火曜日, 4月 25, 2006

Policies Without Politics

Multilateral organisations, those assemblies of ideology and acronyms, regularly produce documents with homilies for titles and non-sequitirs for content. It was with this thought in mind that your correspondent attended a seminar of the Inter American Development Bank on its report 'The Politics of Policies; Economic and Social Progress in Latin America 2006' . The report itself is remarkable only for its authors' ability simultaneously to state and ignore the obvious. The reaction of the audience at the seminar, made up of academic economists, ambassadors and their retinue, was rather more intriguing.

To offer up ‘The Politics of Policies’ the Bank sent two of the report’s authors. One, Ernesto Stein, is a plump, pleasant economist of the orthodox type; the other, Mark Payne, is what is known in the US as a ‘political scientist’. Their presentation, and the report on which it was based, offer little more than the commonplaces of both disciplines. They helpfully summarised the book length report into ten ‘main messages’. One usually lists points to make them more concise – a representative example of ‘Policies’ main messages reads
‘Effective political processes and better public policies are facilitated by political parties that are institutionalized and programmatic, legislatures that have sound policymaking capabilities, judiciaries that are independent, and bureaucracies that are strong.’


The IDB, one might object, is interested in financial performance not prose style. Perhaps, but the report is prolix precisely because it avoids anything to do with actual politics. For all the fluff about moving ‘beyond a technocratic approach to policymaking’ the authors remain certain about what makes a correct, or in their terms, ‘high quality’ public policy. The problem lies in the ‘making’. Good policies are those which in Stein’s words ‘ as technocrats we think are optimal’ – that is to say privatisation, wage cuts, lower social spending and all the other dreary panoply of neo-liberalism. It takes the specially trained obtuse not to see that the growing revolt across Latin America is directed against these policies, not the inability of governments to implement them. And one might expect such a revolt, given that the number of Latin Americans in poverty has doubled in the two decades of neoliberalismo.
At the beginning of the IPES report the wood peeps gingerly from the trees in the admission that the outcome of ‘Washington consensus reforms’ has been ‘somewhat disappointing.’ Intellectually incapable of criticizing those reforms, the authors briskly proceed to quantify cabinets, typologise judiciaries and regress re-election rates. All of this simply to repeat what one can already read in the Economist – ‘high quality policies’ are those that make businessmen happy.

Anxious to know the IDB’s quality control procedure for public policy, I asked Mark Payne, joint author of the report. Dr Payne cleared things up by explaining that good policies are ‘public regarding’ policies. But which public, and how is it regarded? A glance at point 5 of the appendix was revealing. Public regardedness, it seems, is based upon the responses of participants in the Global Competitiveness Report. That is to say, business executives are being asked about the impact of poverty, as the seminar panel later admitted. Ask a silly question…

At this sort of policy wonk bash, a lone radical is apt to feel compelled to stand up for the toiling masses. It was pleasing then, and testimony to the changes in Latin America, that the assembled high-heid yins started asking all the right questions. An experienced Chilean economist, author of a literally textbook model of international trade, protested that the word class appeared only five times in the report, and the word discrimination not at all. In his response, however, Dr Stein proved unable even to utter the word, let alone, analyse the concept, of class. Greater shock arrived when the Argentinian ambassador to Japan suggested that the report sought to promote stability at the expense of democracy. Most forthcoming was (His Excellency) the Panamanian ambassador, who attacked with vim and scorn ‘the financial policy of Wall Street’. Now, after this debate, the participants of course retired to slap backs and grease palms. Yet if the debate is being heard even here, what are they saying in the barrios and barricades? There's social progress worth writing a report about.

金曜日, 4月 14, 2006


Residents of Japan who were born in other places are often asked to take part in 'internationalisation' activities. This usually means visiting schools or community centres to explain that one's country has/ does not have four seasons and its people eat/ do not eat raw fish. The favoured nationalities with whom Japanese schoolchildren are expected to internationalise themselves are usually allies of the Japanese state. An American is always a star turn, followed by people from Western Europe or another of its overseas tendrils. Chinese people will find their mobile phones largely untroubled because if Japanese people want to do any thinking about China, the Japanese government will do it for them. This inane, sometimes well intentioned, guff makes up the efforts of the Japanese ruling class to 'internationalise'. Repugnant to that class is the quite different phenomenon of internationalism. Internationalism is a fine, and sturdy, and precious thing and it may be even rarer in Japan than in other advanced countries. Your correspondent was delighted therefore to encounter recently a group of activists trying to unite unorganised young and immigrant workers in Tokyo -as well as an immigrant worker seeking a hearty dose of organisation.

The 'Conspiracy of the Precariat', in addition to having a good eye for names, are bringing together a mix of the right type of people for 'Freedom and Survival May Day 06'. Their May Day rally and demonstration will be held on the 30th of April at 2 pm in Onden-ku Community Centre, Harajuku (神宮前隠田区民会館). The main conspirators are the "Freeter's General Union'. Freeters are those young people in Japan who work in petrol stations and convenience stores for little money and less security. Perhaps the only group worse off in the Japanese labour market are migrant workers - it was a stroke of luck, then that I met just such a worker the day before I joined the conspirators.

The worker I met was called Mali. Sri Lankan by birth, she was passing on her bike and gave a robust hello as I idled beneath the cherry blossoms. She joined me there and told me what had happened to her. She worked, very hard, in the kitchen of a local restaurant, Ton Q. I urge you to boycott this place. Four foreigners work in the kitchen there, it seems, none in the front of the resaturant. In the five years Mali had worked there, she told me, neither she nor the other foreign workers had received a wage rise. Japanese workers who started after Mali had had such a rise. She had left Sri Lanka because her husband was a drug addict. She described to me how she watched him get thinner and take all her money. She had two daughters with him - they were now safe but very far from Mali, with her sister in Sri Lanka. She had not seen her daughters for five years, and spoke to them only once a month by phone. I saw her photographs of two lively little girls, cherished each in a plastic sheath. Having told me these things, we exchanged numbers and she offered to make me a curry. I hope she has spoken to the union organisers before I enjoy her hospitality. I also hope to see as many people as possible in Harajuku on the 30th. There we can conspire for a world where cherry blossoms fall on people not ruled by need and fear.

金曜日, 4月 07, 2006

Bellowing Through The Lobby

People on the left who support the Palestinians are used to being accused, unfairly and with tiresome frequency, of anti-semitism. It is a measure of our opponent's calibre that their first resort is to call people who disagree with them Nazis; rather more intriguing is to find some of the highest panjandrums of American political science in the dock with Palestine solidarity activists and anti-capitalist protesters. Yet the flimsy slander of 'new anti-semitism' has now spread so far as to reach professors of International Relations at Harvard and Chicago Universities. Many of you are probably familiar with the stramash over the recent article in the London Review of Books by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. The article is interesting but wrong. The Zionist response to it is just wrong.

Walt and Mearsheimer's argument is quite a familiar one, although its proponents are unexpected. Both men are well known to students of International Relations as authors of spotlessly orthodox works in the 'neo-realist' school; Walt's 'The Origins of Alliances' and Mearsheimer's 'The Tragedy of Great Power Politics'. Neo-realists usually argue that a state's 'national interest' is its main business. It is no surprise then that Walt and Mearsheimer judge US support for Israel against that standard and find the policy quite unhelpful. The pair propose that '‘[t]he combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world." It's difficult to disagree with this, but Walt and Mearsheimer go further - the US alliance with Israel cannot be explained by either American geopolitical aims or moral sympathy for the plucky little 'democratic Jewish state'. Indeed, the only reason for the extravagant patronage is that "the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’." Much of Walt and Mearsheimer's analysis is a fine and rigorous assault on the piffle that informs commonplace apologies for Israel. The main argument, that the 'Israeli Lobby', as they put it, has skewed US Middle East policy away from the national interest is not so sound.

Where Walt and Mearsheimer go wrong is in their idea of 'the national interest' and the strategy necessary to protect it. They begin by saying "[b]y serving as America’s proxy after 1967, it [Israel] helped contain Soviet expansion in the region and inflicted humiliating defeats on Soviet clients like Egypt and Syria. It occasionally helped protect other US allies (like King Hussein of Jordan) and its military prowess forced Moscow to spend more on backing its own client states". After the Cold War, however Israel became a strategic liability; the US could not include Israel in either of its wars against Iraq for fear of alienating the Arab states. And there's more - Israel is no use in the War On Terror because "the US has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around." Well, and bravely, said but somewhat missing the point. Containment of the USSR, as described in Chomsky's response to the LRB article on Znet, was not the primary aim of US Middle East policy after the Second World War. The 'national interest' has always been to resolve the paradoxical presence of Western oil underneath Arab sand. But, the professors might retort, nothing alienates those oil producers more that US support for Israel. Well, the US does a pretty good job of alienating ordinary Middle Easterners without any help - after Israel the next largest recipient of US aid is Egypt's (tyrannical, corrupt, republican) government, before that it was the Shah of Iran's (tyrannical, corrupt, monarchical) government. US policy in the Middle East is a search for governments stable enough to keep the oil on tap but pliant enough not to nationalise it. The difference with Israel is that the state as a whole cannot survive without foreign help - it is impossible ever to imagine Israel, in the manner of Saddam Hussein, biting the hand that gave it such big teeth. American Presidents have understood this at least since Nixon ( whose own anti-semitism was as repulsive as the rest of his bigotries) and probably since 1967. You can find a further discussion in Avi Shlaim's book 'The Iron Wall.'

This lacuna leads Walt and Mearsheimer into all sorts of confusion in their discussion of 'the Lobby'. This they define as "shorthand for the loose coalition of individuals and organisations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction". Loose though this coalition may be, its real substance is the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. This committee, Walt and Mearsheimer propose, influences US Middle East policy through its "stranglehold" on Congress, the importance of Jewish voters to Presidential elections and the prevalence of the 'Lobby perspective' in the media. One needs money in politics, and a very great deal of it in US politics. AIPAC dispenses its funds to representatives who support Israel and vilifies those who do not. All very true but, as Walt and Mearsheimer must know, foreign policy is decided by the executive. The claim that Jewish voters decisively influence the occupant of that post is rather thin. As the professors inform us, the Jewish population is a small proportion of the US as a whole, it is reliably Democrat and it is concentrated in New York and California. The triage of the American electoral system ensures that no Democrat need care enough, nor Republican hope enough, to fight for these states in a Presidential election. AIPAC is well funded and well listened to - but only because the executive already likes what they have to say. Prior to 1967, as you may read for yourself in Abram Organski's 'The $36 Billion Bargain; Strategy and Politics in US Assistance to Israel', the US was no great friend of the plucky-only-democracy-in-the-Middle-East, despite the presence of just as many wealthy Jews in the US as there are today.

Where Walt and Mearsheimer do have a point, and their critics have proved them right, is in arguing that "[s]ilencing sceptics... by suggesting that critics are anti-semites – violates the principle of open debate." Only a true political fantasist could imagine that Professor Walt is distributing copies of The Protocols of The Elders of Zion in the lecture halls of the Kennedy School of Government. Still, before the article was published, the usual knees were poised to jerk. First and nosiest was (who else?) Walt's Harvard colleague, Professor Alan Dershowitz. "‘[W]hat " asked the avuncular apologist for torture, "would motivate two well recognized academics to depart so grossly from their usual standards of academic writing and research in order to produce a “study paper” that contributes so little to the existing scholarship while being so susceptible to misuse?" 'Misuse' here refers to the apparent quotation of the Walt-Mearsheimer paper by Ku Klux Klan has-been David Duke. That does not mean Walt and Meaersheimer are Nazis. Some sadists probably like the idea of a 'sterilised needle underneath the nail', such as Dershowitz advocates . Not one to be intimidated by logic, Dershowitz pleads once more in his response to the 'Lobby' paper "‘I simply do not understand, what is the motive? "
Come on old chap, spit it out. Professor Dershowitz seems surer of himself when he describes Walt and Mearsheimer's "charges...[as] indistinguishable from Pat Buchanan’s invocation of the U.S. government as Israel’s 'amen corner' and his reference to Congress as 'Israeli Occupied Territory,' allegations, among others, that led William F. Buckley to characterize Buchanan’s views as 'amount[ing] to anti-Semitism.'” Much better, now we know who we're dealing with. Other members of the commentariat were not so mealy mouthed. Eliot Cohen, another neo-conservative academic, entitled his piece simply ' Yes, it's anti-semitic'. Democratic Congressmen Eliot Engel also called the pair anti-semites and the New York Sun compared Walt and Mearsheimer to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.

There is some vindication in all this for those of us who have long insisted that if it is just to fight against hatred of Jews it is also just to demand equality for Palestinians. If men like Walt and Mearsheimer can be accused of New Anti-Semitism, surely the slur has been reduced to its final absurdity. Still, it doesn't really matter to the accusers what people write, say or do. What matters is the charge of objective anti-semitism, much as the Stalinist show trials convicted their victims of 'objective' fascism. And perhaps this nineteen-thirties trope is appropriate, for Dershowitz et al recall vividly George Orwell's description of a propagandist ; 'simply an enormous mouth bellowing the same lie over and over again.'