Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Big Picture is Changing

These days, if you want to understand the Big Picture, pay attention to short takes. Friday, Brits demonstrated in huge numbers across the country against austerity.  One of their fears is that they could lose the National Health System (one of the numbers at the opening of the London Olympics was an obviously fond salute to this institution created after the Second World War, and which Britons can’t conceive of doing without).

Coincidentally, a report on Libya noted that one of the reasons for the continuing chaos is that the post-Ghaddafi government plans to nationalize the health service. Most people in the U.S. and perhaps also in Europe, assume that the regime we overthrew in Tripoli was not only authoritarian, but benighted. Although it was a dictatorship, it was politically progressive under the aegis of a little green book that emulated Mai Tse Tung’s little red book.

The Syrian regime, like Saddam’s Iraq, and the Mullah’s Iran, also has a national health system. Bashar al Assad’s regime, however ‘dictatorial’ is a politically progressive regime, as was that of Ghaddafi in Libya, under the aegis of a little green book that emulated Mao Tse Tung’s little red book. Is it just a coincidence that these countries have either been devastated by U.S. sponsored attacks or are slated to be?

The end of the Cold War did not mark the end of American hostility toward any even vaguely socialistic regime. The focus on oil obscures Washington’s determination to stamp out regimes that engage in re-distribution. Yet isn’t this what global demonstrations are about?

But there’s more to the current Big Picture. Also on Friday, RT mentioned that the presidents of both Turkey and Iran, who back opposing sides in the conflict in Syria met at a regional meeting, with Turkey agreeing on the need for a ceasefire although it supports the regime.

Turkey’s slight retreat from its hard line against Syrian President Assad reveals a broader situation: the Sunni Arab Middle East is bracketed by two non-Arab nations, Sunni Turkey and Shi’ite Iran, who have long and proud histories, as opposed to their neighbors. (Saudi Arabia is the other major player in the area, but it cannot refer to either a glorious cultural past or home grown military power.)

Is this meaningful in the days of social media and face recognition? I believe it is, because populations are aware of history, and those of the Gulf monarchies that today conspire with the mainly Sunni Syrian opposition to overthrow the only remaining progressive Arab government know that their sands were barren until oil was found.  (Some of my readers will argue that Israel is the most progressive government of the region, but more and more people around the world believe its behavior toward the Palestinians, whom it displaced, prevents it from any longer claiming that title.)

I believe that the ideological and the religious tracks in the upheaval of the Muslim world will increasingly converge, the Sunni/Shi’a divide evolving from a strictly religious enmity to a divide between the haves and the have-nots, or as we say today, between the 99% and the 1%.

If you think this is wishful thinking, consider that Egypt’s Sunni President Morsi recently went to Teheran to attend the Non-Aligned Summit, meeting with the Shi’ite host, President Ahmed-inejad, to discuss the Syrian crisis. For decades Americans have been told that there are two opposing forces, Communism and Capitalism, with only the latter being civilized. It is difficult for them to wrap their heads around a blurring of this line. Yet just yesterday, the Colombian rebels who fought the neo-liberal government for five decades met in Oslo for peace talks intended to bring about a more progressive regime in that Latin American country - with a second round of negotiations set to open in Havana. (Yet Obama cannot even contemplate calling off the Cuban blockade.)

For Oslo, capital of the highly successful Nor-wegian welfare state, and Havana, which is no longer a strictly communist economy, to be playing dual roles in Latin America is the equivalent of the Turkey/Iran role in the Middle East. Both of these developments signal profound changes in the big picture, which any future American President should - but probably will not be allowed to - recognize, at least publicly.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Turkey and Its Neighbors

In 1989, my book ‘Une autre Europe, un autre Monde’, was published in France.  In the context of what I had been the first to call ‘A Europe of Thirty’ as I foresaw the continent’s reunification, I noted that Turkey would only feel it had ‘arrived’ when it could join the European Union, but that this sentiment betrayed its history as the seat of the Ottoman Empire that had dominated the Islamic world for five hundred years.

Today, Turkey is a key player in an escalating Middle East crisis. By spearheading Western aggression against Syria to protect Israel from an imaginary attack by Iran, it is paying back NATO for the decades during which it benefitted from the alliance’s ‘protection’ against the Soviet Union. (In the West, Turkey was known as ‘NATO’s sou-thern bulwark’ against the Communist threat.) Turkey’s neighborhood has changed dramatically since the Cold War, yet for NATO, Moscow is still an enemy, as it protests the Alliance’s interference in Syria’s internal affairs.

Not unrelatedly, this week, the Nobel committee awarded its annual Peace Prize to the European Union, citing the successful transformation of thirty countries that had warred for centuries into a peaceful and prosperous polity. Most observers were astonished by the prize, given the potentially earth-shattering crisis of Europe’s common currency, the Euro. And while the Nobel Committee piously hopes its decision will encourage a peaceful resolution, neutral Switzerland gears up to once again receive refugees.

The Second World War has not been forgotten by  Greece which suffered a brutal German occupation, followed by the defeat of its powerful left wing under heavy-handed British/American influence. As for the Spanish, they have not forgotten their Civil War against a fascist dictator that set the stage for Hitler’s aggressions. But should Europe descend once again into conflict, it will not be over territory, but about the chasm between the 99% and the 1%.

To understand the significance of what is happening today, we should go back to 1848, when the Communist Manifesto enjoined the workers of the world to unite. The slogan was subsequently adopted by the Soviet Union and many workers’ parties, but until now, the capitalist system had remained too powerful for the workers of the world to think as one.

Until now. Three weeks before what is perhaps the most crucial American presidential election, populations in thirty-odd countries are in the street banging on pots and pans in opposition to the world America has created, while neither candidate can be expected to break from the policies that led to that opposition.

In 1989 I surmised that one of the reasons why the United States had not imposed sanctions on China after the events of Tiananmen Square was to prevent a rap-prochement between China and the URSS. Thirteen years later, the two former communist countries are united in their opposition to Western military action against the Syrian government, support Iran’s right to peaceful use of nuclear technology, and share similar attitudes toward just about any American policy you can think of.

The common front of these two rising powers is a response to the near total loss of control over world events by Western leaders who bought into the American dream of unlimited wealth. As China and Russia call for coope-ration and dialogue, the energy of desperation flows through the world system at an accelerating rate, driving it toward a bifurcation whose outcome no one can predict. And yet, no special concern is palpable.

Was the world similarly oblivious as Hitler built up his armies to overpower Europe in 1939? No one had dreamed there could be war in 1914 until an assassin’s bullet killed the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in partly Muslim Bosnia-Herzegovina. Today, as Europe’s politicians and bankers ponder how to save the Euro, its peoples spearhead worldwide opposition to Wall Street rule, while a dispute over power in a small Muslim country on its border could ignite the entire Eurasian continent.

If the Christian/Muslim enmity begun in the Middle Ages, and the struggle for equity that began with the French Revolution come together in what could be an ultimate conflagration it will be the fault neither of Iran nor of Syria.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Chavez' Win and Europe's Crisis

Even the mainstream media today admit that Hugo Chavez’ re-election to a fourth term as President of Venezuela is thanks to the oil money he has consistently spent on his people’s welfare.

Yesterday, for the first time I heard a pundit declare with evident satisfaction that the Euro crisis signals an end to the European Welfare State built up after the Second World War. If this is true, we can only wonder why after half a century, that model is in peril, and we would probably have to conclude that a new element has been introduced into the system.

A financial expert recently remarked that the European Union is the biggest economy in the world, followed by the United States. This suggests that economies can in fact remain buoyant while taking equitable care of populations, as long as they steer clear of the dicey games of global finance which, over the last ten or so years, have increasingly affected systems worldwide.

The unraveling of the European Union would constitute a crushing blow to peace in the world, exposing the multi-ethnic Eurasian peninsula to yet another replay of past conflicts between neighbors, while Eurasia’s southern, Muslim tier explodes in religious wars that increasingly enfold demands for equity.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the period since the Second World War has also seen repeated, determined efforts by the United States to prevent Latin America from wresting control of its assets from American companies in order to better the lives of its peoples.  In the last ten or so years, the number of Latin American countries having elected left of center governments has seen an unprecedented increase, to the certain displeasure of international mineral and agricultural conglomerates.

If we add to these developments Washington’s pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, supposedly to contain China, we have to seriously consider the possibility that what is actually driving the world today is international finance's determination to keep the global 1% on top, with war as an economic tool in service of that goal - as it was after the Great Depression.

We will have to face the fact that the great conflict of the twentieth century between right and left has not ended, but is merely disguised as ethnic and religious intolerance.