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Ideology and the US… or what the latest election tells us about the developing political landscape of the United States. November 10, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Middle East, United States, US Politics.
6 comments

The recent election has clearly redefined US politics. But in ways which are more complex and nuanced than is often thought. Currently there is talk that the new Congress will be filled with so-called ‘New Democrats’, socially conservative, fiscally conservative. Implicit in this is a continuation of the argument that the US is somehow uniquely conservative or right wing. Well, yes, it’s certainly further to the right than Europe. But in reality the same spectrum of left centre and right exists, even if the underlying assumptions are different to those we are familiar with. Indeed what’s interesting is how exactly the same structural issues are discussed, pensions, welfare, health care and so on , and how the proposed solutions are similar even if the context is markedly different in some instances.
But because this is an event occurring in a pluralistic democracy let’s first consider what’s happened to the Republicans – which in some respects is the real story here. Karl Rove did great work over recent years to cement a solid Republican Congressional majority. However, in doing so he tended to promote the more right wing candidates over more centrist candidates or RINO’s (Republican in Name Only) such as Lincoln Chafee – although it’s worth noting the effort poured in by the Republican Party to prop him (Chafee) up over the past months. A sensible tactic if you want to be certain of the loyalty of your foot soldiers but a fairly lousy tactic if the public should shift to a more centrist position, and that is what happened over the past number of months and even years. The US electorate did not pitch left, but rather centre. Even as it stands the national divide remains largely intact, a country fairly evenly balanced between left and right. Or more accurately, leftish, centre and rightish.

So it’s also unsurprising that Rahm Emanuel (chairman of the Democratic campaign to win back the House of Representatives) often selected moderate, centrist candidates in seats which had moderate centrist Republicans. Iraq as an issue then gave the Democrats an edge in a contest where their candidates could legitimately portray themselves as the true centrists. The greatest coup of the campaign to my mind? Selecting Jim Webb, a former Republican Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration as the Democratic challenger in Virginia to take on George Allen for his Senate seat. While his success was never assured he was the right candidate at the right time to take the opportunity to best Allen. Which he did. That he is still a conservative, although of the moderate variety – an advocate of gun control amongst other things – is largely irrelevant. Already within the Democratic caucus there are the New Democrats as noted above, and the “Blue Dogs”, Southern Democrats who take up centrist or even centre right positions.

Yet even to talk about them in such categorical terms is difficult. As noted in today’s Irish Times [sub required] by Denis Staunton, John Tester, the new Senator for Montana is pro-gun and anti-gay marriage, but economically is left of centre and is antagonistic to the Patriot Act, the War in Iraq and so on. Is that a right wing or a left wing political credo? In a sense it’s neither, but again an expression of a centrist approach. Candidates with anti-abortion views are now mainstream within the Democratic Party, although the party remains firmly pro-choice.

To my mind this isn’t inconsistency, but is indicative both of how broad the tent is in US politics on both sides of the political spectrum and also of a fairly laudable political pluralism. US society is difficult to map onto our largely social democratic societies. It’s different, well…because it’s different through history, development and circumstance. Therefore it’s hardly sensible to expect everything to conform to our expectations. That a somewhat progressive party, such as the Democrats can encompass such seemingly contradictory candidates (as has the Republican party in better times) can only stand to it in a political system which is a continent wide and half a continent deep.

Would I want the same system here? I certainly would not – our system has served us reasonably well in the context of a small rather limited polity, although it’s worth pointing out that our largest political formations accommodate similar internal ranges of opinion quite comfortably (and the same is true on certain social issues with our smaller parties).

A truth that is useful to take away from this? That people, humans will disagree quite naturally and entirely honourably. That broadly speaking such disagreement should not be seen as a reason to shut the door on those with different opinions. This isn’t yet another plea for ‘a little understanding’, but instead one for a more reasoned approach to political conflict. One of the most dispiriting aspects of Republican rule over the past six years in Washington has been how the public discourse has been limited to simplistic formulations of ‘us and them’ leading to a vainglorious triumphalism and ‘winner takes all’ mentality. Of all people I recognise the reality of difference in policy belief and so forth, but I see no reason to pretend that someone with a different viewpoint is unworthy of engagement or that their beliefs are also unworthy of consideration, indeed it is intellectually suspect and self-defeating not to continually question one’s own beliefs in light of others. The Republicans by shifting too hard to the right, appearing unamenable to discussion or rationality and rather foolishly buying into their own rhetoric of a ‘conservative country’ lost the centre ground, as we saw British Labour lose it in the 1980s and the British Conservatives lose it in the 1990s.

I suspect in the US Presidential Election in 2008 we’ll see an effort to reclaim that ground by the Republicans, if not sooner…

A final thought, is it the enormous scale of US politics, played out across continental backdrops which leads to both the disproportionate role of finance, and the significant blurring of ideology in both representative and Presidential Elections, or is it the very nature of an executive Presidency and enormous constituencies? Is this something we in Europe should be thinking long and hard about as we too struggle with the forms of representation which are best suited for our own transcontinental endeavour?

Ken Adelman and Channel 4 News… or the sounds of the doors swinging shut in the Corridors of Power November 9, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in 9/11, Iraq, Middle East, Neo-conservatives, US Politics.
2 comments

A highly entertaining segment on Channel 4 News this evening where Jon Snow interviewed consummate Washington insider and neo-conservative Ken Adelman about the Iraq war situation and the departure of Donald Rumsfeld.

Adelman, who served as US Ambassador to the UN and was an assistant to Donald Rumsfeld while the latter was Secretary of Defense made a number of intriguing points. These were that he admitted the war had gone badly, that Rumsfeld should have prosecuted it differently and that it now required stability before democracy. Good stuff, but something of a change since the heady days of 2003 when he was wheeled on to support the war. The very war which he now claimed had been very poorly managed “from the top” if I recall correctly, and which he argued that the removal of Baath party members from leadership positions, the looting and such like were indications of such bad management.

Actually he’s been recanting publicly already this month. In a Vanity Fair article he stated that he overestimated the Bush team and “I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent.” He also says that given the chance to do it again he would say that “The policy can be absolutely right, and noble, beneficial, but if you can’t execute it, it’s useless, just useless. I guess that’s what I would have said: that Bush’s arguments are absolutely right, but you know what, you just have to put them in the drawer marked can’t do. And that’s very different from let’s go.”

But facing reality is a heady process which Adelman is clearly still reeling from, as evidenced by the way in which he dragged Tony Blair into the debate opining on Channel 4 that he (Blair) should have complained about all this to Rumsfeld and to Bush in order to force a change in policy. Perhaps so. The charitable analysis of Blair is one that sees him as attempting to act as a check on the more dismal plans of the neo-conservatives and/or Bush. Yet, for Adelman to launch this particular line of attack is bizarre.

Who was Rumsfeld’s boss again? Oh, yeah, that Bush guy, what’s that job he has? That’s right, President of the US. So Adelman is seriously suggesting that Blair should have tried to influence a man who famously stated that the US could go it alone just prior to the invasion, a man who Bush saw as both a friend and mentor.

Yeah, that’s going to work…

In a way it’s a pity, as Adelman notes that, “the idea of a tough foreign policy on behalf of morality, the idea of using our power for moral good in the world” A pity because there are ways of using foreign policy generally short of but sometimes inclusive of military power that can have beneficial effects. For an interesting demonstration on the positive elements of a more nuanced ‘soft power’ backed up by military strength the expansion of the Chinese sphere of influence in Asia has been instructive.
Anyhow, is this it? Is this where the neo-conservative project runs into the sand, stalled by infighting, complaint and a fatal lack of support from the centres of real power? And is this Adelman being mischievous or more realistically is this the sound of the doors being slammed shut on the neo-conservatives in the aftermath of the new Democratic majority? Well if it is that sound, they seem to be trying to give the door a good kick on the way out. They’re certainly not going quietly as the Guardian notes.

But they’re going nonetheless…

What did you before the (Iraq) War? Or why this ‘litmus test’ does the left no service at all… November 8, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Democrats, Iraq, Republicans, The Left, The War On Terror, Tony Blair, United States, US Politics.
4 comments

Following on from smiffy’s post yesterday I have to say I’m worried about the war. And that’s odd. Odd because it’s already four years in the past, superseded by the chaos that characterises Iraq and further superseded by other events. The main players are, as previously noted, already moving towards the exit, Blair first, Bush sometime after. That age, for what it was worth, is drawing to a close, the Congressional and Senate Elections of the past forty eight hours already setting a stamp on that and looking towards a new period, one where the certainties of the Republican hegemony are replaced by the rather less exciting but rather more congenial realities of 50/50 political culture within the US, one which holds at least the potential for moderation and consensus. Pelosi, thy hour has come.

But the War, back to the War.

Listening to Left, Right and Centre on the KCRW podcast and talking to a British socialist on a visit here from the UK I was struck by how many people on the left are suffering from a litmust test. The litmus test is the position in relation to the War. Was one pro-Invasion or not?

On KCRW on the Left, Right and Centre discussion show Robert Scheer of truthdig.com, a veteran leftist, was discussing the Presidential prospects of Barak Obama, the junior Senator from Illinois, and was asking (rhetorically) what his stance on the war was now? Obama has very slightly modified his approach to the war since his passionate initial opposition to the invasion, and is now not entirely sure about pulling the troops out. Hence Scheer doesn’t support him – at all – regardless of his position on other issues. Now I really don’t understand this. There are two (or perhaps three) separate issues at play here. First is support for the War. A position I took and which I think was almost entirely incorrect in retrospect. Secondly support for the aftermath. That I didn’t take. The instant that the serious looting broke out was the point at which it was clear the enterprise was even more unhinged than it had previously seemed. Finally the contemporary situation. Pull the troops out? Not sure, it’s a bad situation but it could be worse, but I’m tending towards the US recognising reality and ceding to an international and hopefully locally recruited force. This is a hell of a risk, a sort of pass the parcel where everything has to come right simultaneously, i.e. that there is an Iraqi force strong enough to maintain order and/or Syrian or Iranian or Turkish or who knows who troops who can come in as monitors/observers but not occupiers. I can’t see it working, in fact I can’t see anything working really – or at least not really working. But each issue has to be judged on it’s own merits. And doubt seems to me to be as good a rule of thumb as any.

US, and more marginally UK, troops in Iraq were almost inevitably going in the long term to work counter to the intentions of those who put them there. Had the alliances with the Europeans been maintained, had the war been delayed to allow inspections (which would, as we now know, have found nothing) or more pragmatically had a deal been cut with Saddam (unpleasant but resulting in a peaceful transition to a more broad based regime) then it is possible that the use of UN mandated troops would have been a viable outcome. That’s a lot of ‘had’s’ and even cursory analysis indicates how difficult, if not impossible, it would have been for the Bush White House to have implemented them, high on it’s own ‘only remaining superpower’ rhetoric.

But listening to Robert Scheer it was clear that the only issue that mattered was Iraq.

As interesting in it’s own way was a discussion I had with a British socialist last week (now in his seventies) who literally loathed the Labour party, Blair and, perhaps most surprisingly Gordon Browne. This was a person who should – by dint of his own experience on the left – on any serious reckoning be able to disentangle the past from the future, and yet is locked into a worldview that somehow is coloured in perpetuity by the ‘litmus test’. For him Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives were now entirely the same. Where to go next I asked? The answer was the ‘young’ people. Well, I’ve heard that song before and what I’ve always noticed is that young people tend to get older, that those who are older tend to dismiss or ignore the young and as with arteriosclerosis a certain conservatism tends to develop even in the very best of us. They may well be the future, but who knows what sort of a future that will turn out to be.

Original sin, it’s called. One which is almost impossible – well, in the eyes of those who regard it as a sin as effectively impossible – to wash away. And that’s a mistake to my mind.

Because just like my interlocutor’s appeal to the youth of today, who somehow will be wiser and more far seeing than the youth of yesterday, to posit that a single event and the response to that event is somehow the hinge or pivot upon which all future strategies must be determined is counter intuitive in the extreme. If only because ultimate authority and sanction for the War remained with a very small group of individuals, all of who had different motivations, not all necessarily ignoble but were clearly wrong in execution. Not one of the millions who marched could prevent the war – because we live in representative democracies. One can argue that individual MPs and Congressmen and women should have voted against. Yet, yet, yet. The nature of the Saddam regime was such that an action that supported the status quo could also be judged as morally questionable – and incidentally one of the reasons I gave critical support for the invasion, amongst others was Andrew and Patrick Cockburn’s excoriating and excellent analysis of the regime Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein – ironic then that they took the anti-War side).

Were there alternatives? I often wonder about this. Again in retrospect I think so but not necessarily the ‘first do no harm option’.

Listening to Oliver Kamm on a Little Atoms broadcast from last year he was talking about the anti-War movement and while noting the sincerity of the vast majority of those involved (big of him) on the marches he believed that the “nearest [he could] think of to a really thorough going anti-War case that might have made sense was the position of US socialist Michael Walzer of Dissent magazine who argued that inspections should be given time to work and in order to take a consistent anti-War position the movement should not argue for a respect for sovereignty but needed to a more invasive movement, a humanitarian interventionist movement under international authority”. Kamm dismisses this since he considers that the international authority i.e. the UN had already failed. Yet is he right? To my mind Walzers position is one which could have led to a further constricting of the Saddam regime without getting hung up on the old ‘sovereignty’ issue – one which the left, of all forces, should have least consideration and regard for. I wish I had known more about it at the time – but even had I known the sum total of it’s impact on the situation would have been zero – whatever way one plays out the situation it is hard to credit that any action external to the Oval Office would have halted the rush to war – a judgement that Tony Blair made and unfortunately has left him on the wrong side of history.

But the point is that the past cannot always be the arbiter of the future. People, as smiffy has noted, took different sides. But that shouldn’t be a bar to working with people in the future or questioning their sincerity whatever their position was (by the way, if I have one slight divergence of opinion with what smiffy wrote yesterday it is that many ‘muscular’ liberals bought into, or were seduced by, the idea of US omnipotence and competence for genuine reasons, they genuinely believed that the US intervention would tip the balance towards a peaceful Iraqi polity, that the US would be able to contain the situation and would have learned from the debacle in Vietnam. Unfortunately if one were to posit the worst possible outcome at that time from the invasion the current situation would be hard to credit for many ‘muscular interventionists’. And I too, up until the looting, never suspected how inept the leadership and management of the US administration would actually be in practice in the post-Invasion period. Catastrophic is not an overstatement of the situation. ).

Finally, today’s events in the US are important. The old jibe about the Republicans and the Democrats being simply two sides of the coin strikes me as incorrect. To pick three issues at random minimum wage, stem cell research, taxation, the parties diverge considerably, even above and beyond Iraq. But more importantly I’m hoping that the hegemonic tone of the Washington Republicans will be replaced by a more emollient, more pluralistic message. A finely balanced Senate and Democratic majority in Congress can change this tone, shift the discussion away from the absolutism that has characterised debate up until now on national security issues and so forth. I’d also hope that the libertarian right, who have been suspiciously and disappointingly silent on a broad range of issues from national security to social issues will regain their voice and perhaps see an opportunity to move the situation forward in areas where they and Democrats can make common cause.

Also by the way. Watching the Bush press conference it struck me how tetchy he appeared – loss does not befit him – and yet curiously he was somewhat more forceful in enunciating his message. Remarkable times.

The Atrophy of Muscular Liberalism November 7, 2006

Posted by smiffy in Iraq, The Left, The War On Terror, US Politics.
1 comment so far

Whatever the final outcome of today’s elections in the United States, it’s certain that the continued war in Iraq has been a monumental disaster for the Bush administration and the wider Republican party. As the violence continues to escalate, with little or no cause for optimism, it seems as if the predictions of a ‘new Vietnam’ have come to pass, 15 years after victory in the first Gulf War had supposedly put those ghosts to rest.

A recent poll of Iraqi public opinion now shows that a sizeable majority want the coalition forces to withdraw and, indeed, a majority even supports violence against those troops. It should also be noted, however, that support for Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden remains negligible among all three major ethnic/religious groups in Iraq, and a majority of Iraqis still believe that the invasion was worthwhile in order to remove the Saddam dictatorship (contradicting what George Galloway might tell you if you meet him in the Big Brother house).

Unsurprisingly, many of those commentators and pundits who were vehemently pro-invasion in 2003 are now backtracking from their previous position. In Ireland, even Kevin Myers (not a man known to admit a mistake – unless his job is on the line, of course) has admitted that he was wrong in his support. The reactionary affectations of the likes of Mark Dooley and the Magill creche aside, John Waters and others have suspiciously quiet on the subject

Further afield, and somewhat remarkably, some the few Bush administration intellectuals who could genuinely be described as foreign policy neo-conservatives (a lazy term thrown around far too liberally which has lost any real meaning it might once have had) are now openly critical of how the Iraq adventure has been handled. It has been reported that Richard Perle and Kenneth Adelman are now admitting that, if they had known in 2003 what they know now, they would have opposed the invasion and, in Perle’s words ‘I think if I had been delphic, and had seen where we are today, and people had said, ‘Should we go into Iraq?’, I think now I probably would have said, ‘No, let’s consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists’.”’ (which rather gives lie to the claim that this was a war of liberation, unless by default).

To my mind, however, it’s more interesting to see how a different strand of pro-invasion opinion, the so-called ‘muscular liberals’ (a.k.a. ‘decent left’, a.k.a. ‘anti-totalitarian left’, a.k.a. Eustonites (after the Euston Manifesto), a.k.a. (war) mongers, a.k.a. drink-sodden former Trotskyist popinjays) who supported the war from a broadly left-wing perspective, is now coping with the outcome. While it would be wrong to view these as an homogenous group (certainly there were vast differences in how seriously various elements took the W.M.D. claims) one thing that united them was their claim to have the best interests of the Iraqi people at the forefront of their minds when pledging their support for the intervention. With this in mind, one would think (or hope) that the immense and increasing suffering the Iraqi people have undergone since the invasion would have given them pause, and caused them to at least rethink their initial support, if not necessarily reverse it.

Christopher Hitchens, the Once and Future King of this strand of ‘the left’ is, of course, steadfast in the correctness of his initial decision, although he has recently been quite critical of the prosecution of the war. For him there is no question of troop withdrawal until ‘the job is done’ and for Hitchens that job appears the military defeat of Islamism. This is the key flaw in Hitchens’ argument. He sees the entire ‘resistance’ in Iraq (i.e. those who attack coalition forces and oppose the current regime) as jihadists, and states that

All demands for an evacuation are based on the fantasy that there is a distinction between “over there” and “over here”. In a world-scale confrontation with jihadism, this distinction is idle and false.

It may be false to Hitchens, but one wonders if it would quite so fantastical to those Iraqis who apparently do see a difference (note the risible levels of support that Al Qaeda/Bin Laden attract from all groups in Iraq in the opinion poll cited above, compared to the majority support for attacks against the coalition). To those in Iraq whose lives are at risk every time they leave their houses, it might seem a little obscene to make the case that this is a worldwide fight. Bush argument about ‘fighting them over there, so we don’t have to fight them over here’ is more appropriate, just as it’s likely to stick in the craw of those Iraqis who were never asked if they wanted to be part of this fight.

It also seems irresponsible in the extreme for Hitchens to ignore the strength jihadist movements worldwide gain from the coalition presence in Iraq. This is not, in itself, an argument for withdrawal. If the liberation of women, for example, incensed extremists and gave them a focus to organize around, we wouldn’t against such a liberation. However, what Hitchens forgets, when gleefully describing those who note the counterproductive nature of the occupation as ‘masochists’, is that the fact that the presence of U.S. and British troops in Iraq does strengthen the hand of jihadists means that any attempt to justify the presence on the grounds of fighting jihadism is futile.

It should be noted, though, that Hitchens isn’t necessarily as confident that a strong, unified Iraq will be the outcome of this struggle as he used to be. In last week’s piece in Slate he approvingly cites Peter Galbraith’s The End of Iraq, which argues for the division of Iraq into separate states. I haven’t read Galbraith’s book, so I can’t comment further, but for those who are interested, I would recommend Samantha Power’s A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, which goes into some detail about Galbraith’s history as an outspoken advocate for and defender of the Kurdish people within the U.S. State Department at a time when such a position was far from healthy for one’s career.

We also have the exerable Oliver Kamm, apparently part of the pro-intervention left, unchanged in his conviction that the invasion was, and remains, justified. Hardly surprising though, as it’s quite hard to see where exactly Kamm fits in on the ‘left’ (other than by his saying that he’s left-wing). It’s a bit hard to take such claims seriously, though, from someone who devotes so much time to criticising the arguments of Noam Chomsky and so little time to, say, global poverty, the World Trade Organisation, organised labour or anything else where the ‘left-wing’ line is more readily distinguished from a ‘right-wing’ one. As a vaguely interesting experiment, one might imagine a world where Kamm described himself as being on the pro-intervention right, rather than pro-intervention left, and then consider which (if any) of his arguments might have been different.

Johann Hari, boy-wonder columnist for The Independent, is rather more engaging on this subject, and has the virtue of being reasonably consistent in his position. He initially supported the invasion, based on his belief that it was in line with the wishes of the Iraqi people at the time. It could be argued that this is a somewhat shorted justification for the war (as the repercussions of the invasion go beyond the borders of Iraq) but it is at least a noble one. Now, however (and, indeed, since at least early in 2006) he’s come around to the view that the coalition troops should withdraw, using the same justification and now believes his initial support was gravely misplaced. Hari’s a little different from the rest of the ‘muscular liberals’, as he was never as eager to dismiss opposition to the war as ‘anti-Americanism’. He was always far more sceptical of the motives of the members of the coalition than some other soi-disant leftists whose critical faculties deserted them when considering how committed the Bush administration might be to ‘liberation’.

One of the biggest recent surprises has been the reversal of Norman Geras (of normblog fame). Geras was one of the principal architects of Euston Manifesto and one of the strongest left-wing partisans in favour of the invasion. With this in mind, it comes as a bit of a shock to see him write:

had I been able to foresee, in January and February 2003, that the war would have the results it has actually had in the numbers of Iraqis killed and the numbers now daily dying, with the country (more than three years down the line) on the very threshold of civil war if not already across that threshold, I would not have felt able to support the war and I would not have supported it. Measured, in other words, against the hopes of what it might lead to and the likelihoods as I assessed them, the war has failed. Had I foreseen a failure of this magnitude, I would have withheld my support.

Oddly (or perhaps not) Geras then goes on to say:

Even then, I would not have been able to bring myself to oppose the war. As I have said two or three times before, nothing on earth could have induced me to march or otherwise campaign for a course of action that would have saved the Baathist regime. But I would have stood aside.

This particular kind of political doublethink is hard to take from the people who in 2003 affected a moral superiority above left-wing opponents of the war. Those people, according to Geras, Cohen and the rest, were betraying fundamental left-wing principles of international solidarity and ignoring the plight of the people of Iraq under Saddam’s dictatorship. Now, however, Geras is arguing that support for the invasion was wrong, but those who initially opposed the invasion (which includes those who felt that the human cost would outweigh the benefits, the position Geras now adopts) were also wrong. Surely if he feels that the welfare of the Iraqis was of primary importance, he must now concede that (with hindsight, of course) opposing the invasion would have been a moral imperative.

There’s something of a confusion among both those who now regret their support for the invasion, and those who refuse to change; many appear to think that they can separate their desire to see the Ba’athist regime overthrown from the actual war which brought that about. Kenan Makiya, the noted Iraqi dissident (or should that now be ‘former’ dissident? It’s perhaps indicative of the failure to date of the liberation that this should be in question) who features in Paul Berman’s Power and the Idealists, puts it this way:

I, like many others, made many mistakes of evaluation, of judgment. But I don’t know how to look anybody in the face today and say that because things have gone wrong since the liberation, that it was therefore wrong to get rid of an extraordinary tyranny like [the one] we suffered under in Iraq. An exceptional tyranny, even by the terrible standards of the Middle East. It seems to me these are two separate questions, morally speaking. Not politically; I’m not speaking realpolitik.

That’s the question, though. Can one morally be justified in supporting a particular action to right a specific wrong, even if the wider negative consequences outweigh the initial good? Can one realistically make a distinction between motive and outcome? I would have thought the answer to obviously be ‘No’. This is no different from the line taken by pro-intervention leftists in 2003, who argued that those who opposed ‘US imperialism’ and the invasion of Iraq should face up to the reality that if their advice was to be followed, the suffering of Saddam’s victims would continue (see Geras above). Surely the muscular liberals should be held to the same standard and forced to confront the actual consequences of their desire to see Ba’athism overthrown, regardless of how noble their intentions might have been.

To support the invasion of Iraq necessarily means supporting the invasion as it was actually carried out, not an imaginary invasion that would have done things differently. WorldbyStorm has previously cited the Paul Berman argument that the jihadist attack on the UN headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003 killing, among others Sergio Vieira de Mello (another star of Power and Idealists) represented the last chance for a positive outcome to the Iraq adventure. Without question, it’s an attractive idea – the political and economic reconstruction of the country be handed over to an impartial, international body and experts like de Mello who would work with the various groups within Iraq have a functioning, democratic civil society in place within a year, thereby avoiding the resentment of foreign occupation which have allowed the various ‘resistance’ groups to gain a foothold in the country.
It’s notable that one of Berman’s chief advocates in the UK, Nick Cohen, completely avoiding the centrality of the United Nations in Berman’s argument and its importance to most of the key figures in Power and the Idealists. Cohen, in his tragic descent from interesting, provocative columnist to shrill and predictable curmudgeon, prefers to denounce the UN as an institution for inaction in a fashion typical of any number of right-wing crackpots while ignoring the fact that an organisation like the UN, and a working system of international law, is the sine qua non of the kind of ‘Third Force’ in international politics that Berman proposes.

That aside, however, I’m not so sure how credible a position like Berman’s is. It’d be nice to imagine that the United Nations might have been able to assist in the stabilisation of the country, and that the descent into effective civil war could have been prevented, but this is wishful thinking of the highest order. It requires a situation where the powers who instigated the invasion, particularly the U.S. administration would have been willing to cede control of the country to an organisation they had belittled and were openly hostile towards in the run-up to the war, and whose jurisdiction and effectiveness they refused to recognise. It ignores the fact that the U.S. government acted in what it considered to be its own best interests, and the interests of the Iraqi people, as well as international peace and security, were only of secondary concern (at best). The failure to recognise this that lies at the heart of the dilemma faced by those who supported the invasion, but condemn the outcome. Just as anti-invasion forces on the left had a duty to face the fact that they were prolonging the existence of the dictatorship in Iraq, the pro-interventionists must admit that outcome they desired was never on the cards and that the choice was between this invasion and no invasion at all.

All this is premised, of course, on the belief that the 2003 invasion was wrong. It’s a position I hold, but not very confidently, particularly given the results of the opinion poll cited earlier. It’s also tempting for those who initially opposed the war to jump of the likes of Geras with a ‘ha ha, told-you-so’ glee which is hardly likely to help those who have suffered as a consequence of the invasion. Johann Hari recently wrote:

I haven’t written about Iraq recently, because I think those of us who supported this catastrophic invasion should apologise and then have the humility to shut up and reflect on what we have wrought.

The demand for humility and reflection, I think, falls on both sides and the most serious consideration is needed not on analysing the past but on looking to bring about the least worst possible outcome.

The brainiest journalists don’t come from The Sunday Times November 7, 2006

Posted by joemomma in Education, Media and Journalism.
9 comments

I don’t know if anybody has done a study on the instance of idiocy amongst the Irish media. I don’t know if such a study would reveal that idiotic reporting is on the rise, or if levels of idiocy remain stable. I do know, however, that if such a study were to be undertaken, its findings would be flagrantly misrepresented in at least one major organ.

As Ben Goldacre illustrates weekly, one area where journalists regularly disgrace themselves is in the reporting of statistics and the results of research. Goldacre’s area of interest is the reporting of science and medicine stories in the UK, but the phenomenon is certainly not limited to bad science journalism across the water. However, it has been some time since I have seen anything as bad as the following, by Colm Murphy in The Sunday Times:

The brainiest children come from Ranelagh

IT is home to some of Dublin’s most colourful personalities and trendy juice bars, and is the headquarters of the sports utility vehicle. It may also be Ireland’s smartest village.

An astonishing 86% of sixth-year students from the three secondary schools serving Ranelagh went to university last year, the annual Sunday Times Parent Power guide to the country’s top 400 schools has found.

At the risk of insulting the collective intelligence of the discerning readers of Ireland’s premier political web log, convention dictates that I must now spell out exactly why the above is nonsense. You don’t need to be from Ranelagh to figure out that progression from second- to third-level education depends on a great number of factors, only one of which is the intelligence of the student. Social class and financial resources are likely to be much more significant factors, hence the unsurprising finding that “disadvantaged areas of inner-city Dublin, west Dublin and Cork city had poor university progression”.

Often this sort of thing can be put down to a sub-editor betraying his or her colleague by misrepresenting the story in search of a punchier headline. However in this case the message of the headline is sustained throughout the body of the article, for example:

Parent Power, one of the most comprehensive analyses ever undertaken of Irish secondary schools, found that academic excellence is not confined to affluent Dublin suburbs. Clare, Cavan, Tipperary, Kerry and Limerick were all well above the national average for university progression, the key measure of the ranking.

So academic excellence == university progression. Other factors which might influence rates of progression are not mentioned.

Always one to extend the benefit of the doubt where possible, I did consider that perhaps the writer is trying to be funny. Perhaps Mr Murphy judged that the point about university admission not being a measure of intelligence is so blindingly obvious that no reasonable person could think he was being serious. Obviously the references to juice bars and SUVs are tongue-in-cheek, perhaps the whole article is a snide commentary on the pointlessness of ranking schools according to university progression?

I’d like to think it were so, but given that the Sunday Times commissioned this research, I think its safe to assume that Mr Murphy is not having a sly dig at a study which his editors obviously believe provides some useful information (or “power”) to parents. Sadly, we must conclude that he is just getting it spectacularly wrong, either wilfully or negligently.

In Mr Murphy’s defence, he is not alone in labouring under the misapprehension that university progression rates tell us anything about a school’s quality of education or the brainpower of its students. The Irish Times (which, even now, I still feel should know better) annually devotes metres of newsprint to meaningless lists of what schools sent how many students to what university. Of course, they do so rather guiltily, invariably accompanying the tables with a self-justifying editorial bemoaning the lack of information available to parents on “school performance”.

So the Sunday Times is either deliberately misrepresenting the meaning of its study in order to sell papers, or else it simply doesn’t understand its meaning. Perhaps it should recruit a few more Ranelagh-educated staff members for its editorial team. The only remaining question is, should we care? Well, if you’ve read this far perhaps you care a little, and as I’ve written this far I obviously care at least a little bit more than that.

The simple reason I care is that it disturbs me to see a crucial social differentiator like educational opportunity naturalised into measures of “intelligence” or “school performance”. You don’t need a school league table to tell you that the more middle-class the student population in a school, the more students it will send on to third-level education. And if you need help in discerning which schools are the most middle-class, then your main concern should be whether your child will be hampered by having inherited your congenital dimness.

At best, this whole “feeder school” business is a meaningless diversion for overanxious south Dublin parents. At worst, it helps to perpetuate a dangerous nonsense that education is a market like anything else, and that the only thing required for success is a little smart school shopping by the parents. Class and social issues are irrelevant, all that counts is getting results, even if we have to make up some bogus results in order to have something to aim for.

If I’ve been a little harsh on Mr Murphy (who, after all is a real person, probably with a partner and a family and a dog and a cat, unlike this anonymous Interweb punter), it’s because, instead of writing about education, he has contributed to the sum of human ignorance on this important issue. No doubt he’s also pushed up the price of property in Ranelagh even further, making it even less likely that I’ll be able to raise a family in that fertile intellectual environment.

Update: Simon McGarr proposes more of this sort of thing in this post on tuppenceworth.ie. Check out the tag on Technorati for updates.

Post-Nationalism Part 2: the trouble with Borders, or how the British and Irish Communist Organisation got it (mostly) wrong… November 6, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Ireland, Irish Politics, Marxism, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, Ulster, Unionism.
5 comments

I’ve been reading through some relatively recent threads on Politics.ie relating to nationalism, and more to the point the funding for all-island infrastructural projects (which I’ve dealt with directly previously here). A couple of things have become apparent regarding the rationale of those who are antagonistic to such endeavours. There are those who consider this yet another betrayal of the ‘nationalist question’, while others consider it a disgrace that ‘our’ money should be spent in the six counties. I’ve already dealt with practical issues relating to stability and so forth in regard to this issue but it’s also necessary to consider why people might take up such positions. What’s particularly interesting is how a seemingly post-nationalist viewpoint can rapidly assume a similarity with the most revanchist aspects of a traditionalist nationalist viewpoint albeit starting from a different place.

Let’s consider the arguments. Money spent on such development is wrong because it is our money and it’s spent outside the state on improving part of another state. Individual states, should (it seems the implicit argument goes) look to themselves to fund such activities. Even if concede that that is in fact what is happening here it seems odd that the concept of transfer of funds within a European context is actually a norm, whether we are a net contributor or beneficiary of such funds. Indeed transnational funding in the context of neighbouring polities is a feature of European practice below and above the level of the EU.

But what’s really striking about this argument is that is an odd echo of a traditionalist nationalist/unionist argument with regard to the nature of the state and the boundary of state activity. This, to paraphrase, is one centred on borders and legalistic definitions of state or nation. In other words state writ runs to the line on the map and not beyond. History is the only arbiter of the boundaries of a state and more intriguingly (or annoyingly – depending upon ones perspective) only borders in their traditional sense are the valid boundary of a state. What’s particularly notable about this argument is that it appears to operate only in relation to some lines on a map. Hence there is no argument that – for example – Scotland Wales and in particular Northern Ireland should be a part of the UK, but rather that NI should not be part of the RoI. Why? Because the justification relates back to the Act of Union, or the partition of Ireland, or pick a date. But since such events are essentially arbitrary historical events and hardly principles it seems to me that there is a problem in reifying them as justifications for the status quo, particularly since even a cursory examination of Northern Ireland indicates the difference between it and – say – Scotland and Wales. While there is a political division about the nature of the relationship between Scotland the United Kingdom this division is limited to the largely political (I’m not overlooking aspects of sectarianism which colour the division, simply suggesting that they are not so influential on the broader societal debate about the relationship) unlike Northern Ireland. Or to put it another way the internal demographic, political, social and cultural environment within the six counties is too overtly unstable to allow for democratic governance along majoritarian lines since majoritarianism slips straight into community dominance. Moreover this characteristic makes it entirely different to any other part of the UK. All obvious stuff you say, and you’d be right.

What’s also telling about the argument based on the ‘border’ as the be all and end all of sovereignty is that it is directly counter to all thinking at governmental level in both the RoI and the UK since the 1980s. Particularly it is contrary to the earliest manifestations of Anglo-Irish political agreement (small ‘a’) as detailed by Feargal Cochrane in his (to my mind) rather brilliant “Unionist Politics and the Politics of Unionism since the Anglo-Irish Agreement”, published originally in 1997 and republished in an updated edition in 2000. He notes that despite the best efforts of Ulster Unionists to localise the situation (and indeed also the best efforts of successive British governments in the 1970s) counter-intuitively it was under Margaret Thatcher that the outlines of inter-governmental agreement over a basic quid pro quo (greater input by the RoI in return for tighter security measures against PIRA in the RoI) that led to a lasting dynamic that to some degree marginalised the position of Unionism. But this dynamic is one that both governments identified as in their best interests – initially on security, but rapidly as the situation evolved broadening out into different areas of endeavour. So whether people like it or not (and remember that the GFA itself underpins the inter-governmental dynamic in parallel with the internal and all-island elements) this is something that two sovereign governments have determined over two decades is a valid, perhaps even crucial, way forward.

But the clear implications are that Northern Ireland is not, and cannot be treated, as simply another part of the UK. Hence an Irish identity is intrinsic in both geographic, cultural and political terms (as is a British identity and indeed a six counties or Northern Irish identity).

Now this isn’t an argument necessarily for a retreat to traditional United Ireland thinking. Nor is it a pious belief that somehow we can ‘all be friends’ in a wonderful future although even just all being neighbours would be a start, but it seems that more rigorous thinking on these issues is necessary on all sides.

Speaking of rigorous thinking (or not) The British and Irish Communist Organisation (an interesting little political group from the 1970s which had considerable influence within the Workers’ Party) played their small part in generating some of the ideas that are at play here, or at least in giving them a patina of Marxist validity, back in the days when that meant something. BICO, a formerly Maoist sect, was crucial to the formation of the ‘Two Nations’ theory, that North and South were two separate entities with equal sovereign rights, based on the intriguingly un-Marxist notion that Ulster Protestants were the basis of that right. BICO rather cleverly dressed this up in an emphasis on the working class in Northern Ireland being effectively the most advanced element of the working class on the island (a Unionist working class as it happened) and even more cleverly in painting the unitary ideals of the Republic of Ireland as being effectively ‘imperialistic’. (a small aside. In my WP days I knew a smallish group of people who had been through the Socialist Party of Ireland – a split from the CPI most of who later merged in Jim Kemmy’s Democratic Socialist Party – who had migrated to the WP. Later in DL I met a number of people who had taken a slightly different route through BICO which also merged, in part, with the DSP and wound up in DL. Interestingly most of the SPI people I knew remained with the WP. One wonders why – well I do anyway).

Of course the crucial misapprehension on the part of the British and Irish Communist Organisation and the ‘Two Nations’ theory was that while fine in theory it disintegrated in practice. Even if one were to propose that Northern Ireland, or elements within, was a separate ‘nation’ on an equal footing with the Republic (and that argument can be made – although if I were making it I’d argue that it was more valid within the context of a nine-county Ulster) the de facto outcome of such a proposition is not an independent or sovereign Northern Ireland, but instead a political entity which remains a subsidiary part of a third party, the United Kingdom. In that instance both the Marxist elements and ‘imperialist’ elements of the argument become a little threadbare. After all, compare and contrast the United Kingdom as a political entity with an (admittedly) flawed Republic. The sort of vulgar Marxism propounded by BICO get’s tied up in knots, is the UK more progressive as constitutional monarchy than a Republic? Is an industrial working class always more advanced than an agrarian class – etc, etc? Well, who knows? And these days one could ask, who cares?

More to the point, just what is the use of a supposedly ‘Marxist’ or ‘progressive’ analysis which de facto underpins one identity at the expense of another in a situation where it is the very nature of the competition between the two which fuels the conflict in political and cultural terms? How does that progress the situation forward?

Still, just because BICO were wrong on the big picture doesn’t mean they were entirely wrong on the smaller details. Northern Ireland, has a distinctiveness in political and cultural terms which makes it like, yet unlike the remainder of the island. How this plays out in the context of a genuine post-nationalism, one which actually recognises and respects the force of competing nationalisms while trying to move the situation forward is a lot more complex than a simple reiteration of the status quo. And it’s interesting to see the unusual, or perhaps I should say the unexpected, convergence of forces who have moved over the past decade or so to this analysis ranging from PSF (in part) to the British and Irish governments and all points in between.

So, even if we ignore the stability argument – perhaps the most impressive of the ‘pragmatic’ non-partisan arguments – we still have clear cultural social and political links across the island despite (or arguably in some cases because of the Border) – or a broad connectivity which is supported by the two sovereign governments. The trick is to ensure that while these are upheld they aren’t at the (total) expense of the links between these islands… both East/West and North/East. And perhaps it’s time to move beyond zero-sum solutions that concentrate on concepts of Borders and sovereignty which owe more to the 19th century than the 21st.

But more of that later…

Late Adopters – YouTube and me…or…there goes the weekend. November 4, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture.
13 comments

Okay, so the revolutionary potential of YouTube has only really hit home for me in the past twenty four hours. Do I speak of the Michael J. Fox political advert or the House and Senate races? Do I mean the occasional fix from the Daily Show when I missed it, or her ladyship Ann Coulter on one of her more entertaining rants (incidentally is it me or does her star seem to be in the descendant?).

Nope, none of these worthy, entertaining, infuriating or just plain time wasting aspects of it. Nor am I particularly exercised (although I suspect I will be) by it’s presumable move into a more mainstream, aka less copyright infringing corporation baiting mode.

No, for me the peculiar joy is in seeing all those bands I missed first time, or indeed second time around. Yep, in my house it’s 1983 all over again with the Chameleons, the Sisters, The Fall, Shriekback etc, or 1987 and Love and Rockets and more Sisters. Marvel at the Church nurturing their cult status. Is that Wayne Husseys ludicrous hat? Could that be the Fields of the Nephilim emerging from clouds of dry ice? (Although for those who wonder where I got my handle the lack of the Three Johns is puzzling). Or indeed 2003 with Covenant, Apoptygma, VNV Nation (half Irish, half great if you like hard edged electronica and ‘choons’ and wholly unheard of here other than amongst the select few for who the term ‘futurepop’ actually means something – I suggest you check out their live tracks and try telling me that an Irishman is difficult to identify on any foreign field). It’s all there, and if it isn’t it soon will be and then probably won’t.

As I say, this could all be over in the blink of an eye. But while it lasts this is something of a golden age, or week, or minute in terms of music. Digitised, out of synch, blurry with poor to atrocious sound quality (don’t mess with the gain you fools, the gain!).

And sure, there’ll be something new in this fabulous world of ‘social networking’ that we are all trapped in like flies in amber. But until then…

Whatcha call that crowd again? You know the ones who had that hit around ’88. Come on you know…

Cuba after Castro – or, he’s not gone away yet you know November 1, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Cuba, The Left, United States, US Politics.
5 comments

A thought-provoking editorial in the Guardian a couple of months back about Castro entitled Life after Fidel was surprisingly even handed, with much less Fidelista flag waving than one might expect.

It notes that “Cuba has not changed since he fell ill. Political prisoners are still behind bars, the media under strict state control and the small opposition divided and muted. Anti-Castro exiles in Miami, thinking about recovering property confiscated after the revolution, may be prematurely excited. The habit of official repression has been bolstered by US hostility that has long outlasted the end of the cold war. The CIA must have lost count of the times it has thought about killing Fidel.”

I don’t really buy into the ‘US hostility results in ‘repression” theory. It’s too pat, it ignores the fact that Castro was always a Cuban nationalist, long before he was a Cuban communist, and misrepresents the dynamic of anti-Americanism within Cuban nationalist thinking over the last century and before.

“Foreigners should not underestimate the challenge of change. No less than 70% of all Cuba’s 11m people were born after Castro and his men overthrew the Batista dictatorship in 1959; they know only his marathon speeches and all-night debates, and may well wonder how the uncharismatic Raul, himself no stripling at 75, can lead the country out of economic misery while preserving its comprehensive welfare system, famously good doctors, universal literacy and vibrant cultural life.”

Yes, indeed. But other Latin American countries such as Chile, Brazil and Argentina have managed a reasonably successful transition from right-wing totalitarian regimes to democracy and are strengthening their own social welfare infrastructure. It’s not an either/or, but it is painted as such by many who have a nostalgic or romantic view of the revolution. They’re right too. The unintended consequence of Castro’s hold on power is such that it’s quite possible many within Cuba will turn away from even mild social welfare systems in the short term when the regime eventually ends in much the same way as Eastern Europe went through an orgy of anti-statism following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“Raul is thought likely to use his tight control of the armed forces – which run the country’s most efficient and profitable companies – to opt for Chinese-style market reforms while preserving the power of the party. Two younger leaders might also end up replacing Fidel. But whoever succeeds him, the change must be driven from within – a Cuban filling for what is bound to be a disorienting post-Castro void.”

I have to be honest, the thought of Beijing on the Caribbean strikes me as an dismal prospect, the final betrayal of the Revolution (and only the most starry eyed could not note that the Revolution has been a disappointment on that score, from the treatment of the democrats and leftists who were a vital part of it in the early years to the longevity of one man’s rule). The younger leaders I presume are … young healthy vibrant men in the 50s. Note too the interesting fact that the Army controls much of the country’s companies. The military involved in economic activity is never good, we’ve seen in it in Burma, we’ve seen it in China, we’ve seen it in Chile. It’s actually the antithesis of democratic endeavour and leads to appalling distortions (I know someone who was in Burma in the late 90s and was in a bar when a group of soldiers came in and literally removed all the takings from a till – that’s wasn’t ‘official’ but indicates the dangers of a military off the leash).

Christopher Hitchens has a rather less superheated piece than usual on Slate.com which raises the crucial point that something akin to a military coup has occurred within Cuba, since Raul is as Hitchens put’s it ‘the five-decade leader of the Cuban armed forces’. He goes on “Perhaps Raúl Castro’s accession doesn’t count as a “coup attempt” (since it was successful), let alone a “rank-and-file” mutiny, but the plain fact remains that, for the first time in a Communist state since Gen. Jaruzelski seized power in Poland in 1981, the army has replaced the party as the source of authority.”. This is, as Hitchens notes ‘a dynastic succession…[with] the even more grotesque fact that power has passed from one 79-year-old brother to a “younger” one who is only 75’.

Let’s tease this out. I don’t really want to get into the dynamic by which this particular period of ‘socialist’ struggle is now caught in amber perpetually for successive generation of leftists, a nostalgic golden light that conceals as much as it illuminates. But while I understand that nostalgia I don’t really share it. When Castro took power in Cuba (a not ignoble act incidentally and for which there was considerable justification) Eamon de Valera was some nine or ten months away from leaving office. I find it disconcerting that more people on the left aren’t disturbed by this reality. Simply put it is profoundly anti-democratic – whatever the motives of the Castro regime (which are at least somewhat benevolent) – that there has been no real change in political leadership within the state in 57 odd years. Yet it’s also important to note the differences between Cuba and other Communist regimes. This has been a regime much more in the lines of equivalent Latin American dictatorships of the populist left and right than of the grey suited politburo’s of Eastern Europe. And that has been a source of both power for the regime, in that it could use a nationalist face when the going got rough, and disappointment for those of us on the left who hoped for better from Castro. Simply put there was a chance in the first years of the Revolution, an opportunity, for a left regime that could have moved beyond semi-Stalinist nostrums. And the disappointment is exacerbated by the way in which there has been no succession, no liberalisation, no democracy, no movement forward. Even the threat of US intervention, and the subsequent turn (actually the very rapid turn across barely two years) to orthodox Soviet style Marxism, did not necessarily mean that Cuba could not have followed a less totalitarian path. Look at Tito in Yugoslavia who was supported by and subsequently broke with Moscow in a context where Moscow was both more totalitarian than in the 1960s and vastly more capable of exercising it’s will should it so choose. Frankly speaking a milder form of Marxism tilting to an ultimate democratisation was an option, and Moscow would have kept underwriting Havana up until the very end – for what choice would it have had?

But original good intentions seem to have dissolved into…well what? Dynastic structures, Presidency for life nonsense (and this is meant to be a Marxist regime!), top down, paternalistic dictatorship. And whatever the nature of Cuban ‘democracy’ at levels below that (a pointless exercise in many respects because of the direct control and direction Castro takes of many aspects of Cuban life), it’s not really good enough.

The US has already swung into action regarding the post-Castro transition. They are offering aid in financial and other terms. Hearing that I’m reminded of P. J. O’Rourke’s comment having been to Cuba that he would jettison the sanctions and have the US Marines assisting entrepreneurs rather than soldiers onto the beaches of Cuba. I think he might be right, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. The US is locked, due to localised political pressures in part, into a pathological relationship with Cuba. History and that relationship are huge obstacles to it’s playing an honest broker. We have to look elsewhere for progress.

There’s Europe of course. But Europe has an interesting relationship with Cuba as it stands. While US capital may not enter the country European capital and investment is widespread, particularly in the tourist sector (Hi Raul!). Personally capital is capital, and it’s how a state chooses to shape the influence and extent of it within a society that counts for me, but Fidel and Raul obviously take a different route. So, while Europe can and does have a role to play I think we should look even further afield.

This should be something the United Nations takes a more visible role in. Indeed I’d like to see the United Nations become considerably more proactive in establishing frameworks of aid and knowledge, action-plans if you will, to cover states which are shifting towards (or have the potential to do so) democracy and liberalisation. We’ve seen the limits of military power in Iraq. It’s time to take a different route. Paul Berman in Power and the Idealists notes that perhaps the last chance out of the morass of the invasion of Iraq was when the UN compound was bombed by insurgents, because only a strong UN input could have even vaguely legitimised with Iraqi’s the US intervention. Lack of legitimacy isn’t just optics. Without that legitimacy public opinion in the West has been lukewarm, if not actively hostile, towards the intervention. It has prevented Muslim countries from participating in the way they were involved in the first Gulf War.

Therefore international legitimacy is something to be strived for. Yes, there are contradictions with many states in the United Nations being at best nominally democratic. But sooner or later there will be change in Cuba, and if it is to be for the better there must be serious consideration given to how best assist that change.

There’s still time for change. There is a chance for Fidel or Raul to maintain the genuine (but hardly unheard of elsewhere) achivements of the past 57 years. A closer engagement with Europe on a political level (that would mirror the joint economic enterprise with Europe), with a clear identification with strong social democratic reforms by firstly dismantling the predominant place of the party, introducing political pluralism and so on would at least offer the chance that the previous years haven’t been wasted.

Otherwise perhaps the best we can expect is what Hitchens suggests; “If we cannot yet say that Castro is dead and we cannot decently say “long live” to the new-but-old Castro, we can certainly say that the Castro era is effectively finished and that a uniformed and secretive and highly commercial dictatorship is the final form that it will take”.

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