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Could a Leftist Bring Growth Back to France?

By Mark Weisbrot

The New York Times, April 20, 2017

See article on original site

En français

If the first round of the French presidential election on Sunday is now too close to call, that’s partly because of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s last-minute surge in the polls. The media describe him as a populist from the far Left, and as he has risen, attacks on him have intensified.

One common criticism is that his economic proposal to jump-start growth in France while reducing mass unemployment and inequality is pie in the sky.

Is it, though?

Mr. Mélenchon would certainly face significant political hurdles if elected, including the need to build political support for his program in Parliament. But the French economy, despite serious problems, could sustain, as well as benefit from, his proposals.

He wants to reduce unemployment from 10 percent, its current level, to about 6 percent over the next five years, partly by increasing government spending by some 275 billion euros, or about 2.3 percent of GDP. The money would go to major public spending in renewable energy and environmental projects, housing and antipoverty programs, as well as toward lowering the retirement age and increasing wages in the public sector.

Mr. Mélenchon’s critics say that France is already living beyond its means. The French enjoy a level of economic security and living standards that most Americans can only dream about: universal health care, free childcare and public-university education, a 35-hour workweek, higher life expectancy, and lower per capita energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The new government, say people who oppose Mr. Mélenchon’s views, will have to focus on reducing the public debt.

But the numbers do not bear them out.

The most important measure of a country’s public debt is the interest burden it must pay annually. The interest France currently pays on its debt amounts to 1.7 percent of GDP, which is modest by both historical standards and most international comparisons today. The United States, by comparison, had interest burdens on its debt ranging from about 2.4 percent to about 3.1 percent of GDP throughout the 1990s, and during that time it enjoyed the longest economic expansion in its history.

France doesn’t have to worry about inflation either. Inflation has been at 1.1 percent over the past year, which is well below target, and the government can borrow at a real (inflation-adjusted) interest rate of about zero.

France’s main economic problem today is the same as that of the eurozone: virtually no growth in GDP per capita since the world financial crisis of 2008. And the main culprits of that are the misguided policies of the economic orthodoxy in Europe.

In the view of many economists at the International Monetary Fund and, say, Emmanuel Macron, a former economy minister of France and now a presidential candidate, the fundamental cause of unemployment in France is a rigid labor market — not, as Mr. Mélenchon and others argue, inadequate demand in the economy. So, their proposed fix is to lower labor costs by reducing the bargaining power of unions, making it easier for employers to dismiss workers, and raising eligibility requirements for social or unemployment benefits.

Reforms of this kind have been passed over the last few years, including the so-called “loi Macron,” which relaxed rules for letting employees go. More have been recommended by the IMF and European Union authorities.

But — to take just one example — cuts to France’s pension system in 2010 were as unnecessary as they were unpopular. The year before, projections by the European Commission showed that spending on public pensions in France would increase by just 1 percent of GDP over the next 60 years. Given that France’s GDP was projected to more than double over that period, that increase would have been eminently affordable.

So why not put some money into public investment that will provide positive real returns while creating new jobs?

Yes, high unemployment has been a fixture of the French economy for several decades now. But a major fiscal stimulus could spur overall demand in the economy, and that would encourage employers to hire workers.

The French can also afford their cherished welfare state because labor productivity in France is high — just above that in Germany. A better output per hour of labor allows for decent wages and, with sufficient taxes on both labor and capital income, for social expenditures that provide some measure of economic security.

There are, however, constraints from the European Union. France has no problem with its current account balance at the moment, but were it to try to jump-start its economy while growth in the eurozone remained sluggish, it could eventually run an unsustainable deficit. Under the Maastricht Treaty, France is supposed to keep its budget deficit under 3 percent of GDP. That requirement, along with France’s commitment to the European Union program for deficit reduction, would appear to preclude spending increases such as the ones that Mr. Mélenchon proposes.

But Europe cannot endure another decade of mass unemployment, which denies a future to so many young people and fuels the xenophobic far right. This is the reason Mr. Mélenchon has called for renegotiating European Union treaties. Some argue that position is too radical. Yet it is those who champion strict adherence to the European authorities’ failed economic policies who stoke anti-European sentiment and endanger the future of European integration. France has enough clout within the eurozone to help steer it in a better direction.

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., and the president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of “Failed: What the ‘Experts’ Got Wrong About the Global Economy” (2015, Oxford University Press). You can subscribe to his columns here.

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Against Liberal Nostalgia

by Stephen Maher. This article was first published on Jacobin.

The Left shouldn’t counter the logic of “Make America Great Again” with nostalgia for an idealized liberal democracy.

Andrew Carnegie visiting the Chamber of Commerce with a French delegation in 1912. Library of Congress

“Restore our democracy” has become a mantra among American progressives. Populist writers are desperately trying to shake people from their passivity amidst mounting political and ecological crisis. But in crafting a vision of a better future they often appeal to idealized, romantic notions of America’s past.

Chris Hedges recently attributed the rise of Donald Trump to a “corporate coup” that happened “more than two decades ago,” leaving Trump in command of a state devoid of meaningful democratic input or checks — a situation he refers to as “fascism.” His antidote is the Green Party, whose leaders Ralph Nader and Jill Stein “saw this dystopia coming” but were foiled by “elites” and “so-called progressives” who “succumbed to the idiotic mantra of the least worst.” Similarly, Bernie Sanders’s recent op-ed in the New York Times ends with a call for the Democratic Party to “break loose from its corporate establishment ties and, once again, become a grass-roots party of working people, the elderly and the poor.”

These kinds of interpretations rely on naive civics-textbook notions of the history and workings of the American state; they support political strategies of either reforming the Democratic Party or voting for the Green Party, while concealing the shortcomings these approaches entail.

Looking back over American history, it is clear that no “corporate coup” has taken place. The American state is a capitalist state and has been since at least the late nineteenth century. Indeed, in some respects, the state is more democratic than it has been at many points in the past.

Still, Trump’s far-right nationalist chauvinism could present capital with a far-right path to cope with the crisis of neoliberalism. At base, the rise of Trump’s authoritarian populism is the result of the social dislocations wrought by thirty years of neoliberal devastation visited upon working-class communities. But it is also a consequence of the failure of the Left to formulate a credible transformative strategy — a failure evident in the ahistorical romanticism of Hedges and others.

The logic of “Make America Great Again” must not be countered with more nostalgia. We need a bold vision for the future that honestly accepts the uncertainties it entails.

Neoliberalism: A Corporate Coup?

It is easy to understand why populists, on both the right and the left, rely on an idealized American past in laying out their vision for the future: it makes the struggle ahead appear more realistic — as simply regaining what we once already had rather than pursuing an untested utopian vision. But getting somewhere better will require an honest assessment of the structures of US power.

The idea that neoliberalism is the result of a “corporate coup” echoes the classic “pluralist” view of the American state which dominated mainstream scholarship from the 1960s until it was decisively refuted by neo-Marxist state theorists Ralph Miliband and Nicos Poulantzas in the 1970s. According to the pluralists, competing interest groups — including business and labor — organize themselves within “civil society” to influence a passive, neutral state. Power is polyarchic, with no one group dominating the “political system.”

Populists assume that this system worked more or less as advertised until a few decades ago, when corporations’ superior organizational cohesion and command over resources allowed them to essentially take over the state, corrupting an otherwise ideal liberal democracy.

This framework is a fantasy. The American state is a capitalist state whose function is and has been to organize the political hegemony of the capitalist class. Since individual capitalists are motivated by the pressures of competition rather than broad class-wide concerns, a relatively autonomous state is needed to secure the long-term interests of the system as a whole.

The historical trajectory of the American state demonstrates this role. The US state has played a dynamic and active role in politically organizing corporate power — the opposite of the pluralist view assumed by the populists. This has included playing a leading role in forming “lobby” groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable. Liberals often assume these entities organize themselves and act upon the state independently, but this is a misreading of history.

The modern American state began to take shape in the late nineteenth century, a process that corresponded with the organization of large bureaucratic corporations. Though its initial weakness forced it to rely upon bank-dominated cartels and trusts to stabilize highly volatile markets, state capacities steadily expanded, evidenced by the establishment of the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887 and the Department of Commerce and Labor in 1903.

Granted, those staffing the new commerce department quickly found that their lack of resources and capacities required them to rely heavily on the input of bankers and corporate managers, who they sought to integrate within the policy-making process by facilitating the organization of the Chamber of Commerce in 1912. But as the state grew stronger, its ability to play a proactive and independent role in organizing capital was steadily enhanced.

By the New Deal period, the US state was strong enough to intervene to reduce bank power within corporate governance systems, empowering internal managers instead. Amid the most severe capitalist crisis to date and intense class upheaval, Roosevelt established the Business Advisory Council by executive order. Made up of top executives from the nation’s largest firms and funded by corporate donations, the BAC became a valuable tool to organize support for the massive deficit spending and institutional expansion Roosevelt deemed necessary (even though he found the body “useless from the point of view of facts and policies”).

The need to produce war material led the state to deepen coordination with the largest manufacturing firms, administered by the War Production Board and later the Office of Defense Mobilization. General Electric CEO Charles Wilson (or “Electric Charlie”) became so powerful in his position at the head of the ODM that the press referred to him as the “co-President.”

But the state’s function of organizing capital was by no means limited to periods of crisis. Despite the “de-control” of private enterprises after the war, the emergence of a state-capital institutional complex comprised of the leading state agencies and the largest corporations, now multinational in scope, was unmistakable. The development of new technologies for military and consumer purposes required greater integration among state agencies, universities, and corporations — a process planned and encouraged from within the state defense and science policy apparatus. The most dynamic corporations have continued to rely heavily on this state-led “innovation system,” spinning off technologies paid for by taxpayers into consumer and industrial products.

Later, the abject failure of Nixon’s and then Carter’s wage and price controls to break the 1970s inflation crisis by disciplining workers into accepting wage restraint brought a need for new ideas. It was within increasingly prominent agencies like the Treasury and Fed that a resolution was devised, based on integrating global financial markets and internationalizing production to break the power of unions and restore profitability. Coordinating internationally integrated production networks also meant empowering finance, which became increasingly politically and economically hegemonic as institutional barriers to the movement of value were dropped.

Developing a framework wasn’t enough: these agencies also needed to organize capital in support of it. This occurred most prominently with the formation of the Business Roundtable in 1972 at the encouragement of Secretary of Treasury John Connally and Federal Reserve chairman Arthur Burns. In the end, the roundtable succeeded in building a consensus among the most significant representatives of the capitalist class around the neoliberal framework largely advanced by Treasury and the Fed.

The tilt of the Democratic Party toward neoliberal reforms must be understood in this context, as a consequence of what James O’Connor identified in the 1970s as a “fiscal crisis of the state.” The sustainability of state spending on social programs was always dependent on long-term growth. When this slowed, a fiscal crisis emerged which, in the context of inflation, could only be resolved by increasing taxes or making cuts. Democrats pursued the latter choice. And as the globalization of production and corporate attacks weakened the labor movement, workers were increasingly unable to mount any serious opposition.

In short, the neoliberal variant of capitalism was not the result of a a “corporate coup.” It is the result of the familiar, systematic workings of a capitalist state seeking to resolve a crisis and restore the system to “health.”

Trump’s Rise

However, to say that the last thirty years of neoliberal policy were not simply the result of a “corporate coup” does not mean that Donald Trump is simply a “boilerplate” Republican. If he were, how could we explain the tremendous fight the GOP establishment waged against him?

Trump did not receive a single donation from a Fortune 100 CEO, while a broad range of top military brass and establishment Republicans — including George Bush, Mitt Romney, Colin Powell, Paul Ryan, Hank Paulson, Bill Kristol, and others — either endorsed Clinton or suggested they couldn’t support Trump. All this indicated a wide-ranging consensus among the capitalist class behind Clinton, founded upon maintaining the status quo abroad (“free trade” and militarism) and multicultural pluralism at home — a consensus which involved rejecting Trumpism as unacceptable.

But in the face of the delegitimization of neoliberalism, and the crisis of the state that has accompanied it, people did precisely what mainstream elites told them not to do. They elected Trump.

Yet Trump’s victory was hardly a bolt from the blue. Neoliberal restructuring laid the administrative, institutional, and social groundwork for the emergence of his authoritarian populism, including the erosion of liberal democratic institutions, the concentration of state power in the executive, increasing precarity and middle-class decline, and the delegitimization of the media system and state mechanisms of political representation.

Key state agencies — especially the Federal Reserve — have been carefully insulated from democratic oversight that could corrupt their “technocratic” management of competitive markets. Indeed, central bank “independence” and regulatory “autonomy” have been central to the neoliberal program for state reorganization.

Similarly, what Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin call the “internationalization of the state” has further concentrated power in these agencies and hollowed-out democratic institutions. Over the past three decades these agencies have become deeply entangled with transnational institutional regimes established through “free trade” agreements. These agreements effectively “constitutionalize” neoliberalism, locking states in to protecting corporate and investor rights against the environment and labor, regardless of the will of the population.

The rise of the Clintonite–Democratic Leadership Council wing of the Democratic Party cemented bipartisan support for the neoliberal variant of capitalism, a political expression of both the corporate consensus and the weakness of labor. And since, as Chomsky and Herman have shown, the corporate press is systematically confined to the range of elite political views, this neoliberal consensus was hardly contested within mainstream discourse.

But dissatisfaction with the elite consensus was by no means eliminated. It was registered first from the right in the form of the Tea Party, which emerged in consequence of the decades of hollow nationalism emanating from the GOP that did little to improve the lives of its “base.” But the 2008 financial crisis created an opening for the Occupy movement to promote a more progressive narrative of class struggle, illustrating the failure of both parties to present meaningful alternatives to increased working-class indebtedness and precarity. This sharply accelerated the delegitimization of neoliberal ideology, both political parties, and the media system.

In the run-up to November’s election, this crisis was on full display. While Bernie Sanders was suppressed and sidelined by the Democratic Party, Trump found fertile ground to articulate and nurture the popular anger and anxiety that accompanied these huge structural changes but could not find expression within hegemonic political discourse. In conditions of typically low turnout — 50 percent of the country did not vote at all — Trump was able to assemble enough of a base, mostly white men, to win the election.

A Risky Gamble

The electoral success of Trumpism has offered capital a tempting new ideological means to cope with the legitimacy crisis of the state: an authoritarian populism that can enable hard-right market-building policies, but which also provides space for the mobilization of fascistic political movements.

Yet, the incoherence of Trump’s policy paradigm — in some ways contradicting neoliberal capitalism, in others reinforcing it — makes it a risky gamble for a capitalist class seeking to hold the neoliberal project together despite mounting contradictions. Moreover, given the American state’s indispensable role in “superintending” global capitalism, the possible impact of Trumpism on its ability to manage and contain economic crises is also a serious concern.

The key question for capital is the degree to which it is willing to accommodate Trump’s extreme nationalism, which may threaten the international economic integration that has been central to the neoliberal project. But despite the widespread opposition of the capitalist class to Trump’s electoral bid, capitalists appear to be discovering that they can work with Trump.

For his part, Trump is clearly trying to appeal to dominant sectors, especially finance. As one Goldman Sachs executive recently put it, “If I’d have known how good Trump was going to be for Wall Street, I’d have campaigned for him.” The executive was referring to Trump’s emerging policy agenda, which has also triggered what market analysts are calling a “Trump rally” as the S&P 500, Dow Jones, and Nasdaq indexes all hit record highs in the weeks after the election.

That Trump seems ready to take up the regulatory agenda of the financial sector indicates how unlikely it is that his isolationist rhetoric will be reflected in the erection of barriers to the free movement of capital that has been the hallmark of the post–World War II American empire. Instead, Trump’s statist authoritarianism — restrictions on immigration, intensified policing of poor people, and a crackdown on internal dissent — will likely go hand-in-glove with market-oriented restructuring.

Famed Keynes biographer and political economist Robert Skidelsky recently compared Trump to the fascist regimes of the interwar period, suggesting that “Trumpism may be a solution to the crisis of liberalism.” This is particularly true if he is able to resume economic growth by implementing his promised $1 trillion infrastructure expansion program which Senate Democrats have indicated they may be willing to support. This could help solidify his base and earn him support from broader segments of both capital and labor.

It would also follow in the footsteps of European fascist regimes of the 1930s, which were organized by capitalist classes who had no other path out of crisis. By foreclosing democratic institutions, these regimes were able to protect the power of capitalist classes by implementing policies only possible under conditions of extraordinary state autonomy. Hitler was a great Keynesian.

But Trump’s economic program will not be carried out in twentieth-century Weberian bureaucratic fashion. It will bring not the return of Keynesian macroeconomic management, but rather the expansion of market mechanisms.

Trump’s infrastructure program, if implemented, will be market-centered and conducted through “public-private partnerships.” This would create massive state-subsidized investment opportunities for Wall Street in privatized public infrastructure, which can remain a stable source of profits long into the future — similar to the program currently being carried out by the Trudeau government in Canada.

Moreover, far from enlarging welfare state protections that could redistribute wealth and strengthen labor, these policies will be accompanied by tax cuts and the further marketization of social services, including Medicare and public education. This will result in the upward redistribution of wealth and larger deficits — the latter of which can later be used politically to further impose austerity.

But Trumpism — now amplified by the state apparatus and increasingly “normalized” — will certainly open space for the neo-fascist right to mobilize and build. The discursive power of the presidency to frame reality has diffuse, decentralized social effects, forming a lens through which people see and understand the world around them — instigating and encouraging dynamics and logics that appear to emerge “from below.” And if he fails to deliver, his regime is likely to move to the right, a scary prospect indeed.

So even if Trump’s rhetorical bluster becomes simply another way to implement familiar economic policies, these will have taken on an alarmingly authoritarian and chauvinistic ideological apparatus to support them. The foundations of neoliberalism have included right to individual self-expression, pluralism, multiculturalism, freedom of the press, and so on — all things Trump has expressed strong antipathy toward.

Given this, the degree to which the political-discursive shift represented by Trumpism could be called “liberal” in any sense is strongly in doubt. If Trumpism is a liberalism, it is one that has given up on most limits on state infringement upon individual freedoms in order to protect the power of capital. As Trumpism is “normalized” within the state ideological system, the taboos that led capital to initially eschew Trump are broken and the political culture changes.

Indeed, though the political conditions may not quite resemble those of 1930s Germany, one should not underestimate the suddenness with which liberal institutions — dependent to a tremendous extent not merely on formalized processes but also an informal “political culture” — may deteriorate.

While it appears Trump is ramping up for a massive voter suppression effort, the extent to which he may be willing and able to discard constitutional protections is deeply frightening. David Clarke Jr, who has been interviewed for the job of Homeland Security Secretary, has suggested subjecting up to one million Americans deemed “enemy combatants” to military tribunals and detention. He has also publicly argued that the Black Lives Matter movement “will join forces with ISIS.”

As internal dissent is increasingly labeled in this way, the reactionary statism of Trump and those around him could take on terrifying dimensions. This is especially so given that Obama has left Trump a state with power more concentrated in the executive than ever before. This includes a vast, secretive intelligence-security apparatus increasingly beyond institutional constraints like judicial oversight.

The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act signed by Obama authorizes the indefinite military detention of American citizens deemed “terrorists” by the president without a shred of due process. The act was later amended to assert the right of the president to maintain secret “kill lists” of those (including US citizens) to be targeted for death without charges or trial — so long as they are not on American soil. What will these powers mean for President Trump?

No Nostalgia

The lesson is clear: we cannot simply “restore our democracy” by voting for either the Green Party or the Democrats. Only a strong, class-based movement capable of clarifying the causes and consequences of neoliberal capitalism can defeat the Right and put a progressive break with the political and economic program of the past thirty years seriously on the agenda. Moreover, only a party grounded in such a movement has any real hope of capturing and transforming the state.

For Hedges, the answer is easy: vote for Jill Stein. But this fails to offer a convincing explanation for why the Greens have been unsuccessful. The simple truth is that the Green Party has forsaken the kind of organizing necessary to build a serious base in favor of presenting the “right” arguments every four years, when they suddenly appear to contest presidential races.

This strategy assumes an ideal liberal conception of the state: that elections are expressions of the democratic will of the population, in which she who makes the most persuasive case wins. Moreover, without the support of a broad social movement or party structure, it is almost unthinkable that a single individual placed in the White House could do much.

Sanders’s call to return the Democratic Party to an earlier state as a mass people’s party is equally fanciful. Though democratic institutions have been hollowed out in the neoliberal period, the role of the state has always been to organize the capitalist class. Moreover, the expansion of the New Deal welfare state in the postwar period, and the rising standards of living associated with the “Golden Age” of capitalism that lasted until the 1960s, were the result of class struggle and unionization, not an imagined mass-popular character of the Democratic Party that has somehow disappeared.

Seriously contending with the looming social, ecological, and political crises — and the potentially rising neo-fascist tide that threatens to worsen them — means doing much more than restoring an idealized American democracy. Nor is it enough to simply beg people to vote for the Greens in the hope that somehow this will eventually build “on its own” to a level where Stein (or whomever) has a chance to win office.

Instead we need to organize a socialist movement from the ground up that cannot simply be sucked into electing establishment Democratic candidates every election cycle. This is where the conversation needs to begin — a conversation that progressives are still largely failing to seriously engage in.

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Europe Is Still a Superpower

And it's going to remain one for decades to come.

By Andrew Moravcsik. This article was first published on Foreign Policy.

Sixty years after the Treaty of Rome, many view Europe as a spent force in global politics.

Conventional wisdom states that world politics today is unipolar, with the United States as the sole superpower. Or perhaps it is multipolar, with China, India, and the rest rising to challenge Western powers. Either way, Europe’s role is secondary — and declining. The European Union, it is said, is too weak to avoid withering away in the face of Russian subversion, mass migration, right-wing revolt, British plans to leave, slow growth, and anemic defense spending.

Of course, it’s easy to spot signs of disarray. Modern Europe is messy, and its institutions and policies are imperfect. Some of the threats facing the EU are real: slow growth and austerity, for instance, within the eurozone. Others, like rising right-wing nationalism and migration, are less so, for reasons I will discuss at the conclusion.

Yet amid all the hyperbole and hysteria, a basic point gets missed. Europe today is a genuine superpower and will likely remain one for decades to come. By most objective measures, it either rivals or surpasses the United States and China in its ability to project a full spectrum of global military, economic, and soft power. Europe consistently deploys military troops within and beyond its immediate neighborhood. It manipulates economic power with a skill and success unmatched by any other country or region. And its ability to employ “soft power” to persuade other countries to change their behavior is unique.

If a superpower is a political entity that can consistently project military, economic, and soft power transcontinentally with a reasonable chance of success, Europe surely qualifies. Its power, moreover, is likely to remain entrenched for at least another generation, regardless of the outcome of current European crises. In sum, Europe is the “invisible superpower” in contemporary world politics. Here’s why.

Flags of EU member states hang inside the Council of the European Union's Lex building on Feb. 18, 2016 in Brussels. (Photo credit: DAN KITWOOD/Getty Images)

Why Europe should be viewed as a single actor

Before turning to Europe’s specific military, economic, and soft power assets, let’s dismiss the nearly universal belief that Europe is too decentralized to act as a superpower. Europe is not a sovereign state. Yet in practice, it generally acts as a single force in world politics.

We ignore European unity at our peril. Most observers analyze Europe as 28 separate countries — even though doing so generates geopolitical nonsense. To see why, consider one recent example: Russia’s foreign-policy options after its invasion of Ukraine triggered Western sanctions. Many predicted that China’s rising economic weight meant the Kremlin would surely turn to Beijing. In July 2015, leading newspapers across Eurasia ran the same story (originally from Agence France-Presse) reporting that “China has emerged as Russia’s largest trading partner as Moscow turns east, seeking markets in Asia in the face of Western sanctions.”

Yet Russian President Vladimir Putin quickly discovered the futility of a Russian pivot to Asia. While the premise is, strictly speaking, true — China is Russia’s top trading partner — it accounts for only 14 percent of Russia’s trade. Just three European countries combined — Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands — account for more than 20 percent, and Europe as a whole for over half. No realistic increase in trade with China could offset European dominance.

migration across the Mediterranean

Treating Europe as disunited was geopolitically naive. Even though EU law imposes no legal obligation to implement sanctions, Europe acted — and paid more than 90 percent of the costs of the Western policy response to Russia. European power and unity are the glue that has held together this Western policy for the past two years.

This is only one example of how, despite its fragmentation, Europe effectively projects power in those areas that count most for global influence. Certainly, European governments often disagree among themselves, sometimes vociferously and in public. Yet policy coordination, both formal and informal, permits European governments to act as a unit to influence the outside world. Three modes of European coordination are critical: common EU policies, coordination, and tacit policy convergence.

First, EU member states often share a formal mandate to cooperate. Governments are generally obligated legally to act together in the name of the European Union on trade, regulatory, environmental, monetary, neighborhood policy, development, EU enlargement, the free movement of people, and border controls. When serious disagreements arise, countries often resolve them through constructive abstention, in which some governments set aside their own concerns and permit the EU to exercise its collective power in areas of greatest importance to others.

Second, even when EU law does not formally mandate uniformity, European governments often form “coalitions of the willing.” After 60 years, Europe has entrenched a continental network of informal norms, procedures, and institutions that quietly encourage policy coordination. European foreign and defense policies illustrate how this system of voluntary solidarity works. Member states take foreign-policy positions in common, which can be implemented by the EU high representative and common diplomatic service, or by coalitions of national governments acting on their own. EU governments coordinate national positions in international organizations, including the United Nations. Not all governments need to participate for these actions to be successful. Again, constructive abstention permits governments to signal disagreement in principle with decisions that nonetheless go forward in practice — as occurred, for example, in recent decisions involving the former Yugoslavia and Libya, or recent efforts to dampen migration across the Mediterranean.

This coordination extends to collective European military operations. While no formal mandate exists, missions often lack a formal EU imprimatur and involvement limited to those who wish to participate. Yet, in one form or another, European governments have launched dozens of joint military operations since the end of the Cold War. Impasses like the 2003 Iraq War, when European governments so strongly disagree that they pursue opposing policies on a prominent global issue, are extremely rare.

Third, even when the EU neither mandates nor coordinates a policy response, the convergent national laws, strategies, and interests of European states more often than not generate compatible and mutually reinforcing policies. European governments have overlapping international institutional memberships and legal obligations. Almost all are NATO members, which means they conduct common planning and training and accept collective defense obligations. They adhere to the same treaties governing asylum, human rights, the environment, development, and many forms of U.N. cooperation. All are friendly with the United States. They share national embassies. In the soft-power realm, the ability of Europeans to educate foreign students, set global constitutional norms, and garner a worldwide following for athletic achievements contribute to a common European influence in the world — even if the EU explicitly coordinates little of it.

At a more fundamental level, all European countries are democratic and economically interdependent, and they share largely uncontested (indeed, often invisible) borders. Hence they coexist without posing any mortal threat to one another. With the highly unlikely exception of a Russian attack on NATO, they face no such immediate security threats from other great powers, either. This relatively benign environment affords Europeans the luxury of focusing their geopolitical influence on other, more distant matters. This differs strikingly from the situation of, say, China, which must prepare for potential military conflict with almost all of its regional neighbors — Korea, Japan, Taiwan, India, Russia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and other South and Southeast Asian states, not to mention the United States — and keep its army in reserve to maintain domestic order.

For these reasons, we should recognize Europe as a single superpower in projecting military, economic, or soft power — whether or not it acts formally as one.

British soldiers are silhouetted against the sky as they provide security for a meeting with the Afghan National Police in Lashkar Gah on May 17, 2006. (Photo credit: JOHN D MCHUGH/AFP/Getty Images)

Europe’s military might

Let’s begin with “hard” military power. While Europe’s ability to project coercive force to compel others to acquiesce to political demands does not match that of the United States, it is more active and capable than any other global power. The oft-repeated phrase that “Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus” is a great sound bite but a misleading policy analysis.

The conventional starting point for measuring military capability is the money each country spends on defense. On this score, the United States, which accounts for more than 40 percent of global military spending, heads the list. After that, most analysts list China, with the second-highest national spending and more than 2 million active duty soldiers, followed by Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, India, Japan, France, Germany, and South Korea.

Here again the failure to aggregate Europe clouds our geopolitical vision. If we unify European military activities, it comes in second. European military spending accounts for 15 to 16 percent of the global total. China runs third, with under 10 percent, and Russia spends less than 7 percent, less than half as much as Europe.

At current growth rates, China’s annual military spending (or perhaps that of other rising powers) will not surpass that of Europe for at least a few decades, and the United States for one or two generations — even on the optimistic assumption that Chinese growth continues.

To be sure, this isn’t quite a one-to-one comparison, since Europe’s militaries make their spending decisions separately. Some inefficiencies result when, say, France and Italy separately purchase and maintain their own aircraft carriers. Yet studies suggest that efficiency losses due to decentralized production and procurement — a problem that also bedevils the United States and China, with their domestic interservice rivalries and political pork-barreling — is much smaller than one might think. The most promising area for reform (consolidation of national defense industries) generates no more than 7 percent (about 14 billion euros) savings. This is real money, but too small a number to significantly alter Europe’s relative international standing. Moreover, the “bang for the buck” of the weapons Europe procures remains competitive, as evidenced by the fact that it consistently ranks as the world’s No. 1 arms exporter, outstripping even the United States and Russia.

Yet even Europe’s advantage in annual defense spending understates the entrenched military advantages that it (like the United States) enjoys over any rising power. Usable military capability is not a simple function of defense spending in a given year, but investment in stocks of defense technology, materiel, training, and experience sustained over generations. The average age of equipment in the U.S. military varies from 10 to 25 years, and the life cycle of a fighter like the F-18, introduced just after the Vietnam War, will be nearly a century.

For China to challenge Europe or the United States on an equal basis, Beijing would need to outspend the West not for one year, but for decades — something that delays the projected point where (at current trends) it would surpass the West close to the end of the 21st century. All scenarios whereby China (or another rising power) advances more quickly require increases in military spending of at least 15 percent per year. That in turn means that China must either triple its economic growth rate (unlikely) or increase military spending tenfold as a percentage of the gross domestic product (a strategy that, Chinese leaders are well aware, bankrupted the Soviet Union).

A final reason for Euro-optimism is that Europe maintains enduring alliances. The United States and Europe are irrevocably — yes, even in the age of President Donald Trump, as recent reassuring words to NATO partners by Vice President Mike Pence and cabinet officers demonstrate — allied with one another and with 28 other NATO countries. This bloc commands almost 60 percent of global military spending. Europe, like the United States, maintains security partnerships and bases across the globe, as well as close relations with dozens of countries around the world.

By contrast, Russia and China can call on few allies. Beijing offers modest military training and some assistance to Cambodia, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Syria, and a few African countries; maintains a security partnership with Pakistan; and has only one ally: North Korea.

These advantages are not just theoretical. European militaries actually do more in the world than those of any country except the United States. Only Europe and the United States have deployed tens of thousands of combat troops outside of home countries almost continuously since the end of the Cold War. During the past decade, European deployments have averaged 107,000 soldiers per year on land, plus a considerable naval presence. By contrast, China has deployed almost no combat soldiers abroad, and India has done so only within U.N. missions. Recent Russian activities have been limited to brief forays in neighboring parts of the former Soviet Union and air and naval support for its sole remaining Middle Eastern ally.

Europeans do not just participate; they lead. They have headed military operations in Macedonia, Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad, Somalia, and Mali. They have led naval operations off the Horn of Africa and in the Mediterranean. They have conducted support or monitoring missions in Sudan, South Sudan, Guinea-Bissau, Libya, Indonesia, Iraq, Moldova, Kosovo, Georgia, Niger, the Palestinian territories, Ukraine, and the Baltic States. They have led U.N. missions, including in Lebanon. They have participated in a vital way to U.S.-led missions, including Iraq and Afghanistan. In the latter, more than 25 percent of the fatalities suffered by Western forces were Europeans from 23 countries. The world, and the burden on the United States, would be quite different without all this European activity.

Despite their powerful military, many claim that Europeans could do more in the world if only their governments would spend more on defense — perhaps the 2 percent of the GDP that NATO leaders promised a few years ago. Yet little evidence suggests that more men and materiel — or greater centralization in EU institutions — would generate much more or better European military activity. While Europe did suffer the indignity of asking the United States to resupply it in Libya, it is difficult to see why, as many argue, the Europeans should develop more military capacity across the board. The need for resupply did not affect the outcome of Libya, and it is unlikely to do so elsewhere either, since the United States and Europe have agreed on every military intervention but one since the early 1990s. (The second Iraq War was a lonely exception.) One is hard-pressed to think of any recent case in which a significant group of European states (let alone a majority) desired to launch a strong military or diplomatic mission, but failed to do so for lack of military might.

Workers assemble cars at the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, on Feb. 25, 2011. (Photo credit: SEAN GALLUP/Getty Images)

Europe’s preeminent economic clout

Europe possesses impressive military assets, yet the main drivers of its global influence lie elsewhere. Europeans tend to be skeptical about using military force in wars of choice, and have therefore chosen to specialize in nonmilitary tools of statecraft. Their capacities here often exceed those of the United States.

Europe’s comparative advantage in civilian power is as vital to global peace and security as U.S. military might. To be sure, a century ago military might was widely viewed as the most essential of global power resources. Yet today it is rarely decisive. It is simply too expensive and uncertain, relative to the potential gains. No direct conflict has occurred among “great powers” since the Korean War. Smaller wars are also steadily becoming both less common and less costly. When they get involved, great powers tend to lose more than they win. Syria is troubling, but it is an exception to a much larger trend away from interstate war.

Countries now typically find nonmilitary means to manage the most important global problems: not just territorial issues, but economic interdependence, development, environmental degradation, global health, human rights, migration, and even terrorism and crime. Among the most important nonmilitary capabilities is economic power. It is hard to see military power playing much of a role in dealing with most such problems. Though Europe maintains a robust military, it makes sense for it to specialize in a type of power that the United States cannot project.

One European specialty is economic power projection. To induce political concessions, European countries manipulate access to their markets, condition economic assistance and exchange, and exploit regulatory and institutional dominance. Thus, a basic source of European economic power is the raw size of its economy.

The conventional wisdom again misleads us. According to a recent poll of citizens in 40 countries, almost everyone in the world believes either that China is already the world’s dominant economy, or that the United States still maintains primacy. Only 5 percent think of the EU as a “leading economic power.” Yet those 5 percent have a point. By the simplest measure of economic power, nominal GDP, the EU is nearly the same size as the United States and 63 percent larger than China.

This may surprise those who have read widespread reports that China now has the world’s largest GDP. Such analyses are deceptive because they employ “purchasing power parity” (PPP), a statistical measure developed by international development agencies to measure individual poverty and wealth in poorer economies where services and labor are cheap. PPP-based gross national product statistics deliberately inflate developing country income in ways that exaggerate the international value of exports and imports, high technology, modern weapons systems, foreign aid, and most other elements of international economic influence. The more appropriate standard for measuring a country’s aggregate economic clout is its nominal GDP. By this measure, China will not surpass the EU or the United States for decades.

Recent newspaper headlines about the dominance of China and the United States are misleading because they, again, disaggregate Europe into 28 individual countries, rather than treating it as unified. The EU is, in fact, the world’s second-largest economy. Even more importantly, it is the world’s largest trader of goods and services.

Since exports can be a source of vulnerability as well as strength, a more focused measure of trade power is dependence on foreign markets. The more trade dependent a country is, the less powerful it is. Europe is slightly more trade dependent than the United States but far less than China.

What about recent increases in Chinese foreign direct investment that have triggered so much media attention? As it turns out, Europe remains the world’s leading foreign investor.

To be sure, if you sell natural resources in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, or Australia, Chinese investment is a big deal. Otherwise, we should remember that most global investment still takes place among developed countries, where China’s role remains modest.

Yet even this underestimates Europe, because effective economic power depends not just on the relative size of its economy but on average per capita income. The poorer its citizens, the fewer resources governments can extract from them. In poorer countries, development is often the primary imperative, foreign-policy spending a luxury, and the overall level of autonomous technological sophistication low. While the aggregate income of China ranks in the top three, its per capita income ranks 74th (between Saint Lucia and Gabon). Azar Gat, an Israeli scholar, estimates that developed governments like those in Europe extract three or four times as much for foreign-policy purposes as the governments of developing countries like China. One example is the ability to tax. Revenue as a percentage of GDP is almost twice as high in the EU as in China.

Europe does not hesitate to exploit its preeminent economic position. EU enlargement —driven largely by perceptions of economic advantage — has been in recent decades the most cost-effective political tool of influence in the hands of any Western country. Over 60 years, the EU has expanded from six to 28 members, encouraging countries to adopt democratic, legal, and market reforms along the way. Though enlargement is now more difficult politically, it continues in the western Balkans.

Europe further leverages its regional market power through a “neighborhood policy” of bilateral agreements with nearby countries from Morocco to Moldova. It supports the World Trade Organization and imposes conditionality on its preferential trade agreements. Inward visa-free travel and migration are important quid pro quos in negotiations with neighbors. To the chagrin of U.S. and Chinese companies, Europe dominates global regulation, forcing its trading partners to adopt relatively high European product standards — a phenomenon Columbia Law professor Anu Bradford calls a hegemonic “Brussels effect.”

Other European economic instruments are less visible but no less important. One example is foreign aid. Europe provides 69 percent of global official development assistance (ODA), compared with 21 percent for the United States and far less for China. Europe, like the United States, offers the bulk of its total aid in the form of grants, whereas China tends to provide not ODA but export credits and government loans — financial flows that must be repaid and are thus less valuable to recipients. Yet even if you include both, Europe’s financial presence dominates that of the United States and China.

European foreign aid has played a decisive role in promoting Western strategic objectives. For example, Europe’s 10 billion to 15 billion euros of annual economic aid and the promise of freer trade and energy arrangements constitute 90 percent of Western aid and trade with Ukraine. Ukraine remains troubled, yet without Europe’s economic commitment the government in Kiev would have surely gone bankrupt and fallen back into the Russian geopolitical sphere.

Another example of a uniquely effective instrument of European economic power is the imposition of economic sanctions. Ukraine again illustrates the point. As with aid and trade policies, 90 percent of the cost of recent Western sanctions against Russia falls on Europe. This reflects Europe’s unique clout as the largest trading partner not just of many countries in the former Soviet Union, but nearly every country in the Middle East and Africa. It is hard to imagine sanctions working anywhere in the world without Europe’s active participation. The United States, by contrast, hardly trades with most of these countries, and thus it lacks the capacity to levy effective sanctions on its own. For example, Washington sanctioned Tehran continuously for 35 years with little effect. After Europe signed on to tough sanctions in 2013, Iran agreed to a nuclear deal within two years.

Tourists snap a selfie in Gaudi's Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain, on July 11, 2014. (Photo credit: DAVID RAMOS/Getty Images)

Europe’s surprising soft power

“Soft power” measures the ability to advance foreign-policy goals by disseminating and manipulating ideas, information, and institutions that help persuade other countries to act in particular ways. Soft power is employed by various means, and the EU belongs among the world’s most effective manipulators of many of them.

One important type of soft power is the construction of multilateral institutions that are attractive to join. Today, Europeans are the world’s leading supporters of global and regional institutions. Their commitment begins with the EU itself and its ring of agreements with regional neighbors, but Europe also has a decisive influence in managing economic interdependence, human rights, the environment, development, and health at a global level. Typical is the United Nations: Though the United States generally takes credit for being the largest contributor to the international body, once we aggregate Europe’s contribution, it is far more influential. Without European pressure, institutions like the International Criminal Court, the World Trade Organization, and other global institutions would not exist in their current form. By imposing conditionality in exchange for membership or collectively rewarding compliance, other governments become committed to institutional rules Europe has designed, thereby influencing the policies of individual states.

Europe also employs subtler modes of exercising soft power. One is through education. Europe is one of the two educational superpowers. Twenty-seven of the world’s top 100 universities are in Europe, compared with 55 in the United States, one in Russia, and none in China. Europe exceeds the United States in educating foreign students, hosting almost twice as many students from outside the EU as non-Americans at U.S. universities, and over 10 times more students than non-Chinese studying in China.

There are signs that opening up European institutions of higher learning to outsiders has been influential. For example, legal scholars have observed that the values and institutions found in most newly drafted national constitutions do not reflect American or Chinese practices, but distinctively European ones. These include social welfare rights, internationally recognized human rights, parliamentary government, and restrictions on money in politics.

Beyond purely political values, Europe garners broad global admiration for its social, cultural, and lifestyle values. Among the top two dozen global tourist destinations, more than half are European. More profound is European dominance of almost all polls of global respect. Last year, for example, Forbes magazine asked 40,000 people worldwide which countries were the most “reputable”: a composite measure of happiness, cleanliness, lack of corruption, tolerance, and other qualities. Of the top 20 countries, 15 are European. By contrast, the United States ranks 28th and China 57th.

Language? Here too, Europeans enjoy enduring advantages, since the world’s second languages are mostly European. English, of course, is a dominant second language across the globe, while French and Spanish also play important roles. The languages of other great powers, notably Mandarin and Russian, have quite limited sway.

Even in Southeast Asia, Chinese ranks low as a second language, outside of diaspora Chinese communities.

Pop culture? To be sure, the United States has one great advantage. Every one of the top 20 worldwide grossing films ever made came from Hollywood. Yet sports is a similar form of popular mass entertainment with comparable global cachet — and Europe is the world’s dominant sports superpower. Five of the top seven most-watched professional sports in the world — soccer, basketball, cricket, field hockey, table tennis, tennis, and volleyball — are played at the most prominent and intensive professional level in Europe rather than in the United States or China. The most prestigious European professional soccer generates more income and enjoys more worldwide visibility than any other sports franchises anywhere. European soccer grosses almost twice as much as the NFL and college football together in the United States. One also sees the breadth of Europe’s dominance of sports at the Olympics.

r 35 years with little effect. After Europe signed on to tough sanctions in 2013, Iran agreed to a nuclear deal within two years.

In the Summer Games, Europe takes home more medals than the United States, Russia, and China together; in the Winter Games, Europe has always won more medals than the entire rest of the world combined.

People wave EU and Polish flags during a demonstration in Warsaw to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome on March 25, 2017. (Photo credit: WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Why European power is crisis-proof

The underlying determinants of global influence — military capabilities, nominal and per capita income, trade and investment competitiveness, the intrinsic attractiveness of symbolic ideas and institutions — are changing far more slowly than headlines suggest. Europe today is the world’s invisible superpower — rivaling and, in many cases, surpassing the United States and China. It has the resources to retain this status for decades and generations to come.

Today formal and tacit cooperation among European states functions so reliably that only in the rare cases that it fails to occur does the wider world take note. Europe, like other superpowers, is often distracted by seemingly intractable internal disputes and crises. Today they include migration, right-wing radicalism, Brexit, Russian resurgence, and slow growth under the euro. Yet these threats to the European project are less dire than they appear at first glance.

Far-right parties are unlikely to triumph in any continental political system, let alone spark a mass withdrawal from the EU. In these political systems, government is by coalition and referendums are rare. In the Netherlands, euroskeptic parties are set to be excluded from government. In France, Marine Le Pen has little chance of prevailing in the decisive second round of the upcoming presidential election and her party sends only two representatives to the Assemblée Nationale. Euroskeptic parties rule Hungary and Poland, yet have shied away from the suicidal step of withdrawing from the EU.

British leaders resolutely claim to be moving forward with a “hard Brexit.” However, Prime Minister Theresa May’s public negotiating plan proposes to retain (under another name) almost all existing types of cooperation with the EU except future free movement of people. (External trade policy remains in limbo, perhaps as a bargaining chip.) One important example is NATO. Britain intends to maintain its defense alliances, so there is little reason to expect its active participation in military “coalitions of the willing” to change.

The migrant crisis is receding. EU and national policies have successfully reduced migration to a third of its 2015 peak. That would be impossible without leadership from Brussels, and a further round of common EU policies appears to be in the works. In Ukraine, where 10,000 people died in 18 months just a few years ago, a resolute Europe-led Western policy of aid, sanctions, military preparedness, and diplomatic engagement has helped reduce the death toll to a trickle.

Perhaps the most troubling future threat comes from slow growth and austerity within the eurozone. An EU without the euro as we currently know it might well be more popular and stable than it is today. Yet even the euro appears stable for the moment, and growth rates are trending up. As with the other crises, Europe may well muddle through.

Whatever the outcome, these crises seem to have had surprisingly little impact on Europe’s status as a global superpower. Most of Europe’s core formal institutions — including the single market, environmental and other public regulation, the common trade policy, agricultural policy, foreign aid, common border controls — remain essentially untouched. They are not major targets of euroskeptic criticism. Other European superpower policies — including those in foreign, defense, anti-terrorism, anti-crime, foreign aid, sanctions, diplomatic, and development policies — require only informal coordination, “coalitions of the willing,” or tacit cooperation. Recent sanctions on Russia and Iran show that European governments are acting decisively even when diverted by crisis. All these policies will endure whether or not European governments reform their economies, further centralize or decentralize policymaking, increase defense spending, or adopt any other of the various policy prescriptions floating around Europe.

We should not be distracted by sensationalist headlines. Sixty years ago, when European leaders met to sign the Treaty of Rome, one of their shared goals was to strengthen Europe’s global position. They have succeeded and, looking forward, there is little reason to doubt they will continue to do so.

Top photo credit: TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images

Andrew Moravcsik is professor of politics and director of the European Union Program at Princeton University.

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McConnell Revises History on Syria

By Robert Farley. This article was first published no

Sen. Mitch McConnell revised history when explaining why he supported President Trump’s missile strike on Syria but opposed President Obama’s call for a targeted strike against Syria after a chemical weapons incident in 2013.

McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said Trump’s strike was “well-executed, went right to the heart of the matter, which is using chemical weapons. So, had I seen that — that kind of approach by President Obama, I’m sure I would’ve signed up.” By contrast, McConnell recalled then-Secretary of State John Kerry describing Obama’s proposed military strike as “like a pinprick” that would not have “any great consequence.”

In fact, what Obama proposed to Congress back in 2013 was very similar in scope to the attack on Syria undertaken by Trump. In a televised address, Obama called for “a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad’s capabilities.” Obama said, “The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.”

McConnell isn’t the only Republican who has changed his tune, as Politico documented in its story on Trump’s own change of heart. As we wrote recently, President Trump repeatedly tweeted in 2013 that Obama should not launch a military strike against Syria.

McConnell argued several times in a press conference on April 7 that what was proposed back in 2013 was a “pinprick,” as opposed to the strike Trump ordered on April 6.

Reporter, April 7: Senator, you have opposed military intervention in Syria in the past, as recently as 2013. What — what makes last night different and why do you support this?

McConnell: Yeah, let me tell you the difference.

Secretary Kerry, I guess in order to reassure the left-leaning members of his own party, said it would sort of be like a pinprick. You know, really would not be of any great consequence. I don’t know whether he had in mind knocking out a tent and a couple of camels or what.

But this — this was a strike that was well-planned, well- executed, went right to the heart of the matter, which is using chemical weapons.

So, had I seen that — that kind of approach by President Obama, I’m sure I would’ve signed up.

McConnell used the term “pinprick” twice more in the press conference to contrast Trump’s strike to what was proposed by the Obama administration in 2013.

McConnell:  I think the strike [ordered by Trump] was well-planned, well-executed, was certainly more than a pinprick and sends a message not only to Assad that using chemical weapons again is something he cannot do with impunity, but I think it also reassures our Sunni Arab allies that America is back in terms of playing a leadership role and trying to be constructive in a variety of different places around the world, as well as a message to Iran and North Korea and the Russians that America intends to lead again. So I commend the president for this decision. I think it’s entirely correct.

… The vice president called me last night … explained the rationale, how they were doing it and I thought it made a lot of sense and would be a strike that would be noticed, not some kind of pinprick and be directly related to the reason the tomahawks were sent in the first place, the use of chemical weapons.

Let’s revisit how things unfolded in 2013. In August of that year, a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs killed more than 1,400 people, an act the U.S. determined with “high confidence” was conducted by the Assad government.

Obama considered a unilateral strike against Syria but ultimately decided to seek approval from Congress.

McConnell was among those who voiced opposition to a military strike.

“The president’s delayed response was to call for a show of force, for targeted, limited strikes against the regime,” McConnell said then. “We have been told that the purpose of these strikes is to deter and degrade the Assad regime’s ability to use chemical weapons … But let’s be very clear about something. These attacks, monstrous as they are, were not a direct attack against the United States or one of its treaty allies.”

McConnell said such a strike would not deter Assad from using conventional weapons against his own people. He expressed a concern that “degrading Assad’s control of these weapons” might make it easier for groups like al Qaeda to get hold of them. McConnell further warned that “the unintended consequences of this strike could very well be a new cycle of escalation, which then drags us into a larger war that we’re all seeking to avoid.”

So what exactly was Obama proposing? At his press conference, McConnell said he recalled Kerry assuring wary Democrats that “it would sort of be like a pinprick.” That’s not exactly accurate.

During a press conference in London on Sept. 9, 2013, Kerry did outline what he called an “unbelievably small, limited kind of effort” that would “hold Bashar al-Assad accountable without engaging in troops on the ground or any other prolonged kind of effort.”

Kerry, Sept. 9, 2013: We will be able to hold Bashar al-Assad accountable without engaging in troops on the ground or any other prolonged kind of effort in a very limited, very targeted, short-term effort that degrades his capacity to deliver chemical weapons without assuming responsibility for Syria’s civil war. That is exactly what we are talking about doing – unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.

Obama specifically assured that a strike would not be a “pinprick.”

“The U.S. does not do pinpricks,” Obama said in a Sept. 9, 2013, interview with NBC News. “Our military is the greatest the world has ever known. And when we take even limited strikes, it has an impact on a country like Syria.”

That sentiment was echoed by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Sept. 4, 2013. “The president has said … this would not be a pinprick. Those were his words. This would be a significant strike that would, in fact, degrade his [Assad’s] capability.”

When it appeared the measure seeking military authorization did not have enough votes to pass, Obama asked then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to postpone the vote. The following day, in televised remarks to the nation, Obama reiterated his case for a “limited strike” that would not include ground troops nor “a prolonged air campaign.”

Obama, Sept. 10, 2013: I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad’s capabilities.

Others have asked whether it’s worth acting if we don’t take out Assad. As some members of Congress have said, there’s no point in simply doing a pinprick strike in Syria.

Let me make something clear: The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.

Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver. I don’t think we should remove another dictator with force. We learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next. But a targeted strike can make Assad or any other dictator think twice before using chemical weapons.

But Obama said he had decided to postpone the vote to pursue — with assistance from Syria’s ally, Russia — a “diplomatic path.” That later resulted in an agreement between the United States and Russia to have Syria turn over its chemical weapons to international inspectors.

So what’s different about what Obama was proposing to Congress — and McConnell opposed — and the strike that Trump authorized?

“I don’t think it was much different at all,” Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and an expert in the use of military force, told us via email. “The war however is at a much different place. I think both U.S. presidents have found reasonable ways to address the chemical threat — and, gradually, the ISIS threat — and, to date, no good way to address the broader challenge of the war.”

At a United Nations Security Council meeting on April 7, Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador  to the U.N., said the U.S. took what she called “a very measured step ” in the airstrike. “We are prepared to do more,” Haley said. “but we hope that will not be necessary.”

At his press conference on April 7, McConnell was asked whether he anticipated there would be further military action “or did you get the sense that this was a one-time event?”

“No, I think this … strike was related to the use of chemical weapons only,” McConnell said. “So I don’t — I don’t interpret this as a first step toward anything else in particular other than trying to eliminate or at least to make sure there are — that he knows there are consequences for doing this again.”

Later, McConnell reiterated that he thought the intent and scope of the strike was clear, to send the message.

“You don’t use chemical weapons without consequences,” he said. “I think that’s a pretty clear message and I don’t necessarily read into that a larger strategy in the area, but they certainly want to try to prevent the mass killing of innocent people by the use of chemical weapons.”

In other words, McConnell was praising a strike that was limited, did not commit ground troops, and with the expectation that further military action would not be necessary. McConnell now says he didn’t support Obama’s plan for a military strike in 2013 because Kerry said it “would sort of be like a pinprick.” But what Kerry and Obama were proposing was similar to the kind of limited strike that Trump ordered, and that McConnell now supports.

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How Donald Trump Kingmaker-Billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer Have Poured Millions Into Climate Science Denial

By Graham Readfearn. This article was first published on Desmoblog.

Headlines about Mercer family

When it comes to climate science denial, some names come easily and deservingly to mind.

There’s oil giant ExxonMobil — a company that contributed millions of dollars to organizations that told the public there was no risk from burning fossil fuels.

There are the oil billionaire Koch brothers — Charles and David — and their ideological zeal against government regulations that drove them to pour vast amounts into groups spreading doubt on the realities of human-caused global warming.

But a name that has not yet reached those heights of climate science denial infamy — but likely should — is the Mercer family.

Who Are the Mercers?

A DeSmog analysis of Federal Electoral Commission returns shows Robert Mercer, the reclusive hedge fund manager, has donated $30.1 million to politics since January 2015 (a further $2.3 million has come from daughter Rebekah and wife Diana).

Some $15 million of Robert Mercer’s money went into the Make America Number 1 super-PAC that was headed by Rebekah Mercer and that bankrolled the final months of Donald Trump’s campaign. One source told The Hill: “The Mercers basically own this campaign.”

But DeSmog has found the Mercers have also pumped at least $22 million into organizations that push climate science denial while blocking moves to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Trump too refuses to accept the evidence that climate change is caused by humans and has consistently called the issue a hoax.

Before diverting to Trump, the Mercers' cash was backing Senator Ted Cruz, who made climate science denial a main feature of his speeches.

Those positions on climate change, challenged by every major scientific institution in the world, are identical to those of the groups and individuals the Mercers have been handsomely funding through their own family foundation.

Climate science denial also fits well with Robert Mercer’s reported investment in Breitbart — the hyper partisan media outfit that calls climate change a hoax. Many see Breitbart as Trump’s very own propaganda vehicle — the Trump Pravda.

Steve Bannon, Breitbart’s former chief, was picked by Trump (or, more likely, by the Mercers) to lead his campaign. The controversial figure will be Trump’s chief strategist.

Climate Denial Funded

Very little is known about what the Mercers think about climate change or, for that matter, anything else.  Both father and daughter avoid media interviews.

But Rebekah has been described as the most powerful woman in GOP politics and is a pivotal member of the Trump team. Rebekah also runs her father’s charitable foundation.

So, the best way to get a handle on what the Mercers think, is to see where they spend their millions.

DeSmog has analyzed the Mercer Family Foundation’s tax returns since 2005 and finds some $22 million has gone to groups pushing climate science denial.

Across the board, the groups funded by the Mercers have misrepresented climate science, promoted fossil fuels, denigrated renewable energy, and pushed to strip powers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Chicago-based Heartland Institute has received $4,988,000 from the Mercers, cashing its first $1 million check in 2008.

The Heartland Institute holds regular “international climate change conferences” where denialists, fossil fuel-funded scientists, and politicians come together to talk tactics.

In 2012, the institute famously started a billboard campaign that used a picture of terrorist Ted “Unabomber” Kaczynski next to the phrase: “I still believe in global warming. Do you?”

Despite the generosity of the Mercers, the Heartland Institute does not publicly acknowledge the funding, perhaps indicative of the Mercers' desire to stay below the radar.

The Mercer name was even left out of internal Heartland budget documents leaked in 2012. If the Mercers had asked for anonymity, then Heartland’s coyness is not unusual.

Another organization shy about getting cash from the Mercer Family Foundation is the George W. Bush Foundation, the organization set up in 2006 to look after the official archive of the George W. Bush presidency.

The George W. Bush Foundation publishes a lengthy list of its financial supporters and the Mercers are not on it. But tax records show the Mercers have given the Bush Foundation $4.1 million since 2010.

Oregon Petition

Alongside funding for Breitbart and the Heartland Institute, Robert Mercer has also spent $1.25 million supporting an obscure group known as the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, led by Art Robinson.

Robinson was behind a long-debunked “survey” of university graduates, known as the Oregon petition. First published in 1998, the petition claimed that 30,000 “scientists” had declared humans were not to blame for global warming.

Robinson also thinks climate change is a hoax.  His institute sells nuclear survival manuals, is currently stockpiling human urine for testing, and sells home schooling kits for parents worried about their children being exposed to socialism.

Robert Mercer also supported Art Robinson’s failed 2010 Republican run for Congress.

As well as Robert and his family donating to Robinson’s campaign committee, Robert Mercer personally gave $643,750 to a super-PAC that ran attack ads against Robinson’s Democratic opponent (that opponent, Peter DeFazio, has noted that he had co-sponsored legislation to tax hedge fund transactions).

The biggest beneficiary of Mercer Family Foundation cash is the Media Research Center (MRC), a group which claims credit for convincing Americans that most of the media has a “liberal” bias.

The MRC’s outlets regularly give favorable coverage to climate science denialism, while ridiculing credentialed climate scientists and others who place a priority on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

MRC alumnus Marc Morano, communications manager at the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, recruited his former employer to help him produce the climate science denial documentary Climate Hustle. Rebekah Mercer is an MRC director.

The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research is another group on the receiving end of the Mercers' generosity, to the tune of more than $1 million since 2011.

The institute’s researchers tend to argue against renewable energy while promoting fossil fuels and underplaying or ignoring the impacts of climate change.

Rebekah Mercer recently joined the institute’s board of trustees.

The Heritage Foundation is a relative newcomer to the Mercer family’s giving, but the think tank’s positions on energy, political ideology, and climate science fit the pattern perfectly — underplay and misrepresent the science, promote fossil fuels, and push for low government regulations.

Predictably, Rebekah Mercer is a trustee at Heritage, a think tank seen as influential in the Trump camp. The Trump team is drawing heavily from Heritage Foundation staff for its transition teams.

On the EPA “landing team” is Heritage’s David Kreutzer, who claims the recent run of record-breaking hot years globally is nothing unusual.

Rebekah Mercer is also on the board of the Moving Picture Institute (MPI), a group that helps finance and distribute movies which, according to its website, “make an impact on people's understanding of individual rights, limited government, and free markets.”

MPI even has a program to support stand-up comedians who promote this “freedom” ideology in their stand-up routines.

Climate Denial’s Most Powerful Ally?

Until now, the Mercer family’s funding of climate science denial groups has gone relatively unnoticed.

Most of the attention of investigative journalists had fallen on three overlapping groups that have either influenced or funded the climate science denial movement across the United States.

The first was the network of groups funded and orchestrated by the Koch brothers, who have invested millions into creating and sustaining conservative “think tanks” that take positions protecting the Koch brothers' fossil fuel interests.

Groups like the Cato Institute (which cashed a $300,000 Mercer check last year) and Americans for Prosperity have attacked the science of human-caused climate change while challenging the legitimacy of solutions, such as renewable energy and electric vehicles.

The second key funding stream for climate science denial organizations are two linked organizations called Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund.

Both Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund are “donor-advised funds” and are used by rich conservatives to funnel money to “libertarian” causes while hiding the identity of the donors.

A third major supporter of the climate science denial industry are those who stand to lose most from the public fully understanding the implications of climate change — the fossil fuel industry itself.

Companies including ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, and Koch Industries, alongside trade groups representing the fossil fuel industry, have helped fund the machinery of doubt for decades.

Now, Robert Mercer’s fortune and the political prowess of daughter Rebekah have created another wealthy and powerful ally for the climate science denial industry.

President-elect Donald Trump is the most powerful vehicle yet for those billionaires willing to spend big to misrepresent climate science and gamble on society’s future.

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