What Laurie Garrett saw in Davos
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Mar 1 06:07:26 MST 2003
(From a report by journalist Laurie Garrett, author of books on infections
Overall, here is what I learned about the state of our world:
- I was in a dinner with heads of Saudi and German FBI, plus the
foreign minister of Afghanistan. They all said that at its peak Al Qaeda
had 70,000 members. Only 10% of them were trained in terrorism -- the
rest were military recruits. Of that 7000, they say all but about 200
are dead or in jail.
- But Al Qaeda, they say, is like a brand which has been heavily
franchised. And nobody knows how many unofficial franchises have been
spawned since 9/11.
- The global economy is in very very very very bad shape. Last year
when WEF met here in New York all I heard was, "Yeah, it's bad, but
recovery is right around the corner". This year "recovery" was a word
never uttered. Fear was palpable -- fear of enormous fiscal hysteria.
The watchwords were "deflation", "long term stagnation" and "collapse of
the dollar". All of this is without war.
- If the U.S. unilaterally goes to war, and it is anything short of a
quick surgical strike (lasting less than 30 days), the economists were
all predicting extreme economic gloom: falling dollar value, rising spot
market oil prices, the Fed pushing interest rates down towards zero with
resulting increase in national debt, severe trouble in all countries
whose currency is guaranteed agains the dollar (which is just about
everybody except the EU), a near cessation of all development and
humanitarian programs for poor countries. Very few economists or
ministers of finance predicted the world getting out of that economic
funk for minimally five-10 years, once the downward spiral ensues.
- Not surprisingly, the business community was in no mood to hear about
a war in Iraq. Except for diehard American Republicans, a few Brit
Tories and some Middle East folks the WEF was in a foul, angry
anti-American mood. Last year the WEF was a lovefest for America. This
year the mood was so ugly that it reminded me of what it felt like to be
an American overseas in the Reagan years. The rich -- whether they are
French or Chinese or just about anybody -- are livid about the Iraq
crisis primarily because they believe it will sink their financial
- Plenty are also infuriated because they disagree on policy grounds. I
learned a great deal. It goes FAR beyond the sorts of questions one
hears raised by demonstrators and in UN debates. For example:
- If Al Qaeda is down to merely 200 terrorists cadres and a
handful of wannabe franchises, what's all the fuss?
- The Middle East situation has never been worse. All hope for a
settlement between Israel and Palestine seems to have evaporated. The
energy should be focused on placing painful financial pressure on all
sides in that fight, forcing them to the negotiating table. Otherwise,
the ME may well explode. The war in Iraq is at best a distraction from
that core issue, at worst may aggravate it. Jordan's Queen Rania spoke
of the "desperate search for hope".
- Serious Islamic leaders (e.g. the King of Jordan, the Prime
Minster of Malaysia, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia) believe that the Islamic
world must recapture the glory days of 12-13th C Islam. That means
finding tolerance and building great education institutions and places
of learning. The King was passionate on the subject. It also means
freedom of movement and speech within and among the Islamic nations.
And, most importantly to the WEF, it means flourishing free trade and
support for entrepeneurs with minimal state regulation. (However, there
were also several Middle East respresentatives who argued precisely the
opposite. They believe bringing down Saddam Hussein and then pushing the
Israel/Palestine issue could actually result in a Golden Age for Arab
- US unilateralism is seen as arrogant, bullyish. If the U.S.
cannot behave in partnership with its allies -- especially the Europeans
-- it risks not only political alliance but BUSINESS, as well. Company
leaders argued that they would rather not have to deal with US
government attitudes about all sorts of multilateral treaties (climate
change, intellectual property, rights of children, etc.) -- it's easier
to just do business in countries whose governments agree with yours. And
it's cheaper, in the long run, because the regulatory envornments match.
War against Iraq is seen as just another example of the unilateralism.
- For a minority of the participants there was another layer of
AntiAmericanism that focused on moralisms and religion. I often heard
delegates complain that the US "opposes the rights of children", because
we block all treaties and UN efforts that would support sex education
and condom access for children and teens. They spoke of sex education as
a "right". Similarly, there was a decidedly mixed feeling about
Ashcroft, who addressed the conference. I attended a small lunch with
Ashcroft, and observed Ralph Reed and other prominent Christian
fundamentalists working the room and bowing their heads before eating.
The rest of the world's elite finds this American Christian behavior at
least as uncomfortable as it does Moslem or Hindu fundamentalist
behavior. They find it awkward every time a US representative refers to
"faith-based" programs. It's different from how it makes non-Christian
Americans feel -- these folks experience it as downright embarrassing.
- When Colin Powell gave the speech of his life, trying to win
over the nonAmerican delegates, the sharpest attack on his comments came
not from Amnesty International or some Islamic representative -- it came
from the head of the largest bank in the Netherlands!
Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org
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