Monthly political analysis on nations in
economic or political transition


March 2015


A Slow-Burning Revolution; Reconfiguring Syria; Afghanistan at Half-Speed;


In this issue we offer a new Bryan Gould piece on the effects of monetary policy.  Bryan’s piece represents how the modern Keynesians are coming into their own. The same message, that austerity is not and was never the answer to the long-running financial crisis, has consistently been advanced by the US Economic Nobel Laureates: Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, whose views have been in advance of western governments.

Somewhere deep in the recesses of the monetarists minds, stemming from the abrasive ideas of the Chicago School, seems to have been the notion that indebtedness and sin, stem from the same root cause– punishment being prescribed as inevitable in both cases. This Gould commentary is certainly incontestable, at least in the sense that economic change, big-time is coming in.

Newnations has reported Syria for many years and government there is again coming in for serious re-appraisal. The Al Asad administration is almost the only constant in the whole miserable Syrian conflict. Our report ‘Reconfiguring Syria’ makes the case for rehabilitating Asad, since the overlapping ISIS war is more threatening for the region and the world generally. The Syrian civil war has currently become a damaging, horrifying nonsense, which 'grown-up' governments should reconcile with reality, so that if nothing else, the real regional enemy can be properly confronted.

Given the dramatic emergence of ISIS it seems clear that if Asad forces had been annihilated by a proposed US strike, or even if Asad had taken the then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s earlier advice ‘to go’, then the ancient city of Damascus, not the dusty desert town of Raqqah would by now have become the capital and seat of the Caliphate –as in the days of yore. Alarming for the west, with the Islamic State as a Mediterranean power, as well as for Israel, who would then have shared the Golan Heights frontier with them - an Armagheddon concept that could still happen!.

We review the current situation in Afghanistan. The new elected president has taken every opportunity  to consolidate his position, leaving his election rival Dr Abdullah, now Prime minister, somewhat flat-footed, unable to be effective at all.

Fifteen years on–and what have we got? A government superficially more of an independent Afghani mould than for years, but quite apart from the US, with ‘heavy leaning’ neighbours: Pakistan, Iran, Russia and as we report here, most recently China, which of course has a frontier with the Afghans, and for the first time in modern, possibly even ancient history, looks like becoming a player in its affairs. China’s presence is possibly resented by Foggy Bottom as it comes fresh to the arena. But China is the actual regional great power, even sharing a frontier with Afghanistan. Better that they take on the continuing nightmare of working in a nation that doesn’t now and never did, want foreigners of any stamp.  This is of course in no way a conventional nation state, but a conglomeration of powerful independent tribes, most of them obsessed with their own form of Islam.

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A Slow-Burning Revolution

As the world struggles to deal with threatening outbreaks of violence – most dangerously, in the Middle East and the Ukraine – another less dramatic and slower-burning revolution is getting under way. This revolution does not threaten violence – but it does promise change, and almost certainly change for the better.

The revolution that is gathering pace is a shift in understanding and increasingly in policy. What we are now beginning to see is the painfully slow and invariably reluctant abandonment – in the face of evidence that is now impossible to ignore - of an economic orthodoxy that has dominated the global economy for nearly four decades.

The late 1970s saw, as we know, the development of what came to be known as the “Washington consensus” – a neo-classical economic policy orthodoxy that proved a hugely valuable travelling companion for neo-liberal politics. It was driven by the rejection of Keynesian interventionism, a faith in the infallibility of the market, and the conviction that the most that could be asked of macro-economic policy was to use monetary policy, responsibility for which was to be delegated to bankers, to control the money supply in order to restrain inflation. Government was to have a limited role, merely holding the ring while unchallengeable “free-market” forces enjoyed free rein. [...]

Reconfiguring Syria

Including President al-Asad in a political solution to the Syrian war is the most effective policy towards stopping the Islamic State and the war itself.

The Syrian ‘civil’ war has been completely lost in the quagmire that is ISIS and the wider problems stemming from Iraq, from the war that was waged upon it by President Bush and the Neocon establishment. The dangers of meddling in Iraq were clear to anyone who had read even a minimum of modern Middle Eastern history, but few in Western power circles were honest enough to criticize the move to such an extent as to prompt governments to think twice, before again meddling in other Middle Eastern affairs. Iraq then, its failed reconciliation and seemingly permanent state of crisis were not enough of an inhibition for the West, and other governments, that should have known better (i.e. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to name three), to stop them interfering in the wave of protests that began in Syria at around the same time as the protests in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt had reached a mature point, in the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011.

The media carried away with the concept of the ‘Arab Awakening,’ interpreted the coincidence of the timing of the Syrian protests as an expression of the desire for democracy. Global institutions, regional and world powers, meanwhile saw an opportunity to bring Syria under their ‘sphere of influence’ and change the Baathist government that had ruled in Damascus for almost 50 years of skillfully navigating through many traps, to maintain a degree of independence.

Little attention was given to the more expert analyses that the Syrian ‘awakening’ never actually happened; democratic ambitions were dormant then and remain ever more lethargic today, excepting a small secular presence, in the event overwhelmed by a great surge of Sunni Islamic fervor and well-armed fighters, sponsored by the wealthy neighborhood Salafist states. [...]

Afghanistan at Half-Speed

Still waiting for most ministers
Seven months after the elections, five months after the presidential inauguration of Ashraf Ghani, the new ruling coalition still has managed to get only eight ministers approved, out of a cabinet of 25. Because Ghani sacked all outgoing ministers, 17 ministries are still being run by first deputies as acting ministers. For a country at war this is quite a unique situation, the more so as amongst the missing ministers is the defence minister as well!

The parliament rejected most candidate ministers, while others had to drop out because they did not qualify for various reasons, including in some cases owning dual citizenship. Then the MPs went into winter recess, meaning that until April there will be no chance of voting for the new ministerial candidates.

Although opinion polls in Afghanistan have never been very reliable, the fall in Ghani’s popularity that they show is unmistakable, with something like a two-thirds drop from the early post-inauguration honeymoon. Despite the debacle, Ghani appears at least to have gained the upper hand on his chief executive (a kind of prime minister) and erstwhile rival for the presidency, Dr. Abdullah. [...]

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