Europe On the Brink

by James Galbraith

Athens this October was a city on the edge, and not just because of the protests. Rather it was the empty storefronts, the addicts sprawled on the sidewalks, the beggars and the squeegee men that caught my eye. And there was the polite conversation with working professionals about their 40% pay cuts, their escalating taxes, and moving their money out of the country while they can. The data show total output falling at a 5% annual rate but specialists are sure the final figures will be worse. The business leaders I spoke with all said there is no hope at all.

Greece is a country with weak public institutions and they are being destroyed. It is a country with fairly low wages and they are being driven down. The government has accepted the terms imposed upon it, but the cuts and tax increases are never enough, and the “troika” comes back time and again for new measures, such as breaking the national wage bargain or (as I heard) using up funds held in reserve to protect the banks. Looming in the background is a plan to place all of Greece’s public assets under private management from abroad. Though floated by a consultant, this was described to me, by a high European official, as the “secret German plan.”

It is obvious that nothing happening today in Greece will produce economic recovery or forestall default. On the contrary, even though the Greek government refuses to take the step of defaulting, it will be forced into that position when- ever the Germans and French pull the plug on new loans. This they are plainly preparing to do. Meanwhile, they are punishing Greece and the Greeks — not for any specific crimes, but in order to make sure that when Greece is permitted to default and restructure, the other peripheral countries and especially Italy will not be tempted down the same path. This is called “ring-fencing.” It is also called the principle of collective guilt, destroying the livelihoods of 13 million people for political reasons.

This is economic policy as moral abomination. It is not designed to succeed as economics. And it will also fail as object lesson. What it may achieve, is stringing out the destruction, as it proceeds eventually from Greece to Ireland and on to other countries, so that the effect of the popular rebellion now getting under way does not shake the foundations of the Eurozone. But then again, maybe it won’t even do that.

There are technical solutions; these were discussed and debated at a workshop at the LBJ School on November 3-4, sponsored by the European Center of Excellence, with participation from faculty in the Government Department. These proposals involve European bonds, bank recapitalization and an investment program. But the obstacles are political, insofar as important constituencies in Germany and France oppose them, and then financial, insofar as they would require recognition of losses to European banks that the banks would like to deny. The issue is therefore whether the political leadership in Berlin and Paris is interested in technical solutions. It may be that Europe’s leaders place their political survival in first place, the survival of the European project second, and the people of the periphery dead last.

That being so, it is only a matter of time before desperate populations erupt in revolt, forcing a change of course — or a crack-up.

Political Activism at UT, Then and Now

by David V. Edwards 

Many things have changed at The University of Texas at Austin since I started teaching here in 1965. One of the most striking is the change in political activism.

When I arrived here, there was a recent history of widely-supported demonstrations on civil rights issues. One prominent instance had been demonstrations protesting the removal of Black soprano Barbara Conrad from the lead role opposite a White male in the opera “Dido and Aeneas” by the music department after pressure from Texas legislatures—a case recently recounted in a documentary shown on PBS. Another was demonstrations to integrate local movie theaters and restaurants.

As I arrived, the Vietnam War was heating up. There was widespread discontent over the escalation of the fighting by the Lyndon Johnson administration. As ground troops were increased, the military draft brought the war closer to students, and demonstrations on the main mall became regular phenomena, attended or at least observed by hundreds of students. Those demonstrations culminated in a march to the capitol by thousands of students and some faculty. As an opponent of the war from its outset and a government professor teaching courses in international relations and in security policy, I was a frequent speaker at these rallies. Students also organized a debate over the war, held in an overflowing Union Ballroom, with two representatives of the Young Americans for Freedom opposed by well-known leftwing journalist Robert Scheer (who went on to a prominent career writing for left-wing periodicals and eventually the Los Angeles Times, and now teaches journalism at USC and edits the website Truthdig) and me.

There were other issues that provoked demonstrations in those days. One was the banning by UT President Bryce Jordan of a UT theater group’s political play because it contained brief nudity. (The troupe then took the play on the road, eventually performing it in many U.S. cities and even in Europe.) Jordan banned it because, he said, it was “obscene.” In a rally on the West Mall, outside the Union where it had been performed, I criticized the banning by arguing that obscenity resides in the mind of the beholder, and saying that the play should be allowed to go on so people could make up their own minds.

The civil rights era demonstrations really did advance the cause of racial integration. It would be hard to argue that the Vietnam era demonstrations had unique impact, but they did contribute to the growing national opposition to the war, which eventuated in President Johnson’s decision not to run for reelection and later helped make it possible for President Nixon to, belatedly, end the war.

Over the decades since, there have been occasional demonstrations and other instances of political activism on the U. T. campus, but nothing on the scale of these major demonstrations.

Why is that? One reason surely is that students in the Vietnam era faced the prospect of being drafted into the conflict. After Vietnam, the nation turned to the volunteer army, removing that incentive in subsequent instances of U.S. military involvement abroad.

But were students then more socially aware and socially concerned than students today? I’m not so sure. Although many observers and armchair sociologists have argued that students today are more self-centered, and they certainly have more to fear about job prospects in today’s world of declining incomes of many jobs, outsourcing of many of the better manufacturing jobs, and the employment impact of the great recession, I find many students today quite concerned about what’s happening in the world, and desirous of making a contribution to dealing with what will surely be grave challenges in the future, from environmental pollution and water scarcity to poverty and health.

In a way, the most striking absence of significant political activism today concerns the future of public education. The current efforts by self-pronounced “conservatives” to cut taxes and impose most of the burden of deficit reduction at both the national and state levels on those most dependent on government help threaten the life chances of many poorer Americans, including some students at UT. They also threaten aspects of the education process at UT. And their likely longer term effects on society threaten the stability and promise of the world our students will be entering when they leave the University. Yet these right-wing efforts have not stimulated the kind of opposition on the part of students and faculty that might be expected, given what I see as the societal concern of so many students.

Why is this? Have we not, as educators, helped students see the seriousness of these threats? Or are students so short-term-oriented that they neither see nor care to see these implications? The answer is not clear, but the matter is certainly cause for concern.

David V. Edwards is professor of government at The University of Texas at Austin, where he has taught international relations, security policy, American politics, public policy and political theory since 1965. Among his books are Arms Control in International Politics, International Political Analysis, Creating a New World Politics, The American Political Experience, and (with Alessandra Lippucci) Practicing American Politics. His son John graduated from UT two years ago and his daughter Elisabeth is a junior.

Inside the Beltway

By Sean Theriault

For the last 9 years, I have taken a group of undergraduate researchers to Washing-ton, D.C. The students are all part of my undergraduate research team. This past year, for the first time, I combined forces with Professor Bryan Jones to offer a year-long research course. About one-half of the students’ obligation is to help us conduct our research. The second half of their obligation is to write-up an original research paper using the data that they have gathered for us. The students present their research during UT’s Research Week every spring.

We take the trip to Washington, D.C., so that the students can match their data gathering efforts to the real work of politics in the Nation’s Capital. The meetings that we had on our 2010 trip were typical of meetings we have had in the past. In our meetings with the Chiefs-of-Staff to Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, to Minority Leader John Boehner, and to Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus, we learned how the legislative process works behind the scenes. In our meetings with a researcher at the Congressional Research Service, a legislative counsel at the House Legislative Counsel’s Office, and the House Parliamentarian, we learned how Congress has come to rely upon a group of nonpartisan professionals to effectively and efficiently accomplish the tasks at hand. In our meetings with a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center and the archivists at Legislative Records at the National Archives we learned how it is that scholars observe the process and what we can learn from their observations. Finally, in our meeting with a  special assistant to President Obama we learned how decision-making happens in a modern, heavily bureaucratic institution.

During the meetings, the students get to learn about politics from the behind the scenes, both figuratively and, this year, literally. This year we were fortunate enough to visit both the Democratic and Republican Cloakrooms in the House of Representatives. Both in who we meet and what they show us, our eyes are opened and we have a newfound respect for both the political process and the professionals who make it work.

Most important from my perspective, though, is that the students get to see if the theories that they have been working on all year bear out in the way that politics is practiced in Washington.  By the end of our trip, the students come away with a greater appreciation for both politics and political science. They appreciate politics more because they see how smoothly it works outside the spotlight of the television camera. While blowhard politicians are engaging in partisan battles in front of the media, their staffs are figuring out how to get the details right so that the legislation, when passed, will actually do what it is supposed to. They appreciate political science more because they see how well our theories (and their own) hold up inside the real world of politics.

Perhaps the aspect of the trip that I enjoy most is when my former researchers meet with my current students. My research alums are in a number of different Capitol Hill offices, lobby groups, campaign organizations, and inter- est groups throughout Washington. The current students’ eyes are opened to all of the various jobs that are available upon their own graduation from UT with a Government degree. In a couple of instances, my former researchers have even hired my current researchers!

All of this could not be possible without the generous support of Mr. George Mitchell and the University Co-Op, the University’s Vice President for Research Juan Sanchez, the Dean of Undergraduate Studies Paul Woodruff, the Dean of Liberal Arts Randy Diehl, and Chairman of the Government Department Gary Freeman.

Sean Theriault is associate professor of government. Theriault specializes on the U.S. Congress and, among many other teaching awards, received the 2009 Friar Centennial Teaching Fellowship. He received his Ph.D. in political science in 2001 at Stanford University.


Iran’s Long Road to Reform

By Jason Brownlee

U.S. media coverage of Iran’s presidential election and its aftermath has shown a mix of curiosity and outrage, while obscuring several significant elements of Iran’s political debate. It may surprise some Americans to learn that many pro-democracy forces in Iran seek to modify the government without overhauling it. For example, presidential aspirant Mir-Hossein Musavi and his close affiliate, former president Mohammad Khatami, envision an Islamic republic – in practice, not just in name. The state would be democratically led by elected politicians with unelected clergy in symbolic or advisory roles.

Throughout the past decade Mousavi and Khatami have worked to accomplish this goal incrementally. Having lived through one revolution and its aftermath, they dread unleashing another. Thus they have sought to minimize public conflict, even in the face of their principal adversaries, such as Leader Ali Khamenei. So far this approach has brought meager results. Peaceful dissidents have faced state-sponsored thuggery while their reformist patrons have backed down. Protests in 1999 ended when President Khatami, who enjoyed a historic popular mandate, sided with Ali Khamenei. Khatami even chastened the students for threatening public order. Khamenei’s paramilitary forces then squelched the riots.

Ten years later, post-election dissent has followed a familiar course. While alleging the vote was stolen by backers of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mousa- vi’s camp avoided a street battle with Ahmadinejad supporters and instead advocated an officially conducted revote. In response, the hardliners entrenched themselves, permitting a partial recount (and confirming Ahmadinejad’s victory) while assaulting demonstrators and detaining thousands. When Khamenei’s base began repressing the crowds, Mousavi did not reappear to publicly rally his troops and instead issued instructions and denunciations online–to little avail.

Paradoxically, the latest wave of repression, which succeeded tactically for the hardliners, may amplify the core message of Mousavi’s movement. Claims of election rigging remain controversial (the most often cited study erroneously compares Ahmadinejad’s reelection with his initial bid for the presidency in 2005). The state’s retaliation, however, has been vividly recorded and broadcast to a global audience. Even as Khamenei’s forces dispersed the latest cohort of demonstrators they may have sown the seeds for future dissent.

As Iranians wrestle over how to improve their government, Americans can recognize that democracy in Iran has advanced through local efforts, not as an imposition from abroad. Leaders like Khatami and Mousavi have worked for decades at enshrining a more representative government while averting social upheaval. External pressure, particularly when applied by the United States, jeopardizes that agenda and strengthens hardliners’ claims that Iran is under threat. The best way for outside observers to support Iran’s reformists will be to appreciate their hard-won achievements and recognize the long road ahead of them.

Jason Brownlee is associate professor of government. He has lived and studied in Iran and is the author of Authoritarianism in an Age of Democratization, which explains why Iran’s opposition leaders have made greater gains than their counterparts in Egypt and Malaysia.

The Strategist: Brent Scowcroft and the Call of National Security

By Bat Sparrow

Hours after Iraqi armed forces invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, Brent Scowcroft, who was national security advisor at the time, decided that the United States could not let Iraq occupy Kuwait. Scowcroft came to this conclusion before President George H.W. Bush did, before Defense Secretary Cheney had made a decision, and before Secretary of State James Baker realized that it would take the use of force to evict Iraq from Kuwait. Scowcroft persuaded President Bush of what had to be done, over the objections of others in the White House, the resistance of some in the military — still recovering from Vietnam — the opposition of many in Congress, and reservations on the part of much of the public. But Scowcroft’s and the President’s views prevailed, and the rest is history.

Months after Sept. 11, 2001, as the younger President Bush, the Vice President, and the rest of his administration were gearing up for war against Iraq, as most members of Congress and almost all Republicans were calling for war, and as the media and much of the American public favored attack- ing Iraq, there was one prominent dissenting voice. In an op- ed piece in the Wall Street Journal of Aug. 15, 2002, entitled “Don’t Attack Iraq,” Scowcroft protested the administration’s plans for war. An invasion would be costly, disastrous for a number of reasons, and premature; the United States should wait for definitive proof of Saddam’s wrongdoing before taking action. The op-ed piece made Scowcroft, a respected and prominent foreign policy expert, a persona non grata in the Bush White House and estranged him from his former friends, Vice President Cheney and Condoleezza Rice among them.

Years after the invasion of Iraq, Scowcroft testified in the Senate on Feb. 1, 2007, in sup- port of the proposed “surge” of U.S. troops in Iraq. Scowcroft’s support for the surge, which would supplement existing forces in Iraq by tens of thousands of additional troops, did little to repair his broken ties with President Bush (43), Cheney, or other top White House officials, while it disappointed those opposed to the war and who had welcomed Scowcroft’s earlier dissent.

These three examples reveal key things about Scowcroft. They point to his courage, his independence of mind, his pragmatism, and his patriotism — acting what he believes is in the United States’ long-term interest, no matter the cost. They further suggest Scowcroft’s continued impact on U.S. foreign policy. Whereas Scowcroft started his career as a policymaker, being Henry Kissinger’s deputy national security advisor, and national security advisor in his own right under President Gerald Ford and then under the elder George Bush, Scowcroft continues to participate in and influence the central, important debates over U.S. foreign policy and national security, notwithstanding the fact that he is no longer in public office and now 84 years of age. He writes, gives speeches, consents to media appearances, runs conferences, heads task forces and presidential commissions, and advises policymakers of both parties–including persons in the current Obama administration. In fact, that there is no one more central to the history of U.S. national security policy over the last 45 years, it is fair to say, than the modest, cordial, and mild-mannered Scowcroft. He is probably the most respected voice in U.S. national security policy — one of Washington’s few “wise men” — and he stands at the center of the United States’ foreign policy establishment. Most importantly, he is trusted — a rare commodity in Washington.

Bat Sparrow received his M.A. in government in 1984, a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, and is professor of government. He just completed a year as a Woodrow Wilson Center Fellow and is writing a biogra-phy of Brent Scowcroft.