Syria: divided street by street, town by town

Syria: divided street by street, town by town

The Syrian city of Aleppo has been the site of fierce fighting between various rebel groups and the forces of Bashar al-Assad. Taken recently, it shows two rival flags within a couple hundred feet of each other. The left is from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the right belongs to the Syrian government.

Credit to /r/syriancivilwar on reddit.

Is Europe in decline, confused, or just changed its methods?

Depending on how you shake it, the answer to all three parts could be “yes.”

The online version of the German paper Der Spiegel published an interview Friday with Walter Laqueur, a historian of Europe. At 92, he predates the Second World War, the division of Europe in half, and the rise of European integration and the eventual political and monetary union. With all this perspective, he has grown increasingly pessimistic about the future of the continent.

His central thesis is that Europe lacks the resources and willpower to project power globally, and have the kind of economic and military influence that the United States or China pursue. Staying on the sidelines, nevertheless, does not make you immune to the actions of others. As Howard Zinn titled his autobiography, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train. Laqueur responds to the idea that the current state of affairs is low-risk, musing:

I’m not so sure about that. Only time will tell. The Europeans haven’t quite understood that trying to stay out of the fray offers no protection against the consequences of global policy. Retreat offers no security against the consequences. Perhaps exaggerated caution is sometimes appropriate, but inaction can also prove to be disastrous.

Let it not be assumed that the United States has a superior foreign policy. If one believes that America is in decline, the human and economic cost of global military vigilance would be a key reason to think so. To use non-military influence, a state must have some amount of moral capital. But the credibility, for instance, of France is strained after their actions before and during the Rwandan Genocide- professor Howard Adelman found the military support (PDF, p. 6-10) for the Rwandan government leading up to the genocide to be “open” and “blatant.” Western inaction on Darfur creates a similar skepticism towards Europe being the go-to power bloc for countries and their conflicts.

Another question raised is that whether the wealth of Europe, and its comparatively advanced welfare states, removes incentive to be a global leader. Laqueur poses “Has material prosperity created a timid society…?” Two things quickly come into play here. Firstly, whether the large-scale debt crisis is changing any kind of timid behavior that may exist, and secondly whether wealthy countries are more able to assist and influence other countries.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (credit: Wikipedia)

As you learn in introductory psychology, Abraham Maslow proposed a “Hierarchy of Needs”- proposing that humans meet certain needs before progressing to less urgent needs. The fact that this pyramid inverted is also a theory shows that it is far from established canon- but nation-states may act like individuals in their priorities. A question to ask is whether wealth makes a nation more open or more reclusive on the world stage.

During these crisis years, several EU countries seem weeks away from total collapse- and unemployment is as bad or worse than America during the 1933 trough of the Great Depression. Thus the questions of where Europe is going in the mid-to-long term is very much in the background. When this crisis is staunched, what will European states do with their money and willpower? Is Europe committed to further integration, or have certain weak points scattered the consensus?

I don’t know if Laqueur is correct in his insights. Since he’s almost seventy years older than me, I have far less information to go on. It seems that what he laments in Europe is its loss of imperial ambitions. The portion of the world that was a colony of one power or another into the 20th century would be cautious of such a turn in attitude. But the trajectory of Europe will be of interest throughout the 21st century, even if the EU as a whole recedes behind new players in Asia, Africa, and South America.

It is not our blood being shed. But we are responsible.

“Every senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave. This chamber reeks of blood. Every Senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval and all across our land…

There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor or courage. It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes. And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us.” -George S. McGovern, September 1970

Emphasis mine.

This is from his short speech prior to the vote on the original McGovern-Hatfield Amendment, which would have required complete American removal from Vietnam by the end of 1971. It failed.

McGovern died last year. He would have been 91 today.

The anti-war picture we don’t remember

The anti-war picture we don't remember

Pictured is a protest against US involvement in Vietnam, it occurred in Berkeley, CA in December 1965.

The first thing that came to mind was Mad Men. Well-dressed people with the distinctive design of the early 1960s. While famous Vietnam protest photos show the student revolt and the rise of counterculture, there were opponents early on. In 1965 the war had about a 60% approval rating, but there were still large protests.

Opposition to Vietnam may be crystallized in the American conscious as Kent State, days of rage, and the hippies, but it was inaugurated by people who wouldn’t look out of place in Leave It to Beaver.

Two neoconservatives loudly agreeing with one another

I’ve watched most of the debates in the three post-9/11 presidential races. As I’ve grown and met more people, read a wider range of news sources, and taken college-level social science courses, the foreign policy talk of the candidates has become more jarring and disturbing.

Aggressive, interventionist foreign policy is not just wrong in a theoretical way, or a moral way. Its history is one of corpses, strewn from Vietnam to Iran, from El Salvador to Iraq and Afghanistan. Not just soldiers, but women and children of every race, faith, and creed. The United States has undermined democracies in favor of despots who promise open markets for goods, and to be an ‘ally’ in the region. Our war with the Taliban is not just against hardline Islamic fundamentalists- many fighters are poor farmers making a few hundred dollars as a hired gun.

My issue is not that American politicians have used these methods in the past, but rather at every opportunity they champion them as a sort of ideal foreign policy.

Continue reading “Two neoconservatives loudly agreeing with one another”

Peace Sells…but Who’s Buying?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kvz2E7R0wxw

Megadeth, known for its outspoken lead guitarist and vocalist, Dave Mustaine, released this seminal song on their second album in 1986. Mustaine’s comment “If there’s a new way/I’ll be the first in line/But, it better work this time” sums up most of my sentiments about the purpose of Occupy.

Megadeth, known for its outspoken lead guitarist and vocalist, Dave Mustaine, released this seminal song on their second album in 1986. Mustaine’s comment “If there’s a new way/I’ll be the first in line/But, it better work this time” sums up most of my sentiments about the purpose of Occupy.