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On the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

10 Dec

On the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

[Prefatory Note: Responses to questions relating to the Universal Declaration of Human Right addressed to me by the journalist Rodrigo Craveiro on behalf of the Brazilian newspaper, Correio Braziliense. I am posting slightly modified responses today, December 10, the 70thanniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly. This Declaration was a notable step in the direction of asserting that persons by virtue of their humanness are entitled to protection in the exercise of a broad spectrum of rights, and hence, that sovereignty is subject to certain constraining limitations. Much progress has been made since 1948, although we live in a period of mounting pressure on human rights deriving from a surge of right-wing populism combined with the effects of an insufficiently regulated capitalism. We also live at a time of expanding ecological consciousness, which includes a more serious concern about animal rights. Perhaps, the time has come to propose and draft a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Animals.]

 

1– How do you see the meaning and the importance of  Universal Declaration of Human Rights? What are the main parts of the Declaration in your point of view?

 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was a historic document as it represented the first time that an authoritative and comprehensive conception of internationalhuman rights was formulated and agreed upon by the leading governments of the world. It was also significant that rights were formulated as inhering in being ‘human’ rather than as a matter that was to be determined in accord with national or civilizational norms. Even so this historic text was set forth in a declaratory form that meant that it was not obligatory, and the implementation of human rights standards remained essentially voluntary. While affirming human rights, governments were not ready to make legal commitments that could weaken their sovereign rights to have the final say in state/society relations.

 

However, the UDHR had more political traction than anticipated in 1948. Opposition groups in East Europe found it useful as a way to assert the legitimacy of posing demands to their governments. NGOs formed in the West, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, did their best to persuade governments throughout the world to live up to human rights standards partly by relying on the authority of the USHR. Furthermore, the UN anti-apartheid campaign was based on a human rights rationale, and proved eventually effective in inducing the South African leadership to change course and dismantle their racist regime. These developments established the political relevance of human rights as something more than a pious declaration of good intentions.

 

Furthermore, the Western democracies found the UDHR a useful propaganda instrument in their ideological rivalry with the Soviet bloc countries. This gave human rights a prominent role in the foreign policy of the Western democracies. At the same time it weakened the authority of human rights to the extent that it became an attack weapon rather than a source of self-criticism and self-correction.

 

The UDHR is partly notable for its inclusion of economic, social, and cultural rights alongside civil and political rights. Article 25 contains a revolutionary norm to the effect that everyone is entitled to a standard of living that meets basic material needs. Article 28 even promisesas a human right, an international order capable of providing satisfaction of the various distinct human rights as coherently set forth in the UDHR.

 

It is important to appreciate that governments did set about the task of translating the UDHR into a treaty form through negotiations that lasted almost two decades, and featured the split between the capitalist countries of the West and the socialist countries of the East. The resulting compromise was a rather awkward split of the unity of rights as set forth in the UDHR into two treaty instrument reflecting this Cold War ideological division: Covenant of Civil and Political Rights reflective of the values of liberal individualist societies and the Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressive of the collective identities fostered by socialism.

 

It is notable that in the UN Conference on Human Rights and Development held in Vienna in 1975 the indivisibilityof human rights was reaffirmed, reflecting a revival of the unified approach of the UDHR and a rejection of the fracturing of the two categories of human rights into parallel covenants. In this respect, although the UNDH was only a declaration it may be more expressive of the true nature of human rights than are the 1966 treaty instrument, the Covenants being a product of the temporary Cold War atmosphere, but also, of the incompatibility of the protection of economic and social rights with the logic and operation of the neoliberal economic order that emerged on a global scale after the Cold War.

 

2– Do you believe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is being fully accomplished by all nations which signed it? Is it actually a very important guideline for all nations?

 

I think it is helpful here to distinguish between governments and societies. Social forces in society found the UDHR incredibly helpful in assessing whether their own government was living up to proper standards in state/society relations as measured by law and morality. It has also proved to be a useful yardstick within the UN System to determine whether states are in compliance with fundamental human rights.

 

In the present period when many important countries are governed by elected autocrats, there has been a notable decline in the observance of the standards embodied in the UDHR. There is no doubt that the status of human rights of a political character is dependent upon the quality of democratic governance. If democracy declines, so does the observance of human rights, and vice versa. We are presently living through a period of decline, especially with respect to civil and political rights, less so in relation to economic and social rights, but not much less so as capitalism is in a predatory stage due to the absence of normative and ideological challenges since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the adoption of a market approach to political economy by China.

 

3– What are the main violations of Universal Declaration of Human Rights you could point as most serious ones? Why?

 

It is not possible to give a complete answer as different countries and civilizations are inclined to violate different categories of human rights. It is possible to offer some generalizations, but these need to be adjusted to various national conditions.

 

Countries committed to market driven forms of economic practice tend to be weak when it comes to the observance of economic and social rights. For instance, some of the richest countries in the global North have huge pockets of extreme poverty. Neoliberal globalization has accentuated various forms of inequality that have led to widespread violations of economic and social rights.

 

Islamic countries do not adhere to those aspects of human rights that mandate equal treatment of women in all sphere of public and family life. Such discrimination may be also present in the treatment of sexual identities that deviate from the mainstream dualist norm such as are associated with the identities of persons of gay, lesbian, and trans persuasion.

 

Countries governed in an autocratic manner tend to encroach upon freedom of expression and suppress journalistic and media dissent, as well as interfere with dissenting views in universities, labor unions, political parties. There are currently campaigns in various Western countries to treat criticism of Israel as a form of hate speech that has been labeled as ‘the New Anti-Semitism’ causing punitive reactions to opinions that should be protected by canons of freedom of expression in a manner consistent with the guidelines of the UDHR, as well as the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

 

4– Do you think the Declaration is quite obsolete due to the fact it didn´t predict digital privacy challenges, artificial intelligence and climate changing? In spite of that, is the text still a very important tool?

 

I do not think the Declaration is obsolete or even anachronistic, although it needs to be updated in various ways to take account of the distinct human rights challenges posed by the realities of the digital age. My responses to earlier questions suggest the important relevance of the UDHR to contemporary non-digital conditions of life throughout the world.

 

I would suggest the preparation of a new consensus international legal instrument with the title Declaration of Human Rights Pertaining to the Challenges of the Digital Age. This Declaration could address issues of privacy, surveillance, robotics, artificial intelligence, and genetic engineering. It might prove difficult, if not impossible, to find sufficient common ground among leading governments and other stakeholders to reach a consensus. Even so, the fact that a negotiating process leads to a declaration rather than an enforceable treaty might facilitate reaching a framework agreement on fundamental principles, which later could be formalized in an obligatory form and given greater specificity.

 

 

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Sputnik News Agency Interview on G20 Meeting and U.S./Russia Relations

2 Dec

 

Sputnik News Agency Interview on G20 Meeting and U.S./Russia Relations

 

(Prefatory Note:What follows are my responses to questions addressed to me by Sputnik News Agency in Moscow. These responses were submitted on December 1, 2018. Although the focus was on the ongoing G20 meeting in Buenos Aires, the real concern was the future of U.S./Russia relations and how these relations should be managed to avoid arms races, geopolitical rivalry, and ideological tensions. Ironically, of all the weaknesses in the Trump approach to the world, his apparent wish for a normalized relationship with Russia was what most antagonized the American political class, whether Democrat or Republican. Indeed, it so antagonized the established order in this country to such a degree as to undermine Trump’s apparent intention to downgrade NATO and Atlanticism while normalizing and improving relations with Russia. It is always uncertain to assess the real motivations of Trump, which here may involve some kind of vulnerability on his part for undisclosed and awkward economic entanglements or embarrassing personal behavior, but whatever the explanation, the world would be better off with a positive geopolitical atmosphere, and that means cooperative behavior with Russia and China. In our delegitimizing of Trump it is important not to lose sight of the ingredients of sustainable world peace. The Sputnik text is slightly modified.)   

  1. The talks of G20 leaders led to a possible breakthrough on the global trading system. How likely is any progress to be achieved? Will the US be onboard with this?

 

I would be very surprised if there is any outcome of the G20 meeting that can be properly called a ‘breakthrough.’ The leaders of these governments do not have a shared understanding of what would constitute a mutually beneficial world trade framework. Perhaps, such a consensus never existed, yet in the period after World War II, the United States leadership of the West was able to generate what has alternatively been call ‘the liberal economic order’ or ‘the Washington consensus.’ These arrangements rested on giving the World Bank and IMF a central role in stabilizing global conditions, including currency markets, and rested on a rule-based set of procedures. Its performance was assessed almost solely by the rate of global economic growth, which overlooked both issues of the equitable distribution of the benefits of growth and the regulation of adverse ecological side effects.

 

Since the Trump presidency, there has emerged serious ambiguities as to whether the United States, the leading world economy, was itself willing to participate any longer in the liberal world order. Such doubts arose after Trump rejected the Trans Pacific Partnership, sought the renegotiation of North American arrangements set forth in the NAFTA agreements, and adopted a series of protectionist measures inconsistent with the promotion of the most efficient use of capital, a major guideline of the neoliberal ideology that guided American foreign economic policy ever since 1945.

 

The United States, in particular, during the Trump presidency regards world trade as a s sequence of transactions rather than as systemic aggregate of institutions, rules, and procedures by which to regulate and facilitate transnational capital flows and trade relations. By this I mean, that the U.S. wants now to proceed on the basis of economic advantage for itself in each economic policy context rather than promote an overall framework that benefits all participants in the world economy. Under Trump the United States no longer perceives the more structural advantages of having a global trading system that provides a framework that binds together all countries that adhere to principle of market economics on the assumption of shared interests. Of course, such a framework is only a practical possibility if there is a strong political will on the part of leading governments to proceed in this manner. It is difficult to be confident about making assessments of government intentions, but I think most governments would still like to retain a systemic framework for the world economy with the exception of the United States, which wants to leverage its strength in a more flexible and muscular diplomatic atmosphere. We should await the final declaration from Buenos Aires before reaching firm conclusions as to whether this cleavage will be exposed or hidden from public view.

 

This is a different cleavage than existed during the Cold War when fundamental ideological differences led to dual structures for international and transnational economic relations. During the Cold War the market economies organized their trade and fiscal relations within the liberal framework established under American leadership. The Soviet bloc of countries was neither invited to join this liberal world order nor did it seek entry, but rather maintained its economic relations based on the orientation of state socialism as tempered by Soviet hegemonic leadership and the pursuit of national and regional interests.

 

  1. Meanwhile, Trump is reportedly ready to hold talks with Putin after Russia releases Ukrainian sailors. How high are hopes that the two leaders will sit down for talks in the future given the development?

 

It is important for Russian society to understand that Trump seems to be handling diplomacy particularly with Russia, but also with other countries, mainly on the basis of his calculations of domestic politics in the United States as connected with his ‘America First’ mantra. Anti-Trump forces in the U.S. have, wrongfully in my view, concentrated their criticism of Trump, including the apparent focus of the investigations of wrongdoing by the Special Counsel, on the supposedly improper relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 presidential elections. In doing this, it overlooks the importance of establishing peaceful and constructive relations between Russia and the United States, keeping in mind that these two dominant states are the world’s leading nuclear weapons states. World peace depends on avoiding a second Cold War in any form, and this reality is obscured by the focus on alleged Russian interference in the American elections and Trump’s supposed collusion in this process.

 

Some degree of interference no doubt occurred, but it should have raised few eyebrows in Washington, have been a staple instrument of American soft power intervention in many countries over the course of several decades. Furthermore, the belligerent tone of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, as well as the outlook of her closest advisors, gave good reason for Moscow to fear a Clinton victory in 2016, and do their best to avoid such an outcome. This is not intended to reject efforts to insulate American elections from manipulation from without or within. When thinking of the wrongfulness of Russian tactics we as a country tend to overlook the wrongfulness of gerrymandering, racial bias, special interests and money being used to manipulate election results in the United States. Both types of interference are incompatible with a legitimate democratic political process.

 

On the immediate prospects for productive relations with Russia following the Ukrainian incidents, I think it is likely that bilateral talks can be held in coming months, maybe even in coming weeks. It should be realized, however, that the main American focus now is in resetting the economic relationship between the United States in China in ways that avoid a trade war and do not make either side appear to be the loser in this important confrontation. In actuality, most attention at the G20 meeting in the West was given over to the question as to whether the U.S. and China could use the occasion to agree on a political compromise, which would undoubtedly benefit the world as a whole. The failure to reach such a compromise could produce detrimental effects for the world economy, as well as raise political tensions and risks of regional, and even global warfare. Therefore, the so-called ‘truce’ reportedly agreed upon by Trump and Xi Jinping were viewed positively at the G20 as constituting an informal agreement to defer American tariffs on Chinese metal exports in exchange for a Chinese commitment to purchase more exports from the United States. It is notable that this stepping back from an economic confrontation required China to make a gesture of acceptance of the American complaints as well as deferring indefinitely American efforts to gain short-term advantages by raising tariffs on goods imported from China. The central drama on the global stage is now how the United States and China will handle their conflicts in the South Asia islands and with regard to trade. The relationship of the West with Russia is of secondary importance. The status of Russia as a major political actor has been significantly restored in the era of Putin’s leadership, but it remains secondary except in certain limited spheres, such as Syria or along its own borders.

 

Unfortunately, the relationship between Trump and Putin is seen by a broad spectrum of political opinion in the West as one where the challenge being posed is how to stand up to perceptions of renewed threats of Russian expansionism. This is why the Ukrainian incident is viewed as something more serious that the event itself. There is a fear, whether justifies or not, of Russian territorial ambitions that is being relied upon by militarist forces in the West to generate anti-Russian sentiments and expanded defense spending.

 

Unfortunately, President Putin did not help those seeking more benevolent relations with Russia by his unseemly show of friendship when greeting Mohammed bin Salmon (MBS) at the G20 meetings. These images were caught on camera by journalists, and widely shown here in the United States evoking commentary that interpreted this greeting as a cynical indirect endorsement by Putin of the gruesome murder of the Saudi journalist, Kamal Khashoggi. Trump has been under pressure to react to this murder, and widely criticized for reaffirming close alliance ties between Washington and Riyadh in the aftermath of the murder, but at least in the G20 context he displayed the good sense to keep his distance from MBS at least when cameras were around, and avoided any public or personal display of friendship for this discredited foreign leader.

 

At this point, the relationship between Putin and Trump are on the American side primarily reflections of political calculations about the effects on the upcoming 2020 presidential elections. Although still two years away, these forthcoming American elections are already shaping the behavior of Trump on such delicate matters as relations with Russia, and the American mood seems now to favor the adoption of a more confrontational approach toward both Russia and China.

 

  1. What is Trump’s earlier move to cancel the meeting indicative of?

 

As I have indicated, Trump’s recent behavior is responsive to growing pressures on his leadership from within the American political system, especially due to his low popularity with the public, the prospect of a damaging report by the Special Counsel investigating Trump’s alleged improper behavior, and the loss of control of Congress due to the outcome of the recent midterm election. He no longer acts as if free to pursue a policy of accommodation with Russia even if this is what he would wish. It is true that when he ran for president in 2016 Trump’s outlook dramatically contrasted with that of Hillary Clinton on the question of relations with Russia. Many Americans then worried about a new Cold War, voted for Trump solely to avoid a rise in tensions with Russia that seems certain to have followed had Clinton been elected. At the same time there remains a strong consensus that is bipartisan in character, and included the Pentagon and CIA, that leans toward a more aggressive approach toward Russia, even more so than toward China. It is in this general atmosphere that it is best to comprehend and interpret Trump’s behavior with regard to Putin and Russia generally. The revelations of Russian interference in American elections further hardens public attitudes in an antagonist direction.

 

On the other side, it is not clear what Russia seeks to achieve during G20 meetings and in its relationship with the United States at this point, although Moscow clearly seemed earlier to be receptive to the Trump approach, and gave many indications of wanting to restore normal peaceful relations. It also seemed that Putin would have welcomed a positive political atmosphere and encouraged robust economic and cultural interactions between the two countries.

 

The fault associated with these deteriorating prospects is not only with America. Russia could achieve a more favorable image in the world if it made some constructive initiatives such as the renewal of nuclear disarmament negotiations or the establishment of a nuclear free zone in the Middle East or the establishment of a global migration compact. Perhaps, we in the West are not aware of Russian attempts to contribute to a more peaceful and just world order, in which case a greater effort needs to be made to set forth the positive content of Russian foreign policy. As matters now stand, the Russian role is viewed through the prism of bullying the Ukraine and propping up the criminal Assad regime in Syria.

 

The New New Anti-Semitism

18 Nov

The New New Anti-Semitism

 

 

Hiding Israel’s Crimes of State Behind False Claims of Victimization

 

I along with many others am being victimized these days. They are being labeled anti-Semites, and in some instances, self-hating Jews as well. This is a Zionist and Israeli effort to shut down our voices and punish our non-violent activism, with special venom directed at the BDS Campaign because it has become so effective in recent years. This negative branding of the opposition is being called ‘the new anti-Semitism.’ The old anti-Semitism was simply hatred of Jews as expressed through negative images and attitudes, as well as discriminatory practices, persecution, and vigilante violence. The new anti-Semitism is criticism of Israel and Zionism, and it has been endorsed by governments friendly to Israel and pushed by a variety of prominent Jewish organizations, including some associated with Holocaust survivors and memories. Emmanuel Macron, President of France, put this pushback by apologists for Israel rather clearly, if in a rather malicious form: “We will never surrender to the expressions of hatred. We will not surrender to anti-Zionism because it is the reinvention of anti-Semitism.” The false premise is equating Zionism with Jews, automatically making criticism and opposition to the Zionist state of Israel as anti-Semitism.

 

Already in 2008 the U.S. State Department moved more subtly in a direction similar to that of Macron with this formal statement: “Motives for criticizing Israel in the UN may stem from legitimate concerns over policy or from illegitimate prejudices. […] However, regardless of the intent, disproportionate criticism of Israel as barbaric and unprincipled, and corresponding discriminatory measures adopted in the UN against Israel, have the effect of causing audiences to associate negative attributes with Jews in general, thus fueling anti-Semitism.” The fallacy here is to view criticism as ‘disproportionate’ without ever considering the realities of Israel’s long record of unlawfulness with regard to the Palestinian people. To those of us who view the reality of Israeli policies and practices have little doubt that the criticisms being advanced, and the pressures being exerted, are in every sense proportionate.

 

A related argument often made is that Israel is being held to higher standards than other states, and this discloses an anti-Semitic sub-text. Such an argument is disingenuous. It is not a defense to suggest that the criminality of others is more severe. Besides, the U.S. subsidizes Israel to the extent of at least $3.8 billion a year, besides its unconditional backing of its behavior, creating some responsibility to impose limits according with international humanitarian law. As well, the UN contributed to the Palestinian ordeal by failing to implement the partition solution, and allowing for 70 years for millions of Palestinians to be subject to apartheid structures of domination. No other people can so justifiably blame external forces for its own sustained tragedy.

 

 

In 2014 Noam Chomsky explained the false logic of such an allegation with typical moral and intellectual clarity: “Actually, the locus classicus, the best formulation of this, was by an ambassador to the United Nations, Abba Eban, […] He advised the American Jewish community that they had two tasks to perform. One task was to show that criticism of the policy, what he called anti-Zionism — that means actually criticisms of the policy of the state of Israel — were anti-Semitism. That’s the first task. Second task, if the criticism was made by Jews, their task was to show that it’s neurotic self-hatred, needs psychiatric treatment. Then he gave two examples of the latter category. One was I.F. Stone. The other was me. So, we have to be treated for our psychiatric disorders, and non-Jews have to be condemned for anti-Semitism, if they’re critical of the state of Israel. That’s understandable why Israeli propaganda would take this position. I don’t particularly blame Abba Eban for doing what ambassadors are sometimes supposed to do. But we ought to understand that there is no sensible charge. No sensible charge. There’s nothing to respond to. It’s not a form of anti-Semitism. It’s simply criticism of the criminal actions of a state, period.

 

 

One feature of this new anti-Semitism is its non-response to the well-evidenced allegations of crimes against humanity made by those being labeled as anti-Semites. Do these ardent supporters of Israel really carry their sense of impunity to such an extent that silence is allowed to stand as an adequate defense? Underlying such a denial of the very idea of legal accountability and moral responsibility is this sense of Israeli exceptionalism, an outlook toward international criminal law that it shares with American exceptionalism. Those who adhere to such exceptionalism purport to be outraged even by the implication that such a government might be subject to the norms embedded in the statute of the International Criminal Court or the UN Charter. Israeli exceptionalism does have its own roots in biblical tradition, especially a secular reading of Jews as ‘the chosen people,’ but really rests on a comfort zone created by the geopolitical umbrella shielding its most law-defying moves from global scrutiny. Illustrative of many such protective actions was the recent UN General Assembly Resolution declaring Israeli steps toward the annexation of the Golan Heights to be null and void, with only Israel and the United States voting ‘no’ as against 151 UN members voting ‘yes.’

 

If we take just a minute to consult international law we find the issue so obvious as to be unworthy of serious discussion. A cardinal principle of contemporary international law, often affirmed by the UN in other contexts, is the impermissibility of the acquisition of territory by force of arms. There is no dispute that Golan Heights were part of Syrian sovereign territory until the 1967 War, and that Israel acquired control that it has exercised ever since as a result of forcible occupation.

 

 

 

 

 

The Ironies of the New New Anti-Semitism

 

There is an opportunistic irony present. The new anti-Semitism seems to have no trouble embracing Christian Zionist despite their hostility to Jews that is coupled with their fanatical devotion to Israel as a Jewish state. Anyone who has watched a Christian Zionist briefing knows that their reading of the Book of Revelations involves an interpretation that Jesus will return once all Jews return to Israel and the most holy temple in Jerusalem is restored. Such a process does not end there. Jews then face an ultimatum to convert to Christianity or face eternal damnation. And so there is present among these fanatical friends of Israel a genuine hostility to Jews, both by trying to insist that ending the Jewish diaspora as a matter of religious imperative for Christians, and in the dismal fate that awaits Jews who refuse to convert after The Second Coming.

 

An illuminating perversity is present. Unlike the new anti-Semites that have no hostility to Jews as people, the Christian Zionists give priority to their enthusiasm for the state of Israel, while being ready to disrupt the lives of diaspora Jews and eventually even Israeli and Zionist Jews. Maybe it is less perversity than opportunism. Israel has never had any reluctance to support the most oppressive and dictatorial leaders of foreign countries provided they buy arms and do not adopt an anti-Israeli diplomacy. Netanyahu’s congratulatory message to Jair Bolsonaro the newly elected leader of Brazil is but the most recent instance, and Israel received a quick reward by an announcement of a decision to join  the United States in moving its embassy to Jerusalem. In effect, the new anti-Semitism is comfortable with both Christian Zionism and with foreign political leaders that exhibit fascist inclinations. In effect, a blind eye toward the core reality of true anti-Semitism is a characteristic of the new anti-Semitism so favored by militant Zionists. For abundant documentation see the important book by Jeff Halper,War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification (2015).

 

Against such a background, we need a descriptive term that identifies this phenomenon and rejects its insidious claims. I am here proposing the inelegant label ‘the new new anti-Semitism.’ The idea of such a label is to suggest that it is the new anti-Semites not the critics and activists critical of Israel that are the real bearers of hatred toward Jews as Jews. Two kinds of arguments are contained in this pushback against the campaign seeking to discredit or even criminalize the ‘new anti-Semites.’ First, it deflects criticism from the persistence of an alarming reality, the continuing ordeal of apartheid imposed on all the Palestinian people as a whole, which should become the salient concern for all who wish the best for humanity. Secondly, it deliberately or unwittingly diverts attention from, and confuses, objections to real anti-Semitism by accepting on behalf of the state of Israel the embrace of Christian Zionists (and evangelicals) along with that of fascist leaders who preach messages of ethnic hatred.

 

To conclude, we who are attacked as new anti-Semites are really trying to honor our humanidentity, and to reject tribalist loyalties or geopolitical alignments, in our commitment to the realization of Palestinian rights, above all their right of self-determination. As Jews to hold Israel accountable under standards that were used to condemn Nazi surviving political and military leaders is to honor the legacy of the Holocaust, not to defile it. In contrast, when Israel sells weapons and offers counterinsurgency training to fascist led governments around the world or remains ready to accept post-Khashoggi Saudi Arabia as a valued ally, it obscures the evil nature of the Holocaust in ways that could haunt Israel and even diaspora Jews in the future.

 

 

On My 88thBirthday: A Reflection

13 Nov
  • [Prefatory Note: I took part in a stirring program here in Berlin earlier this evening in support of three activists from Palestine and Israel
  • who face criminal charges for disrupting a meeting featuring Zionist denials of Israeli crimes against humanity. Two of the three who face these charged are Jews born in Israel, and one a Palestinian born in Gaza, whose family was in audience, including his father who was in an Israeli
  • prison for 18 years. It was an inspirational event that discussed with depth and insight the obstacles to support for Palestinian rights encountered in Germany because of the persistence of German guilt about the Nazi past. In my remarks I tried to convey the understanding that the only true way to erase that sense of the past is to oppose the ongoing Israeli crimes of states rather than be complicit by choosing to be silent in the face of evil. I post a poem that I wrote earlier today, and read at the end of my talk, perhaps a self-indulgent conceit on my part, but I share it here as a way of thanking so many friends near and far who sent me the most moving birthday greetings throughout the day, which made me feel that we who are supporting the Palestinian struggle are part of a growing community that will prevail at some point, and the two peoples now inhabiting Palestine can finally live in peace, and with dignity and equality. All of us agreed that peace can only happen once the apartheid structure of the present Israeli state is fully dismantled and a spirit of true equality for Palestinians and Jews is affirmed and implemented, not only for those living under occupation, but for Palestinians confined to more than 60 refugee camps, to those millions long victimized by involuntary exile, and by the Palestinian minority in Israel.]
  • On My 88thBirthday: A Reflection 

    To be almost 90

    And happy

    With good health

     

    Feels criminal

    Amid Satanic happenings

    Raising Images too dark

    To be real

     

    Children in Gaza

    Are shot to death

    Friday after Friday

    By official assassins

     

    Khashoggi’s murder

    An unspeakable crime

    Yet no more than a problem

    For hard men of power

     

    Events so dark

    And so numerous

    Casting shadows

     

    Will despair be our fate?

    Is this truly our world?

    Are we even meant to survive?

     

    My hope– to live

    Long enough to shout

    An everlasting ‘No’

     

    And may so affirming

    Become my last word

    Become my testament

    Of hope for all beings

     

     

     

    Richard Falk

    Berlin

    November 13, 2018

     

    ]

 

 

Why Vote on Tuesday: The Menacing Challenges of Trump and Trumpism

4 Nov

World Order in the Age of Trump and Trumpism 

[Prefatory Note: This piece has been published in two online publications in recent days, Rozenberg Quarterly and Z-Net, in slightly modified form. It is based on a lecture given at West Chester University in Pennsylvania on October 24, 2018 at the invitation of C.J. Polychroniou. Although I have no great expectations about improvements in American foreign policy of Congress if it is fully or partially controlled by Democratic majorities after the November 6thmidterm elections. Nevertheless, I share the widely held anti-fascist view that any show of opposition to Trump and Trumpism at this time deserves priority on an urgent basis.]

 

On Trumpism

 

This title requires a few words of explanation. By the ‘Age of Trump,’ I mean not only the current American president. The phrase is meant to encompass elected leaders like him around the world. I have a friend in India who refers to Narendra Modi as ‘our Trump’ and the newspapers have been full of commentary to the effect that the new leader of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, amounts to ‘a Brazilian Donald Trump,’ although some familiar with Bolsonaro’s worldview insist that ‘a Brazilian Joseph Goebbels’ is more accurate. This extension of Trump to Trumpism is meant to make us aware that Trump is not just an American abnormality. He reflects a structural conditions that seem global in character, although with significant variations from nation to nation, and makes reference to Trump’s proto-fascist ‘base’ in the U.S..

 

By referring to ‘Trumpism’ my intention to highlight several issues other than decrying Trump as a particular instance of this new autocratic brand of a supposedly ‘democratic’ leader: (1) To associate ‘Trumpism’ with a deliberate U.S. withdrawal from political and neoliberal globalization, without significantly challenging, perhaps even augmenting military globalism, enhancing capabilities to project destructive power anywhere on the planet, while weakening alliance commitments and multilateral trade frameworks; (2) Trumpism also refers to the populist base of support for a global array of strong leaders, and their accompanying right-wing social, economic, and cultural policies, with the threat of ‘fascism’ and fascist tendencies being increasingly feared and perceived, even in centrist discourse; (3) Trumpism also involves a shift of preferred worldview from globalist to nationalist centers of political gravity, with a loss of normative support for human rights, democracy, and multilateral diplomacy and cooperative forms of multilateral problem-solving and treaty making; and (4) in the American setting, this phenomenon of Trumpism is not tied solely to the person of Trump; it could survive Trump if one or more of several scenarios unfold—for instance, in the 2018 and 2020 national elections the Republican Congress is reelected, even if Trump should be defeated or compelled to resign—in effect, the Republican Party has been effectively taken over by the ideas, values, and approach of Trump, and vice versa; it is difficult to disentangle ideological cause and effect as between party and leader.

 

The Kavanagh confirmation hearings were one kind of straw in the wind, considering the iron party discipline manifested. With this appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court it is likely that the American judiciary will be Trumpist for many years even if Trump is soundly defeated in 2020. Trump’s judicial appointments are setting the judicial tone for years, if not decades, were the Democratic Party to take control of the Senate as early as November.

 

 

On Trump: Personality and Policy

 

There is one important confusion surround the global approach of Trump, which arises from the perception of Trump as incoherent, impulsive, and dishonest, and nothing more than an opportunistic narcissist. I think this confusion can be reduced by distinguishing between Trump as tactician and Trump as strategist. It is as if it is necessary to approach the identity of Trump as an either/or question: either Trump is completely ad hoc and opportunistic or he knows what he is doing, and has been effective in carrying out his plan. My view is that Trump is both an erratic personality and a right-wing ideologue.

 

To simply a rather complex set of questions let me suggest that when Trump acts tactically, or in dealing with the media, he is inconsistent, often lies, bobs and weaves like a professional boxer.  He seems capable of being starkly contradictory without blinking, and above all, adopt positions that are both tasteless and detached from reality, as well as being supremely opportunistic, especially if he feels cornered by breaking news or is intent on capturing the news cycle. In such contexts, Trump seems ready to keep changing his story, retract compromises, defame the opposition, inflame his base by uttering deliberate exaggerations, and steer the ship of state with wild abandon without the steadying presence of a rudder. 

 

However, when Trump acts strategically he seems quite a different person, above all, rather coherent, and methodical, almost pragmatic, in advancing an ideological agenda. His grand strategy is consistently reactionary in the sense of being ultra-nationalist, anti-immigrant, anti-globalist, militarist, business friendly, and contemptuous of international law, the UN, human rights, constitutionalism, the rule of law, climate change, and environmental protection. Trump continues to be an avowed climate changer denier in the face of massive scientific evidence to the contrary and despite a series of daunting extreme weather events here in the United States. ‘America, First’ is Trump’s signature slogan. For once, it is not ‘fake news,’ although it strikes many of us as imprudent and unacceptable in shaping American public policy. This kind of egocentric nationalism and unfettered capitalism is dangerously ill-adapted to serve as a geopolitical and economic compass for successfully navigating the 21stcentury.

 

To obtain a more complete picture of Trump’s political style, it seems illuminating to make an assessment by combining perceptions from three different angles: as a trickster and con man when tweeting or dealing with the media; as a demagoguewhen he performs at his political rallies; and as an ideologuewhen it comes to policy decisions and influence peddling. It is this composite that makes Trump such a confounding and dangerous political figure. It also makes the past political experience of American presidents irrelevant. It is not an overstatement to observe that there has never before been an American president who handles the office in such a maverick fashion.

 

 

Normative  Decline

 

As someone who has long associated his work with the critical tradition of International Relations (IR) theorizing, I am particularly sensitive to an observable normative decline in  international behavior that can be partially attributed to Trump and Trumpism. For one thing, the US has acted as global leader, including as advocate of public goods, ever since 1945. Admittedly its recordand practicehas been mixed when it comes to international law and respect for the UN and its Charter. Nevertheless, the pre-Trump leadership role was vital in several key sectors of global policy, including climate change, nuclear arms control, development assistance, world poverty, and global migration. The United States Government was also a vital promoter of several less visible concerns such as negotiating a modern  public order of the oceans, an international regime for Antarctica, and an international framework of rules, procedures, and institutions for trade and investment. There is no doubt that the U.S. carried out its leadership role so as to gain advantages for itself, but this was generally accepted by most other states because the U.S. contributed to policy results that were widely believed to be upholding the common interests of humanity. Without this American role, there has emerged a leadership vacuum at the very time that the world order challenges can be met only with a strong and constructive exertion of leadership on global issues. The UN is incapable of providing such leadership. World order remains state-centric and is as dependent as ever on global leadership by dominant sovereign states. It is quite possible that some post-American form of collective leadership will emerge, and provide the world with an inter-governmental alternative to global governance under the watchful eye of Washington.

 

What Trump has done, and Trumpism endorsed, is to repudiate these normative horizons in global settings in a variety of contexts in which their relevance should be treated as greater than ever. Such behavior increases risks of catastrophic ecological and geopolitical events, ranging from accelerated global warming to a war with Iran. It also exhibits a kind of escapist evasion of the real challenges to national and global wellbeing that will grow more serious and impose ever higher costs on the future to the extent that they are being currently ignored. Furthermore, leaving these issues to simmer, accentuates the existential suffering of persons subject to cruel and oppressive conditions of strife and control, while consigning future generations to a dark destiny and heightened risks of catastrophic events.

 

 

Preparing for Trump: the Failures of Pre-Trump Leadership

           

By indicting the role of Trump and Trumpism I do not want leave the impression of a rosy picture of pre-Trump world order. In actuality, Trump has so far when acting internationally, except for global economic policy, mainly departed from the pre-Trump policy framework discursivelevel. To date the behavioraldiscontinuities are not clearly evident.  Trump has definitely made moves to dismantle the international political economy, or what is referred to as ‘the liberal world order’ shaped after 1945, with its deference to the approaches taken by the Bretton Woods Institutions of the World Bank and IMF. Yet the Trump approach does not want to regulate capital flows beyond protecting the domestic American market. It has no trouble with an outlook that favors returns on capital over effects on people.

 

On other issues, as well, it is well to look back so as to gain insight into what has changed, and what has remained essentially the same. Pre-Trump foreign policy was steadfastly pro-Israeli all along, its idea of national security all along aspired to achieve global military and economic dominance, and Washington’s approach to the UN, international law, and human rights was always highly selective, and often subordinated to the pursuit of strategic goals. This was especially true after the end of the Cold War. During this period of 25 years pre-Trump leaders completely missed golden opportunities to improve the quality of world order by strengthening the UN, by seeking nuclear disarmament, by pursuing ecological stability, and by promoting global economic reforms that would ensure a more equitable societal sharing of the benefits of economic growth. It did none of these things, thus paving the way for the rise of Trump and Trumpism, which has to be sure intensified these regressive tendencies that preceded its occupancy of the White House. In this sense, it is a mistake of mainstream critics not to place significant levels of blame for Trump and Trumpism on the myopic priorities of pre-Trump global leadership. [See Stephen Gill, ed.,Global Crises and the Crisis of Global Leadership(2012)] It is a reasonable conjecture that had the pre-Trump leaders taken advantage of the situation after the end of the Cold War to promote an ambitious program of global reform, there might never have been an ‘Age of Trump,’ but of course we will never know.

 

The claimed reality of normative decline can be better understood by looking at three illustrative instances both to understand and appraise the claim.

 

  • Ignoring Palestinian Rights. One of the clearest instances of Trump’s approach in action concerns the approach to the Palestinian struggle for national rights. Trump’s one-sided moves over the past two years are indicative: appointing extreme Zionists to shape his policies toward Israel and Palestine, and even the region; Trump’s break with the international consensus by moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem; a blind eye toward unlawful Israel settlement expansion and its repeated use of excessive force and collective punishment; the defunding of UNRWA assistance to administer occupied Palestinian territories accentuating the ordeal endured by the civilian populations, especially in Gaza; and the attempts to deny refugee status to several million Palestinian refugees born in refugee camps.

 

These provocative policy initiatives appear to be part of a coherent endorsement of a ‘one-state Israeli solution,’ a feature of which is to deny completely Palestinian fundamental rights, including above all the right of self-determination. Along the way Trump and his minions bashes the UN for its supposedly anti-Israel bias and go so far as to threaten UN member states and the Organization with funding consequences if American policy demands are being ignored. It should be understood that Israel and the United States are complaining about UN criticisms of Israeli policies that are flagrant violations of international humanitarian law and international criminal law.[†]

 

Such geopolitical bullying at the UN is a total repudiation of the potential for creating a cooperative international order, which would alone be capable of serving the shared interests of the entire world. These interests include those challenges of global scope that no sovereign state, no matter how rich and powerful can hope to solve on its own. These bullying moves by the U.S. are also a shocking response to efforts at the UN to hold Israel accountable for flagrant violations of international law.

 

This in turn has enabled Israel to proceed ruthlessly with the last phases of the Zionist Project in its maximal form, which is to establish an exclusive Jewish state on the entirety of what had long been an essentially non-Jewish society. It is helpful to recall that at the time in 1917 when this Zionist Project received its first major international blessing in the form of the Balfour Declaration the Jewish population of Palestine was less than 6%. The repression and dispossession of non-Jewish residents that has followed for more than a century rips away the veil of deception surrounding the claim that Israel was the only democratic state in the Middle East. It gave a measure of plausibility to allegations of the apartheid nature of Israeli domination of the Palestinian people.  This allegation has now been made less controversial due to the recent adoption in Israel of a new Basic Law known as “The Nation Staten Law of the Jewish people.” Despite the realities of the subjugation of Palestinians, prior to the Basic Law, the United States had joined Israel in insisting at the UN that an academic report concluding that the patterns and practices relied upon by Israel qualified as  apartheid was nothing other than a crude attempt to slander Israel via an anti-Semitic trope.[‡]

 

My point here is to take account of a clear and prominent international situation in which American political partisanship is allowed to push aside normative considerations. To do this in such a high-profile setting, further diminishes respect for the rights of a dispossessed and oppressed people and for international law and the UN generally.

 

 

  • The Qatar Crisis. The Qatar Crisis, which began in 2017, illustrates the tactical side of Trump as ill-informed and mercurial when it comes to American foreign policy and is again confirmatory of the irrelevance of international law if its application is inconvenient in geopolitical crisis situations. In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s 2017 May visit to Saudi Arabia, with its purpose of strengthening of the Saudi/Israel/US resolve to confront Iran, the Mohammed ben Salmon leadership in Riyadh chose the moment to confront the tiny state of Qatar with 13 Demands, coupled with a variety of threats as a prelude to coercive diplomacy in the form of a blockade, an embargo, and expulsion of Qatari nationals from residence and employment throughout the Gulf region.

 

The central charge against Qatar was its alleged support for terrorists and terrorism in the region. This was a perverse charge because the Gulf Coalition making the allegations was far more indictable for supporting international terrorism and promoting jihadism than was Qatar. The real motivation of the anti-Qatar coalition was to shut down Al Jazeera and the policies of asylum that Qatar extended to political figures seeking refuge, initiatives well within Qatar’s sovereign rights, and steps that were actually supportive of internationally protected human rights and political pluralism.

 

In actuality, these countries seeking to overwhelm Qatar were more worried about democratictendencies than they were about terrorism. Their Sunni governments are extremely hostile to all Muslim oriented political tendencies  in the region in ways that are regarded as more threatening to their stability than is the Shi’ia sectarian rivalry. This form of threat perception was made clear by the counterrevolutionary support given by the Gulf monarchies to the military coup against the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt back in 2013. The hostility toward Shi’ism is less theological than geopolitical, a cover for its competition with Iran for regional hegemony.

 

At first, Trump conveyed unreserved U.S. support for these moves against Qater designed to intimate this tiny country. However it became soon clear that Trump had no idea about what he was doing.  Upon returning to the U.S. Trump quickly discovered that the largest American air base in the region was located inside Qatar housing as many as 10,000 American troops. In an unexplained turnaround Trump dropped support for confronting Qatar and urged the parties to resolve the Gulf Crisis as soon as possible by negotiations, a position supported strongly by the Secretaries of State and Defense. After some months, when this shift of Washington tactics didn’t succeed, Trump shifted again this time asserting that the U.S. does not interfere in such crises, and left it up to the parties to find their own solution. I suspect that this second shift occurred because the Trump presidency didn’t want to be associated with a position that appeared to exert no influence on the parties to the conflict.

 

My central point is that what didn’t matter at all in such a tactical situation was the striking fact that Qatar, as with Palestine, had international law totally on its side with respect to all of the issues in contention. Even the international community and the UN failed to lend symbolic support to Qatar in reaction to the unlawful bullying tactics pursued by Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners. Qatar has seemed reluctant to insist on its rights under international law as its pragmatic response to the crisis was to seek a mediated compromise rather than an acknowledgement of wrongdoing  by the Gulf Coalition. Perhaps such a posture was, and remains, a reflection of the power disparities, which meant that Qatar’s only hope to end the crisis peacefully. Expecting the Gulf Coalition to admit its wrongdoing was evidently assumed to be unrealistic given its hard power dominance of the Gulf.

 

  • The Khashoggi Murder. As has been widely suggested, the grotesque murder of the leading Saudi journalist, Kamal Khashoggi, shocked humanity in ways that tens of thousand of dead civilians in Yemen and Syria have not. There are various interpretations and piously phrased prescriptions about what must be done. Should the Saudi perpetrators be held responsible? And if so how? Should lucrative arms deals benefitting the American arms industry be cancelled costing American jobs and profits? Should the alliance with Saudi Arabia by the US and Israel go forward with its central plan of confronting Iran, while abandoning the Palestinians? What such a litany of questions ignores is the total neglect of the relevance of the most fundamental of human rights, the right to life, as well as the abuse of diplomatic immunity of consulates located in a foreign territory.

 

When contemplating the proper course of action the main consideration seems to be ‘how to preserve national interests in light of such a grisley murder?’ As long as possible, Trump and the Israeli leadership sought to explain away the Khashoggi murder by shamelessly advancing a series of scenarios that invoked ‘alternative facts’ to avoid pointing a finger of accusation in the direction of Riyadh—first, it didn’t happen, and if it happened it was an accident, and then finally, if it wasn’t accident it  was not premeditated, and should be treated as a rogue operation of Saudi security people going beyond their orders. If some Saudi official are punished this is enough to absolve Mohamed ben Salmon from guilt, regional geopolitics after a pause can be resumed as if the murder didn’t happen, and the United States can deliver the arms sold with a clear conscience as if nothing happened that should raise questions about continuing to treat Saudi Arabia as a valued ally. Not just the Khashoggi murder, but the broader record of human rights abuse, the malicious and inhumane Yemen War,  and the major funding of Islamic militancy around the world should have caused severe doubt. Does not political realism have any outer moral limits? The alliance with Saudi Arabia carries cynicism about ethical decency to an extreme.

 

 

Taking World Order Seriously

 

Leaders like Trump or Netanyahu whose global outlook are antagonistic to the values of the UN Charter and some form of humane global governance. Yet even they appear to value the UN as a prime time arena within which to articulate their preferred futures and aspirations, ironically including attacking the UN because it does behave as they would wish. In this sense, the priorities and values of leaders, especially those of authoritarian disposition, are often displayed in the annual series of speeches given at the UN. The media pays little attention to such presentations except to gain clues about immediate policy concerns, and this preoccupation with hot button issues overlooks their value as expressive of the worldview professed by current national leaders. This is not to suggest that such UN statements ignore immediate policy choices. The point is rather that it is more valuable to treat these annual statements as meaningful disclosures of underlying ideas about the nature and dynamics of world order.

 

Donald Trump’s second UN speech was somewhat less belligerent than his 2017 speech, except with reference to Iran, which was threatening, misleading, and in violation of spirit and letter of UN Charter. Trump disturbingly conveyed a clear sense that recourse to war, at least for the US was discretionary, and need not necessarily be justified by advancing a credible claim of self-defense or even a reasoned justification. As such, without using negating language toward the relevance of international law, Trump is repudiating in form as well as practice the core undertaking of the UN to prohibit all aggressive threats and uses of force in international relations.

 

In articulating this conception of the world according to Trump a few quotations underscore the tone and substance of his outlook, especially his insistence on subordinating global concerns to national interests narrowly conceived. On all questions, Trump accords priority to sovereign political will, thus repudiating the central efforts after World War II to promote a global rule of law and impose standards of criminal accountability on those who act on behalf of sovereign states. He also rejects the role of the UN Charter and international law as the rightful arbiter of when a state is authorized to use force internationally in situations other than responses to armed attacks.

 

A few representative quotes convey the tone and substance of Trump’s 2018 speech to the General Assembly.

 

On Anti-Globalism:

“America will always choose independence and cooperation over global governance, control and dominance.”

 

On Affirming Capitalism as the only legitimate path:

“America is governed by Americans. We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.”

“All nations around the world should resist socialism and the misery that it brings.”

 

On UN Reform:

Denying the  legitimacy to both HRC and ICC:

“We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to      an unelected, unaccountable global bureaucracy.”

 

 

On a World of Sovereign States:

“Sovereign and independent nations are the only vehicle where freedom has ever survived, democracy, has ever endured or peace has ever prospered. And we must protect our sovereignty and our cherished independence above all,”

“So let us choose a future of patriotism, prosperity, and pride…We have a policy of principled realism rooted in shared goals, interests, and values.”

 

Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, the 93 year old leader of Malaysia gave the UN General Assembly an entirely different view of both the national interests of his country and his view of the global setting. This view reaffirmed the balance struck between the global and the national in the post-1945 initiatives as enacted by establishing the UN and holding the Nuremberg war crimes trials. Mahathir also recognized the gravity of the challenges that are presently confronting humanity. In my view, Mahathir’s responsible statesmanship contrasts with Trump’s anachronistic ideas of international order and American national interests.

 

As with Trump, a few representative quotes from Mahathir’s speech convey his overall approach.

 

On Malaysian national interest and values:

“Malaysians want a new Malaysia that upholds the principles of fairness, good governance, integrity and the rule of law. They want a Malaysia that is a friend to all and enemy of none. A Malaysia that remains neutral and non-aligned. A Malaysia that detests and abhors wars and violence. They also want a Malaysia that will speak its mind on what is right and wrong, without fear or favour. A new Malaysia that believes in co-operation based on mutual respect, for mutual gain. The new Malaysia that offers a partnership based on our philosophy of ‘prosper-thy-neighbour’. We believe in the goodness of cooperation, that a prosperous and stable neighbour would contribute to our own prosperity and stability.”

 

On respect for UN principles:

“These include the principles of truth, human rights, the rule of law, justice, fairness, responsibility and accountability, as well as sustainability.”

 

Toward a nonviolent geopolitics:

“There is something wrong with our way of thinking, with our value system. Kill one man, it is murder, kill a million and you become a hero. And so we still believe that conflict between nations can be resolved with war.”

 

On UN Reform:

“Malaysia lauds the UN in its endeavours to end poverty, protect our planet and try to ensure everyone enjoys peace and prosperity. But I would like to refer to the need for reform in the organisation. Five countries on the basis of their victories 70 over years ago cannot claim to have a right to hold the world to ransom forever. They cannot take the moral high ground, preaching democracy and regime change in the countries of the world when they deny democracy in this organisation.”

 

These two opposing worldviews should not be viewed as symmetrical. Trump adopts an extreme version of state-centric world order that might have been seen as appropriate for a dominant state in the nineteenth century. In contrast, Mahathir has views that take responsible account of twenty-first century realities, and a more globalized cluster of challenges and opportunities. In this regard, it seems appropriate to regard Trump and Trumpism as dangerously anachronistic, while Mahathir providing an illuminating example of what might be described as ‘the new political realism’ sensitive to the urgencies of the present.

 

 

Seven Conclusions

 

  • It is instructive to distinguish Donald Trump the person from Trumpism a global political phenomenon of right-wing populism and a structural reaction to neoliberal globalization;
  • It is also clarifying to distinguish Trump the gifted tactical trickster from Trump the right-wing ideologue;
  • There has occurred a normative decline rendering irrelevant in most war/peace settings international law, the UN, and human rights; this decline began before the Trump presidency but has been accelerated by Trump;
  • It would be misleading to overlook pre-Trump failings of American global leadership, especially in the period between the end of the Cold War and the 9/11 attacks; the pre-Trump continuities are more fundamental than discontinuities, especially in view of the bipartisan response to 9/11;
  • Two lines of criticism of Trump’s world order approach should be taken into account: I. blame by the established interests and the deep state for dismantling the liberal international order, damaging Western solidarity, retreating from hegemonic leadership; II. blame by political realists for abandoning the U.S. role as benevolent hegemon; such realist hold Trump responsible for his failure to do more to shape global policy along pragmatic and sustainable lines;
  • War-mongering toward Iran;
  • It would be in the human interest to be attentive to Mahathir’s alternative worldview, which articulates a perspective sensitive to the claims of small states and responsive to the claims of planetary realism; such an outlook necessarily rejects regressive embraces of ultra-nationalism that are occurring in several key countries at the present time.

 

  

 

[*]Based on lecture given at West Chester University, October 24, 2018.

[†]It is always important to appreciate that the problems of the Palestinian people are a direct result of the failure of the UN to find a formula for peace that upholds Palestinian basic rights. No other situation in the world is so directly related to UN unrealized initiatives.

[‡]This study titled “Israeli Policies and Practices Towards the Palestinian People: The Question of Apartheid,” was commissioned by the UN Economic and Social Council for West Asia (ESCWA), released March 15, 2017, and written by Virginia Tilley and myself.

Transcending World Order Regressions? 

30 Oct

 

 

[Prefatory Note: Initially published by Transcend Media Service, Oct. 29, 2018; the piece is dedicated to the memory of my cherished friend Marc Nerfin, whose creativity, social grace, progressive vision, and organizing talents are greatly missed, and most needed]

 

Transcending World Order Regressions? 

Not long ago I reread a wonderful essay written by my friend Marc Nerfin thirty-five years ago, and published with this enigmatic title, “Neither Prince nor Merchant–Citizen: An Introduction to the Third System, 1981.” The essential position taken by Nerfin is that neither the sovereign state nor the economic order is oriented toward a humane and sustainable future, although both nodes of power remain necessary for the organization of life on the planet.

For Nerfin what can alone produce an emancipatory politics is the further mobilization of what he labels as ‘the third system.’ Nerfin offered this definition: “Contrasting with governmental power and economic power —the power of the Prince and the Merchant—there is an immediate and autonomous power, sometimes evident, sometimes latent: people’s power. Some people develop an awareness of this, associate and act with others and thus become citizens. Citizens and their associations, when they do not seek either governmental or economic power, constitute the third system.

It is suggestive that Nerfin defines a citizen by what someone does by way of action, either singly or collectively, rather than as a formal status conferred by the decree of the state. He also observes that to be part of the Third System is to forego any ambition to exercise state power or to participate in the global economic order. In other words, citizenship implies autonomy of action and aspiration, but it is not reduced to the ideology of liberal individualism that tilts international human rights in Western civilizational directions, which would weaken its universalist claims.

This orientation has definite ideational links to the commoner movement that has been conceptualized in the writings and activism of David Bollier [See e.g. Bollier, Think Like a Commoner: A Short Introduction to the life of the Commons (2014)] who envisions a positive human future on the basis of joint action by individuals, groups, and communities that seek lives and livelihoods independent of state or market, pointing to an upsurge of cooperative undertakings along these lines around the world. Similarly, my assessment of neoliberal globalization that is negative about what I identify as globalization-from-above,and rests hope upon the potential transnational mobilization of movements in the spirit of ’’’another globalizationor globalization-from-below.It is a perspective that also insists that it is the creativity of people acting within the confines of civil society, not the projects of state and market, that possess emancipatory potential given our historical circumstances. [See Predatory Globalization: A Critique(1999)] 

 

Nerfin also apologetically notes that citizenship is at its roots a distinctively Western experience of societal participation in the shaping of collective life, and other civilizations are fully expected to have their own ways of vindicating participation as the basis of an experience of positive belonging to a larger human collective. Aside from these nuances, the central claim is that only the peoples of the world, acting spontaneously, collectively, and purposively, can achieve the sorts of transformations that human survival and ecological sustainability depend upon. It is this clarification by Nerfin that establishes illuminating affinities with the work and ethical engagements of Bollier, Johan Galtung, Robert Cox, Stephen Gill and many other thinkers who have freed themselves from the blinkering perceptions of global issues and world order as set forth by the realistmainstream, that is, those out of touch with reality, accurately and humanely conceived.

In rather profound ways, what Nerfin wrote more than three and half decades ago is more relevant to our current situation than when it was written. At the time, although the world was certainly imperiled by the Cold War, featuring a menacing nuclear standoff, predatory forms of capitalist expansion that were unperturbed by the persistence of mass misery or by the bloody interventionism that accompanied the sunset wars of the colonial era. At that time, compared to the dismal present, there were sources of normative promise and widespread hope, not least of which were the collapse of European colonialism and the liberation of hundreds of millions formerly captive in the global South.

The United States provided a partially benevolent leadership in world affairs, which while uncomfortably militarist, was still alert to the shared need for multilateral diplomacy and global lawmaking, as well as supportive of the United Nations so long as its limits were understood as limited, that is, not designed or empowered to challenge Western geopolitical maneuvers. Similarly, capitalism, still wanting to gain moral advantages in its rivalry with socialism, created social protection systems for much of its population, which while far from adequate, did introduce some degree of empathy into the dog-eat-dog life of a market driven society generating ever wider gaps of wealth and income.

When we consider the present, the situation of prince and merchant seems dismal by comparison. The United States exhibits an authoritarian, demagogic, and plutocratic leadership style that repudiates multilateral diplomacy even on the most vital of global challenges. Without even attempting to offer reassurances, Trump champions a law free sovereignty that is unapologetically dedicated to maximizing its national wealth and influence on a purely self-interested basis. This insular conception is backed up with escalating government investments in military capabilities. The avowed intention is to achieve a new form of global military dominance that will last forever.

Such a dark vision was set forth unabashedly by Donald Trump in his recent speech to the UN General Assembly that  provoked far more derisive laughter than applause, although tears might have been more appropriate. Trumps regressive geopolitics are coupled with the simultaneous launch of protectionist trade wars and private sector deregulation that encourages the continuing plundering of the planet, the further dismantling of domestic social protection structures, while being denialist or dismissive with respect to the grave multiple ongoing challenges of global warming, genocidal strife, massive human displacement and migration, expanding pockets of extreme poverty, and renewed threats of famine.

Yet it is not just a matter of this American populist embrace of what seems like a pre-fascist agenda at home and a disastrous retreat from engagement internationally, but structural trends along nationally distinctive yet globally convergent lines. Almost every large country is beset by right-wing ultra-nationalist leadership that mobilizes its base of support by finding scapegoats within its borders to account for mass frustration and anger, and favors walls to flaunt its exclusionary political will, epitomizing a callous rejection of  migrants fleeing combat, destitution, and despair. Such moral callousness is a sure sign of a fractured humanity and declining civilization. This global pattern signifies structural imbalances that have led to enraging levels of inequality, which results in stagnancy or worse for the multitude, while showering unprecedented wealth on tiny economic, often corrupt and criminalized elites.

Whereas Nerfin could invest his hopes in the creativity and visionary potential of people organized for fundamental change, we now have reasons to fear that the manipulation of democratic passions for the sake of order and vengeance will make a woefully inadequate system of world order even worse. The recent Brazilian elections are indicative of what we need to fear and oppose—an unqualified demagogic candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, known for his expressions of homophobia, hatred toward minorities, and harsh campaign promises to drain violently the swamps of government of its corrupt elements triumphs over traditional social democrats and even market oriented conservatives.

In this respect, we need to question whether and how the energies of the Third System, commoning, and globalization-from-below can be redirected toward emancipatory goals in ways that have mass appeal. If not, we must look elsewhere to meet the vital challenges of this bio-ethical emergency when organized global society seems distracted from such time-urgent policy priorities as climate change, genocide, and nuclearism.

To be fair, the Nerfin and Bollier perspectives do not expect media manipulated mainstream citizenries to provide the emancipatory energies needed. They are more reliant on accelerating detachment of persons and groups from these central organizing systems of state and market, finding free space to envision and enact alternatives in local settings that are indifferent, or even hostile toward conventional coding classifications of nationality, ethnicity, and religion. Perhaps, such exploratory communities are civil societys incubators for civilizational transformations that will usher in a planetary civilization guided by human interests and planetary realism when it comes to the global agenda and by local governance with respect to the daily life of communities. Even if this is so, the world order crises that are threatening human and non-human futures with catastrophe pose immediate challenges that cannot depend on the long temporal rhythms of axial transformation, which may last for centuries. Humanity is now facing challenges that need restorative responses within decades if tragedy is to be avoided.

Nerfin recognized that while emancipation was a Third System undertaking, the organization of global complexities still required responsible action by prince and merchant. In this respect, there is no escaping the imperatives of turning the tables on right-wing populism and predatory capitalism if the human species is to find the time, space, and imaginative energies to fulfill the vision and potential of ecological humanism, the only ethos that can build credible hopes for the further unfolding of the twenty-first century, which future historians are likely to perceive as the threshold of a new phase of world history.    

 

The Loss of Two Unsung Heroes of International Relations

21 Oct

The Loss of Two Unsung Heroes of International Relations: A Tales of Two ‘Bobs’

 

In the recent past two giants of International Relations (IR) scholarship died,

leaving behind a corpus of work and a legacy of influence, especially among their talented and devoted followers in the academic world. I was fortunate to have enjoyed the friendship of both Robert Gilpin and Robert W. Cox, learning from both of these masters of the field despite their seemingly divergent worldviews. My connection with the two Bobs’ was quite different, Bob G. being my departmental colleague at Princeton for almost 40 years, while Bob C. more am intellectual and political comrade with whom I only rarely interacted with personally. This greater intimacy with scholarship than the person mainly reflects living and working so distantly from one another.

 

Why I pair these two academic figures is because for me their similarities, additional to their births and deaths being so close together, outweigh their differences, making the comparison intriguing for me. For many their stark differences in intellectual style, ideological stance, and political lineage would strike the inquiring eye first, and the similarities would be unnoticed.

 

Gilpin was a self-proclaimed conservative, holding an endowed chair honoring Dwight Eisenhower, and somewhat expressive of his moderate Republican, rural Vermont outlook that valued individual integrity and family closeness above all else. When it came to his scholarly approach Bob self-identified with ‘classical realism’ viewing hard power and economic capabilities as the forces dominating the annals of world history. His mission was to understand how the world order works in relation to its two key dimensions—war and political economy. His books War and Change in World Politics (1981) and The Political Economy of International Relations (1987), along with Global Political Economy  (2001) will deservedly be long remembered and actively studied. Their conceptual clarity, lucid prose, and soft erudition make these scholarly contributions enjoyable to read, itself a rarity for such subject-matter. Gilpin was in many ways an American analogue to Hedley Bull, and not surprisingly they were friends and shared a common frame of reference that went against the pretensions of social scientific approaches to IR. To validate the claim of being ‘classical’ realists Gilpin and Bull both regarded history and philosophy as more instructive than social science when it came to understanding international relations. Later in his career Gilpin became conversant with the work of economists, and even applied rational choice theory to his effort to grasp the essence of war and change in international society.

 

Gilpin’s central linkage between war-proneness and hegemonic decline could be published today to acclaim as it casts a bright light on the seemingly irrational belligerent behavior of the United States. This hegemonic actor seems to be inviting the outbreak of war with an almost mindless disregard of its catastrophic dangers in the nuclear age. In War and ChangeGilpin develops an illuminating set of explanations for why hegemonic powers almost always decline, and resort to war in a vain effort to halt their slide. Gilpin’s political economy writing delineated a new sub-field for mainstream IR, drawing on contemporary economic thought and an Enlightenment confidence in the rationality of human behavior, while at the same time being informed by the Marxist line of critique of capitalism. It was illuminating without in any way challenging the established world economic order, which he praised as having produced unprecedented prosperity and stability since established after the Second World War.

 

Cox’s concerns and experience were was different. Working with the International Labor Organization (ILO) as a senior civil servant for 25 years, living in the vicinity of Geneva, and developing a feeling for the formative historical agency of people mobilized for change and behaving in ways that reflect their material conditions. His books, Production Power and World Order: Social Forces in the Making of History (1989)and Approaches to World Order (with Timothy J. Sinclair, 1996)contain the essential pillars of his critical theory of international relations and his assessment of the current global situation. While Gilpin devoted his energies to understandingthe way the world of sovereign states and geopolitics works, Cox wanted to devote his understanding to the challenge of transformingthe world.  In a rather profound sense, were the legitimate children of revolution: Cox being a child of the French Revolution while Gilpin of the American Revolution. These contrasting influences continue to work their way into practice and expectations of the West two centuries later.

 

Drawing heavily on the thought of Antonio Gramsci, it was Cox’s mission to demonstrate that the state system was presently entrapped, which presaged regression, and even collapse, unless popular energies could be mobilized around an appropriate transformative vision. While Gilpin observed change, Cox was intent on identifying the social forces that might achieve emancipatory change. Neither was hopeful about the future, Gilpin because of hegemonic decline, Cox because of the absence of a clear alternative to disastrous patterns of hegemonic governance.

 

Once Cox left the ILO late in life he embarked upon an academic career yet attained almost instant prominence.  He became a professor at York University in Toronto, which provided a supportive progressive setting. His work there on international political economy, was definitely in the critical tradition associated with neo-Marxist thought, and was often associated with Susan Strange’s contributions. They were viewed often as co-founders of the British School of Political Economy.

 

Both Cox and Gilpin deserve our admiration as among the most significant thinkers that international relations has produced in the period since the end of World War II. While many insiders are attuned to the value of their contributions, the wider world has given greater attention to the intellectually flashy, and policy relevant, of such academic writers as Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. These ambitious individuals gave the impression of marking time while waiting for a call to Washington.  They were well vetted by the Council of Foreign Relation, the informal headhunting undertaking that was effective until recently in staffing the higher echelons of the State Department. Perhaps, making the point too strongly, whereas Cox and Gilpin lasting contributions are located in the sphere of knowledge, Kissinger and Brzezinski will be remembered primarily as controversial academic superstars in the sphere of power.