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Italy in Crisis: The Decline of the Roman Democracy and Rise of the ‘Super Mario’ Technocracy

Italy in Crisis: The Decline of the Roman Democracy and Rise of the ‘Super Mario’ Technocracy

Part 1 of “Italy in Crisis”, a series of excerpts from a chapter in an upcoming book.

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

The “Super-Marios”: Mario Draghi (left), President of the European Central Bank, and Mario Monti (right), the Technocratic Prime Minister of Italy. [photo credit: Silvia Azzari / Milestone Media / ZUMAPRESS.com]

The European debt crisis continues into its third year, with four government bailouts – of Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain – and having imposed harsh austerity measures upon the people of Europe, forcing them to pay – through reduced standards of living and increased poverty – for the excesses of their political and financial rulers. Italy, as Europe’s third largest economy, with one of the largest debt-to-GDP ratios, plays a central role in the unfolding debt crisis across Europe. Part 1 of this excerpt from a chapter on the economic crisis in my upcoming book covers the “suspension” of democracy in Italy and the imposition of a ‘Technocracy’ – an unelected government led by academics and bankers – with a mandate to punish the people, facilitate the financial elite, and serve the interests of the supranational, unelected, technocratic European Union. Power centralized, power globalizes, power plunders and profits on the punishment and impoverishment of people everywhere. This is the story of Italy’s debt crisis.

This is an unedited, rough draft excerpt from my upcoming book – the Preface to the People’s Book Project – which is due to be finished by the end of the summer, and covers the following subjects: the origins, evolution, and consequences of the global economic crisis; the expansion and effects of global imperialism and war; the elite-driven social engineering project of establishing an institutional structure of ‘global governance’; and the rising resistance of people around the world to this system, as well as the attempts of the imperial powers to co-opt, control, or destroy these socio-political movements – the embodiment of the ‘Global Political Awakening’ – from the Arab Spring, to the anti-austerity movements across Europe, the Indignados in Spain, the Occupy Movement, the Chilean Winter and the Maple Spring in Quebec, among others. This project needs your support: I am attempting to raise $2,500 in donations to support the efforts to finish this book by the end of the summer, with $530 raised so far, and $1,970 left to go. Please donate today!

Bilderberg, Berlusconi, and Italian Austerity

The Italian Finance Minister, Giulio Tremonti had attended the Bilderberg meeting in early June of 2011, alongside other notable Italian participants, including Franco Bernabe, CEO of Telecom Italia (and Vice Chairman of Rothschild Europe); John Elkann, the Chairman of Fiat; Mario Monti, the president of Bocconi university and a former EU Commissioner; and Paolo Scaroni, the CEO of Eni, an oil and gas company and Italy’s largest industrial corporation. The Bilderberg meeting for 2011 took place from June 9-12 in Switzerland, and of course was attended by a host of other major European elites, including: Josef Ackermann, Chairman and CEO of Deutsche Bank; Marcus Agius, Chairman of Barclays Bank; the Swedish Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Trade; Luc Coene, the Governor of the National Bank of Belgium; Frans van Daele, Chief of Staff to the President of the European Council; Werner Faymann, the Federal Chancellor of Austria; Douglas J. Flint, Group Chairman of HSBC Holdings; Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission; Bernardino Leon Gross, Secretary General of the Spanish Presidency; George Papaconstantinou, the Greek Minister of Finance; Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council; and Jean-Claude Trichet, President of the European Central Bank, among many others.[1]

In July of 2011, Silvio Berlusconi’s government announced a package of austerity measures hoping to calm markets, seeking to reduce the deficit by 40 billion euros. The package, largely designed by finance minister Giulio Tremonti, only attempted to address Italy’s debt, but markets were also concerned about the country’s “ultra-low-growth,” which has been consistent since Berlusconi returned to office in 2001. Once the austerity measures would be signed into law, several opposition politicians were suggesting the formation of a cross-party “technical government” without Berlusconi in office.[2] The Finance Minister Tremonti announced a wave of privatizations. Apparently, the privatizations and various liberalizations were urged into the austerity package by the main opposition party, the Democratic Party (PD), not Berlusconi’s Freedom People Party. The central bank governor of Italy, Mario Draghi, who was poised to become the next President of the European Central Bank (ECB) following the end of the term of Jean-Claude Trichet, warned the Italian government that “it would have to raise taxes or make further spending cuts” if it wanted to calm markets.[3] By July 14, the Italian Senate approved an increased austerity package worth 70 billion euros (or $99 billion), “aimed at convincing investors that the eurozone’s third-largest economy won’t be swept into the debt crisis.” Italy’s bonds (government debt) saw its borrowing rates (interest) hit record highs as investors were not calmed by the proposed austerity measures.[4]

Even as the austerity measures were being passed, market confidence was still lacking, which was largely credited to the fact that a rift emerged between Berlusconi and his Finance Minister Tremonti, who as a Bilderberg attendee, no doubt has the confidence of markets. Berlusconi reportedly viewed Tremonti as a “rival” and has “repeatedly attacked [Tremonti] as a traitor in newspapers owned by the Berlusconi family.”[5] After Tremonti, who was facing his own corruption charges, was caught on camera calling a colleague a “cretin,” Berlusconi told an Italian newspaper, “You know, he thinks he’s a genius and that everyone else is stupid… I put up with him because I’ve known him for a long time and one has to accept the way he is. But he’s the only one who is not a team player.” It was opined, then, that markets reacted to this rift between the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister, as articulated by an official at F&C Investments, who stated that markets view Tremonti as the “steady counterweight to the unpredictable and capricious” Berlusconi.[6]

In July of 2011, Nichi Vendola, a popular leftist opposition political figure in Italy, wrote an article for the Guardian, in which he critiqued the austerity measures imposed by the Berlusconi government. Vendola wrote that, “Italy will not survive this crisis by listening to the very people who got us into it, especially not when they demand that the middle class and poor foot the bill for their failures.” Vendola also put blame on the European managing of the crisis, as “governments now have an obsessive fixation on employing tighter control of budget deficits to satisfy the European stability pact.” Vendola referred to Tremonti’s austerity package as a “social catastrophe,” and that instead, he suggested, what Italy must do “is turn this policy on its head,” noting that, “Italy’s problem is as much about growth as it is debt.” To do this, Vendola wrote, it “will require a new government,” and that, “Italy needs elections, because only a completely new governing class can achieve the political consensus to design and implement a plan to tackle the crisis.” He suggested that the European stability pact would need to be re-negotiated, and concluded: “It does us little good to please the out-of-touch elite of our capitals while the people have to tighten their belts and our youth are robbed of their future.”[7]

Mario Monti, President of Bocconi University and a former European Commissioner, also agreed that Italy needed a new government, though for different reasons (and a different type of government). He wrote an article in a major Italian paper in August of 2011 in which he advocated – as a solution to Italy’s problems – the formation of a “supranational technical government” which would make all the major decisions in order to “remove the structural constraints to growth,” and opined that “an Italy respected and authoritative… would be of great help to Europe.”[8] Vendola wanted a new government to help the people, and Monti wanted a new government to help “Europe” (read: banks and elites). Guess who became the next leader of Italy!?

Berlusconi Bows Down to the Bankers and Punishes the People

In August, Silvio Berlusconi had to approve a new austerity package, the second in less than a month. In a letter which was leaked to the Italian press, it was revealed that Jean-Claude Trichet, the President of the European Central Bank, and Mario Draghi, the President of the Italian Central bank (from 2006 to 2011, who was set to secede Trichet at the ECB in October of 2011), put pressure on Berlusconi to “implement significant austerity measures.” The letter, written by the two central bankers, demanded “pressing action… to restore the confidence of investors.” Dated August 5, 2011, it was issued just days before the ECB announced its new programme to buy Italian bonds (debt), designed to reduce the country’s borrowing costs (interest on future debt). One of the measures mentioned in the letter instructed Berlusconi to take “immediate and bold measures to ensuring the sustainability of public finances,” to achieve a balanced budget in 2013. This was adopted in the subsequent austerity package put forward by Berlusconi in August. The letter also stated that, “it is possible to intervene further in the pension system, making more stringent the eligibility criteria for seniority pensions and rapidly aligning the retirement age of women in the private sector to that established for public employees.” Further, the “borrowing, including commercial debt and expenditures of regional and local governments should be placed under tight control, in line with the principles of the ongoing reform of intergovernmental fiscal relations.”[9]

In economic-speak, the letter asked for privatizations of public services: “Key challenges are to increase competition, particularly in services to improve the quality of public services and to design regulatory and fiscal systems better suited to support firms’ competitiveness and efficiency of the labour market.” This would require three key actions, the first of which was that, “a comprehensive, far-reaching and credible reform strategy, including the full liberalization of local public services and of professional services is needed,” and that, “this should apply particularly to the provision of local services through large-scale privatizations.” The second major step was “a need to further reform the collective wage bargaining system [meaning: undermine unions] allowing firm-level agreements to tailor wages and working conditions to firms’ specific needs and increasing their relevance with respect to other layers of negotiations.” In other words, destroy the unions so that companies can exploit labour to whatever degree they choose. And thirdly, according to Trichet and Draghi, what was needed was a “thorough review of the rules regulating the hiring and dismissal of employees [which] should be adopted in conjunction with the establishment of an unemployment insurance system and a set of active labour market policies capable of easing the reallocation of resources towards the more competitive firms and sectors.”[10]

In other words, labour rights and laws and the rights of workers need to be dismantled so that companies can do as they please. It’s not simply the unions that need to be destroyed, but the laws for worker security in general. Of course, no advice from central bankers would be complete if it didn’t advocate that the government “immediately take measures to ensure a major overhaul of the public administration in order to improve administrative efficiency and business friendliness.” Trichet and Draghi wrote that it was “crucial” that the government take these actions “as soon as possible with decree-laws, followed by parliamentary ratification,” or, in other words: skip the democratic process because it takes too long, rule by decree, something Italy has a “proud” history of. All of this was demanded to be done before the end of September 2011. In an interview with an Italian paper, Trichet admitted that this was not the first time the ECB had sent such letters to governments (such as Greece), saying, “We have sent messages and we do that on a permanent basis, through various means, addressed to individual governments. We do not make them public.”[11]

Indeed, the European Central Bank had demanded austerity measures be implemented by the governments of Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Italy, and when Berlusconi submitted to the mandate from the central bankers, he complained that it made his administration look like “an occupied government.” A leading liberal MP in Italy, Antonio Di Pietro, said that, “Italy is under the tutelage of the EU, and a country under tutelage is not a free and democratic one.” An Irish MEP (Member of the European Parliament), Paul Murphy, stated that there had been a “massive shift away from democratic accountability since the start of the crisis,” and that: “There needs to be a check on the enormous power of the ECB, which is unelected, and has basically held a government to ransom.” Europe’s largest trade union federation, the European Public Sector Union, “accused the ECB of directing Italian fiscal and labour policy in secret,” which is, of course, true. The Deputy General Secretary of the federation, Jan Willem Goudriaan, said, “Europe cannot be governed through secret letters of bankers, officials or an unaccountable body.” EU officials, from Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy, to Herman Van Rompuy and Jean-Claude Trichet, have been increasing their calls for an “economic government” of Europe, tightening and deepening fiscal integration and proposing the creation of new council’s and organizations to impose sanctions on countries and “police the austerity measures of governments,” and even the creation of a European finance ministry. Paul Murphy stated that, “All these proposals, discussions about economic government, are about undermining democracy in order to impose a European shock doctrine… EU elites need to remove points of pressure that can be mounted on governments. If the mass of people are opposed to austerity, they can mount pressure on governments to hold that in check. So the only way it can then be imposed s undemocratically.” The head of a Belgian pro-transparency group stated that, “European powers [are] distancing themselves from voters while at the same time [there is] a growing tendency towards building closer relationships with corporate and specifically financial lobbies… These two trends are explosive and can only lead to a loss of legitimacy for the EU institutions.”[12]

Shortly after, on August 12, the Berlusconi government was meeting to approve the new austerity package to meet the ultimatum from the ECB, amounting to a package of “fiscal adjustments” (i.e., spending cuts) of 20 billion euros in 2012 and 25 billion euros in 2013, with the spending cuts and tax increases to be “enacted immediately by decree, but subject to approval by parliament later,” just as Draghi and Trichet instructed. The rapid tax increases did much to damage even long-time supporters of Berlusconi who had promised that he would “never put their hands in the pockets of the Italian people.” Fiscal federalism was the policy of giving the various regions in Italy more control over their finances. With the new austerity package, the governor of Lombardy, Roberto Formigoni, stated, “It seems clear [fiscal] federalism has vanished.”[13]

In mid-September, Berlusconi won final parliamentary approval for the 54 billion euro ($74 billion) austerity package, while police outside the parliament in Rome had to disperse protesters with tear gas. The German Economy Minister Phillip Roesler told a news briefing in Rome that, “The approval of the austerity package sends a signal of stability… I have respect for what Italy has done with its budget adjustment as this will benefit the whole euro area.” The legislation simply made legal the measures that Berlusconi’s government enacted through un-democratic decree the month before, and were formalized in exchange for the European Central Bank bond purchases which helped to reduce Italy’s borrowing costs. Silvio Peruzzo, an economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland, stated that the plan’s passage is a “very welcome step,” but that the slowing global economy still cast doubts on whether Italy could “meet its fiscal targets and will also render additional corrective measures [austerity packages] very likely.” Even with the endorsement and backing of the ECB, said Peruzzo, Italy’s debt remained “under pressure, which is indicative of a well-rooted lack of confidence in Italy and in the European policies to tackle the crisis.” One the plan was approved, said Italian Finance Minister Tremonti on September 10, “If there are things to change in our growth measures we will, and if there are things to add, we will.”[14]

The Economist reported on the new austerity package, noting that while Berlusconi had approved the austerity package in Italy, designed to cut roughly 45.5 billion euros from the deficit by the end of 2013, he almost immediately back-peddled on 7 billion euros worth of spending cuts and tax increases, “notably a tax on high earners that would have hurt his natural supporters,” meaning, rich people. Thus, even as the package went to the Senate in early September, Berlusconi was fine-tuning the details. Thus, noted the Economist, “the markets [were] again registering alarm,” and at the same time, Italy’s largest and most militant trade union federation, the CGIL, called for a one-day strike in opposition to the austerity package, “protesting over a clause making it easier to dismiss workers and, more generally, over a budget that the CGIL’s leader, Susanna Camusso,” referred to as “unjust because it attacks the weakest.” This further worried “the market” and “investors.” The Economist wrote that: “Mr. Berlusconi had consistently failed to react unless bullied. His first emergency budget in July followed a telephone call from the German chancellor, Angela Merkel,” while the second was of course at the prompting of the ECB.[15]

By October of 2011, the austerity measures in Italy had been wreaking havoc, as non-profit organizations lose their funding and had major bureaucratic obstacles put in their way for community projects, such as the Associazione Obiettivo Napoli, which ran two programs working with children in difficulty in Naples since 1998, helping them clean up local communities and provide counseling. As central government funding to town halls had been cut, organizations like Obiettivo Napoli, “which sit uneasily somewhere between education, welfare and rehabilitation budgets, have been the first to suffer.” Pietro Varriale, who works with the organization, commented on further obstacles put in their way: “They’re saying we need a second degree in education science to be able to do this work… It’s crazy. I have 15 years experience in this field, most of the team likewise, and we all have first degrees. A second degree is going to cost people a fortune, really a lot of money, and there’s no help or grant for that kind of thing. We’ve been given till 2013 to conform.” To add to that, the city of Naples simply stopped paying the bills for the organization, which had to then borrow money from a bank, forcing the employees such as Pietro to have to take on jobs working at bars, waiting tables, picking tomatoes and other piecemeal projects while they continue to work with the association being unpaid: “You keep going because of the kids, the relationships you build up.”[16]

Giancarlo Di Maio, a 23-year old university graduate in Naples working at a secondhand bookshop told the Guardian that, “University here is like a car park. You stay there as long as you can, because there’ll be nothing to do when you come out,” referring to the lack of jobs for youth. As he was employed, he explained: “Every morning, I wake up with a smile… How fortunate am I? Because otherwise, the only other work around here is black. The black economy is a huge, monumental issue for Italy.” His friends might make 30 euros for 10 hours working in a bar, or 20 euros for a night waiting tables in a restaurant. Di Maio, who works at a bookshop owned by his father, said that, “I know plenty of people in their 30s, even some in their 40s, still living with their parents… That’s not normal. For me, that’s one of the biggest problem [sic] in Italy – opportunities, any kind of prospects for young people.” When asked about Italian politics, he replied, “We have the worst political class in Europe, no question… Twenty years of Berlusconi, and not a single reform, nothing for the unemployed, nothing to address the economic crisis. Instead we talk about his sex life… we have a political class who do nothing. They don’t have solutions, and even if they did they wouldn’t try to do anything. They just speak air, it’s all they can do. Posturing.” Expressing some hope at the Occupy movement, though lamenting how it turned to violence in Italy, he explained that people were “finally starting to get angry. They are beginning to see that really, we can’t carry on like this. Italy really is sick. We can’t pretend to be the doctor any more; we need curing ourselves.”[17]

The Technocratic Coup

By early October 2011, it was clear that the “markets” were not satisfied with Berlusconi’s efforts at implementing a program of social genocide (fiscal austerity) which was to their liking. Thus, on October 5, the international ratings agency Moody’s cut Italy’s credit rating for the first time in two decades, adding to the downgrading from Standard & Poor’s two weeks prior. The Italian government responded that the actions of the ratings agencies were “politically motivated.” Even Moody’s acknowledged that the political situation within Italy played a part in its decision, including Berlusconi’s sex scandals, and the growing protests against the austerity measures.[18]

The effect of the downgrades is to make Italian bonds (government debt) less attractive to buy (as it is a riskier investment), and thus, Italy would have to pay higher interest rates. As a result of that, as we have seen with Greece, this makes the country’s overall debt larger (as it amounts to borrowing money to pay back borrowed money), except with the higher yields (interest rates), the future payments will be even more costly, likely to create potential for a bailout (again, just taking more debt to pay interest on older debts). All the while, the overall debt to GDP ratio increases, and austerity measures become the “conditions” for receiving bailouts, and the country is essentially taken over by the IMF, the ECB, and the EC (named the “Troika”), as occurred in Greece. This creates a permanent spiral of expanded debt, economic crisis, and social genocide. This is what is often called “market discipline.”

In mid-October, opposition to Berlusconi’s harsh austerity measures from within Italy was increasing, just as “market pressure” and EU-opposition from outside Italy was building against Berlusconi for his austerity measures being perceived as ‘too little, too late.’ Nine members of Berlusconi’s own coalition said the austerity package “unfairly targets the middle class and fails to tackle Italy’s massive tax evasion problem.” Susanna Camusso, the head of Italy’s largest and most militant labour federation, CGIL, said that a strike is the only way to “change the inequity of this package.”[19] During a global “day of rage” partly inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States and the Indignados movement in Spain, October 15 saw various Occupy and other protests erupt around the world, in 950 cities in 80 different countries. In Italy, Rome saw roughly 200,000 protesters come out into the streets, protesting against the austerity measures, the government, the EU, the ECB and the IMF. The protests erupted into violence as hundreds of those assembled began fighting with riot police, who were using tear gas and water cannons against the protesters, and several hundred erupted in urban rebellion (what is often called “riots”) in which banks were destroyed, they set cars and garbage bins on fire, hurled rocks, bottles, and fireworks at the police who continually charged the crowd. Roughly two dozen demonstrators were injured, with one reported to be put in critical condition, and at least 30 riot police were injured.[20]

As Berlusconi’s own government began to fracture in the face of the austerity package, disagreeing on what and how and if to cut, one of Berlusconi’s main coalition partners, the center-right Northern League, hinted that new elections were a possibility. Considering the popularity of the anti-austerity leftist leader Nichi Vendola, this was perhaps too much to bear. European leaders Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy lost their patience, and in late October, demanded that Berlusconi move forward with the austerity package. In a series of EU summits in late October on handling the economic crisis, discussing specifically the plan to boost the funds of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), there was concern, reported Der Spiegel, “that the current size of the (recently expanded) fund isn’t sufficient should additional countries, particularly Spain and Italy, be infected with debt contagion.”[21]

Following these meetings, it was made “abundantly clear” to the Italians that their “leadership is no longer taken seriously.” Italian papers and TV shows were overwhelmed with covering the “condescending smile” of Angela Merkel to Berlusconi, and comments made by Sarkozy. Merkel and Sarkozy and other EU leaders told Berlusconi in the talks that he had to present a plan within three days “for reducing Italian debt more quickly than current plans call for.” European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said that Berlusconi had “promised to do so.” The following evening, Berlusconi stated, “No one is in a position to be giving lessons to their partners.” European leaders were frustrated that even the austerity package passed earlier in the summer had not been fully implemented, and the government’s stability was continually threatened over debating each new measure. The European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Olli Rhen, said that all the details of the new plan were “unclear.” With the EU summits proposing increasing the EFSF bailout fund from 440 billion euros to 1 trillion, a central feature to the demands of the EU leaders was that countries like Italy impose more stringent austerity measures. As Der Spiegel reported, “A clear Italian commitment to austerity is a key component of that plan.” There was then a good deal of conjecture over the possible departure of Berlusconi. The Italian paper Corriere della Serra reported that Angela Merkel called the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano the previous week “to discuss concerns about Italy’s political leadership.”[22]

In fact, Angela Merkel did make such a phone call to Italy’s president Napolitano in October, violating “an unwritten rule” for Europe’s leaders “not to intervene in one another’s domestic politics.” But this is a new, changing EU, one in which democracy – even the withering façade Western governments maintain – simply no longer matters. Merkel was “gently prodding Italy to change its prime minister, if the incumbent – Silvio Berlusconi – couldn’t change Italy.” The Wall Street Journal reported on the events that led to this incident, explaining that at the annual meeting of the IMF in September, China, Brazil, and the U.S. “berated” Europe for its small bailout fund, and told Europe to borrow “hundreds of billions of euros from the ECB,” something Merkel had long been against, and which was refused by Jens Weidmann of the German central bank, explaining that the bailout fund “was an arm of the governments… and lending to governments was against the ECB’s charter.” On October 19, Sarkozy left his wife who was in labor at a clinic in Paris to fly to Frankfurt to confront Jean-Claude Trichet at a party being held for the President of the ECB to honour him as he prepared to leave the ECB at the end of the month (to be replaced by the president of the Central Bank of Italy, Mario Draghi). Sarkozy argued that the ECB needed to intervene in the bond markets (buying government debt), stating that, “Everything else is too small.” Trichet said that it wasn’t “the ECB’s job to finance governments.”[23]

The ECB had engaged already in certain bond purchases, which “had caused a political backlash in Germany,” and as Trichet said, “I did a bit, and I was massively criticized in Germany.” Merkel, who was present during the shouting match between Trichet and Sarkozy, was frustrated at Sarkozy’s pressure on Trichet, as she had always opposed the ECB printing money to handle the crisis, telling Trichet, “You’re a friend of Germany.” It was the following day, on October 20, that Merkel made her “confidential” phone call to the Italian President in Rome, “the man with authority to name a new prime minister if the incumbent were to lose parliament’s support.” President Napolitano informed Merkel that it was “not reassuring” that Berlusconi had only “recently survived a parliamentary vote of confidence by just one vote.” Merkel then thanked Napolitano for doing what was “within your powers” in promoting reform. Within days, Napolitano began “sounding out Italy’s political parties to test the support for a new government if Mr. Berlusconi couldn’t satisfy Europe and the markets.”[24] It no doubt did not help Berlusconi when he wrote in an Italian paper in late October that the word austerity “isn’t in my vocabulary.”[25]

In early November, at a G20 meeting in Cannes, President Obama and other leaders were “effectively ordering Silvio Berlusconi to accept surveillance of Italy’s austerity measures by the International Monetary Fund,” reported the Guardian. Berlusconi was advised by Merkel, Sarkozy, Herman Van Rompuy and other EU leaders the previous week to come to the G20 with “a specific austerity package,” but due to divisions within his cabinet, Berlusconi “arrived empty-handed.” It was reported that Berlusconi would likely not survive a vote of confidence in the Italian parliament set for the following week. The ECB had been purchasing Italian bonds since August in order to push the yields lower, which dropped to below 5%, but by early November they had been driven up to 6.5%, “levels that make it difficult to pay back debt.” Italian President Napolitano had been holding meetings with party leaders to discuss the possibility of “constructing an interim government if Berlusconi’s collapses.” The G20, which was discussing the possibility of adding $300 billion to the IMF’s bailout fund of $950 billion, and G20 leaders pressured Italy “to sign up to a more specific austerity package or else the US and other countries would not put extra funds into the IMF.”[26]

Just prior to heading to the G20 meeting, Berlusconi had attempted to issue a decree which would pass various austerity measures, “thus bypassing the parliament,” but, reported the EUobserver, he “was held back by [President] Giorgio Napolitano,” as well as the Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti. Instead, Berlusconi was pressured to attempt an amendment to a “law for stability” to be approved the following week, at which time he would likely face a vote of confidence. Enrico Letta, the deputy general secretary of the center-left Democratic Party (PD), the main opposition party, said that, “We think that next week will be a week in parliament where we try to force the situation if Berlusconi does not resign before.”[27]

As Jean-Claude Trichet retired from the ECB at the end of October, and Mario Draghi left the Bank of Italy to take up his new job as President of the ECB, the newly-appointed governor of the Bank of Italy, Ignazio Vasco, said that Italy “needed to take urgent action to boost confidence in the economy and initiate structural reforms,” insisting that the commitments already given to the EU in a “letter of intent” in late October (following Berlusconi being castigated by Merkel and Sarkozy), “must be honoured quickly and consistently.”[28] At the G20 conference, Berlusconi agreed under pressure to have the IMF oversee Italy’s implementation of austerity measures, following late-night talks with G20 leaders. Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission (EC), said that, “Italy had decided on its own initiative to ask the IMF to monitor. I see this as evidence of how important Italy’s commitment to reform is.” The EC would also monitor Italy’s progress, and was set to visit Italy the following week to undertake a more detailed study. One EU source told the Telegraph that, “We need to make sure there is credibility with Italy’s targets – that it is going to meet them. We decided to have the IMF involved on the monitoring, using their own methodology, and the Italians say they can live with that.” The chief financial officer of Commerzbank, Eric Strutz, said that, “The whole stability of Europe depends on whether Italy gets its act together.”[29]

On November 8, Berlusconi suffered a party revolt in parliament which failed to deliver him a majority, and would likely lead to a vote of non-confidence a few days later. Upon this defeat, Berlusconi announced that he would resign as Prime Minister “as soon as parliament passed urgent budget reforms demanded by European leaders.” President Napolitano announced that he would begin consultations on the formation of a new government, and stated that he would prefer a “technocrat or national unity government.” At the same time, the “markets” had pushed Italy’s bond yields (debt interest) to nearly 7%, figures that saw Greece, Ireland, and Portugal getting bailouts. The leader of the main opposition Democratic Party (PD), Pier Luigi Bersani, said, “I ask you, Mr. Prime Minister, with all my strength, to finally take account of the situation… and resign.” Berlusconi and some of his close allies, however, warned that appointing a technocratic government, the option which was said to be favoured by “markets,” would amount to an “undemocratic coup.”[30] Naturally, that’s just what happened.

Writing for the Guardian, John Hooper suggested that one of four scenarios would take place upon the event of Berlusconi’s resignation: one envisions Berlusconi leaving but the right gaining a broader majority, specifically under Umberto Bossi’s Northern League, who was in Berlusconi’s coalition but had advised him to resign, and was pushing for him to be replaced with the next in command in Berlusconi’s party, Angelino Alfano; another scenario envisioned a “grand coalition,” or a “government of national emergency or salvation,” bringing together all the parties; a third scenario had Italy calling an election, urged by both Berlusconi and Bossi; or the fourth option, “a cabinet of technocrats,” which Hooper wrote was “favoured by the markets and the Italian centre left,” which would consist of “a government filled with specialists who could pass the unpalatable legislation needed to revive Italy’s flagging economy without having to worry about re-election.” This happened before in Italy, when Berlusconi’s government fell in 1994, at which time he was replaced by Lamberto Dini, a central banker, who headed a government of “professors, generals and judges.” In this scenario, suggested Hooper, the likely prime minister would be Mario Monti.[31]

Upon Berlusconi’s failure to achieve a minority during the budget vote on November 8, many officials from the financial community began making their observations, such as Jan Randolph, the head of sovereign risk analysis at HIS Global Insight, who said that, “Berlusconi has effectively lost political capital to carry the country through a period of austerity and structural reform,” and that, “Berlusconi will have to resign.” He went on to suggest that it was possible “that a broad National Unity government headed by a respected technocrat like ex-EU commissioner Mario Monti could be formed.”[32]

As Berlusconi officially resigned on the night of November 12, 2011, he left the president’s palace through a side door as a crowd of over 1,000 people outside yelled, “buffoon,” “Mafioso,” and for him to “face trial.” A poll from early November reported that 71% of Italians favoured his resignation, and upon hearing of his official resignation, the crowd erupted in roars of “Halleluja.”[33]

On November 16 of 2011, Mario Monti was appointed as Prime Minister of Italy. Monti accepted the mandate to form a new government, and was expected to appoint technical experts as opposed to politicians to his cabinet. President Napolitano told Italian politicians that, “it is a responsibility we perceive from the entire international community to protect the stability of the single currency as well as the European frame work.” Berlusconi’s political party, the People of Liberty, said it would accept a Monti government for a short while before elections would have to be scheduled, and Berlusconi referred to his resignation as “an act of generosity.”[34]

Mario Monti is an economist and academic who served as European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Services, Customs and Taxation from 1995 to 1999, and European Commissioner for Competition from 1999 to 2004. Monti is founder and Honorary President of Bruegel, a European think tank he launched in 2005, based in Belgium, and which represents the interests of key European elites. Monti has also been a member of the advisory board of the Coca-Cola Company, and was an international advisor to Goldman Sachs, was a former member of the Steering Committee of the Bilderberg Group, having previously attended the meeting in Switzerland in June of 2011, and was European Chairman of the Trilateral Commission until he resigned when he became Prime Minister of Italy.

Monti’s think tank, Bruegel, represents key elite European interests. The Chairman of the Board of Bruegel is Jean-Claude Trichet, the former President of the European Central Bank (ECB) from 2003 to 2011, who is also a member of the board of directors of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), and has joined the boards of a number of major corporations, including EADS. Other board members of Bruegel include: Jose Manuel Campa Fernandez, who was the Spanish Secretary of State for Economic Affairs at the Ministry of Economy and Finance from 2009 to 2011, and has been a consultant for the European Commission, the Bank of Spain, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank; Anna Ekström, the president of the Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations, Saco, and formerly the Swedish State Secretary for the Ministry of Industry, Employment and Communication; Jan Fisher, Vice President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), former Prime Minister of the Czech Republic; Vittorio Grilli, the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Economy and Finance of Italy (whom Monti appointed to his technocratic government in November of 2011), and a former Managing Director at Credit Suisse First Boston; Wolfgang Kopf, Vice President at Deutsche Telekom AG; Rainer Münz, head of Research and Development at Erste Group and Senior Fellow at the Hamburg Institute of International Economics (HWWI), former consultant to the European Commission, the OECD, and the World Bank; Jim O’Neill, Chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management; Lars-Hendrik Röller, the Director General of the Economic and Financial Policy Division of the German Federal Chancellery, and is President of the German Economic Association; Dariusz Rosati, former consultant economist at Citibank, former Minister of Foreign Affairs for Poland, former adviser to the President of the European Commission, and was a member of the European Parliament from 2004 to 2009; and Helen Wallace, a British academic expert on European integration.

In October of 2009, Mario Monti was asked by the President of the European Commission Manuel Barroso to draw up a report on how the EU should re-launch its single market. Barroso advised that the report, “should address the growing tide of economic nationalism and outline measures to complete the EU’s currently patchy single market.” Mario Monti was President of the Bocconi University at the time he was asked to write the report.[35] In May of 2010, Monti produced the report and officially handed it in to European Commission President Barroso. The report recommended ways to fight the potential of economic nationalism and to preserve and protect the regional bloc and to advance the process of integration, with Monti arguing that, “There is now a window of opportunity to bring back the political focus of the single market.”[36] The report eventually became the EU’s Single Market Act of 2011.[37]

After becoming the technocratic and unelected Prime Minister of Italy, Monti quickly appointed his new cabinet, of which more than a third of the 17-member cabinet consisted of professors and other technocrats. The cabinet position of Minister of Economic Development, Infrastructure and Transport was given to Corrado Passera, the chief executive of Italy’s largest bank, Intesa Sanpaolo. Passera told the Financial Times upon his appointment as “superminister” that, “If you want to build the wide consensus that is needed, we have to share sacrifices and benefits among all the segments of society with a balanced set of actions and with the right mix of austerity and development programmes.” British hedge fund manager Davide Serra stated, “Monti and Passera are the right guys for the job. They are the dream team.”[38] Upon appointing his new technocratic government, Monti declared: “We feel sure of what we have done and we have received many signals of encouragement from our European partners and the international world. All this will, I trust, translate into a calming of that part of the market difficulty which concerns our country.” On the lack of party representatives in his cabinet, Monti commented, “The absence of political personalities in the government will help rather than hinder a solid base of support for the government in parliament and in the political parties because it will remove one ground for disagreement.”[39]

A former ambassador who worked with Monti when he was an EU Commissioner recalled Mario’s style of governance, stating, “He didn’t have a very Italian way of going about things… His nickname in those days was ‘The Italian Prussian’.” An article in Reuters described Monti as “a convinced free marketeer with close connections to the European and global policy making elite, Monti has always backed a more closely integrated euro zone,” and went on to mention his leadership positions within the Bilderberg Group of “business leaders” and “leading citizens” and the Trilateral Commission, which “brings together the power elites of the United States, Europe and Japan.” Monti’s government would be given roughly 18 months to push through “reforms” and austerity measures, as another election would not be due until 2013. However, as one outgoing minister commented in November of 2011, “The decisions which Monti will take must pass in parliament and I think that with such a heterogeneous majority he will have many problems. I believe this solution will lead to many problems.”[40]

Monti of course received abundant praise from Europe’s leaders on becoming the new unelected technocratic Prime Minister of Italy. An article by Tony Barber in the Financial Times explained that Italian party politics was simply too problematic, as: “Even a centre-left government with a mandate from the voters would find it hard to maintain the unity and resolution required to implement the unpopular austerity measures and structural economic reforms demanded by Germany, France, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.” And with the prospect of labour resistance from workers and pensioners, “it is easy to see why Europe’s leaders were eager for Mr Monti to inherit the premiership.” Thus, wrote Barber, “technocracy has an irresistible appeal.”[41] Mario Monti  himself had acknowledged that “irresistible appeal” in August of 2011, when he wrote an article in a major Italian paper advocating the formation of a “supranational technical government” which would make all the major decisions in order to “remove the structural constraints to growth,” and opined that “an Italy respected and authoritative… would be of great help to Europe.”[42] And as it turned out, a great help to Monti.

In early December of 2011, after forming his cabinet and being approved by Italy’s lower chamber of Parliament with a rare majority, Mario Monti received the endorsement of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, declaring their “absolute trust” in Monti and in “his structural changes” to his governing of Italy. Monti, upon assuming power, warned Italians in a speech that, “It is not going to be easy, sacrifice will be required.” As Monti’s “technocratic government” is full of appointments from the ruling class, including bankers and other executives, many in Italy were raising concerns that this suggested an inherent conflict of interest in his government, as those who helped create the crisis are brought in to solve it, a highly political government, despite all the claims of an apolitical ‘technocracy’ (technocracies are always political entities, but instead of pushing party ideologies, they push ultra-elite ideologies in the management and maintenance of society). Monti replied that, “There is no conflict of interests… The fact that many of us have played a role in the institutions before doesn’t mean that we will not be totally transparent.” And with that note, Monti appointed Carlo Malinconic as undersecretary for publishing affairs, after having previously served as president of the Italian Federation of Publishing and Newspapers.[43]

Writing in the journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, Foreign Affairs, Jonathan Hopkin, a professor of comparative politics at the London School of Economics, commented that the replacement of Berlusconi with Monti “marks a new stage in the European financial crisis,” in which “the crisis now seems to be wiping out democratically elected governments.” Largely under pressure from bond markets, “Italian politicians have opted to hand power to technocrats, expecting that they will somehow enjoy greater legitimacy as they impose painful measures on an angry population.” Hopkin stated: “This will not work.”[44]

In early November, as democratically-elected governments in Greece and Italy were replaced with unelected and unaccountable technocratic governments, essentially run by and for the European Union and global banks, Tony Barber, writing in the Financial Times, suggested that this is but one of several responses to the economic crisis. Specifically, this response “involves the surgical removal of elected leaders in Greece and Italy and their replacement with technocratic experts, trusted within the EU to pass economic reforms deemed appropriate by policymakers in Berlin, the bloc’s top paymaster, and at EU headquarters in Brussels.” Barber referred to the “sidelining of elected politicians in the continent that exported democracy to the world” as a “momentous development.” In short, “eurozone policymakers have decided to suspend politics as normal in two countries because they judge it to be a mortal threat to Europe’s monetary union.” Thus, these policymakers “have ruled that European unity, a project more than 50 years in the making, is of such overriding importance that politicians accountable to the people must give way to unelected experts who can keep the show on the road.” In Greece, the government was put under the technocratic leadership of Lucas Papademos, a former vice president of the European Central Bank, and upon accepting his appointment, stated: “I am confident that the country’s participation in the eurozone is a guarantee of monetary stability.” In Italy, Mario Monti came to power, a technocrat who “is revered in Brussels as one of the most effective commissioners for competition and the internal market that the EU has known.” One prominent Italian banker commented: “We need a strong national unity government for one to one and a half years to do what the politicians haven’t had the courage to do.”[45]

Running the ECB can be such a ‘Draghi’

In late October of 2011, at a gala event to mark the end of Jean-Claude Trichet’s eight years as president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, the governor of the Bank of Italy, who was selected to take over for Trichet at the start of November, was “working the room” of high-powered European elites, including Angeal Merkel, and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde. Between 1984 and 1990, Draghi was the Italian Executive Director at the World Bank, and in 1991, he became the director general of the Italian Treasury until 2001. Between 2002 and 2005, Draghi was the Vice Chairman and Managing Director of Goldman Sachs International, thereafter becoming the governor of the Bank of Italy from 2006 until 2011, also putting him on the Governing Board of the European Central Bank and the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). Draghi is not simply one of the individuals who has been most responsible for handling and managing the economic crisis, but he also played an important role in causing it. As Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs, and in Italy at the Treasury and the central bank, “Draghi was a proponent of nations and other institutions like pension funds using derivatives to more efficiently manage their liabilities.” This means that Draghi advised that governments should essentially hide their debts in the derivatives market, where they would not be viewed as liabilities, but rather, transactions. These “transactions” were very popular in Greece and Italy, and had a great deal to do with accumulating and hiding the massive debts of these countries.[46]

When Draghi led the Italian Treasury in the 1990s, he “oversaw one of the largest European privatization efforts ever and paved the way for Italy’s entry into the euro,” earning him the nickname, “Super Mario.” Italy liberalized its financial markets, allowing for massive speculation, derivatives, and other banking excesses, and he privatized roughly 15% of Italy’s economy. While Italian governments came and went during this period, Draghi always remained. While both Draghi and Goldman Sachs said that “Super Mario” did not have anything to do with the especially controversial Greece-Goldman Sachs transactions, one Goldman Sachs executive in Europe, “who was not authorized to speak publicly,” told the New York Times that, “Mr. Draghi had discussed similar initiatives with other European governments.” When asked about his involvement at Goldman Sachs, Draghi once replied, “I was not in charge of selling stuff to the governments… In fact, I worked in the private sector even though Goldman Sachs expected me to work in the public sector when I was hired.” However, in a paper which Draghi wrote in 2002 just a couple months after being hired by Goldman Sachs, at which his job description was “to win investment banking business from European governments,” Draghi argued in favour of governments using derivatives “to stabilize tax revenue and avoid the sudden accumulation of debt,” which the New York Times politely described as “faithful to the spirit” of the Goldman-Greece deal.[47]

In an interview with the Financial Times in December of 2011, European Central Bank president Mario Draghi reflected upon the financial crisis and the actions taken to manage it. He explained that the ECB’s long-term refinancing operation (a half-trillion euro bank bailout) was not designed to give banks an incentive to buy government bonds from the “periphery” nations, but rather, that, “the objective is to ease the funding pressures that banks are experiencing,” and that the banks “will then decide what the best use of these funds is.” Draghi stated that, “we don’t know exactly” what banks were doing with the money, but that, “the important thing was to relax the funding pressures.” Draghi reiterated that the banks “will decide in total independence what they want to do.”[48]

It’s interesting to note that when governments get bailouts, they are told what and how to spend the money, and are forced to impose austerity measures that destroy the social fabric and punish the populations of their countries, and then, of course, have to pay back the money at exorbitant interest rates; but when banks get a half-trillion euro bailout, the banks will “decide what the best use” of the money is, and where it goes is not important, it’s only important to “relax” the pressure on the banks, who will repay the debt over a long-term period (3 years) with extremely low interest (averaging 1%). So people get pressure, and banks get pressure “relaxed.”

Draghi told the Financial Times that what is needed most is to “restore confidence,” and for this, there are four answers. The first one “lies with national economic policies, because this crisis and this loss of confidence started from budgets that had got completely out of control.” The second answer, explained Draghi, “is that we have to restore fiscal discipline to the euro area,” which means to impose austerity, “and this is in a sense what last week’s EU summit started [in mid-December 2011], with the redesign of the fiscal compact.” The third answer “is to have a firewall in place which is fully equipped and operational,” meaning a massive bailout fund, which “was meant to be provided by the EFSF.” The fourth answer, according to Draghi, is for countries “to undergo significant structural reforms that would revamp growth,” implying things like liberalization, privatization, and further deregulaiton. When Draghi was asked about the critics of the fiscal compact who suggest that it amounts to a “stagnation and austerity union,” Draghi replied that, “they are right and wrong at the same time.” Draghi repeated the mantra of pro-austerity voices, who always suggest with no historical evidence to support, that there is “no trade-off between fiscal austerity, and growth and competitiveness.” However, Draghi contended, “I would not dispute that fiscal consolidation [austerity] leads to a contraction in the short run.” The correspondent with the Financial Times asked: “But these austerity programmes are very harsh. Don’t [you] think that some countries are really in effect in a debtor’s prison?” Draghi replied: “Do you see any alternative?”[49]

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal in February, Mario Draghi warned European countries “that there is no escape from tough austerity measures and that the continent’s traditional social contract is obsolete.” Draghi said that Europe’s social model was “already gone,” and that the only way to return to “long-term prosperity” was “continuing economic shocks [that] would force countries into structural changes in labor markets and other aspects of the economy.” As European people were suffering through the increased austerity measures, Draghi warned that, “Backtracking on fiscal targets would elicit an immediate reaction by the market.” This of course implies that the market has the ‘right’ to determine the fate of Europe’s people. For Draghi, “austerity, coupled with structural change, is the only option for economic renewal.” The European Commission, headed by Jose Manuel Barroso, agreed with Draghi, stating that despite forecasting a deepened recession brought on by austerity measures, governments “should be ready to meet budgetary targets.” Simon Johnson, the former chief economist of the IMF, said that Draghi was “just sugarcoating the message.” Johnson explained: “A lot of this structural reform talk is illusory at best in the short run… but it’s a better story than saying you’re going to have a terrible 10 years.”[50]

In the interview, Draghi commented on the “positive changes” which had been taking place in the previous few months: “There is greater stability in financial markets. Many government shave taken decisions on both fiscal consolidation and structural reforms. We have a fiscal compact where the European governments are starting to release national sovereignty for the common intent of being together.” When Draghi was asked what his view was “of these austerity policies in the larger strategy right now, forcing austerity at all costs,” Draghi replied: “There was no alternative to fiscal consolidation, and we should not deny that this is contractionary in the short term.” Then, he added, it was necessary to promote growth, “and that’s why structural reforms are so important.” The interviewer asked Draghi what the “most important structural reforms” were for Europe at that time. Draghi replied:

In Europe first is the product and services market reform. And the second is the labour market reform which takes different shapes in different countries. In some of them one has to make labour markets more flexible and also fairer than they are today [in other words: more easily exploited]. In these countries there is a dual labour market: highly flexible for the young part of the population where labour contracts are three-month, six-month contracts that may be renewed for years. The same market is highly inflexible for the protected part of the popuation where salaries follows seniority rather than productivity. In a sense labour markets at the present time are unfair in such a setting because they put all the weight of flexibility on the young part of the population.[51]

When central bankers and politicians and others talk about “labour flexibility,” what they really mean is “worker insecurity.” This was bluntly stated by Alan Greenspan back when he was Governor of the Board of the Federal Reserve System, when in testimony before the US Senate in 1997, he discussed how America’s “favorable” economy was constructed. Greenspan discussed how wage increases for workers did not keep pace with inflation, which was, he explained, “mainly the consequence of greater worker insecurity.” He elaborated: “the willingness of workers in recent years to trade off smaller increases in wages for greater job security seems to be reasonably well documented.” Greenspan credited the creation of “worker insecurity” with technological changes, corporate restructuring and downsizing, as well as “domestic deregulation.”[52] The New York Times reported on this, stating that Greenspan described “job insecurity” as “a powerful recent force in the American economy,” and that Greenspan, “clearly elevated this insecurity to major status in central bank policy.” How does worker insecurity influence central bank policy? The article explained: “Workers have been too worried about keeping their jobs to push for higher wages… and this has been sufficient to hold down inflation without the added restraint of higher interest rates.” However, Greenspan warned that even though job insecurity continues to rise, once “workers become accustomed to their new level of uncertainty, their confidence may revive and the upward pressure on wages resume.”[53]

In his interview with the Wall Street Journal, Mario Draghi was asked if “Europe will become less of the social model that has defined it,” to which Draghi replied: “The European social model has already gone.” Draghi, repeating the mantra of so many in power, stated that, “there is no feasible trade-off between” austerity and growth: “Fiscal consolidation is unavoidable in the present set up, and it buys time needed for the structural reforms. Backtracking on fiscal targets would elicit an immediate reaction by the market.” In terms of “progress” – as Draghi defines it – throughout the crisis, he praised the fiscal compact treaty as “a major political achievement because it’s the first step towards a fiscal union. It’s a treaty whereby countries release national sovereignty in order to accept common fiscal rules that are especially binding, and accept monitoring and accept to have these rules in their primary legislation so they are not easy to change. So that’s a beginning.”[54]

In further testimony in 2000, Alan Greenspan again addressed the issue of “worker insecurity,” which he stipulated was the “consequence of rapid economic and technological change,” which in turn created a “fear of potential job skill obsolescence.” Greenspan stated that, “more workers currently report they are fearful of losing their jobs than similar surveys found in 1991 at the bottom of the last recession,” and that, “greater workers insecurities are creating political pressures to reduce fierce global competition that has emerged in the wake of our 1990s technology boom.” While Greenspan admitted that “protectionist policies” would “temporarily reduce some worker anxieties,” he felt this was a bad idea, as “over the longer run such actions would slow innovation and impede the rise in living standards.” Greenspan elaborated:

Protectionism might enable a worker in a declining industry to hold onto his job longer. But would it not be better for that worker to seek a new career in a more viable industry at age 35 than hang on until age 50, when job opportunities would be far scarcer and when the lifetime benefits of additional education and training would be necessarily smaller?.. These years of extraordinary innovation are enhancing the standard of living for a large majority of Americans. We should be thankful for that and persevere in policies that enlarge the scope for competition and innovation and thereby foster greater opportunities for everyone.[55]

This is called “labour market flexibility.” Of course, as Greenspan was full of praise for the fact that “job insecurity” is a necessary factor in “enhancing the standard of living for a large majority of Americans,” which “fosters greater opportunities for everyone,” what he really meant was that it benefits a tiny minority and creates better opportunities for exploitation. Ironically, this wonderful “boom” in the economy turned out to be a bubble, and it popped within a year of his giving this speech, and then of course, he resorted to building up the housing bubble thereafter… and we know how that went: more worker insecurity, more labour market flexibility, and thus, more benefits to a tiny minority and more opportunities for exploitation and profits. Isn’t the “free market” wonderful?

In April of 2012, Mario Draghi advised the eurozone to adopt a “growth compact” in order to boost economic prospects as he “scaled back his hopes for an early economic rebound,” stating that the eurozone bloc was “probably in the most difficult phases” in which the austerity measures were “starting to reverberate its contractionary effects,” he told the European Parliament. Austerity had, according to Draghi, “taken a larger than expected toll.” A “growth pact” was promoted by the front-runner in the French presidential elections, Francois Hollande, who would go on to win the May 6 elections against Sarkozy. Hollande had called for a “new Europe” stressing “solidarity, progress and protection,” warning against a North-South split in the EU countries. Angela Merkel also approved of Draghi’s call for a “growth pact,” agreeing that austerity was not “the whole answer” to the crisis, but insisted that growth would be “in the form of structural reforms,” which implies liberalization and privatization. She added: “We need growth in the form of sustainable initiatives, not simply economic stimulus programmes that just increase government debt.” While acknowledging the “economic weakness” created by the austerity packages across Europe, Draghi continued to say that, “Europe’s leaders should stay the course on fiscal consolidation.”[56]

European leaders were quick to endorse the calls from Draghi for a “growth pact” for Europe, including Angela Merkel in Germany, and France’s new Socialist president, Fancois Hollande, as well as EC President José Manuel Barroso. Following Draghi’s suggestion, Barroso stated that, “Growth is the key, growth is the answer.” Francois Hollande commented in references to Draghi’s proposal, “He doesn’t necessarily have the same measures in mind as me to foster growth,” as Draghi’s position was closer to that of Angela Merkel, who viewed the pact as consisting of “structural reforms,” not a stimulus which would “again increase national debt.” An analyst at the Cutch bank ING said: “For the ECB, a growth compact does not mean more fiscal stimulus,” which is, of course, only reserved for banks, not people. Instead, stated the analyst, Carsten Brzeski, it entails “structural reforms with a vision.”[57]

In May, this vision was publicly endorsed by Jorg Asmussen, the governor of the Bundesbank (the German central bank), and a member of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank, and was just previously the deputy finance minister of Germany. In a speech on May 21, Asmussen stated that, “we need both” austerity and growth, but that: “Talking about more growth does not mean moving away from the fiscal policy strategy pursued so far. It is not a matter of boosting growth over the next one to two quarters with credit-financed spending programmes, but of increasing potential growth. No one is against growth. The crucial and rather difficult question to answer is how, in ageing societies, to increase potential growth.” As to the question of ‘how’, Asmussen suggested three main components: product market reforms, labour market reforms, and financing of reforms. Product market reforms could include, according to Asmussen, “the completion of the internal market for services… [as] 70% of the EU’s GDP comes from services, but only 20% of services are provided on a cross-border basis.” As for labour market reforms, Asmussen suggested they should be “inspired by the Agenda 2010 programme in Germany,” and that, ultimately: “labour mobility needs to be increased in the euro area (the theory says, we remember, that an optimal currency area requires full mobility of labour). Mobility could be increased through broader recognition of qualifications within Europe, greater portability of pension rights, language courses and a European network of job centres.”[58] The Agenda 2010 programme was, explained Der Spiegel, “a series of labor market and social welfare reforms introduced by former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder that completely restructured Germany’s welfare state,” which included, “easing job dismissal protections, lowering bureaucratic hurdles for starting businesses, setting a higher retirement age and lowering non-wage labor costs,” all of which are “typical examples of structural reforms.”[59]

The Crisis Continues…

And so the European debt crisis continues, and so the austerity measures continue to punish the populations of Europe, and so Italy remains at the forefront of a growing global power grab: a ‘Technocratic Revolution’ in which even the trappings of formal democracy are pushed aside in favour of a government subservient to unelected councils of supranational institutions and global financial interests. In Par 2 of this excerpt on the Italian debt crisis, we examine the austerity programs and structural adjustments undertaken by the technocratic government of Mario Monti.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.

Please donate to The People’s Book Project to help this book be finished by the end of summer:

Notes

[1]            Bilderberg Meetings, Participants, 2011:

http://www.bilderbergmeetings.org/participants_2011.html

[2]            John Hooper, “Italy’s politicians rally round to prevent market’s slide,” The Guardian, 12 July 2011:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/jul/12/italy-rallies-financial-meltdown-austerity

[3]            Phillip Inman and John Hooper, “Italy hopes privatisations will calm markets,” The Guardian, 13 July 2011:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/jul/13/italy-hopes-privatisations-will-end-run-on-shares

[4]            AP, “Italian Senate passes key austerity package,” The Independent, 14 July 2011:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/italian-senate-passes-key-austerity-package-2313765.html

[5]            Rachel Donadio, “Italy to Adopt Austerity Plan to Fend Off a Debt Crisis,” The New York Times, 14 July 2011:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/15/world/europe/15italy.html

[6]            Emma Rowley, “Silvio Berlusconi v. Giulio Tremonti: a clash that spooked the markets,” The Telegraph, 14 July 2011:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/8637058/Silvio-Berlusconi-v.-Giulio-Tremonti-a-clash-that-spooked-the-markets.html

[7]            Nichi Vendola, “Italian debt: Austerity economics? That’s dead wrong for us,” The Guardian, 14 July 2011:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jul/14/italian-debt-austerity-berlusconi

[8]            Mario Monti, “Il podestà forestiero,” Corriere della Sera, 7 August 2011, [original in Italian, translation provided by Google Translate]:

http://www.corriere.it/editoriali/11_agosto_07/monti-podesta_1a5c6670-c0c4-11e0-a989-deff7adce857.shtml

[9]            Central Banking Newsdesk, “Leaked letter reveals ECB austerity demands on Italy,” Central Banking, 29 September 2011:

http://www.centralbanking.com/central-banking/news/2113272/leaked-letter-reveals-ecb-austerity-demands-italy

[10]            Ibid.

[11]            Ibid.

[12]            Leigh Phillips, “ECB austerity drive raises fears for democratic accountability in Europe,” The Guardian, 22 August 2011:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/aug/22/debt-crisis-europe

[13]            John Hooper, “Italy’s government meets to approve new austerity package,” The Guardian, 12 August 2011:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/aug/12/berlusconi-italy-austerity-cuts-protest

[14]            Lorenzo Totaro, “Berlusconi’s Austerity Package Wins Final Approval in Italian Parliament,” Bloomberg, 14 September 2011:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-09-14/berlusconi-s-austerity-package-wins-final-approval-in-italian-parliament.html

[15]            “Italy’s Austerity Budget – Needed: A New Broom,” The Economist, 10 September 2011:

http://www.economist.com/node/21528674

[16]            Jon Henley, “Austerity in Italy: cuts compound bureaucratic obstacles,” The Guardian, 18 October 2011:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/blog/2011/oct/18/austerity-italy-cuts-bureaucratic-obstacles

[17]            Jon Henley, “Europe on the breadline: hopelessness and Berlusconi,” The Guardian, 18 October 2011:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/blog/2011/oct/18/jon-henley-breadline-europ-hopelessness-berlusconi

[18]            Bruno Mascitelli, “As Moody’s trashes Italy, voters can’t count on Berlusconi,” The Conversation, 5 October 2011:

http://theconversation.edu.au/as-moodys-trashes-italy-voters-cant-count-on-berlusconi-3486

[19]            The Canadian Press, “Italy Debt Crisis: Berlusconi Austerity Package Sets Up Showdown With Labour,” The Huffington Post, 14 October 2011:

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/08/14/italy-austerity-showdown_n_926389.html

[20]            Reuters, “Violent protests in Italian capital,” The Irish Times, 15 October 2011:

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2011/1015/breaking23.html;

Antonio Padellaro, “Come previsto,” Il Fatto Quotidiano, 16 October 2011, (original in Italian, translation courtesy of Google Translate):

http://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/2011/10/16/come-previsto/164205/;

“Rome counts cost of violence after global protests,” BBC News, 16 October 2011:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-15326561;

Alessandra Rizzo and Meera Selva, “Rioters hijack Rome protests; police fire tear gas,” The Denver Post, 16 October 2011:

http://www.denverpost.com/nationworld/ci_19123516

[21]            Spiegel Online, “German Parliament Expected To Hold Full Vote on EFSF,” Der Spiegel, 24 October 2011:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/controversial-leveraging-plan-german-parliament-expected-to-hold-full-vote-on-efsf-a-793656.html

[22]            Hans-Jürgen Schlamp, “Berlusconi’s Government Wobbles in Face of EU Pressure,” Der Spiegel, 25 October 2011:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/crumbling-coalition-berlusconi-s-government-wobbles-in-face-of-eu-pressure-a-793884.html

[23]            MARCUS WALKER, CHARLES FORELLE, and STACY MEICHTRY, “Deepening Crisis Over Euro Pits Leader Against Leader,” The Wall Street Journal, 30 December 2011:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203391104577124480046463576.html

[24]            Ibid.

[25]            Armorel Kenna, “Austerity ‘Isn’t in My Vocabulary,’ Berlusconi Tells Il Foglio,” Bloomberg, 29 October 2011:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-10-29/austerity-isn-t-in-my-vocabulary-berlusconi-tells-il-foglio.html

[26]            Patrick Wintour and Larry Elliott, “G20 leaders press Italy to accept IMF checks on cuts programme,” The Guardian, 4 November 2011:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/04/g20-italy-imf-checks-cuts

[27]            Philip Ebels, “Berlusconi heads to G20 amid mutiny at home,” EUObserver, 3 November 2011:

http://euobserver.com/9/114156

[28]            Nick Squires, “Eurozone crisis: Italian coalition fails to reach austerity deal,” The Telegraph, 3 November 2011:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/8866954/PIC-AND-PUB-PLEASE-Eurozone-crisis-Italian-coalition-fails-to-reach-austerity-deal.html

[29]            Emily Gosden, “Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi agrees to IMF oversight of austerity measures,” The Telegraph, 4 November 2011:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financialcrisis/8869346/Italian-Prime-Minister-Silvio-Berlusconi-agrees-to-IMF-oversight-of-austerity-measures.html

[30]            Barry Moody and James Mackenzie, “Berlusconi to resign after parliamentary setback,” Reuters, 8 November 2011:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/11/08/us-italy-idUSTRE7A72NG20111108

[31]            John Hooper, “What happens if Berlusconi resigns?” The Guardian, 8 November 2011:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/08/italy-after-berlusconi-scenarios

[32]            Graeme Wearden and Alex Hawkes, “Eurozone debt crisis: Berlusconi to resign after austerity budget passed,” The Guardian, 8 November 2011:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/blog/2011/nov/08/berlusconi-debt-greece#block-35

[33]            “The end of Berlusconi: Hallelujah,” The Economist, 13 November 2011:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/newsbook/2011/11/end-berlusconi

[34]            Rachel Donadino, “With Clock Ticking, an Economist Accepts a Mandate to Rescue Italy,” The New York Times, 13 November 2011:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/14/world/europe/mario-monti-asked-to-form-a-new-government-in-italy.html

[35]            Andrew Willis, “Mario Monti to draw up single market report,” EUObserver, 21 October 2009:

http://euobserver.com/19/28856

[36]            “EU must put single market ‘back on stage’, says Monti,” EurActiv, 11 May 2010:

http://www.euractiv.com/priorities/eu-put-single-market-back-stage-news-494013

[37]            “Twelve projects for the 2012 Single Market: together for new growth,” The European Commission, 13 April 2011:

http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/11/469

[38]            Rachel Sanderson, “‘Superminister’ emerges from Italy’s business elite,” The Financial Times, 16 November 2011:

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/22c46df8-1060-11e1-8010-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1yY37v49b

[39]            John Hooper, “Mario Monti appoints technocrats to steer Italy out of economic crisis,” The Guardian, 16 November 2011:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/16/mario-monti-technocratic-cabinet-italy

[40]            James Mackenzie, “”Italian Prussian” Monti enters political storm,” Reuters, 13 November 2011:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/11/13/italy-monti-idUSL5E7MD0DO20111113

[41]            Tony Barber, “Why Europe’s leaders welcome Monti,” The Financial Times, 23 November 2011:

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/ce6f96cc-15bb-11e1-8db8-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1yY37v49b

[42]            Mario Monti, “Il podestà forestiero,” Corriere della Sera, 7 August 2011, [original in Italian, translation provided by Google Translate]:

http://www.corriere.it/editoriali/11_agosto_07/monti-podesta_1a5c6670-c0c4-11e0-a989-deff7adce857.shtml

[43]            Viola Caon, “Mario Monti’s Italian technocracy reveals its true political colours,” The Guardian, 6 December 2011:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/06/mario-monti-technocracy-europe

[44]            Jonathan Hopkin, “How Italy’s Democracy Leads to Financial Crisis,” Foreign Affairs 21 November 2011:

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/136688/jonathan-hopkin/how-italys-democracy-leads-to-financial-crisis

[45]            Tony Barber, “Eurozone turmoil: Enter the technocrats,” The Financial Times, 11 November 2011:

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/93c5cb36-0c92-11e1-a45b-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1z1dPgKJf

[46]            Landon Thomas Jr. and Jack Ewing, “Can Super Mario Save the Day for Europe?” The New York Times, 29 October 2011:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/business/mario-draghi-into-the-eye-of-europes-financial-storm.html?pagewanted=all

[47]            Ibid.

[48]            Lionel Barber and Ralph Atkins, “FT interview transcript: Mario Draghi,” The Financial Times, 18 December 2011:

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/25d553ec-2972-11e1-a066-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1yY37v49b

[49]            Ibid.

[50]            Brian Blackstone, Matthew Karnitsching and Robert Thomson, “Europe’s Banker Talks Tough,” The Wall Street Journal, 24 February 2012:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203960804577241221244896782.html

[51]            Brian Blackstone, Matthew Karnitschnig and Robert Thomson, “Q&A: ECB President Mario Draghi,” The Wall Street Journal, 23 February 2012:

http://blogs.wsj.com/eurocrisis/2012/02/23/qa-ecb-president-mario-draghi/

[52]            Alan Greenspan, “Testimony of Chairman Alan Greenspan: The Federal Reserve’s semiannual monetary policy report,” Before the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, U.S. Senate, February 26, 1997:

http://www.federalreserve.gov/boarddocs/hh/1997/february/testimony.htm

[53]            Louis Uchitelle, “Job Insecurity of Workers Is a Big Factor in Fed Policy,” The New York Times, 27 February 1997:

http://www.nytimes.com/1997/02/27/business/job-insecurity-of-workers-is-a-big-factor-in-fed-policy.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

[54]            Brian Blackstone, Matthew Karnitschnig and Robert Thomson, “Q&A: ECB President Mario Draghi,” The Wall Street Journal, 23 February 2012:

http://blogs.wsj.com/eurocrisis/2012/02/23/qa-ecb-president-mario-draghi/

[55]            Alan Greenspan, “Remarks by Chairman Alan Greenspan: The revolution in information technology,” Before the Boston College Conference on the New Economy, Boston, Massachusetts, March 6, 2000:

http://www.federalreserve.gov/boarddocs/speeches/2000/20000306.htm

[56]            Ralph Atkins, Hugh Carnegy, and Quentin Peel, “Draghi calls for Europe ‘growth compact’,” The Financial Times, 25 April 2012:

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/fc894164-8ead-11e1-ac13-00144feab49a.html#axzz1yY37v49b

[57]            Stefan Kaiser, “Austerity Backlash Unites European Leaders,” Spiegel Online, 17 April 2012:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/european-austerity-backlash-leaders-back-draghi-s-growth-pact-a-830185.html

[58]            Jörg Asmussen, “WELT-Währungskonferenz,” Berlin, 21 May 2012:

http://www.ecb.int/press/key/date/2012/html/sp120521.en.html

[59]            Stefan Kaiser, “Austerity Backlash Unites European Leaders,” Spiegel Online, 17 April 2012:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/european-austerity-backlash-leaders-back-draghi-s-growth-pact-a-830185.html

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VIDEO: A Radical History of Race and Poverty

 

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Podcast: “Black History in the United States: Slavery, Segregation, and Social Control”

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In a highly critical black history of the United States, this episode examines the social construction of race (and racism) starting in the late 1600s as a means of social control, devised through the colonial legal system to separate white and black labour, prison labour, black education system, the developments of ghettos as a means of segregating the black population, the civil rights organizations in an attempt to steer the movement away from its natural and potentially revolutionary course to confront the entire social- economic- political system of racism, and the “war on drugs” and laws disproportionately targeting the black community.

Understanding the history of those who have been most oppressed within it is vital to understanding the true nature of the society we live in; thus, the black history of the United States is indivisible from the total history of the United States, and the subject bears relevance to the future of poverty and class struggle in a world of enormous inequality.

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RELATED: “An Empire of Poverty: Race, Punishment, and Social Control”

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Will Tunisia Transition from Tyranny into Democratic Despotism?

Will Tunisia Transition from Tyranny into Democratic Despotism?
North Africa and the Global Political Awakening, Part 3
Global Research, February 14, 2011

This article is Part 3 in the series, “North Africa and the Global Political Awakening.”

Part 1: Are We Witnessing the Start of a Global Revolution?

Part 2: America’s Strategic Repression of the ‘Arab Awakening’


It has been a month since President and dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled Tunisia, sparking the civil disobedience and protests that have since resulted in the fall of one of the Arab world’s strongest and most long-lasting dictators, Hosni Mubarak. Yet, where does Tunisia stand today, and where is it headed in the future?

In Part 1 of this series, I asked the question, “Are we witnessing the start of a global revolution?” I concluded that we are seeing the emergence of a powerful phase in what will be a long road to world revolution, spurred on largely by what is referred to as the ‘Global Political Awakening.’ The ‘Awakening’ is driven by the information and communications revolutions, in which people around the world, and in particular in the ‘Third World’ have become increasingly aware of their lack of freedom, economic exploitation, oppression and disrespect. Specifically, the educated youth are the driving force, and the quest for human dignity is the driving impetus.

In Part 2 of this series, I analyzed how American imperial strategy has changed in the past several years to support democratization in the Arab world, not out of any humanitarian qualms regarding supporting oppressive and ruthless tyrants, but out of strategic interest in securing long-term control and hegemony over the region. The strategy of “democratization” is a method of controlling and managing the process and problems inherent in the Global Political Awakening. However, American strategists and think tanks made it clear that they preferred a strategy of democratization supporting “evolution, not revolution.” Thus, when the uprisings and revolutions began, America’s imperial strategists were quick to react in order to attempt to control the situation.

The aim, then, is to mitigate and manage the process of change, promoting the idea of “unity” or “transition governments,” so that America may manage the transition into a democratic system that is safe for Western interests, and will produce a political elite subservient to America and Western financial institutions like the World Bank and IMF. This part of the series, “North Africa and the Global Political Awakening,” is a brief examination of the strategy undertaken in Tunisia to pre-empt and subsequently manage the uprising that took place, and where this could likely lead.

America Anticipated Trouble in Tunisia

According to the Wikileaks diplomatic cables on Tunisia, the issue of succession in Tunisia from the Ben Ali regime were being discussed by the American Embassy in 2006. However, at the time, the Ambassador noted that, “none of the options suggest Tunisia will become more democratic, but the US-Tunisian bilateral relationship is likely to remain unaffected by the departure of Ben Ali.” It was discussed that if the President became “temporarily incapacitated” (largely referring to his struggle with cancer), then “he could turn over a measure of presidential authority to Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi.” The Ambassador noted that average Tunisians generally view Ghannouchi “with respect and he is well-liked in comparison to other GOT [Government of Tunisia]” and party officials.[1] Ghannouchi was subsequently the person who stepped in as interim President once Ben Ali fled in 2011, but with very little support among the people, who demanded he resign as well.

In a 2008 cable regarding a meeting with President Ben Ali, it was ironically noted that Ben Ali felt that the situation in Egypt was “explosive” and that, “sooner or later the Muslim  Brotherhood would take over. He added that Yemen and Saudi Arabia are also facing real problems,” emphasizing that the whole region in general is “explosive.”[2]

In July of 2009, a diplomatic cable from the American Embassy in Tunis noted that Tunisia is “troubled,” and that, “many Tunisians are frustrated by the lack of political freedom and angered by First Family corruption, high unemployment and regional inequities.” The Ambassador noted that while America seeks to enhance ties with Tunisia commercially and militarily, there are also major setbacks, as “we have been blocked, in part, by a Foreign Ministry that seeks to control all our contacts in the government and many other organizations.” America had successfully accomplished a number of goals, such as “increasing substantially US assistance to the military,” and “strengthening commercial ties,” yet, “we have also had too many failures.” Tunisia had declined USAID to engage in regional programs “to assist young people,” as well as having “reduced the number of Fulbright scholarship students,” which was a specific strategic suggestion made by the Council on Foreign Relations report in 2005 in supporting ‘democratization’ of the Arab world. Further, the Ambassador noted, the Tunisian government “makes it difficult” for the Embassy to maintain contact “with a wide swath of Tunisian society,” adding that government-owned papers “often attack Tunisian civil society activists who participate in Embassy activities, portraying them as traitors.” The government also made it very apparent that it disapproves of Embassy contact with opposition figures “as well as civil society activists who criticize the regime.”[3]

In posing the question of – “what should we do?” – the Ambassador explained that America had “an interest in keeping the Tunisian military professional and neutral,” as well as “fostering greater political openness.” The Ambassador emphasized the need “to maintain contacts with the few opposition parties and civil society groups critical of the regime.” Further, the Ambassador stressed the need to mobilize the Europeans to help in pushing for ‘reform,’ as “key countries such as France and Italy have shied from putting pressure on the GOT.” The Ambassador noted that ultimately, “serious change here will have to await Ben Ali’s departure.”[4]

Many U.S. democracy promotion organizations had established ties to Tunisian civil society organizations and opposition leaders over the past few years, including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Freedom House, and the National Democratic Institute (NDI).[5]

‘Democratizing’ Tunisia

As we see from the course of events in Tunisia, America’s strategy of democracy promotion has not necessarily gone according to plan. As the CFR Task Force stressed in 2005, “America’s goal in the Middle East should be to encourage democratic evolution, not revolution.”[6] This was apparent in the uprising catching America somewhat off guard. Following the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi on 17 December 2010, Tunisia erupted in protests, inspired by food price hikes, dissatisfaction with corruption, lack of freedoms, and unemployment. The protests were met with police brutality, and were receiving little if any coverage in international media. A hallmark of a U.S.-sponsored democratic “regime change” is to have Western media play a powerful role from the moment the protests erupt, yet the Western media did not pay attention until President Ben Ali fled on 14 January 2011. Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi then took over as acting president, handing the position of acting president over to parliamentary speaker Fouad Mebazaa the following day. Fouad Mebazaa then asked the Prime Minister to form a “unity government,” saying that a “national unity government in the country’s best interests.”[7]

Immediately after Ben Ali fled, the Tunisian military was deployed into the streets to “maintain order” in the face of riots and looting that broke out. Many blamed the riots and looting on militias which “are part of the ministry of the interior, or police members, and they are co-ordinated by heads of police and intelligence in Tuisia.”[8]

Within days, the formation of a unity government was announced, vowing “to work towards democracy,” which resulted in several opposition leaders joining: “Ahmed Ibrahim, head of the Ettajdid party, Najib Chebbi, founder of the opposition PDP party, and Mustafa Ben Jaafar, head of the Union of Freedom and Labour, are all expected to get senior appointments.” Ibrahim was quoted as saying, “The main thing for us right now is to stop all this disorder. We are in agreement on several principles concerning the new government.”[9] Najib Chebbi, leader of the opposition PDP party and member of the “unity government,” is a lawyer who “has long been seen by Western diplomats as the most credible figure in the opposition.”[10] The “unity government” announced that it planned to hold elections within 6 months.

However, the public in the streets were not satisfied with the creation of a “unity government” containing many remnants of the Ben Ali regime, with some activists claiming, “The new government is a sham. It’s an insult to the revolution that claimed lives and blood.”[11] The military played a powerful role in the Tunisian uprising, most especially by refusing to fire on protesters, which led to Ben Ali fleeing the following day. Two days following Ben Ali’s departure, an Egyptian newspaper reported that Army Chief Rachid Ammar was in immediate contact with the American Embassy in Tunis, according to an officer in the Tunisian National Guard, and that the U.S. Embassy gave instructions to Ammar “to take charge of Tunisian affairs if the situation gets out of control.”[12]

In fact, army chief Rachid Ammar vowed to “defend the revolution.” Ammar was speaking to protesters on the 24 of January, as protesters were demanding the unity government resign. He warned protesters, “Our revolution, your revolution, the revolution of the young, risks being lost … There are forces that are calling for a void, a power vacuum. The void brings terror, which brings dictatorship.”[13] In other words, the military was aiming to support the “unity government,” and to use its reputation with the people to get them to support it as well. Coincidentally, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (the U.S. Middle east envoy) Jeffrey Feltman, traveled to Tunisia the same day that General Ammar spoke to the crowds, supposedly in order to “convey U.S. support to the Tunisian people,” and assess “how the United States can help” with the ‘transition.’ Feltman “said the Obama administration could be helpful in providing support and preparations for Tunisia’s upcoming elections through American nongovernmental organizations that have helped other countries that did not have prior histories of allowing a free and fair process.” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley stated that the unity government is “trying to be responsive,” and that, “this is a government that is trying hard to respond to the aspirations of its people.”[14]

In other words, American officials are deeply involved in attempting to legitimize the Tunisian “unity government,” in order to hold elections in six months, when the U.S. can ensure that they control the outcome. Thus, the U.S. is interested in holding back the revolution, likely pressuring General Ammar to try to reason with the protesters, as well as support the unity government itself. As US envoy Feltman stated, “What’s going to give any government real credibility… are elections,” and that, “To get to credible elections after having a system that so restricted the role of civil society and political parties… is going to take some time and effort.” In other words, America is attempting to stem the ‘revolution’ and maintain and manage the ‘evolution’ into a democratic government which they would ultimately control, just as suggested by the CFR Task Force Report. As one Tunisian protester proclaimed, “Somebody is stealing our revolution.”[15] Feltman’s acknowledging of the need to build a more effective civil society before the elections provides support for the revelations in the diplomatic cables that the Tunisian government of Ben Ali was severely hampering American efforts to foster Tunisian civil society groups. Thus, I don’t think it is appropriate to see the Tunisian uprising as “engineered in America,” since America was ultimately caught unprepared.

Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan and the UN under the George Bush administration, as well as a board member of the “democracy promotion” organization the National Endowment for Democracy (which funded and supported the ‘colour revolutions’ in Eastern Europe and Central Asia), wrote an article in the Financial Times, editorializing that the uprising in Tunisia shows the potential for new media to empower disaffected citizens, as well as demonstrating “the rise of a new political class: young people who stand for neither secular tyranny nor Islamist radicalism.” While heaping rhetorical praise upon a victory for ‘democracy,’ Khalilzad suggested articulating “a new freedom agenda for the region”:

The west should also openly pressure other authoritarian regimes to liberalise, acting as a midwife for democratic reform. In countries in which Islamist movements are better organised than liberal ones, the west should focus on developing moderate civil society groups, parties and institutions rather than calling for snap elections. Most importantly, our distribution of foreign aid should reflect and advance these priorities. Regimes and reformers throughout the region are taking note of events in Tunisia. The US and Europe must act quickly.[16]

So what ae these “democracy promotion” organizations? Three prominent ones are Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy.

One of the previous chairmen of Freedom House was R. James Woolsey, former Director of the CIA.[17] The current chairman is William H. Taft IV, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, and former chief legal adviser to the State Department. Member of the Board of Trustees of Freedom House include individuals past or presently associated with: the U.S. Department of State, the Council on Foreign Relations, Citigroup, Warburg Pincus, AFL-CIO, Morgan Stanley, the Brookings Institution, Visa, USAID, and the Associated Press.[18]

The Chairman of the board of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) is Madeleine Albright. Another notable member of the board is James Wolfensohn, former President of the World Bank, and former member of the board of directors of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Population Council.[19]

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), was founded by Ronald Reagan in 1983 with the aim of “promoting democracy,” registered as a private organization, nearly all its funding comes from the U.S. Congress. One of the founders of the NED, Allen Weinstein, once stated that, “A lot of what we [the NED] do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”[20] Notable members of the board include Kenneth Duberstein, CEO of the Duberstein Group, and member of the boards of Boeing, Fannie Mae, and the Council on Foreign Relations; Francis Fukuyama, author of “The End of History”; William Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; Zalmay Khalilzad, Counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan, the United Nations, and former Defense Department official; Larry A. Liebenow, former Chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and has served on the board of the Council of the Americas (founded by David Rockefeller, who remains as Honorary Chairman); Ambassador Princeton Lyman, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, former Ambassador to Nigeria, former Ambassador to South Africa, former director of USAID; Moisés Naím, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, former director of the Central Bank of Venezuela, former executive director of the World Bank, and is a member of the boards of Population Action International and the International Crisis Group; and Vin Weber, on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, and co-chair with Madeleine Albright on the CFR Task Force Report on reform in the Arab world.[21]

One month after Ben Ali’s departure, Tunisians are left with more political freedoms, yet there is still grave concern over the path of change taking place, “with Tunisia’s old guard still strong and interim authorities often overwhelmed — many said they fear promised changes may be swept aside.” One opposition group leader in Tunisia has stated that, “There is no clear political will to break from the past. The government’s decisions have come with delays that have damaged its legitimacy and provoked a crisis of confidence.” Thus, “some fear the revolution will be confiscated, its potential wasted behind a smokescreen of reforms.”[22] Yet one thing has clearly changed in Tunisia, the development of a feeling and taste for freedom. Once that wondrous inherently human taste for freedom is felt, it is incredibly difficult to suppress, and becomes far less tolerant of any methods aimed at control.

This is both a very hopeful and deeply precarious situation. Change always is. The real question is whether or not this ‘transition’ will bring about true freedom and true democracy, or if it will retain “neoliberal freedom and democracy”, which amounts to a kind of democratic despotism, in which democracy becomes simply about voting between rival factions of elites who all serve the same foreign imperial interests.

Could Tunisia potentially witness a populist democracy, like those that have spread across Latin America? Or will it succumb to the American brand of democracy? Time, it seems, will only be able to answer that question.  As always, the odds are against the people, but again, as events over the past 30 days have shown the world, the people can always defy the odds.

Notes

[1]        Embassy Tunis, SUCCESSION IN TUNISIA: FINDING A SUCCESSOR OR FEET FIRST?, Wikileaks Cables, 9 January 2006: http://213.251.145.96/cable/2006/01/06TUNIS55.html

[2]        Embassy Tunis, PRESIDENT BEN ALI MEETS WITH A/S WELCH: PROGRESS

ON COUNTER-TERRORISM COOPERATION, REGIONAL CHALLENGES, Wikileaks Cables, 3 March 2008: http://213.251.145.96/cable/2008/03/08TUNIS193.html

[3]        Embassy Tunis, TROUBLED TUNISIA:  WHAT SHOULD WE DO?, WikiLeaks Cables, 17 July 2009: http://213.251.145.96/cable/2009/07/09TUNIS492.html

[4]        Embassy Tunis, TROUBLED TUNISIA:  WHAT SHOULD WE DO?, WikiLeaks Cables, 17 July 2009: http://213.251.145.96/cable/2009/07/09TUNIS492.html

[5]        NED, Tunisia, National Endowment for Democracy: http://www.ned.org/where-we-work/middle-east-and-northern-africa/tunisia;

FH, New Generation of Advocates: Empowering Civil Society in Middle East and North Africa, Freedom House: http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=66&program=83;

NDI, Tunisia, National Democratic Institute: http://www.ndi.org/tunisia

[6]        Madeleine Albright and Vin Weber, In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How. (Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report, 2005), page 4

[7]        ELAINE GANLEY and BOUAZZA BEN BOUAZZA, Tunisia’s interim president backs a unity govt, AP, 16 January 2011: http://apnews.myway.com//article/20110115/D9KOQT000.html

[8]        Al-Jazeera and agencies, Army on streets amid Tunisia unrest, Al-Jazeera, 15 January 2011: http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2011/01/2011115135844457245.html

[9]        Kim Sengupta, Political vacuum filled by chaotic in-fighting, The Independent, 17 January 2011: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/political-vacuum-filled-by-chaotic-infighting-2186293.html

[10]      Agencies, Ben Ali’s possible successors, Al-Jazeera, 15 January 2011: http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/spotlight/tunisia/2011/01/20111151464566226.html

[11]      AJ, Tunisia’s new government in trouble, Al-Jazeera, 18 January 2011: http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2011/01/2011118194731826312.html

[12]      ALM, Tunisian officer: Washington tells dismissed chief of staff to ‘take charge’, Al-Masry Al-Youm, 16 January 2011: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/news/tunisian-officer-washington-tells-dismissed-chief-staff-take-charge

[13]      AJ, Tunisia cabinet to be reshuffled, Al-Jazeera, 24 January 2011: http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2011/01/2011124163051778391.html

[14]      Stephen Kaufman, U.S. Supports Tunisia’s Political Transition, America.gov, 24 January 2011: http://www.america.gov/st/democracyhr-english/2011/January/20110124162333nehpets0.8809168.html?CP.rss=true

[15]      Borzou Daragahi, Key diplomat says U.S. approves of Tunisia revolt, Los Angeles Times, 25 January 2011: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jan/25/world/la-fg-tunisia-envoy-20110126

[16]      Zalmay Khalilzad, Democracy in Tunisia is just the start, The Financial Times, 19 January 2011: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/552d3632-2405-11e0-bef0-00144feab49a.html#axzz1C08RDtxu

[17]      Press Release, Freedom House Announces New Chairman, James Woolsey, Freedom House, 13 January 2003: http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=70&release=124

[18]      FH, Board of Trustees, Freedom House: http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=10

[19]      NDI, Board of Directors, National Dmeocratic Institute: http://www.ndi.org/board_of_directors

[20]      William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, 2000, p. 180

[21]      NED, Board of Directors, the National Endowment for Democracy: http://www.ned.org/about/board

[22]      Deborah Pasmantier and Sonia Bakaric, Freedom and worry a month after Tunisia uprising, Montreal Gazette, 13 February 2011: http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/TUNISIA+MONTH+LATER/4274347/story.html 

America’s Strategic Repression of the ‘Arab Awakening’

America’s Strategic Repression of the ‘Arab Awakening’
North Africa and the Global Political Awakening, Part 2
Global Research, February 9, 2011

Overview

In Part 1 of this series, I analyzed the changing nature of the Arab world, in experiencing an uprising as a result of the ‘Global Political Awakening.’ Ultimately, I assessed that these could potentially be the birth pangs of a global revolution; however, the situation is more complicated than it appears on the surface.

While the uprisings spreading across the Arab world have surprised many observers, the same could not be said for the American foreign policy and strategic establishment. A popular backlash against American-supported dictatorships and repressive regimes has been anticipated for a number of years, with arch-hawk geopolitical strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski articulating a broad conception of a ‘Global Political Awakening’ taking place, in which the masses of the world (predominantly the educated, exploited and impoverished youth of the ‘Third World’) have become acutely aware of their subjugation, inequality, exploitation and oppression. This ‘Awakening’ is largely driven by the revolution in information, technology and communication, including radio, television, but most especially the Internet and social media. Brzezinski had accurately identified this ‘Awakening’ as the greatest threat to elite interests regionally, but also internationally, with America sitting on top of the global hierarchy.

This spurred on the development of an American strategy in the Arab world, modeled on similar strategies pursued in recent decades in other parts of the world, in promoting “democratization,” by developing close contacts with ‘civil society’ organizations, opposition leaders, media sources, and student organizations. The aim is not to promote an organic Arab democracy ‘of the people, and for the people,’ but rather to promote an evolutionary “democratization” in which the old despots of American strategic support are removed in favour of a neoliberal democratic system, in which the outward visible institutions of democracy are present (multi-party elections, private media, parliaments, constitutions, active civil society, etc); yet, the power-holders within that domestic political system remain subservient to U.S. economic and strategic interests, continuing to follow the dictates of the IMF and World Bank, supporting America’s military hegemony in the region, and “opening up” the Arab economies to be “integrated” into the world economy. Thus, “democratization” becomes an incredibly valuable strategy for maintaining hegemony; a modern re-hash of “Let them eat cake!” Give the people the ‘image’ of democracy and establish and maintain a co-dependent relationship with the new elite. Thus, democracy for the people becomes an exercise in futility, where people’s ‘participation’ becomes about voting between rival factions of elites, who all ultimately follow the orders of Washington.

This strategy also has its benefit for the maintenance of American power in the region. While dictators have their uses in geopolitical strategy, they can often become too independent of the imperial power and seek to determine the course of their country separate from U.S. interests, and are subsequently much more challenging to remove from power (i.e., Saddam Hussein). With a “democratized” system, changing ruling parties and leaders becomes much easier, by simply calling elections and supporting opposition parties. Bringing down a dictator is always a more precarious situation than “changing the guard” in a liberal democratic system.

However, again, the situation in the Arab world is still more complicated than this brief overview, and American strategic concerns must take other potentialities into consideration. While American strategists were well aware of the growing threat to stability in the region, and the rising discontent among the majority of the population, the strategists tended to identify the aim as “democratization” through evolution, not revolution. In this sense, the uprisings across the Arab world pose a major strategic challenge for America. While ties have been made with civil society and other organizations, they haven’t all necessarily had the ability to be firmly entrenched, organized and mobilized. In short, it would appear that America was perhaps unprepared for uprisings to take place this soon. The sheer scale and rapid growth of the protests and uprisings makes the situation all the more complicated, since they are not dealing with one nation alone, but rather an entire region (arguably one of, if not the most strategically important region in the world), and yet they must assess and engage the situation on a country-by-country basis.

One danger arises in a repeat in the Arab world of the trends advanced in Latin America over the past decade: namely, the growth of populist democracy. The protests have brought together a wide array of society – civil society, students, the poor, Islamists, opposition leaders, etc. – and so America, with ties to many of these sectors (overtly and covertly), must now make many choices in regards of who to support.

Another incredibly important factor to take into consideration is military intervention. America has firmly established ties with the militaries in this region, and it appears evident that America is influencing military actions in Tunisia. Often, the reflex position of imperial power is to support the military, facilitate a coup, or employ repression. Again, this strategy would be determined on a country-by-country basis. With a popular uprising, military oppression will have the likely effect of exacerbating popular discontent and resistance, so strategic use of military influence is required.

This also leaves us with the potential for the ‘Yemen option’: war and destabilization. While presenting its own potential for negative repercussions (namely, in instigating a much larger and more radical uprising), engaging in overt or covert warfare, destabilizing countries or regions, is not taboo in American strategic circles. In fact, this is the strategy that has been deployed in Yemen since the emergence of the Southern Movement in 2007, a liberation movement seeking secession from the U.S.-supported dictatorship. Shortly after the emergence of the Southern Movement, al-Qaeda appeared in Yemen, prompting U.S. military intervention. The Yemeni military, armed, trained and funded by the United States, has been using its military might to attempt to crush the Southern Movement as well as a rebel movement in the North.

In short, the ‘Arab Awakening’ presents possibly the greatest strategic challenge to American hegemony in decades. The likely result will be a congruence of multiple simultaneously employed strategies including: “democratization,” oppression, military intervention and destabilization. Again, it could be a mistake to assume one strategy for the whole region, but rather to assess it on a country-by-country basis, based upon continuing developments and progress in the ‘Awakening’.

The Council on Foreign Relations Strategy to “Democratize” the Arab World

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is the premier U.S. foreign policy think tank in the United States, and is one of the central institutions for socializing American elites from all major sectors of society (media, banking, academia, military, intelligence, diplomacy, corporations, NGOs, civil society, etc.), where they work together to construct a consensus on major issues related to American imperial interests around the world. As such, the CFR often sets the strategy for American policy, and wields enormous influence within policy circles, where key players often and almost always come from the rank and file of the CFR itself.

In 2005, the CFR published a Task Force Report on a new American strategy for the Arab world entitled, “In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How.” The Task Force was co-chaired by Madeleine Albright and Vin Weber. Albright was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations for the first term of President Bill Clinton’s administration, and was U.S. Secretary of State for his second term. As such, she played crucial roles in the lead up and responses to the dismantling of Yugoslavia and the Rwandan genocide and subsequent civil war and genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and she also oversaw the UN imposed sanctions on Iraq. In a 1996 interview with 60 Minutes, when asked about the sanctions resulting in the deaths of over 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five, Albright replied, “we think the price is worth it.”[1]

Albright got her start at Columbia University, where she studied under Zbigniew Brzezinski, her professor who supervised her dissertation. Brzezinski, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. co-founded the Trilateral Commission with banker David Rockefeller in 1973. When Jimmy Carter became President in 1977, he brought with him over two dozen members of the Trilateral Commission into his administration, including himself, but also Brzezinski as his National Security Adviser. Brzezinski then offered Madeline Albright a job on his National Security Council staff.[2] Brzezinski also had several other key officials on his Council staff, including Samuel Huntington and Robert Gates, who later became Deputy National Security Adviser, CIA Director, and today is the Secretary of Defense in the Obama administration. As David Rothkopf, former National Security Council staff member wrote in his book on the history of the NSC, “Brzezinski’s NSC staffers are, to this day, very loyal to their former boss.”[3] Today, Albright serves on the board of directors of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Board of Trustees for the Aspen Institute, as well as chairing the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, an organization dedicated to promoting and funding US-supported “democracy” around the world. Recently, she chaired a NATO committee which developed NATO’s new “strategic concept” over the next decade.

The other co-chair of the CFR Task Force report on Arab democracy is Vin Weber, former U.S. Congressman, who has served on the board of the CFR, and is also a member of the board of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the premier U.S. organization dedicated to “democratic regime change” around the world in advancing U.S. strategic interests. Other members of the Task Force Report include individuals with past or present affiliations to Human Rights Watch, First National Bank of Chicago, Occidental Petroleum, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the World Bank, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), the Brookings Institution, the Hoover Institution, the National Endowment for Democracy, the U.S. State Department, National Security Council, National Intelligence Council, Goldman Sachs Group, the American Enterprise Institute, AOL Time Warner, and the IMF.[4]

It is very clear that this is a highly influential and active group of individuals and interests which is proposing a new strategy for America in the Arab world, which makes their recommendations not simply ‘advisory’ to policy, but integral to policy formulation and implementation. So what did the CFR report have to say about democracy in the Arab world?

The report stated that, “Washington has a chance to help shape a more democratic Middle East. Whereas emphasis on stability was once the hallmark of U.S. Middle East policy, democracy and freedom have become a priority.” The report posed two central questions which it explored:

First, does a policy of promoting democracy in the Middle East serve U.S. interests and foreign policy goals? Second, if so, how should the United States implement such a policy, taking into account the full range of its interests?[5]

The answer to the first question was inevitably, “yes,” promoting democracy serves U.S. interests and foreign policy goals in the Middle East. The report elaborated, “Although democracy entails certain inherent risks, the denial of freedom carries much more significant long-term dangers. If Arab citizens are able to express grievances freely and peacefully, they will be less likely to turn to more extreme measures.”[6] However, the CFR report was very cautious about the process of democratic change, and recognized the potential instability and problems it could pose for American interests:

[T]he United States should promote the development of democratic institutions and practices over the long term, mindful that democracy cannot be imposed from the outside and that sudden, traumatic change is neither necessary nor desirable. America’s goal in the Middle East should be to encourage democratic evolution, not revolution.[7] [Emphasis added]

Further, they acknowledged that democracy promotion in the Middle East “requires a country-by-country strategy,”[8] meaning that it cannot be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy, ultimately making the process all the more complicated and potentially unstable. The process is a delicate balancing act, where the report identified that if America’s democracy promotion is too “superficial,” it could “further damage relations between the United States and Arab populations,” or, if the United States pushes reform too hard and too fast, “this could create instability and undermine U.S. interests.” Thus, explained the report, they favour “a view toward evolutionary, not revolutionary, change. The dangers that accompany rapid change will still be present, but so will the opportunity to create a new and more balanced foundation for Arab stability, and a deeper and stronger basis for friendship between Americans and Arabs.”[9] In American diplomatic language, “friendship” should be read as “dependence,” thus we understand this strategy as aiming at promoting a more reliable dependency between Americans and Arabs.

The report, however, acknowledged the deep divisions within U.S. policy circles on the promotion of democracy in the Middle East, with several viewing it as potentially too risky, fearing it “may place U.S. interests in jeopardy,” or that it “could lead to ethnic conflict or the emergence of Islamist governments opposed to the United States and the West in general.” Further, “if Washington pushes Arab leaders too hard on reform, contributing to the collapse of friendly Arab governments, this would likely have a deleterious effect on regional stability, peace, and counterterrorism operations.” There is also the risk that with America actively promoting democratic change among Arab civil society and opposition groups, this could potentially damage “the credibility of indigenous groups promoting democratic reform,” or, alternatively, “Arab leaders could dig in their heels and actively oppose U.S. policies in the region across the board.”[10] The latter scenario could be referred to as ‘the Saddam option’, referring, of course, to America’s once-close ally and suddenly-new enemy, Saddam Hussein, who was armed and supported by America. But once he started to become too autonomous of American power, America turned on him and cast him as a “new Hitler.” The case of Saddam Hussein also shows that when a dictator “digs in his heels,” it can often take a very long time to be rid of him.

So while clearly there are a number of potentially disastrous consequences for U.S. interests in promoting democracy in the Arab world, the CFR made their position clear:

While transitions to democracy can lead to instability in the short term, the Task Force finds that a policy geared toward maintaining the authoritarian status quo in the Middle East poses greater risks to U.S. interests and foreign policy goals… If Arabs are allowed to participate freely and peacefully in the political process, they are less likely to turn to radical measures. If they understand that the United States supports their exercise of liberty, they are less likely to sustain hostile attitudes toward the United States… The overwhelming empirical evidence clearly indicates that the best kind of stability is democratic stability.[11]

One pivotal area through which the CFR report advocated implementing the “democratization” of the Arab world was through the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), established in 2002 by the Bush administration “with the express purpose of coordinating and managing the U.S. government’s reform agenda in the area of economics, politics, education, and women’s issues.” Much of this work had previously been done through the United State Agency for International Development (USAID); however, “while USAID’s work has focused to some extent on creating constituencies within Arab governments for change, the rationale for MEPI was to work with independent and indigenous NGOs and civil-society groups, as well as with governments.”[12]

Another avenue was the Broader Middle East Initiative (also known as the Partnership for Progress), which emerged from a 2004 G8 summit, of which a main priority was the “Forum for the Future,” which is “designed to foster communication on reform-related issues.” It held sessions that brought together civil society activists, business leaders, emphasizing economic development and job growth. The Partnership for Progress also established the “Democracy Assistance Dialogue,” which brings together development institutions in the Middle East, foundations, international financial institutions (the World Bank and IMF), “to coordinate the use of resources to support political and economic change.”[13] In other words, it is a process through which America is seeking to ensure that democratic “transition” in the Arab world maintains American and Western political and economic hegemony. In effect, a change of ‘structure’ without a change of ‘substance,’ where the image of the state alters, but the power and purpose remains the same.

However, further problems for the democratization strategy were presented in the unwillingness of European nations to support it or take it seriously. As the Task Force report explained, “European reluctance undermines the potential efficacy of pursuing reform.” The report further explained the importance of having Europe as a partner in the project:

Despite a history of European colonial domination, the perception of Europe in the Arab world is better than that of the United States. Consequently, it may be helpful for the European Union to take the lead in promoting human rights in the Arab world.[14]

The Task Force recommended that it would be best if funding for Arab civil society organizations did not come directly from U.S. government institutions, but rather funneled through U.S. democracy-promotion groups like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), as “many Middle eastern NGOs are reluctant to accept direct transfers from an arm of the U.S. government, fearing that this would taint these organizations in the eyes of their constituencies.”[15] In the conclusion, the report stated that:

Although a policy predicated on political, economic, and social change in the Arab world may present some short-term risks to Washington’s interests, these risks are worth taking. The long-run benefits of a more democratic and economically developed Middle East outweigh the potential challenges Washington might confront in the foreseeable future.[16]

We must acknowledge, however, that this strategy is not aimed at promoting democracy for the sake of democracy and freedom, but rather that it is acknowledging the reality that is the ‘Global Political Awakening,’ and taking efforts to address and manipulate this ‘Awakening’ in such a way that serves U.S. interests. Thus, it amounts to a scenario akin to saying, “Let them eat cake!” If the Arab world screams out for democracy and freedom, give them the American-sponsored brand of democracy and freedom, and therefore America is able to undermine and co-opt the ever-increasing desires and forces for change in the region. As a result – if successful – it would have the effect of pacifying resistance to America’s hegemony in the region, legitimizing the new puppet governments as “democratic” and “representative” of the people, thus creating a more stable and secure environment for American interests. In short, this is a coordinated strategy to confront, manipulate and pacify the emergence of the Global Political Awakening in the Arab world; an assault against the ‘Arab Awakening.’

In my last essay on the subject, I identified these protests as an organic growth, a rallying cry for freedom from the Arab world which must not be simply discarded as a covert U.S. plot to install new regimes. However, the situation requires a much more nuanced and detailed examination, not to frame it in either a black or white context, but rather seek to explain the realities, challenges and opportunities of the ‘Awakening’ and the ‘uprisings’.

Conceptualizing the ‘Arab Awakening’

For years, arch-hawk American imperial geostrategist Zbigniew Brzezinski, an intellectual architect of ‘globalization’, has been warning elites across the Western world, and in particular in America, of the emergence and pressing reality of the ‘Global Political Awakening.’ He explains the ‘Awakening’ as essentially the greatest historical challenge to not only American, but global power structures and interests. He explained that, “For the first time in human history almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive.” Further, “the worldwide yearning for human dignity is the central challenge inherent in the phenomenon of global political awakening… That awakening is socially massive and politically radicalizing.” As Brzezinski emphasizes, “These energies transcend sovereign borders and pose a challenge both to existing states as well as to the existing global hierarchy, on top of which America still perches.” Brzezinski and others (as evidenced by the Council on Foreign Relations report) are intent upon developing strategies for ‘managing’ and ‘pacifying’ this ‘Awakening’ in such a way that maintains and secures American imperial interests and global power structures. Thus, the need to ‘control’ the Awakening is the most prescient problem in American foreign policy. However, as Brzezinski elaborated, it is not a challenge that can be dealt with easily:

[The] major world powers, new and old, also face a novel reality: while the lethality of their military might is greater than ever, their capacity to impose control over the politically awakened masses of the world is at a historic low. To put it bluntly: in earlier times, it was easier to control one million people than to physically kill one million people; today, it is infinitely easier to kill one million people than to control one million people.[17]

In a 2008 article in the New York Times, Brzezinski emphasized a multi-faceted strategy for dealing with this ‘threat’ to elite structures and interests, explaining that, “the monumental task facing the new president is to regain U.S. global legitimacy by spearheading a collective effort for a more inclusive system of global management.” Thus, Brzezinski’s strategy rests on better securing and institutionally expanding the process of ‘globalization’ into the evolution of ‘global governance,’ or as he termed it, “global management.” Brzezinski unveiled a four-point strategy of response: “unify, enlarge, engage and pacify.”[18]

The response to ‘unify’ refers “to the effort to re-establish a shared sense of purpose between America and Europe,” a point that the CFR report acknowledged. To ‘enlarge’ refers to “a deliberate effort to nurture a wider coalition committed to the principle of interdependence and prepared to play a significant role in promoting more effective global management.”[19] He identified the G8 as having “outlived its function,” and proposed a widening of it, which ultimately manifested itself in 2009 in the form of the G20. The G20 has subsequently become “the prime group for global economic governance at the level of ministers, governors and heads of state or government.”[20] Herman von Rompuy, the President of the European Union, referred to 2009 as “the first year of global governance.”[21] So, these elites are intent upon advancing “global management,” which is the exact strategy Brzezinski also identifies as being the “solution” to managing the ‘Global Political Awakening.’

The next point in Brzezinski’s strategy – ‘engage’ – refers to “the cultivation of top officials through informal talks among key powers, specifically the U.S., the European Triad, China, Japan, Russia and possibly India,” in particular between the United States and China, as “without China, many of the problems we face collectively cannot be laid to rest.” In the final point – ‘pacify’ – Brzezinski referred to the requirements of “a deliberate U.S. effort to avoid becoming bogged down in the vast area ranging from Suez to India.” In particular, he advised moving forward on the Israel-Palestine issue, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Brzezinski explained that, “in this dynamically changing world, the crisis of American leadership could become the crisis of global stability.” Thus, from Brzezinski’s point of view, “The only alternative to a constructive American role is global chaos.”[22]

So, “control” is key to this strategy, with “global management” being the ultimate solution. However, as Brzezinski himself identified, which is important to keep in mind when assessing the nature, spread and mobilization of the ‘Awakening’: “To put it bluntly: in earlier times, it was easier to control one million people than to physically kill one million people; today, it is infinitely easier to kill one million people than to control one million people.”[23] Thus, while attempting to engineer, co-opt and ‘control’ the ‘Awakening,’ it is important to acknowledge that the United States is playing with fire, and while attempting to light a controlled fire to manipulate as it so chooses, the fire can spread and get out of hand. In such a situation, the “lethality” of America’s “military might” could potentially be employed. He said it himself, “the only alternative to a constructive American role is global chaos.”[24] The age-old imperial tactic of divide and conquer is never off the table of options. If it cannot be “managed transition” then it often becomes “managed chaos.” Where ‘diplomacy’ fails to overcome barriers, war destroys them (and everything else in the process).

Now turning our attention to the ‘Arab Awakening’ and uprisings, we must examine the range of strategies that are and could be employed. The preferred route for American power is “democratization,” but the scope, velocity and rapidity of recent developments in the Arab world present an incredibly unstable situation for American strategy. While ties with civil society and opposition groups have been or are in the process of being well established (varying on a country-by-country basis), the rapidity and confluence of these uprisings taking place has American power stretched thin.

Engineering, co-opting and controlling revolutionary movements or “democratic regime change” is not a new tactic in the American strategic circles; however, it has in the past been largely relegated to specific pockets and nations, often with significant time in between in order to allow for a more delicate, coordinated and controlled undertaking. This was the case with the U.S.-sponsored ‘colour revolutions’ throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia, starting with Serbia in 2000, Georgia in 2003, Ukraine in 2004, and Kyrgyzstan in 2005, where America’s premier democracy promotion organizations (the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, USAID, Freedom House, the Albert Einstein Institute, as well as major American philanthropic foundations) were able to more securely establish themselves and their strategies for “democratic regime change.” Further, all the incidents of democratic “regime change” listed above took place in the context of a contested election within the country, giving the organizations and foundations involved a precise timeline for managing the process of organization and mobilization. This required a focused and nuanced approach which remains absent from the current context in the Middle East and North Africa.

[See: Andrew Gavin Marshall, Colour-Coded Revolutions and the Origins of World War III, Global Research, 3 November 2009: http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=15767]

Further, a similar strategy was undertaken in Iran for the summer of 2009, in which the ‘Green Movement’ arose in response to the contested Presidential elections. This was, in fact, an attempt at a highly coordinated and organized effort on the part of a covert American strategy of “democratization” to install a U.S.-friendly (i.e., ‘client’) regime in Iran. The strategy was developed in 2006, largely organized covertly by the CIA, at a cost of approximately $400 million, and involved the State Department coordinating efforts with social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. However, as posterity shows, the strategy did not ultimately succeed in imposing “regime change.” At the time, Zbigniew Brzezinski explained that the strategy would require “patience, intelligent manipulation, moral support, but no political interference.”

[See: Andrew Gavin Marshall, A New World War for a New World Order, Global Research, 17 December 2009: http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=16535]

So we can see that even with $400 million and a highly coordinated attempt at “intelligent manipulation,” the strategy did not succeed. However, it must be acknowledged that the U.S. could not overtly fund opposition and civil society organizations in Iran as it could in Eastern Europe. In the Arab world, while America has and continues to engage with opposition groups and civil society organizations, these efforts have been consistently thwarted and hampered by the domestic Arab regimes, which are well aware of the threat to their own power this could pose. Managing such a strategy in countries run by authoritarian regimes that are very suspicious of civil society and opposition groups presents an incredibly challenging scenario for American strategy. Further, authoritarian regimes generally do not hold elections, unless it is simply a sham election in which the leader wins by a margin of 97%, presenting a difficult scenario in which to mobilize opposition forces. Moreover, the ‘colour revolutions’ throughout Eastern Europe were largely organized through a strategy of bringing together all the opposition groups to stand behind one leader, to make the effort much more coordinated and cohesive. No such strategy seems to have emerged in the Arab world, and has appeared as a patched-up effort of attempting to promote particular opposition figures, but nothing that is evidently well-organized and pre-planned. While many opposition groups are working closely together to oppose the regimes, they are not necessarily being mobilized around any clear and absolute leaders, thus presenting the potential for a power vacuum to open up, making the situation all the more dangerous for American interests.

Another major problem inherent in this strategy in the Arab world is the role being played by the domestic militaries. The militaries within the authoritarian Arab regimes are largely supported, funded, trained and armed by America, and have become powerful political, social and economic actors in their own right (more so in Egypt than Tunisia). Thus, America must balance the process of supporting civil society and opposition groups with that of continuing to support and secure the military structures. If the militaries feel that their position is insecure or threatened, they may simply overtake the entire process and engineer a coup, which is ultimately counter-productive to the American strategy in the region, especially since it is widely known that America is the principle sponsor of these military structures. This implies that America must undertake a delicate balancing act between the military, civil society and opposition groups in coordinating the removal of the entrenched despots. This strategy seems to be materializing itself in the form of constructing “transitional governments,” which the militaries in both Tunisia and Egypt are supporting.

The situation is intensely complicated and conflicting, presenting America with one of its greatest challenges in recent history. While the obvious intent and even the means of organizing “democratic regime change” in the Arab world are present, I believe the rapidity in which the protest movements and uprisings have emerged could have taken America somewhat off-guard. No doubt, from the beginnings of the Tunisian protests in December of 2010, America was paying detailed attention to the situation, attempting to influence the outcome. However, Western media coverage of the first four weeks of protests was minimal, if not altogether absent. This is an important point to address.

For all the other organized efforts at “democratic regime change” and “colour revolutions,” Western media played a critical role. From the moments protests began in these countries, Western media outlets were covering the events extensively, espousing the righteousness of the aims of “democratization” and “freedom,” in full and active support of the demonstrators. This was absent in Tunisia, until of course, the President fled to Saudi Arabia, when suddenly Western media cynically proclaimed a monumental achievement for democracy, and started warning the rest of the Arab world of the potential for this to spread to their countries (thus, applying public pressure to promote “reforms” in line with their strategy of “evolution, not revolution.”). This could imply that America was trying to quietly manage the protests in Tunisia, which did not arise in a pre-coordinated and previously established timeline, but rather sprung up as a rapid response to a suicide of a young man in a personal protest against the government. The spark was lit, and America advanced on Tunisia in an attempt to control its growth and direction. Meanwhile, however, sparks ignited across many nations in the Arab world, including Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Yemen. 

Subsequently, America took advantage of these sparks to ignite the process in a direction it would seek to control. For the first few days and even weeks of protests in many of the other nations, appearing by and large to be organic reactions to events in Tunisia and within their own countries, a more coordinated response was undertaken, with the massive organized protests emerging suddenly. Yet, America is potentially stretching itself very thin, possibly risking as much or more than it has to gain. Like a cornered animal, America is simultaneously incredibly vulnerable and incredibly dangerous. Remembering Brzezinski’s words regarding the problem of ‘control’ is an important factor to take into consideration: “in earlier times, it was easier to control one million people than to physically kill one million people; today, it is infinitely easier to kill one million people than to control one million people.”[25] This could potentially be referred to as the ‘Yemen Option,’ in which the strategy entails an effort to promote destabilization, military intervention, covert and overt warfare. In such a scenario, it is essential for America to maintain and, in fact, strengthen its contacts and relationships with domestic military structures.

So, clearly the situation is not and should not be addressed in a black-and-white analysis. It is intensely complicated, multi-faceted and potentially disastrous. No outcome is preordained or absolute: thus, while acknowledging and examining the evidence for America’s deep involvement in the evolution and direction of the protests and opposition, we must keep this analysis within the context of the ‘Global Political Awakening.’ I argued in Part 1 of this essay that it does, in fact, seem as if we are seeing the emergence of a global revolution; yet, this is likely a process that will stretch out certainly over the next one, if not several, decades. We cannot simply dismiss these protests as American machinations and covert operations, but rather as an effort for America to control the ‘Awakening’. As the Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report emphasized, “America’s goal in the Middle East should be to encourage democratic evolution, not revolution.”[26] It seems as if this strategy either changed in the intermittent years, or America has been thrown out of its incremental strategy of “evolution” and into the strategy of being forced to respond to and seek to direct “revolution.” This makes the situation all the more dangerous for American interests. Thus, we cannot dismiss the uprisings as entirely “orchestrated,” but instead understand them in the context of the ‘Global Awakening.’

Taking the position that everything is organized from on high in the corridors of power is a flawed analysis. Alternatively, taking the position that America was caught entirely unaware of this situation is naïve and the evidence does not support this assessment. However, we must not see this as an either-or development, but rather a congruence of over-lapping and inter-twining developments. Society, after all, while being directed from above, must react to the responses and developments from below; and thus, society itself and the direction it takes is a highly complex interaction of different, opposing, and conflicting social processes. The claim that the uprisings are the lone result of American strategy neglects the reasons behind the development of this strategy in the first place. The “democratization” strategy did not emerge due to any humanitarian qualms on the part of the U.S. elite for the people living under authoritarian regimes, but rather that the strategy was developed in response to the emergence and growth of the ‘Arab Awakening’ itself. Indeed, in this context, this does mark the beginnings of a global revolution (which has been a long time coming); however, it also marks the active American strategy to control the process and development of the ‘revolution.’

Historically, revolutions are never the product of a one-sided development. That is, revolutions predominantly do not come about through the actions of one segment of society, often polarized as either an elite-driven or people-driven revolution, but rather they come about through a complex interaction and balancing of various social groups. The context and conditions for a revolution often do not emerge without the awareness of the upper classes, therefore, the upper social strata always or often seek to mitigate, control, repress, influence or co-opt and control the process of revolution. In this context, we cannot dismiss revolutions simply as a top-down or bottom-up process, but rather a mitigation and interaction between the two approaches.

American strategic objectives are aimed at ultimately repressing and co-opting the organic revolutionary uprisings in the Arab world. For the past six years or so, America has been developing and starting to implement a strategy to manage to ‘Arab Awakening’ by promoting “democratization” in a process of “evolution, not revolution.” However, the evolution was evidently not fast enough for the people living under the Arab regimes, and revolution is in the air. America, naturally, is desperately attempting to manage the situation and repress a true revolution from spreading across the region, instead promoting an “orderly transition” as Hillary Clinton and President Obama have stressed. Thus, America has been extensively involved in the processes of organizing and establishing “transitional governments” or “unity governments.” If the revolution took its own course, and sought true change, populist democracy and ultimate freedom, it would ultimately be forced to challenge the role and influence of America and the West in the region. As such, military “aid” would need to end (a prospect the domestic militaries are not willing to accept), American influence over and contact with civil society and opposition groups would need to be openly challenged and discussed, the IMF and World Bank would need to be kicked out, international debts would need to be declared “odious” and cancelled, and the people would have to control their own country and become active, engaged and informed citizens. The true revolution will have to be not simply political, but economic, social, cultural, psychological, intellectual and ultimately, global.

The protesters must challenge not simply their despotic governments, but must ultimately remove American and Western control over their nations. They must also be very cautious of opposition groups and proposed leaders who are thrust to the front lines and into the government, as they are likely co-opted. The true new leaders should come from the people, and should earn their leadership, not simply be crowned as ‘leaders.’ The best possible short-to-medium-term scenario would be to see the emergence of Arab populist democracies, reflecting the trend seen across Latin America (although, not necessarily imposing the same ideologies). The trouble with this scenario is that it is also the most unlikely. If there is one thing that American power despises, it is populist democracy. Since the beginnings of the Cold War until present day, America has actively overthrown, orchestrated coups, imposed dictatorships, crushed, invaded and occupied, bombed and destabilized or implemented “democratic regime change” in populist democracies. Democratic governments that are accountable to the people and seek to help the poor and oppressed make themselves quick enemies of American power. Over the past 60 years, America has repressed or supported the repression of democracies, liberation struggles and attempts at autonomy all over the world: Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Haiti in 1959, the Congo in 1960, Ecuador in 1961, Algeria, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Chile, Argentina, Afghanistan, Indonesia, South Africa, Palestine, Iraq, Venezuela, Lebanon, Yemen and on and on and on.

The situation is a dangerous and difficult one for the protesters, just as the struggle for freedom and democracy is and has always been. There is a large constituency which have an interest in preventing the emergence of a populist democracy, including many of the pro-democracy organizations and opposition leaders themselves, the great nations of the world – East and West, the World Bank and IMF, international corporations and banks, neighbouring Arab regimes, Israel, and of course, America. It is a monumental challenge, but it would be a great disservice to cast aside the protests as controlled and totally co-opted. If that were the case, they would have ceased with the formation of transition and unity governments, which of course they have not. While the outcome is ultimately unknown, what is clear is that a spark has been lit in the Arab world as the ‘Global Political Awakening’ marches on, and this will be a very difficult flame to control. 

In the next part of this series, I will examine in more detail the specific revolutions and uprisings taking place in Tunisia and Egypt within the strategic context explained in this part.

Notes

[1]        Rahul Mahakan, “We Think the Price is Worth It,” Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, November/December 2001: http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1084

[2]        David Rothkopf, Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power (PublicAffairs, 2006), page 17

[3]        Ibid, pages 174-175

[4]        Madeleine Albright and Vin Weber, In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How. (Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report, 2005), pages 49-54

[5]        Ibid, page 3.

[6]        Ibid, pages 3-4.

[7]        Ibid, page 4.

[8]        Ibid.

[9]        Ibid, pages 11-12.

[10]      Ibid, page 12.

[11]      Ibid, page 13.

[12]      Ibid, pages 36-37.

[13]      Ibid, pages 38-39.

[14]      Ibid, page 39.

[15]      Ibid, page 40.

[16]      Ibid, page 43.

[17]      Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Global Political Awakening. The New York Times: December 16, 2008: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/16/opinion/16iht-YEbrzezinski.1.18730411.html; “Major Foreign Policy Challenges for the Next US President,” International Affairs, 85: 1, (2009); The Dilemma of the Last Sovereign. The American Interest Magazine, Autumn 2005: http://www.the-american-interest.com/article.cfm?piece=56; The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership. Speech at the Carnegie Council: March 25, 2004: http://www.cceia.org/resources/transcripts/4424.html; America’s Geopolitical Dilemmas. Speech at the Canadian International Council and Montreal Council on Foreign Relations: April 23, 2010: http://www.onlinecic.org/resourcece/multimedia/americasgeopoliticaldilemmas

[18]      Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Global Political Awakening. The New York Times: December 16, 2008: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/16/opinion/16iht-YEbrzezinski.1.18730411.html

[19]      Ibid.

[20]      Jean-Claude Trichet, Global Governance Today, Keynote address by Mr Jean-Claude Trichet, President of the European Central Bank, at the Council on Foreign Relations, New York, 26 April 2010: http://www.bis.org/review/r100428b.pdf

[21]      Herman Von Rompuy, Speech Upon Accepting the EU Presidency, BBC News, 22 November 2009:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzm_R3YBgPg

[22]      Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Global Political Awakening. The New York Times: December 16, 2008: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/16/opinion/16iht-YEbrzezinski.1.18730411.html

[23]      Zbigniew Brzezinski, “Major Foreign Policy Challenges for the Next US President,” International Affairs, 85: 1, (2009), page 54

[24]      Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Global Political Awakening. The New York Times: December 16, 2008: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/16/opinion/16iht-YEbrzezinski.1.18730411.html

[25]      Zbigniew Brzezinski, “Major Foreign Policy Challenges for the Next US President,” International Affairs, 85: 1, (2009), page 54

[26]      Madeleine Albright and Vin Weber, In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How. (Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report, 2005), page 4