Archive for the ‘Jonathan Power’ Category

The dangers of populism waxing

By Jonathan Power

April 4th 2017

The long talked-about referendum in Turkey will happen on April 16th. In effect voters have to decide whether the president, Recep Erdogan, in theory the incumbent of a relatively modest political post, should now be given the powers of the president and prime minister together.

Combined with a large majority in Parliament he would have enormous power to shape Turkey around his pro-Islamic agenda. Although working within a democratic system Erdogan is in many ways a populist, rather in the mould of President Donald Trump.

Shortly after his Justice and Development Party first won an election in 2003 I was in Turkey and my first question to the people I interviewed was does the party have a “secret agenda”- that is was planning at some future date to make the country Islamist. “Definitely not”, was the almost universal response.

How wrong they were. Or perhaps they weren’t. Maybe over the years Erdogan has changed his spots.

Either way Turkey now confronts a situation where populism, Islamism and nationalism are becoming Turkey’s dominant forces. This is dangerous for Turkey.

Its highly educated, secular-minded, middle class will have less influence and indeed will be singled out and prosecuted, as many journalists, professors, novelists and judges are these days. Turkey will become even more anti the European Union – and what a mistake it was not to admit Turkey when twelve years ago it was knocking loudly on the door and was rebuffed.

The Islamist forces so strong today would have been Read the rest of this entry »

The Asian poor are left behind

By Jonathan Power

March 23rd, 2017

The Asian economies are picking up speed again. After the big hit from Wall Street when the bank, Lehman Brothers, collapsed in a heap in 2008, sending shock waves everywhere, a recovery is now in the works.

How many child deaths in the Third World did these bankers cause?

Another question is will future growth be like the past- fast but severely inequitable? The same growth before 2008 that reduced absolute poverty created a widening gulf between the haves and have-nots.

But isn’t that sufficient for the day, many ask? Absolute poverty must be the key mark of progress- raising incomes, giving people more money to seek education for their children or medical care or filling the coffers for the state so that it can fund bore holes in the countryside and sewers in the urban slums.

After all in the period of rapid growth from 1990 to 2008 the number of people living in extreme poverty was almost halved, from more than 1.5 billion to 850 million.

China’s poverty fell dramatically from when 85% of the population lived on less than $1.25 a day to when only 13% lived in poverty. India has also reduced poverty rapidly, particularly under the last Congress government of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, but the voters still fell for the opportunistic populism of the BJP and voted Congress out.

Of course there are good arguments why the progress made has not been seen as enough, not just because of rising inequality but because India and China between them have two-thirds of the world’s poor.

Escaping poverty is not enough. Read the rest of this entry »

The sweep of perpetual famine?

By Jonathan Power

March 21st. 2017

Once again the media is presenting us with the images of the mother of all famines – stretching from the Yemen to Somalia, to Sudan and South Sudan, to the Central African Republic, to northern Nigeria.

It’s a bad famine but there have been bad famines in the not so distant past – the great Ethiopian one in 1985 which triggered the rock star, Bob Geldorf, to organise a massive world-wide popular response. (I remember running with tens of thousands of other campaigners in London’s Hyde Park.)

Before that, in 1974 at the World Food Conference, there was a real feeling that the world was running out of food and dramatic new policies must be put in place by the richer countries.

They were and much progress was made. Between 1990 and 2015 the proportion of children under five who were malnourished fell from 25% to 14% of the world’s children. People who are still underfed are less severely so. Their average shortfall in calories fell from 170 a day in 1990 to 88 a day last year.

Increased food production is happening all over the place.

In Rwanda peasant farmers produced in 2015 792,000 tons of grain which was more than three times as much as in 2000. In Ethiopia cereal production tripled between 2000 and 2014. Cameroon, Ghana, Zambia, Nigeria and Kenya have all over the past decade increased their harvest by 50%.

If one deducts from the African statistics the famine in parts of the east and northern Nigeria then African progress looks especially good.

West Africa in particular has shown Read the rest of this entry »

Dealing with North Korea

March 14th 2017

Rocket launches galore in North Korea. Colours and flames in the sky. It’s all a bit like a peacock spreading his tail.

Murders abound. Is this a butcher’s shop- an uncle, a half-brother and a couple of high-placed generals and no doubt others?

Kim Jong-Un, the president, is no Hamlet and murder seems not to give him doubts. The day after he is photographed at some event, smiling the smile of a psychopath who ditched his conscience somewhere at the top of the Alps when he was out for a hike organised by the school in Switzerland he was sent to.

When he was leaving office President Barack Obama warned Donald Trump that the nuclear-armed, rocket-raqueteer, Kim, would be his most immediate foreign policy challenge. But, apart from saying he is prepared to meet Kim, Trump hasn’t offered a plan.

The Financial Times in a recent editorial said Kim has bad cards but plays them well. One could add that the US has good cards too but plays them badly – and that goes for three presidents – Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

At one time Washington did play a good hand Read the rest of this entry »

TFF PressInfo # 208: Why everybody but NATO live happily with Russia

By Jonathan Power

March 7th 2017.

The state of being vigorously anti the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is becoming out of control. It is in danger of becoming pathological and self-destructive. What does the West gain in the long run if it sees nothing ahead but being anti-Russia?

The West is in danger of having embarked on a journey to nowhere. Russia is not going to change significantly in the near future. The very close Putin/ Dimitri Medvedev team are going to remain in the saddle for a long time.

We are not yet in a second Cold War. Those who say we are don’t know their history.

The Cold War was years of military confrontation, not least with nuclear arms. It was a competition for influence that stretched right around the globe and it was done with guns. There was the Cuban missile crisis when nuclear weapons were nearly used.

If Putin is here to stay we have to deal with him in a courteous and constructive way. Russia is not a serious military threat. President Donald Trump’s proposal for an increase in US defence spending is larger than the whole of the Russian defence budget.*

Neither is Russian ideology. When the Soviet Union was communist there was a purpose behind Moscow’s overseas policies – it was to spread the type of government of the supposedly Marxist-Leninist workers’ state. No longer.

Today the militant anti-Putinists – I would include in this group Barack Obama, most of the big media in much of the Western world and most, but by no means all, EU leaders – believe they are defending the US-led “liberal democratic order”. They believe that Russia is intent on undermining it. In their eyes it is democracy against authoritarianism.

But it is not. Read the rest of this entry »

Immigration: To be or not to be

By Jonathan Power

February 28th 2017

The great immigration debate has to become the great re-thinking and re-structuring debate. Charlie Brown is right when he says, “No problem is too big and complicated that it can’t be run away from”.

In both the US and the EU the focus is increasingly on the problem of immigration. President Donald Trump talks of them being criminals, drug traffickers and scroungers. And then he wants to build a very expensive wall on the border separating countries that for a long time have not countenanced war or terrorism against each other. (By the way, there is a funny Mexican joke: “Yes, it’s a good idea to build the wall- it will keep Trump out”!)

There are good reasons for allowing low-skilled immigrants in. (In this column I use the word “immigrants” to include refugees.) Shika Dalmir has given some good reasons why this should be so:

1) Americans are the customers of low-skilled immigrants, buying services from them, everything from hospital cleaning to childcare to repairs to the house.

2) These immigrants are mobile since they rent rather than own. So they can move to where the work is. Right now they are being encouraged to move to Detroit where much of population has fled the city’s decay and the mayor is trying to revitalise it.

3) They are good for American and European women. Often nannies, they enable many women to work. Many of these are high-skilled and therefore contribute a good deal to society.

4) Immigrants cost the state less than ordinary workers. They often don’t qualify for benefits. Of course they cost the state when it comes to schooling or medical care. But then they pay taxes (unless they are illegals). Read the rest of this entry »

Why Europe conquered the world

By Jonathan Power

February 21st 2017

Eleven hundred years ago Europe was a backwater. There were no grand cities, apart from Cordoba in Spain which was Muslim. The Middle East was much further ahead, still absorbing the intellectual delights and challenges of Greek science, medicine and architecture which Europeans were largely ignorant of. In southern China agriculture advanced and trade in tea, porcelain and silk flourished.

By 1914 it was a totally different world. The Europeans ruled 84% of the globe and they had colonies everywhere. How was it that Europe and its offspring, the United States, became the dominant dynamic force in the world, and still are today in most things?

If I walk round my university town and stop the first ten students I meet and ask them why this was so they would probably say because of the Industrial Revolution. But in 1800 when the Industrial Revolution was only just beginning Europeans already ruled 35% of the world and had armed ships on every ocean and colonies on every continent.

If they didn’t say that, they might say it was the way the Europeans spread their fatal diseases, smallpox and measles, to which they had gained a good deal of immunity, and this enabled them to lay low native peoples. But in fact all the major Middle Eastern and Asian civilizations had this same advantage. In Africa it was local diseases that attacked the Europeans more than vice versa.

Maybe one of the ten students would say it was because the Europeans were ahead in the development of gunpowder technology. After all the military revolution preceded the Industrial Revolution. But I doubt that, even though on the right track, this one student could explain why. Read the rest of this entry »

Removing US military forces from the Gulf

By Jonathan Power

February 13, 2017

Reporting on President Donald Trump’s new energy policy which plans for a big increase in domestically produced oil and gas, the Financial Times reported yesterday: “Exports of gas have begun, with the first shipments of Liquefied Natural Gas leaving the Sabine Pass facility on the border between Texas and Louisiana a year ago. Since then trade has grown and the US now supplies a dozen different gas markets around the world”.

The US is all set to speed this up.

Trump is stepping on the accelerator of what had begun a year ago, and not just with gas but with oil too. He is driving not only to raise gas and oil exports but to achieve US energy self-sufficiency. Increased shale and coal production, support of the huge Keystone XL pipeline from Canada and the removal of restrictions on venting gas production from developments on federal land, are all part of his mix.

There are two lessons from this. Oil prices are unlikely to return to their extraordinary high levels of a couple of years ago and it raises the important question, why is the US spending 75 billion US dollars a year on its military presence in the Gulf?

There would be some risks in a strategy of reducing the US’s military presence in the Middle East but they are hypothetical risks, as Professors Charles Glaser and Rosemary Kelanic point out in the current issue of Foreign Affairs.

Since oil is fungible Middle East suppliers could possibly disturb the world price with irresponsible behaviour, meant to rock the boat – which even the US would have to work hard to protect itself from. But this depends on some unlikely scenarios.

The first is that a Gulf country could conquer some of its oil and gas producing neighbours. In reality there is no such regional hegemon on the horizon. Iraq is down and out. Iran is fixated on internal threats. Saudi Arabia is not interested in territorial conquest.

A second hypothesis is that Iran might Read the rest of this entry »

Is Nato obsolete?

By Jonathan Power

February 7th. 2017

So what does President Donald Trump think about Nato? Twice during his campaign he rubbished it publically, saying it was “obsolete”. Yet earlier this month when he met the UK’s prime minister, Therese May, it was all hunky dory. He told her he supported Nato 100%.

There are some – a few – influential people who have argued that Nato is indeed obsolete. One of these was William Pfaff, the late, much esteemed, columnist for the International Herald Tribune. Another is Paul Hockenos who set out his views in a seminal article in World Policy Journal. Their words fell on deaf ears.

President George H.W. Bush saw it differently and wanted to see the Soviet Union more involved in Nato’s day to day work. President Bill Clinton had another agenda – and one that turned out to be a dangerous one, triggering over time Russia’s present day hostility towards the West – to expand Nato, incorporating one by one Russia’s former east European allies.

His successors continued that approach with Barack Obama at one time raising a red rag to a bull by calling for the entry into Nato of Ukraine and Georgia. Read the rest of this entry »

Trump’s backing for torture is a yes and then a no

February 1st 2017

In a press conference last week President Donald Trump said he believed in the worth of torture but then added most surprisingly that using it wasn’t going to be his decision. It would be decided by the Secretary of Defence, General James Mattis, who, as Trump said, is against torture.

Three years ago the US Senate Intelligence Committee published a summary of a thorough report on the recent American use of torture. Its chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein, said the 6,000 page report is “one of the most significant oversight efforts in the history of the US.”

The report showed that the CIA did not provide accurate information on torture to Congress and also provided misleading information. The report also concluded that the CIA impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making. While the report was being prepared the CIA penetrated the Senate Committee’s computers, arousing the fury of its members.

Bush and and his vice-president Dick Cheney were deeply involved in initiating the torture program. The Administration claimed that the waterboarding 183 times (the dipping of the head in water so that the prisoner feels he is drowning) of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind, led to the foiling of a terror plot against Los Angeles’s Library Tower. But the Senate report concludes that the information could have been learnt without using torture.

The report’s primary focus is on discerning whether the use of torture gained valuable intelligence. It concluded that it did not.

When President Barack Obama was elected he swiftly moved to ban waterboarding and other torture techniques. However, he refused to authorize a full, in depth, Justice Department investigation which, if it had taken place, would doubtless have pointed a finger at Bush and Cheney.

In the UK it is alleged that Prime Minister Tony Blair Read the rest of this entry »

 

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