Centripetal Forces

It was Isaac Newton who coined the terms centrifugal and centripetal to describe the tendencies of force either to flee or seek the center of a system. Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, centripetal forces are reasserting themselves in international relations and domestic politics, in the form of the circling of wagons that takes place when confronting common enemies.

For example, the Paris attacks are accelerating efforts on the part of Republican Party establishment to diminish Donald Trump’s standing in voter polls in anticipation of voting in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Who or what exactly is the GOP establishment?  That’s a complicated topic for another day. For now, it’s enough to say it includes those money interests favoring the candidacies of those who have been state governors, with the conspicuous exception of Mike Huckabee, of Arkansas, who is an ordained Southern Baptist minister as well:  Jeb Bush, of Florida; John Kasich, of Ohio; Chris Christie, of New Jersey; George Pataki, of New York; and Jim Gilmore, of Virginia; plus Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, a veteran legislator.

Kasich backers said last week they would become the first to target Trump with negative advertising – $2.5 million in super-PAC spending in New Hampshire. A former online communications director for the Republican National Committee, Liz Mair, announced the formation of Trump Card, a limited-liability company seeking funds for anti-Trump advertising from donors who prefer anonymity. Attempts to sideline real estate billionaire and reality-tv personality promise to be an entertaining sideshow to the Republican campaign down to its convention in Cleveland this July, and perhaps beyond..

Meanwhile, Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin had a half-hour meeting last Sunday during a break during the two-day G-20 conference in Antalya, Turkey.  It was a sign that Putin has begun to emerge from the isolation imposed by the West following Russian annexation of Crimea and intervention in Ukraine. Hillary Clinton, in a major speech in response to the Paris terrorism, advocated a series of stepped-up efforts against the ISIL forces, including a no-fly zone in Syria, a measure opposed by President Obama and presumably threatening to Russian operations there. But she seemed to come to terms with Putin when she implicitly abandoned the administration’s long-term goal of ousting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. “We need to get people to turn against the common enemy of ISIS,” said Clinton.

The situation in Europe remains thundery, as the strains from migration from the Mideast and Africa continue to increase, accentuated now by new threats of terrorism. Freedom to travel the Eurozone’s 26 countries without border checks is under greater threat than at any point since its inception. Encouraging perhaps is the Rebooting the Eurozone “consensus narrative” that appeared last week, prepared by a dozen distinguished economists and supported by many more.  “The Eurozone needs fixing, but it is impossible to agree upon the steps to be taken without agreement on what went wrong,” they began. The next steps include incorporating into the account of the fate of the European experiment the effects of the collapse of the Soviet empire, America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the global financial crisis, the Arab Spring, and the rise of the terrorist totalitarian movement the Europeans have begun calling Daesh.

What happens next? I don’t know how to think of the rest of the world except in terms of the narrative frame established by the next presidential election. Despite the polls, it still seems likely to me that, once the actual voting begins in the Republican primaries, it will turn out to be Bush vs the rest.  The February states – Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina – account for fewer than 10 percent of the 1,463 delegates necessary to secure the nomination. More than 80 percent of the total is up for grabs in March. Bush is concentrating on accumulating delegates, rather than winning whole states his seconds told Bloomberg Businessweek earlier this month – a winning-while-losing strategy that they say worked for Obama in the Democratic primaries in 2008.

What if it turns out to be Clinton vs Bush next fall?  It would be a welcome opportunity to work through US history of the last twenty-five years. The election is far off, and the path to the match-up so seemingly unlikely, that I have no idea which of them would win.

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