Monday, April 20, 2009

Obama's hour of truth

Obama's first 100 days are gone. And he has little to show for it. Sure, he spent a lot of money on banks, big companies and other fatcats. But these are Republican voters - not his. For his voters Obama has not much to show.

This reminds me of Clinton. He came to power with a lot of ideals too. But in the end his biggest legacy was a balanced budget - a conservative idea. Sure, a lot of time he had to face a congress with a Republican majority. And he tried but failed with health care insurance. But that doesn't take away that he enthusiastically embraced the balanced budget religion, employed a Secretary of the Treasury with a conservative ideology and presided over a lot of "deregulation".

Together with Clinton you saw similar politicians in other countries. Blair too was a politician from the left who essentially followed a right wing policy (thatcherism with a human face). The effect in both countries on the opposition was the same: seeing their ideology adopted and justified by the left the right wing opposition became even more rightish. Normally this would make them unelectable - as indeed happened in the UK. Unfortunately the clumsiness of Gore and a bit of election fraud combined to give a different result in the US: 8 years with Bush.

Not only gave Obama a lot of money to the rich guys, he also absolved Bush's torturers and hasn't started any prosecution for the many financial abuses of the last decades.

Recently it looks like Obama is finally understanding that his voters want something too. He has proposed to address credit card abuses and to take the middle man out of student loans. The latter would save the government billions but the industry is already fighting back. In a third battle, about rules for unionizing it looks like Obama is losing.

In the mean time America's rich elite - that possesses an even bigger part of the pie as in 1929 - has started a new attack on social security under the pretext that all those billions of aid have to be compensated somewhere.

But real financial reform stays off-limit for Obama. It seems that a lot of the discussion at the recent G20 was between regulation-first Europeans and stimulus-first (regulation-never) Americans.

What also strikes the attention is Obama's lack of political acumen. The smart thing would be to have some popular proposals that would raise resistance among some representatives. It would place them for the choice: support Obama or to face a serious backlash among their supporters. Roosevelt in 1933 managed this very cleverly, but I haven't seen this done by Obama yet. The student loans or the increase of taxes for the richest look like a good opportunities. But somehow Obama seems to fail to get it straight. Republicans claim for example that the extra tax for the richest also taxes the middle class. This concerns not only Republican representatives: there are many Democrats too who have drunk too much of the neoconservative coolaid.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Blackmail won't solve Kosovo's problems

My fellow dutchman Peter Feith has a new idea. He is going to use the Ahtisaari Plan to blackmail Kosovo's Serbs in submission. In his words: "The offer is on the table. It is up to the Kosovo Serbs alone to judge and take this offer". Of course that won't work, but that is not his problem. It will be a good excuse for his Albanian friends to refuse those Serbs the autonomy that the Ahtisaari Plan offers them. An autonomy that many of Kosovo's Albanian leaders don't like anyway.

Feith seems to understand his mission narrowly as the promotion of Kosovo's independence. It would be a much wiser course of action to give Kosovo's Serbs the Ahtisaari autonomy on their terms - under the guidance of the European Council. That way the autonomy can prove itself. If it really works and provides the Serbs an environment were they feel at home that would be a big step towards solving Kosovo's status.

The same "surrender or we will cleanse you" mentality can also be seen in the recent decision of EULEX and the Kosovo government that Serb cops should return to the police before june 30 or they will be fired.

It seems to be the ideology of the diplomats involved that only results matter. I beg to differ: their mafia-style behavior may influence Kosovo politics for decades to come. Just look at the color revolutions where lots of Western money for PR and "non-violent" means like the storming of the parliament building were supposed to strengthen democracy. In Kyrgyzstan and Georgia the men brought to power are showing clear dictatorial inclinations. In Ukraine Yushchenko's approval rates stand now at 3%. What would have happened in Serbia if Djindjic hadn't been assassinated is not clear, but his approval ratings at that time were already quite low. And Tadic Machiavellian tactics poison Serbia's politics.

In the end the dubious means of those Western diplomats may have more lasting and profound effects than the goals they reach.

How Gaza became a Hamas stronghold

The article is already a year old - but I just discovered it. It tells with painful details how misguided US policies led to the present situation in the Gaza strip.

First the US more or less ordered the Palestinians to have elections (they were due, but due to Arafat's death a year before Fatah wasn't ready). When Hamas won (56% of the votes) in januari 2006 the US administration was flabbergasted. Their intelligence was so bad that they hadn't expected anything like that. And there immediate reaction was not to accept the result and start a dirty war.

The first move was made with the Middle East diplomatic “Quartet”—the U.S., the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations. They demanded - on US instigations - that the new Hamas government renounce violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and accept the terms of all previous agreements. As Hamas predictably refused (they saw these as bargaining chips) sanctions were announced.

Notice the repetitiveness in US foreign policy. They put seemingly reasonable demands that they know will be refused and when these then are refused they announce sanctions. One can see similar patterns with Kosovo 1999, Iraq 2003 and recently with North Korea. In Gaza too there certainly were moderate forces with whom the US might have been able to work out a solution.

Next the US began to pressure Fatah to start a coup against Hamas. When after a period of dirty war this finally led to open conflict Fatah was quickly beaten. Since then Hamas has become a kind of dictatorship.

What is most striking about the story is the level of amateurism on the American side. Important diplomats involved knew virtually nothing about the Middle East. The US promised Fatah aid that never materialized. And as usual the US has as it favorite a big, well-dressed, salonfähig guy who isn't afraid of a bit of violence: the similarities between Kosovo's Thaci and Fatah's Gaza leader Muhammad Dahlan are striking. Condoleeza Rice gets most of the blame in the article.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Slovenia's erased

European Voice has a nice article about Slovenia's "erased" (the people whose citizenship was taken when Slovenia became independent). According to the article aversion against the Balkans is an important issue in the Slovenian society. The effect is made worse by a wide gap in Slovenia between the big city and the countryside. Any action to improve the fate of the erased becomes a target of rightwing populists.