Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Monday, September 15, 2014

Vukovar is a Microcosm of Conflict in Post-Yugoslavia

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

The collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s led to warfare throughout the country, as Croats, Kosovar Albanians, Muslim Bosniaks, Serbs, and Slovenes all fought each other for control of territory. Seven sovereign entities would emerge by 2006.

The 1991-1995 Croatian war for independence from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia claimed some 20,000 lives. While the Roman Catholic Croats declared themselves a sovereign country, minority Orthodox Serbs in Croatia opposed the secession and, at the least, wanted Serb-populated regions, such as the Krajina and eastern Slavonia, to remain Serbian.

The Serb-controlled regions in 1991declared themselves the Republic of Serbian Krajina, and its government engaged in a war for ethnic Serb independence from the newly-formed Republic of Croatia.

In August of 1991, Serb forces launched a full-scale attack against Croatian-held territory in eastern Slavonia, including the city of Vukovar, on the Danube River.

By the time Vukovar fell three months later, at least 2,000 defenders were dead and it had been virtually destroyed. After its surrender, hundreds of soldiers and civilians were massacred by Serb forces and at least 31,000 civilians were deported from the town and its surroundings. The damage to Vukovar during the siege has been called the worst in Europe since 1945.

While the rest of Serbian Krajina was recaptured by Croatia in 1995 in Operation Storm, which was finalized by the Erdut Peace Agreement, Vukovar remained in Serb hands until 1998 when it was peacefully reintegrated into Croatia through UN auspices.


Between 300,000 and 350,000 Serbs were relocated as a result of the 1991-1995 war.  Approximately 220,000 Croats had previously been displaced with the establishment of Serbian Krajina in 1991.

During the decades of Communist rule in Yugoslavia, Vukovar had been showcased as a model “Brotherhood and Unity” city where Croats and Serbs could live in harmony. The secularisation of the city attempted to stem the ethnic and religious animosity that had led to mass murder during the Second World War.

The lands of both the Orthodox and Catholic churches were nationalised, religion was removed from the education system, church marriages were no longer considered valid, and the public role of both clergies was curtailed.

But it all unravelled as Yugoslavia fell apart. On both sides, nationalists mobilised religious heritage, motifs, and practices, as vehicles for their ethnic movements.

Today, Vukovar remains a city on edge and real peace remains elusive. The battle for the city continues through memory wars, conflicts over dual language signage, and ethnically divided education.

Incidents involving Croats and Serbs occur regularly, and public spaces have become identified by the ethnicity of those who gather there. Even coffee shops are identified as Croat or Serb. The city is a cauldron of mutual animosity.

In September 2013, the Croatian government implemented its Constitutional Law on the Rights of Ethnic Minorities for the city. The legislation allows for minorities to have their language used for official purposes if they make up more than a third of a city’s population.

Since ethnic Serbs constitute 34.8 per cent of Vukovar’s population of 28,000, according to a 2011 census, signs in both the Latin and Cyrillic scripts were introduced. Croats use the Latin alphabet, while Serbs use Cyrillic script.

Respect for minorities’ rights was a key condition for Croatia to join the European Union in 2013.
But tens of thousands Croatians demonstrated against the introduction of the Cyrillic alphabet on street signs. Some signs were torn down, others were smashed with hammers, while protesters clashed with the police. Cyrillic, they contended, “is the symbol of Serb aggression.”

Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic’s centre-left government condemned the “chauvinist violence,” saying it would not take down signs in Cyrillic in Vukovar, as the “rule of law must prevail.”

The Danube, which once served as the city’s link to the wider world, is now the border between Serbia and Croatia, and Vukovar itself remains just as divided.




Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Gulf State of Qatar Remains a Puzzle

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

There are countries that are known to punch above their weight. One of these of late has been the Gulf state of Qatar.

It’s a tiny country of 11,571 square kilometres jutting out from the Arabian peninsula into the Persian Gulf, its only land neighbour Saudi Arabia. Most of its population is composed of guest workers; only 278,000 of its 1.5 million residents are Qatari citizens.

Qatar is a puzzle. On the one hand it has embraced modernity: Doha is a dazzling city of luxury hotels and skyscrapers – when completed, the Dubai Towers will be 1,434 feet in height -- and a center for global business. 

Qatari-owned al-Jazeera has become one of the most influential television networks in the world and currently has a total of 82 bureaus around the globe, the second largest number of any media company after the BBC. It now has millions of viewers worldwide, including in North America.

The FIFA World Cup, soccer’s greatest spectacle, is scheduled to take place in Qatar in 2022. It will be the first World Cup in the Middle East. 

Yet Qatar follows the strict Wahhabi Sunni form of Islam found in neighbouring Saudi Arabia and it remains an absolute monarchy – the Consultative Assembly created in 2003 has very limited powers. 

It has been ruled since the 19th century by the al-Thani family (although as a British protectorate between 1916 and 1971). The current emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, has been in power since 2013, when his father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, abdicated in his favour.

Thanks to oil and natural gas revenues, Qatar today has the highest per capita income in the world. And it is using its money shrewdly to buy influence throughout the Middle East. Among other things, it plays host to Khaled Meshaal, the political leader of Hamas, and supports the Muslim Brotherhood with money and political assistance.

In 2011 the emirate sent hundreds of troops and tens of millions of dollars in weapons and aid to the Libyans fighting Moammar Gadhafi, including those with Islamist ties, such as the 17 February Martyrs Brigade, one of the most influential rebel formations. Its air force was also involved.

Qatar has also been the most prominent regional opponent of the Assad regime in Syria, and has given generously to those fighting the Shi’ite regime in Damascus. In February 2012, Qatar’s then Prime Minister, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani, stated that “We must do all we can to help Syrian opposition, including supplying them with arms, in order to defend ourselves.”

Last year Qatar used a shadowy arms network to move at least two shipments of shoulder-fired missiles to Syrian rebels who have used them against Assad’s air force. In April 2013 U.S. President Barack Obama warned the Qataris about the dangers of arming Islamic radicals in Syria, including Jabhat al-Nusra. But this has clearly continued.

Doha supported Islamist organisations and Muslim Brotherhood-led administrations, including that of Egypt’s former president Mohammed Morsi, during the Arab Spring. Qatar gave refuge to many Brotherhood members who were pushed out of Egypt after Morsi’s downfall, most notably the controversial and highly influential Egyptian sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Egypt has demanded his extradition.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Aug. 24 accused Qatar and Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood of spending millions of dollars to spread chaos in the Arab world.

All this has strained relations with the Saudis and other Gulf states, for whom the Brotherhood is anathema. Months of tension between Qatar and its neighbours came to a head in March when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates withdrew their ambassadors.

As a major supporter of Hamas, Qatar has been instrumental in providing funds to the group. In October 2012 then Emir Hamad visited Gaza, where he announced a $400 million aid program to the Islamist organization. And Qatar has allowed Meshaal to live in luxury in Doha after he left Damascus in 2012 as the Syrian civil war intensified.

On Aug. 21 Meshaal and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with the Emir in Doha to discuss the Gaza war, and Meshaal praised “the brave posture adopted by Qatar and its political leadership” on the Palestinian cause. 

Qatar Charity, a non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 1992, has pledged 25 million Qatari riyals (about seven million dollars) for Gaza at the Forum of the International Popular Committee to Support the Gaza Strip, held in Istanbul recently.


Monday, September 08, 2014

India Changing Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Henry Srebrnik [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

It’s now been four months since the Indian general election propelled Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) into power in India.

The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance won 336 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament. The BJP itself gained 31 per cent of the popular vote and 282 constituencies.

The governing Indian National Congress, the party of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, led by Rahul Gandhi, was handed an historic defeat. Its United Progressive took just 58 seats, 44 of them Congress wins, and just 19.3 per cent of the overall vote.

In 20 of India’s 36 states and federally administered union territories, Congress did not manage to win a single seat.

While Congress lost 162 seats, the BJP’s landslide victory saw it increase its share of seats by 166. The party and its political allies now form the largest majority government in India since 1984 election.

Modi, a Hindu nationalist who promotes the idea of India as a cultural and religiously Hindu nation, also served as the chief minister of the state of Gujerat from 2001 to 2014. 

His controversial tenure in that state, which adjoins Pakistan, included his alleged complicity in the mass violence between Hindus and Muslims that swept Gujerat for three months in 2002.

According to official figures, the riots resulted in the deaths of 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus; another 2,500 people were injured, and 223 more were reported missing. At the height of the killings, as many as 125,000 Muslim took sanctuary in refugee camps.

But Modi’s image since then has changed and by this year he was being touted as a pro-business administrator at the helm of a corruption-free government in Gujerat.

To attract foreign investment in Gujarat, Modi had made visits to countries such as China, Singapore and Japan. Under his rule, Gujarat has attracted such foreign corporations as Ford, General Motors and Suzuki, which have set up factories in the state.

Modi won a commanding victory in the election in large part by promising to restore high economic growth to India. An advocate of the free market, Modi has announced that he will be shutting down the Planning Commission of India. Created in 1950, when India’s rulers hoped to create a socialist economy, it’s detractors referred to it as a “Soviet-style” relic.

In July, Modi’s Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, presented the new government’s budget to Parliament. The government pledged to open the defence and insurance industries wider to foreign investors, bring in tax reform, improve the country’s inadequate infrastructure and support manufacturing to create more jobs.

India’s foreign policy is also evolving. Under Nehru and Indira Gandhi, the country followed a policy of non-alignment, one tilted towards the Soviet Union. Now the country is more interested in pursuing trade.

At the end of August Modi set off on a five-day trip to Japan, which is now India’s number one foreign development aid donor. In Tokyo, heand Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signed a defence agreement laying the groundwork for deepening bilateral military exercises, weapons procurement and production, and transfer of technology.

Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, came to see Modi in early September to sign a deal to supply uranium for India's nuclear reactors. And China’s leader, Xi Jinping, will arrive towards the end of the month.

Was this election also the end of the political dynasty that led India to independence in 1947 under its first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rahul’s great-grandfather? Rahul’s own father Rajiv, and grandmother Indira, were both also prime ministers of India, and his mother Sonia serves as president of the Congress Party.

To be fair, Rahul Gandhi inherited the mantel of an outgoing nine-year-old Congress coalition government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which was besieged with allegations of widespread corruption and weak leadership, the lowest economic growth in a decade, and rising prices.

“It is our responsibility to save this country from such a government,” Modi declared during the campaign. “We cannot leave India helpless and must restore the faith of a billion citizens.” He has his work cut out for him.



Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Romania's Communist Dictator Met End 25 Years Ago


Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

This autumn marks a quarter-century since the demise of the Communist dictatorships in central and eastern Europe. It all began on Sept. 11, 1989, when Hungary, which had opened its border with Austria four months earlier, gave permission for thousands of East Germans who had arrived on “vacations” to leave the country, in order to head for West Germany. 

It was the first time one of the Warsaw Pact nations broke from the practice of blocking citizens of Communist nations from going to the West. Suddenly, the Iron Curtain had been breached.

This quickly had a domino effect, and one after another of these regimes would collapse over the next few months.

Most of the transitions were bloodless, with one terrible exception – Romania. (The dissolution of Yugoslavia and its subsequent descent into civil war and ethnic cleansing was a different matter, and happened in the post-Communist period.)

Why was the Romanian case so different? Because the country’s long-time despot, Nicolae Ceausescu, in power since 1965, had cultivated an image of himself as a great leader and came to believe it.

Unlike the other, relatively drab, Communist satraps in the region, Ceausescu had developed a “cult of personality” that rivaled those of Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union, Mao Zedong in China, and Kim Il-sung in North Korea.

The future “genius of the Carpathians,” as he called himself, was born in 1918 to a peasant family in what was, before the Second World War, a backward Balkan kingdom. A Communist, he spent many of his formative years in prison.

While in prison, Ceausescu had met Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, an influential revolutionary who was installed as ruler of the country by the Soviets when they occupied Romania after the war. Just before Gheorghiu-Dej died of cancer in 1965, he tapped Ceausescu as his successor.

As he consolidated his power, Ceausescu became ever more enamoured of himself. He and his wife Elena – always referred to as “Comrade Academician Doctor Engineer Elena Ceausescu” – began to treat themselves as demigods. 

Elena promoted her own fraudulent reputation as a great scientist, and, though barely educated, made sure that the University of Bucharest awarded her a PhD in chemistry. The contents of her many scientific papers were penned by others.

Meanwhile her husband by the 1980s had become the “torchbearer among torchbearers,” a leader as “unique as a mountain peak,” and a man of legendary brilliance. The Communist Party was placed in the hands of sycophants chosen for their abject loyalty to their leader, who was the very epitome of the Romanian spirit.

While the country was increasingly mismanaged, with impoverished ordinary Romanians going without proper food or shelter, there was little overt opposition to Ceausescu, partly because of the atmosphere of fear created by the dreaded secret police, the Securitate, which had spies and informers everywhere.

By 1985 it employed some 11,000 agents and had half a million informers in a country of 22 million people.

Any criticism was ruthlessly crushed; even typewriters had to be registered with the government, to prevent circulation of anti-regime pamphlets. This was a truly totalitarian state.

Giving full vent to his megalomania, in 1984 Ceausescu razed scores of buildings in the historic centre of Bucharest to begin construction of his massive House of the Republic, a huge palace that would serve as a monument to himself and his wife. The largest administrative building in the world, at 3.7 million square feet, it today houses the Romanian parliament.

But the winds of change sweeping through eastern Europe did not spare Romania. The country’s Hungarian minority in Transylvania, increasingly persecuted by Ceausescu, erupted into open revolt in December 1989. Dissent soon spread, the Romanian army turned against its master, and Ceausescu’s regime disintegrated with amazing swiftness.

Having been out of touch with reality for decades, Nicolae and Elena were totally unprepared for their political downfall. On Dec. 21, addressing a mass rally in Bucharest, they were astonished when the crowd booed and called for their removal.

Though the Securitate remained loyal to the Ceausescus and fought the army, they could not prevail. The couple’s ignominious end came on December 25, 1989, three days after they tried to escape the country. They were captured, tried, sentenced to death, shot by a firing squad, and quickly buried, all within a few hours. 

Ion Ilescu emerged as leader of the anti-Communist National Front. He would serve as the first democratically elected president of Romania from 1990 until 1996, and again from 2000 until 2004.

Ilescu admitted in 2009 that the trial was “quite shameful, but necessary” in order to end the state of near-anarchy that had gripped the country. 

Romanians may never see their likes again – and that’s a good thing.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Ever Volatile Politics of Greece

Henry Srebrnik [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

Greece is in grave economic trouble. Its six-year recession has been deepened by budget cuts tied to $321 billion worth of loans from the euro area and International Monetary Fund. The lenders have demanded a structural overhaul of the economy in return for bailing out the country’s public finances.

This has cost Greece about a quarter of its gross domestic product (GDP) and left it with an unemployment rate of 27.2 percent.

The crisis has spawned extremist parties on both left and right. In the recent elections to the European parliament, the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) won 26.6 per cent of the popular vote, good for first place, while the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn picked up 9.4 per cent, to emerge as the third-largest political party in Greece.

SYRIZA also controls 71 of the 300 seats in the Greek parliament, while Golden Dawn has 18.

But this is nothing new. Greek politics have always been volatile – and violent. It is a very polarized society.

Our images of Greece often focus on its ancient history – the classical monuments and statues, the temple of Zeus at Olympia, the Parthenon in Athens, the martial city-state of Sparta, and so on.

But today’s Greece is the heir, not of the philosophers Plato and Aristotle, but of the Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire, which lasted one thousand years before being destroyed by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Its religious and political capital was Constantinople (now Istanbul), not Athens.

The fervently Christian Greeks lived under Muslim Ottoman rule for some four centuries, slowly regaining their homeland after winning their independence in 1830 following a lengthy uprising.

While the last full-scale Greco-Turkish War was fought almost a century ago, relations remain tense, especially over the fate of the divided island of Cyprus, which has a Greek majority but is much closer to the Turkish mainland.

Greece was conquered by fascist Italy and Nazi Germany in 1940-1941 and suffered greatly during the three-year occupation that followed. The Germans set up a collaborationist government, which included some high-profile officers of the pre-war Greek regime.

The occupation resulted in mass starvation; more than 40,000 civilians died in Athens alone. As well, the country’s economy was ruined.

Resistance movements were formed, and from 1943 on large areas of the countryside witnessed reprisals by Nazis and their collaborators, including the burning of settlements and massive executions by the Germans; tens of thousands perished.

The main group fighting the Axis occupation was the Communist-led National Liberation Front (EAM), with its military branch, the Greek People’s Liberation Army (ELAS). By 1944 the EAM had established its own government in liberated areas. It dominated the country except for the major cities, especially Athens, where newly-arrived British forces supported the pre-war government.

Meanwhile, opposition from rival resistance groups from the centre and right evolved into a civil war in 1944.

In December of that year, British troops in Athens opened fire on a massive unarmed pro-EAM rally, killing 28 demonstrators and injuring dozens, and British troops would continue to battle the Communist-led forces. Greece had been a British client state in the 19th century and was again one.

In effect, the Cold War had begun -- – a full half year before the end of the Second World War itself.  The EAM-ELAS forces were supplied by the new Communist regimes in neighbouring Albania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. It took five more years, and massive amounts of American aid, before the Communists lost.

The civil war left behind bitterness and suspicion. At least 150,000 people had died, and another 100,000 had fled the country. Many of the anti-Communist military officers would become involved in the 1967 coup that seized power to forestall a scheduled election that would likely have been won by parties of the political left.

The “Regime of the Colonels” brought seven years of dictatorship, repression, and torture. It became illegal to strike, to demonstrate, to oppose the government, and to congregate for any purpose except for church.

The junta fell in 1974, after an abortive attempt to unite Cyprus with Greece, which led to a Turkish invasion and partition of the island.

Today, the country is led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, head of the New Democracy Party, founded in 1974. His coalition government includes members of the left-wing Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) and Democratic Left (DIMAR).

Although Greece is once again a democracy, the legacy of dictatorship and civil war continues to haunt the country.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Is a Rogue State More Dangerous than a Failed State?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

The demise of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 has led to Islamic militias fighting for control of the country.

The overthrow of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in 2003 has seen the country collapse, as a full-scale insurgency by Sunni Islamists has been mounted against the Shi’ite government in Baghdad.

In Syria, a weakened Bashar al-Assad’s regime is now one combatant in a Sunni-Shi’ite civil war that has resulted in the deaths of at least 150,000 people.

There are some unfortunate places in the world, such as these three, that seem to oscillate between being “rogue” and “failed” states. A lack of genuine consensus on the very nature of the country, and the consequent inability to compromise politically, makes the development of democratic political systems very difficult.

In these states, very deep divisions of clan, tribe or religious sect were temporarily papered over by artificial and enforced attempts at unity, either by a “strongman” who invents his own crackpot political creed, or by an ideologically-based political party that tries to transcend the profound fissures in the polity.

Once the facade of a united country cracks, the country quickly dissolves into militant factions at war with each other. 

Given these horrors, much conventional wisdom has it that such countries become vacuums that breed terrorist movements of one sort or another and as such become dangers to the international order. Afghanistan and Somalia are usually cited as a warning, since both, following their collapse, gave rise to the Taliban and al-Shabaab, respectively.

But are failed states necessarily more of a danger than rogue states? It may be true of Afghanistan, which was always a very weak entity, but not of the others. After all, as rogue states, they did an immense amount of damage, both to their own citizens and in foreign adventures.

Somalia collapsed 23 years ago, so many people forget that under the military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, it was an aggressive irredentist state engaged in trying to bring all Somalis in the Horn of Africa under its rule. Siad Barre advocated the concept of a greater Somalia and fomented violence in Djibouti and Kenya.

In 1977, he launched a full-scale invasion of Ethiopia. In the war, which Somalia lost, each side lost over 6,000 killed. As well, Siad Barre’s final overthrow in the early 1990s cost the country 50,000 killed in internal fighting. 

In Libya, Gadhafi, who gained control in a 1969 coup, crafted his own belief system, the so-called “Third Universal Theory,” outlined in his Green Book, which was required reading for all Libyans.

A mixture of utopian socialism, Arab nationalism and Third World revolutionary ideology, it purported to solve the problems inherent in both capitalism and communism and bring genuine democracy to the Libyan people.

In reality, of course, Gadhafi ran a repressive police state. He also engaged in mischief throughout Africa, arming and bankrolling various terrorist groups in countries such as Chad; even the Irish Republican Army benefitted from his largesse.

He was also responsible for the downing of flight Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in December 1988. It was destroyed by a terrorist bomb, killing all 259 people on board.

Iraq and Syria were both ostensibly governed by wings of the Ba’ath Party. Founded in the 1940s, it espoused pan-Arab nationalism, socialism and anti-imperialism. This too was an attempt to overcome the myriad divisions of ethnicity and religion in the Arab world.

By the time Saddam Hussein gained power in Iraq in 1979, though, the party was a vehicle for a Sunni military dictatorship that held the country in an iron grip. Saddam’s secret police murdered dissidents by the thousands, and unleashed incredible violence against Kurds and Shi’ites.

In 1987-88 alone, the al-Anfal campaign in the north included the widespread use of chemical weapons; in one town, Halabja, a chemical attack killed between 3,200 and 5,000 people. Dozens of Kurdish villages were destroyed, and at least 50,000 people were murdered.

Saddam was also a menace to Iraq’s neighbours. In 1980 he invaded Iran, precipitating an eight-year war in which as many as one million people were slaughtered. Saddam also conquered Kuwait in 1990, and was only ousted after a major coalition defeated him in 1991.

The Assads have governed Syria since 1970, when Hafez al-Assad seized power and made himself head of the Syrian branch of the Ba’ath. He died in 2000, succeeded by his son Bashar.

Here too ideology was a veneer for ruthless authoritarianism. In 1982, the elder Assad quelled an uprising in Hama led by the Muslim Brotherhood, in which upwards of 40,000 people were massacred and much of the city destroyed.

Syria also gained virtual control over Lebanon in the years 1976-2005 and murdered many political opponents there. Following the alleged involvement of Syria in the assassination of the former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri in 2005, Syria was finally forced to withdraw.  Damascus also sought at times to destabilize Jordan.

Therefore, horrific as things are internally in these countries today, they are at least less of an external threat than they once were.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Conservative Republican Barry Goldwater Lost the Presidential Election in 1964

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

The march of conservative Republicans to the White House, which culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980, began fifty years ago this summer.

Barry Goldwater, the U.S. senator from Arizona, was nominated by the Republican Party as its presidential candidate in July 1964. He faced Democrat Lyndon Johnson, who had become president after John Kennedy’s assassination a year earlier.

Goldwater rose to prominence in conservative circles with the 1960 publication of his book The Conscience of a Conservative. It explored the perils of power, states’ rights, civil rights, taxes and spending, and the welfare state.

But this was the era of liberal activism, and Johnson’s social reforms, collectively known as the “Great Society,” were designed to eliminate poverty and racial injustice. New major spending programs that addressed education, medical care, urban problems, and transportation were launched during this period.

A number of eastern establishment moderate Republicans tried to stop Goldwater in 1964, but to no avail. At the Republican nominating convention in San Francisco, Goldwater won on the first ballot, with 883 votes to just 214 for Pennsylvania governor William Scranton, 114 for New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, and 41 for Michigan governor George Romney.

I recall watching it on television in Washington D.C., which I was visiting as a teenager.

Already targeted by Johnson as a dangerous right-wing radical, Goldwater responded with this famous retort at the convention: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”

Rockefeller, Romney, and former president Dwight Eisenhower refused to endorse Goldwater in the general election, and his earlier Senate vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 doomed him with moderate Republicans. But he did gain the backing of then Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan, who gave a well-received televised speech supporting Goldwater.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s campaign proved devastating, highlighting statements in which Goldwater had advocated the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam and had argued that Social Security be made voluntary. It also tried to link the Republican candidate to the Ku Klux Klan.

Most famous of Johnson’s attempts to scare the electorate into rejecting Goldwater was the so-called “Daisy Girl” television ad, which featured a little girl picking petals from a daisy in a field, counting the petals; it then segued into a launch countdown and a nuclear explosion.

Goldwater lost to Johnson in a landslide, winning only five southern states that had been increasingly alienated by Democratic civil rights policies, along with his home state of Arizona.

Johnson’s percentage of the popular vote, 61.1 percent to Goldwater’s 38.5 per cent, gave him 486 Electoral College votes, against 52 for the Arizona senator. No post-1964 Democratic presidential candidate has been able to match or better Johnson’s performance in the Electoral College.

But Goldwater’s disastrous campaign planted to seeds for an eventual conservative takeover of the Republican Party. “A government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away,” he had argued. Today, virtually all Republicans support “small government.”

Two years later, Ronald Reagan won election as governor of California. In 1976 he was narrowly defeated in his bid for the Republican nomination for president by Gerald Ford, who went on to lose to Jimmy Carter. However, Reagan succeeded four years later, and then bested Carter in the 1980 presidential election. The rest is history.

Indeed, by the time Goldwater died in 1998, the Republican Party had moved so far to the right that he had joked, two years earlier, that by comparison he was almost a liberal.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Can Rand Paul Ride Isolationist Tiger All the Way to White House?

Henry Srebrnik, [Halifax, NS] Chronicle Herald

Study after study has demonstrated that, when it comes to foreign policy, there is a wide gap between American elite decision-makers and the general public. And it has grown in recent years, given the massive amount of money and soldiers lost in the inconclusive wars waged since 2001, in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

While America’s leaders are internationalists and promote globalization and the economic development of foreign nations, most Americans are more concerned with domestic matters, including their own economic welfare and security.

Will this lead to a new wave of isolationism, a recurring theme in U.S. politics?

The Republican Party was historically isolationist. Three Republican presidents between 1920 and 1932 kept America out of “foreign entanglements” in Europe. America’s armed forces were puny.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a Democrat, was by inclination more of an internationalist, yet he too was unable to swing American public opinion towards war and the defence of democracy abroad, even as Hitler, Mussolini and Japan were conquering large parts of Europe and Asia in the 1930s.

The U.S. did not have a defence treaty with a single country — including Canada — until 1940. It was only the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 that changed all that.

The Cold War saw a sea change in Republican attitudes, and Republican presidents after 1952 were committed to a world-wide system of alliances, particularly NATO, to contain the expansion of Communist states such as China and the Soviet Union.

Even so, it was Republican Dwight Eisenhower who ended the Korean War after his election in 1952, and it was Richard Nixon who slowly wound down the Vietnam War. He also ended the confrontation between America and China.

For all his bravado, Ronald Reagan made sure to stay out of any major conflicts during his eight years in office. But all of this changed with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of Communism in Europe.

The 1991 Gulf War saw Washington engage in warfare in Iraq, followed by Bill Clinton’s wars in Bosnia in 1995 and Kosovo in 1999, in the former Yugoslavia. Wilsonian liberal interventionism on behalf of “democracy” and “human rights” became the order of the day. (It didn’t, however, extend to the genocide in Rwanda.)

But George Bush’s wars after 2001 have led to war-weariness — they seemed endless and with no genuine resolution.

Barack Obama won election against John McCain in 2008 as the “anti-Bush,” but his own foreign policy is totally incoherent.

A “dove” by nature and philosophy, he seems unable to make up his mind as to whether to fight terrorists in Iraq and elsewhere, and so he takes half measures such as drone strikes against jihadis in Yemen and Pakistan, and “leading from behind” in the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya in 2011. He has no idea what to do about the war in Syria.

The disputes between Russia and Ukraine, and Israel and the Palestinians, are other headaches he wishes would go away, even as they consume his days.

So what now? If we assume that Hillary Clinton gains her party’s nomination for president in 2016, where does that leave those Democrats who seek a less aggressive foreign policy? Unlike Obama, she supported George Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, and she’s definitely more of a foreign policy “hawk” than Obama is.

She is also an enthusiastic supporter of increased military support to those battling terrorists in Iraq and Syria.

The Republican Party, meanwhile, is in the midst of a real period of soul-searching. It has voices who call for a more robust military policy abroad, even if it costs taxpayers money, but it also now contains many who feel America has over-stretched itself and faces huge problems at home.

Today, 63 per cent of Republicans believe the Iraq war wasn’t worth it, according to a recent poll. So the long-dormant isolationist wing of the party may be reviving, and coalescing around the improbable candidacy of libertarian Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Paul has long been wary of foreign intervention and also has spoken out against foreign aid programs.

In an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal in June, Paul recommended that Washington shouldn’t take sides in Iraq’s civil war.

Responding to attacks by McCain and former vice-president Dick Cheney, Paul noted that “Many of those clamouring for military action now are the same people who made every false assumption imaginable about the cost, challenge and purpose of the Iraq war.”

Paul would face long odds, including opposition from the “military-industrial complex” that Eisenhower warned Americans about as he left office. Still, stranger things have happened.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Where are Erdogan and Turkey Heading?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been Turkey’s prime minister since 2003, and also chairs the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), has now been elected president of the republic for a five-year term.

Erdogan, the first popularly elected head of state, had the support of some 52 per cent of those casting their ballots in the election held on Aug. 10. His main rival, diplomat Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the former head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, captured more than 38 per cent of the vote. An ethnic Kurd, Selahattin Demirtas, took almost 10 per cent.

Parliament has in the past chosen the head of state and until now the presidency has largely been a ceremonial position, but this was changed under a law passed in 2010 by Erdogan’s government.

The ruling AKP will need to replace him as premier and party leader. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is seen as a leading candidate.

Turkey’s most audacious leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk himself, Erdogan has repeatedly stated his wish to use “the full extent of his constitutional powers” to be an “active president.” He apparently plans to change the constitution to establish a fully executive presidency, similar to the French or Russian ones.

Erdogan has been criticized for his increasingly autocratic ways, as he continues to steer Turkey along a more conservative and religiously Islamic path, thus continuing to reverse the political culture of the resolutely secular, indeed anti-clerical, Turkish state founded by Ataturk in 1923 after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

“Today national will and democracy have prevailed again,” Erdogan told his supporters from his party’s headquarters in Ankara. “Today, greater Turkey has prevailed again.” Some analysts suggest that he will run again in 2019, in order to lead the country during the hundredth anniversary of the modern Turkish state in 2023.

Erdogan confronts a Middle East in turmoil, and his foreign policy has faced setbacks. Along with the small Gulf state of Qatar, he is a steadfast supporter of Hamas, and last year hosted Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal.

Hamas is now involved in war with Israel for the third time in a decade. As a consequence, Erdogan’s speeches have taken an increasingly shrill anti-Israeli tone in recent weeks.

 “Those who condemn Hitler day and night have surpassed Hitler in barbarism,” he said late last month. (The U.S. State Department called the remark “offensive and wrong.”) During an Aug. 2 election campaign speech Erdogan called on the international community to “stop Israel’s desire for genocide.”  He warned that “they will drown in the blood they lust for.”

Erdogan said that a normalization of ties with the Jewish state, in crisis since the death of ten activists during an Israeli raid on a Turkish ship bound for Gaza in 2010, was at this time out of the question.

Meanwhile Erdogan, who fancies himself perhaps the major figure in the region, has lost the support of the Arab world’s most important country, Egypt. From 2012 to 2013, under the leadership of former President Mohamed Morsi, a long-time member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, relations between the two countries flourished.

But when Morsi was ousted last year and replaced with Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, Cairo’s enthusiasm quickly cooled.

Turkey’s Arab neighbours Syria and Iraq are both in the throes of vicious civil wars, and here too Ankara has ended up in trouble. Erdogan, a Sunni Muslim, has strongly opposed Bashar al-Assad’s Shi’ite regime in Damascus, nor is there any love lost between Erdogan and Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki.
As well, the Saudis, who have always considered the Muslim Brotherhood (and its Hamas offshoot) a menace, have also looked askance at Turkey’s embrace of the organization.

Erdogan is now relatively isolated – something a few years ago he would have considered an improbable outcome of his foreign policy, when he and his foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced a policy of “zero problems” with Turkey’s neighbours. Many today are joking that it now has become “zero friends.”