Well, the G8 has adjourned, with the leaders of Japan and Russia winging home. They were not invited to part two of the weekend of summit meetings. The most important thing to emerge from the G8 was a very vague statement that everyone agrees and economic growth and debt reduction are necessary to save all of them, but there was no real attempt at reaching a consensus of how those two things should be achieved. The far ends of the debate are President Obama, who advocates the Keynesian view that in times of recession and depression the best thing is for government to stimulate the economy, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel who subscribes to severe austerity as the cure-all for Europe. So far, her program has resulted in the United Kingdom going into double-dip recession and Greece and Spain being in full-on depressions. Germany is the only Eurozone nation showing any growth, and that is marginal, while the rest are seeing their economies contract. France and Greece have just held elections that rejected conservative economics and austerity, and other governments are very fragile.
The G8 is over, and the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and the UK have joined President Obama in Chicago for the NATO summit. There, they are meeting with the leaders of Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Turkey. NATO was formed as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, consisting of the US, Canada and a group of European countries, as a response to the threat of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European nations the USSR had “liberated” from the Nazis. Today, twelve of the twenty-eight members are former Soviet client states that belonged to the Warsaw Pact.
An additional thirty nations and numerous organizations have sent representatives to the summit to discuss everything from the proposed European missile shield to the Afghan War to humanitarian aid in Africa.
Normally, economic summits like the G8 and G20 attract hordes of protesters, but since the G8 was held at Camp David, the usual suspects moved ahead to Chicago. Economic summit protesters run the gamut from anti-globalization to anti-war with a sprinkling of old-fashioned anarchists and tin-hat-wearers who a warning against the Bilderberg Group and the Jewish bankers who are creating the New World Order right under our unsuspecting noses. The incipient establishment of the New World Order is a conspiracy theory so old it wears a powdered wig.
Last week, Chicago police arrested three men who were planning to use Molotov cocktails during the NATO summit. They have been charged in Federal Court with terrorism conspiracy, possession of an explosive or incendiary device and providing material support for terrorism. Six other men arrested Wednesday have been released. In addition to making flaming cocktails, the three were engaged in making beer. The three men are Brian Church, 20, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Jared Chase, 24, of Keene, New Hampshire, and Brent Vincent Betterly, 24, whose address was given as Oakland Park, Massachusetts, but there is no such town. There is an Oakland Park near Fort Lauderdale. The arrived in Chicago in late April to participate in the May 1st demonstrations, according to Bill Vassilakis, who let them stay in his apartment. Betterly has an arrest record in Oakland Park, Florida, for vandalizing a school with two friends after a night of heavy tequila drinking.
Small demonstrations were held across Chicago on Saturday, without incident. There was even one demonstrator walking a lonely picket line outside the Chicago Board of Trade protesting military spending. There was even a peaceful march on the home of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s former chief of staff and the city’s former Congressman. But one demonstration on Saturday was chaotic. The participants seemed to have no specific goal, just wandering the city streets following a zig-zagging path. When police tried to corral them with bicycles and police horses, things got violent. Eighteen protesters were arrested during that clash.
More troubling, however, is the video now circulating around the web showing Chicago policemen using batons on the demonstrators. It is time for Cisco or Skype to come to the aid of the State Department, and Secretary Clinton to teleconference with hundreds of mayors, explaining to them the power of the internet. When pictures of our police beating protesters with batons, spraying them full face with pepper spray while they are peacefully sitting down or lobbing tear gas grenades into demonstrations spreads around the world, it damages America’s ability to take the moral high ground about attacks on protesters or indefinite detention of dissidents in other countries. (She might try explaining that to our conservative Congressmen as well, since they are hellbent to include indefinite detention in our defense authorization bill.)
And, of course, someone needs to make sure that protesters understand that one is not a martyr to the cause if one provokes the cracked skull.
On Sunday, around 2,000 gathered at Grant Park to march 2½ miles to the McCormick Place convention center on Lake Michigan where the summit is being held. The worst clashes occurred at the end of the march, when about 150 protesters tried to push past the police cordon surrounding the convention center. The news cameras caught more attacks precipitated by the protesters than by the police.
Occupy Chicago spokesperson Micah Philbrook, explained that “We want the world to focus on NATO – they’re not important and have no mandate anymore.” Except in Libya where NATO provided the military expertise to carry out the United Nation’s no-fly resolution. Except in Afghanistan, where NATO had been involved in the occupation for ten years.
Though the overt threat of Soviet nuclear or military attack no longer exists, Europe has a pair of problems on their joint doorstep. There is Iran and its on-going blustering about creating a nuclear program that may or may not include weaponization of nuclear materials. And in Russia, President Vladimir Putin seems to be using Soviet practices like the arrest and conviction of opponents to create a very capitalist oligarchy made up of his supporters and friends. As the only European supporter of Syrian, Russia has set itself against the rest of Europe and against NATO. Putin is also have hissy fits over the idea of a missile shield in Europe designed to protect Europe from Iran’s missile capability.
The European NATO partners also have a huge stake in the Arab Spring, unrest and civil war in the Middle East, and Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. There are tens of thousands, if not millions of Middle Eastern refugees and immigrants in Europe, and known al Qaida and terror cells. Europe has in the past taken a dramatically different tack from the United States where terrorist groups are concerned. By allowing them to operate more or less in the open, Europe maintained greater surveillance over them.
But NATO has served another purpose in the new Europe. The European Union is an economic union with a limited political aspect. It has served one purpose in the transition of the former communist nations into the European community. Membership in NATO has given these nations another avenue to assimilation and inclusiveness.
The most important thing on the agenda at the summit is Afghanistan, and secondly, the use of unmanned drones to attack al Qaida in Yemen and Pakistan. NATO is officially part of these operations and the United States can only do so much unilaterally. Further down the agenda are probably discussions of parameters for future operations like Libya…what would trigger such an operation, what would the conditions have to be on the ground, who could call on NATO for military intervention. Whether the demonstrators like it or not, NATO still has a role to play in the world. At the very least, NATO protects the United States from being called upon to be the lone policeman to the world.
Besides, one can never have too many allies.