Today's date:
Summer 2009

A Global Convergence Against Globalization?

Graham E. Fuller is a former vice chair of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA for long-range forecasting, an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the author of numerous books, including The Future of Political Islam (2003).

Vancouver—Right vs. left, communism vs. capitalism, fascism vs. democracy—these have made up the coinage of ideological struggles over the past century. Is it likely that in the crucible of the new global economic meltdown, fueled by the negligence of America's Wall Street, a potent new fusion of left and right ideologies may now emerge—one that even crosses cultures and captures new ground on the global ideological scene?

Globalization has been the reigning ideological vision of the last two decades, particularly since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the "death" of communism. Globalization in American terms has largely referred to economic process, but the unspoken subtext was always that the totality of American culture and lifestyle represented the inevitable software of globalization. And under the Bush administration, the United States military was pressed into service as an addtional instrument to uphold the dominant US order—quite openly hailed by neoconservative writers as "the American century" or even a new benign form of empire.

The pros and cons of globalization have been tirelessly debated over the years—indeed the very definition is up for grabs. But at the very least the concept posits the interconnectedness of all economic markets, the existence of a global financial pool of capital, the need for open markets and for the free flow of people, ideas, technologies and products—at least in principle—across borders. Some observers predicted that major winners and losers would inevitably emerge from the globalization process—as in all economic processes, but it was widely assumed that America would emerge a net winner, despite some concerns by labor on the export of jobs.

The attacks of 9/11 severely crimped this vision of unfettered globalization as ramped up anti-terrorism concerns, under the purview of powerful new security agencies, began to override the free movement of people, ideas and capital. Indeed, the metastasizing ideology of al-Qaida itself represents a form of globalization. But the recent plummet of international as well as domestic financial markets and the fears unleashed by it have dealt a far greater blow to globalization. The dimensions of its political, economic and social devastation remain quite unclear. At a minimum calls now arise for serious new international scrutiny of financial markets; all states have adopted procedures to protect their own markets, economies and populations from global financial plague.

One thing is certain: the pain of this unprecedented financial and economic collapse will cut deep; no country can remain immune. Jobs are disappearing everywhere, capital is scarce, and new ventures are drying up. These events coincide with concerns over global climate change with its impact on environmental degradation, agricultural patterns, food production, and human migration. Most of the world lacks adequate state-sponsored social safety nets to protect its populations from hard times. With the vaporization of jobs, the presence of foreign migrant labor in innumerable countries will be less needed and more resented.

In short, we are about to witness a major global backlash, unleashing new populist forces. In all likelihood these forces will draw on a deep pool of ideological inspiration from left-wing as well as right-wing ideological traditions. The two ideological polarities can easily come to share a common and reenergized critique based on renewed anti-globalization fervor, even if the particular ideologies behind them differ, compete, or clash. Even more important, the anti-globalization critique can draw for expression on highly diverse cultural perspectives on different continents.

Let's start with the left. "Communism" is fairly safely dead—at least in its Soviet iteration that left such an indelible and disastrous mark on history and that simultaneously served as a vehicle for Russian imperialism. Socialism, too, to the extent it was perceived as an allied idea, took a huge body blow with the Soviet collapse, particularly in an era of rising Thatcherism and Reaganism.  The triumphalism of  unfettered markets and globalization also contributed a widespread contempt for the role of government in the economy and society overall.

All that has changed now; once-sidelined ideas are being recycled back into the mainstream. Even President Barack Obama is now accused by Republicans of seeking to introduce "socialism" into America, barely softened by the qualifier of "European."  Discourse critical of uncontrolled capitalism characteristic of the Great Depression not surprisingly reemerges on the left. The corruption and impairment of market capitalism by Wall Street and the subsequent damage done to global livelihood and well-being has revitalized long-standing leftist critiques. There is increased skepticism that the "invisible forces of the marketplace" can be counted upon to make the right decisions for the general good. Indeed, the disturbing aspect of the current meltdown is that the so-called "invisible forces" of the marketplace have suddenly become a whole lot more visible, identifiable and specifically personified. More dangerously, this coincides with the already damaged international standing of the US at the end of the Bush administration.

These ideas are being absorbed into the regional narratives of other cultures and outlooks around the world, each with specific regional coloration and character.

Death of Neo-Liberalism Foretold | Latin America has been long at the vanguard of international leftist thought; indeed it remains so today with various leftist parties solidly—and democratically—entrenched in power in most Latin American states.

Latin America's leftism has complex roots. One branch derives from classical European Marxist thought and Leninist theory on imperialism. But the second branch derives above all from the devastating impact of European colonialism upon indigenous peoples of the New World—the deaths of millions, reaching genocidal proportions, through conquest, enslavement, brutality of rule, and particularly rampant new diseases. This history has left a profound legacy upon left wing thinking. Finally, resentment of the long-term US imperial role in Latin America, its regular interventions and domination of Latin politics, coupled with the often corrosive power of American corporations upon the Latino economic order—all have served to produce deep reservoirs of anti-American impulses. More recently, the perceived failure of the "Washington consensus" in directing the economies of Latin America has been the proximate cause of the resurgence of the left to power there. To be sure, a more pragmatic and savvier "new left" has been in place  for a few years now, perhaps best exemplified by Brazil's President Luíz Inacio Lula da Silva—leader of what is now perceived in Washington as the "good leftists." (It's a sign of how far things have come that the choice is now from among leftists; the idea of any "good leftists" in Latin America at all was intellectually anathema in Washington for a century or more.)

It was in Latin America where the term neo-liberalismo came into major prominence. "Liberalism," of course, must be understood in its European sense, denoting liberalization or freedom of the market, the "liberal market," as the guiding ideological principle. Neo-liberalism perhaps took on its most dramatic public expression in 1994 with the Zapatista Revolution in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas; its leader, Subcomandante Marcos, appeared before the world press wearing a black ski-mask over his face, sporting a pipe, and promoting the cause of a small, disinherited and oppressed indigenous Mayan population seeking liberty, rights and justice in Mexico and relief from relentless international market forces. Marcos, in his regular public appearances and heavy networking on the Internet, not only spoke of the hardships of the indígenas of Chiapas but also projected his largely bloodless but militarily tense "revolution" as a paradigm for a much broader global problem. Launching his movement on the very eve of the inauguration of NAFTA, he spoke in the first instance of how neo-liberalism—in effect globalization and unfettered free markets—affected the poor and the indígenas of Mexico and helped spawn or support other revolutionary movements there. The Mexican state at the time wisely chose not to employ serious force to put down this "revolution"  which had entailed little more than the brief seizure of a few administrative centers and some tracts of land and villages as well. The government largely sat the revolution out and contained it within a specific area of the Zapatista "autonomous region" and waited for its decline.

The Zapatistas, named after the renowned Mexican revolutionary of the early 20th century, Emiliano Zapata, are still in business, but the political standoff is now mainly symbolic, sometimes verging on comic opera. Nonetheless, the vocabulary of the movement struck a far wider chord across the region, with its dramatic images of angry indígenas and appeals to other revolutionary and social movements elsewhere in the world. Revolutionary vision and rhetoric, always rich Latin America, may have drifted off into marginalization during the heyday of globalization of the past two decades—but the failure of "neo-liberalism" and the "Washington/IMF consensus" in Latin America served to elect new leaderships on the left no longer in thrall to US power or ideological influence. The ideas behind the Zapatista movement now coalesce with many other regional movements and forces—including Evo Morales in Bolivia—that reject globalization of the economy and culture and lean toward idealized decentralized societies with minimal state intervention, maximum local autonomy, communalization, protection from the ravages of the international "free market" upon weak economies and greater participatory democracy.

In short, we are probably going to see a revindication of the critique of neo-liberalism as promoted over many decades in Latin America—this time bolstered by the harsh new realities of global crisis whose very globalized aspects helped damage the economies of Latin America, often through no fault of their own. The real hardships of massive unemployment, the drop in Latin American exports to North America, the lessening of overseas investments, and the phenomenon of rising food prices—all contribute to a powerful expression of hostility toward the US and its past policies. Possible breakdown of civil order, already visible in Mexico, and linked with longstanding narcotics production in the region fueled by voracious American appetites for it, and the associated violent crime, will further rock the boat. Closer to home, it directly affects the situation of Latino workers in the US as well as immigration and border problems. It is also high time Washington acknowledge the farce of the "War on Drugs" that over many decades and multiple billions of dollars has not reduced the flow of drugs into the US—or even its price. It has largely led to the further militarization of crime and social disorder in the region. The US will be blamed as a key force behind this conglomerate of baleful influences that is still another face of globalization.

Post-Bin Laden Islam

The Middle East presents an entirely different political and cultural environment while still revealing many common themes. In the Middle East, of course, we leave behind leftist ideology; there have been no meaningful leftist politics in the Middle East for more than forty years since being eclipsed by the force of political Islam that still remains dominant.

Yet political Islam itself represents a broad phenomenon operating over a wide political spectrum, from democratic to authoritarian, violent to mainly peaceful, reactionary to modernist—depending upon the particular state, society and organization involved. But central to all Islamist thought is an abiding concern for the establishment of the "just society." Since most Muslim societies at the moment are patently neither just nor democratic and free, this call has great resonance. More important, political Islam has largely rejected the ideologies of both capitalism and communism  and speaks of an Islamic order that falls in neither camp. Many strains of Islamism devote considerable attention to the idea of "Islamist economics." This does not mean that the Qur'an has discovered a new theory of economics. Rather, Islamic economics is based upon the insistence that economics cannot be viewed as a distinct technical discipline separate from the common good. It argues that the just economic order makes no economic decisions without full and simultaneous regard for the total impact on social, human and communal welfare.

Western politics, of course, does not ignore questions of social welfare. But the Islamist argument is that modern Western economic theory largely separates questions of market freedom and efficiency from questions of the social good. Liberal capitalism perceives the free operation of markets and economic growth as an absolute good in itself; only then does capitalist governance think about how to square these values with the well-being of society—often in homilies about "a rising tide that lifts all boats." "Islamist economics" insists that the well-being of society must be the essential focus within economics, integral and inseparable from issues of efficiency.

One can debate the concept, but the overall thrust is clear: Muslims believe in principle that their goal is to ensure that social welfare remains the first concern of the economic order and not the well-being of the market. (Muslims would be the first to acknowledge that as states and societies they fall woefully short of implementing such concepts within the largely authoritarian and unenlightened political orders within which they live—including the oil states and Shari'a-based Saudi Arabia.) Muslims firmly believe that the present meltdown of international financial order vindicates their belief that Western focus upon market efficiency, market freedom and minimalization of market controls is precisely what the Islamic order fears, and justifiably so. The gross inequities of income disparity and the meltdown of unsupervised markets vindicate belief in treating social welfare and economics as a single discipline. Even Muslim energy-producing states find the drop of prices and demand for crude oil and gas strongly impacting daily life. For non-energy states the problems will be far greater. Poverty has been a widespread problem in the majority of Muslim societies well before the current global economic crisis.

Whatever the result of the near-decade-long "global war on terror," the chances are good that new forms of political and social violence will emerge in many Muslim countries in a new post-Bin Laden era. Renewed social hardships stemming from the maladministration of US markets are likely to have revolutionary implications for many entrenched authoritarian regimes in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and Morocco among others—perhaps Iran, Libya and Pakistan.  What is certain is that proponents of Islamist ideology will feel vindicated and empowered by the disasters of unsupervised globalization. Islamist movements and parties will be strengthened and find renewed grounds for anti-American impulses, whether leading to new acts of terror or not. Pre-revolutionary impulses have long been simmering in the countries of monarchs and presidents-for-life. Islamists note with interest, too, that the Western critique of the neo-liberalism economic order runs quite parallel to Islamist thinking in many respects, offering common ground for rhetoric and action.

China's Rise

China offers a third and quite distinct cultural and economic model. While today's economic order in China is far from Chairman Mao, the Communist Party is still dominant as the vanguard party and overall overseer of the commanding heights of the economy. China insists on its own form of democratization and economic reform with a "Chinese face." Ironically it has become clear that the high degree of state control over the economy in China, for all its drawbacks, has served to insulate the Chinese economy from the worst ravages of Wall Street's collapse. This was true as well in the earlier East Asian economic crisis more than a decade ago when countries such as Malaysia and China, that had not bought into the Washington consensus on economic reform, fared better than those that had. And although China faces severe economic problems of its own today, some of those problems are distinct from the crisis of the international system. In principle China should be better positioned to weather the crisis than if it had developed an economy that reflected, say, the structures of Western Europe, much less of the US.

Chinese leaders, too, will feel vindicated that their own system of a high degree of state control is the way China must proceed. Beijing is already highly critical of American policies and the American economic order of "unfettered capitalism." Thus a third major cultural region of the world essentially buys into large elements of the Latin American critique of neo-liberalism as well. Russia, while confronting a different set of problems, still maintains considerable state control over its economy which has served to insulate it in part from the international crisis as well, putting Russia ideologically into a camp similar to China that challenges American economic theology.

In short, the next few years will likely witness the resurgence of anti-capitalist ideology buttressed by serious social discontent and disorder across the globe. While "socialism" as such may not be a panacea, close state supervision and control of the economy may be vital to the maintenance of safety nets for huge portions of the globe that cannot permit maintenance of gross social and economic inequities that threaten a shaky social order.  Likewise we may witness some degree of ideological convergence among many societies that seek to restore some element of social justice and social equity into the economic equation through state instruments and a rejection of the US model and influences.

The Right Reaction

A final concern is extremism on the right, particularly including what is often described as fascism. The far right offers less of a systematic ideological vision of the world or a globalized outlook; it tends to focus instead on mass welfare within a given state. Almost by definition, rightist regimes are ethnically or nationalistically oriented rather than focused upon the global welfare. Indeed, classic fascism perceives the world as a competitive and Darwinian place requiring protection of the nation in a dog-eat-dog world. In hard times such as now, rightist movements and parties perceive a threat from the alien ethnicity and cultures of foreign immigrants who are perceived to take away jobs, draw on social welfare, and threaten the core culture of the nation state.

Western Europe has always had greater difficulties than North America in assimilating non-European immigrants. They are themselves mostly true "nation states" identified, supposedly, with a longstanding distinctive ethnic and linguistic group (Dutch, Germans, Danes, etc.) Such nation-states feel more threatened by the arrival of "aliens" than do the immigrant societies of North America, Australia or New Zealand—even Latin America. In addition, large numbers of European states are demographically small, so the arrival and presence of foreigners is more immediately palpable, making it harder to preserve their own longstanding cultural norms and "purity." These concerns join those Europeans of more libertarian persuasion who fear that unassimilated Muslim populations and their social conservatism on women and gays are a threat to Western liberal freedoms.

Immigrants, therefore, will be among the first targets of populations suffering severe economic decline. In Western Europe this will impact East European immigrants, but even more the immigrants from the developing world, people of color, and particularly Muslims. As such, it will increase the gulf between "Islam and the West" in potentially dangerous ways, leading to greater isolation and alienation of migrant youth.

But it is important to remember that fascism in many respects does not represent an extreme on the ideological spectrum—at least philosophically. Fascist ideology has regularly emphasized, as does political Islam, that it stands in the middle between capitalism and communism. Capitalism is perceived as internationalist, with too little direct concern for the specific nation state; it is seen as focusing on the rights of the individual over the collective, and its first and immediate goal not as broad human welfare but the freedom and health of the market. Of course, the supporters of capitalism believe that free markets eventually do lead to optimum conditions for the greatest number of people; but human welfare is not their first consideration—the freedom to pursue wealth within the economic order is.

Fascism thus rejects the global perspective of capitalism and instead favors the welfare of the individual nation—often against other nations. It abhors the individualism of capitalism which it perceives as antipathetic to collective values and collective welfare. To the left, fascism rejects the internationalism of communism and its objective economic laws that seem to operate above concern for race or nation. Because fascism tends to exalt one's own nation over other nations, and believes conflict is inherent in the Darwinian international order, it is suspicious of pacifism as a goal and rather glorifies bravery, war, national sacrifice and the strength that derives from the martial tradition. These are not comforting values in the present world, either.

All this matters because the default reaction to global economic crisis may well be a return to national self-preservation, every man for himself, a kind of global sauve-qui-peut. In this respect, however, political Islam sets its sights far higher than fascism since it utterly rejects ethnicity, rises above the nation state, and finds unity and moral locus in the globalizing, infinitely expandable Muslim umma and its social values.

Coalescence of Right, Left and Islamist

The next half-decade or more will likely reveal a number of deeply disturbing trends marked by an intensification of already huge economic inequities between the privileged rich and the growing ranks of relative and absolute poor. We will see the emergence of increased nativism, chauvinism, anti-foreign and racist impulses directed in the first instance against immigrants within societies, and resident foreigners abroad who are "destroying our economy" and "taking our jobs." This process will encourage the emergence of illiberal societies and governance reflecting the above views.

There is a considerable likelihood here of a de facto coalescence of nationalist, leftist, communist, Islamist and fascistic ideologies—all of which will turn against globalism and its discontents and against the US as the primary author of global financial collapse and hard times. This tendency will also turn against American leadership of international financial institutions, international "norms," and the role of the dollar in international finance. It will further degrade the credibility and respect and standing of the US on the international scene. The emergence of Obama, a new, charismatic, articulate, sympathetic, and internationally savvy American president of minority origins himself, will go some distance in softening the animus against the US, especially compared with the jingoistic, militaristic and unsympathetic  image of the Bush administration. This change of image will buy the US precious time in salvaging some kind of leadership role in the new international order.

Still, increased political violence, anarchy, and ultra-nationalism will almost surely be a hallmark of this coming period. It may take the form of revolutionary change, or heightened political repression—itself an unstable formula. Under such conditions, US military response to these conditions will likely be incendiary and counterproductive.

It remains to be seen just how effective and viable a coalescence of anti-globalist, anti-American forces will be. During economic hard times, the international scene may well be dominated by a dog-eat-dog approach that forecloses effective joint action on the part of the angry and marginalized, at the regional, national or international level. Angry states reflecting angry populations will create an exceptionally difficult international environment where US leadership will not be readily accepted, except in extremis and with little confidence.

The sheer power and dynamism of US society will probably help it weather the worst of the storm over the longer run. But the tide may be shifting in decisive directions against the old order dominated by US values and norms and in favor of a subtler balance between individual economic and social freedom on the one hand and communal and societal cohesion on the other. When extremist ideologies around the globe begin to share common analysis of the nature of the global malaise it is a time for concern.

Obama's Policies Making Situation Worse in Afghanistan and Pakistan

For all the talk of "smart power," President Obama is pressing down the same path of failure in Pakistan marked out by George Bush. The realities suggest need for drastic revision of US strategic thinking.

Military force will not win the day in either Afghanistan or Pakistan; crises have only grown worse under the US military footprint.

The Taliban represent zealous and largely ignorant mountain Islamists. They are also all ethnic Pashtuns. Most Pashtuns see the Taliban—like them or not—as the primary vehicle for restoration of Pashtun power in Afghanistan, lost in 2001. Pashtuns are also among the most fiercely nationalist, tribalized and xenophobic peoples of the world, united only against the foreign invader. In the end, the Taliban are probably more Pashtun than they are Islamist.

It is a fantasy to think of ever sealing the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The Durand Line is an arbitrary imperial line drawn through Pashtun tribes on both sides of the border. And there are twice as many Pashtuns in Pakistan as there are in Afghanistan. The struggle of 13 million Afghan Pashtuns has already enflamed Pakistan's 28 million Pashtuns.

India is the primary geopolitical threat to Pakistan, not Afghanistan. Pakistan must therefore always maintain Afghanistan as a friendly state. India furthermore is intent upon gaining a serious foothold in Afghanistan—in the intelligence, economic and political arenas—which chills Islamabad.

Pakistan will therefore never rupture ties or abandon the Pashtuns, in either country, whether radical Islamist or not. Pakistan can never afford to have Pashtuns hostile to Islamabad in control of Kabul or at home.

Occupation everywhere creates hatred, as the US is learning. Yet Pashtuns remarkably have not been part of the jihadi movement at the international level, although many are indeed quick to ally themselves at home with al-Qaida against the US military.

The US had every reason to strike back at the al-Qaida presence in Afghanistan after the outrage of 9/11. The Taliban were furthermore poster children for an incompetent and harsh regime. But the Taliban retreated from, rather than lost, the war in 2001, in order to fight another day. Indeed, one can debate whether it might have been possible—with sustained pressure from Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and almost all other Muslim countries that viewed the Taliban as primitives—to force the Taliban to yield up al-Qaida over time without war. That debate is in any case now moot. But the consequences of that war are baleful, debilitating and  still  spreading.

The situation in Pakistan has gone from bad to worse as a direct consequence of the US war raging on the Afghan border. US policy has now carried the Afghan war over the border into Pakistan with its incursions, drone bombings and assassinations —the classic response to a failure to deal with insurgency in one country. Remember the invasion of Cambodia to save Vietnam?

The deeply entrenched Islamic and tribal character of Pashtun rule in the Northwest Frontier Province in Pakistan will not be transformed by invasion or war. The task requires probably several generations to start to change the deeply embedded social and psychological character of the area. War induces visceral and atavistic response.

Pakistan is indeed now beginning to crack under the relentless pressure directly exerted by the US. Anti-American impulses in Pakistan are at high pitch, strengthening Islamic radicalism and forcing reluctant acquiescence to it even by non-Islamists.

Only the withdrawal of American and NATO boots on the ground will begin to allow the process of near-frantic emotions to subside within Pakistan and for the region to start to cool down. Pakistan is experienced in governance and is well able to deal with its own Islamists and tribalists under normal circumstances; until recently, Pakistani Islamists had one of the lowest rates of electoral success in the Muslim world.

But US policies have now driven local nationalism, xenophobia and Islamism to combined fever pitch. As Washington demands that Pakistan redeem failed American policies in Afghanistan, Islamabad can no longer manage its domestic crisis.

The Pakistani army is more than capable of maintaining state power against tribal militias and to defend its own nukes. Only a convulsive nationalist revolutionary spirit could change that—something most Pakistanis do not want. But Washington can still succeed in destabilizing Pakistan if it perpetuates its present hard-line strategies. A new chapter of military rule—not what Pakistan needs—will be the likely result, and even then Islamabad's basic policies will not change, except at the cosmetic level.

In the end, only moderate Islamists themselves can prevail over the radicals whose main source of legitimacy comes from inciting popular resistance against the external invader. Sadly, US forces and Islamist radicals are now approaching a state of co-dependency.

It would be heartening to see a solid working democracy established in Afghanistan. Or widespread female rights and education—areas where Soviet occupation ironically did rather well. But these changes are not going to happen even within one generation, given the history of social and economic devastation of the country over 30 years.

Al-Qaida's threat no longer emanates from the caves of the borderlands, but from its symbolism that has long since metastasized to other activists of the Muslim world. Meanwhile, the Pashtuns will fight on for a major national voice in Afghanistan. But few Pashtuns on either side of the border will long maintain a radical and international jihadi perspective once the incitement of the US presence is gone. Nobody on either side of the border really wants it.

What can be done must be consonant with the political culture. Let non-military and neutral international organizations, free of geopolitical taint, take over the binding of Afghan wounds and the building of state structures.

If the past eight years had shown ongoing success, perhaps an alternative case for US policies could be made. But the evidence on the ground demonstrates only continued deterioration and darkening of the prognosis. Will we have more of the same? Or will there be a US recognition that the American presence has now become more the problem than the solution? We do not hear that debate.

—Graham E. Fuller