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Brexit Won’t Deliver Sovereignty — And Neither Will Far-Right Movements Anywhere

Fri, 12/13/2019 - 10:44am

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Photo: nottheviewsofmyemployer / Flickr / creative commons)

Neoliberal globalization has fueled the rise of right-wing nationalist leaders around the world — from Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro in the Western hemisphere, through Viktor Orbán and Boris Johnson in Europe, to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Narendra Modi in Asia.

Despite their differences, each has thrived on popular disenchantment with traditional parties of government that have failed to defend the interests and living standards of ordinary people against the social dislocations associated with the transnational mobility of capital. But what the UK election shows most clearly is that despite its nationalist rhetoric, the new right is not in the business of rebalancing the scales between their national polity and the global system.

The victorious incumbent Prime Minister Boris Johnson wagered the Conservative Party’s election campaign on the relentless repetition of two slogans: “get Brexit done” and “take back control.” However, scrutiny of Johnson’s program shows that it is not interested in a contest between the rootless forces of globalization and the political and economic shelter offered by democratic decision-making within the nation-state.

What is really at stake is the impulse to outmaneuver competitors by finding an advantageous niche within the world market — for Britain to become the “Singapore of Europe.” And paradoxically, it is the language of nationalism that is being deployed to advance this more ruthless and disempowering version of neoliberal globalization.

Neoliberal Globalization vs. New Right Nationalism

As historian Quinn Slobodian writes, neoliberalism’s global vision has always sought a world “with rules set by supranational bodies operating beyond the reach of any electorate.”

This “world of rules” — most clearly embodied in the World Trade Organization (WTO) — removes the operations of the market from the decision-making of any particular population. Corporations and investors shape the lives of ordinary people — directing (or withdrawing) resources and employment, setting wages and conditions, influencing environmental and safety standards, and determining access to health, education, and social services. Yet their decisions are presented as market outcomes and so as lying outside of democratic control or accountability.

In theory, nationalism seems inimical to such a transnational vision. Whether democratic or authoritarian, egalitarian or plutocratic, nationalism sounds like it will always place the national interest above external considerations. But the rhetoric of Brexit helps to reveal how the nationalism of the new right in fact has precious little commitment to those living within the national polity — notwithstanding the real dangers it holds for those defined as aliens, refugees, or “non-national” people.

The Genealogy of Brexit

The power of Brexit rhetoric lies partly in its deep roots in British political culture.

Its central concern with sovereignty in particular goes back to the ideas and arguments of the late Enoch Powell, a British politician and public intellectual who deeply influenced Thatcherism. Much admired by Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, Powell was an early exponent of “neo-racism,” which substituted supposedly immutable cultural differences for increasingly discredited notions of biological “race.”

But as well as providing a “respectable” language for hostility to nonwhite migrants, Powell also developed a rhetoric of national sovereignty that in fact leaves neoliberalism’s “world of rules” untouched.

The key to Powell’s account was his exclusion of economic activity from political decision-making, so that “national sovereignty” was paradoxically redefined as compliance with the dictates of the world market. Despite the fact that transnational economic forces play an often determining role in the actions of national governments and the lives of ordinary people, Powell insisted that globalization “has no relevance to political independence and self-government.” It is this insistence that underpinned Powell’s rejection of any pooling of sovereignty at the European level.

On Powell view, neoliberalism’s “world of rules” are, like the laws of nature, outside political decision. Like gravity, they cannot be adjusted, revised, or rejected. But like gravity, this also means that in a sense they disappear. Imagined as a free, individualized exchange, the rules of the market are presented as a spontaneously level playing field — not a system designed to steer political decisions in line with transnational capital accumulation.

From this perspective, national sovereignty becomes very easy — it is just a matter of asserting the will to be a nation. And yet, at the same time, it becomes oddly empty.

If politics is not bound up with the global economy, then governments are not bound up with one another. They have no business in working together to shape the global economic system in order, say, to redirect investment for social goods, lessen inequalities in earnings and wealth, or protect the environment. Indeed, their primary role is to facilitate the smooth working of neoliberalism’s “world of rules.”

What, then, is left of “national sovereignty,” of “political independence and self-government”? If issues of social justice and environmental sustainability are off the table, what exactly are we to “take back control” of?

For Powell, national sovereignty resolves down into the assertion of the national will — the will to continue as a culturally and ethnically homogenous nation. What constitutes “political independence and self-government” is not making collective decisions about how we work, educate our children, support those in need, or create a sustainable future — although pragmatically, he did reserve a role for the National Health Service (NHS). Rather, for Powell, sovereignty primarily involved keeping nonwhite migrants out, preparing for national defense, and, of course, safeguarding the rules of the world market.

The EU and Its Discontents

(Photo: justified sinner / Flickr)

Echoing Powell’s threadbare conception of national sovereignty, the Conservative election campaign almost exclusively centered on “taking back control” by “getting Brexit done.”

In contrast, the opposition Labour Party stood on the most expansive social democratic program in decades, promising the renovation of the NHS and the welfare state, renationalization of key utilities, free higher education, and a massive economic boost through a green new deal. Yet media attention has focused on Brexit rather than the radical Labour agenda, and for many voters it appears that “getting Brexit done” was the key election issue.

Enoch Powell’s account of sovereignty helps explain the extraordinary traction of Brexit rhetoric at a number of levels, especially when set alongside the British experience of the European Union (EU).

The EU is in fact a paradoxical mix of neoliberal transnational rules (free movement of capital, goods, services, and labor), institutional cooperation, and social, labor, consumer, and environmental protections. This mixture explains the surprising level of consensus over Europe across the British political class prior to the Brexit referendum of 2016.

On the one hand, its neoliberal aspects secured support from both Conservative and New Labour administrations, including those of Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, and David Cameron. On the other, its potential for bringing neoliberalism’s autonomous “world of rules” back under a measure of democratic control — or at least, of mitigating some of their worst social consequences — appealed to trade unions and many on the social democratic left.

But this mixture does not translate so well to those worst affected by neoliberal globalization.

Instead, for many, the EU represents the worst of both worlds: as embodying the disempowering effects of invisible market forces and the bureaucratic interference of state regulation. From this perspective, the EU ties the sense of being left behind engendered by relentless marketization to the government interventionism of social democracy. And with increasing precarity and the erosion of public provision, the EU’s association with immigration (the free movement of labor) has cast it as a threat to the economic security and social cohesion of communities who feel left behind.

Leaving the EU therefore comes to be seen as returning to an ideal sovereignty which the nation once exercised but gave up at the behest of elites. Brexit comes to be seen as “taking back control.”

Underlying this viewpoint are the deeply embedded assumptions about economics, politics, and sovereignty promulgated by Powell. The central absence in public discussions of Brexit has been the lack of any sustained challenge to the idea of a pure “national sovereignty” unaffected by the dictates of the global market. A hard Brexit has been presented as an opportunity for independence and self-determination, benignly facilitated by WTO rules.

More realistically, it will lead to the diminution of popular sovereignty — and a race to the bottom in pay, conditions, and social provision.

National Reconstruction vs. Neoliberal Nationalism

Elections are always a contest between rival visions of the future of the national polity. But the UK general election is unusual — and instructive — because it is also a contest over different understandings of national sovereignty. This is nowhere clearer than in the contrasting attitudes to national infrastructure exhibited by the two main parties.

The Conservative Party sold off public utilities — such as energy, water, railways, and the Royal Mail — over a number of years, and the party remains implacably opposed to renationalization. With privatization, prices for consumers have risen to pay dividends to mainly foreign investors, running annually at around £8 billion (approximately $10.5 billion), or £315 per household.

A key plank in Labour’s manifesto has been to bring these utilities back into public ownership, a policy that academics estimate would pay for itself within seven years. The social good here is clear: not only would renationalization reduce household costs and boost infrastructure investment, but it would also make these utilities democratically accountable.

For Labour, the failures of neoliberal globalization offer an opportunity for reconstructing the national polity. They have promised not only to rejuvenate public services and invest in a green economy, but also to enlarge the measure of control that citizens have over the market forces that shape their lives.

The Conservative program, despite modest funding increases for the NHS and policing, has almost nothing to say about national infrastructure, reducing inequality, or the creation of a sustainable and fair economy. Its campaign was fought largely on the illusion of “national sovereignty” conjured by the slogan of “getting Brexit done.”

This election has demonstrated the enduring power of Brexit rhetoric. But it also tells us something important about the supposed “nationalism” of the new right. Without restoring the power of democratic polities to make decisions outside of the dictates of the world market, claims to “national sovereignty” will in reality only disempower ordinary people and strengthen neoliberalism’s “world of rules.”

The post Brexit Won’t Deliver Sovereignty — And Neither Will Far-Right Movements Anywhere appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Graham MacPhee is a professor of English at West Chester University. He writes on British identity, politics, and culture, and is the author most recently of Postwar British Literature and Postcolonial Studies and co-editor of Empire and After: Englishness in Postcolonial Perspective.

Whose Coups?

Wed, 12/11/2019 - 1:32pm

Coups have been one of the greatest threats to democracy. The people elect a daring leader willing to take on the status quo. And then, as in Iran in 1953 or Chile in 1973, the military pushes the leader aside to take control. Sometimes the generals remain in power; sometimes they restore a royal to the throne. Often some external force – a foreign intelligence agency, a cabal of corporate interests – plays a key role in denying the people their democratic choice.

Such coups still take place around the world – in Thailand in 2014, in Egypt in 2013, in Honduras in 2009. These more recent coups all give off the rank odor of desperation, as the old order resorts to extreme measures to stave off the demands of a democratic age.

Or maybe not.

A new era has dawned in the world of politics. Like nationalism, authoritarianism did not fade away in the dimming light of the twentieth century. And those who shout “coup” in a crowded political theater are now as likely to be the authoritarians themselves. They present themselves as various iterations of St. George fighting the dragon of the “deep state” on behalf of all the good people back in the village.

It’s nonsense, of course. But such nonsense can translate into the winning margin in a close election.

Impeachment as Coup

The prime example of this relatively new phenomenon is Donald Trump. The president has emphasized one message above all during the impeachment proceedings. As he has tweeted:

As I learn more and more each day, I am coming to the conclusion that what is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP, intended to take away the Power of the People.

An ad released by his campaign called the impeachment process “nothing short of a coup and it must be stopped.” The final image is of Trump himself with two thumbs up, as though he has personally stopped the coup with nothing other than a glowing review of his own performance in office. Fox News has dutifully followed this script by repeating Trump’s language throughout its line-up of putative pundits.

While all the sober citizens of NPRLand watch the Democrats play by the rules in the congressional hearings, the rest of the country is primed to view the proceedings as a circus, a witch hunt, a clown show. They are being led to believe that the very procedure designed to ensure the rule of law is in fact a profound violation of that law.

This is what makes Trump the consummate populist. According to his own self-serving narrative, the elites have always been out to get him, particularly now that he has clawed his way to the top. He should have won the popular vote in 2016 – if it weren’t for the (imaginary) meddling of Ukraine. He should have implemented his flagship projects (like the Wall) – if it weren’t for the machinations of the (imaginary) “deep state.” His party should have won the 2018 mid-term elections – if it weren’t for (imaginary) voter fraud. In the dog-whistle symphony of Republican Party politics, Trump’s supporters substitute their own imaginary villains: Jews, women, African Americans, Muslims, the undocumented.

Trump implicitly argues that all of these “non-People” – check out the telling visuals in the aforementioned campaign ad – are teaming up under the rubric of the Democratic Party to “steal” back the election from the People. The president must fabricate “the People” in this way because of what should be obvious to everyone: the majority of voters didn’t want him to be president, find his policies repugnant, and communicated that disgust very clearly in the 2018 elections.

The truly remarkable part of the “impeachment equals coup” argument is that it’s coming from the same people who love to carry around pocket Constitutions. Dahlia Lithwick wrote in Slate back in January 2011:

Members of the Tea Party are really into the Constitution. We know this because on Thursday, House Republicans propose to read the document from start to finish on the House floor, and they also propose to pass a rule requiring that every piece of new legislation identify the source of its constitutional authority.

If they’d read the Constitution from front to finish, they’d know that the document explicitly identifies impeachment as a legal way of removing a president. It’s the law of the land. The Democrats have been scrupulous in observing the letter of this law even when it has been counterproductive to do so.

The way Trump talks about impeachment, it sounds as if Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez would suddenly sit in the Oval Office if the president were removed from office. Actually, it would be Vice President Mike Pence. It’s a very strange coup indeed that removes a member of one party and replaces him with someone equally noxious from the very same party.

It would be a different matter if the U.S. military were plotting to unseat Trump and replace him with a four-star general. That would indeed be a coup. But the Pentagon has remained loyal to its commander-in-chief, even as he has intervened in several military court proceedings, ignored the sage advice of military advisors (as in Syria), and disparaged key military allies (like South Korea).

The only threat of a coup is, of course, from Trump himself. He has “joked” about serving indefinitely as president. He has attempted to circumvent all the democratic mechanisms designed to constrain his executive power. He seems to delight in flouting the Constitution. Given an inch of executive power, he won’t be satisfied until he gets the whole nine yards.

Revolution as Coup

No one would confuse the French revolution for a coup. It was a popular uprising against the monarchy. No one would label the American revolution a coup. It was an anti-colonial struggle for independence. The Haitian revolution, the Russian revolution of February 1918, the Iranian revolution: these were all popular transformations of the existing order.

But today, a number of popular revolts have been labelled coups. The Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine in 2014, for instance, was a protest started by students upset over Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to backtrack on a promise to sign an association agreement with the European Union. When the riot police attacked the students, a million people showed up on the streets in Kyiv and protests broke out around the country. Women, and feminist organizations in particular, played a key role, as did other social movements. Nationalist and far right-wing organizations like Svoboda were also present. But a transpartisan consensus emerged over the illegitimacy of the Yanukovych government, his corruption and violations of human rights. This consensus eventually brought enough pressure to bear on the Ukrainian parliament to vote overwhelmingly to impeach Yanukovych – who’d already fled Kyiv – and announce early elections.

Nevertheless, Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed that what took place in Ukraine was a coup sponsored by the United States. Incredibly, some U.S. voices on the left and even the center have echoed this argument, despite the clearly popular nature of the uprising. Certainly some key U.S. figures, like the State Department’s Victoria Nuland, supported the protestors. And plenty of U.S. moves – like the attempted expansion of NATO to Russia’s doorstep – raised tensions in the region. But direct U.S. involvement in the Euromaidan, beyond Nuland’s distribution of pastries to the protestors (and the riot police), was minimal.

Most critically, the Ukrainian military did not play a role in ousting the Yanukovych regime. Did the subsequent government in Ukraine make mistakes? Of course. But that doesn’t somehow make the Euromaidan events retroactively a coup.

From Protest to Coup

The protests against Evo Morales in Bolivia bore a superficial resemblance to the Euromaidan events of 2014. Responding to charges of election fraud in the October election, Bolivians of various political backgrounds, including some trade unionists, feminists, and members of indigenous communities, began to protest. The dissatisfaction with Morales had begun with his earlier refusal to accept the results of a referendum that failed to abolish term limits. Morales argued before the constitutional court that term limits violated his human rights, eventually gaining the “right” to run for his fourth term.

But that’s where the similarities end.  Morales was a genuinely popular leader, which Yanukovych was not. Morales had brought about many important social reforms, reducing the poverty rate from 60 percent in 2006 to 36 percent in 2017. “His first act as president was to form a constituent assembly charged with writing a new constitution that radically extended political and social rights — such as equal access to water, work, health, education and housing — to historically marginalized groups, while offering indigenous autonomy and land rights,” writes Natasha Bennett in The Washington Post.

Morales was very likely to win this year’s presidential election. The only question was the margin and whether he’d win in the first round. In the face of protests over the election results, he even promised to hold another election.

That’s when the military “suggested” that Morales resign. The military’s intervention was perhaps not as heavy-handed as in the “post-modern coup” in Turkey in 1997, which led to the resignation of then-president Necmettin Erbakan, but it produced a similar result when Morales stepped down.

And that’s when the true takeover occurred, as second vice president of the Bolivian Senate Jeanine Añez Chavez assumed power. Her crackdown on protests have led to at least 30 deaths. She has exempted the military from prosecution for its use of force, has aligned herself with the Christian far right, and consolidated her political control despite the strength of Morales’s party Mas. The Trump administration, not surprisingly, has embraced Añez.

An agreement with Mas mandates elections within 120 days. If Añez respects the agreement, if the elections are free and fair, if the military returns to its barracks, then the Bolivian coup might turn out to be limited in scope. But those are a lot of ifs. And it remains a significant step backward for all the marginalized groups that benefited during the Morales era.

The Parliamentary Coup?

When Dilma Rousseff was impeached in Brazil in 2016, she declared the process a “parliamentary coup.” Rather than a perpetrator of corruption, she has argued that she was the victim of it: a corrupt elite had her removed to protect itself from investigations.

Rousseff’s charge seems to resemble Trump’s. Impeachment is as much a part of the Brazilian constitution as the U.S. constitution. She wasn’t impeached over major misconduct but rather the narrow charge of concealing a budget deficit. On the other hand, a majority of Brazilians supported impeachment hearings and Rousseff’s approval rating was in the low teens.

The impeachment may well have been unfair, but it’s hard to call it a coup. Rather, it reflects the deeply divided nature of Brazilian politics and the pervasiveness of corruption such that all sides can weaponize accusations of influence-peddling. In addition to the persistence of caudillo-like leaders in the region – like Brazil’s current leader Jair Bolsonaro or Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro – the region still struggles with unmanageable violence, a culture of impunity, deep economic inequality, and fragile political institutions.

But Latin America is not unique in this regard. The debate over whether an impeachment is a “coup” – in Brazil, in Ukraine, in the United States – speaks to the giant step backward that democracy has taken over the last decade. For better or worse, there is no longer a consensus around “normal” democratic practice. The polarization of the electorate now allows for two entirely different concepts of democracy to co-exist – one determined by the rule of law and the other determined by the powerful.

Yes, yes, I know: the rule of law reflects the interests of the powerful. That principle was certainly on display in Brazil. But the rule of law also protects the weak against the predations of the strong. And in this brave new world that Trump presides over, this latter understanding of the rule of law is under siege. It can be seen in how the Trumps of the world are attacking the courts, attempting to roll back the gains of social movements in the area of human rights, and undermining a range of watchdog institutions.

If Trump wins in the Senate and then at the polls in 2020, he won’t just beat the impeachment rap. Like Putin in Russia, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, and (so far) Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, he’ll have successfully destroyed the mechanisms that stand in the way of his absolutism.

The post Whose Coups? appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and the author of Frostlands.

We Need a Progressive Alternative on Trade — and NAFTA 2.0 Isn’t It

Wed, 12/11/2019 - 12:23pm

Manuel Perez Rocha speaks on the 20th anniversary of the Seattle WTO protests.

This piece was adapted from a speech the author gave in Seattle to mark the 20th anniversary of the World Trade Organization protests.

Good Morning Seattle! Let’s not forget that while we stopped the introduction of the so-called Singapore Issues in the WTO in 1999, like investment protection rules, there are today around 3,500 Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITS).

Sixty years ago, Pakistan and West Germany inked the first Bilateral Investment Treaty. This agreement paved the way for a glut of dispute settlement and arbitration systems, and other appendages of so-called “trade” policy, that have exploited unequal power relations to increase inequalities between and within countries.

Six months ago, Pakistan was hit with a $6 billion fine for allegedly infringing on the profit-making opportunities of a multinational mining corporation. This fine was leveled by an unelected three-person court within the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, part of the World Bank Group, and one of the many such enablers of unchecked corporate power unleashed 60 years back.

It is clear that these trade and investment policies no longer even benefit the signatory countries, but rather line the pockets of global elites at the expense of ordinary people and the planet we share. Backlash to these policies has peaked and waned, peaking 20 years ago with the fight against the MAI and the Seattle WTO protests, and again reemerging in the past decade, against the FTAA and, again, against the TPP more recently.

As the right has increasingly taken up opposition to trade policies from a protectionist and often xenophobic angle, the need to distinguish a left, internationalist critique of corporate globalization has never been more urgent. The chauvinist policies of the Trump administration and its imitators need to be strongly condemned. But if the progressive movement is simply reacting to the neoliberal trade agenda and its right-wing disruptors, it is unlikely to achieve meaningful change.

So, progressive politicians and policymakers — from AMLO to Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — must unify around a progressive vision of trade to guide an international system that places people and planet over profits. That is why a bold new vision for international economic cooperation and global development is so crucial.

Drawing on the rich history of trade policy alternatives, we have developed a working paper that criticizes NAFTA 2.0 and articulates four key pillars of a progressive trade and development agenda.

In our framework, trade and investment are regarded as means to enhance material and social well-being, not ends to be pursued at any cost. Existing trade and investment agreements, and proposals for a progressive trade agenda, must be judged against the following four principles:

  • Human rights in the broadest sense — including economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights — must have primacy over corporate and investor rights, and there needs to be legally binding obligations on transnational corporations.
  • Democratic governments must have the policy space to pursue and prioritize local and national economic development, good jobs for their citizens, and the preservation, promotion, and restoration of public services.
  • Citizens, communities, and the environment must have the right to protection through public interest regulations.
  • A climate-friendly approach should be adopted whenever pursuing trade and investment, which can no longer be allowed to outpace the carrying capacity of the planet.

Only by securing these principles will we achieve true cooperation. Only then will we establish the base for a broad public interest in a more egalitarian and ecologically sustainable system, while ensuring fair and prosperous international trade.

The progressive trade agenda outlined in our report is forward-looking and aims to mobilize urgently needed international efforts to address intolerable levels of inequality and the existential threat posed by rapid climate change.

Our report discusses the alternatives we need in a range of issue areas, and in accordance with the four pillars and principles. This positive, progressive trade agenda includes, but is not limited to, the following proposals:

  • Eliminate ISDS and investment protections that undercut the right of duly elected governments to regulate in the interests of their citizens and the environment, and establish binding investor obligations.
  • Replace excessive intellectual property rights with balanced protections that encourage innovation while supporting user rights, data privacy, and access to affordable medicines.
  • Replace non-binding, unenforceable labor provisions with a floor of strong, fully enforceable labor rights and standards that enable citizens and trade unions to take complaints to independent international secretariats, which should also have the authority to proactively investigate labor rights abuses.
  • Fully recognize and respect gender and indigenous rights, including prioritizing women’s employment and economic well-being, and recognizing indigenous title to land and resources and the right to free, prior, and informed consent.
  • Ensure international trade agreements respect food sovereignty and the livelihoods of small holdings and family farmers by giving priority to local producers and providing a fair return for small-scale agricultural producers.
  • Enshrine binding, enforceable obligations to reduce and mitigate the effects of climate change in all international commercial agreements and remove the ability of foreign investors and governments to challenge good-faith greenhouse gas reduction initiatives.
  • Encourage policy flexibility for those industrial and community economic development strategies striving to ensure that trade and foreign investment contribute to good jobs, local economic benefits, healthy communities, and a clean environment.
  • Pursue international cooperation that respects regulatory autonomy and aims to harmonize to the highest standards, instead of the current corporate-dominated regulatory cooperation agendas that erode autonomy and harmonize to the lowest common denominator.
  • Remove the pressure under current services and investment rules to privatize public services and instead fully protect the right to preserve, expand, restore, and create public services without trade treaty interference.
  • End the current secrecy in trade negotiations and privileged access for vested interests, and establish procedures that provide full disclosure, transparency, and meaningful public participation.

While these suggestions alone will not build the multilateral system that we need, they represent crucial foundational blocks to get us there.

International trade has consistently been left to the back burner of policy circles, allowing corporate capture to continue unabated. But now, with opposition to status quo trade policies increasingly a dinner-table conversation, the time has come to demand policymakers and politicians to take up this vision for a progressive trade agenda.

The triple crises of democracy, social inequality, and climate change are now deeply intertwined and driving humanity to the brink. But we still have a choice. We still have time to fight for a world based on economic and social equality and ecological sustainability. The Green New Deal championed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and thousands of young activists gives us just one glimpse into what this world could look like, and how we can get there.

Building a new multilateralism based on internationalism and solidarity is one prerequisite for getting us to that world, and the lessons we have drawn from our work constitute one important piece of the roadmap to help us find the way.

The post We Need a Progressive Alternative on Trade — and NAFTA 2.0 Isn’t It appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

The speech above is based on the article Beyond NAFTA 2.0: toward a progressive trade agenda for people and planet, which was published at OpenDemocracy in November 2019 by Aaron Eisenberg, Scott Sinclair, Manuel Pérez-Rocha, and Ethan Earle. Beyond NAFTA 2.0: Toward a Progressive Trade Agenda for People and Planet is a working paper jointly prepared by the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, the Institute for Policy Studies, and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, published in July 2019. The working paper brings together the voices of 18 leading experts in progressive trade policy and received additional input from dozens of experts and leading organizations across the Americas. It was edited by the above mentioned authors.

The Conservatism of Impeachment

Tue, 12/10/2019 - 10:56am

Trump impeachment supporters, 2018 (Shutterstock)

John Bolton might be the one to save us. 

This, it seems, is where the strange spirit of the Trump impeachment has led. Although we receive regular assurances — from members of Congress and respected journalists — that we are witnessing a sober and sacred process, there’s something troubling, on some level, about the parade of foreign policy super patriots lining up to bring the president down. 

To be sure, they don’t represent a cabal of Deep State Crypto-Democrats, as some Republicans have suggested. Figures like Marie Yovanovitch, William Taylor, and Fiona Hill seem eminently professional: staid if unspectacular diplomats trying desperately to work under the most erratic of bosses. By Washington’s standards, they also seem refreshingly devoid of partisan motivations — dedicated, above all, to the unenviable task of strengthening U.S.-Ukraine relations. 

So, why doesn’t this high-minded constitutional moment feel as satisfying as it should? 

Perhaps it’s the sense that the primetime impeachment hearings are missing the multiple women credibly accusing the president of sexual assault. Perhaps it’s the absence of witnesses to his cruelty-as-deterrence policy on the Southern border. Perhaps it’s the transparent investment of his detractors in a more aggressive stance toward Russia

However, complaints about the shallowness of this impeachment stem from a misleading picture of what impeachment is. Although newspapers, textbooks, and politicians give the impression that this is a truly drastic and dramatic procedure, impeachment is primarily a tool of restoration, not revolution — designed to consolidate, rather than dismantle political power. 

Anyone wanting to defeat President Trump’s agenda — and everything it represents — must come to grips with this reality. 

Old-School Impeachment

As with many features of the American constitution, impeachment has somewhat uglier British origins. 

Nearly as old as parliament itself, the legislative power to remove ministers of the Crown grew into full maturity in the mid-17th century. Especially unpleasant characters — such as Archbishop William Laud and the Earl of Strafford, Thomas Wentworth — lost their heads after (in)famous parliamentary trials in the 1640s. These impeachments and executions were defining events in parliament’s wider struggle against King Charles I, which escalated into a brutal civil war, regicide, and the temporary establishment of a British Republic

The monarchy was eventually restored in 1660 — allowing the British to pretend (in typically British fashion) that nothing too serious happened, just a little “interregnum.” But this fleeting revolution had lasting effects. Aside from the punishing conquest of Ireland and the development of a colonial commercial strategy, the English Civil War made parliament matter, securing its role in taxing, spending, and Cabinet appointments. If any of these prerogatives were challenged by a cocky adviser to the King or Queen, the threat of impeachment sat on the table, locked and loaded. 

From this perspective, impeachment could be seen as the ultimate guarantor of popular sovereignty; the last resort of the people when they are faced with an unhinged executive. On the other hand, parliament made no pretense about embodying the will of anyone other than that small sliver of the population superior to the miserable masses, but decidedly inferior to the aristocracy. 

Impeachment, ultimately, served them.  

The American Version

Richard Nixon (Shutterstock)

The framers of the American constitution knew their English history, and probably saw impeachment in something like the following terms: Here is an essential mechanism through which parliament could remove corrupt ministers, but some of those executions were grisly and unnecessary. 

The Americans settled on impeachment for “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors,” based on an indictment drawn up in the House of Representatives and a trial in the Senate. The punishment meted out by the legislature could “not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust, or Profit under the United States.”

On the rare occasions that these provisions have been used against presidents, they have included peculiarly narrow charge sheets. 

Andrew Johnson was indicted for firing his War Secretary in violation of a congressional statute, not for his avowedly racist sabotaging of Reconstruction in the aftermath of slavery and the Civil War. Nixon went down for obstruction of justice, not for the flagrantly illegal and appallingly destructive bombing of Cambodia. Clinton nearly fell to infidelity, not near-“genocidal” sanctions imposed on Iraq.  

The Nixon case helps to explain the pattern. 

Then, the first impeachment resolution put to the House came in July 1973 from Representative Robert Drinan. The core thrust was Cambodia: the small, agrarian, neutral country that Nixon and his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger had covertly demolished four years earlier in “Operation Menu.” Their crime wasn’t just the irreparable harm done to Cambodia, but also the lengths they went to in disguising the plan, including the falsification of Air Force records to make it look like the bombs had been dropped on Vietnam.

“Morally,” House Speaker Tip O’Neill later wrote. “Drinan had a good case… But politically, he damn near blew it. For if Drinan’s resolution had come up for a vote at the time he filed it, it would have been overwhelmingly defeated — by something like 400 to 20. After that, with most of the members already on record as having voted once against impeachment, it would have been extremely difficult to get them to change their minds later on.”

In short, our country’s most heroic impeachment imparted a simple lesson to future presidents: If you conduct your illegal wars politely and with sufficient bipartisan approval, you will be fine. If you resist congressional subpoenas, that’s a step too far

Knowing Our Limitations

With this historical perspective, we can view the current process with more equanimity. 

In the unlikely event that Trump is removed from office, it will be for his crimes against the political establishment, not those visited on everyone else. 

This might still mean that impeachment is necessary, desirable, and even faintly noble. Abuses of power ought to be punished, no matter who they ultimately damage — and there would be something fitting about the Trump presidency collapsing, pathetically, after an indictment, prosecution, and trial conducted by both chambers of the United States Congress. 

In such a scenario, our sacred system of government will be celebrated. But how much of this system truly warrants our praise? Certainly, we cannot take for granted its real protections against one-man tyranny, or its impressive durability. 

Yet in bringing down the extreme human embodiment of its failures, we risk forgetting about their persistent causes. Thinly disguised corruption, chronic resistance to change, addiction to a costly and lethal war machine — all, in their own way, helped bring us to this point. 

We don’t, in other words, have a pressing need for the principal pay-off of impeachment: Restoration. We need something much closer to revolution. 

The post The Conservatism of Impeachment appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Harry Blain is a PhD student in political science at the Graduate Center, CUNY (City University of New York).

As the Decade Closes, the Power of Protest Endures

Tue, 12/10/2019 - 10:36am

Hong Kong protests, June 2019 (Shutterstock)

For those who believe the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, the past 10 years have been a reminder that it is also long.

Indeed, as we mark the final Human Rights Day of this decade, we are ending the way we began — in the streets. In Hong Kong, Nicaragua, in Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon, Iran, and elsewhere, people have been on the march, facing bullets, beatings, and prison to demand an end to repressive and unaccountable government, to reject corrupt elites, and secure their rights.

Are they naïve? Or do they know something important and powerful? 

And what of the lawyers and communities challenging injustice in court, the investigators building meticulous records of human rights crimes, the journalists dragging into public view the buried facts, the advocates and activists pressuring and cajoling governments, companies, and other powerful actors to defend human dignity?

They persist because they know the power of protest and resistance, and the efficacy of the human rights ideal, even if the tally of the past decade offers little encouragement. 

Dashed Hopes

Repression in Egypt. (Photo: Globovision / Flickr)

From 2010 through 2012, protest movements swept across Iran and much of the Arab world. But in 2019, Tunisia stands alone among the countries of the Arab Spring in making the transition to democracy, and among its neighbors renewed repression and brutal wars have followed the uprisings. Hundreds of thousands have died, millions have been injured, and tens-of-millions have been displaced. The cost in lives, resources, and squandered potential is incalculable.

Ten years ago, the smart phones and social platforms that helped to enable the protests were celebrated as vectors of positive change, opening avenues for speech and organizing beyond the control of authoritarian governments. They are now more often seen as fueling division, empowering surveillance, invading our privacy, and eviscerating the economic underpinnings of a free press.

Those who have sought refuge from obliterating violence and repression have met a rising tide of xenophobia, as politicians long confined to the margins of power ride a narrative of cultural, economic, and security threat, often focused on Muslims, refugees, LGBT people — anyone  seen as the “other” — to its center. They have sometimes been buoyed by hyper-partisan and often fraudulent media operations.

In the world’s biggest democracies — India, Brazil and the United States — the gravest threats to human rights and democracy come from elected presidents who openly praise dictators, demonize minorities, and undercut the rule of law, putting vulnerable populations at even greater risk.

It would be easy to make a longer list of reversals: the promise of South Sudan, newly independent in 2011, now mired in war; Myanmar, where the pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has emerged as an apologist for ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity; Tanzania, where the media and civil society face ever tighter controls, arrests, and killings. And in Russia, a protest movement in 2011 held out hope for change, but instead Vladimir Putin increased his grip domestically, and enhanced his influence globally. 

Perhaps nowhere exemplifies the retreat more starkly than China, where once some Western analysts breezily promised that rising prosperity would bring progress on human rights and democracy. Instead, President Xi Jinping has put the fruits of development to work to build an algorithmically enhanced authoritarianism unrivaled in the scope of its ambition for control.

Rising Movements

Protestors in Beirut, October 2019

And yet. 

The protesters taking to the streets in Lebanon and elsewhere are not looking to a global scoresheet and calculating their chances. They are demonstrating that power without legitimacy can be checked in local struggles rooted in the demand for accountability, and ultimately for human rights. Ethiopia’s initial opening toward greater democratic space under President Abiy Ahmed tells us that some leaders appear to have learned this lesson, despite the crowing autocrats on the world stage.

And it isn’t only in street protest or in national struggle that we see the tools and values of human rights successfully at work.

The millions of women and girls who bravely stepped forward to publicly shared their stories in response  to Tarana Burke’s #MeToo call built a global movement demanding an end to sexual violence. Persistent journalists turned accounts of Harvey Weinstein’s predation from Hollywood gossip into international news, and across the world, investigative reporting exposed the misogynistic abuses of other powerful figures. 

They did so in the face of a U.S. president whose misogyny is proudly on display. Trade unions and women’s rights groups successfully fought for a new international treaty protecting against violence and harassment at work. Unevenly perhaps, but unstoppably, court cases, new regulations, a resetting of workplace norms, and sustained activism are creating new protections for women’s basic right to be free of harassment and violence.

Spurred by litigation, culture change, and legislators responding to social movements, the rights of LGBT people are expanding around the world. A rearguard action by opponents in Russia and the United States decrying “gender ideology” and battling the spread of both women’s reproductive rights and LGBT rights is meeting both energized defense, and deep shifts in public opinion.

In a thousand smaller struggles, the embedding of human rights standards in domestic and international law is helping to bring the perpetrators of war crimes to justice, to secure land and environmental rights for communities threatened by development, and forcing companies to respect their human rights responsibilities.

Local human rights defenders around the world don’t rely solely on the courage of their own conviction, or even the force of local law, rooted in their own experience, cultures and struggles, they are also part of a global ecosystem of shared norms, institutions, strategic collaboration, and communication that forms a resilient mesh that should be fostered and sustained.

A New Global Science Movement

Sunrise Movement marchers at the youth climate strike march in San Francisco, September 2020. (Shutterstock)

It will be needed more than ever in the face of this decade’s epochal failure, and the signal challenge of the next: the climate emergency.

Ten years ago, in Copenhagen, governments arrived at the outlines of a consensus on the science of global warming. What they couldn’t agree on was a binding deal to do something meaningful to stop it. They did better in Paris in 2016, but emissions keep rising regardless, as powerful denialists like Trump push back on the agreement, and even those who admit the urgency of the problem fail to make the required trade-offs needed to slow and halt the build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Climate change is already driving conflict and extreme weather, threatening health, and constricting access to water. Its effects are set to worsen, and they will affect every dimension of human rights.

But a new global social movement is growing, in schools and on the streets. And existing norms around water, health, humanitarian disasters, and livelihoods offer a rich framework for building the accountability that is needed to spur action from wanton governments and companies.

If we are back where we started the decade, we know the task, we have the tools — and like the protesters, we know the value of sticking to it.

The post As the Decade Closes, the Power of Protest Endures appeared first on Foreign Policy In Focus.

Nic Dawes is deputy executive director at Human Rights Watch.