Archive for the ‘Topics’ Category


The troubling similarities between the fiscal mismanagement in Washington and the mess in the euro zone

For the past three years America’s leaders have looked on Europe’s management of the euro crisis with barely disguised contempt. In the White House and on Capitol Hill there has been incredulity that Europe’s politicians could be so incompetent at handling an economic problem; so addicted to last-minute, short-term fixes; and so incapable of agreeing on a long-term strategy for the single currency.

Those criticisms were all valid, but now those who made them should take the planks from their own eyes. America’s economy may not be in as bad a state as Europe’s, but the failures of its politicians—epitomised by this week’s 11th-hour deal to avoid the calamity of the “fiscal cliff”—suggest that Washington’s pattern of dysfunction is disturbingly similar to the euro zone’s in three depressing ways.

Can-kicking is a transatlantic sport

The first is an inability to get beyond patching up. The euro crisis deepened because Europe’s politicians serially failed to solve the single currency’s structural weaknesses, resorting instead to a succession of temporary fixes, usually negotiated well after midnight. America’s problems are different. Rather than facing an imminent debt crisis, as many European countries do, it needs to deal with the huge long-term gap between tax revenue and spending promises, particularly on health care, while not squeezing the economy too much in the short term. But its politicians now show themselves similarly addicted to kicking the can down the road at the last minute. Read more…

As published in on January 5, 2013 (from the print edition).


Self-defeating antics of US Congress reflect declining status and global influence

By Kenneth Weisbrode

Governance in the United States is at a standoff. The crisis over the federal budget has led many people around the world to wonder if Americans haven’t lost their minds. Ultimately, as Winston Churchill infamously observed, they may be counted on to do the right thing after exhausting all other options. But this hardly is sound policy with every new vote in Congress. Maybe the latest crisis is symptomatic of a deeper and even more serious problem.

War at home and abroad: US invasion of Iraq precipitated decline of influence abroad (top); Republican opponents of President Obama, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell (below) – inability of a deeply partisan US Congress to agree on taxes and spending contributes to the sense of American decline

The future of the United States – and the American experiment – seems bleak. The optimism for which Americans are known comes less readily. While pessimism is nothing unique in American history – widespread since the time of the Puritans – its prevalence today is spread by the realization that the country’s position of global superpower may soon be lost.

This realization, regarded as a “post-hegemonic” fact, is no longer controversial. All empires vanish eventually. Hegemony indeed may be a form of imperial rule – it’s been called an empire with good manners – but that’s beside the point. American hegemony may be giving way to some other post-hegemonic condition. It is hard to say where it will lead, or what it signifies.

“After forty, all life is a matter of saving face,” Thomas Heise has written. “For those whose successes have run out early, the years are measured less by the decreasing increments of honors achieved, than by the humiliations staved off and the reversals slowed.” This diagnosis for America itself, increasingly difficult to refute, raises the simple question: Will life go on as before, only with less ostensible concern for the rest of the world, or more?

Some may say this would make the US a more “normal” nation. Normality resides in the eye of the beholder. Each nation is as normal or as abnormal as its people and observers imagine it to be. Many Americans still regard superpower status as being normal, however unpopular the burdens of global leadership are at times. The power of the US dollar, visa-free travel throughout much of the world and the global prevalence of English are still widely taken for granted, despite the country’s difficulties.

Yet this moment may represent a major psychological, even metaphysical, shift in the way that Americans relate to the rest of the world. To understand the change we must begin with perceptions.

The sheer size of America’s military and economy, its commercial and technological success, and the global penetration of its culture have underwritten a high standard of living and influence over others. Earlier, its reputation as a dynamic, free, prosperous nation – in the words of William Penn, a “good poor man’s country” – allowed some people to champion a special destiny for the proverbial people of plenty. This was later matched by the growth of the nation’s physical power. Read more…

Kenneth Weisbrode is a writer, editor and historian. His latest book is On Ambivalence (MIT Press).

As published by Yale Global on January 2, 2013.


The Coming Year in Review

By David Rothkopf

As that great geopolitical theorist Carly Simon once observed, “We can never know about the days to come but we think about them anyway, yay.”  She then went on to say, as ketchup lovers everywhere remember, “Anticipation, anticipation, is making me late…is keepin’ me waitin’.”

Of course, the tortures of anticipation are well known to observers of the slow-motion train wreck that has been Washington’s management of America’s financial situation, or the recent, interminable U.S. presidential campaign, or the hideously slow path to oblivion followed by the Assad regime in Syria, or the painfully circular Eurofollies, not to mention the gradual but undeniable degradation of the planet’s environment that goes on year in and year out despite our clear knowledge about how to avoid the damage.

The time has come to say “enough.”  We live in an age in which the average consumer expects instant gratification. There is no reason those who are interested in the bigger issues taking place in the world shouldn’t have it too. For that reason, we bring to you the top headlines that you will be looking back at when 2013 draws to a close 12 months from now.  Think of it as the year in review, before it happens. Yay: 

America Recovers

Forget the fiscal cliff or the debt ceiling.  Admittedly, that may seem difficult given the headlines of the moment. The clown show in Washington is diverting for inside the Beltway reporters and creates a kind of artificial drama that makes one periodically wonder if Kris Jenner were actually speaker of the House. But see the economy through the eyes of the market.  Washington dithers but hops to when it gets slapped around enough by traders. Meanwhile, there are winds at America’s back: An energy boom.  Read more…

David Rothkopf is the CEO and Editor-at-Large of Foreign Policy.

As published in on January 2, 2013.


Preparing to Pass the Torch

Written on December 21, 2012 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Americas, Culture & Society, Democracy & Human Rights

Seriously ill, Hugo Chávez names Nicolás Maduro as his successor on the eve of an election for state governors.

When campaigning for a new six-year term earlier this year, Hugo Chávez tried to persuade Venezuelans that he was cured of unspecified “pelvic” cancer, first diagnosed in June 2011. “I’ve forgotten all about that,” he bragged, just days before the election on October 7th, which he won with 55% of the vote. He then disappeared from view, except for an occasional, carefully staged broadcast. But on November 27th he left for medical treatment in Havana, returning briefly last weekend with a very different story—one that would seem to presage his imminent retirement from his country’s politics, and perhaps from life itself.

“It is absolutely imperative that I undergo surgery in the next few days,” a sombre Mr Chávez said in a broadcast address to the nation late on December 8th. Tests had shown that “malignant cells [had] reappeared” where tumours had twice before been removed. For the first time he spoke of the need to anticipate “any unforeseen circumstance” that might prevent him from continuing as president. In an apparent desire to forestall jockeying for the succession, he named his vice-president and foreign minister as his political heir. “My firm, full—like the moon is full—absolute and total opinion…is that you should elect Nicolás Maduro as president of the republic,” he declared, before swiftly returning to Havana.

Mr Chávez underwent a six-hour operation on December 11th, which a grim-faced Mr Maduro said was “successful” but “complex, difficult and delicate”. Mr Chávez’s new term does not officially begin until January 10th. Whether he will be fit enough for the inauguration is unclear. Should the president die or be permanently unable to do the job at any point in the first four years of his term, the constitution says that a fresh election should be held within 30 days. Read more…

As published in on December 15, 2012 (from the print edition).


By Kenneth M. Pollack

Most Americans know Niccolò Machiavelli only from The Prince, a sixteenth-century “audition tape” he dashed off in lieu of a résumé to try to land a job. It’s a shame. Not only was Machiavelli the leading advocate of democracy of his day, but his ideas also had a profound influence on the framers of our own Constitution.

It’s even more of a shame because the corpus of Machiavelli’s remarkable work on democracy, politics and international relations is easily the best guide to understanding the dynamics at play in contemporary Iraq and its situation within the wider Middle East.

Iraq today is a place that Machiavelli would have understood well. It is a weak state, riven by factions, with an embryonic democratic system increasingly undermined from within and without. It is encircled by a combination of equally weak and fragmented Arab states as well as powerful non-Arab neighbors seeking to dominate or even subjugate it. Iraq’s democratic form persists, but its weakness, combined with internal and external threats, seems more likely to drive it toward either renewed autocracy or renewed chaos. It cries out for a leader of great ability and great virtue to vanquish all of these monsters and restore it to the democratic path it had started down in 2008–2009.

That course seems less and less likely with each passing month, and it may take a true Machiavellian prince—one strong and cunning enough to secure the power of the state but foresighted enough to foster a democracy as the only recipe for true stability—to achieve it. Unfortunately, in all of human history, such figures have been rare. It is unclear whether Iraq possesses such a leader, but the reemergence of its old political culture as America’s role ebbs makes it ever less likely that such a remarkable figure could emerge to save Iraq from itself. Read more…

Kenneth M. Pollack, a contributing editor to The National Interest, is a Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies and the Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. He is coauthor of the new report,“Unfinished Business: An American Strategy for Iraq Moving Forward.”

As published by The National Interest (Nov-Dec 2012 Print Edition).

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