BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

The Neo-Lib Agenda?

There is a line of thinking that argues that globalization is not just about economics, but about ideas and their political expression as well.  Fifty years ago Conservatives in the US agreed on “Mom, apple pie and Chevrolet” and Conservatives in Germany agreed on “Mutter, Wiener schnitzel and BMW.”  Today, Conservatives worldwide agree on “Family Values, agro-industry and having a piece of the global auto market.”  There are similar Liberal values.  Likewise, both Conservatives and Liberals approach foreign policy ideologically – until reality forces them to abandon their isms and face reality or electoral defeat.

The Neo-Con foreign policy was an extreme application of Conservative ideology to foreign policy.   It took the darker view of civilizational politics, first posited by Samuel Huntingdon in 1992-93, almost to it “logical” conclusion.  This is by no means a criticism of Huntingdon.  The mistakes made by George W. Bush’s administration, belong to him and his advisors. Their philosophy has been repudiated and abandoned, at least temporarily. However, since nature abhors a vacuum, something must take its place.  For now, let’s call it the “New Liberal” foreign policy or “Neo-Lib.”

Neo-Libs are a loose agglomeration of American Democrats and European Social Democrats and Socialists. Their approach to foreign policy involves conflict resolution, reconciliation councils, mutual recognition of national rights, confidence-building measures (CBMs) designed to generate mutual trust and economic integration designed to generate interdependence and common interests.  All very politically correct.  John Rynhold published an excellent summary of this not too long ago, but these ideas have been in circulation since the end of the Cold War (Francis Fukuyama, Tim Dunne, Herbert Kelman, Dean Pruitt, among others).

They cite the success of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty in 1979, the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty of 1994, the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland and South Africa’s relatively peaceful transition from Apartheid to majority-rule.   Unfortunately, the Neo-Libs have learned a thing or two from watching Dubya’s imperial presidency, and there are a few things that they don’t want to tell you about these “successes.”

First, the number of conflicts that have been resolved in this manner are a mere fraction of the total number that existed at the time or exist today. Outcomes such as Vietnam, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Somalia, Chad, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Darfur are just as likely if not more so.  History is replete with examples.  Suffice it too say, someone loses – and often loses big!

The second thing the Neo-Libs don’t like to tell you about their “successes” is that in every case, the participants wanted peace, were exhausted by war and just needed a supportive environment to help them on their way to the Geneva or wherever they needed to go to cross the T’s and dot the i’s. Egypt and Israel fought three wars in the span of seven years; Egypt “switched sides” in the Cold War, and as the largest Arab country could afford to take chances.  King Hussein’s regime in Jordan had been tacitly backed by Israel since 1971.

Likewise, Northern Ireland – a three-century old conflict – was ripe for conflict resolution. Both sides were basically worn-out.  Both sides had much more to gain materially from the quickening pace of European economic integration than they had from further bloodshed.  Similarly, with Europe integrating as a single political unit, a neighborhood’s religious identity was becoming less and less meaningful.  George Mitchell, President Obama’s current Mid-East Envoy-extraordinaire, has earned much credit for brokering the Good Friday Agreement.  He wouldn’t have succeeded though in 1972; “The Troubles” were out in full force.

For liberal academics and liberal Israeli politicians, the agreement on mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO, signed in September 1993, signaled that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was ready for a liberal-negotiated solution.  Mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO made the conflict resolution, not conflict management, the order of the day.  Along with the economic gains generated by peace, a new era would emerge.  However, the Oslo process failed miserably.  Successive Liberal governments in Israel under Rabin, Barak and Olmert have failed to quell Palestinian violence, obtain Palestinian compromises and translate Israeli economic success into hard currency in the West Bank and Gaza.

George Mitchell, riding President Obama’s wind of change, has already been to the region two or three times in less than one hundred days.  He’s listening, but also conveying President Obama’s vision and determination.  What he really needs to do is answer a simple question: is the Middle East ready for the Neo-Lib solution?

June 21, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , , | Leave a comment