Sunday, June 28, 2015

Merkel - Time to Step Up

USA Defense Secretary Ashton Carter travelled Europe to urge Germany start 'punching', if not necessary above her belt, but at least commensurate with her heavy weight group she belongs to. Chancellor Angela Merkel tried her best and led Western response in constructing the Minsk Accord. But neither the accord nor the peace are holding there while Czar Putin wanders around the globe with impunity.

Question Chancellor Merkel needs to ask herself is given the unchecked aggressiveness of bully Putin, does she want to give one more chance by letting Tsipras's Greece elope with Russia? Though the earlier attempt of Tsipras schmoozing with the Czar did not yield him any bounty, the danger of Putin drawing couple of Billions from his treasury to lend Greece is there. What that can do is, move Greece decisively in the Russian column as buying sympathy of Greek folks in their current dire state is very cheap. What such a scenario can do is it will embolden Greek people to vote 'no' in the referendum, get out of Euro, throw away Western debt obligations, access Russian & Chinese monies (1) as stop gap, bring back Drachma, devalue it substantially and slowly start climbing the economic hole it has got itself into. During the process Tsipras would nationalize Greek Banks, halt any privatization of existing public sector and embark upon massive Socialistic experimentation to collect pieces of broken Greek Economy. Sure, in the end Greek economy cannot be on the sustainable footing unless IMF and ECB prescribed reforms are undertaken. But what Putin style economy management would buy for Tsipras is to show to the world how a communist economic policy brings miracles in the short term. After all like Putin, Tsipras is a politician and faking 'some results' is nothing new in Greece. 

What Angela Merkel needs to evaluate is when Iran Deal is at the critical juncture, does she want to strengthen Putin's hands making the job harder for Kerry and Obama as Russia (followed by China) is the most sympathetic to Ayatollah regime in Tehran. No wonder Obama Administration continues to pressurize Chancellor Merkel.

From American point of view, European NATO partners continue to shortchange on their fair share of defense spending. Ok if that is the case, then at least spend money in keeping Greece in the fold to avoid any strategic realignment strengthening already expansionist Putin's Russia. That is the real charter Chancellor Merkel has - avoid Greece slip in Putin embrace. Ideologically and with his instincts of waging high stake gambles, Tsipras is predisposed to undertake such a path.

Imagine, if Chancellor Merkel says she will allow ECB to spend few billions in back stopping Greek banks until the referendum is done. Idea is regardless intransigence of Tsipras, EU to stretch her hand of help to Greek people. Agreed, the instinct is to punish Greek people who cheated while entering EU and then refuse ever after to accept that they cannot afford 'their style' of public spending on a credit card. Agreed, instinct is to stamp down one up showmanship of Greece politicians who refuse to tell 'truth' to their own people; least it embolden Podemos of Europe. But the strategic goal of West must be that - regardless whether Greek goes out of Euro and adopts new Drachma or decides to stay within Euro; Greece remains firmly aligned with Western economies and interests.

One would say, it is a very cynical way of describing the current situation given that question of 'lives of Greek' people is involved. But it is hard for rest of the world to apportion blame in this case - both Europe and Greek equally seem to be at fault; though one would expect in the end 'proud and prudent people' always want to live within their own means rather on borrowed lagressee. The job for Chancellor Merkel was to 'negotiate' Greece in accepting ECB and IMF terms. For variety of reasons, she and Europe have not been able to do that. As usual, Europe's deeply intertwined History, past grudges, tendency to sustain endless 'talk shop' rather than close the deal to move on and essentially inability of European political system to overcome these divisionary tendencies; all that might be contributing to make the EU-Greece Agreement elusive. Someone needs to tell Greek people that whether they remain in Euro or they chart their own course; running to a 'sugar daddy' is hardly a lasting solution. When Greek politicians are not doing that job, Chancellor Merkel need to don that mantle. It will be effective only when she shuns 'more angrier and bitter' voices in her own country, rises to the occasion and takes the first step of 'help' for Greece people.

Think of it this way - as and when Greece comes out of Euro and charts her own course (and worse, takes help from Putin); the human suffering in Greece will not go away. It will exasperate and all Western Capitals and Parliaments will be clogged with 'humanitarian aid' bills to Greece. That will be inevitable. So why not do it before hand? The urge to 'punish' reckless Greek Politicians should neither make Europe loose the strategic objectives nor make it ignore the magnitude of human suffering involved in all this Greek Drama. There will be 'time' and 'place' to put 'little politicians' like Tsipras in their place; but true leaders do not allow such petty considerations make them loose the eye on larger goals. The world is waiting for such statesmanship from Chancellor Merkel. She and today's Germany are certainly capable of such a feat and that will be one remarkable way for Germany to fulfill her global responsibility. Chancellor Merkel has the reservoir of global goodwill. One like it or not; politically she is among the top in the world and it is still not late for her to spend that political capital to achieve some tangible resolution to the Greek problem which has been tearing apart what is cherished in the grand Euro Project.(2)

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(1) Would China managed AIIB make it's first trench of loan to Greece when it would have come out of the shackles of IMF and ECB?

(2) There is a danger of Greece blackmailing West to get money without undertaking reform by threatening to join Russia. But we are not there yet. All along Greece has been trying to work out it's economic mess with in parameters of ECB and IMF. So there can be an argument other way, but Greece is not blackmailing West for its geopolitical vulnerabilities.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Dramatic Week in American Politics

"This is as good as it gets for the president of the United States. It will never be a better week than this for him."

-- Former Senator Tom Daschle, the original force behind ObamaCare

"Barack Obama is one of the most consequential presidents in American history — and he will be a particularly towering figure in the history of American progressivism."

-- Vox

“We talk a lot about race. There’s no shortcut. We don’t need more talk.”

-- President Barack Obama

This has been an extraordinary week in American Politics. First, a Democratic President gets an authority to negotiate a meaningful Trade Pact with the most dynamic region of global economy. This gets followed by the vindication of keep improving America's Health Care System by nation's highest court. Next, American System decisively follows the progressive path in granting the sexual freedom and sanctity of marriage for all.

But our 'gun wounds' still continue. President Obama's Republican Opponent may find it courteous to travel with him, but this country is still missing a sensible approach about guns. Yet, the hatred which can misuse guns, Americans are attempting to face it head on is no mean achievement.  

While America is busy sorting her domestic mess, absence of the 'global cop' causes 'bad guys to cause mayhem' everywhere else. That will be the task cut out for President Barack Obama in remaining months of his presidency. Otherwise in some sense Obama Era is approaching it's conclusion even though Conservatives and 'Barry Goldwater of our times' decry what just happened.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Faulting Pope Francis

Ross Douthat, one of the most sensible and credible voices on Right which is ready to engage with Left, faults Pope Francis for:
- not acknowledging that more global poor are coming out of poverty and
- not acknowledging how technological advances are helping humanity to sustain more bodies on mother earth. 

There may be so truth to what Ross Douthat is saying. But he is missing the 'elephant' in the room. Essentially this Papal encyclical is to bring 'shame' to those Republicans who still stick to fossil fuels all the while irresponsibly ignoring all kind of scientific evidence. The papal encyclical is about Koach Brothers of the world, it is about Sen. McConnell of the world, it is about Russia, it is about Saudi Arabia and it is about Australia; all those who support burning carbon fuels to generate green house gases without bothering to pay any coast while doing so.

Pope Francis is also poking holes in underlying assumptions behind the relentless propagation of Global Capitalism as 'the' solution for prosperity of all. But he is not alone, Thomas Piketty has already done that in Economics. Pope Francis is picking up the leftover part of Moral Case against Global Capitalism. Too bad that no political force in Western Democracies (including USA) has articulated any coherent case to go beyond the current Global Capitalism which is vulnerable to give us Financial Crisis as well as gaping inequality while leaving behind many people of this planet in poorer conditions.

Criticism of contemporary consumerism should not be any surprise to Ross Douthat. Many Conservatives can readily understand that 'excess consumption hardly leads us to human happiness'. 

When Vatican speaks all this, it is not that Papacy gets exposed for weaker reasoning; rather it is the Papacy which joins the Moral Force needed 'here and now' to keep prodding Humanity to undertake what is imperative. Any other interpretation of Catholic Encyclical is missing the point.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Resurgent Bengal?

After becoming Chief Minister of Bengal, angry lady Mamata Banerjee did not offer too many occasions to praise her. But with two PMs - Modi and Sheikh Hasina - on her sides in brokering the settlement of land borders between India and Bangladesh; Mamata has lived up to her promise. Here she is the leader towering over two Prime Ministers delivering what ultimately is the right step in the welfare of Bengali People on both sides of the border. That Mamata gave up a parochial, narrow viewpoint to see the larger goodness encompassing all Bengalis is a heartening sight in otherwise perennially divided subcontinent on caste, religion or language basis. 

Division of Bengal by Lord Curzon was one of the most imperial hubris by the British Empire heaped on the subcontinent. If there was one occasion which helped to cultivate "British Rule as the Machiavellian divide and rule approach" among India's population; it was the Partition of Bengal more than hundred years ago. It took more than a century just to have land demarcation done. Sharing of river waters and co-operation on sea links are still incomplete. We are still counting wages of Lord Curzon's sins.

But then precisely because population of subcontinent did not remain united and did not show the vision in sorting their problems on their own; British Raj exploited Bengalis and Indians at large. No-one is looking at the possibility of undoing what Lord Curzon did. But what West Bengal, India and Bangladesh can do is to remove cobwebs of past and lay down the foundation to bring prosperity to 156 Million Bangladeshis and 91 Million residents of West Bengal. There may be an international border between West Bengal and Bangladesh; but it is hard to imagine peaceful and prosperous Bangladesh without the active support and backing of India which shares land border on all 3 sides of that country. There is much to be gained by both countries when  Bengal imagination is unleashed on both sides of the border. Bengali language is the umbilical cord, but shared history - unfortunately tragic on so many occasions - and realization of same destiny; are the forces to be recognized. Channelling this energy, 'can-do spirit' towards constructive purposes is the job of politicians on both sides of the border. It is great to see that Indian PM Modi is sizing on this opportunity with gusto, Mamata facilitating this co-operation and Bangladesh PM seeing virtues of such co-operation; all are equal signs of maturing polity in the subcontinent.

Lot of commentary on this subject is through the geopolitical angle of how Modi's India is trying to catchup with China in wowing nations in the sub-continent. That may be so; but the heart of such co-operation needs to be recognized - opportunity opened to leaders of subcontinent to correct enormous human suffering folks of Bengal and subcontinent have suffered over the years due to British Raj mistakes followed by sustenance of those divisions instituted by British Raj. In overcoming these sins of pasts, if it means India to be more generous on most occasions; then so be the case. It is great to see that Indian PM Modi clearly sees the need and utility of such an magnanimous approach to India's subcontinent neighbors. So long as he keeps delivering on that; chances of subcontinent wide peace and prosperity will keep improving. 

Monday, June 01, 2015

Rewriting Iraq History

Seems like slowly it is dawning on Washington that Iraq is 'again a lost cause'. Sadly Barack Obama is not the President who can undertake anything like David Petraeus's 'surge'. Neither does Barack Obama have 'that mandate' nor there are any cheap choices available. In anycase 'surge' was not cheap. George Bush had to order additional American soldiers to the tune of 20,000 and finally he had to accept the presidency with 18% approval rating. (Agreed Great Recession played role in writing off Bush presidency along with Katrina, but the lion's share was his Iraq War.) Barack Obama does not intend to immolate his presidency like that, at least till now. Meanwhile one just has to look at Jeb Bush's advisers - as if he has made the point that he picks up all those we contributed enormously to George Bush's disastrous Iraq War policy. It is not just mess of Jeb Bush's answer about Iraq war - there are far too many people in Washington who are deeply vested in continuing faulty Iraq Policy of George Bush.

Washington Post Editor Fred Hiatt is one such charlatan. He backed Bush's Iraq War from get go and for years opted for defending it using all sorts of intellectual contortions.

Americans might not have seen the 'sham' called Bill Kristol, another big time proponent of Bush's Iraq War; but at least Fred Hiatt is finally seeming to reconcile the ill fate of Iraq. Needless to say, in that he blames Barack Obama for not undertaking second coming of another 'surge'. (Yah, our Commander-in-chief is searching for another 'infidel' commander to lead that project since David Petraeus has set the bar high there.) 

May be Obama allowed Maliki to stick around very easily. But it is doubtful Obama had any choice. The failure of today's Iraq is squarely with Iraqi's as Ash Carter said point blank. Sins of Malaki Government are too much to overcome right now. 

It is given that Obama Administration will continue to treat Iraqi situation as a radioactive matter, to stay away as far as possible. Focus on IS is appropriate for Obama Administration. It will be for the next administration to undertake any kind of policy change about Iraq unless deterioration warrants immediate intervention. But looking at today's American voters, it is doubtful if the next President is going to get any different 'mandate'; mandate for any adventurous policy. Hillary might seem to pursue a hawkish policy; but she will be lot more 'checked' by the resurgent Left within Democratic Party. For a Republican President - it will be all right to keep making noise about Obama Foreign Policy; but again it will be all 'talk' and no 'show'. The reason will be simple - today's America would rather prefer America the Global Cop going after FIFA instead of pouring thousands of Americans & Billions in the endless pit called Iraq. 

Truth is:
- defeat of IS, 
- either overthrow of Assad or some different stable arrangement in Syria,
- inclusion of Iran in the larger world community after the nuke accord,
- more freedom to Kurdistan and
- enhanced understanding / co-operation among Sunni Arab States;
these are all conditions to produce the lasting peace in Iraq. Second American surge does not figure in this list.

Whether Iraqi map stays same or not is not the most important question. Question is whether peace in larger Mesopotamia comes or not. Only when ground situation develops along the lines mentioned above, we would have a chance of peace in the area what we call Iraq today.