Three on Brexit

Submitted: Jul 03, 2016
By: 
Badlands Journal editorial board

 Last week we found three articles among many plus the television coverage about "Brexit," the United Kingdom's referendum to leave the European Union. Some of us are old enough to remember how deadly serious European unification was during the Cold War and beyond. For this reason alone we were glad to find Alan Posener's reflections on the most powerful country in the EU, Germany, in light of its reunification and renewed nationalist aspirations.

 

Robert Perry's take on Brexit, just after a discontented majority in the UK voted to leave the EU, illuminates similar American unhappiness with political leadership as corrupt and unaccountable to the people as the EU bureaucrats are. Perry, who always writes from a democratic perspective (never from a Democratic Party one), highlights the destructive part on both sides of the Atlantic played by rampaging financial and corporate elites.

 

Patrick Cockburn's brilliant article finishes our selection. He has been developing a thesis based on more than 40 years of reporting on civil wars and national collapse from Northern Ireland in the 1970's to the several wars of the Greater Middle East today. His idea is that there are a number of wars that have both a civil war and an imperial dimension in which no side is strong enough to prevail but all sides are strong enough to continue. This form of slaughter weakens states, destabilizes whole societies, causes mass migrations and reproduces terror. But it is its politics of fundamentalist religious based ultra-nationalism, racism and zenophobia that may be its special ideological gift to the West along with periodic terrorist attacks.

 

In any event, there is much to think about at the moment and perhaps these articles might give you something to think about.

 

-- blj

 

6-20-16

The Guardian (UK)

 

 

 

German nationalism can only be contained by a united Europe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the event of Brexit, the increasingly influential Alernative fur Deutschland could make Germany a danger to itself, Europe and the West<!--[if gte vml 1]> <![endif]--><!--[if !vml]-->A demonstration in Erfurt, central Germany, initiated by the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party against immigration policy.<!--[endif]-->

 

Alan Posener

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/20/german-nationalism-contained-united-europe-brexit-alternative-fur-deutschland

 

I remember a freezing night in December 2007. In Görlitz, Germany’s easternmost city, thousands of Germans and Poles cheered, drank beer and bubbly and embraced as the border checkpoint was dismantled. Poland had joined the

Schengen area, and Germany’s last frontier was now open. It was a night fraught with symbolism. Görlitz is on the river Neisse, the border imposed on Germany after the second world war. And the last Germans who had taken down toll barriers to Poland had been Hitler’s soldiers in August 1939.

For most people in Britain, it’s difficult to even imagine the emotional pull that an open Europe has on the German imagination. Throughout history, Germany’s borders have fluctuated – due to foreign invasion, by the Swedes, say, in the 17th or the French in the 18th; or due to German aggression and its failure in the 19th and 20th centuries. To be “surrounded by friends”, as chancellor Helmut Kohl put it, was a completely new experience, and given our history, a piece of good fortune for those who were “born late”.

Kohl’s opposite number in Britain – Margaret Thatcher – was less prone to believe that the “late-born” Germans were different from their fathers and mothers. “By its very nature, Germany is a destabilising, rather than a stabilising force in Europe,” Thatcher wrote in her memoirs, explaining why she had tried to get Mikhail Gorbachev to oppose German reunification. She also met with leading historians in order to understand the German “national character”. According to the memorandum of the meeting, this included “angst, aggressiveness, assertiveness, bullying, egotism, inferiority complexes and sentimentality”.

Kohl himself might have agreed with her; his predecessor Helmut Schmidt certainly did. Both saw the European Union as a means to contain German nationalism. Indeed, this has been the raison d’être of European integration since the very start. In 1951, the European Coal and Steel Community was founded in order to put the backbone of German industrial and military might under French supervision. And of course sacrificing the Deutschmark for the euro was the price Kohl paid for getting François Mitterrand to support reunification. However, warning signs of a new German assertiveness emerged when Kohl’s successor, Gerhard Schröder, tried to forge an anti-American and anti-British Moscow-Berlin-Paris axis. And although Angela Merkel is no Schröder, the crisis of Kohl’s brainchild, the euro, forced her Germany into the role of a European hegemon.

 “Suddenly, Europe is speaking German,” said Volker Kauder, leader of the CDU in parliament, five years ago. And he wasn’t referring to language schools. What he meant was that in the eurozone crisis, Germany had imposed austerity on the rest of the currency union. Internal memoranda leaked to the press make it clear that people such as finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble saw the crisis as an opportunity to change not only the policies but also the make-up of the political class in countries such as Greece or Portugal, not to mention France, “which only recently didn’t even want to pronounce the word ‘Schuldenbremse’” (the cap on sovereign debt demanded by Merkel’s stability and growth pact), as Kauder crowed. As for the British, he said: “We cannot allow them to get away with just seeking their own advantage.”

Kauder is not a nationalist. Nor are Schäuble or Merkel. And the EU is not some Fourth Reich, as some Eurosceptics in Britain suggest. But the sheer size and economic weight of Germany create their own dynamics – and their own dialectics.

Among them is the rise of nationalism. Although Germany’s elite has been very successful pursuing its interests under the guise of Europeanism, the anti-elitist resentment-mongers of the Alternative für Deutschland party started demanding less Europe and more Germany at the very moment when the Greek crisis showed how dominant Germany was in the eurozone. In the refugee crisis, which provoked a European revolt against Germany, the AfD’s anti-Europeanism is gaining traction.

In recent local and regional elections in the west German states of Hessen, Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Pfalz, the AfD got between 12 and 15% of the vote. In the eastern state of Sachsen-Anhalt it got 24%, making it the second-strongest party after the governing CDU. When elections come up in the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (where Merkel has her constituency) this autumn, the AfD may become the strongest party, and in 2017 it will enter the Bundestag. The success of the AfD will increase the pressure on any government to put Germany first, and Europe, Nato and the west second.

Thatcher had an inkling of this development. But she was caught in a double bind. On the one hand she saw that pro-western German politicians such as Kohl wanted to contain German nationalism through European federalism, a concept she abhorred. On the other hand, Germany unbound was an even greater danger. In a telephone conversation with US president George Bush in 1990, she foresaw a change in the balance of power in Europe due to the rise of Germany, and warned that “looking well into the future, only the Soviet Union – or its successor – could provide such a balance”.

Given the state of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Thatcher’s geopolitical vision seems absurd. But there is something to be said for her assessment that since its inception as a nation state in 1871, Germany has “veered between aggression and self-doubt. The true origin of German angst is the agony of self-knowledge.” The AfD and its growing host of intellectual apologists campaign aggressively against German self-doubt; it’s time, they say, to put the past to rest, to cast off the taboos imposed by the victors of the second world war.

The refugee crisis has allowed the party to break the taboo on racism, albeit not directly but by defending racist organisations such as the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident (Pegida) as “concerned citizens”.Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers was received ecstatically in these circles as absolving imperial Germany of any responsibility for the first world war. And the AfD’s tweedy, Anglophile intellectual spokesman Alexander Gauland (a Thatcher-hater, by the way) has advocated a “neo-Bismarckian” policy for Germany.

What this means is “balancing” Russia against the USA, as Thatcher wanted to balance Russia against Germany. In its draft manifesto, the AfD calls Russia “crucial” for European security and wants an end to sanctions, but makes no mention of the USA or Britain, except to rail against TTIP and to demand renegotiation of the status of “allied” – ie Nato – troops stationed in Germany. It wants a German seat on the UN security council and a UN veto on Nato activities out of area, which the party rejects anyway. The AfD would reintroduce the draft and give Germany an autonomous defence industry – the very thing the Coal and Steel Community was designed to prevent. Finally, the party would jettison the euro and turn the EU into a loose Gaullist “Europe of Fatherlands”.

Some elements of this nationalist ragbag may strike a chord with Conservative Little Englanders and anti-Blairites in the Labour party. But make no mistake: the “Christian” Germany the AfD vows to protect is supposed to be “abendländisch” – a term which is hard to translate, but basically means anti-Anglo-Saxon. If the AfD succeeds in playing wag-the-dog in foreign policy, as it already does with immigration, Germany could become a danger to itself, Europe and the west.

For this reason alone, Brexit would be irresponsible. The EU – and liberal Germans – need Britain in order to help contain a Germany that may have little to do with the “new Germany” I saw celebrating falling borders not quite a decade ago.

 

6-26-16

Consortium News

A ‘Brexit’ Blow to the Establishment

June 24, 2016

Exclusive: British voters turned a deaf ear to scary warnings about leaving the E.U. and struck a blow against an out-of-touch, self-interested and incompetent Western Establishment, a message to the U.S., too, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

https://consortiumnews.com/2016/06/24/a-brexit-blow-to-the-establishment/

The United Kingdom’s “Brexit” vote may cause short-term economic pain and present long-term geopolitical risks, but it is a splash of ice water in the face of the West’s Establishment, which has grown more and more insular, elitist and unaccountable over recent decades.

The West’s powers-that-be, in both the United States and the European Union, too often display contempt for real democracy, maintaining only the façade of respecting the popular will, manipulating voters at election time with red-meat politics and empty promises – before getting back to the business of comforting the comfortable and letting the comfortable afflict the afflicted.

That has been the grim and tiresome reality with America’s two parties and with the E.U.’s bureaucrats. The average American and the average European have every reason to see themselves as a lesser concern to the politicians and the pundits than the special interests which pay the money and call the tune.

In the stunning “Brexit” vote – with 52 percent wanting to abandon the 28-nation European Union – U.K. voters rejected the West’s politics-as-usual despite dire warnings about the downsides of leaving. They voted, in effect, to assert their own nationalistic needs and aspirations over a commitment to continental unity and its more universal goals.

But, in the vote, there was also a recognition that the West’s Establishment has grown corrupt and arrogant, routinely imposing on the people “experts” who claim to be neutral technocrats or objective scholars but whose pockets are lined with fat pay checks from “prestigious” think tanks funded by the Military-Industrial Complex or by lucrative revolving-door trips to investment banks on Wall Street or The City.

Despite the Establishment’s self-image as a “meritocracy,” its corrupted experts and haughty bureaucrats don’t even demonstrate basic competence anymore. They have led Europe and the United States into catastrophe after catastrophe, both economically and geopolitically. And, there is another troubling feature of this Establishment: its lack of accountability.

In the United States, the rewards and punishments have been turned upside-down, with the benighted politicians and pundits who pushed for the Iraq War in 2003 still dominating the government and the media, from Hillary Clinton’s impending Democratic presidential nomination to the editorial pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post.

And, the Iraq War disaster was not a one-off affair. The neocons and their liberal interventionist sidekicks have their fingerprints on other “regime change” messes, from Libya to Ukraine to Syria (still in the works), with their predictable recommendations for more violence and more belligerence. Yet, they have impunity for their crimes and incompetence. They fail up.

Establishment Doesn’t Know Best

So, the West’s Establishment can’t even argue that it knows best anymore, which always had been its ace in the hole. The various insurgents could be painted as the dangerous option – and that is sometimes true as we’ve seen with Donald Trump – but it is arguably a toss-up as to whether Clinton or Trump would be the bigger risk to the world’s future.

Trump may be a blustering buffoon but he challenges the neocon “group thinks” about the wisdom of expanding the West’s war in Syria and launching a costly and existentially risky New Cold War against nuclear-armed Russia and China. Clinton surrounds herself with neocons and liberal hawks and shares their obsession with overthrowing the government of Syria and provoking Russia and China with military operations near their borders.

Trump and “Brexit” advocates also reject the Establishment’s neoliberal consensus on “free trade,” which has depressed (or eliminated) the wages of American and European workers while the benefits accrue mostly to financial and political elites. The Establishment’s embrace of the “winners” and its disdain for the “losers” have further enflamed today’s populism.

Yet, there are undeniably ugly features in the populist sentiment sweeping the U.S. and Europe. Some of it is driven by bigotry toward non-whites, especially immigrants. Some is inspired by wild conspiracy theories from a population that has understandably lost all faith in what it hears from Washington, Brussels and other capitals. Trump has espoused the scary know-nothing notion that the scientific evidence of global warming is “a hoax.”

There is always something unsettling when an incipient revolution takes shape and starts tearing down the old order. What follows is not always better.

In the end, the American election – like the “Brexit” referendum – may come down to whether voters feel more comfortable sticking with the status quo at least for a while longer or whether they want to blow up the Establishment and gamble on the consequences.

Right now, Clinton and the Democrats are carrying the banner of the Establishment, while Trump and his Republican insurgents fly the Jolly Roger. In a political year when the anti-establishment wave seems to be cresting, the Democrats may regret their choice of a legacy, status-quo candidate.

 

 

6-28-16

TomDispatch

The Age of Disintegration: Our Endless Cycle of Indecisive Wars

Neoliberalism, interventionism, the resource curse, and a fragmenting world

Patrick Cockburn

http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/06/28/age-disintegration-our-endless-cycle-indecisive-wars

We live in an age of disintegration. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Greater Middle East and Africa. Across the vast swath of territory between Pakistan and Nigeria, there are at least seven ongoing wars -- in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and South Sudan. These conflicts are extraordinarily destructive. They are tearing apart the countries in which they are taking place in ways that make it doubtful they will ever recover. Cities like Aleppo in Syria, Ramadi in Iraq, Taiz in Yemen, and Benghazi in Libya have been partly or entirely reduced to ruins. There are also at least three other serious insurgencies: in southeast Turkey, where Kurdish guerrillas are fighting the Turkish army, in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula where a little-reported but ferocious guerrilla conflict is underway, and in northeast Nigeria and neighboring countries where Boko Haram continues to launch murderous attacks.

All of these have a number of things in common: they are endless and seem never to produce definitive winners or losers. (Afghanistan has effectively been at war since 1979, Somalia since 1991.) They involve the destruction or dismemberment of unified nations, their de facto partition amid mass population movements and upheavals -- well publicized in the case of Syria and Iraq, less so in places like South Sudan where more than 2.4 million people have been displaced in recent years.

Add in one more similarity, no less crucial for being obvious: in most of these countries, where Islam is the dominant religion, extreme Salafi-Jihadi movements, including the Islamic State (IS), al-Qaeda, and the Taliban are essentially the only available vehicles for protest and rebellion. By now, they have completely replaced the socialist and nationalist movements that predominated in the twentieth century; these years have, that is, seen a remarkable reversion to religious, ethnic, and tribal identity, to movements that seek to establish their own exclusive territory by the persecution and expulsion of minorities.

In the process and under the pressure of outside military intervention, a vast region of the planet seems to be cracking open. Yet there is very little understanding of these processes in Washington. This was recently well illustrated by the protest of 51 State Department diplomats against President Obama’s Syrian policy and their suggestion that air strikes be launched targeting Syrian regime forces in the belief that President Bashar al-Assad would then abide by a ceasefire. The diplomats’ approach remains typically simpleminded in this most complex of conflicts, assuming as it does that the Syrian government’s barrel-bombing of civilians and other grim acts are the “root cause of the instability that continues to grip Syria and the broader region.”

It is as if the minds of these diplomats were still in the Cold War era, as if they were still fighting the Soviet Union and its allies. Against all the evidence of the last five years, there is an assumption that a barely extant moderate Syrian opposition would benefit from the fall of Assad, and a lack of understanding that the armed opposition in Syria is entirely dominated by the Islamic State and al-Qaeda clones.

Though the invasion of Iraq in 2003 is now widely admitted to have been a mistake (even by those who supported it at the time), no real lessons have been learned about why direct or indirect military interventions by the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East over the last quarter century have all only exacerbated violence and accelerated state failure.

A Mass Extinction of Independent States

The Islamic State, just celebrating its second anniversary, is the grotesque outcome of this era of chaos and conflict. That such a monstrous cult exists at all is a symptom of the deep dislocation societies throughout that region, ruled by corrupt and discredited elites, have suffered. Its rise -- and that of various Taliban and al-Qaeda-style clones -- is a measure of the weakness of its opponents.

The Iraqi army and security forces, for example, had 350,000 soldiers and 660,000 police on the books in June 2014 when a few thousand Islamic State fighters captured Mosul, the country’s second largest city, which they still hold. Today the Iraqi army, security services, and about 20,000 Shia paramilitaries backed by the massive firepower of the United States and allied air forces have fought their way into the city of Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, against the resistance of IS fighters who may have numbered as few as 900. In Afghanistan, the resurgence of the Taliban, supposedly decisively defeated in 2001, came about less because of the popularity of that movement than the contempt with which Afghans came to regard their corrupt government in Kabul.

Everywhere nation states are enfeebled or collapsing, as authoritarian leaders battle for survival in the face of mounting external and internal pressures. This is hardly the way the region was expected to develop. Countries that had escaped from colonial rule in the second half of the twentieth century were supposed to become more, not less, unified as time passed.

Between 1950 and 1975, nationalist leaders came to power in much of the previously colonized world. They promised to achieve national self-determination by creating powerful independent states through the concentration of whatever political, military, and economic resources were at hand. Instead, over the decades, many of these regimes transmuted into police states controlled by small numbers of staggeringly wealthy families and a coterie of businessmen dependent on their connections to such leaders as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt or Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

In recent years, such countries were also opened up to the economic whirlwind of neoliberalism, which destroyed any crude social contract that existed between rulers and ruled. Take Syria. There, rural towns and villages that had once supported the Baathist regime of the al-Assad family because it provided jobs and kept the prices of necessities low were, after 2000, abandoned to market forces skewed in favor of those in power. These places would become the backbone of the post-2011 uprising. At the same time, institutions like the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) that had done so much to enhance the wealth and power of regional oil producers in the 1970s have lost their capacity for united action.

The question for our moment: Why is a “mass extinction” of independent states taking place in the Middle East, North Africa, and beyond? Western politicians and media often refer to such countries as “failed states.” The implication embedded in that term is that the process is a self-destructive one. But several of the states now labeled “failed” like Libya only became so after Western-backed opposition movements seized power with the support and military intervention of Washington and NATO, and proved too weak to impose their own central governments and so a monopoly of violence within the national territory.

In many ways, this process began with the intervention of a U.S.-led coalition in Iraq in 2003 leading to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the shutting down of his Baathist Party, and the disbanding of his military. Whatever their faults, Saddam and Libya’s autocratic ruler Muammar Gaddafi were clearly demonized and blamed for all ethnic, sectarian, and regional differences in the countries they ruled, forces that were, in fact, set loose in grim ways upon their deaths.

A question remains, however: Why did the opposition to autocracy and to Western intervention take on an Islamic form and why were the Islamic movements that came to dominate the armed resistance in Iraq and Syria in particular so violent, regressive, and sectarian? Put another way, how could such groups find so many people willing to die for their causes, while their opponents found so few? When IS battle groups were sweeping through northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, soldiers who had thrown aside their uniforms and weapons and deserted that country’s northern cities would justify their flight by saying derisively: “Die for [then-Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki? Never!”

A common explanation for the rise of Islamic resistance movements is that the socialist, secularist, and nationalist opposition had been crushed by the old regimes' security forces, while the Islamists were not. In countries like Libya and Syria, however, Islamists were savagely persecuted, too, and they still came to dominate the opposition. And yet, while these religious movements were strong enough to oppose governments, they generally have not proven strong enough to replace them.

Too Weak to Win, But Too Strong to Lose

Though there are clearly many reasons for the present disintegration of states and they differ somewhat from place to place, one thing is beyond question: the phenomenon itself is becoming the norm across vast reaches of the planet.

If you’re looking for the causes of state failure in our time, the place to start is undoubtedly with the end of the Cold War a quarter-century ago. Once it was over, neither the U.S. nor the new Russia that emerged from the Soviet Union’s implosion had a significant interest in continuing to prop up “failed states,” as each had for so long, fearing that the rival superpower and its local proxies would otherwise take over. Previously, national leaders in places like the Greater Middle East had been able to maintain a degree of independence for their countries by balancing between Moscow and Washington. With the break-up of the Soviet Union, this was no longer feasible.

In addition, the triumph of neoliberal free-market economics in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse added a critical element to the mix. It would prove far more destabilizing than it looked at the time.

Again, consider Syria. The expansion of the free market in a country where there was neither democratic accountability nor the rule of law meant one thing above all: plutocrats linked to the nation’s ruling family took anything that seemed potentially profitable. In the process, they grew staggeringly wealthy, while the denizens of Syria’s impoverished villages, country towns, and city slums, who had once looked to the state for jobs and cheap food, suffered. It should have surprised no one that those places became the strongholds of the Syrian uprising after 2011. In the capital, Damascus, as the reign of neoliberalism spread, even the lesser members of the mukhabarat, or secret police, found themselves living on only $200 to $300 a month, while the state became a machine for thievery.

This sort of thievery and the auctioning off of the nation’s patrimony spread across the region in these years. The new Egyptian ruler, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, merciless toward any sign of domestic dissent, was typical. In a country that once had been a standard bearer for nationalist regimes the world over, he didn’t hesitate this April to try to hand over two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia on whose funding and aid his regime is dependent. (To the surprise of everyone, an Egyptian court recently overruled Sisi's decision.)

That gesture, deeply unpopular among increasingly impoverished Egyptians, was symbolic of a larger change in the balance of power in the Middle East: once the most powerful states in the region -- Egypt, Syria, and Iraq -- had been secular nationalists and a genuine counterbalance to Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf monarchies. As those secular autocracies weakened, however, the power and influence of the Sunni fundamentalist monarchies only increased. If 2011 saw rebellion and revolution spread across the Greater Middle East as the Arab Spring briefly blossomed, it also saw counterrevolution spread, funded by those oil-rich absolute Gulf monarchies, which were never going to tolerate democratic secular regime change in Syria or Libya.

Add in one more process at work making such states ever more fragile: the production and sale of natural resources -- oil, gas, and minerals -- and the kleptomania that goes with it. Such countries often suffer from what has become known as “the resources curse”: states increasingly dependent for revenues on the sale of their natural resources -- enough to theoretically provide the whole population with a reasonably decent standard of living -- turn instead into grotesquely corrupt dictatorships. In them, the yachts of local billionaires with crucial connections to the regime of the moment bob in harbors surrounded by slums running with raw sewage. In such nations, politics tends to focus on elites battling and maneuvering to steal state revenues and transfer them as rapidly as possible out of the country.

This has been the pattern of economic and political life in much of sub-Saharan Africa from Angola to Nigeria. In the Middle East and North Africa, however, a somewhat different system exists, one usually misunderstood by the outside world. There is similarly great inequality in Iraq or Saudi Arabia with similarly kleptocratic elites. They have, however, ruled over patronage states in which a significant part of the population is offered jobs in the public sector in return for political passivity or support for the kleptocrats.

In Iraq with a population of 33 million people, for instance, no less than seven million of them are on the government payroll, thanks to salaries or pensions that cost the government $4 billion a month. This crude way of distributing oil revenues to the people has often been denounced by Western commentators and economists as corruption. They, in turn, generally recommend cutting the number of these jobs, but this would mean that all, rather than just part, of the state’s resource revenues would be stolen by the elite. This, in fact, is increasingly the case in such lands as oil prices bottom out and even the Saudi royals begin to cut back on state support for the populace.

Neoliberalism was once believed to be the path to secular democracy and free-market economies. In practice, it has been anything but. Instead, in conjunction with the resource curse, as well as repeated military interventions by Washington and its allies, free-market economics has profoundly destabilized the Greater Middle East. Encouraged by Washington and Brussels, twenty-first-century neoliberalism has made unequal societies ever more unequal and helped transform already corrupt regimes into looting machines. This is also, of course, a formula for the success of the Islamic State or any other radical alternative to the status quo. Such movements are bound to find support in impoverished or neglected regions like eastern Syria or eastern Libya.

Note, however, that this process of destabilization is by no means confined to the Greater Middle East and North Africa. We are indeed in the age of destabilization, a phenomenon that is on the rise globally and at present spreading into the Balkans and Eastern Europe (with the European Union ever less able to influence events there). People no longer speak of European integration, but of how to prevent the complete break-up of the European Union in the wake of the British vote to leave.

The reasons why a narrow majority of Britons voted for Brexit have parallels with the Middle East: the free-market economic policies pursued by governments since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister have widened the gap between rich and poor and between wealthy cities and much of the rest of the country. Britain might be doing well, but millions of Britons did not share in the prosperity. The referendum about continued membership in the European Union, the option almost universally advocated by the British establishment, became the catalyst for protest against the status quo. The anger of the "Leave" voters has much in common with that of Donald Trump supporters in the United States.

The U.S. remains a superpower, but is no longer as powerful as it once was. It, too, is feeling the strains of this global moment, in which it and its local allies are powerful enough to imagine they can get rid of regimes they do not like, but either they do not quite succeed, as in Syria, or succeed but cannot replace what they have destroyed, as in Libya. An Iraqi politician once saidthat the problem in his country was that parties and movements were “too weak to win, but too strong to lose.” This is increasingly the pattern for the whole region and is spreading elsewhere. It carries with it the possibility of an endless cycle of indecisive wars and an era of instability that has already begun.

 

Middle East correspondent for the British newspaper The Independent, Patrick Cockburn was awarded the 2005 Martha Gellhorn prize for war reporting. His book on his years covering the war in Iraq, The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq (Verso) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for non-fiction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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