Yes, America’s War in Afghanistan Was Worth It

J.T. Blakely argues in favor of America’s War in Afghanistan in this “Face Off” edition (Photo by author). Please see Nathaniel Haas’s “Face Off” article for a counter opinion.

This week there will likely be a terrorist attack in Afghanistan – an attack that, like the recent one that left 15 dead, will target civilians, Afghan police, and/or NATO peacekeepers. In the same time period, the number of US soldiers killed in action will likely rise from 2,170 to 2,180. These events will occur as US officials assess Afghanistan’s ability to fend off insurgencies amid seemingly unending bombings, kidnappings, and wavering support for the war both at home and abroad. If, after 12 of years fighting, these are the meager results of thousands of lives lost and trillions of dollars spent, one may wonder: “was it worth it?”

Typically, the answer is an assessment of the War in Afghanistan through a security perspective – how safe is the US from terrorist threats or how stable is the Afghan government from Taliban insurgents? But this approach ignores a critical angle I’d like to address: the Afghani people.

13 years ago, Afghanistan was in the midst of conflict – a conflict that began with a communist coup in 1978, was precipitated by the Soviet invasion in 1979, and was furthered by a decade of civil conflict starting in 1992. America’s intervention in 2001, if even for questionable reasons, reduced unending violence and allowed for the first serious reconstruction efforts since 1978.

Since 2001, life expectancy in Afghanistan has risen by as much as 18 years per person while GDP has increased tenfold and billions of dollars of foreign aid have been unlocked. Similar improvements can be observed through other metrics such as infant mortality, which despite seeing little improvement during the 1990s, dropped by 50% after the Taliban’s fall.

Additionally, it is difficult to ignore the swell of liberties and political rights acquired by the average Afghan since America’s invasion. In the Taliban’s Afghanistan just 13 years ago, women were oppressed on historically unprecedented levels while everything from parakeets to public laughter was outright banned. Public beatings, shamings, and executions were not uncommon and though enforcement of laws was often uneven and arbitrary, these laws suffocated economic activity. Discriminatory policies and mismanagement of public facilities resulted in the ineffectiveness of many accommodations, most notably medical services.

Moreover, when in power, the Pakistan-funded Taliban showed no regard for Afghan culture or history as it deemed countless invaluable cultural artefacts sacrilegious. Just several months before Operation Enduring Freedom began in October of 2001, the Taliban demolished a pair of Buddhist statues known as the Bamiyan Buddhas despite fierce international objection. The two statues, built 1500 years ago, were registered UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

America’s war in Afghanistan has also made way for a new democratic system. The elections in 2004 were the first Afghanistan had seen in decades and the 2014 elections have marked the first time that power was transferred democratically in Afghanistan. And though Afghanistan’s first two elections were marred by controversy (something not uncommon in countries so poor) this year’s election has seen few issues aside from the threat of Taliban violence. Record turnouts rates have shocked the world.

America’s war itself has not wrought the destruction many seem to think it has. In the period between 1978 and the present, over 2 million people were killed in Afghanistan. However, nearly all of these deaths occurred before the 2001 invasion. Of those deaths since 2001, three-quarters were attributed to the Taliban. Meanwhile increased access to aid and medical services has saved countless lives among Afghanistan’s poorest residents.

So in addition to deposing a sacerdotal tyranny, allied forces in Afghanistan have offered the country an end to decades of conflict, have established a representative government, and have given Afghanistan a chance for reconstruction. The Taliban is gone and, given new data suggesting that only 35% of Afghans have any sympathy for armed resistance groups like the Taliban, it seems unlikely to return. Three-quarters of Afghans claim to be better off now than during Taliban rule and the same number feel satisfied with the current government’s performance. So as American military officials plan the troop withdrawal later this year, Americans may argue over whether the war was worth it for the United States, but there’s no debate that it was for Afghanistan.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

 

 

A New Grand Strategy for a Changing World

American political thinkers en masse have not engaged in meaningful debates on American grand strategy since George H. W. Bush’s proclamation of the ‘New World Order’ in the early 1990s. There have been sincere yet misinformed attempts to change America’s role, including the globalization prophets of the Clinton years, the Terror Warriors of the Bush years, and the liberal re-setters of the Obama years. However, no major faction of thinkers has articulated a practical and influential foreign policy capable of protecting America and the liberal international order in our changing world.

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The reverse side of The Great Seal of the United States. ‘Novus Ordo Seclorum’ is Latin for ‘New World Order,’ the main theme of George H. W. Bush’s successful foreign policy. This order has been called into question in recent years. September 20, 2009 (U.S. Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)

Remodeling America’s grand strategy will be difficult. In the near future the necessary lights will return to the foreground and shape the debate towards the best possible ends. At the moment, though, it would be beneficial to examine what coming paradigm shifts may look like to prepare us for the shock.

First, the supposedly transcendent norms of democratization and liberalization that swept the globe and led to a new world order over the last two decades are, in fact, not false illusions, but rather social and political constructions whose dissemination has been made possible only by the geopolitical situation of the Post-Cold War world. American hegemony, an interconnected international economic order focused on the United States, Europe, and China, the political bankruptcy of Communism, and the lack of dominant powers in any of the non-North American regions of the world created an environment wherein general interstate peace, the deepening of trade flows between the world’s major economic hubs, the spread of Western-encouraged democratization and liberalization, and multilateralism as standard diplomacy seemed to be basic forces of history rather than historically-contingent phenomena. The success of internationalism and American ideals blinded American political players to some of the unfortunate realities of international political life.

The global geopolitical situation has certainly changed over the last two decades, particularly with the assertiveness of China and the adventurism of Russia over the last six years. The resurgence of other political and economic centers of power, particularly in Russia, China, and Iran, and to a lesser extent India and Japan, has threatened American hegemony. Economic troubles in the US, Europe, and Japan, coupled with resurgent economic nationalism, have stalled the progress of the global commercial and financial order, proving globalization to be a double-edged sword. The ugly offspring of ‘democracy’ in Egypt, Libya, Myanmar, Pakistan, and other developing nations, as well as the local mutation of American-style liberalism in East Asia, Latin America, and even Western Europe of all places, have threatened formerly ‘universalist’ liberal values. Russia’s forays into Georgia and Crimea, China’s posturing with Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan, and Iran’s manipulation of the situations in Syria and Iraq have brought the phantasmal ideals of perpetual peace, the triumph of multilateralism, and the end of interstate war to an ironic stalemate.

Moreover, innumerable trends in areas beyond the economy and politics are demanding a fundamental rethinking of how we manage foreign policy. Exponential technological advancement in fields as diverse as information technology, biotechnology, communications, energy, transportation, and manufacturing are restructuring societies, militaries, and economies. The ‘New Medievalism’ – a localization of many political units and the transition of duties formerly embraced by the state to various non-state actors such as corporations, non-governmental organizations, stateless nations, cartels, and insurgent groups – has resulted in a new anarchic political dynamic that cannot be managed by traditional statecraft alone. Environmental change, demographic shifts, and other unpredictable historical forces will continue to shape international and domestic politics in the coming decades.

How can the principles of liberal world order, American pre-eminence, and the balance of power be maintained in a world where increasingly assertive regional powers bolster their presence along their frontiers while developing societies crumble in the face of insurmountable domestic odds?

To start, the United States should determine whether or not maintaining the balance of power in every critical region of the world is feasible. Preventing the Russians from dominating Eastern Europe, the Iranians from intervening in the Greater Middle East, and the Chinese from bullying East Asia has certainly kept America the predominant power in those regions. At the same time, it has cost America blood and treasure, alienated three potential partners, and prevented those states from crafting local political orders that might be far more effective at stymying anarchy than the internationalist pretensions of the Western elite, who are proving to be far too incompetent at handling their own problems to be trusted with the affairs of others.

Balancing the Indians and Pakistanis, the Iranians and Israelis, the Japanese and the Chinese, and the Russians and the Europeans has perpetuated regional rivalries and conflicts and prevented the emergence of other hegemons. These rivalries serve America’s strategic interests in preventing the rise of challengers, but in light of present shifts in the balance of power, it is not clear whether the United States has the resources or will to perpetuate such situations and serve as the global lever. While allowing the emergence of regional hegemons is nowhere near ideal, it may be worthwhile to have go-to strongmen in the world’s critical regions who would be, if not dependable, at least predictable. Such a global concert system, populated by regional leaders as Germany, Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, Japan, and Brazil, and maintained by the United States, would certainly provide a more orderly international system than the vaguely law-based equality of all states existing on paper today.

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This geopolitical map of the South Russian frontier depicts some of strategic movements the Russians have been making in recent years. March 6, 2014 (Spiridon Ion Cepleanu/Wikimedia Commons)

Now, it may be worthwhile to stymie potential challengers. But if current political, economic, and demographic trends are to be trusted, it appears that this will ultimately be a futile endeavor, as developing nations transition into middle-class economies, their subsequent power may be too much for us to keep in check, and our attempts at policing will certainly invite contempt.

America would benefit from maintaining a liberal world order through control of the seas and dominance in military and economic might wherein fellow developed nations would come to the table, manage their own affairs, solve mutual problems, and generally strive to keep order around the world. American values could be promoted, but it would not be wise to export them and seek to impose them on our fellow states. And if the world trended towards war, it would be far easier to manage such a crisis in a world of developed states with mutual understandings, rather than a polarized world of the decadent West and the resurgent rest.

The international system is presently enmeshed in a period of great stress and tension, and a new method of thinking about politics will have to conquer the decadent contemporary orthodoxy. The statesmen of the future must engage in these discussions and seek dynamic and creative solutions – the fate of our nation demands nothing less.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

Cold Turkey: The Gradual Freezing of Turkey’s EU Prospects

Protests again Turkey primeminister Ergonan on Trafalgar Square in London, spring 2013 (2)

Solidarity rally in London against Prime Minister Erdogan and in support of the Taksim Gezi Park protests. June 8, 2013 (Chmee2/Wikimedia Commons).

Gaining membership to the European Union (EU) has been a frustrating process for Turkey. The Near East nation began its campaign for EU membership nearly 30 years ago under the EU’s predecessor, the European Economic Community. In 2005, 18 years after beginning the application process, Turkey was finally invited to enter accession negotiations. The protracted delay was a result of unfavorable economic conditions in Turkey as well as Turkey’s tumultuous relationships with EU members Greece and Cyprus. Yet, the question remains: why hasn’t Turkey been granted membership to the EU?

The answers are many and complex. First, geographically, Turkey is located between the East and the West, yet only 3% of Turkish territory actually lies within Europe. The rest of the nation borders hostile neighbors such as Iran, Iraq and Syria. Second, Turkey is culturally aligned more with the East than with the West. The majority of the Turkish population is Muslim, whereas most EU nations are home to a Judeo-Christian cultural tradition. Third, EU leaders are wary that Turkey’s fragile economy could place a heavy financial strain on the EU. In recent months, Turkey’s inflation has reached 7%, the value of the lira is slipping, and foreign investors are fleeing. However, the most glaring explanation for Turkey’s delayed entry seems to be its increasingly autocratic government.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime has committed countless human rights violations, and thus jeopardized Turkey’s chances of joining the EU. Last summer, peaceful demonstrators staged a sit-in to show their disgust with the government’s encroachment on civil liberties. The government responded with violence, using water canons and tear gas to forcibly remove the protestors. The police killed four and injured thousands. Since a major criterion for admission to the EU is high human rights standards, the government’s brutality elicited a negative response from EU officials and prompted German leaders to question Turkey’s eligibility. Further, EU leaders voted to delay accession talks that had been months in progress. Presently, corruption is corroding the government and Prime Minister Erdogan’s reputation. Last month, the Turkish government blocked websites such as YouTube and Twitter. Yet, censorship of social media platforms is but a fraction of the abuses in Turkey – a nation where journalists are routinely arrested and incarcerated for criticizing the party.

While the EU is not ready to accept Turkey, the Turkish public is hesitant to join the EU. Recent polls have shown public frustration toward the accession movement. Additionally, Turkey has experienced spurts of economic growth in the last decade thanks to a customs agreement with the EU that has facilitated, among other things, the development of a sophisticated export trade. Turks might feel that the country doesn’t need the EU to be successful. Prime Minister Erdogan and other top Turkish officials have recently expressed disdain toward the EU, with one minister even being quoted as saying: “Turkey doesn’t need the EU, the EU needs Turkey. If we have to, we could tell them ‘Get lost, kid!’” Although Turkey has seen considerable economic growth in recent decades, the economy is still underdeveloped and could benefit greatly from EU accession. However, the rhetoric of Turkish leaders indicates a turn away from Europe. 

It is clear that Turkey’s gradual abandonment of democratic principles is likely to hinder the progress of their EU membership bid. Regardless of posturing by Turkish leaders, the economic benefits of EU membership are undeniable. Yet, it is clear that the Turks have a long way to go before they will be able to join the EU, if ever.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

Improving Economic Prospects in the Land of Silver

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The Thinker in El Plaza Congreso, adjacent to official government buildings in Buenos Aires, Argentina. December 9, 2010 (David Berkowitz/Wikimedia Commons)

Argentina was a gold mine of economic opportunity in the early 20th century. Blessed with trade surpluses in commodities, an influx of foreign technological innovation and development, and a growth rate of 6% (the fastest in the world at the time), Argentina attracted hundreds of thousands of European immigrants.

With the exception of commodity exportation, Argentina’s recent economic condition has soured. The last half-century has been marked by economic decline, political instability, and diminishing geopolitical influence. Consider that when President Obama visited the Southern Cone in 2011, he flew from Chile to Brazil deliberately passing over Argentina. While significant capital inflows from China largely insulated Argentina from the global economic crisis, economic and political turmoil persist to this day. Inflation estimates are above 30%, its expropriation of Spanish petroleum giant Repsol have made those in the international business community wary of FDI, and its export and import quotas have proven disastrous to farmers, businessmen, and consumers alike.

If President Kirchner’s successor seeks to guide Argentina towards a path of economic and political stability, he/she must assuage concerns of an impending crisis, and work swiftly to ignite a stagnant economy. Reviving the economy will be easier said than done in a country whose Ease of Doing Business ranking is 127 out of 189, trailing, among others, Nigeria and Pakistan. A more challenging hurdle will be reducing Argentinean dependence on natural resource exports. As tempting as it may be to ride the commodity wave to economic solvency, diversification of the nation’s income will prove imperative to Argentina’s future growth and stability. Developments in added-value manufacturing and the service industries will better isolate Argentina’s economy from fluctuations in global commodity prices. Diversification will also require improvements in education and infrastructure, areas in which Argentina is particularly deficient.

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Map of Argentina circa 1929 depicting recent territorial acquisitions (Ufficio cartografico del Touring Club Italiano/Wikimedia Commons)

One thing Argentina is not deficient in is unfounded optimism. An Argentinean economist once lamented that his nation is destined for lackluster development, positing, “Argentina has always been a country with mediocre growth, believing that spectacular growth and riches are right around the corner, and when a good year comes, Argentines say, ‘Ah, here comes the life we’ve been waiting for and so deserve.’” Such misguided expectations must be replaced by shrewdness and sacrifice. Recovering from the current economic turmoil and moving towards a trajectory of sustainable growth will require drastic fiscal and monetary reforms.

Attempts to curtail government spending will likely aggravate an already sluggish growth rate, particularly after several years of costly welfare programs and President Kirchner’s wasteful spending. Also unpopular will be the inevitable currency devaluation once Argentina’s currency exchange is liberalized. Such unpopular policies have been postponed for far too long. Argentina must follow in Chile’s footsteps by increasing economic competitiveness in the global arena. For a country blessed with bountiful resources, its political malfeasance and bureaucracy remains the only thing slowing down what would otherwise be impressive growth. By fostering more competitive industries and implementing basic economic reforms, Argentina may become the gold mine it once was.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

The Italian Job: Operation GLADIO

In the final years of World War Two, Partigiani – the Italian resistance fighters who were largely left leaning, openly socialist, or communist – liberated Northern Italy. This struggle, known as the Italian Civil War (8 September 1943 – 25 April 1945), ensured that the once vilified Marxist political ideologies would become central to post-war republican Italy.

An Italian partisan in Florence, 14 August 1944. TR2282

An Italian partisan in Florence three days after the Liberation of Florence orchestrated by the Italian Resistance, 14 August 1944. (Captain Tanner, British War Office official photographer/Wikimedia Commons)

In the context of the Cold War and the Truman Doctrine, the popularity of communism and socialism in Italy represented an expansion of Soviet influence, and thus an existential threat to the United States. One of the first covert actions approved by President Harry Truman was ordered out of fear of a communist victory in the April 1948 Italian elections. In addition to overt diplomatic support for Italy’s government, the National Security Council recommended that a covert program be implemented to “actively combat Communist propaganda in Italy by an effective U.S. information program and by all other practicable means, including the use of unvouchered funds” (NSC 1/1). This covert action was the precursor to NATO’s formal clandestine operation in Italy known as Operation GLADIO (1948-1990).

Operation GLADIO included a combination of propaganda, political action, and paramilitary action. Starting with the 1948 general elections, the CIA funneled money to political parties that opposed the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and Italian Socialist Party (PSI) in every election for 24 years. This aid was largely to help cover the costs of campaigning, posters, and pamphlets. The CIA also forged letters discrediting party leaders on the left. The paramilitary aspect of Operation GLADIO was to train anti-communist clandestine networks, which often recruited former fascist hardliners. The most direct political action took place in 1964 when Operation GLADIO supported a silent coup in which the socialist ministers were forced out of government.

Operation GLADIO is inextricably tied to Italy’s “Years of Lead” (1960s-1980s), the period of Italian history in which extremist groups on the left and right committed domestic terrorism and targeted killings. Among these were the neo-fascist groups Ordine Nuovo and Rosa dei Venti, which carried out multiple bombings. Both of these groups allegedly had GLADIO-trained operatives among them carrying out bombing operations. GLADIO-trained operatives have also allegedly carried out “false flag” operations. Consider the case of the 1972 Paetano terrorist attack. The communist group Red Brigades was originally blamed until, in 1984, Vincenzo Vinciguerra – a fascist terrorist who claimed to have been supported by the GLADIO network – confessed. It is suspected that the Red Brigades’ assassination of Christian Democrat Prime Minister Aldo Moro in 1978 was also a “false flag” – the evidence being an alleged threat to Moro from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the involvement of the Banda della Magliana, an Italian criminal organization tied to GLADIO and the 1980 Bologna Massacre.

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The ruins of the Central Railway Station of Bologna after the Bologna Massacre, 2 August 1980 (Beppe Briguglio, Patrizia Pulga, Medardo Pedrini, Marco Vaccari/Wikimedia Commons)

Ultimately GLADIO was successful in ensuring that a socialist or communist government never held power in Italy until 1996. The strategy of tension employed by GLADIO’s intervention was effective in allowing the US to influence Italian politics by creating instability through polarization. However, the operation caused the deaths of many innocent Italians and arguably denied the country its right to national self-determination. Additionally, Italy’s politics remain highly unstable and volatile to this day. In terms of upholding the principles on which the United States was founded and preserving the long-term stability of a democratic Italy, this operation was a failure.

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Italian Liberation Day Celebration in Milan 25 April 2007 (Paolo Bellesia/Wikimedia Commons)

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board. 

Venetian Independence Explained

Guest Contributor: Yuri Serafini

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The Winged Lion of St. Mark watches over all cities once ruled by the Republic of Venice. (Wikimedia Commons/Nino Barbieri)

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Crimea, a frenzy over secessions has swept the media. Journalists have turned their attention to, among other regions, northeast Italy where a farcical event is taking place: the supposed Venetian secession. Unfortunately, media coverage in Italy – where the event is polarizing – and abroad has been both inaccurate and incomplete.

Recently, the xenophobic Lega Nord Party held an informal online poll on the independence of the Venetia Region of Italy. The results were trumpeted as a landslide “referendum” proclaiming the local population’s desire for independence. The question of Venetian autonomy has returned attention to the prevailing cultural and economic divisions between northern and southern Italy. These divisions are most pronounced in the northeast, where the economic landscape is characterized by small family-run enterprises. Furthermore, Venice boasts a millennial history as an independent republic that, at its height, controlled all of northern Italy east of Milan, the Dalmatian coast, and the Islands of Crete and Cyprus. Until the Great Recession, Venice and its surrounding area was one of the wealthiest regions in Italy. The city of Treviso still holds the highest rate of millionaires per capita in Italy.

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The sun sets behind an oil refinery in the Venetian lagoon. (Wikimedia Commons/Jorge Royan)

While large industrial groups based in Turin, Genoa, and Milan were historically built with unskilled labor imported from south of Italy, the family-run businesses of the northeast only began hiring unskilled labor recently, most of it coming from the Balkans. Further, those in the northeast are aggravated that the inefficient and self-serving political class in Rome is squandering their hard-earned taxes. As a result, northeastern Italians accept a united Europe, but not necessarily a united Italy.

The accusation of political irresponsibility is understandable, and in many respects, true. These beliefs have made Venetia, along with the neighboring regions of Lombardy and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, a stronghold of the Lega Nord. Since 1991, when the Lega Nord was formed as a union of several regional independence movements, it has been a small but significant player in national politics. Its parliamentary presence – though minimal – was instrumental in the survival of Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right coalitions despite poor election results.

Although allies on paper, Berlusconi never conceded to the Lega Nord’s requests for greater autonomy in the north. Even after the Lega Nord toned down its rhetoric, its proposal for “fiscal federalism” (i.e., granting regional governments the power to keep a greater portion of their tax revenues) did not pass parliament.

How did Berlusconi keep the support of the Lega Nord for close to 20 years without caving in to its legislative demands? The answer is simple: bribery. Berlusconi encouraged the Lega Nord to misallocate campaign funding, which in Italy is provided entirely by the state. Party leaders made several investments ranging from the stupid to the absurd, including the purchase of real estate, investments in a hedge fund in Tanzania, and a safe full of diamonds.

After years of denying that the global recession affected Italy, Berlucsoni conceded to domestic pressure and resigned from office in 2011. After consultation with parliamentary leaders, the President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, summoned Mario Monti, a well-regarded university professor and one-time president of the European Council, to serve as prime minister of a “technocratic” government. Technocratic regimes are a bizarre occurrence in Italian politics, whereby in times of crisis, parliament summons various apolitical experts to run the country until the next election.

During Monti’s tenure, the parliament passed several austerity measures to save the country’s finances, including cutting social services and increasing taxes. However, they refused to curb the wasteful spending that had doomed Italy in the first place. Over the next two years, every political party took the opportunity to bash Mario Monti over the consequences of his failed policy. Additionally, legislation proposed by Monti to stimulate the economy at the cost of politically influential special-interest groups was continuously shot down in both chambers of parliament. In all this, the Lega Nord made the unwise move of vocally criticizing Berlusconi as his party voted in favor of the austerity measures.

Berlusconi’s reaction to the Lega Nord’s dissent was swift and merciless. He exposed the Lega Nord’s financial irregularities just as an exhausted and peeved Monti called for elections. Berlusconi’s media holdings were particularly thorough in their coverage of the scandal around election time. Umberto Bossi, the Lega Nord’s historic leader, was finally forced from power just before the elections. Additionally, key members of the party withdrew from national elections to stand locally, as key cities such as Treviso, Turin, and Milan fell into the hands of the center-left, along with the regional council of the Friuli region, northeast of Venetia. In the primary elections held a few months ago, Matteo Salvini, a young member of the European Parliament and an outspoken member of the party’s socialist fringe, was elected to the Lega Nord’s leadership.

However, if the upcoming European elections mirror recent national ones, Salvini might find himself out of elected office. The aforementioned online “referendum” has given him ammunition for national television. Unsurprisingly, the rally celebrating the success of the “referendum” was held in the recently lost city of Treviso, previously a stronghold of the Lega Nord run by party stalwart Giancarlo Gentilini for 12 years. Gentilini removed the benches from Treviso’s railway station when he wasn’t allowed to segregate them, and proposed dressing up all immigrants as rabbits to use them for target practice in preparation for the local hunting season. Gentilini, and now Salvini, are representative of a large component of the Lega Nord’s electoral base. Although this contingent has always been vocal during party rallies, it had never held elected office beyond the provincial level until now.

This has since changed. Salvini is a homophobe and racist who has advocated racial segregation, is openly demeaning towards southerners, and has criticized the archbishop of Milan for giving charity to gypsies. His success in any endeavor should be a cause for worry. The “referendum” is Salvini’s message to his radical base that he is one of them, as Umberto Bossi was one of them. And, as Umberto Bossi toned down and eventually abandoned his rhetoric, so will Salvini once he gets a taste of real power. If he has not already planned to do so, he will compromise with the center-right – his natural allies – whose political elites hail from the south, and require northern tax money to finance its corruption. After the next election, Venetian Independence will surely be off the table.

Yuri Serafini is a guest contributor from Milan, Italy. He currently studies Economics and Finance at Bocconi University.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

A Return to Hamilton and Roosevelt

Great Seal of the United States (obverse)

No image better captures the essence of conservative realism than that which graces all formal U.S. documents: the Great Seal of the United States. A united, vigorous nation, represented by the strength and grace of the bald eagle, ascends into the heavens to take its place among the nations of the Earth. Its commitment to the prudent management of power is depicted in its clutching the olive branch of diplomacy in its right claw, and in its left, the arrows of war. U.S. Government (Wikimedia Commons)

The Republican Party of 2014 is in a predicament. On the one hand, it is opposed by a lame-duck Democratic administration, many of whose policies might justifiably be described as “failed.” It is energized by massive grassroots populist waves unseen since the 1980s. And, it continues to attract some of the keenest political operators in the United States.

On the other hand, the party is below Democrats in national approval rating. In terms of legislation, it has largely behaved as the “Party of No” its critics deride it as. Perhaps most shockingly, largely due to its present deep internal divisions, the Republican Party has articulated several contradictory and rather arbitrary economic strategies, and no creative new foreign policy strategies.

This shortage of intellectual capital does not bode well for a party with such advantageous opportunities as the transition out of the “Old Blue Model Fordist” economy, the rapidly rising presence of socially conservative Hispanics in the Southwest, and the gradual commercialization of space. In each of these areas (and many others), the Republican Party could adapt its principles and policies to take advantage of present trends to better America’s future prospects; yet, in the party’s present state, it seems ever less likely that necessary reformers and insurgents will have a voice.

Currently, the GOP is internally divided, with each of its factions competing for the mantle of the legacy of Ronald Reagan. In truth, none of the various factions or leaders resembles the Gipper’s legacy either in policy or charisma. But even if any of them followed Reagan’s policy and philosophy, they could not save the Republican Party – different times call for different measures and different ways of thinking. Principles may remain the same, but policies never should.

Generally, there are two main camps struggling for control of the GOP, with innumerable interest groups and factions influencing their trajectories. In a nutshell, there are the main-line “establishment” Republicans, including John Boehner, John McCain, Chris Christie, and others occupying higher positions in Washington and elsewhere, while competing against them are the insurgent Tea Party-affiliated Republicans, including Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, and Marco Rubio, as well as many other relative newcomers to the political scene. The establishment Republicans tend to stick to the classic party line of deregulation, heavy-handed foreign policy, and moderate social conservatism; the Tea Party and the candidates it endorses tend to focus on fiscal responsibility and a cutback in the size of government. Thus, establishment Republicans are far more conciliatory towards Democrats than their Tea Party counterparts, who often brand themselves as the “true” conservatives battling a decadent national GOP establishment. Meanwhile, various subgroups, including religious social conservatives, foreign policy isolationists, and large corporate interests play prominent roles in the policymaking and discourse of the GOP, though none hold power themselves.

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Theodore Roosevelt. Pach Brothers (Wikimedia Commons)

The current squabbles over the true definition of “conservatism” exclude a tradition which has, for a century, been far underrepresented in American conservative discourse: the conservative realist tradition, best exemplified by Alexander Hamilton and Theodore Roosevelt. This pragmatic brand of political thought has proven to be as timeless as America’s ideals themselves, as it has undergirded America’s unity as a nation and its rise to power on the world stage in most of the country’s most transformative epochs. Though its followers have never held power for more than a decade or so, its opponents have always grudgingly (or unknowingly) adopted its most basic precepts and tenets in order to maintain America’s status as a united world power. It is therefore written into America’s political DNA as firmly as the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, though in most times it remains unspoken.

The core principles of conservative realism are the same core principles any would-be powerful nation-state must follow: a commitment to internal order and unity, effective external security, and sustainable national prosperity. These are the core elements of power – the meat of politics. The ligaments holding them together, especially a healthy civil society and social trust, are highly valued and praised by conservative realists, but are not the core of conservative realist philosophy. Meanwhile, conservative realists tend to have a particular view of how the three core objectives are to be attained and preserved: a strong and unitary government (as opposed to a confederation or an extreme decentralization) in order to maintain unity and order; a prudent, pragmatic realism based on the balance of power in foreign policy to secure an advantageous security situation; and effective government regulation, and investment in infrastructure and technology, to most efficiently and lucratively manage national resources. Though most political thinkers would not oppose the three primary objectives of conservative realism, many would oppose the means by which conservative realists seek to attain them.

Alexander Hamilton portrait by John Trumbull 1806

Portrait of Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbell, 1806. Washington University Law School (Wikimedia Commons)

Those following and practicing this mode of thought were effective in times of fracture and weakness, when the United States needed internal consolidation and external heft. The presidency of George Washington, and to a lesser extent that of John Adams, saw intense federal investment in infrastructure, along with unitary policies and a very pragmatic foreign policy. Thomas Jefferson and his successors, though they largely condemned such policies while out of office, invariably wound up practicing conservative realism when in office. The Jacksonian Revolution, and its subsequent weakening of the federal government and increasing regionalism in American politics, set the stage for the Civil War, regardless of Henry Clay’s neo-Hamiltonian policy proposals. Abraham Lincoln, another great nationalist, sought to save the Union by the same methods as those offered up by Alexander Hamilton decades before. America’s rise to prominence as a world power in the late 19th Century was largely due to the influence of statesmen and thinkers like Alfred Thayer Mahan, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Theodore Roosevelt, whose emphasis on pragmatic foreign policy and active economic involvement on the part of the federal government effectively created the America we know today. After the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, the movement died down quite a bit; however, come the Second World War, conservative realists in the State and War Departments crystallized their precepts for national security strategy, while corresponding trends in government, such as the establishment of New Deal programs, rendered basic manifestations of the imperatives for united governance and economic involvement essentially unquestionable. To a certain degree, the United States has been run on conservative realist principles for the better part of its history, if only explicitly at certain points.

Cowboy 20060805173639

Cowboy in Montana, 1910. Grant-Kohrs Ranch Historic Collection, bought by the National Park Service in 1972 (Wikimedia Commons)

In most situations in which conservative realists rose to power, the might of America increased, her cohesiveness was strengthened, and she reached new levels of prosperity. Moreover, she became increasingly capable of shaping and leading the liberal international order that has graced and cursed the world with ever-expanding trade, communication, and cultural exchange. In 2014, as America’s power stagnates while powers around the world rise and anarchy beckons, nothing could be more desirable than an America united at home, pragmatic abroad, and generating sustainable wealth.

There has been ceaseless talk about governmental and party reform in American politics. Most proposals have been doomed from the start, as they either long for the improbable (the redemptive electoral success of a moderate Third Party) to the downright impossible (the elimination of money from politics). Some pragmatic solutions have been offered, but none promise more than baby steps to remedy small aspects of America’s political dysfunction.

It is time for a practical and proven solution to be considered. The only executable events that have ever shifted the course of American politics have been party realignments. (Of course wars, elections, and economic crises have done their share, but for the most part, those happen on their own, impervious to human agency.) Why not create an insurgent force within a conservative party and strive to influence policy and politics from there, as the Tea Party movement has done? The difference between the Tea Party movement and the conservative realist voice, however, is that the Tea Party enjoys widespread grassroots support, while conservative realists think in line with many in the intelligence, diplomatic, and military establishments. Such populist support as the Tea Party enjoys would be crucial for the crafting of a national strategy based on alternative principles of politics; support from the foreign policy establishment, the most avowedly conservative realist faction in government today, is an essential starting point.

And ultimately, though Democrats would assuredly be involved, the GOP is at present the party most amenable to the proposals conservative realism would demand. Change ought to start from within.

Unfortunately, no major voices in the Republican Party today voice the aforementioned philosophy. Perhaps with time, as stress builds up on the system and around the world, new voices will emerge, and the true conservative realism will again shape our nation’s destiny.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

Don’t Waste Your Crises, Mr. President

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” counseled President Obama’s first Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, in early 2009.

Although many Republicans, still recovering from their losses in the 2008 Election, seized the advice as evidence of the Obama Administration’s secret intention of transforming the United States into an Orwellian nightmare, the quote itself is not unprecedented. Winston Churchill said something similar, and strategists across the ages have noted that when the status quo falls into chaos, the winners are those who seize what they can. Looking back on American history, it seems that the greatest Presidents used great conflagrations to their advantage, and the weakest Presidents bungled them. Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt come to mind. Their presidencies coincided with the two deadliest threats in the country’s history: the Civil War in Lincoln’s case, and the Second World War in Roosevelt’s.

Conversely, the presidents directly before these legends have been remembered as failures. James Buchanan is remembered as the man who thought he would be the last President of the United States and failed to subdue the domestic unrest which ultimately culminated in the Civil War. Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover are remembered for their isolationism in the time of the rise of Fascism, and their inaction when faced with the onset of the Great Depression.

But a Commander-in-Chief need not wait for apocalyptic upheavals to get a chance to prove his leadership. The nature of politics is such that the state is beset by constant crisis, with challenges approaching at all times and from every direction, including from within.

Most people would be hard-pressed to recount the foreign policy of Dwight Eisenhower. Yet the Sputnik controversy, the Korean Armistice, the Suez Crisis, and the U2 Incident all occurred on his watch, and Ike is generally remembered as one of the best – if not the least interesting – Presidents of the Twentieth Century. Perhaps Kennedy best exhibited good crisis management: following the failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, he deftly managed the Cuban Missile Crisis and is still one of the most popular Presidents in our history. Truman, Nixon, and Reagan assembled some of the best foreign policy staffs in American history, and are thus remembered for strong foreign policies.

Carter, on the other hand, is remembered as a better person than President precisely because of his crisis management – he bungled the Iranian Hostage Crisis, which was not necessarily a matter which threatened our territorial security the way previous crises had, but nonetheless posed a threat to our overseas interests and national prestige. Lyndon Johnson, another great man, dramatically increased America’s presence in Vietnam, yet failed to solve anything, and for that has been reviled among moralists and strategists alike. Perhaps most notorious has been George W. Bush; it is likely that his management of the War on Terror will leave him remembered as a warmonger and a generally incompetent leader.

We come, now, to the question of President Obama. How will he be remembered? If he continues to pursue a foreign policy akin to his first term, he will likely be remembered in the same harsh light covering Johnson, Carter and Bush.

The international system is entering a period of great change. The ongoing financial crisis is its economic manifestation, but the crisis itself goes beyond economics: class, technology, and the role of government all affect and are affected by the current developments. Meanwhile, new bases of power rise around a world which is politically more complex now than it has been since the late 1960s.

New challenges are on the horizon, and those who handle such situations well will go down as great statesmen. History remembers those who fare poorly as politicians. To his credit, President Obama did not emulate his predecessor’s adventurism, and by scaling back the Afghan and Iraqi wars has freed the American military from its former tied-down state. And the Bin Laden raid was, undoubtedly, the high point of his foreign policy.

But almost all of his administration’s major initiatives, from the Reset Button with Russia to the Asian “Pivot” to the New Beginning with the Muslim world, have been either poorly-informed ideas or only partly-successful policies. And the President’s crisis management, it seems, has been no better. As the Arab Spring toppled dictator after dictator, some of whom were American allies, inconclusive and contradictory statements emerged from the White House. The same pattern is visible now as the Syrian war drags on and an American intervention appears to loom closer. And although the President handled the recent North Korean crisis reasonably well, the unwise Libyan intervention has spawned countless unforeseen consequences, while Russia’s recent granting of asylum to Edward Snowden on the grounds of international law appears to be a diplomatic crisis in the making. It is unclear whether the President will handle the unknown crises awaiting him in the last years of his second term as a politician or a statesman.