Country Research | Venezuela’s Shocking, Impending Collapse

 

A chronicle of the sad dissolution of a formerly democratic country: Venezuela. Previously, the stuff of former Soviet states, a Latin American economic powerhouse has been bankrupted in every sense of the word.

How does this cut against a common conclusion of political science research, namely that democracies rarely collapse into authoritarianism? Thank chavismo, mismanagement, institutional destruction, bad policy, and corruption, according to Moises Naim and Francisco Toro.

And in the NYT’s Interpreter, Max Fischer offers this:

Distrust of institutions often leads populists, who see themselves as the people’s true champion, to consolidate power. But institutions sometimes resist, leading to tit-for-tat conflicts that can weaken both sides.

“Even before the economic crisis, you have two things that political scientists all agree are the least sustainable bases for power, personalism and petroleum,” Mr. Levitsky said, referring to the style of government that consolidates power under a single leader. …

Because populism describes a world divided between the righteous people and the corrupt elite, each round of confrontation, by drawing hard lines between legitimate and illegitimate points of view, can polarize society.

When Local Politics Drive Global Policy

 

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AFP

If you want to understand what was happening beneath the headlines on Secretary Kerry’s Israel speech, you need to think domestic politics, namely, those in Israel. The meaning behind the words contained in the speech (and their veracity) are also important, but that’s another discussion.

In September, Netanyahu announced at the General Assembly that Israel had broadened its diplomatic relations, not just with traditional allies in the West, but with emerging powers and markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America. But many of these “new allies” were part of the 14 nations that voted unanimously for the resolution last week. Netanyahu speaks with Vladimir Putin more frequently than any Western leader, but Moscow voted in favor. He has spent years cultivating ties with tiny Senegal, which benefits from a major Israeli agricultural aid program. When it came time to vote at the Security Council, though, they supported the resolution.

And, at a news conference last year, Bennett said that Asian countries could become Israel’s closest friends, because they “lack a heritage of anti-Semitism” found in the West. But China and Japan backed the resolution, too. In fact, Asian diplomats in Tel Aviv tend to laugh when asked whether they would play a role as Israel’s protectors at the United Nations. “We’re not a very active player in this conflict, and I think that would continue to be the case,” one high-ranking Asian diplomat told me. “We want to maintain our distance and focus on other issues.”

Israel’s newest allies, in other words, are happy to increase trade, tourism and security cooperation—but when it comes to diplomacy, they won’t stick their necks out. And if the Netanyahu government provokes a stronger reaction from the U.N., they might even retreat.

via Greg Carlstrom in Politco, “Trump Could Be Israel’s Worst Nightmare

The NYT reported that across the Middle East the speech was received with some interest, but with shrugs, too. And Robert Danin, writing on CFR’s Middle East blog said that “what was striking about Kerry’s 75-minute long address was not what was new, but rather how little new there really was for him to say.”

You can read the full transcript on Vox.

Gray Diplomacy: Side Deals

Much was made of the U.S. payment to Iran as a “ransom for hostages.” As President Obama said, “The only bit of news is that we paid cash…because we don’t have a banking relationship with Iran.”

 The truth is, what President Barack Obama did was more like standard operating procedure for presidents, who must often enter into notoriously “gray areas” of diplomacy with hostile powers.

Think of it as the art of the side deal. From the earliest times, presidents have quietly cut private pacts to push big big diplomatic goals through—often with a lot of secrecy, and sometimes in violation of the country’s own stated diplomatic rules.

via Politico

Still not sure? Read through Jack Beauchamp’s piece in Vox where he breaks it down step-by-step.

 

Not So Special Anymore?

One big change that comes from Brexit? The US/UK “special relationship” will change:

“I worry that we will have less clout on our own: In the future we won’t have as much influence on Europe’s response to Putin’s transgressions, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, or the E.U.’s foreign and security policy,” said Peter Westmacott, one of Britain’s most experienced diplomats and, until January, ambassador to the United States. “And we will be less able to ensure it is U.S.-friendly.”

He added that without Britain’s direct involvement, Europe was likely to be less enthusiastic about free trade.

Still, Mr. Westmacott noted that “we should be able to cooperate much as in the past on counterterrorism, on intelligence, on cyber and on military issues,” assuming that “our economy does not shrink too much as markets, investors and the Scots take stock of Thursday’s outcome.”

All of which raises the question: If Britain can no longer play that indispensable role for Washington, surely there is another country that can? Perhaps, but it is hard to think of who.

Source: With ‘Brexit,’ Washington’s Direct Line to the Continent Suddenly Frays – The New York Times

The Rhetoric of Brexit

The rhetoric behind Brexit (or Bremain) got heated–right up to the wire. Nazis and Hates Facts. As a thoughtful Greek, Aristotle may not have been proud–but he would have understood what was happening, as Sam Leith points out in FT:

The main problem both sides have is that they are arguing about what will happen in the future — economically, with regard to trade deals, security and migration. Nobody knows the answer: there are no hard data. The future, as the great man’s compatriot Nana Mouskouri once sang, is not ours to see.

The most respectable member of Aristotle’s triad of rhetorical tools — logos, or formal argument — is a little stymied as a result. So we have fallen back on ethos and pathos: appeals to personality and authority, and to emotion.

But to simplify the persuasive brief for each side, we might conclude the following:

Taken together with the economic warnings, the whole approach of the Conservative Party Remainers to the referendum can be summed up in the concluding lines of G.K. Chesterton’s sorry tale of Jim, the boy who ran away and got eaten by a lion:

Always keep ahold of Nurse

For fear of finding something worse.

For the Labour Party, the problem is a little different. Their job is to convince their core voters, many of whom are inclined to support Leave, that the EU provides essential protection for workers’ rights and welfare state institutions that would otherwise come under threat from a Conservative government. But it is difficult to make this argument without sounding defeatist. Does Britain’s labor movement no longer have the strength and self-confidence to mount the defense on its own, without help from European bureaucrats? Is the Labour Party conceding that it is never going to govern Britain again? When Yvette Cooper, a leading figure in the party, argued the Remain case on television, she was gently reminded by her Conservative opponent, the son of Ghanaian immigrants, that the National Health Service and the other parts of the welfare state had been brought into existence single-handedly by Clement Attlee’s postwar Labour government, unaided by any European institutions. This is a painful reminder of the power that parliamentary sovereignty once gave to parties of the left as well as of the right.

Source: Win or Lose, the Brexit Vote Shows How Hard It Is to Defend the EU | Foreign Policy

 

Worth Reading

The “romantic” and “distorted” language of campaigners who want Britain to leave the EU | QZ.com

Arthur Brooks on Bipartisanship 

Consensus building in American politics is tough, if not impossible. We recently hosted retired U.S. Senator Larry Pressler who, among a career of good work and solid policymaking in the House and Senate is known as the only Member of Congress approached in the ABSCAM sting operation (Remember American Hustle?) to have refused the bribe–and then contacted the FBI to report it. As a political moderate and centrist in many of his views, his report on the state of finding middle ground was not encouraging.

How can citizens in the U.S. political culture overcome bigotry and contempt of the others side, weakening what Arthur C. Brooks calls “The Polarization Industrial Complex”?

The current polarization in America obstructs this kind of collaboration. So what’s the antidote? I asked the Dalai Lama, one of the world’s experts on bringing people together. He made two points. First, the solution starts not with institutions, but with individuals. We look too much to political parties or Congress to make progress, but not nearly enough at our own behavior.You can’t single-handedly change the country, but you can change yourself. By declaring your independence from the bitterness washing over our nation, you can strike a small blow for greater national unity.Second, each of us must aspire to what the Dalai Lama calls “warmheartedness” toward those with whom we disagree. This might sound squishy, but it is actually tough and practical advice. As he has stated, “I defeat my enemies when I make them my friends.” He is not advocating surrender to the views of those with whom we disagree. Liberals should be liberals and conservatives should be conservatives. But our duty is to be respectful, fair and friendly to all, even those with whom we have great differences.

Source: Bipartisanship Isn’t for Wimps, After All – The New York Times

Another Take on Obama’s Worldview

We are still talking about what past U.S. Presidents meant to national interests and strategy and how their decisions shaped the world (or failed to do so). Consider this new take on Eisenhower or Nixon or Wilson. And so, we will still be talking about the Obama Presidency for a long time. He told Doris Kearns Godwin that he “didn’t want to be Millard Fillmore or Franklin Pierce”. He seems to be reshuffling the deck, rethinking the game–even dissing the Special Relationship. So what will be Obama’s legacy?

If you want to read the latest  round of journalism-to-maybe-become-history longform, head over to Jeffery Goldberg’s lengthy piece in The Atlantic.

But if you want a shorter take, Max Fischer does a nice job on Vox. He breaks down the notion of Obama as a “Hobbesian optimist” and someone who sees long-term historical thinking as a key part of U.S. strategic interests–contrary to a foreign policy establishment that is focused on quick wins, especially by use of military power:

This spoke to how Obama sees challenges as well as opportunities: as a matter of encouraging that global progress toward peace and prosperity, while also acknowledging how dangerous it can be when that progress stalls or reverses. But it sees the latter as the exception rather than the norm.

Source: The best articulation yet of how President Obama sees the world – Vox

His critics may be status quo. His critics are certainly inflamed. They may even be right.