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The title of this post is a bit misleading; there’s no way to peer into the future. But we can see patterns, and make predictions–or at the very least, decipher vague trajectories–about the way we’re heading. The National Intelligence Council, a think tank reporting to the United States Office of the Director of National Intelligence, recently published “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World.” Peter Goodspeed at the National Post summarizes its basic ideas pretty well, so I won’t bother. It’s ironic how even the United States government is now in the business of American declinism–the genre of political science that imagines the post-American world. Of course, if you read the National Review or The Weekly Standard, you wouldn’t know it. They’d probably just blame it all on pansy Democrats and the Marxist-Islamist President Obama.

On a serious note, the NIC’s central predictions are:

* The whole international system—as constructed following WWII—will be revolutionized. Not only will new players—Brazil, Russia, India and China— have a seat at the international high table, they will bring new stakes and rules of the game.
* The unprecedented transfer of wealth roughly from West to East now under way will continue for the foreseeable future.
* Unprecedented economic growth, coupled with 1.5 billion more people, will put pressure on resources—particularly energy, food, and water—raising the specter of scarcities emerging as demand outstrips supply.
* The potential for conflict will increase owing partly to political turbulence in parts of the greater Middle East.

But how drastically will this shift in global power change the rules of the game? I’m inclined to believe that the rising powers accept the American-inspired values of the current global order–that is, economic competition as the main manifestation of Great Power rivalry. The post-WWII system, including Bretton Woods and the United Nations, established by America assumed, as Americans always have throughout their history, that commerce ought to be the main driving force of international relations. It was that naivete belief that drove Jefferson to impose an embargo on Great Britain and France during the Napoleonic Wars, hoping that economic force alone would penalize the two powers. And that was precisely the motive behind the Marshall Plan, which didn’t punish Europe, but made it richer and viable for trade.

Kishore Mahbubani, former senior Singaporean diplomat, argues that the rising powers don’t want to re-create the global order, but to replicate it and to gain a stake in it through more power in the great councils of the world: the IMF, the G-7, and the UN Security Council.

Randall Schweller of Ohio State has an ambitious and compelling essay in the latest National Interest. I’m far too tired to dissect it, but the basic idea goes: the international system is in a state of entropy–that is, chaos upon which no order can be imposed–and that the consequence of this increasingly chaotic world is the individualization of politics–meaning that as states lose power, individuals become the centre of politics, and they are radicalized. The essay is ambitious because, in explaining the coming ennui and individualization of politics, it covers the rise of Islamic extremism, our youtube-social media age, the preference for cable opinion over cable news, the decline of the unipolar world, and the economic competition between the rising powers. It definitely has the seeds of a bestseller.

Of course, it has its flaws, the most apparent being the failure to adequately explain why we’re at “the end of history,” so to speak–why we’re at the ultimate point of chaos? Aren’t international systems always anarchic and in flux? He argues that we’re now in a “closed system,” in which we’ve reached the limits of knowledge and expanse. Globalization over the past hundred years created “a closed system susceptible to increasing entropy when it subsumed the entire earth, such that nothing remained outside of it.” Maybe.

Another Zakaria-esque, post-America treatise, The End of Influence argues that American political, economic, and cultural influence is waning, though it remains–and will remain–the dominant force in international relations: “America is sure to remain a leader in cultural power, but there is a difference between being a cultural leader and an easy, almost un-self-conscious cultural dominance.”

It’s Christmas eve, and like (almost) every year I decided to watch a Christmas classic. I settled on the 1994 remake of Miracle on 34th Street. The movie is as endearing and cheery as I remember it. What struck me most this time, however, was the overtly Straussian theme. Straussianism is the school of political philosophy based on the ideas of the late Leo Strauss, a University of Chicago professor and philosophical guide to many future neoconservatives.

In the interest of full disclosure, my understanding of Straussian thought comes from secondary sources. But it has two clear propositions: firstly, that liberalism–and its single-minded pursuit of individual liberty–leads to relativism, which then inevitably leads to tyranny; secondly, that polities require what Plato called “noble lies”–that is, binding mythologies, irrespective of fact or truth, to keep societies cohesive.

Miracle on 34th Street indicts the godless, secular, materialistic elite for their obsession with truth and their acrimonious disregard for society and the family. The movie centres on a court case before Judge Henry Harper, who must decide whether or not a man claiming to be Santa Claus is indeed Kris Kringle, and whether Santa Claus actually exists. The judge is at first swayed by a bribe from a cynical state prosecutor and his wealthy backer, the CEO of a large, corporate department store chain. Henry Harper is also unconvinced that he can support the existence of a fictitious being before a court of law, where evidence and fact reign supreme. But–spoiler alert!–in the end the judge rules in favour of Santa. He does so because a little girl, Susan Walker, presents him a Christmas card in which she placed a one dollar bill. She circled the phrase “In God We Trust.” The old judge tears up his previous judgment and announces that yes, indeed, there is a Santa Claus and that the man before him is Santa. He reasons that if the collective majority of the American people can permit their government to place its trust in God, for whom there is no evidence, then the state of New York can surely place its trust in the existence of Santa Claus. Judge Harper knew that believing in Santa Claus–even if he did not exist–was important to keep the children happy.

How very Straussian of him. The children, who represent the masses, must be fed noble lies to preserve the polity. God too is a noble lie that preserves faith in the polity and provides the moral constraint to allow for social stability.

Another thread in the plot–that of the marriage of Bryan Bedford and Dorey Walker, Susie’s mom–further unveils the Straussian ideals behind the movie. At the beginning, Dorey Walker is a jaded, successful, and single mother, who teaches her child not to believe in Santa Claus and rarely, if ever, attends church. But Bryan changes all that. When he is invited to Thanksgiving dinner at the Walker’s apartment, he insists on saying grace. He convinces Susie to believe in Santa again. And he proposes to Dorey and marries her in the end. Bryan represents the man who is comfortable living the noble lie, because he understands that true happiness rests on the bedrock of myth and family. It is the noble lie of the nuclear family and its faith in God and the myths of Protestant, Anglo-Saxon America that preserve it and ensure its survival.

Jim Manzi has a thoughtful essay in National Affairs discussing how the ordering of America’s domestic political economy is impacting America’s global economic and strategic position. He argues that a trade-off exists between innovation and social cohesion. Policies promoting the latter–government-run health care, unemployment insurance, etc.–undermine American global economic preeminence, while policies promoting the former–free markets–are breeding social divisions and disuniting American society. Ultimately, Manzi, a conservative, rallies to the cause of Reaganism, insisting that America must choose innovation over cohesion in order to preserve its position in an increasingly competitive international order. But his argument for doing so isn’t all that convincing.

Manzi makes two arguable assumptions. He admits that America is “between a rock and a hard place. If we reverse the market-based reforms that have allowed us to prosper, we will cede global economic share; but if we let inequality and its underlying causes grow unchecked, we will hollow out the middle class — threatening social cohesion, and eventually surrendering our international position ­anyway.” Yet, even while recognizing the emerging post-American world order–where the rise of new great powers shakes the foundations of American hegemony–he blithely believes that freer American markets and innovation can actually salvage American economic preeminence. Regardless of the domestic policy choices America makes, the relative (and by no means absolute) decline of American power is underway.

Secondly, Manzi assumes that these new rising powers themselves won’t face the same decision matrix. A cursory glance at the political economies of Brazil, Russia, India, and China (the BRICs in Goldman Sachs parlance) shows how even the much-vaunted new powers will spend far more of their GDPs on social cohesion spending than America. India’s extremely high poverty levels and high regional, ethnic, and caste disparities will force greater state intervention as its economy develops. China’s burgeoning pension crisis and its already significant welfare expenditure–the cost the Chinese Communist Party pays to maintain its power monopoly–means that this nation of one billion will remain mired in welfarism for decades. Russia’s falling population and stagnating economy will call for greater state intervention. And Brazil, which is not a serious geopolitical contender, cannot outmaneuver the world’s largest economy in its own backyard, especially considering the unrest that exists within its own borders.

Of course, the challenges the rising powers face are only part of the picture; their rapid economic development (or in Russia’s case, their possession of natural resources) assure them an important place in the future international order. American power is surely on the decline–relative decline. However, the crumbling of American hegemony has less to do with the failings of America than with the rise of the rest. Thus, when Americans decide on domestic policy–whether health care, immigration, or financial reform–they should not be concerned about their falling place in the international rung, but rather about the kind of future they envision for their country. Do they prefer a social democracy or do they prefer a rogue, laissez-faire establishment?

Want to see how American economic power compares to the rest? See for yourself:

Since the Lawyers’ Movement emerged over two years ago in the aftermath of Musharraf’s dismissal of the chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, Pakistan’s judiciary has become emboldened–even brazen. In a country where the courts are usually pliant to the elites in power–whether the military or the feudal lord politicians–a stronger and more independent judiciary is probably, on the balance, a good thing. Corruption has been often overlooked; dictatorships have been too often approved; and politicians have been far too often comforted through de facto immunity.

But the rise of the Pakistani judiciary is also somewhat worrying. Firstly, it isn’t entirely clear if the judiciary is actually independent. Some argue that the country’s army and intelligence services backed the chief justice’s recent decision to declare illegal the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), reinstating the many criminal charges ministers in the current PPP-led government face. However, even if we assume that the judiciary is acting independently, its expansive agenda threatens the system of parliamentary democracy. The chief justice has issued a series of suo moto actions, which stink of judicial activism. To those of you unfamiliar with the notion of suo moto (on its own motion, in Latin), it is a concept in South Asian common law jurisdictions that permits the High Courts to take actions on issues that it feels neither the executive, the legislative, nor even the lower courts are pressing upon. Just today, the Supreme Court issued a suo moto motion, appealing to the State Bank of Pakistan (the central bank) to investigate and recover loan defaults and writes-offs in Pakistan since 1971. In a parliamentary democracy, where the powers of the judiciary are merely to adjudicate and not to dictate policy, this should not happen. Intervening with the independence of the State Bank, and that too without any citizen having filed a case to do so, plain and simple oversteps the bounds of the judiciary.

Then there’s Justice Chaudhry’s crusade against high sugar prices: the Supreme Court intervened when it believed that the Competition Bureau was not doing enough. The Supreme Court backed the Lahore High Court’s demand to fix the price of rice at Rs. 40/kg. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote in a dissenting opinion that “a Constitution is not intended to embody a particular economic theory.” It follows that a Constitution is not intended to set prices based on a delusional estimate of market rates.

Now, many in Pakistan don’t find the trend disconcerting. They believe it is “heartening that judicial activism has come to stay in Pakistan.” Professor Aqdas Afzal of the Lahore University of Management Sciences wrote “[t]he restoration of the Iftikhar Chaudhry Court has not only provided a balance between the powers of the state and the society – with the society being successful in this instance – but has also provided a much needed “success story” for the citizens of this country.” I do agree that restoring the balance of power between the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary is essentially beneficial. However, we must keep in mind the long run implications of an unelected judiciary dictating policy and undermining the writ of parliament. And a judiciary especially emboldened with the powers of suo moto risks overstepping its boundaries and could in the end lose all its hard earned power.

Jinnah wasn’t happy with the INC and decided to join and lead the ML in 1913. The ML was soon fed up with the INC. It began demanding its own country, thus christened Pakistan in 1947. The ML was now the PML. The PML would endure into modern day Pakistan, though splitting into various factions along the way: the PML-N, PML-Q, PML-M, and PML-J. Pakistan would manage to break the monotonous cycle of PMLs and generals in 1967 with the founding of the PPP. The PPP was then joined on the national(?) scene by the anti-Punjabi-anti-Sindhi-anti-Pushtun-anti-Balochi MQM in 1984. Oh, the Puhstuns along the way founded the ANP, though some of them joined the TTP and fought the Americans instead. The Balochis, frustrated by years of neglect and oppression, formed the BNP.

Since Independence, Pakistan has been at odds with its neighbour (hint: not Afghanistan). It lost a whole half of the country–still referred to as East Pakistan, because let’s face it, who thinks Bangladesh is a good name?–in 1971 when it refused to meet the AL’s Six Points. India helped the AL, a bit. In West Pakistan, they really wanted Kashmir and fought with said enemy nation over Kashmir. They fought in 1948, 1965, and 1998 over the LOC in Kashmir.

Today, Pakistan is facing a constitutional crisis because of that last war in 1998. It all began when General Musharraf staged a coup d’état in 1999 after PML leader Nawaz Sharif tried to oust him. Restoring the civil-military balance, Musharraf put that balding buffoon back in his box. Musharraf solidified his rule with an LFO. And though the PML-N and the PPP formed the ARD to challenge him, Musharraf remained in power with help from his friends in the PML-Q and the MMA (which itself was composed of the JUI-F, JUP, JI, TJP, JAH…if it’s got a J, it’s an Islamist party.) Then, the Americans demanded democracy, so Musharraf created the NRO to withdraw all criminal charges from the innocent PPP leaders and to welcome them back to Pakistan. The CJ of the SCP would have none of it. The lazy-eyed Balochi CJ was sacked. But the PBA protested, bringing its lawyers out into the streets and out to a long march. Musharraf had to let the CJ back into the court. Then, the Americans demanded more democracy, so Musharraf left. Some Pakistanis also wanted democracy; but that’s not certain. Zardari of the PPP took over and kept the NRO because without it, the poor soul would face corruption charges–and that, sir, would be true injustice! But the CJ didn’t like the NRO very much. The Army and the ISI didn’t like Zardari very much. So they decided to get rid of the NRO, and with it, they hoped, to get rid of Zardari too. So, today, the country faces yet another crisis.