The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #33649   Message #450734
Posted By: Greg F.
27-Apr-01 - 06:27 PM
Thread Name: Quebec City Protest - Part 2
Subject: RE: Quebec City Protest - Part 2
Apologies for the length, but I think this raises some interesting points.

The Aaronson book mentioned soulds like it might be a good read, too [ Carol take note :-) ]

Blind Spots Blight Bush's Rosy Vision of the World

Washington Diary by Martin Kettle

George W. Bush rarely gives the impression of being connected with the world he does not know, and in particular with the world beyond the borders of the United States. With the world leaders visiting his White House office almost every week he is well briefed, but he never appears much more than dutiful and polite.

Yet if there is one conviction that seems genuinely to inspire his view of the wider world it is the almost religious enthusiasm that he can sometimes bring to the discussion of global free trade. His speeches attest to his commitment, and so do the infor mal comments of his friends. So do his own priorities and actions.

This month, for example, Bush has quietly settled the long-running "banana war" with the European Union, a goal that had eluded Bill Clinton. In Quebec City last weekend he launched his plan for a 34-nation free trade zone of the Americas (Nafta writ large, with only Cuba not invited to the party). Bush has also made clear that he will shortly try to get the "fast track" trade negotiating authority that Congress denied to Clinton three years ago. Even the settlement of the spy plane stand-off with China this month can be understood as the work of an administration that puts trade above even military supremacy.

There is an understandable tendency to see Bush's relationship with American corporations as a simple quid pro quo business deal. They backed him with their millions during the campaign, so he delivers for them in the form of reduced regulations, tax breaks and international trade openings. This is not an entirely false picture, but it is not the complete one. It fails to take proper account of Bush's American idealism, probably because it is not a form of idealism many of his critics share.

"The case for trade is not just monetary, but moral," said Bush on the campaign trail last year. "Economic freedom creates habits of liberty." Trade freely with China, he added, and the political rights will follow. That optimism has not disappeared in government. Last week the administration's commerce secretary, Don Evans - a former Texas oilman who is Bush's best friend - set out a philosophy of free trade that it is not unreasonable to equate with Bush's own. Trade brings prosperity, said Evans. Prosperity brings civilisation. Civilisation brings democracy. Democracy and trade are the pillars of a peaceful world. Every word that Evans said would have been fully understood by the Victorians. Bush and Evans have the confidence that goes with being American leaders in a world dominated by the United States. But along with their confidence in the beneficence of free trade comes a comprehensive inability to see the world as others may see it.

There are always blind spots in even the most optimistic world view, and it needs to be pointed out that Bush's rosy materialist vision of the world would be much more convincing if there were ever the slightest hint that he - or any other Republican - was willing to apply it to Cuba, the one American nation not invited to Quebec City. Not only does the US not take the view that free trade would democratise Cuba, it continues to believe that a complete trade boycott will achieve that goal.

But the biggest blind spot is the inability of Bush and Evans to see that there are other perspectives on free trade. In Quebec City Bush said that he looked forward to building "a fully democratic hemisphere, bound by goodwill and free trade". Note the words. This is not a man who thinks that he is simply capitalism's doorman. He believes that democracy and peace come with trade.

The protesters in Quebec City would not have believed a word of it. The protests in Canada proved what we knew already. That every international conference, especially if it involves the US and is concerned with global trade regulations, will be besieged by people who are mostly as idealistic in their way as the leaders mostly are in theirs. Between the idealisms, there is little intercourse. The protesters are as tone deaf to Bush as the president is to them.

The protests captured many headlines, occupied many hours of cable news television live reporting and will probably be most people's lasting memory of the 2001 Summit of the Americas. However, what remains is a crying need for a movement, or a group of leaders and protesters, to articulate the case that always remains unmade when the two sides fail to speak to one another. As the American writer Susan Ariel Aaronson says in her new study of the public debate about globalisation*, the leaders and bureaucrats are mostly wrong to regard the protesters as national protectionists, while the protesters are mostly wrong to regard the leaders and bureaucrats as pure free traders.

Aaronson rightly says that the real argument is, or ought to be, about how, not whether, to create international regulation of international economic activity. Just as the national debate in economically dynamic nations such as the US is about how, not whether, to protect the environment or working conditions, so the international debate is about how much, how strong, or what sort of regulation to impose on the modern economy.

In the Americas context Bush is at one end, with Vicente Fox of Mexico close to him. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is near the other end, though not as far as Fidel Castro would be if he were allowed to participate. Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil is somewhere in the middle, as is Jean Chr├ętien of Canada. No one is either a complete protectionist or a complete free trader.

The truth is surely that both international summitry and the international summit protests have become a conspiracy against the interests of the nations and of the world. The real choice is not between the global economy and the end of the global economy. It is between good and bad trade agreements, and good and bad regulation. However, neither Bush nor the protesters who throw bricks at him seem to get it.

*Susan Ariel Aaronson: Taking Trade To The Streets (University of Michigan Press, 2001)