Liberal World Order in a Transitional Age

From a Google Image Search – Council on Foreign Relations

Liberal World Order in a Transitional Age

Conservative writers in the media spend a considerable amount of time bemoaning the demise of the “Liberal World Order”. Given the pushback we get these days if we even mention the word “liberal,” you have to accept that these conservatives are using the term differently in this particular sense. For decades following World War II America held back communism and the rule of “strong men” by using the powerful position they held after that war to exert considerable control over Europe. We established military bases in every key location that would allow it. We formed economic partnerships to try to rebuild devastated nations all over Europe. We pushed back when the USSR tried to increase its power base. We held our hegemony through an image in the world as the most successful nation, the nation with the best economy, a manufacturing giant. We held it through our hustle and our bustle and our schools and the serious thinkers we sent out into the world. Rather than punish Germany we befriended them (occupied them) and helped them rebuild. A nation that was allowed to continue to exist and thrive became a powerful ally. 

But we are now seeing authoritarian tendencies among an increasing number of nations redefining the balance of power in the world. We are even seeing this in once-stalwart democracies like our own America and in the UK. How did this reversal happen? How have we slipped so far on the world stage? Well we all know some of the reasons. All you had to do was listen to Tulsi Gabbard in last night’s debate. We did get a bit high-handed. We did try things like regime change to hold the line on democracy. It’s a flaw we have, thinking that the ends justify the means and that using authoritarian tactics will not taint the end results. We did that; we did that many times. I am not endorsing Tulsi Gabbard in any way. In fact I would never vote for her. But she recounts a sin that we have already sort of owned up to; that we betrayed our values because winning became too important. 

Regime change failure probably did not do us in all by itself. We began to lose wars. We were attacked on 9/11 and we staggered, although we did not fall. The world power balance changed. Authoritarian nations did not buy our form of government, but they did buy the argument that capitalism brought the greatest prosperity. They did not buy free markets but they were happy to be “invaded” and educated by our corporate leaders. As our economy dipped, the economies of these authoritarian nations rose. We began to lose our clout on the world stage. Money is at the root of this decline. Our economy, while still strong was not the only strong economy on the planet. Our schools were no longer number one due to our refusal to deal with our diversity for so long, especially because our racist roots let portions of our population lag far behind the opportunity curve (if there is such a thing). 

And we lost our arrogance. We looked inward and confessed our sins. We took an honest look at some of the less-than-stellar tools in the toolbox of our postwar tinkering. We began to see that we had been using some fairly dictatorial practices to win hearts and minds for democracy. We began to see how obsessed we are with money and with business. We began to see what our obsession with industry, an industry based in fossil fuels was doing to our planet, although we know that many do not accept that we “wee” humans could ruin a whole planet. 

Of course not everyone sees the same thing when we look back and forward. Do our sins mean we have to change our ways? What will become of us? Many don’t want to change. They liked the old us and our position in the world. They think we are the cause of our own slippage. They think we have a choice in the matter. But it seems that the old Liberal World Order is dead. It was not without value. It brought us 75 years of peace in Europe. It brought prosperity to Europe and that prosperity is spreading. 

It may have brought tempting whiffs of freedom too, which may eventually spread and push those strong men out, ushering in a new age of enlightenment that it is difficult for us to imagine from where we are right now, on a path to the depths of decline and upheaval (change) with no foreign policy beyond the simply transactional. We could just as easily lose all that we have gained and retreat into a primitivism we believed we had left behind.  But I don’t think that is what will happen. We will figure out what we need to do next, how we will replace the Liberal World Order with something more appropriate to addressing the new challenges the world faces how we will replace the Liberal World Order with something more appropriate to addressing the new challenges the world faces as soon as we “rid” ourselves of this “meddlesome” crook in our White House. There are already people working on this, some older, some younger. Perhaps our new world order will involve just being sort of laissez-faire for a while, just more hand’s-off while we get a better grasp on the forces at play on this amazing and frightening little planet of ours, hurtling through space.

David Brooks had some things to say on this topic in the NYT’s for 11.21.19:

“The working classes who have been supporting populists need a way to thrive in the modern economy and a sense they are respected contributors to their national project. The educated elites want their democratic freedoms protected and to live in ethnically diverse pluralistic societies.Whoever can write that social bargain wins the future.”

Trump, America First, and Venezuela


Trump, America First, and Venezuela

America First, as Trump proclaimed it during his campaign for the presidency in 2016, sounded good to some Americans (MAGA). Trump promised to put America’s interests first. He railed against all our allies who, according to his reckoning, had let America pick up the tab for far too many military operations over too many years. His followers, the Trumpers, also were led to believe that Trump intended to take care of the forgotten Americans who had lost their jobs to outsourcing and industrial migration.

To give some credit to Trump, he has tried to do this. Someone said on the news just today that the problem Trump has is that he is trying to bring back the America of 20 or 30 years ago and that the world does not do business the same way now (not an exact quote). Trump does seem out of step with economic changes that are most likely irreversible. He tried to save the Carrier plant in Indiana. That fell through. He tried to help Harley Davidson but made things worse. He celebrated when FoxConn said it would bring 13,000 jobs to Wisconsin, but today’s news suggests that that will not happen. Of course he also stepped all over his attempts to keep jobs in America with his tariffs.

Trump said he would deport illegal immigrants who were taking American jobs and using American benefits. Trump backed himself into a corner when he promised a wall that many think is a waste of money and which will not address the real reasons for high numbers of folks living here without proper documents. Despite the fact that just building a wall is an oversimplification of a more complex problem, to his “cult” members it said not only America First, but Americans First.

America First is a slogan that was not greeted with cheers by many other Americans who did not end up being followers of Trump. It harkens back to things that Hitler promised the German people that lead to World War II and the murder of 6 million Jews. It echoed the words of Nazi sympathizers in American who liked to repeat the slogan ‘America über alles’, because it echoed Hitler’s slogan for Germany. There are far too many authoritarian and genocidal memories to make this stance palatable to Americans who remember the history of the slogan. Did the President know about the connections to Nazism? His family immigrated to America from Eastern Europe so he probably did. It doesn’t matter if he makes the connection or not, and we cannot read his mind, but it matters to many Americans who don’t like the slogan and don’t like the isolationist positioning that goes with it.

But this America First policy may have a lot to do with speculations about our future activities in Venezuela and with the drumbeats of war that are sounding, at least in the media. It happens that John Bolton, for one reason or another, did not hide his notebook from the press. The list on his legal pad had the mysterious entry 5000+ troops to Columbia. Guess where Columbia is? It’s in South America, bordered by Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru.

This is John Bolton we are talking about, a man with a reputation as a war monger. If his list has an item that says 5000+ troops to Columbia, media sees that as a possible step towards intervening in Venezuela. Venezuela is an oil rich nation, but Nicolás Maduro, dictator-in-charge is either not good with economics (at all), or is a big time thief because his people, living in what was once a thriving economy and what is now a failed state, are starving. Oil is a commodity that has fallen prey to a set of market circumstances that have hurt its value. There is a lot of competition in the oil market these days and price per barrel rates have vacillated accordingly. Natural gas is readily available because of fracking and is cleaner to burn than oil, so that is helping to drive down the price of oil. Perhaps Maduro is not completely to blame but has still proved to be incompetent.

When Trump was running for the presidency he often chided America for leaving Iraq without taking over the oil and annexing those sites for America. He attributed the fact that we left the oil wells for Iraq (or perhaps ISIS) to the wimpy behavior of President Obama, who took the last troops out of Iraq. It appears that Trump would fit in well back in the Age of Imperialism.

It is not as if modern America has never been guilty of taking advantage of another nation; we have meddled often and deeply in the name of both democracy and capitalism. Since World War II many nations give space to American military bases, berths to our ships, and hangers for our planes, and not always out of the kindness of their hearts. But it’s not easy to steal oil  or annex oil wells. There is the problem of manning these operations, even if ownership is not disputed, the problems of shipping the oil, and the problems of optics, since the media sees all.

So, although Trump’s eyes may light up at the thought of all that oil, that is unlikely to be the reason that we are backing Juan Guaidó as the man to take Maduro’s place. He is the man the people of Venezuela want, but so far Maduro controls the military.

Perhaps the reason for tiptoeing so close to the regime change line has to do with Trump’s passion to stem migration from Venezuela and neighboring countries. People have been flooding out of Venezuela. Many have gone to Chili and Columbia. Current wisdom advises Trump that if he wants to stem migration he needs to attack the problems people are facing in South America from bad leaders, to violent gangs, to changes in climate that have made food production unpredictable. Add these problems to those that are plaguing oil markets and you have a perfect storm. People cannot stay where life has no quality, where food is scarce, and where their children are either starving, or forced to join a gang or die.

Trump’s America First stand has him withdrawing from international entanglements around the globe. He took us out of the Paris Climate Accord, decided not to join the Trans Pacific Partnership. He wants to leave NATO and the UN. His isolationist tendencies argue against American involvement in the affairs of South American nations. However, if propping up South American economies and cleaning up violent gangs will end the caravans of people so traumatized that they can’t wait to leave home, if it will end the lines of “undesirables” seeking asylum in America, then sending troops to Columbia sounds like something Trump’s people might suggest (or that Trump might suggest). Trump does not want brown people, people who don’t speak English, or people who are poor. He says there is no room for these people in America. He wants a wall to keep them out. But he may be hedging his bets on the wall by supporting a little regime change and a little military action to reverse the decline of certain South American or Central American nations.

Perhaps that cryptic note on Bolton’s tablet meant that sending 5000+ troops to Venezuela is imminent, especially since the first thing on the list had to do with Afghanistan, but experts say that sending troops into a large failed state like Venezuela would be like getting America involved in another Vietnam. Experts also tell Trump that a wall is not what we need to solve the problems of migrants who enter America illegally. However, once Trump decides that he know best, all the expert advice in the world will not sway Trump. He is busy listening to his gut, which he tells us he trusts more than he trusts experts.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – New York Post

This is a view from the cheap seats.