Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ireland Gets Schooled in International Affairs

One of the most interesting revelations from the article by Dr. Doom (known to mere mortals as Morgan Kelly) in last Saturday's Irish Times was the role played by the United States in "torpedoing" (to use DD's phrase) a plan by the IMF to offer Ireland a bail-out on terms far less onerous than those subsequently secured under the actual ECB/IMF deal.

At first, I was shocked that Treasury Secretary Geithner could stab us in the back so ruthlessly - et tu Timmy? Sinking Ireland's recovery just because you don't like the idea of burning bondholders? Worried about the questions it might raise about your own government's policies?

My emotive gut-reaction was almost to engage in a bout of anti-Americanism - quite a change from a week earlier when I had been tempted to join in with the chants of "USA! USA! USA!" following the events in Abbotabad. I am, for an Irishman, a sufficient right-wing nutjob that America can do little wrong in my eyes. Which makes it all the more painful that the US has tag-teamed with the German's and Brussels to stamp all over us, and pin the poor investments of European bankers on the Irish taxpayer.

Of course, my initial teary-eyed whinging soon gave way to more sober realism - this is what nations, particularly powerful ones, do. They protect their interests. In fact, this is one reason why I admire the United States - it stands up for its interests, and pays heed to the international community only as a means to make to get its ends accomplished. When such international structures get in the way, they are ignored. The SEAL operation in Abbotabad was, at least as a violation of Pakistani sovereignty, illegal. But it was in America's best interests, so international law be damned. It might be brutal, but you have to admire the almost elegant pragmatism.

The problem with our politicians in Ireland is they actually believe this "international community" guff - they think the EU is a happy club of European nations that aims to treat all members equally, rather than a structure for the major European powers to exert their soft power. We have benefited greatly from membership of the European club - but Germany has also done well out of the Union. After all, where would Germany's export economy be now without the wider Eurozone to dampen down the inflationary pressures? How much would a Merc cost if it was manufactured in a Deutschmark economy. Similarly, at the 4th attempt (counting the Franco-Prussian War), Germany is now able to exert real political power throughout Europe, almost unopposed by any of the other formerly great European powers. And without the, eh, unpleasantness of the last few attempts.

Germany is a big country, and big countries like to exert influence; there is nothing inherently wrong with that. The injustice lies in the fact that our political elite feel that there is some moral onus on them to meekly accept this influence. Today, we are witnessing the massive price Ireland has paid for missing out on the Second World War (admittedly, there would have been some downsides to taking part!). Nations of similar size and political weight to us, such as Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands, didn't get to skip the whole "apocalypse made real" thing between 1939 and 1945 - they had to deal with a war, not just an "Emergency". As such, they know that sovereignty and independence are precious, but also fragile. They know that a nation can be here today and Anschlussed tomorrow. What's more, they understand that if you engage in messy governance, wink at corruption, or ignore systemic economic problems, you are increasing the risk that you will lose your say over your own country. Great powers are always looking to gobble up more territories, and will add you to their empire/sphere of influence/bloc or whatever they're calling it these days, if you present them with an opportunity.

But in Ireland, our leaders don't see that. They think the Finns are listening to Timo Soini because of anti-immigrant sentiment. They assume the Danes stayed out of the Euro because of small-minded obstinancy. They think the Dutch Finance Minister is backing Ireland's low, low corporation tax because the Dutch are just nice guys. The simple fact is the Finns don't want to pay for a Euro bailout, and voted accordingly; the Danes realised that their "small, open economy" would be derailed by a common currency, and the Dutch are thinking "hang on, if the Irish aren't allowed set their own taxes, how long till we start getting told how to run the show here?". These countries take their national interests, their sovereignty as states, seriously, because not that long ago they were nearly wiped out. In Ireland, meanwhile, the great and the good want to keep Europe happy, on the off-chance they might be made EU Commissioner for Science and Innovation.

C'mon guys - whip out a copy of "the Prince", learn to bluff, and go give Brussels the "Blazing Saddles" defence. We are going to suffer economic Armageddon regardless - let's see what happens if we play the Big Boys (and Big Girls, Angela) at their own game. Threaten to visit financial hellfire on their heads, and see if they are worthy of the status of "Great Power". Otherwise, get use to being relegated from "national leaders" to "provincial politicians". If you want to lead a nation, get to know how the real world beyond our island actually works.

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