Why Won’t Greece Take a Deal?

Ultimately, it’s about pride.

By John Kiriakou

Greece is in dire straits. As a Greek American, it hurts to watch.

Without emergency loans from its European partners, Greece will default on its debts and likely be forced out of the Eurozone. That means tougher times ahead for Greece, Europe, and international financial markets.

In exchange for a short-term loan, European powers led by Germany want the Greek government to impose brutal new austerity measures on its people. So why won’t Greece take the deal?

First, some background: Past Greek governments are largely to blame for the country’s fiscal woes.

In 1981, Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou famously told his finance minister to “spend it all.” And that’s exactly what he did.

Greece became the first European country to allow all workers to retire with a full pension at the age of 55. A worker in a “dangerous industry” could retire even earlier. But “dangerous industries” ended up including everybody from hairdressers to radio disc jockeys.

In the meantime, the government hired everybody who wanted or needed a job. The public sector ballooned to unsustainable levels, and practically everybody was retiring early at full pension.

Later on, conservative governments jumped on the bandwagon too, handing fat government benefits to their supporters. Tax evasion ran rampant and the entire political system was corrupted.

The system was bound to collapse, and collapse it did. A few years ago, Greece’s neighbors and the International Monetary Fund loaned the country money to make ends meet.

But instead of eating the losses on their banks’ bad investments, the Europeans — and especially the Germans — demanded harsh austerity cuts that shredded Greece’s social safety net, gutted the public sector, and plunged the country deeper into despair.

Fed up with the resulting poverty and unemployment, Greeks rejected their mainstream political parties in the last election and replaced them with the left-wing Syriza party. Led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Syriza campaigned on protecting Greece’s now-huge underclass from Europe’s dictates.

Why would the Greeks risk losing everything by not continuing with a well-defined program of pension cuts and layoffs?

The answer isn’t hard to understand.

First, Syriza rejects balancing the budget on the backs of the poor. Over 40 percent of Greeks now live at or under the poverty level. Middle-class people who worked all their lives have been thrown out of their jobs and have no hopes of getting another. Unemployment for young Greeks hovers around a whopping 50 percent.

Tellingly, suicides in Greece are up over 35 percent since the economy fell apart in 2009, and a “brain drain” of educated professionals to other countries is running apace.

Second, Europeans are ignoring the concept of saving face. The European ultimatum to Greece doesn’t respect the country’s election results or allow the government to claim even a partial victory. Add in the Greeks’ lingering resentment toward the Germans over Nazi atrocities in World War II, and you get an even more difficult situation.

There’s still hope for a last-minute breakthrough. If that doesn’t happen, though, the money will dry up and the Greek economy will fall further apart. Yet compared to endless austerity, that might not be the end of the world.

It may be ugly for a while: Stock markets will slide, Greece will have to re-invent its currency, and the economic depression Greece has endured may last several years longer. But the Greeks will survive, and so will everybody else.

And despite their pain, the poor will know that their government did this for them. The Greek people will know that they weren’t beholden to the Germans or to the International Monetary Fund.

It’s not just about the money. It’s about pride.

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OtherWords columnist John Kiriakou is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. He’s a former CIA counterterrorism officer and former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. OtherWords.org.

Libya Still Reeling From 2011 NATO Removal Of Gadhafi

From Libya to Mali, Nigeria and Somalia, NATO’s 2011 intervention against Moammar Gadhafi has had an undeniable domino effect — but when do the dominoes stop falling?

By Sean Nevins

Bernardino León, head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, told NPR last week that Libya is on the verge of complete economic and political collapse. Adding to this, he asserted, there could be more than half a million people waiting in the country to seek asylum across the Mediterranean in Europe.

“[W]e know that there are a lot of human rights abuses — asking for money, asking for prostitution in the case of women — something very common for people transiting through Libya,” León continued.

Commenting on the situation, David J. Francis from the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, a foundation established to strengthen peacebuilding policy and practice, told MintPress News that he was aghast at the reaction of the Western audience watching the crisis unfold.

Francis explained to MintPress:

“Part of the deal of bringing Gadhafi back from the cold to rehabilitate him as a legitimate player in the international community after spending decades of presenting him as the ‘Mad Dog’ of the Middle East was the fact that he would control immigration, and he delivered on that.”

Francis was referring to negotiations between Libya and the United Kingdom, which began the normalization of relations between the North African country and other Western countries, including the United States, from the late 1990s to the early 2000s.

Despite this, U.S., French, British, and NATO forces attacked the country in 2011, hoping rebels on the ground would overthrow Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Washington also spent $25 million in nonlethal aid to support rebels in Libya. Some rebel groups were connected to al Qaeda.

Chaos immediately ensued, followed by a self-indulgent and triumphalist American media and political apparatus that proclaimed victory and righteousness following the destruction of the country. Even today, Libya’s oil fields, controlled by the country’s National Oil Company, are under constant threat from extremist groups and militias.

“President Obama made the right, albeit belated, decision to join with allies and try to stop Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi from slaughtering thousands of Libyans,” The New York Times editorial section proclaimed on March 28, 2011.

Writing for The Intercept earlier this year, Glenn Greenwald noted that advocates for the war, like Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and CEO of the New America Foundation, and Nick Kristof, a columnist for The Times, applauded the U.S. decision to support anti-Gadhafi rebels in Libya.

Meanwhile, NATO leaders David Cameron, the British premier, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, visited the country for what Scott Peterson, Istanbul Bureau Chief for The Christian Science Monitor, described as “a victory lap” and a “pep talk.”

Military intervention into Libya was preceded by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, which secured legal authority to intervene. The resolution imposed a no-fly zone over Libya, similar to what Turkey currently wants to implement over Syria, strengthened the arms embargo, and opened the door to the arming of anti-Gadhafi rebels.

Permanent U.N. Security Council members China and Russia abstained from the vote, but, more importantly, did not vote against the resolution, which allowed the intervention to legally proceed. Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s current prime minister and former president, has since stated: “Russia did not use its power of veto [of Security Council Resolution 1973] for the simple reason that I do not consider the resolution in question wrong.”

He added, “It would be wrong for us to start flapping about now and say that we didn’t know what we were doing. This was a conscious decision on our part.”

However, it was the U.S. and its NATO allies which spearheaded the operation, with France and England taking the initiative. A no-fly zone was imposed over the country, and from March to October NATO bombed Gadhafi forces until the Libyan leader was shot dead by rebels.

President Obama declared on Oct. 20, 2011: “[T]his is a momentous day in the history of Libya. The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted.” But that was only the beginning for Libya and the fallout NATO actions had across the African continent.

Alan J. Kuperman, associate professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin, and author of “The Limits of Humanitarian Intervention: Genocide in Rwanda,” wrote in Foreign Affairs earlier this year:

“Libya has not only failed to evolve into a democracy; it has devolved into a failed state. Violent deaths and other human rights abuses have increased several fold. Rather than helping the United States combat terrorism, as Qaddafi did during his last decade in power, Libya now serves as a safe haven for militias affiliated with both al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).”

Mali, Nigeria and Somalia: The beginning of an end
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