The right in Europe and its apologetic position towards Russia

This article was published in the European edition of the Financial Times and on its web-site.
Europe’s right finds excuses for the Kremlin
27 November 2008

For much of the post-1945 era it was axiomatic that Europe’s centre-right parties were hostile to Russia. Charles De Gaulle frightened France by saying the Red Army was ready to strike only the distance of two stages of the Tour de France from French borders. Konrad Adenauer, West Germany’s first chancellor, refused to recognise any state that talked with Russia’s satellite east of the Berlin Wall. Britain’s Margaret Thatcher endorsed the "empire of evil" language about Russia, while Germany’s Helmut Kohl faced down huge demonstrations against US missiles aimed to counter Soviet short-range nukes. By contrast, the European left spent much of its time finding excuses for whatever the Kremlin wanted.
Today, there has been an odd reversal. The biggest supporters of prime minister Vladimir Putin and president Dmitry Medvedev as they shape a new authoritarianism and try to alter Europe’s frontiers by force are leaders of the centre-right. While Silvio Berlusconi patronises Barack Obama for his "sun tan", the Italian prime minister has only smiles for Mr Putin. Germany’s Angela Merkel went to Tibilisi as Russian tanks rolled past the disputed enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and appeared to show solidarity with the beleaguered Georgians by saying they could join Nato. Back in Berlin, the chancellor’s briefers claimed she meant no such thing.
The most curious 180 degree turn is that of France’s Nicolas Sarkozy. During his presidential campaign in 1997, Mr Sarkozy denounced "the silence on the 200,000 killed in Chechnya" by the Russians and promised to invite Putin’s arch-enemy, Gary Kasparov, to the Elysée. Today, Mr Sarkozy has decided to be Russia’s new best friend. In Moscow during the Georgian crisis, he said it was "completely normal for Moscow to defend the right of Russian-speakers" outside Russian frontiers.
Worse followed when the Kremlin responded to Mr Obama’s victory by announcing that short-range nuclear missiles would be installed in Kaliningrad, near Poland, where Immanuel Kant wrote Perpetual Peace. Formerly Königsberg, the city is a reminder of Russia’s historical desire to be present far beyond its frontiers.
Instead of asking the Russians to ratchet down talk of a new missile race in Europe, Mr Sarkozy told a beaming Mr Medvedev at a European Union-Russia summit in Nice that the real problem was the decision of the Poles and Czechs to accept a US proposal to base a missile shield on their territory. This prompted a furious reminder from Poland and the Czech Republic that they were sovereign nations and would decide their own foreign policy and military alliances, merci beaucoup. Mr Sarkozy has alienated eastern Europe with his pro-Kremlin leanings.
Other conservative governments in Europe constantly find excuses for the Kremlin. Italian politicians say Italy’s energy dependence requires soft words with Russia. Mr Berlusconi has delivered a near-fatal blow to the Nabucco project to deliver oil from the Caspian without going over Russian-controlled territory. Now he has signed the so-called South Stream project with the Kremlin which will place Italy at the mercy of Russia’s energy politics.
In Britain, the conservative foreign policy establishment of retired ambassadors found plenty of excuses to justify Russia’s invasion and deplore Georgia’s response. Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary and Tory grandee, defends Mr Putin in the House of Commons while Conservative members of parliament sit in the same group as Mr Putin’s Duma clique at the Council of Europe.
Meanwhile, it is in liberal, left and human rights circles that some criticism of Mr Putin’s new authoritarianism can be heard. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have long criticised the erosion of the rule of law and freedom of expression in Russia. David Miliband, the British Labour foreign secretary, spoke in Kiev of Russia’s habit of treating her neighbours as either "vassals or enemies". Carl Bildt, Sweden’s liberal foreign minister and Europe’s most experienced foreign policy official, has also used firmer language. In France, the leftwing Libération newspaper has been the firmest critic of Russian expansionism.
To be sure, much of the European left, including Germany’s Social Democrats, find it easier to criticise the fears and hopes of Georgians and Ukrainians than speak out against Russia. Yet the fact remains that, today, Russia’s best friends are to be found on the European ruling conservative parties.
This poses a problem for the Obama administration. After 1945, Americans could rely on European conservatives to support a clear line on Russian Sovietism. Now when Washington calls Europe and asks what the line on Russia should be, the European right of Mr Sarkozy, Ms Merkel and Mr Berlusconi would prefer not to answer and the left is irrelevant. Again, it will be Washington’s duty and responsibility to decide, alone and without a clear, united European line, how the democratic world should respond to today’s Russia.
Former Minister Tells Commons India Needs to Move on Kashmir

There will be no stability and peace in Pakistan until India deals with the Kashmir problem by removing its 500,000 strong army in the region and allows the Pakistani military to focus on its western borders the former Foreign Office minister, Dr Denis MacShane, told the House of Commons.

Speaking in the Commons, MacShane, the Labour MP for Rotherham, also welcomed the statements by US President-elect Obama highlighting the importance of Kashmir and the need for India to contribute to a solution. In an exchange with the Foreign Office Minister, Bill Rammell, who is responsible for the region, MacShane said:

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Stability in Pakistan will be difficult to achieve while the Kashmir conundrum continues. Does the Minister welcome President-elect Obama’s underlining of Kashmir as an issue that America will have to address? Does the Minister also agree that the presence of half a million Indian troops in Kashmir means that Pakistan keeps most of its military on its eastern flank, instead of focusing on its western flank and helping us in Afghanistan?

Bill Rammell: The situation in Kashmir remains an important concern, and we are urging all parties to commit themselves and to support the composite dialogue in that regard. (Hansard Official report 11 November 2008)

The Rotherham MP said it was important that as the world community starts a new era of international relations with the election of a new US president and the world economic leadership by Gordon Brown the need to find a solution to the denial of political and human rights in Kashmir was urgent. "India maintains an army in Kashmir ten times the size of all the forces engaged in Afghanistan to stop jihadi Taliban terrorists from taking back control. India can play a constructive world role by allowing freedom for the people of Kashmir and remove the giant Indian army from the region. Stability on Pakistan’s eastern flank would allow Pakistan to engage with the anti-democratic forces promoting terrorism and dictatorship under the guise of the Taliban and jihadi fundamentalism."
Now the Europeans Have Their President ….

Europeans have the US president of their dreams. Barack Obama was Europe’s candidate of choice. Europe expects the new Democratic administration, to deliver a made-in-Europe world policy.
With one exception. The Kremlin’s welcome for Obama was chilling. Moscow announced it install short range nuclear missiles aimed at EU member states in east Europe. The missiles will be placed in Konigsberg, now called Kalingrad after Russia annexed Kant’s university town in 1945.
European socialists and liberals united with conservatives and Christian democrats in rejoicing at Obama’s victory. The Bush-Cheney-Greenspan axis of reactionary economic incompetence and foreign adventurism had been defeated, at last.
In this foam-filled warm bath of self-satisfaction no-one has asked whether Europe has got anything wrong in the last eight years. No one has asked if the new Senate and Congress will be more amenable to America becoming multilateralist which in plain language means doing what other countries want not what American law-makers or the President believes America needs?
President-Elect Obama has made a campaign theme his confidence that he can get Europeans to share more of the burden in Afghanistan. Wish him well as he tries to persuade German Chancellor Angela Merkel or her social democratic rival in next year’s German elections, Foreign Minister Franz-Walter Steinmeier, that more German soldiers should be sent to fight and die in faraway Afghanistan.
VP-Elect Biden visited Tibilisi to show solidarity with the people of Georgia after Russia poured armoured divisions, planes and even a fleet to pound Georgia. Russian parliamentarians have voted to dismember Georgia and, in effect, annexe part of the territory of a UN member state. Europe’s response has been to launch new talks with Moscow on an agreement on partnership and cooperation as if the Kremlin’s Sudetenland-like occupation of Georgian territory was of little consequence. How will Obama handle the newly aggressive Russia especially as windfall oil wealth goes down and Putin steps up nationalist rhetoric?
If Roosevelt had to fix the US economy in the 1930 (and still only managed to bring US unemployment down to 18 per cent in 1939. It was World War 2 that really set American growth and jobs on an ever-upward trend) Obama has to find a way out of today’s collapse of consumption, confidence and even a belief in capitalism itself. Europeans are enjoying the idea of the return of the state but since when did cautious, safety-first state bureaucrats go in for the kind of creative, new-product market economy that America and the world needs?
France and Germany have been lathering themselves with criticisms of the US economic model. But what happens when Americans stop buying Louis Vuiton and bottles of Bordeaux, let alone BMWs and Mercedes? Europe will discover that the one thing worse than Americans buying too much on credit is Americans not buying anything at all. Germans need to stop saving and start spending. And as in China Germans need to be told that trade is two-way. If you want to export, you have to import.
The EU has written a joint letter to Washington on managing the world economy but from Ireland to government-owned regional banks in Germany, the Europeans have been just as guilty of trading financial products which had no material reality while banking secrecy laws in EU member states like Luxembourg and Austria as well Switzerland and Lichtenstein and Britain’s off-shore tax havens have shielded dubious transactions from tax and regulatory authorities.
Europe still will not give up its seats at the IMF or World Bank to allow China and the emerging powers of Asian-Pacific capitalism to have a say. Each EU leader will be clamouring to be the first to see Mr Obama. Far from speaking with one voice on foreign policy issues ranging from Kosovo to Turkey, Europe’s national egos will be on display more than a European unity and willingness to share burdens with America.
Obama might well be tempted to paraphrase Kennedy and tell his new fans in Europe: "Ask not what America can do for you, ask rather what Europe can do for America."
For the time being, the optimism of the will, the sheer excitement at seeing an articulate, thoughtful, sensitive post-white American enter the White House is overwhelming the pessimism of the intelligence, the sense that deeply intractable policy questions about economics, the environment and geo-political relations and interventions have yet to be adequately asked let alone answered.
Obama can do much to reinvigorate America’s presence overseas by appointing professional diplomats in place of billionaire ambassadors. He might suggest to the EU the creation of a Global Endowment for Democracy to support fair elections, freedom of expression, women’s rights and social justice in the world.
There are no perfect partners but America’s refusal to offer diplomatic recognition to Iran or even to North Korea achieve little. Obama’s America must be present in every corner of the world, making friends and influencing people but also taking on and defeating the enemies of freedom.
Europe is America’s partner and foil in this new era of world history. Both Europeans and a Democrats-controlled US should enjoy the warmth and hope that now exists. But expectations need managing and after this week’s euphoria both Washington and Europe need to focus on what can reunite the Euroatlantic community instead of the divisions that have caused so much damage so far this century.
What if McCain Wins?

This article first appeared in Newsweek.

1 November 2008

If John McCain becomes the next U.S. president, it will send europe into a fit of despair not seen on the old continent in decades. After all, Barack Obama is Europe
's candidate, so much so that French President Nicolas Sarkozy—so happy to spend a vacation day with George W. Bush—turned Obama's fleeting summer stopover in Paris into an orchestrated photo op, to milk maximum publicity from the Democratic candidate. In Britain, Conservative M.P.s seem to have forgotten that McCain had been the keynote foreign speaker at the Conservative Party
conference just last year and now openly wear Obama buttons as they gossip in the House of Commons corridors and tearoom. German Christian Democrats from Angela Merkel's party swelled the 200,000-strong crowd who listened to Obama in Berlin in July. For the European left, Obama is the savior, McCain irrelevant. The intelligentsia and the political weeklies in every European capital seem to have long ago agreed to write off McCain and splash Obama's face on every front cover. If he loses, narrowly or otherwise, there will be a sense that America has lost its senses.
Ever since McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, Europe has looked down its collective nose at the thought of a McCain presidency. Little matter that Europe is awash with populist politicians of its own. Italy's Silvio Berlusconi or the late Jorg Haider in Austria proved that crude sloganeering and appeals to the gut rather than the intellect were as common in Europe, despite the self-regarding belief of Europeans that their political life is conducted on a higher plane than in America. McCain has been seen as the quintessential American from Mars who appeared to Europeans from Venus as a politician who never saw a geopolitical problem that could not be solved by throwing troops at it.
By contrast, instead of taking steps on its own to shape a united European Union that is willing to invest in security, extend the euro to Britain and lower the protectionist barriers that distort the single market, Europe has invested all of its hopes for a happy tomorrow in Obama. But in the excitement of waiting for the end of the Bush-Cheney years, which Europe blamed for all the woes of the world, few have examined the small print of his ideology. He has made clear that America would never take orders from the United Nations, yet the Europeans said they wanted more multilateral global decision making. He has said Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of Israel, while Europeans have long ago awarded half of Jerusalem to the Palestinians as capital of their putative state. Obama has said America might have to bomb Pakistan in order to chase out Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda from their hiding holes on the northwest frontier. To win U.S. labor support Obama has questioned free trade, the neoprotectionism that if enacted would cripple European exports. And while Obama had the good fortune not to be a member of Congress when the votes on Iraq in 2003 had taken place, he seems enthusiastic nonetheless about increasing troop presence in Afghanistan despite increasing European pessimism that any victory is possible.
So for a handful of politicians and professional policymakers there might be a sense of relief if McCain wins. A Republican, to be sure, and one with an odd vice president. But America and the world survived Spiro Agnew and Dan Quayle. And McCain is anti-Bush across a range of policies. He has patrolled Europe's security conferences over the years. For many worried about Vladimir Putin's divide-and-rule authoritarianism—including leaders in East Europe, the Nordic countries and tougher politicians like Britain's clearsighted foreign secretary, David Miliband—a Washington that had few illusions about Russia's Soviet-style aggressive posturing would be welcome.
The fairy tale of Obamania has caused Europe temporarily to suspend all of its centuries-old cynicisms about the politics of Camelot and Sir Galahads single-handedly saving the world from evil. But with a Republican president holding sway, there could still be a kind of relief that it would mean politics as usual. The calls would be made. "John, cher ami," Sarkozy would say. "Mein lieber Freund," Angela Merkel would trill. "Come and visit your roots in Scotland," Gordon Brown would urge. In the wider European population, however, there would be a stunned refusal to accept the result.
Once again, it would seem that America had let down Europe, because despite the existence of the EU, Europeans still do not believe deep down that they can stand on their own feet without America. And with no leadership on offer to take on Europe's disappointment, to provide hope to Europe's pessimism, the continent would become more sullen, more inward-looking, more nationalistic and less and less able to be the united partner that the United States needs to defend democracy and promote freedom around the world.

The Obama Campaign : Lessons for UK Politicians

This comment appeared in the Guardian Comment is Free website

What Britain can learn from the US
Campaigning for Barack Obama ahead of Tuesday's historic election, there are some valuable lessons for UK politicians

3 November 2008
Campaigning for Barack Obama in the still warm and sunny battle-ground of Virginia, what lessons are there for British politics in this historic election?
1) First, find your Tony Blair. Watching Obama give a long interview to Rachel Maddow, a woman who the BBC could hire tomorrow to show how political talk shows can be interesting and fun, I was struck by his uncanny resemblance to Blair. It was time to get past tit-for-tat politics, said Obama. Capitalism was OK. The Republican party had many fine people in it, the Democratic candidate declared. Obama is as devout a Christian as he is devoted family man. Welcome to Barack Blair!
2) Speak well. The old rules of rhetoric never go away. Obama is a terrific public orator. Every time he stands at a podium, still, slim and in control of his body as he speaks without notes in short, effective sentences, he exudes command and control. By contrast, David Cameron's conference speech this year was as interesting as John McCain's Tory conference speech in 2007. 3) If you are a Conservative, be one. McCain is tarred with being the continuation of Bush-Cheney years by other means. In fact, he opposed much of the Bush ideology over the years. His latest TV advert shows Obama praising McCain for initiating environmental legislation in the Senate. This makes Obama look good but dismays American rightwing voters who don't like to see their man hugging the enemy close.
4) Gear up for door-to-door canvassing. Spending time with Democrats gives the lie to the view that American elections are all about big money and TV campaigning. They are but the intensity of phone canvassing and door knocking is greater than I have ever seen in the UK outside byelections. Canvassers have handheld personal data machines that allow instant transfers of voters' intentions and interests. As I write friends are taking leave from work to drive hours to North Carolina to get out the vote in a state where Obama and McCain are neck and neck.
5) Hit greed but love business. Obama lashes Wall Street but talks up Main Street. Small businesses are the new working unrich in America. The Tories chez nous are now the party of the super-wealthy as the millionaires' frontbench presided over by Oligarch Osborne and super-rich Cameron demonstrate. But Labour can come dangerously close to being anti-business especially in the rhetoric from those looking to a post-election leadership fight.
6) Be tough on international issues. Obama wants to increase troop commitments in Afghanistan and has taken India to task over Kashmir where nearly a million Indian and Pakistani soldiers face off against each other, instead of the latter being transferred to Pakistan's western borders to help uproot Islamist jihadists seeking to reconquer Afghanistan to close down every girls' school. His vice-presidential running mate, Joe Biden, is friend and supporter of Georgia's Mikheil Saakashvili in contrast to Tory footsying around with Russian money or Tories on the Council of Europe collaborating with Kremlin puppets. Obama wants to work with Europe as a whole, not deal one by one with EU member states rejecting European unity as in the Hague-Cameron vision of Europe. His promise of an undivided Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel is a further example of a foreign affairs approach that his mixed-message language on Iraq should not occult.
7) Don't invite losers to speak at your party conference. Cameron cosied up to McCain who has been the only major international speaker at the Tory conference since Cameron became leader. At least one Tory shadow cabinet member has been spotted sitting with Republicans at the McCain-Obama debates. While some Tory MPs keep Obama buttons in their pockets and I came across a Tory activist working for Obama, the Cameron-McCain link is another example of Cameron's shallow judgment on international politics.
8) Talks about individuals not just families. Obama has dropped the tired Clinton line about hard-working families and now talks of hard-working Americans. This is right. In Britain, 30% of households are not family units. They are single people, widows, the divorced, parents alone. Tax policy now has to focus on the individual as much as the family.
9) Don't promise too much. Obama is riding two waves. One is the deep sense of despair mixed with shame that the Bush-Cheney years have done so little for America at home and abroad. The second is a deeper tide-of-history movement that is bringing to an end the long 30-year era of global market capitalism which begun with the arrival of Thatcher and Reagan just as they ended the 30-year era of welfare state capitalism initiated after 1945. Americans hope Obama will be the new Roosevelt. He may be a new Carter. But underneath the rhetoric of change, Obama is centrist, cautious and careful in limiting specific pledges. But he is offering a tax cut to all middle- and working-class Americans.
10) Don't fall for populism. Obama exudes thought and intellect. He can speak clearly and vividly. He acknowledges differences and seeks to bridge them, not use the culture and other wars throbbing in American civil society as a vehicle for partisan point-scoring. The arrival of 50 million non-Americans in the last 15 years as legal or illegal migrants has provoked political storms across the red (Republican)-blue (Democrat) divide. In Britain there is a loser-takes-all auction between politicians on immigration. Obama refuses to play that populist card and British politics could learn from him.