It is tempting
to have a sneaking admiration for the "anti-globalization" protesters
who assembled in Genoa, Italy to protest the leaders of the world's
industrialized nations meeting at their G-8 summit over the weekend.
They showed up and they took the spotlight from the pompous blowhards
who lead the countries that industrialized long before this pack
of mediocrities crawled up the slippery political poles in their
One may deplore some of the tactics and note the possibility
that some of the more violent were there more for the violence than
for anything resembling a coherent political agenda though
that handy media spin might not be quite accurate. And in combination
with previous protests in Seattle and elsewhere, they seem to have
forced the floating crap game diplomats are pleased to call the
"international community" to change its ways. According
to the London Daily Telegraph, the decision to hold a
scaled-down meeting next year in a fairly isolated resort in Alberta
rather than in Canada's capital of Ottawa was made in part to discourage
OUTING TONY BLAIR
So give them that
much and congratulate them on bringing out British Prime Minister
Tony Blair's pomposity and vacuity in nicely revealing ways. He
was practically sputtering at this affront to the vaunted dignity
of the assembled top capos of the world's megastates According to
the Telegraph, Blair was "visibly angered" that anarchist
protesters (the Telegraph's description, not Blair's) had
"hijacked" the summit.
"So these guys can come and riot, and we the democratic leaders
should conclude from that that we should never meet again," the
PM lamented. To let these ragtag protesters force the great and
powerful denizens of Oz to abandon their cozy little summits would
be "to stand the whole principle of democracy on its head," said
the estimable Mr. Blair.
A LICENSE TO SCHMOOZE?
Well, isn't that
special? But maybe it's not quite what the voters of the respective
countries had in mind when they considered the even less palatable
alternatives and put these folks in office.
To be sure, each of the leaders was elected in his own country.
But that election was not necessarily a blanket endorsement of participation
in informal international forums. The voters in most countries probably
accept as inevitable that their elected leaders will globe-trot
and make vapid pronouncements that feed their own personal sense
of self-importance. But national elections hardly ever turn on performance
It would be interesting if somebody in some country ran for
office making an ironclad pledge that he wouldn't take part in the
international floating crap game and would stick to domestic issues.
But no candidate is likely to do that. Let's face it, going to international
meetings is kinda fun, and sometimes even useful in bolstering one's
stature when things aren't going too swimmingly at home.
A BIG STRETCH
However, to move
from the reality that most voters resignedly accept that their leaders
will do mildly embarrassing things at international meetings to
believing that the voters have given the leaders a firm and unshakable
mandate to hold ever more pretentious international confabs is quite
an intellectual stretch even for Tony Blair. The fact that the
demonstrators pushed Mr. Blair to make his sense of self-importance
and dignity so obvious must count as a feather in their cap.
EGO AND OPPRESSION
The general notion
that it isn't a bad idea to create problems and inconveniences when
the world's political leaders want to get together, make plans to
oppress their people more efficiently and feed their own senses
of self-importance is also commendable. International summit meetings
can easily devolve into meeting for the sake of meeting rather than
for anything substantive.
And there's simply no question that a sneaking suspicion that
when political leaders get together the agenda is more likely to
be about enhancing their own power than disinterested concern for
the poor is more likely to be justified than not. And there's little
doubt that globalization, in some sense or another, is one of the
key issues of the post-Cold War world.
That said, much
of the visible opposition to "globalization" as expressed on the
streets when leaders get together is misplaced, confused or both.
Increasing globalization, in the sense of increased international
trade, commerce and contact made possible by improvements in technology,
transportation and communication, is as close to inevitable as anything
The question is whether globalization will be controlled by
international bureaucrats with little accountability or built from
the bottom up through trade and other voluntary activities.
In the July 9 issue of the conservative magazine National
Review, former editor John O'Sullivan (who is often a reasonably
good observer and analyst even when one disagrees with his conclusions)
suggested that the new alignment of the political stars is becoming
apparent. His comments are worth pondering.
NEITHER LEFT NOR
is not a battle between Left and Right, or between nationalists
and internationalists," O'Sullivan thinks, "or even between libertarians
and egalitarians, although debates are sometimes expressed in those
terms." Instead, he sees three main contenders for power:
"1. A new international governing class of lawyers and bureaucrats
who seek to impose a more or less uniform social and economic regulation
on all countries." (Think EU bureaucrats in Brussels, employees
of most UN agencies, French President Jospin and most other Eurocrats.)
"2. Those who resist the spread of such all-encompassing regulation
because they believe in market competition, national sovereignty,
independent social agency, moral self-regulation or all four."
O'Sullivan includes President Bush in this group, along with
Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi and most of the central and eastern
European leaders whose countries endured Soviet domination. I have
my doubts about Bush, who is looking more and more like a captive
of the permanent interventionist bureaucracy in the State Department,
and would add the Irish voters who recently rejected EU centralism.
PROTESTING FOR WHAT?
speaks of the third group: "A vanguard revolutionary party that
would like to impose total regulation immediately and drag down
the mighty from their penthouses" people like Ralph Nader, Maxine
Waters and most of the protesters at Seattle, Gothenburg and Genoa.
But he maintains that the third groups actually feeds the power
of the first group rather than achieving anything tangible for workers
or poor people. Their hostility to what they view as international
capitalism which some would describe as international political
institutions seeking to contain and rein in capitalism can lead
them to be suspicious of trade, as such.
Protesters whose hostility to what they view as international
capitalism includes opposition to what they mistakenly believe is
free trade but is actually politically managed trade have picked
the wrong target. Trade liberates. Control by unaccountable, unelected
international bureaucrats does the opposite.
BUSH AND PUTIN SURPRISES
On a somewhat
different (though related) topic, President Bush and Russian President
Vladimir Putin surprised most observers Monday by holding an apparently
friendly meeting and announcing at least a tentative agreement that
development of a missile-defense system by the United States will
be tied to consultations on reducing the two countries' arsenals
of offensive missiles. What's going on here?
It could be that President Bush has pulled off something of
a diplomatic coup, showing unexpected finesse at defusing international
opposition to the idea of a US missile defense system. It could
be that Russian objections to such a system have been overblown.
Or it could be that both leaders found a way for their countries
to enter a face-saving agreement to do what they planned to do anyway.
Many commentators, especially in the self-satisfied US media,
had expected more intransigence from the Russians, noting that signing
a friendship pact with China last week positioned Russia to dig
in its heels to resist what it is said to view as US efforts to
maintain "hegemony" in the post-Cold War world. The international
intelligence Web site Stratfor.com noted in its Monday update
that the only thing that might persuade Putin to acquiesce in missile
defense would be a de facto recognition that the former Soviet empire
is still part of Russia's legitimate sphere of influence.
WHOSE SPHERES OF
John Malott, president of
the Orange County World Affairs Council, told me he thought such
a concession was unlikely. Most countries are more interested in
influencing their neighbors than in countries halfway around the
world, he said, but the US is unlikely to recognize spheres of influence,
which most policy-makers view as an artifact of 19th
century balance-of-power diplomacy.
Mr. Malott said both leaders may be partially in the grip of
a "conviction that personal relationships really matter" in international
affairs. But while friendship can be significant, fundamental issues
and concerns eventually trump personal warmth in international relations,
So what fundamental concerns might have led to such an agreement?
Ted Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy
at the libertarian Cato Institute, suggested that "the underlying
reality is that Russia doesn't have the resources or the will to
counter an American missile defense system with a serious offensive
missile buildup" if President Bush, as seems likely, is truly determined
to build one.
So Mr. Putin got
what seems to be a concession on US offensive missile reduction
and found a reason to destroy Russian missiles whose reliability
is questionable and whose maintenance has become more a nuisance
than a source of real power. Meantime, the United States (which
had been talking about even deeper mutual missile reductions during
the Clinton administration) will be giving up missiles it doesn't
really need or want either.
Carpenter thinks NATO expansion will pose a greater challenge
to Russian notions about its sphere of influence than missile defense.
"If President Bush goes lukewarm on bringing Ukraine and the Baltic
countries into NATO that might suggest an informal quid pro quo,"
he said. But he doubts there is one, and thinks missile defense
is simply a higher priority for the president than is NATO expansion.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is expected to visit
Moscow soon to work out plans for further US-Russian talks on missile
deployment. Perhaps then we will get a clearer picture of the real
goals of the two leaders.
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