Wednesday, June 25, 2008

French columnist Bernard Guetta "endorses" Obama

Bernard Guetta is one of the most famous and talented French journalists. And in one of his latest columns in the French weekly Marianne (21-27 June, 2008), after a long description of the welcome changes that Obama might bring to international politics he highlights the social and economic significance of the rise of the Democratic candidate. "It is on the economy that the U.S. voters will test Obama and on this point, Obama's campaign has a perfume of a novel era", Bernard Guetta writes. He accuses his rival of being the heir of an exhausted and false philosophy that has reigned in Washington for much too long".
For Mr. Guetta, this philosophy is Reaganism or Thatcherism, "a philosophy that says that the state is the problem and not the solution, that taxes kill taxes by hindering growth..
"Whereas John McCain proposes not to touch the tax cuts decreed by George Bush, Barack Obama proposes to redistribute wealth through taxation, a credo that has been forgotten or even repudiated by Western left parties. He wants to give again an economic role to the state. Obama rediscovers Keynes, goes back to the approach of the New Deal and re-imports into the US the foundations of European social-democracy. And, oh surprise, no one slams him in Washington as if he were an archaic Statist".
"After so many years of financial scandals in Wall Street, so many fiscal sweet presents to the richest, and so much downsizing of the workforce, Americans aspire for a return of a protective state that regulates and distributes, guarantees health coverage to all and fights climate change".
"Obama expresses the exhaustion of a cycle and this expectation, he concludes, is not a unique to America".

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Socialist International and U.S. elections

Barack Obama represents a fascinating change in U.S. politics, not only because of his color but also and above all because of his personal world experience, having lived in Hawaii and Indonesia. That is why the most extreme “know-nothing” right-wingers want to stop him whatever the cost and the methods: his victory would mean much more than an electoral defeat for ultra-conservative Americans. It would signal the emergence of a different country, more inclusive, more attuned to the world, in fact a more realistic America than the bigoted and autistic “model” that has harmed the U.S. so much under the current Bush administration.

Right wing columnists therefore will use all means to taint Barack Obama, manipulate the race factor (according to a recent survey 3 Americans out of 10 admit a race bias) and accuse him of being “unpatriotic” or the tool of anti-American “world bodies”.

While surfing on the Internet over the week end I have discovered an example of this game. on the site of AIM (Accuracy in media). This conservative media monitoring attack dog attempts to bash Barack Obama and the whole Democratic Party by linking them to DSA (Democratic Socialists of America), the U.S. affiliate of the Socialist International, as if these two organization were dangerous and unsavoury.

The DSA is a “current” within the Democratic party and was founded by leading intellectual Michael Harrington whose book on poverty “The Other America” had a great impact in the early Sixties and who was considered as a key and inspiring interlocutor by the European democratic Left as well as by socially concerned Christians.

The S.I. which has its headquarters in London includes one hundred different parties as full members, a very diverse and sometimes contradictory group that does not automatically lead to common positions. It counts for instance among its most important members Britain’s Labour Party which under Tony Blair supported the Iraqi war and Germany’s Social Democratic Party which under Gerhard Schroeder opposed president Bush’s adventure.

However the SI has in fact been dominated by moderate and often pro-American European social-democratic parties. These supposedly “subversive” parties have given quite a few general secretaries to NATO (Belgian socialist Paul-Henri Spaak, Spanish socialist Javier Solana) and during the Cold War these parties have regularly been accused by Communist governments or hard left organizations of being “puppets of Washington”.
Who stood next to John F. Kennedy at the Berlin wall when he said “I am a Berliner” at the height of the Cold War? A socialist mayor, Willy Brandt.
Who took the lead during the Portuguese revolution to stave off, with the endorsement of Henry Kissinger, a far left experiment ? The leader of the Socialist Party and future President of Portugal: Mario Soares.

AIM might check the SI website…and its own mission statement “for fairness, balance and accuracy in news reporting”.

PS. I discover that Joel Bleifuss, editor in chief of In These Times, has also indexed this "redbaiting" tactic (See Red-Boating Obama, March 12, 2008)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Spanish Ole! for Obama

The paradox is that George Bush is ending his second mandate with more friends in Europe than when he started his Presidency in 2001. The wave of accession to the EU of ex-communist countries has strengthened the conservative pro-US camp (Poland, Czech Republic, etc.) and within “Old Europe” a group of “friendlier” governments have taken the reins of power. Nicholas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and Silvio Berlusconi illustrate this drift away from hostility to Washington, even though their motivations are very diverse: the principled pro-Americanism of the German chancellor is of a higher quality than that of some of her “bling bling” colleagues. And on the basis of her own policies Merkel is undoubtedly closer to the Democrats than to the Republicans.

In fact the most respectable pro-US European leaders will be happy to see President Bush gone, in particular because they see him as one of the major obstacles to the development of stronger transatlantic links. George Bush is the past and most European decision-makers have their eyes focused on the November 4 presidential elections. In recent weeks they have been looking for meetings with Barack Obama and John McCain’s advisers in order to assess what might be in store for the transatlantic relations after the inauguration in January 2009. In order also to build goodwill and connections.

On the left the hope is of course that Obama will win. In Spain socialist PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has spelled out his world views in a solemn speech pronounced last Monday in the magnificent setting of the Museo del Prado. With former UN general secretary Kofi Annan as a special guest acting as a guarantor of the Spanish government’s commitments, the Spanish premier expressed his hope that the US would play “a central role” in a new world order based on “efficient multilaralism”. Mr. Rodriguez Zapatero suggested who he might vote for when he mentioned that “we will not vanquish international terrorism if we approach that phenomenon as a war”. And when he added: “the Iran issue has to be solved with firmness but through dialogue”.

In short Barack Obama is the darling of the ruling Spanish socialists who hope that a new Democratic administration will restore the links that were shaken under the Bush presidency. And they bet that Spain has a lot to offer, in terms of her experience in the fight against terrorism, cooperation with Latin America and the dialogue with Islam, through Mr. Zapatero’s initiative of an “Alliance of civilizations”.

On Wednesday 18, according to El Pais, a Spanish socialist delegation was scheduled to fly to the US, headed by PSOE’s international relations secretary, Elena Valenciano, with the intention to meet the advisers of the two candidates, with a clear “bias” in favour of Barack Obama’s “whiz kids”. “Our heart beats for Obama”, a PSOE official told El Pais. According to the same sources, the PSOE’s secretary of organization José Blanco will attend the Democrats’ Convention in Denver in late August.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Vivement janvier 2009...

In an op/ed in the International Herald Tribune (June 11, 2008) William Drozdiak provides a balanced view of the expectations that the U.S. presidential race raises in “Old Europe”. A former foreign editor of the Washington Post and current president of the American Council of Germany he underlines that “both candidates espouse policies - on climate change, Iraq and Guantanamo- that could greatly enhance cooperation among leading Western democracies”.
Warning that caution should inspire any reading of the post-Bush era he suggests that Europe’s heartbeat seems however to accelerate at the thought of an Obamas victory.
“For the moment, he writes, the hope that the next U.S. president will infuse new life into the Atlantic partnership is generating palpable excitement among leadership circles across the continent”.
For NATO it is a nice music to hear: in April 2009 it will hold a summit in Strasbourg to celebrate its 60th anniversary.
Are there ways to give a more “liberal” or progressive angle to this celebration that should give NATO the opportunity to map out its future? Your thoughts are more than welcome.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The U.S. do it better? Now...

Strange coincidence: this morning on the train, I was reading David Cole’s very interesting article in the New York Review of Books comparing the U.S. and British responses to terrorism. In a nicely headlined essay “The Brits do it better” the professor of law at Georgetown University (Washington) and co-author (with Jules Lebel) of the acclaimed book Less Safe Less Free highlighted London’s restraint, the British understanding that the fight against terrorism belonged to the realm of crime rather than the field of war. He also predicted that Gordon Brown’s attempt to extend the length of time that suspects may be held before being charged with a crime would fail in the face of firm opposition from human rights groups and top lawyers and magistrates.

The next hours just provided the contradiction to this otherwise finely argued article…The Brits, or at least some of them, thought otherwise, and chose to be - or appear - tougher. On Wednesday the House of Commons narrowly approved the extension of the detention period from 28 to 42 days. And on Thursday the U.S. just did it better: the U.S. Supreme Court, in a legal setback for the Bush administration, stated that foreign suspects held in Guantanamo Bay have the right to challenge their detention in US civilian courts.

Transatlantic winds do not always blow in conventional directions

Bye bye Anti-Americanism?

We try with this blog to feed the discussion on how U.S and European liberals and progressives can work together. The issue of anti-Americanism and especially of alleged hatred of the U.S. among European leftwing circles is therefore crucial. A recent article published in the Chicago-based progressive magazine In These Times and written by a respected journalist, Paul Hockenos, makes an interesting contribution to the debate.
In his essay Paul Hockenos debunks the myth of overall, ingrained European anti-americanism that quite a few right-wing commentators in the U.S. like to brandish. Without denying that “anti-americanim is alive and well in Europe and, among hardcore America haters, there is often an anti-Semitic element” he demonstrates that it is a minority and sometimes even marginal phenomenon when compared with “the European’s overall positive perception of Americans”.
While reminding that since the 60s many of the sources of inspiration for the European left have been American, he does not brush aside the reality of “conflicting visions of how to organize society and conduct relations in the wider world”. “These contrasting preferences in social model, cultural bearing and international strategy go beyond what America does and penetrate the essence of what America is, Paul Hochenos admit. But they are differences based on rational comparative analysis, not knee-jerk antipathy".
There are differences between mainstream European and U.S. opinions –on death penalty, the role of the state, the place of religion in public and private life- but expressing these differences does not amount to anti-Europeanism or anti-Americanism.
The interesting question will be how the next presidential election will help to put aside the Bush legacy and bring the U.S. back to positions that are closer to the European approaches. In the upcoming July/August 2008 issue of Foreign Affairs, James P. Rubin, assistant secretary of state for public affairs under President Clinton, offers a very interesting proposal. “Both the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, he writes, recognize how much harm has been done and have vowed to restore the United States’ standing in the world”. Suggesting that the presidential election provides an opportunity for a fresh start in E.U.-European relations, he advises the next President to declare “that the era of U.S. unilateralism is over and that partnership with Europe is a central tenet of U.S. foreign policy”.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A chance to begin anew

If you want to know what progressive politics means in the U.S. check the new magazine Democracy at
Their directors Kenneth Baer and Andrei Cherny think that after a decade when progressive thinking has been imprisoned, 2008 marks the chance to begin anew. "It’s our opportunity to present a new vision of ambition and scope to the nation that addresses the great challenges of our times, they write, from the threats of Islamist terror and global warming to the transformations of the global economy and the aging Baby Boom. In January of next year, they add and hope, the United States has the chance not only to inaugurate a new president, but also a new progressivism.
The magazine presents 20 concrete policy proposals that might inspire some thinkers on the other side of the Big Pond...
To read more

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Europe votes Obama. U.S.patriots should be proud

It might not be a good omen, but once again Europe leans towards the « liberal » candidate in the presidential elections. It happened in the early 80s when Ronald Reagan scared progressive and middle-of- the road Europeans with his rugged approach to international relations. It happened in 2000 and 2004 when most Europeans chose Al Gore and then John Kerry over George Bush.

Is it the sign of the growing estrangement between “the people that come from Mars” and those that “come from Venus”, as neoconservative pundit Robert Kagan might have us believe?

Would it mean that Obama is not “too American” and therefore much more acceptable and attractive to a European audience that tends to associate the U.S. with the Iraqi war, Guantanamo and stubborn opposition to the Kyoto protocol or the anti-cluster bomb Treaty? Would that mean, as a corollary, that Obama is not seen as “American enough” in the eyes of many U.S. citizens?

In fact Barack Obama, much more than Al Gore at the time of his run for the presidency (now he is sanctified by his eco-crusade) or John Kerry, represents the American dream and therefore inspires as much in the U.S. as outside of its borders. He has been able to mobilize millions of new voters and especially the younger generation that aspires for change, participation and decency after 7 years of conservatism, illiberalism and adventurist foreign policy.

Internationally, though, the figures are clear. According to an Ipsos/ Al Jazeera survey (of 22,605 respondents) realized in May before Hillary Clinton’s withdrawal (, 82% of "global citizens" are “aware” of Barack Obama (62% for McCain). And of those aware of the three candidates, 55% would like most to see Obama as the next President of the United States. The support for the Illinois Senator is particularly strong in France (66%), Germany (59%), The Netherlands and Belgium (57%). In comparison John McCain is preferred by 14% of global citizens, with just 5% in Belgium, the Netherlands and France.

The U.S. primary season has been followed with passion in most of the world, the best indicator of the expectations that the U.S. still raises around the world. Germany is the country that follows the U.S. election most closely (33%), more intensely even than the U.S. respondents (33%). These months of campaigning have been more powerful in raising the profile of the U.S. abroad than all the Bush administration's public diplomacy initiatives.

This is the most positive result of the Democratic primaries: as Kevin Sullivan writes in the Washington Post ( “Democratic Primary Boosts U.S. Image Around the World”.
“Obama is the exciting image of what we always hoped America was”, says Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, the Establishment think tank in London.

Crushing anto-Americanism? That should be an argument for U.S. voters to choose Obama…

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Which European can compete with Obama?

Barack Obama's victory will certainly be celebrated in progressive Europe... although quite a few more middle of the road "liberals" might have preferred Hillary Clinton, someone they pretend to know better and who would have been expected to re-establish the friendly atmosphere that prevailed during the two mandates of her husband.
However this emergence of a post-racial, cosmopolitan, intellectual, candidate presents Europe with a real challenge. In the battle for soft power Obama might quickly regain the ground that was lost by George W. Bush and overtake Europe, a continent adrift, deprived of a real project, and riven by bitter rivalries and contradictory ambitions.
The Old Continent has some attractive personalities, on the left with Spanish Premier José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, on the right with German chancellor Angela Merkel, but it also has disturbing politicians, in the first place Italian “numero uno” Silvio Berlusconi who has included in his government ultraconservative and populist characters. Most of its leaders however are either too controversial (read President Sarkozy) or too boringly "grey" (Gordon Brown?).
When the Lisbon treaty is ratified and the EU will choose its president and its foreign minister, when its renews the Commission, it will be well advised to propose really inspiring personalities.
Who in Europe could compete in charm and change with Barack Obama? When George Bush will retire to his ranch in Crawford the “progressive transatlantic link” might be weak, this time, in Europe... History has a tendency of waltzing off the beat.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Transatlantic ideas

Torrents of ink and saliva have been spent on describing or forecasting the inevitability of the transatlantic divide. Since the inauguration of George Bush in 2001, 9/11 and the bareknuckled adoption by the White House of a unilateralist agenda these prospects have seemed indeed confirmed by the principle of reality. Partisans of a mature, balanced and respectful transatlantic link have increasingly looked like daydreamers.
And in this growing divorce many Europeans have convinced themselves and tried to convince the rest of the world that they were right. That their foreign policy model, based on soft power and international law, was better, and more progressive than the neoconservatives' project.
Now Europe is up for a surprise. Whereas the Old Continent is dominated by the center-right (a catch all concept that disguises the presence of extreme rightists within governing coalitions like the Northern League in Italy) the U.S. seems poised for a break with conservatism.
A number of surveys but also of essays by the sharpest journalistic minds predict indeed a change of political cycles in America. The late and regretted Arthur Schlesinger would have liked to see the confirmation of his predictions: after three decades dominated by the ultraconservative agenda the right wingers seem to be in disarray and the U.S. citizens seem to have had enough of them.
True? Is the conservative movement suffering from its success? "This country is a center-right country, declares conservative columnist George Will. Conservatism is the default position for a stable Presidential majority".
In a recent edition of The New Yorker, George Packer provides a detailed perspective on 'the fall of conservatism". If he is right it would invert the ideological meaning of the transatlantic divide. Or it might bring the two continents closer through the combined process of a "redder Europe" and of a "bluer America".
Read George Packer. In The New Yorker, they still believe that readers can absorb more than a headline and a teaser...