International lawyer Robert Amsterdam and other members from the Amsterdam & Partners LLP team host a wide range of special expert guests to discuss leading international political and business issues.
After the failed putsch, we talk antitrust
Zephyr Teachout is a renowned US law professor, activist, author, and columnist with an expertise in anti-corruption, but we couldn't help but begin our conversation during this podcast to respond to the shocking events in Washington DC on the 6th of January 2021, when a mob of violent rioters forced their way into Congress. With four people dead, three bombs found, the nation may never be the same. So what happens next? What will the consequences be?
"There seems to be a desire to just rush ahead two weeks and to sort of treat this as if we can just sweep it under the rug," Teachout says, but this would be a major mistake. "Trump, Hawley, and Cruz didn't necessarily expect to win, but were playing to social media and really achieved a lot of what they desired because there was no real plan of maintaining control, but there was a plan of really inciting a deep distrust of the peaceful transfer of power. I think of this as a very significant assault on constitutional democracy."
Teachout continues: "Even with just two weeks left, it is important that there be immediate consequences. And I wish that the House was moving forward with Articles of Impeachment, and then separately the House and Senate looking at removal of members who were actively undermining the peaceful transfer of power.".
Amsterdam and Teachout also discuss her brilliant new book, "Break 'Em Up: Recovering Our Freedom from Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money," which presents an impassioned critique of the various corporate monopolies which have taken over American life and distorted our economy and politics.
"The essence of the book is to say that we are facing a democratic threat," she says. "They are threatening our media infrastructure, our legal infrastructure, and our political infrastructure by taking over political parties - and then also directly governing."
The situation is not hopeless, however. Teachout argues that there are many tools available at our disposal to recover our freedom and protect democracy from corporate influence - and that begins with antitrust and anticorruption laws that address the power structures instead of just individual criminal liability.
How China's memory of WWII evolved from victim to hero
For much of China's history, the Communist Party leadership sought to portray the country's experience in World War II as that of a victim of Japan. But now, as China grows much more powerful and influential, the historical memory is also adapting to tell a different story.
This week we are joined by Rana Mitter, a professor of history at Oxford University, who is the author of "China's Good War: How World War II Is Shaping a New Nationalism."
Mitter's book argues that China’s reassessment of the World War II years is central to its newfound confidence abroad and to mounting nationalism at home. These arguments, which include the promotion of China's role in creating the postwar global order, are reinforced by stronger efforts of public memory of the war, including museums, movies and television shows, street art, popular writing, and social media. Through these lens, "Wartime China" emerges as victor rather than victim.
This reinterpretation of history has both positive and negative impacts on China's ability to conduct diplomacy under growing nationalism.
Why America chose hegemony
The United States is a country that spent most of its history avoiding interventions, avoiding entanglement in great power politics, content to be isolated looking after their own affairs. Then suddenly, in just the past 75 years, it has become the world's preeminent armed power in a position of global leadership. How did such a dramatic remaking of America's role take place so quickly?
Historian Stephen Wertheim explores this question and more in his fascinating new book, "Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy," examining the months leading up to Washington's decision to enter the conflict and the impact this decision had on reshaping the nature of the international system leading up to today.
"For most of America's history, the United States did not seek and did not tell itself it was seeking military dominance across the globe," Wertheim says. "Having military dominance, stationing bases around the world, being responsible in principle for enforcing world order - that was not what the United States was doing from its founding to 1940. And so a choice had to be made to put the United States on a fundamentally different path. And it was made, I argue, in the 18 months between the fall of France in the middle of 1940 and the bombing of Pearl Harbor at the end of 1941."
Wertheim continues by breaking down the misapprehension regarding the tug of war between "isolationists" vs. "internationalists," which didn't actually take place, and instead obscures this sea change in the desire for US global leadership. Instead, American leadership was carefully weighing whether it would be possible to preserve a limited Western hemisphere trade bloc while giving up the rest of the world to the Axis powers, and then eventually expanding these areas wider and wider that they considered should be defending for US interests.
A Turkish diplomat's view of global politics
Over the past several years, Turkey's relations with both the European Union and the United States have come under strain by factors both internal and external. The complexities of these relationships, in addition to the management of tensions with Russia and the Middle East on numerous fronts are not often clearly understood, even by well informed observers.
This week we have the unique opportunity to hear an insider's perspective from the highly respected former diplomat and senior statesman Onur Öymen, whose numerous diplomatic postings included Ambassador to Denmark, Ambassador to Germany, Permanent Representative to NATO, and Under Secretary of State for National Security.
Dr. Öymen is the author of the new book, "Political Memoirs: Resisting Pressure," which was recently released in Turkish, English translation pending in the future.
Syria almost built a democracy in 1920, until the West came along
Following the World War I breakup of the Ottoman Empire, Prince Faisal came into Damascus to declare his determination to build a constitutional democracy which would serve as the primary building block of a new sovereign state with guaranteed rights for a pluralistic population. Secular modernizers and Islamic reformers created groundbreaking new alliances which could have served as governance models across the Middle East.
But instead, Syrian democracy appeared to be too threatening to British and French colonial interests in the region. The two Western powers refused to recognize the Damascus government and instead imposed a system of mandates on the pretext that Arabs were not yet ready for self-government. In July 1920, the French invaded and crushed the Syrian state.
The story of this period is told in exquisite narrative detail and deeply researched insights by Dr. Elizabeth Thompson, a professor of history at American University and the author of the new book, "How the West Stole Democracy from the Arabs: The Syrian Arab Congress of 1920 and the Destruction of its Historic Liberal-Islamic Alliance."
In this conversation with Robert Amsterdam, Dr. Thompson speaks about the unknown twists and turns of King Faisal's rise to power and rapid downfall, and why we continue to see the ramifications of this anti-democratic intervention by the West that is often ignored in many retellings of the Arab world's experience with democracy and state building.
What we failed to see in 1933
A favorite historical hypothetical question we often hear tossed around is what should the world have done differently to halt the rise of Nazi Germany and prevent World War II from taking place. But the truth is, the number of signals and signs of this approaching threat were numerous and often rather clear, and so were the opportunities to take action. But instead, Western liberal democracies hesitated and blinked.
Paul Jankowski, a Professor of History at Brandeis University and the author of the excellent book, "All Against All: The Long Winter of 1933 and the Origins of the Second World War," believes it would be reckless for us to ignore these lessons from history in our consideration of current geopolitical challenges.
In this podcast interview with Robert Amsterdam, Jankowski discusses many of the lesser-known developments in the winter of 1933, from Japan's consolidation of power in China, Mussolini's expansion into Africa, and how disputes over debts and trade broke the alliance structures of 1918. As all these disparate events were taking place, Nazi ideology was quickly devolving into racialist extremism, while attitudes of isolationism and pacificism in France, the UK, and US were preventing any sort of intervention or containment.
Given the current spread of far-right nationalism and populism taking place now, have we managed to learn anything from 1933?