Liberalism in Retreat

Source: VOA News

Source: VOA News

Liberal ideas seem to be in retreat around the world, but this effect is not perceived stronger anywhere more than in the United States.

What went wrong? The United States is supposed to be the leader and preacher of liberal ideas around the world. How could it expect to inspire change in the more regressive parts of the world with this sort of display?

Since the 1980s, people such as Donald Trump were celebrated by TV and American pop culture in general. They were supposed to be a product of American capitalist prosperity in the 1980s. How can such a figure become such an anti-liberal, populist force?

Of course, Trump sees it differently. He merely sees his steps of trade protectionism as necessary amends to terribly negotiated trade deals. He is merely helping local businesses survive. While that sounds all good in the context of the trade balance, which I am not sure you can force into the positive zone, but not when you are preventing corporations from conducting their business freely. Threatening businesses to not flee is probably the last thing they are going to convince them to stay for too long.

Trump’s idea of negotiating from a position of strength seems to be coercing trade partners and companies into caving into his administration’s demands. He threatens companies with tariffs for moving their construction plants to other countries. And he’s a Republican President.

Now it may sound fair to him and his supporters. But what does it tell the world about the new United States? What does it tell the world about the new Republican Party? Clearly not the bastion of freedom anymore.

The Republican Party leads the free world in terms of its support for economic liberalism. I wonder where the ideology of the party has vanished, as they watch Trump signing away one reckless executive order after another.

How can the United States pull out of TPP and NAFTA on Speaker Ryan’s watch? Something I don’t expect to happen but it is becoming a great possibility. And where is the fiscal conservatism in a trade tariff paying for a border fence wall? Oh wait, Trump is not a fiscal conservative.

Furthermore, Donald Trump’s executive order banning Muslim refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries including Iran and Syria is also a cause for great concern. If you were a liberal leader fighting regimes such as Iran and Syria, then you kill the cause by blocking refuge to freedom-loving individuals in those countries.

And what is with all the executive orders? Where are all the Republicans screaming about Obama’s imperial Presidency?

Let it be refugees, immigrants, jobs, or political and economic unions. The world seems to be going downhill and fast.

The exit of Britain from the European Union and right wing nationalist pro-exit movements all around the Europe are the signs of the rising unpopularity of liberal ideas around the world. The United Nations seem to be under fire in democracies like Israel which are increasingly falling into regressive hands.

But enough of the Republican version of liberalism. But due to the rise of conservative powers around the world, socially regressive policies are also dominating from Turkey to India. But the reason for the election of the rivals of center left parties is perceived to be economic. See the likes of Prime Minister Modi and you would keep on wondering why. But primarily because liberal leaders have failed to convince the voters why their ideas could lead to a prosperous world.

Liberals need to resist terrible ideas from both progressive leftists and right wing populists in order to move toward an actually open and free market economy on a global scale. However, they must first exhibit confidence in them. They must first believe these notions and put them into practice.

People who put the problem of the loss of manufacturing jobs, which may eventually become redundant, ahead of a more progressive, freer trade environment would not grow to be as competent. An idea which threatens a lot of people. Even more than losing access to the best quality of goods the market could offer them.

But good ideas should not need coercion. The vast advantages of globalized, free trade have been overlooked by too many when governments themselves contribute to the conditions leading to businesses fleeing. But what is far worse is that people do not believe that free trade is eventually going to be of benefit to them. While not every business in every market is able to compete with the global competition, free trade eventually favors the consumer.

But such liberal ideas such as reaching markets beyond borders and uniting politically are in retreat. Despite the world’s economic and scientific prosperity being a direct result of them.

But they won’t be for long.

Because it’s often liberalism that cleans up the mess made by nationalism, fascism, populism, and trade protectionism. It would again.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Ignoring the United Nations… Again

Source: The Guardian

Source: The Guardian

The United States and Britain are all set to attack Syria, after reports of chemical attacks allegedly carried out by President Assad’s regime against the Syrian people came in, “killing hundreds” as per the BBC.

Now given the available information, I don’t know who carried the chemical weapons attack. Syria denies it, blaming it on the rebels, but the Western governments are convinced. The United States has concluded that the Syrian government is behind the attacks.

However, without getting into a debate for evidence, if the intervening attack to prevent chemical weapons is necessary, then it must be carried out by the United Nations. It is the responsibility of the United Nations to keep peace.

Unfortunately, the United States is apparently by-passing the United Nations again, as it did for Iraq, as it is considering military strikes and have deployed units without even waiting for the reports of the UN chemical weapons inspectors. United States and Britain have even made it clear that they are not seeking permission from the UN or the NATO.

Debate has started in the United States whether President Obama should seek the approval of the Congress or not. But I am not concerned about that. I think a strike is the responsibility of the UN, not the US.

I believe that all the people who are concerned with war crimes in Syria and support correct moral choices and intervention would be much happier if such action is taken after comprehensive fact finding, and preferably under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council, which is unlikely.

On the other hand, Russia has threatened to veto the resolution for military strike against the Syrian government, as it has done in the past. Russia has even warned of “catastrophic consequences“. This makes the countries often exercising this power to wonder about the veto rule again.

And then people complain that the United Nations is useless, redundant and powerless. How can it possibly work, if its member states, especially the most powerful ones will not allow it to work?

I do hope that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons, otherwise this could possibly go down in history as another unnecessary war like Iraq, ending in atrocities as usual. And the funniest bit is that they insist that the attack is not about regime change.

I hope I am wrong.

There are No Lies in the Battlefield

Courtesy: James Montgomery, acclaimimages.com

What is it about wars that thrill us? What is it that makes us feel so good, so proud, as if we have accomplished something. Is it the bravery, the chivalry, the defiance to death that men can display, or simply because it makes great stories to tell? It does not matter, because in our world it is a glorious thing to go to wars.

But war is an intellectual concept nevertheless. I have to acknowledge that fact. It is as intellectual as it is stupid and nonsense. This is why it is fought by people far away from action in the battlefield. You know, far away from those mindless soldiers, who are brainwashed the moment they land into Boot Camp. They are fed lies, and they are fed truths. But one thing is for sure. They take away from them a part of humanity and they get to earn a part of it that no one else would ever know about.

But even more cruel are the ones who do not even set foot on the battlefield and expect others to sacrifice themselves for them. The one who dodges the bullet, the one who bears the wounds and the one who witnesses the horrors of war can only know what war is like and how vain national glory means when you only have your life to lose, unless they are hardened by war and it becomes their way of living. Some do it by choice and suffer, others are forced into it and made to suffer.

You would have heard about, if not watched, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), based on the novel of the same title by German veteran Erich Maria Remarque. It is just a movie, maybe a touch too exaggerating and maybe overdone for some, but it tells the story of men who lived through World War I, an overdone war after all,  if it is not too much to say. The film emphasizes this very idea more explicitly and deliberately than most of the others about the war that you would come across.

The film talks about sending the youth to the front lines for glory and their subsequent discovery of what war really is. The film was banned in the Nazi Germany for its anti-war content, which for no surprise was taken to be an attack on German nationalism. Rats were used to disperse audiences during the initial screening of the film in theaters. But let’s not take any sides here. To my mind, the American filmmakers have emphasized the human side of the war by choosing to tell the story of a non-allied nation.

How many politically motivated artists talk about the human side of the enemy soldier? Most of the war movies even have no faces for them, just silhouettes. The silhouette of the enemy.  There is no enemy soldier, just humans who agree to kill each other over something they are not even aware of. The film applies as much to France as it does to Germany. It applies as much to Britain, or any other allied nation. It applies to each and every nation of the world. It applies to humanity. The blood-thirsty humanity.

A Few Important Excerpts 

(Note: Right now, the complete movie is available on YouTube. However, I have only posted the excerpts in context of the post. It may or may not be accessible from different parts of the world.)

For those familiar with the history of World War I and Trench Warfare in the Western Front, are also familiar with the toll it took on men.  This film, also the novel, is about how a war changes a man, how a war destroys a man and how they are sent by civilization to die to lift their spirits. A remarkable motion picture for its time, it effectively portrays what a soldier goes through before, during and after war, whether an exaggerated portrayal or not. I think it really is a lot worse than this.

What I learned from this film and what shook me the most is this.

There are no Lies in the Battlefield.

But have we learned the lesson?

That’s why we are an intelligent species.