The Return of the Confederacy?

If Mitt Romney is to win the 2012 US Presidential Election tomorrow, he may very well need to win all eleven of the states which made up the Confederacy during the Civil War. Some analysts see this feat as a distinct possibility, with Virginia and Florida the main potential stumbling blocks.

Such an achievement for Romney would be apt given that this is the most polarised election (and electorate) in recent memory and that there has been a resurgence in the popularity of the ultra conservative views synonymous with the Confederacy. Not only is the Evangelical Right more hate-filled and scaremongering than usual, but racial tensions are also simmering in a way reminiscent of the distant past. The “enemy within” during the mid-19th century was the indentured black underclass whose release from the bonds of slavery, it was argued, would pose a threat to the very survival of white civilisation in America.

The new “enemy within” are the Muslims and anyone perceived to be sympathetic towards the principles of Islam, Sharia Law and fundamentalist behaviour in general. “Liberals” have become an indistinguishable blur amongst the American population, a class of person deemed as subversive as the “communists” of bygone days. These “Liberals” – and no conservative can be any more specific in their characterisation of this supposedly dangerous sub-group – are considered almost as great a threat as the Muslim “terrorists”. (My frequent use of quotation marks may be irritating but it these very broad terms that Republican politicians and their vast media cohort use to spread a misconception about the internal threat posed to America).

Regardless of their patriotism, Muslims are mistrusted in America

It is widely believed that the result of the election will come down to economics. Do enough people see signs of a sustained American recovery? Or is there a greater number of people determined to punish Barack Obama for his disappointing economic record? Are they maybe even those who genuinely believe Mitt Romney has the economic and “business” credentials to lead America forward?

The economy is, of course, the decisive factor. However economic considerations are inextricably linked to people’s views on contentious issues such as the threat of terrorism, immigration and social rights. Ethnic minorities have long been blamed for downturns in economic performance and the denial of jobs to the “native” population. Romney’s idea that some immigrants should “self-deport” is the sort of incendiary remark likely to appeal to the unemployed and underemployed. There is also the Republican argument that Obama’s healthcare reform should be scrapped and general spending on social benefits should be slashed. The reason? Well, balancing the budget has something to do with it but then again so does the right-wing desire to increase defence spending. Despite a military and home security budget that would make any other country in the world blush, ┬áRepublicans see as essential an increase in defence expenditure to protect both the benevolent Israelis from potential nuclear armageddon in the Middle East and citizens at home from that “enemy within”.

Because the stance of most Democrats is now so anathema to even moderate Republican views there is an internal segregation amongst the American people that is practically unheard of. Even at the outbreak of the Civil War, how many Unionists really wanted to see the emancipation of the slaves? The two sides probably had more in common than the two parties of today.

Perhaps a revival of the Confederacy would be a blessing; two countries for two different peoples. Because that is the way America is going.

Poppy Eradication Unsustainable

The UN has reported that poppy cultivation in Burma has risen for the sixth straight year, with the opium trade now stronger than ever. This is despite, the report claims, a sustained effort to eradicate poppy fields across the Shan and Kachin provinces where the crop is predominantly grown.

Eradication efforts are historically troublesome. In Afghanistan, the occupying US and British forces thought it prudent to smash the opium trade in a bid to cut off a key economic lifeline to the Taliban, which often hoarded much of the profits from the peasant cultivators. However, whilst these eradication efforts were an operational success, no follow-up plan was devised. Hence, the peasants grew infuriated that their only stable cash crop was withdrawn from them without any viable alternative. Whether suggested replacement crops were not ideally suited to the climate, or Afghan farmers were without the expertise to successfully grow them, is irrelevant. The Taliban could claim a major propaganda coup by suggesting the Western forces were uninterested in the livelihood of the common Afghan and were, rather, only concerned with reducing the production of narcotics which continue to blight their streets at home. Such was the shortsightedness of the opium eradication programme in Afghanistan, that many peasants who had previously shunned the Taliban turned to them as potential saviours. Humiliatingly, many local commanders now implicitly accept the resurrection of poppy growing amongst the peasantry as a means of stabilising their particular district.

The Americans are re-evaluating poppy growing in Afghanistan

Another case in point is Colombia, the home of the cocaine trade. Successive governments – often at the coercing of the United States – have tried to destroy coca crops in the Colombian highlands and thereby prevent Farc rebels from manipulating a possible wealth stream. Unfortunately, whereas in the past there was a greater share amongst participators in the coca business, Farc has long since decided to crush any competitors with brutal military force and the rebel group is now effectively the biggest drug trafficking organisation in South America. As with the Afghans, local Colombians have also become disillusioned with their government, and that of the US, for failing to compensate them for the destruction of a crop that they have always grown. The peasants themselves aren’t the ones snorting cocaine off broken mirrors, so why should they be made to suffer?

Chemical eradication in Colombia

The Burma example is particularly worrying, for the main areas of cultivation are in provinces with ethnic minorities that have long been at war with the government. If eradication efforts are increased in light of the UN report, it may be seen by the rebels as a convenient excuse for the Burmese government to send military forces into their territory and weaken their economic system. This threatens the precarious period of reform that Burma is undertaking, reform that many were hoping would deliver ethnic inclusiveness.

Rather than penalising the common man, governments in narcotic-producing states, and those in developed countries where narcotic consumption is a serious problem, ought to first destroy the sophisticated trafficking, supply and money laundering networks that power the global drug trade. Furthermore, steps must be taken to remove and imprison corrupt and nefarious officials who support the drug lords. Targeting the peasantry only serves to inflame tensions which may have been brewing for decades. Eradication is not a sustainable solution.