Friday, December 31, 2010
Consider this an info-dump of Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman's latest postings at the New York Times. If this seems like something of an antidote to EurAmerican's atypically hawkish and euroskeptic posts from this week's Wall Street Journal, so much the better. Balance in partisanship -- that's what we like!
Krugman's pieces grow from the spark provided in this piece, also from the NYT, which takes the pulse of the current "we told you so" debate going on between Europe's solvents and debtors. It traces the germinations of the euroskeptic debate back to an obscure 1992 report from the Financial Times. In it the politologue Ed Balls observed a crucial and possibly disastrous difference between the nascent euro currency project and the environment of the US, another continent-wide monetary zone. The report concluded, to borrow the NYT piece's shorthand, that "Europe lacked the type of federal taxes and transfer payments used in the United States to ease economic divergences among its many states."
|Courtesy The New York Times|
The NYT piece goes on to juxtapose prominent voices from the euroskeptic and the pro-EU antipodes. Speaking about the current troubles, Norman Lamont, the former Conservative chancellor of the exchequer, had this to say about the euro in the near future:
“I have always said that the euro will break up,” Mr. Lamont said in a recent interview. “Not after the first crisis today, but after the second crisis, which could be 10 years away. This is, after all a political project, not an economic project.”
In contrast, Jerzy Buzek, the current head of the European Parliament, used with these words during December's opening of the Europe House, headquarters of the European Union delegation in London:
“We remember what happened in the last big crisis — it was something horrible, and such a threat is always waiting for us... Let us answer by having more solidarity. Overcoming history is an imperative for us.”
It bears noting that Buzek's tone on the euro crisis -- which is far from finished ravaging great swathes of Europe and the world -- suggests that the "last big crisis," as he puts it, is already past, and belongs to history. These pictures provide a markedly more compelling argument that the euro crisis is both ongoing and far more serious the Buzek's seemingly clueless tone would indicate.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
This article from Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish national and 2006 Nobel laureate in literature, merits a partial re-post from a (rare) EurAm link to The New York Review of Books. Pamuk underscores Turkey's bilateral relationships with France and Germany, couching these into telescoping perspectives on the European Union, "Europe generally," to borrow his apt phrase, and the West at large.
His view is primarily that of a capital-C Culture angle: he sprinkles references to it throughout the piece, shooting as high as the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, as low as Gauloises cigarettes. Pamuk is the intellectual's intellectual, forever able to flaunt his consecration by the Nobel kingmakers. What follows is a surveying of the global landscape from a Turkish vantage point, synthesized from a breadth of subject awareness enviable by any opinion leader.
"That Turkey and other non-Western countries are disenchanted with Europe is something I know from my own travels and conversations... There are also the emotional responses whose significance can best be explained by the example of relations with France. Over the past century, successive generations of the Turkish elite have faithfully taken France as their model, drawing on its understanding of secularism and following its lead on education, literature, and art. So to have France emerge over the past five years as the country most vehemently opposed to the idea of Turkey in Europe has been heartbreaking and disillusioning. It is, however, Europe’s involvement in the war in Iraq that has caused the keenest disappointment in non-western countries, and in Turkey, real anger. The world watched Europe being tricked by Bush into joining this illegitimate and cruel war, while showing immense readiness to be tricked. [italics EurAm]
When looking at the landscape of Europe from Istanbul or beyond, the first thing one sees is that Europe generally (like the European Union) is confused about its internal problems. It is clear that the peoples of Europe have a lot less experience than Americans when it comes to living with those whose religion, skin color, or cultural identity are different from their own, and that many of them do not warm to the prospect: this resistance to outsiders makes Europe’s internal problems all the more intractable. The recent discussions in Germany on integration and multiculturalism—particularly its large Turkish minority—are a case in point.
As the economic crisis deepens and spreads, Europe may be able, by turning in on itself, to postpone its struggle to preserve the culture of the “bourgeois” in Flaubert’s sense of the word, but that will not solve the problem. When I look at Istanbul, which becomes a little more complex and cosmopolitan with every passing year and now attracts immigrants from all over Asia and Africa, I have no trouble concluding that the poor, unemployed, and undefended of Asia and Africa who are looking for new places to live and work cannot be kept out of Europe indefinitely. Higher walls, tougher visa restrictions, and ships patrolling borders in increasing numbers will only postpone the day of reckoning. Worst of all, anti-immigration politics, policies, and prejudices are already destroying the core values that made Europe what it was.
In the Turkish schoolbooks of my childhood there was no discussion of democracy or women’s rights, but on the packets of Gauloises that French intellectuals and artists smoked (or so we thought) were printed the words “liberté, égalité, fraternité” and these were much in circulation. “Fraternité” came to stand for the spirit of solidarity and resistance promoted by movements of the left. But callousness toward the sufferings of immigrants and minorities, and the castigation of Asians, Africans, and Muslims now leading difficult lives in the peripheries of Europe—even holding them solely responsible for their woes—are not “brotherhood.”
One can understand how many Europeans might suffer anxiety and even panic as they seek to preserve Europe’s great cultural traditions, profit from the riches it covets in the non-Western world, and retain the advantages gained over so many centuries of class conflict, colonialism, and internecine war. But if Europe is to protect itself, would it be better for it to turn inward, or should it perhaps remember its fundamental values, which once made it the center of gravity for all the world’s intellectuals?"
Two noteworthy US media pieces have blipped on the Euro-pessimism radar, so I thought I'd echo them.
EurAm doesn't necessarily endorse these views in their entirety, though it's certainly closer to these than the euphoria sweeping parts of the anti-nuclear set. Regardless, at the end of the day, it's about the sharing of Europe commentary -- especially what's taking place outside of Europe, especially what's candid and controversial -- that allows you the reader to cut to the heart of transtatlantic debate.
So away we go:
1) Count on The Hudson Institute for consistently euro-pessimistic, moderate-conservative commentary from Washington. In today's Wall Street Journal, Hudson's economic policy expert Irwin Stelzer lays out acid commentary characteristic of his firm in a 2010 EU year in review, excerpted below. Note the passing reference to the US Constitution, lending a spontaneously Euro-American comparative view to the succeeding lines. Stelzer also leaves off with an intentionally troubling final thought on China, and the economic and geopolitical capital it could gain as the eurozone tailspin continues.
"All else that happened in Euroland in 2010 pales into insignificance when compared with the decision to set up mechanisms for replacing—some say supplementing, some say monitoring—national decision-making on fiscal policy with control by the Brussels-based Eurocracy, amending the Lisbon Treaty to make that possible. This is the step that the founders of the euro always knew would some day be necessary. That day has now arrived, and they are delighted.
Monday, December 27, 2010
Gavin Hewitt of the BBC has posted a wrap-up of the year 2010 in Europe. I'd like to underscore his recurring theme of the beleaguered status of European youth. He begins with three sketches of young people down on their luck: seemingly intelligent and educated young Spaniards queuing for unemployment benefits; a roomful of raised hands when Hewitt asks trade school students if they anticipate emigration; young Italians ready to riot at the broken promises of their government and the generation in power.
Hewitt goes on to describe their lives in the crushing uncertainly of economic souring, and the new civic religion called "austerity" that most accept only begrudgingly -- because they see no other choice. The year 2011, according to Hewitt, portends to be no less bleak.
"Youth unemployment and austerity are a dangerous cocktail that will play out on the streets of 2011. Austerity challenges a deeply-held idea of a European way of life where the state offers layers of protection. Old certainties are being swept away. Social contracts snapped. An ever-expanding public sector is being pruned. Europe, in the long term, may benefit from a smaller state sector, but no one should underestimate the shock of the new. [...]
In 2011 the orthodoxy of austerity, I suspect, will be challenged. The Greeks are tiring of the lean years that seem to stretch out before them. A new government in Ireland may try and renegotiate the terms of the EU/IMF loan. Increasingly voices question the fairness of it all. In Ireland the banks' debts were taken onto the government's books and the country headed for insolvency. A proud country [and in Ireland's case, an overwhelmingly young one] has sacrificed its independence - that's how many in Ireland see it.
It is a fair bet that in 2011 one or more country will restructure its debt.
Increasingly, when one returns from the streets of Greece or France or Italy, Brussels seems a side-show. While the unemployment lines lengthen for young people Europe's elite is preoccupied with institutions, with their place in the world. They have strategies for growth - but in the distant future. The discussions too often appear inward-looking. Occasionally there is a flicker of reality. The European Parliament, for instance, led the way in challenging bankers' bonuses. [...]
Ross Douthat of the New York Times takes on some of the more prickly cultural aspects of present-day American Christianity in his latest column. His prose begins with a certain whiff of cynicism before plateauing to a more insightful double book review of sorts on the state of the Christian faith, in a season when it is so consciously thought of (even if this mainly takes the form of shopping and social-event planning). Douthat begins:
"... This is also the season when American Christians can feel most embattled. Their piety is overshadowed by materialist ticky-tack. Their great feast is compromised by Christmukkwanzaa multiculturalism. And the once-a-year churchgoers crowding the pews beside them are a reminder of how many Americans regard religion as just another form of midwinter entertainment, wedged in between “The Nutcracker” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”
Boom!, cracks the columnist's irony. But Douthat's real thesis emerges late and tucked in among other thoughts of the third paragraph.
These anxieties can be overdrawn, and they’re frequently turned to cynical purposes... But they also reflect the peculiar and complicated status of Christian faith in American life. Depending on the angle you take, Christianity is either dominant or under siege, ubiquitous or marginal, the strongest religion in the country or a waning and increasingly archaic faith.
He goes on to describe the arch of American Christianity's progress to the state we find it in today. Borrowing the metaphor of "a shock and two aftershocks," namely the cultural revolution of the 1960s, followed by the religious conservatism that arose through the 1980s-era "moral majority" and the culture wars of the 1990s. The second aftershock is taking place now, "a backlash to that backlash — a revolt against the association between Christian faith and conservative politics... in which millions of Americans (younger Americans, especially) may be abandoning organized Christianity altogether."
On the European side of things, the near-empty churches and chapels scattered over the European continent seem to have experienced this exodus of the young decades ago. Not since before World War II has Christian life on the Old Continent known any semblance of thriving culture that includes a sizable contingent of the young. Perhaps the U.S. (and Canada, too) is slowly edging toward a European likeness, where Christianity is marginalized as a practice and sometimes openly mocked by opinion leaders in a manner not tolerated States-side.
Douthat ends with a provocative final thought, which bears an uncanny relevance to Europe if one chooses to read it that way. I'll make my conclusion by borrowing his:
"... Believing Christians are no longer what they once were — an overwhelming majority in a self-consciously Christian nation [or civilization]. The question is whether they can become a creative and attractive minority in a different sort of culture, where they’re competing not only with rival faiths but with a host of pseudo-Christian spiritualities, and where the idea of a single religious truth seems increasingly passé.
Or to put it another way, Christians need to find a way to thrive in a society that looks less and less like any sort of Christendom — and more and more like the diverse and complicated Roman Empire where their religion had its beginning."
UPDATE: In an event pregnant with symbolism given the above, the Obama family made a highly unusual church visit this past Sunday.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Andrew Kohut, President of the Pew Research Center, had this to say on US foreign-policy introspection in a recent article in The National Interest:
"It is hard to recall a time when foreign policy issues played so diminished a role in the American public's thinking. Midterm election exit polls found only 8 percent of voters saying that a foreign policy issue was a voting consideration for them, and more generally, national polls show just 11 percent citing a foreign policy issue as the most important problem facing the nation. This is the lowest registration of international concerns since immediately before the 9/11 attacks."
He goes on:
"Terrorism, the most immediate threat to [the United States], is a big issue now lacking either prominence in the public’s mind or a heated debate among policymakers. Americans have expressed a steady state of concern about terrorism since the 9/11 attacks, but the polling suggests that most have become somewhat inured to the possibility of another attack. For example, there is no indication this year of widespread anxiety in the wake of reports that terrorists attempted to place package bombs on flights destined for North America. Most Americans (59 percent) say they are worried about an imminent terrorist attack in the United States, but the level of concern today is about what it was in July 2007, and has remained relatively steady since 2003."
Kohut concludes with some interesting thoughts on America's worries in the Asian sphere, specifically China and the Korean peninsula:
"As with terrorism, the public has deep concerns about America's place in the world, but these worries do not evoke a strong policy debate. Yes a growing plurality thinks the U.S. now plays a less important role on the world stage, and majorities recognize China's growing power and worry about it. But for now at least, there is little edge to American attitudes as a consequence. Few regard China as an enemy (17 percent) or a partner (25 percent). As has been the case for more than a decade, China is seen as neither friend not foe by most Americans (52 percent). In fact, more Americans now hold a favorable view of China than did so in 2007 and 2008.
"Neither the recent North Korean bombardment of South Korea as it stands, nor foiled terrorist attack in Portland Oregon seems likely to rouse the American public. If history is any judge, it will take a foreign policy crisis of a major order, to awaken public opinion on international affairs. And when Americans stir, it is hard to predict the new direction of their thinking. What is likely however is that a change in direction of public opinion will be relatively short lived. That has certainly been the case so far in post–Cold War America."
Kohut's last paragraph is his most poignant, and one that identifies a structural American gene within the national political DNA. This level of isolationism would strike European publics as downright otherworldly. Europe is small compared to the U.S., and its foreign policy thoughts are often foremost in mind given that they are always closer to home. The United States has the singular peculiarity of being separated from both allies and enemies by an ocean on each side. So when other matters become pressing, in this case the national economic crisis, unemployment and widespread disillusionment with Obama's platform of hope and change, U.S. citizens traditionally put foreign policy thoughts on a very distant back burner.
Paradoxically, the U.S. seems to be ignoring the very wars it launches, and Europe is just as (if not more) preoccupied with world affairs in which the United States is at work.
This cockamamie balance of today's Atlantic ring countries results in the world's progress toward multipolarization, a status much distrusted by many of the classical powers in the West.
And yet some see beyond this, toward a future power balance in which the West will dull its appetite for world predominance with a healthy slice of humble pie. Just last week Hubert Vedrine, the former French foreign affairs minister, hit the radiowaves asserting that the transatlantic community was guilty of "Western arrogance" and that its member nations are "no longer the masters of the world." The recent economic tremors certainly don't help matters, where in Europe the Euro currency seems ready to crumble. The United States are faring no better, with the latest studies putting the jobless rate at a disastrous 9.8%.
Of course, the obvious insinuation of Kohut's piece is that Transatlantics, while struggling to steady a rocking economic boat, shouldn't take their eye off of the horizon. Prolongued economic travails will only increase the likelihood that one or several Western states drops the ball in a fateful moment of security absent-mindedness.
Should this risky position continue, Kohut's forebodings of a "foreign policy crisis of a major order" -- we're all probably thinking September 11th -- may come to pass. As for predicting the new direction in Americans' thinking should another disaster happen, well, the last lurch in U.S. opinion led to the Iraq War. Yes it was strongly resisted, both in the U.S. and abroad, but it happened anyway.
American voters and the greater West risk more than they know while spending so much time navel-gazing over their domestic problems. They should also keep a watch on the dangers creeping just beyond its borders, and hone their global affairs literacy to know how best to act should action become necessary.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Hubert Védrine, former French Minister of Foreign Affairs, expressed a view Wednesday on the radio platform France Inter that examines some of the philosophy surrounding the latest scandal from the WikiLeaks website. The latest in a stream of highly controversial leaks that signals a new breed of information-age security threats, WikiLeaks disseminated some 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables to the public, setting off a public-relations firestorm for both U.S. and foreign governments and diplomacy bodies worldwide.
The following are selected translated excerpts from Védrine's characteristically ascerbic tongue, which I recognize (full disclosure) from my tenure as one of his interns. His commentary on vaguely-defined values such as transparency and the civilizational aspects of the information age merit reflection.
HV: "We live in a society that thinks that transparency is good in and of itself, without limits or rules, contrary to the fundamental principles of modern society..."
PC: "Do you think [leading newspapers] shouldn't have [published the WikiLeaks contents]?
HV: "The written press is in such a state that they couldn't resist... I don't think they should have not done so, but they might have put things in a different light... We've got a definition of "transparency" that is in fact a form a masked totalitarianism."
PC: "Given what we've seen through WikiLeaks, can we assume that diplomacy is the art of dissimulation, or hypocrisy?"
HV: "No! It's like in a family: you don't talk about the same things in front of the children as in front of the grand-parents... That's what social life is founded on."
HV: "We have to get over maintaining this Western arrogance, whether it's in these diplomatic documents, or in the commentary made elsewhere, because we are no longer the masters of the world... We are no longer the masters of the world, we Westerners, even when we think we are a moral superpower, like the Europeans believe, even when the Americans think they have a military superiority that entitles them to control everything--no. We are in a multipolar world, we face emerging countries who no longer tolerate our telling them what to do on technological, juridical, economic, monetary, even in terms of values. I'm not saying we should launch new values, because I'm just as attached [to Western values] as you are... For WikiLeaks to pass through the prominent newspapers, to render its methods honorable in the name of transparency, it's a sort of laundering... What we need is not a WikiLeaks debate in diplomatic terms, but one of deontology, and on civility in digitized society."