Post-COVID Prospects Assessed

8 Jul

[Prefatory Note: The text below is a slightly edited interview on post-COVID prospects that was published in Mutekabiliyet, a Turkish student online journal, July 3, 2020]

Post-COVID Prospects Assessed

Question 1: I​​n the past few decades, the world has been heading towards more globalisation, more openness, more interconnectedness and there were more bridges between the civilisations and countries. However, with the rise of US President Donald Trump to power, the far-right started to gain more momentum all over the world. For instance, in France, Marine Le Pen got around 33% which was unprecedented and never happened before. In Germany, Neo-Nazi AfD got around 25%. These are the powers of convergence. Powers that are closing up the countries and not building bridges with the countries. In light of this, what are we going to witness after COVID-19? Are we going for more convergence or divergence? More nationalism and divisiveness or more connectedness?

Response: ​As there are contradictory tendencies present, and their relative strength difficult to evaluate, speculation about post-COVID-19 realities remain highly conjectural. I can offer more or less informed opinions setting forth hopes, fears, and assessments of what we expect in light of what we should have learned from the planetary scope of such an exceptionally dislocating pandemic experience. Also, some alternative scenarios suggest that there are events that might bear heavily on what we expect will happen in the aftermath. Maybe reflecting my identity as an American, although presently residing in Turkey, I regard the American upcoming presidential elections six months away as highly significant, maybe the most significant of my lifetime. It is not only a question of a referendum on the national leadership provided by Donald Trump, but also whether the United States will continue to withdraw from its pre-Trump internationalist role of encouraging global cooperation to achieve shared results that are somewhat reflective of ​human interest at stake as well as of ​national​ and ​geopolitical​ interests.

The earlier Obama role in championing a UN approach to climate change that led to the Paris Agreement in 2015 and his promotion of a deescalating agreement on the nuclear program of Iran in 2015 are illustrative of pursuing national interests by way of global multilateral diplomacy. Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. participation in relation to both of these agreements, previously internationally praised as benevolent breakthroughs for a more positive ecological approach in one instance and a laudable attempt to replace conflict with accommodation in the other, highlights the difference between these two statist and globalist approaches to global problem-solving. During the period of the current health crisis the absence of global leadership by the United States has been a pronounced negative element that has aggravated efforts to combat the disease, with leading countries engaging in blaming rivals rather than promoting cooperation, and some governments even seeking to gain national and commercial advantages by commodifying medical supplies and vaccine research and development.

I would venture the view, that the extension of Trump’s presidency to a second term will mean that nothing fundamental will change with respect to the absence of global leadership attuned to challenges facing humanity as a whole. If Trump is defeated in November 2020, then a vigorous resumption of American internationalist leadership is almost certain to occur, but containing some new and different dangers of geopolitical confrontation. As matters now stand, this dimension of steering the global ship of state remains overly dependent on the U.S. as no alternative leadership is now visible on the horizon, although this could change, yet not likely for some years. China or a conceivably resurgent European Union are the most likely political actors that might become politically assertive in global settings if unresolved issues reached crisis levels of perception. The UN is institutionally situated to play such a role, but so long as geopolitics retains primacy with respect to global policy formation, the UN will remain marginal when its leading members disagree and instrumental only when they agree.

Aside from leadership, another area where conjecture seems helpful, if read with caveats in mind, is with respect to preparedness for future health challenges of pandemic magnitude. It seems tragically evident that many countries, including some of the most affluent and technologically sophisticated were both grossly unprepared with respect to medical supplies (ventilators, ICU units, test kits, personal protective equipment), hospital facilities, and governmental knowhow (timing of lockdowns, social distancing). It would seem likely that the experience of the COVID-19 Pandemic would encourage two sets of adjustments: increased investment in national health systems and an expanded role for the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations generally. The U.S. formal withdrawal from WHO in mid-2020 will create a funding crisis and a loss of universal support. It can be expected that pressure from the public to institute these health-oriented reforms will be considerable in the aftermath of the current crisis, but whether it will lead to major improvements in preparedness remains in doubt as some contrary elements are in play.

On the one side, national leadership, as with wars, learn from disasters to address past mistakes, often without an accompanying realization that future health challenges might not resemble COVID-19. As health crises have tended to be inter-generational, there is are strong temptations for politicians, once the crisis atmosphere passes, to concentrate resources on existing or very short-term public policy challenges. Their performance is not judged by their degree of preparation for longer-term threats but what they do in the span of their term in office, and if a crisis should materialize, then their handling of the situation, not their failure to prevent or prepare, will be the focus of evaluating their leadership. Beyond this, so many governments around the world are stretched thin to a point of being unable to devote resources and energies to the sort of health infrastructure that would put a society in a better position to minimize damage if faced with future viral epidemics.

Such considerations build a strong case for a global approach as it would seem much more economically efficient than expecting the almost 200 countries in the world to make prudent national adjustments, especially those that are poorest, densely populated. and most vulnerable. It would seem sensible to increase the budget of the WHO and assign it major responsibilities with respect to detection and early warning mechanisms, as well as to formulate guidelines as to prevention, treatment, and recovery, and possibly with regard to stockpiling of medical supplies and the subsidizing of regional hospital capabilities. Although this would seem a rather uncontroversial post-pandemic response, it is far from assured. Trump has been attacking the WHO for incompetence and complicity with the alleged early coverup by China, has defunded the agency in the midst of the crisis, and has alone blocked support for the UN call for a global ceasefire that had the support of the other 14 members of the UN Security Council. It seems true that the WHO has not enjoyed the sort of leadership that appears above politics, operates transparently, and commands a high level of professional respect. Additionally, the ultra-nationalist trend in so many countries, unless reversed, is hostile to globalizing solutions to policy challenges, and seems content to let severe problems simmer rather than empower international mechanisms beyond their national governance structures to seek and implement solutions.

In general, what should be the major learning experience from COVID-19 is the significance of what is called the Precautionary Principle (PP) in environmental policymaking. The PP privileges ​prevention​ over ​reaction,​ and encourages action to reduce risks of severe harm before the extent or timing of the risk can be conclusively established. Such an approach rests on heeding warnings from science and relevant experts. The failure to apply the PP has been frequently discussed in recent years with respect to regulating the dissemination of greenhouse gasses, especially CO2, so as to avoid global warming beyond a certain threshold. The reasoning that applies to climate change would also encourage preventive behavior in other areas of concern, such as risks of major wars fought with nuclear weapons or the further increase in transnational migratory flows. Each challenge has its distinctive features, but each would benefit from the application of the PP, but is blocked and resisted by short-termism and by leaders and segments of the public that prefer to leave the future in the hands of God, bestow confidence in the belief that technology will come up with solutions when the risks materialize, or indulge conspiracy theorists that reject all claims of governance structures to limit individual freedom, whether involving pollution or disobeying lockdown decrees.

And, of course, sometimes even well-evidenced risks do not materialize, and the prophets of doom are discredited as was the case of the warnings about Y2K destroying bank records and computer files at the turn of the century or the dire predictions of famine, over-population, and resource depletion by the Club of Rome fifty years ago. The COVID-19 experience underscored the precariousness, fragility, radical uncertainty, and deficiencies of governance at all levels of social action, but what to do poses daunting challenges to the moral and political imagination of all of us. The meme ‘we are all in this together’ has never rung truer, but so has the inverse, as the bodies of the poor and marginalized pile far higher than those of the rich and racially/religiously dominant who minimize the gravity of the crisis because for them it is not as serious as is the economic challenge.

Finally, is the perplexing challenge of interpreting the impacts of interconnectedness, and the contrary moves involving various retreats from globalization. Technological trends in relation to networking and digitalization are certainly heightening the sense of interconnectedness, and the varieties of vulnerability associated with the ease of transnational communication, commuter hacking, and cyber warfare. The degree of networked interaction is creating a new human imaginary. The post-9/11 combat zone pitting non-state extremists against the ‘global state’ of the United States encompasses the entire planet as a global battlefield. Both sides targeted their enemies, with low technology ‘terrorists’ relying on box cutters for weapons and high technology counter-terrorists relying on drone attacks from the air and infiltrated special forces units on the ground. Such interconnectedness erodes greatly international boundaries as markers for a disconnected world order, while the connectedness that arises is a kind of lawless anarchy with no acknowledgement of shared respect for international law, sovereign rights or the authority of the United Nations.

In addition, there is the kind of retreat from globalism that is expressed by the references in your question to a generation of autocratic leaders elected to preside over important states on the basis of an ultra-nationalist, nativist, and chauvinistic message. Such a Hobbesian contrast between order and community within the state and chaos without represents a reaction against the excesses of neoliberalism, especially gross inequality and severe social alienation subject to manipulation by aspiring demagogues. These developments bear witness to the dialectical relations between the pulls toward ​connectedness​ for the sake of market gains and global cooperation to meet systemic challenges such as climate change and migration and ​separation and ​self-reliance​ for the sake of identity, tradition, and community. We can wonder now whether the COVID-19 ordeal will revive the globalizing dynamic seemingly the wave of the future in the 1990s or will intensify the reactive reaffirmation of the statist benefits of disconnectedness that attained such prominence in the decade preceding the pandemic.

Question 2: ​The legitimacy of the international organizations is decreasing as they were not able to do much during pandemic. Some leaders like Trump are threatening international organizations to cut funds which would mean that these organizations would shut-down. What future would IOs have after COVID-19 is over? Is it something that would reinforce their legitimacy and their functioning or something that decreases the legitimacy?

Response: ​My response here again emphasizes the dialectical flow of history, but in a lesser key than with respect to the complex interactions between states and markets in the period following the end of the Cold War. I disagree somewhat with the premise set forth. I think that both the. WHO and the Secretary General demonstrated an importance that came as a surprise to many observers. It is well to remember that COVID-19 became ‘a pandemic’ only when WHO so declared  on March 11th​ and this designation was accepted as authoritative by the entire world. Such deference is a sign of legitimacy and speaks to the need for having responses unified in relation to a shared assessment of the nature of the challenge. Similarly, taking advantage of the leadership vacuum mentioned above, the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, filling the void, receiving attention and respect as the world’s leading moral authority figure when he spoke in favor of unity and a people-first perspective. More than any political voice, Guterres seized the historic moment to call in late March for a global ceasefire for the duration of the pandemic that gained at least rhetorical support from most of the world’s government and almost unanimous approval from world public opinion, although with somewhat mixed behavioral results.

At the same time, it is true that the most publicly visible elements of the UN, the Security Council and the General Assembly, have been up to this point largely missing in action during the pandemic. The silence of the Security Council during the health crisis has been deafening, confirming that if any action had been attempted it would have floundered due to U.S./China tensions. This silence is also a result of the stubborn refusal of the U.S. to allow a Security Council resolution to go forward because of an indirect positive reference to the WHO that would have been an important geopolitical endorsement of the Guterres call for a global ceasefire in a text that embodied six weeks of work to find political compromises that succeeded in satisfying all 15 members of the Security Council except for the U.S.. This unfortunate confirmation of the degree to which the U.S. is prepared to oppose even symbolic moves expressing global solidarity in responding to the pandemic curtails the relevance of the UN even as people are dying the world over from this lethal disease.

The less geopolitically accountable General Assembly did manage to pass two constructive resolutions calling for sharing of medical supplies and vaccines as well as emphasizing the globality of the crisis, accentuating the human solidarity rather than nationalist factionalism, but were largely ignored because without authoritative force and not embraced by major governments or the media. On reflection, it should be understandable that the political organs of the UN are by design of its founders, shaped mainly to be instruments of Member states and especially the uber-states that are given privileged P-5 status with an unrestricted option of obstructing UN responses by casting a veto whenever their leaders are better off with silence rather than action.

With respect to legitimacy considerations, any assessment must be alive to the contradictions present. Among the most salient of these are the tension between Trump’s hostile actions toward the WHO and the widespread public appreciation of its role and essential contributions for countries with less sophisticated health systems. So long as nationalist and geopolitical turns in world politics remains influential among leading states, the relevance of the UN and internationalism generally is likely to remain at the margins of world politics, not so much with regard to legitimacy, but more with regard to effectiveness as assessed by behavioral impacts. If as mentioned in my response to the first question, Trump is defeated in 2020, and a more internationalist leader takes over control of the U.S. Government, there will be a strong push toward the reaffirmation of globalism in many of its dimensions, including the institutional dimensions exemplified by the UN System. International institutionalism as part of global governance is far more extensive than the UN if regional, economic, civil society institutionalization is taken into account. As matters now seem, the short-term aftermath of COVID-19 is likely to disappoint globalists hoping for a major transformative impact that lessens the statist nature of world order, and legitimates the UN as confirming that ​the whole has at last become greater than its parts​. This cautious view would seem to hold even if more globalist leadership from the United States is forthcoming as of 2021. This is because the public sentiments, as present in legislative and executive organs, tend toward affirming sovereign rights and dismissing externally imposed duties or accountability procedures.

If the dialectical interpretation of historical process is correct, then we can expect before too long a reaction against ultra-nationalism and chauvinistic styles of leadership of sovereign states, which will translate concretely into a new dawn for globalism, and especially for the UN. The material explanation for this anticipated sea change in political atmosphere is the near certainty that global scale challenges will grow more menacing in the course of the coming decade, and could induce a post-catastrophe mood that has been the only historical circumstance in which global reforms of any magnitude have any hope of gaining sufficient support from heads of the more influential states. Given the disparity of wealth and capabilities among states, such pressures could work in the opposite direction, intensifying inward and selfishly oriented national political postures, although a problem-solving approach would produce a growing recognition of the need for globally structured solutions, but quite possibly along hierarchical or even hegemonic lines.

Question 3: I​​n case we are heading for more convergence, more right-wing and nationalism, are we going to have head towards more wars, more clashes, more proxy wars like in Syria or larger scale wars? What are we most likely heading to?

Response:​This is a fundamental question, yet formulating a coherent response is not a simple matter given the radical uncertainty arising from the complexities and contradictions of the historical circumstances. A haunting unknown is whether the turmoil of the Middle East is a special case or a foretaste of what will happen in other parts of the world, and has already been causing prolonged havoc in several sub-Saharan African countries despite arousing far less concern in the West for a variety of reasons. The Middle East has several defining features that are not reproduced elsewhere to nearly the same degree: artificial states created on the basis of European colonial ambitions after the Ottoman collapse at the end of World War I; the primacy of oil as a the indispensable source of energy in the modernizing process of the industrial age and still crucial in the digital age; the inflammatory support given to the Zionist Movement by Europe in the early 20th​ century leading to the success of its settler colonialist project at the time when European colonialism was collapsing in the rest of the world; the fact that the region was perceived as the epicenter of both political Islam (after the Iranian Revolution of 1979) and Western grand strategy after the Cold War (replacing Europe), and then became the main crucible of transnational terrorism after 2001. Given the frustrations of prolonged acute strife in Syria, Yemen, as well as discrediting regime-changing interventions in Iraq and Libya, one wonders whether the geopolitical appetite for engagement in the region will persist. A further regional concern is whether the United States and Israel will press Iran to the point that provokes a major war that neither side wishes.

The other dangerous global hotspots in East Asia and South Asia seem to involve unresolved inter-governmental conflicts of a more traditional type familiar throughout world history. The question posed as to whether the U.S. and China can escape ‘the Thucydides trap’ by which ascendant hegemons have historically tended to go to war rather than risk being displaced by rising rivals seems like a central concern over the course of the next decade, and tensions between these two dominant world powers rose to a fever pitch of mutual recrimination during the pandemic. Much may depend whether the rivalry remains centered on economic competition or takes the form of military encounters. A second concern, also in East Asia, is whether the denuclearizing pressure on North Korea exerted by the United States so as to maintain its global security framework anchored in a regime of ‘nuclear apartheid’ will cross the military threshold, and bring about a possibly devastating war on the Korean Peninsula that engages China and Japan, and possibly Russia. A third concern is whether India and Pakistan will turn their conflict over Kashmir in a direction that erupts in a war fought between two states possessing nuclear weapons.

 

Poems, Pandemics, and Preservation

3 Jul

[Prefatory Note: with the help of a friend I taught myself to write poems in a haiku form following classic Japanese guidance. Poetry has long been a place of sanctuary for me, and in recent months it has also offered me the pleasures of ‘lockdown therapy.’ I hope I am not abusing readers of this blog by posting a sample, and hoping others will be drawn to join an invisible community of haiku lovers.]

 

Poems, Pandemics, and Preservation

 

Lonely despair wilts

Colorful blooming flowers

Can’t hide fragrance

 

 

Joy is a heart wave

Complacency vanishes

Blue replaces gray

 

 

black while jogging

Ahmaud Arbery

Then dead like King

 

 

By choice blue birds fly

Above the prisoners below

Singing their freedom songs

 

 

Enough of dreaming

The scent of this rose is real

Holding the stem I bleed

 

 

 

Rogue States Sanction the International Criminal Court  

26 Jun

[Prefatory Note: This post is a slightly modified version of an editorial contribution to TMS (Transcend Media Service), June 22-28, 2020).]

 

Sanctioning the International Criminal Court

 

Even Orwell would be at a loss to make sense of some of the recent anticsof leading governments. We would expect Orwell to be out-satirized by the American actions to impose penalties and sanctions on officials of the International Criminal Court, not because they are accused of acting improperly or seem guilty of some kind of corruption or malfeasance, but because they were doing their appointed jobs carefully, yet fearlessly and in accord with their proper role. Their supposed wrongdoing was to accept the request for an investigation into allegations of war crimes committed in Afghanistan by military personnel and intelligence experts of the U.S. armed forces, the Taliban, and the Afghan military. It seemed beyond reasonable doubt that frequent war crimes and crimes against humanity have occurred in Afghanistan ever since the U.S.-led regime-changing attack in 2002, followed by many years of occupation and continuous combat amid a hostile population.

 

It should be noted that Israel is equally infuriated that the ICC has affirmed the authority of its Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to investigate allegations by Palestine of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. These allegations include the unlawful transfer of Israeli civilians to establish settlements in the OPT as well as administrative structures and practices that constitute violations of the criminal prohibition on apartheid. Netanyahu, like his Washington sibling, has called for the ICC to be subject to sanctions for staging this ‘full frontal attack’ on Israeli democracy and  on ‘the Jewish people’s right to live in Israel,’ a ridiculous contention on its face. The Israeli Prime Minister seems to be contending that Israel as a sovereign state has the right to defend itself as it wishes, and should not be impeded by any obligation to respect international criminal law, or for that matter, any external source of authority, including the United Nations. Such a defiant claim, and the abusive practices and policies that have followed over many years, amounts to a crass affirmation of what I have elsewhere called ‘gangster geopolitics.’

 

Of course, Israel or the United States would be given broad latitude to make arguments in support of their innocence or their jurisdictional claims that the ICC lacked authority to prosecute, but these U.S. and Israel objections are not complaining about encroachments by the ICC on their right to mount legal defenses, but rather on the far more radical idea involving a total denial of international legal accountability. These two  rogue states refuse to accept even the authority of the ICC to determine whether or not it has jurisdiction to consider the criminal charges. This kind of repudiation of an international institution that has been acting responsibly, well within their legal framework set forth in the Rome Statute, an international treaty, represents an unprecedented and extreme expression of anti-internationalism.

 

The angry American pushback did not bother contesting the substantive allegations, but denied only the jurisdictional authority of the ICC, and attacked the audacity of this international entity for supposing that it could investigate, much less prosecute and punish the representatives of such a mighty state that, by implication, should never, no matter what, be held internationally accountable. When the ICC was investigating, and indicting, only African leaders few Western eyebrows were raised, but recently when the Court dared ever so gingerly to treat equals equally in accord with its own legal framework—the Rome Statute of 2000—it had in Washington’s and Tel Aviv’s eyes so overstepped its unspoken limits as to itself become a wrongdoer, and by this outlandish logic, making the institution and its officials legitimate targets for sanctions. What this kind of unprecedented punitive pushback against ICC officials amounts to is a notable rejection of the global rule of law when it comes to international crime and a crude geopolitical reminder to international institutions that ‘impunity’ and ‘double standards’ remain an operational principal norm of world order.

 

Speaking for the U.S. Government the response of the American Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, stunningly exhibited the hubris that became the American global brand well before Donald Trump disgraced the country and harmed the peoples of the world during his tenure as president. Pompeo’s reaction to the unanimous approval of the Prosecutor’s request to investigate war crimes in Afghanistan was little other than seizing the occasion to insult the ICC by describing it as “little more than a political tool employed by unaccountable international elites.” Such a statement crosses the borders of absurdity given the abundant documentation of numerous U.S. crimes in Afghanistan (the subject-matter of Chelsea Manning’s WikiLeaks 2010 disclosures that landed her in jail) and in view of the several ‘black sites’ in European countries where foreign suspects are routinely tortured, and subject to rape. Contra Pompeo, it is not the ‘international elites’ that are unaccountable but the national elites running the U.S. and Israeli governments.

 

The Pompeo dismissal of the ICC initiative was a prelude to the issuance by Trump on June 11th of an Executive Order that extended the prior denial of a U.S. visa to Bensouda, and threatened a variety of sanctioning moves directed at anyone connected with the ICC and its undertakings, including freezing assets and withholding visas, not only of ICC employees, but also of their families, on the laughable pretext that the prospective ICC investigation was creating for the United States a ‘national emergency’ in the form of an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” Long before the present crisis, Trump had told the UN in a 2018 speech at the General Assembly that “..the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority..We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable, global bureaucracy.”

 

As crude as are the words and deeds of the Trump crowd, there were almost equally defiant precursors, especially during the presidency of George W. Bush, an anti-ICC campaign led by none other than John Bolton who was to become Trump’s notorious National Security Advisor, and has suddenly become his antagonist-in-chief as a result of his book depicting Trump’s array of impeachable offenses. Remember that it was Bush who ‘un-signed’ the Rome Statute that Bill Clinton had signed on behalf of the U.S. on the last day of his presidency, but even he did so with the proviso that the treaty should not be submitted to the Senate for ratification and hence not be applicable, until the ICC had proved itself a responsible actor in Washington’s judgmental and biased eyes. Congress and the State Department stepped in to make sure that American military personnel would not be charged with international crimes both by threatening preventive action and entering into over 100 agreements with other countries to ensure immunity of American soldiers and officials from ICC jurisdiction, coupled with a threat to withhold aid if a government refused to agree to such a law-defying arrangement. Hillary Clinton also put her oar in the bloody water some years ago, insisting that since the U.S. was more of a global presence than other countries, it was important to be sure that its military personnel would never be brought before the ICC, no matter what their alleged offenses. The global military reach of the U.S. by way of hundreds of overseas bases, special forces covert operations, and naval patrols around the globe should enjoy immunity on a individual level, as impunity on a collective level of state responsibility. The impulse is understandable given the degree to which U.S. global security activities are so often conducted in ways that violate the most basic prohibitions of international criminal law.

 

In other words, non-accountability and double standards have deeper political roots in the bipartisan soil of American security politics than the extreme anti-internationalism of Trump. These tactics of self-exemption from legal accountability can be usefully traced back at least as far as the ‘victors’ justice’ approach to war crimes during the second world war where only the crimes of the defeated countries were subjected to accountability at Nuremberg and Tokyo, a step hailed in the West as a great advance despite its flaws. It was deeply flawed considering that arguably the most horrifying and least forgivable act during the four years of hostilities were the atomic bombs dropped on Japanese cities. Is there any serious doubt that if Germany or Japan had struck cities of the Allies with the bomb, and yet lost the war, those responsible for the decisions would have been held accountable, and harshly punished?

 

In some ways as bad from a law angle was the U.S. orchestrated trial of Saddam Hussein and his closest advisors for their state crimes, although the 2003 Iraq War arose from acts of aggression by the United States and UK, and subsequent crimes during the prolonged occupation of Iraq. In other words, the idea of unconditional impunity for the crimes of the United States is complemented by self-righteous accountability for those leaders of countries defeated in war by the United States. Such ‘exceptionalism’ affront the conscience of anyone who shares the view that ideas of fairness and equality should be affirmed as core values in the application of international criminal law.   

 

As might be expected, mainstream NGOs and liberal Democrats are not happy with such an insulting and gratuitous slap in the face of international institutions that have previously proved mainly useful in going after the wrongdoing of non-Western leaders, especially in Africa. It should be remembered that African countries and their leaders were the almost exclusive targets of ICC initiatives during its first ten years, and it was from Africa that one formerly heard complaints and threats of withdrawal from the treaty, but I doubt that ideas of sanctioning the ICC ever entered the imaginary of the understandable African displeasure at an implicit ethos of ‘white crimes don’t matter’!

 

David Sheffer, the American diplomat who headed the U.S. delegation that negotiated the Rome Statute on behalf of the Clinton presidency, but who was careful to preserve American geopolitical interests in the process, expressed the liberal opposition to Trump’s arrogant style of pushback with these words: “The [Trump] Executive Order will go down in history as a shameful act of fear and retreat from the rule of law.” There is an element of hypocrisy present in such a denunciation due to withholding the pre-Trump record of one-sided imposition of international criminal law.  True enough, it was the prior Republican president that had locked horns with the ICC some years ago, but the ambivalence of Congress and the Clintons is part of a consistent American insistence of what I would label as ‘negative exceptionalism,’ that is, the right to act internationally without accountability while taking a hard line on holding others accountable; impunity for the powerful, accountability for the weak. It used to be that American exceptionalism was associated with a commitment to decency, human rights, the rule of law, and a visionary approach to world order that was missing elsewhere, and could serve as a catalyst for peace and justice in the world. Such self-glorification, which was never deserved or appropriate, has long since been forfeited at the altar of global geopolitics, whose players make up the rules as they go along, while showing contempt for the legal constraints that are deemed suitable for the regulation of their adversaries.

 

Finally, it should be appreciated that while geopolitical actors can get away with murder, their rogue behavior is a precedent for all states, and weakens and undermines what fragile procedures exist to uphold the most basic norms of international law.

 

 

The Politics of Kneeling: A Tribute to Colin Kaepernick  

22 Jun

 

 

 

The Politics of Kneeling: A Tribute to Colin Kaepernick

 

I had long held the image of kneeling as primarily ritual behavior in placesof religious worship, a sign of reverence for the sacred and divine. More broadly, getting down on one’s knees is an expression of submission associated withformal meetings between those of unequal social rank—as when commoners or even nobles interact with kings and queens. In a more metaphoric, and somewhat hypocritical spirit, kneeling has traditionally often been associated with assuming a submissive posture as when men have conveyed marriage proposals to the woman of their dreams, a pre-marital gesture of supplication. A more pragmatic recourse to kneeling is often the sign of a beseeching or well-trained street beggar, seeking our sympathy, most of all a bit of our money. We kneel or crouch, when performing as a grandparent, seeking to be less intimidating to our young and small grandchild. Whatever else, it is perverse to consider a kneeling person to be a defiant or subversive citizen. When citizens are denied the right to exhibit their deepest concerns about injustice democracy is dead! When citizens are punished or chastised for kneeling democracy is dying!

 

When the NFL quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick, decided to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem during the 2016 season, his announced intention was to call attention to racial inequality in the United States, and its ugliest manifestations via excessive uses of deadly force by police against African Americans. Kneeling, for the reasons noted above is a respectful and dignified way for a public figure to communicate their deepest felt concerns to a wider public, and contrasts with turning one’s back while the National Anthem is playing, and is a far more gentle reminder of injustice than raising a defiant clenched fist as the African American Olympic athletes, Tommie Smith and Juan Carlos, did during the playing of the U.S. National Anthem as is customary at the medal ceremony to honor the country of the athlete winning a competition as occurred in Mexico City after the 200 meters race at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Such a deliberately militant show of identification by way of the Black Power Salute was at the time controversial (supposedly politicizing the Olympics as if tallying the overall winner by the number of medals a country has won is apolitical!). It should also be remembered that 1968 was a tumultuous year during which both Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. It struck me at the time as an effective nonviolent means of conveying an urgent moral, social, and political message that all was not well when it came to race relations in the United States, and if racial injustices were not addressed, massive suffering would persist, and could give rise to bloody conflict and strife. Smith later explained that the clenched fist was meant as  ‘a human rights salute’ rather than a ‘black power salute,’ but the distinction was hardly noticed at the time, and even had it been, I doubt that its intention would have been to shift our perception from ‘militant’ to ‘liberal’ or from ‘political’ to ‘humanitarian’?

 

Such displays of outrage by prominent athletes or entertainers are often denounced, especially by reactionary talk show hosts and reactionary politicians, insisting that athletes and entertainers are being paid millions for doing what they are superbly skilled at doing, but they have no credibility when it comes to declaring their unwelcome opinions on controversial societal issues. Such individuals are even instructed to renounce normal rights as citizens because speaking out would be taking unfair advantage of their notoriety. To engage in political advocacy or to promote a social cause such as racial equality or justice and equality for gay and trans people is treated by such monitors of propriety as crossing a red line. I would contend the opposite. Athletes and entertainers of conscience are the canaries in the mines of modern societies in North America and Europe, bearing witness often to their own unhealed wounds received from childhood experiences, neighborhood encounters, and personal struggles that many of us have been spared.

 

Kaepernick’s act was brave and had an impact, and partly because it dared violate sports etiquette by putting at risk his professional life, and also served as an early warning of the kind of volcanic feelings of pent up anger and distrust that came from generations of racial abuse in America. It is not surprising that Kaepernick’s ‘statement’ should now be remembered and intoned by protesters in the streets, but that it is also being reevaluated in the board rooms of NFL billionaire owners and league officials is less a surprise than a sign that the protest sweeping America might be beginning to make difference. It also should be appreciated that it took the martyrdom of George Floyd to redeem Kaepernick’s initiative that should have been heeded in the manner intended rather than shifted to a trivializing debate about whether kneeling during the National Anthem was a form of wrongdoing rather than what it was, a dignified exercise of the right of free expression on an unresolved issue of great gravity. We in America need to grasp our crucial dependence on acts of conscience by public figures and by whistleblowers with insider information about state crime if we have any hope at all of preserving democracy in the face of fascist style assaults on the rule of law and citizen dissent.

 

Of course, do not wait for Donald Trump to rethink any of his past appalling behavior on matters of either race or justice. Trump has made it a signature trait to double down on his worst missteps in these domains. It was Trump who called a player who kneeled ‘a son of a bitch,’ who deserved to be fired by club owners. He insisted that Kaepernick was showing disrespect for flag and country by kneeling, which he with typical unknowing arrogance compared to ‘sitting.’ He urged suspensions and disciplinary action, leading Trump’s fan base to boo whenever any player knelt in solidarity with Kaepernick. Trump showed no remorse when Kaepernick’s exercise of free agency resulted in no offers of a contract from any NFL team, and he soon discovered that he was improperly rendered unemployable. Such a punitive pushback was so excessive and abusive that Kaepernick filed a formal complaint in accord with the League’s grievance procedures, negotiating a confidential agreement, presumably a financial settlement that avoided a costly legal battle over innocent behavior that severely damaged his professional reputation with the result that he was unable to continue his outstanding career as a football player.

 

Thankfully, Roger Goodall, the Commissioner of the National Football League, is not Donald Trump. He has at least and at last issued an apology, belatedly urging teams to hire Kaepernick,  and even acknowledginging the impropriety of his past actions. This reappraisal has been reinforced by the comment of Kaepernick’s coach, Chip Kelly, who said that his protest move had a ‘zero distraction’ effect on the team. Kaepernick, even before Floyd’s death, received several awards from many human rights NGOs, in recognition that his action were justified, and deserved commendation not censure. The players on the San Francisco 49ers’ team likewise recognized his contributions by naming Kaepernick the recipient in 2016 of the Len Eshmont Award for best epitomizing the courageous and inspirational play of Len Eshmont, a beloved former player for the 49ers. A comprehensive assessment of the incident by two psychologists in the Scientific American ended with these words from its authors, Jeremy Adam Smith and Dacher Kettner: “Will Americans one day look back on Kaepernick’s symbolic act as a moment when we started to understand each other just a little bit better?” [“The Psychology of Taking a Knee,” Scientific American, June 2020]

 

Of course, there have been many Kaepernick moments that stretch back to the era of slavery, and forward to Rosa Parks’ 1956 refusal to go to the back of the bus sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott , King’s 1963 letter from the Birmingham Jail, and the death of George Floyd, some more resonant than others, but none have been enough to remove the darks stains of systemic racism from the fabric of daily life in America, and elsewhere in the world. It takes a dedicated movement, not a string of moments, no matter how searing and memorable, to achieve the deep structural changes that will allow all persons of color to be treated as equal citizens with equal rights, and until that feeling exists among those previously victimized, there will be inter-racial ceasefires, but no enduring peace.

 

The challenge is resoundingly clear, but up until now the response is not.  Racism in America has over and over again proven its lethal resilience.     

 

The Right to Food During the Coronavirus Pandemic: A Time of Bio-Ethical-Ecological Crisis

14 Jun

Ecological Imperatives and the Right to Food During the Coronavirus Pandemic: A Time of Bio-Ethical-Ecological Crisis[1]

 

A Perspective

 

Even before the Coronavirus Pandemic, humanity faced an unprecedented challenge in the coming decades that threatened the foundations of life itself, and yet, up to this time societal reactions have been disappointingly weak and evasive, aside from a few voices in the wilderness. Despite expertly documented studies from the most qualified climate scientists, the overall behavior of supposedly responsible political and economic elites has been tepid, escapist, and even denialist. The United State Government has been leading the way toward a dismal future by its anti-internationalism during the Trump presidency, above all, withdrawing from the 2015 UN Paris Climate Change Agreement. Although this international agreement that did not go as far as necessary to meet the challenges of climate change, it was rightfully praised as demonstrating the importance of global cooperative efforts to combat global warming. It was also encouraging that this initiative was supported by virtually every government on the face of the earth.

 

With nihilistic audacity the American president, Donald Trump, formally withdrew American participation from this international framework that mandates national reductions in carbon emissions. The proclaimed objective of the agreement was to keep global warming from increases in the earth’s average temperature above 2 degrees centigrade. This is higher than the 1.5 degrees that the scientific consensus puts forth as necessary. At the same time the Paris results in far lower carbon emissions than will occur if present emissions trends continue without significant international cutbacks and sufficient regulatory oversight. The withdrawal of the U.S., the largest and richest per capita emitter, sends the worse possible signal to the world at this time of growing threat.

 

The COVID-19 experience, with its planetary scope and concrete daily tales of morbidity confirms, the precariousness of human existence and its unforeseen vulnerabilities to a variety of threats to the wellbeing of the human species. What is more, it is evident that the harm done by these events could be mitigated if not almost altogether avoided if the warnings of experts been prudently heeded, and acted upon, in a timely anticipatory manner. Even before this global health crisis of great severity shocked people around the world, the deficiencies of global governance became vividly evident for all who took the trouble to see. The reaction to the pandemic has been most disappointing at the governmental level in most, but not all countries. In contrast, many instances of bravery and empathy have been exhilarating and redemptive at the level of people. Instead of an ethos of ‘we are all in this together’ several of the most influential governments led by the United States have adhered to a zero/sum ethos of ‘going it alone.’ The U.S. also refused humanitarian appeals to suspend sanctions for the duration of the crisis on countries such as Iran and Venezuela, which were already suffering from severe food insecurities and shortages of medical supplies partly brought about by the sanctions.

 

Worse still, the United States at the Security Council blocked a formal endorsement of the UN Secretary General’s inspirational call for a global ceasefire during the health crisis. Trump withdrew U.S. support because the draft resolution contained an indirect favorable reference to the work of the World Health Organization (WHO). This was a sad development as this dramatic expression of global unity had achieved the approval of the other 14 members of the Security Council after weeks of negotiating political compromises on the appropriate message to send the world. Its passage would have signaled a commitment to world peace by leading governments, as well as showing all of us that the UN’s voice can serve as an uplifting alternative in such a crisis to the bickering and rivalry of sovereign states. This kind of initiative also might have renewed faith in the UN, demonstrating to the public and politicians how the UN might serve in the future to strengthen global governance on behalf of peace, justice, and food/water security for all. We might come to understand that the UN if properly used can be much more than a talk shop for clashing national interests or an exhibition hall displaying the rival strategic ambitions of the Permanent Members of the Security Council.

 

The onset of the pandemic added a sense of urgent immediacy to what was already an extremely disturbing evolving awareness by informed persons. To identify this as ‘the first bio-ethical crisis to confront humanity’ is to employ unfamiliar and strong language.  This underlying crisis was bio-ethical in the primary sense that its challenges are fundamentally directed at the collective wellbeing of humanity taken as a whole, as well as a challenge to the sustainability of modern civilization, and the ecosystem stability governing the fundamentals of human/nature interactions, and of life itself. Widespread recognition of the gravity of these threats would amount to a revolutionary change in the self-awareness of the human species, and lead the way to profound shifts in behavior.

 

This crisis also possesses an ethical character because knowledge and resources exist to meet the challenges facing humanity, and yet responsible, precautionary action is not taken. We need to ask ‘why?’ so as to understand what action should be taken. In essence, these challenges to our human future could be addressed within the broad framework of a feasible reconfiguring of the industrial foundations and ethical outlook of modernity, and yet it is not happening, nor likely to do so without further shocks. By having the knowledge of such a menacing future and yet choosing not to act sensibly is to make a fundamental ethical and biological choice, with possibly awful consequences. My point is this.

 

The unprecedented crisis facing humanity is not similar to a gigantic meteor hurtling toward the earth with no known way of diverting its path or cushioning its impact. We know mostly what needs be done and yet we lack the fortitude to act for the sake of persons currently alive, and even more for the sake of future generations. It is likely that the unborn will suffer the most acute adverse consequences of the irresponsibility of this current refusal to heed the warnings of the experts. As the divisiveness and global governance deficiencies of the response to COVID-19 have revealed, many of the most technologically sophisticated societies have turned out to be the most incompetent when it came to safeguarding the lives and livelihoods of even their own society, failing to adopt or unreasonably delaying the adoption of practical measures to protect the health and security of their own citizens, while neglecting neighbors in need near and far living in other countries throughout the world. We also learned the grim consequence of pronounced economic and social inequality. The poorest and socially disfavored, especially in cities, turned out to be the demographic sectors most at risk of infection and death during the pandemic. Any student of modern society should not have been surprised by this information, but the mainstream media acted as if it had just discovered the plight of the poor, including their massive dependence on public food distributions, acting as if this was a startling revelation of the class impacts of the pandemic.

 

The effects of the pandemic on food security are being felt, and there seems worse ahead. The 2020 Report on World Food Crises warns that the risk of famine has been greatly increased by disruptions of harvests and food supply chains due to the greatly reduced availability of migrant farm workers and the disease-prone sites of animal slaughterhouses. Already in such affluent countries as the UK, U.S., and Switzerland poorer people are waiting for hours on long lines to obtain food for their families from overstretched food banks, and are fortunate if the food remains available when their turn finally comes.

 

Putting these broader eco-ethical concerns in the context of the right to food and food security generally, we are keenly aware that food and water are the most indispensable aspects to the right to life itself. We also are beginning to realize that rights to material necessities are drained of meaning if extreme poverty means that the poorest among us lack the purchasing power to buy food that is affordable, sufficient, and nutritious. In other words, even if food supplies are sufficient to meet human needs, it will not prevent starvation, malnutrition, and food riots if people lack the means to buy what is being sold in markets. In this sense, the loss of tens of millions of jobs around the world means the disappearance of purchasing power for people with the least capacity to cope with unemployment, including very little savings.

 

Although some governments are more protective of the vulnerable segments of their population than others, experience teaches us that social protection cannot be left to the good will or charitable impulses of governments. Rights must be reinforced by practical remedies that are accessible to ordinary people, and can be successfully implemented. In many countries of the West where capitalism and fiscal austerity prevail, there is an ethically deficient ideological insistence on allowing the market to decide on the wellbeing of members of society. This sends a perverse ethical message: the rich deserve their bounty of plenitude, while the poor deserve their hardships. From such an austere capitalist standpoint, pleading for the intervention of the state even in an emergency is alleged by the staunchest guardians of capital to undermine public morality based on individual accountability and incentive structures.

 

To overcome this failure to respond effectively to the bio-ethical crisis, it is necessary to identify and understand the obstacles to rational and humane action, while suggesting how these might be overcome. To summarize the argument, we know what is wrong, we mostly know what should be done, yet it still is not happening, and to have any hope of doing something about this deplorable situation, we must try our best to know why. Furthermore, the longer that we defer prudent action, the more burdensome and painful will be a future adjustment. There are also unknowable risks present. By not acting responsibly in the present, tipping points of irreversibility seem likely to be soon crossed making societal adjustments if not impossible, almost so.

 

Illustratively, if diets were now to limit meat consumption by decreeing one or two meatless days a week, there would be good prospects of achieving ecological balance by gradual measures, but if diets are unregulated for the next two decades, an adjustment to avert catastrophe would likely require a mandatory vegetarian planetary survival diet. The COVID-19 experience is one more chance to unddertake comprehensive transformational processes of adapting global governance to the dual demands of ecological balance and social justice, and ending the false security of managerial approaches that avoid fundamental change. Managers generally do nothing more than keep operations going, collapse or recovering from a severe crisis that disrupted the established order. This might temporarily calm anxieties, but this would be deceptive dynamic in this instance, a disastrous contentment with ‘business as usual,’ with the false assumption that all was well before the pandemic.

 

Confronting the Obstacles: These obstacles overlap and reinforce one another, and should not be regarded as entirely distinct. My assessment is grounded on the advocacy of an integrated and transformational approach. To move forward in such a direction, I find it helpful to identify four clusters of obstacles.

 

Ideological (1)

Our social relationship to food and agriculture deeply reflect the interplay of capitalism—maximizing profits and inflating consumerism—which includes constantly increasing consumer choice, identified misleadingly as a kind of freedom. Interferences by governing authorities occur if overwhelming demonstrations of adverse health effects can be demonstrated, but usually only after costly delays resulting from ‘expert’ reassurances on food safety that are obtained from corporate high paid consultants. Such profit-driven patterns, fueled by advertising and addictive products produce unhealthy dietary habits throughout society, causing epidemics of obesity and many serious health issues.

 

Social concerns on an international level are understandably focused on avoiding humanitarian catastrophes in the form of mass starvation or famine. This kind of preoccupation places an emphasis on disaster relief and responses to emergencies while ignoring the underlying ideological problem arising from distorted priorities of profits, destructive competition, agro-business, and unregulated markets as favored over human health and ecological stability. The same forces that suppress and distort information pertaining to health are irresponsible abusers of environment, disrespectful of culturally sanctified food traditions, and disrupters of ecological balance. A vivid recent example is the burning of the Brazilian rainforest to satisfy corporate greed taking the form of high-yield logging and deforestation to clear land for livestock farming, while eroding, and possibly dooming, the viability of the rainforest as a major carbon capture resource and a precious storehouse of biodiversity. The world’s major rainforests should be treated as falling within the ‘global commons’ and not be regarded as totally subject to Brazil’s priorities. It is a matter of finding the proper formula for ‘responsible sovereignty’ or, more accurately, how to reconcile sovereign rights with upholding the viability of the global commons.

 

Structural (2)

Seeking to balance food security and health against these ecological concerns is often at odds with human and global interests. The structures of authority that shape global policy and practices are overwhelmingly responsive to national interests as themselves distorted by corrupted elites and corporate influences on governance. This includes the UN System, which has been increasingly configured to serve the interests of states and mega-corporations. Again, the example of Brazil is instructive. Giving priority to development over planetary equilibrium with respect to the Amazon rainforest privileges irresponsible claims of territorial sovereignty. This overrides objections about the dangerous impacts of Brazilian behavior on global warming, ecological stability, and the quality of biodiversity. Despite the global scale of agriculture, particularly agro-business, there exist presently no effective international mechanisms to achieve responsible behavior on national and transnational levels of behavior.

 

Even when governments do cooperate for the public common good, as was the case with the Paris Climate Change Agreement (2015), their commitments are framed in an unenforceable manner that allows national sovereignty to prevail over longer run global interests. This meant that even if the pledges of reductions in carbon emissions were made in good faith and somehow fulfilled, they would still fall inexcusably short of what the respected IPCC Panel and other expert bodies prescribed as the essential benchmark to avoid dangerous, possibly catastrophic effects of further global warming. Similar considerations bear on meat consumption undertaken without any effort at achieving a global regulatory perspective that takes due account of the future. This voluntaristic approach dependent on the good faith and responsible behavior of states, is further weakened by the current crop of irresponsible leaders in many key states. This irresponsibility was epitomized in 2019 by its show of support for Brazil’s sovereignty claims with respect to the management of the Amazon rainforest and by the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement, creating dreadful precedents that will certainly affect poorer, more economically stressed countries, and eventually the rest of us. Why should a country confronted by a food and agriculture crisis, for instance, Zimbabwe, place limits on its developmental aand growth opportunities by acting in a more ecologically responsible manner when the world’s largest per capita carbon emitter is behaving so irresponsibly?

 

(3) Temporal

The most influential sources and structures of influence and authority have evolved in the modern period by being excessively attentive to short-term results. Such short-termism is associated with holding political leaders and corporate executives accountable to citizens and shareholders. Democracy rests on this proposition that voters get the chance every four years to heed the call that “it is time for a change,” or more crudely, ‘to throw the bastards out.’ This pattern can be observed in the preoccupation of political leaders with the electoral cycles, which are treated as decisive when it comes to assessing their performance. Even non-democratic forms of governance give priority to short-term results, which either builds or undermines confidence in the political leadership of a country regardless of its form of government.

 

It is no different for the economy, which exhibits an even more pronounced tendency toward short-termism. Most corporate and financial executives are judged by quarterly balance sheets when it comes to performance, and given little or no credit by shareholders and hedge fund managers for normative achievements relating to health, safety, and environment or for responsiveness to long-term crisis prevention.

 

The importance of longer horizons of accountability is a consequence of the character of current world order challenges, with preservation of environment, avoidance of human-generated climate change, and maintenance of ecosystem stability being illustrative of the growing importance of thinking further ahead than in the past, especially when it comes to government and private sector behavior. Yet to propose such an adjustment is far easier than it is to envision how such temporal adjustments to human and ecological wellbeing could be brought about. These clusters of concerns bear directly on all dimensions of food and agricultural policy. In earlier periods adverse developments attributable to mismanagement and shortsightedness led to relatively local and national, or at most regional, harm, but the threats in the world today are more systemic, totalistic, and often difficult to reverse or correct. Such issues as land use, pesticides, herbicides, soil preservation, genetically modified foods, and agricultural productivity suggest how crucial it has become to plan in a time frame that is as sensitive as possible to the precautionary principle as it applies to risk taking, and thus relates to all aspects of food policy. Adverse health conditions, facilitating zoonotic transfers of a deadly virus from animals to humans also reflects disregard of natural surroundings, which are depriving wild animals of their normal habitats, bringing them into ever closer contact with people and city food markets, facilitating disease vectors.

 

(4) Normative

In considering these broad issues of risk and choice in a food context we encounter a distinctive array of normative concerns of an ethical, legal, and even spiritual character. At issue most basically is the way humanity interacts with nature. Modernity, with its vision of progress resting on science and technology, regarded the natural surrounding as a series of venues useful for exploitation to enrich human society materially. That path brought segments of humanity many interim benefits and pleasures, but it also set in motion trends that over time have produced the current bio-ethical crisis that challenges, as never before, the future wellbeing and even survival of the human species. It is relevant especially in this circumstance of bio-ethical crisis to alter our way of seeing so that it encompasses ecological wellbeing and social justice in addition to human comfort and longevity. It is my belief that this kind of ecological/ethical consciousness as an alternative to anthropocentric orientations will provide human society with benefits of a spiritual nature that go significantly beyond meeting the materialist challenges of human existence. If this is so, it would reenchant the human experience with meaning and purpose in ways that the great religions did in the past, and not link human happiness so closely, and now dangerously, with materialist satisfactions.

 

Food, health, and agriculture provide the vital linkages between this search for more harmonious forms of coexistence between nature and human experience, as well as respect for the carrying capacity of the earth.  Pre-modern societies often achieved this equilibrium either by design or automatically, but lost this capability with the advent of modernity. Translating such a vision of humane equilibrium into practical policies is the proper work of specialists and those who are attuned both to ethical and ecological imperatives. Enlightened guidance will fail unless leaders in all spheres of collective existence become themselves more receptive to such knowledge, and begin to be held accountable by popular will, reinforced by activism and education. The proper attunement to the balance of material, ethical, ecological, and spiritual concerns is always subject to this complex interplay of human activity with limits on the carrying capacity of the earth. Equitable burden-sharing is also essential in awakening public consciousness to the changing priorities of our historical moment.

 

Preliminary data collected during COVID-19 reveals a disturbing correlation between susceptibility to the disease and those segments of society that are impoverished or members of communities disfavored because of race, ethnicity, and religion. This pattern was especially evident in the slums of large cities, which experienced a disproportionately much higher number of fatalities. Such findings raised issues of social justice and human rights, bearing on equal protection of the rights to health and the right to life.

 

A Concluding Plea

Pointing toward a desired reconciliation between ecological imperatives, world health, and the fulfillment of the right to food requires attention, commitment, and resources, as well as the exertions of moral and political imagination. From such a perspective I offer these suggestions:

–applying the precautionary principle in all policymaking arenas with an awareness of the need to reconcile food and agricultural policy with ecological imperatives, as well as to emphasize preventive responses and discontinue excessive reliance on reactive approaches and crisis management;

–identifying the obstacles to such a reconciliation with a stress on the human as distinct from the national, on the ecological as distinct from the anthropocentric, on the intermediate and long-term as distinct from the short-term, all the while giving due attention given to climate justice and universal health coverage for everyone;

–without minimizing the magnitude of the challenges or the resistance of the obstacles, I find hope in ‘a politics of impossibility’; many historical developments, including the collapse of colonialism, the dissmantling of apartheid in South Africa and the sudden implosion of repressive communism in Soviet Russia demonstrate that ‘the impossible happens’ in real life even when unanticipated. As a result, the fact that the future is uncertain creates opportunities as well as responsibilities. As to what seems impossible, yet desirable and necessary, can still be made more likely to happen through concerted struggle, undoubtedly mostly as responsive to movements from below, from peoples not elites or governments. Such is our situation, such is our hope.

 

 

[1] Remarks as substantially modified, first presented at “The 2nd International Agricultural & Food Congress,”

25 October 2019, Izmir, Turkey.

 

Revisiting Meeting Ayatollah Khomeini in January, 1979

10 Jun

[Prefatory Note: The post below is a slightly modified text of responses to Javad Heiran-Nia’s interview questions that was published on 2 June 2020 in Mehr News. From the Iranian publication I received some criticisms to the effect that I failed to associate Ayatollah Khomeini’s legacy with the repressiveness of the policies and practices of the Islamic Republic of Iran. I refrained from such commentary after some reflection as I consider that the political movement led by AK was under serious, credible, and continuous threat from the moment it challenged the Shah’s rule, and that in recent years that threat has been intensified by the aggressive coalition of anti-Iranian forces consisting of the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

With the role of Ali Khamenei, as AK’s chosen successor, coming to an end, attention has again been given to upholding AK’s legacy and respecting his mentorship

In view of the Washington supported coup in 1953 that overturned the democratic election of Mohammad Mossadegh, it was reasonable to take exceptional steps to safeguard the new government, a process that became entangled with authoritarian and repressive features of governance, which certainly followed from AK’s leadership. How such an issue should be addressed is a complicated ethical and political matter that needs to be carefully contextualized. I will attempt to do this in a subsequent post.]

 

Revisiting Meeting Ayatollah Khomeini in January, 1979

1- A few days before the victory of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, you had a meeting with Ayatollah Khomeini. What memories do you have of that meeting and what conversations took place during that meeting?

The conversation took place a few days before Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran after being resident in France during most of the revolutionary challenge directed at the Shah’s governing structure after being expelled by Iraq in 1978. It was for me a memorable meeting after spending. ten days in Iran on a factfinding mission to understand the revolutionary developments better. The three of us (Ramsey Clark, Philip Luce, and myself) were deeply impressed by Ayatollah Khomeini’s keenness of mind and clarity of vision about why a transformed Iran was necessary and desirable. I was particularly struck by the uncompromising nature of AK’s vision, which clearly rejected the reform of the old order and insisted on the establishment of a new order from top to bottom, starting with the institutions of the state. It struck me then and now as an unconscious embrace of Islamic Leninism in the context of building the new on the wreckage of the old.

I would stress a few themes from several hours of conversation:
–uppermost in AK’s mind in our meeting was the menacing prospect of a counterrevolutionary intervention organized by the United States so as to restore the Shah to the Peacock Throne. He seemed to be worried that what happened in 1953 to reverse the outcome of democratic elections that had brought the nationalist leadership of Mossadegh to power would be repeated. He sought our opinion as Americans, but we could only express our hope that such an intervention would not happen. We did indicate that the Carter presidency had important pro-interventionist high officials, thinking especially of Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski;
–AK also expressed the view that he hoped that normalized relations with the U.S. would become possible, but expressed his opinion that this could only happen if the U.S. refrained from interference in Iran and fulfilled existing state contracts, including those concerned with the national security of Iran, and most of all, AK stressed respecting the will of the Iranian people as embodied in the unfolding revolutionary process;
–AK strongly emphasized his insistence on comprehending the anti-Shah revolution as being in its essence Islamic, and not primarily a nationalist Iranian phenomenon. In general, AK expressed the view that the imposition of European style states on the region after World War I when the Ottoman Empire collapsed, distorted and disrupted the most fundamental affinities and identities of the Iranian people, which centered on belonging to the community of Muslim faithful, a non-territorial community that assigned only secondary significance to national boundaries and identities. AK conveyed his view that territorial sovereign states were not highest form of political integration, and regretted the termination of the Caliphate by Turkey as part of Kemal Ataturk’s conception of a modernizing, secular state, which broke its non-territorial bonds;
–AK also suggested to us that there should be accountability for the crimes committed by officials in the Shah’s government, and indicated his expectation that this challenge of political transition would be addressed by what he called ‘Nuremberg-style trials.’ It is has never been officially explained why this never happened, but there is speculation that public trials were abandoned because the accused Shah high officials would testify to CIA links of AK’s entourage, the disclosure of which would be awkward for the new leadership;
–AK also indicated that he hoped personally to resume a religious life upon returning to Iran leaving the government to be run by politicians and experts, expecting an Islamic orientation in a new post-revolutionary constitution, perhaps hoping for the application of his ideas about ‘Islamic Government,’ but he didn’t openly tell us this;
–AK also expressed open hostility to other instances of dynastic rule in the Islamic world, focusing especially on Saudi Arabia. He made clear that monarchy was inconsistent with the principles of Islam, and that the Saudi monarchy was no more legitimate as a source of governing authority than had been the Shah’s rule in Iran.

  1. That meeting was before the revolution was completed and the revolution had not yet reached a definite victory. What special feature of Ayatollah Khomeini attracted your attention? Was Ayatollah Khomeini sure of the victory of the revolution?

It was our impression that AK was very confident that with the abdication of the Shah, which had occurred a few days earlier, the victory of the revolution was assured, and only an intervention by the U.S. or NATO or a staged coup could alter this outcome. His focus was upon defending the revolutionary victory against future internal,  as well as external attempts to reverse the will of the Iranian people and how to plan a smooth transition from the old imperial order of the Shah to some version of an Islamic republic. We did not sense an openness on AK’s part to political pluralism or dissenting. Views.

We were particularly struck by the moral and political clarity of AK, and to some extent by the severity of his demeanor, which seemed averse to any kind of compromise with respect to the transition from the old Iran to what he envisioned as the new Iran. It became evident to us that AK regarded the revolution as motivated by the desire to obtain deliverance of the Iranian people from corrupt, secular, modernizing, oppressive governance structures tied to the West. He expect that this discredit past would be replaced by institutions and practices rooted in Islamic values, assuring virtuous policies and a political process guided by religious leaders.

  1. In defense of the Islamic Revolution of Iran, you wrote an article in the New York Times that led.to attacks on you. What were the reasons for writing that article and what were the attacks?

I was encouraged to write the article by the Opinion Page Editor of the NY Times who acknowledged to me that very little was known about AK by the American people, and that their own coverage had been inadequate. I had the impression that this interest arose because of the growing understanding that the political struggle was over, and that the forces led by AK had prevailed. It was felt to be important to grasp this new reality in Iran so as to adapt to this unexpected nonviolent expression of the self-determination rights of the Iranian people.  It should be recalled that this revolutionary challenge was confusing to Americans who in the dominant Cold War atmosphere had supported Islamic political aspirations, aside from in relation to Israel/Palestine,  and were for the first time confronting a political development that was both anti-Marxist but also anti-West.

I was attacked because the article was critical of the Shah’s regime and expressed guarded optimism about the future of Iran under this new revolutionary leadership. The Times had titled the piece ‘Trusting Khomeini’ without consulting me. It was this title more than the content of the article that seemed to infuriate people who were either were loyal to the Shah or felt that America’s strategic interests suffered a serious and unacceptable setback when the Shah was overthrown. The Shah’s government was regarded as a strong regional ally, a source of oil for the West, a crucial element in the U.S. effort to contain Soviet expansion, and an ally willing to absorb political heat for exporting oil to Israel and apartheid South Africa.

4- In the conversation, you introduced Ayatollah Khomeini as a real and elite revolutionary. What was the difference between the Iranian revolution and the revolutions of the 20th century, and how much do you appreciate the role of Ayatollah Khomeini in leading the Islamic Revolution in Iran?

AK struck me as a true revolutionary, but not in the familiar modes of left secular politics, inspired by Marxist and Leninist thought. AK was definitely not a reformer, but someone who wanted an entirely new governing structure animated by Islamic values that was not oriented around Enlightenment rationalism, leftist proletarianism, and the values and priorities of modernity as it evolved in the West after the Industrial Revolution. Unlike other Western revolutions, AK had advocated and practiced a politics of revolutionary nonviolence in the manner of Gandhi throughout the political struggle, but it was pragmatically motivated. Unlike Gandhi, AK supported the violent defense of the revolutionary outcome in responding to internal and external enemies, and never urged the incorporation of nonviolent ideas into the new constitutional framework. It is tempting to speculate that Gandhi might not have been assassinated if he had followed AK’s manner of shifting from the revolutionary ethos of nonviolence to the post-revolutionary acceptance of internal and national security. Yet this might also have meant that India never became a constitutional democracy that accepted ideological diversity.

When we met, the character of AK’s leadership role after the collapse of the Shah’s regime was very much in doubt. AK himself seemed ambivalent about his future role, stressing his intention to reside in Qom and resume his madrassa life after his return to Iran. It had seemed while in Paris that AK might be the face of the revolution but not necessarily the ultimate leader. When AK returned to Iran these perceptions changed, perhaps altering his own ideas about his preferred future role. First, was the dramatic evidence that AK enjoyed a fervent and mass following among the Iranian people, which no one else in the country could hope to match. Secondly, despite returning to Qom, AK still remained the ascendant political figure in the country with government officials making constant trips to visit him, and gain his advice and approval. AK was persuaded to make his home in Tehran rather than Qom, and take charge of the post-revolution state-building process and organizing responses to security challenges. AK’s. special role as leader became formalized in a religious idiom. He was not given any standard designation as president or prime minister, but the novel title of ‘supreme guide’ that expressed both the Islamic orientation of the government and the religious nature of his leadership that was vested with authority to override elected officials, including the president of the Islamic Republic. It was AK’s political supremacy, as well as the explicitly Islamic governance structures, which led outside commentators to regard Iran as a ‘theocracy,’ with features that have endured after AK’s death in 1989. I find it relevant that AK’s. successor, Ayatollah Ali Kamenei, always keeps the picture of AK by his side when he gives TV interviews as if to exhibit his deference to AK’s legacy and mentorship.

  1. In your opinion, what were the characteristics of Ayatollah Khomeini’s personality that attracted the people and revolutionary groups and ultimately led to the victory of the Islamic Revolution?

As I suggested earlier, AK conveyed a visionary confidence that what he proposed was the embodiment of Islamic virtue and teaching, and that this was the basis for carrying the revolution forward after the fall of the Pahlavi dynasty. Throughout the revolution when many believed that AK should accept a compromise, and if that was not done, his movement would be defeated and destroyed by a military coup or outside intervention, or some combination. As someone rooted in religious tradition and conviction, who had borne witness to his beliefs by accepting exile rather than defer to the authority of the Shah, AK never wavered in the course of prolonged exile in Iraq. AK remained firm in his belief that the Iranian people deserved a government that was not beholden to Western decadence and its hostility to Islam. In this sense, AK embodied an opposition leader who through ideas, vision, and personal courage inspired the people of Iran to risk their lives in fighting for a new political order, and adopted tactics that led to a surprise victory over what was regarded as the strongest and most ruthless regime in the Middle East, which enjoyed the unqualified backing of the United States.

6- What is the legacy of Ayatollah Khomeini for the revolutionary and freedom-seeking currents of other countries?

The legacy of AK may be best grasped by comparing the fate of Egypt since the Arab Spring of 2011 with that of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The overthrow of Mubarak by the Egyptian masses was followed by an accommodation with the governing structures of the old order, which directly led to tensions that generated a counterrevolution that restored the old regime to power in a harsher form than it had possessed before the Arab Spring uprising. In contrast, the clarity of AK’s practice and policies led to the durability of the Iranian revolutionary process in the face of many threats to weaken or destroy what Iran had become. This durability survived a Western- backed all-out military attack by Iraq on Iran in 1980 designed to weaken if not reverse the revolutionary changes brought about in 1979, and through continuous harassment and threats from such regional adversaries as Israel and Saudi Arabia with nuclear weapons as well as geopolitical pressures mounted by the United States, backed by many threats and policies of ‘maximum pressure.’

The legacy of AK can also understood by his unconditional insistence on a clean break with Iran’s dynastic secularism and its replacement by a revolutionary new political order built on the firm foundation of Islamic principles, which not only constructed an Islamic state, but reshaped the education, social mores, and the economy of the country to harmonize with this pervasive Islamic profile. To realize this vision that would have seemed utopian until it became established in the first years of AK’s leadership was one of the great accomplishments of the last century in completing the work of decolonization. Meeting the many challenges directed at Iran’s political survival by internal, regional, and global adversaries should also be considered as one of the great de-westernizing achievements of the last 75 years. It was a largely unacknowledged contribution to the demise of European colonialism and Western imperialism. This remains an ongoing struggle that has changed its character over time, although not its essence, and is not fully resolved. A major dimension of AK’s legacy is that he managed to bring stability to the Islamic Republic by overcoming formidable obstacles during the first difficult decade of its existence. Unfortunately, for Iran the struggle goes on with no end in sight, and even intensified confrontation given the belligerent coordination of an aggressive anti-Iranian coalition of the governments of the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

 

The Darkening Sky over Palestine: Storm Clouds or New Dawn?

28 May

The Darkening Sky over Palestine: Storm Clouds or New Dawn?

 

Looking upward, the sky above Palestine has darkened, but whether portending a storm or nightfall is uncertain.

If, de jure annexation will go forward, then the sky is likely to emit thunder and lightning. When the storm passes, nothing will seem changed. Annexation is being discussed as if a game changer yet ‘annexation’ has already taken place in the form of settlements, the separation wall, denial of building and residence permits to Palestinians living in Area C, and long-affirmed Israeli sentiments of biblical entitlement solidified by continued tradition of affirming the territory the British administered as ‘Palestine’ between the two world wars as ‘the promised land’ of the Jewish people. All that changes is retaining what has long been the palpable absurdity of a commitment a to a two-state solution that Israel never wanted in its only legitimate form of two sovereign states, equal in all respects, including security.

Retaining zombie versions of the two-state mantra allowed European governments, liberal Zionists, and the UN to claim that they had not renounced their commitment to peace based on a territorial compromise between the two peoples. ‘The land for peace’ formula never encompassed the breadth and depth of Palestinian justifiable grievances, virtually abandoning millions of refugees stranded for generation in refugee camps. Israel from the outset of the two-state consensus exhibited what can most generously be called ambivalence toward ever tolerating the establishment of even an ‘unequal’ Palestinian state, as distinct from welcoming as now, a Palestinian statelet, and being done with the complaints about the denial of the inalienable right of self-determination. Israel relentlessly created conditions on the ground by its promotion of the overtly unlawful settlement movement that even made the prospect of a statelet seem less like a micro-state such as Andorra, and more like a subjugated South African bantustan.

Increasingly over the years since 1967, it became plain for all but the willfully blind to take note of Israel’s defiant implementations of its unlawful territorial ambitions that made the prospect of a genuine Palestinian sovereignty delusional to the point of irrelevance. Any yet the Palestinian Authority and liberal Zionism in America continue to cling uncritically to the two-state goal by refusals to take proper account of the constantly accumulating facts on the ground and the significance of one-sided security demands in the Oslo negotiations. Long ago it was clear that the best that the Palestinians could hope for was a modified structure of Israeli hegemony, prefigured by the cruelties of Gaza ‘disengagement,’ which in effect would function as a minimal, quasi-sovereign state with juridical equality but existentially as subjugated as during the lengthy occupation of the West Bank. It remains uncertain whether Israel is seeking a hegemonic ceasefire in an agreement mislabeled as ‘peace’ or pursuing an end game that envisioned an Israeli one-state outcome. It was an open question whether in such a ‘solution’ Palestinians would be granted second-class citizenship similar to what has been conferred behind the green line or some sort of third-class variant designed to make sure that Israel never faces the demographic threat of no longer being a Jewish majority state.

Such Israeli ambitions proceeded behind a public relations smokescreen of sweet reasonableness that became no longer necessary when Trump added geopolitical muscle to an Israeli victory scenario, which was not quite explicitly affirmed but packaged as ‘the deal of the century.’ As preceded by U.S. giveaways to Israeli expansion as cutting of UNRWA funding for Gaza, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the American embassy, and endorsing the Israeli annexation of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, Trump’s hyper-partisanship fooled almost no one, not even the PA. It would be an insult to the political intelligence of the Palestinian people to except anything other than a rejection o this poisoned chalice was offered to the Palestinians. Israelis fully realized that what Washington was offering was no deal, but ‘the gift of the century,’ and there was no time to waste as Trump might disappear after the 2020 elections, requiring a return to the slow dance demanded by the American bipartisan consensus that has been the quiet enabler of Israeli expansionist moves ever since Israel was established in 1948, as distinct from the raucous cheerleading emanating from the West Wing of the Trump White House.

What is the nature of this gift so neatly wrapped by Kushner’s stealthy maneuvers? It is a strong-armed attempt to confer legitimacy on decades of unlawful Israeli expansionism and apartheid governance carried on while the U.S. winked in public, and its leaders smiled to Zionist donors in private. What failed as partisan diplomacy during the Clinton/Bush/Obama presidencies has been repudiated. In its place, with only the thinnest of disguises veiling the true nature of the Trump approach, is nothing other than a coercive geopolitical initiative with only a nominal pretense of diplomatic give and take. It is not only Trump + Netanyahu/Gantz that makes this an opportune moment for Israel to crush the Palestinian struggle once and for all. Such an initiative is also helped by the regional confrontation of the Arab Gulf countries with Iran, which leads the governing Arab regimes to throw the Palestinians under the nearest bus, and doing so despite the abiding solidarity of the Arab people with the Palestinian struggle to end their prolonged and insufferable ordeal as victims of Israeli settler colonialism sustained by apartheid structures of governance. For what ends do the Arab governments defy the wishes of their own publics? To please Washington and Tel Aviv, and by doing so, joining forces with Israel to crush the Iranian regional challenge, by inducing its withdrawal from any further active role in regional policies, or more ambitiously, by producing regime change in Tehran.

Will this storm, if it materializes, alter the present play of forces? It seems doubtful. Palestinians, may be discouraged by these dark clouds hovering over their collective destiny, but their perseverance, resilience, and resistance has been demonstrated over and over again for more than a hundred years. Of course, nothing should be taken for granted. If Israel goes ahead with its annexation plans in the West Bank, the Palestinian response will be watched closely as an indicator of the intensity with which la lucha continua. It is possible that Israel will somewhat back down on annexation, at least temporarily, because outsiders, including Jordan, the EU, the UN, liberal Zionism in the diaspora do not want to legalize the facts on the ground almost as much as they do not want to challenge them in any credible manner. Legalization will make the two-state delusion even less tenable than now, and then what? A reluctant acceptance of the lost cause scenario, acknowledging that the Trump/Israel game plan has prevailed, and that the long effort to find a compromise has failed. But will legality confer legitimacy? Or quell resistance? Not for long, if at all.

Here is where the split between the top down perspective of political elites will again diverge further from the bottom up approach of transnational movement politics. The top down approach will grimace, but cave in, implicitly accepting ‘the new normal’ of annexation. The bottom up approach is likely to be enraged and energized, insisting that these moves coordinated between Washington and Jerusalem have no relevance to the status of Palestinian grievances, and merely underscore the criminalization of this move to acquire sovereign rights over occupied Palestinian territory taken by force in the 1967 War. Such a land-grabbing territorial claim was unanimously rejected even in the midst of the Cold War by UN Security Council in Resolution 242, which was repeatedly reaffirmed as the basis for peace in numerous subsequent resolutions, as well as mandating a diplomatic path to peace in Resolution 338 by a 14-0 vote.

Yet might it be nightfall, a long prelude to a new dawn. The sheer injustice of such arrogant geopolitics may be a red line, which when crossed, results in real changes in the balances of forces that will turn out to be helpful for the Palestinian struggle. It is this prospect that has led some stalwarts of the Israeli security establishment and several of the most militant Zionists to break ranks, opposing annexation, at least now for a series of tactical reasons—provoking Jordan, troubling liberal Zionists, alienating Europe, arousing the Arab street, weakening bipartisan support in the U.S., strengthening the BDS Campaign, discrediting the 2018 IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of ‘anti-Semitism,’ ending collaborative relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, promoting Palestinian unity efforts, weakening the anti-Iran coalition, and generating a Third Intifada. If some of these reactions occur it will produce a new stage of struggle, which could even lead toward increasing boycotts directed at Israel, and greater mainstream advocacy of sanctions, especially in Europe, which could mean a loss of Israeli expansionist legitimacy rather than its gain, and in time lead to an Israeli search for a better alternative for its own future than annexation sustained by apartheid.

And what is a better alternative? This question can only be answered by the Palestinian people through their authentic representatives. Even so, there are certain preconditions that must be met if the lessons from the past are to have been learned by the mapmakers of the future. The most important lesson involves the recognition that Israel’s security has long presupposed an apartheid framework of Israeli Jewish domination of the Palestinian people as a whole. This means that Israeli apartheid extends beyond occupation to encompass refugees, involuntary exiles, and the non-Jewish minority in Israel. It resembles South African apartheid as resting on the subjugation of one race by another for purposes of sustaining domination in a manner violating international criminal law. This authoritative understanding is set forth in the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973), and listed as a Crime Against Humanity in Article 7(j) of the Statute governing the International Criminal Court.

By ‘a new dawn’ is meant an Israeli change of view as to identity and national security in response to a changed perception of how to improve their overall situation domestically and internationally. There was no moral awakening among the Afrikaner leadership in the early 1990s that led to the previously unthinkable release of Nelson Mandela from prison as preparatory to negotiating the dismantling of the apartheid regime of control established to control the majority African population. It was a recalculation of interests on the part of the white elite governing the country, which went against the assumptions prevailing at the time that the only way for the white domination to persist was by maintaining apartheid and the only way to create peace within and without was by ending apartheid. Israel’s situation is different, reflecting the Zionist imperative to maintain permanently a Jewish demographic majority, the façade of a democratic political structure, and a hegemonic ethnic identity that is coupled with a universal and exclusive right of return. These policy priorities meant that direct control needed to be combined with periodic episodes of ethnic cleansing and a politics of fragmentation. Israel’s early challenges were formidable, maintaining such control and dispersion at a time when European colonialism was under successful attack throughout Asia and Africa, and collapsing despite superior battlefield capabilities. In this respect, Israel has so far succeeded in establishing a settler colonial state of the Jewish people, and has been able to gain diplomatic legitimacy outside its region and through admission to international institutions, including the United Nations.

On the basis of this understanding, it is obvious that ending the occupation would not bring a sustainable peace because its formula of ‘land for peace’ ignores, or at best marginalizes more than five million Palestinian refugees and exiles. Even if that large elephant in the room was to be politely ignored, or minimized, as it was during the Oslo ‘peace process’ or by the UN ‘roadmap,’ it would not be possible to actualize a lasting peace so long as the settlers and their armed settlements retained the best land in the territory that had been set aside for an independent Palestinian state. It is supremely unlikely that settlements on this scale could be dismantled or remain but demilitarized and entrust their fate to the vagaries of Palestinian security control.

Ending apartheid is the only way to end Palestinian resistance, and given the psycho-political realities of the post-colonial world, the fierceness of such resistance will occasion cycles of intensifying harshness of Israeli oppressive control. This has been the meta-narrative of the conflict since Israel established statehood despite anti-colonial historical circumstances, and the Palestine endured the Nakba, as event and process. And if apartheid is ended, transition to a peaceful future would require some formula for a shared destiny based on equality and a reckoning with the past to heal wounds. It is difficult, verging on impossibility, to envisage such a future. Yet anything else dooms both peoples to an unjust social, political, and legal order that can only be sustained or challenged by continued modalities of violent control and resolute resistance. The Palestinian and Jewish peoples deserve more humane prospects, and let us hope that the annexation debacle will force an opening of this gate to a better future that has been kept locked far too long.

Arms Control & Disarmament: A Failed Marriage

25 May

 

Arms Control & Disarmament: A Failed Marriage

 

Fatal Complacency

 

The ongoing pandemic makes us obsessively aware of the precariousness of life, and if from the U.S., the mendacious incompetence of our political leadership. Yet, it also makes most of us as obsessively complacent when the

threats seem remote and abstract. This complacency with respect to contagious disease greatly worsened the level of fatalities, as well as the profound social and economic dislocations associated with the still unfolding COVID-19 experience. Such a pandemic was unimaginable until it became too real and omnipresent to be imagined, but only experienced at various degrees of separation. Being obsessed, fearful, and resentful is not the same as being imagined.

 

The linkages between contagious disease and climate change is too evident

to ignore altogether: The falling price of oil, the declining carbon emissions, the global imperative of cooperation, uneven vulnerabilities, andthe relevance of justice and empathy.

 

With respect to nuclear hazards, especially from the weaponry and their possible use, there is a growing disconnect between risk and behavior, a

combination of nuclearism prevailing among the political elites of the nuclear weapons states and public disregard. There is a greater appreciation of the dangers associated with nuclear energy. The disaster at Fukushima, and longer ago at Chernobyl, are grim reminders of risks and potential catastrophe.

 

Yet surrounding nuclear weaponry there is an aura of complacency reinforced by a false sense of self-interest. The complacency arises from the startling fact that no nuclear weapon has been exploded during a combat situation in the 75 years since the horrifying attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Complacency also feeds off the suppressed realization that governments base their ultimate security on threats to annihilate tens of millions of innocent persons and subject our natural habitats to extreme disaster. With regard to nuclear dangers assuming the dreaded will never happen could turn out to be the greatest bio-ethical folly in the entire history of the human species. We forget folk wisdom at our peril: ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ Governments need to invest their energies and resources in anticipatory approaches to impending disasters and not entrust the collective fate of humanity to reactive responses when various dark unimaginables happen as they certainly will.

 

In this spirit, I argue for a better understanding the distinction between arms control and disarmament approaches to nuclearism, which helps explain why choosing the disarmament path is vital for the human future. Despite this contention, nuclear disarmament is currently so low on the policy agenda of the nuclear weapons states as to be dismissed as either superfluous or utopian.

 

The Distinction

 It is often argued that arms control is a realistic approach to national security in the nuclear age that can be thought of as satisfying preconditions for negotiating a verified nuclear disarmament agreement when international conditions are right. Arms control measures have the added benefit of reducing risks of an accidental or mistaken use of nuclear weapons and of avoiding wasteful costs associated with arms competition designed to maintain security in relation to adversaries. There are good faith beliefs present in this support for arms control, but this advocacy hides, often unconsciously, an important quite different more complex and confusing parts of a broader story. In addition to reducing risks and miscalculations of intended nuclear war or expensive and dangerous extensions of competition in nuclear armaments, arms control seems to have as its primary goal bringing as much stability as possible to a structure of world order that is presumed to be nuclear armed. It also has a secondary seldom avowed goal of providing an instrument useful in the conduct of foreign policy. It allows some nuclear weapons states to take tactical advantage of their posture of nuclear superiority when confronting one another or of positing nuclear threats, especially against non-nuclear hostile countries in confrontational situations.

 

In contrast, the advocacy of nuclear disarmament believes unconditionally that the only safe and decent course of action is to do everything possible to get safely rid of nuclear weaponry as soon as possible. Nuclear weapons pose threats to human wellbeing and ecological stability in the form of catastrophe and even extinction. Disarmament goals are as a practical matter at odds with the arms control approach for at least three major reasons. First of all, a disarmament process threatens widely accepted ideas about nuclear stability. Instead, it generates uncertainty, especially if not coupled in its latter stages with a global demilitarization. process. The arms control view is that the more stable the overall political environment with respect to the weaponry the safer and more secure the world. The attainment of such stability carries with it a lessened incentive for political leaders to embark upon a denuclearizing disarmament alternative. This reluctance is not primarily, as often alleged, because of destabilizing risks of cheating and fears that any renewal of nuclear arms competition would be more dangerous than is a world order in which the nuclear weapons states exercise prudence and prevent further proliferation of the weaponry, but reflects militarist habits and geopolitical calculations.

 

Secondly, there exists a powerful nuclear establishment joining parts of the governmental bureaucracy with weapons labs and war industry private sector interests. Thirdly, and least acknowledged, is the degree to which foreign policy planners in several nuclear weapons states find and propose roles for these weapons to deter provocations, to solidify alliances, exert geopolitical and tactical leverage, and provide a hedge against future uncertainties.

 

Although such considerations are not unfamiliar in the strategic literature, the link to arms control rarely is explicitly made, or if made, is done so in a rather misleading and superficial manner that presupposes its compatibility with disarmament advocacy. Sometimes, the argument is made that arms control is a confidence-building step toward disarmament or that nuclear disarmament, although not presently attainable, remains the ultimate goal, but the time must be right. The lesson drawn is that in the meantime given existing world conditions, arms control is the most and best that can be hoped for, while nuclear disarmament remains the shared hope of humanity if conditions ever become suitable to move seriously toward the elimination of the weaponry.  Underlying these justifications for relegating the prospects of getting rid of nuclear weaponry to forever horizons—by proclaiming disarmament as the ‘ultimate’ goal—is to signal that it is not really a goal at all except as a way of keeping genuine disarmament advocates appeased and confused.

 

The true story is that the national security establishment, at least in the U.S., and undoubtedly elsewhere, is opposed to nuclear disarmament as a policy option, for two interrelated reasons. First, possession of nuclear weapons gives states international prestige and leverage even if never actively relied upon. Secondly, avoiding disarmament keeps in being a regime of ‘nuclear apartheid’ enabling nuclear weapons states to pose unspeakable threats in crisis situations that are likely quite effective, given the extreme vulnerability of non-nuclear states. Merely having a nuclear weapons arsenal sends an intimidating message to potential adversaries, especially if nuclear weapons are being designed and developed with future combat missions in mind.

 

The ambiguities of arms control are most vividly exposed with respect to the establishment and maintenance of the anti-proliferation regime. The United States claims that it is carrying out a positive world order role by taking responsibility for ‘enforcing’ the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). This form of geopolitical enforcement, that is, without UN authorization or legal prerogative, is directed against certain outlier countries (e.g. Iran, North Korea) that are accused of seeking such weaponry. It is questionable whether such behavior should be treated as arms control. It seems more appropriately viewed as an integral nuclear component of global hegemony.

 

 

The Anti-Proliferation Regime

 There are other features of the anti-Proliferation regime that occasion suspicion.

Double standards pervade the implementation of the NPT. The standards of nonproliferation found in this widely ratified treaty are not applied consistently. If the government evading proliferation controls is a strategic ally (Israel) or if the country crossing the nuclear threshold is too large to challenge (India, Pakistan), the enlargement of the nuclear club will be tolerated, or even encouraged. Yet if a hostile country seeks the weapons for credible deterrence reasons, then it will experience various forms of pressure, and even become subject to sanctions and threats of attack.

Nuclear deployments and threats to use nuclear weapons confer geopolitical advantages and options on the nuclear weapons states, besides giving some security about the threats of being attacked. Qaddafi was undoubtedly correct when he said that Libya would not have been attacked in 2011`had it possessed nuclear weapons, and Iraq in 2003 was likely attacked because it didn’t have a nuclear deterrent. It is instructive that North Korea was not attacked once it crossed the nuclear threshold even in a small, largely symbolic, manner.

This rationale for retaining nuclearism was starkly confirmed by the formal statement issued by the U.S., France, and the UK on July 13, 2017 as to why they totally rejected any connection with the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, emphasizing the positive role of nuclear weaponry in keeping the peace. In view of these considerations, why do NGOs in civil society continue to act as if they are working for nuclear disarmament when they do not reject  the essential elements of an arms control approach?

Above all, despite experience and evidence, ‘the arms control first’ community believes that reducing the size of the arsenal and agreeing not to develop some weapons systems are helpful measures on their own as well lending themselves to being promoted as stepping stones to disarmament negotiations. Additionally, there is the belief that the retention of nuclear weapons is so entrenched that only arms control agreements are feasible, and disarmament a diversionary pipe dream. From this perspective, arms control arrangements are better than nothing even if completely unrelated to achieving nuclear disarmament. Finally, as arms control activism is concentrated in Washington, the only way for political moderates in civil society to get a seat at the table set by government is to shed the utopian image of disarmament advocacy and settle for what is feasible although it means dancing with the devil.

We can ask, then, where does this leave those dedicated to peace, and especially to avoiding any threat or use of a nuclear weapon in the course of a war?  In my view, it is not appropriate to adopt an either/or position of saying no disarmament because unattainable or never arms control because it legitimates nuclear apartheid, and closes its eyes to geopolitical reliance on the leverage gained by wielding the weaponry. It is currently important to challenge public complacency about nuclear weaponry because these weapons have not been used since 1945, and to become attentive to the warnings of impending danger signaled by moving the highly credible, risk-assessing Doomsday Clock of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to within 100 seconds to midnight, or closer to doomsday than it has ever been since established in 1947. In effect, it is delusional to suppose that we can indefinitely co-exist with this infernal weaponry, especially given the lethal blend of demagogues and nationalist passions that dominate the governance structures of the world.

It would also be helpful to call attention to the fact that the NPT in Article VI imposes an unconditional obligation of nuclear weapons states to engage in good faith nuclear disarmament negotiations as part of the agreement reached with other states to forego the nuclear weapons option. The obligatory character of this legal commitment was unanimously affirmed by the International Court of Justice in its Advisory Opinion delivered in 1996, and yet by continuing to invest heavily in the continuous modernization of the nuclear weapons arsenal, including the development of new nuclear weapons designed for possible combat use means that this central legal obligation of the NPT regime is being defiantly ignored. There is no disposition on the part of any state to call for the geopolitical enforcement of Article VI, and until this happens the treaty is mainly functions as a disguise for nuclearism and nuclear apartheid.

Even if this Article VI legal commitment did not exist, the idea of resting security on discretionary threats to retaliate by destroying tens of millions of innocent civilians and contaminating the atmosphere of the entire planet quite possibly causing what experts call ‘a nuclear famine’ and widespread disease. Such omnicidal courses of action underline the immorality of resting security on such massive indiscriminate nuclear strikes that would fill the air with contaminating radioactivity. The UN ICAN Treaty, now formally ratified by 37 of the 50 States needed to bring the agreement into force is an important move in the right direction, and far more a helpful signpost than is an uncritical endorsement of this or that arms control proposal. Yet unless the ICAN Treaty is extended in its coverage to the nuclear weapons states it remains in the realm of rhetorical moralism lacking behavioral consequences.

There are arms control measures that can be supported in good conscience, including No First Use Declarations removing ambiguity from threats to use the weapons, and de-alerting measures that gives leaders more time to avoid accidental or unintended uses. Such measures rarely motivate champions of arms control because their advocacy hampers cooperation with geopolitical pragmatists who are running the world. The refusal to embrace No First Use thinking in doctrine and practice is revealing: it suggests that the real interface of compatibility is between arms control and geopolitics rather than as proclaimed, as between arms control and disarmament.

In the end, anyone genuinely devoted to world peace needs to recognize the urgency of taking an unconditional stand against retaining nuclear weapons as an indispensable step toward achieving peace for all peoples on earth and part of the challenge of being ecologically responsible guardians of planetary viability.

 

 

Planetary Transformations: A Progressive Quest

20 May

 

 

 

[Prefatory Note: Below are three texts: a paper by the widely respected writer and progressive

scholar, Val Moghadam, that describes what it might mean to have a left transformative movement of planetary scope; followed by a short explanatory essay by Paul Raskin, who exercises intellectual leadership of the Great Transition Network (GTN), a project of the Tellus Institute, that has been supporting the general idea that the existing system of organizing the planet is outmoded and dangerous, and the social creativity should be encouraged to envision preferred alternatives, not in the spirit of utopian speculation, but as political projects to be realized by a dynamic mix of commitment, imagination, and struggle; the third text is my comment on Moghadam’s paper. A sampling of the stimulating array of invited comments canbe found at this link–https://greattransition.org/gti-forum/planetize-the-movement. ]

 

 

 

Planetary Transformations: A Progressive Quest

PLANETIZE THE MOVEMENT!
Valentine M. Moghadam

The Historical Conjuncture

In January 2020, as I was writing this essay, Americans celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose message of social equality, economic justice, and peace is as relevant today as ever—arguably more so. That month, the US and Iran (the country of my birth) seemed to be on the brink of war. Australia was experiencing climate change-related disaster, the opioid crisis continued to devastate communities and families across the US, and refugees and migrants still faced exclusion and disdain. Income inequality in the US and in many other countries grew ever wider, as the power of capital over labor remained strong. Across the globe, the rightward march of populist politics continued apace.

This is only a small list of the world’s problems, some of which are common to humanity and some specific to nation-states and communities. To echo Lenin, what is to be done? For an answer, we can echo Dr. King: “planetize our movement.” [1] But what is “the movement,” and how can it be planetized?

The World Social Forum, launched in 2001 to assert that a “another world is possible,” attracted civil society organizations and social movements from across the globe, many of them associated with what scholars called the global justice movement, or “the movement of movements.” [2] Then came the global financial crisis, followed by the Arab Spring demanding the fall of authoritarian and corrupt regimes, the European summer of anti-austerity protests, and Occupy Wall Street (OWS), with its rallying cry against the privileged 1%.

A decade later, we face a weakened and increasingly irrelevant WSF, the modest harvest of the Arab Spring along with failed states, the demise of OWS, entrenched neoliberalism, and unabated militarism. These developments have wreaked havoc on communities in the Global South, generating the refugee and migrant waves that resulted in the right-wing populist backlash. Meanwhile, right-wing populist leaders have appropriated some of the grievances and even language of the Left—especially the very early critiques of neoliberal capitalist globalization, as well as the unions’ despair over labor’s displacement and stagnating wages—to win over citizens in country after country.

From a world-historical perspective, we are living in a period similar to the early twentieth century, during which the British Empire was losing its global hegemony. [3] That period led to inter-imperialist rivalries, the Great War, the expansion of socialism and communism, the fascist reaction, and the Second World War. Today, US hegemony is similarly in decline, and the transition and chaos we experience include growing powers challenging that hegemony (China, Russia, Iran); military adventures and the destabilization of states by the US and its allies (e.g., Afghanistan 2001, Iraq 2003, Honduras 2009, Libya 2011, Syria since 2011, Yemen since 2015); right-wing populist political parties and governments; and the ecological crisis.

The moment is ripe for an alternative. Labor unrest has grown around the world, encompassing industrial workers, teachers, health workers, janitors, and others across the Middle East and North Africa, in Latin America, and even in the US. Indeed, we may be nearing a classic Leninist “revolutionary situation,” which could be the culmination of “the world revolution of 20xx.” [4] If so, the Global Left should be better prepared to meet the challenge.

The good news is that there is a “new Global Left” that enjoys a multitude of emerging movements, including climate justice groups led by young people. [5] The rich array of activist groups and the dynamism and passion they display excite a sense of possibility. However, the very diversity of movements and their weak interconnection could constrain the Global Left’s ability to achieve meaningful change. [6] Without consensus around a common agenda, how are we to make the great transition from an entrenched global system based on capitalist profit, top-down decision-making, war, and environmental degradation to a world where people and the planet take center stage in politics and policy? Surely we need not only resistance on a multiplicity of grounds, but also agreement on a clear, coherent, and feasible alternative to the unjust, undemocratic, and unsustainable status quo.

A Missing Global Actor

The socialist and communist movements and parties of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries pinned their hopes on the capacity of a united working class, defined as a largely male industrial laboring class (“the proletariat”), to tame and challenge capitalism. In the latter part of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, the nature of that class changed, now encompassing a broader spectrum of working people, such as those in public and private services (including care workers) who labor under the supervision of highly paid managers and administrators, along with the precariat and gig economy workers. On the Left, however, many do not regard that more inclusive working class as a central actor, despite its composition spanning race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, and gender. [7]

Instead, today’s movements—certainly in the US—seem to define actors based on particular identities and interests. Rather than the singular actor of yore (the working class), today there is a multiplicity of actors across numerous movements. The question arises as to whether such a multiplicity of actors can generate the necessary coordination and craft a strategy to challenge the powers-that-be—economic and political elites situated in national governments; in the financial, corporate, and military sectors; and in institutions of global governance. If those elites are so well connected, why is it so difficult for our numerous movements to coalesce around a shared identity and agenda?

In my estimation, the Left has lost sight of the proverbial forest for the proverbial trees. It has gotten far too caught up in culture wars and battles over identity, forgetting the centrality of political economy to the hidden injuries not only of class, but also of race and ethnicity, women’s subordination, the destruction of the commons, and inter- and intra-state rivalries, violence, and war. This strategic shift away from political economy has removed the Left’s traditional constituency—the working class in all its breadth and diversity—from a meaningful role. The shift also has confused the Left’s priorities. For instance, we cannot truly address the problems of racism and discrimination without giving urgent attention to the systemic problems of class: low-income communities devastated by precarious employment, the loss of public investment, dirty air and water, poor-quality schooling, and bad health.

The politics of class cannot be divorced from those of race and of sex, because class is imbued with race and sex, and race and sex are themselves imbued with class. Under patriarchal and racist capitalism, there is no class exploitation without racial and sexual oppression. The separation of the three intersecting dimensions across unconnected movements—often lacking in understanding of and solidarity with each other—is among the unfortunate outcomes of our times, caused to some degree by partial, segmented internal politics, but largely by the relentless and effective political, cultural, and ideological campaigns of the ruling elites.

Catalytic Action Now

In the wake of the global financial crisis, it became clear that the world needed a new economic system. Change did not come about, however. To offer a viable alternative to financialization and runaway “shareholderism,” movements need to stand for workplace democracy and shared management, and for long-term rational and people-oriented planning over short-term profit. Although breaking up huge corporations should be the goal, taxing them adequately and using the revenue for societal needs and rights, not for continued militarism, can steer society in the right direction in the interim.

At the same time, we also need to think bigger. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that socialist and communist experiments all ended in failure, I believe that there is a lot we can learn from them. Indeed, this “failure literature” lacks balance and historical accuracy. The great socialist, communist, and liberation movements of the past may not have accomplished all that they could have or intended to, but they were very effective providing education and culture for the poor and imparting the legacy of equality, economic justice, and women’s advancement. The Communist movement had its shortcomings, but it promoted women’s equality and racial equality, supported numerous liberation movements, and checked capitalist and imperialist expansion.

In contrast, our recent movements have failed even in the short run. They may have changed the subject—certainly OWS highlighted the problem of income inequalities and helped reintroduce capitalism and its flaws into the national conversation in the US—but they could not compel change of the system itself, much less dislodge its major actors and beneficiaries. Unlike the progressive movements of the late nineteenth century and much of the twentieth century that gave us socialism and social democracy, an end to British colonialism, Third World development, and the demise of authoritarianism in southern Europe, the movements of the twenty-first century have not been able to make headway in structural or systemic terms. Instead, the collapse of world communism—celebrated across the globe—actually generated new crises and chaos.

One response to the crisis has been the new municipalism, which aims to implement localized democratic practices and people-oriented resource allocation. In one promising example, the administration of the Communist mayor of Santiago, Chile, has created a “people’s pharmacy,” offered cheap eye-care and glasses, increased public housing, and embraced leftist approaches to community safety, among other progressive people-oriented initiatives. [8] But localism is not enough, as many of our problems are global in nature. The recklessness of the financial sector has had ripple effects across borders; the obsession with economic growth and capital accumulation has generated a massive, global environmental crisis. That brilliant experiment in radical democratic feminist municipalism—Rojava in northern Syria—was overturned in October 2019 by a brutal Turkish invasion facilitated by the Trump administration. Thus, we must heed Dr. King’s message to “take the nonviolent movement international” and to planetize it.

The Global Left and its infrastructure remain fragmented and disconnected, except for periodic mass rallies against the most egregious actions of global capitalism and imperial states. But it wasn’t always so. Once, vibrant Internationals were organized to guide and promote a worldwide movement. The influential First International, initially called the International Workingmen’s Association, was formed in 1864, but contention between the anarchist and socialist wings led to its demise in the late 1870s. Its successor, the Second International, had great success, but fractured in the run-up to World War I. The Third International formed after the Russian revolution to unite socialist and communist groups from across Europe and Asia, but later, under Stalin, became corrupted into the highly centralized Comintern. [9]

Both the successes and the failures of these internationals offer vital lessons: a powerful worldwide movement could be premised on both a global political organization with a union UGET and the many young supporters of the Front Populaire call for planning and a strong welfare state. Around the world, women have come together around a more inclusive, transformative vision of feminism, which some call “feminism for the 99%.” [10] The “left nationalism” of Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Kurds is also part of the new Global Left and could help constitute a global movement against capitalism, militarism, and oligarchic states.  strategy for change and the strength of plural and diverse movements that call the status quo into question. To move forward, we need to look back at the old Internationals and, at the same time, not give up on the World Social Forum. The crises and injustices of our times call for both a coordinated “united front” and a loosely aligned “popular front.”

Some say the language of the past—socialism, communism, planning—is outmoded and unlikely to resonate. And yet, many young people embrace the term socialism; in the US, they rallied around Bernie Sanders’s call for “democratic socialism,” and in the UK, they coalesced around the Labour Party’s left-wing faction, Momentum, and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn. In Tunisia, where young people are losing hope in capitalist democracy because of high unemployment and other economic difficulties, the left-wing student

The world’s injustices as well as new possibilities for alliance have inspired calls for coordinated forms of organizing. The deceased Egyptian Marxist economist Samir Amin, for instance, called for a Fifth International. [11] But to balance the complementary needs of global coordination and plural autonomy, as Moghaman two internationals may be needed, one that remains horizontally based—the movement of movements—and the other vertically organized, drawing inspiration and lessons from the old Internationals.

What might this mean in practical, strategic terms? To start, we should revitalize the World Social Forum. [12] It encompasses diverse grievances, identities, and interests; it remains the site for dialogic discussion and the cultivation of solidarity across movements; and it has resisted the authoritarian impulses and practices of capital and the state. It can remain an open space for dialogue among place-based and identity-expressive movements. Building up the Global Left and helping advance a Great Transition, however, requires a global political organization to do the necessary cross-movement “translation” work and deliver a plan for structural change at national, regional, and global levels. Accomplishing this will be an arduous task, but we can’t afford to wait.

Whether it is called the Fifth International, the United Front, the Progressive International, or the World Party, such an organization would be vertically organized, along the lines of the earlier Internationals but with the involvement of anti-imperialist feminist groups such as Code Pink, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Marche Mondiale des Femmes, and the new Feminist Foreign Policy Project. This planetized formation would encompass progressive parties, anti-neoliberal unions, and anti-war movements across the globe. It would practice democratic decision-making and offer a clear vision and mission of an alternative system of production, social reproduction, trade, and international relations. It would revive the 2011 Arab Spring call, “The people want the fall of the regime,” and create a powerful message demanding a re-enactment of what occurred in 1989/1990, but in reverse: “The people want the fall of the ruling capitalist elites.”

Such a plan calls for a renewed emphasis on the working class, expansively defined and represented. Unions could organize the unorganized, carry out the necessary political education work among their members, and create broad coalitions with progressive political parties and unions across borders. [13] It is worth noting that unions of teachers and nurses have been taking to the streets and making demands in Morocco, Iran, Iraq, Tunisia, Chile, and France, as well as in the US. Such parallel developments are ripe for cross-fertilization and coordination.

We should take the best from the past—planning, coordinating, internationalism, and action—and move forward with a common agenda for systemic transformation. To move forward with an International, veterans of past, more centralized movements and organizations might take the lead in organizing an initial meeting, to convene in a country that has felt the devastating effects of neoliberalism, such as Argentina or Greece. Another venue could be Tunisia—now the only genuinely democratic country in the Middle East/North Africa region. Our movements need to coalesce to make the present moment of populism and hegemonic decline an advantageous one for a Great Transition—this time toward a global socialist-feminist democracy built through the synergy of a new International and a revitalized WSF.

[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience (New York: Harper and Rowe, 1968), 34.

[2] See the GTI forum on the World Social Forum: https://greattransition.org/gti-forum/farewell-to-the-wsf . See also Donatella della Porta, ed., The Global Justice Movement: Cross-National and Transnational Perspectives (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2007); Jackie Smith, Marina Karides, et al., The World Social Forums and the Challenge of Global Democracy (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008); Valentine M. Moghadam, Globalization and Social Movements: Islamism, Feminism, and the Global Justice Movement, 2nd ed. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2013).

[3] Giovanni Arrighi and Beverly Silver, Chaos and Governance in the Modern World-System (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).

[4] Christopher Chase-Dunn and Sandor Nagy, “Global Social Movements and World Revolutions in the 21st Century,” in The Palgrave Handbook of Social Movements, Revolutions, and Social Transformation, ed. Berch Berberoglu (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019): 427–446; Beverly Silver, Forces of Labor: Workers’ Movements and Globalization since 1870 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

[5] Christopher Chase-Dunn, Richard Niemeyer, Preeta Saxena, Matheu Kaneshiro, James Love, and Amanda Spears, “The New Global Left: Movements and Regimes,” IROWS Working Paper 50 (2009), University of California–Riverside, Institute for Research on World-Systems, https://irows.ucr.edu/papers/irows50/irows50.htm .

[6] Valentine M. Moghadam, “The Movements of Movements: A Critical Review Essay,” Socialism and Democracy 33, no. 1 (2019): 19–27, https://doi.org/10.1080/08854300.2019.1653730 .

[7] Marxist theorist Goran Therborn has written despairingly of labor’s prospects: “Class in the 21st Century,” New Left Review 78 (2012): 5–29. For an alternative view, see Victor Wallis, Red-Green Revolution: The Politics and Technology of Ecosocialism (Toronto: Political Animal Press, 2018), esp. ch. 8: “Intersectionality’s Binding Agent: The Political Primacy of Class.”

[8] Daniel Denvir, “A Communist Major in Chile Explains How to Govern Locally from the Left,” interview with mayor Daniel Jadue, Jacobin, April 26, 2019, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2019/04/communist-party-chile-left-governance-recoleta . Thanks to Silvia Dominguez for bringing this to my attention.

[9] Although the Comintern ended in 1943, communist parties remained in close contact until the late 1980s, providing support and solidarity for progressive organizations and movements.

[10] Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser, Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto (New York: Verso, 2019).

[11] Samir Amin, “Toward a Fifth International?,” in The Movements of Movements: Rethinking Our Dance, ed. Jai Sen (New Delhi and Oakland: OpenWord and PM Press), 465–483 (originally written in 2005), and “It is Imperative to Reconstruct the International of Workers and Peoples,” International Development Economic Associates (July 3, 2018), available at www.networkideas.org/featured-articles/2018/07/it-is-imperative-to-reconstruct-the-internationale-of-workers-and-peoples/ .

[12] Valentine M. Moghadam, “Feminism and the Future of Revolution,” Socialism and Democracy 32, no. 1 (Summer 2018): 31–53; and “What is Revolution in the 21st Century? Toward a Socialist-Feminist World Revolution,” Millennium: Journal of International Studies 47 (2019).

[13] Although Ronaldo Munck dismisses both the Internationals of the past and the WSF as relevant models, he does call for a central role for labor and unions, in “Workers of the World Unite (At Last),” Great Transition Initiative (April 2019), https://greattransition.org/publication/workers-of-the-world-unite . See also Stephanie Luce, Labor Movements: Global Perspectives (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2014).

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Monday, March 2, 2020

Dear GTN,

Our March discussion bookends a long GTN series on movement streams that kicked off in November 2017 with a framing discussion on “the problem of action.” That initial discussion was introduced by my How Do We Get There? The Problem of Action , which I encourage you to review along with the rich GTN commentary it generated. Now, we return to the overarching question of how to envision and catalyze a coherent global movement matched to the task of Great Transition.

The title for the March discussion—PLANETIZE THE MOVEMENT!—is from Martin Luther King, who understood the need for systemic solidarity for systemic change. Val Moghadam, a global movement scholar, starts us off with an opening essay (soon to arrive by email as well). Val counsels us to draw lessons and inspiration from left history as we fashion a uniquely twenty-first century strategy, intriguingly calling for “two Internationals.” Her essay sets the structure for our discussion:

The Historical Conjuncture
The character of our fraught globalized moment and the systemic change agents it spawns

A Missing Global Actor
Movement fragmentation, the basis for common cause, and the contours of a unified movement

Catalytic Action Now
Strategies for building a global movement and specific initiatives for getting the show on the road

I look forward to your comments, brief or extended (but less than 1,200 words), through April 1. Then Val will respond, and, as usual, we will assemble a public GTI Forum sampling the internal GTN discussion.

Over to you,
Paul

 

Richard Falk

 

I found Val Moghadam’s “Planetize the Movement!” a masterful effort to demonstrate the continued diagnostic and prescriptive relevance of Left traditions of thought and practice in responding to the urgent systemic challenges currently confronting humanity. She also offers perceptive comments on the emergence of distinct social movements seeking a better future in distinct spheres of activity, citing especially ecologically oriented activism, feminism in various forms, progressive anti-globalization initiatives, and forms of radical opposition to income and wealth inequalities. Without minimizing obstacles and adverse trends, Moghadam usefully anchors her hopes for the future on two central propositions: first, in her words, “the moment is ripe for an alternative;” and second, planetizing the movement depends on a political economy critique of neoliberal globalization coupled with the advocacy of a new progressive vision that draws heavily on socialist and communist experience and thought of the twentieth century.

I find this a stimulating overall point of departure, and accept the relevance of her innovative formulation of “two internationals,” a horizontal network of progressive social activist initiatives, which I have characterized as “globalization-from-below,” and a vertical mechanism that builds on the experience of the four internationals periodically established over the past 150 years, as well as acknowledging Samir Amin’s proposal of a Fifth International to allow leftist influence to resume its vital presence in the aftermath of the Cold War. [1] While Moghadam is sensitive to the argument that reviving Marxist and neo-Marxist interpretations of her call to action has been widely criticized as passé, she remains confident of its catalytic relevance to the present historical conjuncture, citing the responsiveness of American youth to the overtly socialist message of Bernie Sanders. I am not sure about this: while fully agreeing that a movement for the planet must relate centrally to political economy, I am more skeptical about supposing that we can achieve the understanding we now need from the old left class and labor-oriented revolutionary rhetoric and worldviews. For one thing, the digital networking that underpins globalization and creates new potentialities, dangers, and risks is not easily accommodated, and however hard one tries, the realities of a post-industrial labor market are increasingly as deeply threatened by automation and artificial intelligence as by exploitative elites. This suggests to me a qualitative change that requires a new vocabulary to describe the plight of many individuals, being threatened not only on the level of material livelihood, but also by dehumanization in relation to a meaningful life experience.

Moreover, I am not convinced that the mainstream left traditions are very mobilizing with respect to planetizing ambitions regarding the unprecedented bio-ecological-species challenge. This challenge exposes a missing dimension in most versions of leftist thinking that is as vital as the reintegration of political economy preoccupations into progressive thought and action. It is worth noticing in this regard that it is the admonishing voice of Greta Thunberg indicting the established order for its failure to do what is needed to address climate change before it is too late that has had the most pronounced impact on public consciousness in this century. Her declaration of an ecological emergency that dooms the future unless drastic action is taken, including of course against the excesses of capitalism, is oriented far more toward an Enlightenment insistence on heeding the scientific consensus than on rekindling class warfare. Her essential plea is to be guided by facts and evidence, and not by narcissistic material interests of the beneficiaries of the established order.

Because of its focus on class conflict and economistic commentary, I believe that most left thinking fails to attribute enough responsibility for the evils of our world to “modernity” in addition to damage wrought by capitalism, or for that matter socialism. It is due to the modernity paradigm that we have long enthroned ideas of national sovereignty, tribal nationalism, and state-centric world order, which fosters militarism, imperial geopolitics, and prolonged civil strife. The modernity mindset is more responsible for these features of world order than even the rapacious private sector fondness for bloated military budgets, arms trade, and arms races. In the West, particularly, it is from the individualist ideologies of modernity that we derive this confusion of endowing economic growth and technological innovation with limitless horizons of progress and the bestowal of high degrees of personal contentment, while almost forgetting the lost achievements of premodernity with respect to collective identities and cohesive community. It is notable that even the canonical formulation of human decency in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1950) was expressed as rights of the individual, and complementary obligations of responsibility were ignored altogether. Political economy is crucial, yet also insufficient unless coupled with comprehensive ethical and cultural reframing of the societal norms associated with the modernity paradigm. For instance, the acceptance of limits, so crucial to constituting a balanced habitat connecting human activities with their natural surroundings, is as absent from traditional left thinking as it is from mainstream secularism and modernist rationalism.

Finally, I have some thoughts about Moghadam’s proposed two internationals. While directly responsive to the central theme of planetizing the movement, such a framing seems to neglect the importance of the global normative order, particularly international law and the United Nations, as a primary element of a world transformed in accordance with a progressive worldview. Given global-scale challenges, the need for humane structures of global governance is obvious, which implies regulatory and coordinating mechanisms based on a logic of equality rather than as at present, reflecting the geopolitical realities of inequality. The UN and international law currently exhibit the deficiencies of the established system of world order, especially double standards, victor’s justice, and geopolitical governance. Only the five winners in World War II (75 years ago) have impunity when it comes to upholding international law and respecting the UN Charter, only the losers or weak states are held accountable for adhering to international criminal law, and only the leading political actors retain discretion to engage in coercive diplomacy by way of threat, sanctions, and intervention, which, if countered at all, depends on war endangering countervailing geopolitical encounters. To place these remarks in the setting of Moghadam’s approach, I would insist that there is a need either for a broadened conceptualization of her “second international” or the addition of a “third international” assigned the mission of establishing a more democratized and autonomous United Nations and an international legal order based on the fundamental principle of treating equals equally, whether the unit of concern is a state, a group, or an individual. Such a transformative emphasis on the normative order of regulation, rules, and institutions serving human and global interests as transcending the claims of national interests seems to me to be an integral part of a progressive planetary movement.

[1] Richard Falk, Predatory Globalization: A Critique, Cambridge, UK, 1999.

 

 

Gangster Geopolitics in the Global Jungle: Annexation Tops Israel’s Macabre Dance Card

16 May

[Prefatory Note: Republication of opinion piece published in Al Jazeera English on May 13, 2020. Link is https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/gangster-geopolitics-israel-annexation-plans-200511154825347.html. The published AJE text has been slightly modified.]

 

 

Gangster Geopolitics in the Global Jungle: Annexation Tops Israel’s Macabre Dance Card

 

 

Annexation Foreplay

 

These are the strangest of times. On this almost everyone will agree.

Lives all over the planet are being torn apart either by COVIS-19 or as a result of its devastating social and economic dislocations. In such a moment, it is hardly surprising that the best and worst of humanity is being showcased.

 

Yet what seems worse beyond even these forebodings is the persistence of gangster geopolitics in its various manifestations.

Intensifying U.S. sanctions in the midst of the health crisis on already

deeply afflicted societies and suffering populations such as Iran and Venezuela is one striking example. This display of the primacy of geopolitics is highlighted by its rejections of numerous high profile

humanitarian appeals for the suspension of sanctions, at least for the duration of the pandemic. Instead of suspension and empathy, we find tone deaf Washington almost gleefully upping its ‘maximum pressure’ policy, perversely grabbing the opportunity to rachet up the pain level.

 

Another dark tale is the macabre Israeli dance around the disruptive lawlessness of the annexation pledge that Netanyahu has promised to implement as early as July, having the assent of his power-sharing rival, Benny Gantz, to proceed without the need to gain the assent of his coalition co-leader. It is not even controversial to insist that any annexation of occupied Palestinian territory directly violates fundamental norms of international law. Maybe because of this, Israel is poised to annex without even attempting to offer legal justifications for overriding the widely endorsed and rigidly interpreted rule that a sovereign state is not allowed to annex foreign territory acquired by force.

 

This instance of annexation additionally involves an extreme repudiation of international humanitarian law as embodied in the Fourth Geneva Convention. It amounts to a unilateral move by Israel to change the status of land in the West Bank from that of occupier, since 1967) to that of its sovereign territorial authority. It also disregards the legal pledge in Oslo II (1995) to transfer to Palestine by stages jurisdiction over Area C in the post-Oslo administrative mapping of the West Bank. And further, such contemplated annexation directly challenges the authority of the UN, which by an overwhelming continuous consensus regards Israel’s presence in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza as solely based on force and occupation, making any modification dependent on a prior authoritative expression of Palestinian consent, which is even hard to imagine ever being given. Not only is annexation unlawful, but has the potential to be regionally disruptive, agitating neighbors, especially Jordan, possibly Egypt, and directly challenges the continuing European zombie attachment to a two-state solution.

 

What has generally been overlooked in the extensive commentary on the annexation prospect is that it not only ignores the Palestinian self-determination, it also ‘forgets’ that the UN has unfulfilled promise and responsibility to find a just solution for Palestine that it inherited from the United Kingdom that had been administering the territory between the two world wars. What had been even in the days of the League ‘a sacred trust’ becomes in the era of post-colonial gangster geopolitics ‘wanton disregard.’

 

 

Israelis Insist Annexation is About ‘Security’

 

For all these reasons it is not surprising that even Israeli heavyweights, including former heads of Mossad and Shin Bet, as well as retired IDF security officers are sounding an alarm. Some militant Zionists oppose annexation at this point because it will expose the delusion that Israel is a democracy as well as a State of the Jewish people as worries mount that absorbing Palestinians in the West Bank will in due course threaten Jewish ethnic hegemony. Of course, none of this Israeli/Zionist ‘second thoughts debate’ objects to annexation because it violates international law, sidesteps and undermines UN or EU authority, and ignores Palestinian inalienable rights. All the objections to annexation from within Israel or among Zionist militants are couched by exclusive reference to a variety of concerns about alleged negative impacts on Israeli security. In particular, these critics from within Israel’s national security establishment are worried about disturbing Arab neighbors and further alienating world public opinion, especially in Europe, and to some extent worry about the reactions of ‘liberal Zionists,’ and thus weakening solidarity bonds of overseas Jews with Israel in the U.S. and Europe.

 

The pro-annexation side of the Israeli policy debate also mentions security considerations, especially with respect to the Jordan Valley and the settlements, but much less so. Unlike the critics, the more ardent proponents of annexation are land claimants. They invoke a Jewish biblical entitlement to Judea and Samaria (known internationally as the ‘West Bank’). This entitlement is reinforced by referencing Jewish deep cultural traditions and centuries of historical connections between a small Jewish presence as being continuous and this land being treated as a self-created sacred guardianship. As with Israeli critics of annexation, supporters feel no need to explain, or even notice, the disregard of Palestinian grievances and rights. Annexationist don’t dare put forward an argument that the Jewish claims are more deserving of recognition than are the competing national claims of Palestinians, undoubtedly because their case is so weak in terms of uncontested modern ideas of law, as well as the ethics of territorial entitlement.

 

As has been case throughout the Zionist narrative, Palestinian grievances, aspirations, and even the existence of a Palestinian people is not part of the Zionist imaginary except as political obstacles and demographic impediments. At the same time, all long Zionism has been tactically opportunistic about disclosing the full extent of its project, instead acting in public as if what it could gain under a given set of circumstances was all that it wanted and expected at some future point to acquire. When one considers the evolution of the main drift of Zionism since its inception, the longer-term aspiration of marginalizing Palestinians in a single dominant Jewish state that encompassed the whole of Israel’s ‘promised land’ has never been forsaken. In this sense the UN partition plan while accepted as a solution at the time by the Zionist leadership, is better interpreted as a stepping stone to recovering as much of the promised land as possible. In the course of the last hundred years, from a Zionist perspective utopia became reality, while for the Palestinians reality became dystopia.

 

 

The Macabre Dance

 

How the prelude to annexation is being addressed by Israel and the United States is as dismaying as is the underlying erasure of the Palestinians, except possibly as a restive population to be kept fragmented and as disunited as possible so that their resistance and

objections can be efficiently muted. Israel has already privileged annexation in the Gantz/Netanyahu unity government, making a proposal for annexation to be submitted to the Knesset any time after July 1st. The only precondition accepted by agreement establishing the Netanyahu/Gantz unity government was conforming the contours of the annexation to the territorial allocations embodied in the notoriously one-sided Trump/Kushner ‘From Peace to Prosperity’ proposal, which seems reasonable to treat as tantamount to an outright stamp of approval by the U.S. Government. Even without the disclosure of the Trump peace plan, U.S. approval was hardly ever in doubt. It follows from Trump’s endorsement of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights in occupied Syrian territory a few months ago.

 

As could be expected, Trump’s America is creating no friction, not even whispering to Netanyahu at least to offer legal justifications or explain away the negative effects of annexation on Palestinian peace prospects. Instead, the American Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has given a green light to West Bank annexation even before Israel formalized its claim, declaring provocatively that annexation is a matter for the Israelis to determine on their own (as if neither Palestinians nor international law had any relevance). He added that the U.S. will convey its opinions privately to the government of Israel.

 

Perhaps, this is a wily move by Washington. In effect, leaving it to Israel to handle any regional or UN blowback resulting from carrying out this controversial annexation. If an international pushback of any consequence occurs, the Israeli government would have to take responsibility for handling the outcry. In this sense, perhaps the Trump administration is learning the game, by this time seeking to avoid, or at least deflect, the angry reactions directed at the U.S. in the UN and elsewhere after announcing in December 2017 its intention to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

 

 

Gangster Geopoliticss

 

In the undisclosed background, the calloussness of the annexation initiative seems designed to neuter the UN and blunt international criticism of Israel. It is expected that annexation will be greeted by strong rhetoric of denunciation from several European leaders and possibly candidate Biden, but unaccompanied by any serious push for an international campaign to reverse this taking of Palestinian land. On the basis of past experience, it seems likely that after a few days of media coverage concerns will subside, and the world will move on. Even the Palestinians discouraged by years of fruitless waiting, seem to be suffering, at least temporarily, from a combination of resistance fatigue and ineffectual solidarity initiatives. Such an assessment, is best understood as one more sign that Israel/U.S. relations are being managed in accord with ‘gangster geopolitics,’ and without paying heed to international law or UN authority. Such a pejorative label intends to condemn any annexation such as this one that sweeps law and morality aside while political space is forcibly cleared for land theft.

 

While gangster geopolitics may be extinguishing the last remnant of Palestinian hopes for political compromise and a diplomacy based on a genuine commitment to equity and equality, there are voices of resistance struggling to be heard. I highlight my dissent to annexation by describing this critical response as ‘gangsta geopolitics’ borrowing from pop culture’s ‘gangsta rap’ that fights back from the streets of the world on behalf of the people suffering from racist

police tactics. Of course, this is a metaphor, yet it illuminates an incredible pattern of official behavior that is hard to believe is acknowledged in Israeli public discourse.

 

First, there is the defiant nature of the Israeli annexation claim. Secondly, there is the single qualification that Israel must obtain

a geopolitical stamp of approval from the U.S. Government before going forward with annexation. Thirdly, that the U.S. Government seems to throw the ball back to Israel by saying the decision to annex is Israel’s to make, yet it will give Israel’s the benefit of its private opinion on the matter, presumably on the tactics of timing and presentation, without any consideration of matters of principle.

 

There is a ghostly melody accompanying this macabre dance. Israel tames its unilateralism by a gesture of geopolitical deference, and by this posturing, acts as if the approval of the United States matters as

something more than a political show of support. The U.S. doesn’t question the Israeli logic, yet it doesn’t want to accept responsibility

for a public show of approval, leaving Israel free to act as it wishes although withholding, at least for now, any expression of approval or disapproval with respect to annexation.

 

This leaves unattended the awkward gap between the

Israeli unity government agreement with its requirement to obtain U.S. approval and Pompeo’s demurrer. Whether this will cause any problems as the July date approaches is unlikely, especially as Israel will present annexation as a partial implementation of the Trump proposals. I suspect that the U.S. private message will be one of discreet approval, which Netanyahu will undoubtedly treat as satisfying the agreement with Gantz.

 

What stands out here is the arrogance of the politics of annexation. Not only are the rules and procedures of the world public order cast aside, but the internal discourse on the transfer of rights is carried on as if the people most affected are irrelevant, a kind of ‘internal Orientalism.’ Let’s hope that we who resort to gangsta rap to put these developments in the perspective they deserve, can do more at the time when the annexation move is formalized than gnash our teeth in frustration while observing this lamentable spectacle unfold.