Romania Rising: Populism by Different Means

The tale of 2016-17 has been of anti-neoliberal populists hijacking great parties and great states, forcing policy change down the throats of elites who believed they had arrived at a permanent consensus. They have largely been the harbinger of an uglier form of politics, giving breath to nationalists, racists and irrational bigotry that are a strain on the powers of their states.

Romania is not immune to the winds of populism. But unlike the rest of the European Union, here the rising is by those who are demanding more rational, more efficient government. It is still populism, but without the ugliness.

Since February 1, Romanians have been braving frigid winter temperatures to call for the resignation of their two-months old government. For their new government is up to the tricks of their old one and for many Romanians that is a bridge too far. Read more “Romania Rising: Populism by Different Means”

Dubai, Singapore and the Future of Neoliberalism

Dubai United Arab Emirates
Downtown Dubai seen from the Burj Khalifa (Unsplash/David Rodrigo)

It is the little things, they say, that count. The small places can tell us big things.

There are no smaller places than city states. Holdovers of bygone eras, they are quite nearly the oldest form of political organization our species has. Only tribalism is older and city states arose from settled tribes that over generations grew into legendary places like Ur, Jericho, Athens, the Yellow River city of Cai and the Indus Valley site of Harappa.

We have no empires left; a few kingdoms, though they keep dropping off the map. Nobody much minds. Yet if we were to lose our city states or our microstates, it would represent a collapse of the international order as we know it. Despite their tiny size, city states are bellwethers of their time. Read more “Dubai, Singapore and the Future of Neoliberalism”

Don’t Look Now, But West Africa Just Took a Huge Leap Forward

“West Africa” should really only be a geographical label, not a geopolitical one. It is a place riddled with ethnicities overlapping tribes cut by religion bisected by language. There is nothing simple about West Africa except in the minds of long-dead imperial geographers.

That hasn’t stopped Nigeria from deciding to reorder the whole region to its liking. But for once in geopolitics, this reordering has not only been largely successful but is also incrementally pushing West Africa to better governance and stronger states.

And Abuja just had a stunning success in the Gambia, a tiny river-republic that just tried and failed to hold onto the bad old ways of West African politics. Read more “Don’t Look Now, But West Africa Just Took a Huge Leap Forward”

Erdoğan’s Blowback: How Personal Ambitions Plunged Turkey into Crisis

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is surrounded by security personnel as he leaves a building in Istanbul, October 13, 2016
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is surrounded by security personnel as he leaves a building in Istanbul, October 13, 2016 (!Koss)

Recep Erdoğan has come a long way. The president of Turkey, Erdoğan has been clawing upward since becoming mayor of Istanbul in 1994. His political road has been riddled with mines: Turkish generals, side-switching Islamist allies, Kurdish politicians and secular-minded Turks. His accomplishments are impressive. Serving as prime minister from 2003 until 2014, he shepherded real democracy into what was once a military-dominated republic.

But all great movements run out of steam. Erdoğan’s political shakeup of Turkey is starting to ossify into authoritarian thuggery and habits meant to be banished by democracy.

Worse, his policies are getting Turkish citizens killed. Read more “Erdoğan’s Blowback: How Personal Ambitions Plunged Turkey into Crisis”

Trump’s No Good, Very Bad, Absolutely Stupid Comments on the EU and NATO

Businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015
Businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015 (Gage Skidmore)

NATO is “obsolete”. The European Union will, and perhaps should, lose more members.

Such are the words of the president-elect of the United States and they are unequivocally terrible.

When Trump slams NATO, he is quietly whispering to deadened nightmares Europe thought it had laid to rest.

When he hopes for the EU to dissolve, he is literally trying to roll back civilization.

That’s not hyperbole. Here’s why. Read more “Trump’s No Good, Very Bad, Absolutely Stupid Comments on the EU and NATO”

The B+ Presidency of Barack Obama

American president Barack Obama talks with advisors at the White House in Washington DC, September, 18, 2015
American president Barack Obama talks with advisors at the White House in Washington DC, September, 18, 2015 (White House/Pete Souza

The faded signs of “Hope and Change” still linger in the attics and closets of millions of Americans. I still have my old campaign t-shirt; I worked the phone bank in 2008 in Arizona, where ubiquitous caller ID screens let people decide if they were going to thank me or shout at me before they even picked up. “We ain’t no Democrats,” declared one woman, in what sounded like all caps.

A presidency whose base was inspired by a spiritual approach to politics, whose spiritualism promised a complete 180 from George W. Bush’s bloody wars and backward cultural practices, and who seemed transformational at the time, can be subject to exaggeration and projection. All Americans of age have a story about Barack Obama: he is the 9/11 of our political landscape, a seminal change that both changed so much and yet changed so little.

Evaluating Obama as a geopolitical leader demands a strict litmus test, though. How much did his presidency secure his nation state? How much did he stabilize it?

At the end, Obama was less of a transformation geopolitically than a transition: an essential step onto something else not yet realized. Read more “The B+ Presidency of Barack Obama”

The Russo-Trump Alliance

Russian president Vladimir Putin participates in a videoconference from the Kremlin in Moscow, December 27, 2016
Russian president Vladimir Putin participates in a videoconference from the Kremlin in Moscow, December 27, 2016 (Kremlin)

The Russian hacking scandal of the Democratic National Party continues; accusations that incoming President-elect Donald Trump is a Russian stooge are as steady as the drumbeat of yesteryear’s cries that Barack Obama was not really a citizen. The evidence behind the attack is still thin. Yet it is also irrelevant because it seems the incoming administration has concluded that an alliance with Moscow is just what America’s geopolitical doctor has ordered.

A Russo-Trump alliance is in the offing and it does make a lot of sense in the short term.

Alas for the international system, and for the United States, it’s a deal with the devil that will exact ever-higher tolls the longer it goes on. Read more “The Russo-Trump Alliance”

2016 in Geopolitical Review

Barack Obama
American president Barack Obama waits backstage before participating in a panel discussion in Atlanta, Georgia, March 29 (White House/Pete Souza)

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who liked 2016. Just about every safe assumption about the future was challenged. To top the year off, the United States even abstained from a veto on the UN Security Council condemning Israeli settlements, rewriting at the last moment the relationship between Washington and Tel Aviv. It has been a roller coaster, but what has it all meant? Read more “2016 in Geopolitical Review”

Andrei G. Karlov Is Not Franz Ferdinand

Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany speaks with Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Austro-Hungarian crown prince, circa 1910
Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany speaks with Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Austro-Hungarian crown prince, circa 1910

The high-profile killing was everything one could want from a public assassination. Cameras were live; the Western media, less prone to state censorship, watching. The assassin even had a chance to deliver a short speech that was straight to the point and then was promptly killed by Turkish security services. From the standpoint of political murder, it ticked all the boxes.

It goes to show that humanity has made a good leap forward in education that #FranzFerdinand briefly trended on Twitter. That people knew of the long-dead archduke, and knew his killing touched off World War I, is a testament that maybe teachers are doing a good job after all.

Well, a decent job. Because the killing of Ambassador Andrei Karlov is a blip, not a world-shaking event.

There’s a very good reason for it: Russia needs Turkey more than Turkey needs Russia. Even if Vladimir Putin’s own mother was killed in Ankara by a similar rogue agent, Moscow would still very likely not go to war with Turkey.

That’s because Franz Ferdinand tripped a geopolitical bomb waiting to go off. There is no such bomb between Turkey and Russia. Read more “Andrei G. Karlov Is Not Franz Ferdinand”