Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"Crisis in democracy," September 25, 2007.

Back in early August, Amos Asa-El, former executive editor of the conservative Jerusalem Post and now a lecturer at the Shalem Center's Institute for Philosophy, Politics and Religion wrote about Bush, Olmert and Abbas that “Paradoxically, the more the three's political flames wane, the more their diplomatic opportunity shines.”

This great wisdom interested me because on the same day and subject I had written that “The key to understanding the widespread scepticism about this so-called new hope for peace lies in the weakness of all three leaders” and concluded

“If all this seems to tarnish the bright new hope for peace, it is best to remember that peace itself is one of the imponderables. In 1973, Richard Nixon negotiated the end of the Vietnam war. That's still hard to believe.”

Asa-El, too, was reminded of Richard Nixon and reasoned, hopefully, that “all this weakness ... creates clout as all three men ... have little left to lose.”

In other words, peace might break out as a last resort when three of the planet's most unpopular and least successful leaders finally reach the end of their rope.

This is hardly exhilarating, but it is hope. In contrast to the limited capacity of the superpower's gigantic military to impose its will without resentment, some developments do run in the other direction.

Chief among these is what appears to be a breakthrough in the six-party talks with North Korea.

After a two-month recess, diplomats from China, the United States, Russia, Japan, South and North Korea--aka the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK--will resume negotiations from Sept 27-30--that's Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of this week.

China, which has hosted these meetings since 2003, announced the decision to call this session after consulting with all parties involved.

Casualties in Afghanistan so far this year are somewhat lower than they were last year. The much-anticipated Taliban spring offensive did not occur.

Nicholas Stern's 700-page report calling climate change "the greatest and widest ranging market failure ever seen" (Oct 30 06), concluded that disaster could be avoided by relying on market-based economics.

While the Science magazine study of species loss concluded that at present rate no more viable fish or invertebrate species would be available to commercial fisheries by 2050. The results also showed that these trends are still reversible.

As trends that counter the declining influence of the sole superpower, these are more conditional than those in the opposite direction, awaiting as they do some appropriate and decisive action on the part of political classes that have produced the crisis in the first place. Hardly a cause for celebration.

The Chinese anti-satellite weapon tested in January and the Israel-Lebanon War of 2006 were not simply additions to a long line of events tending to demonstrate a weakened superpower.

The Chinese ASAT is to the struggle for dominance in space what the improvised explosive device is in Iraq and Afghanistan. A simple war with crude explosives could put enough high-speed debris in space that any program dependent on geosynchronous orbit or beyond would cease to be feasible subject to the cleanup of all space junk larger than a peanut.

The war in Lebanon accomplished for Israel what Iraq and Afghanistan did for the United States, the UK, Canada and to some extent the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Germany. Instead of achieving geopolitical objectives abroad, or security at home, these wars aggravated domestic divisions, especially putting the military and its leadership on the defensive at home.

Hezbollah turned out to be an unexpectedly resilient and capable military. With financial help from Iran, after the war ended, this so-called terrorist organization moved immediately to help Lebanese people rebuild their homes—while the Israeli government still cannot protect the people of Sderot from rocket attacks and have not recovered the captured soldiers said to be the reason for the war in the first place.

Homeland Security's continued bungling of the response to Hurricane Katrina provided yet another contrasting image if one were necessary.

Arguably, these security failures come from the same package of values and policies as the market failures in the climate and oceans.

The apparatus of economic freedom was used to create the illusion that science sees climate change induced by human activity as a 'great debate' and not an advancing disaster” (World Report Dec 11 06).

In agriculture, the Doha round of WTO negotiations is failing because the very richest countries refuse to give up fat subsidies to their own farmers who still believe they cannot survive without access to foreign markets.

Economic dominance of institutions like the IMF and the World Bank is beyond challenged, is in well-deserved decline because of failures in Asia, Mexico, Russia, Argentina, and now the rapid subprime debt-driven devaluation of the dollar, which suggests that this much-anticipated discontinuity is ultimately part of the demise of the beast.

China, Venezuela and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization have emerged as alternate sources of development funding. Rich countries tax their citizens to insure their companies abroad against currency problems and a host of other economic and political hazards. It's called Export Credit Agencies.

The security crisis is also an economic crisis and a political crisis. It is a crisis in legitimacy—not just the pseudo-governments in Afghanistan and in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Palestine, not just in the United States because of questionable elections and the instantaneous breaches of civil liberties in the wake of 911, but in the IMF, and the other financial institutions of neoliberal globalization. Every meeting of these organizations confirms to their global membership that they are not run democratically and are not prepared to sacrifice anything for the values which they expect the rest of the world to live by.

It is also a crisis in sovereignty. What does sovereignty mean in Afghanistan where even the boundary with Pakistan is not accepted, foreign aid replaces taxes and investment as sources of income? In Canada, sovereignty is a major issue—in the Arctic, at Montebello with the Security and Prosperity Partnership/North American Forum/ North American Union nexus of events, and among separatists in Quebec. The crisis of sovereignty among indigenous peoples has erupted repeatedly in the Grand River area and as a reaction to the Conservative non-budget for First Nations and the abrogation of the Kelowna Accords.

Finally, institutionalized conflict of interest contributes to the crisis in democracy.

Listeners may recall that World Report devoted some nine weeks of the last year to military refusal and institutionalized conflict of interest in both Canada and the USA.

Conflict of interest is often presented to the public as if it were mainly an exotic issue of perceptions and could be fixed by delivering a different spin. But the real crime in conflict of interest is a mixture of betrayal and deceit.

Spin can't fix it.

If the hope for peace and/or survival of the US as the sole superpower depends on three leaders concluding that they have nothing to lose, then it has to be said that some bad moves do remain.

A new set of elections in Palestine is being actively discussed. Hanan Ashrawi supports the idea but assumes that Hamas would participate. Still a vocal group of Palestinians, Israelis and Americans promotes elections from which Hamas would be excluded.

Exterminating Hamas is not on the path of peace and reconciliation. Today, elections without Hamas would only prove that Fatah and its sponsors in the US and Israel are afraid of real democracy and that faith in the democratic process is, as Osama bin Laden apparently said last month, misplaced.

Air raids on madrassas in the Northwest Provinces and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan is another bad idea waiting for sufficiently desperate political busybody to get behind it. Such a tactic would certainly feed that country's democratic crisis--as regards both legitimacy and sovereignty—and raise questions about what the US has against elections.

Of course, attacking Iran is the most desperate folly currently on the public international agenda. Iran is a country with hotly contested elections that noticeably and materially affect government actions.

The US and Iran recently started their first formal bilateral talks in nearly 30 years, but so far they have only discussed the situation in Iraq. The Washington Post describes the talks as an attempt “to flatter Iran and please allies,” a wording that was repeated in the business magazine Forbes and in Canada on the CANOE newsite.

Some in the US call continued negotiation with Iran “appeasement” (Peter Leslie, for instance, at the Vail Trail Sep 12 07).

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