Something's in the wind. From the rocky shores of the Sea of Japan to the sandy beaches of the Adriatic, a new and benevolent form of nationalism is on the rise: not the dark irredentism that infected prewar Germany and the comic-opera totalitarianism of Mussolini's Italy, but an international trend on the right that emphasizes two main principles: 1) Free market liberalism, and 2) Independence from the US. This trend is dramatized in the rise of three major Western political figures: Japanese Prime Minister Junichero Koizumi, Yugoslavian President Vojislav Kostunica, and Italy's Prime Minister-elect, Silvio Berlusconi. While they come from widely disparate cultures, and their ideologies are of course far from identical, these three share not only some basic political principles with important consequences for US foreign policy but also exude a certain sense of cultural as well as political renewal. For all three came to power at a time when their respective countries were coming out of a period of crisis and decline: Their victories signified a kind of national awakening, in terms of foreign as well as domestic policy, and were seen and described as a turning point, a radical shift, even a "revolution" in the life of the nation. But what kind of a revolution?
The case of Kostunica is the clearest, and one that I have written about at length. The circumstances that led to the Serbian revolution are well-known: a clique of national socialists, led by Milosevic, seized power in Belgrade after Titoist "multiculturalism" fell apart, but these gangsters never had any real stature in the eyes of their people. After their defeat in the Kosovo war, the Serbs' national spirit collapsed along with the socialist economy. The nation was faced with the dual crisis of national identity and economic survival. Defeated by the overwhelming force of US-NATO military might and the natural might of the market, the response of the Serbian people was to adapt to the latter and resist the former. Kostunica's brand of classical "rule of law" liberalism, austere and Hayekian in style and substance, was married to an equally stern nationalism, one that opposed US hegemony in the region and refused to countenance the myth of Serbian war guilt. In this sense, then, Kostunica's victory represented the triumph of a free-market nationalism over its socialist rival.
Milosevic represented the last degenerated remnants of the old left-nationalism that forged the formerly Socialist republic of Yugoslavia, one that prided itself on its independence from both superpowers during the cold war. But Yugoslav left-nationalism could not deliver in the realm of economics: it ended in a hierarchical party-state as archaic, blinkered, and doomed as the old Soviet Union. Milosevic had played the nationalist card one too many times, and couldn't deliver in that realm, either: having presided over a long series of defeats, it was almost inevitable that he would finally be ousted from power.
The right-nationalism, or, more accurately, liberal nationalism represented by Kostunica is embodied in a single concept, that of sovereignty the sovereignty of the individual within the nation, and the sovereignty of nations within the international community. This brought Kostunica into conflict with Milosevic and the US. Milosevic is no longer a problem: he effectively disposed of himself by refusing to recognize the legal victory of the Opposition. But now Kostunica is up against a much more powerful, if no less vicious enemy, the US government. The relentless US campaign to force Yugoslavia to recognize the "legality" of Carla del Ponte's kangaroo court even at the cost of undercutting the US position against submitting itself to the International Criminal Court is just the overt part of the American campaign to make life difficult for Kostunica. Those Albanian "rebels" who somehow get across the most heavily militarized border in Europe and conduct raids and regular shelling in southern Serbia were trained and directed by the US: are we to believe that the US has absolutely no say in their inner councils? The US is conducting a war on Kostunica's Yugoslavia on two fronts: politically, by undercutting his nationalist support on the "war crimes" issue, and militarily, in southern Serbia.
Half a world away, the ascension of Junichero Koizumi to the leadership of Japan occurred under broadly similar circumstances. Here, too, is a defeated nation: US troops still occupy Japanese soil, over fifty years after the end of World War II. All this time they have lived in the shadow of their defeat. The result: a postwar malaise far more severe than that experienced by the Serbs. Here, too, an economic crisis has recently gripped the nation, and this was really the catalyst, the initial tremor that cracked the smooth facade of the system. While there are many differences between the Yugoslav and Japanese models of the party-state, both systems relied on central planning and the political dominance of a single party. Both of these parties in Japan, the Liberal Democrat party, and in Serbia, the Serbian Socialist Party traced their roots to the immediate postwar period, and were products of the war. In both cases, the stage was set for a liberal (in the classical sense) reformer to challenge the party hierarchy and open up the system. Both Kostunica and Koizumi are seen by their supporters as modernizers, the enemies of entrenched state-privileged interests, and a force for cultural and spiritual renewal.
To the superficial observer, this last may seem to be outside the parameters of any foreign policy analyst. However, when we take the continuing US military occupation of Japan into account, the question of Japanese national identity and the vital importance of a rising Japanese cultural nationalism comes into play. For right alongside Koizumi's plans to privatize the nation's postal system which is, in Japan, a central institution, one that holds a great deal of the national wealth is his plan to amend the 'peace' constitution imposed by the US. As it now stands, the Japanese constitution clearly forbids the formation of a military force: as Yukio Mishima told the members of the Japanese Defense Force as he exhorted them to rebel : "You are unconstitutional!" Mishima was right, back then, but no one listened. Now, as the North Koreans shoot missiles over Japanese airspace, the Japanese are listening. Koizumi is acting to rearm Japan, doing what Mishima before he committed seppuku as a political protest had demanded in the 1960s, and amend the 'peace' constitution to give Japan the right every other nation takes for granted.
Like Kostunica, Koizumi is a liberal nationalist and, also like Kostunica, is unapologetic about this last. His decision to visit the Yasukuni Shrine, where many Japanese war dead are buried, has caused a storm of controversy in Asia. The Chinese, Koreans, and others raise objections because Japanese leaders convicted of war crimes are also buried there. Yet Koizumi refuses to back down in the passive "so sorry" manner of a typical Japanese politician: "I will visit the shrine as prime minister because I want to pay respects to those who sacrificed themselves in war," he said. "I still don't understand why I have to give up the visit (as prime minister) only because others would complain about it." He refuses to bow before the myth of Japanese war guilt, and this is a rising trend in Japan. The release of the new movie "Merdeka" [Independence] is a bellwether of the Japanese mood: Merdeka tells the story of 2,000 Japanese soldiers who chose to stay behind and help the Indonesians defeat the Dutch (and the British) after World War II. This movie, in tandem with the release of Japanese history textbooks that tend to show Japanese expansionism in the 1930s as a fight against Western colonialism, is part of a growing nationalist trend one that can only culminate in the demand for an end to the US occupation.
The US response to the Koizumi-nationalist upsurge in Eastasia is quite different from its reaction to the Serbian variant of the same phenomenon in the Balkans. there have been a slew of stories (here's one) about how part of the Bush "plan" for an Asia-centered foreign policy is a stronger military role for Japan. But in remilitarizing Japan, the administration is overlooking the political and cultural consequences. The US hopes to use Japan as its regional gendarme, a virtual extension of the US military, a kind of auxiliary policeman. But the whole point of movies like Merdeka, textbook revisionism, and the cultural transformation that will have to be a part of Japanese rearmament, is that the trend is in the other direction. This raises the question: who will police the policeman? The significance and central theme of this Nipponese nationalist resurgence is that Japan, not China, is the champion of "Asian values" against Western (i.e. US) hegemonism. How will the US keep a remilitarized and newly confident Japan a vassal state? This question is bound to vex US policymakers in the not so distant future.
Berlusconi fits less obviously than into the liberal nationalist mold: his liberalism is less pronounced than Kostunica's, and his nationalism less apparent than Koizumi's. Yet the pattern holds. Here is yet another reformer, albeit one with a reputation smeared by phony charges of "corruption." This is largely the result of a campaign conducted by the "ex"-Communists and their allies on the Italian (and European) left, but there is a grain of truth to it: in Italy, any commercial success must first overcome the tangle of legal restrictions, regulations, and myriad taxes that make any kind of capitalist act between consenting adults well nigh impossible, if done "legally." In Italy, every real estate transaction carries two sets of books one, the official record, kept for tax purposes, and the other, unofficial one, that reflects what actually occurred. When the deal is sealed, the real records are disposed of, and the transaction is complete. No one is the wiser: otherwise, no transaction would ever take place. Italian voters cast their ballots for Berlusconi's "Forza Italia" ticket because they believe he will legalize what they do already. Like Koizumi and Kostunica, Berlusconi is up against a rigidified, reified state-centered economic system that no longer works, and he is promising to fix it by, largely, sweeping it away.
In the foreign policy realm, Berlusconi is pledged to a united Europe, and has so far voiced no dissent from the pro-NATO, pro-US stance of his predecessors, whether Christian Democrats or socialists of one variety or another. But his coalition partners the post-fascist Allianza Nationale, and the separatist Northern League are belligerent critics of the pan-European "vision" emanating from Brussels, and are not likely to stand idly by while Italy surrenders its sovereignty to a socialist super-state. Insofar as the US stands behind the European project, and opposes not only all nationalist resistance but also all regionalist and separatist movements, it is bound to come in conflict with the forces unleashed by Berlusconi's victory. Sections of the Italian right are viscerally hostile to the US and NATO, and bitterly opposed the Kosovo war: wouldn't it be fun if, say, one of Umberto Bossi's boys (perhaps Bossi himself) was appointed to the foreign ministry? That would show those arrogant Belgians who's boss south of the Alps! After all, it was Bossi who said of the EU that it is "the Soviet Union of the West": a clearer and more trenchant description of the EU's political orientation would be hard to imagine.
The "House of Freedom" built by the man they call "Il Cavaliere" (the Knight) has many subdivisions, some of which have already caused consternation among Europe's socialist elite. But what has really caused dismay on the left has been the victory of a man they tried to demonize and who won, not in spite of his devilish characteristics but precisely because of them. The great irony of the Italian election was that here was all of Europe, with its state-owned media, television, radio, newspapers, all blaring away about how the media tycoon Berlusconi will create a state where dissent is impossible. His media empire, you see, is private: he built it himself, and not at the expense of the taxpayers: and this is precisely what they resent that even before taking office he had the kind of power, usually reserved for governments, to unleash a wave of propaganda. Even now they are complaining that he must separate his own private interests from his position as head of the Italian state. But why should the Knight disarm himself? Will the socialists of Europe divest themselves of their state-subsidized perks and privileges, and surrender control of their state-owned-and-managed media? Don't hold your breath. . . .
Here is a man who made billions: who built one of the biggest media empires in the world, and one of the largest fortunes in Europe: an upstart, a rebel, "Il Cavliere" Italy's Knight. In his persona, the sheer size of his ego, his very public and outgoing personality, he embodies the very opposite of the gray bureaucrat, the cold fish without personal distinction of any kind. They sneer that he named his party "Forza Italia!" ("Go Italy!") after a soccer team. The people, on the other hand, love it. If any one man in Italy can keep a government together by the sheer force of his personality, and popularity, it is Berlusconi: he is a giant beset by pygmies. He is a leader, perhaps the stabilizing larger-than-life leader Italy has been waiting for, who will anchor the nation with the sheer weight of his persona.
The old nationalism, a nationalism of blood and soil, of protectionism and state-controlled industries, of perpetual war and one-party rule, is finished. It was finished in 1945, at least in the developed world. The new nationalism that is cropping up in diverse locales, from Eastasia to southern Europe, is based not on resentment although there is some of that but on a sense of renewal. It is not the blind worship of tradition, but the rediscovery of a lost legacy, dusted off and brought up to date. It is, in short, a liberal nationalism, informed by a knowledge of market economics and imbued with a sense of liberation the feeling that a large weight is being lifted off the backs of the people. Serbia, Japan, and Italy the inhabitants of these countries are prisoners of history, held hostage by their defeats. These three mavericks of liberal nationalism Kostunica, Koizumi, and Berlusconi are all faced with different variations on the same task: to somehow reverse the verdict of history and redeem the nation. To roll back the disability of military defeat and economic crisis, and reassert their sovereign and separate national identities.
This is the overarching theme of the new liberal nationalism, when its national peculiarities are sifted out: whether in Serbia, Japan, in Italy, or elsewhere, the rebels against the new world order are nationalists whose devotion to liberty is congruent with their fight for national independence. They are, in a sense, libertarian nationalists, a seeming paradox if not a contradiction just like our own founding fathers, whose devotion to liberty did not prevent them from founding a state, writing a Constitution, and defending their revolution. But if these emerging liberal nationalists are like the early American revolutionaries, then what role does the United States play? You guessed it: let Bush II be George III, and imagine our American "peacekeepers" are very much like British redcoats you know, like in The Patriot. But this is not a movie: it is a reality all three of our mavericks have to deal with US troops on or uncomfortably near their territory.
We keep hearing about how America's strategic vision must be either "Asia-centered" or "Euro-centric," based on "civilizational" versus "ideological" premises: but never do we hear about a foreign policy based on what we know, that is, a policy based on the clear lessons of history. And the first topic in this syllabus is the iron law of imperial decline: empires rise, and then they go downhill, and that is the natural order of things. As with schoolyard bullies, so with empires: the bigger they are, the harder they fall. There is no American "strategic vision," no array of weaponry, that can stand against the aspirations and interests of the rest of the world. What is heartening about the rise of a specifically liberal nationalism is that it may not come to that.
Unlike left-nationalist and authoritarian figures like Milosevic, Saddam Hussein and the dynastic dictator of North Korea, liberal nationalists can oppose Western hegemonism in the name of the Western tradition and thus engage the American (and pan-European) policy of global interventionism politically before they have to do so militarily. This makes it difficult for the War Party. After all, it was easy convincing the Americans and the Europeans that a two-bit crook like Milosevic was a genocidal monster on a Hitlerian scale, but selling the image of Kostunica as a human monster isn't going to be so easy. How are they ever going to stick Berlusconi with the label "IL Duce II" if he comes across like an Italian version of Ronald Reagan with a dash of Howard Hughes? And Koizumi the bold, tousle-haired, outspoken free market reformer could hardly be caricatured as some kind of Japanese warlord. When the inevitable clash with America's imperial pretensions comes, it will be a lot harder to demonize these relatively sympathetic figures, and, for American anti-interventionists, that is good news indeed.
During the cold war and through much of the post-cold war period, opponents of American globalism have defended the national sovereignty of countries ruled by some pretty nasty regimes. The Communists were not the good guys, and, even though they were doomed from the start, they made a lot of trouble on the way down. Things have been no easier in the post-cold war era. Saddam Hussein, it must be said, is no Thomas Jefferson, and Milosevic was no angel either. Manuel Noriega was not at all a sympathetic character, and the various and sundry other recipients of US bombs and military action (Afghanis, Somalis, Sudanese, Osama bin Laden) are not exactly candidates for sainthood. With the rise of liberal nationalists as the emerging opponents of American hegemony, we have a much more sympathetic cast of characters and our job, as non-interventionists, here at Antiwar.com, is a lot easier and that is welcome news indeed.
I sometimes get letters from readers who puzzle over my enthusiasms. Why "hail" Koizumi? Why declare "Viva Berlusconi"? Wasn't I going outside the narrow confines of my job as the defender of the non-interventionist position in taking up Kostunica's cause so fervently and constantly? Well, now you know the reasoning behind my enthusiasms or, at least, some of them. These three mavericks of liberal nationalism represent more than just themselves: they embody an idea, a trend that is apparent in the nations over which the American Empire presides, one that could, in the end, prove its undoing. It is not enough to simply report US interventions abroad, and then simply say: "We should stay out." For in that case the reporting of facts is irrelevant and unnecessary: why not just jump to the proper conclusion, and keep reiterating "we should stay out"? The idea is to identify and encourage sources of opposition to US intervention: paraphrasing Marx, it is the impulse to not only understand history but to change it.
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