The wrong cuts

The Alliance for Peacebuilding thinks the cuts to civilian foreign affairs agencies (State and the US Agency for International Development) proposed in President Trump’s budget are a big mistake. Here is their explication. Those numbers are the footnotes. 

President Trump has proposed cutting State Department and USAID budgets by 28% from FY 17 levels in his FY18 budget. If enacted, this cut would occur in the context of a request for a $54 billion increase for the Pentagon in FY18, and a 15% cut to most other discretionary spending. Meanwhile, the administration is preparing a supplemental request for upwards of $30 billion new dollars for the DOD in FY 17, which could require rescissions from other agencies’ FY17 money already allocated and approved by Congress. These draconian cuts would severely damage the ability of the US to respond to global threats, would weaken our power to prevent deadly conflict and violent extremism, and would ultimately cost the US taxpayer more due to the higher cost of response versus prevention.

Use your voice and reach out to key members of Congress to advocate against the disastrous consequences of a 28% cut to the State Department and USAID. Talking points include:

Diplomacy and Development Prevent and Reduce Violence in Ways the Military Cannot

  • Military capacities are ill-suited to address the drivers of violent conflict, especially for violent
    extremism. Violent extremism is principally the result of failed politics and development. Across the world, ISIS and other violent extremist organizations recruit by capitalizing on citizens’ grievances based on political failures (wars, corruption) or developmental failures (economic inequality, group alienation). Cutting development spending from the foreign aid budget that prevents terrorism, while increasing spending in the Defense Department budget to counter terrorism, is strategically misguided.
  • Despite spending nearly $5 trillion in militarized counter-terrorism efforts since 9/11, global levels of violence and terrorism continue to rise. In fact, the House Republican policy blueprint states, “America faces the highest terror-threat level since 9/11.” While the military will lead the fight against terrorism on the battlefield, it needs strong civilian partners in the battle against the drivers of extremism– lack of opportunity, insecurity, injustice, hopelessness, and exposure to violence.
  • State Department and USAID programs have proven that “soft power” responses addressing root causes are key for building stability. These agencies have unique capabilities to address root causes of terrorism that the Department of Defense does not and never will have.
  • As Senator Graham said, “If you take soft power off the table then you’re never going to win the war.”1 Peace does not just happen in the absence of war; it must be built with strategic civilian engagement.
  • Civilian responses to violence can be more effective than military action. Eighty-three percent of terrorist movements ended between 1968 and 2006 were done so through eventual political settlements or improvements in policing.2
  • Governments have limited influence over the drivers of violence, and development and
    diplomatic actors are uniquely positioned to engage those who can have influence, including influential and credible religious leaders, civilian agencies, youth leaders, and civil society. Focused, stable, and accountable diplomacy is single-best tool to end and prevent the wars that are the primary drivers of displacement, and which create vacuums in which terrorists thrive.
  • An increase in defense spending that is justified for countering terrorism should be matched by an increase in the international affairs budget, which is critical to supporting American defense priorities. Civilian-led development, prevention and peacebuilding that support locally-led solutions to the root causes of insecurity ultimately keep us safer. An imbalance of prioritizing defense at the expense of development and violence reduction programs will not increase the safety of US citizens, and will require spending significantly more on responding to crises rather
    than preventing them. Every budget deal made in Congress for the last five years has modified budget caps with parity between defense and non-defense as a deal prerequisite.3
  • Civilian programs prevent terrorism on their own. One example is Mercy Corps in Somalia, where the US has spent billions in countering the violent extremist organization Al-Shabaab. New research found that a USAID education program successfully reduced the likelihood of youth participating in political violence by 13% and of supporting political violence by 20%.4 This landmark study was one of the first of its kind to document tangible reductions in support for a violent group – an outcome US military counter-terrorism spending has never proven. Effective development programs strengthen communities through evidence-based approaches, including
    culturally-sensitive peace education5 and gender-inclusive law enforcement and governance.6
  • Military Leaders Support a Robust Foreign Affairs Budget
    Over 120 retired generals called on Congress to “ensure that resources for the International Affairs Budget keep pace with the growing global threats and opportunities we face.”7
  • General Mattis stated: “Of course, we cannot achieve our broader objectives…through military means alone. Our efforts require coordination and a spirit of collaboration between highly integrated civilian military teams. Our civilian colleagues need your full support even in this difficult fiscal environment to undertake their essential role in today’s complex environment.”8
  • General Mattis also stated, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.”9
    Development and Diplomacy Are Cost-Effective
  • Investing in conflict prevention is a cost-effective method of promoting US national security, since prevention is on average 60 times less costly than response.10
  • For every dollar invested in peacebuilding now, the cost of conflict would be reduced by $16 over the long run. Projected forward ten years from 2016 this would save US$2.94 trillion in direct and indirect losses from conflict.11
    The International Affairs Budget Supports National Security and Economic Growth Here at Home
  • Programs funded by the International Affairs Budget create jobs here at home by opening new markets and supply chains to American businesses. They also protect our national security by fighting terrorism and preventing conflicts before they start.

This efficient investment staffs all U.S. embassies overseas, fights pandemic disease, provides emergency response after natural disasters, implements agriculture programs to promote stability and prevent hunger, saves millions of lives with HIV/AIDS medications, and provides essential good governance assistance to newly emerging democracies.12

1 BBC News. Top Republican says Trump’s budget plan ‘dead on arrival’. 28 Feb 2017.
2 Institute for Economics and Peace. 2014 Global Terrorism Index. 2014.
3 DefenseNews. Durbin: Dems would back Trump defense hike with domestic match. 28 Feb 2017.
4 Critical Choices: Assessing the Effects of Education and Civic Engagement on Somali Youths’ Propensity Towards Violence. Mercy Corps. 2016.
5 Teaching Peace, Building Resilience. International Alert. 2016.
6 Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism in Pakistan: Why Policewomen Must Have a Role. Inclusive Security. 2014.
7 US Global Leadership Coalition. “Over 120 Retired Generals, Admirals on State and USAID Budget: “Now is not the time to retreat””. 2017.
8 General James N. Mattis, Former Commander, US Central Command, testimony before Senate Armed Services Committee, March 2011.
9 General James N. Mattis, Former Commander, US Central Command, testimony before Senate Armed Services Committee, March 2013.
10 Friends Committee on National Legislation. Preventing war is 60 times cheaper than fighting it.
11 Institute for Economics and Peace. Measuring Peacebuilding Cost-Effectiveness. 2017.
12 US Global Leadership Coalition. Budget Center. 2017.

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I’ve been hesitating to write about Donald Trump’s catastrophic 30% budget cut to the State Department and USAID, because I find myself out of tune with most of my deserving Foreign Service colleagues. Not about the size of the cut: it’s ridiculous. Anything even close to 30% in a single year would render most organizations non-functional, because of their fixed costs. The foreign policy establishment is no different: it has rents to pay, buildings to heat, computers to maintain, and payroll to meet that prevent anything like a 30% cut.

My heresies start with Rex Tillerson’s hesitancy to appoint his subordinates until he has had a look at which jobs he wants to keep and which he wants to abolish. No one intent on cutting positions would want to fill them first. And unlike most commentators, I know that professional Foreign Service and Civil Service officers have stepped up as “actings” to fill the shoes of the missing Trump political appointees, who aren’t likely to be as capable (or as much in tune with my preferences). Of course they should in principle have political guidance, but in its absence they will do what I think is likely best: continue doing what they did before January 20.

Nor do I necessarily disagree with the notion that AID might be folded into State. AID was conceived, and continues to regard itself, as a poverty-reduction organization committed to economic development. But it no longer has anywhere near the resources required to make even a minor dent in global poverty. Nor is it clear that it knows any better how to create jobs abroad than the US government does at home. In any event, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the regional development banks have much greater capacity to reduce poverty than AID, as does the US Millennium Challenge Corporation.

What we need AID money for in the early part of the 21st century is something else. Though I am a diehard Obamista, Mitt Romney had most of it right in a speech on AID during the 2012 campaign: we should be using its resources to help our friends abroad build the institutions required for free enterprise, including protection of property rights and rule of law. What the US needs in abroad is socially and environmentally sensitive capitalist development, including strong civil society organizations that will insist on inclusivity, transparency and accountability. In a word: building states and their civil society counterparts.

AID has the amounts of money that could make a real difference in state- and society-building. But in order to be effective in fraught political environments, it would have to operate under close foreign policy supervision. Thus I’d be happy to see AID–or much of it–folded into the State Department, which is capable of giving the kind of politically sensitive guidance that is difficult when the organizations are separate.

This won’t really happen, any more than the 30% cut. AID’s humanitarian and health programs have strong advocates in Congress, who will keep them intact and separate from State. But much of the rest of AID–in particular the money for its regional economic development activities as well as its “transition” and democratization portfolios–should be given over to state- and society-building under State Department supervision, in particular in the war-torn and fragile states of the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia.

Look at Latin America and East Asia: with notable exceptions like Venezuela and Thailand, these regions are moving pretty decisively in the democratic, middle income direction, with ups and downs. Brazil is in a trough at the moment, but for those of us who served there 30 years ago, it is vastly improved, both in political and economic terms. The Asia Pacific has developed relatively prosperous, at least semi-democratic states: South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia (with reservations), Philippines (even if I don’t like Duterte). Their relatively peaceful evolution is one of the unsung blessings of our time. It is no accident that these are for the most part not the areas of the world generating terrorist threats to the US.

States are a key element of this evolution, as is regional cooperation among them. Washington, stuck in the poverty reduction rut, has not had the funds needed to back either, though it sometimes does well supporting civil society in fragile states, all too often however as an alternative to government. Yes, fold a large part of AID into State, but change the goals it seeks to be commensurate with US interests and the volume of its resources: build viable states that can elaborate and enforce the norms required for modern economies, support cooperation on a regional basis among those viable states, and make sure that civil society has the resources to monitor, evaluate, and advocate for political and economic reform.

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Peace picks, May 1-5

1. Journalism In Hostile Environments: Perspectives From The Field | Monday, May 1st |9:30-11:00 AM | New America Foundation | Register Here |

The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) and the International Reporting Project (IRP) are pleased to present a panel discussion with the honorees of the 2017 James Foley Freedom Awards, hosted by New America.

Emma Beals, Arwa Damon and Delphine Halgand were chosen by the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation as this year’s awardees for their exemplary reporting on important stories from conflict zones, commitment to protection and security for journalists, advocating for Americans held hostage abroad, and dedication to covering human rights. These awards honor the legacy of James Foley, the journalist and humanitarian who was killed in Syria in 2012

2. Key Elements For A Stable Pakistan | Monday, May 1st | 2:30- 4:00 PM| USIP | Register Here |

Terrorism, stagnant economic growth and a population in which two-thirds of citizens are under 30 contribute to an array of complex issues facing Pakistan. Despite some political and economic progress, these factors hinder the ability of leaders to focus on long-term regional questions such as broader security and shrinking natural resources. Join the U.S. Institute of Peace on May 1 for a discussion on economic, demographic, climate and security challenges in Pakistan featuring experts Tricia Bacon, Assistant Professor, School of Public Affairs, American University; Shahid Javed Burki, Chairman, Advisory Council, Institute of Public Policy and former Finance Minister of Pakistan; Shirin Tahir-Kheli, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Institute, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), The Johns Hopkins University; Adil Najam, Dean at Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University; Moeed Yusuf, Associate Vice President, Asia Center, U.S. Institute of Peace.

3. Change and Consequences: Is Saudi Arabia at the Dawn of a New Era? | Monday, May 1st | 3:30-5:30 PM| Wilson Center | Register Here |

Saudi Arabia finds itself facing a series of new challenges: declining oil prices, the rise of ISIS, and the nearby conflict in Yemen, among others. The kingdom’s leadership has taken some short-term steps to address these issues while also putting together a long-term plan—Saudi Vision 2030. This panel featuring Fatimah Baeshen, Visiting Scholar, Arabia Foundation; Kristin Smith Diwan, Senior Resident Scholar, The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington; David Ottaway, Middle East Specialist and Former Washington Post Correspondent; Abdulaziz Sager, Chairman of the Gulf Research Center in Jeddah, will explore these changes, their impact, and the policy proposals.

4. National Security & the White House: An Insider’s View with Rumana Ahmed | Monday, May 1st |6:00-8:00 PM| Elliott School | Register Here |

Join the Elliott School for a conversation with alumna Rumana Ahmed about her experiences working in the Obama, and briefly, the Trump Administrations. This event is part of the “Why Ethics Matter” series, which is devoted to telling the stories of inspiring figures who in the face of opposition demonstrated extraordinary moral and ethical courage.

Rumana Ahmed joined the Obama Administration in 2011, where she served for over 5 years. Her most recent role was as the Senior Advisor to Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes in the National Security Council (NSC). During her time at the NSC, her work supported advancing relations with Cuba, Laos, and Burma, promoting global entrepreneurship among women and youth, and advising the President’s engagements with American Muslims. She organized President Obama’s visit to a mosque in 2016 and engagements with Cuban Americans around his historic trip to Cuba, among other things. Prior to her position at the NSC, she was the interim liaison to American Muslim, Arab and Iranian communities in the White House’s Office of Public Engagement. She also led the White House Champions of Change initiative to work across communities on various domestic issues such as health care enrollment and gun violence prevention.

5. Screening of Tickling Giants | Monday, May 1st |7:00-9:30 PM | Elliott School | Register Here |

Please join The GWU/Corcoran New Media Photojournalism Program together with the Corcoran Association of Photojournalists, The GW Arab Student Association, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, DC Visual Collective and Women Photojournalists of Washington for a special screening of Tickling Giants.

Tickling Giants is a documentary released in 2016 about the Bassem Youssef, a cardiologist turned comedian, and The Arab Spring in Egypt. Called the Jon Stewart of Egypt, his program, “The Show” united the country and tested the limits of free press.

6. New Terrorism Threats And Counterterrorism Strategies | Wednesday, May 3rd | 9:30-11:00 AM | Center for a New American Security| Register Here |

In the post-9/11 era, the international community has made significant progress in the struggle against terrorism and terrorist financing. However, in the last several years, terrorist groups, notably ISIS, have innovated both in their operational tactics and strategic aims, as well as in their methods of fundraising.

This CNAS public conference on new terrorism threats and counterterrorism strategies, co-hosted with the Center on Law and Security, at NYU School of Law, will feature an overview on the strategic terrorism threat landscape and on the Trump administration’s counterterrorism strategies. The event will also coincide with the release of a CNAS report on emerging terrorism financing threats. The distinguished panel of experts will explore such questions as: How are terrorist groups innovating and evolving in their tactics, strategies and fundraising today? Where are some areas were U.S. policymakers are falling short on addressing terrorism threats? What should the Trump administration prioritize in the fight against terrorism?

7. Addressing Lebanon’s Refugee Crisis and Development Challenges | Thursday, May 4th |12:00-1:30 PM | MEI | Register Here |

The Middle East Institute (MEI) and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Foreign Policy Institute (SAIS-FPI) are pleased to host Philippe Lazzarini, the United Nations deputy special coordinator in Lebanon. He will discuss opportunities and challenges for shifting the international response to Lebanon’s Syrian refugee crisis beyond short-term humanitarian and stabilization efforts to a more sustainable economic growth strategy.

Lebanon is facing overwhelming socioeconomic, security, and demographic challenges as the civil war in neighboring Syria enters its seventh year. Since the start of the crisis, Lebanon has received $4.9 billion in assistance, but demands on the country’s resources, services, and civil order remain heavy. Without a political solution to the Syrian conflict, humanitarian and development aid cannot deliver and sustain sufficient results for the refugees or for the Lebanese people. How will Lebanon continue to deal with these conditions?

8. Nurturing People-to-People Ties with Iran | Friday, May 5th | 7:00- 10:00 AM | Atlantic Council | Register Here|

The Future of Iran Initiative invites you to a discussion on the history and importance of people-to-people ties between the United States and Iran. US cultural diplomacy programming and other exchanges have a long history of helping to improve US relations with adversaries and are an inexpensive and often overlooked element of US foreign policy that brings benefits to US citizens and people all over the world. Americans and Iranians have maintained mutually beneficial relations for nearly two centuries. These ties are especially important at a time of continuing tensions between the two governments. Cultural exchanges deepen mutual understanding and can result in discoveries with global significance in public health, environmental, and other important fields.

Join the Atlantic council for a conversation on these issues featuring Kamiar Alaei, Associate Dean at the State University of New York at Albany; Stan L. Albrecht, Former President of Utah State University; Bahman Baktiari, Executive Director at the International Foundation for Civil Society; Shahrzad Rezvani, Attorney and Board Member of the Iranian-American Bar Association.

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Let him try to govern

Thugs supporting the erstwhile ruling party VMRO-DPMNE broke in to the Macedonian parliament yesterday, in an apparent effort to block election of an Albanian Speaker, a prelude to the opposition (SDSM) forming a government. SDSM leader Zaev was injured in the melee. Other parliamentarians as well as journalists were also injured and taken hostage.

This is a big setback for Macedonia’s fledgling democracy as well as its ambitions to become a NATO and EU member. The country can hardly claim it meets NATO’s criteria if its parliament is unable to meet and freely choose its Speaker in an orderly fashion. Ditto the EU, which won’t be interested in pursuing negotiations with Macedonia, already stalled because of Macedonia’s “name” problem with Greece. Macedonia’s substantial Albanian population, which regards NATO and EU membership as vital to its future security and prosperity, will enormously resent the Macedonian nationalist attempted violence against the parliament.

This is not where Macedonia should be 17 years after the negotiated end of an Albanian rebellion in Macedonia.

No one is to blame but the Macedonians, first and foremost those who wear balaclavas whle attacking parliamentarians and journalists. But the broader political context is also important: for months, the politicians whom the thugs support have been claiming that Zaev and his Albanian allies are trying to steal the country from VMRO-DPMNE patriots. Never mind that VMRO-DPMNE has been deeply implicated in malfeasance revealed with the publication of embarrassing wiretaps. Or that President Ivanov made things worse when he refused weeks ago to allow Zaev to form a government because he disliked the platform his Albanian allies were bringing to the proposed coalition.

I might not like everything in that platform, or the fact that it was negotiated and agreed in Tirana rather than Skopje. But in a democracy people are entitled to organize politically wherever they want and for what they want, even if I don’t like it. That doesn’t mean they will get it. Americans know all too well how little platforms count when it comes to actually governing. Any new government in Skopje will have a narrow majority and need to move cautiously.

Sadly, it will take some bold action by outsiders–the US and EU–to fix what ails Macedonia. President Trump should ask that the US Treasury “designate” today’s rioters and their political masters, so that their assets are blocked as well as their travel to the US. While this rarely has any great practical effect, it is vital to signaling that the individuals involved are non grata to the US government. Unfortunately, the EU has no comparable mechanism, if I understand correctly, though similar moves can be made at the member state level. I would hope that as many European countries as possible would follow suit.

President Ivanov and his ilk will cry foul, claiming that we are being unfair and acting precipitously. I don’t think so. To the contrary, we’ve been far too patient. Brussels and Washington have treated Macedonia like the fragile state it is, giving it rewards before performance and hoping that will fix what ails it. But its leadership–especially President Ivanov and former Prime Minister Gruevski–seem to have decided they aren’t interested in either NATO or EU membership but prefer an illiberal democracy with a weak judiciary that lines their supporters’ pockets and guarantees they stay in power. They also enjoy and appreciate Moscow’s blessing and support.

The citizens of Macedonia deserve better. They have made enormous progress in the years since independence in 1991. Gruevski even deserves some credit for economic reform and for deployment of Macedonia’s troops to help NATO in Afghanistan under US command. But past performance is no guarantee of future results, as they say on Wall Street. The country is now stuck in a political and economic rut that will require new, more daring leadership. I’ve never met Zaev and I’m not convinced he is the right guy. But he is the guy with the majority in parliament. Let him try to govern.

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Outside influences in the Balkans

Some colleagues asked that I talk yesterday about outside influences on the Balkans, where things have gotten shaky lately, with a risk that the peace settlements of the 1990s might unravel. Here are the notes I prepared for myself: 

  1. Renewed attention to the Balkans, which has all but dropped off Washington’s priorities in recent years, is most welcome. The region has made a lot of progress, especially in the first ten years after the Bosnian war, but right now it is in trouble.
  1. I’ve been asked to talk about “outside influences”: Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
  1. It is important at the outset to say that none of these countries would have much influence in the Balkans except for the decline in American engagement and the weakening of the EU.
  1. The US has tried for a decade now to get the EU to lead, as it has the main carrots for political and economic reform as well as more compelling interests in the region.
  1. The Europeans have done some good things: the Brussels dialogue has led to real improvements in Belgrade/Pristina relations, even if many specific agreements remain unimplemented.
  1. The 2014 British-German initiative for economic reform in Bosnia—undertaken to forestall a renewed U.S. initiative to change its constitution—has made little real progress, largely due to European reluctance to stick with its own conditionality.
  1. The best that can be said for EU efforts in Macedonia is that they have so far avoided the worst, with US support. The EU there seems unable to overcome a monumental level of stubbornness.
  1. But in the past two years the refugee crisis, Brexit, surging nationalism in many EU countries, and the congenital inability of the EU to speak with one voice has undermined the credibility of EU accession, which in any event won’t happen before 2020 and more likely not before 2025.
  1. That’s a long time to wait in the Balkans, where we’ve spoiled people with Stabilization and Association, Schengen visas, candidacy for EU accession, pre-accession funds, and other goodies. What we haven’t done is invest: the US and EU have risked little private money in the Balkans.
  1. Russia and Turkey—whose influence is far greater than others I’ve been asked to discuss—are moving into relative vacuums: the Russians find ethnic Serbs easy pickings and the Turks find Islamists, especially in Bosnia but also in Kosovo, friendly to their interests.
  1. The Russian influence is overwhelmingly pernicious from a Western perspective. Moscow is doing its best to make NATO and EU membership as slow and as difficult as possible, especially in Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia, and Serbia. Its influence in Albania and Kosovo is minimal.
  1. The attempted coup in Montenegro is just the tip of iceberg. Moscow contributes to ethnic tensions, political polarization, and regional instability in many ways: opaque financing for Republika Srpska, Russia’s so-called humanitarian center, overt military aid and investments in Serbia, support to Russophile politicians as well as media onslaughts throughout the region.
  1. Quite apart from these Slavic connections, Moscow has strong leverage over Belgrade because its UNSC veto is essential to blocking Kosovo’s General Assembly membership.
  1. Moscow’s goal is clear: to prevent Balkan countries from entering NATO and even the EU.
  1. Turkey is a different story.
  1. For more than twenty years after the Bosnian war the Turks were disciplined Western-oriented contributors to peacekeeping and development in the Balkans, trying to maintain good relations with Serbs and Croats as well as with Balkan Muslims.
  1. This has been described as a “gentle version” of the Ottoman Empire, one associated with the “no problems with neighbors” policy and aimed at the region’s Christians as well as its Muslims.
  1. Many Croats and Serbs may have been nervous about Turkish cultural inroads, as parts of the region lived for centuries under Ottoman domination, but most welcomed Turkish investment and contractors, which are evident throughout the region.
  1. As Erdogan turned in a more authoritarian direction and relations with the US strained, Turkey began a more Islamist push, especially with Bosnian Muslims and President Bakir Izetbegovic.
  1. The Muslim Brotherhood connection is a more visible and explicit one for Bakir than it was for his father, though it existed for Alija Izetbegovic as well.
  1. The recent Turkish-Russian rapprochement has had an undesirable impact with some Bosniak leaders in Montenegro. They are taking Erdogan’s hint, viewing Moscow in a more positive light and connecting with the Chechen leadership. That development may warrant monitoring, especially if it spills over to Bosnia.
  1. Turkey has also had notably good relations with President Thaci in Kosovo, but more based on commercial opportunities than religion.
  1. Iran and Saudi Arabia both have long histories in the Balkans.

Read more

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Merci bien!

Having won the first round of the French presidential election yesterday, Emanuele Macron will now face Marine Le Pen, President Trump’s favorite, in the second round May 7. France’s political establishment is quickly lining up behind Macron. That doesn’t guarantee he will defeat Le Pen, but it is looking increasingly likely.

Macron is a moderate economic reformer and defender of liberal democracy, including its international institutional manifestations  NATO and the EU. Claiming to be a patriot, Le Pen opposes both, wants to end immigration, and is virulently anti-Muslim. The choice could not be clearer, but the same was true last November in the US. Americans chose the illiberal option. The French are unlikely to do so. As one of the unsuccessful candidates put it on Twitter:

There is a distinction between a political adversary and the enemy of the Republic.

The Dutch have already showed the way in their mild rejection of the racist Geert Wilders last month. The British will have an opportunity June 8 in their “snap” general election to strengthen the Liberal Democrats and weaken the Brexit hardliners. Germany doesn’t vote until September, but the two leading candidates right now are both supporters of liberal democracy, NATO and the EU. So it is looking as if Europe, so much disdained in America since the 2008 financial crisis and the recession that followed, will save Western institutions and values from the nationalist onslaught Trump wants.

This is good, but it would be a serious mistake to rest on those laurels. The West is in trouble because it has failed to reconcile globalization with the welfare of its least educated white workers. They have lost ground for decades. Across Europe and the US, some are now backing racist white identity politics, hoping that will get them a better deal, or at least less competition from immigrants, more retraining, or a strengthened social safety net.

Trump is offering little. While canceling the negotiations for a Trans Pacific Partnership that would have countered growing Chinese domination of the Asian Pacific economy, he appears to have abandoned any hope of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. He is trying to protect domestic steel production, which now employs relatively few people. He is focused on boosting economic growth by cutting government regulations and jobs by limiting immigration. He is particularly energetic in reducing regulations that affect the coal industry, which he promised to restore. But cheap natural gas, not government regulation, is what ails American coal. It is hard to see how anything Trump has done so far will have more than a marginal impact on helping his supporters.

But it is not without an impact. American commitment to the welfare of the liberal democratic order at home and abroad has never been weaker since World War II. Trump is backing autocrats, reducing American assistance to developing democracies, and still playing footsie with Vladimir Putin, even if the rest of the Administration seems to have given up any hope of rapprochement with him. Trump is also making it impossible for the US to meet its climate change commitments, trying to undermine the health care that his predecessor made available to millions of Americans, and raining disdain on the American media, while supporting the misogynist Bill O’Reilly until a few days before his firing.

Liberal democracy merits a better paladin. Europe seems to be readying itself for the role. Merci bien!




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