State of the Union

Fear and Loathing in Guantanamo Bay

The Guantanamo Bay detention center briefly reasserted its presence in the public consciousness this month with the news that a single Navy nurse refused to participate in the force-feeding of detainees on hunger strike. Quietly feted by civil liberties advocates, the story quickly slipped off the radar. The Pentagon confirmed that the nurse “has been temporarily assigned to alternate duties with no impact to medical support operations”—in other words, the torturous force feedings, instituted in 2006, will continue unabated.

Gitmo currently houses 149 inmates. Fewer than 20 detainees have been charged, and 78 are cleared for release—a status some have held for more than half a decade. About 45 prisoners are scheduled for indefinite detention, never to see a day in court.

The tepid response to the nurse’s moral stand is not surprising. Despite the fervor of outspoken antiwar protesters during the Bush years, the broader public has never cared much about the welfare of those imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, innocent or no. Support for closing the facility peaked at 51 percent in early 2009. That high corresponded with the first inauguration of President Barack Obama, who took office trumpeting his intentions to put an end to Bush-era abuses like Guantanamo, which he labeled a betrayal of American ideals.

A year after the inauguration, the Obama administration’s now-extensive history of Gitmo excuse-making was well underway. “Political opposition” caused the President to break his promise. Temper your expectations, an anonymous White House official suggested, “The president can’t just wave a magic wand and say that Gitmo will be closed.” But of course—of course!—it’s still going to happen.

Come 2011, we found the President admitting that the facility won’t be closed in the near future. “[W]ithout Congress’s cooperation, we can’t do it,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I stop making the case.” And that narrative—the “I really want to close Guantanamo, but Congress just won’t let me!” line—has persisted ever since, typically with a heavy dose of partisan undertones. As Obama moved an issue he once called vital to the restoration of the United States’ moral authority to the backburner, public opinion followed his cue. By 2010, only 39 percent supported closing the prison. Today, just 27 percent are on board.

What’s fascinating about this unwillingness to close Guantanamo Bay as observed in government and citizens alike is the way it encapsulates the charade of modern American politics: a GOP that abandons its support for limited government out of fear, and a Democratic Party whose civil libertarianism is built more on partisan rancor than ethics.

Let’s look at the Republican opposition first—for those partisan undertones in Obama’s narrative are two-faced but not unfounded. Led by hawks like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), congressional Republicans have indeed worked to keep Gitmo open. Polling suggests they have the full support of their GOP constituents—no less than 81 percent want the detention center to stick around—and even Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), perhaps Graham’s staunchest foreign policy opponent in the Senate, agrees with his South Carolinian colleague on this point.

But what about Gitmo meshes with the small government philosophy Republicans espouse? Each prisoner costs taxpayers $2.7 million annually, a massive failure on the fiscal responsibility front (federal prison, for comparison, spends $26,000 a year per inmate).

Even worse for conservatives should be the prison’s blatant trampling of constitutional rights. Read More…

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Israel Runs Up the Score

At this writing, one Israeli has been killed by Hamas fire; hundreds of Hamas rockets have either fallen harmlessly or been destroyed by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defense. The toll among Palestinians in Gaza is roughly 200 dead, and about 1,500 wounded. This then is not so much a war as a high-tech slaughter. Israel could kill Palestinians more rapidly of course, but seems to have judged it can go on at this pace, killing 15 to 2o a day, without provoking an international reaction. For some Israelis it is pure entertainment: yesterday The Independent reported that Israelis had set up couches and were serving popcorn to watch their air force’s destruction of Gaza’s homes from the nearby hills.

It is useful to try to construct a timeline, to understand how we got from Point A, the failure of the Kerry peace mission, to the present. My sympathies are more with the Palestinians subject to bombardment than with the Israelis who are bombarding them, but the timeline to be as objective as possible, so I would welcome reader suggestions of alterations, additions, or changes of emphasis.

1) March: Israel announces settlement expansion while negotiations are going on.

2) April 1, Negotiations break down. Israel refuses to comply with a scheduled and previously agreed-to release of prisoners. PA president Abbas announces PA will apply for membership in 15 UN organizations.

3) Abbas forms a “technocratic” unity goverment with Hamas.

4) May 2, American negotiators both on and off the record blame Israeli settlement construction as the main reason for the talks failure.

5) Both Western European countries and the U.S. ignore Netanyahu’s demands to sever their relations with the Fatah-Hamas “unity” government.

6) May 15, Israeli snipers kill two Palestinian boys in Beitunia, on the West Bank during Nakba day demonstrations. The killing was caught on video.

7) June 1, Netanyahu announces plans for 3,300 new housing units on the West Bank.

8) June 12, three Jewish Israeli teens are kidnapped and murdered on the West Bank. Netanyahu immediately claims Hamas is responsible, but gives no evidence. Hamas denies responsibility for the kidnappings. The Israeli government names two suspects, Hamas members from a Hebron clan which has previously been in disputes with Hamas leadership. It is soon reported that the government has known from the beginning the kidnapped teens have been shot. Israel goes on a campaign against Hamas on the West Bank, arresting 500 and raiding 1,500 schools and businesses.

9) June 30, Bodies of murdered Israeli teens found on the West Bank near Hebron.

10) July 2, Three Israelis kidnap and burn alive a Palestinian boy in Jerusalem. They are arrested within days.

11) July 3, Israeli police are caught on video beating up a Palestinian-American boy, the cousin of the murdered Palestinian. The photograph of his battered face are shown world-wide, and the U.S. State Department protested. Meanwhile several stories are published in Israel and the United States lamenting the violent and deeply racist currents running through Israeli culture, particularly its youth.

12) July 6, Israeli air force bombs a tunnel in Gaza, killing six Hamas men. The bombing ended a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that had prevailed since 2011. Hamas responded with a barrage of rockets, and Israel launched Operation Protective Edge. Read More…

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The Beauty of Getting Lost

“Does GPS kill curiosity?” That’s the title of a piece David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom wrote over at Forbes yesterday. Ironically, their article doesn’t really give an answer—their points on geocaching and the criminalization of curiosity are metaphors for a discussion of creative innovation in the workplace. They encourage businesspeople to “go somewhere ‘in-between’,” to “lose your map,” but all in a figurative sense.  So despite the options offered to innovators in the workplace, we’re left with this question:

… Has the true explorer died within our culture? Have the pathways, roadmaps, proven strategies and GPS units killed off the spirits of great explorers like Magellan, Lewis and Clark, and Marco Polo?

It is good to consider the effect GPS systems have had on our culture. They have greatly enhanced the ease of travel—the ability to get from point A to point B—but they also make it more difficult to “go somewhere ‘in-between,’” as Sturt and Nordstrom write. We journey, most often, on freeways that are disconnected from the social and architectural fabric of passing communities. We are often too busy noting our estimated time of arrival and upcoming traffic patterns to enjoy passing landscapes. The GPS always promotes the most efficient route for drivers to take—but it doesn’t take note of scenic or historic importance. This is great when you’re in a rush, but can be potentially damaging for road trips, when we’re meant to see and savor.

GPS-navigated travel can also encourage a sort of mental laziness on the part of the driver. We aren’t forced to fully remember which turns we take, or which roads we’re driving on. We merely follow the GPS’s step-by-step instructions. Contrast this with traveling by maps (even a printed out Google map): while in the former scenario, we’re fed baby bites of navigation, the latter forces us to pay careful attention to every sign that passes, every twist and turn of the road. We recognize landmarks and road signs, and can easily find our way a second time, sans map.

Maps, of the smartphone and printed variety, are incredibly useful tools. I’m not saying we should stop using them. But there are times when, perhaps, we should consider taking Sturt and Nordstrom’s advice more literally—when we should seek out “in-between” places, rather than focusing on “getting from destination to destination.” Some of the best places are “in-between” larger places: small towns nestled up on mountain roads, scenic hikes tucked away from urban bustle, hole-in-the-wall restaurants hiding from more bustling thoroughfares. Our explorations of place should involve a desire for detours, and a willingness to stop.

We should also be willing to put down the maps. As Sturt and Nordstrom put it, “All of us have grown up in a world where our outcomes have been directed, and expected … we are suggesting you let your curiosity be your guide into some unknown territory.” Following maps—whether a smartphone GPS system, or merely our own travel-worn steps in a familiar town—can prevent us from discovering new and beautiful things. Setting down these guides enables us to discover beauty and mystery, both on the road and in our most familiar places. Read More…

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Can Technology Build a Village?

We live in a rapidly urbanizing world. But Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, thinks we are also seeing an type of urbanism resurface, one in which trust—and the village—take center stage.

Airbnb’s business model is dependent on principles of trust and friendliness: it enables people to rent out their homes to travellers, thus replacing the more customary and mainstream hotel. At the Aspen Ideas Festival, says Atlantic editor Uri Friedman, Chesky told attendees the Internet is actually moving things back to a local level by enabling people to become “micro-entrepreneurs.” This local economic empowerment then has a seismic impact on urban business and cultural development as whole:

“At the most macro level, I think we’re going to go back to the village, and cities will become communities again,” he added. “I’m not saying they’re not communities now, but I think that we’ll have this real sensibility and everything will be small. You’re not going to have big chain restaurants. We’re starting to see farmers’ markets, and small restaurants, and food trucks. But pretty soon, restaurants will be in people’s living rooms.”

Not everyone may be comfortable with a model this decentralized—but it is true that online tools like Twitter, Facebook, and mobile apps have changed the way businesses work. Food trucks can tweet their locations to followers, thus building a faithful community as they travel. Hole-in-the-wall restaurants can be found easily via Google maps and Facebook pages. The app I reviewed on Thursday, Huckle & Goose, is another example of the way technology is helping people connect with local entrepreneurs—in this case, local farmers. Companies like Airbnb and Uber take things to another level: they require us to place our faith in the host company and its system of accountability, as well as the entrepreneur whose services we claim.

David Brooks affirmed this in his column on Airbnb, called “The Evolution of Trust“—he writes that, in today’s world, people “are both hungrier for human contact and more tolerant of easy-come-easy-go fluid relationships.” In this world, apps like Airbnb are perfect catalysts for a “a new trust calculus,” a new status quo in which “flexible ad-hoc arrangements” and peer-to-peer commerce are the norms.

But the village mentality that Brooks and Chesky are observing doesn’t necessitate actual geographic villages. To the contrary: the places these apps and websites are most likely to be used are urban or international places. They help convey the feel of a village, in the rush and clamor of the big city. But perhaps this is where such services are most needed: real villages are geographically, necessarily, connected and close. The city is where we most often feel lost and isolated.

Friedman notes that the rapid urbanization of our world seems to go against the trend Chesky is identifying:

“Chesky sees village-like networks sprouting in cities at a time when urbanization is also going in the polar opposite direction. More than half of the world currently lives in cities, and the United Nations predicts that two-thirds of the global population will be urban-dwellers by 2050. In 2011, there were 23 “megacities” of at least 10 million people around the world. By 2050, there will be 37. It’s possible that as cities balloon to overwhelming sizes, we’re coping by carving out smaller communities. But it’s also possible that the phenomenon Chesky is describing is primarily playing out in Western countries. After all, Asia, where Airbnb has a relatively small presence, will account for most new megacities in the coming decades.”

I think Friedman’s first reason is spot-on, though only time will tell if he’s correct: in the midst of rapid globalization, people seem to be struggling to find a niche, a community. They don’t just want to visit the same chain stores, the same thoroughfares. They don’t want to constantly feel like another face in the crowd. Instead, they’re looking for ways to build community, even as their world becomes more isolated and atomized. Companies like Airbnb seem to provide that.

Some have accused technology of speeding up globalization—of creating a world in which we feel lonely and separated from the little platoons around us. But could it be that, with time, technology will fix the woes it created? Human nature will always yearn for community—Aristotle called us “social animals.” If he was right, then our desire for real closeness with other humans won’t simply go away. Either we’ll abandon the tools that isolate us, or we’ll adapt them to suit our community-craving needs. If Chesky is right, the latter may create the urban community of the future.

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Bombs Can’t Save Iraq

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller

The panic that engulfed this capital after the fall of Mosul, when it appeared that the Islamist fanatics of ISIS would overrun Baghdad, has passed. And the second thoughts have begun. “U.S. Sees Risk in Iraqi Airstrikes,” ran the June 19 headline in the Washington Post, “Military Warns of Dangerous Complications.” This is welcome news. For if it is an unwritten rule of republics not to commit to war unless the nation is united, America has never been less prepared for a Mideast war.

Our commander in chief is a reluctant warrior who wants his legacy to be ending our two longest wars. And just as Obama does not want to go back into Iraq, neither does the U.S. military. The American people want no new war, and Congress does not want to be forced to vote on such a war. Our foreign policy elites are split half a dozen ways—on whether to bomb or not to bomb, on who our real enemies are in Syria and Iraq, on whose support we should and should not accept, on what our strategic goals are, and what are the prospects for success.

Consider the bombing option.

Undoubtedly, U.S. air power could blunt an attack on Baghdad. But air power cannot retake Mosul or the Sunni Triangle that Baghdad has lost, or Kirkuk or Kurdistan. That will take boots on the ground and casualties. And nobody thinks these should be American boots or American casualties. And why should we fight to hold Iraq together? Is that a vital interest to which we should commit American lives in perpetuity? When did it become so?

No. Bombing cannot put Iraq together again, but it may tear Iraq further apart. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has succeeded in northern Iraq because it has allied with the same militias, Baathists, and tribal leaders who worked with Gen. David Petraeus in the Anbar Awakening. And if we use air power in Sunni provinces that have seceded from Baghdad, we will be killing people who were our partners and are not our enemies. Photos of dead Sunnis, from U.S. air, drone, and missile strikes, could inflame the Sunni world.

Upon one thing Americans do agree: ISIS and al-Qaeda are our enemies. But is bombing ISIS and killing Sunnis the way to destroy ISIS? Or does bombing martyrize and heroize ISIS for the Sunni young? And if destroying ISIS is a strategic imperative, why have we not demanded that the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia cease funneling arms and aid to ISIS in Syria? Why have we not told the Turks to stop permitting jihadists to cross their border into Syria? Why are we aiding and arming the Free Syrian Army to bring down Bashar Assad, when Assad’s army is the only fighting force standing between ISIS and the conquest of Syria? Read More…

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Live Blog and Open Thread: The New Internationalism

Note: The conference is now over. Check back again soon for a full video. In the meantime, you can access the segments that have aired on C-SPAN here.

This morning, The American Conservative, in conjunction with The American Prospect and the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at George Washington University, is convening many of the best foreign policy minds to sketch out a new foreign policy consensus, one fit to the challenges of the post-9/11, post-Afghanistan and Iraq wars world. For those unable to join the discussion in person at George Washington University, please join us on this thread, which I will updating throughout the conference. As the conference unfolds in the stream embedded above, please also join us in the comments below. For those on Twitter, please use the hashtag #newconsensus to participate in the conversation there.

Schedule:

8:30am Introduction: Charles L. Glaser, George Washington University Institute for Security and Conflict Studies and Daniel McCarthy, The American Conservative

8:45am Threats and Responses: How the U.S. can maintain stability in the long term without war.

  • Daniel Drezner, Washington Post and Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
  • William S. Lind, The American Conservative
  • Matthew Duss, Center for American Progress and The American Prospect
  • Daniel Larison, The American Conservative

9:45am The Case for Restraint: Barry R. Posen, MIT Security Studies Program, author of Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy.

10:45am Break

11:15am National Security State Overreach and Reform: Reclaiming civil liberties in the aftermath of the War on Terror.

  • Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic
  • Marcy Wheeler, Emptywheel
  • Adam Serwer, MSNBC.com
  • Samuel Goldman, The American Conservative and George Washington University

12:15pm Political Realities: Prospects for realism and reform in the Republican and Democratic parties.

  • John B. Judis, The New Republic
  • Michael Cohen, Century Foundation
  • Christopher A. Preble, Cato Institute
  • Robert W. Merry, The National Interest

1:15pm Closing remarks: Maisie Allison, The American Conservative

The conversation will continue in the coming weeks thanks to our partners at Bloggingheads. Join us!

8:39: Charles Glazer opens the conference, noting that this conference “could not have come at a better time.”

8:44: TAC editor Daniel McCarthy takes the stage, declares this “a moment of profound reorientation in our country,” on the political and policy level. The past weeks have seen the foreign policy establishment hold conferences echoing their same consensus. This conference forges a new consensus that is wiser, more realistic, and better suited to the challenges of the day. Read More…

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ISIS May Expel Iraq’s Christians for Good

Mar Mattai monastery outside Mosul, continually inhabited by monks since the 4th century A.D. Chris De Bruyn / cc
Mar Mattai monastery outside Mosul, continually inhabited by monks since the 4th century A.D. Chris De Bruyn / cc

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ISIS, has recently overtaken the major Iraqi city of Mosul, causing an exodus of more than 500,000 that took some of Iraq’s last remaining Christians with it. The city itself, mentioned in the Bible as Nineveh, has harbored Christianity since the very dawn of its tradition and was one of the last havens for Iraqi Christian communities.

Despite these deep roots, past U.S. policy has ignored the vulnerable position of Christians in the Middle East. Andrew Doran wrote a strikingly prescient piece for TAC almost exactly one year ago, saying:

[D]emocracy in the Middle East is proving less tolerant than the regimes it has succeeded. Unless swift action is taken, these democracies will evolve into bastions of intolerance and violence beyond our comprehension. These democracies will not march ineluctably toward liberty and pluralism, as some naïve optimists continue to forecast despite the evidence, but will end in the ordered barbarism of Saudi Arabia, where punishments include beheading and crucifixion[.]

As it so happens, ISIS is the jihadist organization renounced by al-Qaeda for its brutality. Maliki’s abusive government, propped up by $20 billion in American aid, allowed Mosul to be claimed with alarming ease. One CNN article reports that “[p]olice and soldiers ran form their posts rather than put up a fight, abandoning their weapons as they went. The militants took their place in the city’s boulevards and buildings.” Marc Lynch of the Washington Post argues that the Iraqi military isn’t resisting is because Maliki has lost its loyalty:

The most important answers lie inside Iraqi politics. Maliki lost Sunni Iraq through his sectarian and authoritarian policies. His repeated refusal over long years to strike an urgently needed political accord with the Sunni minority, his construction of corrupt, ineffective and sectarian state institutions, and his heavy-handed military repression in those areas are the key factors in the long-developing disintegration of Iraq.

If ISIS succeeds, the regnant regime will be the “ordered barbarism” Doran foretold. In the hierarchy of a new caliphate, there will be no room for diversity or religious tolerance; there will no longer be any room for Christianity. According to a World magazine report, most of the Christians, so long a presence in Mosul, have already been driven out:

“Ninety-nine percent of the Christians have left Mosul,” pastor Haitham Jazrawi said today following the takeover of Iraq’s second largest city—and its ancient Christian homeland—by al-Qaeda-linked jihadist militants.

Catholic Archbishop Amil Shamaaoun Nona is reported to have said that the decline has been occurring since the U.S.-led campaign began. “In 2003 there were still 35,000 faithful living in Mosul,” Nona said. “Three thousand were still there in early 2014. Now probably not one is left here, and that is tragic[.]” According to Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute notes that, once the Christians are gone, they may not be coming back:

When the army does eventually succeed in reversing jihadi control in Mosul, it may be too late for the Christians. Once Middle Eastern Christians flee to the West, they don’t return.


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Toward a New Foreign Policy Consensus

demo

On June 17, The American Conservative will convene leading thinkers from across the political spectrum at George Washington University for a wide-ranging conversation about American foreign policy after the War on Terror.

The goal of the New Internationalism conference is to address America’s role in the world after Afghanistan and Iraq, and to discuss alternative visions for protecting America’s core security and economic interests in the new global framework.

The American Conservative and our co-sponsors The American Prospect and the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at GW will build on the emerging consensus that favors prudence, the rule of law, and diplomacy. We hope you can join us!

For more information and to register, visit theamericanconservative.com/newinternationalism. The event schedule is after the jump:

Read More…

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Somewhere, Bin Laden Is Smiling

Bowe Bergdahl was “an American prisoner of war captured on the battlefield” who “served the United States with distinction and honor,” asserted Susan Rice, the president’s national security adviser.

Rice was speaking to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos the morning after Barack Obama’s Rose Garden celebration of Bergdahl’s release. When she spoke last Sunday, could Rice have been ignorant of the widespread reports that Bergdahl had deserted?

Before last Sunday, her credibility was already in tatters.

Five days after Ambassador Chris Stevens and three Americans were killed in Benghazi, Rice went on five Sunday shows to describe the terrorist attack as a spontaneous riot ignited by an anti-Muslim video.

Not only has her credibility now suffered a second near-lethal blow, her competence as a presidential adviser is open to question. How could she let the president strut into the Rose Garden to celebrate the release of a soldier whose reported desertion triggered a province-wide search that may have cost the lives of half a dozen American soldiers?

As The Hill reported, a Pentagon investigation in 2010 concluded Bergdahl had walked out on his unit and left a note in his tent saying he was disillusioned with the Army and no longer supported the war. Was Rice ignorant of this? Did she think it not relevant, when she approved the president’s hosting of Bergdahl’s parents in the Rose Garden? Is Rice not responsible for the humiliation President Obama has endured all week and the fiasco that diverted national and international attention from his trip to Warsaw, Brussels and Normandy?

Forty-eight hours after Obama celebrated Bergdahl’s release, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs was promising an investigation of the soldier on the charge of desertion and related allegations he may have defected and collaborated. If Gen. Martin Dempsey was aware an investigation into charges so serious that they carry the death penalty was ahead for Bergdahl, did he not flag the White House before the president went before the nation to celebrate Bergdahl’s return? Read More…

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Why Spain’s Monarchy Could Fall Along With Its King

Princess Letizia, Prince Felipe, King Juan Carlos I, and Queen Sofia Shelly Wall / Shutterstock.com
Princess Letizia, Prince Felipe, King Juan Carlos I, and Queen Sofia Shelly Wall / Shutterstock.com

When Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and King Albert II of Belgium abdicated last year, royal succession went on more or less according to procedure, without any large-scale demands for abolishing the monarchies. Even last year’s most controversial European abdication, the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, proceeded from pope to pope as calmly as could be expected. So why is the abdication of Spain’s reigning monarch of 39 years, Juan Carlos, inspiring young protesters to drape a pre-Civil War Spanish Republican flag over a guillotine and demand a referendum on the monarchy?

The event’s logistics indicate the answer. When King Juan Carlos announced his intention on Monday to abdicate in favor of his son, Felipe, the Spanish Parliament immediately had to begin scrambling to put together a legal and constitutional framework to administer the change. The absent mechanics are a reminder of just how young the reinstated Spanish monarchy is, and just how central parliamentary democracy has come to be to Spanish self-conception.

Juan Carlos became one of the world’s most beloved monarchs after he saved Spanish democracy in 1981 by publicly denouncing, and so defeating, an attempted right-wing military coup. The king’s inability to survive revelations of philandering, extravagant elephant-hunting, and family financial fraud seems odd, then, given the scandals that have plagued but not defeated other European monarchies (such as the late ’90s tabloid frenzies over British royalty). But the Spanish monarchy lacks both the British monarchy’s longevity and its non-ceremonial powers that, however minimal, lend credibility to the institution. If Spain’s monarchs are considered more disposable, it is because Spain has centuries of practice in disposing of them.

Republicanism and monarchy have contended for domination of Spain, with interruptions for military dictatorships, since the First Spanish Republic was proclaimed in 1873. Juan Carlos himself was plucked out of exile during Francisco Franco’s dictatorship after the Spanish Civil War, explicitly fought between Republicans and Nationalists (monarchists without a monarch). The ongoing protests show that these tensions are still unresolved.

But as Noah Millman has pointed out, a perhaps even more distinguishing feature of the Spanish monarchy is its relative powerlessness.

You have to ask why a monarch would be particularly good at occupying his particular square without also possessing significant temporal power. At which point you need to start looking at how a particular society and political system evolved. King Juan Carlos I of Spain was able to preserve Spanish democracy in 1981 because of the ideology of the coup plotters compelled them to respect the orders of their crowned king. His predecessor, Alfonso XIII, provides an excellent illustration of how a clueless monarch can help lead his country to ruin – and wind up getting himself deposed. Meanwhile, Juan Carlos I himself is no longer as secure in his place at the head of the state as he once was, and his status as monarch has no limited numinous power to help him keep that place.

Monarchy as a form of government relies strongly on tradition and power, but it also relies on a sense of national unity and the felt need for a uniting figure. Spain lacks that impulse more than any other contemporary European monarchy. The growth of independence movements in politically and economically powerful regions like Catalonia that maintain their cultural and political autonomy from the Spanish state speaks to this. (Catalan separatists, for their part, seem ambivalent about the monarchy only because their priority is not a rethought model of the Spanish state, but rather independence from it altogether.)

If Felipe is to maintain his father’s reborn institution, he will need to appeal to the one feature monarchs seem to be able to rely on: unquestionable personal conduct. Read More…

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