UAE/Bahrain Normalization: Peace or Geopolitics?

23 Sep

[Prefatory Note: responses to Murat Sofuoglu’s of TRT questions (IX/21/2020) on UAE/Bahrain normalization. It will be important to distinguish the immediate gains for Netanyahu and Trump from middle-term impacts that will not likely be evident for several months. Some speculation suggest that normalization in the form of the so-called Abrahamic Agreements goes beyond an acknowledgement of an Israel’s existence, but moves toward affirming Israel’s right to establish a Jewish state in an Arab society.]

 

  1. Do you think UAE-Bahrain normalisations with Israel are further dividi.ng the Arab world and the Middle East?

 

Yes, I think the willingness to endorse these normalization agreements in the White House setting was a dramatic expression of identification with Trump’s regional diplomacy in the Middle East and a formalized repudiation of Palestinian aspirations for a sustainable peace based on their inalienable right of self-determination. It also confirmed an acceptance of relations with Israel on the part of these Gulf monarchies on the basis of their self-interests, including arms acquisitions and U.S. diplomatic support, while abandoning the earlier Arab consensus on withholding normalization until the Palestinian have their own state with its capital in Jerusalem.

 

  1. Will Saudi Arabia eventually normalise relations with Israel?

 

My assumption is that Saudi Arabia is waiting to see whether there are any adverse reaction to the moves made by UAE and Bahrain. Of special concern to Riyadh is whether there is any serious anti-regime activism in Saudi Arabia or the countries that took the normalization steps. It may also be the case that the MBS will await the death of the king, and his own succession, before making such a move. The outcome of the U.S. election in November could be a factor working in either direction: early normalization to help Trump; deferred normalization to avoid alienating Biden or if it seemed as though Trump would lose the election.

 

  1. What kind of the Middle East would you envision after the UAE-Bahrain deal with Israel?

 

It should be kept in mind that the normalization agreements were preceded by a decade of extensive cooperative arrangements between Israel and these two Arab states. However, the agreements might also be intended to send a message to Iran that such an alliance is now robust enough to counter any further Iranian regional expansion, and as a warning to reduce profile in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Gaza, and Lebanon or face the consequences. There is also a Turkish dimension, which seems intended to express the priority accorded by these governments to reconciling with Israel even if it means greater distancing from Turkey.

 

The Turkish dimension requires further analysis, but becoming so explicit about normalization  send a signal that these Arab monarchies are prepared to side formally with Israel despite their opposition to Turkish diplomacy–normalization with Iran, support for Palestinian rights, and low profile relations with Israel (while Israel pursues back channel anti-Turkish, anti-Erdogan initiatives with the objective of marginalizing Turkey in ME, Europe, and the United States.

 

 

Trump Induced Normalization Agreements with Gulf Monarchies: Is This What Peace Looks Like?

18 Sep

[Prefatory Note: The following post is based on two interviews with a Brazilian journalist, Rodrigo Craveiro, who publishes in Correio Brazilensie. The questions posed seek commentary on the normalization agreements reached between Israel and two Arab countries, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain. My responses have been modified and enlarged since the interviews on 17-18 September 2020. These normalization agreements are being perceived from a variety of angles depending on the agendas of the various political actors. In the present context it seems a win for Israel and Trump, and a loss for the Palestinians and Iran, but will these assessments hold up when again Israel moves to foreclose Palestine’s future by proceeding to fulfill Netanyahu’s most solemn and oft-repeated pledge?]

 

Trump Induced Normalization Agreements with Gulf Monarchies: Is This What Peace Looks Like?

 

Interview #1

 

1– Trump signed with Israel, UAE and Bahrein a deal today and told this represents a change  in the course of history. “After decades of division and conflict, we mark a dawn of a new Middle East. We take a major stride towards a future in which people of all faiths and backgrounds live together in peace and prosperity”, said Trump. How do you see the meaning of two Arab nations accepted to sign a deal with Israel?

 

These normalizing moves on the part of UAE and Bahrain, under pressure from the U.S., are a form of symbolic politics‘ that have weight because they are reinforced geopolitically by being so ardently promoted by the Trump presidency. By way of contrast, the 130 or so diplomatic recognitions of Palestine as a state by governments around the world have had little significance because they lack political traction to make anything concrete and substantive change.

 

Trump’s bravado is at best an exaggeration, and at worst a shortsighted and misguided prediction about the future. This agreement expresses the interests of these two Gulf regimes that want to concentrate their power to confront the Iranian challenge, and need Israel, with U.S. backing to do this, but the Arab people remain committed to the Palestinian struggle for basic rights. There are other motivations, including the acquisition of weapons, economic relations with Israel, and being seen as willing to please the U.S. Government, at least so long as Trump is in charge. It is largely symbolic as these governments were increasingly cooperating with Israel in any event, making the claim that this has brough the region closer to peace, indeed ‘a dawn’ seems fanciful. It is not a breakthrough but a symbolic victory for Israel, and a symbolic defeat for Palestine. Nothing substantial has changed, but the atmospherics of regional politics could make a difference either mobilizing a popular movement of opposition to suck a betrayal of the Palestinian struggle or leading to a cascade of normalizing initiatives by other countries, particularly Saudi Arabia. Whether this kind of development would lead to longer range adjustments in the region and beyond is highly conjectural at this stage, and depends on many unknowable factors.

 

 

2– Do you believe Trump is using this deal mostly for pushing votes in elections? Why?

 

Trump is motivated by his immediate interests in. the November election, but also by his dual strategy of being an autocrat at home and a self-promoting peacemaker internationally. I doubt that this signing ceremony attracted much attention, and is unlikely to swing many votes in Trump’s direction. The main election issues involve Trump’s controversial personal style as leader, the outlook for the economy, and the tensions between unrest in the cities, police racism, and middle class fears of disorder.

 

3– What would be the consequences of such deal for Middle East?

 

Much will depend on events that will unfold in coming months, including the degree to which there will be renewed Palestinian resistance, even something on the order of a Third Intifada. Also, important will be whether this normalization with Israel is a prelude to an escalated confrontation with Iran. If this occurs, it would change the intergovernmental alignments in the region, but also might induce renewed domestic turmoil culminating in a second Arab Spring. The behavior of Turkey, China, and Russia are highly relevant in shaping either a new regional balance in the Middle East or sparking a new conflict configuration. Also, continuing U.S, military disengagement would alter the overall situation rather fundamentally, although in unpredictable ways. It should be remembered that severe problems of prolonged internal strife currently exist is Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Lebanon, as well as potentially explosive conflicts pertaining to energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean. The overall regional situation is extremely complicated, and it seems likely that these largely symbolic developments in relations between Israel and Arab countries will not have important lasting consequences, partly because de facto normalization and strategic Arab/Israeli cooperation had preceded this process of formalization by several years.

 

Interview #2

 

 

******

 

1-Bahrein joined Arab United Emirates in signing deal with Israel. In what ways these deals will harm Palestinian cause?

 

These normalization arrangements are symbolically and possibly substantively harmful to the Palestinian struggle and correspondingly helpful to Israel’s long-term efforts to overcome its isolation and questionable legitimacy as a Middle Eastern state. Israel demonstrated the importance attached to normalization by its willingness to put off formal annexation moves on the West Bank in exchange for these formalized moves toward normalization. In doing so, Israel gained feelings of greater security enlarging the scope of peaceful relations with neighbors. Israel also received certain substantive benefits: air navigation overflight rights, touristic and diplomatic interaction, export gains, and enhanced reputation of diplomatic flexibility, especially appreciated by the Trump presidency. Bahrain and the UAE also added to regime security by taking these normalizing steps with Israel through obtaining greater assurances of support from Washington should internal challenges arise.

 

This diplomatic sequence was harmful to the Palestinians from a psycho-political standpoint as the Arab countries had pledged in 2002 to refrain from any  normalization moves until a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine was negotiated, a Palestinian state established, and East Jerusalem was declared as the its capital, enabling Islamic access to al-Aqsa, the third holiest Muslim sacred site. The Arab shift can be understood from three perspectives: to please Trump, to solidify security cooperation with Israel against Iran, and to obtain access to American advanced drones and fighter jet aircraft, and whatever weaponry and training it sought to control internal opposition. Of course, the Arab denial of such motivations, rests on the Israeli suspension of annexation moves toward extending its sovereignty to the West Bank, but this is a temporary concession and draws attention away from the widespread perception, not least by the Palestinians, that de facto annexation had been continually encroaching on Palestinian territorial expectations ever since the occupation began after the 1967 War. An open question is whether a renewed push by Israel for de jure annexation of 30+% of the West Bank will lead to any de-normalizing moves by Arab countries, or strong expressions of opposition in the West, including the United States. The failure of adverse consequences after the U.S. defied the UN consensus by announcing the movement of its embassy to Jerusalem at the end of 2017 suggests that there will be some strong rhetoric but little behavioral pushback, especially if a ‘decent interval’ has transpired and Arab priorities remain as at present.

 

2–Do you see an effort of Arab nations trying to punish Iran even they have to act as treason (betrayal) Palestinian fight? Why?

 

I do not see this diplomatic maneuver in that way, but rather as a way to clear the path to more robust regional cooperation with Israel in confronting Iran, and gaining more leverage in Washington for the pursuit of an anti-Iranian policy. I think it may be more reasonably interpreted as a further indication that Arab priorities and threat perceptions have shifted. This means that Israel no longer needs to be treated as adversary and enemy as a show of Arab solidarity in the face of a European incursion in the form of a Jewish state.  Instead Iran is feared as a regional rival, and has become the primary threat to Arab political arrangements, especially dynastic governance. In this regard, Palestinians are feared, as well, potentially inducing democratizing challenges to these oppressive monarchies that are sustained by sustained by weaponry and support from the West, especially the U.S.. It is important to appreciate that despite decades of rhetorical solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, Arab elites were ambivalent, believing that a Palestinian victory would have negative repercussions for their own stability.

 

 

3–What would be consequences of such deals between Bahrein and UAE with Israel for Middle East geopolitics and for perspective of peace process in future?

 

At present, the US/Israeli governments do not favor a diplomatic solution to the Israel/Palestine confrontation. Israel is not interested in seeking a genuine political compromise involving territory and refugees, and is under no U.S. pressure to pretend otherwise. Israel’s territorial objectives continue to be expansionist, encompassing ‘the promised land,’ which presupposes an eventual de jure annexation of large parts of the West Bank, retention of an undivided Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and the denial to Palestinian refugees and exiles of any right of return to pre-1967 Israel. If this is an accurate depiction of the underlying situation, there is nothing for the Palestinians to achieve, beyond some easing of material conditions (‘an economic peace’) by accepting the sort of one-sided ‘deals’ put on the table months ago by the Kushner/Trump. Although the Palestinians have been deliberately squeezed economically, especially in Gaza, the gains in Palestinian living standards that  might follow from accepting what is being offered come with an the unacceptably price tag–the surrender of basic rights. It seems highly unlikely after a century of struggle, bloodshed, and displacement that the Palestinian would renounce their quest for basic rights, including the right of self-determination.

 

 

4–Trump is stimulating such deals to isolate Iran but also to gain votes among Israel lobby in US. How do you see such strategy?

 

I do not see any major gains for this latest Trump effort in the Middle East. Objectively, considered, the main American diplomatic gain from these normalization moves seem clearly intended to distract attention from the failure of the much heralded ‘deal of the century,’ which was released under with the more sober title of ‘From Peace to Prosperity.’ It received scant support in the Arab world or among allies in Western Europe. It was widely regarded as so one-sided in Israel’s favor as to be more in the nature of a diktat than a genuine attempt to find common ground between the parties on which to work toward a diplomatic settlement.  I see little evidence that Trump will any significant additional support from the Israeli lobby or Jewish voters. It gives Trump cheerleaders something to boast about, including managing to

achieve the explicit acceptance of a Jewish state as a permanent and legitimate presence in the Middle East without having to obtain the agreement of properly constituted representatives of the Palestinian people. Iran was already isolated in the region, although with respect to Palestine it retains an approach that is supported by Turkey, and increases the plausibility of its claim to be leading the struggle against the remnants of European colonialism in the region. Such a claim resonates with public opinion throughout the entire Arab world, and is not so evident because harshly suppressed by the ruling elites.

 

More concretely, Trump’s foreign policy always welcomes arrangements that include new opportunities to increase the exports of arms merchants, and these agreements, especially with the UAE, include a commitment to provide expensive weapons, while ensuring Israel that its qualitative edge in military capabilities will be retained, thereby creating the possible basis for a regional arms race in the years ahead.

 

Finally, just as Trump seems to gain votes by helping Israel, the Arab monarchies would gain by Trump’s reelection. One ulterior motive for normalization at this time, that is just prior to the November election, is to bolster Trump’s tenuous claim to be a peacemaker in the Middle East.

 

 

A Conversation at the Edge of the Human Future

12 Sep

[Prefatory Note: I am posting below a long interview with Konrad Stachnio on a wide-ranging questions, which stretched by knowledge past its breaking point, especially in assessing where the technological innovations on the horizons will lead us. It is one of 17 conversations published by Clarity Press under the title, Civilization in Overdrive: Conversations at the edge of the Human Future. Preface by Stachnio after interview.

 

I recommend the book strongly. It can be ordered using the following url:

https://www.claritypress.com/product/civilization-in-overdrive-conversations-at-the-edge-of-the-human-future/ ]

 

 

 

Civilization in Overdrive, edited by Konrad Stachnio

 

“If a digital Fukuyama tells the world that ‘the end of history’ has been reached, he should be scorned this time around.”

KONRAD STACHNIO: Do you know what is the role of the so-called Black Budget in building the power of the USA as a global security state?

RICHARD FALK: It is not possible for someone without access to highly classified materials to assess accurately the policy significance and content of the Black Budget in the years since 1945, including the financing of a range of intelligence activities and a variety of covert intervention projects. It is possible to put forward the view that the CIA and special operations forces are both partially financed by the Black Budget that has been integral to the formation and execution of American grand strategy since the end of World War II, building its unaccountable claims on government spending for global security as a byproduct of Cold War imperatives. The Black Budget has, above all, provided a cover for unlawful encroachments on the sovereign rights of foreign countries, mainly those of adversaries, but also extending to thwarting leftist political movements from controlling governments in countries whose foreign policy was under the tutelage of the United States. The Black Budget has also evidently been used to keep secret the financing of the research and development of new weapons and surveillance technologies. As with other bureaucratic innovations, the removal of an original justification for an undertaking does not easily lead to its abandonment or even downgrading, especially if shielded from

scrutiny by its secrecy and related non-accountability. In this respect, although the size of the Black Budget steadily grew as one side effect of the Cold War, its ending in the 1990s did not lead to reduced appropriations.

Most modern states finance their secretive activities through some form of “Black Budget.” What distinguishes the U.S. Black Budget is its scale, global projection dimensions, and integration into an overarching design for establishing and maintaining a global state, and its ties to unlawful policies and practices outside the domain of territorial sovereignty, and most of all, its linkages to sustaining the United States as the first “global state” in history. It is not just a matter of its planetary interpretation of American security, but of its subsuming under the banner of security a wider hegemonic agenda of economic dominance, cultural hegemony, and ideological influence. There is no serious pretension that after the Cold War the U.S. Government was taking over responsibility for global peace and security as envisioned in the Charter of the United Nations, although there was a brief claim to this effect in 1990–91 when the American president, George H.W. Bush, proclaimed “a new world order” based on UN authority and international law in response to defending Kuwait against Iraqi aggression. Such a claim was never subsequently repeated.

The idea of the U.S. as a global state is a geopolitical endeavor related to power and wealth rather than on any normative (based on law and morality) or cosmopolitan (meta-nationalist) conceptions of security. It is rationalized and justified by reference to national interests as measured by military superiority, economic advantage, alliance cohesion, and by the exercise of global leadership supposedly for the benefit of all humanity. The substantive priorities of the Black Budget are designed by American political realists who are by training and disposition distrustful of any loss of sovereign control over national policies and practices, are suspicious of the UN and international law, and seek to validate foreign commitments by reference to the promotion of national interests.

There is every indication that the Black Budget has been over the years “bipartisan” in the sense that it receives equal support from the U.S. Congress whether the occupant of the White House is a Democrat of a Republican. This bipartisanship extends to overall support for the defense budget and for a capitalist approach toward financial and labor markets, environmental protection, and corporate regulation. Donald Trump was opposed by part of the national security establishment when he sought the presidency in 2016 because he was perceived as a threat to this bipartisan consensus, and especially the commitment to maintaining control over a global security system. Trump did challenge aspects of the consensus, but when it came to militarism there has been no rupture since he entered the White House. The Black Budget has been rising during his presidency, reaching $81.1 billion in the last fiscal year,

suggesting that Trump, despite withdrawing from economic, humanitarian, and environmental internationalism and asserting a belligerent brand of chauvinistic nationalism, is not willing to dismantle the American state apparatus of global surveillance, secrecy, and control, and even more tellingly, to abandon the network of overseas military bases, the far flung naval presence in the world’s oceans, and even the militarization of space.

Underlying questions arise as to whether the Black Budget of the United States and others is an inevitable implication of the military technology now available to many states, its range and accuracy that overcomes distance and time, precluding targeted states from defensive responses to threats. These conditions create multiple vulnerabilities of societies throughout the world, however powerful, to subversive violence from within and transnational violence from without, making readiness for war a permanent feature of political life. The global security state is reinforced by a trend toward autocratic national leadership throughout the world. It is important to associate the Black Budget with both innovative military software and hardware as well as with the surveillance/secrecy impulses of governance at the national, regional, and global levels of political organization. More concretely, the threats of terrorism and more recently, of contagious disease, give surface rationalizations for security capabilities that penetrate the most private activities of citizens as well as the secret undertakings of foreign governments, whether friendly or not. Such technologically driven circumstances bearing on the shrinking of time and space, if correctly and humanely interpreted, would encourage rapid shifts in emphasis and ideology from national and militarized security to human and ecological security. There are no signs that this desirable shift is happening, and so the roots of militarism grow deeper into the soil of political life in all its operational contexts.

KS: Are we currently entering the era of global digital dictatorship? Over those who colonize other countries technologically as well as on those that are colonized?

RF: I am not convinced that the core reality of this epoch will be shaped by “digital dictatorship,” and I am not entirely sure what is meant by the term. There seem to be contradictory tendencies arising from digitization, providing pathways to both domination and autonomy. It is true that vulnerability to cyber-attacks will give potential dictatorial control to the more technologically sophisticated political actors, but to what ends is impossible to anticipate, as well as what counter-moves might be taken by less digitally sophisticated states. There are also possibilities of non-state actors acquiring control or neutralizing capabilities with respect to such technologies. I suspect that the greatest dangers will arise at the interface between artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, with drones already prefiguring such militarized applications of digital technology. As with other weapons innovations, it is not at all clear that political outcomes will be determined by military superiority. The historical novelty of the anti-colonial wars of the last century was that they were won by the side that possessed inferior military capabilities. There is as yet no evidence that digital technologies will be able to impose stable dictatorial governance at home or compliant colonies abroad. The dynamics of national resistance must be taken into account. What could happen is a weakening of the legitimacy and effectiveness of the state-centric world order, which has dominated the international scene since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Digitization could result in new configurations of authority and power, mergers of weaker and more vulnerable states to augment postures of digital anti-colonialism.

The near future of geopolitics may be shaped by the agendas and undertakings of the two global states, U.S. and China, the former declining, the latter ascending, and poised for rivalry, if not confrontation. The dynamics of their interaction is likely to shape the geopolitical structure of world order, at least for the remainder of the first half of the 21st century. Which of these two global states comes to possess superior mastery of digitization may give a clue as to how this rivalry will play out historically, but still may not reveal whether digital dominance will be translated into usable forms of geopolitical leverage or transnational structures of political dictatorship both within sovereign territory and within the sovereign domains of foreign countries or regions. For the foreseeable future there will be a variety of intensifying tensions between the territorial dimensions of authority and the non-territoriality of influence and behavior. At present, autocratic nationalism is obstructing transnational flows of people (walls at militarized borders, anti-immigration policies and practices), capital (retreat from neoliberal globalization), and goods and services (trade wars, sanctions). What the prospects are for digital internationalism, especially if hegemonically motivated, remains obscure.

KS: Will the new apartheid of our time be division into people who are “technologically enriched” (through, for example, embedded microchips or gene editing, thus being more adapted to the technological environment) and those who do not have these embedded enrichments?

RF: At present, the clearest historical examples of apartheid involve race and nuclear weaponry, although the structures of domination and victimization are specific to each instance in both categories. The idea of apartheid derives from South Africa’s racist political regime of a white minority imposing its

exploitative will on a large black majority. It has been applied in two different ways to Israel’s control over Palestine: territorially by reference to Israel’s occupation policy as implemented in the West Bank since 1967 exemplified by applying Israeli law to Jewish settlers and military administration to the Palestinians; ethnically by reference to Palestinian people whether living in refugee camps in neighboring countries or as involuntary exiles, or in pre-1967 Israel as a minority in East Jerusalem, or in Gaza under occupation. This is a dynamic of ethnic domination that generates structures designed to subjugate the Palestinian people as a whole, however dispersed, and not as in South Africa under the territorial control of the Afrikaner government.

Nuclear apartheid relates to the Nonproliferation Treaty and its implementing geopolitical regime. Despite treaty provisions calling for nuclear disarmament as urgent priority, the existing nuclear weapons states retain possession, development, and deployment options while other states are prohibited from acquiring the weaponry even if possessing convincing security reasons for gaining a deterrent capability (as could be argued on behalf of Iran), and risk an aggressive regime-changing intervention if perceived as seeking to cross the nuclear threshold. This provided the rationale for attacking Iraq in 2003. In effect, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are the self-appointed custodians of the weaponry, and all others are subject to an unconditional prohibition relating to their acquisition and possession, and selectively subject to geopolitical enforcement. Various exceptions to the prohibitions exist, including Israel, India and Pakistan, and more ambiguously for North Korea.

The prospect of a technological apartheid is situated somewhere between envisioned scientific capabilities and science fictional fears (e.g. of designer genetics; mass produced clones or warrior robots) and dreams (e.g. of eternal life, perfect health, and supplanting God as the master of the universe). There is a great deal of uncertainty as to whether countries that are geopolitically dominant in the world will also be able to control the frontiers of technological innovation in a number of areas. Religious scruples and legal prohibitions might also dissuade a political actor from acquiring those technological capabilities that are premised on hegemonic control, exploitation, and victimization. Unlike apartheid as an international crime, the metaphoric suggestion of a technologically based apartheid, is not based on race or religion, and therefore the emotive relevance of the allegation of apartheid seems less justifiable. Nuclear apartheid is metaphorical but it is premised on clear demarcation lines between having and not having the weaponry, although the distinction is blurry with respect to countries such as Japan and Germany that have the technological capabilities to become a nuclear weapons state in a matter of months. Unlike the racial and religious forms of apartheid, its metaphorical extensions do not have clearly identifiable boundaries of inclusion and exclusion. Despite its lesser technological capability to cross the nuclear threshold, Iran is treated as a greater threat to the nonproliferation regime than is Germany or Japan.

Against this background, I am not sure that “technological apartheid” is a helpful way of distinguishing between beneficiaries and victims of various technological innovations. Class may be the biggest divider as it has been for many devices associated with the digital age. The impact of technology on state/society relations via face recognition surveillance is another dimension of hegemonic control, but again a thin application of the apartheid metaphor as the markers of differentiation are unclear and contested. Unlike “nuclear apartheid,” which considers a single menacing technological sector, the projection of “technological apartheid” projects technological domination across the spectrum of human concerns, which somewhat characterized the colonizing period following the Industrial Revolution, which gave Europe control over both military hardware and navigational maneuverability.

It may be timely to worry about “digital dictatorship,” and I am sure its attainment is on the secret long-range operational investigations of geopolitical actors, both to avoid being left behind and potentially subjugated, as well as to achieve a controlling upper hand.

KS: How do you perceive the future of Fatah and Hamas?

RF: It is a difficult time of challenge for the Palestinian struggle, which casts a dark cloud of uncertainty over the future of both Fatah and Hamas. This uncertainty pertains, especially, to Fatah, which provides the main organizational underpinning for the Palestinian Authority that has represented the Palestinian people on an international level ever since the Oslo Framework of Principles was agreed upon in 1993. This framework presupposed a negotiating process that was widely expected by the UN, governments, and the general public to be committed to the establishment of an independent Palestinian sovereign state on the territory occupied by Israel since the 1967 War. This solution was accepted internationally, giving rise to the two-state consensus on how the conflict between Jews and Palestinian Arabs could be resolved and the competing claims of self-determination accommodated.

If the formal annexation of a substantial part of the West Bank takes place in coming months it will not only be the final nail in the two-state coffin, but also draw into question the viability of the Palestinian Authority as the voice of the State of Palestine. There are other relevant arenas that give the PA a rationale for a continuing existence, especially if it can find alternate funding for its rather elaborate governmental structures, including the pursuit of its grievances in the International Criminal Court, but most of all, by taking advantage of the situation to seek joint and unified leadership of the Palestinian struggle and arrange more authentic representation in international arenas, which would involve bringing Hamas in from the cold. The representation of the Palestinian people has been weakened by the persisting inability to obtain sufficient political unity to establish legitimate leadership of the Palestinian struggle for rights. Israel has contributed to this Palestinian diplomatic weakness by its continuous efforts over the years to keep the Palestinian movement factionalized and the Palestinian people ideologically, geographically, and diplomatically fragmented.

Hamas, in contrast to Fatah, and the PLO, has never endorsed the two-state approach as a tenable basis for reaching a sustainable peace between the two peoples. Hamas has challenged the underlying legitimacy of the Israeli State, and its exclusivist claims to be the State of the Jewish people. In recent years, following the electoral successes of Hamas in Gaza in 2006 and its takeover of governance from Fatah in 2007, it has claimed and controversially exercised a right of resistance, but most characteristically in defensive and retaliatory modes, and not as a strategy of liberation through armed struggle. Hamas has also negotiated, usually by way of Egypt, several short-term ceasefires with Israel, and in recent years, has proposed publicly and by back channels long-term ceasefires, including in a proposal for a 50 year ceasefire, although conditional on Israel lifting the blockade on Gaza and withdrawing to 1967 borders, an action long ago unanimously prescribed in UN Security Council Resolution 242.

Hamas also apparently reached out by discreet diplomacy to the Bush presidency in the years after its electoral successes in 2006 to exert pressure on Israel to agree upon some kind of long-term pause in hostilities with respect to Gaza. Yet neither Israel nor the United States, nor the PA, seemed at all interested in any kind of accommodation with Hamas if it did not include a recognition of the legitimacy of the Israeli State and a renunciation of any Palestinian right of resistance. It should be remembered that the U.S. Government had encouraged Hamas to participate in the 2006 elections, to shift their behavior from a reliance on armed struggle to the pursuit of its goals on a so-called “political track.” It was believed at the time that Washington assumed that the people of Gaza would repudiate Hamas, and this would solidify the political control of Occupied Palestine under Fatah influence and control, which was viewed as more moderate in relation to both means and ends. When these expectations were frustrated, the U.S., together with Israel, refused to treat Hamas as a legitimate political actor. Hamas was blacklisted as a terrorist organization that engaged in unlawful violence, pointing to the rocket attacks directed at Israel following the Israeli “disengagement” from Gaza in 2005, which involved withdrawing IDF troops across the border and dismantling the Israeli settlements. The time line between Israeli provocation and Hamas retaliation remains contested, and hard to unravel and. resolve, but what seems evident is that the Hamas provocations were indiscriminate, yet doing far less damage and being much less intrusive with respect to the Israeli civilian population than did the Israeli attacks and indirect control mechanisms continuously imposed on the people of Gaza often in the form of harsh collective punishment prohibited by Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

It is now difficult to tell whether various developments in the present context will bring about any changes relevant to Fatah and Hamas. It is possible that Israeli annexation of large portions of the West Bank will give rise to renewed and more successful efforts at achieving political unity among Palestinian political factions. Given the failure of several past attempts, it would be irresponsible to predict success for such an effort, although a sustainable achievement of political unity with respect to representation, leadership, and the tactics of struggle would be a very favorable development from a Palestinian perspective, improving prospects for some sort of eventual political compromise. The issues facing the Palestinians have taken several turns for the worse in the last few years, principally due to overt and unconditional support given to unlawful Israeli expansionism by the presidency of Donald Trump and shifts in the regional balance as a result of Arab priorities now emphasizing the rivalry with Iran as to regional supremacy and an accompanying willingness to abandon support for the Palestinian struggle. For Israeli politicians, there is present the window of opportunity provided by Trump’s unconditional support of Israeli ambitions, but this window could close, at least part way, if Trump loses to Biden in November. Similarly, unrest in the Arab World could at any point lead to a second phase of the Arab Spring, possibly bringing to power a leadership in either Egypt or Saudi Arabia more responsive to renewed solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. How Fatah and Hamas will relate to such future developments remains a black box at present. Also, whether the experience of the COVID-19 health crisis alters Palestinian priorities relating to their political alignments, agenda, and tactics is impossible to discern at this stage as is its impact on the regional and global play of relevant geopolitical play of forces.

KS: Will Hezbollah become the biggest threat to Israel in the future? Because of military training in Syria and the weakening role of the U.S.?

RF: My understanding of these issues is limited. Although Hezbollah has had the benefit of battlefield experience in Syria, I think this enhanced capability would be relevant more to discourage Israel from repeating its 1982 ground inducing Israel to withdraw in 2000. I believe that Israel is mostly concerned at present about Hezbollah’s augmented defensive and retaliatory capabilities if Israel were to launch the kind of land invasion that culminated in the siege of Beirut that occurred almost 40 years ago. It is my understanding that Hezbollah has acquired accurate long-range missile capabilities that could cause heavy damage to Israeli cities, but if used offensively, it would likely bring about a disproportionate Israeli response with ruinous consequences for Lebanon. Hezbollah has demonstrated its capabilities to maintain a sustained campaign of territorial resistance, and possibly possesses a sufficient deterrent capability to discourage Israel from mounting an aggressive military campaign even from the air and sea. Overall, with the internal strife and tensions experienced by Lebanon in recent months, and still unresolved, Hezbollah seems to have become a weaker political actor in the internal Lebanese balance of forces, and highly unlikely to take any initiative that would provoke Israel to take major military action. An aspect of Hezbollah’s apparent political decline in Lebanon is the perception among the Lebanese people that Hezbollah became too close to Iran, which funded its activities and was a principal supplier of its advanced weaponry.

KS: How do you see Europe’s future in the context of Islamic fundamentalists returning to their home countries in Europe after the defeat of ISIS?

RF: Much depends on whether the “victory” over ISIS as projected is seen as the end of the story. If perceived as only a pause in violent challenges directed at Europe, or even with uncertainty as to the future, there will be public hostility to readmitting such individuals, especially former ISIS fighters. ISIS was itself a reaction to the U.S./UK occupation of Iraq after 2003, suggesting that such fundamentalist responses can arise whenever civilizations clash, and particularly when the West seeks to assert control over the political life of a non-Western society in the post-colonial era.

Against this background, the repatriation of ISIS fundamentalists is a very difficult issue to speculate about, and is likely to reflect diverse national policies that are put in practice rather than a common European Union approach. The treatment of ISIS applicants for reentry will likely depend on whether the vetting process will be willing and able to draw reliable distinctions between hardened militants and disillusioned recruits, and how families of ISIS fighters will be viewed in the overall context. It is likely that most European governments will be reluctant to issue visas to those ISIS families who are without valid passports, yet seek to return to their native countries. There are issues associated with uncertainty as to how particular individuals participated

in ISIS, what sorts of connections they have with their families in Europe, what job opportunities would await them, what effects their repatriation would have on domestic political tensions. Some of these issues are explored fictionally, with great intelligence, by Kamila Shamsie, in Home Fire (2017). My guess is that there will be a great reluctance by most European governments to permit the return of anyone closely associated with ISIS, and over the age of 18. A problem of their statelessness is likely to emerge.

KS: Would you agree with the statement of Chris Hedges that currently the only way to survive as human beings is disobedience to the elites?

RF: I think there is provocative value in taking seriously this injunction from a commentator on the current scene who is as thoughtful and justice-oriented as is Chris Hedges, and yet to serve as any guide to action, or even as a source of reflection, there is a need for greater particularity. Such a general call for disobedience is vague, and dependent on interpretation within a great variety of contexts. We need to know far more clearly what Hedges means by “survive as human beings” and by “disobedience to the elites.” Is it a call for the defense of human dignity against the state by establishing appropriate and effective forms of resistance? Is resistance limited to nonviolent tactics or does it depend on the context? Is the primary concern here with the word “human” (as in the quality of life) or with “survival” (as “bare life” in terms of subsistence)? Above all, is it a clarion call for the transformation or abolition of predatory capitalism and global militarism?

If we try to respond more concretely to Hedges based on personal perceptions and circumstances we will end up with a wide array of responses. From my perspective, I think Hedges is speaking within an American context, and delivering a central message that our constitutional democracy is faltering, and needs renewal by way of a movement of radical reform, possibly in imitation of the civil rights movement of the 1960s as guided by Martin Luther King, Jr.. In my darker moods I think even this degree of reformism is not sufficient, and that the challenges faced need to be conceived in the more activist framework of radical social action associated with the thinking and tactics of Malcolm X. Even in the somewhat less polarized times of the 1960s both of these charismatic leaders were assassinated, although King’s demands for access and equality became more fully realized and endorsed by elites than were the economic and social demands of Malcolm. Many might have thought that King’s vision was fully realized by the election of Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008, but such an assessment overlooked King’s anti-militarism and planetary humanism. These earlier expressions of semi-authorized “disobedience to the elites,” even when seemingly effective, can be reversed. The very success of anti-racism occasioned racist reactions, exemplified by the Trump presidency and the accompanying revival of a white supremacy movement to previously unimagined heights of influence.

If the idea of disobedience and resistance is directed at American militarism and foreign policy via a renewed peace movement, it evokes memories of the anti-war movement that became influential in the final years of the Vietnam War and in reaction to fears of nuclear war that emerged at various stages of the Cold War. Again, as with civil rights, short-term policy modifications were achieved, but the structures of militarism adapted, and regained control over policy and behavior in ways that resumed the old patterns only recently deemed unacceptable. Adjustments were made to remove the triggers that arouse popular opposition and unrest, but the structures of abuse are resilient, and can be imaginative in evading mandates for change. Militarists reestablished their influence after the Soviet collapse by exaggerating a range of security threats and identifying new enemies, exerting greater control over media coverage of war zones, and by professionalizing the armed forces and modernizing its tactics so that the politically sensitive draft could be ended. The justifications for inflated military budgets gained political support, and the former patterns of military intervention, thought to be discredited after the Vietnam experience, were re-stabilized.

Underlying Hedges’ call to action by citizens is his acute distrust of and opposition to the status quo, and his lack of confidence that political elites can be persuaded to adopt policies and programs that benefit the majority of American citizens, let alone humanity in general. National challenges, whether climate change, pandemics, or social justice, are not being properly addressed, and reliance on the traditional constitutional correctives of electoral politics seems to lack the vision and leadership needed. The critique of “choiceless democracy” strikes many of us as convincing given the absence of proposals for structural change by the major political parties. In this respect, an “extraordinary” politics of a people’s movement needs to challenge the established order of elites by embracing a transformative vision that transcends the “legal” channels of Congress and electoral politics to win its mandate for revolutionary change. Arguably, Bernie Sanders was somewhat animated by such an assessment of the political situation and recognized the need for movement politics more than trusting traditional electoral politics to get desired results. His goal of gaining the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party in 2016 and again in 2020 was fueled by the hope that the imbalances of society, dramatized by gross inequalities, would lead the DNC gatekeepers to permit entry to a candidate advocating the necessity of a certain amount of structural change. Despite his popularity as a candidate, Sanders’ defeat was a recognition that he posed too great a threat to the established order regarded as beneficial to the political and economic elites of both political parties to permit his candidacy. Sanders was seen as posing a structural threat, whereas Obama was not, despite the color of his skin. In this sense, race is less structural than capitalism, militarism, or even support for Israel in the current American scheme of things.

Keeping the focus on the American setting, the central force of Hedges’ outlook is to remind the citizenry that the party system will not generate the leaders or policies required to achieve necessary and desirable change. And feasible change is not enough, nor even durable, as Obama’s presidency confirmed. My own way of interpreting this condition of political closure at the policy levels of governance is to make reference to the “bipartisan consensus” that joins Republicans and Democrats on the most crucial policy issues of the day. This consensus emerged as the Cold War produced common ground between the mainstream elites of both political parties as a sequel to the politics of national unity achieved during World War II. The bipartisan consensus had three pillars that had ups and downs as to the extent and character of its leverage, but enjoyed basic continuity of support: (1) trust and deference to the priorities of Wall Street in managing the economy; (2) full funding of the military, diplomatic, and ideological infrastructure required to oversee global security by becoming the first “global state” to remain vigilant during times of peace and war; and (3) uphold the “special relationship” of unconditional support for Israel, with special implications for engagement and alignments in the Middle East.

The pragmatic and normative limitations of the bipartisan consensus have not yet shattered the Satanic grip of this marginalization of democratic choice. The idea of living in “a choiceless democracy” reflected the weight of the bipartisan consensus on the political life of the country. Donald Trump seemed to challenge this reality when a presidential candidate in 2016, but despite his assault on the post-1945 traditional verities of presidential leadership, the bipartisan consensus has been as powerfully implemented during his years in the White House as previously.

The pragmatic shortcoming of the bipartisan consensus is most vividly revealed in the consistent inability to translate military superiority into successful political outcomes. This is the great unlearned lesson of the last half of the twentieth century. Military superiority based on technological innovations and battlefield tactics lack their earlier capability of imposing Western dominance. The Asian resurgence of the last half century was based not on countervailing military capabilities but on superior economistic relations between the state and society, exemplified by China’s rise to ascendancy through mastery of the instruments of soft power expansionism. The West, especially the U.S., is entrapped in an outmoded and self-destructive militarist paradigm that no longer is capable of maintaining American geopolitical interests at acceptable costs, and is experiencing imperial decline due to the weakening of geopolitical morale at home and a dispiriting series of foreign policy defeats when relying on its military superiority. The crucial uncertainty is whether this dynamic of decline will at some point engulf the world in an apocalyptic war or whether the political will needed to reconstruct the geopolitical agenda along more constructive lines emerges as if by magic.

KS: Are we now at the end of the unipolar world and entering the multipolar era? Or are we rather heading towards a world completely centralized like never before in history by combining military power and technology? As we know, some countries in the Middle East where war was, and North Korea as well, do not belong to the Bank for International Settlements.

RF: In my view, the image of a “unipolar world” was a mistaken interpretation of world order after the Soviet collapse in 1992 that nonetheless correctly marked the end of the “bipolar world.” Such conceptual metaphors were based on the salience of the superpower military standoff and ideologically charged geopolitical rivalry that was at the core of the Cold War, especially as it played out in Europe. The limits of such metaphors should have become evident after the defeat of the United States in the Vietnam War, the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and the remarkable rise of China after the Cultural Revolution.

There was a period in the U.S. during the 1990s when neo-conservatives criticized the Clinton presidency for its reliance on an economistic geopolitics of neoliberal globalization at the cost of foregoing its earlier emphasis on a more militarist foreign policy. Neoconservatives were arguing that American foreign policy in the 1990s missed opportunities to take advantage of the removal of the Soviet Union from the geopolitical equation by recognizing the unipolar moment of military dominance as a window of opportunity to extend the reach of its global security system, especially urging “democracy promotion” schemes in the Middle East to be achieved if necessary by forcible intervention. This triumphalist atmosphere was epitomized by Francis Fukuyama’s insistence that the defeat of the Communist challenge was tantamount to reaching the end of history. Such an illusion was soon shattered forever by the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, although these attacks were the apparent work of a non-state actor with minimal military capabilities, and no sovereign territorial base, thus eroding the major premise of state-centric world order.

Trump’s seeming retreat from the U.S. role as global leader has been evident since 2017. Trump made this point by over and over declaring himself elected president of America and not of the world, a message clearly signaling the end of any pretension of geopolitical unipolarity. This assessment was underscored by rising chauvinistic nationalism in many leading countries, which expressed a trend toward less hierarchical structuring of global security policy, more dependence on national self-reliance, less on multilateral alliances. After the Cold War, alliances played a much smaller role except possibly in Europe, giving world order a more statist character, which resulted in increased decentralization of international authority at the level of the state. Also, by and large, the global security agenda was far less concerned with great power competition than in earlier decades. Prolonged major violent conflict came to be preoccupied with the interplay in these countries of civil strife and regime- changing geopolitics (as in Syria, Yemen, Congo, Libya). It was also associated with transnational violence taking the form of the threats mounted by non- state actors (al Qaida, ISIS). In neither setting did the rhetoric of geopolitical polarization seem illuminating.

Perhaps, this will change with the waning of the global war on terror launched by the United States in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks. This dynamic is partly a reflection of the reduction of terrorist incidents in the West and partly the reenergizing of great power rivalry, with China now somewhat displacing post-Soviet Russia. Whether this rivalry will be perceived as a new phase of bipolarity is doubtful as the confrontation is not shaped, as was the U.S./Soviet standoff, by reciprocal threats of annihilation—partly because there is, at this stage, much less at stake with regard to ideological differences and also less emphasis on militarized conflict, alliances, and Europe, which was the former locus of direct confrontation. The U.S./China rivalry seems to be most intense around issues of trade and investment, with much less emphasis on the militarist preoccupations with defense of homeland, superior battlefield capabilities, containment, and competition with respect to new weaponry than was the case during the 45 years of U.S./Soviet confrontations. For this reason, it seems unlikely that the language of polarity will be relied upon to describe the new geopolitical alignment of principal adversaries on a global scale. To be sure, there are contentions, based on historical analogies, that China as an ascending great power is threatening to the United States in its role as preeminent great power, posing what Graham Allison has labeled “The Thucydides Trap” in a book bearing this title.

By projecting these concerns to the future, we do receive an impression of increasing multipolarity with respect to the world economy, taking the primary form of greater regionalization of trade, investment, and technological transfer. Whether this will produce a corresponding retreat from Bretton Woods and World Trade Organization frameworks, the institutional foundations of the American-led establishment of a rule-based liberal international order is not yet clear. If such a retreat occurs and is accompanied by a new wave of regional institution-building, it will lead to a new kind of multipolarity resting on the leveling of the technological foundations of power, having a depolarizing and equalizing impact, the opposite of the feared digital dictatorship and technological categorization of have and have not societies.

What can be said with reasonable confidence is that the language of unipolarity, bipolarity, and multipolarity is unlikely to be widely employed to describe the currently emergent central conflict patterns within global settings. Multipolarity as an alternative rhetoric to that of regionalization possesses somewhat greater relevance, although in contexts other than war/peace which had given rise to reliance on notions of bipolarity and unipolarity to capture the central feature of the Cold War. In this regard, future developments bearing on world order are most likely to be depolarized, either emphasizing global patterns of cooperation (climate change, biodiversity, global commons, migration, s) and statist patterns of self-reliance (border control, import substitution, restrictions on investment, trade barriers). In this respect, the near future of international relations seems most likely to resemble geopolitics of prior eras but in a technological environment dominated by transnational networking, automation, and digitalization.

KS: Would you agree with the statement that the control system in its nature is always analog and not Digital? Therefore, all Digital systems such as blockchain, Bitcoin, etc., can exist only until control is exercised analogously by the army? If any government wants to outlaw a given crypto currency, it can be done very easily, because in the last instance, control is always analog, on the ground, i.e. military force. Is therefore the concept of so-called “decentralization” a fiction?

RF: Yes, in the last analysis, so far as we know, the side that succeeds in controlling the armed forces in a revolutionary situation almost always determines the political outcome and exerts control over markets, including the authentication of currencies. This was one of Lenin’s greatest contributions to revolutionary thought. Digital modes of resisting and mobilizing can challenge the established analogic structures of control, and even gain temporary victories, but transforming these structures is often a very different story. This was illustrated rather spectacularly during the course of the Egyptian political unfolding of what was being called the Arab Spring in 2011, and seemed for a short period to signal the potency of digital agency through the dynamics of mass mobilization through the Internet on behalf of freedom and democracy. It did not take long for analogic forces to regroup under the aegis of armed forces and elements of the former Mubarak rulership in the bureaucratic setup, likely prodded and guided by external actors. In the end, the digitally powered challenge was brutally and effectively crushed. The political outcome restored a harsher form of repressive autocracy than what had been generated by the seemingly irreversible digital rising against the Mubarak regime of repression and elite corruption. Yet we still do not know for sure whether this return to autocratic governance will last. It is possible that future digital challenges will be mounted in ways that are transformative, as well as merely disruptive, and that such a movement will be alert and adept enough to defeat countermoves by analog forces seeking to regain control of the Egyptian state and society once again.

We need also to inquire whether the analysis of political conflicts can be usefully reduced to the analog/digital divide as it has operated up to now. Digital organizing has so far been ineffectual from the perspective of historical transformation, but this could change. As recent elections in the United States and elsewhere have shown, digital platforms are sites of struggle. Trump’s use of Twitter-fused digital agitation with analogic state terror as earlier pioneered by pre-digital forms of European fascism. It should also be kept in mind that digital activism is still in a rather primitive phase of development, and is being exploited by a wide range of extremist political movements on both the right and left, by libertarians as well as by anarchists and others dreaming of emancipation from analogic modes of control.

Whether or not digital politics has revolutionary and transformative potential is a matter that can only be resolved in the future. The uprisings comprising the Arab Spring were blocked partly because of organizational failings related to program and leadership, as well as due to its vulnerability to the pushback of political forces, which retained control of the apparatus of state power and never genuinely subscribed to the democratizing goals despite pretensions to the contrary. Lenin’s valuable insight rested on an understanding that a revolutionary movement could not hope to sustain a challenge to the status quo unless it smashed the old state, and reconstructed a new state in its image from top to bottom. Without any outward show of allegiance to Leninism, the Iranian Revolution of 1978–79 achieved its goals in ways that contrasted with the failures of the Arab Spring. The essential learning experience of this early phase of digital politics is that it is not enough to overthrow an autocrat unless there also occurs a drastic reconstruction of analog structures of control. In this respect, the tragic error of those who so bravely massed in Tahrir Square to demand the end of the Mubarak dictatorship was to accept the good faith of the institutions of Egyptian governance against which the masses had risen up in passionate resistance. This is not to ignore other factors at play, including above all the degree to which this spontaneous uprising heralded a new leadership under the aegis of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the secular supporters of the anti-Mubarak movement had grossly underestimated.

I remember having a meal with a Russian friend in Moscow during the early period of Gorbachev’s reformist efforts. His assessment bears on aspect of digital politics. He said we in Russia now have glasnost but not perestroika. He meant that now we can talk freely and critically, but we still lack the capacity to change the repressive and corrupt structure of the Soviet power machine. This will be the agency test for digital politics. Can digital transformative visions go beyond rhetoric and mobilized enthusiasm to get their followers to mount the barricades, at least figuratively? So far, the organized military, para-military, police, and propaganda capabilities and long experience of the analog world has prevailed, but the final interplay of this interaction awaits disclosure in the future. If a digital Fukuyama tells the world that “the end of history” has been at last truly reached, he should be scorned this time around.

For the present, although worried by the recent erosions of democratic governance, I would not foreclose the prospect of digital radicalism in forms capable of recovering revolutionary charisma. It is unlikely to resemble past radicalism, and is more likely to be a set of reactions to the bio-ethical crises of neoliberal modernity (climate change, biodiversity, migration, statism, militarism, inequality, alienation) than to reflect the growing influence of a digital proletariat faced with dark destinies of ecological collapse and worsening labor conditions in an increasingly automated future, perhaps accompanied by fears of species extinction. In this respect, overcoming the deficiencies of analog politics rests on a struggle in the domains of the unknown, forging a politics of impossibility that defies the expectations of think-tank gurus and societal life coaches.

We should have learned by now that the future is not only unknown and unknowable, but full of good and bad surprises, giving an edge of uncertainty and destiny to our individual and collective lives. To recall a few momentous examples, the outcome of colonial wars, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the transformation of apartheid South Africa into a multiracial constitutional democracy, the Arab Spring, the presidency of Donald Trump, the COVID-19 Pandemic—each seemed impossible until it actually happened, and was only anticipated by a handful of oddballs.

KS: Can Transhumanism be the new totalitarianism of our time after Nazism and communism? Previous totalitarian ideologies only wanted to change the social structure. The ideology of Transhumanism goes much further, wants to change the structure of life itself.

RF: There is no doubt that the totalitarian potential of Transhumanism is more radical than any previous political ideology, but is it a realistic prospect at this time? In theory, robotics, AI, and genetic redesign seem capable of producing whatever kind of being is sought after, whether creative genius or destructive monster, but will it happen? The time lines are difficult to discern, partly because the research and development of transhuman innovations are undoubtedly hidden in the black budgets of governments and the even blacker budgets of a variety of private sector actors, including rogue scientists and mad engineers, as well as the grandiose fantasies of eccentric billionaires and their underworld counterparts. There is money to be made, power to be achieved, and fantasies to be realized in these domains.

From one historical perspective, all that was possible by way of technological innovation relevant to power and wealth has been in the past actually developed. The most apocalyptic examples are drawn from the military realm. Weaponry of mass destruction and demonic manipulation of human behavior has long been the subject of secret research and development carried on without moral scruples or respect for legal and political restraints, including chemical, biological, and nuclear weaponry. The horrors of chemical weapons in World War I and atomic bombs and biological weapons in World War II created some pushback in the form of taboos, regimes of prohibition, and technical safeguards against accidental use, but research especially on the control of nuclear weapons during the Cold War has shown how precarious are these restraints, and the record of non-use, as documented in relation to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, reflects luck more than it does the effectiveness of arrangements designed to avoid use. There is a race of sorts between perfecting spyware and surveillance technology and the efforts to transcend what were hitherto the limits of the human through the magic of technological innovation, including more and more sophisticated brain implants as well as the prospect of highly cerebral robots.

The threat of gangster Transhumanism has long been a central theme of science fiction, and now more recently with cloning and genetic manipulation becoming technically feasible, it has become an ambition of science and probably of individuals who seek absolute peace or total domination, with maybe some aspiring to harvest the fruits of artistic or scientific genius. It would seem that to preserve the human species as it has naturally evolved, including its mental qualities, urgent steps need to be taken to discourage some further technological developments, but whether this is practical in a politically decentralized world is doubtful. The fear that technology would create a dystopian reality for humanity is of pre-modern origins, and can be traced back to the Greek figure of Prometheus who stole “fire” from the Greek pantheon or Daedalus who crafted wings of wax and feathers for his son Icarus, whose flight led to the melting of his wings when he flew too close to the sun, sending him plunging toward earth. It was given a. powerful literary expressions in 1818 by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and more recently in Aldous Huxley’s 1932 Brave New World. Transhumanist discussions are often dialogues between utopian expectations of life without end, prosperity for all, a Shakespeare in every household and dystopian fears of mass slavery under the watchful evil eye of technological elites or of a global dictatorship crafting policies in accordance with robotic algorithms.

Whether freedom can withstand either Transhumanism or the effort to con- trol the bio-technology, robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities of the future without creating intolerable totalitarian surveillance and suppression is itself uncertain. There seems a likely circumstance where efforts to provide protection against the advent of Transhumanist forms of governance gives rise to an emancipatory political ideology. Contending that itself presupposes plan- etary domination. Such a liberating humanistic movement would likely under- mine freedom because of its unavoidable reliance on subversion, secrecy, and lawlessness to establish a political order that preserved the human and limited the relevance of the transhuman

Perhaps, Transhumanism should sever its imaginative ties with science fiction and lend support to more modest goals that do not purport to shake the foundations of the human condition. We are accustomed to life-enhancing technological innovations to improve health, fitness, and comfort without encountering many red flags. Although TV, smart phones, computing, and social media have raised concerns about sociability, the encouragement of passivity of lifestyle. and political pacification, as well as declining reading and writing skills, there is no movement to prohibit Transhuman expectations. The humanistic fundamentals of contingency, individuality, and mortality are not at risk. Designs and invention that allow us to live longer and better seems fine. The haunting question is whether our health and enjoyment and our collective existence as a species can continue to be improved without crossing the boundaries to the never-never land of technologies that transform our brains and deprive our lives of freedom, responsibility, mystery, and spirituality.

Perhaps, the best stance to take with respect to the Transhuman challenge is to apply the Precautionary Principle, which counsels extreme caution in the presence of incalculable risks of great harm. This Principle has been adopted in authoritative formulations bearing on climate change, and environmental risks more generally, but its implementation has been disappointing because government and the private sector are preoccupied by short-term performance and profits, and are not subject to accountability procedures when it comes to long-term harm, however foreseeable. It is one thing to welcome software that can defeat the best chess player the world has ever known, and another to genetically design or clone with the objective of eliminating creativity, resistance, empathy, and conscience. To discuss the dangers, while appreciating the contributions, neither rejects nor succumbs to the alluring promises and alarming pitfalls of Transhuman advocacy.

On the basis of my limited knowledge, the transition to an existential, as distinct from an imagined, transhuman future remains quite remote, although various technological advances are likely to arouse hopes and fears in the context of AI, robotics, genetic engineering, surveillance, and virtuality. There are already debates and dialogues about what it means to be human, as well as whether it is desirable and practical to prohibit certain forms of technological activity by national and international regulation. On the one side are life enhancing breakthroughs in health, education, entertainment, and communications, and on the other side are troublesome “improvements” such as the dehumanization of policing and warfare, through a reliance on drones, robots, bio-weapons, incapacitating chemicals, and the like. A serious concern is the lack of transparency with respect to research and development, as well as the agenda of “deep state” maneuvers seeking global domination and the possibility of rogue breakaways of varying scale.

KS: How do you perceive the future of Mega-cities? The Pentagon clearly states that this is the greatest military challenge of the future and that the strategies previously used in Iraq or Afghanistan are ineffective in mega- cities. In this context, how do you perceive the privatization of military forces serving international corporations?

RF: These questions relate to the fundamental nature of conflict in the 21st century, which tend to involve internal struggles for control of state power or tensions between states and extremist non-state actors. In both settings traditional means of waging war are rarely of decisive relevance if the principal sites of struggle become large urban conglomerates. Military superiority and battlefield superiority rarely any longer control the outcome of protracted conflict whether involving conflicts in the countryside or cities. This shift in the balance of power became clear, as earlier suggested, in anti-colonial wars in the 1960s and 1970s that were won by the militarily inferior side because it could mobilize popular resistance by appeals to national identity with dedication so strong as to be able to absorb heavy losses and outlast the “foreign” adversary.

Two categories of conflict are of particular interest. The first category involves a largely internal struggle between the state and an insurgency, which may have its base area in less accessible parts of the countryside. Such struggles often go on for decades, and if ended, it is usually by a negotiated agreement that represents a political compromise. This happened in the Philippines. and Colombia, but without addressing the roots of the conflict, and hence what was heralded as “peace” achieved nothing more than a ceasefire. The second category involves an internal struggle that also features military intervention by a regional or global political actor as was the case with the colonial wars of the last century and the geopolitical wars of the past twenty years.

The American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan illustrates this new reality, as does the strife in Syria and Yemen, in which the capability to destroy without limit does not lead to effective pacification of violent political resistance. The adversary can “hide” in the city, and resume the fight on another day. The foreign intervening power or the state is faced with the dilemma of prolonged insurgency and resistance or destroying a city, dispossessing and killing large numbers of civilians and devastating the city to the extent that it becomes an urban ruin as in Falluja or Aleppo.

The city is also filled with soft targets whose destruction can inflict fear and a sense of vulnerability on the urban population, and yet not dislodge the current regime’s elites. A permanent condition of insecurity does not usually lead to peace or change.

KS: How would you comment on the statement of the Italian writer Roberto Saviano, the author of the book Gomorrah, that now we are dealing more with clash of criminal mafia groups than a clash of civilization. According to Saviano, the European financial system (Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, London) is funded by the mafia’s money, where cocaine generates the same profits as crude oil.

RF: I think the transnational rise of criminal Mafia groups is a shadowy reality that is difficult to depict accurately, partly as a result of fuzzy boundaries between what is criminal and what is legal. The behavior of banks and corporations around the world cannot be separated from the activities of criminal syndicates. Even the relationship between crimes of states and private sector crime cannot be sharply demarcated, and many of their linkages are kept secret. Of course, Saviano as a writer has alerted us to the criminal penetration of the economic life of society in Mafia formats, but by treating the Mafia phenomenon as a particularly reprehensible feature of European modernity, we are exposed to the middle and lower-end of for-profit private sector operations. My main point is that predatory capitalism, through its alignments and standard operating practices, involves crimes against humanity and crimes against nature, and should be the central point of inquiry to gain a proper understanding of what has gone wrong in the contemporary world, including the dangerous disregard of ecological limits. We need to reformulate our understanding of the nature of “business” and the character of “crime.”

Whether it is useful to draw a comparison between the clash of civilizations and the clash of Mafia criminal groups can be debated. There is no doubt that comparing Mafia earnings with the revenue earned from oil sales catches our attention, but is it illuminating, and is it really true? As suggested, if the systemic distortions arise from the policies, practices, and logic of neoliberal capitalism, then focusing on the challenge posed by the Mafia underworld is mostly a distraction even if their abusive ways of dominating certain supply chains, e.g. drugs or garbage collection, is dangerous for human security. Maybe calling attention to the magnitude of the challenge will over time help people recover control over the social forces that demean and dominate so many societies in the world. Again, we have to ask whether the “legal” opioid crisis bringing billions to big pharma is worse than the trade in cocaine that lands its principal operatives in jail for life. Is this not a matter of lifestyle for different strata of the social and economic order?

KS: What can we, what will we learn from the COVID-19 pandemic? How can we explain the unexpected interim result of the pandemic as exposing American greater unpreparedness and incompetence in responding to the challenge than that of almost any other country? How will the opposed tendencies of overall species vulnerability and chauvinistic nationalist social control be resolved in a post-pandemic atmosphere? Will the experience of the pandemic incline governments toward great reliance on globalized mechanisms of problem-solving or toward a further retreat in the direction of ultra-nationalism and self-reliance?

RF: In the midst of this unprecedented COVID-19 experience, generalizations about what has happened and what is to come, should be put forward cautiously, and in a spirit of humility.

Several observations seem helpful points of departure. (1) Although there were some warnings about the likelihood of a lethal pandemic sounded in the last several years, they were not heeded by almost all politicians. (2) The COVID-19 outbreak was a grim reminder of the precariousness and vulnerability of contemporary life on the planet, and the deficient attention accorded to human security as distinct from national security, and as a result reinforced dire parallel warnings of ecological instability and potential collapse. (3) The degree of competence exhibited in responding to the health challenge reflected both the varying strength of national health systems and the uneven quality of national leadership, perhaps highlighted by the irresponsible and militarist style of autocratic figures such as Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro as contrasted with the impressively disciplined responses of such countries as South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam. (4) Even more than war, the COVID pandemic produced sudden and drastic economic and social dislocations that seem unlikely to be fully overcome even quite long after the health crisis has ended, if ever. (5) During the pandemic there was evident a clash between the logic of global cooperation, including granting resource and respect to the World Health Organization (WHO), and the divisive logic of autocratic nationalism, exhibiting the absence of empathy for the suffering outside the borders of the state, and in some instances, even for socio-economic sectors of the national citizenry.

Thinking ahead to imagine the consequences of the COVID-19 is, of course, beset by various levels of uncertainty. On one level it will make a great difference for the global response if Trump is reelected rather than replaced. If reelected, there will continue to be a leadership vacuum at the global level, and only the most cosmetic adjustments at the national level, at least in the United States.

It is to be expected that European countries that endured high rates of fatalities will remedy the deficiencies of their readiness to meet such health challenges in the future. Sweden is likely to rethink its permissive response in light of the number of fatalities relative to population size. In effect, those countries that did well in meeting the COVID-19 challenge are likely to reinforce their capabilities to do the same in the future, and those that did poorly are more likely to invest more heavily in their national health system if funding is authorized. Most governments are driven by short-term performance goals, which works against such health threats that are generally perceived as occurring beyond the normal political horizons of accountability.

If we extend our conjectures beyond health there are three broad lines of possible impact of the pandemic on the politics of the near future. First, there is what might be called a restorative approach that places emphasis and hope on getting back to the “old normal” without attempting social and economic reforms to address the disproportionate vulnerability of the poor and ethnically marginalized parts of society. In effect, capitalism and militarism will continue to provide the main organizing forces of world order. Political and economic elites can be expected to favor restoring the pre-pandemic realities, and in the process inadequately responding to the urgencies of the ecological policy agenda.

Secondly, there is the reformist approach that seeks a new normal that exhibits meaningful recognition of the need to address inequalities that deprive parts of society of an equitable share of national wealth and income, and make a concerted effort to create social harmony and ecological stability, which might be proclaimed “a social contract for the digital age.” While this might increase taxes on corporations and wealthy persons, it will not challenge the legitimacy or operational modalities of either militarism or capitalism. The reformist momentum is likely to vary from country to country, but in its more successful examples, it will soften the sharp edges of capitalist modes of accumulation and somewhat reallocate funds to welfare, infrastructure programs, and environmental priorities. This reformist approach is likely to win support from liberal elites in the West, especially if these elites become worried about the twin challenges of fascism and socialism to their values and self-interest.

And thirdly, the transformative approach directs its attention to the structural excesses exposed by the pandemic. It directs its energy toward reconstructing the economic and social order in ways more responsive to the issues of justice and equity, as well as addressing ecological challenges as prime threats to humanity. It is likely to seek a stronger UN as well as a political culture more respectful of international law. Transformative perspectives are likely to meet resistance from economic and political elites and find support from disadvantaged sectors of society expressing their discontents through a movement approach to political change that is skeptical of relying on electoral politics as a trustworthy source of authority. Whether the transformative movement emerges and sustains itself is currently unknowable, as is whether it would be expressed by way of left populism or through some kind of merger of national and transnational movements for a sustainable and just human future.

In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic will either be remembered by future generations as a notable global health emergency that once over, passed quietly without leaving a lasting imprint on world history or as an unexpected revolutionary moment that made previously unattainable fundamental political developments start to happen. The deeply flawed and contentious American response to the extraordinary health crisis took a further decisive turn in an unexpected direction in response to a video capture of the police murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 occurring in one of America’s most progressive cities, Minneapolis, Minnesota. There has not been such an earth-shattering lethal event since an angered and humiliated young street fruit seller, Mohamed Bouazizi, in an interior Tunisian town, set himself on fire to protest his hopeless socio-economic circumstances, leading to an explosive national and transnational outpouring of empathy, hope, and rage on city streets across the Middle East and beyond. As an occurrence comparable to a societal volcano, Bouazizi’s act of self-immolation on December 17, 2010 produced a national upheaval that not only ignited the Tunisian uprisings at the end of 2010 that led to the fall of the corrupt dictatorial leader Ben Ali, but inspired uprisings across the Arab world of masses of people chanting slogans against injustice, abuse of state power, and widespread corruption.

As with Bouazizi, the death of George Floyd, a previously obscure individual, inflamed public consciousness and illuminated and exposed the criminal cruelties of “law and order” governance. The unexpected results were riots, looting, and demonstrations that continued for many days in cities across the length and breadth of the United States (and spreading to many foreign venues), stimulating strident calls for an end to racism in all its manifestations, as well as defunding of police forces, and even their disbanding. Floyd’s last telling words, “I can’t breathe,” as a police officer kept his knee on his throat for more than eight minutes, 46 seconds, with three other policemen lending assistance while Floyd lay helpless and handcuffed on the ground, gave his death an unforgettable vividness, at once tragic and epic. Unlike earlier similar recent instances of police murder (including Michael Brown, Trayyon Martin, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor) Floyd’s dying ordeal will not be forgotten, even as racism and injustice persists, and new provocations occur.

As might be expected, the events also magnified the polarization that has been the defining feature of the Trump presidency, with the leadership relying on law and order and the folks in the streets calling for an end to police brutality and, more generally, for greater equality with respect to persons of color in American society, especially African Americans as still suffering from some of the ugliest residues of slavery including being lynched by mobs or killed without reason or mercy by police who act confident of impunity, if coverups by police departments should somehow fail to hide their wrongdoing from any scrutiny. If the Floyd video didn’t remove reasonable doubts about the allegations of murder, there might have been a much more muted response. As it was, this incident occurred against the background of a series of recent police killings of innocent black men, making the call of Black Lives Matter this time resonate strongly even with many white middle class Americans who had previously been silently compliant, or at least passive when it came to police or criminal justice reforms. The highly charged present atmosphere emboldened Muriel Bowser, the embattled African American mayor of Washington, DC, who dared oppose Trump’s militarized responses to the protests, to have the words “black lives matter” painted in large bright yellow letters on an avenue passing close by the White House. It was akin to a declaration of cultural war against Trumpism, quite unimaginable a month ago.

The response to Floyd’s death was undoubtedly magnified by the social and economic societal trauma created by COVID-19, providing disoriented citizens with a worthy rationale for venting frustrations after weeks of prolonged self- isolation. Focusing on this racial incident offered the public temporary respite

from the more private anguish of lost jobs, bleak future employment prospects, and the deaths of friends and relatives. The sustained display of anger and solidarity over Floyd’s death amounted to an electrifying outpouring of massive grief and outrage, coupled with a growing antagonism not only toward the police, but also toward Trump’s lethal antics, and toward municipal, state, and federal authorities who have been speaking out against racism and promising reform for decades, but doing too little to bring about change. It should surprise no one that the atrocities keep happening and a badly broken criminal justice system has become a flourishing for-profit business.

The lingering question on the lips of many is: “what will come of this?” Will the momentum be strong and deep enough to lead American politics in a robustly progressive direction? Or will the system in place be able to wait out this interlude of storm and fury, and resume a relentless slide toward a fascist future for the country and ecological disaster for the world?

Racism in America has proved itself resilient and opportunistic ever since it was forced into hiding briefly in the shadows of political life after the American Civil War. We need to remember the racist torments of the Ku Klux Klan, White Citizen Councils, continued lynching, Jim Crow Laws, and the vicious tactics used against activists during the Civil Rights Movement. Will these current uprisings survive the storm after Floyd’s death to become a movement that is strong enough to avoid the recurrence of abusive behavior not just toward black Americans but toward all persons committed to the human dignity of all who share life on the planet and need to learn the art and benefits of peaceful coexistence? Will the current arisings lose their momentum while the old order regroups or even mounts a pro-police campaign? The months and years ahead will determine whether the country has a “soul,” and if has, what is its core reality?

We all know that what happens in the United States has multiple implications for the world. This is more the case in this instance as widespread anguish about Trumpist world politics occurred amid the pandemic igniting solidarity events in many of the world’s major cities, and worries spread about a second cold war between China and the U.S. as Trump irresponsibly shifted blame for American COVID deaths to Beijing, and even to the WHO. If the American election goes forward as scheduled in November 2020, Trump is defeated, and lets a new leadership take over, the international situation will likely appear somewhat calmer, but it will still be treading water with respect to racism, militarism, and predatory capitalism, devoting its main energies to overcoming the economic damage from the pandemic that has undermined the livelihoods and wellbeing of vulnerable people throughout the world. It is too soon to see a humane future for global governance on the political horizons of struggle, but it remains more reasonable than a while ago to recognize a renewed plausibility of drastic change, given a societal mood far more receptive to messages of resistance and transformation, and taking into account the severity of the mounting eco- bio-ethical crisis that is warning us not to settle for restoring pre-pandemic normalcy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INTERVIEWS:
1. Alexandr Dugin . . . . .
2. Alain de Benoist. . . . .
3. Andrei Raevsky . . . . .
4. Carine Hutsebaut . . . .
5. Catherine Austin Fitts
6 Douglas Rushkoff . . . .
7. Erik Davis . . . . . . . . .
8. Sheikh Imran Nazar Hosein. . 9. Rabbi Joel David Bakst . . . .. 10. Jack Rasmus. . . . . . . . . . . .. 11. John Perkins . . . . . . . . . . . .. 12. Mikhail A. Lebedev, PhD .. 13. Paul Craig Roberts. . . . . . .. 14. Richard Falk. . . . . . . . . . . .. 15. Tim Draper. . . . . . . . . . . . .. 16. Thomas Campbell . . . . . . .. 17. William Binney . . . . . . . . ..

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v

Preface

When I started working on this book, the idea seemed a little crazy—even to me. Because here, I was embarking on a journey to answer the question of what our future would look like. We live in exceptional times full of chaos, full of rapid changes that take place so quickly that we don’t stop to even think about them, treating the world more and more as a simulation that we can no longer influence. “Reality has long since outrun fiction,” as a friend of mine once said.

In such conditions, aiming at answering how our future will look may seem like madness, like something impossible. But this was a deliberate madness that I imposed upon myself, just to see if it was possible to achieve. I truly didn’t know where this path would lead. However, I knew that in order to start seri- ously at all, I had to fully immerse myself in the areas I was studying: NBIC (Nanotechnology, Biology and medicine, Information sciences, and Cognitive Sciences), AI (Artificial Intelligence), geopolitics, religion, philosophy, sociolo- gy, and economy. Not so much to sink into it, as to be able to synthesize it.

It took me hundreds of hours to prepare for the conversations with my guests.

I did not want to create an easy book where my interlocutors would repeat clichés and already trending messages. I also didn’t want to create another politically correct book. That was precisely why I invited such diverse people to talk with me.

Such diversity is what freedom of speech and real discussion are all about. Everything else is—for me—more or less a mental prison, the Thought Police à la 1984. It is these sometimes extremely divergent points of view that are, in my opinion, the narrow and dangerous paths that can lead you to the truth, when at some point you see how everything in some strange and unexpected way intertwines into one whole.

I knew that in order to study the subject in depth, I had to talk to people from various worlds, from various cultures, who sometimes almost appeared to each other as species from different planets. Only in this way did I think I could manage to pick out some particles of truth.

vii

When I started my work, I also thought that I knew more or less where it would lead me. How wrong I was. As each conversation progressed, my own views began to change, directing me to tracks I would never have thought of. And this is probably the biggest reward, that these conversations changed me that they led me straight to the rabbit hole and into a world whose existence I could never have forseen.

At some point, I decided to stop.

While I had permission for further interviews, I felt that there was nothing to add and the next conversation would just be venturing toward “entertainment.”

I regard this book as bearing witness to the very special times in which we lived. A testament from a former world where nothing will remain as it was.

Did I succeed? You will have to judge for yourself.

viii

—Konrad Stachnio

Can U.S. Democracy Be Fixed?

4 Sep

[Prefatory Note: This essay appeared in its original form as an editorial in TRANSCEND Media Service, #654, on 31 August 2020. The text below is enlarged and somewhat modified.

I regard TMS as the best curated online weekly gathering of worthwhile writing from a progressive standpoint. It is inspired by the remarkable scholarship and leadership of Johan Galtung that has stimulated peace researchers and public intellectuals for more than six decades. TMS is brilliantly edited each week by Antonio C.S. Rosa, working from Porto, Portugal.]

 

 

Can U.S. Democracy Be Fixed?

 

The 2020 Election and its Aftermath

I share the view that the 2020 election in the United States is above all a referendum on fascism, and for this and many other reasons I hope it produces a Biden landslide, including control of the U.S. Congress by the Democratic Party. As well, it is my fervent wish that this outcome will be followed by a smooth transfer of political power.

From the perspective of the present, this kind of benign political scenario seems unlikely to materialize. Instead, we can more realistically expect a close election, which means that if Trump wins the fascist threat grows beyond control, while if he loses, he seems poised to refuse the result, charging voting fraud, and clinging to the presidency despite being rejected by the voting public. This prospect would provoke an unprecedented constitutional crisis and could be resolved by the first coup in American history, an unthinkable scenario until Trump came alone. Even if Trump is coercively removed from the White House, the fascist cause is likely to flourish as his more ardent followers seem ready to incite civil war rather than accept a political defeat, however warranted.

And even should these horrors be avoided, or dealt with in a responsible manner, the aftermath is likely to be deeply unpleasant, raising the question, above all, whether Donald Trump’s multiple crimes shall be shielded from prosecution, and a massive gift of impunity bestowed. If accountability and the rule of law are chosen, there would be myriad trials and calls of political martyrdom. Maybe the best solution would be asylum for Trump in Putin’s Russia. This kind of ‘retirement’ arrangement would have the delicious irony of having Trump share his place of refuge with Edward Snowden. There is a kind of political poetry present as Snowden told the world damning secrets about the U.S. surveillance regime while Trump is trying his hardest to keep his nefarious doings as secret as possible for as long as he can.

Deeper Structural Concerns (1) Reimagining U.S. Federalism

Even in the unlikely event that all goes well procedurally, it is no time to gloat about the vindication of the American version of constitutional democracy. Should Trump upset present expectations, and win in November, he will almost certainly again have the perverse, and now anachronistic, peculiarities of the Electoral College to thank. Trump will have little trouble putting out of mind the awkward fact that he prevailed although he once again as in 2016 won fewer votes than his defeated opponent. In 2020 there is no sufficient justification for counting a vote in Idaho or Montana as more valuable than a vote in California or New York. Since the winner in each state gets the whole of its Electoral College vote whether the margin of victory is one vote or one million votes. Democracy as a political system loses legitimacy whenever it cannot dislodge such anachronistic quirks of its electoral system, and the real mandate of a voting majority of the citizenry is denied the fruits of victory.

Of course, there is an important riposte to the effect that the large populations of the two coastal states, with it greater attachment to liberal values, would dominate the electoral process, and do not reflect the country as a whole. It is also claimed that this kind of direct citizen voting framework would further marginalize the relevance of the ‘flyover’ states, and in this sense undermine the federalist character of the republic, which was integral to the envisioned constitutional balance between unity and decentralization that informed the vision of the founders. As such what is put in relief are two distinct questions: was the electoral college a clever solution to this challenge of empowering and protecting diversity while creating a desirable level of unity when the United States was established as a mega-state in the late 18th century? Has this ‘solution’ become in recent decades an outmoded model of federalism given digitized re-framings of people, ideas, and consciousness that has so far occurred in the 21st century. Such re-framings exhibit a variety of tendencies toward localism and centralism, with diminished relevance to the units constituting the sovereign state as political actor? Put differently, is not the country at a stage of political development that federalism needs to be reimagined from ecological, cyber, temporal, humanist, and cosmopolitan perspectives? Reimagining would lead to a deemphasis on the spatial compartmentalization of 50 distinct political entities in the context of national elections as well as acknowledge the deterritorialization of sovereign states, and  especially the United States, as the sole ‘global state.’

A further concern is with the impact of federalist arrangements on the wellbeing of peoples is its dual character. Federalism has given a safe harbor to the ugliest forms of racism and bigotry, but it has also given space for sanctuary and humane values when the central government turns against vulnerable parts of society in a regressive direction. The Trump phenomenon has confirmed beyond reasonable doubt that all political arrangements are fragile, subject to lethal manipulation when the self-restraint and decency of ruling elites is replaced by narcissism, greed, criminality, and demagoguery.

(2) Rigging the Results

As others have observed, Joe Biden will need much more than a simple majority to win the election. He will need a landslide that overcomes not just the impacts of the Electoral College, but also that neutralizes the distorting effects of Republican gerrymandering and widespread voter suppression practices designed to keep persons of color, the poor, and those living in progressive urban neighborhoods from voting. Because Republicans are so focused on winning and upholding privilege whatever the consequences, they have been using their extensive control of state legislatures and governorships throughout the country to disenfranchise their adversaries while organizing their bases of support to participate in vital elections.

Again, the Democratic Party has its own inglorious past, which includes a past shameless reliance on machine politics featuring city hall political manipulations of voting patterns and electoral results. The great game of American politics has always been to varying degrees a game played by unscrupulous actors with many dirty tricks up their soiled sleeves. Political parties are formed to protect interests and win elections, which means that principles tend to be put aside, and the truly virtuous potential leaders tend to be repulsed by the game or excluded by the party leadership. Bernie Sanders is a perfect case in point, being too virtuous, too principled, and too independent to represent the Democratic Party, and this despite showing his relative popularity with the citizenry, surely greater than the candidate chosen by the gatekeepers. In this illuminating respect, there are certain considerations that outweigh winning elections. Concretely, the Democratic Party establishment would rather go with the weaker candidate than go with a stronger alternative who would threaten the donor-driven consensus.

(3) The Erosion and Debasement of Choice: Breaking the ‘Bipartisan Consensus’

There are further related reasons for humility about the functioning of democracy in the United States that extend beyond the electoral system and the disturbing behavior of political parties. The most glaring shortcomings are associated with the absence of alternative approaches made available to the voting public on the most crucial issues confronting society. It relates to the failure of the two-party system when neither party possesses a willingness to support candidates who are willing to advocate overcoming the distortions on the quality of life and governance being wrought by plutocracy, global militarism, predatory capitalism, climate change, and systemic racism.

The current American version of two-party democracy has steadily decayed due to the embedded bipartisan consensus that was originally a functional feature of the political landscape during World War II when the country was productively united in support of an anti-fascist war. This consensus became substantially and more dubiously reconstituted as the ideological foundation of an anti-Communist global crusade that set boundaries on political diversity during the long Cold War. Among the harmful effects of this two-party consensus was curtailing mainstream political debate, discrediting socialist thought, making the outcome of national elections count for far less, making a war economy and militarized state permanent fixtures of governance, generating ‘a deep state’ entrusted with sustaining the consensus, and instrumentalizing respect for international law and the authority of the UN.

It might have been hoped that the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the Soviet collapse a few years later would have encouraged taking stock, a national turn toward peace, and a greater openness to progressive political ideas. Nothing of the sort occurred during the 1990s, a wasted decade of world order opportunity. The West won the Cold War, but lost the peace by its embrace of consumerism and an economy guided by efficiencies of capital rather than the wellbeing of peoples.

First, attention was redirected to the plutocratic benefits accruing from the absence of an ideological alternative to market-driven economic policy, which meant that the ethics of greed could be practiced without adverse political consequences. Accordingly, with the support of both political parties, the U.S. Government focused its attention on making the world safe for predatory capitalism, a set of policy priorities reflecting what became known as either ‘the Washington consensus’ or more politely, ‘neoliberal globalization.’  This economistic orientation, in effect, a capitalist version of Marxist materialism, encouraged consumerist orgies and environmental irresponsibility. This reflected civilian and most private sector priorities. It was not satisfactory for the militarists and arms dealers who also wanted, and maybe required, an enemy to make the case for continuing with wartime scale military budgets and for restoring their self-esteem as guardians of national and global security.

The first candidate to be a post-Communist enemy was Japan, with its disciplined work force and booming economy that was seen as a growing threat to American ascendancy, at least in the Pacific. This candidate to be the new enemy seemed rather implausible as Japan was the principal U.S. ally in the Pacific region since its defeat in World War II, and was impossible to cast as a security threat to Americn geopolitical primacy.

The next enemy candidate was a resurgent anti-Western Islam. Samuel Huntington’s thesis of ‘the clash of civilizations’ attracted political attention but it still was not plausible as a threat, given Western military dominance. The clash thesis did come to enjoy a dysfunctional credibility after the 9/11 attacks. These attacks produced ‘the war on terror,’ and did have the desired galvanizing effect of re-securitizing American foreign policy with a special emphasis on the Middle East where the energy future of the world seemed to be at risk. What ensued were several disastrous military interventions that resulted in geopolitical setbacks, while causing the devastation of a series of countries subjected to strife and chaos as in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.

Next comes China, which seems to be a more familiar and plausible geopolitical adversary, but on further examination its role as ‘enemy’ is problematic. China has not attempted to challenge the West militarily or ideologically, but seems to be winning the competition for markets, economic expansionism, and technological innovativeness, and is now being cast by both wings of the American political establishment as a geopolitical adversary worth confronting. Not surprisingly, the Biden people seem as ready as the Trump autocracy to confront China and Iran, and even readier when it comes to Russia, although maybe in a more measured manner, but also one that may be more disposed to invite serious long-term engagements reinforced by a hypocritical solidarity with Hong Kong protesters and Uyghur struggles for human rights.

An America disgraced at home and abroad by its terrible performance in response to the COVID-19 challenge, is a wounded animal that has never been more at odds with the wellbeing of humanity, which urgently requires refocusing on human security, which needs to be concretized by reference to climate change, nuclear weaponry, global migration, food and worker security, demilitarization, global health, and strengthened procedures for global cooperation. This can only happen if the militarist/plutocratic consensus is challenged from outside the party framework, by a movement rather than a political party.

The persistence of this dysfunctional bipartisan consensus represents an unauthorized redrafting of the social contract that continuously reshapes state/society relations to retain its status as a legitimate democracy. It is a political and moral scandal that a considerable fraction of the citizenry lacks health care, affordable higher education and housing, and the society as a whole endures acute inequalities, unjust taxation, infrastructure decay, and climate change without mounting a serious challenge within the two-party framework. Bernie Sander bravely tried twice to push the Democratic Party to the outer limits of the bipartisan consensus, but in the end both in 2016 and 2020 he was bloodied by the DNC establishment that refused to be pushed anywhere near the brink. It is notable that Sanders, like Trump from a rightest direction, sought to alter the outer limits of the consensus but never mounted direct assaults on the structural features of militarism or capitalism.

The Trump phenomenon is an extreme national example of the global populist drift away from democracy by alienated citizenries around the world who cast their votes for demagogues, that is, for individuals who are taking advantage of democratic procedures and institutions to hollow out democracy so as to move particular societies toward autocracy. Such a drift reflects the distinctive features of national narratives as well as reflects a certain set of global conditions that express alienation from what ‘democracy’ bestowed upon their lives. To distract and divert, scapegoating becomes a core tactics of these moves away from democratic cohesion. In a world of inequalities and global warming, there has arisen a frightening receptivity to blaming the stranger or the other for the unfairness being experienced in the forms of inequality, economic displacement, and erosions of national identity.

 

(4) Disenfranchising the World

A final concern involves the disenfranchisement of the peoples of the world. I would maintain that a legitimate U.S. democracy in the 21st century should enlarge its writ to heed the political will of those who reside beyond the territorial boundaries of the country and owe traditional allegiances to another country. These foreigners are deeply affected by the extra-national influence exerted by the United States on their lives and livelihood, and yet are without representation or any means to register formal approval or disapproval. The U.S. by virtue of its global reach, mainly through a network of military bases, naval forces patrolling the high seas, claims based on cyber and space security, and diplomatic leverage, often has more impact on foreign societies than their own government.

Should not consideration be given to some form of non-territorial enfranchisement (not necessarily a full and equal vote) that is more congruent with the realities of a networked, digital world than is the territorial sovereign state? It is time that we deploy our moral and political imagination to envision non-territorial democracy that takes account of geopolitical configurations of power as well as ecosystems that cannot function properly if subject to no source of governance with precedence over the claims of national sovereignty.  The statist territoriality of life on the planet has declined to the point where only multi-leveled democratic governance can hope to address humanely the multiple and diverse challenges directed at humanity as a whole. Europe has pioneered such a development on a regional level, and although paused at present, gives us existential strivings toward new forms of political community and governance.

 

Coda

In essence, we cannot be hopeful about the future unless we commit ourselves to the hard work of deterritorializing democracydemilitarizing the state, pacifying geopolitics, empowering people, and strengthening the United Nations and international law. As well, time as well as space must become integral elements of national, transnational, regional, and global policy formation and problem-solving. This means that short-termism must be supplanted by time horizons that are congruent with the nature of global challenges.

__________________________________________

 

Global Governance After the COVID Pandemic

31 Aug

 

Global Governance After the COVID Pandemic

 

Introductory Observations

 

In making conjectures about global governance in the post-COVID-19 era, it is important to be both cautious and clear. Cautious because there are many uncertainties, including knowing when the Coronavirus Pandemic has subsided sufficiently to make special precautions no longer necessary. Is it at the time when the economy is fully reopened or when a successful vaccine is developed and available for widespread distribution at affordable prices or when it is declared over by national governments, the WHO, or the UN Secretary General? Are we all awaiting ‘a new normal’ or will we remain nervous unless the old normal is restored?

 

Clarity is equally important when projecting alternative futures for global governance, especially drawing clear lines between what is expected and feasible, what seems necessary, and what is desirable but not likely attainable given existing frameworks of policy framework. A second type of clarification relates to global governance, distinguishing between contingent and structural deficiencies of state-centric world order as it now functions. For instance, the quality of global leadership is clearly a significant dimension of world order, yet too often contingent on the behavior and governmental priorities of the United States and China, and secondarily, on the influence exerted by moral authority figures such as the UN Secretary General or by powerful private sector interests.

 

In contrast, the dysfunctional failures to achieve sufficient levels of global cooperation to solve common challenges extending beyond the COVID crisis that include climate change, global migration, prolonged civil strife reflect a combination of contingent and structural limitations on problem-solving. States, especially the larger and wealthier ones, seem still preoccupied with satisfying self-serving, short-term definitions of national interests without exhibiting a willingness to take account of global and human interests or the global common good, and so governance responses to planetary challenges continue to be disappointingly weak.

 

The mismatch between the non-territorial interconnectedness of digitalization and the territorial mentality of nationalism is another source of tension. And perhaps, the most serious tensions pertaining to global governance arise from the interplay between the geopolitical maneuvers of a few political actors (notably, by the largest of the five Permanent Members of the Security Council enjoying a right of veto) and normal states that are more sensitive to their dependence on responsible globalism, and display more readiness to respect international law and the UN. This structural reality was present long before the COVIS-19 suddenly emerged as the most impactful governance threat to human wellbeing in more than a century, especially if measured by its planetary scope and real time worldwide awareness.

 

 

Governance Lessons of COVIS-19

 

Against this background, it seems rather obvious that the most relevant governance lessons are the precariousness of world order at a time of radical uncertainty with respect to challenges of global scale and the unevenness of preparedness for and prudent responsiveness to threats whose reality was being experienced even as their timing was unknowable. There are two distinct lines of plausible response. The first is that there will be a widespread greater appreciation by governments and the public that more centralization of health policy and capabilities is needed to respond more effectively, given the prospect of future pandemics, while withdrawing attention from the governance implications of the pandemic for non-health issues on the global horizons of the future. Such a foreclosure of learning would be in line with the historical recognition that generals correct mistakes of the last war rather than making plans for quite different future wars. Further disorientation occurs because in the context of global governance political leaders of sovereign states are mainly judged by their short-term performance, and tend to assume that their tenure will have ended before future dangers materialize.

 

Positive adjustments with respect to global health would mean expanding greatly the budget, independence, and authority of the World Health Organization (WHO) to provide warnings, guidelines and training programs as to treatment, early warning alerts, trustworthy information as to disease outbreaks, and even emergency authority to set minimum safety standards. It would also mean taking parallel steps, especially among more economically challenged countries, to develop regional cooperative procedures and institutional arrangements, sharing knowledge, resources, and costs in ways that heed warnings in ways that minimize economic and social dislocation, and take account of the mental strain of prolonged lockdowns. In effect, the peoples of the world need to push hard for an adequately funded global capability to identify and implement good governance practices with respect to global health policy with a stress on crisis management and post-crisis recovery would seem beneficial for all states. Without the push from below such a global capability will not happen.

 

If such positive adjustments were forthcoming it would reveal an encouraging compatibility between strengthening international institutions, enhancing the capabilities of sovereign states, and recognizing the need for advance preparation, longer term policy horizons, and cooperative arrangements at all levels of social interaction. In this respect, the adaptive policy potential of state-centric world order would be mobilized without necessitating any basic changes in the structures of global governance. The success of this policy-oriented approach would also depend on the emergence of more enlightened global leadership by prominent government, especially the United States, and possibly by new political actors. A basic concern would be whether U.S. global influence would become more internationalist in spirit and substance as exemplified by the restorative commitments made after World War II or would remain inward-oriented, nationalistic, and conflictual as has been the unhappy global story during the Trump presidency.

 

In this respect, such contingent factors as whether Trump is reelected for another four years in 2020 could be decisive in determining the quality and potential of global leadership after the COVIS-19 crisis ends. There is also the possibility that if the nationalistic orientation persists or even intensifies as the pandemic subsides, it might stimulate other political forces to fill the leadership gap, including coalitions in Africa and Asia. The COVID experience of discouraging international travel could also produce powerful de-globalization trends in the world economy with many unpredictable consequences, including delinking measures that would lessen the risks associated with transnational supply chains, especially for food and security.

 

If Trump is defeated, the situation will remain cloudy, with possibly heightened prospects of a new cold war highlighting confrontations with Russia and China, accompanied by a renewal of security alignments involving West against East.

 

 

Beyond the Health Sector

 

The most haunting question is whether the COVID-19 widely shared sense that ‘we’re all in this together’ would facilitate more globally oriented responses with respect to climate change, nuclear weaponry, global migration, extreme poverty, and biodiversity loss. As with the pace and depth of changes in the health sector, the applications of lessons beyond health would depend, in the first instance, on whether more globally and future oriented leadership emerged in key national actors, but even this may not be sufficient to overcome the inertia and opposition of entrenched special economic interests pressing for a return to business as usual. Although resistance would be encountered with respect to reforming and internationalizing the health sector, opposition would likely be even stronger if serious attempts are made to regulate fossil fuels, arms sales, robotics, automation, migration/asylum on the basis of the global common good.

 

For this reason, it seems that heeding the COVID-19 experience with respect to policy formation in relation the non-health agenda will depend not only on enlightened leadership at the level of the state, but mounting social pressure from popular movements and municipal governance seeking longer term, human security, urban-oriented approaches to global threats. If effective, a new political atmosphere favoring internationalism, transnational urbanism, and multilateral agreements could emerge that would facilitate the restoration, enhancement, and reproduction for other world order challenges of such cooperative approaches as were heralded by the Paris Climate Change Treaty (2015) and the Iran Nuclear Program Agreement (JCPOA) (2015).

 

In essence, post-COVID-19 prospects hinge very much on whether the potential for policy

adaptation can be increased sufficiently to mitigate the most threatening global challenges, and thereby restore confidence in state-centric global governance, as reinforced by transnational civic activism and urban networks of innovative policy initiatives. In other words, these developments do not presume to transform global governance by creating mandatory mechanisms for cooperation and control that are detached from geopolitical oversight. In this regard it would be mistaken to adopt a world order vocabulary such as ‘world government’ or ‘post-statist world order’ to describe a recommended emphasis on maximizing the cooperative potential of the present world order system.

 

It is possible, especially if other global threats encroach more directly on affluent societies, that a more geopolitically guided approach to global governance would emerge either under a revamped U.S. internationalism or by way of new coalitions that brought together China and the U.S. or China, Russia, and the U.S. to address less coercively what was widely experienced as ecological or economic emergencies. This, too, would not represent a structural modification of global governance as geopolitics—or the role of so-called Great Powers—which have throughout global history pursued their grand strategy outside the framework of inter-state diplomacy and the constraints of international law, and in way that violated moral constraints. The United States, and to a lesser extent China, are currently more accurately perceived as ‘global states’ with a presence and leverage that extends far beyond their borders, yet with a formal political framework remains predominantly ‘state-centric.’ It would be appropriate to reconceptualize the territoriality of state-centric or Westphalian world order to take account of this phenomenon of global states. At present, the influence and activities of global states is not acknowledged on world maps that continue to shape world order imaginaries.

 

In this central respect, plausible scenarios for the post-COVID-19 Era, have no grounds under existing conditions to anticipate any structural challenge to state-centric world (as including its geopolitical dimensions and urban outreach). The two most controversial structural features of global governance can be focused as follows: 1) the allegation that neoliberalism, the recent phase of capitalism, has dangerously accentuated inequality and global warming, and will become less and less sustainable unless more equitable results are forthcoming; 2) the claim that resurgent ultra-nationalism constitutes a regressive form of state behavior given the realities of the 21st century, although selective deglobalization may enhance human security, especially if emergent in tandem with more obligatory frameworks of state cooperation at regional and global levels. This presupposes increased respect for international law, a stronger UN, and regional actors with more governance authority.  .

 

 

Concluding Note

 

Just as the COVID pandemic came to the world as a shocking surprise, the post-COVID-19

era is likely to be an occasion for major surprises reminding us once again that the human condition is one of radical uncertainty. With this awareness, the most sensible approach to global governance is one that invokes a posture of prudence toward the future. The best guide to prudence is the Precautionary Principle that seeks to take account of future risks without first demanding certainty as to their degree of threat, heeding scientific knowledge and relevant experts. If our leaders learn to guide policy by applying the Precautionary Principle, we might someday conclude that this was the most beneficial lesson learned from the COVID-19 experience.

 

    

 

Nuclear Complacency and the Dangerous Drift Toward a New Cold War with China

22 Aug

[Prefatory Note: The text below is a somewhat modified text of an interview conducted by

Daniel Falcone, and published in Counterpunch on August 11, 2020. I am increasingly worried by the either/or quality of the U.S. November elections effectively suppresses concerns about

a bipartisan drift toward a second cold war focused on China as geopolitical adversary that will be confronted. Because it is desperately important to defeat Trump, with its fascist undertones, a view I share, the conventional wisdom of the moment is to wait with such concerns until Biden is safely in the White House. But suppose ‘later’ never comes!]

 

 

Nuclear Complacency and the Dangerous Drift Toward a New Cold War with China

 

  • On this 75th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can you reflect on that moment historically and how it has shaped your view of American foreign policy since?

 

At the outset, I would point out that for me this is the saddest of anniversaries, and I try my best to avoid the use of the word ‘anniversary.’ I prefer ‘observance,’ which signals a certain solemnity in the course of acknowledging the occasion. Such an observance is not merely looking back as this weaponry has unfortunate continued relevance to human destiny after the horrifying events of 75 years ago.

 

It is also notable that the United States has never officially apologized for these unlawful attacks on heavily populated cities with no military significance in the closing days of World War II, nor even expressed public regret for the unprecedented suffering imposed on the Japanese civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki a result of the atomic bombs, which was experienced as a deadly assault on the Japanese people as a whole. Barack Obama was the first sitting American president to visit the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park in 2016, but refrained from offering an apology, and directed his remarks to the future, affirming efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

 

As a frequent visitor to Japan I can testify that despite the extraordinary recovery made by the country after 1945 the national wounds inflicted by the bombing have not healed, nor can they heal so long as nuclear weapons are poised for use and relied upon by several countries for security.

 

As many specialists have argued, the principal motivation for dropping the two atomic bombs, grotesquely named ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man’ was not, as in the publicly proclaimed justification, to avoid the loss of American lives arising from an invasion of Japan, and so to bend the will of the Japanese leadership toward an immediate acceptance of the demands of ‘unconditional surrender.’ Historians increasingly agree that the overriding purpose was to send Moscow and Joseph Stalin a chilling message: don’t push the West too hard in negotiating European political arrangements after the defeat of Germany and don’t challenge the United States in relation to the spoils of war in the Pacific or your future might come to resemble that of these two devastated Japanese cities. In other words, the decisive motivation was geopolitical and not based on the only relevant international law justification, which required upholding a claim of military necessity in an ongoing war. Given the indiscriminateness of the devastation it would be highly doubtful that such a claim would be accepted by any impartial tribunal. Such a claim would be especially flimsy here as Japan had indicated through diplomatic circles that it was ready to submit to Allied terms subject to only one condition–that Japan be allowed to retain its emperor system. In the end, this condition was dropped by the victorious Allied Powers. This meant that the war could have been ended diplomatically without the atomic attacks. This also meant that the much relied upon pretext of the bombing being necessary to achieve ‘unconditional surrender’ was at best misleading, and more probably, simply false.

 

As indicated, a consensus among respected historians have concluded that the main idea behind the use of this weapon of mass destruction was to warn the Soviet Union, still a supposed ally, a country that endured as many as 30 million deaths in the common anti-fascist war effort. In retrospect the bombs were the opening salvo in an all-encompassing geopolitical rivalry that would last for more than four decades under the rubric of the ‘Cold War,’ This geopolitical confrontation diverted energies and resources from constructive uses as well as causing acute anxieties about the onset of nuclear war at crisis moments. It is a matter of conjecture as to whether the Cold War would have been the sequel to World War II if the atomic bomb had never been used, and instead unilaterally placed by the United States under strict and responsible international control as codified in a lawmaking disarmament treaty. Of all the roads not taken this may have been the most crucial one as it might have allowed post-1945 history to evolve in a less violent, more benign, manner, giving grounds for hopes to build world order around peace, justice, and ecological stability rather than rest the future of humanity on militarism and predatory capitalism.

 

Passing the 75th year since the bombs were dropped should remind us of another moral deficiency that has given a distorted shape to the nuclear age. The atrocities inscribed in world memory most vividly can be summoned to awareness by citing two place names: Auschwitz and Hiroshima. Because Germany lost the war it was made to repudiate the Holocaust, pay reparations to Jewish and other death camp survivors, and join the front ranks advocating the criminalization of genocide. Because the United States won the war its atomic attacks on Japanese cities was never subject to political, legal, and moral scrutiny, let alone repudiated or properly commemorated, much less made subject to criminalization.

 

Despite the clear treaty obligation in Article VI of the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to seek nuclear disarmament in good faith negotiations, a legal obligation unanimously affirmed in 1996 by the International Court of Justice in its Advisory Opinion on the legality of nuclear weaponry, the United States and Russia retain large arsenals of nuclear weapons, backed by deployments and doctrines mandating use under certain undisclosed conditions. Seven other countries also have nuclear arsenals whose numbers, deployments, and doctrines of use are kept secret in many cases from even elected officials. This means that a sociopathic leader of these governments could make a snap decision to end life on the planet as we know it, and even an accident or mistake could change the course of global history.

 

There are many abhorrent features of the nuclear age that have not been given appropriate attention from its very outset. In the most dramatic possible way, it was demonstrated that losers in a major war will be held individually accountable by reference to international criminal law while the winners will enjoy absolute impunity.

The London Charter, also known as the Nuremberg Charter, setting forth the framework for the prosecution and punishment of surviving German civilian and political leaders was formally adopted on August 8, 1945, two days after the bomb dropped on Hiroshima and one day prior to the bombing of Nagasaki. Such monumental insensitivity has never attracted the bitterly ironic commentary it deserves. There is not much doubt that had the Germans or Japanese developed an atom bomb and used it against Allied cities, and nevertheless gone on to lose the war, those responsible would have been prosecuted as war criminals, nuclear weapons criminalized, and a likely effect that this weaponry might never have been developed.

 

Such double standards were carried forward in the UN System by endowing the five winners in World War II with permanent membership and a right of veto in the Security Council, the only UN political organ with the authority to impose obligations as distinct from offering recommendations. Even during the pandemic, in the face of humanitarian appeals, the U.S. maintains unilateral sanctions meant to exert pressure on a range of. countries the governments of which it disapproves, including Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, and Zimbabwe. It is one more manifestation of the enforcement mechanisms used by geopolitical actors to impose their arbitrary and often greedy political will on weaker sovereign states. Such coercive tactics represent a defiant repudiation of the first principles of international law in contemporary state-centric world order: the equality of sovereign states.

 

With specific reference to nuclear weaponry this hierarchical and hegemonic character of world order is nowhere more clearly present than in relation to nuclear weapons. The countries that possess, develop, deploy, and deter, rely on threat diplomacy, and might at some point use nuclear weaponry remain internationally unregulated whatever form their reliance on nuclear weaponry assumes. In contrast, the more than 180 other countries in the world are legally and geopolitically prohibited from acquiring the weaponry however much under threat from hostile countries. Iran, threatened by hostile political actors possessing nuclear weapons, is geopolitically prohibited from acquiring such weaponry. These non-nuclear states face threats of aggression and occupation if seen as moving close to the nuclear threshold. Such a regime is illustrated by the experience of Iraq since 2003 or the pressures exerted on Iran.

 

Such coercive implementation of the nonproliferation regime runs contrary to the spirit of the treaty itself, which in Article X gives parties the right to withdraw from the treaty if ‘extraordinary events’ ‘jeopardize the supreme interests of the country.’ Withdrawal is achieved by submitting a notice three months in advance that specifies the extraordinary events. The geopolitical regime of counterproliferation ignores this sovereign right of non-nuclear states to determine their own security needs, including by the acquisition of nuclear weapons. The geopolitical regime possesses the features of ‘nuclear apartheid’ in which the dangerous nuclear weapons states are unregulated while the non-nuclear states are subject to the most coercive imaginable regulation that overrides basic sovereign rights. Additionally, the regime has not even been applied in a non-discriminatory manner. Israel’s covert acquisition of nuclear weapons as abetted by the complicity of France (documented in Seymour Hersh’s The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Option (1991)) was completely overlooked.

 

Reflection and commentary on all of these aspects of this 75th year after the initiation of. the nuclear age is as necessary in 2020 as it was in 1945, and yet remains more absent now than it was then when the moral triumphalism of victory in just war blunted critical discussion. Alarm bells are clanging but almost no one is listening, and those that could do something, seem more than content to do nothing. The overall public mood is now one of dangerous complacency, bordering on calculated indifference, while nuclear establishments around the world continue to go effectively and mainly covertly about their nefarious business. This includes undercutting any serious denuclearizing initiatives of world leaders, and includes even the occasional positing of denuclearizing visions by the leaders of the dominant states (e.g. Gorbachev, Reagan, Carter, Obama).

2) You recently stated that it’s never been more urgent that we repudiate nuclearism in all forms. What rationales or forms do proponents of nuclearism put forth?

 

It is important to view with skepticism the justifications offered by the governments of nuclear weapons states for retaining the weaponry, and to articulate the unacknowledged, yet true, rationale that relates to geopolitical status, leverage, conflict, and expanding the foreign policy options of leading nuclear weapons states. Secondary nuclear weapons states, including India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea are motivated by a mixture of considerations: regional rivalry, defensive security, and regional geopolitics. There are several different rationales given for retaining nuclear weapons that can be enumerated in distinct categories, but there exists the need to take account of operational variations in motivation and situation of each state that further reflects evolving conditions and varying leadership styles:

 

General Arguments:

–despite global tensions no nuclear weapon has been used since 1945, suggesting that the management of nuclear weaponry has stood the test of time;

–nuclear disarmament is not considered practical given this record of non-use, It is viewed by the governments possessing nuclear weapons and strategic discourse as more dangerous than management as abetted by prudent measures of arms control;

–leading nuclear weapons states rely on nuclear weaponry for defensive security via deterrence, and for geopolitical leverage in some global crisis situations.

 

Regional Arguments:

–the possession of nuclear weapons elevates the status of a country in world politics;

–regional hegemons and expansionist states rely on geopolitical leverage within geographical limits;

–beleaguered countries claim security imperatives to support their acquisition of nuclear weapons capabilities;

–international practices suggests that secondary states that do not possess nuclear weapons are more subject to military intervention than those that possess the weaponry (for example, Iraq, Libya versus North Korea).

 

The most explicit and unqualified overall rationale for nuclearism is set forth in the statement issued by the U.S., France, and the UK as to why these governments are unalterably opposed to the UN Treaty of Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), stressing distrust of North Korea and others combined with a reaffirmation of confidence in the managerial capabilities of the NPT regime and collective security arrangements to continue to offer the best approach to the prevention of nuclear warfare. In effect the objectives of the TPNW are considered neither politically attainable nor a constructive contribution to world order. See response to Q-5 for more detail.

3) Can you comment on the most concerning geopolitical shifts or points of confrontation that are directly pertinent in this current age of autocrats?

 

The most serious geopolitical concern to rise to the surface relates to the increase of tension and hostility between the United States and China. This disturbing development that threatens a second cold war, with a mixture of similarities and rather distinct differences from the Cold War between the Western alliance led by the U.S. and the Soviet Bloc dominated by the USSR, and waged mainly on Third World battlefields and via ideological competition for hearts and minds in the West. In contrast, the emergent confrontation with China focuses on trade wars and friction between China’s claims of  to a regional sphere of influence and growing technological superiority and the U.S. resolve to retain its globality, an extensive reality as the first global security state in history with even cosmic pretensions manifest in extending geopolitical rivalry including war preparations to space. In the background is the Thucydides Trap by which historical experience would seem to incline the U.S. to have recource to war to fend off China’s challenge to overtake the U.S. as the ascendant world power. We should also be nervous about what I call ‘the Clausewitz Trap’ by which ‘the fog of peace’ blinds powerful states to the benefits of peace, as well as to the terrible costs of war and the high costs of preparations for geopolitical war, which is raised to apocalyptic heights by risks of nuclear war. Unlike the Cold War, there was not present challenges of the magnitude or severity of the climate change crisis, which requires focused geopolitical attention which will be almost impossible to achieve if the U.S. and China end up with a confrontation comparable to that of the post-1945 Cold War.

 

The alignments of such a struggle for global ascendancy emphasize the secondary roles of India and Russia, as well as the diminished role of Europe as the geopolitical epicenter of geopolitical confrontation. Also, the West relied on ‘containment’ to address the supposed danger of Soviet expansionism, but can China be similarly ‘boxed in’ considering that its primary modes of expansionism have been based on soft power instruments, which have been economistic, as well as by providing win/win infrastructural assistance to vulnerable countries throughout the world, especially in Africa and Central Asia.

 

There are also significant shifts in geopolitical alignments at the regional level. In the Middle East, although commentary is fraught with uncertainty, the primary alignment of the Arab countries has shifted from antagonism toward Israel to Iran, with Israel becoming a tacit partner and coupled with U.S. backing. This has effectively marooned the self-determination struggle of the Palestinian people, leaving them more dependent than ever on their own efforts to resist Israeli occupation and annexation as reinforced by global solidarity initiatives such as the BDS campaign. It should be noted that this geopolitical shift from an anti-Israeli to an anti-Iranian focus is fragile, reflecting elite recalculations that ignore the continuing solidarity of the citizenries of the Arab countries with the Palestinian struggle.

 

The various Asian regions have also shifted their policy agendas due primarily to the greater regional assertiveness of China as well as the more geopolitically aggressive stance taken by India under the autocratic leadership of Modi. There have been several severe issues of human rights in Asia that have raised regional tensions and global concerns that are manipulated by the background of U.S./China confrontation: suppression of protest activity in Hong Kong, oppression of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang Province, genocidal treatment of the Rohingya by Myanmar, repression in Kashmir.

4) The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) website currently has their doomsday clock reading 100 seconds till midnight. This is a terrifying and unspeakable reality. What are your thoughts on the Bulletin as an indicator of possible nuclear war and devastation?

 

I believe the editorial consensus at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is the most objective and informed assessment of the risks of nuclear war that is available, and should be accorded respect by the public, media, and political leaders. In this case grave concern as was expressed by moving the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight than at any time since it was established in 1947, and is now placed at 100 seconds away from doomsday, that is, nuclear conflagration. In an unusual move signifying deep concern, the Elders, a group of global leaders established by Nelson Mandela in 2007 to promote peace, justice, and human rights, endorsed this challenge to nuclear complacency.

 

What prompted this august body to issue this ominous distress signal is worth pondering, and commenting upon. The BAS called attention to three developments: deteriorating efforts to seek stability via arms control, highlighted by the abandonment of agreements in the context of U.S./Russia relations, which is alleged to weaken nonproliferation barriers; failures to address adequately the challenges of climate change; disinformation technologies that have undermined trust in state/society relations. I would question whether this assessment is adequate as it ignores the greater relevance of nuclearism to militarized geopolitics and it does not refer to the greater risks of war arising from the most dangerous intensification of geopolitical tensions, especially U.S./China but also U.S./Russia. The prospect of geopolitical confrontation, entailing arms races and periodic global crises is greater now than at any time since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. As the current preoccupation with the Coronavirus Pandemic has dramatized, diverting attention from the urgent need to address the menace of climate change, world order will be greatly undermined by a new cold war even if it manages to avoid any use of nuclear weaponry. The global policy agenda seems incapable of mobilizing systemic responses to more than one issue at a time.

5) Can you talk about anti-war organizations and peace groups around the world at the local, state, national, and global level that are working hard to ensure that a cataclysmic event is avoided? How has this work changed over time over the course of your career and what are the prospects for it impacting policy.

 

There are many civil society organizations around the world dedicated to peace with and without support from some governments. In line with my earlier responses, the overall geopolitical situation is giving rise to a warmongering global atmosphere that is more dysfunctional than ever from the perspective of humane values, including ecological stability. I would stress the troublesome reality that the U.S. global decline in legitimacy and capability has left Washington without the confidence or imagination to exert global influence except by relying on its military might, making threats, imposing sanctions, while flaunting international law and the UN that has included repudiating the most important recent instances of global cooperation with respect to climate change and Iran’s nuclear program.

 

The realities of geopolitical confrontation and nuclearism are overshadowed in public consciousness by the concreteness of immediate pressures associated with the pandemic, climate change, global migration, economic downturns, and autocratic patterns of governance. This has led to public complacency about nuclear dangers, making the work of the global anti-war movement more difficult at the very time that it has never been more necessary. This necessity flows not only from dangerous international developments but also from complementary national developments associated with the spread of autocratic leadership more disposed to seek militarist and nationalistic approaches to security, including choosing sides in the intensifying hostility between the U.S. and China, especially in the region surrounding China.

 

Civil society energies have been devoted in recent years to promoting the UN Treaty on  Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), seeking the 50 ratifications needed to bring the agreement into force among the parties. So far, 44 countries have ratified the TPNW, although when negotiated in 2017, 121 countries approved, with only The Netherlands voting against, and Singapore abstaining, and at the time 82 governments signed the agreement as a step toward ratification. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in 2017, and widely understood as a step taken in recognition of the significance of its worldwide efforts to encourage support for TPNW, and of the assumed importance of the treaty.  We need ask the hard, somewhat uncomfortable question, ‘of what real impact will the TPNW if the nuclear weapons states oppose the treaty and are not bound by its terms?’

 

In view of the refusal of NATO countries to take part in even the negotiations of such an international agreement, and the issuance of a defiant statement of opposition by the U.S., UK, and France after the TPNW text was released, it has become evident that there is a fundamental cleavage in world politics between the nine nuclear weapons states, and especially the NATO nuclear powers, and most of the rest of the world. The NATO view implicitly affirms the permanence of nuclearism, resting its claims for stability and order on preventing further nuclear proliferation via the geopolitical implementation of the NPT regime to control non-nuclear states from acquiring nuclear weapons. For relations among states having nuclear weaponry, stability is achieved by relying on various forms of deterrence combined with the implementation of the nuclear apartheid regime.

 

It seems appropriate and timely to challenge this managerial approach to nuclear weapons, which actually supersedes the Nonproliferation Treaty, which called for reciprocal commitments to forego nuclear weaponry and to pursue in good faith nuclear disarmament. Instead the NATO managerial regime that emerged, has refused ever to consider nuclear disarmament as a policy option, refuses to validate the security claims of non-nuclear states facing dire threats, and claims a right of enforcement that contravenes the UN Charter and is not conferred by the text of the NPT. The illegitimacy and unlawfulness of nuclear apartheid should be a major focus of civil society activism and aspiration, but it should not be the whole story.

 

There are continuous developments that call for civil society initiatives, ranging from exerting pressure to seek verified nuclear disarmament, to opposing any resumption of weapon testing and the development of smaller nuclear weapons designed for possible battlefield use, to warning against costly and destabilizing nuclear arms races, and to exploring the connections between nuclearism and militarism.

 

Interpreting the UAE/Israel Agreement on Suspending Annexation

16 Aug

[Prefatory Note: Responses to Interview Questions from Javad Heiran-Nia, an Iranian journalist, on the UAE/Israel Normalization/Annexation Agreement of Aug. 13, 2020.]

Interpreting the UAE/Israel Agreement on Suspending Annexation

 

  1. The UAE and Israel normalized their relations. What are the reasons for this and what effect will it have on regional equations?

Any comment on regional implications of the Agreement is, of course, highly speculative as the real reasons for such an initiative are rarely disclosed by those with the power of decision. In this case the uncertainties are magnified by some central ambiguities in the language of the text, especially the word ‘suspend’ in relation to Israeli plans to annex portions of the West Bank. This territory is considered internationally to be part of Occupied Palestine, and by Israel as ‘disputed territory.’

 

I would offer the following tentative reactions to the Agreement: Israel was motivated by Netanyahu’s effort to justify a delay in fulfilling his election promise to annex large portions of the occupied West Bank territory belonging to Palestine, and the Agreement provided a basis to claim compensatory benefits. Netanyahu was also under pressure to convince Israelis that he could be an effective leader, and achieve peace and security in the region while under indictment for corruption and without making concessions to the Palestinians. The Agreement can be viewed as a victory for hard line reactionary Israeli politics, and also pleased Trump by allowing him to claim credit for brokering a deal that is being touted as a ‘breakthrough’ for ‘peace.’ In this usage, peace refers to Israel/Arab relations, and ignores the unresolved conflict with the Palestinian people and their leadership.

 

It is less clear what motivated the UAE to act at this time. There is speculation that once ‘peace’ with Israel is achieved, the UAE will be eligible to buy advanced weapons systems from the U.S., including the latest military drones. The UAE may have also wanted to strengthen the anti-Iran coalition while Trump remains the American president, fearing that if Biden wins the November election, he might restore the agreement on Iran’s Nuclear Program negotiated during the Obama presidency but repudiated by Trump. It is also plausible that the UAE is making a move to establish its leadership among Gulf countries, and getting out from beneath Saudi Arabia’s shadow.

 

It is possible in order to reach a common understanding the parties agreed not to specify what was meant by the word ‘suspend’ in relation to formal annexation by Israel of West Bank territory. It is also possible that a confidential understanding among the three parties was reached that the annexation freeze would be maintained for at least six months, and that during the next six months could be ended by Israel with U.S. approval, after one year, could be ignored by Israel in moving forward with annexation.

  1. This is the normalization of relations mediated by Trump and this agreement is to be signed in the White House. What propaganda will Trump use for this issue in the presidential election?

As Trump has already claimed, this will be presented to the American people as a demonstration of the effectiveness of Trump’s deal-making diplomacy, as well as securing a victory for Israel in its efforts to achieving normalization with Arab countries without allowing the formation of an independent sovereign Palestine. The location of the signing ceremony at the White House will be a high-profile photo op for Trump, and will be conveyed to the world as a sign of continued American leadership in the search for stability in the region in ways that preserve the strategic interests of the U.S. and Israel. Whether many Americans will be very impressed by such PR showmanship remains to be seen. Some liberal American anti-Trump voices have joined in celebrating the Agreement, including a feverish puff piece by the influential NY Times opinion writer Thomas Friedman that misleadingly treats the Agreement as a ‘geopolitical earthquake’ with a positive and unifying impact on the entire Middle East. Little attention has so far been devoted in the West to how the agreement harms the Palestinian struggle for basic rights or bears on the efforts to exert pressure on Iran to conform to Western priorities.

  1. This agreement, on the other hand, shows the concern of the UAE and Saudi Arabia about a US without Trump. In fact, by bringing Israel into clear security and political relations, the two countries will have more support from the US government. What is your assessment?

It seems that this is an accurate, but not central consideration. These leading Gulf countries had long been cooperating with Israel in a variety of ways, including establishing economic and diplomatic links, cyber-security, and joining forces to exert pressure on Iran and to lend support to anti-government forces in Syria. It is doubtful that the Biden presidency would have challenged these political orientations if he is elected, although a changed leadership would likely review whatever promises or commitments Trump made to induce the UAE to sign the Agreement, and openly break ranks on whether to normalize Arab relations with Israel without the prior commitment by Israel to accept a Palestinian state on the territories occupied in 1967. It remains unclear whether Saudi Arabia was a silent partner to this initiative or feared that it might spark anti-regime activism within its own country, and encouraged UAE to take the lead.

  1. The UAE has announced that the annexation plan has been canceled under this agreement. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the plan to annex the West Bank was still on the table and had only been postponed. What is your assessment?

There seems little doubt that the two parties to the August 13th Agreement want to put forward divergent interpretations of what was agreed upon as it bears on the Netanyahu/Trump endorsement of annexing those portions of occupied Palestine on which unlawful Israeli settlements are currently situated. The UAE to hide its abandonment of the Palestinians in their struggle for basic rights seeks to claim that obtaining the Israeli pledge to suspend its annexation plan preserves the hope for a Palestinian state that encompasses the entire West Bank. In contrast, Israel wants to convince especially its settler movement that the suspension is temporary, and when an opportune moment arises, annexation will go forward on the basis of the assertion of Israeli sovereignty. It should be understood that the territory in question has already been annexed by facts on the ground, and what is pledged by Israel is the ambiguous pledge to ‘suspend’ formal annexation for an unspecified time. The shift from de facto to de jure annexation seems to be connected with the readjustment downwards of Palestinian expectations in the event that some kind of negotiations between Israel and Palestine are resumed in the future. It may be relevant to recall that the UN partition resolution (GA Res. 181) looked to confer about 56% of Palestine to Israel after the end of the British Mandate. At the end of the 1948 War Israel increased its territorial scope to 78% of Paleestine, and it was presupposed in diplomacy that Israel would be expected to retain the territory gained by military operation and Palestinians lowered their goals to achieving statehood on the remaining 22%, which was again further eroded by the outcome of the 1967 War, and subsequent developments (including settlements, separation barrier, and other encroachments, all unlawful).

  1. Doesn’t this agreement mean the failure of the deal of the century? Because the lands that are to be occupied by Israel according to the deal of the century apparently cannot join according to this agreement (According to the announcement of the United Arab Emirates, of course).

In my judgment this UAE/Israel Agreement should not be regarded as the failure of the deal of the century, but its indirect and partial implementation, which looked to vest Israeli sovereignty in 30% of the West Bank. Although Israel has agreed to suspend annexation, I think the best interpretation is that this is a temporary commitment that will be altered within a year, and then a gradual renewal of annexation will go forward, possibly without needing or seeking U.S. approval. The UAE may object, especially if Netanyahu moves too soon to revive annexation plaans, but is unlikely to undo the Agreement so long as it serves its regional strategic interests. The UAE, together with other major Arab governments, had long ago abandoned meaningful support for the Palestinian struggle and adopted policies that moved by stages toward the sort of cooperation that is now normalized and endorsed openly in the Agreement, which has the blessings of Washington and allows Israel to reassure Israelis that it is enhancing security and lessening its sense of being a regional pariah.

 

An alternative view of the Israel/UAE Agreement is to view it as a Plan B that is designed to hide the provisional failure of the parties and the world to accept the Trump plan (From Peace to Prosperity). The new approach pretends that the Agreement is a ‘HUGE’ contribution to peace, as Trump claimed in a tweet. The Palestinians, Turks, and Iranians know better! Also, noteworthy, the parties ignored the relevance of international law. Annexation, whether de facto or de jure was in violation of international humanitarian law, and so Israel & Trump are rewarded for agreeing to suspend what amounts to a ‘money laundering’ operation even if no money was involved.

 

Trumpism: What Will 2020 Bring?

8 Aug

Trumpism: What Will 2020 Bring?

 

During the height of the Cold War when it was viewed as disloyal and compromising to show a sympathetic interest in Marxism or sympathies with Soviet ideology, someone at the U.S. military base at Frankfurt distributed to the soldiers stationed there, a handwritten version of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments of the U.S. Constitution, in the form of petition. Very few of the soldiers approached were willing to affix their signatures, most alleging that this seemed a subversive document circulated by enemies of the United States, and was Soviet propaganda. Somehow the Western propaganda message that the Cold War was about the defense of ‘the free world’ against a totalitarian enemy had made no impact, or alternatively, that the free world had nothing to do with the substantive elements of freedom as social practice.

 

For me, and for the person who was using the petition to assess the commitment of Americans to the values of a free and democratic society, it conveyed the reality that what freedoms exist can be easily swept aside by an opportunistic or autocratic leadership. This perception has been confirmed, at least provisionally by Trump’s extreme encroachment on American institutions and civil liberties during his first term as president. A final confirmation would occur if Trump is able to hold onto power either by being reelected in November or by somehow managing to remain in the White House even if defeated by his electoral opponent.

 

There is another more subtle interpretation of the Frankfurt test. The political reality of systemic racism and discriminatory practices is so engrained in the lived experience of America as to make the U.S. Constitution seem indeed a radical document that must represent the views of an adversary ideology intent on undermining the American way of life. In effect, to implement fully the Bill of Rights would require nothing less than a revolution, and in this sense aa cross section of American soldiers were undoubtedly not so minded, and acted appropriately by refusing to endorse such drastic departures from their experience.

 

More disappointing to me is the degree to which Trump’s electoral victory in 2016 exhibited massive support for a regressive and demagogic leadership by an alienated American electorate. Of course, there were attenuating factors. Hillary Clinton, despite a poor campaign and a militarist foreign policy profile, won the popular vote by three million votes. Part of the

rightest populist backlash reflected a global trend, which was a result of the alienating impact of neoliberal globalization, and its production of drastic forms of inequality and its tendency to homogenize identity. Additionally, the American experience emphasized hostility to immigrants and Islam blamed for destroying the quality of life and bringing terrorism, crime, and drugs to the country, as well as losing a white identity for America as prefigure by the Obama presidency.

 

Now almost four years later, there is even less reason than in 2016 to regard Trump as an acceptable candidate even for Republicans who subscribe to a social contract that is based on a governing process of laws not men, and upholds ideas of separation of powers, checks and balances, and judicial independence, as well as the Bill of Rights. On matters of material interests the two party system is hobbled by the persistence of the Cold War ‘bipartisan consensus’ that creates commonality of views on militarism, Wall Street capitalism, and Israel/Saudi Arabia. Such a consensus means that there is no pragmatic reason for Democrats or moderates to vote for Trump to uphold liberal/moderate self-interest and worldview. Although Republican campaign strategy and Trump rally rhetoric uses inflammatory rhetoric to portray Biden and the Democratic Party as ‘socialist’ and ‘radical’ to make the middle of the voting spectrum to fear the material threat to their class interests if Democrats control the White House and Congress. In reality, only progressive have reason to ponder not voting or voting for a third party candidate as Biden, seen in abstract, offer little to hope for and nothing to inspire.

 

In the end, the future of the United States, and indirectly the world, rests on whether the fear of fascism exceeds the fear of left liberalism, as the balance plays out given the peculiarities of the electoral college system. It seems clear that the Trump base responds positively to Trump partly because he offers the prospect of a fascist future for the country premised on white racial supremacy and partly because of indifference to his ideas, giving their support having succumbed to the numbing excitement associated with his demagogic style of leadership even if it could cost them their life. For many in the muddled political middle, distressed by the Trump base but also wary of the more radical demands of Black Lives Matter and AOC Squad, the challenge is one of choosing the lesser of evils, which is analogous to the dilemma of progressives who wonder whether they can persuade themselves to pull levers that favors Democrats and Biden. The difference being that the moderates believe that the Democratic Party even with Biden will be pushed toward adopting the progressive agenda while many progressives believe that Biden will be ‘a feel better’ version of Trumpism, leaving the plutocratic and militarist pillars of neoliberal capitalism, somewhat deglobalized, but as sturdy as ever.

 

The immediate future of the United States will likely be determined by the results of the November election. For the first time in my life the prospect of a peaceful transfer of power respectful of the will of the people cannot be taken for granted. Unless Trumpist support shrinks dramatically the fascist threat will remain part of the scene even if Trump loses and leaves the White House without putting up a fight. If Trump should lose the election, despite rigging and gerrymandering, and yet refused to leave the White House, the resilience of the constitutional order will be severely tested, and left to the tender mercies of the military leadership, the deep state, and private sector elites, which in turn will assess the intensity of public outrage and the risks of civil strife. Trumpism will also be tested as to. whether its fascist leanings and demagogic submission are sufficiently belligerent to launch a second American civil war rather than loosen their grip on state power.

 

 

With John Lewis in Stockholm 1969

1 Aug

 

Moved by the iconic recognition of John Lewis’ exceptional courage and perseverance on behalf of human rights, non-violence, and opposition to American militarism, I recall a weekend spent together in Stockholm. We were the two invited American speakers at a conference opposing the American War in Vietnam. Although I spoke at many events devoted to these themes this may have been my most memorable occasion because Lewis made such an indelible impression. We shared meals together, and were hosted at the same hotel.

 

It was the very late 1960s not long after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, a time when these bloody events, including the Selma march and many others, brought success to the Civil Rights Movement, but far from a decisive victory that finally banished systemic racism from the American political and societal landscape. Lewis was the most radical figure in the movement against racial injustice I had encountered. At the time he was the activist leader of the Southern Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, better known as SNCC, which was seen as both dedicated to nonviolent struggle but more confrontational than the sort of national leadership provided by King.

 

I found Lewis engaging, brash, funny, charming, and above all, projecting a kind of radical aura that in the course of his life caused him, despite his lifelong adherence to principled nonviolence, to be the victim of repeated violent assaults by white supremacists, KKK members, and law enforcement as well as enduring 45 arrests and frequent jail time. I only learned later to appreciate his unswerving dedication to challenging racist moves to sustain the cruelties of white privilege throughout the South in every sphere of human existence, flagrantly trampling on both the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution.

 

In my experience of Lewis, he was as passionate about opposing American war making in Vietnam as he had been previously celebratory of African liberation struggles. He famously often asked the rhetorical question as to why Lyndon Johnson was willing to send American troops to kill Vietnamese peasants thousands of miles away but unwilling to order Federal troops to protect African Americans seeking to uphold their most basic human rights within their own country. He gave such a talk along this general theme in Stockholm, exhibiting anger about the long-embedded injustices he was devoting his life to struggle against in America, and declaring this commitment as inseparable from his opposition to the unlawful devastation and suffering being visited upon the Vietnamese, a distant people of color.

 

As much as I enjoyed and learned from John Lewis as he came across in Sweden on that weekend it never occurred to me that he would become a member of Congress, and even less, that he was destined to emerge as the most widely revered African American leader and inspirational figure since MLK. Of course, his death in the midst of the pandemic and in the wake of the eruption of the most sustained protests against systemic racism added a special poignancy to his death, making it a symbolic complement to the police murder of George Floyd weeks earlier. The funeral for John Lewis featured emotional eulogies by Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Nancy Pelosi, whose collective eloquence lived up to this historic occasion, recognizing Lewis’ extraordinary dignity, persistence, and leadership. It could said that of his generation no single person better personified ‘the better angels’ of the American spirit that Lincoln summoned all of us to nurture than did John Lewis.

 

Thinking back to that weekend in Stockholm I marvel at how John Lewis reinvented himself, and rose to a position of moral preeminence and unsurpassed political wisdom and maturity, a progressive beacon for people like myself yet becoming mindful enough of the mainstream to win respect and exert influence almost across the entire political spectrum. The firebrand I had the precious experience of meeting over 50 years ago kept the fires within him burning brightly throughout his long life, while transforming his style so that all would listen and many would heed.

 

Unlike the other fallen heroes of the past century John Lewis realized the imminence of his death, and seized the opportunity to write a will and testament of faith and commitment to the American people as a whole, without a shred of bitterness or a trace of ethnic exclusiveness.

The text of his deathbed essay provide the guidance we so desperately need as a people, and an endangered species, to move toward the light despite the darkness of the hour.

 

I end with quotations from his essay that are so translucent as to make words of commentary or interpretation superfluous:

 

“Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble.”

 

“Continue to build a broad union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.”

 

“So I say to you walk, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”

 

Is the United States a Failing State? A Failed State?

22 Jul

Is the United States a Failing State? A Failed State?

 

To ask whether the United States, the world’s dominant military power, is ‘a failing state’ should cause worldwide anxiety. Such a state, analogous to a wounded animal, is a global menace of unprecedented proportions in the nuclear age. Its political leadership is exhibiting a reckless tendency of combining incompetence with extremism. It is also crucial to ascertain at what point a failing state should be written off as ‘a failed state’ for which there is no longer a clear path to redemption. The November elections in the United States will send a strong signal as to whether the United States is failing or has failed.

 

Even raising these issues suggests how far the United States has fallen during the Trump years, despite already being in sharp decline internationally ever since the Vietnam War, and continuing, despite a few redemptive moves (now renounced), during the Obama presidency. The responses of the Trump presidency to the two great crises of 2020 were helpful in solidifying the image of the world’s #1 state as truly failing, and not just sour grapes taking the form of an expression of partisan frustration with an appalling leadership. It was appalling because it was affirming the most regressive features of the American past while unconvincingly claiming credit for the stock market rise and low unemployment. The COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter campaign against systemic racism gave Trump the opportunity to exhibit his lethally systemic incompetence as a crisis manager producing thousands of deaths among his own countrymen. He also seized the occasion to show the world his seemingly genuine racist solidarity with the Confederate spirit of the American South that tried to split the country and preserve its barbaric slave economy and supportive culture in the American Civil War 150 years ago, and has been a sore loser ever since.

 

With these clarifying developments, it no longer captures the full reality of this downward trend to be with content by calling attention to America’s ‘imperial decline.’ In the present setting, it seems more relevant to insist on describing America as ‘a failing state,’ and try to understand what that means for the country and the world. To make the contention more precise, it is instructive to realize that the United States is not only a failing state, but the first instance ever of a failing global state, which takes due account of its multi-dimensional hegemonic status as concretized by the planetary projection of its military might to air, land, and sea, to space and cyber space, as well as by its influence on the operation of the world economy and the character of popular culture whether expressed by music or cuisine.

 

There are several measures of a failing state that cast light on the American reality:

functional failures: inability to respond adequately to challenges threatening the security of the society and its population against threats posed by internal and external hostile political actors, as well as by ecological instabilities, by widespread extreme poverty and hunger, and by a deficient health and disaster response system;

normative failures: refusal to abide by systemic rules internationally as embedded in international law and the UN Charter, claiming impunity and acting on the basis of double standards to carry out its geopolitical encroachments on the wellbeing of others and its disregard of ecological dangers; patterns of normative failures include endorsements of policies and practices giving rise to genocide and ecocide, constituting the most basic violations of international criminal law and the sovereign rights of foreign countries; the wrongs are too numerous to delimit, including severe and systemic denials of human rights in domestic governance; economic and social structures that inevitably generate acute socio-economic inequalities on the basis of class, race, and gender.

 

Some additional considerations accentuate the failing state reality of the U.S. due to the extensive extraterritorial dimensions that accompany the process of becoming ‘a failing global state.’ This new type of transnational political creature should be categorized as the first historical example of a ‘geopolitical superpower.’ Such a political actor is neither separate from nor entirely subject to the state-centric system of world order that evolved from the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, and became universalized in the decades following World War II. Although lacking a true antecedent, the role of European ‘great powers’ or ‘colonial empires’ give clues as to the evaluation of the U.S. as a global state or geopolitical superpower;

effectiveness: the loss of effectiveness by a failing state is disclosed by its inability to maintain and exert control over challenges to its supremacy. Such an assessment if vindicated by failed military operations (regime-changing interventions) and the inability to learn from and overcome past mistakes, disclosures of vulnerability to homeland security (9/11 attacks) and overly costly and destructive responses (9/12 launching of ‘war on terror’; declining respect and trust by secondary political actors, including close allies, in the context of global policy forming arenas, including the United Nations; as a further reflection of this failing dynamic of lost control is the pattern of withdrawal from arenas that can no longer be controlled (Human Rights Council, WHO) and the rejection of agreements that appear beneficial to the world as a whole (Paris Climate Change Agreement and Iran Nuclear Program Agreement-JCPOA;

legitimacy: the legitimacy of a global state, which by its nature potentially compromises the political sovereignty and independence of all other states, reflects above all else, on its usefulness as a source of problem-solving authority, especially in war/peace and global economic recession settings; the degree of legitimacy also depends on perceptions by political elites and public opinion that the assertions of global leadership are in general beneficial for the system as a whole, and as particularly helpful to states that are vulnerable due to acute security and development challenges; in this regard, the U.S. enjoyed a high degree of legitimacy after the end of World War II, as a source of security, and even guidance, for many governments in most regions of the world throughout the Cold War, and was also appreciated as the architect of a rule-governed liberal economic order operating with the framework of the Bretton Woods institutions charged with avoiding recurrences of the Great Depression that undermined stability and economic wellbeing during the 1930s, developments that then contributed to the rise of fascism and the outbreak of a systemic war costing upwards of 50 million lives. The American leadership role was also prominent in achieving global public order in such settings as the management of the oceans, avoiding conflict in Antarctica and Outer Space, establishing international human rights standards, and promoting liberal internationalism as a way to enhance global cooperative approaches to shared problems.

 

As suggested, the United States as a failing state has been graphically revealed as such by its response to the COVID-19 pandemic: refusal to heed early warnings; unacceptable shortages of equipment for health personnel and insufficient hospital capacity; premature economic openings of restaurants, bars, stores; contradictory standards of guidance from health experts and from political leaders, including falsehoods and fake news embraced by the American president in the midst of the health emergency. Beyond this, Trump adopted an inappropriate nationalist and commodifying approach to the search for a vaccine capable of conferring immunity from the disease, while at the same time immobilizing the UN, and especially the WHO, as an indispensable venue for dealing with epidemics of global scope, including its role in dispensing vital assistance to the most disadvantaged countries. These failings have shockingly resulted in the United States recording more infected persons than any country in the world, as well as having the highest incidence of fatalities attributable to the disease.

 

In contrast, has been the responses of several far less developed and affluent countries that effectively contained the disease without incurring much loss of life or severe economic damage by way of lost jobs and diminished economic performance. Judged from the perspective of health such societies are success stories, and instructively, their ideological identity spans the political spectrum, including state socialist Vietnam to market-driven countries such as Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. Such results parallel the finding of Deepak Nayyar who reports in his breakthrough book, The Asian Resurgence (2019), that the remarkable growth experience of the 14 Asian societies that he empirically assesses, supports the conclusion that ideological orientation is not an economistic indicator of success or failure. Such findings are relevant in refuting the triumphalist claims of the West that the Soviet collapse demonstrated the superiority of capitalism as compared to socialism. The crucial factor when it comes to economistic success is the skilled management of state/society relations whether in relation to investment of savings in prioritizing development projects or seeking to impose a lockdown to curtail the spread of a deadly infectious disease.

 

Yet, there is a normative side of response patterns as suggested above. China treats the desperate search for a workable vaccine as a sharable public good, while the United States under Trump maintains its standard transactional approach despite issues of affordability for many countries in the South, as well as the poor in the North. From a 21stcentury perspective, the ethos of being all in this together is the only foundation for grappling with the increasingly challenging dilemmas of world order. It is a sign of a failing state, whatever its capabilities and status, to use its leverage to gain national and geopolitical advantages. Along this line, as well, is the normative disgrace of refusing to suspend unilateral sanctions imposed on countries such as Iran and Venezuala, already stressed, for at least the duration of the pandemic in response to widespread humanitarian appeals from civil society actors and international institutions.

 

A final observation as to whether the U.S. vector points toward a failed or redemptive future. If Trump loses the election and gives up the White House to his opponent the prospects for reversing the failing trend improve, while if Trump is reelected in November or succeeds in cancelling the electoral outcome then the U.S, will have moved closer to being a failed state as the citizenry would have endorsed failure or the constitutional order shown to be enfeebled, insufficiently resilient to reject failure. Even if Trump is replaced and Trumpism subsides, the momentum behind predatory capitalism and global militarism will be difficult to curtail without a revolutionary push that rejects the bipartisan consensus on such matters and challenges the sufficiency of procedural democracy centered upon the role of political parties and elections. Only a progressive movement from below will shatter that consensus, ending laments about the U.S. being in transition from failing to failed. Whether the BLM leadership of a movement alternative is robust and comprehensive enough to end American freefall will become clearer in coming months.