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The State of the World

by Frank Schnittger Fri Nov 13th, 2009 at 07:28:20 AM EST

OK - a slightly ambitious title for a short diary - I will concede.  But I want to talk about a few inter-related factors which I think are emblematic and symbolic of the state of world politics today.  

  1. Where stands Obama a year after his election?

  2. Where stands the EU after Lisbon is finally ratified? and

  3. What are the prospects for the major challenges ahead - particularly for Climate Change post Kyoto?

frontpaged with minor edit - Nomad


1. Obama's first year

To begin with Obama, his favourability ratings have continued to be significantly positive even after the initial euphoria has worn off:


[Please note this graph is dynamically linked to Pollster.com and will change over time. At the time of writing Obama's approval rating was 55%+]

Having fallen from the dizzy heights of 70%+ around the time of his inauguration, his ratings have now stabilised at a solid 55% plus.  Despite Republican and "moderate" complaints that he has been trying to do too much too fast, he has in fact been very focused in his priorities:

  1. Stabilise the US economy
  2. Get out of Iraq
  3. Focus on securing some kind of victory in Afghanistan
  4. Close Guantanamo
  5. Change the tone of US foreign policy from belligerent imperialism to multi-lateral diplomacy
  6. Reform US health insurance availability and affordability

To the chagrin of progressives, he has to date expended little political capital on:

  1. Middle East peace - despite a highly regarded speech in Cairo
  2. Rolling back the civil liberties encroachments and addressing the alleged war crimes of his predecessors
  3. Reforming the US financial services industry
  4. Confronting the US military-Industrial complex and its runaway spending
  5. Addressing "culture wars" issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

In other words, he has focused on a narrow range of priority objectives whilst not, at this stage at any rate, opening up more battle fronts against other powerful vested interests in US society.  Even his much vaunted health insurance reforms are predicated on doing a deal with Big Pharma first - to guarantee their revenue streams - even as the increased provision of affordable health insurance dramatically increases their potential markets.

In other words he has picked his enemies carefully, and only chosen to do battle with a few of them at the one time.  Whether he will ultimately take on the military-industrial complex and downsize the military, withdraw from Afghanistan, restore civil liberties, confront AIPAC/Netanyahu on Middle East Peace, regulate the US/Global financial services industry, and address climate change in a truly radical way remains to be seen.  On current form he may do so, but only one at a time, seeking allies and doing deals to neutralise other potential adversaries, and only do so when the outcome of previous battles has been secured.

So a radical initiative on climate change will probably have to wait for Health Insurance reform to be "in the can";  he is desperately stalling for time on Afghanistan; and he has yet to take on the financial services industry.

Electorally, his strategy seems to be working.  The recent electoral contests showed primarily that whilst conservative hostility (and turnout) to all things Obama and Democratic has deepened, even those voters abstaining or voting against uninspiring Democratic candidates have shown little hostility to Obama in the exit polls.  Two deeply conservative Democratic Gubernatorial candidates lost in states which typically vote against the incumbent party, a progressive Democrat won a seat in California and the Republicans managed to lose a congressional election in a deeply Republican New York district because their extreme right sabotaged their own candidate.

If there are any lessons to be drawn from these contests, it is that Democratic candidates who try to appeal to conservative voters destroy their own base and lose because of a low turnout of their voters, and that the Republicans are in danger of losing what grip they still have on the moderate centre of the electorate if they continue to indulge the ultra-conservative "tea-baggers" who seem intent on taking over their party.  The 2010 mid-terms and the 2012 Presidential elections remain a huge challenge for Obama, but it is the state of the economy, and not the Republicans which is the major threat.

2. Europe after Lisbon

So how does all this play out in a European Context?  Obama lunch slight sums up lost appetite in US for EU summits - The Irish Times - Wed, Nov 04, 2009

THE SYMBOLISM was powerful, if unintended. A year to the day after President Barack Obama won the US presidential election, he delegated vice-president Joe Biden to have lunch with José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, the acting president of the council, and officials attending the EU-US summit at the White House.

The slight reinforced the perception that Europe has slipped down the list of American priorities.

Mr Obama’s anniversary, the lacklustre EU-US summit, at which climate change was the main topic, and a report published this week by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), an independent research group, have prompted a new round of soul-searching over the relationship.

The report, entitled Towards a post-American Europe: a power audit of EU-US relations, says the Obama administration is frustrated and impatient with what it views as a divided and ineffectual European Union, mired in the culture of meetings and incapable of acting as a strong political partner.

Nor is it certain that the institutional changes achieved by the Lisbon Treaty will correct these problems.

“The emergence of the EU’s new external identity has complicated as much as it has simplified the transatlantic relationship,” says the report. With presidents of the European Council and Commission and a “foreign minister” to deal with, “it will remain unclear how far any of these three people is really in a position to speak for Europe”.

----snip-----

The report goes a long way towards explaining why Mr Obama skipped yesterday’s luncheon. Administration sources told Mr Witney and Mr Shapiro that the US president’s first EU-US summit, in Prague last April, left him incredulous.

“To Americans, these summits are all too typical of the European love of process over substance, and a European compulsion for everyone to crowd into the room regardless of efficiency,” they write. Washington views the summits as “an exercise in pantomime”. US secretary of defence Robert Gates allegedly demanded puzzles to see him through the 2009 Nato summit.

Economically, Europe is America’s equal, Mr Witney and Mr Shapiro write. They are “the most interdependent regions in world history” with ties that generate €2.59 trillion in sales each year. Politically, however the US National Intelligence Committee predicted in a 2008 report, Europe will remain a “hobbled giant, distracted by internal bickering and competing national agendas” for the foreseeable future.

“Seen from Washington,” the report says, “there is something almost infantile about how European governments behave towards them – a combination of attention-seeking and responsibility-shirking.” The ECFR exhorts Europeans “to decide what they want when it comes to Afghanistan, Russia and the Middle East peace process and approach Obama with clear objectives.”

More than 500 Europeans have died in Afghanistan and Europe contributes 37 per cent of foreign forces there (compared to 54 per cent for the US), yet the EU “follows the American lead”. The ECFR’s recommendation that Europe define its own strategy for the war is perhaps unrealistic, when even the Obama administration is struggling to elaborate a coherent Afghan strategy.

The ECFR notes European divisions and self-doubts over Mr Obama’s desire to “reset” relations with Moscow. Mr Obama’s cancellation of the missile defence shield in eastern Europe frightened new EU members. “It is time for European member states to address the problem directly among themselves, rather than simply waiting to be told by the US whether or not a higher Nato profile is needed in central and eastern Europe, and whether or not they are excessively dependent on Russian gas,” the report says.

The EU pays more than €1 billion annually “to finance the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate” but waits passively for the US to seek a solution. Europe needs to break the linkage, created by Israel, between the Iranian nuclear programme and Israel’s intransigence regarding its own continued colonisation of the West Bank.

Perhaps Obama's slight in not attending the luncheon for the EU/US summit will jolt European leaders into a realisation that they cannot just appoint some non-entities to the posts of President of the Council and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and expect to get much attention or traction in Washington, although that is, of course, not the only criterion for their selection.  Obama doesn't do meetings for meeting's sake.  Whoever is appointed will have to be able to speak reasonably authoritatively for the EU and not always have to say "I'll get back to you after I have consulted with 27 member Governments".  

This is not an argument for a Tony Blair type President of Europe, but it does emphasise that the passing of the Lisbon Treaty is only the start of a long and difficult process of enabling the EU to develop a stature in World affairs commensurate with its economic size.  Interestingly, in an Irish context, John Bruton, former Taoiseach and current EU ambassador to the US has put his hat into the ring for the President of the Council post.  He was not a spectacular success as a Prime Minister, but he is an EPP member with close links to and an understanding of US politics.  I would see him as a possible for the High Representative job to balance out a Juncker or Balkenende or Lipponen Presidency.  Of course Mary Robinson was also recently honoured by Obama with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, but she doesn't seem to get much mention in media speculation these days.

More likely, the post of High Representative will go to a major figure from a big country if the EU is to become more influential on climate change, Middle East, and Afghanistan policy.  Obama needs all the help from the EU on these and other issues that he can get.  Perhaps then he will come to lunch.

3. Climate Change and Copenhagen

So what of the prospects for a deal on Climate Change in Copenhagen? US to 'redouble' efforts on climate - The Irish Times - Wed, Nov 04, 2009

Mr Obama spoke after a White House meeting with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, EU Foreign Affairs chief Javier Solana and Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country currently holds the EU's collective presidency.

The Europeans sounded optimistic a deal was within reach.

"Regarding climate change, I want to tell (you) that I am more confident now than I was in days before," said Mr Barroso.

"President Obama changed the climate on the climate negotiations. Because with the strong leadership of the United States we can indeed make an agreement."

Mr Barroso earlier told reporters not to expect "a full-fledged binding treaty, Kyoto-type, by Copenhagen."

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel told US lawmakers after meeting with Mr Obama earlier yesterday that a deal was urgent and there was "no time to lose."

Ms Merkel, making the first address by a German leader to a joint session of the US Congress since Konrad Adenauer in 1957, was much more specific in what a deal would require.

"We need an agreement on one objective, global warming must not exceed 2 degrees Celsius," she said.

"To achieve this, we need the readiness of all countries to accept internationally binding obligations," she said.

In a declaration issued after the US-EU summit, the leaders said they had agreed "to promote an ambitious and comprehensive international climate change agreement in Copenhagen."

"Together, we will work towards an agreement that will set the world on a path of low-carbon growth and development, aspires to a global goal of a 50 per cent reduction of global emissions by 2050, and reflects the respective mid-term mitigation efforts of all major economies, both developed and emerging," the statement said.

The leaders also said they would "work to mobilize" significant financial resources to support climate efforts by developing countries and strengthen efforts to develop strong carbon markets.

Work toward a new deal ran into obstacles in the US Senate and at UN negotiations that began on Monday in Barcelona, Spain, the last session before Copenhagen

My guess is that Obama will not be ready to achieve a dramatic breakthrough on climate Change by December with the Health reforms still likely to be stuck in Congress and requiring 60 votes in the Senate for Cloture.  He may use the occasion of his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech (prior to attending Copenhagen) to propose some dramatic new CO2 reduction targets (and also announce the closure of Guantanamo and a down sizing of the military effort in Afghanistan) but that may be me just being optimistic, and even I am not sure any significant new Climate Change deal can be agreed in December.

Climate Change may be becoming an increasing urgent issue in many third world countries:

But first world economic and political realities may have some way to develop before a dramatic new deal is possible.  Whatever about the difficulty of obtaining 60 votes for cloture on health care reforms when health care reform is widely seen as urgent and necessary, the US electorate may just not be ready for the major changes in lifestyle and economic infrastructure required to make real climate change mitigation possible even for Obama any time soon.

Too many Americans love their gas guzzlers, guns and gay bashing to make such a major change possible in the next few weeks and months.  All the signs of his performance to date are that Obama will settle for what is achievable over what is needed.

Display:
Bit of love letter for Obama.

Perhaps Obama's slight in not attending the luncheon for the EU/US summit will jolt European leaders into a realisation that they cannot just appoint some non-entities to the posts of President of the Council and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and expect to get much attention or traction in Washington, although that is, of course, not the only criterion for their selection. Obama doesn't do meetings for meeting's sake. Whoever is appointed will have to be able to speak reasonably authoritatively for the EU and not always have to say "I'll get back to you after I have consulted with 27 member Governments".

You know, for all intents and purposes Obama was a political non-entity before he became president. The person does not confer legitimacy on the post; the post confers legitimacy on the person. If the US or China or anyone else rolls their eye because an "unknown" (from their perspective) is appointed, then that speaks more to the narrowness of their vision than to anything else.

by det on Wed Nov 4th, 2009 at 11:49:48 AM EST
I don't disagree, but whoever is appointed will have to be able to develop and articulate (in concert with the Council) a clear set of policies, proposals, plans and priorities on key issues like Climate Change, Middle East, Afghanistan and global financial regulation which capture the public imagination and garner consensus support within the Council, and then negotiate on these issues in an authoritative way with Obama and other world leaders.  They will get one chance to do so, and the next time they will find themselves in a room with Biden reminiscing about his youth in Delaware. They won't even get Rahm Emanuel.

So it is about being effective, and that is partly about the definition of the post, and partly because of the personality and ability of the post holder.  You are right to say that Obama was almost a nobody before he became President.  But he became President because he had considerable abilities.  A lowest common denominator choice for the key Council President and High Rep jobs may not meet the same criterion.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Nov 4th, 2009 at 11:59:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
He has considerable oratorical abilities.

But - with the exception of some grandstanding on nuclear weapons, which has been undermined the missiles that are about to be parked in Poland - he doesn't seem to be much of a leader.

He's a very good salesman. But I'm not sure what, if anything, he's selling, except as little change to Bush's US as he can get away, without his fans noticing.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Nov 4th, 2009 at 01:51:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Great read..

I made my predictions about Obama before what he would address after the election.

I quite clear remember that I bet that he would deliver on health care, diplomacy and Iraq, not really on climate change, and the military-prison complex despite, what I expected, advances in both (more or less what happened guantamano out but not yet,  restrucuring the Defense budget, almost decent climate change bill proposal before being watered down, and some hints at prison reform but no prosecutions and no reduction in the budget).

So far so good my prediction on those issues. However,  I guess I did not anticipate how seriously  Afganistan would suck and that it could undo his presidency.

And I also made a huge mistake regarding financial regulation and jobs. Not in my worst-case scenario we would still be waiting for a watered-down regulation framework plus no double extra stimulus for jobs.

If he gets universal health-care coverage (with or without public option, that's an excellent distraction fight) I think he can be punished if he does not get Afganistan and jobs right.

Unfortunately I do not see him losing the presidency for lack of regulation. I do see Hillary Clinton losing the presidency in 2016 or 2020 due to the final US meltdown :)

So, all in all, more worried about Spain and the no-debt nonsense of my center-left government and the huge taxes on job creation and low capital taxes which is driving the Spanish job market down (with it the confidence in the economy if the job losses reach the middle class).

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed Nov 4th, 2009 at 01:42:41 PM EST
kcurie:
the huge taxes on job creation and low capital taxes which is driving the Spanish job market down (with it the confidence in the economy if the job losses reach the middle class).

We've already done that in Ireland...

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Nov 4th, 2009 at 05:17:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am worried Spain will end up as Ireland...I do.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Thu Nov 5th, 2009 at 03:00:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You have a long way to go - your government saved you from the bank madness - and your property market - while in a bad way - is not quite in the tailspin we have in Ireland.  I'm just back from a week in Torrevieja - what I wouldn't do to have your weather and your prices never got to the mad heights we had here! (There has been a rapid downward adjustment in all prices in the last year here, but it's a very hard thing to do without a currency devaluation option).

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Nov 5th, 2009 at 04:56:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Before these high-level meetings take place the staffers get together and hammer-out a protocol and agenda.  Barroso and Reinfeldt knew before they came they would be meeting with Biden.  

And, in a way, it makes sense.  Biden, as a Senator, was active and deeply experienced in US Foreign Relations - why he was brought on the ticket.  Vice-President can devote huge blocks of time to bi-lateral talks, unlike the President.  Also having the VP 'take-the-meeting' lowers the perception of how important the meeting is, expectations of the results, as well the "stakes" to the attendees.  

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Wed Nov 4th, 2009 at 01:46:22 PM EST
All true, but the EU sent it's top people (as currently defined). Delegating them to the VP sends the message that they don't really rate at the top table - which unfortunately is an accurate depiction of the reality.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Nov 4th, 2009 at 02:04:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You are simply repeating American propaganda, Frank. The same BS as was used to promote Blair.

As for American slights towards Europe, they are SOP. What Obama is (said to be) complaining about is that Europe isn't lining up to join with American interests. In that sense, there's no difference between him and Bush.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 06:17:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You are confusing process with substance. What Obama was complaining about was the EU process of Governance.  He may well have issues with substance as well, but that was not my point.  The point - in the report - which I agree with is that the EU needs to define its own interests and positions re. Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Missile defence, Climate Change etc. and not always look for the US to lead - because the US's ability to lead on these issues is constrained by its domestic politics.  

I actually think Obama needs a more assertive, cohesive, and even differing EU approach to these issues to help wrongfoot and shift his US domestic opponents.  Where Obama is different from Bush is that he actually wants the EU to become more assetive and influential - hence Hillary's concerns expressed towards Cameron and the Eurosceptic playboys.

It would be easier for Obama to disengage from Afghanistan if EU members did so first.  It would be easier for him to put more pressure on Israel if the EU was a lot more hawkish.  Hell, the US congress has just voted overwhelmingly in favour of suppressing a UN report condemning Israeli AND Hamas human rights abuses. It was eastern EU members who were appalled at his decision on Missile defense.  You forget he is dealing with a US domestic political environment dominated by interests way to the right of him.  What the hell was Brown doing reiterating Afghan policy when Obama needs to be pressurised to look for a way out?

I don't think accusing me of bullshitting and calling me a victim of US brainwashing/propaganda is a very good way to promote reasoned debate here.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 09:06:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank Schnittger:
I don't think accusing me of bullshitting and calling me a victim of US brainwashing/propaganda is a very good way to promote reasoned debate here.

Except it wasn't what I said. I talked about Blair campaign BS, and I never mentioned brainwashing or anything near it.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 09:19:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
afew:
You are simply repeating American propaganda, Frank. The same BS as was used to promote Blair.

Please read your comment again.  If I am simply repeating US propaganda - the same bullshit used to promote Blair - then, logically, you are implying that I am bullshitting and have been brainwashed by US propaganda.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 09:29:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As you wish. I had no intention of personalising it to that extent. It's the propaganda and the BS that get me.

And again, when you say:

Frank Schnittger:

not always look for the US to lead

you are echoing a frame that is commonly used to denigrate Europe and in fact, perversely, get it to align with US wishes. As if the US wants Europe to start leading in its place! Do you remember Bush and his wanting countries to "step up and show leadership"? What did it mean? Join the Iraq coalition.

Let's hope for coherence at the head of the EU, for sure. But don't let's get it mixed up with Atlanticist concern trolling. (No, I am not calling you a concern troll!).

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 09:50:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
afew:
Do you remember Bush and his wanting countries to "step up and show leadership"? What did it mean? Join the Iraq coalition.

Absolutely, but you have been repeating the facile trope that Obama is the same as Bush in simply expecting Europe to follow the US lead and defer to US rather than European interests.  

Bush did seek to divide and conquer (old vs. New) Europe whereas the Obama administration has expressed concern at Tory Eurosceptic antics and expressed a willingness to work with the EU on issues of common concern.  Of course Obama will continue to work for what he believes to be US interests (what do you expect?) but has many times expressed the view that world problems cannot be addressed (never mind resolved) by the US alone and has pledged to work with competing powers representing competing interests to come to mutually beneficial solutions.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 11:28:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not criticising Obama personally. I think he's a whole heap better than Bush and I'm glad he's there. But I don't think passing heads of government do much to change the fundamental foreign policy options of their countries, and this seems to me even more true of American foreign policy, imperialist and largely in hock to a massive defence and military sector. So I see more continuity than change in US policy wrt Europe. I don't think strong, coherent leadership of the EU that didn't do what America thought was fit would get much credit from Washington, whoever is president of the US.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 12:02:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
afew:
I don't think strong, coherent leadership of the EU that didn't do what America thought was fit would get much credit from Washington, whoever is president of the US.
I don't think the EU should be looking for credit in Washington: it should be asserting its interests there and making it impossible for Washington to divide or ignore it.  My beef with the EU is that its has been all to easy for Washington to do so - hell even an incompetent like Bush was able to do it - although admittedly he had help from Blair.  The more US Neo-cons scream about the baleful influence of the EU on world affairs, the more I will like it.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 12:32:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OK. But I think your diary and the comment I replied to don't lay out your point of view clearly. The long extract from an American and a Brit with an Atlanticist think tank doesn't help.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Nov 8th, 2009 at 04:04:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One of my concerns about ET is that arguments are not always addressed on their merits - it is sufficient to denigrate the source.  Which parts of the "Atlanticists" argument quoted do you take issue with? Does quoting them label me as an Atlanticist?  Is it Atlanticist to argue that EU/US relationships are perhaps the single most important or certainly a very important dimension of EU foreign policy?

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Nov 9th, 2009 at 08:34:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For the last time I did not call you Atlanticist. I said and say you are featuring Atlanticist themes to back up what your wish to see Europe stand up and choose its way independently of Washington. The Atlanticist arguments (I have already said) are concern trolling, ie insincere, and that's the issue I take with them.

And if you're not pleased with me, say so and don't whinge about ET.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Nov 9th, 2009 at 08:45:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I try not to personalise arguments.  I have a lot of respect for you personally and admire the amount of work you put into ET.  I sometimes think you can be very ideological in your approach which can mean that certain arguments or sources are pre-ordained good or bad without always being considered on their merits in a specific context.   However it is a very minor crib and by no means confined to you, and thus my more generalised comment about ET.  (Which of us is perfect?) However I think it can be helpful to be open to questioning even to our founding assumptions, and especially if we want to open ET out to a broader community. I was concerned that your initial dismissive comment afew:
You are simply repeating American propaganda, Frank. The same BS as was used to promote Blair.
coming from a frontpager (even if not in that capacity) would be quite intimidating for less confident (or contrarian) readers not used to having to stand their ground in an argument and I felt a more nuanced criticiam was warranted.  But we have covered that ground, so lets move on.  (For what it's worth - many thanks for all your work here - it IS appreciated).

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Nov 9th, 2009 at 09:13:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Apologies, Frank, for the first comment. I wouldn't have gone so straight at it with someone who wasn't used to holding their own. As for ideology, my view is that none of us are free from ideological constraints, and the notion of attempting a middle-of-the-road "objective" assessment seems to me largely doomed to failure. Meanwhile, for most people, the media machine acts as a smoke screen so they don't see the ideology behind. I think it's quite legitimate to want to know who is helping to spread one idea or another, and what their ideological links are. All the more when the material comes from a think tank, as in this case.

It's then a question, for me, of the degree of good faith that can be ascribed to an argument. I don't find the (oft-repeated) Atlanticist meme that Europe needs to find its foreign policy feet entirely disinterested. It has generally been associated with Europe just becoming a faster-reacting and easier-to-call-on American ally (some would say vassal). I don't see that as Europe's place in the world. And I think the call to consider arguments on their merits can be glibly used by those who have disingenuous arguments to offer (not you, I hasten again to add).

It's a bit like: "Let's consider this great big wooden horse on its merits!"

(Me: timeo danaos et dona ferentes).

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Nov 9th, 2009 at 09:39:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
afew:
As for ideology, my view is that none of us are free from ideological constraints, and the notion of attempting a middle-of-the-road "objective" assessment seems to me largely doomed to failure.

My sociology 101 course was delivered by an Althusserian Marxist who quickly denounced anyone with pretensions to ideology free discourse!  I lost the train of thought somewhere along the line of French post structuralist existentialist linguistic and semantic philosophers and more practical concerns intervened, but I have never entertained the illusion to be value or ideology free.

And yes, it can be helpful to identify ideological patterns with material interests without being overly concerned with the fine print of that discourse.  However I also think those Atlanticists who think that a more effective EU decision making process will automatically result in a more US compliant foreign policy are in for a rude awakening.

Real political foreign policy theory argues that states promote their own interests and that better run states do so more effectively.  It is far easier for the US to continue to treat the EU as a vassal so long as it remains divided into relatively much weaker states.

As I understand it, Obama is aligned with the much more real-politique strains of US foreign policy making (as opposed to the much more neo-imperial ideological neo-conservbative strains) and this means he is much more likely to try and negotiate with and accommodate competing powers with differing interests rather than the failed Bush attempt to conquer same.

That means he needs an effective negotiating partner in the EU - both to deal with domestic critics and to achieve more radical and lasting agreements.  As a former HR professional in business I can assure you our nightmare was weak and divided unions with poor leaders who could not negotiate effectively and deliver on any agreement reached.

International relations - like industrial relations works best in stable environment with clear rules of engagements and leaders who know and can deliver on the best interests of their constituents.  It is not always a zero sum game.  Both pragmatic negotiators and partisan ideologues have a role in this process, but sometimes we have too many of one and not enough of the other to make the system stable and productive for all sides.

Greeks aren't all bad.  In fact we may have worse guys on our own side!

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Nov 9th, 2009 at 10:19:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank Schnittger:
My sociology 101 course was delivered by an Althusserian Marxist who quickly denounced anyone with pretensions to ideology free discourse!  I lost the train of thought somewhere along the line of French post structuralist existentialist linguistic and semantic philosophers and more practical concerns intervened,

                                                     

Hey, Grandma Moses started late!

by LEP on Fri Nov 13th, 2009 at 08:45:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
afew:
As for ideology, my view is that none of us are free from ideological constraints, and the notion of attempting a middle-of-the-road "objective" assessment seems to me largely doomed to failure.
Myth, Narrative, Frame, Ideology...

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 13th, 2009 at 08:47:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How is EU needs to define its own interests and positions re. Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Missile defence, Climate Change etc. [which it presumably cannot because of the disagreements among the 27 member states] so different from the US's ability to lead on these issues is constrained by its domestic politics?

In fact, the EU has a coherent position on Climate Change and they are allegedly getting ready for a failure at Copenhagen which they will blame on the US primarily.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 10:09:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They are not that different, and it is the US Senate which is primarily holding things up.  A good new President of the Council (and high Rep) will have to work through those differences and hopefully come up with more effective and coherent policies just as Obama is having to work very hard to overcome Republican roadblocks in the Senate and elsewhere on just about everything.  To date he has not yet done so, although things are starting to look more hopeful on healthcare insurance, and at least the process has started on Climate change - both issues where the US is way behind Europe.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 11:09:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Finally an English-language source for this...

Times Online:  All hope is lost for Copenhagen climate treaty, British officials say

Artur Runge-Metzger, the European Commission's negotiator on climate change, said in Barcelona that the absence of commitment from the United States on emission cuts was a key factor contributing to the delay, although other countries were also to blame. He said that without a treaty the EU would agree to cut its 1990 emissions by only 20 per cent by 2020, whereas with a treaty it would agree to a 30 per cent cut. Cuts of 25-40 per cent are needed by developed countries if a dangerous rise in global temperatures is to be avoided, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN-appointed group of more than 2,000 scientists.

Bloomberg.com: Deal-Breaker for Climate-Change Treaty May Be U.S. (Update2)

"America is back" at the United Nations negotiating table, Democratic Senator John Kerry declared after the November election. Danish climate minister Connie Hedegaard said U.S. emissions policy moved forward 35 years overnight.

Instead, Obama may send empty-handed envoys in December to the table in Copenhagen where 192 countries will try to assign emissions reductions because Congress has given him no mandate. With the 27-nation European Union, Japan and Australia ready to pledge cuts of more than 20 percent only if other nations follow suit, the stage is set for promises to collapse.

(my emphasis - see parallel comments about nonentities and megotiating mandates)

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 11:17:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have been preparing a diary around the follow quote - but I suppose it will be just be accused of parroting more US Propaganda and Blairist bullshit...

UN climate change conference likely to fail, officials warn - The Irish Times - Fri, Nov 06, 2009

THE UN climate change conference in Copenhagen next month will fail to produce an agreement to combat the threat of global warming, British officials have warned. They forecast here yesterday that a deal could take another 12 months to strike.

This gloomy assessment of the latest state of play was delivered at an off-the-record briefing by senior members of Britain's delegation at the latest round of climate talks in Barcelona, which were meant to pave the way for an agreement in Copenhagen.

Effectively, they were abandoning hope that a legally-binding agreement along the lines of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, could be concluded in the time available, given the wide gaps that still exist. This was "regrettably unavoidable", one official said.

EU negotiators are not quite so pessimistic, saying it could take another six months to bridge the gaps.

On Wednesday in Washington, Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt - current EU president - said a Copenhagen deal was "simply impossible to deliver". He was referring to the lack of any real movement on the crunch issues of how deep developed countries would be prepared to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and how much aid they would provide to developing countries for adaptation and mitigation.

Mr Reinfeldt would also have got a real sense in Washington of the dilemma facing President Barack Obama, who must wait for the US Senate to pass new climate and energy legislation before his climate negotiators can put any "numbers on the table".

With only 30 days left to the opening of the Copenhagen conference on December 7th, the chances of passing the Bill in advance are rated as remote to non-existent.

Antonio Hill of Greenpeace, which staged a noisy demonstration outside the Barcelona conference centre yesterday morning, said it was clear Britain had made a "judgment call" about the prospects, because of the "sequencing issue" in the US.

But he warned that it was "dangerous" to assume developing countries would go along with any postponement. "They've made it clear that they want the developed countries to set [emission reduction] targets and, two years on, they haven't."

Kevin Conrad, Papua New Guinea special envoy for climate change and director of the Coalition of Rainforest Nations, said the British briefing was simply "expressing something that we all knew or feared but were afraid to admit".



notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 11:34:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Before these high-level meetings take place the staffers get together and hammer-out a protocol and agenda.

Which is my biggest complaint about these sorts of meetings.  Everything's been hammered out before the meeting is even held.  Sure, there might be some drama, along the lines of Sarkozy and Hu at the G8 earlier this year, but nothing Earth-shattering.

You could carry out half these Very Serious Meetings with Twitter.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Nov 13th, 2009 at 09:43:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But what about the photo-op?

JakeS quoting Galbraith:

Yet to suppose that President Hoover was engaged only in organizing further reassurance is to do him a serious injustice. He was also conducting one of the oldest, most important - and, unhappily, one of the least understood - rites in American life. This is the rite of the meeting which is called not to do business but to do no business. It is a rite which is still much practised in our time. It is worth examining for a moment.

Men meet together for many reasons in the course of business. They need to instruct or persuade each other. They must agree on a course of action. They find thinking in public more productive or less painful than thinking in private. But there are at least as many reasons for meetings to transact no business. Meetings are held because men seek companionship or, at a minimum, wish to escape the tedium of solitary duties. They yearn for the prestige which accrues to the man who presides over meetings, and this leads them to convoke assemblages over which they can preside. Finally, there is the meeting which is called not because there is business to be done, but because it is necessary to create the impression that business is being done. Such meetings are more than a substitute for action. They are widely regarded as action.

The fact that no business is transacted at a no-business meeting is normally not a serious cause of embarrassment to those attending.

Anyway, in the case of the EU, sometimes not everything has been hammered out before the summit (see Nice 2000 for an egregious example).

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 13th, 2009 at 09:48:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Meetings can also be a way of pressurising those who are holding out on a consensus - that its time to fall in line - perhaps with a few face saving minor concessions - as the alternative is the public humiliation of being seen to hold up progress - see Klaus, Vaclav, 2009.  Sometimes the recalcitrant leader is not even present (ibid) but the impression that he is pooping the party needs to be created.

I am sometimes amused by the degree to which the inter-personal "chemistry" between leaders is said, in the MSN, to be absolutely crucial to a particular international relationship - as if it mattered whether Sarkozy/Merkel actually like each other.  

Having said that,. interpersonal relationships can make a difference in a tight call.  There have been numerous instances of EU Council decisions being delayed until the next Presidency because some participants didn't want the current incumbent a "victory".

I have rarely lost a bet when betting on the pettiness, egotism and vanity of political leaders...

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Nov 13th, 2009 at 10:18:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think if Obama's priorities are less generously stated, then the "chagrin of progressives" becomes more self-evident:
  1. Restore the status quo economy and its vast disparity in wealth

  2. Carry out the Bush plan on Iraq

  3. Insuring M-I-C profits and CIA jobs in Afghanistan

  4. Avoid war crimes investigations and accountability

  5. Kinder, softer Imperialism because the U.S. dollar is weak

  6. Any healthcare legislation is a win, regardless of actual content


by Magnifico on Wed Nov 4th, 2009 at 04:51:45 PM EST
All arguable, and no one said Obama is a revolutionary, but rather someone who works within the system and tries to make it work better.  However, without hypothesising what Obama "really wants", it is clear that there are grave limits to the power of Democracy in the US (as elsewhere) when compared to the power of the economic, media and military establishments.  If you really want the whole system to go pear shaped you elect someone really incompetent... er...I think you already tried that.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Nov 4th, 2009 at 05:00:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I could also argue that:

  1. the status quo economy cannot be restored, and many banks/businesses have gone to the wall. Would Bush have focused tax cuts on the less well off?

  2. Bush was not planning to withdraw from Iraq any time soon

  3. Lets see on Afghanistan - will Obama authorise another surge? If he does, it will be his first major mistake.

  4. Technically it is for the DOJ to investigate war crimes - has Obama actively impeded them - other than to avoid getting caught up in the process? Would prosecuting Cheney et al make it easier to implement a more progressive agenda?

  5. Is adjusting to changed economic circumstances and recognising external realities wrong?

  6. Obama/Congress have brought the prospect of significant health care reform closer than anyone since LBJ


notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Nov 4th, 2009 at 05:13:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm afraid that was the sum of my expectations when he was elected.  I haven't really been disappointed.

When considered historically, the major feature of the first term will, I suspect, be seen to be his failure to change the balance of power between the state and big finance, when the latter were on the ropes.  Instead he caved in to a protection racket we have the US Treasury being run as a division of Goldman Sachs.

On the issue that dwarfs even the above, I expect the US to play a major part in ensuring nothing effective comes out of Copenhagen.  Goals may be set for some time in the future, but not the immediate and radical changes that are needed.  I do hope I'm wrong on this, but I'm not holding my breath.

No amount of well-meaning rhetoric about 'change' can change the fact that the political system in the US is broken (and not just in the US) and not fit to address our desperate need for real change.

by Pope Epopt on Thu Nov 5th, 2009 at 06:43:14 AM EST
European Tribune - The State of the World
Perhaps Obama's slight in not attending the luncheon for the EU/US summit will jolt European leaders into a realisation that they cannot just appoint some non-entities to the posts of President of the Council and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and expect to get much attention or traction in Washington, although that is, of course, not the only criterion for their selection.  Obama doesn't do meetings for meeting's sake.  Whoever is appointed will have to be able to speak reasonably authoritatively for the EU and not always have to say "I'll get back to you after I have consulted with 27 member Governments".  
The narrative here is interesting. There is an explicit premise
* whoever is appointed as (say) High Representative has to avoid having to say I'll get back to you after I have consulted with 27 member Governments or they won't be taken seriously abroad;
and an implicit one
* a "non-entity"  won't have such a mandate.

The use of the word "non-entity" confuses things because it appears to link performance or mandate to prominent personality like was done by Blair's backers.

So, is this a problem of who is appointed or of what their mandate is?

It is entirely possible that a "non-entity" would be given a negotiating mandate. I would be very wary of giving a flamboyant "entity" such as Blair a negotiating mandate because he might not hold himself to the terms agreed in advance with the Council and the Commission. On the other hand, a "safe pair of hands" can be sent to an open-ended negotiation with some confidence that nothing stupid will be promised.

After all, American ambassadors get paid attention to (or not) an the basis of being representatives of the US and regardless of who they are (and who outside America or, often, inside it, has heard of them prior to appointment?). The same should be expected of the EU - it should be able to provide an anonymous person with a mandate that would then make them heard. It's not who they are but who they speak for. The question is to what extent the Council President and the High Representative will indeed speak for the EU.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 09:58:19 AM EST
Echoing det to a large extent...

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 10:02:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There are several distinct issues here:

  1. The powers inherently transferred to a post under the Treaties

  2. The degree to which the interests of 27 members can be aligned to arrive at common policies and positions.

  3. The qualities of the post holder - the trust and esteem in which s/he is held, their grasp of the issues, their relationship with Council members and other key players, their abilities to articulate and negotiate on complex issues.  

I have used the term "non-entity" to describe a post holder who does not have those qualities in sufficient degree to inspire confidence on his own side - never mind in adversaries - that he is someone who can negotiate and must be negotiated with - and more importantly deliver on agreements made.  A competent negotiator knows what he can "sell" to his own side and what it will "buy" from those across the table.  Sometimes one doesn't equal the other and no agreement is possible.  But a bad negotiator can foul up the process even when an agreement was possible.

I do accept the premise that the EU has not been punching its weight on world affairs, and that, partly as a consequence, but for a lot of other reasons too, narrow US and other interests have been dominating world affairs to the detriment of almost everyone else.  I would like to see the EU, and the values represented by the Charter of Fundamental rights, much more influential in the future.

Both Obama (with his domestic opponents) and any EU leaders which emerge (with the institutional and other complexities they will have to deal with within the EU) will have very limited room for manoeuvre.  But I believe that much better global regulation on Climate, Finance, Corporate Governance, Energy sustainability, Middle East Peace and other conflict resolution issues can be negotiated by competent leaders even given those constraints and competing interests.

Bush and Blair really screwed things up.  I think the Obama administration and good EU leaders post Lisbon could do a much better job.  To believe this is not necessarily to be brainwashed by bullshit US or Blairist propaganda or those who want to be "lefter than thou" by being critical of anything Obama might try to do.  Of course he represents US interests, and quite effectively in my view.  How effectively are EU interests going to be represented?  That is the key question that awaits an answer, and I do not hold with those who attack and label anyone who criticises EU performance to date as being the dupes of US or Blairist propaganda.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Nov 6th, 2009 at 10:56:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
because they want

  1. someone who will toe the US line
  2. will say so publicly and will catch the top headlines because he has access to them
  3. will be "powerful" enough to impose his position on the rest of Europe (and if the French or Germans or others disagree they are just being their usal PITAs and represent no one but themselves)

They want Blair precisely to be able to go around any mandate the President of the council may have...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Nov 9th, 2009 at 11:32:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not clear on which "they" you are referring to.  Atlanticists? UK Eurosceptics?  

I would have thought Blair is damaged goods for anyone who wants the EU to toe a US line - Iraq harks back to Bush/neo-cons - and is but an embarrassing problem for Obama which he hopes will go away ASAP.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Nov 9th, 2009 at 01:17:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Electorally, as you said, he seems to be having some success.  His approvals have been basically steady for several months, and they actually fall roughly in line with the growth before the election.  (Take out the euphoric rise up to 70%+ and you get a fairly steady upward trend to the mid- to low-50s, which is historically pretty good at this point in a presidency.)  Deduct points for not saving Corzine -- Deeds was too stupid to save, so I won't fault the national pols for his demise -- and add some back for NY-23.  A-.

Of his major agenda items, what has he accomplished?  Not a lot.

The stimulus is the only major one.  The automakers sort of became a major item with the crisis, and for now they're at least still here, although the jury's still out especially on Chrysler and Fiat.  TARP is still awful, but strangely I think yesterday we found out that TARP may have been a blessing in disguise.  Assuming that issue can be worked out, TARP is also going to wind up being what allows us to do a second stimulus.  It also looks like they're going to be able to recycle enough of the money to do it, which is good.  B-/C.

Health care's not done.  It should've been done months ago.  They've made progress, and certainly the bill the House passed looks okay, based on what I've seen of the CBO scores.  If Reid can get the payroll tax increase on the wealthy added to the Senate bill, I'll be quite pleased.  If we can wind up with something like the House bill, I think I'd grade it a C- in terms of what they could've accomplished, but a B+ in an absolute sense, assuming they can strip the Stupak-Pitts amendment in either the Senate or in Conference (which they should be able to do, because one of the many oddities of the Senate is that it seems to be more pro-choice than the House on this).  Call it a C for now.

As far as I know, we're still on our way out of Iraq.  I think we're required to be out by the end of next year.  Yes, it's the Bush plan, but it was a pretty late-coming Bush plan.  Maybe I don't remember the various plans well enough, but my inclination is to say it'd be a bit unfair to fault the Democrats for running on a pullout and being followed by Bush drawing up pullout plans after five years of refusing.  B.

I won't judge Afghanistan until he makes up his mind.  I'm hoping he's going to listen to Biden and the Ambassador/General guy (whose name I can't remember).  A timetable -- a real one, not some "Once we finish our objectives, we'll get out," vague, hopey-changey one -- is the real sticking point for me.  Leaning towards an F here, but, again, we'll find out for sure early next week.

I think those are pretty fair grades.  Given the weights I'd assign to those issues, I'd call it a C- overall.  Going in the wrong direction, because I think I graded him a B+ or something about six months ago.

Issues which haven't come up:

The rest of the issues haven't really come up to the front for the public yet.  I know Pelosi rammed through the climate bill, and that the climate bill sucked, but, while I'm not optimistic on this, I kind of doubt this is the last word on it.

Defense bill is apparently where DADT will come up, according to Barney Frank, who says he's been working with Obama on repealing it in that bill.  Gates is apparently on board as well after being a little shaky initially, so that's helpful from a political perspective.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Nov 13th, 2009 at 10:11:31 AM EST
Great comment - sorry - I thought this diary was dead and have only just seen it.  You haven't marked him on climate change where at the moment he has done very little other than allocate some stimulus money to sustainable energy and (I think) network upgrade.  Will know more in the next month, but at the moment it would be hard to give him more than a C.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Nov 19th, 2009 at 11:12:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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