Archive for July, 2015



Following up on my Iran nuclear deal post earlier this week, here’s a documentary that I recommend to anyone who has a serious interest in Iran and with strong convictions on the political situation there (the two usually going together). The documentary is the fruit of an original idea of the director, Mehran Tamadon—who left Iran for France in 1984, at age 12, with his communist parents, returning to live there for a few years in the early ’00s—which was to invite a group of mullahs to a private home near Tehran, where they would all discuss religion, laïcité, the place of secular Iranians in the Islamic Republic, and what common ground, if any, they could find to peacefully coexist in the same polity. “Le vivre ensemble,” as we say here. It took three years for him to find willing participants in his scheme—who would agree to be filmed—but he eventually did. So it was one atheist democrat vs. four pro-system mullahs in a friendly clash of ideas over a full weekend (with sumptuous meals prepared by their wives, who did not partake in the discussions, needless to say).

The film passed under my radar screen when it opened last December but this Le Monde article in February, on the interest the film had sparked in the discerning, intellectually highbrow cinephile milieu in the Paris area, aroused mine, so I went to see it at a Saturday morning screening in March and with the director present. It’s an engaging film, reminding me somewhat of discussions I had with Islamists in Algeria in the late ’80s-early ’90s: a dialogue of the deaf—though the dialogue in the film, between persons of the same culture and polity, and speaking in their native language, is far deeper than any I ever had. But while there is no meeting of the minds between Tamadon and the mullahs, the dialogue is civil and with the head mullah of the group—and biggest talker—displaying a sense of humor and bonhomie. Everyone seemed to have a good time and find the exercise useful. One does not imagine such a dialogue could possibly happen in Saudi Arabia or in Egypt these days, or just about anywhere in the Sunni Arab world. I certainly can’t imagine it in Algeria at any point over the past three decades (of a Pagsiste or pro-RCD intello engaging pro-FIS imams in dialogue over 48 hours in close quarters). Take a look at this two-minute Euronews report on the film, plus this three-minute excerpt (French s/t) of Tamadon and the mullahs debating laïcité. And see this review of the film in Qantara.de by writer Igal Avidan, who saw it at the 2014 Berlinale.

On the Iran deal, Robin Wright has an article in The New Yorker (July 30th), “‘Death to America!’ and the Iran deal.” The lede: “Iranians seemed befuddled about why the inflammatory mantra of the Islamic Revolution would ever impact the fate of the nuclear deal.” That’s right. It’s been clear since even the hostage crisis of 1979-80 that the mobs chanting “Death to America” in front of the US embassy were trucked in by the regime to perform for US television news. It’s theater.

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The ministers of foreign affairs of France, Germany, the European Union, Iran, the United Kingdom and the United States as well as Chinese and Russian diplomats announcing an Iran nuclear deal framework in Lausanne on 2 April

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I should have had this post up at least ten days ago but Greece and other things (e.g. work) got in the way. I’m not sure I have anything original to say about the Iran deal—a.k.a. the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—as, to paraphrase my friend Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, just about everything has already been said on the deal and will continue to be said over and over again. I was naturally happy when the deal was announced and think it’s a good one. Not that I possess the expertise to evaluate the technical details, as arms control agreements—and nuclear weapons in general—have never been my thing. So like most people out there, I’ve been depending on the assessments of specialists (arms control or Iran) who have followed the dossier closely and whose sensibilities on the issue I trust, e.g. Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey professor Avner Cohen—author of the leading academic works on Israel and nuclear weapons—who had an op-ed in Haaretz arguing that the JCPOA is a good deal (and particularly for Israel; which is likewise the view of members of the Israeli security establishment), and Georgetown University political science MENA specialist and friend Daniel Brumberg, who, in a Washington Examiner op-ed, asserted that failure in Vienna was not an option (for any of the parties to the negotiations). As for nuclear weapons/non-proliferation experts, e.g. Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and Aaron Stein of the Royal United Services Institute, they “love the Iran deal,” say “it’s a damn good deal,” and quite simply have a “very positive” assessment of the deal. One may also take a look at the forum in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in which “top international security experts with a variety of perspectives and backgrounds [were asked] to offer their [instant] assessments of the [deal]” on the day it was announced (note in particular the contributions by Oliver Meier, Chuck Freilich, Sharon Squassoni, Lawrence Korb and Katherine Blakeley, Kingston Reif, Siegfried S. Hecker, and Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian). On the technical side of the issue, all this is good enough for me.

As for the opponents of the deal—US Republicans, the Israelis, US Democrats who unconditionally support Israel (who will side with Bibi Netanyahu, the leader of a foreign state, against their own president and from their own party), and Gulf Arab regimes—they were clearly going to be against anything that could have possibly been negotiated at Vienna, as they don’t want a deal with Iran, period (the flagrant proof: prominent Republican senators rushed to denounce the deal before they had even seen it). They want war with Iran but, as Vox’s Matthew Yglesias correctly observed, cannot publicly admit that. Yglesias, in engaging a Commentary magazine pundit in debate, delved into their arguments—notably those of Elliot Abrams and Ron Dermer, which were recommended by the pundit—against the JCPOA, after which Yglesias concluded that “they’re utter nonsense.” One argument I read was a WSJ editorial which, in lambasting “Obama’s false Iran choice,” argued that a third option—between the JCPOA and war—could have been put on the table by the US, something the WSJ editorial writer called “coercive diplomacy.” As if the US, in taking an intransigent hard-line with the Iranians and making demands that the latter would never accept, could have dragooned along the rest of its E3+3 partners, and notably the Russians and Chinese, in a posture that would have resulted in certain failure in Vienna (it was and is striking how the American right and other neocons have seemed to view Vienna as a bilateral negotiation between the US and Iran, forgetting—or simply dismissing the fact—that there were other major powers at the table and with whom the Americans had to coordinate a consensus position). The Times of Israel founding editor David Horovitz wrote an op-ed in much the same vein as the WSJ’s, “No, we don’t want war, and yes, there was a better deal.” This passage said it all

A country led by a regime that secretly pursued nuclear weapons, that fosters unrest across the region, that calls for the elimination of Israel, that finances, arms and trains terrorist armies in Lebanon and Gaza, that orchestrates terrorism worldwide, that works to bring Europe and North America into the range of its missiles, that criminalizes homosexuality, that discriminates against women, that jails, tortures and executes political opponents, that executes more juvenile offenders than any other country on earth… that Iran must not be allowed to become a more dominant regional power.

N.B. When it comes to mistreating political dissidents, women, homosexuals, and juvenile delinquents, in financing terrorism (i.e. groups Israel is in conflict with) and engaging in other such disreputable behavior, Iran is hardly the worst offender in the region, let alone the world (and if I were a woman, gay, dissident of any sort, or even a Jew, I would rather find myself in Iran than in Saudi Arabia—and definitely if I were a Jew!). And in any case, none of these things have anything to do with an arms control agreement. And the Vienna negotiations were about arms control, tout court.

And then there’s Michael Oren, Israel’s ex-ambassador to Washington, who wrote in Politico on “What a good Iran deal would look like.” In his view, such would have involved “intensified” US sanctions—and with foreign companies violating these barred from doing business in the US—and a “credible military threat.” In other words, by being “tough”—an American right-wing fetish word—and rattling the sabres, the US would have caused the Iranians to cry uncle, all while intimidating the US’s E3+3 partners, via the threat of economic retaliation (one smiles at the image of Washington snapping its fingers at Beijing here; China, pour mémoire, being Iran’s largest trading partner and by far, e.g. here and here), into falling in line behind the tough US position.

Sure. As any level-headed person could inform Ambassador Oren, his “good Iran deal” is a fantasy, as none of the things he advocates could or would possibly happen. And now with UNSCR 2231, cannot legally happen (sorry, Ambassador Oren, but your “good Iran deal” has been superseded by events). In point of fact, what Horovitz, Oren, and other Israeli and pro-Israel opponents of the JCPOA cannot abide is Iran’s stature as a regional power. To repeat: the Israelis and their unconditional US allies simply do not want a nuclear deal, as this will necessarily reinforce Iran’s regional position. Robert Farley—Associate Professor at the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce—thus put it in a post on the Lawyers, Guns & Money blog

No conceivable deal could achieve what [Michael] Oren declares that he wants, but of course the point is that he doesn’t want a deal. He, and other hawks, want the constant threat of US military action, in order to reassure our allies that we will always be prepared to bomb their enemies. There is no conceivable set of nuclear concessions that could make Michael Oren (or [Michael] Doran, or [Matthew] Kroenig, or [Eli] Lake, or [William] Kristol, or [Tom] Cotton, et al ad nauseum) pleased with this deal, because they want military confrontation based on other Iranian foreign policy behaviors.

And those “other” foreign policy behaviors are things that have nothing to do with anything that could have been put on the table at Vienna.

Peter Beinart, writing in The Atlantic, got it exactly right as to “Why the Iran deal makes Obama’s critics so angry.” Money quote

[The Iran deal] codifies the limits of American power. And recognizing the limits of American power also means recognizing the limits of American exceptionalism. It means recognizing that no matter how deeply Americans believe in their country’s unique virtue, the United States is subject to the same restraints that have governed great powers in the past. For the Republican right, that’s a deeply unwelcome realization. For many other Americans, it’s a relief. It’s a sign that, finally, the Bush era in American foreign policy is over.

It should be said that not all commentators on the right side of the political spectrum have denounced the JCPOA. E.g. foreign policy and MENA specialist Adam Garfinkle, who has worked for successive Republican administrations, has a not uninteresting essay—albeit complicated, verbose, and overly long: a Garfinkle trademark—in The American Interest (of which he is editor) on the day the deal was announced. Which is not to say that I’m on the same page with him across the board, e.g. his argument that the deal, which consecrates Iran’s status as an almost nuclear threshold state, will no doubt cause other regional actors—Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, UAE—to develop or purchase nuclear weapons, thereby “making a nuclear war in the region, perhaps involving the United States and perhaps not, more likely, after approximately 15 years.” Mr. Garfinkle should know better than to be making predictions about what will or will not happen a decade down the road, let alone longer (and Abu Dhabi going nuclear? Or any of the other places Garfinkle mentions? Oy vey, GMAB!).

In fact, the best rubbishing of the arguments of opponents of the Iran deal has come from one of their (more or less) ideological kindred spirits, the paleocon Patrick Buchanan, who, writing in The American Conservative, incisively informed his erstwhile political soul mates that “Rejecting the Iran deal would be GOP suicide.” Buchanan is very good here. His TAC has indeed had a number of fine commentaries on the deal, e.g. TAC founding editor Scott McConnell on “How the Iran deal serves America” and the almost daily posts by TAC senior editor Daniel Larison, who has been taking particular aim at the reactions to the deal by GOP presidential candidates, e.g. Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Rand Paul, plus Mitt Romney; Larison’s subtext: on the subject of Iran—and foreign policy more generally—the Republicans are both crazy and don’t WTF they’re talking about.

One matter needs to be put to rest, which is the hostility of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states to the deal, indeed to any deal with Iran. As the NYT reported ten days ago based on WikiLeaks revelations, Saudi Arabia has “an obsession with Iran” and which is driven by the Sunni-Shia divide. That is to say, the Saudi hang-up over Iran is existential. It is religious in nature. Which means that it is permanent and timeless. Let us be clear about a couple of things here. First, the United States of America has nothing whatever to do with—and must absolutely not allow itself to get caught up in—the existential angst of the fucking Saudis in regard to Shi’ism. This is not America’s problem. Second, Saudi Arabia is not a friend of the United States, nor is it an ally. Saudi Arabia is a state with which the US has an important relationship but which is based exclusively on realpolitik, i.e. on raisons d’État. America has important interests in Saudi Arabia—economic, strategic—but there is no political or cultural affinity whatever between the two countries. And there never will be, as the problem with Saudi Arabia goes well beyond the nature of its political system. Moreover, Saudi Arabia is a major source of what ails the Muslim world today—and a big source of a lot of the problems in that Muslim world. Saudi Arabia is, as I have labeled it, the Evil Kingdom. And let’s not forget the role of Saudis in 9/11—and which no doubt went well beyond the 15 of the 19 men who commandeered the four airplanes that day. So: the US, in the pursuit of its national interests, must not humor or indulge the existential fears of its interlocutors in Riyadh (or Abu Dhabi, Doha, Manama, or Kuwait).

On the Iran deal, I have been particularly interested in the reaction of the E3+3 member that took a particularly hard line against the Iranians during the long negotiating process, which was, of course, France. French policy has been consistently distrustful of the regime in Tehran, and during the Sarkozy and Hollande years both. Now there is a tenacious notion out there among Anglo-Americans who opine on the question that French foreign policy is driven primarily by base commercial considerations, of winning contracts for big French corporations (in the case of Iran, see, e.g., here). Insofar as any principles may be involved, they’re mainly about France trying to cling to the fading glory of its past as a colonial empire. This is, of course, Anglo-Saxon poppycock, and particularly in the case of Iran and its nuclear ambitions, over which the French took, as one knows, a harder line than the US and which has been explicated, entre autres, in recent Foreign Policy articles by Colin Lynch and Yochi Dreazen, and Joseph Bahout and Benjamin Haddad—and with the latter emphasizing the deep knowledge of Iran in the French foreign policy, intelligence, and defense establishments (and which is certainly greater than that of the US).

For the anecdote, some 2½ weeks ago I participated in a forum in Paris with major American politicians at the state level—and they were there from almost all 50 states plus Puerto Rico—along with corporate types, that was organized by a New York-based nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. The speaker who preceded me (my topic was immigration in France) was Jean-David Levitte, who spoke to the (exclusively American) audience about geopolitics. As Levitte has been a top person in the French foreign policy establishment over the years—and particularly during Sarkozy’s presidency—I took the opportunity to ask him a question about French policy toward Iran and why France has taken an even harder line than the US. His lengthy answer focused on nuclear non-proliferation as a cornerstone of French policy in the Middle East—as primordial for the French national interest—and, in regard to the negotiations in Vienna, of the need to, as he put it, “get it right,” i.e. to arrive at an agreement that would stop Iran’s nuclear capacity short of the threshold that would provoke its neighbors into trying to acquire that same capacity (he was speaking five days before the JCPOA was announced). At the forum the following day, two of France’s top academic MENA specialists—both quite brilliant and for whom I have the utmost regard—spoke on the region to the audience of Americans. Somewhat to my surprise, both gentlemen expressed deep reservations over an eventual Iran deal. One of them, who is a former diplomat and with personal experience in dealing with the Iranians in an official capacity, emphasized the nefarious role Iran has played in the region (notably in Syria) and evoked Iran’s long history as a sponsor of international terrorism (and with France and Frenchmen having been a target, particularly in the 1980s). The other specialist assured the audience that a deal with Iran that enshrined its status as a nuclear threshold state and ended the sanctions regime and diplomatic quarantine—thereby augmenting Iran’s status as a regional power—would frighten masses of Sunni Arabs into the arms of the Islamic State. No less.

Now I don’t share the views of my esteemed colleagues on this question but found them interesting, as they so closely hued to the official French position. So the fact that the French were fully on board with the JCPOA was, in my book, prima facie proof that the deal was a good one. On this, here is the reaction of François Nicoullaud, a former French ambassador to Tehran and nuclear weapons specialist, speaking to Libération on the day the deal was announced

C’est un bel accord qui doit convenir à toutes les parties et répond en particulier à tout ce que souhaitaient les Américains, dont 80% à 90% des demandes se voient satisfaites (…). Je ne crois pas que l’on aurait pu obtenir mieux. C’est le triomphe de la volonté et de la persévérance, en particulier de John Kerry (…) qui a déployé une énergie extraordinaire, de Hassan Rohani qui a su attendre son heure pendant dix ans [il était déjà le chef des négociateurs iraniens, en 2003-2004] et de Barack Obama qui avait tendu la main à Téhéran après son élection, en 2008.

See as well Nicoullaud’s “Premières leçons de l’accord nucléaire avec l’Iran,” on the Boulevard Extérieur blog. In the days following the accord, I checked out the Twitter accounts of two leading French geopolitical analysts, both Atlanticist in orientation (i.e. not out on the left or the souverainiste and/or Russia-friendly right) and exceptionally smart, to see their reaction. One, François Heisbourg, called the JCPOA and UNSCR 2231 “a remarkable achievement,” though emphasized that the deal was not likely to modify Iran’s policy in the region (see this graphic that Heisbourg retweeted, which suggests that France succeeded in Vienna in pulling the US toward its tougher position). The other, Bruno Tertrais—whose position on Iran was close to that of US neocons—tweeted an op-ed by Ariel (Eli) Levite, who was the principal deputy director general for policy at the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission from 2002 to 2007, “The good, the bad and the ugly nuclear agreement,” published in Haaretz and on the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace website, and with this comment: “In the maelström of reactions emerges a really thoughtful piece”…

The official French commentary on the Iran deal came from foreign minister Laurent Fabius in an interview in Le Monde, which was translated into English by the Worldcrunch website and linked to by my friend Claire Berlinski, in her Ricochet blog post on “France and the Iranian nuclear deal.”

In Claire’s post there is one little line that caused me to leap out of my chair and to which I must respond. Claire says that “France is objectively the weakest of the P5+1.” Weaker than the United Kingdom? In what respect? Military spending? On this score, France and the UK rank 5th and 6th in the world, with France higher in one ranking (SIPRI) and the UK higher in another (IISS). But the two are essentially at parity here and with comparable ability to project military force to faraway places, and which has been the case for decades. As for economic strength, France and the UK, in nominal GDP, are also ranked 5th and 6th worldwide, with France having consistently been ahead of the UK over the years but with the UK now slightly so in some rankings (mainly on account of fluctuations in the € and £ exchange rates). But again, the two countries are essentially at parity (though in country rankings of GDP at PPP, France is ahead of the UK in all). And when it comes to military strength, France is, of course, well ahead of Germany, and with the French economy being considerably stronger than Russia’s.

One thing about the Iran deal, and which seems obvious, is that, in addition to controlling Iran’s nuclear capacity, it involves a gamble on Obama’s part that the deal will influence the political dynamic in Iran and push the country in a more moderate direction, both internally and in its foreign policy choices. This will, of course, not happen right away—certainly not as long as the Ayatollah Khamenei is Supreme Leader, and Iranian regional behavior may even worsen in the immediate period—but the gamble clearly needs to be made, as, in view of the chaos in the region—of collapse and fragmentation of the core Arab states and emergence of the Islamic State—America and Europe need—or need to hope for—a stable, prosperous Iran, which has ceased financing terrorist groups (e.g. Islamic Jihad), arming non-state actors to the hilt (e.g. Hizbullah), and supporting criminal regimes (e.g. the Syrian Ba’athist), and with which America and Europe can cooperate. E.g. it is hard to see how any kind of solution can be found in Syria—if such is possible (and which I doubt)—without Iran on board. And Iran is clearly a bulwark against the advance of the Islamic State, which, ça va de soi, presents a grave threat to the region and anywhere significant numbers of Muslims are to be found.

Assertion: America and Iran have a vocation to be friends. As one knows well by now, the problem in Iran is the regime and political system, but which are seriously contested within the country and by forces in Iranian society that look favorably to America and Europe. And Iran has a vibrant, sophisticated civil society and with currents far more liberal than anything to be found in the Arab world. As for what the US can do to influence Iran internally, Adam Garfinkle, in his essay linked to above, has this to say

[I]f sanctions relief is to come, it is probably in U.S. interest to rush as much of the roughly $150 billion involved into the Iranian economy as fast as possible. It is likewise in our interest to open the economy to all manner of foreigners as quickly as possible: sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll to the max. If we want to weaken the regime—and its emetic IRGC/Qods Brigade Praetorian guard—we should do our best to serve up maximum feasible Schumpeterean “creative destruction”, the same stuff that KO’ed the Shah. The more social change we help unleash, and generate from a new baseline, the more the inability of the current Iranian regime to adjust will doom it to oblivion.

The regime fears its own people and is doubtless prepared now to crack down hard, lest melting glaciers of pent-up frustration get out of hand. How this will play out is hard to say; it may hurt Rouhani more than help him. In any event, we need to do what we can to undermine or overwhelm the crackdown, and being a little (or a lot) more voluble on Iranian human rights violations—which are massive and ongoing—is not a bad way to go about that given the limited means at our disposal to influence internal Iranian social trends.

In a similar vein, Paul Berman, whom I normally do not link to favorably, had a hopeful commentary in Tablet on “Why President Obama’s deal is not just an act of faith, but a call to arms—of the liberal sort.” Also in Tablet is a must-read article by Samuel Thorpe, a Jerusalem-based writer and translator of Persian, on Tehran University political scientist Sadegh Zibakalam, “The most dangerous man in Iran.” It begins

This past March Tehran University political science professor Sadegh Zibakalam said the unspeakable. In a wide-ranging foreign-policy debate with conservative journalist Seyed Yasser Jebraily at Islamic Azad University of Mashhad, videos of which have circulated widely on the Internet, Zibakalam blasted the Iranian government’s oft-stated goal of destroying Israel.

Sitting with Jebraily at a small, microphone-studded table, Zibakalam, dressed in an open-collared shirt and dark blue sports coat over his trademark suspenders, first argued that conservatives’ anti-American rhetoric was harming Iran’s national interest. Then he turned to Israel, saying that cries of “Death to Israel” do the same.

“Who gave the Islamic Republic of Iran the duty of destroying Israel?” he asked sarcastically to the audience’s thunderous applause. “Did the Iranian people have a referendum and say they want to destroy Israel? Did the parliament pass a law saying that we should destroy Israel?”

When hard-line hecklers tried to interrupt they were quickly shouted down by the crowd. “Twenty-four hours a day you have the radio, the television, Kayhan newspaper, the parliament, the Friday sermons,” Zibakalam boldly replied. “We have two hours here—one for me and one for Jebraily. You are so authoritarian and dictatorial that you disrupt even this.”

Watch the YouTube embedded in the article of Zibakalam pronouncing the above words and note the audience reaction. One would never see such a spectacle anywhere in the Arab world (or in Turkey, or any other Muslim majority country).

See also Zibakalam’s “Letter from Tehran” in Politico from last March (linked to in the Tablet piece), “Why Iran’s hardliners fear a deal: A nuclear pact means our regime will have to surrender its No. 1 justification for its actions: anti-Americanism.”

On the question of regime opponents—of which Zibakalam is one—and what they think, see the In These Times piece by Iran specialist Danny Postel of the University of Denver, “Iranian dissidents explain why they support the nuclear deal.” They support it to a man and woman. Of course they do. Why wouldn’t they? One would think that US opponents of the deal would be minimally interested in the views of the pro-democracy, anti-Ayatollah camp in Iran. On this, TAC’s Daniel Larison has a post, “The nuclear deal and Iranian dissidents,” in which he took apart a particularly stupid comment by the reactionary pundit Victor Davis Hanson—and with Larison concluding that the likes of VDH couldn’t care less about the Iranian opposition (reading the bit by VDH that Larison quotes, one is struck—yet again—by the alternate reality in which VDH inhabits, along with most others of his ideological ilk).

The leitmotif on the Iran deal at the moment—in the US at least—is that it has to get through Congress, which is sure to reject it, though most likely will not garner the two-thirds majority needed to override President Obama’s certain veto. If the Congress does override, however, it is being said that the deal will thus be dead, i.e. the Congress will have killed it. But will this be the case? I’ve read the relevant sections of the JCPOA and UNSCR 2231, which, unless I missed something or misunderstood what I was reading—which can happen—do not stipulate that legislative action against the JCPOA in one of the signatory states would result in the nullification of the accord. In other words, UNSCR 2231 will come into effect after ninety days—on October 20th—regardless of what the US Congress does. UN (and EU) sanctions will be lifted and if Iran scrupulously adheres to the terms of the JCPOA, the latter will be implemented, albeit without the United States. The rest of the world will trade with and invest in Iran as the JCPOA allows, and without the US being able to do a thing about it. If I am mistaken on this, please correct me.

UPDATE: Tablet magazine has a useful “Guide for the perplexed: The Iran nuclear agreement” by Thomas R. Pickering, former under secretary of state in the Clinton administration and ambassador to the United Nations, Russia, Israel, and several other countries. Pickering, in short, “defends the most complex and important treaty this century.” See his link in the article to James Walsh of MIT’s “excellent testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 25, 2015.”

2nd UPDATE: Here are two smart reflections on the Iran deal I’ve come across in the past two days: Paul Pillar, “The sources of opposition to the Iran agreement,” in The National Interest; and James Fallows, “The real test of the Iran deal,” in The Atlantic.

3rd UPDATE: Suzanne Nossel writes in Foreign Policy on “What will happen if Congress blows up the Iran nuclear deal.” And Peter Beinart, writing in The Atlantic, rhetorically asks about “The big hole in the Iran debate,” observing that “[i]n most televised discussions of Iran, the word ‘Iraq’ never comes up, and that’s insane.”

4th UPDATE: Slate’s William Saletan, writing on the Senate testimony of John Kerry and energy secretary Ernest Monitz on the Iran deal, asserts that the GOP is “Not fit to lead.” The lede: “The Iran hearings have shown how the Republican Party can no longer be trusted with the presidency.” Read Saletan’s piece. To call the Republicans appalling is almost an understatement.

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I have a post on the Iran nuclear deal in the works but, in the meantime, have to put up this piece by TNR senior editor Elspeth Reeve, which is the most succinct, on-target take on Donald Trump and the GOP I’ve seen: “Donald Trump is Fox News incarnate: Why Republicans can’t disown their presidential frontrunner.” Money quote

Donald Trump is not some twisted, deformed version of the Republican Party. He’s the purest version of the Fox News-Tea Party incarnation of the GOP. And one of the most amusing things about watching him on the campaign trail is that he obviously is a fan of Roger Ailes’s creation. He repeatedly paused during an interview with Washington Post reporter Robert Costa to gaze at Fox News, muttering about an “animal” undocumented immigrant accused of murder. “Look at that guy, look at what he did, killing that beautiful girl. [Expletive] animal,” Trump said. It is exactly what the audience is supposed to think after watching a Fox News segment on undocumented immigrants.

Donald Trump=Fox News=the Republican party base. That’s it. (Pour lecteurs français: Donald Trump est un mélange de Nicolas Sarkozy de très mauvaise humeur, Jean-Marie Le Pen et Bernard Tapie).

Conservative blogger Keith Koffler, writing in Politico Magazine (July 15th), has a commentary on “Donald Trump and the angry GOP,” in which he explains that “The appeal is real [and h]is anger connects with conservatives.” Hopping mad right-wingers. They’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore. It’s like that on the French right as well these days. And what are they mad about? Or, rather, who are they mad at? It’s not just the incumbent government and its policies, but entire portions of their societies. They’re mad at a part of the population—and a sizable one—of their respective countries. Thankfully we’re not in the 1930s, that’s all I can say.

À propos of this, I came across an opinion piece (July 19th) by Joel Kotkin—the R.C. Hobbs Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University—on current Democratic party presidential candidate James Webb, whom Kotkin approvingly labels “an old-time Democrat.” Kotkin is dismayed, though not surprised, that Webb is receiving almost no media attention, and has zero chance of winning the Dem nomination. His commentary thus begins

Will Rogers famously stated, “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” And he was not so far from the truth. The old Democratic Party was a motley collection of selected plutocrats, labor bosses, Southern segregationists, smaller farmers, urban liberals and, as early as the 1930s, racial minorities. It was no doubt a clunky coalition but delivered big time: winning World War II, pushing back the Soviet Union and making it to the moon while aiding tens of millions of Americans to ascend into the middle class.

Only one Democratic candidate in the 2016 presidential race, James Webb, represents this old coalition. A decorated combat veteran, onetime Reagan Navy secretary and former U.S. senator from Virginia, Webb, 69, combines patriotism with a call for expansive economic policies to help the middle class. He speaks most directly to white working-class voters, particularly in places like Appalachia, the South and in rural hamlets and exurbs across the country, precisely where Democrats are now regularly thrashed in elections.

And a little further down there’s this

Today’s Democratic Party is heading where Barack Obama has pushed it – a full-throated program of statist gentry leftism. This position relies on a narrow geography that produces huge, almost Soviet-style majorities in the big cities on the two coasts and in the Midwestern basket case Chicago. Rather than a party of unity and diversity, it is dependent largely on lock-step support from minorities, rich liberals, single women and prefamily millennial voters.

Typical right-wing stigmatizing, if not denigrating, entire portions of society. And as if being a member of a “minority” (i.e. black) or a “rich liberal” (i.e. a person with a university degree who earns an income that one would expect for someone of his or her level of education) is somehow less legitimate than lesser educated white persons who don’t live in large cities. But in the right-wing Weltanschauung, the latter are “real Americans” (in France: “les vrais gens”), unlike those who vote for the Democrats (or Socialists in France), who are whatever (in France, they’re “bobos” and “assistés”). Pardon my French but Kotkin’s piece is le degré zéro, i.e. the rock bottom, of political analysis.

Monsieur Kotkin, a reminder: Barack Obama was elected president of the United States in 2008 with the votes of 69.5 million American citizens, then re-elected in 2012 with the votes of 65.9 million Americans. Those citizens were every bit as equal—politically and otherwise—to those who voted for other candidates, and deserving of the same consideration. And, BTW, no Republican candidate in a high participation national election, i.e. with 60% of the eligible electorate turning out, could ever dream of attaining such numbers. As for Dems getting “thrashed” in the South, rural hamlets, and the exurbs, well, Republicans and conservative Dems (the few that are left) get thrashed in cities and inner suburbs; and more voters live in the latter than the former. C’est tout c’que j’ai à dire.

UPDATE: John Hudak, a Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, has a post (July 22nd) on Brookings’ FixGov: Making Government Work blog, “Donald Trump, brought to you by 20 years of Republican politics.”

2nd UPDATE: TNR senior editor Brian Beutler has a spot on commentary (July 23rd) on “Why Donald Trump truly terrifies Republicans” (and it’s not just the threat of a third-party challenge).

3rd UPDATE: Timothy Egan nails it in an NYT op-ed (July 24th), “Trump is the poison his party concocted.”

4th UPDATE: Bruce Bartlett has a nice essay in Politico Magazine (July 27th), “The moderate Republican’s case for Trump.” The lede: “Only Trump can make the GOP sane again—by losing in a landslide to Hillary Clinton.”

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I am Suruç


[update below]

Heartbreaking the images of the youthful victims of Monday’s IS terror bombing of the Amara Cultural Center in Suruç, Turkey (the death toll is 32 as of today). See the photo gallery with profiles here. Also here and here. The victims were militants in the Federation of Socialist Youth Associations (SGDF), which is linked to the extreme-left Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP, whose founder and leader until last year, Figen Yüksekdağ, is now co-chair, along with Selahattin Demirtaş, of the HDP). The SGDF was an active participant in the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, with its contingent in Suruç preparing to cross the Syrian border to help in the reconstruction of neighboring Kobanî.

The AKP government, not surprisingly, has had no better response to the massacre than to have a court ban media images of the victims (and to block access to Twitter) and with the police attacking demonstrators in Istanbul expressing rage over the terror bombing with tear gas and water cannon. Pathetic.

UPDATE: See this photo gallery in the MailOnline, “Minutes later she was dead: Tragic story of Turkish student who posted haunting selfie moments before ISIS bomb that killed her and 30 others.”

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Arabian Nights

As Mil e Uma Noites Vol1 O Inquieto

Volume 1, The Restless One. This is the first part of a trilogy, or triptych, by Portuguese director/auteur Miguel Gomes, which opened in Paris last month to dithyrambic reviews. As I have been more or less riveted to Greece and the EU over the past three or so weeks, it seems logical to have a post on this film and at this moment, as its subject is precisely the deleterious effects that the European Union’s austerian policies have had on Portugal with the crisis that began in 2008-09.

The film is an original—if not idiosyncratic—presentation of the manner in which the crisis has affected that country. Quoting from this pre-projection dispatch in Screen Daily

Portuguese filmmaker Miguel Gomes’ Arabian Nights, a contemporary re-telling of One Thousand and One Nights, is set to premiere in Directors’ Fortnight, a parallel section of the Cannes Film Festival (May 13-24).

Arabian Nights, the film – or, even better, the three miraculous films – by Miguel Gomes, will be premiering at the Directors’ Fortnight,” said Directors’ Fortnight artistic director Edouard Waintrop.

“The breathtaking triptych is inspired by the tales told by Scheherazade and by some events that occurred in Portugal between 2013 and 2014, while the country was subjected to a political power denying all forms of social justice. It will set the pace of our program. Each film, directed with a wild fantasy and a great freedom, will have its day.”

Set against the background of the economic crisis in Portugal, a contemporary Scheherazade paints a picture of the country’s woes, across three episodes: Volume 1, The Restless One; Volume 2, The Desolate One; and Volume 3, The Enchanted One.

The Portuguese economic and social crisis, recounted via The Arabian Nights‘s Scheherazade, updated for our present era and with stories that have actually happened in Portugal these past few years. What an original idea for a film. And Hollywood press critics, who saw “Volume 1” at Cannes, indeed piled on the praise. Variety’s Jay Weissberg, whose reviews are always reliable, thus began his

The first installment of Miguel Gomes’ trio of pics acts as a melancholy paean to a broken Portugal and a denunciation of European financial control.

The number of films dealing head-on with the global economic crisis have been shockingly few, leaving the field wide open for someone with the creative complexity and storytelling verve of Miguel Gomes, whose three-part “Arabian Nights” tackles the subject with characteristic imagination and, unsurprisingly, righteous anger. While too early to tell how the trio of pics hang together, it’s possible to say from “Arabian Nights: Volume 1, The Restless One,” that audiences are in for a meaty opus that weaves actuality and allegorical fantasy into an outraged portrait of European austerity, witch doctors, the Portuguese politicos at their beck and call, and, most importantly, the unemployed masses. (…)

And this from The Hollywood Reporter’s Boyd van Hoeij’s review’s “Bottom Line”: “People in crisis and flights of fancy come together in this frequently fascinating collage of stories.” And then there’s Indie Wire’s Oliver Lyttelton, who simply said that Miguel Gomes’s triptych was “astonishing.” No less.

As the last film I saw by Miguel Gomes, the 2012 ‘Tabu’, was quite good and original, and in view of the US reviews (always more reliable than the French), I assumed this one would be a guaranteed thumbs up.

The verdict: I found it incomprehensible. I didn’t understand what was happening in the film (made up as it is of several vignettes, all allegories; trailer here). I ceased trying to follow it after some twenty minutes, as I couldn’t make sense of the story (as there didn’t appear to be one). I could have walked out of the theater (sparsely attended, and on opening day) at any moment but stuck it out to the end, though for no good reason, as I was bored to tears for the two long hours. So for the first time in my recent movie-going history, I am obliged to part company with Jay Weissberg. Gomes’s film is one for critics, not audiences. And I am manifestly not alone, as after four weeks in the salles, barely 29,000 have seen it in all of France (cf. ‘Tabu’, which attracted 144K spectateurs during its run; for this latest one, Allociné spectateurs are decidedly less enthusiastic than the critics). In France that is called an échec, i.e. the pic has bombed, and among its natural audience of highbrow cinephiles.

The second “volume” of the triptych opens next week. I think I’ll skip it. And I certainly won’t be the only one.

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Grexit or Gerxit? Ashoka Mody, visiting professor in international economic policy at Princeton—and previously of the IMF—writes in Bloomberg View that “Germany, not Greece, should exit the euro.” Those who read the NYRB will remember George Soros’s essay three years ago, “The tragedy of the European Union and how to resolve it,” in which he proposed precisely this solution: that either Germany assume its role as a benevolent hegemon and with the attendant responsibilities—here, to shore up Greece over the long run—or exit the euro.

At the risk of engaging in crass essentialism, Germany seems incapable of the former, as its only historical experience as a hegemon has been to militarily conquer countries and then brutalize them. So failing to be a benevolent hegemon, Germany should indeed consider quitting the euro (perhaps accompanied by fellow travelers Finland, Slovakia, and maybe the Baltic states) and reverting to its beloved Deutsch Mark, the immediate consequence of which would be a sharp increase in the value of the DM and with the euro plunging, but with the respective currencies, after a couple of years of chaos, finding their equilibrium.

Realistically speaking, though, Germany is not going to quit the euro. No one outside the pages of intello journals and webzines is proposing it. It is not on any agenda and is simply not going to happen. But as Germany is not going to act the benevolent hegemon as Soros suggests—and despite its “moral obligation to Greece,” as FP editor Daniel Altman puts it—the only alternative, in view of the manifest absurdity of the latest bailout agreement—a.k.a. the Agreekment, which no serious person thinks will be implemented, or can be—is Grexit. As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard put it on Thursday

What Greece is being asked to do is scientifically impossible. Almost everybody involved in the talks knows this. Yet the lie goes on because the dysfunctional nature of EMU politics and governance makes it impossible to come clean. The country is dishonestly kept in a permanent state of crisis.

Wolfgang Schauble is one of the very few figures who has behaved honourably in this latest chapter. As readers know, I have been highly critical of the hard-bitten finance minister for a long time, holding him directly responsible for the 1930s regime of debt-deflation and contraction imposed on much of Europe, and for refusing to accept that the eurozone’s North-South divide must be closed by both sides. Any policy that puts all the burden of adjustment on the South is destructive and doomed to failure.

But he is entirely right to argue that a velvet divorce and an orderly exit from the euro for five years would be a “better way” for Greece, as he did on German radio this morning [July 16th].

It would allow the country to regain competitiveness at a stroke without a disastrous over-shoot or the risk that events might spin out of control. It would clear the way for proper debt relief – or a standard IMF-style package. (…)

If accompanied by some sort of Marshall Plan or investment blitz – as Mr Schauble appears to favour – it would set the foundations for genuine recovery.

Huge sums of Greek money sitting on the sidelines would probably flood back into the country once the Grexit boil had been lanced. It is a pattern seen time and again in emerging markets across the world over the past 60 years. (…)

Perhaps. For Grexit to happen, there would have to be at least a ten or twenty year moratorium on interest payments on Greece’s debt, not to mention a scrapping of the impossible €50 billion privatization fund contained in the current agreement.

If one didn’t see it, AEP had a hard-hitting, must-read column on Wednesday on how “EMU brutality in Greece has destroyed the trust of Europe’s Left.” The lede: “The Left let itself become the enforcer of reactionary policies and mass unemployment because of the euro. Greece has broken the spell.” Ouch!

Here’s DSK, in an open letter “To my German friends” posted on Twitter, skewering the Agreekment.

The well-known French specialist of geopolitics, François Heisbourg, had an FT op-ed the other day on “The end of an affair for France and Germany.” His conclusion:

Unfortunately, by having avoided what they loathe — debt forgiveness — the Germans may now be hoist with their own petard. Adding billions to Greek debt, enforcing pro-cyclical pension cuts and tax increases in the middle of renewed recession, and positing as in 2011 a €50bn privatisation programme: this is as unlikely to work now as it was in the past. Now it has acquired the formal status of plan B, Grexit is likely to come back. France would then be faced with an impossible choice: to flow with the German-led tide of Grexit, clearly as a subordinate, or to fight a losing battle to prevent a country from being forced out of the European family.

Even Franco-German co-management may not be up to striking a workable compromise. The change behind the scenes is that the Paris-Berlin bond can no longer take strength from the shared project of European integration: France’s 2005 rejection of the proposed EU constitution was a turning point. The relationship has instead become utilitarian and as a result the EU’s days of ever closer union may be at an end.

For a reminder of the intimate involvement of outside actors in the Greek tragedy, see Robert Reich’s piece in The Nation on “How Goldman Sachs profited from the Greek debt crisis.” The lede: “The investment bank made millions by helping to hide the true extent of the debt, and in the process almost doubled it.”

And then there were the 2004 Olympics, which, in the words of freelance journalist Peter Berlin, “rotted Greece.” He poses “the obvious question: Should the International Olympic Committee shoulder some of the blame?” The answer too is obvious. But will the IOC ever shoulder any of the blame? Poser la question c’est y répondre.

Le Monde’s Alain Frachon, in a column dated July 9th, “Grèce, torts partagés,” had this

De Tokyo et avec le recul que confère la distance, le politologue franco-américain Robert Dujarric observe: «Tout le monde sait depuis le XIXe siècle que la Grèce est un Etat dysfonctionnel. Mais depuis son admission, l’UE n’a fait aucun effort pour la moderniser. L’abandonner maintenant serait comme un couple qui a adopté un enfant handicapé et décide de s’en séparer comme on jette une batterie usagée.»

«Au plan moral, les dégâts [du Grexit] pour l’Allemagne seraient incommensurables», dit le politologue Hans Stark, de l’IFRI, sur le site Boulevard extérieur qu’anime Daniel Vernet, grand familier des affaires hellènes. L’Allemagne se verrait reprocher de «n’avoir pas su prévenir un divorce entre peuples, opinions publiques et gouvernements du sud et du nord de l’Europe» ou, poursuit Stark, «de ne l’avoir pas voulu, par crainte de déplaire à une partie de son électorat et de sa classe politique».

Ben Bernanke, formerly chairman of the Fed, has a worthwhile post on his Brookings blog, “Greece and Europe: Is Europe holding up its end of the bargain?” His conclusion:

I’ll end with two concrete proposals. First, negotiations over Greece’s evidently unsustainable debt burden should be based on explicit assumptions about European growth. If European growth turns out to be weaker than projected, which in turn would make it tougher for Greece to grow, then Greece should be allowed greater leeway after the fact in meeting its fiscal targets.

Second, it’s time for the leaders of the euro zone to address the problem of large and sustained trade imbalances (either surpluses or deficits), which, in a fixed-exchange-rate system like the euro zone, impose significant costs and risks. For example, the Stability and Growth Pact, which imposes rules and penalties with the goal of limiting fiscal deficits, could be extended to reference trade imbalances as well. Simply recognizing officially that creditor as well as debtor countries have an obligation to adjust over time (through fiscal and structural measures, for example) would be an important step in the right direction.

Putting forth the libertarian perspective, Cato Institute Senior Fellow Alan Reynolds asserts in Politico that (surprise!) “Greece is being taxed to death.” The lede: “No debtor ever became more creditworthy by being forced to accept less income.” Sounds right to me.

Also writing in Politico, James K. Galbraith, the well-known UT-Austin econ prof and Yanis Varoufakis’s BFF, says (surprise!) that Greece faces a “death spiral ahead.” The lede: “How the latest ‘solution’ to the debt crisis locks Europe into a grim next chapter.” Yep.

In a similar vein, see the analysis by the très gauchiste New School for Social Research econ prof Sanjay Reddy, writing on his Reddytoread blog, “Greece and the Eurozone: The real stakes.”

On why Germany is being so tough on Greece, investigative journalist Dick Laabs, writing in The Guardian, says to “Look back 25 years: To understand Wolfgang Schäuble’s demands in the bailout talks, look at what he inflicted on his own country when it reunified.”

For an explanation of German views of Greece by a historian and specialist of Germany, see the interview in Libération with Johann Chapoutot, who teaches at the Université Sorbonne-Nouvelle, “‘Pour les Allemands, les Grecs d’aujourd’hui ne sont pas à la hauteur des Grecs anciens’.”

Looking at the other side of the equation, Pavlos Eleftheriadis, who is a barrister and Fellow of Mansfield College, Oxford—and an activist in the Greek center-left party To Potami—insists, in an op-ed in The Telegraph, that “Greece is a victim of its own cronyism and corruption.” The lede: “Postwar Greece never established welfare systems or open institutions—now it’s paying the price.”

Finally, see the essay in OpenDemocracy by Ronald G. Asch, professor of early modern history at the University of Freiburg: “The decline and fall of the European Union: is it time to rip it up and start again?” The lede: “There was no distinction in EU politics between friend and foe. Everything worked so nicely. But this was also the reason why nobody was greatly interested. This has definitely changed now.” I read Asch’s piece quickly, noting a number of interesting points. Now I have to go back and reread it carefully.

UPDATE: So how is the Agreekment playing in Greek public opinion? According to a poll, 70% are for, with only 24% for default and Grexit. And another poll shows Syriza’s popularity to be up. Stathis Kalyvas’s comment on this: “Greece shows that you can strike a heavy austerity bailout deal that goes against your stated principles and promises and gain in popularity.”

2nd UPDATE: Pierre Crétois, an agrégé in philosophy, has a philosophical meditation in Slate.fr, “Grèce: Et si on n’avait rien compris à la dette?” The lede: “Tout le monde part du principe que la Grèce, débitrice, est responsable du remboursement. Mais le créancier est lui aussi responsable de la dette. Petit rappel philosophique de ce qu’est une dette, de ses enjeux et de sa violence.” Haben Sie Französisch, Herr Schäuble lesen?

3rd UPDATE: Here are links to a few pertinent articles and tribunes in Le Monde from the past three weeks—and which are not too tender toward Greece:

Marie Charrel, “La Grèce a perdu toute la richesse gagnée depuis son passage à l’euro” (July 4th). The lede: “Athènes a utilisé les facilités de la monnaie unique pour accroître les salaires et les dépenses publiques, laissant gonfler les déficits.”

Annick Cojean et Adéa Guillot, “Le système politique grec miné par le clientélisme et la corruption” (July 5th). The lede: “Les réformes destinées à favoriser la méritocratie et la transparence n’ont pas été entreprises.”

In other words, an absolutely colossal, astronomical amount of European money has been wasted in Greece—gone up in smoke—since it joined the euro, as, entre autres, Greece utterly lacked the political and state institutions that should normally have been a precondition for membership in the Eurozone. So does Europe (Germany, France et al) bear at least some of the responsibility for this?

On Greece spending colossal European transfers to no productive end, see the tribune by Christian Saint-Etienne, who holds the chair in economics at the CNAM in Paris, “Athènes est responsable de ce que lui arrive” (July 15th). Money quote:

La Grèce s’est mise largement toute seule dans sa situation actuelle, car le pays a bénéficié de 200 milliards d’euros de fonds structurels depuis son entrée dans l’Union européenne et n’a pas su développer une économie compétitive. L’Etat est structurellement faible et l’évasion fiscale, considérable. Depuis la crise de 2009-2010, la Grèce a bénéficié d’une remise de dette de 105 milliards d’euros par les banques en 2012 et de réductions de sa charge d’intérêt qui porte l’aide accordée au pays à environ 175 milliards d’euros. Si on ajoute les 200 milliards de transferts structurels, la Grèce a déjà obtenu une aide de l’Union européenne de 375 milliards d’euros, supérieure au double de son PIB actuel !

Arrêtons de dire que le pays est écrasé par l’Europe alors que la Grèce ploie sous le poids de son régime oligarchique et du refus de payer l’impôt ! La dette actuelle du pays de 320 milliards d’euros serait de 495 milliards sans l’aide massive déjà obtenue. (…)

La Grèce brûle aujourd’hui du cash au rythme de 20 à 25 milliards d’euros par an. Les banques, qui avaient rétabli leur situation fin 2014, sont à nouveau virtuellement en faillite. Elles devront être recapitalisées à hauteur de 30 milliards d’euros. Même si on réduit sa dette, la Grèce reviendra continuellement tendre la main sans un programme crédible de réformes structurelles. (…)

Those are big numbers there.

4th UPDATE: Fernando Betancor, an American economist living in Madrid, has an essay in OpenDemocracy (July 17th), “Germany’s demographic challenge,” in which he argues strongly against a hypothetical return to the Deutsche Mark. The lede: “Germany is by no means an unstoppable juggernaut, and the re-erection of trade barriers across the continent and a return to a strong Deutschmark would ravage the economy.”

5th UPDATE: On Project Syndicate, Harvard Kennedy School economics prof Jeffrey Frankel asks “Is Tsipras the new Lula?” (July 17th) and Jeffrey Sachs weighs in on “Germany, Greece, and the future of Europe” (July 20th).

6th UPDATE: The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki has an interesting, worthwhile piece in the issue dated July 27th, “How can Greece take charge?” The lede: “If Europe won’t help, the only option is reshaping the economy.”

7th UPDATE: University of Pennsylvania poli sci prof Julia Gray has a post on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog on “How Greece’s credit went south” (July 20th).

8th UPDATE: Professors Vassilis K. Fouskas and Constantine Dimoulas, respectively of the University of East London and Panteion University in Athens, have a sharp and worthy article—in which they make a number of good points—in OpenDemocracy, “Greece has two choices, and so do the creditors” (July 21st). The lede: “After 13 July 2015, Syriza’s Greece and, for that matter, the creditors have two choices. Modernise the Greek state; or let Greece default and risk disintegration not just of EMU/EU but also Nato.”

9th UPDATE: Kathleen McNamara, who teaches government and international affairs at Georgetown, has a smart, must-read post on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog (July 21st), “This is what economists don’t understand about the euro crisis – or the U.S. dollar.”

10th UPDATE: Anatole Kaletsky, who, entre autres, chairs the governing board of the Institute for New Economic Thinking (co-founded by George Soros), has a commentary in Project Syndicate (July 22nd) on “Why the Greek deal will work.” This one merits reading.

11th UPDATE: Libération’s incontournable Jean Quatremer has, on his Coulisses de Bruxelles blog, a lengthy, unsparing critique (July 24th) of the current Greek prime minister and his action since taking office in January, “La déroute d’Alexis Tsipras.” Quatremer’s demolition of Tsipras and Syriza is a must-read, so please take the time to do so.

12th UPDATE: Joschka Fischer has a commentary in Project Syndicate (July 23rd) on “The Return of the Ugly German.” See also Zeit Magazin’s graphic novel “Game of Greece” (July 23rd; translated from the German). The lede: “The rise and fall of Greece explains a great deal about Europe, politics and power – in a way not unlike ‘Game of Thrones.’ An illustrated guide throughout the crisis.”

13th UPDATE: Now here is a totally excellent, absolutely must-read article, published on the website of the Harvard Business Review (July 27th), “Greece’s problem is more complicated than austerity,” by Michael G Jacobides, who is Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, plus Sir Donald Gordon Chair of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, at the London Business School. And he’s Greek. Please read it. Now.

14th UPDATE: Deborah Boucoyannis, who teaches politics at the University of Virginia, writes in Foreign Affairs (August 6th) on “The myth of the bloated Greek state.” The lede: “The real problem is the private sector.”

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Today is Bastille Day. La fête nationale. I would normally have a special post on it—as I have every July 14th since AWAV was launched—but not this year. Am too distracted by Greece. And Europe. À propos of this, here’s an on-target commentary I came across earlier today, “Tormenting Greece is about sending a message that we are now in a new EU,” by the well-known Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole. He starts

What’s the difference between the Mafia and the current European leadership? The Mafia makes you an offer you can’t refuse. The leaders of the European Union offer you a deal you can neither refuse nor accept without destroying yourself.

The European Union as we have known it ended over the weekend. That EU project was all about the gradual convergence of equal nations into an “ever closer union”. That’s finished now.

Read the whole thing. As an observer in one of the PIGS, O’Toole knows of what he speaks. And in addition to being a sharp analyst, he has a fine sense of le second degré, as one may glean in this tweet

#Greece should have declared itself a bank. Would have been bailed out no questions asked.


Simon Tilford, the deputy director of the Centre for European Reform in London—the best think tank on the EU—has an op-ed in today’s NYT, “The Eurozone’s fault lines,” in which he begins with this

The euro was supposed to boost European economic growth and living standards, strengthen public finances and hence the sustainability of welfare states. Politically, it was supposed to bring the European Union’s member states together, and prevent a newly united Germany from becoming too dominant. But the opposite has happened.

The hoped-for convergence in living standards between richer and poorer members of the eurozone has failed to materialize. Far from the single currency nurturing a European polity, relations between northern and southern countries have never been more fraught. And the crisis has put the burden on a German leadership that is poorly equipped to exercise it.

On relations between the EU north and south, see the piece in Foreign Policy on the goddamned f*cking Finns, “Tiny Finland could complicate new Greek bailout deal.” Anyone for a #finexit? (just kidding) Europe is doomed if populist politicians in little EU countries gain the ascendancy in the European Council and Eurogroup.

CER analysts Christian Odendahl and John Springford, writing on the CER website, assert that “The Greek bailout deal resolves nothing,” that “[e]ven if the new bailout makes it through the Greek parliament in coming weeks, the programme’s economic incoherence will make it fall apart.” And in the same vein, Barry Eichengreen, writing in Social Europe, argues that to save Greece is to save Europe.

While one is at it, see as well the comment by Social Europe editor-in-chief Henning Meyer, “What are the consequences of the Greek deal?” Also the piece by WaPo Wonkblog reporters Roberto A. Ferdman and Matt O’Brien, “How Greece became the worst economy in Europe.”

À suivre.

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It’s only a matter of time. The European Council may have reached its last-minute deal to avert a Grexit this month—with the certain calamitous consequences for Greece and the rest of Europe this would have entailed—but the damage has been done. This past week has to have been the worst ever in the 65-year history of the construction of Europe. What has happened is a disaster for Europe—for the idea of Europe, if that still means anything. Arthur Goldhammer is right in saying that “the euro [may be] saved, but the euro, it is now clear, is going to be a thorn in Europe’s side if not a spike in its heart for years to come.” How can it not be, with people like Wolfgang Schäuble and Jeroen Dijsselbloem all but calling the shots? Of course the successive governments in Athens have been hugely responsible for what has happened but still, who do the f*cking Finns and Slovaks think they are to lecture the Greeks and threaten them with expulsion from Europe? Who the hell does Alexander Stubb think he is to be reading the riot act to anyone outside his little country? And for the big country in Europe—Wolfgang Schäuble’s—to be humiliating a member EU state—or any state, for that matter? Art Goldhammer nailed it again

[The deal] was nothing less than a humiliation of a small and suffering member state, a sadistic display of naked financial power. Do as we say or we will “collapse your banks,” Eurogroup Chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem had apparently told Greek negotiators earlier. In the climactic weekend it emerged that he wasn’t bluffing. Despite the fact that the ‘No’ vote had scored a resounding victory in a national referendum a week earlier, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras decided he had no choice but to surrender to all the creditors’ demands, but in the end it turned out that even unconditional surrender was not enough.

Germany’s implacable finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, saw weakness in his opponent and went for the jugular. He insisted on “guarantees” that Greece would keep its word, including sequestration of Greek assets in a fund under his control. No such guarantees had been demanded previously, but now Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had previously seemed less exigent than Schäuble, declared that Greece had forfeited the “trust” of its European partners. In the end she proved to be a good German but not a good European.

As for what happened in Brussels last night, the FT thus reported

“They crucified Tsipras in there,” a senior eurozone official who had attended the summit remarked. “Crucified.”

Wolfgang Münchau has an awesome FT tribune today, “Greece’s brutal creditors have demolished the eurozone project.” No money quotes, as the whole piece is one. Just read it. All of it.

This social media comment by Yascha Mounk, a recent Harvard Ph.D. who teaches political theory in the Government Dept there (and who’s German)—no doubt reflects the sentiments of many

It’s strange to think that, back when I was a teenager, the European project still seemed like the kind of thing to which one might nobly devote one’s life. But the European dream is dead—not just because of Greece, but because of the depth of nationalism the euro crisis has revealed, and the ugly hatred it has incited.

The best we can now hope for is an orderly slimming of the EU to its key achievements: free movement of people, coordination on the most important regulations, etc. (I deliberately exclude political values: as the case of Hungary shows, the EU is incapable of safeguarding those in any case.) But the centrifugal forces, and the strength of the populists, will be such in the next years that we may wind up losing even that.

Again, the posture of Germany and its little country allies may have killed the European idea. As for big country France, I shudder in anticipation of the coming public opinions polls on attitudes toward Europe. Revulsion is all but guaranteed. And in polls outre-Manche, Brexit will no doubt leap.

It’s now beyond doubt that the euro has been “a curse,” as retired longtime Christ Church, Oxford, economics professor Peter Oppenheimer asserted recently.

N.B. the euro, not Europe; not the European idea. The problem is not the Treaty of Rome or even the Single European Act; it’s Article 109 of the Maastricht Treaty, and all that ensued from that.

The Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, in a comment entitled “Greek deal poisons Europe as backlash mounts against ‘neo-colonial servitude’,” weighs in on the deal. E.g.

“Greece has been devastated and humiliated. Europe has showed itself Pharisaical, incapable of leadership and solidarity,” said Romano Prodi, the former Italian prime minister.

An independent fund will take control of €50bn of Greek state assets, collateral to prevent Syriza reneging on the deal at a later date. Three-quarters of this will be sued to recapitalise the Greek banks and repay debt.

International inspectors will have the power to veto legislation. The radical-Left Syriza government will be forced to repeal a raft of laws passed since it took power in January, stripping away the last fig leaf of sovereignty.

“It is unconditional surrender. We get serious austerity with no debt relief. We will have foreign supervisors crawling over everything,” said Costas Lapavitsas, a Syriza MP and one of 40 or so rebels who plan to abstain or vote against the deal, mostly from the Left Platform.

“They are telling us that from now on, they are going to govern the country…”

In the plan is a provision for ending laws against Sunday trading. Rhetorical question: What does having stores open on Sundays have to do with economic growth and/or reimbursing national debt? Concrete question: Are stores in Germany open on Sunday? Answer here.

Back to Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, TWS senior editor Christopher Caldwell, in a piece on Greece in the latest issue—in which valid points are mixed with Eurosceptic pablum and other silliness—writes this

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of London’s Daily Telegraph has therefore asked whether we are right to focus on Greece at all. Evans-Pritchard is a conservative writer whose well-informed essays on European finance are a bracing contrast to the conservative sloganeers in the United States, who often write as if the virtuous party in any dispute were always the one with the most money. “The currency union itself is delinquent,” Evans-Pritchard asserts. He is right. Greeks could borrow what they did because they were now members of a rich family. If Brad Rockefeller walks into a casino in a soiled T-shirt and runs up a million-dollar debt that neither he nor his family will repay, what was the casino’s mistake? Trusting some T-shirt-wearing guy or trusting the Rockefellers?

In the Paris business daily La Tribune, Romaric Godin asserts that “La défaite de la Grèce [est] la défaite de l’Europe.” Disheartening reading but necessary. See also Godin’s piece from last Friday—an eternity ago—”Grèce: où Alexis Tsipras veut-il en venir?

I’ve been ranting here but so be it. I’m really quite dismayed and dejected about all this.

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The #Greferendum


[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below] [6th update below]

The polls in Greece closed fifteen minutes ago as I write. We’ll know the outcome of the vote in a few hours. In the meantime, Stathis Kalyvas, my go-to man on anything Greek—and who voted ‘Nai’ today—has an op-ed just up on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog, on “Why the Greek referendum is the referendum from hell.”

Personally speaking, I thought the referendum was a crackpot idea from the outset. Since when, in a serious democracy, does a national referendum get called for the following week, on such a momentous issue, and with the question so incomprehensibly worded? À propos, Zizi Papacharissi, professor and head of the communication dept at the University of Illinois-Chicago—who is Greek and presently in Athens—had a commentary yesterday on “A GReferendum state of mind,” in which she argues “why the GReferendum is a bad idea [and] also why all referenda in general rarely work.”

Also à propos, the BBC News website had a comment on June 29th on how “The Greek referendum question makes (almost) no sense.”

Looking at the French angle, columnist Bruno Roger-Petit, observing events from Paris (July 1st), took a dim view of “La gauche française et le référendum de république bananière de Tsipras.” That’s right: Tsipras’s Banana Republic. Money quote

Que diraient [les] entichés de Tsipras si François Hollande, David Cameron ou Angela Merkel organisaient un référendum en moins d’une semaine sur la question européenne, sans campagne et sans question connue dès l’origine ? Ils protesteraient de ce que l’on méprise le peuple français. Ils dénonceraient le populisme de l’affaire. Et ils auraient bien raison.

France Inter political editorialist Thomas Legrand, in his commentary last Wednesday morning, also critiqued the Greferendum, calling it a “bizarrie” and an “aberration.”

Dimitri A. Sotiropoulos, who teaches politics at the University of Athens, weighed in on the Greferendum on the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Greece website (July 3rd), where he said that there has been “A series of blunders of which the largest and latest was Syriza’s…”

À suivre.

UPDATE: Here are Stathis Kalyvas’s “18 tweets on the Greek referendum of July 5, 2015” following the announcement of the ‘Oxi’ victory.

2nd UPDATE: Voilà the early Monday morning roundup of instant analyses:

Paul Krugman (of course), “Ending Greece’s bleeding.” Can hardly disagree with The Man here.

Romaric Godin (of the Paris business daily La Tribune), “Grèce: le ‘non’ grec place Angela Merkel au pied du mur.” This one is quite good.

Zachary Karabell (head of global strategy at Envestnet and contributing editor at Politico Magazine), “Don’t believe the hype about Greece. The Eurozone isn’t on the verge of collapse, yet.”

An interview with Thomas Piketty in Die Zeit, dated June 27th, and translated into English, in which he tells the Germans a few home truths about their own history when it comes to repaying—or not repaying—debt. Piketty is great here. A total must-read.

Pascal Riché (well-known journalist at L’Obs/Rue89), “Grèce: après le ‘non’, tout sauf le ‘grimbo’!” The lede: “Il y a le grexit et le new deal. Mais aussi le ‘grimbo’, l’interminable entre-deux, la solution qui serait de loin la pire. Pour l’éviter, Hollande et Merkel doivent faire preuve d’audace.”

3rd UPDATE: Some late Monday/early Tuesday links:

A smart commentary by FT columnist Gideon Rachman, “Europe should welcome Greece’s vote: Athens and the eurozone have a common interest in making Grexit as painless as possible.” Money quote

If European leaders were thinking clearly, they should see that rather than punishing Greece, it is now in the EU’s interests to do its level best to make sure that Greece can leave the euro, but stay inside the EU with a minimum of pain. If that means giving Greece debt relief as part of the exit package, so be it. Debt relief, in return for Grexit, could make political as well as economic sense.

Even so, restoring the drachma in Greece without provoking an even more intense economic crisis will be very difficult. But, if it could be done, the EU may finally have a model for liberating other European nations from a malfunctioning euro.

George Magnus, Senior Economic Adviser to UBS, in Prospect Magazine, “Greek crisis: How Greece became Europe’s fault line,” in which he reviews Stathis Kalyvas’s latest book. The lede: “Alexis Tsipras and his government will re-engage with their creditors but Greece’s membership of the euro is now in doubt. How did it come to this?”

A nice post by Matthew Yglesias in Vox, “Greek crisis: 11 people and institutions to blame,” i.e. just about everybody. I particularly like nºs 8, 9, and 11.

Stathis Kalyvas observes on Twitter that “The single best example I can give to convey institutional failure in ‪#‎Greece‬ is the inability to enforce smoking ban in restaurants.” My comment on this: Smoking bans in Turkey are scrupulously respected. I guess that makes the Greeks even more non-European than the Turks…

4th UPDATE: A few Tuesday afternoon links:

Yale University political science prof Nicholas Sambanis writes in WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog on “Why the Greeks rejected Europe’s bailout.”

Indiana University political science prof Kindred Winecoff has a must-read post on the Duck of Minerva blog, which skewers Thomas Piketty’s posture on Germany (see above): “Why Piketty is wrong about debt forgiveness.”

A “Letter from Greece” in Politico by Yannis Palaiologos, a features reporter for the Athens daily Kathimerini, “A populist revolt rocks Greece.” The lede: “Greeks are standing behind their Prime Minister. And courting disaster.”

In Politico.eu, Megan E. Greene, chief economist and managing director of Manulife, says it’s now “Europe’s turn to say ‘Oxi’.” The lede: “After the referendum, a Greek deal may not be impossible but is unlikely.”

Voilà Jean Quatremer of Libé’s latest, “Grexit: tu veux ou tu veux pas?

And Elie Cohen and Gérard Grunberg deliver their verdict in Telos, “Grèce: et maintenant?

Robert Misik, an Austrian writer and political commentator, has a lengthy piece dated June 27th, translated from German, and reblogged on Social Europe, “My Greece: The journey inside Syriza.”

5th UPDATE: More late Tuesday links:

Dani Rodrik, who is known to everyone, has a typically on-target piece in Project Syndicate, “Greece’s vote for sovereignty.”

Writing in The Guardian’s ‘Comment is free’, Daniel Howden, a former correspondent for various British publications who presently works for an Athens tech start up, asks “Is Tsipras really looking for a deal with Europe?” The lede: “Despite the Greek leader’s rhetoric on social justice, he appears more intent on consolidating power than resolving this crisis.”

Daniel Cohn-Bendit was the guest on France Inter this morning, with Greece the sole subject (here and here). Entre autres, Dany called for a mediator in the negotiations between Greece and the Eurogroup.

Mark Blyth, the Eastman Professor of Political Economy at Brown University, has a piece in Foreign Affairs on “A pain in the Athens: Why Greece isn’t to blame for the crisis.” So what are roots of the crisis? Answer: they’re far away from Greece and lie in the architecture of European banking.

6th UPDATE: A few Wednesday and Thursday links:

The New Yorker’s John Cassidy asks “Will Angela Merkel Save the European Ideal?

The Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard says that “Europe is blowing itself apart over Greece – and nobody seems able to stop it.” The lede: “Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras never expected to win Sunday’s referendum. He is now trapped and hurtling towards Grexit.”

Texas Christian University econ prof and Forbes contributor John T. Harvey gives “Five reasons why the Greeks were right.”

University of Wisconsin political science prof Mark Copelovitch, weighing in on the Greek ‘no’ vote in WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog, asks “Is this the end of the Eurozone?

Also in Monkey Cage is a post by University of Zürich international relations and political economy prof Stefanie Walter, “What were the Greeks thinking? Here’s a poll taken just before the referendum.”

Joseph Stiglitz, writing in Time magazine, asserts that “The U.S. must save Greece.”

Mediapart has a “document” (in English), “‘We underestimated their power’: Greek government insider lifts the lid on five months of ‘humiliation’ and ‘blackmail’.” The lede:

In this interview with Mediapart, a senior advisor to the Greek government, who has been at the heart of the past five months of negotiations between Athens and its international creditors, reveals the details of what resembles a game of liar’s dice over the fate of a nation that has been brought to its economic and social knees. His account gives a rare and disturbing insight into the process which has led up to this week’s make-or-break deadline for reaching a bailout deal between Greece and international lenders, without which the country faces crashing out of the euro and complete bankruptcy. He describes the extraordinary bullying of Greece’s radical-left government by the creditors, including Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem’s direct threat to cause the collapse of the Hellenic banks if it failed to sign-up to a drastic austerity programme. “We went into a war thinking we had the same weapons as them”, he says. “We underestimated their power”.

Looking at the larger picture, Nobel Prize economics laureate Jean Tirole, in a tribune in Le Monde reblogged in English translation by Social Europe, says that “Europe’s future is federal.”

Swarthmore College visiting professor George Lakey, who has written prolifically on non-violent social action, offers “Four lessons from Iceland and Greece for movements fighting austerity.”

Here’s a pertinent commentary by La Tribune’s Romaric Godin, dated May 12th, “Grèce: pourquoi Yanis Varoufakis est-il insupportable aux Européens?”

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