Sunday, 30 June 2013


 Besides the ominous nuclear arms race, one of the major underlying struggles between East and West throughout the Cold War was the global competition for minerals and energy sources. The reason for this is because minerals and energy have civilian as well as military significance and both play a major role in the global balance of power and quest for spheres of influence that the Great Powers carved out for themselves.

One of the myths propagated by the advocates of the free market system is that the end of the Cold War, coinciding with the advent of globalization and neoliberal policies, entailed the harmonious world economic economic integration. Therefore, there is no need for a global power struggle for minerals and energy and no need to carve out spheres of influence that are reminiscent of the Cold War. This is not entirely true, especially considering that 85% of energy in the world emanates from oil, natural gas and coal that represents security and stability for countries that produce it and those that consume it. When it comes to the ongoing struggle for strategic raw materials and energy, the US, China, Russia, northwest Europe and Japan, as well as regional (Middle East, Latin America, and Central Asia) energy producers, geopolitics plays a significant role behind the economics of energy.

In the early 21st century, we are experiencing a new global power struggle for spheres of influence, in many cases with energy as a catalyst. For example, the bloody civil war in Syria has not only the elements of the old East-West power struggle for spheres of influence, but energy as a catalyst in its midst, directly involving Syria and indirectly Russia, Iran, US, EU and Israel that has been trying to insert itself in the lucrative natural gas market, always with the assistance of the US.

One area that the power struggle has been especially prominent in the last two decades in the domain of natural gas where the US has used its political, military and economic influence to secure resources and to undermine its rivals, especially Russia and Iran, which are the number one and number two natural gas producers in the world - global production is at 175 million cubic meters and Russia's share is at 45 million, while Iran's is at 27 million, thus an immense slice of the global share concentrated in just two countries.

Although the US share of production is currently at 6 million cu. m., the US has the potential of overtaking Russia by 2017-18, largely because of deposits in a number of states, from North Dakota to the southern states. In addition, the US also has untapped oil potential that could make it even less dependent on the Middle East, and permit the price manipulation of natural gas and oil to undercut rivals like Russia and Iran whose political, economic and military power rests on energy exports.

Lower energy prices would make the US much more competitive, while undercutting its rivals producing energy as well as those consuming it. Russia energy giant Gazprom, and the entire energy field that accounts for half of Russia's budgetary  revenues, has allowed President Putin to become an powerful "Tsarist-style" leader at home, while affording him foreign policy leverage with EU, China, former Soviet republics and the Balkans. The US challenge has meant a decline in gas prices, and falling revenues of more than a quarter from the highs of 2010-11. This has actually benefited recessionary EU that is Russia's largest customer. The goal is even greater control of natural gas in pro-West hands and less in those of Russia and Iran.

From the Clinton administration to the present (2013), the US and its EU partners have been pursuing an encirclement policy toward Russia and Iran, a policy comparable to the encirclement policy that France, UK and Russia were pursuing toward the German Empire from 1890 to 1914, at least as far as the German nationalists were concerned. The key to the encirclement policy is not just Iraq and Afghanistan, but the natural gas resources of Central Asia.

Stephen Blank's "The Strategic Importance of Central Asia: An American View" correctly argues that:
"Central Asia’s strategic importance in international affairs is growing. The rivalries among Russia, China, United States, Iran, India, and Pakistan not to mention the ever-changing pattern of relations among local states (five former Soviet republics and Afghanistan) make the region’s importance obviously clear. Central Asia’s strategic importance for Washington, Moscow, and Beijing varies with each nation’s perception of its strategic interests. Washington focuses primarily on Central Asia as an important theater in the war on terrorism. Additionally, it is viewed as a theater where America might counter a revived Russia or China, or a place to blunt any extension of Iranian influence."

While the US argues that it is merely interested in combating terrorism and promoting "freedom and democracy" in Central Asia, the primary goal is strategic. Considering that the US has been supporting some of the most authoritarian regimes in the region, regimes that are among the most corrupt in the world, the "freedom and democracy" argument does not work as well as the "war on terror" argument. The problem of the US in the Central Asia republics is that they are Muslim and the people do not fail to notice the US backed Arab Spring movements to help install pro-neoliberal regimes, and at the same time it is willing to cooperate with authoritarian Asian governments for economic and geopolitical considerations.

Although the US denies there is a power struggle for energy sources, and that there is a race for spheres of influence in Central Asia where Russia and Iran feel encircled, the reality is that in the last two decades the US and the larger EU countries have used Western multinational corporations to corner the energy market for economic and geopolitical reasons.   Naturally, arms sales to energy producers have also been a part of the deal.

Championing the central Asian republics as their protector from Russia and to some extent China and Iran, the US has been using natural gas reserves development as a catalyst to carving out spheres of influence as part of a larger containment policy, while insisting that Russia is the one with imperialistic intentions toward its energy producing neighbors - Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. At the same time, the US has allied itself with energy-producer Azerbaijan to undercut the role of Iran.

Because the US and the West pay a higher price for natural gas than Russia, while trying to link gas pipelines from the Central Asian republics to Europe (bypassing Iran) and China, Moscow and Teheran see Western conspiracy for hegemonic influence in the area. The Western strategy undermines Iran and Russia that have repeatedly argued the US and EU are  engaged in neo-imperial relationship with Central Asian energy producers with the ultimate goal of undercutting Russia and Iran economically and geopolitically.

Besides Russia and Iran, China views the US neo-imperialist strategy involving natural gas as a
threat to its vital interests, although China has an inter-dependent relationship with the US
and needs it as much as Russia needs EU markets. The Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline involving
Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan was one in which the US and EU had an active hand,
especially in the South Caucasus Pipeline that would deliver gas through Turkey and onto to Europe.

Although the justification for the pipeline was to keep prices competitive, the real goal
was to undercut Russia and Iran, both of which objected to the pipeline for it would cause
irreparable environmental damage to their respective countries and the entire region.
In May 2007, Russia countered with the Central Asian gas pipeline that would provide gas
to Europe from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Russia.

In the last five years, Germany (RWE) and Austria have (Nabucco) become heavily
involved in pipeline construction projects in Central Asia with the Caspian Sea
as the main source. Standing to benefit from the construction of pipelines going West,
Turkey sided with the US and EU, partly for geo-strategic considerations - once again weapons
sales were part of the deal - given that it has been heavily involved in the Syrian rebel movement against
the Assad regime backed by Russia and Iran. Turkey however, complained that it was left out
in the Cypriot exploration for natural gas - where the US backed Israeli and European companies
 - as well as impending Greek exploration for gas and oil in the Aegean Sea.

The most glaring example that natural gas in the Near East and Central Asia became an
obvious play of spheres of influence was the proposed pipeline originating in Azerbaijan
and going through Turkey, onto Greece, Albania and winding up in Italy.
This project has a curious history, given that Russia was interested in a southbound pipeline
that would supply the Balkans and heading toward Europe through Greece.
The US vehemently objected to the Russian pipeline on the grounds
that Balkan and EU dependence on gas would make it vulnerable to political blackmail and allow
Moscow the upper hand diplomatically.

This is where the Central Asian gas supply plays a role,although the region hardly competes with
Russia that has immense known reserves. There are unconfirmed reports that because Russia depends
on Europe as a customer for its natural gas, and because it is not interested in worsening its already
delicate relations with Washington, Moscow struck a deal with the Western powers about  the gas
pipeline from Central Asia (Caspian) intended to supply Europe; a deal that apparently conceded
Syria to Russia as a traditional sphere of influence, regardless of what happens with Assad.

Obviously, in time of war, energy becomes very important and that is one reason for the politics of
natural gas. However, the game is more about political influence, containment strategy and
carving out spheres of influence between Russia, China and Iran.
The geopolitical significance of natural gas, and energy and minerals in general cannot be
underestimated any more than the economic one. What is important to understand today is that
the power struggle involving natural resources has not changed from
the era of New Imperialism (1880-1914), an era that led to the First World War.

While I am most definitely not suggesting war is around the corner, the contracting economic cycle
(2008-2013) has placed strains on both energy producers and consumers,
driving the competition into higher levels. At the same time, the US needs to show
something for the one trillion dollars it spent in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Creating Central Asian energy spheres of influence, while containing Russia and Iran,
is a solid strategy. The only question is can the Central Asian regime hold? What if Arab Spring
(now Turkish Spring) spreads into the region and new alliances and alignments are forged that are

Thursday, 27 June 2013


Writing is not about the "cash-value" of education as today's mainstream political and business culture has convinced students, parents and educators alike. (This is not to blame William James philosophy of pragmatism, though many critics argued that he is the source of this marketplace mindset.) Nor is writing a matter of just another skill, like knowing how to work the latest gadgets on a cell phone. Writing is a reflection of thinking, that is critical, reason-based, reflective thinking. Above all writing is a reflection of a creative mind, although by no means is creativity limited to the domain of writing. In a society that has reduced education to the business model.

It is true that the top  liberal arts colleges and universities in many parts of the world have what we call "core requirements" in the curriculum. This means three to six credit hours of math, history, literature, foreign languages, etc. The struggle inside the universities is between the core requirements advocates and the advocates of the student's major and minor fields of concentration who want greater flexibility for the student to choose from a basket of what are called "electives". If one studies the trend, even in major US universities, it becomes clear that the core curriculum has shrunk significantly, while there has been a struggle between courses in the major and electives. Even worse, there has been a trend to dilute content within courses, essentially making elective courses "fluffier" so students choose them. In short, the "mass culture or people magazine approach" to the curriculum is another dimension of this problem, one for which administrators, professors as well as the broader community is responsible.
I am not surprised that people even ask whether writing matters, any more than I would be surprised if the same people asked that learning math, music, art, literature or anything outside of one's very narrow field of career-oriented goal matters. Some argue that technology is to blame for the current apathy toward writing or anything related to a solid liberal arts education that has its roots in the Renaissance Era and continues through the Enlightenment when intellectuals saw the value to the individual and society in education the general population.

When I was in higher education, students were well aware that society, that is the political and business culture, wanted them to become super-specialized in their very narrow fields. The argument was that their employer would train them, if it became necessary to have a certain skill such as writing a simple memo or letter. Education as cash-value oriented for the sole purpose of serving businesses and not enriching the individual through creative endeavors and through service to society at large is as pathetic as government and business not wanting human beings to think for themselves because blind loyalty is the only thing that matters.

Sunday, 23 June 2013


The tragedy of classical Greece played on theater that its inhabitants invented has plagued the modern nation-state ever since its founding in 1832. Dependent on foreign loans to carry out the War of Independence, Greece became financially dependent on the Great Powers, mainly on Great Britain. Financial dependence entailed political, military, trade, and economic dependence, thus absence of national sovereignty, or obviation of the very reason the Greek nationalists fought for Independence from the Ottoman Empire. Those familiar with the history of modern Greece know that the country was always dependent on a Great power, a sort of an unofficial semi-colony that never enjoyed national sovereignty in the same manner as Sweden enjoys that privilege. In the early part of this decade, Greece lapsed deeper into semi-colonial dependence, thus its future rests in reverting to its dependent past.

Greece is now in its fifth consecutive year of recession, with official or statistical unemployment at about 28%, a GDP drop of roughly 25% in the last three years of IMF-EU austerity and anticipating a further rise in unemployment and continued drop in living standards for labor and the waning middle class (on top of the 22% private sector salary drop in 2011) for the balance of the decade.Amid all of this, prices of necessities have remained steady while taxes of all types have risen sharply, thus adding to declining living standards.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is not optimistic about the prospects of the Greek economy, despite the IMF-EU and Greek government scenarios of 'progress'. The fundamental problem is simple: The IMF-EU austerity program pushed the already-weak debt-ridden economy over the cliff to the point that the public debt as a percentage of GDP is the same in 2013 as it was in 2010 before the infamous 'haircut' that was pushed on small investors, most domestic, and on social security funds that are currently facing huge deficits and will have no choice but to cut an additional 10 to 30% in the near future.

In short, the massive IMF-EU bailout of Greece has resulted in massive transfer of capital resources from the country to the creditors abroad and to a handful of large and institutional investors domestically, while leaving a public debt that is unsustainable and cannot be serviced unless there is an additional haircut of at least 50% of current levels, or about $200 billion. In spite of Greece remaining in the euro zone, in spite of savings its banks, in spite of staying loyal to the IMF and EU, Greece has been unable to save the vast majority of people from sharply declining living standards amid an increasingly authoritarian, polarizing political climate, combined with an adamant refusal to combat racism and xenophobia that the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party are promoting.

A number of institutions like Citigroup, as well as well-known economists who work of hedge funds and had a financial interest in the analysis they offered publicly has argued that Greece would drop off the euro zone and return to its national currency. These predictions, well-timed for those shorting the euro and other financial products in Greece and EU, turned out to be nothing more than opportunism. At the same time, there are the prominent US media outlet, everything from the New York Times to Forbes and Wall Street Journal, that argued Greece is headed for political polarization to the degree of a possible civil war. Clearly those analysts lack even a modicum of understanding of the reality in the social and political arena, but they do have their own agenda that is totally unrelated to Greece. While we have seen mass protests and demonstrations in Turkey and Brazil, neither of which is under austerity, Greece has not experienced the same social upheaval, leaving some German analysts to argue that further argue that further austerity measures are possible and would not cause sociopolitical unrest as some fear.

How is it possible to have such dramatic financial, economic and social developments and not witness social unrest? Does this mean that a substantial percentage of Greeks were indeed part of the corrupt clientist network that was responsible for the public debt mess, as Theodore Pangalos (PASOK politician) argued in trying to find a pretext for the system of baksheesh capitalism that thrived in the country? How much austerity can the Greeks stand before taking to the streets and overthrowing their corrupt government - currently the conservative New Democracy and PASOK (Socialist) coalition that are both loyal to IMF-EU neoliberalism?

Between 2013 and 2016, Greece must find between $25 and $35 billion in public sector cuts and tax hikes either from existing or new sources in order to be able to service its debt and meet domestic obligations. This represents between 15% and 20% drop in GDP, although the OECD estimates a 10% of GDP in new cuts and new taxes would be sufficient. Such a fiscal adjustment would throw the hospitals, schools, and social security funds into further debt for which new loans would needed, and then new measures, and so goes the cyclical nature of austerity. Because Greece uses the common currency, it cannot do anything about monetary policy, so the entire burden falls on fiscal measures and of course anything to entice new domestic and foreign investment, all of which hinge on a stable political climate currently lacking and about to deteriorate in the near future.

The fundamental problem is not the public debt that cannot possibly be serviced as long as IMF-EU austerity continues. The core of the problem is a weak, parasitic and dysfunctional economic base, resting on tourism, shipping, financial services and primarily small shops that employ the majority of an overly-educated surplus workforce in an under-performing economy, all of which have a huge tax evasion problem and operate on the margins of legality. How does the economic base improve and the state forges a new policy mix to reduce the underground economy and tax evasion? First, there must be a government not immersed in a clientist system that rests on bribery and political appointments, but on merit and honesty. This is a virtually impossible task given the culture of corruption. Secondly, there must be plan that targets certain sectors - mining, agriculture, tourism, shipping, light manufacturing etc. for development. Such a plan is missing because the neoliberal-oriented governments, both PASOK and New Democracy - remain in a clientist mode. This means that political bosses dish out contracts to their favorite capitalists at home and permit any kind of foreign investment to the detriment of the public sector and the overall economy.

Prime minister Antonis Samaras has been relying on the EU and IMF to 'save' Greece, that is, to provide liquidity to service the debt and the banks. This means that the government has been looking to save the comprador bourgeoisie to the debtriment of the national capitalists who are now complaining that the IMF-EU austerity system is indeed ruining national capitalism while benefiting international capital, namely German-based investment. The comprador bourgeoisie are part of the problem because they have stashed away billions in foreign baks and off shore companies, refusing to pay taxes they owe and refusing to repatriate and invest in the country from which they made the money.

Given that the comprador bourgeoisie are not providing the sources to support the weak fiscal structure, this leaves the national bourgeoisie along with the workers and weak middle class to pay and at the same time become the backbone of the recovery. However, the beneficiaries of cheapened asset values, everything from labor costs to real estate values will not be the workers, middle class and national bourgeoisie, but primarily foreign investors and large Greek investors whose liquid assets are outside the country and who evade paying taxes.

Greece is currently in a downward phase of underdevelopment, something that is a process like development. The country was underdeveloped by its patron Great Britain from the 1830s to 1940s, then by the US from the Truman Doct5rine to the end of the Junta in 1974, and after a brief period of modest development from 1980 to 2005, the process of underdevelopment has started again under German hegemony. The future of the country is as a struggling developing Balkan nation beholden to the hegemonic northwest European core, especially Germany that enjoys economic preeminence in the EU.

Is there anything that can be done to have a better future, one other than a dependency of Germany and northwest EU? It could always leave the EU and opt for national capitalist development, but the problems would not end there. It can also opt for national capitalist development within the EU, but that would be very difficult, because Germany insists on neoliberal policies that benefit its economy. When Prime Minister Samaras recently fired everyone of the public TV and radio employee and shut down their operations, EU officials, even some Germans, were shocked that Greece is reverting to its authoritarian past. Not one of them linked austerity to authoritarian politics, and no one of them argued that democracy is threatened by neoliberalism.

The center-left Democratic Left Party left the coalition during the crisis over public TV and radio, but Samaras and his German patrons continue to argue that Greece is well on its way to recovery. Meanwhile, the IMF, Germany as well as EU officials warned Greece not to have elections, for that would undermine austerity and neoliberal policies that precipitated the political crisis. This is not the first time that EU and IMF have insisted on no elections, but it is worth noting the same advocates of democracy and elections are adamantly against freedom and elections if that means threatening neoliberalism and austerity.

The existing PASOK-New Democracy regime would not last more than a few months, before it collapses owing to massive presure from the EU-IMF to adopt new harsher fiscal measures and public sector cuts. There will be new elections that would most likely not allow any political party to enjoy a clear parliamentary majority. Meanwhile, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party has been growing. This is the part that has been backing the prime minister in his closing of public TV and radio and the one backing the New Democracy ruling party not to adopt anti-racist legislation. This is the same party that denies the holocaust took place and argues that the problem with Greece is to free itself of illegal aliens. The sources of financing for this party that has much in common with the ruling party is questionable. Reports indicate that shipping tycoons and other wealthy elements are behind it because they want to make sure the masses gravitate toward the extreme right and the leftist parties (Communist and SYRIZA) are kept in line amid harsh austerity measures. 

In many respects, the future of Greece is a reflection of its tragic polarizing past of the Cold War era (late 1940s to 1974). This was an era of US hegemony and right wind political dominance, with lack of social justice under extreme socioeconomic polarization. This was the era when Greeks were leaving their country in massive numbers, going to Australia, US, Canada, Europe, and elsewhere, seeking work. Today, we are back to the future, as young educated Greeks are leaving because their own country cannot absorb the most energetic and talented population it has created at a great cost to its taxpayers.

Many years ago when I was vising the Delphi archeological site, a retired tour guide who was a former teacher remarked to me that Greece has been a country unable to keep talent within its own borders for centuries, largely because the political elites are in the service of a very small EXTERNALLY-DEPENDENT socioeconomic group to the detriment of the rest of society. Now that austerity has taken the masks off Greece everyone can see it is not an EU member equal to its northwest counterparts. On the contrary, Greece is comparable to its Balkan neighbors. With this realistic image in mind, maybe the new generation can assess the current situation more accurately, instead of entertaining illusions  of grandeur, so they can plan a future with greater social justice for the next generation of all people and not just the comprador bourgeoisie.

ADDENDUM: the following is in response to comments from LINKEDIN blog.

1. I would agree with the suggestion that legalizing illegals would actually help immensely in fiscal terms and actually bring more revenue for the debt-ridden social security fund.

2. I am not sure that the majority of military conscripts have the resources to pay off obligations, given that unemployment for those under 30 hovers above 50%.

3. Privatization is at the core of IMF-EU neoliberal policy. This is a tricky issue, because it seems on the surface plain enough, but it is very complicated. First, asset values have dropped sharply and the income from privatizing would not be nearly as much today as it would have been 3 years ago. Second, the government usually sells public assets to 'favorite' domestic and foreign capitalists in a manner that leaves many to question if the politics of clientism and baksheesh capitalism is thriving. For example, this took place with lottery agency, to mention just one. Privatization has been tried in many countries with very bad results in cases of utilities, mining, etc. Even France and UK had to rethink this route, to say nothing of Germany that demands privatization of others, but reserves a large role of government ownership for itself. Finally, privatizing implies fiscal, economic, social and political stability. Greece does not enjoy any of those, and it probably will not for the next few years.

The assumption that many people make is that IMF-EU austerity is about achieving equilibrium in public finances and balance of payments. This is a pretext to impose austerity measures that results in massive changes in the socioeconomic structure, in everything from labor-management relations to public health and education, from the role of foreign investment vs. the role of the state as engines of economic growth and development to the role of the media as we recently saw with ERT. The core of the issue is a transition from the social welfare state to corporate welfare and that cannot be achieved unless austerity is in place. Another key issue here is the transition from the inter-dependent integration model that existed in the euro zone until 2010 to a patron-client model that entails reducing living standards in the periphery EU countries (Southern and Eastern Europe) by having their asset values, including labor, reduced in relationship with the core EU members. For evidence of this, please see the various OECD studies indicating such a trend.

The role of the state as an agent of harmonizing the interests of social welfare while promoting the market economy has changed by the necessity of the global recession of 2008-present, which has entailed an intense global competition. State revenue vs. expenditure under the Keynesian system is undergoing rapid change around the world. The fact is that deficit financing has run into conflict with neoliberal thinking. Capital must be freed and transferred from the public sector that absorbs it from the mass taxpayers for the benefit of making it available to financial institutions acting as the backbone of the market economy. The assumption is that financial institutions will do the right thing and make loans available to businesses for growth and development, which would in turn reduce unemployment and raise living standards. This is only an assumption. However, human beings are not necessarily driven by doing the right thing if they are left on their own devices, but instead are driven by greed and irrational desire to accumulate wealth regardless of the social cost. Just look at the countless banking scandals in the US and EU in the last ten years, everything from money laundering for drug lords to running illegal operations within bank departments that manipulated interest rates. 

On Apologists of Neoliberalism/Critics of Keynesianism

Niall Ferguson is a well know apologist for the Republican Party, anti-Keynesian and propagandist for neoliberalism that wants the state to be devoted to the protection and promotion of capitalists at the expense of society at large, namely, the broader working and middle class. He emphasizes public debt because that is something governments, businesses, media and establishment apologists emphasize in order to deflect attention from the decaying political economy's inherent contradictions. The bottom line is that the existing political economy has never focused on addressing the core issue concerning the majority of the people, namely, social justice. With very few exceptions, most notably Norway that is energy-rich, the political economy based on the state-directed corporate welfare "market system" is decaying from within.

The anti-Keynesian elements now blaming public debt rarely point out that public debt is at these levels because of the corporate welfare system and heavy defense spending by the core countries, especially the US. Trying to deflect attention from a decadent political economy, whether that effort is conducted by the media, politicians, university professors, or bloggers, is nothing more than cheap propaganda. People know if they are better off today under the post-Keynesian neoliberal political economy when there is rapid downward socioeconomic mobility, or during the core of the neo-Keynesian decades of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s when there was upward socioeconomic mobility.


Thursday, 20 June 2013


Are people shocked that the FBI has been using drones to spy on US citizens as well as foreigners from all corners of the world, or is it fine because is it acceptable to use methods attributed to authoritarian regimes because this is how freedom and democracy are preserved? Has the mainstream media and the entire institutional structure from politicians to schools brainwashed people from the Cold War to the war on terror to accept police state and militarist methods usually attributed to authoritarian regimes instead of a democratic society?  Can democracy function in a way that is truly egalitarian, socially just and free of police state methods... has it ever functioned in such a manner from the 'Golden Age of Pericles' in fifth century Athens to the present? Has democracy evolved into a phases where the ideologues of imperialism and neoconservative icons Karl Popper and Seymour Lipset define not just mainstream Americal political thought but our era in general, with few exceptions like Norway? Is democracy now in the hands of neoconservatives who advocate eliminating the welfare state and aligned themselves with neoliberals who advocate corporate welfare as the salvation of capitalism?
For a number of years, I have been writing, as have many others in the US and around the world, that democracy in the US has been slipping toward the road of a quasi-police state in the name of security and the war on terror. Given that the Cold War is no longer in existence to be used as a vehicle for sociopolitical conformity, the war on terror is just as good, until a new threat is defined and institutionalized. Not only was there a recent revelation that the US is spying on its own citizens via telephone and electronic media, but FBI Director Robert Mueller revealed that his agency has deployed drones to conduct surveillance on its own citizens. Privacy and civil liberties groups are alarmed, but they are now getting a very small sample of what it means to be on the receiving end of spying technology. At its worst, drone warfare has been used in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and Africa where it does not only spy in the name of freedom and democracy, but its kills, often innocent people, including children.  However, these killings, like the spying on US citizens, is all for the good cause of freedom and democracy that that US wishes to spread to the rest of the world, at gunpoint if necessary. One of the famous quotes of Mahatma Gandhi about those trying to spread democracy at gunpoint is: “What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty or democracy?”

This is not to suggest that the US is totalitarian, but it uses militaristic and police state methods inside its own nation as well as around the world that are characteristic of totalitarian regimes. Nevertheless, the US is pluralistic in many other respects, from cultural diversity issues to social choice matters. This kind of social and cultural diversity under the cloak of police/militaristic methods justified in the name of security account for a complex situation that confuses people who believe that only a truly democratic regime could allow gay marriage and permit religiously offensive art works to be displayed, let us say. On the other hand, there is a regime of denying due process under certain circumstances, torturing, spying and assassinating by using drones, wholesale phone and internet tapping everyone indiscriminately under the PRISM program, and violating human rights and civil rights, all in the name of democracy!

Clearly, the state under the leadership of Republican and Democrat parties has institutionalized the 'illiberal' and quasi-police state methods. For example, the entire established media is following the example of the state with regard to preserving democracy at any cost, including spying on US citizens and killing innocent children in Muslim countries where terrorism thrives. Apologists argue that while the mainstream media follows the lead of the government, there are other voices from television to internet available to all people, thus proving that US practices pluralism and it is not authoritarian. It is indeed a testament to the strength of the state and the institutional structure that shapes public opinion that the US is able to permit dissenting voices, given that their impact is minimal in society. Mainstream media that has a grip on forming public opinion does not have to worry about a small percentage of people who are consumers of news from non-establishment news outlets on TV, radio and web. The vast majority of the population follows and has faith in the government and mainstream media and institutions that justify the PRISM spying program and assassinations carried out by drones, because it is all for a higher cause, namely, freedom and democracy.

Democracy evolved in ancient Athens during the fifth century B.C. when adult male citizens opted for a system of direct participation in government. In essence, the "radical democracy" of Athens permitted a small percentage of the population to participate because women, slaves and 'metics' (non-Athenian citizens) were excluded from government. Moreover, of the adult male citizens that had the right to participate only those who had the means to leave their work and go to the center of the city-state (near Acropolis) to take part.

Even then, it was difficult to have any influence unless one had the gift of rhetoric and a general education that permitted him to rise and speak with authority to convince the rest. Education was the privilege of the wealthy - middle class merchants and large landowners. Therefore, the democratic system was limited to the very few who came from established families. Finally, it is interesting to point out that ancient Athens had an economy that thrived owing to slave labor as well as metics, a social structure that obviously appears inconsistent with what modern thinkers would consider 'democracy'.

The concept of democracy in the modern Western World evolved from the Enlightenment era and its precursor John Locke. Besides the Industrial Revolution that shaped the social structure, the political revolutions also helped to shape the evolution of the political system of democracy uniquely in each country based on its own culture and traditions as well as global events such as the wars, and after 1945 the Cold War, and more recently the 'war on terror'.

Capitalism in its current phase under globalization and neoliberal policies has altered democracy as it existed during the 1930s, 1960s, or even during the transitional Reagan-Thatcher decades of the 1980s. In the early 21st century, we have a form of authoritarian democracy that finance capital and the political ruling class is practicing in the name of economic growth and development. The ruling political class is no longer in the service of protecting the rights of all citizens in order to protect a democratic society as the constitution dictates, but rather to make certain that capital expansion advances for it is equated with the 'national interest'. Therefore, modern society operates under the definition of national interest that runs counter to the collective interest of society and in favor of financial elites. Authoritarian methods in a democratic society are intended to suppress dissent mostly by indirect methods that include domestic spying and massive propaganda that convinces people there is freedom and equality, although the facts illustrate gross social, economic and political inequality intended to preserve an elitist social structure.

One of the most important propaganda tools of democracy slipping toward authoritarianism is that elections translate into democracy. To carry out elections one needs enormous sums of money, media backing and a party structure network, including the support of key elite players in society, from military to business. In short, electoral politics is subject to institutional conditions, therefore legitimizing electoral results with the political philosophy of democracy that people equate with equality and social justice is misleading. Open and covert manipulation of the electoral process is no secret whether in Russia, or the US, and all of it with the ultimate goal of safeguarding established interests from military to financial.

Should the citizens of the US or any other country operating under the label of democracy be concerned about the future of this regime? The answer is in the reality of eroding social justice issues, everything from rising socioeconomic gaps to government spying on its own citizens and justifying it in the name of freedom and democracy. The infamous FBI director J. Edgar Hoover made a career in the 20th century spying on 'the enemies' of the US, everyone from leftists and mafia bosses to mainstream politicians and government bureaucrats. So why should anyone raise an eyebrow today about the drone program? One reason is that today the program is ll-encompassing , partly because technology permits it, and because communications and web corporations provide all the data the government demands.
It should be a source of concern when Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has thrown people in jail for exercising freedom of expression, calls the US spying and drone operations acceptable. However, it should be even more troubling that the US domestic spying operations, linked to foreign spying operations, had the approval of congressional and judicial elements, and were not simply the work of the White House acting alone. In short, there is a broader consensus that society must remain under a quasi-police-state mode for the sake of freedom and democracy.

Considering that the US is practicing a unique type of democracy that includes quasi-police state methods, what moral authority does it have to lecture other countries around the world when they violate human rights? Was Turkish President Erdogan wrong to accuse the West of hypocrisy when Western governments, media and pundits criticized Turkish police of using brutal tactics to suppress protesters in Istanbul and other cities? How can the US defend its unique brand of democracy when Putin becomes a defender of American-style quasi-police state methods? What example does the US set for the world as a leader claiming to be democratic?

Excerpt from E. J. Snowden. Moscow, 12 July 2013

"The 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution of my country, Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and numerous statutes and treaties forbid such systems of massive, pervasive surveillance. While the US Constitution marks these programs as illegal, my government argues that secret court rulings, which the world is not permitted to see, somehow legitimize an illegal affair. These rulings simply corrupt the most basic notion of justice – that it must be seen to be done. The immoral cannot be made moral through the use of secret law."

Friday, 7 June 2013


The question of "Development Models"
In the post-Communist era now more than two decades old, many people around the world are questioning what is the best economic development model? One reason for such a question is the very deep recession of 2008-present that has thrown many economies into a downward spiral of unemployment, rising public and private sector debt, and lack of rapid growth in the remainder of the decade.  So, what are some models of modern economic development and to what degree do they improve people's lives, and do economic growth and development alone account for human happiness - with the broader meaning of the latter term?

The mode of production that determines the social order has been capitalism that has evolved from the Commercial Revolution in the 16th century to globalization in the late 20th-early 21st century. Under the world-system of capitalism, there have been different models of development in the history of capitalism, determined to a large degree by the shifts from the primary sector of production (agriculture, forestry, mining and fisheries) to the secondary sector (manufacturing) and to the tertiary (service) and high tech/biotechnology sector.

Before analyzing some models of economic development, it is instructive to consider the following questions about development economics.
a) What development model best serves the needs of the people, presumably all people and not just the financial and or political, military, bureaucratic elites?
b) Is it possible to separate politics from economics and speak in terms of pure economics instead of a system of political economy and social structure?
c) Is there such a thing as "the perfect" or 'ideal' system that can be applied perfectly in practice as it may appear in theory, whether such a system is market-based, statist, or some model based on a mixture?
d) Different countries would require to adopt variations of different models depending on their natural resources, labor force, level of current development.
e. change is required to models of political economy to keep up with changes in the real economy and society."
f. As perfect as they may be in theory for any given  society, economic models in practice do not mean very much, simply because the decision on what policies to pursue are always taken by those who command economic and political power. Add to the equation the factor of corruption and the model is coffee table reading material.
g. There is no such thing as the ideal model in theory that is not in practice a mixture of several theories. For example, is the US  a "free market model" economy when in essence it has been practicing corporate welfare economics for decades? Is Indonesia a neoliberal economy under an Islamic regime, similar to Malaysia, Turkey, and now Egypt and Tunisia? Is China a statist economy or a mixed economy that allows a heavy dose of free enterprise?

Can there be a development model that serves all people?
In the 19th century, there were a number of intellectuals from Adam Smith to Karl Marx who believed that it was possible to have an economic system that best served all people. However, Smith was an advocate of free market economic development, while Marx believed only Communism, the natural state of human beings, can best serve the people by eliminating elites, not reinforcing them.
Because people have differing views on what best serves society, that is, best serves every person equally in every respect in institutional terms, most economic models are necessarily based on what best serves interest groups within society. There are of course economic development models that claim to best serve everyone, including Socialist and Communist models, but in practice some sectors and some individuals are better served even by those models, as history has clearly demonstrated in the 20th century, than other groups in society. In short, as Jean-Paul Sartre and many others correctly maintained, there will always be elites in society, and that means that no economic model can possibly be free of that reality. Another way to view this is that there is no such thing as an economic development model that is "objective", because models are rooted in everything from investment to terms of trade that invariably benefit certain groups and not society as a whole.

Should GDP growth be the sole criteria for human happiness?
It is true that in world public opinion polls the top ten "happiest countries" are those that we consider developed economically, that is, those with diversified economies and high incomes. This is an indication that in the age of materialism where the value system is rooted in wealth and the security provided to maintain it people believe their happiness hinges on things associated primarily with material possessions. However, national economic growth and development do not necessarily translate into individual happiness, if a percentage of the population, anything above 10%, lives in chronic poverty.
Moreover, human happiness is also predicated on spiritual fulfillment for many non-Western societies. In the early 1970s, Bhutan rejected GDP as the sole criterion for progress, asserting that quality of life, social progress and the psychological well being of people are significant indicators to take into account. The Bhutan example became the UN standard as well. Although this is something that can be used as distraction by those trying to justify socioeconomic injustice by arguing why do people need material improvement when they have spiritual fulfillment, it is important to note that we cannot use the Western material criterion alone for it does not reflect the human experience worldwide.

Defining "Development"
The term development in economics does not mean the same thing for an advocate of "dependency theory" as it does for a monetarist. Nor does it necessarily mean the same thing for an advocate of sustainable development in India vs. one in Canada. For this reason, I need to lay some groundwork for this synoptic perspective of what the term means to intellectuals and politicians who do not share common views.

1. Centrally-planed models.
The old Soviet centrally-planned economy from the 1920s until the early 1980s was a model in which the command economy was rooted. The government decided on productivity and investment by sector as well as absorption of the surplus labor force from one sector by the other, not to satisfy consumer demand, but rather to meet the greater societal or national needs as the state defined them. In varying degrees, this model became a prototype for Eastern Europe after 1945, and for Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea, and China under Mao.

Development was measured by the state in terms of meeting production quotas, though in practice, the bureaucracy falsified reports to make productivity appear much better than it was. In the end, such a non-consumption-geared economy did not translate into rising living standards across the board, but it did absorb the surplus labor force and it tried to meet essential needs such as housing, health, and education. Command economies had enormous problems, not only because their civilian economies failed to meet mass consumer demand, but also because of the emphasis on durable goods focus vs. consumer goods, and heavy military spending that absorbed resources otherwise needed for the civilian economy. In practice, the politically-connected elites (the 'new class' linked to the Communist Party) benefited, while the broader masses lagged behind and lacked basic freedoms that many of them valued, such as freedom of worship, expression, and others that are common in open societies of the Western World.

2.  Quasi-statist and neo-corporatist models.
Government permits free enterprise, but invests heavily in certain industries and/or subsidizes others even if they show chronic deficits instead of profits, because it deems it is in the 'national economic' interest. It is difficult to argue that quasi-statism and neo-corporatism, both of which are inter-related and have many aspects to them, are alike in South Korea as in Brazil, or in Russia as in Argentina and Venezuela. The common denominator is heavy government involvement in investment with the intent to promote certain sectors, trade regulation intended to promote national capitalism and not permit international capital to determine economic planning, and strengthening the state structure so that the private sector, especially foreign capital does not have a dominant role.

After the Second World War, a number of countries, including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, among others, began to adopt 'top-down' development models so they can help build sectors such as steel industry, shipbuilding, and others. This model in varying degrees found expression in Brazil, Argentina after 2001, post-Communist Russia, even Spain in the late 1980s-early 1990s before the wave of neoliberalism swept the EU that had itself aspects of corporatism and quasi-statism as a regional bloc rooted in heavy subsidies of certain sectors.

The quasi-statist model is also operating in a number of countries as different as Norway and Saudi Arabia. There is the Norwegian development model, (to some extent also practiced in other Scandinavian countries) essentially a variation of Keynesian economics, is rooted in a strong state structure that relies on a solid welfare state with a private competitive sector backed by the social-democratic state.
The benefits of this model are that there is a sense of national control over the economy, vs. foreign capital control, thus it is an issue of national sovereignty prevailing in the age of globalization. Another benefit is that the state helps to plan for the country's future with the intent of long-term development that presumably would meet the needs of the majority of the people. Moreover, the nation retains a strong national capitalist class that is able to compete internationally instead of becoming subservient to exporters from developed core countries.

How well has this model worked? The examples of South Korea, Taiwan, all of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) indicate that the national economies experience phenomenal growth. This does not mean, however, that the wealth is evenly spread across the population.It is true that South Korea, and Taiwan developed a middle class on the basis of this model and it is also true that the fastest middle class growth is taking place in the BRICS. However, the world's largest percentage of poor live in the BRICS. With the promise that national economic growth and development will some day in the future translate into individual prosperity the quasi-statist countries can continue to operate as they do until such time as the broader masses rise up and demand results filter down to them.

3. Neo-classical (free enterprise) model.
The classical free enterprise system theory of Adam Smith and its apologists in the 20th century, from the neo-classical advocates (Robert Solow and T. W. Swan) to Milton Friedman and the Chicago School that rejected Keynesian economics in favor of rigid monetarism that is an integral part of the neo-classical movement. Productivity and capital accumulation based on a fiscal system that favors capital, allows maximal freedom of capital movement and investment and limits organized workers' rights that inhibit capital expansion and accumulation are at the core of this school of thought.

With many variations, the neo-classical school and its advocates ranging from supply side economics to neoliberalism and monetarism as expressed by IMF-World Bank economists as well as purists of the classical theory made a major comeback in the 1980s and they have triumphed ever since. In practice, the theory never worked as its advocates claim, because the state became a vehicle to transfer massive income from the welfare state to corporate welfare, thus a form of statism was part of this model. Moreover, the model in practice proved to have many flaws as it permitted numerous scandals from banking to corporate corruption and investor fraud on which fortunes of the very few were built at the expense of the general economy.

The market-oriented growth and development model is presumably one that takes place under an open, free and democratic society where free market forces trade, invest and consume with minimal government intervention. This is the theory. In reality, the role of government is very heavy in every aspect from monetary to fiscal policy, and society is not nearly as free and open as one would argue in theory. The quasi-police state methods of the US, everything from illegally tapping into the private phone records of millions of people to denying due process to anyone that government has the right to brand terrorist indicate a slippery slope toward authoritarian capitalism. "The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs..."

Putting aside the reality that economic models necessarily work within a political system that makes all kinds of lofty claims about what best serves "the people", let also consider that many people actually believe that if the "national economy" is performing well, so will they, because they identify with the nation-state, even though they as individuals may be in the lower socioeconomic strata and derive no benefits from any growth and development. This is the case in many countries, most notably the US. The latest (June 2013) Department of Labor report shows that labor costs are the lowest since 1947 when the US began keeping records. Hourly compensation continues to sink, most notably in the manufacturing sector that was historically the best-paying sector for workers. This trend of downward socioeconomic mobilization has been a reality for the past three decades, but the US economy continues to develop and grow, though without such development translating into income growth for the middle class and workers.  

There are variations of authoritarian capitalist models found in many non-Western countries such as Saudi Arabia but also in a number of African nations. This model allows for free enterprise, it rests on one or very few sources for economic growth and development, and it has a strong state monopolized by authoritarian regimes, invariably more corrupt than countries where there is some semblance of checks and balances. There is the Indonesian, Malaysian, Turkish model of neoliberalism under Islamic regimes; something that is now spreading across other Muslim nations, including Tunisia and Egypt. This model is an integral part of the neoliberal one under globalization.

Clearly, there are models today that result in tremendous GDP growth, but that does not translate to upward socioeconomic mobility and the qualitative and quantitative growth of a middle class. For example, the result of globalization, especially from 2007 to the present, is that the middle class in the US and EU has been shrinking, while it has expanded in Asia and to some degree in Latin America and parts of Africa. Therefore, versions of the neoliberal model of development that the US and EU have been pursuing has resulted in downward socioeconomic mobility for the most advanced nations as well as semi-developed ones in Southern Europe. Nevertheless, more than half of the middle class in in North America and EU, while the vast majority of the poor are in the non-Western world.

According to OECD statistics, "In 2009 the middle class included 1.8 billion people, with Europe (664 million), Asia (525 million) North America (338 million) accounting for the highest number of people belonging to this group. ...  The size of the “global middle class” will increase from 1.8 billion in 2009 to 3.2 billion by 2020 and 4.9 billion by 2030. The bulk of this growth will come from Asia: by 2030 Asia will represent 66% of the global middle-class population and 59% of middle-class consumption, compared to 28% and 23%, respectively in 2009..."

One paradox in economics is that it is possible to have growth without development (vertical growth), or growth accompanied by underdevelopment as in the case of African, Latin American and some Asian countries that are relying on one or two export products, while using the proceeds to import everything else. This kind of dependency has been characteristic of the core-periphery divide in the capitalist world system for the past five centuries; for there is a vast difference between an undeveloped country enjoying self-sufficiency and an underdeveloped that one that is financially, commercially and industrially dependent on the advanced capitalist (core) countries. Moreover, there is a vast difference between a country experiencing ephemeral growth owing to the availability of some export product –let us say oil – and sustainable development that leads to diversified economic development and greater self-sufficiency.

Is there a single development model that works best to serve the people of all countries around the world; like us say the neoliberal that IMF, World Bank, European Central Bank, US and EU governments are promoting globally as the panacea? Economic development models, whether like that of the US, or regional bloc one like the one of the European Union, are always designed down to the smallest detail to serve and promote the privileged socioeconomic and political elites, within the boundaries of what the middle class and working class will tolerate so there would not be social unrest or revolt. In short, development models are not intended to foster greater upward socioeconomic mobility, but to further concentrate capital in the hands of the privileged elites that enjoy policy influence. The social safety net, social welfare measures within varying degrees that have been in place in many countries around the world are now threatened by the neoliberal model that encourages the erosion of welfare measures amid an era of downward pressure on wages and limited opportunities for youth suffering high unemployment. These are explosive social conditions that could result in social upheaval if the trend continues.


 In response to critiques and observations of the article above, I thought it helpful to include my response as I posted it on LINKEDIN where the critique appears.

Everything that you describe as goal - lower global poverty, gender equality, basic education and health care, and a sustainable future for all people - is great and the goal of many human-centered rather than market-focused people for the past two centuries. My position as I explained in the article about development models is that such goals will not be realized, not any time in the near future, not in the next half century. On the contrary, statistic indicate that there is regression in the areas of social progress. Why? I repeat that people who have economic and political (military/police) power always prevail, while the broader masses of the population, middle classes and workers continue to demand social justice. The social dialectic (Marxian-based "dialectical social theory") leads me to conclude that concessions will be made to the broader masses only when absolutely necessary to preserve the status quo.

The idea that there is any model that can possibly reflect "human behavior" and its idiosyncratic proclivities assumes that there is such a thing as a "uniform generic model" of human behavior, rather than "atomic action constraints, as determined genetically and by cultural conditioning".

In fact, the reason I argue that there cannot be a perfect model, is because I made certain assumptions about human nature, namely that the irrational tendencies play a far greater role than the rational. This is a very old argument rooted in the philosophical debates that goes back to the 17th century (Hobbes and Locke) and continuing in the Age of Reason as well as the 19th century when Marx and Mill who relied on the rationalist tradition to formulate significant political theories on which society could build. In short, just as a scientific theory can provide solid and unquestioned answers, similar philosophical models of political economy could do the same, at least this was the assumption. But can scientific certainty be applied to economic models, given that they must in the end apply to human beings that are neither neutrons nor algebraic equations? Are the domains of economics, political science, sociology and social science as "scientific" as mathematics, chemistry and physics. 

Saturday, 1 June 2013


In early May 2013, al-Jazeera carried an article analyzing Lardi Sdiki's book on why Turkey is not a model for Arab Spring. Less than a month later, news organizations around the world wondered if the popular protests against the Islamist Erdogan regime were not a signal of Turkey's "Arab Spring". Ironically, prime minister Erdogan has been in the forefront supporting Arab Spring in the last two years, and his government has been behind the Islamist rebels backed by the US, Israel and EU. However, the fortunes of politics have turned on the Islamist neo-liberal leader of the Justice and Development Party, and he is now facing open popular opposition that has the potential of becoming the basis for more widespread social uprising unless it is contained in some fashion. Some journalists and political observers are wondering if in June 2013 the mass protests taking place on Taksim Square will eventually be turned into something like Egypt's Tahrir Square.

All of this started with the Turkish government's decision to build an Ottoman style shopping center in Istanbul's historic Taksim Square, after the ruling Islamist party also decided to adopt a series of measures, including restricting alcohol sales, as part of a massive effort to impose Islamization on Turkey, while pursuing neo-liberal policies that enrich foreign and domestic businesses linked to and protected by the Erdogan government.In more than 90 anti-government demonstrations in 48 cities, most importantly in Istanbul and Ankara, thousands of people have taken to the streets and clashed with police. More than 900 have been arrested, and depending on the source, from a few dozen to as many as 1000 injured around the country.

Although the US and EU governments have been strong supporters of Erdogan and his Islamist-neoliberal model that the West wants implemented across the Middle East, there were condemnations of the forceful manner that the police handled the protests. Many Turks have said to reporters that the Erdogan government is behaving like a dictatorship and these mass protests have exposed the real face of the Islamist regime. One reason for the surprising reaction of the West toward the anti-government protests is that Russia has just delivered new weapons to Syria's Assad regime, after the EU and US announced relaxing their restrictions on helping the Islamist (Sunni) rebels in Syria. In short, the geopolitical picture of Turkey as the base of anti-Assad operations becomes problematic because of the secularist-Kemalist domestic opposition that could potentially find allies within the armed forces if it continues.

The anti-government opposition is hardly a conspiracy and it is not made up of a single group. On the contrary, this is as heterogeneous as it could possibly be. Besides Kemalists, there are Armenians, Kurdish, Alawites (Muslims from the Shi'ite sect), environmentalists, cyber-activists, trade unionists, professionals, government workers, intellectuals and artists, students and anti-war activists. Why have these people come together to oppose Erdogan's regime that still enjoys considerable popular support in the rural areas and among devout Sunni Muslims?

It is true that in the last decade, Turkey under the Islamist-neoliberal Erdogan has been transformed to the degree that some pro-neoliberal newspapers in the West have argued that Turkey is the next China. Of course, that is hyperbole, but Turkey has enjoyed rapid economic growth at a time that the Middle East has been in sociopolitical and economic turmoil and the EU economy has been shrinking in the last five years. This phenomenal economic growth has made Erdogan popular with a segment of the population, especially with the comprador bourgeois class benefiting, but also with the rural Muslims. While the mass protests may be a combination for defining Turkish identity, and the future course on the basis of an open merit-based sociopolitical and economic structure, it is also true that in some respects the crony capitalism under Erdogan represents a struggle between Western-oriented modernizers vs. an Islamist elite benefiting under the current regime.

There is of course the republican opposition rooted in the legacy of Mustafa Kemal "Ataturk" (1881-1938), who modernized-Westernized Turkey under the aegis of the armed forces, separating it from the yoke of Islamism amid the Great Depression.  The current popular protests are a reflection of the conflict between the Kemalists who see the future of Turkey as a Western nation, not an Ottoman-Islamist-style one that Erdogan is trying to create, relying heavily on foreign investment and militarization that would fill the power gap created after the destruction of neighboring Iraq by the US and now Syria amid civil war. Kemalists organized in the main opposition (Republican People's Party) as well as leftists in Turkey have expressed strong opposition to Erdogan dragging Turkey into the Syrian civil war, behind which is the US-NATO on the side of the Islamist-Sunni rebels. Although Erdogan has blamed the Republican People's Party for the mass protests, this is a much broader movement with the potential of becoming Turkey's "Arab Spring", especially given that the Kurdish minority is an integral part of the protest movement.

Monopoly of political power passing down from one party state to another, from one dictator to another was partly at the heart of Arab Spring. Turkey has a multiparty system where Islamists represented by Erdogan and republicans represented by Keamlists coexisted. That is until May-June 2013 when Erdogan tried to monopolize state power in an overt manner threatening the Kemalists urban, educated middle class that looks to the West as its future. A few weeks ago, it was unthinkable that Turkey was a model for Arab Spring, but popular demonstrations involving thousands have proved otherwise. While analysts were arguing Turkey was a model for Arabs carrying out rebellions, such theories now have been proved wrong. Islamism under the neo-liberal model is itself under attack in Turkey, just as it has been under attack in Egypt and Tunisia that underwent Arab Spring revolts. Given that people have now seen how the Arab revolts already carried out and the one in Syria have been a monumental manipulation of Islamists to monopolize political power and impose social and judicial policies, while implementing neoliberalism that the West demands, Turks have learned by watching the rest of the Middle East in the last three years.

Despite the mass protests, one must not underestimate Erdogan who remains the most popular politician in Turkey and has established a power (police, military and bureaucracy) base to compliment an Islamist popular base. Nevertheless, the popular protests made up of different popular groups, from leftists to environmentalists, from Kemalists to pro-Kurdish elements area source of concern for the regional balance of power that Turkey was trying to establish. No doubt, a political settlement of the Syrian civil war that can only include Russia would ease the situation in Turkey that sees itself as a counterweight to Iran.
The Erdogan regime is interested in having Turkey play an essential diplomatic role between West (NATO, especially US) and Middle East. It is no secret that Turkey wants to recapture some of its Ottoman glory through diplomacy; it wants a greater geopolitical role that would give it leverage to have a voice in determining the regional balance of power. This makes sense because there is no longer a Communist bloc, the US failed in Iraq and Afghanistan, both EU and US appear helpless in bringing about a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, and it seems that such a course would solidify Erdogan’s domestic political base threatened by secularists inside the military as well as outside.

 While urban and mainly western Turkey is almost ready for EU integration, rural, mainly Eastern Turkey is clearly not, at least from my studies and from what I saw when I visited. Besides the Armenian and Kurdish issue that have Europeans worried, the military’s overbearing role in society as a guarantor of the Kemalist state, as well as Islam may be additional problems leading to EU integration. The country’s judicial system and rampant corruption are also overriding issues. Having visited beautiful Turkey a few times, it struck me that it will need a few hundred billion euros to raise its economy to a level that integration will make sense and we will not have a flood of labor exodus. The larger Turkish businesses, European banks and export firms, and a segment of the Turkish middle class are interested in EU membership.

Now that the popular protests of 2013 are a reality, the larger question is how far should the reach of the NATO powers extend inside the Middle East, and to what extent should the West be permitted to destabilize the Middle East in order to exert hegemonic influence, assuming that would be possible under radical Islamic regimes in the future. Is Syria worth an all-out war between the US and EU on one side, and Russia, China and Iran on the other? No one believes that it is, and that is why Washington and Moscow will be looking for a political solution, one that would inadvertently help Erdogan. Meanwhile, the dream of recreating the old Ottoman Empire by pushing for socio-cultural and political Islamism under a neoliberal model must be reexamined. Otherwise, the mass protests by secular diverse elements will continue and Erdogan and his experiment will come to an end either by a military coup, a constitutional method or revolt.