I am organizing a seminar to take place in the fall at my law school on “global tectonics.” The theme will be the application of law to the problems created by what I call global tectonics. I intend to consider problems like the Ukraine, Boko Haram, Mexican drug violence and more. Students will be reading the globalization and rule of law literature and then examining these trouble spots where global social, political and economic tectonic plates are clashing. They will be asked to consider how or whether legal solutions to these situations are feasible. If you have any ideas for papers or other material for the seminar or would like to present work of your own please let me know. My campus email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today’s Financial Times has a front page story on the newest stage of the Russian crisis. Putin’s Russia is being hit by both western sanctions as a result of its invasion of its sovereign neighbor, Ukraine, as well as by a glut in the supply of global oil.
This chart indicates the significant downward move in oil prices:
As a result, the world market is marking down the value of the Russian economy and hence the ruble is tanking in value.
In response, Putin is now forced to pump large amounts of cash into the banking system to keep key financial institutions afloat. The latest infusion amounts to close to $8 billion for three major banks. While the regime is claiming the ruble crisis is over, the FT story includes the following: “This is only the beginning,” said a senior executive at a large Russian financial institution. “Everyone is bracing for what comes after new year.”
Indeed the news about the bank infusion sent the ruble down again Friday after a rally earlier in the week. The overall damage of recent months is clear in the chart below:
Meanwhile in a recent speech Putin continued to make noise about diversifying the Russian economy which is another way of admitting that a quarter century of post-Cold War political and economic development has largely been a waste for the majority of Russians (and for much of the former eastern bloc as a whole it might as well be said, Ukraine first and foremost).
Thus, the Cold War may be over but we are far from resolving the fundamental imbalances in the global economy. These have now become so severe that countries like China and Russia are increasingly willing to confront the West with provocative actions like the Ukraine invasion and the assertion of Chinese sovereignty in the south China sea area.
It is understandable that we sympathize with the victims of this kind of aggression but pushing counties like Ukraine to choose Nato membership over genuine autonomy, which has been US policy for years, only stokes the tensions with Russia and provides Putin with political capital that he uses to shore up his own domestic position. Sanctions, too, are a dual edged sword. It is true that Russia needs the world economy but authoritarian forms of capitalism have been very stable over time. As the crisis deepens inside Russia it is just as possible that it will lead to greater centralization of power by Putin and his military and bureaucracy.
As this story and fascinating accompanying map indicates, the US military presence in Africa follows major conflicts at the heart of global tectonics – the setting where a global grab for natural resources (from minerals to ivory) is uprooting traditional societies. Fundamentalist reactions are legion and thus the growing security problem.
The hum of US drones is becoming more familiar over African skies. From Nigeria to Somalia, US military presence on the continent is a creeping reality. US troops may be thin on the ground, with the Pentagon preferring to rely on training and
From California to the Middle East, huge areas of the world are drying up and a billion people have no access to safe drinking water. US intelligence is warning of the dangers of shrinking resources and experts say the world is ‘standing on a precipice’
I posted this originally last August only when the MSM showed no interest in it as an op-ed. I wonder if they share my regrets about the accuracy of my prediction?
Officially, the Obama Administration is firmly behind Syria’s democratic revolution organized to oust the brutal authoritarian Assad regime. If that were indeed the case it could, under certain conditions, represent an important step to assuring a bright future for Syria. There reportedly remains, however, substantial opposition inside the Administration and in Congress to the intervention.
Some of these opponents of U.S. involvement are invoking the problematic policies of the Reagan era when the United States created and armed Nicaragua’s counter-revolutionaries, or contras, to overthrow the Sandinista Government there in the mid-1980s. This is a misleading and cynical maneuver. In fact, Nicaragua offers a very different lesson when it comes to Syria.
There is little doubt that the intervention of the world’s sole superpower into a complex national conflict is fraught with challenges. In the wake of a decade of war, few Americans are enthusiastic about yet another intervention in the Middle East. And there are, naturally, suspicions in the region about the actual goals of U.S. policy. To be successful the strategy that guides the United States in Syria must reflect our democratic values, both to engender domestic U.S. support and to insure a successful transition to post-revolution stability in Syria.
In the wake of the battle of Qusayr, it is clear the rebels face daunting odds. We must recall, though, the rebels did not ask for war. The movement began peacefully, yet another chapter of the rolling social process know as the “Arab Spring.” But the Syrian dictatorship knew that a peaceful “civil rights” style challenge undermined their legitimacy and it began a brutal crackdown that forced the opposition to take up arms. While they have been joined by some dissident military figures, these ordinary Syrians are also now competing for leadership of their revolution with hard-core Islamic fundamentalists, some of them mercenaries from surrounding states, who are well organized and well armed.
That competition is, in fact, reminiscent of the Nicaraguan experience, but not of the contra war of the 1980’s that failed to oust the Sandinistas. Rather, as I show in my recently published book Rights and Revolution: The Rise and Fall of Nicaragua’s Sandinista Movement, the situation is analogous to the earlier 1970’s insurrectionary period that led to the ouster of the brutal and authoritarian Somoza regime. In that insurrection, the United States took a largely hands off stance, only distancing itself from Somoza very late. As a result, a democratic mass movement of ordinary Nicaraguans was, as in Syria, pushed into armed conflict by a violent dictator. Then, as may happen in Syria, that same movement turned to the small but well armed and well-organized neo-Stalinist Sandinista Front, or FSLN, the only alternative leadership force available.
When the Somoza regime fell at great human and social cost it was those disciplined FSLN cadre who took the reins of the state. They promised to rule democratically, but then delayed elections and set up new authoritarian institutions, using the credibility that their leading role in the insurrection had won them. It took a brave population, which knew the revolution belonged to them, too, a decade to reemerge and oust the FSLN peacefully and democratically. The armed contra force organized by Somoza era figures backed by the United States actually worked to undermine and delay that peaceful effort. The FSLN was able, skillfully, to use this U.S. proxy war as an excuse to crack down on peaceful domestic opponents. It should be recalled that such regimes are artful at exploiting foreign intervention against their domestic opponents.
In other words, the Syrian situation is most similar to what happened in Nicaragua before the FSLN took power. That period offers a lesson about the risks of not intervening, instead allowing a well-armed and disciplined minority to hijack a democratic revolution. In such a case, the fervent authoritarianism of the Islamic forces works in their favor. After the FSLN took power, on the other hand, there was sufficient democratic space even at the peak of the FSLN’s power for the population to turn against it peacefully. The Nicaraguan contras had only limited support among the population. This is the opposite of the situation in Syria where the opposition clearly has no choice but to defend itself and its movement with arms.
In these circumstances, the principles and conditions that accompany U.S. aid are crucial. Not the principles and conditions that we impose on the Syrians, rather those we impose on ourselves. We got it wrong not once but twice in Nicaragua. The lesson we should have learned is that the way in which we aid those fighting for freedom in other lands is critical to their success. We cannot let the fact of our aid be used propagandistically by either Assad or al Qaeda to undermine the Syrian democrats. That is what we did in Nicaragua and only the FSLN gained as a result.
The support we give should, therefore, be given openly not covertly and the process by which we do it should be transparent. Our engagement with the Syrian people should be open to monitoring on the ground by both Congress and representatives of our civil society, including labor, religious and community groups. It must be clear to all that our aid is aimed only at facilitating the success of a new Syrian democracy not at advancing a narrow self-interest. We must commit to long-term support because the country will require an extensive period to rebuild once peace is established.
The mistake we made in Nicaragua was to leave behind our own long-standing commitments to democracy, sustainable development and human rights. We ended up on the side, first, of a hated dictatorship, and, then, of death squads, as the Nicaraguan contra war spread throughout Central America. In Syria we have a chance to rewrite our past and help Syria write its future.
It was clear enough during the 2008 campaign but many ignored it. It became more clear as Obama took office and attempted to “engage” with authoritarian regimes all around the world. Even then the commentariat, particularly on the left, did not understand what was going on. One by one the left ignored the implications of Obama’s approach – in Tibet (snubbing the Dalai Lama, in Iran (snubbing the Green Revolution), in Venezuela (cozying up to Chavez), in Cuba (cozying up to Raul Castro), in Egypt (standing by the military), in Syria (erasing his own red line).
But now with the invasion of Ukraine by Putin the results of five years of Obama foreign policy are undeniably clear.
Obama has thought all along he could appease authoritarian regimes and lure them into a fantasy world of global trade and governance. The fact is that despite the end of the cold war more than 20 years ago authoritarian regimes persist and have shown incredible resiliency. China’s neo-stalinist model is working, for the party and its allies in the new entrepreneurial class. And in Iran, Syria and elsewhere, authoritarianism continues to draw widespread support. These authoritarians have no interest in neo-liberal fantasies about free trade and free markets. The volatility and instability of those markets, brought home to hundreds of millions when the western financial system collapsed in 2008, is fuel for the fires of the authoritarian alternative.
To this alternative Obama has no answer. He rode the wave of naive liberal left distaste for global war and politics to office and now that political capital has exhausted itself.
This is a huge problem for the American national security apparatus and for American global economic power as well. The country is led by someone who does not understand what is going on in the world and cannot craft a coherent response to it. He is wedded to a relativist outlook born in the pro-third world neo-stalinist rhetoric of the late 1960s that helped shape his early world view. He will not be able to shed that history or outlook and it is extremely difficult for the institutional apparatus of US power to act coherently when the White House is led by a team that is so intellectually and politically stunted.
But it is an equally large problem for the global left. This global left emerged in the late 1990s, a product too of the end of the Cold War. There was hope in the protests against the WTO and globalization that a new democratic alternative could emerge from below, linking the workers movements of Poland with those of Brazil, the environmental movements of the first world with the movements for agrarian reform in the third world. But since 9/11 that nascent left has spun this way and that completely disoriented by the continued health of authoritarian regimes. Thus the left has become largely only an anti-war left and sometimes worse, offering apologies for the behavior of regimes like those of Syria and Iran and no doubt now in defense of Putin. So much for the defenders of Pussy Riot.
The left must firmly declare its opposition to authoritarianism wherever it appears. To do so is not to give comfort to the war mongers on the right. Instead it will help establish the left as a credible alternative to US unilateralism. From that position the left must then begin to articulate a new foreign policy for the US based in our own deeply held democratic instincts and institutions. I began one such approach with the call for a new “Solidarity Doctrine” here.
The risks of the new era are now clear to all – the statist authoritarianism is in a clash to the death with western market fundamentalism. Neither can win but they can both destroy.
As I said in 2012:
“We have the technological and economic resources to solve these problems and build healthier alternatives. We know the institutional framework – democracy and freedom – that must be in place for those resources to be effective. Instead of developing a foreign policy that matches our resources with that institutional framework, we have instead used the crude tools of neo-conservative intervention or the dangerously naive relativism of spent late-60s ideology. A “Solidarity Doctrine” offers a new approach.”
I heard a very interesting paper presented yesterday at the Comparative Politics Workshop at Stanford by Oendrila Dube who is visiting there from NYU. It is a thorough empirical analysis of the correlation between reform of Mexico’s agricultural sector over the last two decades and drug-related violence. The authors suggest a link between the passage of NAFTA as well as domestic policy reform to the price decline of corn in Mexico which in turn forced poor farmers to cultivate marijuana and even poppies for opium production. As cartels moved in violence escalated. This continues Professor Dube’s very interesting work connecting violence, economics and policy reform in places like Colombia and Sierra Leone.
The paper can be found here.
My spring seminar, Law and Labor in the Fields, is underway.
Our first guest speaker will be here this coming week, Thursday, January 30. He is Frank Bardacke, the author of a magisterial and award winning new history of the United Farm Workers called Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers published by Verso.
The event is open to the public and will take place in Room 333 in Bannan Hall on the Santa Clara University campus, 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95053. It starts at 4:05 and runs until 5:45. The talk and discussion will be followed by a reception to which all who attend the talk are invited.
There will be several other public talks during the semester. The schedule for the entire semester can be found here: Seminar Schedule.
The seminar is dedicated to the memories of both Cesar Chavez, who passed away 20 years ago last year and the late Herman Levy, our Santa Clara Law School colleague who played a key role in drafting the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, who passed away ten years ago.
Links to video of presentations can be found here.
As the ordinary Egyptian population stood up and said it was no longer willing to follow Iran and other middle eastern countries into the abyss of authoritarian and fundamentalist Islamist politics, the mouthpiece of western arch-conservatism, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, was thrown into a panic. In an editorial published, sadly, on our Independence Day, the paper called for the installation of a Pinochet-like General in Egypt.
Either the Journal has been struck by some kind of severe cognitive disorder that allows it to paint over the history of one of the most brutal regimes to have ever ruled or they really mean it. If the former, they owe their readers and the Chilean and Egyptian people an apology and should retract the statement. If the latter, then they are in fact the leading edge of a new fascism emerging here in America. Since I am not a medical professional, I will simply comment on what it means to suggest that fascism is the right outcome in Egypt.
First, for any of my younger readers, if you want a taste of what it means to be for a Pinochet then go to iTunes and download this week’s Editors Choice – the film “NO” which recounts the very final stages of the Pinochet regime, after the blood had been washed off the streets. If you have a stronger stomach, then find a copy of the magnificent Battle of Chile, an important long documentary film that includes amazing and disturbing footage of the Allende era and the imposition of the U.S.-backed brutal Pinochet dictatorship, now viewed as a political model for the middle east by such august figures at the Journal as Paul Gigot, Daniel Henninger and the recent Pulitzer winner Bret Stephens. (Stephens, the recent recipient of a Pulitzer, we have encountered before on these pages – it seems he looks for his ideas all over the place and is not always willing to give proper credit.) The Battle is hard to find but you can also look at Missing the fictional account of an American, Charles Horman, who was kidnapped and tortured to death by Pinochet’s thugs.
Here is a capsule summary of the Pinochet period, though, just so we are all on the same page: 3,000 murdered; 30,000 tortured; political parties outlawed; trade unions smashed; nearly two decades of brutal repression and fear. Two of those killed were blown up by Pinochet’s secret DINA police force on the streets of Washington D.C. The regime was installed with the not very covert support of Henry Kissinger and the Nixon Administration. Pinochet was feted by “Lady” Margaret Thatcher and other right wing thugs in order to burnish their own domestic reactionary politics. Pinochet’s regime was advised by economists trained in the shock therapy politics developed by Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago.
For brevity’s sake I will spare readers an account of the book burnings carried out by the regime.
Now that we are all up to speed on what one is talking about when one invokes the name of Pinochet, what does it mean that the Journal would react to the unfolding events in Egypt like this? It means, most likely, that American conservatives are in a full blown panic over the popular uprising we have witnessed there in recent days but not only there. It signals broader panic among the Wall Street and D.C. elite over what is known as the Arab Spring, the region wide unfolding of a new democratic era in a part of the world that has for many decades found itself in the grip of what ever great power rivalries were taking hold in Europe, first, and later, in the cold war, between the great US and Russian blocs. For the first time, the region’s own populations are speaking up independently and saying, as the Chileans did to Pinochet, No.
This kind of democratic uprising is, inevitably, messy and volatile. There is, undeniably, also the presence of opportunistic forces that are not democratic, most clearly the Islamists. That makes the situation particularly complex but does not mean that the overall direction is one we should fear or condemn. Chile was able to make a more peaceful transition but only because a pre-existing political culture that had thrived in a long period of relative stability and democracy prior to the Pinochet period was able to survive underground and re-emerge when the regime finally was pushed aside. Egypt, Syria and Libya do not have that luxury, as they have been either under the direct colonial thumb of imperial powers such as Britain or held down by the local thugs representing post-imperial powers for generations.
Since the great powers have invested billions and many decades in creating the authoritarian regimes now being challenged, it appears to the mouthpieces of those same forces, like the Wall Street Journal, that all is chaos. Even “liberal intellectuals” like Harvard’s Noah Feldman are frightened by the disorderly nature of the popular effort to recreate these long repressed societies. He condemned the Egyptian millions as a “mob” as I explained here.
No doubt, when one is threatened with the loss of a significant investment panic is a reasonable enough reaction. But should they really be surprised that the “order” they imposed on the backs of the middle east is now under challenge?
It is a sign of how the world is turning on its axis now that the Journal would go this far. The Egyptian people are to be congratulated for being among the first to put their shoulder to the wheels of history and pushing.
Let’s hope the American people will find the courage to join them. Then the Journal’s editorial writers can join their fascist comrade in arms Pinochet in the ash can of history.