Later On

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Why Canada Is Able to Do Things Better

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Jonathan Kay writes in the Atlantic:

When I was a young kid growing up in Montreal, our annual family trips to my grandparents’ Florida condo in the 1970s and ‘80s offered glimpses of a better life. Not just Bubbie and Zadie’s miniature, sun-bronzed world of Del Boca Vista, but the whole sprawling infrastructural colossus of Cold War America itself, with its famed interstate highway system and suburban sprawl. Many Canadians then saw themselves as America’s poor cousins, and our inferiority complex asserted itself the moment we got off the plane.

Decades later, the United States presents visitors from the north with a different impression. There hasn’t been a new major airport constructed in the United States since 1995. And the existing stock of terminals is badly in need of upgrades. Much of the surrounding road and rail infrastructure is in even worse shape (the trip from LaGuardia Airport to midtown Manhattan being particularly appalling). Washington, D.C.’s semi-functional subway system feels like a World’s Fair exhibit that someone forgot to close down. Detroit’s 90-year-old Ambassador Bridge—which carries close to $200 billion worth of goods across the Canada-U.S. border annually—has been operating beyond its engineering capacity for years. In 2015, the Canadian government announced it would be paying virtually the entire bill for a new bridge (including, amazingly, the U.S. customs plaza on the Detroit side), after Michigan’s government pled poverty. “We are unable to build bridges, we’re unable to build airports, our inner city school kids are not graduating,” is how JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon summarized the state of things during an earnings conference call last week. “It’s almost embarrassing being an American citizen.”Since the election of Donald Trump, there’s been no shortage of theories as to why America’s social contract no longer seems to work—why the United States feels so divided and dysfunctional. Some have focused on how hyper-partisanship has dismantled traditional checks and balances on public decision-making, how Barack Obama’s rise to power exacerbated the racist tendencies of embittered reactionaries, and how former churchgoers have embraced the secular politics of race and nationalism.

All of this rings true. But during my travels up and down the American East Coast in recent years, I’ve come to focus on a more mundane explanation: The United States is falling apart because—unlike Canada and other wealthy countries—the American public sector simply doesn’t have the funds required to keep the nation stitched together. A country where impoverished citizens rely on crowdfunding to finance medical operations isn’t a country that can protect the health of its citizens. A country that can’t ensure the daily operation of Penn Station isn’t a country that can prevent transportation gridlock. A country that contracts out the operations of prisons to the lowest private bidder isn’t a country that can rehabilitate its criminals.The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), a group of 35 wealthy countries, ranks its members by overall tax burden—that is, total tax revenues at every level of government, added together and then expressed as a percentage of GDP—and in latest year for which data is available, 2014, the United States came in fourth to last. Its tax burden was 25.9 percent—substantially less than the OECD average, 34.2 percent. If the United States followed that mean OECD rate, there would be about an extra $1.5 trillion annually for governments to spend on better schools, safer roads, better-trained police, and more accessible health care. . .

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The GOP does not believe in investing in the US. For example, for the US as a country to be competitive and productive, it’s vital to ensure that its citizens are (a) healthy, and (b) educated. Thus if the country took its own interests to heart, there would be universal healthcare, and well-funded at that, including treatments and hospitals for the mentally ill (rather than simply having the police shoot them, or putting them in prison), nursing homes for the incapacitated and elderly, and investments in seeing that more medical professions (doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, pharmacists) are trained—and not allowing any forced shortages to arise as might happen if some specialty set informal limits the supply of new doctors in the specialty. I don’t think this is happening—some specialties just don’t have that many people in them. So the government should institute programs, subsidies, new medical school, so that the supply of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and so on could be increased to serve the greater demand resulting from a broader national effort to achieve the goal of a healthy citizenry.

And having an educated citizenry requires paying teachers a lot more to increase the talent supply, and funding of most effective teaching practices, with a constant search for better teaching practices, and building a database of documents and on-line videos to make available nationally courses for teachers and would-be teachers on what those best practices are. This might take the form of watching a video recorded live of a master teacher teaching one class session, then that video with commentary, the master teaching stopping the action at certain points to explain what’s happening: why s/he made the choices and said the words s/he did, how it might be done better, and so on, then back to the next teaching moment.

In other words, apply ingenuity and resources to ensure that our nation’s teachers are great at their jobs. That will make those future generations more capable.

And obviously the nation is better for everyone—you might say it would improve the general welfare—if the infrastructure were well-maintained and kept in good shape. And those jobs would be most welcome, but obviously money is required.

What I’m talking about, I suddenly realize, is artificial selection in meme evolution, exactly as we used artificial selection in lifeforms in order to domesticate plants and animals (and ourselves, in the sense that tribes rid themselves of uncooperative members). The goals (healthy citizenry, educated citizenry, good infrastructure) are sufficiently broad that many memes can be selected to drive toward those goals, just a not littering became a thing when Lady Bird Johnson took on the campaign to beautify America. Very quickly, littering was socially unacceptable and by and large people stopped littering. (This was helped by very young children being able to understand what littering is and that it’s bad, so not littering became a basic value adopted in childhood.)

And in fact the GOP will never approve of taxing the public to the point where all these benefits could be delivered to the public, because the goal of the GOP is to enable a select few to become wealthy by looting the country: skimping on healthcare, skimping on education, skipping on infrastructure, and thus being able to keep much of that money for themselves through the eternal demand for more tax cuts.

The US could do it right, but I think it is unlikely at this point. Still, perhaps the public will awaken to the fact that the wealthy are shortchanging them:

The US is not, though Donald Trump continually says it is, the most heavily taxed national on earth. Quite the contrary: U.S. taxes are quite low—and we’re getting what we pay for. Chart above is from this page.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2017 at 9:06 pm

What is religious liberty?

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2017 at 3:38 pm

Moderation may be the most challenging and rewarding virtue

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Aurelian Craiutu, professor of political science and adjunct professor of American studies at Indiana University, writes in Aeon:

Three centuries ago, the French political philosopher Montesquieu claimed that human beings accommodate themselves better to the middle than to the extremes. Only a few decades later, George Washington begged to differ. In his Farewell Address (1796), the first president of the United States sounded a warning signal against the pernicious effects of the spirit of party and faction. The latter, he argued, has its roots in the strongest passions of the human mind and can be seen in ‘its greatest rankness’ in popular government where the competition and rivalry between factions are ‘sharpened by the spirit of revenge’ and immoderation.

If one looks at our world today, we might be tempted to side with Washington over Montesquieu. Our political scene offers a clear sign of the little faith we seem to have in this virtue without which, as John Adams memorably put it in 1776, ‘every man in power becomes a ravenous beast of prey’. Although our democratic institutions depend on political actors exercising common sense, self-restraint and moderation, we live in a world dominated by hyperbole and ideological intransigence in which moderates have become a sort of endangered species in dire need of protection. Can we do something about that to save them from extinction? To answer this question, we should take a new look at moderation, which Edmund Burke regarded as a difficult virtue, proper only to noble and courageous minds. What does it mean to be a moderate voice in political and public life? What are the principles underlying moderation? What do moderates seek to achieve in society, and how do they differ from more radical or extremist minds?

Before answering these questions, we must address the common view that tends to equate moderation with indecision, weakness, opportunism and cowardice. In the eyes of those who espouse this interpretation, moderation appears as a bland, incoherent and undesirable virtue, the opposite of the firmness and clarity of purpose desired by those who prefer starker contrasts and brighter colours. ‘Moderation sees itself as beautiful,’ Friedrich Nietzsche once quipped, only because ‘it is unaware that in the eye of the immoderate it appears black and sober, and consequently ugly-looking.’ To others more politically inclined, moderation is unsatisfactory because it is seen as a form of appeasement that does not offer a suitable platform for mobilisation and reform.

What did the ancients think about all this? For one thing, they didn’t share our present skepticism toward moderation. On the contrary, they praised it and thought that the alleged ‘barbarians’ were also incapable of moderation, that is, of following a rational middle course. If classical authors agreed on the importance of moderation, they also insisted that it is not an easy virtue. Tacitus called it, in fact, ‘the most difficult lesson of wisdom’, while Horace linked moderation to the golden mean and balance, all good things in his view, but difficult to achieve in practice. Plato highlighted both the importance and difficulty of moderation in The Republic, where he defined it as the virtue that allows us to control or temper our passions, emotions and desires. For all their differences, Plato’s wisdom was not lost on his most important disciple, Aristotle. In the Nicomachean Ethics, he defined virtue as a mean between extremes, and insisted that ‘a master of any art avoids excess and defect’, always seeking ‘the intermediate’ that preserves order and freedom in society. Yet since the mean is never one-dimensional, we must always assess and evaluate the context of our choices in order to decide on the appropriate course of action at the ‘right’ time, in the ‘right’ place, and with regard to the ‘right’ people. To achieve all this, one needs both prudence and moderation, yet there is no algorithm for them; moderation can be learned and gained only through experience and practice. It is a challenging virtue, not suitable to the young who lack knowledge and patience.

Moderation as temperance also occupies a key place in the Christian tradition, in which it has long been regarded, along with prudence, as a cardinal virtue. Many Christian theologians, including St Thomas Aquinas, argue that moderation is not incompatible with fortitude, courage and wisdom. In fact, they claim, no one can be wise and courageous without also being moderate at the same time.  . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2017 at 10:23 am

Posted in Daily life, Politics

How Trump is transforming rural America

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Peter Hessler reports in the New Yorker:

When Karen Kulp was a child, she believed that the United States of America as she knew it was going to end on June 6, 1966. Her parents were from the South, and they had migrated to Colorado, where Kulp’s father was involved in mining operations and various entrepreneurial activities. In terms of ideology, her parents had started with the John Birch Society, and then they became more radical, until they thought that an invasion was likely to take place on 6/6/66, because it resembled the number of the Beast. “We thought we were going to have a world war, there would be Communists coming, we’d have to kill somebody for a loaf of bread,” Kulp said recently.
She was thirteen when doomsday came. The family was living in Del Norte, Colorado, and they had packed gas masks, ammunition, canned food, and other supplies. As the day went on, Kulp said, she began to think that the invasion wasn’t going to happen. “And then I thought, I’m going to have to go to school tomorrow.”
In time, Kulp began to question her parents’ ideas. Her father became a pioneer in far-right radio, re-broadcasting the shows of Tom Valentine, who often promoted conspiracy theories and was accused of anti-Semitism. The Kulp family sometimes attended Aryan Nations training camps. “It was for whites only,” Kulp said. “It would teach you that whites were the supreme race, all of that shit.” She pointed to her heart: “It just didn’t fit in with this right here.”
By the time Kulp was twenty, she had rejected her parents’ racism. She worked as a nurse, eventually specializing in geriatric care, and during the nineteen-eighties she participated in pro-choice demonstrations. Last autumn, she was energized by the Presidential election. In Grand Junction, the largest city in western Colorado, Kulp campaigned with a group of citizens who became active shortly after the release of the “Access Hollywood” recording, in which Trump was caught on tape bragging about assaulting women.
One of the campaigners was a working mother named Lisa Gaizutis. Her eleven-year-old son had friends whose parents had declared that they would move to Canada if the election went the wrong way, so he did everything possible to free up his mother’s afternoons. “He said he’d take care of himself as long as I was campaigning,” Gaizutis remembered, after the election. “He’d text me and say, ‘You can stay late, I’m done with my homework.’ ”
The majority of these activists were women, but their backgrounds were varied. Laureen Gutierrez’s ancestors had come from Spain via Mexico; Marjorie Haun was a special-education teacher who had left her job because of a vocal disability. Matt Patterson was a high-school dropout who, through a series of unlikely events, had acquired a classics degree from Columbia University. All of the activists had arrived in the same place, as fervent supporters of Donald Trump, and on the day of the Inauguration they met in Grand Junction to celebrate.
On January 20th, nearly two hundred people attended the Mesa County Republican Women’s DeploraBall. They watched a live feed of the Presidential Inaugural Ball, and they took photographs of one another next to cardboard cutouts of Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan, which had been arranged on the mezzanine of the Avalon Theatre. The theatre has an elegant Romanesque Revival façade, and it was built in the twenties, during one of the periodic resource-extraction booms that have shaped the city and its psyche. Grand Junction, with its surrounding area, has a population of some hundred and fifty thousand, and it sits in a wide, windswept valley. There are dry mountains and mesas on all sides, and the landscape gives the town a self-contained feel. Even its history revolves around events that were suffered alone. Residents often refer to their own “Black Sunday,” a date that’s meaningless anywhere else: May 2, 1982, when Exxon decided to abandon an enormous oil-shale project, with devastating effects on Grand Junction’s economy.
The region is a Republican stronghold in a state that is starkly divided. Clinton won the Colorado popular vote by a modest margin, but Trump took nearly twice as many counties. The difference came from Denver and Boulder, two populous and liberal enclaves on the Front Range, the eastern side of the Rockies—the Colorado equivalents of New York and California. “Donald Trump lost those two counties by two hundred and seventy-three thousand votes, and he won the rest of the state by a hundred and forty thousand votes,” Steve House, the former chair of the state Republican Party, told me. “That means that most of Colorado, in my mind, is a conservative state.”
It also means that Colorado’s economy and culture change dramatically from the Front Range to the Western Slope, on the other side of the Continental Divide. Between 2010 and 2015, the Front Range experienced ninety-six per cent of Colorado’s population growth, and the state’s unemployment rate is only 2.3 per cent. But Grand Junction lost eleven per cent of its workforce between 2009 and 2014, in part because the local energy industry collapsed in the wake of the worldwide drop in gas prices. Average annual family earnings are around ten thousand dollars less than the state figure.
Most Grand Junction Republicans initially supported Ted Cruz, and, in August, 2016, after Trump won the nomination, a young first vice-chair of the county Party named Michael Lentz resigned. Lentz decided that advocating for Trump would contradict his Christian faith; he was particularly bothered by Trump’s attacks on immigrants and on the press. “I spent a month trying to come to grips with it, but I couldn’t,” Lentz told me. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2017 at 6:04 pm

How the Bible Belt lost God and found Trump

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Gary Silverman writes in Financial Times:

I went down to Alabama a few weeks ago and had a religious experience. A man of God welcomed me into his home, poured us both cups of English tea and talked about what has been happening to Jesus Christ in the land of Donald Trump.

My host was Wayne Flynt, an Alabaman who has made the people of the southern US his life’s work. A 76-year-old emeritus professor of history at Auburn University, he has written empathetically about his region in books such as Poor But Proud. A Baptist minister, he still teaches Sunday school at his church and delivered the eulogy at last year’s funeral of his friend Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird.

I took my place in the book-lined study of Flynt’s redwood house in Auburn, Alabama, to hear his thoughts on the local economy, but the conversation turned to a central mystery of US politics. Trump would not be president without the strong support of the folks Flynt has chronicled — white residents of the Bible Belt, raised in the do-it-yourself religious traditions that distinguish the US from Europe. I wondered how a thrice-married former casino owner — who had been recorded bragging about grabbing women by the genitals — had won over the faithful.

Flynt’s answer is . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2017 at 6:01 pm

Israel’s War Against George Soros

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Mairav Zonszein writes in the NY Times of Israel’s sharp turn to the right:

As a Holocaust survivor, a successful financier who embraces free market capitalism and a philanthropist who champions liberal democracy, George Soros should be a darling of the Israeli establishment. But Mr. Soros has failed the only litmus test that seems to count for Israel’s current leadership: unconditional support for the government, despite its policies of occupation, discrimination and disregard for civil and human rights.

For years Mr. Soros largely avoided Israel-related philanthropy, but he became involved in 2008 when he contributed to J Street, a moderate pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group based in Washington, after it was founded. Through his Open Society Foundations, Mr. Soros also contributes to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem and the anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence, which have been subjected to a growing delegitimization campaign by the Israeli government.

But Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, raised the stakes in this feud last week when his foreign ministry issued a statement that, in effect, backed a Hungarian government propaganda effort against Mr. Soros and joined its denunciation of him. This contradicted earlier remarks by Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, Yossi Amrani, who had expressed dismay at the $21-million billboard campaign by the ruling party of Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, that has targeted Mr. Soros for his support of services for refugees and immigrants. The poster campaign, which has also attracted explicitly anti-Semitic graffiti, “evokes sad memories but also sows hatred and fear,” said the ambassador, referencing the fate of Hungarian Jews in the Holocaust.

The foreign ministry spokesman denied that the Israeli ambassador’s comments “meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros” by Mr. Orban’s government. Instead, the spokesman went on to attack the billionaire philanthropist for “continuously undermining Israel’s democratically elected governments,” by his funding of organizations “that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself.”

Mr. Orban has personally accused Mr. Soros’s operations of “trying secretly and with foreign money to influence Hungarian politics” — a statement that appears to toy with an anti-Semitic trope about Jewish influence and yet strangely echoes the Israeli foreign ministry’s condemnation of Mr. Soros. It takes some gall on the part of Mr. Netanyahu to choose this moment to kick Mr. Soros while he’s down — not only because Mr. Soros is, once again, a victim of anti-Semitism in the heart of Europe, but also because he is being vilified in Hungary for trying to combat the same racist, anti-minority sentiments that led to the Holocaust.

In a rare response to the Orban campaign, a Soros spokesman, Michael Vachon, said: “As a survivor of the Holocaust who hid from the Nazis in Budapest and later was himself a refugee, Soros knows firsthand what it means to be in mortal peril. He carries the memory of the international community’s rejection of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis.” He went on: “It is from the crucible of those experiences that his empathy for refugees from war-torn Syria and elsewhere was born.”

The billboards are also only the latest episode in a monthslong, concerted effort by Mr. Orban’s government to demonize Mr. Soros. In April, Hungary passed legislation that threatens to close the Central European University in Budapest, an American-accredited graduate institution that Mr. Soros founded in 1991 and that was geared toward students from post-Soviet countries and authoritarian states. (In 2009, I received a degree there.)

Because of his reputation as a philanthropic bulwark against repressive regimes for pouring millions of dollars into post-Soviet countries, Mr. Soros is essentially persona non grata in Russia. He is also regarded as an enemy by the Republican Party in the United States for being a benefactor of Democratic candidates and liberal causes. He was featured alongside other prominent Jewish financial figures in the final television ad of Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign, which was widely considered to contain an anti-Semitic subtext.

Mr. Soros’s humanitarianism and universalism represent an expression of post-Holocaust Jewish identity that is anathema to the hard-line nationalism of Mr. Netanyahu’s governing coalition, which adheres to the classic Zionist mission that sought to end anti-Semitism and diaspora existence by gathering all Jews in the historic land of Israel. As in this case with Hungary, Mr. Netanyahu is increasingly aligning Israel with illiberal, autocratic states like Russia, Turkey and Egypt.  . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2017 at 8:11 am

Posted in Government, Politics

Trumping the Empire

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From TomDispatch.com:

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: In September, Dispatch Books will publish the next in our line-up of explorations of imperial America: Alfred McCoy’s remarkable In the Shadows of the American CenturyKirkus Reviews has praised it as “sobering reading for geopolitics mavens and Risk aficionados alike, offering no likely path beyond decline and fall.” Among the impressive range of comments we’ve gotten on it come two from Pulitzer Prize winners. Novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer, writes that McCoy “persuasively argues for the inevitable decline of the American empire and the rise of China… Let’s hope that Americans will listen to his powerful arguments.” And historian John Dower states that the book “joins the essential short list of scrupulous historical and comparative studies of the United States as an awesome, conflicted, technologically innovative, routinely atrocious, and ultimately hubristic imperial power.” As with all his work since the CIA tried to stifle his classic first book, The Politics of Heroin, back in the early 1970s, McCoy’s is leading-edge stuff and a must-read, so reserve your copy early by clicking here. Tom]

I was 12. It was 1956. I lived in New York City and was a youthful history buff. (I should have kept my collection of American Heritage magazines!) Undoubtedly, I was also some kind of classic nerd. In any case, at some point during the Suez crisis of that year, I can remember going to the U.N. by myself and sitting in the gallery of the General Assembly, where I undoubtedly heard imperial Britain denounced for its attempt to retake the Suez Canal (in league with the French and Israelis). I must admit that it was a moment in my life I had totally forgotten about until historian Alfred McCoy, whose new Dispatch Book, In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, is due out in September, brought it to mind again. And I certainly hadn’t imagined that Suez might have any applicability to this moment. But almost 16 years after this country’s disastrous “war on terror” was launched and with yet another major Middle Eastern city in rubble, we are undoubtedly witnessing a change in the balance (or imbalance) of power on this unruly planet of ours — and who better to make sense of it than historian McCoy?

Think of him as a modern Edward Gibbon, writing in the twenty-first century on the decline and fall of a great empire. However, unlike Gibbon, who wrote his classic book on Rome centuries after its empire had disappeared from the face of the earth, McCoy has no choice but to deal with American decline contemporaneously — in, that is, the very act of its happening.

I had a canny friend who assured me a couple of decades ago that when European countries finally started saying no to Washington, I’d have a signal that I was on another planet. So we must now be on Mars. I was struck, for instance, by a recent piece in the Guardian describingthe G20 summit as “the ‘G1’ versus the ‘G19.’” In other words, it’s increasingly Donald Trump’s Washington against the world, which is the definition of how not to make an empire work. Since imperial decline may, in fact, have been a significant factor in bringing Donald Trump to power, think of him as both its harbinger and — as McCoy so vividly describes today — its architect. Tom

The Demolition of U.S. Global Power 
Donald Trump’s Road to Debacle in the Greater Middle East 
By Alfred W. McCoy

The superhighway to disaster is already being paved.

From Donald Trump’s first days in office, news of the damage to America’s international stature has come hard and fast. As if guided by some malign design, the new president seemed to identify the key pillars that have supported U.S. global power for the past 70 years and set out to topple each of them in turn. By degrading NATO, alienating Asian allies, cancelling trade treaties, and slashing critical scientific research, the Trump White House is already in the process of demolishing the delicately balanced architecture that has sustained Washington’s world leadership since the end of World War II.  However unwittingly, Trump is ensuring the accelerated collapse of American global hegemony.

Stunned by his succession of foreign policy blunders, commentators — left and right, domestic and foreign — have raised their voices in a veritable chorus of criticism. A Los Angeles Times editorial typically called him “so unpredictable, so reckless, so petulant, so full of blind self-regard, so untethered to reality” that he threatened to “weaken this country’s moral standing in the world” and “imperil the planet” through his “appalling” policy choices. “He’s a sucker who’s shrinking U.S. influence in [Asia] and helping make China great again,” wrote New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman after surveying the damage to the country’s Asian alliances from the president’s “decision to tear up the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal in his first week in office.”

The international press has been no less harsh. Reeling from Trump’s denunciation of South Korea’s free-trade agreement as “horrible” and his bizarre claim that the country had once been “a part of China,” Seoul’s leading newspaper, Chosun Ilboexpressed the “shock, betrayal, and anger many South Koreans have felt.” Assessing his first 100 days in office, Britain’s venerable Observer commented: “Trump’s crudely intimidatory, violent, know-nothing approach to sensitive international issues has encircled the globe from Moscow to the Middle East to Beijing, plunging foes and allies alike into a dark vortex of expanding strategic instability.”

For an American president to virtually walk out of his grand inaugural celebrations into such a hailstorm of criticism is beyond extraordinary. Having more or less exhausted their lexicon of condemnatory rhetoric, the usual crew of commentators is now struggling to understand how an American president could be quite so willfully self-destructive.

Britain’s Suez Crisis

Blitzed by an incessant stream of bizarre tweets and White House conspiracy theories, observers worldwide seem to have concluded that Donald Trump is a president like no other, that the situation he’s creating is without parallel, and that his foreign policy is already a disaster without precedent. After rummaging around in history’s capacious closet for some old suit that might fit him, analysts have failed to find any antecedent or analogue to adequately explain him.

Yet just 60 years ago, a crisis in the ever-volatile Middle East overseen by a bumbling, mistake-prone British leader helped create a great power debacle that offers insight into the Trumpian moment, a glimpse into possible futures, and a sense of the kind of decline that could lie in the imperial future of the United States.

In the early 1950s, Britain’s international position had many parallels with America’s today. After a difficult postwar recovery from the devastation of World War II, that country was enjoying robust employment, lucrative international investments, and the prestige of the pound sterling’s stature as the world’s reserve currency. Thanks to a careful withdrawal from its far-flung, global empire and its close alliance with Washington, London still enjoyed a sense of international influence exceptional for a small island nation of just 50 million people. On balance, Britain seemed poised for many more years of world leadership with all the accompanying economic rewards and perks.

Then came the Suez crisis. After a decade of giving up one colony after another, the accumulated stress of imperial retreat pushed British conservatives into a disastrous military intervention to reclaim Egypt’s Suez Canal.  This, in turn, caused a “deep moral crisis in London” and what one British diplomat would term the “dying convulsion of British imperialism.” In a clear instance of what historians call “micro-militarism” — that is, a bold military strike designed to recover fading imperial influence — Britain joined France and Israel in a misbegotten military invasion of Egypt that transformed slow imperial retreat into a precipitous collapse.

Just as the Panama Canal had once been a shining example for Americans of their nation’s global prowess, so British conservatives treasured the Suez Canal as a vital lifeline that tied their small island to its sprawling empire in Asia and Africa. A few years after the canal’s grand opening in 1869, London did the deal of the century, scooping up Egypt’s shares in it for a bargain basement price of £4 million.  Then, in 1882, Britain consolidated its control over the canal through a military occupation of Egypt, reducing that ancient land to little more than an informal colony.

As late as 1950, in fact, Britain still maintained 80,000 soldiers and a string of military bases astride the canal. The bulk of its oil and gasoline, produced at the enormous Abadan refinery in the Persian Gulf, transited through Suez, fueling its navy, its domestic transportation system, and much of its industry.

After British troops completed a negotiated withdrawal from Suez in 1955, the charismatic nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser asserted Egypt’s neutrality in the Cold War by purchasing Soviet bloc arms, raising eyebrows in Washington. In July 1956, after the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower had in response reneged on its promise to finance construction of the Aswan High Dam on the Upper Nile, Nasser sought alternative financing for this critical infrastructure by nationalizing the Suez Canal.  In doing so, he electrified the Arab world and elevated himself to the top rank of world leaders.

Although British ships still passed freely through the canal and Washington insisted on a diplomatic resolution of the conflict, Britain’s conservative leadership reacted with irrational outrage. Behind a smokescreen of sham diplomacy designed to deceive Washington, their closest ally, the British foreign secretary met secretly with the prime ministers of France and Israel near Paris to work out an elaborately deceptive two-stage invasion of Egypt by 250,000 allied troops, backed by 500 aircraft and 130 warships.  Its aim, of course, was to secure the canal.

On October 29, 1956, the Israeli army led by the dashing General Moshe Dayan swept across the Sinai Peninsula, destroying Egyptian tanks and bringing his troops to within 10 miles of the canal. Using this fighting as a pretext for an intervention to restore peace, Anglo-French amphibious and airborne forces quickly joined the attack, backed by a devastating bombardment from six aircraft carriers that destroyed the Egyptian air forceincluding over a hundred of its new MiG jet fighters. As Egypt’s military collapsed with some 3,000 of its troops killed and 30,000 captured, Nasser deployed a defense brilliant in its simplicity by scuttling dozens of rusting cargo ships filled with rocks and concrete at the entrance to the Suez Canal.  In this way, he closed Europe’s oil lifeline to the Persian Gulf.

Simultaneously, U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld, backed by Washington, imposed a cease-fire after just nine days of war, stopping the Anglo-French attack far short of capturing the entire canal. President Eisenhower’s blunt refusal to back his allies with either oil or money and the threat of condemnation before the U.N. soon forced Britain into a humiliating withdrawal. With its finances collapsing from the invasion’s soaring costs, the British government could not maintain the pound’s official exchange rate, degrading its stature as a global reserve currency.

The author of this extraordinary debacle was Sir Anthony Eden, a problematic prime minister whose career offers some striking parallels with Donald Trump’s. . .

Continue reading.

In the things Trump is doing now, there is no do-over. Events move on. New alliances are made, new agreements are struck. When the US tries to re-engage, it will find that things have changed considerably.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2017 at 2:52 pm

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