Foreign Affairs

There is No Alternativelessness

There is No Alternativelessness

What's been hiding Germany's hidden crisis?

Now, when a politician or a public intellectual or a newspaper goes on a Rumspringa in the rightmost reaches of the political spectrum, or if the fine citizens of some small town decide to set fire to a house, there is less of a script by which they would be welcomed back into respectability. Certain ethnic Germans used to take it as their seigneurial right to shower cruelty on the vulnerable and return to the mainstream after a cooling-off period to be listened to and shaken hands with. They are beginning to feel deprived of that right.

The Elections in Israel

The Elections in Israel

More than Netanyahu’s election to a fifth term as prime minister, the collapse of the Zionist left was the night’s historic result.

At least since Netanyahu’s election in 2009, Labor has repeatedly tried to defeat Likud by tacking right. Labor voters elected Avi Gabbay, a millionaire telecom executive and former minister in Netanyahu’s government, to head the party in 2017, in the hopes that he could reach voters beyond the party’s base. Gabbay, the son of Moroccan immigrants and raised in a poor Jerusalem neighborhood, was meant to take the party of the kibbutzim in a new direction. And in a sense, he did. He joined the right-wing attacks on the legitimacy of Arab political participation; when asked if he would form a governing coalition that included the Arab-led parties, he responded, “We have nothing in common with them.” He pledged not to evacuate Jewish settlements from the occupied West Bank. When, two weeks before the election, a rocket fired from Gaza hit a house in central Israel, Gabbay accused Netanyahu of being weak for not authorizing a more forceful military response. But voters who truly want ethnonationalism will always choose the real, bloody thing. Triangulation only moves the center of political gravity rightward, and when the center moves right, the left loses.

Geopolitics for the Left

Geopolitics for the Left

Getting out from under the “liberal international order”

China’s ascent to great power status mirror’s the US’s in many ways. Like the US in the Gilded Age, the basis for China’s entrance into the first rank of global powers is its staggering economic growth. Averaging just shy of 10 percent of GDP growth annually for forty years, in a country of 1.4 billion people, it is the most spectacular economic feat in the history of capitalism. And like the US in the Gilded Age, China has benefited from a favorable international environment. In the late 19th century the British empire smiled upon the consanguine rising power, enabling the US to attract enormous amounts of foreign capital to its project of continental capitalist development. In the case of China, the US’s strategy of “convergence” has meant openly supporting and facilitating the country’s integration into the circuits of international capitalism, especially through endorsing China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 1999. Finally, the US’s willingness to import hundreds of billions of dollars a year of Chinese goods while exporting only a fraction of that to China, and to permit US firms to enter into joint ventures with potential Chinese competitors, have contributed hugely to China’s economic growth.

Conversations with Bongjun

Conversations with Bongjun

Cards, tunnels, a rocket ship going backward

Oh! I thought. This sounds like the kind of man for me! I didn’t know at the time that he was interested in how jokes work because he wanted to figure out how humor could topple dictators and children of former dictators, specifically South Korea’s president at the time, Park Geun-hye, the daughter of Korea’s old strongman dictator, Park Chung-hee.

The Korean Peace Process

The Korean Peace Process

American foreign policy hasn’t done any real thinking in two years

Peace is possible, if just barely, on the Korean peninsula neither thanks to nor in spite of America’s leadership, but because America isn’t leading at all. The country’s ruling party has been thrown into such chaos by Trump’s election that it lacks a coherent geopolitical strategy, and the State Department is a nonfunctioning husk of its former self. What Kim Jong-un and South Korean president Moon Jae-in have done is recognize America’s geopolitical incoherence as an opportunity to act on their own behalf. The peace process is primarily of South Korean design, it was underway months before Trump flew to Singapore, and it illustrates the kinds of space that open up, and the kinds of diplomacy that become possible, as the US begrudgingly starts to cede its place at the head of the world’s table.

Engulfed

Engulfed

Apologizing loudly is expected to serve as a substitute for meaningful change.

It’s worth pausing at the sheer strangeness of this moment. In the weeks since Khashoggi’s murder, the speed and the intensity of the renunciations have been as striking as the renunciations themselves. The institutions that have benefited from Gulf money and funneled Gulf-friendly perspectives to the American public have been vocal in their outrage. This spectacle has to be seen as a form of institutional self-flagellation. But it’s hard not to read these gestures as shallow and perfunctory, performed with the knowledge that the news cycle will move on quickly, which in fact it has.

How Asia Got Crazy Rich

How Asia Got Crazy Rich

Toward a materialist history of Crazy Rich Asians

What the film’s central conflict turns upon is not simply strife between rich and poor, Asian and American, but rather the friction between different forms of accumulation—landed rents, financial interest, industrial profits, et cetera—that are historical in character and can be located throughout the diasporic division of labor that has evolved across Asia the past half-century. These tensions are a palpable reality in everyday life in Asia today, bubbling up periodically in the tabloid press, from the Kyoto locals who deride the recent influx of Chinese tourists as “pollution” to Hong Kong TV commercials in which Chinese actors wear dark makeup to portray Filipina domestic workers. Such economic racism is perhaps the clearest marker of all of modern Asia’s shared resemblances with Europe and America.

The Death of an Entire System of Political Rule

The Death of an Entire System of Political Rule

On the elections in Mexico

It became increasingly clear, in fact, that PRI rule was little more than a PR façade, behind which the orgy of elite self-enrichment went on as usual. Whatever legitimacy the party had possessed had quickly eroded. But still more crucially, the mechanisms through which the party secured and wielded power had also been hollowed out over time. Clientelism no longer worked in the old ways. An early warning came in the gubernatorial elections in Mexico state in 2017, where the PRI nominee—tightly connected to Peña Nieto’s political clan, and therefore able to use its considerable resources—only just managed to defeat MORENA’s candidate, despite extensive fraud and widespread violence and intimidation. At the time, this was seen as a major political shock; but if anything, it understated the reversal that lay in wait for the PRI.

Revelation

Revelation

You didn’t have to go and read a thousand books to see it; you just had to stay where you were and look around.

Suddenly everything I had been looking at—not just over these past months in Moscow, but over the past few years in academia, and over the past fifteen years of studying Russia— became clear to me. Russia had always been late to the achievements and realizations of Western civilization. Its lateness was its charm and its curse—it was as if Russia were a drug addict who received every concoction only after it was perfectly crystallized, maximally potent. Nowhere were Western ideas, Western beliefs, taken more seriously; nowhere were they so passionately implemented. Thus the Bolshevik Revolution, which overthrew the old regime; thus the human rights movement, plus blue jeans, which overthrew the Bolshevik one; and thus finally this new form of capitalism created here, which had enriched and then expelled my brother, and which had impoverished my grandmother and killed Uncle Lev. You didn’t have to go and read a thousand books to see it; you just had to stay where you were and look around.