime to combat ‘black lives matter’ activism and inner city crime.

 

In this period, American resilience will certainly be tested, probably as much or more than at any time since the American Civil War. The haunting uncertainty is whether the likely incivility of the Trump presidency will decisively darken the political destiny of the country, or only be a transitory period of regression. Can the creative energies of resistance and reform build a transformative movement of sufficient strength to balance the Trump juggernaut? On this slim possibility, somewhat prefigured by the primary campaign of Bernie Sanders, our hopes rest for a resilient and resurrected America again dedicated to achieving peace abroad and justice at home.

 

There is a final observation that deserves commentary and reflection. It should not be overlooked that Clinton won the popular vote by a comfortable margin (thanks to California) despite her high unfavorability ratings. If not for that peculiar anachronistic American institution—the Electoral College—Clinton would be the winner, Trump the loser, and political gurus would be busy telling us why such an outcome was inevitable. With real world clarity, it is mere cocktail party phantasy to think that American democracy will sometime soon be democratized by counting every person’s vote equally. Entrenched Republican Party interests will never let the US Constitution be so modernized, but what this popular vote does confirm is that country is almost evenly divided, and that progressive values continue to enjoy a slight majority. It is therefore wildly premature to think that this election signals that the American people have descended into the swamps of racism and nativism, but it will still take a vigilant opposition movement to prevent Trump’s government from imposing its horrendous agenda on our collective future.

 

 

 

Message to Blog Readers

13 Nov

Message to Blog Readers:

 

Despite the petulance of this stretch of world history, I will be silent in coming days, giving ground to knee replacement surgery.

 

I expect that these will be days of morbid apprehension in America as the realities ofthe forthcoming Trump presidency begin to assume tangible form through a combination of clarity about those who will be the responsible policymakers of Trump’s inner circle and the policies he and they begin proposing.

 

Two frontiers of hope: a crash program in infrastructure development that includes a large stimulus package and a broad geopolitical accommodation with Russia that includes a sustainable ceasefire in Syria. The first of these frontiers may involve a revival of Keynesian approaches to economic development, and the unacknowledged abandonment of neoliberal trust in the market dynamics associated with ‘capital first, people last.’ The second frontier could calm the region, and allow more constructive forces to exert an influence.

 

There are reasons also to be fearful, especially if Trump follows through on a variety of outlandish positions taken during the electoral campaign: prosecuting Hillary Clinton; repudiating the Iran Nuclear Agreement and the Paris Climate Agreement; reviving torture; instituting mass deportation; raising unconditional immigration bars, and many more.

 

Hope is not enough. It is a time for maximizing citizen engagement and the mobilization of progressive political energies. We look to Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and others for leadership, and place trust and ground hopes in the activism of youth!

 

 

Moralizing Military Intervention

11 Nov
[Prefatory Note: I am republishing my review essay that appeared in International Dialogue: A Multilateral Journal of World Affairs 6:2016. It discusses two excellent studies of humanitarian intervention, a post-colonial trope allowing the United States and West Europeans to feel morally satisfied while projecting military power to distant lands, often with devastating consequences for the people being protected, and sometimes, even being rescued from tyranny and brutal repression. In some respects, what progressive critics call ‘regime-change’ the champions of such policy like the terminology of ‘humanitarian intervention,’ or even better, ‘Responsibility to Protect’ or R2P. Donald Trump interestingly portrayed Hillary Clinton accurately as a regime-change advocate, and pledged not to make such mistakes if elected. We will wait, see, and hope that at least this time, he means what he says. The Middle East has been the testing ground for this ‘new geopolitics’ but its antecedents can be traced back several centuries as the Klose edited collection of essay clearly demonstrates. Both studies are notable for highlighting the non-humanitarian motivations that accompany such undertakings, which are often hidden from public view, and need to be highlighted to comprehend this latest twist in the conduct of international relations.] 

 

The Emergence of Humanitarian Intervention: Ideas and Practice from the Nineteenth Century to the Present

Fabian Klose (ed). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. 364pp.

 

The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention

Rajan Menon. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. 235pp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union there has been an upsurge of international undertakings that have claimed humanitarian justifications for military interventions in foreign societies. A second kind of justification for such interventions all of which are launched by Western countries (especially the United States) was associated in this period with the global “war on terror” initiated during the presidency of George W. Bush in response to the 9/11 attacks of 2001 on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In other words, this upsurge in interventions draws partly on a normative rationale drawn from religion, morality, and law and partly from a security rationale premised on stretching the law of self-defense to meet the distinctive challenge of transnational mega-terrorism. The central question raised is whether this contemporary practice of intervention has been beneficial from the perspective of either humanitarianism or security.

There are some crucial considerations that bear on the use of force given the hybrid structure of world order as partly state-centric and partly geopolitical. The state-centric part is, by and large, anti-interventionist seeking to safeguard the autonomy of territorial sovereign states based on ideas of juridical equality embedded in the rule of law. The geopolitical part is, by and large, interventionist as a reflection of the international reality that only the more powerful states possess the capabilities and the geopolitical ambition to intervene. As might be expected these two dimensions of world order are often in tension when concrete cases arise. For geopolitical actors that are also states the two ordering principles are reconciled by privileging sovereignty for oneself and maintaining an option to intervene with respect to all other states except those that are themselves geopolitical actors.

One way to resolve this underlying tension is to condition humanitarian intervention on a grant of authority by the UN Security Council (UNSC). However, the UNSC is structured in such a way that only when the dominant members, the permanent five or P-5, are in agreement can an authorizing decision be reached. And even on those rare occasions when such authorization is forthcoming as was the case with the First Gulf War of 1991 or the 2013 NATO intervention against the Qaddafi government in Libya, the UN loses any capacity to supervise what has been authorized because operational control is taken over by the geopolitical actor(s) delegated to use force. In this sense, the tension between statism and geopolitics is not overcome by reliance on the UN even when it is capable of reaching a decision, but merely somewhat disguised. In essence, whenever an intervention occurs, its contours are controlled by geopolitics despite UN authorization and reliance on a humanitarian rationale. Further, the UN is too weak to insist that an intervention be confined to humanitarian ends, and geopolitical actors are not willing to intervene militarily unless they possess strategic and self-interested reasons for doing so.

Against this background it is a pleasure to welcome two excellent books that explore the ins and outs of humanitarian intervention, arriving at the essentially convergent and unsurprising conclusion that such behavior is more a geopolitical than a normative phenomenon. The Klose edited collection is generally analytic and empirical in tone, with several strong historical chapters, while Menon’s book is a tightly argued polemic directed against those liberal internationalists who during the Obama presidency have championed the dawn of a new era of humanitarian intervention resting on the implementation of universally shared values.

The contrary thesis of Menon’s book is conveyed by his title, The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention. In effect, he is instructing us on the basis of a very scrupulous consideration of doctrine, cases, and results that claims by the West, especially by the United States, to have engaged in a series of “humanitarian interventions” is a snare and delusion, with a shabby record of performance. Menon associates the word ‘conceit’ with its dictionary definition of “a fanciful idea” that embodies an “excessive appreciation of one’s own opinion or worth.” As applied to the controversies about humanitarian intervention, Menon insists that advocates so greatly exaggerate “the worldwide spread of universal norms and their acceptance by the international community” as to make their argument “little more than a conceit” (10). In a rhetorical flourish Menon tells his readers that “[h]umanitarian interventionists are intoxicated by the grandeur and moralism of their transformative program” (178).

Menon develops his case carefully, accurately presenting the arguments with which he disagrees, with his main targets obviously being the liberal internationalists who pushed Barack Obama to intervene in a series of countries in the Middle East with disastrous results. In this regard, it happens to be three influential women—Hilary Clinton, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power—who have been most prominently carrying the torch of humanitarian intervention during the Obama presidency. Menon does not doubt their sincerity, but he is highly critical of their tendency to separate an affirmation of humanitarian goals from any acknowledgement of the relevance of geopolitical motivations and complications.

As he points out, by neglecting the difficulties of achieving the posited humanitarian goals, the weakness of a humanitarian rationale for the use of force is ignored, and disappointing results ensue. Menon points out that sovereign states are deeply reluctant to sacrifice their own citizens for the purpose of promoting positive humanitarian results. Equally discrediting is the startling failures of intervening states to invest sufficiently and effectively in post-intervention reconstruction, thereby leaving in ruins what they were pledged to fix. As the persisting chaos in Iraq and Libya vividly illustrates, the fact that a dictatorial and abusive regime was replaced does not insure that a society will be better off as a result of the intervention. Especially in Iraq, there is every reason to suppose that the war planners in the Pentagon and the State Department would quietly rejoice if a new strong man emerged who proved capable of imposing order in the manner of Saddam Hussein. In this sense, one of the implicit caveats of the Menon critique is “beware of what you wish for.” In effect, he shows that more often than not, the unintended consequences of intervention create new monsters more formidable than those destroyed. Perhaps, this point can be driven home by pointing out that the American intervention in Iraq led to the formation of ISIS, and its later spread to a series of other countries, including Libya.

Menon also questions the normative argument from two main angles. First of all, he believes that disagreements among major states generally prevent any consensus being formed as to the application of humanitarian norms. And further, that many states in the post-colonial global setting are very reluctant to endorse any right of the West to override sovereignty by way of military intervention. In this regard he views the pretensions of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) norm with a suspicious eye. The abstractness and vagueness of the norm allows states to interpret its meaning in very self-serving ways, which ensures that its role in conflict situations will be more a reflection of geopolitics than of normative agreement. In Menon’s words “[h]umanitarian intervention can never become an ethically driven pursuit disentangled from power and interests” (11). This assessment rests on Menon’s underlying embrace of realism as the foundation of political behavior involving international uses of force: “Great powers seldom, if ever, surrender their privileges for the greater good” (159). Supposing here that the greater good is the prevention of mass atrocities by demonic governments, Menon is saying that normative considerations to the extent invoked serve as window dressing, and will not generate meaningful action unless reinforced by an accompanying geopolitical motive of sufficient magnitude.

Although Menon does not make the argument, the refusal of liberal democratic states to act collectively to prevent the Nazi persecution of Jews and others is a dramatic confirmation of his underlying argument about the structure of international political life. His main effort is to discredit the liberal claim that after the fall of the Soviet Union there existed a broad humanitarian movement in international society that generated a strong enough headwind to uphold the contention that atrocities could be prevented and punished through the instrumentalities of humanitarian intervention and R2P. I believe Menon brilliantly explicates the several fallacies of the interventionists, while at the same time keeping the door open for intervention in reaction to atrocities when geopolitical forces are effectively aligned and the likely costs realistically taken into account.

With respect to costs, Menon exhibits further well-reasoned skepticism. He shows that throughout history, those who favored the use of force understated the costs and difficulties of proposed undertakings. In this sense, it is not only that humanitarians are naïve in their enthusiasm but also that the militarists (often the politicians rather than the professional military) view intervention threw rose-tinted glasses. Recent experience that confirms the immense difficulties of turning the military superiority enjoyed by an intervening state or coalition of the willing into the desired political outcome. This realization alone should give rise to a posture of caution and restraint when it comes to embarking on any military intervention.

Menon sustains his narrow critique of humanitarian intervention with lucid analysis and a scholarly mastery of relevant materials. There are a few red lines he refuses to cross. There is not a single mention of Israel/Palestine, and the prolonged plight of the civilian population of Gaza, nor is there any insight given as to what could be done to protect the people of Syria from the horrifying spectacle of atrocity. Although Menon advocates a kind of pragmatism in shaping responses, he does not discuss the complicity of geopolitical actors in crimes against humanity, genocide. As well, there is no reference to the relevance of neoliberal globalization to decisions bearing on whether to intervene or not.

The Klose volume manages a consistently high quality throughout its fifteen chapters, but it is much harder to review. The book lacks the coherence and focus of the Menon effort. If there is a common theme it is this idea of impurity when it comes to military intervention. In an introductory chapter Klose adopts a strong formulation of this view: “if the purity of humanitarian purposes is the sole criterion defining the concept of humanitarian intervention, then it never existed and will never exist. It is an absolute myth that states would risk or have ever risked the lives of their soldiers just to follow the altruistic call of humanity” (13). While Menon devotes his energy to those who are claiming that intervention for humanitarian purposes has become possible and is desirable, the Klose contributors, mainly Europeans, are trying to set forth the mixed motives that color many shades of gray when appraising the main instances of humanitarian intervention throughout modern history dating back to the struggle to stop the international slave trade.

There are two contributions of this historical approach to our understanding of humanitarian intervention. The first is to affirm the degree to which past claims of humanitarian intervention were always covering over geopolitical priorities that alone explained why, for instance, Christians were protected if abused in the declining decades of the Ottoman Empire while the victimization of other minorities was ignored. The second it to deepen our historical awareness in ways that stress continuity with the past rather than the contentions of discontinuity, which Menon tries to refute by a largely ahistorical exposure of the inconsistencies, selectivity, and disappointments associated with the post-Cold War practice in humanitarian intervention/R2P.

What neither book confronts clearly is a core discontinuity bearing on the diminished agency of military force as instruments of intervention. The anti-colonial wars as well as the major instances of post-1945 intervention reveal a pattern of political outcomes in which the weaker territorially based resistance side has mostly prevailed over the stronger foreign intervening side. The Vietnam War should have taught this lesson to American policymakers, but failed to do so, probably due to the militarized bureaucracy that now governs in the United States.

Let me end with words of praise. Both of these books are fine works of scholarship that inform and deepen our understanding of the formidable challenges arising from the commission of atrocities in distant countries. Syria illustrates the particularly toxic mixture of a regime repeatedly committing atrocities and involuntarily offering a haven of sorts for planning mega-terrorist operations against the West. In such a situation it is not even clear whether responding to the acute humanitarian concern posed by the Assad regime will have negative spillover effects on efforts to address the ISIS threat. In such circumstances, an agonizing passivity still seems the least bad option for Washington.

 

Trump and Clinton: National versus Global Perspectives

6 Nov

 

 

It is not often that Medea Benjamin, the charismatic founder of Code Pink, offers us her insight into a troublesome American reality that is almost simultaneously confirmed by the New York Times, the virtual bible for secular liberals in the United States. Yet it happened, most surprisingly, in a positive portrayal of one thin slice of Trump loyalists—veterans of recent foreign wars. Medea reports on a conversation with such a veteran on a train out West, and was impressed that he felt Clinton much more likely than Trump to get Americans killed in a future distant war disconnected from any reasonable defense of the homeland. The New York Times in a front-page feature article reached this same plausible conclusion on the basis of a wider scan of relevant evidence.

 

Here are two disturbing realities worth pondering as we come closer to this most potentially momentous of American presidential elections. While the civilian national security establishment in the United States is outspokenly supportive of the Clinton candidacy, many combat veterans seem to consider Trump less of a warmonger despite his loose talk about crushing the enemies of America. Is it that the national security establishment has entered the arena of partisan politics because it is so worried about Trump’s petulant style and go it alone adventurism or because it finds Clinton’s record of military internationalism strongly to their liking? Or maybe a combination?

 

The second cluster of observations concerns the split between those of left liberal persuasion who reside in America and those living abroad, especially in the Euro-Mediterranean region. Those outside, whether American citizens or not, think of what these bitter rivals are likely to do once ensconced in the White House, and it makes them fearful. Typical is the view of Slavoj Žižek, the celebrity Slovenian public intellectual: he believes that Trump is ‘apparently less dangerous’ than Clinton, a view overwhelmingly held among Russian elites, and not just Putin. In complementary fashion Julian Assange insists, with the weight of Wikileaks on his shoulders, that the American political class will not allow Trump to win. Such opinions are also shared by many expatriates (as well as in country America First isolationists who are all in for Trump) who consider Clinton fully committed to continuing the American global domination project, no matter its costs, with twin ominous dangers of raising tensions with both Russia and China.

 

Those of us on the left who live mainly in the United States see the risks and dangers differently. We are more inclined to repudiate unconditionally anyone with Trump’s unsavory views on nuclear weapons, race, women, Muslims, immigrants, climate change, guns, and torture without bothering to look further. And if this is not enough, then Trump’s commitment to appoint justices to the US Supreme Court who embrace a jurisprudence that resembles the approach of the recently deceased arch conservative, Anthony Scalia, lower taxes on the super-rich, and is cavalier about the menaces posed by nuclear weaponry and global warming, is more than enough to turn many, including most disappointed Sanders’ enthusiasts, into reluctant Clinton supporters. Additionally, those with Wall Street portfolios also have reasonable fears that Trump’s rejection of trade agreements and commitments to scrap existing arrangements and negotiate better deals with China and others, as well as make countries being defended by American military power pay their fair share will lead to an unraveling of the world economy, collapsing stock markets, and a return of protectionist policies leading to a new economic downturn reviving grim memories of ‘beggar thy neighbor’ trade wars and the Great Depression of the 1930s, which also operated as one incubator of the rise of fascism. Trumpism might also destabilize security arrangements to such an extent that several states will go all out to acquire their own stockpile of nuclear weapons, and a series of regional nuclear arms races ensue.

 

We learn from this recital of competing fears, what has always been implicit, but now becomes apparent, that the United States is a global Behemoth whose missteps have for decades harmed the wellbeing of peoples around the world. For this reason, continuity with the past tends not to be viewed favorably by many foreign progressive observers, especially the projection of American military power throughout the planet. Trump for all his flaws is perceived as embodying a crucial discontinuity, and this alone makes him attractive for the very same reasons that Clinton appeals to many mainstream Republican and neocon foreign policy analysts. Additionally, Clinton is seen domestically as less of an uncertain quantity. She is predictable and stable, which explains the overwhelming support she receives from the American political class, including the media, Beltway think tanks, Silicon Valley, liberal centers of learning, and much of the military industrial complex.

 

Even though my months spent in Turkey each year have made me a partial expatriate, I still regard the political choices primarily from an insider’s perspective. This helps me justify to myself why I am a reluctant supporter of Clinton, which in the end strikes me as a clear choice, which would hold up even internationally if properly appraised. Although it is naïve to expect that Clinton has learned to be more cautious about the use of American military power on the basis of past failures of regime-changing interventions and muscular geopolitics, it feels grotesquely naïve to trust Trump with the ‘nuclear football,’ as well as to risk a mighty economic crash or the dire consequences of neglecting climate change (a hoax according to Trump), which if any materializes, would be catastrophic far beyond the borders of the United States, and as usual in such circumstances deliver the most crushing blows to the poorest and most vulnerable among us here at home and abroad.

 

One aspect of the conventional wisdom is to say that Clinton has experience that shows she can get things done. In contrast, Trump is almost proud of his lack of experience, and the prospect of his twisting Congressional arms to reach a compromise in support of his policy initiatives seems like what in American football talk is called ‘a hail Mary.’ Yet reflecting on this prospect the contrast may not be so clear. After all Clinton as president will almost certainly face a Republican dominated Congress determined to nullify her presidency by all means at its disposal. Trump as winner, which at present remains an improbable outcome, would enjoy a tactically sympathetic Congress controlled by Republicans, who despite themselves being sharply divided, would probably join with centrist Democrats to be more legislatively effective than a Clinton presidency.

 

What is most deeply worrisome about the Trump candidacy, win or lose, is the degree to which it has empowered a hitherto relatively dormant proto-fascist underclass, which for its own reasons of alienation had long been boycotting mainstream politics (at least since Reagan), although gradually building a populist base during the last decade via the extremist Tea Party. Trump now has a movement at his disposal that can create havoc either as the mobilized base of an extremist leadership or as the militant vortex of a disruptive opposition that could pose a threat to the future of the republic, especially if mega-terrorist incidents on a 9/11 scale were to happen in the West, and especially within the United States, or economic hard times recur.

 

To the extent I equivocated earlier in this electoral cycle, it was to consider seriously giving my vote to the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein. I think third party candidates have every right to seek as widespread support as they can gain, and that existing rules restricting their participation in national debates should be relaxed to allow their voices to be heard nationally. This would make such political alternative more competitive with the big money machines that the two major parties have become, and create a live possibility of candidates whose program and character can be affirmed, freeing persons like myself from the demoralizing dilemma of voting for the lesser of evils. If American democracy is going to be strengthened it must begin to give the citizenry political alternatives that resonate with our ‘better angels.’

 

I admit voting for Ralph Nader back in 2000 when it seems that Nader’s votes in Florida swung the election to George W. Bush with some help from the Supreme Court. Few strangely cast blame on the 300,000 or so Democrats who voted for Bush in that same Florida election, and were hence a much larger factor in explaining the outcome. Liberals are scornful of those who voted for Nader, while giving a pass to their more wayward fellow Democrats, perhaps partially forgiven because at least they didn’t ‘waste’ their vote.

 

My vote for Nader represented a rejection of the lesser of evils argument. I was also influenced by my perception back then of Al Gore as militarist and unapologetic champion of neoliberal globalization, making Nader the only candidate to express views that I could endorse in good faith. In retrospect, I did underestimate the leverage of neoconservative forces surrounding Bush, and wanting, partly on Israel’s behalf, to restructure the Middle East by what became euphemistically described as ‘democracy promotion’ but can be more realistically described as forcible ‘regime change.’ It was the 9/11 attacks in 2001 that gave the Bush presidency a political climate within which to pursue this disastrous neocon program in the Middle East, centering on the attack and occupation of Iraq starting in 2003, and undoubtedly a primary cause of much of the suffering and turmoil that now afflicts the region as a whole. It is reasonable to believe that Gore would have responded similarly to 9/11 with respect to Afghanistan and the tightening of homeland security, but likely would have acted more prudently in the Middle East, although even this is far from a certainty.

 

Perhaps, I can end by taking note that American presidential elections generally, and this one in particular, should be understood as a type of two-level political exercise. On its primary level, the election is treated by both sides as inward looking, and determined by which side is most persuasive with voters on domestic policy issues. This domestic focus has itself become quite problematic, affected by Republican efforts at ‘voter suppression’ (ways to deny the vote to African Americans and Hispanics), by relentless fundraising favoring the priorities of the most wealthy, and by a variety of ways to manipulate results in the few key ‘battleground states’ that determine which side wins enough electoral college votes to gain the office of the presidency. For the sake of balanced perspective, it should be acknowledged that there have been serious infringements on the proper exercise of the right to vote ever since the United States became a republic.

 

Then there is the secondary level of this American electoral process where people around the globe view American elections as directly affecting and threatening their lives in a variety of tangible ways. These people situated in various parts of the world are victimized (or benefitted) by the American global state but are disenfranchised by being denied any voice, much less a vote. From the primary level, Russian efforts to meddle in American elections are totally unacceptable, but viewed from the secondary level, are completely understandable. Putin is not irresponsible to believe that vital Russian interests are at stake, and that Trump is less likely than Clinton to engage in inflammatory confrontations. From a nationalist perspective, Trump’s possible encouragement of Putin’s concerns seems treasonous; from a global perspective, Russia is acting prudently by acting nonviolently to avoid an electoral outcome in the United States that could have grave consequences for its future wellbeing, and for that matter, so is Julian Assange and Wikileaks. 

 

In this respect, there is a real erosion of global sovereignty in the sense of self-determination that results from this non-territorial salience attributed to the effects of an American presidential election. For a truly legitimate political order of global scope, we need to begin thinking of how to construct a global democracy that is responsive to the multiple experiences of political, economic, and cultural globalization and facilitates some form of legitimating univesal participation in the governing process.

 

To aspire to such an end presupposes the ethos of ‘citizen pilgrims,’ those who transcend national identities in their journey toward a promised land of peaceful co-existence, equitable distribution of material goods, ecological vigilance and sensitivity, a culture of inclusive human rights, and above all, enhanced and variegated spirituality. It may sound utopian, and it is. I believe we are reaching a biopolitical threshold that increasingly equates prospects for human survival with the achievement of an eco-political utopia. This presupposes that utopianism must soon become the new realism of a politics dedicated to a benign human future.