Permanent instability appears to be the order of the day in Europe. The announcement by the Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras that he is stepping down and calling new elections comes as a surprise to no one. The Tsipras era has been no less volatile than that of his recent predecessors.
The immediate cause of his resignation is the loss of confidence in him by members of his own party, specifically over the agreement Tsipras made on the latest bailout with Greece’s European creditors. A new party has already been formed by the former energy minister, Panagiotis Lafazanis. When they stand before the electorate they are likely to be offering the Greek people almost exactly what Syriza offered the people before the party came across the realities that Greece is facing and that any party in government there must recognise.
But the truth is that the Greek people – and the people of the EU in general – deserve better than this. Specifically they deserve better leadership. It is not enough that the Greek government continues to revert to the people every few months in order to request that they suggest new ways to reorganise the deck chairs. The Greek governing class continues to behave as though there is a way of averting the inevitable – which is that the country face up to its creditors. Instead of that, a substantial portion of the Greek political class prefers to pretend that they will one day succeed in facing those creditors down.
In some ways the stasis exemplified in this Greek political groundhog day finds expression in other parts of the continent’s politics as well. In Sweden new polls show that the Sweden Democrats – a party with historical far-right leanings – is polling above any other party in the country. The cause is not complex: immigration. All the other Swedish political parties keep putting off the growing problems of their current asylum, immigration and integration strategies. Only the Sweden Democrats have been addressing them and as they have addressed them the other parties have stepped away from the issue rather than into it. And so a matter of the utmost concern to the Swedish people becomes addressed only by people who should have remained on the margins.
These are testing times across the continent, from north to south. There are no simple solutions to any of the problems the continent faces, but unless the mainstream political class in each of our countries is honest with the people and addresses their concerns rather than trying to subdue them, permanent instability will be the least of our worries.
FROM THE DIRECTOR’S DESK
This week’s revelation that over $1 billion in US military equipment has now flowed to the Lebanese Army in one sense counts as no surprise.
Lebanon has been seriously affected by the conflict in Syria and has been rocked by instability caused by massive refugee flows that have swollen the country’s population by 25% of its pre-war total. Sectarian tensions have simmered and occasionally flared into violence. With ISIS claiming sovereignty over the country and Iran’s Lebanese catspaw Hezbollah having been drafted in to defend President Assad’s faltering rule, Lebanon runs the constant risk of once again being torn apart by conflict within its region. It stands to reason that its army therefore needs bolstering.
Except that in Lebanon, nothing is ever straightforward. The careful internal balance within the country has meant that the army cannot enforce the state evenhandedly. Hezbollah has long acted with impunity for example, acting as an armed militia which cannot be controlled. Worse, the army’s links with Hezbollah have been scrutinised in the past, with the US Congress stopping military aid several times on account of fears that Hezbollah would get hold of US equipment and use it against US strategic interests.
Given this, what explains the US move? The answer, as with part of the rationale for the Iran nuclear deal, seems clear: President Obama has decided to gamble on Iran and its allies becoming a fully fledged part of the coalition against ISIS, and that this bet is worth the potential consequences of a strengthened Iran in the region
This is a strange decision to make. Hezbollah is no friend of the US. Commencing with its murder of US marines in Beirut in 1983, it has consistently targeted US interests in the country. It poses a direct threat to the US’s Israeli ally, and has engaged in terrorism overseas in other US allied countries. Its military support for the Assad regime keeps the murderous dictator in power, helping ISIS radicalise foreign Muslims to come and wage jihad against him.
This US decision once again therefore marks the triumph of blind optimism over experience as the guiding principle of US foreign policy today. We must hope it is not one that will return to haunt the US in years to come.
Dr Alan Mendoza is Executive Director of The Henry Jackson Society
Follow Alan on Twitter: @AlanMendoza