In my seven plus years of blogging, I’ve never done year-end reviews or predictions and I don’t intend to start now.
But I do want to point to two pieces taking stock of this moment in history–the AJE piece on the decline of the American empire above (the transcript is here), and Juan Cole’s piece declaring the end to US hyperpower.
The AJE piece is generalized and describes a decline in both our economic and military hegemony. And while Cole includes this generalized framework,
The end of the Cold War, which had stretched from 1946 to 1991, had left the political elites of the United States and Western Europe without a bogeyman or security threat on which they could run for office and through which they could funnel resources to the military-industrial complex that largely pays for their political campaigns. With Russia in steep decline in the 1990s and China still run as a small, cautious power, the US emerged as what the French called a Hyperpower, the sole superpower. US hawks were impatient that Bill Clinton seemed not to realize that he had complete freedom of movement for a brief window of time. It was the new US status of hyperpower that allowed the G. W. Bush administration to respond to the September 11 terrorist attacks by launching two major wars and a host of smaller struggles, all against targets in the Muslim world.
As of 2011, the age of the US hyperpower is passing, along with the possibilities for American wars of choice, i.e., wars of aggression.
He situates it, not surprisingly, in the Middle East.
Some years are pivotal and serve to mark off eras of history. 2011 saw the end of American hyperpower, and it announced the end of a decade of US-Muslim conflict that began with 2001. It saw the killing of Usama Bin Laden, the virtual rolling up of al-Qaeda, the repudiation of al-Qaeda’s methods by the masses of the Arab world, and the US military withdrawal from Iraq. The upheavals of the Arab Spring and subsequent elections have led to Muslim fundamentalist parties being drawn into parliamentary politics on a Westminster model, rather than remaining sect-like corporate groups outside the body politic.
While I’m not certain that, fifty years from today, 2011–and specifically our withdrawal from Iraq–will mark the end of our hyperpower or empire (we might measure that date from the financial crisis in 2008; there might be some more spectacular loss in the future that will have that symbolism; or it could be something else entirely), I do generally agree that we’re at the twilight of the American mode of power that has dominated since the end of World War II.
I think that’s why predictions looking forward will be so hard to get right. Partly because there’s no telling how Americans–both those who run our domestic and foreign policy, and those average citizens facing a future without the self-importance derived from the country’s dominance–will react as this new state of affairs becomes evident. At both levels, we could just get a whole lot more violent.
But also because, as Tom Englehardt says in the AJE piece, I don’t think we’re seeing a simple matter of imperial succession, as happened when England passed the baton of world hegemon to us.
I don’t think it’s like the US is going down and you’re gonna get a Chinese empire rising. I think you’ve got a planet in crisis and we’re just barely beginning to feel it.
Rather, I think we’re going to see a new paradigm, one that not only robs average Americans of the arrogance of being the “best,” but also robs many around the world of their traditional means of understanding the world.
So while it may be interesting to think about President Obama dealing with a Republican Senate or President Mitt dealing with Speaker Pelosi, while it may be interesting to predict how many TBTF banks will fail over the next year, even while it may be interesting to start thinking about what Europe will look like after the Euro zone ends, I think all those exercises might be end up showing far too little imagination about what the future holds.
As I’ve said before, it’s fairly clear that 2011–like 1968 and 1989–was a year of great historical importance. But I’m not sure if we can even conceive of just how important it might be or why.
Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces raided 17 civil society and human rights groups yesterday, in some cases holding staffers at the NGO offices as the raid proceeded. The raid has the odd effect of pitting the Generals we’ve mentored and funded–to the tune of billions–against civil society experts we’ve also funded, through State Department funding streams.
The orchestrated move by Egypt’s generals, apparently keen to play up to anti-US and nationalist feelings in the country, will be seen as highly provocative in Washington, which underwrites military aid to Egypt to the sum of $1.3bn (£843m) annually.
“We are deeply concerned,” a State Department official told the Guardian.
And I suspect this won’t be the end of the demonizing of civil society NGOs. After all, these NGOs have been involved, for years, in training some of the activists who went on to lead the revolution. Even some of the activists (who may have been state operatives) have accused those with ties to these NGOs of “treason.” The State Department developed an explicit plan to foster reform in Egypt through these NGOs five years ago.
Technical support to legal political parties through IRI and NDI: Having assessed the elections, the institutes now recognize what the parties need. The NDP will likely not participate with other parties in the room, so it may be necessary to develop separate tracks in the program for the ruling party and the opposition. Even with the NDP on board, we can expect blowback by anti-reform elements. The institutes should keep their programs low-key and the USG apprised. Their programs should incorporate the full range of Egypt’s civil rights priorities, such as bringing more women and Christians into the political process. The 2007 Shura elections and the 2008 local council elections–and the development of the legislation promised to reform the later–will be the key medium-term tests. In addition to continued support for international implementers like NDI and IRI, we should also proceed with supporting additional engagement on Egypt by additional international NGOs such as Transparency International, Freedom House, and the American Bar Association.
So SCAF will presumably find plenty of “evidence” that the US supported democratic reform, in part, by supporting these organizations (though State has been pressuring the government directly as well, both under Mubarak and since).
And all that’s before you consider the past role that the International Republican Institute has had in regime change efforts like the attempted 2002 coup against Huge Chavez and the 2004 ouster of Jean-Betrand Aristide.
The point is not that our support of these NGOs is wrong (specific qualms about IRI and, to a lesser degree, Freedom House aside). Rather, it’s that the military leaders we’ve been sponsoring for years cannot distinguish between support for democratization and opposition to their rule. And that, in turn, can easily be spun as an opposition to Egyptian security, particularly given how much the US has turned Islamic terrorism into an all-powerful bogeyman.
It all seems so familiar, given our difficulty getting cooperation from our military surrogates in Pakistan.
Nevertheless, these very vivid examples of how paying to strengthen militarized authoritarians in “allied” countries can backfire didn’t stop us from finalizing a $30 billion deal with Saudi Arabia for F-15s yesterday, the same day of this SCAF raid.
I do not usually just post simply to repeat what another somewhat similarly situated blogger has said. But late this afternoon/early this evening, I was struck by two things almost simultaneously. Right as I read Gretchen Morgenson’s latest article in the NYT on the latest and most refined parameters of the foreclosure fraud settlement, I also saw a post by Digby. The intersection of the two was crushing, but probably oh so true.
First, the latest Foreclosure Fraud Settlement trial balloon being floated by the “State Attorney Generals”. There have been several such trial balloons floated on this before; all sunk like lead weights. This is absolutely a similar sack of shit; from Morgenson at the NYT:
Cutting to the chase: if you thought this was the deal that would hold banks accountable for filing phony documents in courts, foreclosing without showing they had the legal right to do so and generally running roughshod over anyone who opposed them, you are likely to be disappointed.
This may not qualify as a shock. Accountability has been mostly A.W.O.L. in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. A handful of state attorneys general became so troubled by the direction this deal was taking that they dropped out of the talks. Officials from Delaware, New York, Massachusetts and Nevada feared that the settlement would preclude further investigations, and would wind up being a gift to the banks.
It looks as if they were right to worry. As things stand, the settlement, said to total about $25 billion, would cost banks very little in actual cash — $3.5 billion to $5 billion. A dozen or so financial companies would contribute that money.
The rest — an estimated $20 billion — would consist of credits to banks that agree to reduce a predetermined dollar amount of principal owed on mortgages that they own or service for private investors. How many credits would accrue to a bank is unclear, but the amount would be based on a formula agreed to by the negotiators. A bank that writes down a second lien, for example, would receive a different amount from one that writes down a first lien.
Sure, $5 billion in cash isn’t nada. But government officials have held out this deal as the penalty for years of what they saw as unlawful foreclosure practices. A few billion spread among a dozen or so institutions wouldn’t seem a heavy burden, especially when considering the harm that was done.
The banks contend that they have seen no evidence that they evicted homeowners who were paying their mortgages. Then again, state and federal officials conducted few, if any, in-depth investigations before sitting down to cut a deal.
Shaun Donovan, secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said the settlement, which is still being worked out, would hold banks accountable. “We continue to make progress toward the key goals of the settlement, which are to establish strong protections for homeowners in the way their loans are serviced across every type of loan and to ensure real relief for homeowners, including the most substantial principal writedown that has occurred throughout this crisis.”
Read the full piece, there is much more there.
Yes, this is certainly just a trial balloon, and just the latest one at that. But it is infuriating, because Continue reading
At the end of the day yesterday, the burning question was whether New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg would send the New York Police Department into Zuccotti Park this morning to clear it of protesters under cover of a request from the owners of the property (although used as a public park, the property is privately owned). This morning, we learn that the property owners and Bloomberg have backed down, postponing for now the planned cleaning which had been put forward as the reason for potentially clearing the park. From CNN:
The New York mayor’s office said Brookfield Properties, the owners of Zuccotti Park, told the city late Thursday the scheduled cleaning is off for now and “for the time being” they are “withdrawing their request” made earlier in the week for police assistance during the cleaning operation.
“Our position has been consistent throughout: the City’s role is to protect public health and safety, to enforce the law, and guarantee the rights of all New Yorkers. Brookfield believes they can work out an arrangement with the protesters that will ensure the park remains clean, safe, available for public use and that the situation is respectful of residents and businesses downtown, and we will continue to monitor the situation,” Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway said.
This week is the Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal. We will get to that shortly, but perhaps the most significant news from the Circus this week is the swing of F1 from reinstating the Bahrain Grand Prix, which was previously pulled from its season opening slot in mid-March due to civil unrest and corresponding governmental oppression, to again yanking it from the schedule.
The race was called-off Friday after Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) announced its withdrawal to stage the event in the wake of objections from the teams and its drivers. The FIA’s World Motor Sport Council last Friday had re-instated the race to October (28-30) but removal of it now is most likely to make way for the staging of the inaugural Indian Grand Prix on the same dates.
“We will be back to normal. We have to put it to the World Council. I sent something this morning, so it will be quick,” Ecclestone was quoted as saying by The Guardian Wednesday.
Ecclestone, while defending his earlier decision, said the teams had the right to object to the re-scheduling of the race that was cancelled in March due to anti-government protests.
“The truth of the matter is we put the calendar together and the teams race on the calendar,” he said. “We were trying to help Bahrain, who have been very helpful to Formula One, and hoping they could get themselves sorted out.
“I don’t know whether there is peace or not. I have no idea. The FIA sent somebody out to check and they said it was all OK. I think the teams had different information and they have the right to say they don’t want to change the calendar.”
Since not everybody can translate jive, here is the deal. After the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt began in late January and started to spread, there was a brutal crackdown on protesters in Bahrain. A wave of pressure was placed on F1 and its governing body FIA by supporters of the protesters and reform movement to pull the Grand Prix. I certainly doubt I was responsible for diddly squat, but I was among the early suggesters that putting the GP in play would be perhaps the biggest single blow that could be leveraged against the oppressive Bahraini government and the Khalifa clan that owns, runs, and dictates it.
They paid dearly and through the nose to build the facility and buy their way into the F1 schedule and, like the crown jewels to a monarchy, it is the very symbol of their belonging and relevance in the international community. It means everything to them. To Bernie Ecclestone, who does not just run F1, he IS F1, it is simply a giant wad of money. And Bernie likes money. Having seen Bernie in action over three plus decades, and casually meeting him a couple of times, my take is Ecclestone does not care about the Continue reading
Hi there denizens of this strange blog. I am a spooky hacker (No como se Adrian Lamo) and have determined there is far too much negativity in the common daily activities here. I protest. Like an Egyptian. Time to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. So here is a little music with which to celebrate what can be accomplished by the youth of a country when they are engaged, mad as hell and not going to take it any more.
For years, we have been trying to figure out what it will take to wake up the American government, Congress, powers that be and get them to return to the ethos of what this country – the United States – is supposed to stand for and exemplify. Instead of watching Obamaco Organizing For America and Move On lamely and pathetically try to suck up and pray the youth will come out and vote for centrist, status quo, Bush-Lite bullshit in 2012, maybe we should be telling and encouraging the youth to figure out where the American version of Tahrir Square is and helping them get there. It is the least we can do. Seriously.
Our generation has borne the climate change deniers, Tea Party, evolution deniers, Andrew Breitbart and Fox News horse manure and propounded freaking Barak Obama as the hopey-changey salvation. In short, we are totally fucked. Turn the gig over to our kids and get out of the way. If Egypt has proven anything which can be taken home here, it is that we need to be talkin bout a new generation. We are done and have screwed the pooch big time; it is up to them, but we can help them and “prepare the battlefield”.
Okay. Here is the legal disclaimer. There is no way in hell I was going to post the fucking Bangles, even though I kind of like Walk Like An Egyptian. Not gonna do it. So, Live at Pompeii may not quite be Egyptian, but close enough for rock and roll. By the way, I think Suleiman is Pink.