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Will Britain ever manage to leave “Hotel California”?

It is now just six months before Britain formally leaves the EU. This article details the economic and political issues, followed by a commentary on the tactics being deployed by all sides.

The Duran

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Authored by Alasdair Macleod via GoldMoney.com:


Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place where I was before
“Relax” said the night man,
“We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave![i]


The Eagles lyric from the 1970s is nearly as old as the United Kingdom’s membership of the EU, but it is an apt description for her predicament. There are so many twists and turns in the EU’s corridors, that it is proving difficult for Britain to “find the passage back to where it was before”. Britain has checked out but cannot seem to leave.

The EU has firmly rejected Mrs May’s Chequers customs proposals, which is not surprising to those paying attention. Their chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, had already made his position clear. Last week, Mrs May sought to take her case to his superiors, effectively asking them to overrule him. It was a tactical error that backfired badly.

Fortunately for her PR machine, the blunt rejection by the EU, particularly the comments of President Macron, deflected the immediate blame of Mrs May’s failure to the EU leaders’ intransigence. Consequently, early signs of electoral opinion have firmed in favour of a no-deal Brexit. Merci, President Macron, for clarifying that point for the British electorate.

It is now just six months before Britain formally leaves the EU. This article details the economic and political issues, followed by a commentary on the tactics being deployed by all sides.

The economic case for Brexit

The economic case for Brexit centres on the law of comparative advantage. This law explains that rather than waste your time making or doing something someone else does better, you should buy it from him instead than wasting time trying to compete. It also explains that even though you might be very skilled at something but can add greater value to society by doing something else, you and the community as a whole are better off if you do that something else.

For example, Winston Churchill built a garden wall at his country home. He turned out to be an excellent brick layer, as visitors to Chartwell can confirm. But there were other competent bricklayers on the Chartwell Estate. Besides building walls as a hobby, it will be clear to everyone that Churchill added considerably greater value to society as a politician and an author and was paid more than he ever would be as a bricklayer.[ii]

What was true for the great man is also true for all of us. It allows us to maximise the potential for a community of producers by buying each other’s output in accordance with the law of comparative advantage. And what holds for a community scales up to nation states. If China can supply us with goods cheaper and better than we can ourselves, we should buy them from China, and not waste our time and resources doing it less effectively. Scarce capital resources, including labour, must be released for more profitable activities.

If China offers steel at a lower price than it can be made in Britain, British manufacturers who incorporate steel in their products would be stupid not to benefit. Meanwhile, British steel manufacturers should get out of the mild steel business, and perhaps produce high quality speciality steels to regain their commercial edge. This is what British Steel has done. The common European response is to protect their industries with import tariffs, and by the end of 2016 there were 12,651 known EU tariffs in force.[iii]

Only free markets, more specifically the consumer and also buyers of intermediate production, can decide where the comparative advantage lies. In free markets, the consumer is king, and the businessman who fails to respond to his customers’ demands should amend his offering.

Businesses try to avoid this truth by lobbying politicians to yield a monopolistic advantage. Business leaders present themselves to the political class as expert representatives for their industries, and they warn politicians of the supposed horrors of free competition. An established business would rather be regulated than face competition, because the regulator will help guarantee profit margins, and licence monopolistic behaviour.

This is crony capitalism, which is not free markets. It is everywhere, but more in some places than others. It is particularly virulent in Brussels, where big business effectively sets product standards to disadvantage smaller competitors. The law of comparative advantage is trampled underfoot.

Lobbying by special interests is not confined to Brussels, being a feature of Westminster life as well. The Cronies target Brussels where the Europe-wide power resides, as well as national governments in coordinated campaigns. The result is an institutionalised crony-based system bound together by a political class that has been bought by special interests.

To a businessman, a good politician is one who once bought, stays bought. On the one side of the Brexit tussle you have protectionism, which has become thoroughly institutionalised, and on the other you have free marketeers. Interestingly, the UK’s Conservatives are meant to be the party of free markets and individualism, yet even their ranks include ardent statists, their true colours exposed by the Brexit debate.

The political case for Brexit

The political case is simply one of democratic accountability. In the UK, parliament has always been sovereign, that is to say the elected members of the lower house form governments and make the laws. There has to be a general election at least every five years, to give the electorate a vote on the government’s competence. Furthermore, if during a government’s term it loses the confidence of a simple majority of MPs, it must call a general election. By these means, the British public exercises its democratic rights.

There is no such accountability in Brussels. Only the unelected executive can propose directives and regulations, and the parliament has an equal say in passing them. In practice, the EU parliament is packed with establishment MEPs and nothing initiated by the executive is rejected. Democratic accountability is a fig-leaf and never gets in the way of the unelected executive.

Very rarely, the electorate is asked for its view on a simple matter of principle by referendum. Referendums are technically advisory, but in practice a parliament that goes against the public’s wishes expressed in a referendum is denying the electorate its democratic mandate. Having called a referendum, if a government then fails to respect the result, what was the point in calling it in the first place?

The first referendum in Britain was held on 5th June 1975, where the question asked was, “Do you think that the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (the Common Market)?” It was held two years after Britain had actually joined, but it was clearly on a simple matter of principle. There was another nationwide referendum on proportional voting, which was rejected. The 2016 Brexit national referendum was only the third ever held. They are not frequent events, though the device has been used regionally as well (i.e. the Scottish referendum).

At the time of the 1975 referendum, the EC was little more than a trading bloc, whose members traded freely with each other without tariffs, while significant tariffs were imposed on imported goods from non-member states. Communications were such that proximate markets were easier to service than distant ones. These were the important economic arguments for Britain joining at that time.

But since then, the EU has taken democratic accountability away from national parliaments principally through the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties and is on its way to becoming a fully-fledged super-state. Meanwhile, WTO tariffs have gradually declined to single figures, and the internet has made distances between suppliers and consumers far less of a hurdle to trade. With the importance of being in a trading bloc now a growing obstacle to global free trade, there is no valid reason to justify the loss of democracy.

This is the crux of the Brexit debate: the economic benefits have gone along with democracy. The Remainers deliberately avoid the democratic issue and instead deflect the debate into economic unknowns. The statist establishment both outside and inside the UK persists in threatening that Brexit will lead to a large fall in GDP, rise in unemployment, disrupt trade with the EU, threaten medicinal supplies, prevent planes landing, and so on. The list of these supposed negatives is extensive, but it is increasingly clear Remainers are only making up scare stories to avoid debating the democracy issue.

The EU’s position

The establishment in Brussels is rock-solid in its determination to continue on its course of devolving power from national governments to itself. Furthermore, the EU parliament has imposed its red lines as inviolable, the principal ones being:

  • Any transitional deal will be enforced and overseen by the EU’s Court of Justice (ECJ).
  • UK Citizens in the EU and EU citizens in Britain should be guaranteed reciprocal treatment.
  • The UK must adhere to EU environment and anti-tax evasion rules.
  • The UK should pay the EU costs that “arise directly from its withdrawal”.[iv]

As well as these red lines, there are the “four freedoms”, that are also sacrosanct: the free movement of goods, services, capital and persons. In order to satisfy these freedoms, the UK would have to remain in the customs union, or be out of the EU completely. It is that simple.

To ensure that Britain complies with the four freedoms in any half-way house, it would have to accept the jurisdiction of the ECJ, instead of the British courts. The European parliament’s position is less important than the four freedoms, because the parliament is little more than a rubber-stamp applied to pre-agreed policy.

Since the EU parliament’s resolution was passed, there appears to be behind the scenes attempts to persuade the British electorate to reconsider. The first strategy was to simply block all British attempts at achieving a negotiated settlement. This led to the British government offering an alternative compromise, the Chequers plan, which resulted in the resignations of the Brexit ministers, David Davis and Steve Baker, as well as the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson. The second strategy has been running concurrently with the first, and that is to undermine the Brexit case, in the hope a second referendum would reverse, or at least neutralise the Brexit referendum.

To this end, Brussels has covertly supported Remainers’ campaigns, a tactic that has worked before in referendums in other EU states when a first referendum rejected treaty proposals.[v] This brings us up to last week, when at an EU leaders’ dinner at Salzburg, Mrs May saw her Chequers plan firmly rejected in bluntly undiplomatic terms.

It seems after all that the EU is now prepared to negotiate a Canada Plus deal, as advocated by dissenting Conservative MPs. As a matter of fact, that has been more or less the EU’s position all along, believing it is far less attractive to the UK than staying in the EU. It was the free market alternative that was rejected by Mrs May in favour of her Chequers plan.

[The Canada trade agreement removes nearly all tariffs on goods but accepts some regulatory barriers to trade. There are limitations imposed on services. It gives the UK total control over immigration, it would be outside the customs union, have its own regulations, being not bound by a common rulebook. A joint committee between the UK and EU would resolve trade issues. This is roughly the agreed position with Canada and South Korea. A Canada plus deal would be an improved one based on this.]

There is probably more to the EU’s offer to discuss a Canada plus deal than meets the eye. It is always helpful to look at a problem from the EU’s point of view, so we can deduce what the thinking in Brussels might be. It is probably as follows. Mrs May wants to have the advantages of a being a member state without being in the customs union. She thinks the Chequers halfway house will appease the Remainers, many of which are her principal advisors. This is the only credible logic behind the Chequers proposal, which is a fudge to give the appearance of not being in the customs union. The Irish border question is a red herring, floated by the Irish Prime Minister and Mr Barnier. Mrs May has either fallen for it or is using it to justify her position to her cabinet.

Therefore, and of this Brussels appears to have convinced itself, the alternative of a WTO deal, or any deal close to it, such as Canada plus, is a bad outcome for Mrs May and her government. It is also undesirable for the EU, particularly Ireland, if Britain did leave the EU entirely. The reason it is important for Ireland is twofold: her main trading partner is the UK, and most of her non-UK European trade transits across the UK to the mainland by ferries and road. Those are the Irish issues that really matter.

The initial plan had been to stop Brexit. By proposing free trade negotiations, the EU might have originally reasoned it will never happen. Remember, the EU has had the international establishment (the IMF, central banks – visibly the Bank of England, big business and various back channels) working to overturn the referendum. The hope is a free trade agreement would not get through the UK parliament, and by assisting the Remainers in the UK who are pushing for a second referendum, it is thought the British public will change its mind. However, the EU’s thinking might have changed in recent weeks on the referendum issue, because it is almost certainly aware its plans are failing.

In conclusion, the EU is losing the battle for British hearts and minds in a second referendum. There can be no halfway house between being in or out of the customs union. If Brussels is to get its promised £39bn settlement, it will now have to embrace a free trade deal.

The British position

The Chequers plan was put together by Mrs May’s permanent staff, led by Olly Robbins. A charitable view is that Robbins’s plan was intended to achieve parliamentary support from a broad parish of Remainers and middle-of-the-roaders and neutralise ardent Brexiteers. She went over the heads of her own and the Brussels negotiating teams. Mrs May met a number of EU leaders on a one-to-one basis, including Angela Merkel, in the weeks before the Chequers plan was sprung on her cabinet, so it was widely assumed she had cleared it with them. Thinking she had a plan acceptable to her fellow EU leaders, she sprung it on her cabinet as a fait accompli. It was May’s way or the highway.

Instead, it has been a disaster because of the outright rejection by the EU leaders in Salzburg, who appear to have backtracked on their private meetings with her. This was hardly surprising, given Mrs May was arrogantly dealing over the EU chief negotiator’s head (Mr Barnier), who also attended the Salzburg dinner, and would have made his authority in the matter clear.

Despite this setback, at the time of writing, she is still clinging on to the Chequers plan. Her latest idea is to threaten the EU with the prospect of Britain lowering corporation tax to make Britain a corporate tax haven. This could be another tactical mistake, because Brussels is likely to read it as desperation to save a plan that is unacceptable.

Mrs May is now under increasing pressure to back down. And quickly, because she faces Conservative Party members at the annual conference next week. Salzburg was clearly a stitch-up that backfired, and she can only be clinging on to the assumption that her earlier more positive meetings with EU leaders are what really matters.

The evidence suggests this is a mistake, from which she must backtrack. It will never get the requisite support from Brexiteers, because it leaves the EU still controlling trade laws and regulations. This contravenes the democracy issue explained above. It is also likely to compromise Britain’s negotiating position with respect to free trade agreements with other countries.

Furthermore, a trade agreement which is far closer to free trade has already been proposed by both Brussels and the Brexiteers, based on the Canadian FTA. While the EU might have offered something that they thought would never be taken up, it is now in play.

That leaves the problem of how to get any trade agreement with the EU through Parliament. It is never certain that a no-deal or even a free trade agreement with the EU would find the necessary parliamentary support, given the strength of the Remainer lobby, and Labour’s insistence on staying in the customs union.

However, the Labour Party is badly divided on Brexit, and it is quite likely that if a vote was held on a Canada plus deal, the government would succeed in getting it passed.

Where to from here?

It is conference season, that time in the UK when the political parties invite their faithful members to come and listen to speeches from leading politicians. The Labour Party had theirs this week, and the Conservatives hold their’s in Birmingham next week. The problem for Mrs May is that apart from some vanishing sympathy over how she was treated by the EU leaders in Salzburg, her Chequers plan is deeply unpopular. If she thinks she can sell it at Conference, she is likely to be disappointed.

It is bound to be a topic in her closing speech next Wednesday. But Boris Johnson is due to speak in a fringe meeting, and he is immensely popular with the constituency members and a good orator to boot. He is also controversial with all shades of media opinion, which means he is box-office. The day of Mrs May’s speech is likely to be swamped with news headlines about Boris. If she is to avoid a PR disaster, she would be well advised to urgently ditch her Chequers plan and embrace the concept of Canada plus.

Whether she does we will find out next week. If she refuses to move, then I expect a leadership challenge by Christmas. Why? Because for the Brexiteers, the first option was to persuade Mrs May to drop Chequers and oversee negotiations on Canada plus. If that fails, then MPs face the next general election with the prospect of losing their seats. It won’t be the Labour Party’s socialist agenda that gets them unelected, but the Conservative’s failure to deliver Brexit.

The key to exiting Hotel California lies increasingly in the freest trade agreement possible, not in the Chequers plan. Mrs May must give up on the Chequers plan or she will be soon gone.

[i] Eagles, their album: Hotel California, 1976.

[ii] I must confess to cribbing this fine example of comparative advantage from Daniel Hannan, Conservative MEP for South-east England.

[iii] Unveiling the cost and extent of the 12,651 EU import tariffs – and why we should repeal them by Dan Lewis of the Economic Policy Centre.

[iv] Resolution passed by EU parliament sitting in Strasbourg, 5 April 2017 516 votes to 133, with 50 abstentions.

[v] An example of covert support for Remainers is reported here: https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/905714/Brexit-news-Nigel-Farage-Michel-Barnier-EU-UK-European-Union-LBC

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Tom Welsh
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Tom Welsh

“Besides building walls as a hobby, it will be clear to everyone that Churchill added considerably greater value to society as a politician and an author and was paid more than he ever would be as a bricklayer”. And that example neatly demonstrates why economics is such a useless pile of old rubbish. Churchill built walls because he enjoyed doing so, and it relaxed him – thereby possibly enhancing his performance in his “more important” work. But the point is that human beings are not robots programmed to maximize their wealth. We have many instincts and desires, only a few… Read more »

AM Hants
Member
AM Hants

Do you wish to stay in the EU?
EU continues dictating, with full control over your thoughts and actions.

Do you wish to leave the EU?
Self determination and full independence.

Now what is difficult to understand. We were not asked to merge BREXIT, with ‘Remoan’

Hard BREXIT, bank account closed to the EU, using WTO trade tariffs, for deals.

Normski
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Normski

My thoughts exactly – lets just get the hell out of the EU and then deal with the consequences!.

Flying Gabriel
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Flying Gabriel

We are all just prisoners here, of our own device.

Rick Oliver
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Rick Oliver

Britain is good at going to War , just get some backing from your brothers in arms and declare WAR on the EU . Simple , game over !!!

Karl
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Karl

The British government have no intention of taking the UK out of the EU because they want to board the gravy train once they leave UK politics,they only care about themselves not their country!

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Ukraine Wants Nuclear Weapons: Will the West Bow to the Regime in Kiev?

Efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation are one of the few issues on which the great powers agree, intending to continue to limit the spread of nuclear weapons and to prevent new entrants into the exclusive nuclear club.

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Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The former Ukrainian envoy to NATO, Major General Petro Garashchuk, recently stated in an interview with Obozrevatel TV:

“I’ll say it once more. We have the ability to develop and produce our own nuclear weapons, currently available in the world, such as the one that was built in the former USSR and which is now in independent Ukraine, located in the city of Dnipro (former Dnipropetrovsk) that can produce these kinds of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Neither the United States, nor Russia, nor China have produced a missile named Satan … At the same time, Ukraine does not have to worry about international sanctions when creating these nuclear weapons.”

The issue of nuclear weapons has always united the great powers, especially following the signing of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The decision to reduce the number of nuclear weapons towards the end of the Cold War went hand in hand with the need to prevent the spread of such weapons of mass destruction to other countries in the best interests of humanity. During the final stages of the Cold War, the scientific community expended great effort on impressing upon the American and Soviet leadership how a limited nuclear exchange would wipe out humanity. Moscow and Washington thus began START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) negotiations to reduce the risk of a nuclear winter. Following the dissolution of the USSR, the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances persuaded Ukraine to relinquish its nuclear weapons and accede to the NPT in exchange for security assurances from its signatories.

Ukraine has in recent years begun entertaining the possibility of returning to the nuclear fold, especially in light of North Korea’s recent actions. Kim Jong-un’s lesson seems to be that a nuclear deterrent remains the only way of guaranteeing complete protection against a regional hegemon. The situation in Ukraine, however, differs from that of North Korea, including in terms of alliances and power relations. Kiev’s government came into power as a result of a coup d’etat carried out by extremist nationalist elements who seek their inspiration from Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera. The long arm of NATO has always been deeply involved in the dark machinations that led to Poroshenko’s ascendency to the Ukrainian presidency. From a geopolitical point of view, NATO’s operation in Ukraine (instigating a civil war in the wake of a coup) follows in the footsteps of what happened in Georgia. NATO tends to organize countries with existing anti-Russia sentiments to channel their Russophobia into concrete actions that aim to undermine Moscow. The war in the Donbass is a prime example.

However, Ukraine has been unable to subdue the rebels in the Donbass region, the conflict freezing into a stalemate and the popularity of the Kiev government falling as the population’s quality of life experiences a precipitous decline. The United States and the European Union have not kept their promises, leaving Poroshenko desperate and tempted to resort to provocations like the recent Kerch strait incident or such as those that are apparently already in the works, as recently reported by the DPR authorities.

The idea of Ukraine resuming its production of nuclear weapons is currently being floated by minor figures, but it could take hold in the coming months, especially if the conflict continues in its frozen state and Kiev becomes frustrated and desperate. The neoconservative wing of the American ruling elite, absolutely committed to the destruction of the Russian Federation, could encourage Kiev along this path, in spite of the incalculable risks involved. The EU, on the other hand, would likely be terrified at the prospect, which would also place it between a rock and a hard place. Kiev, on one side, would be able to extract from the EU much needed economic assistance in exchange for not going nuclear, while on the other side the neocons would be irresponsibly egging the Ukrainians on.

Moscow, if faced with such a possibility, would not just stand there. In spite of Russia having good relations with North Korea, it did not seem too excited at the prospect of having a nuclear-armed neighbor. With Ukraine, the response would be much more severe. A nuclear-armed Ukraine would be a red line for Moscow, just as Crimea and Sevastopol were. It is worth remembering the Russian president’s words when referring to the possibility of a NATO invasion of Crimea during the 2014 coup:

“We were ready to do it [putting Russia’s nuclear arsenal on alert]. Russian people live there, they are in danger, we cannot leave them. It was not us who committed to coup, it was the nationalists and people with extreme beliefs. I do not think this is actually anyone’s wish – to turn it into a global conflict.”

As Kiev stands on the precipice, it will be good for the neocons, the neoliberals and their European lackeys to consider the consequences of advising Kiev to jump or not. Giving the nuclear go-ahead to a Ukrainian leadership so unstable and detached from reality may just be the spark that sets off Armageddon.

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Mike Pompeo lays out his vision for American exceptionalism (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 158.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and International Affairs and Security Analyst via Moscow, Mark Sleboda take a look at Mike Pompeo’s shocking Brussels speech, where the U.S. Secretary of State took aim at the European Union and United Nations, citing such institutions as outdated and poorly managed, in need of a new dogma that places America at its epicenter.

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Speaking in Brussels, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unwittingly underscored why nobody takes the United States seriously on the international stage. Via The Council on Foreign Relations


In a disingenuous speech at the German Marshall Fund, Pompeo depicted the transactional and hypernationalist Trump administration as “rallying the noble nations of the world to build a new liberal order.” He did so while launching gratuitous attacks on the European Union, United Nations, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund (IMF)—pillars of the existing postwar order the United States did so much to create. He remained silent, naturally, on the body blows that the current administration has delivered to its erstwhile allies and partners, and to the institutions that once upon a time permitted the United States to legitimate rather than squander its international leadership.

In Pompeo’s telling, Donald J. Trump is simply seeking a return to the world that former Secretary of State George Marshall helped to create. In the decades after 1945, the United States “underwrote new institutions” and “entered into treaties to codify Western values of freedom and human rights.” So doing, the United States “won the Cold War” and—thanks to the late President George H. W. Bush, “we won the peace” that followed. “This is the type of leadership that President Trump is boldly reasserting.”

That leadership is needed because the United States “allowed this liberal order to begin to corrode” once the bipolar conflict ended. “Multilateralism has too often become viewed as an end unto itself,” Pompeo explained. “The more treaties we sign, the safer we supposedly are. The more bureaucrats we have, the better the job gets done.” What is needed is a multilateralism that once again places the nation-state front and center.

Leave aside for the moment that nobody actually believes what Pompeo alleges: that multilateralism should be an end in itself; that paper commitments are credible absent implementation, verification, and enforcement; or that the yardstick of success is how many bureaucrats get hired. What sensible people do believe is that multilateral cooperation is often (though not always) the best way for nations to advance their interests in an interconnected world of complicated problems. Working with others is typically superior to unilateralism, since going it alone leaves the United States with the choice of trying to do everything itself (with uncertain results) or doing nothing. Multilateralism also provides far more bang for the buck than President Trump’s favored approach to diplomacy, bilateralism.

Much of Pompeo’s address was a selective and tendentious critique of international institutions that depicts them as invariably antithetical to national sovereignty. Sure, he conceded, the European Union has “delivered a great deal of prosperity to the continent.” But it has since gone badly off track, as the “political wake-up call” of Brexit showed. All this raised a question in his mind: “Is the EU ensuring that the interests of countries and their citizens are placed before those of bureaucrats and Brussels?”

The answer, as one listener shouted out, is “Yes!” The secretary, like many U.S. conservative critics of European integration, is unaware that EU member states continue to hold the lion’s share of power in the bloc, which remains more intergovernmental than supranational. Pompeo seems equally unaware of how disastrously Brexit is playing out. With each passing day, the costs of this catastrophic, self-inflicted wound are clearer. In its quest for complete policy autonomy—on ostensible “sovereignty” grounds—the United Kingdom will likely have to accept, as the price for EU market access, an entire body of law and regulations that it will have no say in shaping. So much for advancing British sovereignty.

Pompeo similarly mischaracterizes the World Bank and IMF as having gone badly off track. “Today, these institutions often counsel countries who have mismanaged their economic affairs to impose austerity measures that inhibit growth and crowd out private sector actors.” This is an odd, hybrid critique. It combines a shopworn, leftist criticism from the 1990s—that the international financial institutions (IFIs) punish poor countries with structural adjustment programs—with the conservative accusation that the IFIs are socialist, big-government behemoths. Both are ridiculous caricatures. They ignore how much soul-searching the IFIs have done since the 1990s, as well as how focused they are on nurturing an enabling institutional environment for the private sector in partner countries.

Pompeo also aims his blunderbuss at the United Nations. He complains that the United Nations’ “peacekeeping missions drag on for decades, no closer to peace,” ignoring the indispensable role that blue helmets play in preventing atrocities, as well as a recent Government Accountability Office report documenting how cost-effective such operations are compared to U.S. troops. Similarly, Pompeo claims, “The UN’s climate-related treaties are viewed by some nations simply as a vehicle to redistribute wealth”—an accusation that is both unsubstantiated and ignores the urgent need to mobilize global climate financing to save the planet.

Bizarrely, Pompeo also turns his sights on the Organization of American States (OAS) and the African Union (AU), for alleged shortcomings. Has the OAS, he asks, done enough “to promote its four pillars of democracy, human rights, security, and economic development?” Um, no. Could that have something to do with the lack of U.S. leadership in the Americas on democracy and human rights? Yes. Might it have helped if the Trump administration had filled the position of assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs before October 15 of this year? Probably.

Equally puzzling is Pompeo’s single line riff on the AU. “In Africa, does the African Union advance the mutual interest of its nation-state members?” Presumably the answer is yes, or its members would be headed for the door. The AU continues to struggle in financing its budget, but it has made great strides since its founding in 2002 to better advance security, stability, and good governance on the continent.

“International bodies must help facilitate cooperation that bolsters the security and values of the free world, or they must be reformed or eliminated,” Pompeo declared. Sounds reasonable. But where is this “free world” of which the secretary speaks, and what standing does the United States today have to defend, much less reform it? In the two years since he took office, Donald Trump has never expressed any interest in defending the international order, much less “returning [the United States] to its traditional, central leadership role in the world,” as Pompeo claims. Indeed, the phrase “U.S. leadership” has rarely escaped Trump’s lips, and he has gone out of his way to alienate longstanding Western allies and partners in venues from NATO to the G7.

When he looks at the world, the president cares only about what’s in it for the United States (and, naturally, for him). That cynicism explains the president’s deafening silence on human rights violations and indeed his readiness to cozy up to strongmen and killers from Vladimir Putin to Rodrigo Duterte to Mohammed bin Salman to too many more to list. Given Trump’s authoritarian sympathies and instincts, Pompeo’s warnings about “Orwellian human rights violations” in China and “suppressed opposition voices” in Russia ring hollow.

“The central question that we face,” Pompeo asked in Brussels, “is the question of whether the system as currently configured, as it exists today—does it work? Does it work for all the people of the world?” The answer, of course, is not as well as it should, and not for nearly enough of them. But if the secretary is seeking to identify impediments to a better functioning multilateral system, he can look to his left in his next Cabinet meeting.

“Principled realism” is the label Pompeo has given Trump’s foreign policy. Alas, it betrays few principles and its connection to reality is tenuous. The president has abandoned any pursuit of universal values, and his single-minded obsession to “reassert our sovereignty” (as Pompeo characterizes it) is actually depriving the United States of joining with others to build the prosperous, secure, and sustainable world that Americans want.

“Bad actors have exploited our lack of leadership for their own gain,” the secretary of state declared in Belgium. “This is the poisoned fruit of American retreat.” How true. Pompeo’s next sentence—“President Trump is determined to reverse that”—was less persuasive.

 

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Russia calls on US to put a leash on Petro Poroshenko

The West’s pass for Mr. Poroshenko may blow up in NATO’s and the US’s face if the Ukrainian President tries to start a war with Russia.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Russia called on Washington not to ignore the Poroshenko directives creating an active military buildup along the Ukrainian-Donbass frontier, this buildup consisting of Ukrainian forces and right-wing ultranationalists, lest it “trigger the implementation of a bloody scenario”, according to a Dec 11 report from TASS.

The [Russian] Embassy [to the US] urges the US State Department to recognize the presence of US instructors in the zone of combat actions, who are involved in a command and staff and field training of Ukraine’s assault airborne brigades. “We expect that the US will bring to reason its proteges. Their aggressive plans are not only doomed to failure but also run counter to the statements of the administration on its commitment to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine by political and diplomatic means,” the statement said.

This warning came after Eduard Basurin, the deputy defense minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic noted that the Ukrainian army was massing troops and materiel for a possible large-scale offensive at the Mariupol section of the contact line in Donbass. According to Basurin, this action is expected to take place on 14 December. TASS offered more details:

According to the DPR’s reconnaissance data, Ukrainian troops plan to seize the DPR’s Novoazovsky and Temanovsky districts and take control over the border section with Russia. The main attack force of over 12,000 servicemen has been deployed along the contact line near the settlements of Novotroitskoye, Shirokino, and Rovnopol. Moreover, more than 50 tanks, 40 multiple missile launcher systems, 180 artillery systems and mortars have been reportedly pulled to the area, Basurin added. Besides, 12 BM-30 Smerch heavy multiple rocket launchers have been sent near Volodarsky.

The DPR has warned about possible provocations plotted by Ukrainian troops several times. Thus, in early December, the DPR’s defense ministry cited reconnaissance data indicating that the Ukrainian military was planning to stage an offensive and deliver an airstrike. At a Contact Group meeting on December 5, DPR’s Foreign Minister Natalia Nikonorova raised the issue of Kiev’s possible use of chemical weapons in the conflict area.

This is a continuation of the reported buildup The Duran reported in this article linked here, and it is a continuation of the full-scale drama that started with the Kerch Strait incident, which itself appears to have been staged by Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko. Following that incident, the president was able to get about half of Ukraine placed under a 30-day period of martial law, citing “imminent Russian aggression.”

President Poroshenko is arguably a dangerous man. He appears to be desperate to maintain a hold on power, though his approval numbers and support is abysmally low in Ukraine. While he presents himself as a hero, agitating for armed conflict with Russia and simultaneously interfering in the affairs of the Holy Eastern Orthodox Church, he is actually one of the most dangerous leaders the world has to contend with, precisely because he is unfit to lead.

Such men and women are dangerous because their desperation makes them short-sighted, only concerned about their power and standing.

An irony about this matter is that President Poroshenko appears to be exactly what the EuroMaidan was “supposed” to free Ukraine of; that is, a stooge puppet leader that marches to orders from a foreign power and does nothing for the improvement of the nation and its citizens.

The ouster of Viktor Yanukovich was seen as the sure ticket to “freedom from Russia” for Ukraine, and it may well have been that Mr. Yanukovich was an incompetent leader. However, his removal resulted in a tryannical regíme coming into power, that resulting in the secession of two Ukrainian regions into independent republics and a third secession of strategically super-important Crimea, who voted in a referendum to rejoin Russia.

While this activity was used by the West to try to bolster its own narrative that Russia remains the evil henchman in Europe, the reality of life in Ukraine doesn’t match this allegation at all. A nation that demonstrates such behavior shows that there are many problems, and the nature of these secessions points at a great deal of fear from Russian-speaking Ukrainian people about the government that is supposed to be their own.

President Poroshenko presents a face to the world that the West is apparently willing to support, but the in-country approval of this man as leader speaks volumes. The West’s blind support of him “against Russia” may be one of the most tragic errors yet in Western foreign policy.

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