Two Worlds Cracking Up

For many years, strategists have debated whether Turkey would be a “bridge” or a “gully” between predominantly Christian Europe and the Arab/Muslim Middle East. If Turkey were admitted to the European Union, it would be a bridge binding these two worlds. If it were kept out of the E.U., it could become a gully separating the two. It turns out that Turkey these days is neither a bridge nor a gully. It’s an island, an island of relative stability between the two great geopolitical systems that are cracking apart: eurozone that came into being after the cold war, and the Arab state system came into being after World War I are both coming unglued. (source: Thomas L. Friedman – NYTimes – 13/06/2012)

The stresses are getting to everyone. The reactions range from the truly horrific murders perpetrated by the Assad mafia family clinging to power in Syria to the disturbing fight that broke out last Thursday on a morning TV talk show in Greece, where the spokesman of a far-right party tossed water in face of a woman from the left-wing party on the show and then smacked another woman panelist in the face three times. The island of Turkey has become one of the best places to observe both these worlds. To the west, you see European Monetary Union buckling under the weight of its own hubris, leaders who reached too far in forging a common currency without the common governance to sustain it. And, to the south, you see the Arab League crumbling under the weight of its own decay,  leaders who never reached at all for the decent governance and modern education required to thrive in the age of globalization.

Europeans failed to build Europe, and that is now a big problem because, as its common currency comes under pressure and the E.U. goes deeper into recession, the whole world feels the effects. The Syrians failed to build Syria, the Egyptians failed to build Egypt, the Libyans failed to build Libya, the Yemenis failed to build Yemen. Those are even bigger problems because, as their states have been stressed or fractured, no one knows how they’ll be put back together again. To put it another way: In Europe, supranational project did not work, and now, to a degree, Europe is falling back into individual states. In the Arab world, the national project did not work, so some of the Arab states are falling back onto sects, tribes, regions and clans. In Europe, supranational project did not work because the European states were never ready to cede control over their budgets to a central authority that would ensure a common fiscal policy to back up a common currency. In Arab world, the national project did not work, in many but not all cases, because the tribes, sects, clans and regional groups that make up these Arab states, whose borders were drawn up by colonial powers, were unwilling or unable to meld genuine national communities. So EU today has many citizens, but no single supranational nation state to which everyone is ready to cede economic authority. And Arab world has many national states, but few citizens. In Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Bahrain, you have one sect or tribe ruling others by force, not because they forged a voluntary social contract with one another. In Egypt and Tunisia, you have more homogeneous societies and a stronger sense of citizenship, which is why they have a better chance at transitioning to more consensual politics. In fairness, in Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and Iraq, you have many people, young rebels, who want to be citizens. They want to live in states where people have rights, and obligations, and multiethnic parties. But it’s not clear they have the leadership and educated middle classes needed to forge modern political identities out of atavistic ones.

One question historians will puzzle over is why both great geopolitical systems fractured at once? The answer, I believe, is the intensifying merger of globalization and the information technology revolution, which made the world dramatically flatter in the last 5 years, as we went from connected to hyperconnected. In the Arab world, this hyper-connectivity simultaneously left youths better able to see how far behind they were, with all anxiety that induced, enabled them to communicate and collaborate to do something about it, cracking open their ossified states. In Europe, hyperconnectedness both exposed just how uncompetitive some of their economies were, but how interdependent they had become. It was a deadly combination. When countries with different cultures become this interconnected and interdependent, when they share same currency but not same work ethics, retirement ages or budget discipline, you end up with German savers seething at Greek workers, and vice versa. And us? America’s flexible federal system makes it, theoretically, well-suited to thrive in a hyperconnected world, but only if we get our macroeconomic house in order and our education up to par (or better). We should be world’s island of stability today. But we’re not. As Mohamed el-Erian, chief executive of bond giant Pimco, puts it, “We’re just cleanest dirty shirt around”. 


Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional

One Response to Two Worlds Cracking Up

  1. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: Journalists-cum-thinkers have a tendency to fit reality to their own believes. Tom Friedman is not an exception in this piece. He believes that any event in the world can be explained by the intensifying merger of globalization and the information technology revolution, which (in his vision) made the world dramatically flatter. His basic assumption about the European Union is flatly wrong. Rhetorical statements such as ‘Europeans failed to build Europe’ are too encompass and not related to fundamentals. Economic integration is a PROCESS and, we cannot say that it has failed or succeed after ONLY 50 years of existence.Take for example the US, the most successful economic integration process in the world. It took more than 200 years for the Southern states’s per capita income to converge to the per capita income of the Northern states. How long will take for Spain-Greece’s per capita income to converge to Germany’s one, if eventually happens? The MAIN problem in the European Union is man-made of political nature. At the end of the 90s –end of the cold war and fall of Berlin wall– European leaders did rush in a common currency without proper economic-social-political preparation in many member countries. This error will be resolved when some countries find out the euro too costly to be kept as their currency. The European integration process is irreversible but the common currency is not. Nothing to do with Tom’s flat world.


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