All politics is global

Reading about the recent military coup in Myanmar, I’ve seen the view that Biden’s criticism of the coup is undermined by the fact that the pretext for the coup, a supposedly stolen election, was exactly the same as that raised by Trump and the Republican Party in response to Biden’s 2020 election victory.

There’s a problem in this reasoning which is easy to see, but harder to resolve. It makes intuitive sense to say that the United States should not point fingers at other countries when it has the same problems itself. But it seems strange to say that, having just defeated an attempt to overturn a democratic election in his own country, Biden is in some way disqualified from criticising a similar attempt in Myanmar.

The answer to this question is to recognise that Biden does not speak for “the United States”, but for the party he leads. To the extant that his party supports democracy in the US, it is naturally aligned with supporters of democracy everywhere, and against supporters of dictatorship, both at home and abroad. Conversely, Trumpists in the United States are naturally aligned with dictators everywhere and opposed to democrats (with both small and capital “D”).

The first political leader to grasp this point fully was Benjamin Netanyahu, who decided to meet with the Republican opposition rather than the incumbent Democratic Administration under Obama. Netanyahu judged (correctly so far) that he would gain more by allying with a party that shared his annexationist views than he would lose by undermining a bipartisan view that “the United States” should support “Israel”.

Another way to consider this is to ask whether, in a dispute with another country, most people would side with the government of their own country, or with the one closer to their own views. It’s pretty clear in the US case, that most Republicans will oppose Biden in any dispute with a rightwing dictatorship, just as most Democrats sympathised with Trudeau, Macron and Merkel in their disputes with Trump.

There’s nothing new in this. When religion was the big dividing line in Europe, Protestants and Catholics looked to co-religionists for support against rulers of the opposite creed, regardless of state boundaries. Marxists and many other socialists have long argued that “the workers of no country” The idea that nation-states represent natural divisions of humanity is both relatively recent and historically contingent.

It’s hard to know how our understanding of world politics will change in a world where political cleavages run across national boundaries rather than between them. The very name International Relations presumes the opposite, and the implicit assumptions of the field reflect this.

8 thoughts on “All politics is global

  1. Democracy has not been the norm throughout the history of human civilization. Prior to the past 200 years, it was very rare eg. existing for a short period in parts of ancient Greece. Monarchy has been by far the most prevalent form of government.

    Plato believed that there were four stages of government.

    1. Dictatorship
    2. Oligarchy
    3. Democracy
    4. Chaos
    5. Back to step 1

    Most of the western world is now in late stage democracy and moving into chaos. China is closer to the oligarchy stage.

  2. In realpolitik terms, nation state boundaries still matter. And where a nation-state boundary encloses a functioning and reasonably democratic state, like Australia, nation state boundaries really matter. Until the UN, cosmopolitans and internationalists can find ways to guarantee democracy globally, I will settle for serendipitous domicile in a democratic nation state and wise aid and diplomacy (not expeditionary war) to advance the cause of democracy globally. I am actually predicting a retreat of globalism and internationalism over the next for decades. Whether this will be for good or ill is another argument. I consider that globalization and internationalization can be overdone just as they can be underdone. Moderation in all things, nicht wahr?

  3. It seems to me President Biden can speak on the Myanmar issue not only on behalf of his party but for the USA (he has been elected as President) exactly because, in contrast to Myanmar, the outcome of the election was not negated by force. [1]

    IMHO, the Netanyahu example is one where one head of state does not respect the institutions of another but works around the formal diplomatic channels .

    [1] If it would be otherwise, only the current Deputy Chancellor of Germany, the Social Democrat and Finance Minister Mr Scholz, could voice an opinion on Myanmar because the Social Democratic Party (SPD) was the only party who existed before and during the NAZI period and who persistently and at great cost to some of its members resisted the regime. Moreover, they have a clean record on not ‘integrating’ regime sympathisers after 1945. Could Macron speak up considering Algeria? How far should one go back? Are the Democrats in the USA discredited because they were not always the anti-racist party in the USA?

  4. Whilst we are talking global realpolitik, our govt has criticised the jailing of Russian politician Navalny, citing as evidence the judgment by the European Court of Human Rights.

    This is the same court that condemned the attempt to extradite Assange, an event that the Australian govt has strenuously avoided (we have no standing…legal processes.. should be allowed to run their course.)

    There’s no consistency with this govt.

  5. oh yes there iiz.
    the “perceptions management” beat goes on and on and on.

    first lockdown for ages,(no fight over loo paper this time)
    gusty conditions,
    fire (just up the road( heading away(phew))).

    we were hoping for a smallish good ground drenching cyclone,
    all we got was wind and no rain.

    so am feeling a bit sardonic.

  6. Hmm. No. All due respect, I think you would do better to simply reject that framing. This is incorrect – “The answer to this question is to recognise that Biden does not speak for “the United States”, but for the party he leads.”

    The president *does* speak for the US. I don’t really care if this is “natural” or not. The most recent previous president also spoke for the US. As egregious as he was in so many many ways, he did reflect some real tendencies here. (He didn’t really reflect the majority, due to gerrymandering and so forth. But, we have a big streak of yahoo.) Sorry but it’s true. Hey, nobody’s perfect.

  7. “As egregious as he was in so many many ways, he did reflect some real tendencies here” Trump spoke for some real tendencies, Biden speaks against those and for the opposing tendencies. Neither speaks for Americans in general, any more than Morrison (or Albanese) speaks for Australians in general.

  8. Biden is as much pro-capitalist as Trump, albeit Biden is for oligarchic capitalism with soft pretensions to democracy and Trump is for straight out fascistic capitalism. America is collapsing, no doubt about it.

    Four out of five Americans believe America is collapsing according to an Axios-Ipsos poll. I don’t know how good the poll sample is. I do get the impression that a lot of Americans, probably a majority, do believe America is collapsing and are more interested in preparing for the collapse than preventing it. That means they have already given up on the US as a nation. Now, it’s every man for himself. Matters are at the point where this sort of negativity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If Americans still believed in their society and community they could still save it. But they don’t and therefore they can’t. That’s my impression.

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