segunda-feira, 29 de fevereiro de 2016
Donald Trump, Viktor Orban and the west’s great walls
Tear down this wall” demanded Ronald Reagan in Berlin in 1987. “Build the wall” demands Donald Trump, the man poised to take over Reagan’s party by winning the Republican nomination for the US presidency in 2016.
While America is still debating Mr Trump’s demand for a “great, great wall” along its border with Mexico, Europe has already entered the wall construction business. The EU’s panic over the “migrant crisis” is leading to a multiplication of new physical barriers and checks in Europe, to block the passage of would-be refugees.
Once again, there are some painful historical ironies. The first breaches in the Iron Curtain in the summer of 1989 came when the Hungarian government removed the electric fencing that separated its country from Austria — a decision that set off a train of events that culminated in the fall of the Berlin Wall a few months later. A quarter of a century on, Hungary has once again been a trailblazer, but this time in the opposite direction. When Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, built a razor-wire fence along his country’s frontier last summer, to deter would-be refugees, he was roundly denounced. A few months later, an Orban-style fence has just been built along the Greek-Macedonian border, and frontier controls are being tightened across Europe.
The journey from Reagan to Trump — from tearing down walls to putting them up — says a lot about the west’s journey from confidence to fear over the past 30 years. There are many reasons for this new demand for barriers between the west and the rest. The most obvious and direct cause is the fear of mass immigration from what used to be called the “third world”. But, beyond that, there is a broader loss of faith in the west’s ability to engage successfully with the outside world.
Even before the migrant crisis, anti-immigration parties were on the rise across Europe. They are almost certain to gain strength amid the present panic. Europe’s extreme right is already hailing the rise of Mr Trump, on the other side of the Atlantic. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founding father of France’s National Front, recently tweeted: “If I were American, I would vote for Donald Trump — may God protect him.” Concerns about immigration from the Muslim world and terrorism have been linked in both Europe and the US — and taken to the extreme by the Trump campaign’s ugly demand for a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the US.
Beyond the fears about mass migration, however, there is also a crumbling of some of the ideas that have underpinned western engagement with the outside world since the end of the cold war. The first principle is the promotion of a “globalised” economy through the removal of barriers to trade and investment. The second is a willingness to contemplate foreign military intervention in the world’s trouble spots.
These two ideas — globalisation and liberal interventionism — were indirectly linked. The best solution to poverty and instability in the non-western world was (and is) routinely said to be economic growth, through increased trade and investment. But, in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall, western powers also became more willing to contemplate military intervention to “stabilise” failed states and troubled regions that had proved impervious to the magic of globalisation — from the Balkans to Africa and Afghanistan.
After 25 years of governments running these policy experiments, however, western voters seem increasingly sceptical about both globalisation and liberal interventionism. In the aftermath of the Iraq and Afghan wars, there is very little appetite for further large-scale western military intervention in the Middle East. All the Republican candidates in the presidential race are prepared to pile into President Barack Obama for “weakness” in Syria, but none are proposing the deployment of ground troops. Similarly, while there is anguish inside the EU about the influx of refugees from Syria, there is no discussion of sending troops there to end the conflict that is driving the refugee flows.
New trade agreements are also going out of fashion. Four years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, President Bill Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada. Now Mr Trump is proposing not just to build a wall along the Mexican frontier, but to impose swingeing new tariffs on US manufacturers based in Mexico. Even Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, is making protectionist noises on the campaign trail. And while political leaders in the EU claim to be in favour of negotiating a new trade deal with the US, the European left is already mobilising the public against the idea. Even Europe’s cherished internal market may now be threatened by the reimposition of frontier controls within the EU’s border-free Schengen zone.
Viewed from the comfort of Europe or the US, the problems of the Greater Middle East, Africa or Central America increasingly look both frightening and insoluble. If neither trade nor military intervention can succeed in creating prosperity and order, then the temptation increases to create physical barriers to keep the rest of the world at bay.
Mainstream politicians in both the EU and the US will continue to argue that building barriers is not the solution to the problems of the world or the west. But they are in danger of finding that their voters have stopped listening.