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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.” Even 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.

 

 

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.

 

 

The Coronavirus Pandemic, Sanctions on Iran, and the Maladies of World Order

12 May

The Coronavirus Pandemic, Sanctions on Iran, and the Maladies of World Order

 

[Prefatory Note: This post consists of my responses to three recent interviews with the Iranian journalist, Javad Herian-Nia, and published previously in Iran over the course of the last month. The text of my responses has been modified by subsequent developments and further reflections on my part.]

 

1-What will be effects of coronavirus on the current world order?

At this point, in the middle of the pandemic, any response is highly speculative. When speculating it seems helpful to distinguish between what we regard as probable outcomes as distinct from what would be desirable effects beneficial for humanity and sensitive to ecological concerns.

With respect to probable effects, I am aware of two broad sets of influential perspectives emerging, which admittedly somewhat confuse what is likely to happen with what we wish would happen. As near as I can tell from listening to preliminary American post-pandemic conjectures, private and public sector leaders are preoccupied with taking steps to restore the pre-pandemic dynamics, especially with regard to the economy, without substantial modifications beyond the recognition that governments should invest more resources in preparing national health systems for the lingering persistence and possible recurrence of the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as other outbreaks of contagious disease.

 

It is important to appreciate that previously in this century there were several lethal epidemics (SARS, Ebola, avian flu), although this COVID-19 experience has a far greater human and societal impact for two main reasons: first, the WHO officially declared COVID-19 to be a ‘pandemic,’ which automatically focuses attention on the severity of the challenge; and secondly, the crisis has seriously afflicted countries in the West, which heightens world media and public attention, and ensures more effort to assess the experience from a world order perspective. This latter observation is particularly true for the United States, and possibly China, as both have become ‘global states,’ that is, States with an array of major political, economic, and social engagements that creates ‘presences’ far beyond national boundaries. The reality of ‘global states’ in the post-colonial era has not yet attracted the notice it deserves as altering the structure of state-centric world order.

 

What restoring pre-pandemic world order will mean is not entirely clear, and is somewhat contested, as to what were its essential features prior to this deeply dislocating experience. Most obviously, restoration would mean facilitating the rapid revival of transnational trade and capital flows, a renewed effort to reduce economic tensions that were rising to the level of ‘trade wars’ before the onset of the pandemic. Such a preferred model of a restored world overlooks the likely resistance of ultra-nationalist and protectionist trends in major States that include a deliberate retreat from neoliberal globalization. Such nationalistic repositioning was reinforced by negative reactions in many Western countries to the influx of refugees from combat zones and migrants seeking to raise their living standards above subsistence levels. The lockdowns during the health crisis also provided pretexts for relying on surveillance technologies, and generally led to greater social tolerance for authoritarian policies and practices, governance habits quite likely to persist after the pandemic phase of the disease has subsided, which has been the historical pattern of past pandemics so well depicted in Frank M. Snowden’s Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present (2019).

 

These obstacles to reviving the ‘old normal’ will also be challenged by the widespread belief that many of the jobs lost during the pandemic will not become available to workers in a post-pandemic atmosphere as economies will take advantage of automation due to developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics. Particularly in capitalist countries, past economic crises have been occasions for a streamlining of the labor force on the basis of more rigorous standards of worker efficiency. In so doing, profits margins are regained, even increased, while jobs are lost and high unemployment, especially at middle income levels, haunts the recovery process. There is little reason to doubt that this pattern will be repeated in the present circumstances, which included such drastic socio-economic dislocations, and more likely with take on more extreme characteristics.

 

A more prescriptive effort to restore the old world order based on stability and economic growth places emphasis on recreating the conditions that produced what is again embraced as past success worth reviving. Henry Kissinger, writing in the conservative Wall Street Journal, recommended an imitation of the strategies relied upon by the U.S. Government after the end of World War II, especially assertive American global leadership, a mobilization of resources to restore market vitality in the countries of the West. Such an approach would involve a new Atlanticism for countries in Europe  most adversely affected by the pandemic, and a strengthened health system as integral to future national, global, and regional security. This kind of assessment blends the probable with the desirable, but it also swims against the pre-pandemic tide of ultra-nationalism that placed stress on transactional bargains rather than inter-governmental cooperative problem-solving, which acknowledges global interests as a main component of national interests, given the realities of digital globalization, or the complexities of interconnectedness. Insofar as directed at Washington, any serious prospect of strong American global leadership along Kissingerian lines depends on replacing Trump with someone more responsive to the global scale challenges facing humanity and more capable in managing the public relations global diplomacy.

From my perspective, a desirable post-pandemic approach would definitely seek ‘a new normal’ that modify world order as we knew it. Primary attention would be given to meeting the pre-pandemic challenges of global inequality, climate change, extreme poverty, migration and asylum, and the myriad other policy concerns that were not being adequately addressed by the procedures of state-centric world order. The various failures of global leadership by the United States and the predatory excesses of post-Cold War capitalism make adjustments in light of eco-stability, human rights, and economic and social justice vital. Such a reorientation of international political behavior would also require the repudiation of militarist geopolitics and the abandonment of coercive diplomacy (including punitive sanctions), and their replacement by behavior exhibiting respect for international law and the authority of the United Nations, and greater reliance on procedures for peaceful conflict resolution. Such a reorientation would achieve a better balance in foreign policy between the sovereign rights of States and the global responsibility of the UN System to secure compliance with individual and collective rights, as well as encouraging ecological stewardship and climate justice. Such a visionary approach will strike many observers as utopian, but from another perspective such advocacy can be regarded as embodying a necessary ethical, security, and ecological response framework to the realities and threats, and opportunities, of the contemporary world, which if not addressed in a timely and equitable fashion will result in a tragic destiny for future generations.

2-Current world order is mostly based on neoliberalism and to some extent on political realist policymaking. What are the deficiencies of these approaches as revealed by coronavirus?

I would add a structural element to your way of summarizing current world order. It is the statist character of world order that has evolved over time from the 1648 Peace of Westphalia that ended the Religious Wars in Europe, and gave rise to the primacy of the territorial sovereign state as the main building block of world order. This state-centric system of world order, originally a European regional arrangement, became gradually universalized as the dialectic between colonialism and anti-colonialism in the non-Western world unfolded in the twentieth century. This process established a strong consensus among governments that only States were eligible to become fully accredited participants in formal international politics. This criterion regulating status and participation in international political life also explains limiting membership in the United Nations to entities that qualify as States under international law, although there has been advocates of more inclusive participation, which would include regional actors and representative civil society actors. Colonialism imposed statist networks in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa with little attention to the antecedent experience of empire and colonial rule, thereby overlooking the reality of ethnic and traditional contours of natural political communities for the affected peoples. This has led these regions to endure continuous strife in the post-colonial world that has so far only been overcome by imposing authoritarian rule that achieves order by repressing resisting elements in the society, often supplemented by gross corruption at the apex of the governance pyramid.

 

A further aspect of this kind of Westphalian world order is the role of geopolitics, which here refers to the discretionary behavior of leading States that refuse to accept restraints on their freedom of maneuver externally, and reject any kind of accountability with regard to abuses occurring within their own country, thereby absolutizing territorial sovereignty. The global legalization of such rogue behavior is embedded in the UN Charter, most openly expressed by vesting a right of veto in the five permanent members of the Security Council, the only organ within the UN System with the authority to reach binding decisions. In effect, the UN Charter rather shockingly acknowledges the uncontrollability of the five political actors, although these are the states that most endanger international peace and security. Turkey has for a decade been challenging this kind of hegemonic arrangement by calling for global reform along constitutional lines, adopting the slogan ‘the world is greater than five’ to highlight its campaign to diminish the influence of geopolitics within the workings of the UN System.

 

As your question suggests, neoliberalism and political realism have played influential roles in giving shape to international life, but in both cases, at considerable cost from the perspective of human wellbeing, justice, and ecological stability. As earlier indicated, neoliberalism privileges the efficiency of capital over the wellbeing of people, accentuating ecological harm on one side, and inducing extremes of inequality on the other side (26 individuals control more than half of the world’s wealth). The effect of this ideological shaping of behavior is to accentuate poverty, alienation, class conflict, while inclining governance at the level of the State toward autocratic, and often corrupt, leadership. Political realism, although coming in many forms, is imbued with the essential idea of promoting national interests, narrowly and selfishly conceived as excluding both global concerns and values related to peace and justice, as well as deference to international ethical and legal norms. Realists are in agreement that such a calculation of national interests in only reliable basis for the formation of foreign policy, reflecting an understanding that history is made by wars, giving pride of place to military capabilities. In this sense, prevailing forms of realism have become unrealistic to varying degrees spanning the political spectrum from the hard right to the internationalist liberal center. In our times we need to develop strong mechanisms of global problem-solving and robust methods of conflict resolution to meet such challenges as global warming, migration pressures, declining biodiversity, ecocide, and genocide. Political realism as diversely practiced remains anchored in seventeenth century conditions where autonomous territorial communities didn’t require or acknowledge any framework of restraint external to their realm of territorial authority, and changes did result mainly from militarism. Under twenty-first century conditions such realism has become dangerously out of touch with the severe and accumulating existential threats of the twenty-first century, as well as the mixed record of militarily driven foreign policies of geopolitical actors. The United States despite having the greatest war machine of all history has endured a disappointing record of political defeat in armed conflict since 1945. The European colonial powers and the Soviet Union did not fare any better when relying on military superiority. China after some border confrontations with neighboring countries, has pioneered new modes of imperial expansion not dependent on projecting military power overseas, except to some extent in island controversies in South Asian waters.

 

3- Although Corona has drawn the attention of countries to the realist approach and the principle of “self-help”, on the other hand, it has led to the inefficiency of the realist approach to security, which is based on “state security” and prioritizes It defines “the security of the ruling elite” and sees the issue of security as purely military. On the other hand, the outbreak of the virus has shown that militaristic economies do not provide public security(human security), and that governments should pay more attention to “human security” in the post-Coronavirus world,  which confirms that the overlapping of “state security” and “human security” is greater than ever. What do you think about this?

 

I would again call attention to my distinction between probable and desirable outcomes once the crisis atmosphere subsides. There is no doubt in my mind that a human security approach to ‘security’ would be a desirable way to incorporate the lessons of the COVID-19 ordeal. Yet I believe this to be a highly improbable outcome other than some strengthening of national preparedness for facing future epidemiological challenges, and possibly endowing the WHO with an early warning responsibility and additional capabilities. Even this focus is less a matter of upholding human security than it is a realization that governmental legitimacy depends on keeping the economy functioning to the extent possible when struck by epidemics. Efforts to minimize the impacts of disabling health challenges, which unlike climate change have an immediate concrete life-threatening and economic dislocating potential impact on every person on the planet, make the case for effective warning and mitigating capabilities irrefutable. Health disasters of the COVID-19 scale are current, and cannot be long evaded by politicians, at least after the bodies begin to pile up. Although the complacency of some governments in the West with regard to ignoring warnings and waiting too long to impose societal constraints suggests that many politicians seek to defer rational responses as much as possible.

 

Nevertheless, it is more important than ever for public intellectuals to insist upon a human security framework both to challenge the war system, including its enormous unproductive diversion of energies and resources, and to endow a human rights culture with political potency so as to ensure that state/society relations develop ethical standards implemented by the rule of law.

We live at a time when what seems necessary seems politically out of reach, which suggests that we should reach further, and admit that struggle for a better future is worthwhile because good surprises, as well as bad ones (for instance, the pandemic) can happen. In a sense, to meet the threats confronting the world we need to realize that our basic condition is radical uncertainty about what the future will bring. A fatalistic passivity that waits for the apocalypse to end it all is no more reasonable than is irresponsible reassurances that there is nothing to worry about because on the average people are living longer and better.

An important reflection on the reaction to the pandemic was the willingness of political elites of major countries to abandon austerity economics and free trillions to ensure the recovery of major private sector business operations like airlines and fossil fuel companies. In other words, complaints recently directed at progressive agendas, such as were advanced by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren that had been greeted derisively with the dismissive ‘how will you pay for this (universal health care, eliminating student debt)?’ would be less easy to reject by appeals to fiscal discipline. This could make a big difference in future political campaigns if such a lesson of the pandemic is learned and vigorously invoked by progressive movements for change. There is as little reason to follow the guidance of Wall Street billionaires and hedge fund stewards of capital as there is to heed the belligerent guidance of Beltway thinktank gurus or Pentagon pleas for yet more funding.

 

4-If we accept that the post-Corona world order will be different from the existing one, will the changes be structural and fundamental ones? Which new meanings will be experienced as fundamental changes?

 

 

I think it is impossible to identify at this point what will be the post-Corona effects on global structures and the fundamental characteristics of world order. I believe that there is unlikely to be any significant effects on world order without prior seismic-scale challenges to the established order coming from political movements in major countries of the world. Neither the U.S. nor China, the former asserting itself via an outmoded reliance on military capabilities and the forcible penetration of foreign political spaces and the latter expanding its influence mainly by way of positive economic inducements, seem inclined to alter world order in ways that are structural and fundamental, but this perception might be mistaken. The U.S. seems somewhat open to a movement from below for drastic change aspiring for power, and shifting the policy focus of government closer to a human security agenda. The Sanders campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination arguably came close to gaining enough influence to mount such an effort, and it has pledged to continue pursing these goals by further augmenting its influence as a social and political movement. China has become a formidable global state by relying on ‘soft power,’ expansion of trade, economic growth, foreign economic assistance, and non-coercive diplomatic activism at the UN and elsewhere, although its success is starting to encounter a variety of pushbacks. Hard power geopolitics heavily depends on military capabilities for leverage and as a policy instrument, while soft power avoids political violence to the extent possible, without rejecting it on principle, conserving its resources for more productive applications, including global cooperation and human security. At the same time, with respect to internal politics, the U.S. ‘soft’ authoritarianism is more amenable to reformist changes and more adaptable to certain aspects of human security than is China ‘hard‘ variant of authoritarianism. From this perspective, the main energy for human security in the West is likely to come, if at all, from movements of people whereas in China and other deeply rooted authoritarian systems such energy for change would almost certainly have to start with some fracturing within governing elites.

 

 

Interview Questions from Javad Heiran-Nia (April 26, 2020) on

Humanitarian Aspects of Sanctions as Applied to Iran

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  1. US officials have always stated that Iran’s humanitarian goods are exempted from sanctions. However, due to the sanctions and the change in the label of some of Iran’s sanctions on the nuclear issue and the placement of terrorism or weapons of mass destruction by the United States, their trade has been disrupted and foreign parties are reluctant to export humanitarian goods to Iran. How effective do you think changing the label of sanctions has been?

 

I believe it is hard to assess the connections between the relabeling of humanitarian supplies (food, medicine, medical equipment) in ways that lead them to be treated as encompassed by ‘sanctions’ that are being maintained despite pressures on state and society resulting from emergency challenges in Iran arising from the high level of cases (more than 80,000) and deaths (over 5,000) resulting from the Coronavirus Pandemic. In effect, this relabeling or reclassification is a means to deny humanitarian relief to Iran at a time that finds the national health system on the verge of being overwhelmed. It is a cruel practice that should be abandoned.

 

 

  1. In an recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Iranian sanctions planner “Richard Nephew” said complex rules were in place and that companies violating sanctions would face serious penalties. However, are companies interested in humanitarian trade with Iran?

 

The reality is that banks and many corporations are reluctant to engage in trade involving humanitarian exceptions to the sanctions regime because the commercial

gains of doing are relatively minor. Incentives to do so are generally far outweighed by a fear that the U.S. Government might respond in ways that could be costly to the wide spectrum of more profitable operations of an international company. The official tone of Treasury Department regulatory oversight seems deliberately intended to discourage humanitarian economic activities despite its mixed message of claiming that humanitarian goods sent to Iran are not subject to sanctions and suppliers will not be penalized: “Compliance with all of the conditions of a general license is required to qualify for the authorization.  Without perfect compliance, a U.S. person would be conducting a prohibited transaction. Even an innocent or accidental transgression may subject a U.S. person to civil penalties such as fines.”

 

 

  1. Medical equipment companies find easier ways to make a profit, especially when the world is facing a pervasive disease. On the other hand, the transfer of humanitarian aid does not bring much benefit to most international banks, shipping companies and insurance companies, which they want to ignore the risk of sanctions. What is your opinion on this and how effective do you think sanctions are in disrupting the treatment of coronavirus in Iran?

 

It is difficult for an outsider to evaluate the effect of imposing bureaucratic burdens and potential penalties on doing business with Iran that consists of the sale of medical equipment.

I cannot say whether the shortages of ventilators and other equipment in Iraanian hospitals can be attributed to the indirect impact of sanctions, but it seems to follow from the ‘maximum pressure’ approach that Pompeo and Trump have reaffirmed in the midst of the pandemic, receiving criticism from more liberal media outlets, human rights organizations, and several of the more progressive members of Congress. In sum, Pompeo/Trump seek to condition sanctions relief on Iran’s willingness to surrender its political goals by altering its foreign policy in the Middle East, which is a clear interference with the sovereignty of Iran. In the background, it should be appreciated that sanctions even absent the pandemic are a form of economic warfare inconsistent with the spirit and substance of contemporary international law that outlaws aggression in all its forms. If world order was more shaped by law, and less by geopolitics, sanctions would be imposed on the U.S., and humanitarian relief would be sought by Washington to cope with the demands of the pandemic.

 

 

Interview Qs from Javad Nia-Herian (March 15, 2020)

 

 

  1. What are the most important reasons for the rise of right-wing politics and extreme nationalists in Europe and America?

Many speculations exist as to why these unexpected developments have occurred over the course of recent years. There is no doubt that a core explanation is the widespread alienation arising from the effects of neoliberal globalization, which has distributed the benefits of economic activity and technological innovation unfairly, making the very rich even richer while leaving the great majority of people in society worse off. Such a pattern seems systemic as it happening in so many countries, although the mix of reasons vary depending on national circumstances. A second set of explanations arises from the refugee and migrant flows that have arisen in the course of the long civil strife in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, which are perceived to challenge the social and ethnic cohesion of many European societies. Closely related to ‘conflict migrants’ are ‘climate refugees’ who seek to achieve a tolerable life by moving to more affluent countries, which reinforce resistance in these countries based on labor pressures to retain jobs and keep wages at higher levels, as well as concerns about breaching civilizational identity. Against this background, an increasing segment of the public in Europe and North America is ready to support leaders that promise to protect the interests of the territorial citizenry and blame economic globalization for lost jobs and income inequalities due to its policies of privileging the flow and efficiency of capital over protecting the wellbeing of people. In this sense, large portions of the public in these societies seem responsive to explanations of their distress by leaders with highly nationalistic viewpoints, and seem ready to give up democratic values by supporting autocratic and chauvinistic leaders that violate human rights. This pattern is not only visible in the West, but also in other parts of the world, including India, Brazil, Philippines.

 

  1. One of the most important issues related to the developments in the Middle East was the announcement of the US withdrawal from the region. But in practice this has not happened. Do you think the US really intends to pull its troops out of the region? And if so, why?

 

It does seem that military disengagement from the region was a genuine policy objective of Trump at the beginning of his presidency and a main campaign promise in 2016, but there is friction coming from the main forces that have controlled American foreign policy ever since 1945, what I call ‘the three pillars’: Wall St., Pentagon, and a bit later, Israel, more or less in this order. How this friction will affect the timing and rate of withdrawal probably depends on many factors, including the further unfolding of the current overarching health crisis, and whether signals of confrontation or accommodation come from Iran. Israel’s opposition to American military disengagement in the region is also influential. It is difficult to predict at this point, but unless there are unexpected regional flareups military disengagement should proceed if Trump remains president, and the upcoming U.S. presidential elections may hasten the process. The redeployment of American troops from three bases in Iraq after recent rocket attacks, while not an instance of withdrawal, did seem to move in the direction of disengagement. Ironically, Biden’s election as president is likely to produce a revival of ‘liberal internationalism’ as the marker of U.S. global leadership, and could be accompanied by an increased military engagement in the Middle East/

 

  1. One of the major problems facing the US now and in the future is China. Various Western security documents, including a statement from the Munich Security Conference with China, have been cited as a threat. How will America be able to contain China? Will the containment policy work?

The future of U.S./China relations is the most challenging geopolitical issue of our time. It matches two global states from distinct civilizational outlooks. The U.S. and China are both what I call ‘global states,’ whose contours and even presence, cannot be assessed by territorial borders. Both have a global non-territorial reach that no other political actor possesses, but there the similarity ends. The U.S. depends primarily on its military capabilities to punish and coerce those states that it regards as hostile to its global ambitions. Iran (and Venezuela) is the current leading example, as victimized by ‘the maximum pressure’ approach based on threats and punitive sanctions. In contrast, China has brilliantly extended its influence and increased its prosperity by reliance mainly on non-military instruments of expansion, including trade, investment, and foreign assistance. The two global states exemplify an encounter between hard and soft power foreign policies, giving rise to a unique rivalry in the history of international relations.

 

This rivalry does pose risks of a new cold war or even war in the sense of armed combat, especially in relation to the disputed sovereignty of South Asian seas. When an ascending power threatens the previously dominant political actor, as China is now threatening to overtake the U.S., there are many instances in history, where war has resulted, most frequently by the leading state seeking to defeat the challenger while it still seems to have the upper hand. Of course, the prospect of a war fought with nuclear weapons leads to greater caution on the part of leaders than in the past, but it does not give us confidence that current leaders will act prudently and rationally under pressure in a crisis, or if perceiving a threat. The risks of stumbling into war by miscalculation are considerable, given how unwanted wars started in the past.

 

I am not sure whether ‘containment’ is relevant to fashioning a Western response to the Chinese challenge. Containment was a doctrine developed to deter military expansion, initially of the Soviet Union. It was in a geopolitical context in which two hard power leading states were in competition, economically and ideologically throughout the world. Containing a soft power global state such as China is already taking the form of trade wars and efforts to curtail Chinese penetration of foreign markets. To an alarming extent, this kind of confrontation has accelerated during the Trump presidency, fueled by the adoption of a nationalistic and transactional policy agenda, blame game tactics in the midst of the pandemic that display a willingness by Trump to raise international risks of conflict for the sake of avoiding responsibility for not handling the COVID-19 experience in a responsible manner.

  1. The outbreak of the Coronavirus points out that there are threats that are more easily resolved through cooperation among countries. Will the international community learn from the damage caused by the spread of the virus, and will we see increased international cooperation to address global threats?

The incentivizing of global cooperation may become the silver lining of the COVID-19 challenge. It has become obvious to even the most nationalist viewpoints that we help ourselves by helping others, and hurt ourselves by hurting others. Only by cooperating in good faith can constructive responses to the spread of this virus be achieved. What is true in relation to the Coronavirus Pandemic is also true for other issues of global scope: extreme poverty, climate change, global migration, biodiversity, militarism and nuclear weaponry. In these latter instances, the benefits of cooperation are less obvious, especially for the rich and powerful.

For thiss reason, extending the experience in relation to health policy to other policy domains may not be so easy. The transfer to these other areas is rendered difficult, or impossible, if the benefits of cooperation are uneven, less immediate, and more abstract. Also, governmental resistance is likely to occur whenever there are special interests embedded in bureaucratic structures and the private sector. This resistance arises, in part, from continuing to regard international relations as a zero-sum, win/lose contest rather than an arena in which seeking win/win outcomes bring the more enduring gains for all.

  1. What will be the economic impacts of the Coronavirus on the world economy? How will this affect the upcoming US presidential election?

It is too soon to tell what the economic impacts will be, but it seems as if these impacts will be severe and long lasting, both for the world economy and all national economies, especially hitting hard the economically most vulnerable parts of the population, which usually include the disfavored minorities. There will be variations from state to state depending on their resources, the discipline of different societies, and the skill of government officials. It appears at present as though the world economy will experience a collapse comparable to the situation that produced the Great Depression of the 1930s, and contributed to the rise of Fascism and the onset of World War II. This current Coronavirus challenge is unfolding in unprecedented ways, and our assessments must be tentative and frequently updated as it proceeds on uncharted territory.

 

The same cautionary attitude shapes my response to the effects on the November elections in the United States. As of now, the pandemic would seem to hurt Trump’s chances of reelection because the leader at the time of downturn is held responsible by many voters for results. If the economy is doing well, the incumbent president reaps the benefits, whether deservedly on not, while if it is doing badly, existing leaders are held responsible whether or not at fault. In addition, this interpretation is reinforced by the fact that many Americans, including some Republicans, felt that Trump handled the challenge badly, especially at its crucial early stages, belittling the seriousness of the spread of such a lethal disease, and thereby postponing self-isolating steps to slow the spread of the disease. This negligent slowness of response increased the number of cases and fatalities. But there are many unknowns between now and the elections. If the situation does not improve, or worsens, it is easy to imagine a situation where the elections are postponed in accord with the state of emergency, while if the situation unexpectedly improves, Trump might easily win reelection, especially if opposed by such a weak candidate as Joe Biden.

  1. What do you know about the most important international developments in Europe, America, Asia and the Middle East over the past year?

Such a question is so broad that it is difficult to answer briefly, but I will try. Without doubt, as my earlier responses suggest, the Coronavirus Pandemic overshadows all other recent developments both by the magnitude of its health challenges and by the gravity of its non-health impacts. Other international developments of note are the continuing ordeal of vulnerable minorities, including the Rohingya in Myanmar, Kashmiris in India, and the Palestinian people, who additionally are likely to be the least protected against the ravages wrought by the virus. In addition, the struggles in several Middle East countries exhibit continuing chaos, massive displacement, and ongoing violence. Syria, Yemen, and Libya continue to experience chaos and strife without any serious capacity to restore peace and normalcy. As well, in the same Middle East region there has been a second wave of popular challenges to the established order in Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, and Algeria, as well as nearby Sudan that suggest that the conditions that led to the Arab Spring a decade earlier continues to produce social unrest and political protest. A final set of developments can be associated with the disappointing failures to move forward with respect to the threats associated with climate change despite fires of savage intensity in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and across huge tracts of land in Australia. These threats highlighted the urgency of a cooperative approach to issues of ecological balance, while the behavior of important states seemed to produce a regressive, head-in-the-sand trend toward the embrace of ultra-nationalist foreign policies and transactional geopolitics, thoroughly dysfunctional from a global problem-solving perspective. The relative impotence of the UN, due to the geopolitical impasse between the U.S. and China, aggravated by Trump’s ‘America First’ orientation, missed a rare opportunity to build renewed confidence in the UN as an actor capable to some extent of upholding human interests of the planet as a whole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 U.S. Policy Toward Israel/Palestine in a Deglobalizing World: A Pre-Pandemic Perspective

7 May

[Prefatory Note: The text below is drawn from my presentation at the TRT World Forum, 21-22 October 2019. The conference theme was ‘Globalisation in Retreat: Risks and Opportunities.’ What strikes me now is how different the world seems only six months later due to the surreal impacts of the Coronavirus Pandemic on all aspects of perception and assessment, the totality of dislocating developments, and the heightening of an existential appreciation of the precariousness of individual and collective experience and of the radical uncertainty cloudinour expectations of the future. Surely my paper would read radically differently if rewritten in ways that took fuller account of intervening developments (the Trump/Kushner Plan) as well as the pandemic]

 

 U.S. Policy Toward Israel/Palestine in a Deglobalizing World

 

Points of Departure

 This paper considers some impacts of the retreat from globalization on the evolution of Israel/Palestine relations, giving special attention to the regressive character U.S. policy toward the unresolved conflict. This retreat is a complex ongoing phenomenon, generating both risks and opportunities, which are changing through time, and the present character of these threats and opportunities will be explored here. A central feature of world order in the course of this retreat from globalization is the rise of ultra-nationalist political leadership in many important countries that has resulted in a generalized withdrawal of support from cooperative responses to global problem-solving, relying instead on transactional bargains between governments as shaped by geopolitical disparities rather than by deference to considerations of international law, diplomatic compromise, and global justice.

 

Despite these recent negative developments, the politics, culture, and economics of globalization should not be romanticized (Falk, 1999), or more specifically not viewed as achieving positive results in relation to the century of struggle by the Palestinian people to address their legitimate grievances. Above all, the Palestinians have endured the denial of their inalienable right of national self-determination and been victimized by the imposition  of apartheid structures of control on the Palestinian people as a whole, that is, whether living under occupation or otherwise. (Falk & Tilley, 2017). The Palestinian people have been victimized by the primacy of geopolitics for more than a century, ever since the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which has illustrated the limits of normative (legal and moral) globalization. The retreat from globalization seems to have accentuated the disregard of international law and the authority of the United Nations, highlighted in relation to Israel/Palestine by the release of the Trump/Kushner plan with the absurd claim to offer ‘the deal of the century.’(U.S. Government, 2020). Such a trend if allowed to continue does amount to a severe setback for Palestinian legitimate aspirations, but such a bleak prospect is being challenged by parallel developments.

 

Whether this retreat from globalization is cyclical, soon to be reversed, or a longer-term linear trend is difficult to discern at this time. Its trajectory is highly contingent on the impingement from unforeseeable political, economic, and ecological developments. It may depend on the outcome of such currently unpredictable developments as to whether the Democratic candidate selected to oppose Donald Trump will go on to win the November 2020 elections, and whether the COVID-19 virus can be contained without producing a global economic collapse. As well, it is important to interpret the depth and breadth of this retreat. It certainly reflects a populist reaction of angry frustration against various forms of inequality that led many people to feel disadvantaged by ‘neoliberal globalization,’ and a turn toward demagogic leaders who denounce such developments and point fingers at the imagined culprits, real and imagined. It has also given rise to an affirmation of nationalism as the most existentially relevant political and ideological alternative to globalism. This economistic mood of grassroots alienation also reflects hostile attitudes and disruptive adjustments that pertain to such historically conditioned challenges as global migration flows and trade tensions. Also relevant for achieving an understanding of these recent developments is whether the apparent re-bonding of peoples on the basis of nationalist, and even racist and civilizational conceptions of the outer limits of political community, is integral to the retreat or just a temporary shift in focus away from the global.

 

We need to keep in mind that despite these evident patterns of retreat, the world in many respects continues to be more interconnected and networked than at any time in human history, and these dynamics are continuing, perhaps even accelerating as technology advances, a largely unacknowledged new interconnections in this digitally driven form of ‘globalization-from-below.’ (Slaughter, 2004, 2019) As well, on ecological and health frontiers, climate change and the global spread of lethal disease, remind us that we cannot hope to address effectively the challenges of the contemporary world without strengthening mechanisms of global cooperation. The behavior of the United States Government in leading the retreat, withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Nuclear Program Agreement with Iran (JCPOA, 2015) help us to appreciate how dysfunctional from a world order standpoint is a generalized retreat from globalization, and more concretely, what the loss of U.S. leadership in many global policy domains has meant. Such an endorsement of globalization should not, for instance, be understood as the approval of neoliberal globalization as it unfolded after the end of the Cold War. Indeed, this largely under regulated market driven approach to economic globalization greatly contributed to various types of inequality and alienation that led many peoples throughout the world to be receptive to the appeals advanced in favor of ultra-nationalism. In other words, the ultra-nationalism of the present should not be separated from a variety of disappointments brought about by predatory capitalism (Falk, 1999).

 

U.S. Retreat and Israel/Palestine

The reality of retreat bears crucially on the particular conflict between Israel and Palestine as reflected in the shift of the U.S. approach from its earlier pre-Trump role as partisan intermediary to its hyperbolic identity during the Trump presidency as super-partisan deal maker. Such a shift is fully in keeping with the broader pattern of retreat from globalization, but it has some additional distinguishing features. Above all, the personality and style of Trump, as reinforced by the influence of extreme Zionists donors and Evangelical Christians who constitute powerful elements of his political base. Translated into foreign policy this has meant that undisguised pro-Israeli unilateralism has replaced the earlier American diplomatic public stance of peacemaker, which uneasily coincided with the undisguised ‘special relationship’ with Israel. This special relationship meant concretely unconditional support in all security domains, although tempered by occasional murmurs of disapproval as by calling Israel’s periodic moves to accelerate the expansion of its unlawful settlements as ‘unhelpful.’ By way of contrast, in relation to the settlement movement, which struck an Israeli dagger into the heart of the two-states approach, the presidency of George W. Bush and continued under Barack Obama, Trump’s Secretary of State, agreed to close his eyes on their unlawfulness, but only in the context of an agree peace arrangement. Mike Pompeo, abandons altogether the view that the establishment of settlements violates international law without the precondition of reaching an overall agreement(Pompeo, 2020). Beyond this, even before the release of the Trump/Kushner plan, U.S. foreign policy toward Israel after Trump assumed the presidency in early 2017 exhibited a blatant form of one-sided unilateralism with regard to previously unresolved issues: appointing as his principal advisors on Israel and Middle East policy only Zionist extremists (Kushner, Friedman, Greenblatt), moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights that were widely assumed to be occupied Syrian territory, cutting U.S. funding for UN humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza, and openly embracing Netanyahu’s racist leadership of Israel while turning his back on his Palestinian counterparts and their concerns.

 

Such a pattern of unilateralism is illustrative of the retreat hypothesis because it so directly undercuts not only the earlier somewhat more internationalist American approach, but also so bluntly departs from the global consensus at the UN that favored a negotiated solution that upheld Israel as a legitimate state but based its vision of peace on an agreed establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state that would then be accepted as a full member of the UN. A major component of this consensus was the view that diplomacy would be relied upon to resolve the future of Jerusalem, settlements, the treatment of Palestinian refugees, the fixing of borders, and the overall arrangement of security guarantees. On all counts, Israel has recently moved with the apparent approval of Washington to resolve these issues on its own by completing its expansionist agenda. This coordinated Israel/U.S. provocative postures was dramatized by the movement of the American Embassy to Jerusalem in early 2019, an initiative overwhelmingly condemned to no avail by the UN General Assembly (UNGA Res., 2019). The Jerusalem provocation, in particular, was a direct assault on the earlier global consensus and strong Islamic that had insisted that such issues, and especially the status of Jerusalem, be settled by compromises achieved in a negotiating process so as to give both sides the sense of win/win outcomes.

 

In important respects, what this Trump turn represented beyond its affinity with other expressions of anti-globalization, was an assessment that the Oslo diplomacy had been tried and failed, and that it was an opportune time to make a shift toward a more muscular, less consensual, geopolitics.

 

Daniel Pipes, long a Zionist proponent best articulated this approach on his website, Middle East Forum, months before its adoption is slightly less crude form by Trump/Kushner (Pipes, 2017). Pipes insisted that diplomacy had been tried in good faith as the means to resolve the Israel/Palestine conflict, but had failed, and it was time to try a different approach. In his view, conflicts of this sort that prove difficult to resolve by diplomacy are shown by history to be ended only through the victory of one side that then dictates the terms of peace, with the losing side being compelled to surrender its political objectives. Without a glimmer of surprise, it was Pipes’ view that objective analysis identified Israel as the winner, Palestine the loser.  Yet despite this, the conflict dragged on because the Palestinian leadership with its head in the clouds refused to accept this reality. The task of Israel, with U.S. backing, was to intensify coercion until Palestine sees the light and surrenders, and a new normal can be established. Trump/Kushner use a twisted language of ‘peace’ rather than the transparency ofa ‘victory’ to set forth their conception of the end-game in the long struggle. The substance of the plan legitimizes Israel’s territorial and security ambitions and offers the Palestinians what is called ‘a state,’ but is in fact ‘a statelet’ that is nothing more than ‘a Bantustan,’ a shorthand reference to South African way of setting up totally subordinates political entities subject to the rigors of its apartheid structures of control. To encourage the Palestinians to swallow the Kool Aid of the deal of the century, the Palestinians are threatened with unnamed dire consequences if they reject, and enticed with sugar-coated offers of economic development assistance if they accept.

 

It is too early to gauge whether Palestine’s immediate rejection of the Trump/Kushner/Netanyahu victory approach will prevail. This undoubtedly depends on whether such an outcome is endorsed by the Israeli and American election results in 2020, especially the latter. If Netanyahu and Trump both win, then the Palestinian Authority will likely  experience coercive pressures to give up their political ambitions, and opt for a more normalized economic and social life as the best result they can hope for. What is striking from the perspective of the globalization hypothesis is the willingness of the U.S. to depart so unconditionally from the global consensus to support Israel in a manner that seems not only anti-internationalist, but also in all likelihood works against its broader and longer term strategic national interests in the Middle East, which cannot count on the indefinite repression of fiercely pro-Palestinian sentiments among Arab populations. As such, this path to ‘peace’ compounds the retreat from globalization with a costly challenge to stability in the region. This imprudent posture is domestically driven by narrowly parochial interests as epitomized by AIPAC lobbying leverage and Zionist donor pressures on the American political process (Mearcheimer & Walt, 2003). Although these features of the American political scene antedated Trump, his presidency has accentuated their relevance.

 

With respect to the U.S. approach to Israel/Palestine it might not have assumed such an extreme form without the specificity of the Trump election. In other words, retreat from globalization would likely have been present whoever was the Republican nominee in 2016 and even likely, in the event that Hillary Clinton had been elected. Yet the anticipated retreat would have taken place in those circumstances of new American political leadership without breaking the continuity of approach to Israel and the conflict in the radical manner adopted by Trump. The American retreat might have emphasized anti-migrant, economic nationalism, and confrontation with Russia to a greater extent, and possibly less drastic withdrawals from globalist engagements in the security domain. That is even with American leaders other than Trump accepting the politics of retreat, it seems rather likely that policy toward Israel and Palestine would have displayed only minor changes from the Bush/Obama years, probably becoming even more reluctant to  criticize Israel on settlement expansion than was Obama’s willingness to break with his own practice by allowing the 2016 criticism of Israel by the Security Council to reach a decision, abstaining rather than as on prior occasions, using its veto to shield Israel from formal censure even if it stood alone in doing so. It is never possible to be very confident about ‘what if’ conjectures, but nevertheless it seems highly unlikely that had a different president been voted into office in 2016 the approach to Palestinian grievances would have abandoned diplomacy and opted so openly for coercion and unilateralism. (Falk, 2017)

  

What likely would have occurred with the Republican alternatives to Trump in 2016 but not so if Clinton had won is a retreat from what might be called ‘normative globalization,’ which is the most obvious common anti-globalization stance being taken across the globe. What this normative dimension of retreat entails is a general lessening of confidence in and respect for the UN and international law, and a declining reliance on global approaches to problem-solving, whether the subject-matter is trade relations, human rights, migrant flow, or climate change.

 

In such a transactional atmosphere, problem-solving with respect to international conflict resolution relies heavily on coercive diplomacy among states and the geopolitical priorities of dominant states. The effect could be to sharpen geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and China, U.S. and Russia, and possibly give rise to a new Cold War, with regional military confrontations and dangerous escalation dangers. In this set of circumstances, the emergence of autocratic and ultra-nationalist leadership would lead to more pragmatic relationships reflecting geopolitical priorities rather than normative affinities based on shared values and world order commitments.

 

Risks Associated with Trump’s Version of Retreat from Globalization

Superficially, and in the short run, Israel has been a beneficiary of this U.S. shift in diplomatic posture, but there are secondary effects and contingencies that may yet turn out to be favorable to the Palestinian struggle. More concretely, this means that the United States no longer seeks to act in general accord with the international consensus that has been shaped over the decades at the UN and elsewhere, which although reflecting a pro-Israel bias, endorsed the view that this conflict could only be resolved by some sort of negotiated accommodation between Israelis and Palestinians that set the terms and established a process for achieving a sustainable peace.

 

Of course, this shift in U.S. policy reflected several converging factors that resulted in the Trump presidency of which a retreat from the UN consensus and rule-governed global diplomacy was only one element. Other factors included the influence exerted by Zionist donors in American domestic politics and by Trump family members, the softening of the attitudes of Arab governments toward Israel, the reduced Western dependence on Middle Eastern oil, and the heightening of tensions with Iran. Yet the retreat from globalization is of the greatest importance as explaining the disregard of the international consensus exhibited at the UN that had somewhat constrained earlier U.S. policy, yet these limits should not be overstated as they did not prevent the continuous erosion of Palestinian rights and expectations as measured by the rules and principles of international law. That is, despite U.S. global leadership, and endorsement of globalization, in relation to Israel/Palestine an incremental coercive diplomacy that favored Israel was what led to a steady deterioration of the Palestinian position. In this respect the super-partisanship of the Trump presidency removed the pretenses and inconsistencies of normative globalization that had not materially helped the Palestinian side, while covering up the one-sided support of Israel’s political zero-sum agenda. Does this greater clarity give Palestinians new opportunities as well as pose more severe challenges?

 

The United States has for more than 25 years claimed the role of indispensable intermediary in working toward a negotiated peace arrangement between Israel and Palestine. Such a role reflected its global leadership status that was without challenge after the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, as well as Israel’s insistence that if negotiations were ever to occur, they had to be conducted within a framework presided over by the United States. The U.S. status as global leader also corresponded with a renewed emphasis on the Middle East (and East Asia) given the altered historical circumstance. This meant replacing Europe as the strategic site of geopolitical struggle in a globalizing world. The importance of the Middle East for the United States reflected four interrelated concerns: access to the regional oil reserves at affordable prices; ensuring Israeli security; containing the spread of political Islam in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution (1979); avoiding any further proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region.

 

Given these realities there existed a strong diplomatic incentive on the part of the United States to find a solution to the Palestinian struggle that would alleviate pro-Palestinian pressures without appearing to weaken the ideological and strategic special relationship between the United States and Israel. After years of frustration on the diplomatic terrain, the Oslo Framework of Principles, agreed upon in 1993, seemed to provide a credible path to compromise and peace, consisting of the regional normalization of Israel as a legitimate state within agreed borders and the establishment of a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the joint capital of the two states, the satisfaction of Israeli security concerns, some kind of compensation as a substitute for the repatriation of Palestinian refugees, and the legalization of most of Israel unlawful encroachments (separation wall, settlements, road network, security zones) on formerly occupied Palestine. This peace dynamic, although sharply favorable to Israel, was viewed as the most realistic political compromise that could be achieved. Its adoption by the most affected parties also silenced  most opposition in international arenas. This new dynamic was celebrated as a major breakthrough, launched with theatrical fanfare by the dramatic handshake on the White House lawn. The famous 1993 picture of the Israeli leader, Yitzhak Rabin, shaking hands with the PLO leader, Yasir Arafat, and a smiling U.S. President, Bill Clinton standing in between, was the iconic climax of choosing this delusionary path to peace. These delusions were challenged two years later by the assassination of Rabin, and even more by the rightward drift of Israeli politics and the growing influence of the settler movement, but the diplomacy dragged on and on, and even the Palestinians seemed lulled to inaction as the diplomacy continued wending its way through a labyrinth without an exit.  

 

What is most relevant to the focus adopted here is that this diplomatic approach under U.S. auspices was superficially respectful toward the international consensus on how to address the conflict—that is, by diplomacy that was framed as negotiations between the parties, and was understood to seek compromises on the main issues in contention (territory, settlements, refugees, Jerusalem, security).  This outlook, supported by bipartisanship in the United States, meaning overwhelming Congressional support and a continuity of approach whether the president was a Democrat or Republican. This Oslo peace process seemed consistent with American foreign policy of ‘liberal internationalism’ that persisted throughout the Cold War, and endured until 9/11 occurred, and being finally discarded by Trump. The Trump orientation may be described as militarist geopolitics and ultra-nationalist illiberalism. As applied to Israel/Palestine this means the Pipes victory scenario presented as diktat with scant interest in enticing Palestinian acceptance. As such, with irony, this most pro-Israeli of all American presidents has ironically fractured Jewish support for Israel, alienating not only progressive Jews but also many liberal Zionists who believed in a negotiated two-state peace agreement (Bishara, 2020).

 

However, to gain a proper attitude toward the Trump stance, it is necessary to avoid an unjustified embrace of this prior American peace diplomacy. it is crucial to identify the weaknesses of an approach that claimed fairness to the Palestinians while strongly slanting the process and its intended outcome toward Israel. As with Pipes, yet skillfully disguised as a compromise, Oslo diplomacy when deconstructed reveals a weaker version of an Israeli victory scenario (Baake & Omer, 20–). By failing to mention a Palestinian right of self-determination or affirm the equality of the two sides, the Oslo framework of principles set in motion a one-sided diplomacy that gave weight to power disparities, a bias further reinforced by having an overtly partisan intermediary. This imbalance was further accentuated by the insistence that Palestinian negotiators swallow all objections to Israeli violations of international law until the so-called ‘final status’ negotiations at the last stage of the process. Palestinians were told that objecting in the present context would jeopardize the negotiations. Israel never ceased building and expanding its network of unlawful settlements and further encroaching on the Palestinian territorial remnant by securitizing the settlements, including connections to Israel, which truly undercut the credibility of negotiations. Beyond this, what were called ‘negotiations’ were basically occasions for Israel to put forward self-serving proposals for conflict resolution on a take it or leave it basis, realizing Israeli goals and neglecting Palestinian priorities, and undoubtedly expecting the Palestinian side to reject. In this period, the two sides also sought agreement in direct secret negotiations that were similarly, yet more explicitly, weighted in Israel’s favor, and indicated that despite the willingness of the PLO to give Israel most of what it wanted by way of keeping its settlements and meeting its security concerns the their Israeli counterparts showed little interest (Palestine Papers, 2—). Even if the two sides somehow had signed such a one-sided peace agreement it might not have produced anything more substantial than a pause in the struggle, in effect, one more periodic ceasefire, and quite likely rejected by both the Israeli and Palestinian publics. Succeeding generations of Palestinians would not be likely to accept the validity such permanent subjugation in what purports to be a post-colonial world order. The wild fires of the ethics of nationalism and the politics of self-determination would almost certainly have doomed an arrangement that left Palestinians languishing in an entity called a state, but lacking in the most elemental aspect of sovereignty, control over its own security.   

 

Even on the Israeli side, the Oslo slant may not have satisfied the implicit Zionist agenda of recovering the whole of the promised land, the biblical entitlement on which Israel’s claims rest, but was temporarily and tactically acceptable as it improved overall prospects to reach such a goal. This helps explain Israeli contentment despite a diplomatic process that seemed a bridge to nowhere, and never acknowledged Jewish biblical entitlement. For Israel the Oslo process was a bridge to somewhere, allowing the country to accumulate many facts on the ground, while further structuring the kind of apartheid state needed to check Palestinian resistance, thereby ensuring the stability of an ethnically based hegemonic social, economic, and political order. For Palestine, Oslo diplomacy proved to be a political disaster despite its initial gift wrapping, as the noose of victimization tightened to the point that Palestinians became virtual strangers, or even captives, in their own homeland, slowly recognizing that when the wrappings were removed the package within was an empty box. Such a dual process of Israel’s gain and Palestine’s loss occurred while the globalization fever remained high, and this one-sided dynamic achieved its momentum years before deglobalization trends became evident.

 

When Trump arrived on the political scene in 2017, the de facto reality of an Israeli one-state solution coexisted with defunct governmental and UN continued adherence to a de jure vision of a two-state outcome. What Trump sought by dropping the pretense of negotiating the future for Israel and Palestine was a changed formula for ending the struggle over the sequel to the British Mandate. Even Trump did not overtly affirm the major Zionist premise of biblical entitlement, using the accepted international terminology of ‘the West Bank’ rather than the promised land language of ‘Judea and Samaria.’ The Trump/Kushner approach legitimized facts on the ground as of 2020, suspending all scrutiny of the lawlessness by which the facts were accumulated. Kushner expressed this outlook clearly in an interview the day after the White House finally released its peace plan: “I’m not looking at the world as it existed in 1967. I’m looking at the world as it exists in 2020.” As well, Trump/Kushner’s deal avoided an explicit endorsement of the analysis of Pipes based on using force to induce the Palestinian leadership to surrender its political goals and accept Israel’s victory in the long struggle between these two peoples to control the identity of the homeland in what had been a Palestinian entity during the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate.

 

The other distinctive feature of the Trump approach was the explicit disregard of Palestinian rights under international law. The American Secretary of State in language rather parallel to the sentiments expressed by Kushner articulated the view that it was time to abandon the earlier U.S. official stance of regarding Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory as unlawful. In Mike Pompeo’s words of explanation, “..arguments about who is right and wrong in international law will not bring peace.” On behalf of the PLO, Hanan Ashrawi articulated anger and frustration in a tone of understandable exasperation: “We cannot express horror and shock because this is a pattern, but that doesn’t make it any less horrific..total disregard of international law, what is right and just, and for peace.” Although Ashrawi’s words resonate with attitudes toward international law pre-Trump and pre-retreat, the discontinuity is not as great as liberal internationalists contend (ICJ, 2004). All through the post-1967 period of occupation, while the settlement process and related encroachments on Palestinian rights and aspirations occurred, the Palestinians were counseled to withhold their international law objections so that the peace process might go forward, and the Israelis were lightly scolded as their expansionist dreams became building projects. In this spirit violating international law was ‘unhelpful,’ but if sustained, could gain legal acceptance as they did in 2004 when the Bush/Sharon exchange of letters (Bush/Sharon, 2004) declared that the settlement blocs would become part of Israel’s sovereign territory in any future peace arrangement.

 

Rhetoric matters, and this overt show of disregard for international law is an integral aspect of this broader retreat from globalization.  Respect for and confidence in international law and procedures is a vital precondition for encouraging globally cooperative approaches to problems that affect the world as a whole. The proudest achievements of liberal internationalism along these lines were based on lawmaking treaties governing such disparate matters as the public order of the oceans, the development of Antarctica, and some aspects of military competition in the nuclear age. With the rise of ultra-nationalism and the decline of global leadership by the United States, world order is again reliant on the pre-1945 state-centric style of geopolitical rivalry, but facing the severe diverse challenges of global scope that threaten the world with catastrophe in the 2020s and beyond.

 

The main risks attributable to this interplay between the retreat from globalization and the super-partisanship of American policy toward Israel/Palestine can be summarized as follows:

–stabilizing Israel’s apartheid state, while denying the Palestinian people basic human rights, particularly, the right of self-determination;

–weakening respect for international law, the UN, and the authority of diplomatic resolution of international disputes;

–expressing the transition in the American global and regional leadership roles from a liberal internationalist perspective to that of rogue superpower;

–lending support to an outcome of the long struggle based on power rather than law or ethic, thereby establishing a very unfortunate precedent for conflict resolution in the 21st century.

 

 

Opportunities Resulting from the New Realities of Retreat and U.S. Hyper-Partisanship

At first glance, the situation following the release of the Trump/Kushner seems totally discouraging. It affirms the form and substance of Israel’s right-wing leadership, whether Likud or Blue/White, and reflects the dominant Zionist agenda reflecting ‘biblical entitlement’ to the whole of the promised land, either by direct or indirect sovereign control. As such it rejects a political compromise. It seems to confront Palestinians with the unhappy alternatives of political surrender or forcible resistance. Paths promising a political compromise, sovereign equality, and resting on international diplomacy seem indefinitely closed. Beyond this, the important Arab governments are silently siding with Israel, and Palestinians are without any realistic prospect of unified leadership. Given the recognition of this situation, it is difficult not to succumb to despair.

 

And yet, the Palestinians show no sign of regarding their struggle as ‘a lost cause.’ Resistance activity remains robust, and no element of the Palestinian leadership seems ready to sign on to the U.S. proposals, despite the temptations afforded by the offers of economic relief, which must be difficult to dismiss given the desperate plight of the 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza and the diminishing sense of national territory in the West Bank, given Israeli accelerating encroachments and Washington bright green light given expansionist ambitions and cruel, coercive tactics.

 

Such an unfavorable context is reinforced by the retreat from globalization. This retreat as complemented by ultra-nationalism has resulted in reduced respect for the authority of the UN, as well as weakened pressures for a genuine two-state compromise at the UN, which is itself supplemented by less willingness to challenge Israeli defiance of international humanitarian law. The utter disregard of Israeli continual reliance on excessive violence at the Gaza border is emblematic of both disregard by the media, UN, and EU for Palestinian rights and Israeli lawlessness.

 

Yet these developments, as paradoxical as it may sound, also have the potential to improve Palestinian prospects. There are two broad explanations. First, the earlier posture in international society had not been helpful to the Palestinian struggle for basic rights. As earlier suggested, Israel acted to undermine the core element in what was regarded as the international consensus, namely, the establishment of a viable sovereign Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. By allowing the settlement movement to go forward with subsidized government assistance and encouragement the Israeli government signaled its intention to never let go of control over ‘the promised land.’ Even if forced by geopolitical pressures to accept some kind of demilitarized Palestinian state, the obstacles involved in reversing the settlement dynamic in the West Bank and Jerusalem became more formidable with each passing month. Almost as tellingly, the internal Israeli reference points of ‘Judea and Samaria’ of the West Bank along with the unification and formal annexation of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people underscored the Zionist sense of biblical entitlement as the non-negotiable foundation of its claim rather than the mixture of legal, moral, and political considerations that formed the vision of both the consensus at the UN and the outlook project by ‘liberal Zionists’ in the Jewish diaspora (Khalidi, Brokers, 200-).

 

Secondly, the combinaton of releasing the Trump/Kushner plan and its embrace not only by Netanyahu, and the Likud Party, but by Gantz and Blue and White, clarifies two aspect of the overall situation that had been previously somewhat obscure: (1) present prospects of any form of political compromise to resolve the conflict by diplomacy between the parties are dead for the foreseeable future; (2) advancing the Palestinian struggle at this stage depends on sustaining the legitimacy war that uses all means available to react against Israeli lawlessness and immorality, including international judicial tribunals and the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly (Falk, 2017), continuing various forms of Palestinian resistance to demonstrate that the struggle lives on within Palestinian society, and building momentum in global civil society by soft power means, currently most effectively expressed by the BDS Campaign.

 

In effect, the Palestinian struggle has shifted its center of gravity from its intergovernmental axes to that of the resistance and solidarity. In other words, the role of governments and international institutions, once dominant, is now discredited and subordinated. At some later stage of the conflict, if a balance more favorable to the protection of Palestinian rights is achieved or there is some kind of change of outlook in the United States and/or Israel, then there might again emerge a greater willingness to allow a diplomatic framework to help fashion a mutually acceptable political compromise, but with a major difference. The new diplomacy to have any chance of success in producing a sustainable peace arrangement, must proceed on the basis of the formal and existential equality of the parties, either relying on direct inter-governmental negotiations or by selecting a credibly neutral mediating framework.

 

This alternative more positive framework for conflict resolution not only depends on delegitimation, resistance, and solidarity, it also depends critically on a prior Israeli decision to dismantle the apartheid features of its state structures that now subordinate and victimize the Palestine people as a whole (including refugees, exiles, minority in pre-1967 Israel) on the basis of racial criteria (Falk & Tilley, 2017). Considering the similarities and dissimilarities with the South African experience is also illuminating. The changed balance achieved with respect to South African apartheid was largely achieved by resistance and solidarity initiatives, although unlike the Israel/Palestine conflict, aided by a globalized anti-apartheid campaign. It was a soft power triumph in the end, although that the threat and reality of armed struggle was never eliminated. In the end, the white leadership made a calculated decision that their interest would be better served by accepting what a decade earlier seemed a utopian impossibility—that is, a transition to a multiracial constitutional democracy, which the demographics made clear, would means that the long victimized African majority would control the political destiny of the country. The bargain, a kind of ‘genuine deal of the century’ was a tribute to the skills of Nelson Mandela and the leadership of de Klierk, that made the white minority take their chances based on guarantees of their economic and social rights. Mandela has been criticized for allowing the white to retain their privileged economic position and social status, but without such flexibility, any transition to post-apartheid South Africa would have been violent and bloody.

 

Although Israeli Zionists have genuine demographic concerns given the relative size and fertility rates of the two peoples, their prospects in a secular constitutional democracy for a large share of control over the institutions of governance would remain much more favorable to Jews, provided Jews would not abandon such a post-apartheid state and Palestinians would uphold the rights of the Jews if they were to gain control over the governing process. Undoubtedly, the situation would reflect the context, including geopolitical factors and the motivations, wisdom, and skills of the leadership on both sides.

 

What seems clear, whether the retreat from globalization deepens or is reversed, is that the preconditions of ending Israeli apartheid and accepting commitments to the substance and spirit of equality on both sides is essential to overcoming the present approach premised on a victory scenario combined with the spirit and substance of inequality, which will add to Palestinian suffering without achieving Israeli peace and security. In these circumstances, unlikely to be altered in the near future, the present pattern of control and encroachment will continue.

 

A Concluding Comment

The preceding analysis leads to the conclusion that the retreat from globalization is one factor in altering the nature of the Palestinian struggle, but may not in the end affect the outcome. In the immediate setting, it seems like a major setback for the Palestinians as the Israelis have unambiguous geopolitical support for their most extravagant claims, and there is no meaning countervailing power at either the regional or global levels. Yet in the post-colonial period, a long subjugated people do not give up their dreams of political independence and their grievances of rights denied, especially in the Palestinian as long endorsed by the UN and international public opinion. One development favoring the Palestinians, and evidently worrying the Israelis, is the increasing acceptance of the view that Israel maintains an apartheid structure of control over the Palestinian people and that the Israel needs to be perceived as the last remaining significant settler colonial state. This chance of discourse has been countered by branding activists and critics as ‘anti-Semites’ although their opposition to Israel is nonviolent and unrelated to hostility to Jews as a people, but to the Israeli state as depriving the majority resident population of its rights of self-determination and its overall human rights.

 

Each struggle has its own features, and this is particularly true in the case of Israel/Palestine. A crucial such distinguishing feature is that Israel managed to impose its political will on Palestine with the help of British colonial support, yet able to come to independence as a powerful manifestation of anti-colonial struggle by coercing not only the Palestinians, but making life untenable for the British (Kaplan, 2019). Of course, the last stage of the struggle to establish Israel in the face of Palestinian and Arab opposition were a series of developments in Europe favorable to the Zionist project, especially the moral sympathy arising from Nazi genocidal behavior and the liberal guilt of Europe and North America arising from their failure to challenge German murderous racism. These factors led to the premature legitimation of Israel in 1948, reaching its climax by admission to the United Nations without first resolving Palestinian grievances in a satisfactory manner. Such an attempt might not have succeeded in any event as the Palestinian side refused the idea of partitioning its homeland, and the Zionist side, although outwardly ready to strike a pragmatic bargain never gave up its vision of restoring sovereignty over the biblical homeland of the Jewish people.

 

Finally, the retreat from globalization is too new and contingent, to serve as a basis for anticipating the future as it impacts on the Israel/Palestine struggle. As suggested, present realities suggest that the situation seems to favor Israeli ambitions, but some factors could strengthen the Palestinian position overnight, such as the rejection of Trump in the 2020 American elections, the true unification of Palestinian leadership, or the shift toward democratic populism in the Arab world as foreshadowed by the 2011 uprisings. In the event of a restored spirit of globalization an early undertaking might be renewed attention to Palestinian grievances, and a resolve to take action to complete the policy agenda of decolonization and racial equality that dominated the last decades of the prior century .   

 

 

References

 

Abunimah, A.(2014) The Battle for Justice in Palestine. Chicago,Il: Haymarket Books.

 

Bauck, P. & Omer, M. (eds) (2013)  The Oslo Accords: A Critical Assessment 1993-2013. Cairo, Egypt, American University in Cairo Press

 

Bishara, M. (2020) “U.S. and Israel Vote: Two ‘Racist’ Incumbents and Two Proud Jews,” https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/israel-vote-racist-incumbents-proud-jews-200302062307608.html

 

 

“Exchange of Letters between PM Sharon and President Bush” (2004) <mfa.gov.il>

 

 

Falk, R.A. (1999) Predatory Globalization: A Critique. Cambridge, UK, Polity Press

 Falk, R. A. (2014) Humanitarian Intervention and Legitimacy Wars: Seeking Peace and Justice in the 21st Century. London, UK: Routledge

 

Falk. R.A. & Tilley, V.Q. 2017. “Israeli Practices and the Question of Apartheid.” Beiirut, Lebanon, Economic and Social Council for West Asia (ESCWA

 

Falk, R.A. (2017)  Palestine Horizon: Toward a Just Peace. London,UK: Pluto Press.

 

Falk, R. Blog on Security Council 2016 decision on settlements

 

“Legal Consequences of Constructing a Wall on Occupied Palestinian Territory,” International Court of Justice, Advisory Opinion, 8 July 2004

 

Kaplan, A. (2018) Our American Israel: The Story of an Entangled Alliance. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. )

 

Kattan, V. (2003) From Coexistence to Conquest: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1871-1949. London, UK: Pluto Press.

 

Khalidi, R. (2013) Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Undermined Peace in the Middle East. Boston, MA: Beacon Press

 

Mearsheimer, J & S. Walt (2002) The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

 

Olson, P. (2011) Fast Times in Palestine: A Love Affair with a Homeless Homeland. Seal Press.

 

Pipes, D. (2018) “Achieving Peace Through Israeli Victory.” <www.danielpipes.org>

 

Said, E. W. (2000) The End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After. New York: Pantheon.

 

Slaughter, A-M. (2004) The New World Order. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

 

Slaughter, A-M. (2017) The Chessboard and the Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

 

Swisher, C.E. (2011) The Palestine Papers The End of the Road. Chatham, UK: Hesperus Press.

 

UN General Assembly, Res. ES-10/L.22.  (2017) On Moving American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

 

(2016)“Israel Settlements Without Legal Validity,” UN Security Council Res. 2334,

 

(2020) “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People.” Washington, D.C.: White House.

     

  

Acknowledging Disorientation After COVID-19: Beyond Horizons of Fear and Doubt

3 May

Acknowledging Disorientation After COVID-19: Beyond Horizons of Fear and Doubt

More than earlier crises of my lifetime, including the Great Depression, World War II, 9/11, the COVID-19 pandemic illuminates as never before, how precarious and uncertain is the future wellbeing, and possibly survival, of the human species. The concreteness, immediacy, and haunting uncertainties of the pandemic is quite terrifying on its own, but its heuristic pedagogy seems applicable to a range of potentially catastrophic threats of global scope, most obviously climate change, biodiversity, nuclear weaponry. What we should now be able to realize even while asleep is that when the under-preparedness of governance and political leadership is based on ignoring a scientific consensus is combined with radical uncertainty and myopic nationalism the stage is set for planetary and species disaster, and not only personal grief and national emergency. These signature traits of the 21st century heighten our fears and feelings of utter helplessness that gives way to a dizzying disorientation of beliefs and expectations, a fertile breeding ground for political extremism, scapegoating, and the darkest flights of fancy.

As much as the horrifying spectacle of hospitals without beds for critically ill patients and too many dead bodies to find room in city morgues or funeral homes is this sense that the lethality of COVID-19 could have been significantly mitigated if political leaders of important countries had heeded two types of advance warnings from reliable sources. There was a foreboding prediction during the past five years by epidemiologists and other health experts that conditions existed around the world that made a viral pandemic a near certainty in coming years. It was just a matter of time. For governments of affluent countries to ignore such warnings from respected experts, and in a few cases even reduce the funding of their national health systems in recent years, as the U.S. and UK are reported to have done, should be regarded as a Crime Against Humanity, malign behavior worse than gross negligence or administrative incompetence.

In addition, there were a series of authoritative disclosures of the actual COVID-19 outbreak weeks before many governments undertook suitable preparations with regard to testing kits, masks, and personal protective equipment (PPE). Instead of rational and prudent preparations, the views of qualified experts either never reached the ears of leaders and their advisors or were thrown by leaders into the nearest waste basket as alarmist rubbish, at best distractions from the only real job of peacetime government—promoting markets and pro-rich growth. Politicians like Trump, Bolsonaro, Modi, Johnson, and others did even worse, actively denying, denigrating, and dismissing concerns until the spread of the disease became undeniable with several national health systems in leading countries reacting in emergency modes on the brink of been overwhelmed. If prudent and rational, this grave peril would never have happened, especially in countries with adequate health infrastructures.

 

The most elementary lesson from the pandemic so far is that adoption of the Precautionary Principle should become mandatory for organs of government and political officials at every level of social organization from the municipality to the UN, and especially at the level of governments of sovereign states. The wellbeing, security, and defense of national populations is widely assumed to be the prime duty of political leaders in a still state-centric system of world order. Such vigilance by leaders should be treated as more important than living up to the oath of office, and the failure to do so regarded as a flagrant violation of public trust, warranting a punitive removal from office. Basically, the Precautionary Principle decrees that expert warnings about impending public dangers should shape governance policies, even when available evidence does not produce conclusive results as to the extent and imminence of the risk. The precautionary approach insists on paying the costs of anticipatory prudence as over against reliance on reactive crisis management, especially under circumstances that pose substantial risks of severe future harm. The Precautionary Principle, informally long practiced and advocated with respect to health, was first internationally articulated and proposed with respect to expert warning about potentially catastrophic future environmental damage if corrective steps are not taken.  The recent focus of precautionary thought and advocacy has been seeking that proper account be taken  of the dire warnings derived from global warning projections. An influential formulation of the Precautionary Principle is set forth in Principle 15 of the Final Declaration of the Rio Earth Summit of 1992: “In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”

The concreteness of COVID-19 disease, as immediate, life-threatening, personal, planetary, and undeniable contrasts with other threats that are presently less visible, often more distant, and not as vividly or convincingly intruding on the security of everyday life. Yet the pattern is the same: prudent anticipation is cheaper, safer, more effective, and humane than are reactive measures, especially in view of the disproportionate vulnerability of marginalized ethnic minorities, prisons and retirement homes, and impoverished communities and crowded urban settings. In this sense, a difficult part of the post-pandemic challenge is not only to renovate the health system so as to be adequately prepared, but to transfer this elementary knowledge about dealing with global health threats to other policy domains while acknowledging the diversity of risks and distinctive types of likely harm. An existing scientific consensus projects with reasonable assurance the high probability of increasingly more dangerous levels of future global warming and of diminishing biodiversity if the dissemination of greenhouse gasses is not drastically reduced. Society lacks comparable capabilities to make such high confidence predictions with respect to the advent of nuclear war or the danger of a large meteor striking the earth. In other words, fidelity to the Precautionary Principle depends on intelligent calibration to particularities of risk that pertain to each issue of concern, but with a similar resolve to apply prudently the anticipatory knowledge available.

In this fundamental sense, what is true for COVID-19 is also true for climate change and biodiversity, and likely even more so. Current levels of information suggest that even a dysfunctional delayed response will in due course contain the pandemic although with a needlessly large number of fatalities, as well as high degrees of economic and social dislocation. Yet despite the massive scale of disruption, a pandemic is expected to subside, although accompanied by some new risks of recurrence, permitting at least a prudently regulated return to normalcy. In contrast, once global warming crosses unknowable thresholds or biodiversity declines beyond a certain point, there may be no turning back, the ecological balance could become beyond the reach of alteration by human action or could only be achieved by very austere or expensive downward adjustments in standards of living and life style. This would incur much human suffering and political unrest along the way, especially if the adjustment process favors the rich and powerful, and victimizes the poor and vulnerable, which seems inevitable at this point given the way policy is formed and life circumstances structured.

The second obvious ‘teaching moment’ that has emerged during the health crisis is the globality of the challenge as contrasted with the statist fragmentation of the divisive response structures. Imposing geopolitically motivated sanctions on a state that weakens its societal capability to contain the spread and treatment of the virus virtually ensures that contagion will cross borders in greater numbers, and give rise to prolonging the pandemic and increasing the number of infections elsewhere, including quite possibly in the sanctioning countries. The sanctions currently weakening the coping capabilities of such countries such as Iran and Venezuela create a lose/lose series of antagonistic relationships between the targeted states and the rest of the world, and should be also considered as ‘geopolitical crimes’ or Crimes Against Humanity rather than as discretionary aspects of normal diplomacy. As well, maintaining such sanctions during the pandemic works against operationalizing the insight of global solidarity—‘we are all in this together’—rather than thinking of a riven world in neo-fascist terms of ‘friends and enemies.’

The Trump presidency, oblivious to the pragmatic argument of mutuality against maintaining sanctions during the COVID-19 pandemic is even more tone deaf when it comes to humanitarian normative arguments based on law and morality resting on the unacceptability and unlawfulness of international uses of force that have a primary impact on civilian populations. It is helpful to recall the notorious remark of Madeleine Albright, then U.S. Secretary of State, when asked by Leslie Stahl in the course of a ’60 Minutes’ interview whether an estimated 500,000 deaths of children attributed to the punitive sanctions imposed on Iraq after the First Gulf War five years earlier in 1991 were worth such a high human cost of innocent young live. Stahl’s question to Albright, “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” And Albright’s memorable response: “I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.” Although Albright later expressed remorse about her own phraseology, suggesting that she should have put the blame on Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein for withholding food from civilians rather than admitting that the deaths resulted from the sanctions. Actually, her spontaneous response was more truthful than her later attempt to shift blame for their inhumane impacts. Why would sanctions be maintained if not felt to be worthwhile from a geopolitical perspective? Beyond this, evidence shows that the Iraqi government behaved responsibly, establishing a food rationing arrangement that made every effort to protect Iraqi civilians from starvation. Trump, and his lead foreign policy spokesperson, Mike Pompeo seem to go further than Albright’s insensitive remark, by intensifying sanctions during the pandemic, grotesquely seeking to exploit the added vulnerability of these targeted societies while meeting the demands of the health crisis.

Trump defies globality in a further scandalous manner by blaming China for the COVID-19 outbreak, again opting for antagonistic tensions rather than affirming human solidarity and mutually beneficial cooperation. Trump also chose the time of this pandemic to defame and defund the WHO because of its supposed complicity with China’s failure to disclose sooner the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan. There is no reasonable evidence supporting such inflammatory charges against China or the WHO, and even if the allegations were to some extent accurate, it would not justify antagonizing China or weakening the WHO capabilities at a time when it is playing a crucial role in providing information and guidance to the many countries in the global South that do not have sufficient national health capabilities to depend on national or even regional capabilities. It should be beyond argument that a pandemic threat of this magnitude and lethality needs to be addressed by counseling maximum cooperation among states and through bolstering the resources and capabilities of global coordinating mechanisms. Instead of defaming and defunding the WHO at this time, the responsible approach would be to express gratitude for its existence by pledges of greater funding support. To repeat, such a litany that is true for COVID-19 is as true or truer for other serious present and impending problems of global scope and potentially severe magnitude. The so-called retreat from globalization that partly results from some negative structural consequences of neoliberalism, which has given rise to resurgent nationalisms, seems understandable with respect to the relation of states to the world economy. Nevertheless, it is a disaster if this enhanced statism is extended, as seems to be the case, to ecological and ethical contexts that give substance to nationalist standpoints. Interconnectedness and widely diverse material circumstances are manageable under contemporary conditions only if the behavior of sovereign states accord far greater weight than now to policy coordination and collaboration by way of internationalism, as well as exhibit concrete appreciation of the practical and principled benefits of honoring the imperatives of empathy, hospitality, and human solidarity.

Decades ago, the American poet, Robert Frost, put his prophetic gift to work on what has now become a planetary truism for those who ponder the future of the human experience. In a poem, ‘One Step Backward Taken’ these words of Frost shine:

“I felt my standpoint shaken

In the universal crisis.”

Although I was conscious of the degree to which modern history featured a series of surprises that eluded experts, I was nevertheless surprised by the ferocity and rapid planetization of the Coronavirus assault on human health, and lifechanging, and likely permanent, ramifications for economic and social normalcy. It was not only a revelation of the precariousness of our individual and collective existence, but a stark reminder of the relevance of a sphere of life not previously given the societal and global attention and resources that were warranted. One question that will not be answered for some years is whether the aftermath of the pandemic will generate ‘a new world order,’ and if so, will it be an improvement on what existed before COVID-19. From past experiences, there is little reason to be hopeful unless a revolutionary movement below unexpectedly, effectively, and creatively challenges the established order.

The rhetoric of new world order was initially fashionable as a call for global reform at the dawn of the post-colonial age with its calls in the 1970s for ‘a new international economic order’ and ‘a new international information order,’ emanating from expectations that fairness was attainable if sufficient pressure from what was then known as ‘the Third World’ was mounted. These hopes were crushed by the political and economic forces aligned with capitalist geopolitics in the North dominating the existing world order at the time.

Almost twenty years later came George H. W. Bush’s mobilization of a response to Iraq’s conquest, occupation, and annexation of Kuwait in 1990 by suggesting that ‘a new world order’ was in the making by which he meant that the UN could function to prevent ‘aggression’ in the post-Cold War atmosphere as was originally intended when the UN was established in 1945. After Kuwaiti sovereignty was restored in the First Gulf War, the U.S. Government rushed to shrink expectations about a UN-centric world security system, fearing the responsibilities of being designated as the global peacekeeper. In the words of a leading Washington official at the time this idea of a new world order reliant on the UN ‘was put back on the shelf,’ that is, it was an idea that had served its purpose with respect to Kuwait but should not be counted upon to provide guidance for the future, especially tying American foreign policy and geopolitical discretion to a prior UN authorizations. In an unpublicized talk at Princeton James Baker, the influential U.S. Secretary of State at the time, gave a different spin. In essence Baker said, “Bush was wrong to associate the new world order with the centrality of the UN with regard to peace and security. He should have identified the new world order with the triumph of the American way of life in the Cold War, accompanied by glowing references to market economies and constitutionalism, which provided the contours of what became known during the 1990s as ‘the Washington consensus’ or ‘neoliberal globalization.’

We now can ask whether today’s politicians will think differently about the prospects for a new world order after the pandemic comes under control, and the crisis mood dissipates even if doesn’t fully disappear? It seems more likely that two clashing tendencies will dominate the pandemic aftermath. The first tendency will seek to restore the pre-pandemic dynamic of economic and political order, with modifications limited to augmenting the health sector, and taking advantage of the earlier dislocations to replace workers with machines. The second worrisome tendency is for political leaders to take advantage of the emergency prerogatives of government during the pandemic to institutionalize technologies of surveillance and control, while hardening their borders against immigrants and asylum seekers.

If actualized, neither of these two tendencies will give greater weight to global cooperation, human solidarity, UN authority, empathy, hospitality, and adherence to the Precautionary Principles in dealing with menacing threats clearly visible on the horizon of near future expectations. This further intensification of an already overly politically fragmented world order may be dramatic enough to lead critics to call attention to its defects by again applying the label of ‘new world order.’

If a benign new order built on the principles of stability and justice mentioned above, it will depend on pressures from a transnational movement rooted in civil society, and probably first arising in the Asian context, where several regional government displayed their superior problem-solving skills in the course of containing the COVID-19 challenge. Such a scenario could be endorsed, and even led, by China, the country more than any other with the stature and political imagination to take over global leadership from the United States, which has by its own will and dysfunctional behavior forfeited its prior role, at least temporarily. Of course, it is possible that a post-Trump America will heed Kissinger’s plea for a resumption of U.S. global leadership in ways that take inspiration from its successful restoration of a generally peaceful phase of world order after World War II. Or alternatively, possibly join with China in establishing a collaborative geopolitical framework to address more holistically and cooperatively the currently unsatisfactory responses to ecological, social, and economic global challenges. If this scenario emerges in either form, the label of new world order may yet come to be regarded as a sign of progress and hope, yet its realization will not happen without transnational activism of unprecedented depth and perseverance.

Only then can we recover a standpoint that upholds expectations for a humane and functional response to the universal crisis, which then would allow us to speak hopefully and responsibly about a new world order.