Thursday, April 23, 2015

Cracks in the Washington Consensus

The writings of Thomas Friedman, longtime foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times, are a contradictory mishmash of Panglossian optimism (in American hegemony) spiced with paragraphs of accurate assessment. His column on Iran yesterday, "Deal or No Deal," is a good example. After repeating all the old stale thoughts on Iran being a rogue outlier led by an irrational ayatollah committed to mendacity and mayhem -- a more accurate description of Israel and the Gulf monarchies -- Friedman does a somersault and concludes his piece with the following prescient paragraph:
Finally, you have the regional challenge. Iran, with about 80 million people, is simply a more powerful and dynamic state today than most of the Sunni Arab states to its west, half of which have collapsed. Iran, even if it had good intentions, almost can’t help but project its power westward given the vacuum and frailty there. When Nixon opened to China, and helped unleash its economic prowess, China was largely surrounded by strong or economically powerful states to balance it. But an Iran enriched by billions in sanctions relief would be even more powerful vis-à-vis its weak Arab neighbors. Our Gulf Arab allies are deeply worried about this and are looking to the U.S. for both protection and more sophisticated arms. I get that. But unless we can find a way to truly ease tensions between Shiite Persians and Sunni Arabs, we will find ourselves unleashing Iran to the max while arming the Arabs to the teeth. Maintaining that balance will not be easy.
The first point, that Iran is the dynamic state of the Middle East, should be clear by now. I remember reading that during World War Two Goebbels complained that the U.S. was getting more out its population for the war effort than Germany. I am sure there are officials at Langley who are making a similar assessment about Iran.

The point can be expanded to include Russia and China, two nations that seem to be getting more from their people than the West is from theirs. Recently I watched a travel video produced by The New York Times, "36 Hours in Beijing," and I was blown away by how clean and prosperous the megalopolis looked, like San Francisco. I have been mentioning it to coworkers when the discussion veers to the perilous condition of the United States. After recently reading Tariq Ali's "The New World Disorder," I'm starting to repeat his line from that essay, something to the effect that, "A friend asked me what happened to the U.S. working class. I told him it is in China."

Ali downplays American declinism, seeing plenty of testosterone left in the corpus of the global Leviathan. But I am not so sure. There has been a dialectical shift in the U.S. since W.'s presidency; a combination of Citizens United and the abject failure of Obama as a progressive leader has led to precipitous collapse of confidence in the political system which resulted in the record low turnout in the 2014 midterms. Harvard academic Larry Lessig addresses this in a recent talk he gave imploring Elizabeth Warren to challenge Hillary.

It is going to be hard to overcome people's distrust in reformist politicians after the epic failure of Obama.

Which brings us to the Friedman's final point: Iranian dynamism is being translated into an arms race in the Middle East that will destroy the region and is leading to a new world war. How is that prevented?

Given that the U.S. is a pay-to-play system that the sheikhs and the Israelis seem to have wired, it is difficult to imagine a reformist situation that can change the ongoing addiction to warfare and destruction. What is needed are two things, which might be the same thing: 1) a crack in the Washington Consensus, whether a default by Greece, a Le Pen victory in France, a nativist rebellion in Germany that collapses Merkel's government, and/or 2) the war needs to come home; the leaders of the Western core nations need to feel the death and destruction that they export around the globe -- in Libya and Syria -- lap up on their shores. This is happening already.

No comments:

Post a Comment