Saturday, March 07, 2009

Since Obama

AN EXCELLENT START!   [so far:7 March 2009] 

Our first brief reply to many messages: 'Well, Dipconsult, what do you think?' 

Readers will note that Obama, Mme Clinton, Mitchell, Holbrooke, and even the US "military" have indeed begun to shift course from Bushian confrontation towards international  co-operation. Our profoundest hope - as every page of this website attests since September 2002 when we declared that nothing would help al Qaeda more than an "unapproved" invasion of Iraq (see tab 10 Sept JP 'Cassandra'). 

The twin ideologies of laissez-faire capitalism and of American exceptionalism are still very much alive 

But from the beginning of this year the Republicans - continuing their
extreme pre-1929 ideology of unrestrained laissez-faire capitalism, and clinging to their neo-conservative ideology of American global supremacy (or The Project for a New American Century), have made it clear that in no way will they meekly follow the road to international cooperation in regard to installing a new system of global financial regulation, and initiating a new era of global cooperation over security matters.        

Here it is important to remember that, despite the financial, security, and environmental catrastrophe of the GW Bush years, the victory of  Obama and the Democrats was far from overwhelming. Several observers believe Obama could even have lost to McCain had the financial meltdown been delayed and the electorate as a whole had not therefore made the economy its voting priority.

US election shortcomings
This surprisingly close result after the disasters of the GW Bush years may be partly explained by the distortions - favouring the Republican party - of US voter registration and vote recording procedures.

Quite apart from Greg Palast ("Armed Madhouse") and his detailed examination of America's voting arrangements, suggesting that both the 2000 and 2004 elections were "stolen" and that attempts would be made to "steal" the 2008 election, there is ample documentation to show that this Obama administration would do well to overhaul US voting procedures as a federal concern to ensure proper voter registration and a clear "paper trail" of votes. Such electoral reform could well determine whether international cooperation will survive or whether confrontation will be reasserted.  [We have commented on this elsewhere].   

The 'political correctness' issue
We have repeatedly drawn attention to the moral issues dear to much of the electorate. "Liberal", "progessive", "homosexual marriage", "choice" etc. which add up for very many Americans to a, for them, odious "political correctness" implying the end of the traditional Christian morality professed (if not followed) by much of the population. For these people, the family itself is endangered by encroaching 'big government' and 'leftie' power. 

This of course explains why we once found a girl at a supermarket in Ohio declaring she would vote Republican "because they stand for Christian values - my grandparents' were protestants when they brought our family to the US and we want to keep it that way". This, even though she knew that she would be voting for the party of the rich and much against her own financial interests. 

The abortion issue weighs in here - for many American Christians still make abortion the single issue deciding their vote (ahead even of the issue of human survival). 2008 voting results purport to show that a majority of "traditional" protestants and Catholics voted for McCain. 

This goes far to explain how "Christian" America came to espouse the far from Christian ideologies of worshipping the "Golden Calf" (leading to the financial meltdown) and Amerika uber alles (neo-conservative unipolarism) leading to the disaster of the Iraq war [against which, as this website shows, we have inveighed at length since 2002].  

The racial issue
And another survey claimed that only one per cent more white males, voted for Obama than voted for McCain and thta it was the women's, and 'minorities'' vote that clinched it for Obama. The state by state vote is instructive: there were many 'close enough' races. Although the Obama camp (which we - as European outsiders - did all we could to support) assured us that racism would not be a serious issue, it seems that it was. However, Obama's presidential bearing and performance to date appear to have (provisionally?) won over many "racial doubters" to judge by his high approval ratings in these ultra challenging times.             

The fact remains that the Republicans - who have already largely refused the bi-partisan cooperation he sought - are holding great potential power in reserve, ready to pounce when they deem Obama and the Democrats most vulnerable. 

American 'Exceptionalism
There is another impediment to cooperation with other states on the basis of equality: American 'exceptionalism' - a belief held not only by a great many Americans but even by many foreigners. This is the conviction that the United States is somehow exceptional. That it had indeed that much-proclaimed 'manifest destiny' to absorb all the lands that now constitute the fifty states, and that today too, the lofty ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the Constitution make America a 'special' country, a light in a dark Macchiavellian world of sovereign states. This has given Americans at least their fair share of patriotism of the ilk - "my country right or wrong'. And given them too, a concomitant inability to face up to the wrongs the US has committed - that 'beam in one's own eye'. 

This widely  believed 'exceptionalism' goes far to explain the over-bearing righteousness and lack of humility that many foreign observers decry in the 'one remaining.superpower'. 

But there is another side to the medal shared not only by many  Americans but also by any foreigners - the idea that, for all its manifold faults and the gulf beween ideals and action, the United States is in a real way the "last great hope for mankind". This outlook is not superbia, rather it is sobering, even humbling, for those who hold it. For the "last great hope" - if the US is such - must not be allowed to fail. This outlook demands that the chasm between lofty ideals and performance (both domestic and foreign) must somehow be bridged. 

The move to cooperation still inhibited after 8 years of confrontation

So there are these several forces that threaten to retard the new administration's evident determination to try to lead the world towards the era of co-operation that became possible after the fall of the Berlin wall ended almost half a century of paralysis - the decades of Cold War. 

Presidents G.H.W.Bush and Clinton both began turning the US ship of state from the course of Cold War confrontation towards a quite different course - an era of America as primus inter pares  in a 'new world order' . But there were problems - not least of which were a Republican majority in Congress, a consequential refusal to pay the US's UN dues, Saddam Hussein, and the absurd 'Lewinsky affair' (which the Republicans successfuly used to divert the Clinton adminstration's attention from the great problems of the day). 

Worse, they then exploited to the full this same peccadillo to wreck the election of Al Gore - who at least had a good understanding of the existential threat to mankind of climate change as well as excellent practical experience of foreign policy.

So G.W. Bush, an ignoramus in foreign policy though (with the help of Karl Rove) a consummate and ruthless politician, lost the popular vote but scraped in thanks to a conservative Supreme Court's decision. One woman plus electoral shenanigans thus changed all our lives. The US ship of state never made the turn towards an era of cooperation, but reverted to its Cold War course - confrontation. 

The twin idelogies of the G.W. Bush years

Clinton pragmatism was out. And as we have seen, under G.W. Bush two old ideologies prevailed: pure laissez-faire capitalism, denuded of the modifying work of J.M. Keynes and other post 1929 economists which required strict rules for "playing the Capitalist game". And Macchiavellianism in a new more dangerous form: neo-conservatism. More dangerous because Macchiavelli's "Prince" had no pretence of any higher motive than gaining and exercising power, whereas the neo-conservatives also claimed to promote the ideal of "American exceptionalism". Their 'Project for a New American Century' aimed to bring about a unipolar world, where other states, great and small, would circle an (of course) beneficent American sun.  Realpolitik plus idealism - historiclly the most dangerous cocktail! 

A blow to the assumed superiorty of US style democracy 
The alleged superiority of American-style democracy received a sharp blow when the electorate gave G.W. Bush a second term in 2004, despite the by then obvious worldwide disaster of his confrontation of all those who thwarted him, and of his reckless fiscal policies that denuded Uncle Sam's reputed bottomless pockets.

NATO was divided, Europe was divided, even the British lamented that the Blair government had dragged them into the US's elective war in Iraq. Not one but two new "Vietnams" were arising not only in Iraq but in Afghanistan where Bush's one remarkable success was going bad through neglect. In Russia and China the neo-conservative unipolar policy was obviously unacceptable and had to be countered. And America's reputation as flag bearer for human rights was all but lost after Abu Ghraib, torture and 'rendition', Throughout the world hitherto friendly governments and peoples turned as never before against America.     

Once again large sections of the American electorate, notably between the coasts, had voted without regard to the national interest which they barely understood, but against those who appeared to threaten their morality and "American way of life'. The Republican oligarchy had got their way.        

And the same has happened in the 2008 elections: even financial catastrophe and the collapse of America's unassailable power 
did not give unquestioned power to a Democrat president and Congress. The Republicans' petit peuple still turned out for their "American ideals" and against their financial interests.   

But we must surely celebrate what there is to celebrate and so help it endure

We must all be thankful beyond measure that we have an administration which is struggling to get the US back on course to international cooperation. And to have a pragmatic non-ideological US president who is under no illusions about the impediments to a change course after eight years of confrontation. As he himself says - it takes time for so vast a ship as USS America to answer the helm. And especially when there are those lurking on the bridge who would grab back the wheel and steer again for the old ways of confrontation and those twin long-dominant ideologies.

A good start for international cooperation
On international affairs the Obama administration's openings to Russia, China, Iran and even Europe have started off well. The inidctions are that all these countries see their national interest in at least limited cooperation with the new US administration. Naturally they all see advantage negotiating such cooperation while the US is weaker than it has ever been - even during the Cold War. And they will all - even Europe - pinprick the US to demonstrate and assess their newfound relative strengths. 

The EU the weakest link? 
The West's principal weakness is the EU and its lack of a coherent unified foreign policy on the great issues. Now, with the humbling of America after the Bush years, Europe should be supporting the new administration and helping it form a world policy of international cooperation on all issues from climate change to stabilising the two incipient "Vietnams" - Iraq and Afghanistan. 

There are some encouraging signs that the lead European states at least recognise the need for Europe to play its part in forming a new world order based on cooperation based in turn on recognition of shared interests at a time of existential crisis for humanity. 

But from this recognition to swift practical action will not be easy.         

Israel/Palestine - the tiny road-block to success in initiating a new era of international cooperation

There is, though, one big political problem in a minuscule corner of the world: Israel/Palestine. 

There are cheering signs that at the top, the Obama people recognise that there must now be a resoluton of the  Israel/Palestine runnning sore on world international affairs that has lasted over 40 years.  And that eight years of Bushian neglect has made it far more difficult to resolve, and at the same time far more urgent to find some way to do so.

These Obama advisers realise that, because Bush did not address the Israel/Palestine problem as the indispensable complement to an invasion of Afghanistan, thereby cutting away much of Al Qaeda's prestige and support, Al Qaeda - teetering on failure after 9/11 - was nevertheless able successfully to launch its clash of civilisations as intended. 

Al Qaeda's gamble came off thanks in large measure to the exacerbation of  Israel/Palestine thanks to the invasion of Iraq. Maybe, as we suggested in 2002, Al Qaeda correctly foresaw that the blind and excessive US response it sought to provoke by 9/11 would lead to an invasion of Iraq - a "neo-crusade" that the neo-conservatives had preached to Clinton and to the world at large.         

This petty road block of Israel/Pelestrine has to be overcome in order to counter Al Qaeda's clash of civilisations, to resolve the twin "Vietnams" of Iraq and Afghanistan, and so to get past the ill-dubbed "War on Terror" into an era of international cooperation essential for facing up to the immense problems challenging all humanity. 

In a nutshell  - the only solution appears to be two states. But that cannot succeed unless Israel abandons virtually all settlements bult in defiance of international law on the occupied territories.

This is the bullet that has to be bitten. And, for internal political reasons, it is a big bullet even for big America to bite. Here real determined internationalisation of the problem could greatly help the US in surmounting this political difficulty. And that means giving teeth to the "quartet" - Russia, the EU and the UN (representing worldwide cooperation) as well as the US.

The Obama administration's recognition of the urgency of a solution and the need to get international assistance to achieve it, is laudable. But there is much doubt that even Obama's "political capital" will suffice to get a workable plan for sufficently pressuring Israel to make a two state solution viable.  And such pressure would only be possible if equal pressure is brought on Hamas, Hezbollah etc. 

The worldwide financial meltdown - no return to the era of waste     

Forging a new era of international cooperation to face up to the existential problems threatening mankind - from climate change and over-population to epidemics and extinctions via a whole host of other international challenges - would have been a daunting task for any successor to Bush "dolce far nientism" on almost every one of these  issues. But to have to gather international support to rise up to these challenges at a time of both military and financial crisis requires an altogether higher order of wisdom, organisation, round the board expertise, and political determination. 

This is a cosmic juggling act - all the balls must be kept in play, there can be no start off with three balls, then add the others. Even a team of geniuses will drop balls and have to pick them up as deftly as possible. But at least the embattled Obama team has shown readiness to admit mistakes and learn. They are learning to juggle surprisingly fast.   

But the financial meltdown - so gravely undermining the ability to deal with all other problems - is sui generis: nothing like it - not even 1929 - has ever happened before.  The way out has to be by trial and error.
And not too much error will be tolerated in dismantling the arcane mechanisms of post-deregulation neo-financing. 

But at least - apart from all too many old guard laissez-faire ideologues both of "left" and "right" - the world is back to pragmatism with the Obama crew. 

Towards a new era of directed capitalism
Our own most serious doubt is that, as Paul Krugman puts it, the Obama regime is resurrecting a "zombie idea" - i.e. a flawed idea that keeps coming back. Namely the idea of somehow using taxpayer money to encourage the purchase of bad or dubious debt. 

From the beginning last year we have been followers of those economists and financial experts who have warned against this notion in favour of buying control of failing banks, notionally valuing their dubious assets, and obliging them to do business according to the economy's needs.  

And using the present crisis, not to resurrect the era of global waste that brought us down environmentally as well as financially, but to open a new era of "directed capitalism" (see here some ideas of George Soros) investing in alternative energy, infrastructre, education, health reform, mortgage modification, etc. etc. - all of which quickly produce jobs, and with them confidence.  

I.e. don't reward the old system of undirected global capitalism willy nilly seeking profit however anti-social its consequences, but, create a new one using the astonishing  ability, given due encouragement, to help provide whatever is required - be it the wherewithal to win World War II, go to the moon, discover effective drugs, or whatever. 

What the world needs is to harness the extraordinary potential of capitalism to create, alongside a new era of international cooperation, a new era of economic globalisation which will enable humanity to overcome the existential threats to its survival. 

Standing in the way are the old guard with their cries of "socialism" and the refusal to recognise that, though capitalism can answer a great many needs, where there are monopoly conditions state intervention may often be best. And the present financial crisis reveals how de-regulation leads to bad practice becominging addictive (keepng up with the Jones' bogus profiteering)  such that the entire banking/investment sector adopts a uniformity indistinguishable from monopoly.          

In sum, as March gets underway, our verdict - for what it is worth - on the new Obama administration is: so far so good but picking a way through the Bush-laid minefield requires de-mining of a very high order!

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