US rhetorical support for the Hungarian ’56 uprising got a lot of people killed by mattsteinglass
June 18, 2009, 2:05 pm
Filed under: Europe, Iran, United States

The Wall Street Journal editorial page get things backwards. (Via Hilzoy.)

Someday a future president may have to apologize to Iranians for Mr. Obama’s nonfeasance, just as Mr. Obama apologized for the Eisenhower administration’s meddling. But the better Eisenhower parallel is with Hungary in 1956. Then as now a popular uprising coalesced around a figure (Imre Nagy in Hungary; Mir Hossein Mousavi in Iran), who had once been a creature of the system. Then as now it was buoyed by inspiring American rhetoric about freedom and democracy coming over Voice of America airwaves. And then as now the administration effectively turned its back on the uprising when U.S. support could have made a difference. Hungary would spend the next 33 years in the Soviet embrace.

The support of the US government for the Hungarian uprising in 1956 “could have made a difference” only if the US were prepared to invade Hungary and go to war with the USSR. The US would quickly have lost such a confrontation to the overwhelming Soviet superiority in conventional forces in Europe, and would have risked seeing Soviet tanks roll into Western Europe as well. The US would then have been faced with the decision of whether to launch a nuclear war. President Eisenhower made the correct — the only possible — decision, in declining to intervene in Hungary.

The error in 1956 was on the part of Radio Free Europe, in holding out to Hungarian resisters the false hope that the West would or could intervene on their behalf. It would be similarly cruel and immoral to give Iranian demonstrators the false idea that we in the democratic world can offer them anything more than our sympathy. We can’t. We will not invade Iran, and nothing else we do will have much of an effect on the behavior of a regime fighting to retain its hold on power. The demonstrators in Iran must know that they have to win the struggle for a fair election on their own, and must be prepared to face the consequences of failure. And they do know this. That is precisely what makes them so courageous. It would be stupid and irresponsible of the US to use their struggle as an occasion for ineffectual rhetorical grandstanding, and fortunately President Obama, unlike our last President, seems able to resist the temptation.


“Right-wing extremism” in Europe by mattsteinglass
June 17, 2009, 3:20 pm
Filed under: Europe, Islam

Going back to the question of whether the European Parliament elections made Europe more “right-wing,” there are two new data points. The first is Benjamin Weinthal’s article in the Jerusalem Post today following his interview with Dutch anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders.

When asked about commentaries in the German media labeling the Freedom Party as “extreme right” – a term typically reserved for neo-Nazi parties in Germany – Wilders said that is “totally ridiculous” and an “insult to the the Dutch people” because the party is now the “biggest party in Holland” according to polls.

The Freedom Party should be viewed within a liberal Dutch tradition, he said, noting that “we are not for cutting social welfare and are for more health care” and because of our “friendship for Israel, the extreme right demonstrates against us.”

Wilders is an Islamophobe who supports ethnic cleansing in Europe and in Israel/Palestine. But as we can see, the understanding of what is meant by “right-wing” is considerably more complicated in Europe than in the US (where it’s getting pretty complicated lately, too).

The second point comes from the interesting NY Times op-ed a couple of days ago by German EU Parliamentarian Alexander Lambsdorff.

There has always been a presence of extremism in the European Parliament, just as in many national parliaments across Europe.

In this election, however, the success of Geert Wilders’ populists in the Netherlands was touted as a sea change in European politics. It was not. He gained 4 out of 25 Dutch seats, while Jean-Marie Le Pen’s share of the vote in France was halved to 10 percent. Le Pen lost the four seats to be taken by Wilders and they both, together with the other extremists, will remain as marginal to the political process in Brussels as they have been in the past.

The four main parties governing the European Parliament are still decidedly pro-democracy and pro-European. Extremist groups may be receiving much media attention, but their influence in Parliament remains nonexistent.

Lambsdorff argues in essence that the rise of the extreme right in Scandinavia (the Netherlands, Finland, and Denmark, as far as I know, now all have strong anti-Muslim parties) has been balanced by the decline of the extreme right in France. There are several interesting things to think about here. Maybe France, which had a much stronger nationalist right from the late 40s through the 80s than  northern Europe, is simply on a different political cycle than Scandinavia. Or maybe France is ahead of Northern Europe in its approach to the Muslim immigrant question, because it deals with the issue as part of the legacy of its colonial empire in North Africa, rather than as an unintended result of the guest-worker programs of the ’60s and ’70s or of political asylum programs in the ’80s and ’90s. In any case, it’s another reminder to stop painting “Europe and Islam” with such an unsophisticated broad brush.

The best argument is an argument made in hilarious British dialect by mattsteinglass
June 14, 2009, 10:42 pm
Filed under: Europe, Livestock, Marxism

In the adjustment period between Finland and Hanoi with a couple days in Paris between I somehow missed this post by Megan McArdle calling all of our attention to this superb bit of rhetoric by Daniel Davies:

It’s therefore an important point to be made, to our own population and to the world’s watching media, that Nick Griffin isn’t in fact a newly popular and influential political figure; he’s a widely reviled creep who not only doesn’t lead a phalanx of jackbooted supporters, but actually can’t even set up for a TV interview without being pelted with eggs. The voice of the British populace does not shout “Hail Griffin!”, it shouts, “Oi Fatty, cop this! [splat]”.

Not only was I unaware that the head of the British National Party had been egged; had I been so aware, before reading this post, I probably would have found said egging a bit tedious and most likely counterproductive. After reading the post, I am a gung-ho member of the pro-egging faction. How often is it that one reads something that actually changes one’s mind? What worries me however is that while Davies’s argument may in itself be sound, the reason I changed my mind was rather because I was too busy laughing at the words “Cracking shot, sir!” and “Oi Fatty, cop this!” to disagree. I have a feeling that I might be persuaded to back the economic policies of Eva Peron or Ron Paul if they were expressed in the language of a really good Eric Idle skit.

In Europe, nativism does not equal anti-socialism by mattsteinglass
June 10, 2009, 12:59 pm
Filed under: Europe

The American tendency to interpret the entire world through a manichaean pro- or anti-American, pro- or anti-capitalist lens is something I hope will gradually go away over the next few decades, but then I also hoped it would go away in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the USSR, and that sure didn’t happen. Matthew Yglesias flags this instance of Anne Applebaum getting caught up in the familiar bipolar confusion over the recent elections for European Parliament and deciding the represent a “victory for capitalism” (over…what?) since they shifted the European political landscape somewhat to the right.

I think the main impediment for Americans in understanding these kinds of developments is a deep unfamiliarity with political systems in which there are more than two, or even three, parties. Over the past few days I’ve spoken with four Finnish journalists about what the elections meant here. I have a tendency to report these kinds of big continental stories from very small and relatively insignificant countries — I’m the guy who reports on East Asia from Vietnam, rather than China — but what happened in Finland is pretty representative of what happened in most European countries.

In a nutshell, as a reporter for Ilta Sanomat explained to me in the smoky bar downstairs from the newspaper’s ultra-modern headquarters a couple of nights ago, there are three powerful major parties in Finland. Always have been. One is a Christian Democratic party. Another is a standard labor/social democratic party. And the third is a “liberal” (free-market) party. These three parties trend in different directions, but they converge (he drew me a Venn diagram) around the “Nordic social model”: high taxes for high public services like education and public transit, income redistribution, health insurance and the social safety net. That part of the model is untouchable. If a major party attacked it, they would no longer be a major party.

What happened in the elections was two things. First, support shifted away from the social democrats, and towards the Christian democrats. And second, a small right-wing party that’s descended from the 1950s-era agrarian/farmers party, whose main platform is anti-immigrant and anti-Europe, picked up a lot of votes, and in fact that party’s charismatic leader was the single largest vote-getter in the elections, pulling about 130,000 votes (which is huge in 5-million-strong Finland). But that party still isn’t actually in the government, and it has no positive governing agenda. And even if it did, that governing agenda would almost certainly have nothing to do with free-market economics.

It is a historical accident that in the US, the populist nativist rural/exurb party is also the party that embraces free-market economics. It’s actually quite weird that the GOP combines these two elements, since in most countries they’re generally opposed to each other. And it leads American commentators to interpret victories for nativist parties like the French Front National or anti-Muslim “charismatic” politicians like the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders as victories “for capitalism” and “against socialism”. They have nothing to do with each other.

Why did Europeans vote against immigrants? by mattsteinglass
June 9, 2009, 8:57 pm
Filed under: Europe, Islam

reindeer kebab 1

I have no idea. But I thought it’d be a good opportunity to post that photo.

Anyway, Finnish President Hallonen is addressing the closing session of the IPI congress, and she just said “I still support the Nordic model, even after those elections.” I’m not exactly sure what that means. It’s my understanding that the far-right Finnish party that won about 15% of the vote in the European Parliament elections the day before yesterday (about par for the EU) doesn’t oppose the standard social planks of the Nordic system — high taxes, generous social benefits, an emphasis on public goods and strong education. They just want to kick out the Roma and the Somalians. And maybe the Russians — that’s never quite clear to me here.

Whose attention does North Korea want? by mattsteinglass
May 26, 2009, 9:11 pm
Filed under: Asia, Europe, Foreign Policy, Korea

Matthew Yglesias writes:

I guess it strikes me that the DPRK’s nose for grabbing attention seems a bit off if they’re deciding to do this over what’s a holiday weekend in the United States.

Depends on whose attention you’re trying to grab. It was a holiday weekend in the US, but I hear there was some kind of Asia-Europe foreign policy summit opening that day in Hanoi, followed immediately by an ASEAN-EU ministerial meeting in Phnom Penh that a lot of the same foreign ministers were going to.

“No history, no respect for this great little motor lodge” by mattsteinglass
May 24, 2009, 1:28 pm
Filed under: Asia, China, Development, Europe, United States

This is a pretty powerful video interview with a graphic designer named Aaron Draplin. Draplin laments the destruction of a vintage 1960s motel billboard and its replacement with a nondescript computer-generated piece of junk. “This is why America is f***ed,” Draplin says.

I think about this stuff every day — probably every hour — in Hanoi. About two years ago I started to get the feeling that there simply isn’t anywhere in the world apart from Europe and a few scattered sections of the US that does historical preservation right, or thinks it valuable. It’s a European cultural trait, an inheritance of Romanticism. In Vietnam and China, in all likelihood, there’ll be nothing left of the historical country in a couple of decades; most of it will be indistinguishable from a mediocre shopping mall in Singapore, at best.

Weirdly, though, Japan seems to be great at historical preservation. Perhaps because they industrialized earlier and slower, and had more time to think these issues through?