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Why do Westerners Join ISIS?

9:48 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

Official portrait of Senator Bob Casey

Fifty-five year old Senator Bob Casey declared that he expects the campaign against Islamic terrorism to last beyond his lifetime.

Worried comments on Westerners joining ISIS tend to overlook the fact that this is an all-volunteer army. Surely that has some significance when trying to explain its success. Fifty-five year old Senator Bob Casey has declared that he expects the campaign against Islamic terrorism to last beyond his lifetime, implying that we are dealing with a clash of civilizations. However, it’s a different clash from the one Samuel Huntington wrote about in the nineties.

Huntington and contemporary commentators inspired by him see it as a clash between ‘freedom’ and a religious dictatorship. But if that were the case, why are hundreds – and perhaps thousands of young people from the ‘free’ West flocking to join ISIS ranks? Why did they come – the technicians who help them pump and sell their oil on the black market, the financial geniuses who enable them to make sophisticated money deals around the world, the doctors who presumably treat their wounded, not to mention the writers, photographers, video streamers and other technicians who run their recruiting websites, etc. etc.?

There must be a very compelling reasons why Westerners would overlook medieval beheadings to join the campaign for an Islamic Caliphate. (One commentator argued yesterday that beheadings are not necessarily more shocking than death by drone, but that explanation doesn’t suffice.) They do so for the same reasons that others join their national armies to fight organizations like ISIS: a belief in the values those armies defend. For Westerners, it’s about the freedom for individuals to develop to their full potential without too much government interference. But that freedom has increasingly been manipulated by a Madison Ave that gets the 99% to acquire all sorts of ‘things’ in order to fill the coffers of the 1%. That relentless campaign uses men, women and children as props, trivializing and often degrading them, as well as the lifestyles as those who are taken in by it. If you doubt this argument, consider that German cities are seeing ‘Sharia Patrols’ in their streets, while Iran’s president Rouhani seeks to soften restrictions on women’s dress.

ISIS’s black-flagged campaign against the West is not so much about God as it is about life-style. Its Western recruits likely range from puritanic men who want all women to wear the hijab, to men and women who reject the emptiness of the consumer society and have come to the conclusion that speaking and writing about it will have no effect on a system that can crush all enemies. Considering that the priority is to overthrow the Behemoth, in the absence of Western revolutionary movements, they join ISIS, seeing it as the enemy of that enemy.

I do not believe there will ever be another Caliphate because the world has changed too much for that to happen: but part of what underlies the North/South divide is a radical difference in visions of the good society. Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, like most leaders of the developing world, condemn the barbarism of radical Islam, while disagreeing with the Western model of society. Together with a growing number of Western thinkers such as no-growth advocates like Serge Latouche, or essayists like Pankai Mishra, they see the lifestyles the consumer society promotes as empty and degrading. Their vision is of a capitalism that would not replace ‘backwardness’ with emptiness.

But that story doesn’t make good headlines.

Summer Signs Confirmed

11:15 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

As hooligans in Jerusalem shout anti-Arab slogans and threaten individual Arabs, giving rise to the word ‘Zio-fascists’, Israel prepares to invade Gaza yet again, while Kiev shells villages and towns as it prepares to besiege Eastern Ukraine’s two largest cities. The Gaza invasion is clearly an effort to torpedo the Palestinian unity government, while the Ukraine offensive is just as clearly a US-led attempt to draw Russia into a shooting war with NATO. Both illustrate the increasingly fascistic nature of globalization. The question is whether Europe, which has known the horrors of fascism up close, will continue to go along with Washington’s and Tel Aviv’s plans.BRICS Business Council, 20 Aug 2013

A hopeful sign that indeed it may not, is the French Finance Minister daring to say out loud what many leaders have been thinking: that it’s time for the world to stop using the dollar as its reserve currency. His remark came after a major French bank received a humungous fine for infringing US sanctions. Until now, only the BRICS countries were talking about the need for a different reserve currency, and it was easy to brush them off as incapable of making this happen. But when the second most economically important country in the EU talks this way, something is afoot. The fact that it is not Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, that made the remark is irrelevant: there has always been a division of labor within the duo.

For its part, Germany is taking steps to counter U.S. snooping and spying. As the Guardian reported Tuesday, Angela Merkel considers that: “If the allegations (about Germans working for the CIA) are true, it would be … a clear contradiction to what I consider to be trusting cooperation between agencies and partners.” And today Des Spiegel writes: “In what amounts to a diplomatic earthquake, Berlin has asked the country’s top CIA official to leave Germany.” This unprecedented move will further strain ties with Washington, which have never been the same since revelations last year that the NSA was wire-tapping Germans – including the Chancellor herself.

Even more significantly, Merkel’s declaration was made during her seventh official trip to Beijing, where economic agreements signed and the two countries compared notes the United States.

I began writing this article Thursday, and yesterday much of it was confirmed:

As President Obama is attacked for supposed inaction abroad and overreach at home, (Speaker of the House John Boehner plans to sue him over his use of executive actions), President Putin turns up in Cuba on the first leg of a trip that will also take him to Argentina and Brazil. Russia is canceling 90% of Cuba’s debt, with the 10% remaining to be invested in joint development projects, and will drill for oil. One news source announced that former Soviet bases in Cuba are to be reactivated, to be verified.  In any case, the comment that Putin excels at the judoist art of waiting patiently for one split-second right moment to act, is borne out:

On the eve of the BRICS summit in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza, where the location of the BRICS Development Bank will be decided, the Russian President announced that Russia would back Brazil’s bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Time recently commented that Putin allowed himself to be distracted during the Sochi Games from the birthing crisis in Ukraine.  It seems he will be making up for it Sunday during the World Cup finals, when he is expected to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

It’s no coincidence that while Russia and Brazil take steps to liberate themselves from American electronic systems, Germany, recognizing the power shift that is under way, moves closer to both – as well as to China.

Put all these developments together and you cannot deny that a new play is premiering on the world stage: After pretending for seventy years that it had eradicated fascism, with communism as the remaining foe of ‘democratic’ nations, Washington is using Islamic ‘terrorism’ (anything ranging from the Shi’a state of Iran to Hamas but not including ISIS, which just took control of a large swathe of the Iraq we thought we had birthed as a ‘democratic’ self-governing state), as a cover for total global domination that increasingly uses the tools perfected by Nazi Germany.

However, it doesn’t take a degree in international relations to see that the peoples of the world are increasingly sharing the same memes, which tend toward some form of socialism and oppose frenetic consumption. (When the Chinese wake up to its downside, the movement will become unstoppable.) Last summer, while ISIS was announcing that it would set up a Caliphate, Turkish youth demonstrated for weeks to prevent Gezi Park from being turned into a shopping mall, while Brazilians did likewise against the money being spent to host the World Cup. As the games draw to a close, Dennis Trainor, Jr. shared the results of a Pew Poll: 61% of Brazilians think the World Cup is bad for Brazil, more than a million people having taken to the streets of major cities in the past year to protest corruption, rising inflation and a lack of government investment in public services such as education, health care and public transportation.) On May 29th the Guardian took a look at Turkey a year after the Gezi protests and found, among other things that: “Social movements and ideas of how to challenge power certainly emerged from the June protests in Gezi Park – neighborhood forums, politically motivated squatting, and volunteer election observers are just a few of the social experiments now under way in Turkey.

As for the Middle East, which Washington planned to remake to its advantage, it may be slipping from its grasp – but then again, perhaps not: With only ten thousand men, ISIS has taken control of a good chunk of both Syria and Iraq. While the West feigns surprise, it’s hard to believe that the world’s biggest intelligence apparatus, not to mention drones and just plain folks on the ground, including Embassies and their staffs, didn’t know what was going on. More likely, the Caliphate is part of the well-oiled (sic) march toward “total dominance” (see Fascism; Which Flavor Do You Prefer?

As the Arab spring morphs into a long, hot summer, Europe too is rethinking its situation: after seventy years of subservience, America’s allies are beginning to realize that they must break with the U.S. Although their peoples strenuously opposed the Vietnam War, after the demise of the Soviet Union they allowed NATO to go back on its promises and move right up to the Russian border, while their economies became ever more subservient to Wall Street. The ‘mini’ depression of 2008 dealt a devastating blow to the European welfare state, forcing governments to implement austerity measures instead of continuing to meet the needs of their people. But the takeover of Ukraine engineered by the Neo-Conservative guardians of American business, and implemented by third generation storm troopers, is where the rubber is meeting the road. The French statement is not a sign of pique, but the inevitable result of America’s total lack of historical perspective. Forgetting that Europeans experienced real fascism, Washington assumed they would not realize what was happening to them.

Europeans are not only determined to resist fascism, they notice the dichotomy between Obama’s persistent belligerence in both word and deed, and the Russian President’s consistent calls for negotiations and dialogue in each and every conflictual situation. If their hitherto pusillanimous governments finally assert their independence, the hundredth anniversary of the First World War may not coincide with the outbreak of a Third World War, as many have feared. Instead, Turkish, Brazilian, Egyptian and Ukrainian youth may become the forerunners of a global polity that rejects all forms of totalitarianism and turns its energies from mindless consumption to saving the planet.
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The New Yorker on Ukraine: Instead of Sy Hersh, Keith Gessen

6:27 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

As the world anxiously awaits the next chapter in the tug of war between Russia and the West over Ukraine, I deconstruct a lengthy article in the May 12th New Yorker that shows how investigative reporting has been replaced by sugar-coated bias.
Ukraine!The print media can be divided into roughly three categories:  corporate local dailies that cover major US cities, the so-called liberal press such as the NY Times, the Washington Post, and journals such as The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and the progressive press, that includes The Nation, Mother Jones, Yes! and many smaller titles.  Alas, the difference between the mainstream media and the liberal media appears to grow smaller by the day, while the so-called progressive media increasingly resembles what used to be the liberal media.

This alarming trend is illustrated by the fact that, after contributing regularly to The New Yorker since 1993, America’s foremost investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh no longer writes for that magazine. A lengthy article on Ukraine by Keith Gessen indirectly explains Hersh’s disappearance, and The New Yorker’s abandonment of any progressive pretense.

Keith Gessen is the brother of Masha Gessen, who recently published “The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin”, a much publicized take-down of the Russian president.  Although she resides in the U.S., she is listed on Wikipedia as a member of the Russian democratic opposition, and is an ideal US talk show guest in these days of rising tensions with Russia.  Keith is her younger brother, the editor of a magazine with literary pretensions and author, at 38, of one novel. Keith went to Ukraine last winter and the style of his New Yorker piece perfectly illustrates a comment about him by Jonathan Franzen: “it’s so delicious the way he writes.” Gessen’s is an ideal style for delivering a sugar-coated nasty message.

The piece begins ominously: “The Russian border is a two-hour tank drive from Kiev” – where the writer is sipping tea in a cafe.  “‘Little green men’ is how people described Russian soldiers when they first showed up, unmarked and unannounced, in Crimea.”  Aside from the fact that most people would not describe Russians as ‘little’, under a 1997 Treaty between Russia and Ukraine

“The two countries established two independent national fleets, and divided armaments and bases between them.[2][3] Under the treaty Russia maintained the right to use the Port of Sevastopol in Ukraine for 20 years until 2017.[4] …The treaty also allowed Russia to maintain up to 25,000 troops, 24 artillery systems, 132 armored vehicles, and 22 military planes on the Crimean peninsula.”

President Putin has repeatedly referred to this treaty with reference to the popular vote that returned Crimea to Russia in March of this year, finally admitting that Russian troops normally confined to barracks had been sent out onto the streets, where as videos on the MSM show, they merely stood around. Hardly an invasion, and impossible to consider on the same level as the weeks of violence precipitated and orchestrated by trained fighters of the Neo-fascist organization Right Sektor in Kiev’s Maidan square, as boasted in Time magazine interview and that resulted in the flight of an elected Ukrainian president.

Gessen says Kiev’s anti-government protesters were armed with bats and sticks and Molotov cocktails.  Apparently, he has never seen pictures of Right Sektor fighters in uniforms with swastika-like insignia (known as Wolf angels) carrying long metal clubs and shields.  Describing the protesters’ tents on the Maidan he does mention ‘an exhibit of helmets, home-made cannons, shields, Molotov cocktails’. When it’s just an exhibit, it seems harmless….

Surprised to find the encampment still occupied weeks after the end of fighting, Gessen muses: “It was clear that some of the men had nowhere to go, or certainly, no place better than this. Here they were heroes, back home they were not.”  Touching human interest note about Neo-Nazi thugs. Gessen also admits that the revolution merely brought another set of standard politicians to power “Men in black suits emerged from gleaming black Mercedeses to attend sessions of parliament.”  Meanwhile, the activists were preparing for war, signing up men for the National Guard, Gessen muses, like students do for credit cards on US campuses.  “The idea of the Guard was to get aggressive young people off the Maidan, but it was also an attempt to raise some fighting forces, in the event of a Russian invasion….The Ministry of Defense was asking people to text it money.” (Another touching note about a regime backed by the most powerful nation on earth.)

Gessen obviously identified with the young people in the Maidan where “there was an openness to the political life of the country, a willingness to experiment, a desire to communicate that was rare anywhere, but especially rare in the cynical, impoverished post-Soviet space.”… Alas, he fails to mention – or perhaps doesn’t realize – that these people did not win the revolution – and those that did are not interested in ‘openness’ or ‘experiments’, but are muscular men who love violence.  Continuing: “The new Minister of the Interior wrote long updates on his Facebook page. Everyone was equal and anything was possible.”  Gessen obviously hasn’t a clue as to who this man, Arsen Arkov is. According to Voice of Russia.com:

“Russia’s Investigative Committee has issued a resolution to indict the governor of Ukraine’s Dnepropetrovsk Region, Igor Kolomoysky and parliament-appointed Interior Minister Arsen Avakov on charges of using prohibited means and methods of warfare,” IC spokesman Vladimir Markin told Itar-Tass.

“Under the criminal case… of first degree murder, interfering with the professional activity of journalists and kidnapping, a notice has been given of charges against Igor Kolomoyskyi and Arsen Avakov,” he said in a statement.

The charges refer to the kidnapping of Zvezda television channel journalists and the preceding illegal detention of journalists from the same channel, as well as several other Russian journalists.  The release went on to say that the government sought to identity the commanders and rank-and-file of the Ukrainian Armed forces, the National Guard of Ukraine and Right Sector militants who have participated in the military operation against civilians in the southeast of Ukraine. Markin said that nearly fifteen hundred people have been recognized as victims of prohibited acts of war in Ukraine.

For example in Odessa: In the final paragraph of his article, Gessen tosses off a reference to the events of May 2 which left over a hundred dead. Major press outlets reported that pro-Russian demonstrators had erected a tent in front of the Odessa Trade Union headquarters, and that when Right Sektor thugs came and set the tent on fire, protesters took refuge in the building.  The Right Sektor then threw Molotov cocktails through the windows, setting the building on fire, and beating to death protesters who jumped from windows.  Gessen’s version of events: Read the rest of this entry →

When Is a Rose Not a Rose?

7:43 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

Editor’s Note: Deena Stryker joins FDL Book Salon on Aug 2nd to discuss Lunch With Fellini, Dinner With Fidel.

A soldier leans against a tank in Tahrir

Obama’s riddle: When is a coup not a coup?

You may be noticing the slightly confused expression on Obama’s face when he talks about the foreign affairs these days: he almost seems to be apologizing for contradictions that are obvious to even the most casual observers.

Here’s a sample:

  • Egypt first had a revolution, then a coup: after the revolution there was an election and the Muslim Brotherhood won. After the coup, carried out by the army, there was eventually another election and the head of the army won. Although officially we don’t support governments who come to power through a coup.  Egypt is so important (mainly to Israel) that all we did was hold back a few jets.
  • The Russian speaking inhabitants of Crimea, which was formerly a part of Russia, held a referendum in which they overwhelmingly voted to rejoin Russia: According to Obama, the referendum was not legal: Russia is fomenting separatism.
  • Scotland has scheduled a referendum for later this year, holding fast to its decision to do so in the face of Great Britain’s assertion that it would be illegal: Obama concedes it’s up to the Scots to decide their future.

What about a state’s right to hang on to territory?

  • NATO reduced parts of Serbia to rubble because it wanted to hang on to Kosovo (albeit in the name of a hundreds of years old incident); with NATO’s help, Kosovo, a majority Albanian speaking province, became independent.
  • Two decades later, NATO accuses Russia of fomenting separatism, violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity by recognizing the majority Russian speaking province of Crimea’s referendum to join Russia, and Obama accuses Russia of being a big country that imposes its will on a smaller one.
  • In the same vein for the seccessionist referenda held in Eastern Ukraine, Obama tells Russia it has an ‘obligation of influence:’ that it can only prove its good faith by convincing anti-fascist Ukrainians to accept a government that was brought to power by a fascist-led coup. Since when are leaders responsible for influencing outcomes?

France 24’s journalists were calling for Putin to recognize Petro Poroshenko as the legitimate president of Ukraine while knowing full well that even before the election he repeatedly declared his intention work with whoever was elected. Recently he noted that Poroshenko didn’t have blood on his hands (how long it will be possible to say that is not certain) and that he was ready to work with him. Putin emphasized that the Ukraine crisis had to be resolved through negotiations, which is what he says about every international conflict, as opposed to American leaders who invariably call for punitive measures and ‘leave no option off the table’.

Finally, there’s the issue of ‘killing one’s own people:’ Assad in Syria has been hammered relentlessly for this, although he is facing a foreign invasion; Egypt’s Al Sissi gets a pass. As for Poroshenko, he is doing the same in Eastern Ukraine, having declared he wanted the area ‘pacified’ before his inauguration, which is imminent! (At least he didn’t yell that they had to be ‘eliminated’ as two other presidential candidates, Right Sektor boss Dmitry Yarosh and Julia Timoshenko did.)

What all this boils down to is that if democracy is to political science what roses are to flowers, whatever its original attractiveness, when it fades, it doesn’t smell very good.

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D-Day 2014: Goings and Comings on the Eurasian Continent

7:19 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

Editor’s Note: Deena Stryker joins FDL Book Salon on Aug 2nd to discuss Lunch With Fellini, Dinner With Fidel.

Pres Obama talks with Pres-elect Poroshenko of Ukraine following their bilateral meeting in Warsaw, Poland, June 4

President Obama’s four-day European tour leading up to the D-Day celebrations in France began in Poland with the announcement of an increase in the number of American troops stationed there, as the post-coup government in Ukraine continued military action against citizens who refuse to recognize it.

The borders of Poland, Bela Rus and Kievan Rus (going back to the Middle Ages) have dissolved into one another for centuries with ‘Ukraine’ as an entity created during the Russian Revolution of 1917. Aside from that, Obama’s commitment to defending Poland from a threat to the east twenty odd years after the collapse of the Soviet Union is no small irony: Having failed to defend Poland against Germany in World War II, it would now defend it against Russia, which has threatened no one.

American academia has finally acknowledged that the Soviet Union played the most significant role in the defeat of Nazi Germany, the allied D-Day landing having signaled the opening of a second front to the one the Soviets had been fighting on since June, 1941. However, from the end of WW II until 1991, the Soviet Union was condemned by the West for creating friendly governments in its buffer zone of Eastern Europe, including Poland, and accused of being an imminent threat to the ‘free’ nations of Western Europe. And by declaring in 2005 that the demise of the Soviet Union had been a geo-political catastrophe, Vladimir Putin provided the United States with a handy excuse to condemn Russia’s every policy.

Russia is labelled as aggressor for respecting the referendum organized by Crimea’s largely Russian population that desperately wants to become part of Russia, as it had been for centuries before the Soviet regime made it part of Ukraine. It is also suspected of evil designs on the Baltic countries as well as in Moldova in the south. And yet, while Washington has made it illegitimate for Russia to resist encirclement, NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe implies that the Soviet Union’s concerns over its buffer zone were legitimate.

The 70th D-day anniversary will serve as backdrop for the first meeting between Obama and Putin since the Ukraine coup, which the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (an interesting, and probably post-Soviet title) Victoria Nuland boasted publicly that Washington spent five billion dollars preparing. It is more than likely that a good part of those funds went to Right Sektor, an ultra-right para-military group that trained in Western Ukraine for months before turning the peaceful Maidan protests into all-out war and installing a government in which it holds four ministerial positions while continuing to worship its predecessors who, as German allies, committed atrocities against Jews, Communists, Gypsies and Poles.

Notwithstanding this uncomfortable truth, the Polish government can no more refrain from meddling in Ukraine today than it has historically. However, Europe’s uncomfortable position between a rock and a hard place is evident in the arrangements France’s President made for receiving both Obama and Putin in Paris in the run-up to tomorrow’s ceremony in Normandy: He had dinner with Obama, then a late supper with Putin. (Putin also responded to journalists’ questions in a TV show, which you can see on RT or France 24.) The reality behind these diplomatic acrobatics is that as Western Ukrainians reach for a European dream that is fast vanishing for its citizens, the United States and its allies are faced with a nightmare: Russia’s spearheading of an economic zone stretching from the Black Sea to the Pacific, in tandem with China.

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Europe: Copycats and the Arrow of Time

7:25 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

Closeup of 6 o'clock portion of an antique clock face, with hour and minute hands at 4:30.

Time’s arrow pulls Europe forward.

I’ve often written about the application of the modern physics principle — that the arrow of time is irreversible — to world affairs and politics in general. Today it is combined with copycat behaviors, thus becoming all the more important to understand

As Ukrainians pursue the historically-dictated split of their country, the West once again joining with Poland while the largely Russian-speaking East either becomes independent or joins again with Russia, using popular brute force not seen in Europe since the Second World War — or perhaps the Russian Revolution — European demonstrators fed up with Brussels and IMF imposed austerity are obviously thinking ‘We can do that, too!’

Ever since the end of World War II, in which Communist and Socialist parties across Europe played a major role in resisting and undermining German occupation, trade unions have provided the left with a strong backbone, allowing workers to demand and obtain benefits American workers cannot even imagine. Their resilience continues to be seen every day on images of demonstrations across the European continent against levels of unemployment that hitherto had not existed in the welfare states.

European workers are also well aware of the role militarism plays in diminished social welfare, as EU countries have allowed themselves to be increasingly co-opted by Washington since 9/11. Although Vladimir Putin correctly noted the similarity between Kosovo’s right to independence and that of Crimea, the crisis in Ukraine is different from the nineteen-nineties war in Serbia.  Serbia lay in the heart of a Europe that was merely in the process of becoming united. Ukraine’s only claim to belong to a united Europe lies in its long history of being part of Poland; but it has an even longer history of being part of Russia. As for today’s Europeans, the fact that Ukraine looms as a putative relative inevitably dares them to show that they are just as capable of putting their bodies where their convictions are.

So much for the copycat aspect of the situation. As for the irreversibility of the arrow of time, this refers to the fact that once a trend is set in motion, it continues until it reaches a bifurcation point, when it can ‘dissipate’ (in the language of physics) to something different. What direction bifurcations take is unpredictable, but is usually influenced by previous history. Translated, this means that as revolts gather steam, the likelihood of them being stopped through negotiation or compromise is slight because each side is propelled inexorably forward. Revolutions and wars are the most obvious examples of bifurcations.

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Fascism: Which Flavor Do You Prefer?

1:15 pm in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

News that another far-right European party has garnered about 20% of the vote in parliamentary elections, as just happened in Hungary, is increasingly deja vue. The banalization of Fascism across Europe is matched only by its pugnacity in Ukraine.  But are not revelations about the transfer of Hitler’s accomplices to the U.S., there to nurture a Neo-Conservative movement relatively recently out of the closet even more disturbing?

And what to make of the philosophy said to be behind Vladimir Putin’s ‘Eurasian’ plans, the work of the nineteenth century Berdyaev, refurbished by one Alexander Dugin, who seeks to create a Fourth Political Theory, after liberalism, communism and fascism?

As I’ve written before, governing the sheer number of people on the planet appears all but impossible without the use of force, yet totalitarianism continues to be most loudly condemned by those practicing it: the United States spies on the entire world, including its so-called allies, it assassinates its own citizens without a trial in its determination to rule the world. Even worse, though no one seems to notice, it consistently supports fascist-like political actors, ranging from Al Qaeda to Al-Sissi.

I’m tired of reading the same lament over and over: “How can our rulers be so stupid?” If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck, but if it systematically implements fascistic policies, it’s not fascism, it’s that ‘they’ don’t get it. Really?

Moving on to the once and forever enemy, Russia/the Soviet Union/Russia, Putin may or may not be another fascist disguised as defender of the common man. It is clear he is against globalization, but should we not be concerned at rumors that he seeks to reconstitute not the old Soviet Union but a new entity englobing the same area, this time in the name of a ‘Eurasian’ ‘difference’ from both Europe and Asia?

The one interesting thing about this rumored project is that its theorists affirm similarities between the traditions of Russian Orthodoxy and those of Islam. An interesting idea, as the Arab Springs degenerate into more of the same, that I will investigate.  On the surface, it would appear they are referring to common social attitudes.

Ultimately, though, climate change aiding, we may be seeing the end of ideologies, with peoples across the globe realizing that they they have other fundamental notions in common: the rejection of Big Ideas backed by Big Guns, for the Big Business successors of nation-states. As organized revolts against militarized govern-ments become increasingly difficult, the trend is shifting toward small groups that trust the individual authorities of their members to organize their lives.

America’s Finlandization of Europe

3:11 pm in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

As Edward Snowden prepares to tell the German leaders everything he knows about American spying, and considers the possibility of moving his asylum from Moscow to Berlin, it’s time to take a retrospective look at Europe’s relations with Russia.

During the Cold War, Washington incessantly warned Europeans that even if Soviet tanks didn’t come rolling across the Central plain, the continent would be neutralized, as happened to Finland.  For decades that country felt it had to avoid challenging its powerful neighbor, the Soviet Union, thus limiting its ability to pursue a truly independent foreign policy.  (During that period social democratic Finland rose to become one of the most prosperous countries in the world…)

Somehow, pundits on both sides of the Atlantic warned, doughty Moscow was going to draw the prosperous, hip countries of Western Europe into its orbit and lock them away behind an Iron Curtain.  Reagan wanted to install ‘defensive’ Pershing missiles in West Germany; if fired, they would have destroyed the heart of Europe in order to ‘save’ it from Communism.  That insane project fortified the peace movements on both sides of the Iron Curtain and in a few short years led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the emancipation of the rest of Eastern Europe, and less than a year later, to the formal reunification of Germany’s two halves.

Notwithstanding this truly earth-shattering event, which no recognized pundit foresaw (I did, in my book ‘Une autre Europe, un autre Monde’ which came out on the day the Berlin Wall fell), the governments of Europe stuck with Washington (those of the Eastern half being the most pro-American, even though Washington had not lifted a finger to liberate them).  After 9/11, their osmosis with Uncle Sam  led them to throw decades of strict banking regulations to the winds and buy into Wall Street’s Financial Follies.  In 2008, the world’s largest economy was decapitated, along with its welfare system that included month-long vacations, maternity leave and a host of minor benefits that Americans could not even dream of.

Meanwhile, Russia got through the Yeltsin years, during which Western financiers got richer on the backs of its citizens, finally inventing a new power-sharing system between a law professor and a former KGB agent.  The musical chairs between Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, who have alternated in the roles of President and Prime Minister, elicit condescending remarks from American pundits.  But is this arrangement any less ‘democratic’ than alternations between the American Democratic and Republican parties which nowadays can hardly be told apart?

Under its duopoly, Russia’s involvement with Europe is not limited to supplying gas: besides being a member of the Council of Europe, (along with Ukraine and Azerbaijan, while the United States is only an observer…), Russian teams play European football, soccer, hockey, etc. (The Union of European Football Association includes Russia, Kazakstan, Moldova, Bela Rus and Ukraine….)  While all this can be seen as a post-Communist friendly Finlandization (or the realization of Mikhail Gorbachev’s dream of ‘a common European home’), is it pure coincidence that it should come on the heels of a truly devastating American Finlandization of Europe.

The 2008 crash was no self-contained event from which the continent, five years on, is recovering.  It put an end to a system that had provided its people with ever-broader support for everything from education to old-age care (known pejoratively as cradle-to-grave welfare) since the end of World War II.

The United States did not turn Europe into a battlefield, or even bring it under its direct control, as the Soviet Union supposedly aspired to do: it used the international financial system it controls to destroy a superior way of life built up over half a century.  And following Edward Snowden’s revelations as to the extent and depth of America’s secret aggressions, Europe is increasingly likely to gravitate toward Russia and the other BRICS countries, leaving the United States to console itself with the conviction that the rest of the world hates it for its freedoms.

The Fatal Loneliness of American Exceptionalism

8:21 am in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

You have to be deaf, dumb and blind – or perhaps just media-challenged – not to notice that the world center of gravity is shifting from Washington to Moscow, as foreign leaders – and American whistleblowers – increasingly gravitate to Vladimir Putin’s Russia and sports fans book tickets to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, not far from Yalta, where Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin planned the post-war carve-up of Europe. How could this have happened?

American flag behind bars

America: An increasingly lonely and unpopular player on the world stage.

When the Puritan John Winthrop told British colonists in 1629 that America would be as Christ’s ‘city on a hill,’ he meant it as a warning, ‘the eyes of the world upon us’ signifying that their behavior must be above reproach – or ‘exceptional.’

For almost three hundred years, two oceans kept the United States isolated from the give and take between neighbors on other continents. America remained alone and proud of it, interacting with other nations only to ensure that they served our needs, bought our products and agreed with our definition of freedom. Now we find ourselves worryingly alone, as the rest of the world coalesces around our former enemies to tackle the 21st century’s challenges. How could such a transformation happen?

America’s rejection of Otherness began with the Pilgrims, who exiled individual religious dissidents from their colonies. When they eventually threw off a British king, they created an enduring suspicion of both government and foreigners: in 1798, the first of several legislative acts codified that exceptional American trait with the four Aliens and Seditions Acts targeting Americans suspected of sympathy for a foreign power.

As I outlined in my 1989 book Une autre Europe, un autre Monde, published in France with a grant from the Centre National du Livre, there is also a fundamental difference between American and European definitions of democracy that stems from their diverging views of freedom. The American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of Human Rights lay down the same legal protections, but the young nation’s pursuit of happiness left mutual responsibility out in the cold, in contrast to Jacobin France’s proclamation of ‘liberty, equality, fraternity.’

That motto swept across the world and eventually much of Europe and the Third World to build welfare states. In America, however suspicion of both government and foreigners endured: the notion of equal opportunity spawned by the natural wealth available to all foreclosed any notion of equity, in a powerful political tradition that denies the community’s responsibility for its citizens well-being. As government became a tool of capital, the drive to the West fostered entrepreneurship, while the less daring became ‘wage earners.’ The progressive movement that came into its own with the fight against slavery was a victim of that trajectory. In 1917, Congress renewed its drive against all things foreign with another Sedition Act, and in 1918 it passed the Espionage and Aliens Act, which contradicted the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that:

Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The media’s loss of independence contributed powerfully to this development. The New York Timesnineteenth century definition of purpose was beyond reproach:

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Shades of Peter the Great!

1:39 pm in Uncategorized by Deena Stryker

It’s been almost two months since my last blog, as I’ve been busy with my books, and also seriously inclined to discontinue this effort for lack of feedback. Today’s G20 Summit however is calling so loudly for a comment that I cannot resist.

RT’s claim that President Obama still doesn’t want to talk to President Putin, notwithstanding yesterday’s affirmation via MSNBC that he continues to hope the Russian President will change his mind about Syria, is a piddling piece of disinformation compared to the bigger picture (it’s always the Big Picture that counts) that is taking shape in St. Petersburg.

In this morning’s coverage, RT showed President Obama in worried conversation with the two European heads, Von Rompuy and Barroso. Following the stunning vote by the British Parliament not to participate in the United States’ plan to strike Syria, that picture tells me the European Union, usually a docile if not enthusiastic accomplice, no longer feels it has much to lose by not obeying Washington’s marching orders. Following are a few developments that might be influencing their change of attitude:

The NSA spy scandal is making Europe, lead by Germany, rethink the wisdom of a major trade pact with the United States which, like a counterpart in Asia, would strengthen American power;

The BRIC countries, Russia, China, Brazil, India and South Africa, have announced a meeting on the Summit margins to discuss plans for an alternative to the World Bank;

And then there’s Syria. That county is a lot closer to the European home than Afghanistan or even Iraq. It sits next to the Holy Land, with an important Christian history that started with the crusades, and borders on NATO stalwart Turkey, whose people are adamantly opposed to intervention. All of this may weigh more heavily on the European conscience than the fact that Syria is a Russian ally, considering Europe’s growing dependence on Russian gas. I won’t get into the issue of the Nabucco Pipeline vs North and South Stream projects because it makes my head ache and is probably a hyped-up issue anyway. More important than competing pipeline routes is the fact that in a few short decades, Russia has gone from wanting to be part of the European House, in Gorbachev’s words, to partnering with it in increasingly vital ways.

I find it quite amazing that political observers, at least on this side of the Atlantic, appear to have forgotten that for decades they were warning of an imminent Soviet military takeover of Europe or at least, of a soft takeover they called Finlandization. The new ‘enemy’, Islam, has erased a thirty year obsession from the minds of an entire cohort of intellectuals, without making the slightest room for historical insights. Yet how not to think of Peter the Great, as the world’s presidents gather in the city he built in the early eighteenth century as part of an effort to bring his country into the European modern age?

Although this is a smaller irony, Putin was born in St Petersburg, Dmitry Medvedev studied there and both started their political careers in the city briefly known as Leningrad. If I know anything about the importance of history in Russian education, they cannot fail to have been influenced by the legacy of their country’s great reformer, even if it is the Black Sea city of Sochi that has been front and center as the country prepares to host the 2014 winter Olympics, because more people are moved by sports than by history).

RT’s Rory Suchet pointed out another oddity: the American media has been harping on Russia’s announced Security Council veto of military action against Syria, while remaining silent on China’s equally firm opposition in that body, due of course to Washington’s dependence on Chinese financing of its debt.

While you watch sanitized reports about the G20, reflect on the fact that while Peter the Great’s project suffered a multi-century setback, it is being realized in spades – hopefully not too late for the world to pull back from its multiple brinks, starting with Syria. Read the rest of this entry →