Thursday, February 23, 2017

Remember, This Didn't Start in Washington

Modern radical right populism predates Donald Trump by a good few years. Turkey, Poland, Hungary all came first and rightwing populism has been alive and well in France, the Netherlands and Britain among others long before Trump entered the Republican nomination race.

You could say this contagion is in its infancy in America although there's no way of knowing how rapidly that could change. For example, it's changing fairly quickly in Turkey and now Poland.

The defence ministry in Warsaw announced that 90 per cent of Poland's top military brass have been removed, replaced. A purge of the general staff, however, is not the creepiest part. year ago, ...Poland’s minister of defense, Antoni Macierewicz, was quoted as saying he wanted to grow Poland’s army from 100,000 to 150,000. He called it “the minimum which is necessary to respond to military threats.”

Macierewicz did add 50,000 troops. But they did not join the military, per se. Rather, they were considered a separate entity — volunteer troops to trained and ready in three years and equipped with Polish-made materials; who focus not on operational maneuvers, but on local tasks; and who are not in the military structure, but are answerable to the Ministry of Defense

It sounds a bit like a pretty hefty Praetorian Guard or, as Saddam called his, the Republican Guard. Okay, it's a bit like the SS, the Shutzstaffel of infamy.  A large contingent of troops that answer to political masters, not the military brass. And the move to politicize Poland's military has extended to weapons production and acquisition.

...the current government “almost turned upside down what is being procured,” [defence analyst Marek] Swierczynski said in an interview with Foreign Policy. It postponed and reduced, for example, the purchase of search and rescue helicopters for the Navy (and will now likely not meet NATO and the EU’s search and rescue requirements), and will instead focus on the purchase of small drones.

This is in part because of the extensive social programs promised by the Law and Justice party, which probably cannot be enacted if the government is also spending 8 to 10 billion zloty annually on new military equipment. Moreover, the military equipment being bought can be made in Poland — specifically, in eastern and central Poland, home to the Polish defense industry, and also to many Law and Justice voters.

It’s “very much like Donald Trump, actually,” Swierczynski explained — Law and Justice is making Poland great again, one small Polish drone at a time. But they are doing so for political reasons, and not, necessarily, because that is will best serve the army or, by extension, the safety and security of Poland.

Macierewicz and the Defense Ministry spent the past year making changes to the army without consulting its most senior personnel. The chief of defense was not consulted when the ministry replaced his deputies. People are appointed to positions without the necessary ranking required. The NATO-Corps deputy commander is supposed to be a two-star general, but a colonel was given the post instead. The Washington military attache — also at least a one-star position — has been empty since April.

But Macierewicz has the mentality that professionalism is not of the utmost importance. His belief is that “You can gain professionalism in due time,” Swierczynski said. “First, you have to be loyal.”

That’s what was seen in 2016. Whether the Polish military will be better served by loyalty than it was by professionalism in the age of a potential alliance between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will be seen in the year, and years, to come.

It's worth remembering what else has transpired in Poland since the Law & Justice party took over. It echoes today in Washington.

First came an attack on Poland's judiciary, notably the troublesome Constitutional Court. But wait, there's more. How about press freedom? Sound familiar? In December, Polish pro-democracy protesters swarmed the legislature for three days.

Protests in the Polish capital Warsaw against government plans to restrict journalists' access to parliament have continued for a third day.

Protesters gathered outside parliament, where opposition MPs have been holding a sit-in since Friday.

Press freedom and judicial independence are also being suppressed in Hungary where strongman, Viktor Orban, has vowed to pursue illiberal democracy.

Then there's Turkey where, under Erdogan, press freedom and judicial independence seem closer to South Vietnam under Diem.

The thing is, much as critics like to cast Trump's senior advisor, Steve Bannon, as some latter day Machiavelli of the Dark Side, he is actually following the playbook written elsewhere. We have the benefit of plenty of recent history to see how this can play out. We can see how the radical right goes about dismembering the democratic state, particularly by attacking judicial independence and press freedom, both of which are well underway in America today.

And, in case you're breathing a smug sigh of relief that we're in Canada, not the United States, you might want to read the National Observer's interview with Chris Hedges. Here's a bit of the Q & A:

What are your thoughts on Canada’s role in this and how Canada could be affected?

Canada’s always a few years behind. Trudeau functions much like Obama. That kind of liberal veneer, while pushing through corporate interests and power at the expense of the citizenry. He’s done nothing to disrupt the surveillance apparatus.

Wouldn't you rather have Trudeau than Trump?

Eventually you end up with a Trump. These are liberal democracies that cease to function. The institutions that address the most basic rights and grievances of the citizens don’t work. They serve corporate power.

Feel better now? I hope not.

1 comment:

AniO said...

And of course Stephen Harper as our George W Bush. Oh yeah, and remember Rob Ford? We have no cause to be smug.