BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

A Liberal Thought

Languages are made up of words, and words have meanings. This fact is so obvious that we seldom pay attention to it. Parents are filled with joy when a toddler makes the connection between the sound of a word and the meaning of a word. “Blue” is not just a sound, but also a color, an attribute of something. Yet when they go to work or turn on the television, these same parents are oblivious to the way the meanings of words are shifted and changed. It happens at their place of work, it happens on the radio and television, it happens in the so-called “corridors of power” in which decisions are made affecting their lives and their children’s lives.

If some scholar where to study this issue, no doubt he would discover that those who hold political power (let’s call them “politicians” for lack of a better word) were the first to do this. For most of human history it did not matter whether a politician called said that blue meant red and that red meant blue. The vast majority of people were common laborers, scratching out a living on some small scrap of land. Only with the liberalization politics did the importance of what politicians said and what they meant become significant to the common man.

Liberal politics, in its broadest sense, began to take root in the late seventeenth century. Over the course of two hundred years constitutions were written, the rule of law was established, the franchise was extended to every adult, and various rights – such as freedom of speech, assembly and religion – were guaranteed. Every liberal gain meant the defeat of aristocratic, racial, religious and sexist forms of government. In most of North America, Europe and a scattering of republics throughout the rest of the globe, we take now take liberal government for granted. So much so, in fact, that we willingly allow it to be questioned, willingly allow it to be eroded from under our feet.

How is this possible? It happens because the liberal democracies have willingly ceded their birthright. In exchange for one commodity or another – oil, gold, wheat, bandwidth, the inviolability of corporate logos, votes – liberal democracies (or at least their leading politicians) have allowed the most illiberal political philosophies to gain a foothold in our language. Astonishingly enough, the very people elected to uphold, preserve and protect democracy are often the first to put out the “For Sale” sign. In order to hide what amounts to a betrayal of freedom, politicians shift and change the meanings of words.

Politicians tell us that “our democracy is strong enough to survive any challenge.” Whether the language is Dutch, English, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese or Spanish, the same sentenced is uttered over and over again. With this logic in hand, it is easy to say that new citizens who have immigrated from a non-democratic society must be given “the right” to maintain their cultural identity. Of course, those awaiting citizenship must be given the same rights as those who already have attained it by birth or naturalization. And so it goes on and on, with rights and liberties being handed out as if they were peanuts.

What are your responsibilities? What responsibilities do you, as a citizen of a liberal democracy, have to uphold and sustain? Perhaps, first and foremost, is defending the language – the words – of democracy. If this battle is lost, concepts dear to us such as truth, justice, life and liberty will become only so much gibberish.

August 16, 2010 Posted by | Middle East | , , | 1 Comment

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