BLOGGING FOREIGN POLICY
Lockheed Martin must be getting nervous about Ottawa’s decision to entertain alternatives to their F-35 fighter jet. The company has indicated that $10.5 billion of potential work for Canadian companies could disappear if Canada doesn’t buy the plane. Oh my gosh let’s run out and confirm that we want the F-35 right now, or they might kill the hostage!
Or not. Let’s do some simple math: $10.5 billion over 40 years is about $250 million a year. Which is not peanuts, but in defence spending terms, it is not that big of a deal. More …
However, there are clearly heaps of budgetary consequences if the government does choose to buy the F-35. This Lockheed Martin calculation ignores the ‘opportunity costs’ of the purchase – that is, the money that could be spent elsewhere if the F-35 turns out to be more expensive than the alternatives. Indeed, the government could not buy any plane and just spend $250 million a year for the next 40 years on industrial policy, and it might just be better for the Canadian economy.
Of course, the government is going to buy a new fighter plane, since the old ones will eventually be un-flyable. The other planes are costly, but may not be quite as costly as the F-35. More importantly, this “threat” ignores the reality that if Canada does purchase a different plane, its manufacturer will be spending some money on Canadian co-production. Indeed, I am pretty sure that is one of the factors being considered in the decision process, especially with this government suddenly thinking of defence spending as industrial policy.
While some of the competitors may not promise as much investment in Canada’s high tech sector as Lockheed Martin is promising, if they are smart, their bids will respond to Lockheed’s gambit with high tech promises of their own. Given this government’s approach to spending, it would be stupid of them not to, as long as there is a profit to be made in building the next fighter. And given Lockheed’s behaviour, is there any doubt? Of profit, that is. We should have significant skepticism about the promises.
The government, if it actually cares about the Jenkins report, should make it clearer that investing in Canada’s aerospace industry and other high tech areas is a requirement, not just a good idea. Then Lockheed’s threats would be entirely empty. While I am not a huge fan of making defence policy based on what is best for Canadian companies (as it can raise the costs of contracts), in this case it makes sense to level the playing field.
So, this effort at blackmailing reminding Canadians what they might lose by choosing another plane is very lame. I am beginning to understand why so many defence programs have cost over-runs – these guys suck at math and perhaps basic economics.
Larry Summers’s reluctant withdrawal from the beauty contest to become the next Federal Reserve Board chairman doesn’t change the fact that U.S. monetary policy will remain loose for years to come, regardless of who ends up leading the U.S. central bank.
With the American economy far from take-off velocity, the choice between Mr. Summers and current Fed vice-chair Janet Yellen was never a choice between a hawk and a dove; it was always a choice between different degrees of dovishness. More …
The next Fed chair’s discretion will be constrained by the policies of his or her predecessor. The Fed has already bound its hands with the forward guidance it issued in December, 2012. At that time, Fed policy-makers indicated that the federal funds rate would remain near zero so long as the unemployment rate remains above 6.5 per cent, inflation between one and two years ahead is projected to be no more than a half percentage point above the Fed’s 2-per-cent longer-run goal, and longer-term inflation expectations continue to be well anchored (i.e., consistent with no more than 2-per-cent inflation). They further emphasized that these thresholds are consistent with their earlier guidance that exceptionally low interest rates would be warranted at least through mid-2015. The next Fed chair has little room to move.
Current chairman Ben Bernanke’s successor is unlikely to chafe against this constraint. There is still so much slack in the U.S. economy that the new chair will be unlikely to tighten monetary policy any time soon. Public and private balance sheets will be in debt-reduction mode for years to come, dampening credit extension, investment, employment and growth. The output gap remains wide. Participation in the U.S. labour force just hit its lowest level since 1978. Price increases remain subdued. In this context, there is little for an inflation hawk to attack.
What’s more, the U.S. economy faces continued headwinds on the fiscal front. Federal public spending and employment are being cut even though the economy is still on life support. Congressional wrangling over the budget and the debt ceiling will further inhibit investment, consumption and growth. So long as the fiscal side of U.S. crisis management remains impaired, monetary measures will have to remain heroic.
Given all these challenges, it might seem surprising that Mr. Bernanke has persisted in foreshadowing an imminent tapering of the pace of quantitative easing (QE), the $85-billion (U.S.) of monthly bond purchases that the Fed has used to loosen credit conditions even further than the near-zero federal funds rate managed to achieve. But taper talk isn’t being driven by a few sporadic green shoots of recovery – it’s a response to fears that QE is creating new asset bubbles in housing and equities. The taper is meant to prick these bubbles before they get too far ahead of the recovery. Even if the Fed does taper (but not end) its QE program, its balance sheet will still be expanding. Put differently, the Fed will still be printing money. Monetary policy will be exceptionally accommodative. Tapering is mere trimming around the edges.
The Fed isn’t going to tighten monetary conditions meaningfully any time soon. At its meetings this Tuesday and Wednesday, the bank’s policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) may indicate a gradual easing of the pace of QE, but it will probably couple this with very dovish language on inflation to prevent a knee-jerk back-up in markets. If the taper gets initiated under Mr. Bernanke, the next Fed chair’s views on QE become less consequential.
Moreover, the Fed chair has only one vote among 12 on the FOMC. Unlike the governor of the Bank of Canada, who exercises sole responsibility on policy setting, the Fed chair has to convince these committee colleagues to follow his or her lead. This is a natural check on sharp turns in policy.
The obsession with President Obama’s choice for Fed chair has drawn attention away from the fact that the FOMC is about to undergo several other changes. Regional Fed presidents Richard Fisher and Charles Plosser – both inflation hawks— as well as Minneapolis Fed president Narayana Kocherlakota will rotate into voting positions on the FOMC. Sarah Bloom Ruskin and Sandra Pianalto have announced that they intend to leave the FOMC; Elizabeth Duke has just left. Ms. Yellen may also quit if she is passed over for the chair’s job. Jerome Powell must be reconfirmed early in 2014, and Daniel Tarullo has already been a governor for four years. It’s anyone’s guess where this will leave the general cant of the FOMC in 2014.
Regardless of how the FOMC gets reconfigured, it’s one thing to talk a hawkish line and quite another to act on it. Mr. Bernanke’s clear forward guidance raised the bar for any change in policy – and that bar is unlikely to be hit by U.S. macroeconomic data any time soon. The future credibility of both the FOMC itself and its new members will hinge on respecting past promises – and that makes them all doves now.
Twelve years ago today, American foreign policy shifted from a focus on the Balkans, and a reluctance to incur significant casualties, to the Mideast, and a willingness to absorb the costs of dealing with threats both real and imagined. The debate about Syria this week in the U.S. Congress and around the world is a reminder of how much and how little has changed since 9/11. More …
In the aftermath of the attacks on the U.S., it was relatively easy for the Bush Administration to sell the American public on a war to deal with the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The media, the Congress, and many others went right along with it. There was much concern and even opposition voiced by international relations scholars of all backgrounds, but they were ignored (not stifled, just ignored). Compare that to the past week, during which the media has provided outlets not only for proponents and opponents of intervening in Syria, but also for those who remain ambivalent, and the contrast is pretty striking.
While the decision to send the mission to a vote in Congress has puzzled many, Obama has done the American people a huge favor. This time around, they’ve gotten to see some real testimony; there have been tough questions, and conflicting answers. Sure, Bush managed to get a resolution out of Congress, but it was a confused mandate at best. For the Democrats, it was the tool Bush needed to pry more support out of the United Nations Security Council, and necessary to avoid getting burned politically for voting against a popular war.
Ah, there is another big difference. The American people have many reasons not to be enthusiastic about this intervention. Not only has the Obama administration made a lousy case for this war, but it is the fourth or fifth or sixth significant conflict in and near the Mideast since 9/11. No, make that the seventh – Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan. And only half of those – Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen – had anything to do with 9/11. Another big difference to previous interventions is that while Syria has supported terrorists (Hezbollah) that have struck at American targets, Assad is a target of al-Qaeda rather than their host. Regime change might just give America’s enemies a chance to run Syria, so again there is reason to be reluctant.
Indeed, the one enduring lesson of the post-9/11 decade is that regime change is not a clear and lasting fix to America’s problems. The old days of a coup providing at least twenty years of repression-induced stability (Iran) are gone. The U.S. has demonstrated since 9/11 quite an impressive ability to end regimes they dislike—Hussein, Taliban, Qaddafi—but has also proven repeatedly that replacing those regimes with friendly ones, and ensuring they stay that way, is a very difficult and very expensive enterprise.
So, we have moved from the anger of 9/11 and the arrogance of the Bush Administration to the hesitation and ambivalence of the Obama Administration. There are good reasons to be uncertain as we now understand far better than before that the use of force has consequences beyond the lifespan of particular leaders.
Does this uncertainty spell the end of American leadership in the world? Is this yet another sign of U.S. decline? I do not think so. The events surrounding Syria and the effort to get Congressional support might actually assure the world a bit that the U.S. is taking its responsibilities (those that come with great power) more carefully than before. Obama may have wanted to bypass the Security Council, but he is not nearly as unilateral in impulse and in ideology as his predecessor. The debate over Syria is actually reminiscent of the debates over Bosnia and Kosovo. Which might mean that at least in this one way, the U.S. is getting over or beyond 9/11. This may not be the case when it comes to the activities of its intelligence agencies, especially the National Security Agency, but when it comes to war, the present seems a bit more like the 1990s than the 2000s. Given the outcomes of the past decade, this is probably a good thing. Being wary of war can only be a good thing.
The world has little patience for the Assad regime at this point. With hundreds of thousands of dead, 2 million refugees, half of which are children, and 4 million internally displaced throughout the Syrian territory, there is no shortage of victims and witnesses to President Assad’s brutality. Assad’s attempt to counter Obama’s media offensive with a television interview will not redeem his image.
And yet it is the Obama administration’s image, and that of the United States, that are guaranteed to suffer as a result of President Obama’s decision to ‘sell’ intervention in Syria. Why? Because the case for intervention cannot be made in a way that will get Obama the votes he needs without further alienating the Arab world. More …
Swinging back and forth in his strike sales pitch from a moral to a geo-strategic rationale is costing Obama hearts and minds that he cannot afford to lose in the Middle East. The rhetoric he is using in his efforts to convince constituents at home will further entrench long-standing skepticism of America’s willingness to act multilaterally. It will also guarantee that a U.S.-led strike is particularly poorly received in the Arab and Muslim world, much of which has already suffered from misguided U.S. geo-strategy.
The debate within the United States is full of binaries – you are either ‘for or against the military strike against Syria’ and ‘pro or anti Assad’. These simplistic semantics are doomed to estrange the vast majority of Arabs and Muslims who do not support either side. The Western media is portraying those Arab governments offering quiet support for military intervention as weak, criticizing them for failing to take a more public stance against Assad and rally their people behind the United States. This blunt coverage epitomizes how little understand there is of the complex dynamics at play in and around Syria.
Lack of understanding matters, because it means Obama must eschew nuance if we he wants to get the job done. Setting aside the skepticism that many rightly hold toward the claim that a limited strike will not lead to full out war and destabilize the entire region, let us explore further why Obama’s current choice of alternating between two sales pitches is lose-lose.
A military intervention in Syria must be made for the sake of the Syrian people. It is understandable that the United States may want to intervene because of its geo-strategic interests but framing this intervention in any way but a way to rescue future Syrian civilians will lose the moral high ground and with it the Arab and Muslim public opinion. But geo-strategy plays better to those who fear any hint of the moralistic exceptionalism that played such a big part in leading the United States into Iraq. And those individuals make up the vast majority of the political representatives whom Obama must convince to back a strike.
In an attempt to bridge the gap between his two rationales, Obama is claiming that the United States must act because a ‘red line’ has been crossed. But this is little more than an attempt to shore up his own legitimacy and the United States’ global standing – it does not translate into protection of the Syrian people. Sweeping in to punish Assad for crossing the red line and then swiftly exiting will not save Syrians from Assad’s wrath. In Congress, the claim is being made that Assad is testing America’s resolve and that the United States must show that it means what it says. This too rings hollow to Arab publics who merely see a strongman trying to defend his ego, the rhetoric all too similar to that used by many who have ruled in the Arab world.
And so Obama’s rhetorical dilemma is clear: he needs to win support at home, but the more successful these geo-strategic arguments prove, the less sympathy his case for intervention generates abroad. Linking intervening in Syria to the nuclear file in Iran, stemming the rise of Iranian influence, or defending the interests of America’s ally Israel are all arguments that sideline or completely ignore the defense of Syrian lives.
While Congress may want to hear about how this intervention is a threat to America’s geo-strategic interests or its allies, Arabs are listening too, and they’ve heard it before and seen where it leads.
The Arab people have been caught in the crosshairs of Washington’s geo-strategic calculations far too many times. It is not just the memory of Iraq and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives were lost. This is also about the Israeli attacks on Gaza in 2008 and Lebanon in 2006, and more. In all of these conflicts, the United States did not draw a red line at the lives lost. Many in the Arab world are now wondering why a death by sarin gas counts for more than one by a missile or bullet.
If this strike against Syria is really about preventing the further death of civilians, then Obama needs to stop with his pendulum sales pitch and stick to the moral argument for intervention. If the vote fails, it fails. This is better than clouding the debate with geo-strategic justifications that may lead to short-term action, but that will have long-term consequences that will haunt everyone, those in the United States and the Arab world, alike.
Unlike many Americans, Arabs and Muslims are fully prepared to understand U.S. actions as self-serving. They already tend toward perceiving the U.S. as only secondarily interested in protecting the Arab people. It may be too late to walk back the damage done so far in ‘selling intervention’ as geo-strategy, but if Obama doesn’t try, the costs of any strike will be damning.
When I used to teach introduction to international relations classes, I would tell my students that I hoped they would be more confused at the end of the term than at the beginning. I told them I would be providing multiple perspectives on how to look at international relations and it would be up to them to figure out which ones make sense at any given time for any given topic. More …
So, perhaps it is fitting that I am seriously confused about the latest moves regarding Syria. No, not the Canadian ones. That Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Minister John Baird have issued statements siding strongly with the U.S. but committing to not committing the Canadian Forces to the effort does not surprise me. That much was pretty predictable.
The confusing developments have been in Great Britain and the United States. Prime Minister David Cameron lost a huge vote to gain parliament’s support for a Syrian mission. While it is not surprising that his coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, might not be as enthusiastic as the Tories, the fact that Cameron lost the support of a key chunk of his own party was very surprising. This is one of the biggest failures of vote counting prior to an important vote that I can remember. Yes, there are a lot of raw feelings left over from the Iraq War, but one of the key rules for democratic leaders is not to hold votes until one knows what the outcome is going to be.
In the United States, Obama is busy lobbying the Senate, which is controlled by his party, and the House of Representatives, which is not, to support military action against Syria. The current vote count among Representatives is stacked against Obama. It may be the case that the opponents are committing faster and louder than the eventual supporters, so we do not yet know how this is going to turn out.
It is simple enough to explain the opposition to the proposed campaign. American public opinion, after a decade of wars and ‘non-wars’, is tired; austerity and sequestration have finally brought home the financial tradeoffs that military campaigns represent. The Republicans prefer to oppose Obama on any issue, regardless of whether it makes them look foolish or not (although here they do not look as foolish as usual).
What confuses me is why Obama felt the need to go to Congress for support in the first place. Some would say that he needs the legitimacy that support would give him when he doesn’t have a United Nations resolution. But the presence or absence of a UN resolution does not mean as much for American audiences as it does elsewhere. The American people did not care about the lack of a UN resolution for Kosovo or Iraq (2003). While I tend to dismiss American exceptionalism much of the time, here is where it matters – the American people do not see the UN Security Council as a necessary legitimator of military efforts. They recognize quite clearly that doing so would mean that U.S. foreign policy would be subject to Russian and Chinese vetoes. Working within NATO increases the legitimacy of an intervention in the eyes of Americans, but even NATO is not entirely necessary. So, the argument that Obama asked for Congressional support because he doesn’t have the approval of international organizations makes little sense from the standpoint of American domestic politics.
Getting Congress behind him would, however, increase Obama’s credibility when making threats towards Syria. But it is not clear why that should matter. At this point in the process, we are no longer trying to deter Syrian behaviour, we are trying to punish it. Credibility and reputation are said to matter for the former but not the latter.
Given that Obama was going to be criticized no matter what he does, perhaps going to Congress is a way to force Republicans into a corner. Either they vote for the resolution, which limits their ability to criticize the effort, or they vote against it, and are seen as playing politics with national security. Also, if they vote no, Obama would have an excuse to duck yet another Mideast war. But this move is risky for Democrats. Those voting for the resolution will face hostile districts, as the proposed war is quite unpopular.
One could argue that Obama is simply doing what he is supposed to according to the War Powers Resolution. The WPR was passed in the aftermath of Vietnam to give Congress a role in the deployment of forces when war is not declared (the last time the U.S. actually declared war was the Second World War). Presidents have tended not to recognize these requirements because they view it as an unconstitutional restriction on their authority, although they often (but not always) seek Congressional support. It is not clear why the WPR would matter here and not for Libya. Both are ‘non-war’ wars in the sense that the president wants to only use an air campaign with no soldiers actually deployed on the ground. One could argue that the Libyan mission needed a quick response due to the threat to Benghazi, but the language of the WPR gives the president the power to respond first and then seek Congressional support later as the mission continues. Obama did not do that for Libya, so why now?
See what I mean about being confused? I am also confused about what a bombing campaign would actually achieve. Perhaps the goal is to prevent the defeat of the opposition without giving them enough support to win? Both sides are pretty inimical to American interests, so a dark view of the situation would be that the U.S. wants to do just enough to keep the conflict going. There is also a lot of talk about American credibility and its international reputation, but scholars have argued pretty convincingly that countries focus on present day capabilities, stakes, and the perceived intentions of their adversaries rather than past actions. On the other hand, policy-makers often ignore the scholars.
My point here is not to clarify why these things are happening. Rather, I want to assure readers that any confusion they might be feeling is quite appropriate for this situation. You are not alone.
 My forthcoming book with David Auerswald essentially starts with the assumption that coalition governments have problems engaging in military expeditions precisely because parties in governing coalitions will vary in their interest in such efforts.
 I was at a panel at the American Political Science Association last week where Linda Blimes explained why her website, http://threetrilliondollarwar.org/, is an understatement as the total costs of Afghanistan and Iraq will approach $4 trillion once all of the disabilities and veterans costs accumulate over the next seventy years.
Canada’s Minister of International Trade, the Hon. Ed Fast, wrapped up talks with his Southeast Asian counterparts last week. His visit reflects the dramatically growing weight of developing economies in the global economy and the possibilities this shift raises for Canada. More …
The Conference Board of Canada’s research on Canada’s next top markets shows several Southeast Asian countries could be some of this country’s most important future commercial markets. (See table “Canada’s Next Top Markets.”)
Canada has only a kernel of engagement with most of Southeast Asia and the rest of this “next top markets” group at the moment, but that could change since emerging markets are playing a dramatically larger role in the global economy.
To be sure, Canada’s traditional trade partners – including the U.S. and Western Europe – will continue to represent the most significant long-term potential for Canadian businesses. But rapid growth in Brazil, India, China, and beyond to smaller, fast-growing, emerging markets in Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia – including Southeast Asia – has the potential to drive Canada’s trade and investment growth going forward.
Southeast Asia, in particular, is large and an extremely rapidly growing region. The region as a whole has the ninth-largest economy in the world – larger than both India and Russia. Its population is twice that of the United States.
Most notable are the growth rates of these countries in recent years. To put things into perspective, the accompanying chart matches up countries in Southeast Asia with more familiar U.S. states of similar economic size. Canadian businesses have the obvious advantages of proximity, shared language, and a massive market in trading with the United States. But it is obvious that U.S. growth rates are meagre compared with those of Southeast Asia.
Despite it being such a large, fast-growth region, Canadians have failed to give Southeast Asia much attention. Trade with this region represents only 1 percent of Canada’s exports, though a more significant 2 percent of our imports. And, according to official statistics, Canadian companies invested less than $7 billion in the region in 2011.
To some degree, it is not surprising that most Canadian businesses have not been actively involved in these markets. While the region offers many rewards, it is geographically distant, and doing business there can be very challenging. But while some of these countries have extremely challenging business environments, others are more welcoming. And the rewards can be massive.
Moreover, all companies and countries are courting the largest, fast-growth markets, so companies that focus on smaller fast-growth markets, such as those in Southeast Asia, may be able to get easier access to business and government leaders.
International commerce is not an end in itself. It improves living standards and is particularly important for a small economy such as Canada’s. To improve – or even maintain – Canadian living standards as the world’s economic weight shifts to the developing world, more Canadian companies will need to seize the opportunities that these “next top markets” offer.
A version of this post was originally published on the Conference Board of Canada.
With the apparent use of chemical weapons against civilians, Assad has crossed Obama’s red line, triggering renewed discussion of the possibility of Western intervention. With a Russian veto certain at the United Nations, Obama’s staff is looking at the NATO air campaign during the Kosovo War as an example of how to get as much international support and legitimacy as possible for any military options. While that is one problem, the bigger challenge is that, as I discussed here earlier, there are no good options.
Pinging Syria with cruise missiles is relatively cost-free (even in a time of sequestration). But it would be kabuki theater, as the missiles would do some minimal damage but not make a difference on the ground. It might satisfy demands to do something about Syria, but maybe not even that. More …
There is some discussion of a no fly zone along the lines of what NATO did in Libya. Only, what really happened in Libya bore little resemblance to what would traditionally be understood as a no fly zone. Sure, NATO stopped Libya from flying its planes and helicopters, but it did far more than that. Its stance of “protecting civilians” really meant taking the side of the rebels against Qaddafi and essentially becoming close air support for their land forces. In Syria, a no fly zone on its own would not make that much impact since Assad could still rely on missiles and artillery to do significant damage to his opposition and civilians caught in the crossfire. And a full Libya-type operation faces a key constraint – the Syrian opposition is deeply divided except for its hostility to Assad and the West, so taking sides is really hard.
The use of ground forces would be necessary to secure the chemical weapons and probably to remove Assad. Yet no country is willing to take that kind of risk and pay that kind of price after several wars and austerity.
So, when the question turns to what Canada might do, the answer almost assuredly is about as little or less than what the U.S. will be doing. Perhaps the U.S. will engage in a bombing offensive, but I find it hard to believe that Harper will be as enthusiastic this time as he was about the Libya campaign. The probability of success is low, the budget situation back in Ottawa is still quite tight, and the prime minister’s focus has been on putting the military back in the background as the 2015 election approaches.
Would it harm relations with the U.S. to stay out of it? Probably not. Given Obama’s ambivalence, it’s hard to see how anyone in the U.S. would mind other countries being less than enthusiastic. Moreover, Obama’s diplomacy would be focused on Russia, China, and Europe.
Harper has surprised people before – the sudden announcements of the Afghanistan training mission and the assistance to France in Mali for example. So, predicting what he will do next can be a foolish enterprise, but if I had to bet, I would put my money on Canada avoiding a substantial role in the upcoming effort against Syria.
Events in Egypt are going according to script as each actor in the tragedy embraces their assigned post-coup role. The military has vilified the Muslim Brotherhood and all those who support it and deposed President Mohammed Morsi. The Brotherhood refuses to accept the outcome of the June 30 protests, denouncing all who marched against their leader. The ‘us versus them’ narrative propagated by both sides is becoming entrenched and what little middle ground was left after the coup has eroded. Egyptians are internalizing contrasting versions of what has happened to their country since Hosni Mubarak fell. And with each impassioned telling, reconciliation recedes further into the distance. More …
The Egyptian military has been riding on a high of populism and nationalist fervour that has not been seen in decades. Since the coup, the Egyptian airwaves have been filled with anti-Brotherhood rhetoric. In the name of protecting the integrity of the Egyptian state, the army says it will “clean the streets” of the Brotherhood. Akin to rodents, the Brotherhood has been painted as an internal security threat with global tentacles that reach to and feed off of Turkey, Qatar, and even the United States.
This propaganda appeals to the masses searching for foreign scapegoats to Egypt’s debilitating domestic problems. The vilification of the Brotherhood as terrorists has been an easy sell across much of Egyptian society. The judiciary has had nothing short of an antagonistic relationship with the Brotherhood and has taken the coup as an opportunity to legally clamp down on its members and supporters. In co-ordination with the military, it is presenting weak evidence of Brotherhood links to Islamist forces in the restless part of the northern Sinai. This is another attempt to make the Brotherhood a ‘fifth column’, as the latter are Egyptians by citizenship only; Sinai Bedouins are both literally and figuratively viewed as a separate people by so many Egyptians.
The Muslim Brotherhood has equally vilified those who support the coup. Brotherhood members and supporters have claimed that Coptic Christians’ financial ties to the West were behind the demise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the coup. Coptic churches, homes, and businesses, have been burned. Making up only 10 per cent of Egypt’s 86 million people – many of whom reside in the rural countryside where poverty, illiteracy, and ignorance reign supreme – Christians are easy targets for zealots and vengeful supporters of the Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood is willing to be sacrificed in the name of pursuing its own grand ideology. The military is content with killing hundreds of Brotherhood supporters with the support of many Egyptians supporters who will cheer and carry soldiers on the shoulders of jubilant people. These two very powerful narratives leave no room in the middle for moderates, for those who may be liberals and democrats strongly against emergency law and military violence. Not surprisingly, Mohamad El Baradei quit as vice-president and the April 6 revolutionary movement that gave birth to the Jan. 25, 2011 overthrow of Mubarak authoritarianism also rejects the clamp down.
The death toll will continue to rise, the number of injured will also rise as time elapses, the curfew will be ignored by hardline supporters of the Brotherhood leading to further clashes with security forces, and the hate and rhetoric of both sides will be elevated to soaring highs. Breaking up the Brotherhood sit-ins is easier than mending the wounds of an increasingly polarized society. There are no winners, and all Egyptians will pay the price of constant vilification of the other today and in the future.
This post originally appeared in the Globe and Mail
Should we have democracy on demand?
In Egypt, protestors who have been in the streets for weeks trying to reverse the outcome of June 30 are being dispersed by bulldozers and bullets, and the future of democracy is no more secure than when they first set up camp.
Spain, Turkey, Brazil, Egypt have experienced forms of democracy on demand. What other country might be next to feel the wrath of people power? In the past few years, TV news cameras have gone from capital to capital to film the anger of people demanding change from their governments. Europeans have taken to the streets to oppose economic austerity policies demanded by the IMF and eurozone powerhouses in exchange for sorely needed money to shore up public finances. More …
In Turkey, an urban planning issue turned a small green space into a national crisis for a third-term president who was viewed as a populist leader. In Brazil, people poured into the streets to tell their democratically elected president that policy priorities should be transportation, solving inequities, and better education — not flashy international games.
And most recently, Egyptians went into the streets to sanction and endorse a military coup, launched to restore order over a failing economy and undignified presidency. Those who opposed the coup then rallied their forces, staking out squares that are now being targeted by security forces. Getting millions into the streets to call for change can be as easy as having a tweet go viral – ‘meet in the square’ in 140 characters or less. And just one day of unrest, if the conditions are right, can be all that it takes to get a democratically elected government to listen to your demands.
Is this a crisis for democratic rule or a new liberating way to achieve accountability from governments during elected tenures? I’m afraid it’s the former. Before there was a Facebook page for everything, democracy was built on the bargaining of ideas at political party conventions. The exchange of ideas involved lengthy philosophical debates in town halls; political representatives needed to knock on doors to explain their ideological views and answer tough and complex policy questions. Political leaders had to sweat out national debates to prove they were the right person for the top job. Social movements needed to agree on ideological platforms to create political parties.
There are no perfect democracies, and yes there can be elitism, classism, racism, ageism, and sexism that give an advantage to some over others. But there is a reason democracy was built in a way that allowed for a slow and healthy exchange of ideas. Political bargaining was not horse-trading favours as pictured on popular TV dramas. It was about finding compromise on tough issues like “how much control should government have in cultural products and services?” “Should government be a primary investor in public infrastructure?” “Should foreign investment be encouraged?”
A vibrant and healthy democracy was one that created broad-based policies supported by some political consensus, which took hard work and compromise to achieve. Some might argue that people power in the streets of Rio de Janeiro or Cairo is simply a form of populist veto power on a government’s mandate. Why should a nation wait for the completion of an elected leader’s term to demand change? Aren’t these protests just a quasi-referendum on a government’s performance?
Here’s the inherent challenge: how do you measure street protests as an indication of majoritarian will? How do we know that the millions in the streets of Madrid, protesting their government’s spending cuts, represent the view of Spain’s mainstream? The same can be asked of the millions gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. More importantly, are those gathered in protest in agreement on the same alternative policy to that proposed by their government?
The truth is we don’t know. This is why there’s a process of political bargaining and a ballot box. Elections are the only true measure of faith in a government and its policy ideas. Why are these mass protests new? It is because we — the people — live in a hyper-connected reality with information and communication on demand. It is not merely impatience with government, but a quest for immediate accountability that drives these mass demonstrations.
These are inherently good intentions to improve democracy — and they urgently point to the need for a conversation on how to make this system of governance more accountable and responsive to the needs of the people. But this critical discussion can’t and won’t take place in the streets and squares of a capital near you. It is time to realize that there is simply no app for democracy.
The 2008 global financial crisis instigated a cascade of events that still frame many of the world’s foremost political tensions. Simmering beneath the daily headlines lie protracted disputes over which private and public actors caused the problems, and thus who should now pick up the tab. More …
The scope of debate is enormous, but it likely pales next to the consequences of other global problems like climate change, ocean acidification, air pollution, and even income inequality. Like the financial crisis, these issues call attention to the need for new notions of global accountability across public and private sectors. Much of the resolution will hinge on finding a workable path in Asia.
Two trends underscore why Asia is so important. The first is economic fundamentals. By 2030, Asia is projected to contribute the biggest regional increment to global economic activity and form the biggest single share of the world economy.
According to Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates, the five countries of China, India, Indonesia, Japan, and Korea will alone add more than US$36 trillion in real annual output. This is double the US$18 trillion of growth projected across all the OECD countries of Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand combined. Short of dramatic changes in technology, these leaps will hugely intensify humanity’s ecological footprint.
Second, private sector actors are playing an ever greater role in affecting global policy outcomes. Firms have lobbied governments to negotiate good terms on international deals. But corporates are increasingly seen as outright partners in tackling global challenges.
In some cases, global companies are even willing to fill political leadership gaps, which was evident in the lead-up to last year’s UN Rio+20 sustainability summit. Some of the most prominent summit-linked announcements came from firms, such as Microsoft’s commitment to achieve carbon neutrality. Of course, many companies resist needed intergovernmental reforms to protect vested interests. But citizens around the world are asking global governance to keep step.
World leaders have roughly two years to figure out new rules of the game. By September 2015, all countries are slated to set new targets to guide international economic, social and environmental efforts.
Political leaders including Britain’s David Cameron, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Indonesia’s Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recently put forward their recommendations through a high-level UN panel. It rightly underscored public sector responsibilities in tackling “last mile” challenges of extreme global poverty. But the panel also drew attention to the fundamental role of private investment in driving the development process.
The challenge is therefore to develop global accountability structures that frame standards across both public and private actors. I call this “360 accountability”, an approach whereby all global development stakeholders, including non-profits and academics, too, hold themselves transparently accountable to minimum agreed standards. Since so much of the world’s imminent economic change will take shape through Asia’s private sector, it is a matter of logic that new global approaches will need to incorporate circumstances in this region.
It will be a huge task to identify and implement appropriate metrics. On the business side, four starting points stand out. First, business leaders and independent experts need to identify industry-by-industry accountability standards that can be commonly applied across firms.
Second, performance standards need to be promoted from the top of the business food chain, starting with capital allocation. Sovereign wealth funds and other large pools of capital can have enormous influence in establishing new norms amidst their investees.
Third, large companies should face mandatory “comply or explain” regimes on environmental and social indicators, as recommended by the UN panel.
Fourth, policy metrics need to include local and municipal levels, where so many key decisions between business and government take place.
Ultimately, a 360 notion of accountability implies a new conception of even the term “world leaders”. Heads of government still have enormous responsibilities, but power networks are diffuse. Many CEOs and local government leaders will make pivotal decisions on frontline global issues – from labour markets to energy systems, environmental services, and citizen feedback mechanisms.
Asia is home to nearly three-fifths of humanity, so many of its local leaders will be de facto global leaders. It is both daunting and exciting to think about how many people can contribute. In the end, the world’s success depends on it.
This article first appeared in the South China Morning Post