Saudi-Iranian Collaboration: A Forgotten Story

Commentary No. 417, January 15, 2016

On January 2, 2016, the Sunni government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) executed the leading imam of the Shia community in KSA. The Shiite government of Iran denounced this execution, as did governments throughout the world, and avowed there would be consequences. Since that time, the rhetoric has continued to escalate, and the world politicians and media have talked of a possible direct war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Almost everyone tends to pose this tension as one that is based on the religious cleavage between Sunni and Shia that is said to have very long roots into the past, and defines the present situation based on the religious cleavage between Sunni and Shia.

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The BRICS – A Fable for Our Time

Commentary No. 416, January 1, 2016

The story of the BRICS is a strange one. It starts in 2001 when Jim O’Neill, at that time the chairman of the Assets Management division of Goldman Sachs, the giant investment house, wrote a widely-commented article about what we have come to call “emerging economies.” O’Neill singled out four countries – Brazil, Russia, India, and China – all of whom were large enough in size and territory to have noticeable weight in the world market. He labeled them the BRICs.

O’Neill argued that their assets were growing at such a pace that they were going to overtake collectively the asset values held by the G-7 countries, which had long been the list of the wealthiest countries in the world-system. O’Neill did not say exactly when this would occur – by 2050 at the latest. But he saw the rise of the BRICs as more or less inevitable. Given his position at Goldman Sachs, he was essentially telling the clients of Goldman Sachs to shift significant parts of their investments to these four countries while their assets were still selling cheaply.

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Electoral Losers

Commentary No. 415, December 15, 2015

This has been a bad year for parties in power faced with elections. They have been losing them, if not absolutely then relatively. Attention has been focusing on a series of elections where so-called rightwing parties have been performing better, sometimes much better, than parties in power considered to be leftwing. Notable examples are Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil, and Denmark. And one might add the United States.

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Argentina’s Election: Who Won What?

Commentary No. 414, December 1, 2015

On Nov. 22, 2015, Mauricio Macri defeated Daniel Scioli in Argentina’s presidential election somewhat narrowly by just under three percentage points. Most analysts called this the triumph of the right over the left. This is not false but it is far too simple. Actually, the election reflected the very complex developments occurring throughout Latin America at the present time. Misreading what is going on can lead to major political errors in the decade to come.

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The Many Brazils

Commentary No. 413, November 15, 2015

Brazil is a major world power – in terms of size, population, and influence. Yet in many ways it is a combination of so many different and contradictory faces that it is hard for anyone, including Brazilians themselves, to know how to define Brazil’s characteristics as a nation and as a force in the world-system.

The currently most important face of Brazil is the Brazil of Lula (Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva) and his party, the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT). After three previous unsuccessful runs for president, Lula finally won in 2002. The election as president of a trade-union leader of very humble background represented if nothing else a social breakthrough of a person and a party defying the social hierarchies entrenched in the political system.

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The Important Canadian Elections

To almost everyone’s surprise, Justin Trudeau, leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, won the Canadian elections with a stunning absolute majority of seats in the federal parliament. The surprise was both the winner and his margin. As late as several weeks before the election on October 19, polls showed a three-way virtual tie between the three main candidates: Prime Minister Stephen Harper of the rightwing Conservative Party, Thomas Mulcair of the leftwing New Democratic Party (NDP), and Trudeau whose party was considered centrist. In the predicted votes, Mulcair was leading narrowly and Trudeau was said to be in third place.

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Obama’s Impossible Options in the Middle East

Commentary No. 411, Oct. 15, 2015

President Barack Obama is being criticized on all sides for whatever he does these days in the Middle East. And well he might, since there is probably nothing he can do to become the deciding and decisive actor in the whirling geopolitics of the Middle East he would like to be. It isn’t that all his decisions are bad ones. Many are, but there are some that seem sensible. The fact is that virtually no state in the region or having interests in the region is really on his side. They all have their grievances and priorities and are willing to pursue them even if the United States presses them not to do so.

There are four arenas that might be called the hot spots of the region, or perhaps one should say the hottest spots: Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, and Israel/Palestine. Obama’s critics say that he does not have a “coherent” policy in any of these regions. And this criticism is not without merit.

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Resurgence of the World Left?

Commentary No. 410, October 1, 2015

The sweeping triumph on September 24 of Jeremy Corbyn to be the leader of Great Britain’s Labour Party was stunning and totally unexpected. He entered the race with barely enough support to be put on the ballot. He ran on an uncompromisingly left platform. And then, standing against three more conventional candidates, he won 59.5% of the vote in an election that had an unusually high turnout of 76 percent.

Immediately, the pundits and the press opined that his leadership and platform guaranteed that the Conservative Party would win the next election. Is this so sure? Or does Corbyn’s performance indicate a resurgence of the left? And if it does, is this true only of Great Britain?

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