William Pfaff is the author of The Irony of Manifest Destiny, published in June 2010 by Walker and Company (New York) -- his tenth and culminating work on international politics and the American destiny. He describes the neglected sources and unforeseen consequences of the tragedy towards which the nation's current effort to remake the world to fit America's measure is leading. His previous books and his articles in The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and his syndicated newspaper column, featured for a quarter century in the globally read International Herald Tribune, have made him one of America's most respected and internationally influential interpreters of world affairs.   [Read more...]
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Columns : Could Britain vote to quit the EU and the US?
on 2015/4/22 14:50:00 (844 reads)

PARIS — The British general election early next month may prove as significant for Europe, and even for the United States, as for Britain itself. The British electorate must make an unprecedented choice among Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Scottish Nationalists, UK Independents (or UKIP, who want to quit Europe) and Greens, to name only the parties likely to have any influence on the outcome.

This dazzling array of political choice, to voters collectively accustomed for nearly a century only to Tories, Liberals, Labour and an unelectable left, offers a conundrum to those who would forecast the outcome this year. As of this writing, the Conservatives and Labour are so closely matched in voter opinion as to make virtually no difference. Either, winning by the minuscule margins suggested today, is almost certain to need a coalition partner to construct a government. The candidates for that role are the Liberal Democrats, who shared rule with the Conservatives in the present outgoing government, but who have always harbored leftist sympathies and would shock few if they joined a new government with Ed Miliband’s reformed Labour Party.

However what British commentators find more intriguing is the possibility that the Scottish Nationalists, newly led by Nicola Sturgeon, could come in third (or even second, but without a result large enough to make them the official opposition). It nonetheless is now the third largest party in Britain, with 110,000 signed-up members, and would therefore have a powerful claim to a coalition position, and be strong enough to impose its mark on new government’s policies. Scotland in that case might have lost its bid for independence last year, but would have irresistible influence in a coalition government of Britain.

Then we have UKIP, the withdraw-from-the-EU party. Or one could say, one of the two anti-European parties in Britain if we count the Conservative Party according to where its heart really wants to be. Business, the City of London, and pressure from the United States keeps the Tory Party from bolting from its orthodox establishment position. Its members generally hate the EU, but its leaders accept the pragmatic arguments that the British manufacturing economy needs Europe and British high finance would be unlikely to hold its position as the world’s most important competitor of Wall Street without EU membership. Finally, what is Britain’s role if it ceases to be Washington’s entry into Europe and agent of influence in Brussels?

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Columns : Europe's Right: Sensational but Ineffectual
on 2015/4/15 14:30:00 (867 reads)


PARIS — The current transatlantic view of Europe is one of continental political decline, elegant at best but ominous at worst. Much of the European Union seems threatened by hostile if marginal (or not always so marginal) nationalist parties, above all in two leading nations, France and Britain. These parties attract great attention because of their dramatic character but are hard to take too seriously, given the weight and continuity of the party systems in nearly all of Western Europe.

Most dramatic, because of its disturbing re-enactment of Shakespeare’s “Lear,” is the National Front in France. In the past two weeks this drama has played out in the family of the party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, with principal roles assumed by the old patriarch, his eldest daughter, Marine, and his granddaughter Marion Marechal-Le Pen.

Marine is now running for the presidency of France, as her father has done before her. Yet, as she struggles to update the party’s image, she finds herself cast in the role of faithless daughter, betrayer of her father. Meanwhile, the 25-year old Marion, parliamentary deputy for Provence, Alps and Cote d’Azur, is the good daughter Cordelia, who would have saved the aged king.

Jean-Marie Le Pen founded the National Front in 1972, appealing to veterans of the post-Algeria military uprising against President Charles de Gaulle, old supporters of the collaborationist Petain regime, young neo-Nazi "pagans," and other elements in the nationalist and religious right. His appeal was anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-Gaullist and opposed to the supranational body that would become the European Union.

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Columns : Obstacles and Opportunities in the Iran Agreement
on 2015/4/8 14:20:00 (1076 reads)

PARIS — The framework agreement reached last week between the UN “5 plus 1” group and Iran has won general approval internationally, except in Israel and among Benjamin Netanyahu’s Republican Party claque in Washington, where such was never expected. What this agreement also does is point the way towards an isolated and disempowered United States, depending on the choices it makes.

In my view, the importance of the Iran nuclear issue has always been vastly exaggerated. Even if Tehran possessed nuclear weapons, these would be of no strategic value other than that which Israel — possessor of land, sea and air nuclear deterrence — has attributed to them, in the hope that the United States would do to Iran what it did in 2003 to Iraq, invade and destroy it. That would leave Israel the only significant military power in the Middle East.

Washington did not take Israel’s bait, even though the Israeli government and its American friends have tried hard enough to convince the United States to go to war against Iran. Indeed, the chorus of congressional advocates of bomb, bomb, bombing other nations into the Stone Age is still singing, with Iraq still in ruins and with more ruins being created by the U.S.-led coalition fighting the so-called Islamic State.

I have sometimes thought that the simple solution to the Iran nuclear problem would have been for Washington to insist on Israel-Iran nuclear parity. Iran would be free to build up to a level of nuclear weapons to which Israel would build down. Hence mutually assured destruction in the Middle East — just like the United States and the Soviet Union during the cold war. But a fanciful idea, I concede.

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Columns : Putin and the Neo-Conservatives
on 2015/4/1 15:20:00 (4456 reads)

Paris, April 1, 2015 — Russia and the United States are engaged in a profound ideological confrontation — one that isn’t widely understood in Western Europe or even at the White House.

It began in February a year ago. President Vladimir Putin of Russia found himself engaged in what seemed a simple defensive battle against American intervention in Ukraine. He is now under siege by the U.S. and NATO. The Western powers had promoted the advancing “color revolutions” in states neighboring Russia, culminating in the coup in Ukraine and the small war that followed. Events did not go as the State Department and NATO planned, and now they are looking for revenge.

Germany and France intervened at Minsk to block a further American intervention with new arms for Kiev. A truce prevails for the moment. However, NATO has launched an exceedingly imprudent program to encircle Russia with demonstrations of force.

This includes shows of military power in recent days in Poland and the Baltic states, continued last week in Romania, and scheduled soon to be staged in Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. Washington has also been reaching out to Turkey, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan with political and economic inducements meant to block Russia’s Eurasian trading and development ambitions.

The Russian president claims that his real political ambition is to restore to Russia the culture, religion and historical mission of its past. Reunion with Crimea was a prize offered him by a clumsy American intervention. It was an invitation to Putin to advance his mission at Washington’s expense. His aim is to remake the “New Russia” that existed at the end of the Romanoff era.

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Columns : Ignorance and Innovation in US Foreign Policy
on 2015/3/25 14:40:00 (1389 reads)

Paris, March 25, 2015 — The first foreign policy speech given by a major Republican presidential prospect, Jeb Bush, in mid-February, was notable for its display of ignorance about the world and its menaces — unfortunately a common Republican characteristic. Among these was the claim that the army of the Islamic State numbers some 200,000 men under arms, ten times the number generally accepted in professional and intelligence circles.

Mr. Bush also said the Islamic State is a new phenomenon. Actually, it derives from the so-called al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, whose existence in 2003 was notoriously cited in Washington as a motive for invading Iraq.

Jeb Bush's brother, President George W. Bush, is on record as blaming Barack Obama for the continuing shambolic condition of Iraq, claiming that Obama refused to keep American troops there after 2011. In fact, Obama had nothing to do with it. The U.S. withdrawal was dictated by the 2008 Iraq-U.S. agreement signed by the Iraqi government and by George W. himself.

Despite these errors, Jeb Bush is better informed than most members of his myth-addicted party. Consider the credulity and ignorance Republicans displayed at the congressional address of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As Netanyahu delivered a twisted discourse on the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran, congressional Republicans cheered as if he, rather than Barack Obama, were President of the United States.

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