Monday, January 2, 2017

Business Recorder Column Jan 2, 2017

The post-Cold War world Rashed Rahman Not content with the implosion and break up of the Soviet Union in 1991, a triumphal capitalist west embarked on a plan to prevent Russia from recovering from the debacle and once again re-emerging as a superpower and the only challenger to the west’s hegemony in a post-Cold War world. China has only relatively recently been added to the list of challengers in the light of its newfound economic and military muscle. For evidence of the plan, one need only refer to proxy interventions in post-Soviet Union Georgia (stymied from going over to the western camp completely by Russian military intervention and the de facto partition of Georgia) and Ukraine (a similar outcome after Russian intervention and annexation of Crimea). Meanwhile the west reneged on US President Ronald Reagan’s commitment to then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that the west would not expand its influence into the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe by pursuing NATO-creep (the incremental induction of such countries into the western military alliance, raising alarm in Russia at the threat from NATO now on its doorstep). The triumphal post-Cold War west also decided to redraw the map of the Middle East by overthrowing three Arab secular, nationalist regimes in Iraq, Libya and Syria. These three countries were considered the only challengers to Israel’s hegemony in the region, and ripe for regime change now that they could not balance the western threat by appealing for help to the Soviet Union. The rest of the Arab world had already made peace with Israel, having abandoned their condemnation of and opposition to the Zionist entity planted like a dagger in the heart of the Arab world, in the process relegating the Palestinian people to the virtually forgotten list of victims of western colonialism and imperialism. First, Saddam Hussein was removed from power through a blatant aggression justified by the claims of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and Saddam’s links to al Qaeda. Both were subsequently proved false. Britain’s Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, acted as the US aggressor’s ‘poodle’. The result, presciently prophesied by Saddam Hussein as leading to a bigger disaster when interrogated by the CIA in custody, opened the doors to the rise of Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and later Syria. Saddam was subsequently executed. Libya was destabilised through proxies and then a NATO military intervention under the dubious pretext of the Right to Protect (civilians) resolution of the UN Security Council (erroneously not vetoed by Russia or China) led to the overthrow and brutal murder of Muammar Gaddafi. Libya continues to bleed in the aftermath because of a civil war between the victorious factions, a source of instability that has overflowed to rock the whole of North Africa and beyond. The post-2011 Arab Spring proxy war launched against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria is where Russia eventually drew a line in the sand against this incremental western hegemonic drive. Russian help to the Syrian government has turned the tide in Bashar al-Assad’s favour, beating off the challenge from IS and other fundamentalist terrorist groups and in the process helping Iraq to reclaim territory lost to IS. What the west perceived post-1991 as a clear path to unchallenged world domination appears to have been stopped in its tracks in the sands of Syria. Not only is this a turning point in contemporary geopolitics, it signals a tectonic shift in the power balance in the world from the west to the new emerging alliance between a rejuvenated Russia under Putin and a rising power China asserting its place in the sun. If this analysis is correct, what are the implications and possible outcomes of Donald Trump being elected US president in the context of relations with Russia and the now clearly visible discontents with a globalising world economy? The received wisdom to explain the phenomena of Brexit and the victory of Trump is that this is the reaction to the effects of globalisation by those voters who feel left behind. While much ire is directed against the loss of jobs at home in the developed world to locations where the logic of capitalist profit maximisation dictates manufacturing and services businesses be moved, additional factors are the uneducated response of electorates to the shibboleths of national security and immigration (the last is also linked with loss of domestic jobs). Trump’s campaign pronouncements seem predicated on reversing the flow of capitalist investment out of the developed countries. Additionally, he seeks protectionist policies in a reversal of the free trade paradigm that became accepted wisdom in recent years but now appears to be faltering after the failure of various free trade agreements. While these positions may be popular in the rust belts that dot the manufacturing base of the developed world, their effects on the global economy and trade can only be guessed at. The effects are likely to be negative. Globalisation has alienated not just white working men without college education in the US, it has created a backlash against the way the system is tilted overwhelmingly in favour of the wealthy and powerful. Inequality (between classes, internal regions and blocs of countries) promises a viable cause for the Left to take up to fill its incrementally empty chest of ideas that take account of 21st century realities and seem persuasive. The rise of the ‘populist’ far right in the developed world and political trends reflected in Brexit and Trump’s triumph dictate nothing less. In countries like Pakistan, the Left’s agenda cannot afford to ignore rural dynamics of land ownership and the relations of production between producers and owners. Nor can the changed (and changing) landscape of industrial manufacturing be left unattended. Concentrated large factory production, which historically gave rise to working class movements, has given way considerably to new forms such as labour contractors, outsourcing, work from home, etc. Unless this new geography of manufacturing is adequately understood, no credible appeal of the Left to its traditional working class constituency is possible. Pakistan has the highest urbanisation rate in South Asia. What has this phenomenon done to rural families, dependence on agriculture and related activities, social life and work remains an unstudied or inadequately researched area. A relevant Left (not stuck in the 20th or even 19th century) can only be persuasive if it updates its knowledge of the contemporary world and offers a theory of change in advance of the received wisdom of capitalism (with its attendant confusion and conflicting panaceas to the inherent crisis-ridden tendencies of the system).

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