Dutch to Quit JSF?

A motion from the Dutch Labor Party was narrowly accepted in parliament on Thursday night to end the Netherlands’ participation in the testing fase of the Joint Strike Fighter program.

The decision comes three weeks ahead of parliamentary elections in the Netherlands, necessitated by the Labor Party’s pulling out of the ruling coalition in February. In government with the Christian Democrats, Labor agreed to the purchasing of a single experimental aircraft. Now, according to a party representative, it is no longer “financially responsible” to continue participation in the current stage of the program. The next government will be forced to enact massive budget cuts with parties to the left of Labor already proposing to pull out of the JSF entirely.

No matter concerns to the contrary, the Netherlands is not quite abandoning the project altogether. Parliament has merely called upon the government to stop the country’s participation in the so-called Initial Operational Test and Evaluation fase of the program. There are elections before it will have a chance to comply and it seems likely at this point that a center-right coalition will emerge of liberals and Christian Democrats, supplemented with one of the smaller parties to win a majority in parliament. Both factions are both in favor of continuing the Netherlands’ purchasing of the F-35 fighter plane.

The Dutch Royal Air Force currently operates ninety F-16 fighter craft, eighteen of which are scheduled to be sold to Chile near the end of this year. Originally, the Dutch anticipated to purchase 85 F-35s but this number may well go down to sixty or even fifty as the costs of the project continue to the rise.

Saving the Euro

Bending the rules of euro management, European leaders and finance ministers agreed to an unprecedented effort to guarantee the stability of the eurozone with loans adding up to nearly $1 trillion (or €750 billion) this weekend.

In spite of the multibillion euro rescue package previously pledged to Greece, investors continued to worry about the unsound fiscal policies of other eurozone members, including Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain. The value of the euro sharply decreased in recent days while protests in the streets of Athens last week shed further doubt upon the country’s chance to recover — and pay back its loans. Read more “Saving the Euro”

Cesspool of Corruption

Bill O’Reilly’s report on the city of Amsterdam of December 2008 is rather well known online as the amalgamation of ideology-driven falsehoods which it was. The Fox News anchor happily portrayed the Dutch capital as a cesspool of corruption and crime, warning that the Obama Administration had a similar fate in store for all of America.

Just a month after Barack Obama’s election to president, the left, according to O’Reilly was “pushing the envelope” to legalize marijuana and prostitution in the United States. Both have been legal, to an extent, in the Netherlands, so it makes sense to look at how things played out there.

Margaret Hoover, a Republican Party strategist, appeared on the program to talk about the “wonderfully naieve ideas” which Dutchmen had “about teaching their children to have safe sex and smoke grass.” Consequently, she claimed, criminals and drug addicts from all over Europe came to Amsterdam to “exploit that opening.” The city then “is a mess.”

This is nothing short of a wonderfully naive bunch of lies, except that Dutch youngster are indeed taught about safe sex in high school — which probably accounts for a relatively low number of teenage pregnancies. According to research from the 1990s, a little over six out of every 1,000 women in the Netherlands under the age of 20 gives birth to a son or daughter. The number stands at 52 in the United States which is actually the highest in the developed world.

Children, of course, aren’t taught how to use drugs in school nor is Amsterdam “full of undesirables,” as O’Reilly put it. Unless that refers to liberals in general.

Monica Crowley, a Fox News contributor, described the city as a “cesspool of corruption,” though the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom, published by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal notes that corruption in the Netherlands is among the lowest in the world. According to Crowley, “everything is out of control” in the country yet violent crime is minimal and outside of the major cities, virtually non-existent.

The legalization of prostitution has in fact reduced related crime. Human trafficking is a real problem still, but Dutch police are actively fighting it. Part of the Amsterdam red-light district was shut down in recent years for that purpose and laws have been enacted that allow the city to close brothels if the police so much as suspects that it might be engaged in any criminal activity.

The drugs story is a little more complicated because Dutch law distinguishes between “hard” (cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, LSD) and “soft drugs” (marijuana and, at the time of O’Reilly’s report, psilocybin mushrooms). Neither are legal but the latter are formally “tolerated” which means that people are allowed to sell, buy and consume them, though only in limited quantities and in licensed coffee shops.

In spite of what O’Reilly may suggest, drug use in the Netherlands is fairly low. A 1999 study by the University of Amsterdam found that about 15 percent of Dutchmen had ever used marijuana while the numbers for illegal drugs hovered near 2 percent.

In the United States on the other hand, 47 percent of Americans over the age of 12 reported having used an illicit drug at least once in their lifetimes, according to a 2008 national survey undertaken by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The greatest problem with the Dutch policy is not that it tolerates drug use; the greatest problem is that it remains illegal for coffee shopkeepers to purchase their wares. They may sell drugs but not buy them, which pretty much forces them to deal with criminals. In a nationwide appeal, Dutch mayors this year called upon the government to finally legalize soft drugs altogether which, they believed, would do more to put an end to drug related crime than either maintaining the status quo or criminalizing drugs altogether.

Prostitution and drugs are difficult issue to tackle for any government. But the Dutch have pursued a bold and successful policy in recent decades that several other European countries as Belgium, Spain and Switzerland are now beginning to adopt as well.

People won’t stop using drugs or stop seeing prostitutes because it’s illegal. The American case amply demonstrates this. Society may deem certain behavior undesirable but that on itself does not justify the abridgement of civil liberties.

Cold Response

Between February 17 and March 4, Norway hosted the Cold Response 2010 military exercise in Troms county, above the Arctic Circle. More than 8,500 troops as well as 1,000 special forces from fourteen different nations participated, including soldiers from Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The exercise, the first of its kind to take place exclusively in the minus thirty degree Celsius temperatures above the Arctic Circle, tested cold weather amphibious operations as well as interoperability between expeditionary forces. Ground operations ranged from company-sized maneuvering to a brigade-sized beach assault. Both American and Royal Marines hit the beaches in landing craft, with air and naval support, responding to the “invasion” of fictitious Northland by the enemy from Eastland. Read more “Cold Response”

Dutch Ask, Dutch Tell

Retired US Marine Corps General John Sheehan’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee of March 18 caused quite a stir on both sides of the Atlantic last week.

Sheehan was asked to remark on the proposed repeal of the American military’s infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy which allows gay men and women to serve their country as long as they keep their sexual preference to themselves. The Netherlands has allowed homosexuals to serve openly for many years. According to Sheehan, that was “part of the problem” when Dutch UNPROFOR forces were overrun by Serbian troops in Srebrenica, Bosnia in July 1995 which resulted in the deaths of some 8,000 Muslims men.

The Srebrenica massacre is a national embarrassment in the Netherlands that prompted many studies, the foremost of which was conducted by the Dutch Institute for War Documentation. It concluded that the mission was ill-conceived from the start and well nigh impossible to execute. Upon its release in 2002, the Dutch government resigned.

Never has the fact that gays are allowed to serve openly in the Dutch military been connected with the failure of Dutchbat’s mission and the genocide that ensued as a consequence. When pressed, General Sheehan referred to a non-existent military officer who supposedly informed him of the connection: one “Hankman Berman.” A Henk van den Breemen does serve with the Dutch Defense Ministry, yet he described Sheehan’s remark as “absolute nonsense.”

Reactions from other Dutch officials have been equally fierce. The defense minister, Eimert van Middelkoop said Sheehan’s claim was “damaging” and unbecoming of a soldier. Even Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende weighed in on the issue, denouncing the comments during his weekly press conference as irresponsible and “way off the mark.”

Rachel Maddow gathered all of the official responses on her MSNBC show last Friday. Listening to the different comments leaves one with no alternative but to accept that General Sheehan was lying before the Armed Services Committee the day before; lying, for political purposes.

This should be a shame for any man, for a military man especially. But not only did General Sheehan serve with the Marine Corps for over thirty years, fighting in Vietnam and in Iraq; he acted as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic and Commander-in-Chief of the United States’ Atlantic Command for many years and retired a distinguished officer. That he should lie before the United States Senate, presumably in the hopes of influencing policy, is an outrage.

Political Uncertainty in the Netherlands

Local elections in the Netherlands in March already forecast the tangled political landscape the country now finds itself in facing parliamentary elections in June.

The Labor Party, which pulled out of its coalition with Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s Christian Democrats because it wouldn’t consider a continued military presence in Afghanistan, did well in the polls but no viable three-party majority has emerged yet. Party leader Wouter Bos announced his resignation on Friday, naming Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen as his successor. Unlike Bos, Cohen is seen as prime ministerial candidate and more of a traditional socialist who can regain the party’s support from low-income voters.

After the election, the participation of the liberal party could be critical. It previously governed with the Christian Democrats in the wake of the murder of right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002. Their popularity has taken a beating since Geert Wilders left the party in 2004 to run on his own ticket. But it is still difficult to imagine a government without them.

Wilders appeals to a segment of the population with his attacks on Islam and the multicultural society. His Freedom Party blames Labor for the country’s integration problems which would make a coalition between the two problematic.

But Wilders is projected to lead the Netherlands’ second political force. In spite of left-wing attempts to exclude him from power, the Christian Democrats, at least, are willing to work with him.

If Wilders won’t govern, the alternatives include a full left-wing coalition under Labor, a center-right alliance of multiple parties likely dominated by the Christian Democrats and liberals and a centrist goverment of Labor and liberals, possibly joined by the progressive liberal Democrats. Such a three-party “purple” coalition governed the country from 1994 to 2002.

Labor has refused to commit to a “red” accord, wary that a pledge to govern on the left would hurt its chances with moderate voters. It may even prefer a broad coalition with the Christian Democrats and liberals. It has partnered both before, if separately.

One way or another, the liberals will have to be included and they are bound to demand a high price for their kingmaking. The party has been critical of the outgoing government, particularly of its response to the economic downturn. The liberals form the only faction in parliament that has proposed massive and specific budget cuts while they continue to champion free markets. In coalition with the Christian Democrats, they deregulated business and privatized health care. Whether smaller parties in the center, let alone Labor, would go along with such policies is doubtful.

A minority government, deemed undesirable by most parties, may be the only alternative but the country hasn’t had one since the end of World War II.

Right Wing on the Rise in Dutch Elections

Dutch voters went to the polls on Wednesday to elect city councils in almost four hundred municipalities. In the wake of the government’s collapse two weeks ago, the local elections were closely watched as an indicator of which way the country will swing this summer.

Both of the resigning ruling parties, the Christian Democrats and Labor, suffered in the polls although the latter has managed to improve its poll numbers somewhat compared to when it was in government.

The opposition is emerging with vigor. Nationwide, both the anti-immigration Freedom Party of Geert Wilders and his nemesis, Alexander Pechtold, of the center-left Democrats are on the rise. Locally, the right-wing liberal party is expected to come out with most support.

The liberals, in part, have Wilders to thank for their comeback. His party competes in only two major cities. Many of his supporters in other parts of the country opt for the liberals because their immigration and security policy is similar to his, if less Islamophobic.

The progressive Democrats are also indebted to Wilders. Pechtold has positioned himself as the right-wing foreman’s staunchest critic in parliament, emphasizing the Netherlands’ traditionally open and cosmopolitan character as opposed to the nationalism of Wilders and his party.

Since he ran and won on his own ticket in 2006, Wilders has made a series of dramatic proposals to curb what he calls the Islamization of the Netherlands, including banning of the Quran and taxing Muslim women for wearing headscarfs. Wilders is awaiting trail for accusations of hate speech.

According to the polls, the Socialist Party will have to give up over half of its seats. The more moderate Green Party instead would nearly double its support.

Dutch Government Collapses Over Afghanistan

The governing coalition in the Netherlands was brought down Saturday, unable to bridge a divide between Christian Democrats and socialists over whether or not to keep forces in Afghanistan after 2010.

For the fouth time, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende had to announce that a government of his had come to its end prematurely. His previous three cabinets were all formed with the right-wing liberal party. After the general elections of November 2006, the prime minister was forced to come to a coalition with his primary political rival, Labor Party leader Wouter Bos. Repeated disagreements between both partnering factions were often fought out in public; specifically, over the raising of the retirement age and about how to cut on goverment spending after the recession struck the country in 2008.

Wouter Bos promised voters during the 2006 elections that he would bring the Dutch troops home and not extend participation in the ISAF mission beyond 2010. When President Barack Obama called upon NATO allies to pitch in, the Christian Democrats, the majority party, entertained the notion of remaining in Afghanistan, with fewer forces and in another part of the country than the province of Oruzgan where currently, about 1,500 Dutchmen are posted.

The Dutch were deployed to Oruzgan in 2006 and originally supposed to stay for two years. That mandate was extended another two years to August 2010 in spite of mounting public opposition against the mission.

Throughout the past several days, Balkenende tried to find a compromise which would allow the Dutch to extend their presence. The Labor Party, intent on keepings its promise, pulled out of the coalition after a sixteen-hour cabinet meeting Friday night failed to deliver any results. New elections must take place within fewer than twelve weeks.

There are also elections upcoming for local governments, March 3. The Labor Party hasn’t been polling well recently. Generally, voters blame it for compromising too much on traditional left-wing issues, allowing the center-right Christian Democrats to overshadow it. There is speculation that the elections played a part in Labor’s decision to pull out of the government which would allow the party to distance itself from some of the more unpopular policies recently enacted. Whether it will actually perform better soon seems doubtful however.

Losing Iceland

The ravage left by the Icesave debacle still frustrates relations between Iceland and the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. The latter two insist that the island nation repay the four billion euros which they spent compensating consumers who nearly lost all their savings last year when the Iceland bank went under. Although the country’s parliament, the Althing, which is actually the oldest of its kind in the world, decided that the money must be repayed, President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson has vetoed their bill. Four billion euros is a lot of cash for a country of 300,000 people. In fact, it amounts to a third of their yearly GDP. A referendum March 6 will decide the confrontation between president and parliament. Read more “Losing Iceland”

Economic Freedom in 2010

Empire State Building New York
The Empire State Building in Manhattan, New York (Unsplash/Gaurav Pikale)

As the global recession took hold of the world last year, free-market capitalism increasingly came under persecution. Much of the industrialized world accepted an expansion of government power over the economy in the form of greater oversight, tightening financial regulation and sharper labor laws. Taxes went on the rise consequently, targeting especially the supposed perpetrators of the meltdown: bankers and big business, although they were hardly to blame for the situation.

The 2010 Index of Economic Freedom published by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal reflects these changes as countries formerly steeped in the free-market tradition have fallen on the scale, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States foremost among them. Read more “Economic Freedom in 2010”