Tunisia continues to demonstrate that Arab Spring 2011's revolts can indeed seed democratic change.
On Oct. 26, Tunisia's secularist party, Tunisian Call (Nidaa Tounes), won a parliamentary plurality. By winning at least 35 percent of parliament's seats, Tunisian Call now has the opportunity to form a new coalition government. The Islamist Ennahda Party, which leads Tunisia's current coalition government, won 25 percent. That represents a marked decline from the last national election when Ennahda won around 40 percent.
Ennahda's political Islamist leaders have conceded defeat and promised to support the new Tunisian Call-led government. They then offered to participate in a "unity" government. Given Libya's anarchy, Syria's hell and Egypt's Bonopartist fragility, Ennahda's democratic concession is encouraging news.
Though the leaders of Tunisian Call insist that Ennahda will have no governing role in the new government, arithmetic argues otherwise. Tunisian Call's leaders know forging a coalition government with minor parties is a difficult proposition. Ennahda's awkward coalition with two small left-wing parties was an ineffective arrangement and contributed to a general perception of government ineptitude. Ennahda's coalition never provided a coherent program for addressing the problem that triggered Tunisia's revolt: its stagnant economy.
Because geopolitics is based on the eternal verities of geography, relatively little in geopolitics comes to an end. The Warsaw Pact may have dissolved following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, but Russia is still big and it still lies next door to Central and Eastern Europe, so a Russian threat to Europe still exists. Japan may have been defeated and flattened by the U.S. military in World War II, but its dynamic population -- the gift of a temperate zone climate -- still projects power in the Pacific Basin and may do so even more in the years to come. The United States may have committed one blunder after another in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, yet through all of these misbegotten wars the United States remains by a yawning margin the greatest military power on earth -- the gift, ultimately, of America being a virtual island nation of continental proportions, as well as the last resource-rich swath of the temperate zone to be settled at the time of the European Enlightenment.
So we come to the Middle East, which, despite all its changes and upheavals in the course of the decades and all the prognostications of a U.S. "pivot" to the Pacific, remains vital to the United States. Israel is a de facto strategic ally of the United States and for over six decades now has remained embattled, necessitating American protection. The Persian Gulf region is still the hydrocarbon capital of the world and thus a premier American interest. Certainly, officials in Washington would like to shift focus to the Pacific, but the Middle East simply won't allow that to happen.
And yet there is an ongoing evolution in America's relationship with the region, and attrition of the same can add up to big change.
For decades the Persian Gulf represented a primary American interest: a place that was crucial to the well-being of the American economy. The American economy is the great oil and automotive economy of the modern age, with interstate highways the principal transport link for an entire continent. And Persian Gulf oil was a key to that enterprise. But increasingly the Persian Gulf represents only a secondary interest to the United States: a region important to the well-being of American allies, to be sure, and to world trade and the world economic system in general, but not specifically crucial to America itself, the war to defeat the Islamic State notwithstanding. However much oil the United States is still importing from the Persian Gulf, the fact is that America will have more energy alternatives at home and abroad in future decades.
U.S. President Barack Obama has come under intense criticism for his foreign policy, along with many other things. This is not unprecedented. Former President George W. Bush was similarly attacked. Stratfor has always maintained that the behavior of nations has much to do with the impersonal forces driving it, and little to do with the leaders who are currently passing through office. To what extent should American presidents be held accountable for events in the world, and what should they be held accountable for?
Expectations and Reality
I have always been amazed when presidents take credit for creating jobs or are blamed for high interest rates. Under our Constitution, and in practice, presidents have precious little influence on either. They cannot act without Congress or the Federal Reserve concurring, and both are outside presidential control. Nor can presidents overcome the realities of the market. They are prisoners of institutional constraints and the realities of the world.
Nevertheless, we endow presidents with magical powers and impose extraordinary expectations. The president creates jobs, manages Ebola and solves the problems of the world -- or so he should. This particular president came into office with preposterous expectations from his supporters that he could not possibly fulfill. The normal campaign promises of a normal politician were taken to be prophecy. This told us more about his supporters than about him. Similarly, his enemies, at the extremes, have painted him as the devil incarnate, destroying the Republic for fiendish reasons.
When John Churchill, later the first duke of Marlborough, led the Anglo-Dutch alliance against Louis XIV, he and his ally differed constantly over tactics. Marlborough sought a knock-out. The Dutch preferred maneuver warfare to the risk of all-out battles. But the two states agreed on the broader goal: preventing Louis from achieving hegemonic continental power.
Alliances - or alliance members - that cannot agree on ultimate objectives are in trouble. NATO member Turkey and the rest of the Atlantic alliance once agreed on basic principles: democracy, and the need to keep the Soviets from swallowing the part of Europe that remained free after World War II. No such agreement about basic principles unites Turkey with the rest of NATO today.
Turkey's current leadership - President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish acronym, AKP - have led Turkey on a steady drift away from democracy since Erdogan came to power in 2003. Turkey now holds more journalists in its prisons than does any country in the world. The oppression does not stop with individuals - Erdogan fined an opposition media group $2.5 billion dollars in 2009 for "evading taxes." The AKP's siege of democracy doesn't constrain only the organs of free speech. A law passed earlier this year restricts the judicial system's independence and corrodes the state's rule of law, and the government is now considering a draft security measure that would give Turkish police sweeping new powers. More than forty people were killed across Turkey in October protests against Erdogan's hands-off policy in defending the besieged Syrian border town of Kobani. Orthodox churches in Iznik, near the Sea of Marmara, and Trabzon, on the south coast of the Black Sea, have been converted into mosques. The U.S. Congress recently passed a law that requires the Obama administration to submit annual reports on Christian churches in Turkey and the Turkish-controlled portion of the Republic of Cyprus that have been looted, turned into mosques and casinos, or otherwise desecrated. The AKP is not choosy about which non-Muslim religion to oppress, though. The party's anti-Semitic words and actions are pushing young Jewish Turks to leave the country. Their flight mirrors Turkey's own departure from the circle of free and open societies.
At odds with the Alliance Turkey's foreign and security policy parallels its departure from democratic institutions. Under Erdogan, Ankara is at odds with NATO's interest in a stable pro-Western anchor in its southeastern quadrant. "ISIS Draws a Steady Stream of Recruits from Turkey," read a New York Times headline from September this year that described the active recruitment of Turks to the terrorist group operating in Syria and Iraq. Ten Arab states joined the United States in signing an agreement in September to cooperate in destroying ISIS. Turkey declined, and Erdogan's administration continues to ignore would-be jihadists as they transit through Istanbul south to join ISIS. Meanwhile, Turkey remains a major financial backer of Hamas.
Measured by geography alone, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is ambitious: The pact would bind the United States, Australia, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, and seven other countries in a free trade agreement.
As with most such arrangements, signatories hope the deal will boost trade and investment, create jobs, and harmonize regulations. The Partnership is about more than trade, though - the TPP would act as a key economic and strategic bulwark for America's Pacific alliances. Given its importance, Washington and Tokyo have made bold pledges to conclude the deal. China is watching: Beijing views the agreement as a test of the American-led security order in the Pacific. Unfortunately, narrow but powerful interest groups in the United States and Japan that benefit from existing protectionist measures have stalled negotiations once again. This continued gridlock is dangerous, and negotiators must find a way to overcome it and quickly finalize the pact. The Partnership promises considerable economic gains. Its potential signatories account for some 40 percent of global output and more than 33 percent of world trade. Within 11 years, the pact is projected to create an annual $440.4 billion in additional exports (including $123.5 billion in U.S. exports and $139.7 billion in Japanese exports) and $285 billion in global income gains ($76.6 billion for the U.S. and $104.6 billion for Japan). This number will grow if countries such as India, South Korea, and Taiwan join the TPP in subsequent rounds.
This article was originally published in Portal KBR.
MACARASCAS - Down on the docks in the small fishing village of Macarascas, on Palawan Island's west coast, locals are taking their boats out to sea. It's a sunny, clear day, the perfect conditions to bring back a catch of mackerel or octopus, the fishermen hope.
"Our population as of now is almost 1,700, and our main source of income is farming and fishing," says Jane Villarin, the 37-year old leader of the local community council.
The fishermen in her village share the waterways with the Filipino Navy. Just across the bay is the Ulugan Bay navy base, home to a small fleet of patrol boats and military personnel.
The origins of the phrase "American exceptionalism" are not especially obscure. The French sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville, observing this country in the 1830s, said that Americans seemed exceptional in valuing practical attainments almost to the exclusion of the arts and sciences. The Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, on hearing a report by the American Communist Party that workers in the United States in 1929 were not ready for revolution, denounced "the heresy of American exceptionalism." In 1996, the political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset took those hints from Tocqueville and Stalin and added some of his own to produce his book American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword. The virtues of American society, for Lipset -- our individualism, hostility to state action, and propensity for ad hoc problem-solving -- themselves stood in the way of a lasting and prudent consensus in the conduct of American politics.
In recent years, the phrase "American exceptionalism," at once resonant and ambiguous, has stolen into popular usage in electoral politics, in the mainstream media, and in academic writing with a profligacy that is hard to account for. It sometimes seems that exceptionalism for Americans means everything from generosity to selfishness, localism to imperialism, indifference to "the opinions of mankind" to a readiness to incorporate the folkways of every culture. When President Obama told West Point graduates last May that "I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being," the context made it clear that he meant the United States was the greatest country in the world: our stature was demonstrated by our possession of "the finest fighting force that the world has ever known," uniquely tasked with defending liberty and peace globally; and yet we could not allow ourselves to "flout international norms" or be a law unto ourselves. The contradictory nature of these statements would have satisfied even Tocqueville's taste for paradox.
On the whole, is American exceptionalism a force for good? The question shouldn't be hard to answer. To make an exception of yourself is as immoral a proceeding for a nation as it is for an individual. When we say of a person (usually someone who has gone off the rails), "He thinks the rules don't apply to him," we mean that he is a danger to others and perhaps to himself. People who act on such a belief don't as a rule examine themselves deeply or write a history of the self to justify their understanding that they are unique. Very little effort is involved in their willfulness. Such exceptionalism, indeed, comes from an excess of will unaccompanied by awareness of the necessity for self-restraint.
Such people are monsters. Many land in asylums, more in prisons. But the category also encompasses a large number of high-functioning autistics: governors, generals, corporate heads, owners of professional sports teams. When you think about it, some of these people do write histories of themselves and in that pursuit, a few of them have kept up the vitality of an ancient genre: criminal autobiography.
Dilma Rousseff has secured her Workers’ Party (PT) its fourth consecutive electoral victory. Winning with just a 3% margin, the fragility of her victory reflects divides in Brazilian society and the economic challenges ahead for the country.
After years of economic prosperity, the patterns of growth are not promising and Rousseff’s government faces the challenge of restoring that growth. But speculating about Brazil’s future warrants a look back at the remarkable development of the country’s economy over the past three decades. There are both successes and shortcomings that the PT government can learn from if it is to face the challenges ahead.
A trajectory of growth
Key to the PT’s electoral legitimacy lies a return of growth, investment and greater confidence in Brazil’s economy. Brazil’s trajectory of economic growth, particularly between 2003 and 2009, can partly be credited to the PT government’s ability to manage the country’s commodities boom.
Whoever wins the Brazilian presidential elections will have to accommodate a powerful legislature dominated by left of center parties, opposed to macroeconomic adjustment and proposals to attract foreign investment. Although the incumbent Worker's Party lost seats in the legislature, the left is still in power.
On the surface, Brazil's incumbent PT (Worker's Party) is against the ropes. They lost 18 seats in the lower legislative chamber and their presidential candidate, Dilma Rousseff, is head to head in the polls with the business-friendlier presidential candidate Aecio Neves (PSDB, or social democratic party).
Many are hopeful that Neves will win the upcoming runoff elections on October 26. Mr. Neves has pledged to address Brazil's macroeconomic imbalances with IMF-approved orthodox policies as well as emphasize better business conditions for both local and international companies.
Despite the recent optimism surrounding the Neves campaign, there remain three tall political hurdles to overcome to create a more stable investment environment.
<p>Rumours of a Russian submarine hanging around off the coast of Sweden have inspired much Cold War nostalgia. But while there is of course the chance that something fishy is going on, there are many plausible explanations as to why a vessel might prowl about in foreign waters. In fact, it happens all the time.</p>
<p>The Swedish military has reported detecting underwater activity in its seas and has already spent several days searching for what it suspects to be a Russian submarine. The incident has been referred to by many as <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/22/world/europe/submarine-search-near-stockholm-reminiscent-of-a-cold-war-thriller.html?_r=0">reminiscent of a Cold War spy novel</a> – a view only reinforced by the very public reaction of the local government.</p>
Every school child should know about the Magna Carta, a document forced upon King John by his feudal barons in 1215 to limit the king's power. But the full majesty of how the march toward constitutional government began in England deep in the Middle Ages is conveyed by Dan Jones, a Cambridge-educated historian, in The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England, published in 2012. (Jones continues the saga in the recently published The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors.) The story of how British democracy developed is an exceedingly slow and cumbersome one. The first meeting of parliament did not happen until 1264, nearly a half-century after the signing of the Magna Carta. And women's suffrage was not instituted until 1918, more than 700 years after the Magna Carta. In short, what we in the West define as a healthy democracy took England the better part of a millennium to achieve. And in reading both of Jones' books, what screams out loud and clear is the political wealth, cultural density and utter formidability of the English tradition achieved as much in war as in peace - without which the magnificent debates and rhetoric that are on display in parliament in London today would simply not exist.
A functioning democracy is not a product that can be easily exported, in other words, but an expression of culture and historical development that must be constantly nursed and maintained. Britain's democracy did not come from civil society programs taught by human rights workers; it was the offshoot of bloody dynastic politics and uprisings in the medieval and early modern eras.
The United States also has a democracy that is the envy of the world. But as the late Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington notes, that is because America was born with "political institutions and practices imported from seventeenth-century England." That, too, in one way or another, has been the case with Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the other countries of the Anglosphere that also, not coincidentally, have enviable democracies. To say that democracy and the Anglo-Saxon tradition are not inherently related is to deny the record of history; it is also to say that culture, merely because it cannot be quantified and otherwise measured on an academic's chart, does not matter.
Germany and Japan also have well-functioning and stable democracies. But that is only because they were completely destroyed by the United States and Britain in World War II and had their political systems rebuilt and developed from scratch by American occupation forces who then stayed on for many years.
I returned last weekend from a monthlong trip to East Asia and Europe. I discovered three things: First, the Europeans were obsessed with Germany and concerned about Russia. Second, the Asians were obsessed with China and concerned about Japan. Third, visiting seven countries from the Pacific to the Atlantic in 29 days brings you to a unique state of consciousness, in which the only color is gray and knowing the number of your hotel room in your current city, as opposed to the one two cities ago, is an achievement.
The world is not getting smaller. There is no direct flight from the United States to Singapore, and it took me 27 hours of elapsed travel to get there. There is a direct flight from Munich to Seoul, but since I started in Paris, that trip also took about 17 hours. Given how long Magellan took to circumnavigate the world, and the fact that he was killed in the Philippines, I have no basis for complaint. But the fact is that the speed of global travel has plateaued, as has the global economic system. There is a general sense of danger in Europe and Asia. There is no common understanding on what that danger is.
I was in Seoul last week when the news of a possible wave of European crises began to spread, and indications emerged that Germany might be shifting its view on austerity. It was striking how little this seemed to concern senior officials and business leaders. I was in the Czech Republic when the demonstrations broke out in Hong Kong. The Czechs saw this as a distant event on which they had opinions but which was unlikely to affect them regardless of the outcome.
There has been much talk of globalization and the interdependence that has flowed from it. There is clearly much truth in arguing that what happens in one part of the world affects the rest. But that simply was not evident. The eastern and western ends of the Eurasian landmass seem to view each other as if through the wrong side of a telescope. What is near is important. What is distant is someone else's problem far away.
Colossal external problems are coming Europe's way. And yet, there are few signs that the 28 nations that form the European Union will start acting on their shared threats and interests in a more unified, forceful, and muscular way anytime soon.
Some blame austerity for this inaction. Others say the EU was never made to do foreign policy. And yet others maintain that Europeans are just naive and immature surrender monkeys who cling to wishful thinking and simplistic ideas about how the world works.
None of that is true. The underlying reasons why European foreign policy sleeps go much deeper. Four fundamental factors are at play: identities, institutions, external neglect, and internal disinterest.
On the playgrounds of Abidjan, the capital of Côte d’Ivoire, children now “quarantine” one another as part of a game they call “Ebola.” Across West Africa, the spread of the Ebola virus is generating fears, raising barriers between countries, and increasingly affecting everyday life beyond the countries most affected by the epidemic: Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Yet international and regional cooperation has been found wanting. Along with the international community, regional leaders such as Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria can do much more to mitigate the Ebola crisis.
Côte d’Ivoire is gradually reclaiming its place as a regional economic and political leader in West Africa. Since the violent events that preceded the election of President Alassane Ouattara in 2011, the country has rebounded from its decade of political unrest and become a champion for regional integration. The new president’s role in defusing the crisis in neighboring Mali as chair the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) signaled the country’s return to the regional political stage. Ouattara, an economist by trade, has also launched reforms aimed at making Côte d’Ivoire an emerging economy by the year 2020. This cannot be done without deeper regional cooperation and integration.
Among the government’s top priorities, Côte d’Ivoire is addressing the challenge of food security and aiming at self-sufficiency by 2016. It is seeking greater access to financial markets, supported by a positive rating by Moody’s credit rating agency. It is investing in the smarter and more sustainable exploitation of its vast natural resources. And it is attracting foreign investments beyond its traditional partner, France, from the likes of Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the United States, Turkey, South Africa, Morocco, and China. According to the International Monetary Fund, Côte d’Ivoire’s “growth performance was impressive in 2013, and is projected to remain buoyant in the near term, reflecting strong domestic demand.”
Côte d’Ivoire’s positive trajectory, along with Nigeria’s projected 7 percent growth in 2015, suggest that while the Ebola crisis has dominated headlines on West Africa, it would take a dramatic spread of the virus for the regional economy as a whole to be deeply affected. A protracted health crisis is certainly having some impact on the region, but the tiny economies of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone account for less than half of Ivoirian GDP and just a fraction of the Nigerian economy.
Imagine that China launches a cyber attack on the United States tomorrow. It devastates systems, crippling the financial sector or causing loss of life. But does it merit a military response? The answer to that big question also informs a much larger, looming debate: As it becomes increasingly clear that few cyber attacks can be defined as acts of war, what should the role of institutions such as NATO be? And in this new world, how do we define what is war - and what is not?
The topic was discussed at September's NATO Summit in Wales. Attending heads of state agreed that cyber attacks can reach a threshold that not only threatens Transatlantic prosperity and security, but could even be "as harmful to modern societies as a conventional attack" and thus merit an invocation of Article 5, the collective defense clause. Treading carefully, though, they refrained from defining which cyber attacks cross this threshold.
This is an important declaration and the culmination of a seven-year internal debate that stems from Distributed Denial of Service attacks pointed at Estonia in April 2007. But the emerging policy still begs questions, about NATO's response to cyber attacks in particular, but more broadly about the general function of the Alliance.
On April 27, 2007, Estonia, a NATO member, relocated a Soviet-era war memorial. Within hours, a large-scale DDoS campaign began, targeting the websites of government departments, banks, telecoms, and news organizations. Some sites were shut down entirely, while others were defaced. The attacks rendered a number of Estonian government sites inaccessible for weeks and generally disrupted communication in the country.