Though it isn’t being mentioned, Islamic State was really the elephant in the room in the final phase of the decade-long negotiations on Iran’s nuclear weapons capability. Basically, how could Iran continue to be expected to do all the military heavy lifting in the battle against Islamic State, while still being economically sanctioned and isolated for the threat that Teheran allegedly poses to the region? Plainly, the lesser evil – Iran’s potential to one day, somehow, manage to match Israel’s existing nuclear armoury – is of less concern than the more pressing need to deal with Islamic State. And if that situation involves allowing Iran back on to the global stage as a legitimate economic power and a geo-political player in the Middle East, then so be it.
In reality, Iran’s nuclear “threat” was always a phantom menace conjured up during a previous era in Middle East diplomacy – back when the Bush administration was more than happy to support Israel and Saudi Arabia’s Sunni kingdom, in their ongoing plans to contain and diminish the Shi’ite regime in Teheran. Not quite so much, not anymore. The Obama administration now has more pressing concerns. Without Iran and its Hizbollah allies fighting in Syria and the Shi-ite militias fighting in Iraq, the United States would be looking at the very real prospect of having to put its own troops in the field against Islamic State. For reasons of its own, Iran has become an essential counterweight to Sunni extremism in the region, given the Saudis’ inability (and unwillingness) to control its former protégés, such as Islamic State and the Al-Qaeda In The Arabian Peninsula branch of the global terrorism franchise.
Hardliners on both sides of the negotiations will be unhappy. In Teheran, many will resent the intrusion on Iran’s sovereignty of a humiliating inspections regime when, they argue – with justification – that Iran is (a) not arming itself with nuclear weapons and (b) even if it was, this would be no more than Israel had already done, with the full support of a United States that now professes itself to be aghast at any Iranian potential to do likewise.
Meanwhile in Washington, there will be hardliners who will nitpick that the inspections regime is not humiliating enough, and that giving an inch of ground to Iran will suddenly enable the ayatollahs to hold a nuclear weapon to Israel’s head, virtually overnight. ( As I said, Iran’s nuclear programme was always something of a phantom menace.) For his part, US President Barack Obama has said he will veto any attempt by a Republican-dominated Congress to rewrite the deal that’s just been negotiated. What would happen then ? Well, having met its side of the bargain – and having had the US in effect, welsh on its side of the deal – Iran would surely have a good case for having the international sanctions against it being lifted. unilaterally. Surely, not even the crazies in the Republican Party would want that outcome.
Greece in Ruins
If the Iran negotiations go to show what can be achieved by realistic compromises on both sides, the disastrous outcome of the Eurozone negotiations for a Greece bailout proves the exact opposite. The Germans and the lunatic fringe represented by Finland have imposed on Greece – for what is being widely described as reasons of sheer vindictiveness – an austerity package so harsh that the effects will be felt throughout Europe for years, even decades to come.
To re-state the obvious : the troika ( the ECB, EC and IMF) have treated Greek sovereignty and its democratically expressed will, with contempt. By doing so, the Eurozone will almost certainly destroy the elected government in Greece, and will sow the seeds in that country of radical extra-parliamentary extremism of the right and left. Along the way, Germany has also humiliated France, which tried to function as an honest broker. Given the political outcomes and social hardship that will flow from what Germany has demanded of Greece, it is doubtful Germany would get democratic support for these measures anywhere in Europe – even at home opinion is split, with only 52 % of the German public supporting a Greek exit from the euro.
And for what? All of this is in order to bail out German bankers for the GFC-triggered fallout from a system that had been rigged to make the Eurozone dependent on German exports. Nowhere in the bailout deal is there any sign of Germany shouldering any responsibility for the disaster in Greece (and in Spain, before it) that Germany did so much to engineer, and which Germany benefitted from for years. Instead, after five years of austerity that has had terrible social outcomes for no visible economic benefit, the Greeks are now looking at more, and worse:
The agreement keeps Greece in the eurozone and the union… But there is little else to be said for it. It is a harsh settlement and the story of harsh settlements is that they fuel a resentment and anger that can last for many years. If there were reason to believe that the economic and political subjection of Greece would lead to its rapid economic recovery that might make it more acceptable. But the lesson from Britain and Spain is that easing off the pace of austerity even belatedly leads to more rapid growth. This lesson has not been applied to Greece, which has seen both the biggest improvement in its structural budget deficit once adjusted for the state of its economy, and the biggest fall in GDP. Far from easing the pace of austerity, the agreement embeds it.
Austerity economics do not work. There is no way these policies will enable Greece to grow its way out of the hole to which it has been consigned. (In Spain, any growth subsequent to its bailout package came only after the austerity measures had been relaxed.) The logic seems obvious enough. Basically, you cannot conjure up economic growth by throttling the economy, tossing young and old alike on the scrapheap, and stealing ( via a privatization programme ) what little of value that remains.
Tomorrow, the Greek Parliament will get to rubber stamp the deal.
Veruca Salt, Redux
It has been 21 years – gulp – since “Seether” was an indie hit for Veruca Salt and the best part of 15 years since the band, to all creative intents, ceased to exist. Initially, the news that founder members Nina Gordon and Louise Post have finally buried the hatchet and recorded a new album – its called Ghost Notes – was met by collective shrugs, all around. Well, surprise surprise. Band reunions can be not only about the money. As My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jnr and Sleater-Kinney have shown, these kind of reunions can also be about the music. Here’s “Eyes on You” a likeable track by the original Veruca Salt line-up from what is overall, a surprisingly good new album:
And just for old times, here’s “Seether” –