A Plebiscite for Catalonia

Margaret Thatcher once said that Europe was created by history -- a simple observation with consequences as profound as they are unpredictable.

Indeed, Spain is getting set for its most unpredictable election in a generation. But before the country goes to the polls later this year, the northeastern region of Catalonia will hold a vote of its own in September. It's a one-issue election: After the introduction of a roadmap for Catalonian independence, the government officially announced yesterday that the candidates will serve as stand-ins for a vote on the pursuit of Catalonian statehood. Under the heading "Junts Pel Si" ("Together for Yes" in Catalan), the leading pro-independence parties will sell the idea to the region of 7.5 million, promising if elected to unilaterally begin the process of pursuing independence from Spain -- in obvious defiance of Madrid.

The plebiscitary election is, mildly put, legally awkward. So much so that Catalan First Minister Artur Mas made no mention of the poll's peculiar nature as he signed the decree for regional elections, which will take place on Sept. 27:

"Mr. Mas said that Catalans "are a nation of free people", with "the right to decide our future", and with "a horizon of hope"; he also spoke of his desire "for a better country" but stopped short of mentioning independence, secession, referendums or plebiscite, lest the central government in Madrid choose to present another legal challenge at the Constitutional Court."

So what is this election about, exactly? To Lluis Bassets, the vote is a cynical legacy-grab by Mas -- along with an attempt to appropriate the statehood issue to save the flagging political fortunes of his Convergencia i Unio Party. Xavier Vidal-Folch goes further still, advancing the not uncommon idea that a plebiscitary election is tantamount to a coup d'etat, not just against Spain, but against Catalan law, and against Catalans themselves.

Surface politics aside, here's where we circle back to (half of) Thatcher's quote. In Europe, affronts to historical identity can stir primordial, fast-moving reactions. There's not enough space here to run through the episode-by-episode evolution of the Catalan independence movement in the last 10 years. But, spurned by the courts and by the center-right government in Madrid on matters of autonomy and taxation rights, what pushed Catalans over the edge were the pretensions of the central government -- eventually codified in a rewritten, watered-down autonomy statute in 2010 -- to tell Catalans that, regardless of how they may feel, they are not a nation. What had been a legal negotiation on levels of autonomy and subsidiarity took on a different character. Unlike the referendum seen in Scotland last September, where the ambitions and drive of Alex Salmond and the Scottish National Party culminated in a near-disaster for British unity, Mas found himself the recipient of a bottom-up call for independence -- one to which Madrid dares not give the legal sanction Westminster granted to the Scots.

Ham-fisted handling by the central government to be sure, and with the declaration of the Sept. 27 election, what was once a popular movement has become a clash of institutions within Spain. But the administration of Mariano Rajoy derives its own political benefits from countering the Catalans. With Rajoy's Partido Popular (PP) facing a potential collapse in support in the general election against Spain's political insurgents, it will bear watching whether the PP use the Catalan drive for autonomy to further their own agenda.

(AP photo)

Want More Europe? Go to the People

In the aftermath of the latest bailout deal for Greece, leading European politicians have said that the political integration of the European Union should move forward more quickly. Yet their ideas are a recipe for disaster further down the road. Before any decision is taken, the peoples of the European nations must be heard on exactly what kind of European Union they want.

"I've poked a fork in my eye, so now you, Greece, must do it too." This is the gist behind the opposition to the most recent Greek bailout, emanating from a broad range of eurozone nations. Baltic states and former members of the Eastern Bloc have been especially firm in opposing further help to the downtrodden Greeks.

These countries went through hard times of their own. They made deep budget cuts to get their house in order, throwing large swaths of their population into poverty. The cuts moved through successive governments, despite oftentimes tough opposition. Countries such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Slovenia are finally doing better. And the broadly shared sentiment, a kind of negative solidarity, is that Greece too must now swallow the bitter medicine.

It thus comes as no surprise that it was actually the Slovenian government that pressed EU leadership to draw up a Plan B for Greece, meaning to have them kicked from the eurozone, as The New York Times has been able to confirm.

To prevent further mishaps such as what has befallen Greece, the powerful German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schauble, turned again to ideas he has long held for a new European authority -- an entity that would have competence over national budget policies. This would transfer budgetary powers to an empowered European Commission in Brussels.

In an interview with Le Monde, Bernard Coure of the governing council of the European Central Bank voiced similar ideas, proposing that, in essence, European leaders cut electoral ties to their domestic constituencies. In his view, this should make it easier for them to make decisions in the interest of European solidarity, and very likely against the interests and wishes of folks back home.

One could sum up these views as "enforcing solidarity from above." Neither Schauble nor Coure mentioned what should be obvious: that the peoples of the democracies that make up the European Union get to have a say in all this first. Without firm backing in the shape of a democratic mandate, their ideas -- if realized -- could have consequences that will in the long term endanger the entire European Union.

How democratic is it to have a European government that wasn't elected and so doesn't have a democratic mandate? The European Commission and the recently established office of the EU president (who is basically the chairman of the Council of Ministers) are hardly paragons of democracy, selected as they are by a process resembling in many ways the murky political games played when the Vatican's cardinals elect a new pope.

The one European institution that actually does have a democratic mandate -- the European Parliament -- hardly has real power. Whenever the issue of increasing the Parliament's power is raised, national governments and parties in most national parliaments balk. There is a reason for that: Most of their voters are against it.

The European Union is what it was always meant to be: a confederation of nation-states, with each nation pursuing its national interest. This is how the machine was built. For decades politicians of different political stripes sold the European Union project as an engine for prosperity. The message stuck.

Judging by the 2005 referendums on further European political integration in France and the Netherlands, which ended in a resounding ‘No', the current loose confederacy is exactly what most Europeans seem to want. Opinion polls and electoral research have over the years confirmed this, and the Greece conundrum has only hardened this stance. One might say that those who sold the European Union as that prosperity engine are reaping what they sowed.

If Europe's leaders want more solidarity between nations -- which in the end means the transfer of money from one national government to another -- then their first goal should be to convince the people of the long-term benefits.

Cutting the ties that bind politicians to their nations by itself will not suffice. Solidarity cannot be enforced; it is fostered with care and conviction. If it is solidarity they want, then Angela Merkel, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Wolfgang Schauble, the Slovenians, the Balts, all will first have to change their tune and their message to their respective electorates.

They should grow a pair and go to the people.

(AP photo)

The Caliphate Inches Closer to Jordan

Rumors have been circulating in recent days that the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade -- a Syrian rebel group that gained notoriety in March 2013 when it kidnapped, and subsequently released, 21 Filipino UN workers -- is readying to declare its own emirate, or wilayat, in the Syrian city of Daraa, one of the group's strongholds.

The word emirate evokes all kinds of images and assumptions, but the motivations behind Yarmouk's potential push for autonomy may be rooted in very terrestrial and parochial interests. Although the Yarmouk Brigade has been rumored as having ties with the Islamic State group, the militant separatists have repeatedly denied such charges. Compounding the confusion is the fact that these accusations have been levied by Jaish al-Fatah, a Syrian rebel alliance with ties to al-Qaeda. The two factions have fought each other on the field of battle and in the court of law, and their disagreements are largely over matters of jurisprudence, affiliation, and religious interpretation.

None of this is likely to comfort to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. At times a darling of the Western world, U.S. ally Jordan already shares one volatile border with western Iraq, and the kingdom continues to reel from a video released by ISIS earlier this year depicting the immolation of a Jordanian pilot who had been taken captive by the jihadist group.

Touring the region in late July, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter pledged American support for Jordan, and described the enemy its wary Arab allies face as barbarians at the proverbial gate.

"The enemy has to be defeated," said Carter, adding "[i]t will be, because the barbarians are always defeated by civilization, a few by the many."

But the Yarmouk Brigade is a good example of just how layered and complicated the war against the Islamic State group truly is. The militant group claims that it seized the 21 UN staffers back in 2013 because the relief workers were providing water to forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, and ultimately released those it detained once international pressure was applied. Moreover, the Yarmouk Brigade's origins stem from seemingly localized gripes and grievances, and their rhetoric lacks the millenarian flare often found in ISIS's missives.

All of this suggests that the Yarmouk Brigade might be, dare I say, rational. This is an enemy that can be negotiated with and quite possibly cleaved off from the Islamic State. That isn't quite as satisfying as vanquishing barbarians at the gate, but it may be a better alternative to Washington's current -- and at times incoherent -- strategy in Syria.

Televising the Revolution

Some revolutions change humanity for better, some for the worse, but they all share this: You don't know they've started when you're in them. On August 1, 1981, Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star" was the debut music video on the new Music Television Network, MTV. It was probably seen by less than 1,000 people that very day, but ask anyone under 50 now about music without video and you'll get a blank stare.  

Likewise, for good or ill, police Body Worn Cameras, or BWCs, are here to stay.  In the United States, racially tinged incidents of police-public interaction -- from Ferguson, to Baltimore, to South Carolina -- have generated a broad, bipartisan consensus that all police officers should wear BWCs. The Scott shooting video from South Carolina (recorded not on a BWC, but on a bystander's phone) suggests that BWCs could deter at least the worst police behavior. As the song says, pictures came and broke our hearts.

In the United Kingdom, we are already more accustomed to video surveillance than are people in the United States. But two incidents have increased the momentum for the wide deployment of BWCs: the 2003 killing, at the hands of police, of Charles de Menenzes, which is now being compared to the Walter Scott case by the European Court of Human Rights; and the plainly less tragic but more-discussed "plebgate" incident. BWCs can protect us from those meant to protect us.

Still, consensus does not equal risk-free virtue. Ubiquitous BWCs can enhance the administration of justice and the deterrence of bad behavior, by police and by civilians. But they also risk serious erosion of our privacy, civil liberties, and human rights, and, indeed, they put at risk our operation as free societies. Law enforcement agencies and their political masters must develop and implement policies, procedures, and technologies to maximize the benefits of BWCs and to mitigate the above-mentioned risks.  

This needs to happen now, not after thousands of terabytes of video and audio are recorded, stored, processed, and used. By one estimate, a single American police officer recording all citizen contacts during a shift will generate 1.5 terabytes of data a year. Run the numbers for any decent-sized police force and you'll soon be into petabytes of BWC data, much of it recording the most private, intimate, and embarrassing moments we can experience: the aftermath of rape, domestic violence incidents, serious health crises and traumatic injuries to name a few.  

So, first principles for any BWC deployment:

 

  • Silence is Golden?  Many police agencies dipping a toe into BWCs are, almost by default, opting to enable audio recording along with video. We understand the rationale behind such decisions, but constant police audio recording dramatically escalates privacy and civil liberties risks, not only to criminal suspects and others directly involved in interactions with police, but also to the myriad other, innocent people the police encounter every day. To the extent audio is enabled, mechanisms to obtain the consent of those being recorded and to protect suspects' right to remain silent, where applicable, must be implemented.

  • Who's in Charge?  Police not only have the power to deprive citizens of their liberty, they routinely observe some of the most intimate, personal, and embarrassing moments of our lives. From this perspective, enabling individual officers, or police department policymakers, to control when BWCs are turned on and off is a good thing. If individual officers are given discretion to do so, however, there likely will be endless litigation over whether, in specific cases, officers turned the BWC on or off to further their own interests, conceal evidence of malfeasance, etc., or for legitimate privacy reasons. We need rules to determine how this will be handled in practice.

  • It's Not Just About the Hardware. Cost, reliability, control, and other issues all affect the purchase and deployment of cameras and of related equipment. But important privacy and civil liberties risks arise not primarily from the hardware itself, but from key policy issues that must be resolved at the beginning of any BWC deployment, including:  

  • Access & Disclosure. Access to BWC data should be limited only to those with a legitimate need for it, e.g., police, prosecutors, defense attorneys (and their clients), and judges. Access to BWC data for unrelated civil litigation or other purposes, however legitimate, should be extremely limited. One issue that has driven a great deal of public comment and disagreement in the United States is whether BWC data should be subject to "sunshine laws" or other mechanisms for journalists and the public to gain access to government-held data. Though mindful of the importance of open government, on balance, issues of individual privacy must outweigh such concerns, and BWC data should be subject to blanket exemptions from public disclosure. The possible exception is in extraordinary cases of public interest, and then only when individual privacy is protected.  
  • Retention and Destruction. BWC recordings should be retained only as long as is reasonably necessary to bring, and finally resolve, criminal proceedings, and to resolve allegations of misconduct. Such recordings should be destroyed automatically after a reasonable time, unless an accountable official directs their retention, and then only for narrowly circumscribed purposes.  
  • Analysis and Repurposing. Analysis of stored BWC data should be powerful, reliable, and utilize strong privacy and civil liberty protections. This means the analysis is fully audited, and is permitted only to resolve criminal cases and police misconduct claims. Strong security and audit controls should deter, prevent, and, if the first two fail, mitigate and punish repurposing or unauthorized sharing of BWC data.
  • Consistent Standards. To the greatest extent possible, storage, analytics, use, retention, destruction, security, and related issues should be consistent across police agencies and jurisdictions, and should, at a minimum, comply with relevant, pre-existing standards and best practices, e.g. the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Systems requirements which, among other things, provides requirements for US law enforcement agencies handling of criminal justice information, including in the cloud. 

  • No Commercial Data Mining. To the extent that police store BWC data outside of their own control, particularly with private cloud-service providers, legal and technical measures must prevent private companies from mining or otherwise using BWC data for commercial or other unauthorized purposes.

 

Broad deployment of BWCs will not be a panacea; nor will individual resultant recordings, in any particular case, depict the "whole truth." But better technology and more data in pursuit of finding the truth has historically led to greater justice. We believe this can happen with BWCs, if, but only if, those in power make hard decisions on at least the issues highlighted above, and sooner rather than later. If leaders fail to do so at the front end of the BWC revolution, the rights of many will be sacrificed. 

Either way, this revolution will be televised.  

(AP photo)

How Will Europe Handle Germany's Rise?

Andy Langenkamp is a global policy analyst for ECR Research.

If we are to believe the financial markets, all is well in Europe. Stock exchanges are in an excellent mood, not just in the core, but also in the periphery of the eurozone and of the broader European Union. Credit spreads have remained largely stable between German government bonds -- Europe's benchmark -- and the weaker European economies. But are market prices correct? Do the markets put the right price on the impact of complex European politics, or are they blind to looming dangers?

The Greek saga has gnawed at the foundations of the eurozone and distressed European unity for quite some years now. One of the greatest risks it poses is in the further erosion it causes to Franco-German relations.
 
The European project was built along the Paris-Berlin axis from the start. France's political and military might and the German economic miracle created an equilibrium of sorts. Together, the countries formed a twin engine that drove the European integration process. German reunification threw the relationship off-balance to some degree, and that bond has since continued to deteriorate. For starters, France does not have a patch on Germany when it comes to economic performance. Further, the eastward expansion of the European Union has put Berlin at the Union's geographical heart, replacing Paris as Europe's crossroads. The credit crisis and its many ramifications have definitively put Germany on the map (not always voluntarily) as Europe's dominant power. It is almost regarded as a hegemon.
 
The Germans find this uncomfortable, and so does the rest of Europe. France's role as the other leading EU country is being steadily undermined as Germany calls the political (and economic) shots in Europe. More often than not, the orderly nature of Germany's economy is at odds with French flair, which creates tension. Not accidentally, French President Francois Hollande has been cast as the leader of the eurozone moderates, who agitate against German policies viewed as binding member states in economic straightjackets. France does not necessarily want to write off Greek debt. However, it was President Hollande, along with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who came to Greece's aid when the Germans went too far.
 
The Franco-German axis barely exists anymore. Undoubtedly, tensions will mount between Paris and Berlin in the years to come. The French are a proud people with memories of a time when they had a powerful empire. That time is gone, but the conduct of former President Charles De Gaulle and his successors within the European Union and its forerunners showed the power of its legacy. In essence, France still thinks of itself as a great power -- note how it retains a military presence in its former colonies. We do not think Paris will gracefully step aside and let Berlin lead the Continent now. Nor are many other countries that keen on German supremacy. In all likelihood, they will support France as it attempts to curb Berlin's accumulation of power.
 
European integration was meant to render Germany more European in character, and to prevent a return to the dark periods of the 20th century. Now, many fear that Europe is instead becoming more German. This clash will continue over the coming years. Berlin is not consciously striving for hegemony; Germany's ascendance seems nearly accidental. Whereas it is prepared to take the lead, it does not want to be seen as a bully that forces others to follow in its economic footsteps.
 
Right or wrong, many commentators think it is already too late. The Irish journalist Fintan O'Toole wrote: "What's the difference between the Mafia and the current European leadership? The Mafia makes you an offer you can't refuse. The leaders of the European Union offer you a deal you can neither refuse nor accept without destroying yourself.... Germany is first in a new Europe of unequals .... we are in a new EU now, one that has a dominant power at its centre and a single acceptable ideology." 
 
The euro crisis has poisoned Germany's attitude towards Europe and Europe's attitude towards Germany. Germany's ascendant dominance, and the way Europe chooses to deal with it, is going to be one of the great drivers of or breaks on the European project in the years to come.

(AP photo)

How Tsipras Made Himself Indispensable

What if Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras willfully sought to cave in to Greece's creditors?

However extravagant it appears at first read, this hypothesis is the only one that can give coherence to a chain of otherwise disparate, contradictory decisions taken by Athens - decisions that brought the Greek economy to the brink of paralysis.

On June 26, Tsipras refused to stamp his signature on a program of reforms negotiated with Greece's official creditors that seemed to be a done deal. He then convened a referendum (held on July 5) and called upon his fellow citizens to reject those reforms by voting no. Yet, when the no vote won, he switched tack and put forward to Greece's creditors proposals which largely mirrored those that Greeks, upon his recommendation, had voted against. Finally, on July 13 he accepted a still-harsher set of reforms that Greece's eurozone partners had presented him as a take-it-or-leave-it offer.

All these prevarications have nurtured the belief that Greece's prime minister awkwardly misplayed his cards - that perhaps he didn't even know what cards he held.

Looked at more carefully, however, Tsipras's brinkmanship may have responded to, and succeeded in securing, a different, somewhat hidden objective, namely: to loosen the grip that his radical-left party, Syriza, held on his government and on himself and, by that token, to be in a position to come to terms with his country's creditors despite the efforts of Syriza hardliners.

To ascertain how stifling Syriza's hold on the Greek government had become, it is worthwhile to recall the circumstances under which the June 26 meeting between Tsipras and the three institutions that represent Greece's creditors (the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund) ended in deadlock.

On that occasion, after several hours of intense negotiations, and at a moment when Tsipras appeared ready to accept a set of proposals made by the creditors, he - as reported by the Financial Times - left the room to consult with the advisers from his party who had come with him to Brussels. A few minutes later Tsipras came back with new proposals and modifications to the painfully-negotiated text.

Exasperated by this last-minute pirouette, the heads of the creditors' institutions decided to call off the meeting.

Once back in Greece, Tsipras broadcast his decision to convene a referendum on the proposals put forward by the institutions, and immediately took the side in favor of the no vote.

Tsipras' last-minute turnaround at the June 26 meeting in Brussels could only be explained by pressures from the party advisers standing outside the negotiations room. After consulting them, he fretted about being disavowed by his party should he give a formal go-ahead to that reform package.

At that point, Tsipras must have realized that the only way to secure a meaningful negotiating space for himself was to emancipate himself from party control. This was all the more necessary since he knew, after six months in government, that persistence in the standoff with Greece's creditors - which Syriza's hardliners and his finance minister at the time, Yanis Varoufakis, were advocating - would only lead to Greece's economic collapse.

Indeed, the confrontational stance taken to that point had shackled Greece with uncertainties and financial constraints that were at the source of the country's shrinking tax receipts, bank runs, liquidity shortages and capital controls.

For Tsipras, therefore, it was urgent to change tack.


But then, how to attain that goal? Would he dare propose reforms that would contradict his electoral promises? No way; his party was strong enough to stop him from turning about.

Tsipras had only one workable option: to give the impression that a change of course had become unavoidable, even though he himself was against it - hence his leading the no camp at the July 5 referendum.

That referendum, and the victory of the no vote, considerably enhanced Tsipras's public image. From then on, he was not merely the leading candidate that Syriza had successfully presented at the January Parliamentary elections - obtaining 36.5 percent of the votes. He was now the prime minister who had thrown his political weight behind the no camp and earned the support of 61.5 percent of his fellow citizens.

After that political victory, Tsipras was in a position to make his own decisions - his political party no longer held him on a leash. It was then, and not before, that he could depart from Syriza's hardline stances and propose, as he actually did, reforms almost identical to those he had been pushed to refuse in the June 26 meeting with creditors.

True, when he arrived in Brussels to attend the July 12 eurozone summit, Tsipras was not expecting to be confronted with a still harsher reform package. All the same, he was already set to compromise - as evidenced by the concessions he brought with him.

Thus, once in Brussels, and realizing that his eurozone partners were in no mood to backtrack, Tsipras preferred to capitulate rather than to walk away one more time. He argued afterward, during an interview on Greek state television, that he had signed a text he didn't believe in, only "to avoid a disaster for the country."

The gambit paid off: Seventy-two percent of Greeks deemed that the Brussels agreement was necessary.

Distinct proof that capitulation was a matter of choice, rather than of necessity, lies in the fact that Tsipras's former Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, had prepared a secret plan B, involving the creation of a parallel payments scheme aimed at coping with Greece's eventual exit from the euro. Tsipras, however, preferred to appease Greece's creditors and asked Varoufakis to step down.

By disentangling himself from Syriza hardliners and from his former finance minister, Alexis Tsipras has managed to become Greece's indispensable player. As showed by his sparkling 60 percent approval rating, a majority of Greeks have come to believe that no one could represent and defend their interests more forcefully and effectively than Tsipras. Greece's creditors, for their part, will hardly find someone better suited than Tsipras to persuade that country's population and bureaucracy, albeit grudgingly, of the need to undertake profound economic and institutional reforms.

It remains to be seen whether Tsipras can deliver the reforms that Greece so badly needs.

(AP photo)

How Russia Sees Its 'Little Green Men'

The Western press has offered plenty of commentary on Russia's so-called "little green men" -- special forces and intelligence units that helped take over Crimea in 2014 and are rumored to be assisting Ukrainian rebels in the Donbas region. Russian daily Krasnaya Zveda (Red Star) -- the official publication of the Russian Defense Ministry -- gave its readers a look at the inside operations of these units. The publication looked specifically at the training and background of the Black Sea intelligence and special operations battalion, whose job it is to operate deep behind enemy lines. Since special forces are now celebrated across Russia as a key force-projection element following events in Ukraine, the account is obviously flattering to the Russian military. However, certain training elements described here are prevalent in most militaries that aspire to field professional and effective special forces. So how do Russians wish to see their "green men," and what kind of training do they go through?

What makes a Green Man
 
The paper interviews several special forces officers, starting with Col. Sergei Chudin, the battalion commander. According to Red Star, the battalion requires the most stringent requirements for the physical, intellectual, and moral standing of its members. Chudin, with combat experience in two Chechen campaigns, describes such requirements as follows: "Nobody should see and hear our scouts, while they see and hears everything, so our soldier is first and foremost an intellectual. Physical indicators are secondary, and we can help potential candidates who suit us with wit and spirit build muscle." According to Chudin, constant hiking, cross-country races, classes on tactics, and daily and nightly shooting exercises gradually transform his soldiers into the military's most effective fighting units, a real elite intelligence force.

"A professional differs from an amateur by a fraction of a second," says Chudin to his troops. "An amateur and a professional can perform the same tasks, but a professional is always a little faster. A bullet from an AK-74 travels 90 meters (300 feet) in a tenth of a second, and this tenth of a second often allows for a win."

According to the paper, this invaluable extra time is gained only after grueling workouts and step-by-step evaluation of each scout's actions - constant preparation is essential. This battalion regularly trains in the Daryale (North Ossetia) and Botlikh (Dagestan) centers, located in the Russian Southern Military District, and mountain training is part of the regimen. "The mountain training that our soldiers receive at Daryale can be effectively combined with reconnaissance activities in forested mountainous terrain," said Chudin. "Crimea offers ideal conditions for both types of action -- the skills we picked up in North Ossetia are successfully improved here on the Crimean peninsula."

Capt. Alexander Khovanskii's airborne reconnaissance company just returned from a two-month trip, during which it performed the tasks assigned by the Southern Military District command. Red Star could not learn the details of their operation, but quoted scouts who said they were "happy...that their work was completed from start to finish." According to Khovanskii, his troops will depart for a holiday, "nicely complemented by considerable cash payments, plus 60 percent of salary for each month spent in the field, as well as monetary compensation for unused vacation days." Red Star notes that such monetary compensation is "worthy materiel support and a nice addition to a sense of accomplishment by military contractors."  
 
Capt. Dmitry Betov is commanding the airborne reconnaissance platoon, preferring to work "in the field" rather than on base. "When I first joined the team, I was treated with suspicion, " says Betov. "Before, I served in the Ukrainian military, and secondly, intelligence scouts did not immediately accept a new man in their ranks. I immediately put the platoon through rigid statutory conditions and began to build its work on the principle of ‘do as I do.' Seeing that I was doing everything myself that I required of my subordinates, the scouts stopped treating me with suspicion. But when they realized that I can teach them something new and do it with pleasure, they finally accepted me."

According to Red Star, time spent in the field brings solders together much better than during a feast, and a 30-kilometer (20-mile) march makes people find common ground much faster than during many hours of conversation. Betov found such common ground with his fellow soldiers, since he speaks the same professional language due to his service with Ukrainian Naval commandos, in the 29th Maritime Intelligence section of the Ukrainian Navy. "My platoon engaged in a variety of exercises, trained for ‘inversion of the bag' maneuver to counter ‘hammer and anvil' principles used in the U.S. Army to counter special forces," says Betov. "We worked through the techniques used by SAS - British special forces - which I learned while serving in the Ukrainian Navy."

Betov's description of his experience presents a dilemma for Ukrainian forces -- and further afield, considering recently announced joint training with the U.S. military -- how to ensure that proprietary tactics, techniques, and procedures that were once part of Ukrainian special forces' and paramilitary units' operations are not used against Kiev by former Ukrainians who fled to Russia. Over the past year, there have been a number of reports of Ukrainian soldiers deserting to Russia, refusing to take part in military actions against pro-Russian rebel forces in the Donbas. Though the exact numbers of such desertions may be difficult to verify independently, the fact remains that Russian forces are using their hybrid warfare experience in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine to strengthen their power projection in the former Soviet space. How the recently announced training of select Ukrainian units by American servicemen addresses this issue remains to be seen.

(AP photo)

Can Mexico's President Recover?

Two weeks after the escape of Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman from a maximum-security prison, the political, security, and economic problems for President Enrique Pena Nieto have yet to bottom out. An administration that has shied away from confronting narcotrafficking, public corruption, and violent unions now finds itself struggling to implement its laudable agenda of national modernization because of a lack of public confidence in all levels of the Mexican government. 

Now the first round of offshore oil auctions intended to open the energy sector in Mexico to private capital have fallen far short of expectations, adding to the government's woes as it wrestles with a political and security crisis. 

The price of arrogance

In 2014, the recapture of Guzman, one of the world's most dangerous and notorious drug traffickers, was trumpeted as a dramatic achievement for the Mexican government. At the time, Pena Nieto opined boldly that another escape by Guzman would be "unforgivable"- and, now, he may be proved right

Arrogance about the Mexican state's ability to keep this notorious criminal behind bars precluded El Chapo's extradition to the United States. Mexico's powerful Secretary of the Interior, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, was so emphatic in February 2014 about the government's desire to keep el Chapo in Mexico that the U.S. State Department waited a year to request that he be turned over for trial on pending drug charges. However, the Mexican people knew better; a poll at the time found that 70 percent of respondents believed that El Chapo would escape again. Now, the Mexican government is left picking up the pieces of its security strategy, which was already discredited badly by the scandalous mass murder of 43 students in 2014 and a series of bloody battles by brazen gangsters in virtually every corner of the country. 

Ironically, since taking office in 2012, Pena Nieto has set aside his predecessor's so-called war on drugs to focus on social and economic reforms -- particularly on the modernization of Mexico's energy sector. Last week, that legacy project suffered a major setback when international investors showed little enthusiasm for bidding on the rights to explore and exploit Mexico's energy resources. Of the 14 blocks offered by Mexico, only two generated interest from the private sector. Mexican authorities expected an investment of approximately $18 billion for this first round of offerings, but only $1 billion in bids were generated. Contributing to these disappointing results were the drop in global oil prices, uncertainty in international markets, and statist economic policies that discourage investment and hurt Mexico's middle class. In the last three years of former president Felipe Calderon's term (2006-2012) the economy grew at an average of four percent. In the first three years of the Pena Nieto administration, the economy has grown an average of 1.7 percent. Further, since 2013, the Mexican peso has lost 20 percent of its value

Pena Nieto heard of El Chapo's escape while en route to a state visit in France. In a hapless bid to minimize the issue, the president continued with his visit and dispatched Osorio Chong back to manage the crisis. This careless decision may have been a subtle but profound signal that Pena Nieto has personally concluded that his administration, despite having three years left in office, is effectively over. Already besieged by personal and political corruption scandals, security crises, a lackluster performance in mid-term elections, and the slow but steady unraveling of his structural reforms, the escape of El Chapo may have been the coup de grace to the president's ability to govern.

The time to salvage his personal image and the credibility of his administration may have passed. However, Mexico cannot function without a president until 2018. Unless Pena Nieto is prepared to sink to ignominious depths in Mexico's history, he must break out of the constraints set by his party bosses and act boldly to deal with corruption, violence, and economic stagnation in order to salvage his presidency.

Perhaps Pena Nieto cannot live up to the expectations he set for himself. Maybe he will not manage to return the country to the levels of economic stability, security, and productivity achieved by his predecessor. However, getting the country out of the mess that it is in today is the inescapable responsibility of one man: Enrique Pena Nieto.

(AP photo)

A Routed Labour Soldiers Aimlessly On

Poor old Labour.

Roundly defeated in an election in which all of the polls (and, ahem, most of the pundits) pointed toward victory, the party limps on in Westminster. Labour lawmakers gamely engage in parliamentary battles. They usually lose, facing as they do an increasingly dominant Conservative Party that seems to have forgotten its needle-thread majority in its rampage, much the way an aging striker occasionally racks up the goals in an improbably late golden season.

Amid an interminable leadership contest, the Labour Party is headed in the interim by longstanding stalwart Harriet Harman - so (in)famously politically correct that she is often lampooned as "Harriet Harperson" - who is serving her second stint as party caretaker. It is fair to say that Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition is in trouble.

Bereft of real leadership in this interregnum, the Labour Party has been split most recently by Harman's unpopular decision to abstain rather than vote against the Conservative Party's latest cuts to the United Kingdom's generous benefits system - a decision against which almost 50 of her parliamentary colleagues rebelled.

Let me express an unfashionable view: Harriet Harman is doing what an opposition leader ought to do, but often does not: acting on what seems genuinely right, rather than doing what's easy, and opposing for the sake of opposing. UK benefits are high. But while she is doing the right thing, it's probably less out of principle and more for conventional political reasons - preparing her apparently reluctant party for a return to government one day. Harman realizes that the Conservative policy is wildly popular, and that while opposing it may be easy within the party, it does no favors to the cause of Labour's electoral future. Most British people agree that one should not be better off on benefits than in work. Labour's inability to straightforwardly agree with that point - as Harman is sort-of now doing - harmed the party at the General Election held in May.

Had Harman continued in that failed vein, she would have been cheered by her side, but not by the public. She would have walked into what one observer wisely termed "the irresponsibility trap" set for her by the government. But it was a lose-lose situation for Labour's stand-in leader. The decision not to oppose the cuts led this week to a wonderfully pathetic parliamentary meltdown. Harman seemed more interested in shouting at lawmakers on her side who voted against the measure than in following her own party's political instincts.

So Labour was torn between looking out of touch with its own base on welfare, and appearing too "pro-welfare" in general; between aversion to risking its own political base, whose voters in large part are more affected by the proposed changes than is the traditional Tory voter, and seeking to return to the mainstream; and between respect for Harman and loyalty to candidates for the party's leadership. These last had, as anyone might understand, sided with the majority view of the electorate-to-be on the left who will decide the next leader.

In short: The Tories split the opposition brilliantly.

We now have a Government that can do almost whatever it wishes, with its decisions subject to little scrutiny due to the weakness of the opposition. This is bad, no matter what one thinks of the particular parties in and out of office. We might, for example, have had more scrutiny of the Home Office's attempt to snoop on the emails, text messages, and phone record data of everyone in the country if the opposition were on task. (After all, the very same plan was defeated not once, but three times in the last Parliament alone, so the opposition strategy should not be too hard to grasp.)

More broadly, the British political agenda is dominated by foreign affairs issues - Grexit, Iran, immigration into the European Union and so on. This is interesting, given the near-total absence of these issues during the election campaign. The most potent issues thereafter are Britain's attempt to renegotiate its standing within the European Union - enough for an article itself, one which I will write shortly - and a national issue threatening once again to become an international one: Scottish nationalism. The Scottish National Party, which now seats more than 50 MPs at Westminster, plays to a different supporter base than Labour and is pursuing a very different strategy. After all, the SNP is not looking for a plan to reach 10 Downing Street. Unlike Labour, this means SNP lawmakers do not need to appeal to the English voter. They spur on the left-wing instinct within Labour and are arguably the most effective opposition party at present. While Labour MPs are timid, cowed, and lacking in confidence, the SNP's new intake are lively, creative, and distinct in their views. They are well organized and entirely unafraid to oppose.

But the SNP's task at Westminster is more straightforward. The party needs to make enough noise and stamp out enough English-only issues to bring about a reoccurrence of a Scottish independence referendum. Like the Tories after 1997, Labour is left to find its sense of certainty and purpose once again. That process only begins with selecting a new leader, rather than ending there. That's the challenge for all four of the leadership contenders: Shadow Health Secretary and centrist-cum-union candidate Andy Burnham; Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper (somewhat liberated on the campaign trail by the defeat of her husband, Ed Balls, in his own seat); Shadow Health Minister Liz Kendall (the token Blairite, alas unlikely to win); and Jeremy Corbyn, a firebrand left-wing outsider. Several Labour lawmakers apparently voted Corbyn into the process in order to ensure that his views were represented in the vote. They might now regret their act. Corbyn is presently way out in front when party members are polled.

One more try?

It is certainly hard to second-guess the "selectorate," given that almost two-thirds of them have joined the Party since the last leadership contest, in 2010. Whoever wins, the party's loyalists presently ask themselves, will "one more heave" work? Will presenting Labour as the ideological opposition be enough to win in 2020? History suggests not. Recently defeated leader Ed Miliband tried just that. The party would be better advised to seek to reclaim the center from Cameron and his resurgent Chancellor, George Osborne. As David Frum put it, if the electorate said no when you offered ham and eggs, then offering double ham and eggs doesn't sound like much of a plan.

It's not all bad for the red team. In a generally terrible election for them, May 2015 saw the party add some very strong new reinforcements. My firm will soon release a nice glossy guide to the up-and-coming MPs within this Parliament, but without giving away the store I think I can safely say that the rising stars from the ranks of Labour newcomers include Keir Starmer, the most high-profile of Labour's new intake, having spent five years as the director of Public Prosecutions and head of the Crown Prosecution Service; Tulip Siddiq, formerly of Amnesty International, with a strong political pedigree as granddaughter of former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheih Mujibur and niece of current Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina; and Stephen Kinnock, a former director for the World Economic Forum whose father Neil was former leader of the Party, whose mother Glenys is a former foreign minister and Member of European Parliament, and whose wife is former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

This trio, along with several others from their intake, promises to revivify the Labour Party in time - even if the present generation of leaders can't get its act together. In the meantime, Labour should take comfort from the wise words of Rocky Balboa. When you're in opposition in Westminster, he almost said, it's not about how hard you can hit - it's about how hard you can get hit and still keep on moving forward.

(AP photo)

Can Europe Still Save Macedonia?

If ever there were a country that the European Union could benefit, that country is Macedonia. Bordering several troubled countries that arose from the bloodstained ashes of the former Yugoslavia, Macedonia, with a helping hand, could become the peaceful example that this patch of the Balkans sorely needs.

Stuck between Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, and Greece, Macedonia is a land-locked country of slightly more than 2 million souls. It is also a country typical of the Balkans, with its troubled past and the potential for future violence. Macedonia is a European nation in trouble, and the European Union should help it. The question increasingly is whether Macedonia still wants that help - and all the strings that come attached to it.

At a crossroads

Widespread corruption has brought the country to the brink of socioeconomic collapse. Many a Macedonian ekes out a living on just €250 ($274) per month, usually working two or three jobs. While its population fights to make ends meet, the government has drawn serious criticism for alleged graft and nepotism. Indeed, recently wiretapped telephone conversations between Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his government cronies revealed levels of corruption and ethical malpractice that would make Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe blush.

The recordings were leaked by former intelligence service personnel, who copied them on USB sticks and fled the country, fearing for their lives. They then handed the recordings over to the main opposition party, which now regularly organizes live-streamed press conferences on YouTube to play through the tapes. This is necessary, the oppositon says, because the government controls all mainstream media in the country.

Gruevski appears to have ordered the director of the intelligence agency -- who also happens to be his cousin -- to record all the telephone conversations of his Cabinet ministers, higher-ranking government staff, the judiciary, the police, and opposition figures. The reason for this is Gruevski's increasing paranoia. He does not trust even those close to him, and he seems to want everyone wiretapped so he can personally listen in on their conversations.

The tapes are embarrassing, to say the least. They reveal that government ministers conspired to keep opposition supporters from voting and catch them in the act of apparently offering expensive real estate to friends.

To the opposition, the tapes are proof of an autocratic government that will do anything to stay in power. And it probably needs the strongarm methods - the wiretapped conversations and rumors in the capital strongly hint at a country that is effectively bankrupt.

With the state's coffers empty, and creditors unwilling to invest amid the scandals, rumors abound that the prime minister is personally reaching out to Russia and China for secret loans to keep the government afloat.

This development has drawn attention from European capitals. But the question is whether there is much love to be found for the European Union among Macedonians. For years, most Macedonians yearned for their country to become a member of the European Union. Yet each overture was blocked by EU member Greece, which has historical reasons to mistrust Macedonia, the birthplace of Alexander the Great.

(Google Maps)

As there is also a province in Greece named Macedonia, Athens fears that somehow the country of Macedonia will lay a territorial claim to Greek territory once it becomes an EU member. It is because of the work of Greek diplomats that Macedonia is now officially known as The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia - so that everyone can tell the difference.

And Greece is again playing on many a Macedonian's mind, but in a different context. Macedonians, already disappointed that the European Union has on the surface not done much to force out the Gruevski government, now have the eurozone's harsh treatment of Greece as a reason to rethink entrance to the Union. Macedonia is after all close to bankruptcy; who knows what kind of programs the European Union would impose to shore up Macedonian finances?

The European Union finally stepped in to mediate between the main opposition party and Gruevski. Elections that were originally set for 2017 have now been moved forward to April 2016. This has defused a potentially very violent situation, as groups of students set up tents in the capital, Skopje, to protest against the government. Demonstrations in recent months have turned violent, and frustrated militancy among the opposition is on the rise.

Stuck between the rock of potentially becoming a bankrupt, autocratic satellite of Moscow, and the hard place that may be the European Union, the Macedonians face a tough choice.

Yet everybody knows how uninhabitable a rock is, while the hard place has one advantage: It is uncharted. If this is the choice, an uncharted future in which it can find its own course is what Macedonia should probably hope for.

(AP photo)

Who Wants to Buy Russia's New Tank?

On May 9, the world got its first chance to see Russia's newly designed Armata combat platform -- Russia's first major armored vehicle and main battle tank development since the dissolution of Soviet Union in 1991. Billed by Russians as the most advanced military system in the world today, it certainly impressed global audiences and experts. As with many new military systems designed to meet a variety of challenges, there is now interest from Russia's foreign partners in acquiring this technology, even though it has not been tested in global conflicts the way American and Western technologies have been over the past two decades. Not surprisingly, the top two countries interested in Armata are already big customers of Russian military hardware, even as they remain fierce geopolitical rivals: China and India.

Russian daily Izvestia quotes Vladimir Kozhin, Russian presidential assistant on military-technical partnerships, as saying that "there is interest in the new technology -- mostly from our traditional partners such as India, China, and Southeast Asia." Kozhin explained that Armata technology will first go to the Russian armed forces, and only in the future be delivered to foreign armies. "In the meantime, foreign customers are satisfied with the Russian equipment delivered under current contracts."

Izvestia notes that according to military export professionals, Armata exports will only be possible in three years. However, the history of military-technical cooperation offers several examples of new arms technology ending up in foreign armies around the same time as it joins the exporting state's own forces. This was the case with the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, which was delivered to the Imperial Iranian Air Force in 1976, having being fielded by U.S. Navy only in 1974.

Izvestia also quotes Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies: "If a customer really wants to get new technology, then it's a question of whether it's a friendly country, and what is the amount of payment. The money you can gain from such exports can reduce the price and cost of this technology for the Russian Defense Ministry. Even if we are dealing with unfinished development, such a partnership can be done in conjunction with the export (weapon) version for the client, as is happening now in the case of T-50 fifth-generation stealth aircraft that is being jointly developed with India." The real verdict on the T-50 partnership is still out, though there are indicators that certain issues have to be ironed out between Moscow and New Dehli.

According to Pukhov, India is interested in Armata because the Indian military is not satisfied with its domestically produced Arjun main battle tank - joint tank development projects with Moscow are possible. China's latest MBT-3000 tank is based on a Soviet T-72 design that is several decades old, and Beijing's interest in Armata may stem from its desire for continued modernization and upgrade of its vast military forces.

(AP photo)

History's Lesson: The European Union Is a Survivor

Remembering history is crucial to understanding the present. Its lessons can be ignored or badly played, but a knowledge of history helps steer us away from exaggerated, immediate conclusions anchored in the flow of the quotidian. 
 
European integration provides a stellar example. The history of this process frames the deal just reached between Greece and its creditors. It helps us to understand. 
 
The European Union's pattern has always been to make significant advances by crisis. After the trouble ebbs, a period of stability follows as the new order is established, until stagnation or some outside event leads to a new crisis, with a new solution that works more or works less but sets up the cycle anew. 
 
Europe should take some comfort in the fact that in politics, nothing is absolutely certain, and nothing is forever. The euro currency, the European monetary system -- indeed, even European integration itself -- could always end in catastrophe. Yet if history is good enough of a guide, this is anything but a foregone conclusion. 
 
Another truism: In politics nothing is ever permanently won or lost. European integration has been written off many times before yet it has survived -- perhaps with different structures than intended, and with solutions that are less than perfect, but it has come a long way. (And as Charles de Gaulle wrote, "the future lasts a long time.") 
 
The most historically informed criticism of EU Economic and Monetary Union, which was set up in the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, argues that the arrangement lacked the necessary precondition to be run effectively: that is, political union. Choices in macroeconomic policies are fundamentally political decisions. Absent the political concessions on national sovereignty necessary for decisionmaking, on the euro and on monetary policy in general, the euro currency would hit a mortal crisis and fail, and monetary union would collapse. 

How Union was birthed
 
Let us remember that the Maastricht Treaty was in fact two treaties -- one for Political Union and the other for Economic and Monetary Union. The goals, for political union as for monetary union, involved merging national sovereignties into an EU-level federal sovereignty in certain areas. Economically, the common EU trade policy was one example; a second was the European Central Bank, and a third was the European Court of Justice.
 
Let us also remember the crisis conditions under which Maastricht was negotiated -- that is, the unexpected collapse of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, and then of the Soviet Union itself. The Maastricht achievement was the work of two outstanding leaders of the Franco-German entente: German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President Francois Mitterrand. The fundamental deal was French support for German unification in exchange for Kohl's acceptance of monetary union. Mitterrand was worried about recreating a full-sized Germany -- British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher rejected the idea -- while Kohl was asking the West Germans to give up the Deutsche Mark, a leading symbol of Germany's postwar success. But they came through. Germany was unified, the euro was established, and the former satellite regimes in Eastern Europe were admitted to the European Union a decade later.
 
The key point in the grand scope of history was not that monetary union and the road to the euro were set up before political union. It was that monetary union was set up at all. EU political union was impossible given the uncertain European universe created by the Soviet Union's collapse. Maastricht was a great achievement, but also a great risk. What was the Kohl-Mitterrand calculation?
 
It was that EU political integration would advance enough in succeeding years to make the economic union sustainable. It was, without saying it in so many words, that the Union would produce leaders of stature capable of making political union a reality, at least enough to undergird monetary union and the euro. The original sin of putting monetary union before political union was redeemable, but it didn't happen. Instead of a new targeted treaty on increased political union, Europe's leaders overreached. By 2005 they had produced a "Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe," with the obvious goal of a federal United States of Europe. Since unanimity was required by EU rules, rejection by the Netherlands and France torpedoed the entire enterprise. Broadly speaking, the EU political process has not changed much since then. 

An opportunity for growth
 
The upshot of the Greek imbroglio is that the internal inconsistencies of Europe's integration process have produced a new crisis. German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that "without the euro there is no Europe." European Council President Donald Tusk says that the current crisis is "the most critical moment in EU history." One well-known commentator's headline is, "Greece's brutal creditors have demolished the eurozone."  Another writer alleges that the entire eurozone "is run for the benefit of Germany."
 
Beyond the politicians' necessary exaggerations and the commentariat's attempts to outshout one another, a more modest conclusion can be offered. Greek political leadership is being disciplined, the Greek people will suffer more than was necessary, half-solutions and wiggle-room will proliferate, and -- hopefully -- other at-risk governments will take note. The case for greater political union to undergird monetary union has been made by the facts and by national interests, not by europhile hopefulness. Crisis makes catharsis possible. The European Union may ultimately prove itself worse-off or better-off. But it is unlikely to collapse.

(AP photo)

The Illusion of Realignment in the Middle East

Hope springs eternal, and for analysts and diplomats working in the Middle East it runs especially deep. Just consider the illusions built up around the Arab Spring, the pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace, and numerous other long shots, lost causes, and assorted reveries.

The latest fantasy train to pull up at the station is the notion that the recently concluded Iran deal is going to lead the United States to some kind of strategic realignment or rebalance, with Iran now playing a more central role in Washington's relations with the region.

The chain of logic tying this latest conceit together goes something like this: Iran is a critically important country sitting at the nexus of just about every problem in the region; the nuclear deal shows you can do business with Tehran; the Iranian public is more pro-American than those of many of America's Arab friends; so let's use the Iran deal to begin to create a new relationship with Iran. After all, it is not healthy for the United States to be so dependent on its traditional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Move over Jerusalem and Riyadh - here come the mullahs.

In a galaxy far far away this kind of thinking might actually translate into something real. But right or wrong, it won't work here on Planet Earth. And here is why.

The President Doesn't Really Believe in it

U.S. President Barack Obama has sent decidedly mixed messages when it comes to the utility of engaging Iran. Yes, he believes in the power of diplomacy and the value of negotiating. Indeed, he has relentlessly and willfully pursued the agreement with Iran on the nuclear issue -- and in the view of his critics, to a fault. At the same time, almost everything he has said, before and after the deal, smacks of limited goals and of a transactional, not a transformational, approach. If he believes -- as with Cuba -- that he has started a process of engagement, it is one that he believes will pay its dividends only over time. As a self-styled Neibuhrian (find proximate solutions to insoluble problems), Obama has no illusions that Iran will change quickly, or perhaps even at all, as a result of the nuclear deal. And right now, selling the nuclear deal to a skeptical U.S. Congress demands that the president not appear naive about Iran's human rights violations, its holding of four Americans, and its behavior in the region. In the next 15 months he may well look to test Iran's readiness to cooperate on regional issues such as Syria and Iraq. But a combination of his own skepticism, the across-the-board opposition to Iran in Congress, and Iran's own need to remain aloof and detached from any putative American embrace, is likely to preclude any dramatic post-agreement moves toward Tehran.

And neither do the Mullahs

Even if the Obama administration were ready to test the realignment theory, Iran's own behavior rules it out. Whatever the motives of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in agreeing to this nuclear deal may have been, one of them was not to undermine the revolution and the hardline authoritarian nature of the state's control. On the contrary, the purpose of the nuclear deal was to consolidate the regime's position and to manage public expectations by creating a stronger economy and garnering more international legitimacy.

It is the cruelest of ironies that the very nuclear issue that has made Iran an outlier has now given the regime an opportunity to begin to end its international isolation. But there are other factors that limit how fast and far this process can go. The Supreme Leader, who has yet to endorse the agreement, has a need to placate hardliners and counter the rise of pro-negotiations elites such as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The best way to do that is to keep at a distance from Washington, and perhaps even to demonstrate Iran's revolutionary credentials by toughening its image. Indeed, Iran is unlikely to accommodate U.S. interests by abandoning Syrian President Bashar al Assad, or by weakening its support for Hezbollah or for Shiite Iraqi militias. Countering the Islamic State does provide a tactical coincidence of interests with Washington. But given the Islamic State's recent setbacks in Syria, the threat from the group has yet to provide the basis for any kind of strategic alignment. Indeed, sanctions relief is likely to enable Iran to increase its support for its regional allies, not diminish it.

Buying off the Saudis and Israelis

In the Middle East, one man's floor is another's ceiling. Everything is closely related. The Iran deal has alienated America's traditional allies. But to compensate, Washington will do everything it can to reassure Israel and Saudi Arabia that it is taking their security concerns seriously. This is likely to create a chain reaction that will further minimize the odds of any kind of strategic alignment with Iran. On top of the billions of dollars in fancy military hardware the United States has already sold to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, the Iran deal will generate more. The reality -- and certainly the perception -- will be that these post-agreement goodies are designed to counter Iran's growing influence. Tehran will need to react accordingly to this cordon sanitaire, and that will make it very difficult to open up the kind of political space that is the stuff of major rapprochements. Indeed, curtailing Iran's nuclear ambitions might actually raise regional tensions, not lower them. Congress and all the presidential candidates will ensure that anti-Iranian and pro-Israeli rhetoric remains very high. And the administration will be under considerable pressure not to send signals that it is deserting its traditional allies as the price of the deal with Iran.

The bottom line seems clear. There is no doubt that the U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement is a profound development. But its consequences are at best uncertain. To use an arms control agreement to significantly realign U.S. policy with a repressive state that has expansionist designs in a turbulent region is a very long shot. The Iranian deal is not a peace treaty that has produced an end state with a nation that plays by internationally accepted norms and conventions. There are no Iranian heroic actors in this drama, no Sadats, Rabins, or King Husseins capable of transforming U.S. political or public attitudes about the Iranian regime. Should Iran change -- should it start to show real flexibility on regional issues -- that might provide an opening for real change in the bilateral relationship. Releasing the Americans the regime is holding would be a start. Right now, I wouldn't count on it. The Middle East may be the a region of miracles, but don't expect one in the U.S.-Iranian relationship.

(AP photo)

A Brechtian Dose of European Realism

As news of a European deal to keep Greece in the eurozone reverberates around the continent, commentators, opinion leaders, and politicians of all stripes wonder what happened to the European dream. Two new factions are discernible: disappointed dreamers and shrugging realists.

It was Germany that brought forth the playwright Bertolt Brecht, who in his 1928 play "The Threepenny Opera" famously observed about people: "Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral" ("First comes the feeding, after that come the morals.") "The Threepenny Opera" is a musical drama highly critical of capitalism and self-interest. 

With this in mind, it is ironic that it was Germany that led the assault on Greece during the arduous negotiations to come to a deal over the country's debt obligations. It was, after all, Germany that benefited from international solidarity in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Yet if European Council President Donald Tusk is to be believed, it was German Chancellor Angela Merkel who gave up on the negotiations with Greece early Monday and announced that it should exit the eurozone. A Grexit was at hand. Tusk forced her and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras back to the table to hash out a compromise.

Yet while the compromise is seen by some in Europe as a capitulation of sorts by Germany to Greece -- Merkel appears to have really wanted a Grexit, after all -- many others see the agreement with Greece as a one-sided diktat that will destroy what's left of the country's economy. But what appears to gall them even more is that it was their leaders who pushed for that diktat. 

Realists shrugged. It was hardly the first time that Greece came close to bankruptcy. In its short history as a modern independent state, it has gone bankrupt several times. Nothing new here. 

But those who dreamt of a Europe united in solidarity choked on their coffee when they read the terms of the agreement on July 13. In op-eds, on social media, and on websites, astonished pro-Europeans lamented a Europe that never was and voiced their shock and awe, not at Greece, but at their own leaders. The main contention: the European dream is crushed, and their own people did the crushing.

While with every step in the European Union's enlargement the pro-Europeans thought they saw a deepening of pan-European solidarity, everyday reality to the practiced eye showed that the European Union is a collection of nation-states continuing to pursue their national interests. Below the blue-and-gold veneer of peace and unity, economic wars raged between the EU members. Revelations emerging from WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden showed that European governments snoop on each other in order to stay ahead of the competition. 

Rivaling governments offer big companies huge tax incentives to lure them away from their so-called European brethren, LuxLeaks showed. To the uninformed -- the naive, perhaps? -- the Greece crisis laid all this bare in one fell stroke.

The European Union and its previous incarnations were never meant to lead to a full-blown political union in which all countries share their burdens with others, like the members of a close family. That would have required each state to surrender its sovereignty.

At best the European Union is a collection of families living on the same street, each of whom moved there for their own benefit. The eurozone is a monetary union based on solid and tough judicial agreements and contracts. Debt relief as the Greeks wanted was explicitly left out of the eurozone treaties when it was established, precisely to prevent having to bail out a member state. 

But even though the disappointed direct their anger at their political leaders, who forced the tough compromise onto the Greeks, they should take a step back and see the bigger picture. The fact is that opinion polls in many creditor countries show that vast majorities back the tough stances of their leaders. 

The daunting challenge to the disappointed dreamers is to convert those democratic majorities into believers of a Europe united in solidarity. How this can come to pass without first changing the fundamentals of our system, in which the loss of one equals the profit of the other, is unclear. 

Until that question is answered, Brecht's quote still leads: "Erst kommt das Fressen, und dann kommt die Moral."

(AP photo)

So We Have a Deal with Iran. Now What?

The lifting of economic sanctions and the phasing out of arms embargoes demanded by Iran have been agreed to, coupled with the curbing of the development of Iran's nuclear infrastructure, and the verification measures at nuclear sites, as required by the P5+1. That is, at least for as long as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action announced today in Vienna holds. The agreement alas does not require Iran to abjure from its calls for the destruction of the United States and Israel, but U.S. sanctions against Iran related to terrorism and human rights violations will continue.

Beyond the nitty-gritty technical aspects, the deal carries major, possibly enduring, implications.

Despite U.S. sanctions beginning in 1987, plus UN sanctions that started in 2006, Iran's economy ranks 29th in the world. Its scientists "domesticated" the technology for nuclear power at an "industrial scale," President Hassan Rouhani bragged to the UN General Assembly in 2013. Enrichment capacity increased exponentially, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote euphorically while the latest talks were ongoing, for "at the outset of this crisis Iran had less than 200 centrifuges; today, it has 20,000." U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter admitted candidly in April that while bombs "would set back the Iranian nuclear program for some period of time, the military action is reversible." So a deal seemed like the "best option by far" to U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders.

The handwringing about whether the deal is a good one - and for whom - and about whether it can be implemented over the long term is nevertheless understandable. Iran could indeed cheat, and it's a valid question whether the United States could actually reimpose sanctions or destroy suspicious nuclear sites if enactment breaks down. In the long run, a nuclear Iran may well be inevitable - for such capability meets that country's international ambitions.

Hope and opposition

Nonetheless there is worldwide relief as well that Iran has agreed to freeze its quest for atomic power. Rejecting this deal will therefore prove difficult for the U.S. Congress and the Iranian Majles, despite both legislatures having enacted oversight legislation - legislation that both countries' presidents could override. Indeed, the Obama and Rouhani administrations are hard at work undercutting the accord's opponents at home and abroad. Consequently even resistance to the agreement by the leaders of U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, who are foes of Iran, is not likely to prevail.

Saudi Arabia also fears that Iran could eventually regain the favored place by America's side that it enjoyed before 1979. Even though most Iranian politicians would eschew such an alliance, they revel in the notion of Iran returning to regional supremacy. For Washington, playing a pro-Iran card could help bring the Saudi monarchy more into line with U.S. anti-terrorism policies and Middle East peace plans. Certainly as Iran's economy jumpstarts, it will surpass that of Saudi Arabia as the largest and most diverse in the region - providing Tehran with new resources to counterbalance Riyadh's Wahhabist expansionism. A stalemate between those Shiite and Sunni rivals would be beneficial to the Middle East and to the world.

Sure and potential winners

Foreign investors will encounter cash-strapped Iranian state agencies eager to accept funds and technology to jump-start the exploitation of oil (Iran has the world's fourth-largest proven reserves), gas (second-largest proven reserves), and rare earth minerals (7 percent of the world's proven reserves). After years of sluggish contributions to the world's energy supply chain, Iran could swiftly emerge as the principal consistent provider of power for the European Union and for China. After all, unlike other Middle Eastern suppliers such as Saudi Arabia, Iran does not face the threat of Islamic fundamentalists throwing its society into turmoil and, in so doing, dragging fuel-hungry nations into recession. More problematic is an intention, articulated by Ali Akbar Salehi, who heads Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, to export "enriched uranium and heavy water" to other countries for civilian uses.

Even the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which by augmenting its military mandate has become the major industrial conglomerate in Iran, valued at over $150 billion, could reap signifiant fiscal benefits from associating with Western corporations. Such partnerships would enhance the IRGC's clout, not only within Iran but far beyond as well - perhaps even turning it into a multinational company. The IRGC's ability to act as a worldwide agent of terrorism may increase - not just from cash generated through additional commerce, but also by misusing billions of dollars that will be released to Iran under the nuclear freeze deal. Yet, as it becomes more dependent on international investment and partnerships, the IRGC's officers and conscripts could prudently choose cooperation over hostility, affluence over nukes.

Due to decades of pent-up consumer demand, post-sanctions Iran will become a major emerging market for foreign exporters catering to luxury markets such as high fashion, fast cars, and the latest techniques in cosmetic surgery. Foreign suppliers will find lucrative sales markets in the hitherto moribund pharmaceutical, information technology, and aviation sectors (aircraft average age is 35 years and airport equipment dates from the 1970s). Educational collaborations will spring up with American and European universities - as currently seen in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia - catering to Iran's talented and discontent youth.

There is the potential too for another, equally important, change. Liberally-oriented Iranians, especially those under the age of 30 who have no memories of the 1979 revolution and its anti-Western sentiments, hope that increased contact with the United States and European Union will propel social and political change away from theocracy and totalitarianism. Iranians tried hard in 2009 to transform their government into a more democratic, less religiously governed one. As sanctions decline and interactions mount, it will become increasingly difficult for the regime to stifle the flow of people, ideas, and information or to shape those flows which are meant to sustain theocracy. Indeed, even as he pushes for a nuclear deal abroad, President Rouhani speaks publically about the need for personal and civic freedoms at home, tweeting today that he expects "our youth to dream again for a brighter future."

The nuclear accord is a triumph as well for Presidents Obama and Rouhani, both of whom staked their political prestige on it. Rouhani will surely seek to push through economic, social, and political reforms in the wake of this agreement to cement his re-election in 2017. Obama may attempt to buttress his own legacy by building upon the agreement. Rouhani has called on Obama to work with Iran in solving regional issues such the quashing the Islamic State and ending the Syrian civil war - and the U.S. president could take up those offers, despite the chagrin of others.

President Obama might even be tempted to duplicate his Cuba diplomatic venture by seeking to reestablish full relations with Iran. Former two-time president and current Expediency Council chairman Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani recently asserted "it is not impossible for the U.S. embassy in Tehran to reopen, although such an action would depend on both sides' conduct." Let's remember that, speaking at Cairo in June 2009, President Obama pointedly declared: "I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward."

(AP photo)

Russia Tries to Build a Terminator

Military robotics and unmanned systems are gaining popularity across the globe. The United States is the leading developer and user of various unmanned air, land, and sea systems, but other nations are not far behind in their desire to field these platforms.

Over the past few years, Russia has made significant technological breakthroughs in the development and exploitation of unmanned systems, although their quality is the subject of domestic and international scrutiny. Most notably, Russia supplied reconnaissance drones to rebels in Eastern Ukraine. These have bolstered rebels' accuracy in targeting Ukrainian government forces. Despite the Russian domestic industry's inability to meet its nation's full demand for such systems - a shortcoming that prompts foreign technology purchases - the Russian Ministry of Defense has big plans for unmanned and robotics platforms and has been working on several concepts.

Russian daily Izvestia recently learned of one such development - an unmanned battlefield complex resembling the Terminator, designed by Defense Ministry's 766th Production and Technology Agency (JSC UPTK 766). Earlier, the UPTK developed auxiliary equipment such as robotic crawler machines used for demining (Uranium-6) and firefighting (Uran-14). The current development features armed coaxial machine guns and several fighting modules. Izvestia obtained an image of this battlefield complex, which includes a tracked chassis on a soft suspension, an optical-radar station, cameras, thermal imaging and night vision devices. The machine appears to be armed with a coaxial machine gun; additionally, there are boxes on each side of the machine that remotely resemble aircraft nacelles. JSC 766 UPTK refused to comment to Izvestia on the functions and features of this technology, citing military secrecy, and the Defense Ministry's press service also declined a request for comment.

Izvestia then interviewed several military experts, who differed in their assessment of the product. Military expert Aleksei Ramm thought that since there are many modules in the design, "the machine is versatile. If it is used for intelligence purposes, the nacelles may house reconnaissance and signaling systems. For example, the machine can activate intelligence-signaling devices and crack enemy secrets. Actually, according to their estimated size, the nacelles may also carry anti-tank guided missiles or, alternatively, remote mining equipment - everything that would be necessary for the operators. As far as small arms, this system may use a Kalashnikov coaxial machine gun."

Victor Murahovsky, chief editor of Homeland Arsenal magazine, told Izvestia that through the use of robotic systems for engineering and reconnaissance in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Americans were able to significantly reduce personnel losses. "They lost about a hundred robotic machines, which may have saved the lives of about 150 U.S. soldiers." Izvestia noted that during Soviet times, the Military Academy of the Armed Forces experimented with remotely controlled tanks. "We already have control algorithms and approaches to solving automation problems (for unmanned systems)," said Murahovsky. "Such new unmanned systems require new technical approaches and improved software, though their development costs significantly less than retrofitting existing and even new military platforms such as Armata."

For now, this machine will remain a concept drawing, but given recent Russian activity in developing new military platforms to match the Americans and the West, this design may at some point come to fruition.

Obama Saves Cuba's Relic of a Regime

Cuba's removal from the list of nations that sponsor terrorism was only the beginning. On July 20, the offices of reciprocal representation now based in Washington and Havana are expected to raise the hierarchy of their diplomatic relations.

This is not as straightforward as it seems. Mauricio Claver-Carone, editor of a blog, much consulted by U.S. legislators, called CapitolHillCubans.com, contends that the Liberty Act (the Helms-Burton Law), which regulates the United States' relations with Cuba, establishes two very clear conditions for resuming relations.

First, the U.S. president must determine that a democratically elected government rules the island; second, that pending claims for U.S. properties confiscated by the Cuban government in the 1960s have been settled. Neither condition has been satisfied.

However, the White House seems set to roundly ignore both aspects of this law, which will certainly end up in the courts. President Barack Obama has decided that part of his foreign policy legacy will be the restoration of relations with Cuba - interrupted in January 1960 during the Eisenhower administration - and he will not hesitate to make any concessions he deems necessary to achieve his purpose.

If Richard Nixon eventually gained the approval of U.S. society for his rapprochement with China, why not turn a page on the tiny Cuban dictatorship without demanding anything in exchange? After all, neither Nixon nor his adviser Kissinger asked Mao to give up his bloody Stalinism for even a second.

It is very likely that Obama is under the influence of politologist Charles Kupchan, an important functionary in the National Security Council and a professor at Georgetown University. A few years ago, Kupchan published a book on foreign policy that is almost a parody of Dale Carnegie's famous work. Kupchan's book is titled How Enemies Become Friends; the Sources of Stable Peace.

Kupchan's idea, disputed by numerous strategists, is alarmingly simple: Give the enemy everything he requests without demanding anything in exchange. The United States, with a population of 320 million, a huge territory overlooking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, a gross national product of $17 trillion, and a military budget of $600 billion a year, has nothing to fear from an impoverished Caribbean island that is legendarily clumsy in its handling of the economy and extremely cruel in the way it mistreats the opposition democrats.

The opening of the embassies is only one step, obviously. The next step will be to return the Guantanamo base to the administration of the Cuban government. So far, the White House has ordered the closing of the prison and has asked a major law firm for an opinion on the president's authority to surrender to the Cuban regime the military base the United States acquired in 1903.

Simultaneously, he has requested the U.S. Navy's opinion on that facility's usefulness and cost-effectiveness, more than 100 years after it was leased from Cuba. Presumably, the Navy will report that, at this point in history, it is perfectly useless. If Roosevelt Roads, the world's largest naval base, was shut down in nearby Puerto Rico, there is no doubt that Guantanamo barely serves as a detention center.

But President Obama won't stop there. He said in Panama, during the Summit of the Americas, that his country had renounced a "regime change" on the island. That means that eventually he will dismantle Radio and TV Martí by privatizing them and will deny any kind of federal financial aid to the programs for the strengthening of democracy that still remain active.

After all, those activities are directed at provoking a change in how the Castro brothers govern the island. His decision, which runs contrary to more than 60 years of contention of Communism, is to coexist peacefully with the Cuban dictatorship.

How will all this end? This change in policy will have a first culmination -- there will be others -- with a visit by Obama to Cuba in 2016, shortly before leaving the White House. This will take place perhaps after the November elections, when his trip will do no harm to the Democratic Party candidate. He will bathe in the adulation of the crowds.

And when he awakens from his sleep, the Cuban dictatorship, like the dinosaur in Monterroso's fable, will still sit by his bed, unperturbed and ferocious, very satisfied at having won the game against its secular foe.

(AP photo)

Working To Codify a New Ukrainian Status Quo

The struggle to define Ukraine amid war and separation goes on. The guidelines laid out by February's Minsk protocol, agreed to by the leaders of Russia, Germany, France, and Ukraine, require Kiev to carry out constitutional reforms by the end of 2015. The government has established a commission for this purpose, and the goal of the commission is to preserve Ukraine's territorial integrity. Related issues, such as eventual NATO membership, are also stirring the Ukrainian body politic.

NATO

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that his country will join NATO. In his opinion, this may happen in about six or seven years - in accordance with the timeframe for Kiev's current reforms. "We are working to thoroughly reform the country from an economic, social and administrative point of view. It is a long job," Poroshenko told official Russian news agency RIA Novosti. According to Poroshenko, when Ukraine is ready, authorities will hold a referendum to ask Ukrainians whether their country should join the alliance.

Eastern Ukraine

Turning to the nominally independent, pro-Russian Donbas region in the east of the country, the presumption is that the new draft constitution will not confer special status of the Donbas territories, but it will codify a unique form of local government in the de-facto independent region. While the proposed language is vague, Poroshenko said that "the constitution allows for the possibility of specific conduct of local authorities in certain jurisdictions of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions - (conduct) which is determined by a separate law." The law cited here would allow Kiev to determine a new status for the Donbas region, which, at least officially, seeks a strong pro-Russian course of development and political orientation. According to this new document, "special procedural acts of local government rule are to be held in districts, towns, villages and settlements, which are located between the state border of Ukraine with Russia, the coastline of the Azov Sea and the line that corresponds to the Minsk memorandum of Sept. 19, 2014." Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda notes that the list of territories where a special status law would be applied has not been agreed upon with the pro-Russian Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics.

Crimea

Turning to Crimea, which is listed on some recently issued maps as Russian territory, Poroshenko said that no amendments to the new Constitution would change the status of Crimean Peninsula - Kiev still considers it Ukrainian territory. "Crimea's autonomy is clearly displayed in the current Constitution, where it has fairly broad powers, and the powers of the Crimea and Sevastopol are enshrined in the draft amendments to the Basic Law (of the country)."

The biggest challenge to Ukraine's constitutional commission will be to determine how two de-facto independent regions, Donetsk and Luhansk, can remain part of the country they have fought against for more than a year, and whether Crimea can be considered part of Ukraine given its forceful annexation by Russia.

Bangladesh's Success Against Terror

The U.S. State Department has gone out of its way to praise the government of Bangladesh for fighting against extremism and terror. The accolade is well deserved.

This country of 160 million people is ripe for terrorist influence. According to the State Department's annual Country Reports on Terrorism, "terrorist organizations used social media to spread their radical ideologies and solicit foreign fighters from Bangladesh." Indeed, al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri once singled out Bangladesh as one of the countries in which the newly-established al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent seeks to operate.

Bangladesh has responded adroitly. The government has arrested Bangladeshis who have returned to their country from abroad for attempting to recruit its citizens to join the so-called Islamic State. Indeed, when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Bangladesh in June, he praised Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as a formidable force in fighting regional and global terrorism.

Opposition to terrorism runs deep in Bangladesh, which has long cherished a tradition of secular tolerance. In large part, this is a reaction to the country's violent history. In 1975, Hasina was a 27-year-old wife and mother with only a passing interest in politics when her father, then-Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibar Rahman, was assassinated along with 17 other family members and the house staff. Hasina and her sister survived because they were out of the country on a goodwill mission to Germany.

The tragedy inspired Hasina to create a vibrant, democratic Bangladesh. That entailed fighting against terrorism both foreign and domestic.

Hasina was Bangladesh's prime minister from 1996 to 2001, and has been again since 2009. Along the way she has had to deal personally with extremism. The prime minister has survived 19 assassination attempts, including a 2005 grenade attack that killed 24 people and injured another 500. She has been jailed and twice exiled by political enemies.

The result is today's zero-tolerance policy against extremism. Bangladesh now works with allies to prevent the country from falling under the influence of terrorists. Bangladeshi police have repeatedly confiscated illegal arms and have stopped terror plots before they could be carried out. For example, police in Bangladesh arrested Samiun Rahman for allegedly recruiting militants for both the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusrah - a fact singled out for praise by the U.S. State Department.

The State Department recently also lauded Bangladesh for its "commitment to counter both domestic and transnational terrorist groups." Bangladesh has showed "political will and firm commitment" to fight terrorist groups and has made it harder for terrorists to establish safe havens, the department said.

Bangladesh has complicated its battle against terrorism by restarting war crimes tribunals that target high-ranking officials who collaborated with the Pakistani Army during the 1971 war for independence. During that civil war, 3 million Bangladeshis were slaughtered in what today is widely seen as genocide. Many of the accused war criminals are also political opponents of the current government. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the country's largest opposition party, has enlisted extremist elements of Jamaat-e-Islami, an allied group, to perpetrate arson and murder as tools of partisan disruption. As a result, hundreds have died during a two-year campaign of domestic terror.

The government has continued to uphold the rule of law and due process. The war crimes tribunals continue, even as opposition to them has grown angrier and more violent. No wonder Forbes magazine this year included Prime Minister Hasina among the 20 most powerful women heads of state along with those in Germany, Brazil and South Korea.

Hasina and her government strive every day to beat back domestic terrorists and, in so doing, to save lives. Her effort is part and parcel of the international war against terrorism and deserves the kudos it has received.

(AP photo)

What Europe's Left-Wing Moderates Have Forgotten

With the loss of power for the Danish center-left party of Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the European moderate left is in crisis. Few left-wing governments remain. Left-wing parties, leftist think tanks, and leading politicians all wonder where it went wrong. They might start by asking themselves why they have remained so silent on the one centerpiece of their ideology that sets them apart from the rest: solidarity.

Politics has always been a game of chicken or egg. Do you stick with your convictions, or do you follow whatever direction a majority of the electorate is taking? In the past 20 years, the left and right across Europe have converged on the political center, leading moderate left-wing parties to adopt policies from the moderate right, and vice versa.

A famous example was Tony Blair and his New Labour. With his stance on crime - "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" - Blair sought to bind the strict-father narrative of the right with the nurturing-parent narrative of the left into a single platform. Blair proved to be the epitome of center-ground politics, uniting large swaths of traditional Labour voters with large numbers of traditional Tories. Judging purely by election results, it worked. Blair won three elections in a row. 

Yet by the time Blair left office, more and more voters on the left had started to wonder what their Labour government was doing for them. They felt increasingly left out by the state and by society. Whether Blairites agreed with this perception or not is beside the point. Large numbers of Labour voters felt left to their own devices, even with a Labour government in office. For them it became harder and harder to tell the difference between Labour and the Conservative Party.

And so they left Labour. On the other end of the spectrum, Tories who had voted for Blair's version of Labour walked back to the Conservative Party when Blair's successor, Gordon Brown, signaled that he wanted to walk Labour a little back to its traditional leftist positions. Thus when Blair departed, his coalition of voters quickly fell apart. The ideological blandness of Blair's Labour left people yearning for politicians who speak out more pointedly about issues. Those politicians fill the ranks of parties such as the popular United Kingdom Independence Party, which marries a cocktail of Blairite socioeconomic ideology and Tory conservatism with tough nationalism and an outspoken anti-immigration platform.

Throughout all this, in Britain and everywhere else, one (former?) pillar of European progressive politics seems to have been dropped from political messaging: why progressive politicians do what they do; which is solidarity. Solidarity among generations, throughout income brackets, and across education levels. In many places in Europe, increasing numbers of self-identifying progressive voters wonder why they should pay for the welfare benefits of others. They ask this aloud during election campaigns, clearly seeking a satisfactory answer, but it appears that progressive politicians have either forgotten the answer themselves, or they dare not reply, because they are afraid voters may not like the answer.

Either way, if Europe's moderate left wants to regain its standing, it had better start talking about solidarity again, and about why and how solidarity in the long term benefits all. It is the one thing that sets those parties apart from the rest.

(AP photo)