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Toward Geopolitical Disengagement: Uncertain yet Desirable

13 Jan

[Prefatory Note: The post below was published in Middle East Eye on 30 December 2018, and is here reproduced with some modification. Humility in assessment is necessary as what we see tends to be partial and incomplete. Radical uncertainty is the appropriate interpretative outlook, which means that the future could break either bad or good. For a region that has endured so much suffering and abuse, I offer fervent wishes that we will be surprised by hopeful developments during coming months. Altready the shakeup of regional politics and perceptions due to the Trump withdrawal move is ambiguous in its implications, but seemingly leading in the positive direction of U.S. political disengagement, and an end to the delusions of being ‘a force for good.’



Toward Geopolitical Disengagement: Uncertain yet Desirable


Ever since the World War I travesties of Sykes/Picot and the Balfour Declaration, the Middle East has been the scene of geopolitical rivalries and unfolding nationalist narratives that veered uneasily between extremes of tyranny and chaos. A second post-Ottoman milestone was crossed in 1956 when the United States displaced its main European allies, the UK and France as the principal manager of Western interests in the region, which at the time centered on the Cold War containment of the Soviet Union, safeguarding Western access to Gulf oil and trade routes, and sustaining Israeli security. A further phase emerged after the ending of Cold War geopolitical bipolarity. This was soon followed by the 9/11 attacks on the United States, which supplied the pretext for a series of disastrous interventions in the name of counterterrorism.


Post-colonial Turmoil


Then came the uprisings of 2011 consisting of a series of popular movements displacing several authoritarian regimes, followed by an array of foreign interventions, proxy wars, prolonged strife, and massive civilian suffering throughout the region. One result of these anti-authoritarian uprisings has been a surge of counterrevolutionary violence and intensified repressive tendencies. Beyond this, U.S./Saudi/Israeli extreme hostility toward Iran has threatened for years to explode into a regional war of great ferocity.


Into this maelstrom of violence and disorder, the ascent of Trump to U.S. leadership two years ago seemed a huge dump of oil on these already raging fires in the Arab world. Such apprehensions were quickly realized: giving the green light to the Saudi/UAE ultimatum directed at Qatar, going all out to help Israel impose an apartheid state on the Palestinian people, and building a war mongering alliance with Riyadh and Tel Aviv to produce some sort of final showdown with Iran. And worst of all, remaining complicit in the Saudi intervention in Yemen, a humanitarian catastrophe that has pushed over 17 millions Yemenis to the brink of starvation.



Syrian Withdrawal


As the world has learned, often painfully, Trump is the least predictable  and most irresponsible political figure ever to govern in the United States. On the home front, his policies have been ideologically coherent, leaning far to the right on such varied matters as immigration, trade, taxes, law enforcement policies, and respect for constitutional guidelines. On foreign policy, there has been Trumpist bluster and erratic behavior, but nothing very disruptive other than perhaps the Jerusalem embassy move, that is, until the sudden announcement of the withdrawal of 2,000 American troops from Syria a few days ago, to be followed by reducing by 50% the combat presence of American forces in Afghanistan.


This Syrian move has shaken the national security establishment in Washington, and supposedly further undermined confidence in America’s global role among NATO allies and, above all, upset Israel and Saudi Arabia. In this case, Trump overrode the unanimous advice of his hawkish advisors and ministers, failed to consult with allies, and justified the withdrawal by misleadingly claiming the defeat of ISIS.  The magnitude of the government crisis was signaled by the announced resignation of General Jim Mattis, Secretary of Defense, and underscored by his letter condemning the president’s approach in all but name. This letter of resignation was immediately treated as scripture by Democrats, as well by such stalwarts of liberalism as CNN and the NY Times. It even led several Republicans to at last step forward to denounce Trump’s new Syria policy, contending that it betrays the Kurds, rewards the Russians and the Assad regime, and is red meat for the undefeated ISIS legions.


Assuming that Trump does not pull the rug out from under his own initiative, it certainly merits deserve a more balanced consideration, and quite likely a favorable assessment. The American military presence in Syria was always problematic, too modest to be a game changer, but significant enough to prolong the Syrian agony. With respect to ISIS, it may not be defeated, but the main players in Syria at this point—the Syrian government, Russia, and Iran all have strong immediate incentives to carry the fight against ISIS to a successful conclusion. We cannot know what Turkey will do with respect to the Kurds operating close to its border in northern Syria and supposedly linked to the armed struggle movement of the PKK centered in the Kandil Mountains of Iraq. We can hope that Erdogan gave Trump some assurances when they talked of foregoing an escalation of anti-Kurdish military efforts and the Syrian Kurds and their allies among the Turkish Kurds will on their side explore deescalating options.

What we can be encouraged by, especially if account is also taken of the withdrawal of half of the American combat contingents in Afghanistan, announced just one day later, is that Trump seems to be giving substance to his long deferred campaign promise to end foreign interventions and give emphasis to restoring the quality of life in the United States. If this is indeed the case then it is bad news for the Saudi and Israeli hawks. They expected Trump to lead this most unholy of alliances to the gates of Tehran, maybe not by military means, but at least by intensified forms of coercive diplomacy and a variety of destabilizing tactics. Trump has deservedly earned a reputation for habitual inconsistency, or for staying the course once a policy comes under fire. At least for the moment, it would seem that the Syrian withdrawal, even if slowed down by deep state pushback, is best understood as part of a larger political disengagement from failed military adventures in distant countries at great cost and almost no political results. If this happens, it will be a major defeat for the ‘bipartisan consensus’ that promoted U.S. global militarism ever since the end of World War II as the twin sibling of neoliberal globalization.


All and all, what emerges is certainly not a pretty picture yet there are grounds to be more positive than the strongly negative reactions of the political elites in America and Western Europe. The disavowing of foreign military intervention by the United States is long overdue, given the record of political failure and the trail of suffering left behind. Yet more important, and undoubtedly not part of any coherent revision of grand strategy by Trump, is the possibility that a reduced political engagement by the United States in the Middle East will encourage regional moves toward moderation, self-determination, and co-existence. Such disengagement would allow the realities of a post-colonial Middle East to break freer of the shackles of geopolitics. Even the Israeli leadership might feel encouraged over time to reconsider their approach to the Palestinian national movement, and shift their focus from seeking an apartheid victory to envisioning a political compromise that presupposes the true equality of both peoples with a single secular democratic state.


The context of the Syrian withdrawal is also consistent with the drift of several recent regional developments. First of all, the grotesque murder of Kamal Khoshoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul has made it less feasible than before to join hands with the leadership in Riyadh, and solidify the anti-Iran alliance with Israel and the United States. As well, the dreadful Saudi  intervention in Yemen, undertaken with American support, has already caused massive suffering, and threatens to produce what is already being called the worst famine in the last hundred years. Moves at a Stockholm Conference of the parties agreed on the establishment of a UN presence to open the main Yemeni port at Hudaydah, handling 80% of food imports. If this initiative holds it would be a hopeful step back from the brink of a worsening humanitarian catastrophe. If this de-escalation gains momentum it would  likely reinforce the sense of geopolitical disengagement that is now associated with removing American troops from Syria, but might also encourage ending US complicity in the Yemen War.


These conjectures about a possibly better future for the Middle East in 2019 are beset by profound uncertainties. Aside from Trump further giving way to militarist counter-pressures, there is the possibility that he has at last crossed the red line of reluctant acceptance by the Republican Party facing its own lose/lose future. Such a dilemma could translate into a determined effort to force Trump from presidential power one way or another. He would then be replaced by the current vice president, Mike Pence, seemingly an ideological colleague on the home front, but unlikely to buck the national security establishment on its core global posture, namely, an unshakable belief in the benevolence and efficacy of American military power. Pence would be freed to produce a foreign policy that was both independent of Trump’s 2016 campaign for the presidency and not twisted to such an extent to satisfy Israel’s ambitions.


There are also disturbing alternative futures for the Middle East in the aftermath of the Syrian withdrawal. These include a surge of ISIS terrorist attacks in Europe and North America, a bloodbath in Syria as Damascus consolidates its victory in the civil war, and a major Turkish offensive against the Kurds in northern Syria. None of these developments can be ruled out, and if occurring, would alter for the worse what we can reasonably hope for in the region as 2019 unfolds.


Yet for the first time in the 21stCentury it is possible to envision positive developments in the region as reducing the level of violence and turbulence. Even if these moderating developments occur, the situation throughout the region still has a long way to go to achieve peace, stability,

humane governance, and justice.


As well, prospects are bleaker than ever for a sustainable peace for Israel and Palestine. Hardliners are in firm control in Israel, with a seeming resolve to carry the Zionist project in its most expansive form to a victorious finish. Although such an outcome is implausible, what is likely is a hardening of the apartheid structures oppressing the Palestinian people as a whole and an even more embittered resistance and increasingly militant global solidarity movement.


Palestinian Aspirations versus Zombie Geopolitics

8 Jan

Palestinian Aspirations versus Zombie Geopolitics


The mental processes that infuse zombie geopolitics with political vitality long after their viability has vanished is partly mysterious, and partly a calculated effort to deny a changed reality.  More concretely, I have in mind the afterlife of ‘the two-state solution’ to the long Israel-Palestine confrontation. It retained its status as the only practical solution for years after it became crystal clear to even semi-informed observers that it would never happen.


I remember being disturbed by Barack Obama’s frequent statements along these lines (for example, his 2013 Jerusalem speech). He asserted that everyone knew that the two-state solution was the only path to peace, but just didn’t know to make it happen. This was misleading then as the leading party, Israel, made it clear by its deeds (settlement building and expansion; Jerusalem annexation) and later its words (Netanyahu’s 2014 election promise never to allow a Palestinian state to come into being as long as was prime minister). Recall that even back in 1995, when the true goals of the Zionist Project were more obscure and the golden haze surrounding the Oslo diplomacy had not lifted, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated for even hinting that such a possibility might become a reality.


How then can we explain the durability of the two-state mantra in the domain of geopolitics? To be fairer to Trump than he deserves, Trump has moved beyond the peace discourse such anachronistic language, and if his ‘deal of the century’ ever sees the light of day, it will be a one-state proposal, although possibly slightly disguised with some two-state window dressing. Yet we are still left to wonder why Scandinavian governments, UN officials, J-Street, and even the Palestinian Authority cleave to the two-state framing of a future diplomatic process supposedly seeking peace.


A superficial response is that two-statism remains the only game in town, or more accurately, the only officially acknowledgedgame. A more sensitive answer suggests that the increasingly likely alternative to the two-state consensus is an apartheid Israel  one-state solution that seems worse in liberal eyes for Palestine, and in the longer run, even for Israel, than allowing a demilitarized Palestine state to be established.  


The most credible response would be to admit the incompatibility of a democratically constituted one-state solution with the reality of a Jewish state, which effectively means the end of the Zionist Project as it has developed since 1947, that is, full participatory equality for Palestinians.


We should not even one hundred years later forget that the colonialist Balfour Declaration in 1917 pledged to the international Zionist movement support for ‘a national home for the Jewish people,’ deliberately avoiding the terminology of ‘a state,’ although not foreclosing such a possibility. The British Cabinet and leadership were deeply divided on this question during the mandate period, and eventually floated the two-state approach as a political compromise to an untenable situation of ethnic tension in Palestine. The Balfour Declaration also promised to protect the rights and circumstances of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine, an empty gesture ignored even before the ink was dry. Of course, the Balfour Declaration is a discredited historical document that has long since been superseded by later developments, but how and with what relevance remains a matter of controversy.


So what does this present situation mean for those seeking to sort out the desired and likely destinies of these two peoples? There seem to be two salient possibilities: either the indefinite prolongation of the existing apartheid ordeal of domination/victimization or some kind of embrace of a one-state outcome. If the latter, there is a second fork in the road: either an apartheid Jewish state or a one secular ethnically neutral state based on human rights and the full equality of its various distinct peoples and religions. The enactment of the Basic Law of the Jewish People in 2018 and the subsequent rejection by the Knesset of a bill affirming the equality of all peoples living within Israel make clear that the political leadership in Israel unequivocally supports the first option. It would appear that the Israeli government is no in the midst of a somewhat covert transition from the uncertainties of indefinite occupation of the Palestinian territories to their territorial incorporation into the sovereign Jewish state of Israel. There remains the possibility of leaving Gaza out in the cold to avoid Gazan resistance activity along with the awkwardness of risking a Palestinian majority population in an enlarged Jewish state. Besides, Gaza is not considered by Zionists to be part of the biblical entitlement claimed as ‘the promised land.’


It seems crucial to recognize an assured result of such a coercive and one-sided Israel ‘solution,’ the real essence of Trump’s approach and Daniel Pipes’ ‘Victory Caucus.’ If actualized such thinking would not bring peace, but at best, yet another oppressive ceasefire. As night follows day such an outcome would sooner or later produce new spirals of armed and nonviolent Palestinian resistance. In this post-colonial world atmosphere a repressed people will continue to resist no matter what the costs, and the Palestinian people have done so for more than 70 years. The Great March of Return showed the world in recent months that the Palestinian political will to resist has not weakened despite the cruel costs imposed by Israeli vindictive and deliberately disproportionate violence at the Gaza fence week after week. Beyond this, the BDS Campaign and other expressions of global solidarity have added to the international weight of Palestinian claims while overseas Zionist unconditional support of Israel throughout the Jewish diaspora, and especially in the United States, is weakening, including dramatically among younger American Jews.


In the end the only question worth pondering is this: what kind of one-state will exist in the territory of Palestine administered between the two world wars by the United Kingdom as the mandate holder?  Will it be a Jewish state that fulfills the Zionist Project? Or will it be a secular state based on human rights and a governing spirit of equality? At least posing the choice in this manner lifts the cloud cover provided by the Zombie maneuvers of the past 20 or more years associated with continued advocacy of long moribund, and never promising, two-state negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the state of Israel. It would clarify the diplomatic impasse if Mahmoud Abbas and the Ramallah leadership of the Palestinian Authority and Gaza leadership of Hamas could be persuaded to affirm this new realism. It might restore for the Palestinian people respect for the PA and Hamas as legitimate representatives of Palestinian national aspirations, and provide strong incentives for achieving a unified diplomatic Palestinian presence in international venues, including the United Nations.


Jerusalem and Foreign Embassies: Legal, Political, and Diplomatic Implications

6 Jan

[Prefatory Note: What follows is a modified interview with Rodrigo Craveiro, CORREIO BRAZILIENSE, January, 2019]





Jerusalem and Foreign Embassies: Legal, Political, and Diplomatic Implications


Q1—A few days ago Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with president of Honduras and with Mike Pompeo in Brasilia to discuss establishing of an Israel embassy  in Tegucigalpa and the transfer of Hondurean embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Pompeo then travelled to Colombia to try to convince the government in Bogota to relocate its embassy in Jerusalem. How do you interpret these efforts and their implications?


A: It seems obvious that Israel is trying to induce enough governments to move their embassy to Jerusalem so as to weaken the legal, political, and diplomatic weight of the General Assembly Resolution of 22 December 2017 [Res. ES-10/L.22] that declared such an initiative by the United States to be ‘null and void’ by a vote of 128-9 (with 35 abstentions), finding the proposed move unlawful and lacking any political effect. Such a one-sided pushback by the UN was undertaken as an angry reaction to the announced decision of the U.S. Government to make such a move in defiance of the international consensus that had for 50 years overwhelmingly supported the consensus of governments that the future of Jerusalem would be determined by diplomatic negotiations between the parties, and any premature recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would be inappropriate and disruptive. This challenge to this UN consensus has definitely become a high priority for Israel’s foreign policy, at least so long as Netanyahu remains Prime Minister.


It may also be relevant that the upcoming Israeli elections on April 9th, and Netanyahu’s troubles at home with corruption charges directed at him and his wife, provide an added incentive to show that he has achieved positive results from the perspective of the Zionist Project to extend Israel’s national sovereignty to Jerusalem, as well as to most of the remaining portions of ‘the promised land’ supposedly belonging to Israel by biblical entitlement and historic tradition. Such Israeli expansionist ambitions and actions are encroachments on the inalienable right of self-determination belonging to the Palestinian people.


The U.S. motivations are related, but somewhat different. Of course, during the Trump presidency Israel can do no wrong, and what Israel wants, the U.S. does despite political opposition and moral opprobrium. The embassy move is a prime example of American unilateralism with respect to Jerusalem. Additionally, the U.S. Government wants to be less diplomatically isolated on a global level, and thus appear less disruptive when it so acts. This issue also provides the Trump leadership with an opportunity to create alternative alliance networks to outmaneuver the kind of regional groupings that have existed in the past. Independent of this issue, American foreign policy seeks to substitute a network of likeminded autocratic leaders for such traditional solidarities as NATO or the OAS, or for that matter, the UN. In this connection it is notable that such traditional American allies as Britain, France, Germany, and Japan voted for the UN resolution condemning the U.S. proposed action with respect to Jerusalem, and this reciprocated by acting independently of Washington’s strongly declared preferences.




Q2– What would be real symbolism of transfering embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem? Why such maneuvers are being considered so polemical? 


A: In my view, the real significance of the embassy move, aside from it being consistent with other steps viewed as displaying the extreme nature of Trump’s support for Israel’s approach to resolving decades of tension with the Palestinian people and their national movement, is to demonstrate that U.S. foreign policy will not be constrained by multilateral diplomacy or the positions prevailing in international institutions, and especially the UN. This ultra-nationalist approach to policymaking and problem solving is an overt rejection of cooperative approaches to difficult collective challenges in international relations that had previolusly enjoyed Washington’s support ever since the end of World War II.


On another level, the embassy move is supportive of Israel’s rejection of a political compromise with Palestine, and Tel Aviv’s current strategy that seems to hover between allowing the present unresolved future to go on indefinitely, while the settlements expand in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and taking advantage of its present position to achieve, or at least declare, an Israeli victory and Palestinian defeat. In this regard, the status of Jerusalem is part of a broader context of settlement expansion, excessive force in responding to Palestinian resistance, Knesset legislation in which Israel is proclaimed to be a state belonging exclusively to the Jewish people, who alone are entitled to national self-determination, and a denial of refugee status to descendants of Nakba refugees.


These moves are treated as so controversial because they are seen as imposing an ordeal without an end in sight upon the Palestinian people as a whole, including those languishing in refugee camps throughout the Middle East, in exile, and as a discriminated minority in Israel itself. Israel as an apartheid state cannot maintain such structures of racial domination without relying on these oppressive and discriminatory patterns of governance. In this regard Israel has moved in the eyes of the world from being ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ to being ‘the only apartheid state in the Middle East.’ Erasing this perception is part of what is at stake by such efforts to confer legitimacy on its territorial expansionism and its ethnic hegemony.



Celebrating Serena Williams and Roger Federer

2 Jan

Celebrating Serena Williams and Roger Federer


Taking time out from the trials and tribulations afflicting the world, I watch with admiring fascination the first competitive meeting of my two favorite athletes, who are inspirational and iconic as much for their exemplary personal footprints as for their sustained magic on the tennis courts. Their glowing words of mutual appreciation and recognition were far more memorable that their mixed doubles match in Perth on New Year’s Day. [For rapturous detail see NY Times, Jan. 2, 2019]


Serena Williams has long been a heroine of mine, partly because of her fighting spirit while competing, but also her charm, humility, and sense of wonderment as who she is and has become. She also is endearing toward her opponents, especially those who are young, Despite what she has achieved, she stands strong as an African American who has never forgotten her Compton past and her family that nurtured her to greatness in sport and personhood. Whether as sibling of her great sister, Venus, or mother of her daughter, Olympia, her love of life casts a radiant glow.


Of course, it is an indulgent sign of privilege to be able to put aside the torments of our world to celebrate these two supreme athletic presences. Those in Yemen or Gaza or countless parts of Africa or Rankine (Myanmar) do not have this luxury of looking away as their daily ordeal weighs too heavily. While pausing to celebrate at the start of the new year we should remind ourselves, while acknowledging our good fortune, not to look away from the fires ravaging the planet, physically, politically, and spiritually. While it is healthy to balance our engagements with the world with the pleasures it offers, we should be alive and responsive to the opportunities for struggle, resistance, and transformation in this time of bioethical crisis.

Reflections for the New Year: 2019

31 Dec

Reflections for the New Year: 2019



Ending a Lamentable Year


At a party for friends a few days after Christmas, as people left our home, their parting greeting was a series of variations on a single theme—“let’s hope that the year ahead will be better than this year.” Of course, such words are partly a reaction to the dark shadow tossed across our lives, whether directly affected or only appalled by the media show, by the Trump presidency. Never has such an unabashed loutish leader with an unquenchable appetite for media dominance and public attention, and an incomparable ability to achieve these egotistical goals, so shaped the political consciousness of American society, and quite remarkably for his base of support, exemplified the most admirable characteristics of what made American great in the past. Such contrasting perceptions of what is admirable and what is disgusting explains the polarizing cleavages that mark the country in this period with or without Trump.


Yet polarization may not be worse than the bipartisan consensus that is the repugnant legacy of the Cold War period, and characterizing by accepting three shared verities: that minimally regulated capitalism is the only legitimate basis of economic wellbeing and political legitimacy; that American-led global militarism is in the national interest and serves the wellbeing of humanity; that Israel and Saudi Arabia are unconditional allies, one a repository of democratic values, and the other the site of the world’s largest oil reserves, and each behaving in a manner guided by reasonable security concerns that correspond with Western wellbeing. I find each of these presumed verities to be deeply flawed, and largely responsible for American decline internationally and at home.


As aggravating this posture toward political reality was the impact of ending the Cold War in a disastrous uncritical manner for several reasons: failure to construct a stronger normative order by strengthening the commitments to the UN and international law, as well as by seeking in a determined way, nuclear disarmament; failure to incorporate socialist aspirations into the regulatory framework governing economic globalization, and instead allowing neoliberal approaches to economic policies to displace more humane Keynesian precepts that had built a strong floor of political support for social democracy in leading Western societies; failure to restore and enhance the infrastructure of America.






Avoiding Despair


What set this year of 2018 apart was the looking back with regret. My past experience, even during wars and economic downturns, has been to look ahead with hope, and forget the ending the past year. Now the measure of expectations is much diminished by hoping that 2019 will at the very least be better than 2018. My inner pessimist has a different wish—that 2019 will not be worse, possibly far worse. My inner realist is all about commitment, which means resisting, and most strategically in the American setting, rejecting the pragmatic pleas of the political center that wants reforms but without challenging the bipartisan consensus associated with capitalism, militarism, and ‘special relationships’ in the Middle East. I find vindication of these concerns in the angry response of the liberal segment of the center to Trump’s sensible decision to pull combat troops from Syria as decried by the resignation letter of Jim Mattes, and strongly reinforced by the liberal media– CNN, MSNBC, and the NY Times/Washington Post, and their nightly parade of ‘experts’ and retired generals and top intelligence officials.


I also ask myself ‘was 2018 really as bad as it seems?’ ‘are there not some glimpses of a better future?’ It will turn out even worse than it seems if Trump pulls down some pillars of the temple on his own head, and ours, if he finds his adversaries at home closing in for a final kill. He would likely opt for confrontations, a trade war with China or an attack on Iran, closed borders, dismissal of the Special Counsel. These are the only the most obvious regressive scenarios. But will the return to the White House of an anointed representative of the national security establishment offer the world any fundamentalimprovement with respect to the three basic explanations of structural constraint? Such centrist and practical leadership would certainly be more humane toward immigrants and asylum seekers, more responsible international actors on environmental and social issues, and far more moderate in their judicial appointments. Still, this is not sufficient given the challenges facing this country and the entire world.


And if we look at the world through a less nationalist world, then truly 2018 was a disaster for the people of Yemen, Gaza, Syria, Rakhine, parts of Africa. And there are leaders who are making their own people even more miserable than Trump, including Duterte, Orban, maybe Putin, Modi, and the recently elected Bolsonaro seems determined to saddle the Brazilian people with a fascist agenda.


So as 2018 draws to an end a more modest, and realistic hope, is that things will not get worse, that famine will not consume millions in Yemen, that fires will not sweep across the planet, that a recession will not become a lethal depression, that refugees will be treated more humanely, that a new geopolitical rivalry does not accelerate an arms race containing an array of hyper war technologies, that global warming does not intensify a multiplicity of hazards, and that out of desperation migrants do not become global insurgents.


Normative Marginalization


In all this, those who run the world have lost faith what little faith they had in international law, human rights, and the United Nations as being instruments for realizing a better human future and a less dangerous world. Even those of us who have advocated a more cosmopolitan approach to global challenges now doubt that the UN possesses enough creative agency, due to a paucity of will and capabilities, to contribute to the construction of a hopeful future. I avoid despair by discounting these rational expectations of worse to come by resorting to an insistence on ‘a politics of impossibility’ and ‘a necessary utopia.’ Denialism and escapism also function to defend ourselves against despair if we are lucky enough to be spared dire harm from present circumstances. These ways of seeing can be otherwise understood as confessions in the form of failures of imagination thinly disguised by an admission that what we do know is leading us toward cliffs of devastation and catastrophe, and so we are inclined to take refuge in a kind of non-religious faith in the unseen, including the possibility that a second axial age is emerging in ways that prefigure an ecological civilization that will soon become more evident as a response to the ravages of climate change and the spiritual desecration associated with cynicism and oppression.


Perhaps, the future looks better from certain different sites of observation. I was impressed by the speech given by the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, on the 40thanniversary of economic reforms that led to the remarkable achievement in development that China has experienced over the course of the last four decades, achieving astounding material results by its approach to ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics.’ China’s rise in the face of many obstacles exhibited an extraordinary master of soft power instruments. There have also been notable failures, a lack of environmental protection and an intolerance of dissent and diversity, especially toward the Uygh                  ers, and a kind of consolidation of political power that hides abuses and brings unhappiness. Yet Xi Jinping’s at least imparts a vision of a human-centered future that he proclaims as the guiding aspiration of China’s governing authorities.


Yet the experience of China is worth heeding in the West as an antidote to the lingering remnant of hubris.  The capitalist triumphalist claims that socialism and authoritarian controls squeezes the mind, and makes the society lose its creative energy, has been dramatically refuted. While China explores the technological frontiers of the future with unsurpassed energy and resources, the West stagnates, and places its main bet on military capabilities, including even its capacity to threaten and wage nuclear wars. There is no reason to do our best to reproduce the Chinese path, or to devote ourselves to blocking and discrediting it, but there is the need to bow our heads low enough to listen and learn.


My private commitment for 2019 is to nurture humility, while trusting the formation of identities that link a progressive vision for our nation to a cosmopolitan embrace of humanity, with a major infusion of empathy. And as citizens, we need to be rooted in our particular personal and public experiences, while reaching out to the world and to the future. The becoming of citizen pilgrims is to be engaged with the entire world, but also to acknowledge that before we can claim to be world citizens we must create a world community. Genuine world citizenship is not a matter only of spatial outreach to the far corners of the planet, but depends on creating a sense of community based on values, norms, procedures, and institutions that ground political practice in experience rather than merely in sentiment. Too often world citizenship exhibits a sentimental wish rather than a recognition that to feel and act as part of humanity depends on building community, a commitment to time as well as to space.

In Praise of the Syria Withdrawal

29 Dec

[Prefatory Note:The following interview, to be published in Counterpunchwas conducted by Daniel Falcone on December 20, 2018. Trump’s withdrawal of American troops from Syria that defied the bipartisan consensus that has shaped U.S. foreign policy since 1945 poses the biggest challenge to the Trump presidency, especially as it shook Israel’s confidence and coincides with woes of Wall Street. In coming weeks it should become clear whether the American version of the deep state remains asleep or perceives this ‘watershed moment’ (Friedman) as the opportunity to restore confidence in the pre-Trump version of world order.]


In Praise of the Syria Withdrawal

Q1: As an expert on American foreign policy what is the true meaning and significance of trump pulling ground troops out of Syria. Is it this simple and straightforward?


Of course, with Trump we never know either the real motivation for an apparently abrupt decision of this sort or whether in the next day or so it might be reversed in an equally abrupt manner. It all depends on how the winds of his imperial ego are blowing. And this is not a reassuring awareness in the nuclear age. Gareth Porter, a reliable commentator on what goes on in Washington, has insisted that the decision was not abrupt, but long in the works, reflecting Trump’s correct insistence that the American military presence in the Middle East was not worth the costs or burdens, having little capacity to control political outcomes.


With Trump we should also assume that egocentric motivations of the moment are part of the story. We do know that such an inflammatory decision shifts attention away, at least briefly, from the Mueller developments that seem more threatening to Trump’s comfort zone day by day. Beyond these explanations, Trump can accurately claim that he is fulfilling one of his most emphatic pledges of his 2016 presidential campaign, namely, offering scathing criticism of costly interventions in the Middle East as the basis for his commitment to bring American troops home very soon. Such a pledge made a great deal of sense as the American experience with military interventions was a record of unacknowledged failure with a learning curve that hovered around zero.


The unprovoked attack on Iraq in 2003 followed by a prolonged occupation, was a flagrant violation of the prohibition on aggressive war, the core principle of the UN Charter and modern international law. It was also the cause of massive suffering and devastation, resulting in internal strife and constant chaos. The mindless occupation policy imposed by the United States deliberately inflamed sectarian tensions in Iraq, which in turn spread Sunni/Shi’ia turmoil throughout the region.


Geopolitically, as well, the Iraq War illustrated the dysfunctional nature of such uses of international force even when the superior military capabilities of the United States are brought to bear. A central strategic goal of the intervention was to weaken the regional footprint of Iran by placing a Western-oriented government on the Iranian border of a country ready and willing to have American military bases on its territory. The main effect of the American intervention and extended presence was the reverse of what was intended. Iranian regional influence in part because the American occupation approach sought to disempower the Sunni dominance that had been associated with Saddam Hussein’s regime and put in its place an Iran-oriented Shi’ite leadership. The Iraqi negative reactions to the Trump Christmas visit to American troops suggested that the U.S. presence in Iraq is far from secure, and continues to be an affront to Iraqi nationalism.


A further result of the purge of Sunni elements in the upper echelons of the Iraqi armed forces soon after the occupation began in 2003 was the formation of ISIS as a terrorist organization committed to the expulsion of the occupying forces from the Middle East and spreading governance under the auspices of radical Islamic leadership. In retrospect the real irony is that Saddam Hussein’s regime, although repressive and repulsive, was far preferable for the Iraqi people and even for American strategic goals in the Middle East than was the unlawful intervention and bungled occupation if unintended consequences are taken into account. Our war planners never were willing to come to terms with this systemic series of miscalculations, and more or less arrayed themselves beneath the notorious banner, ‘mission accomplished’ unfurled to honor the presence of George W. Bush on an American aircraft carrier. Although this banner was mocked due to the resistance encountered in the course of the occupation, it had a second life through the unwillingness of the national security establishment in Washington to heed the lessons of the Iraq failure. Rather than learning from failure, the experience was pushed aside and effectively forgotten.


Trump claims that his policies for the past two years have defeated ISIS, making it prudent and appropriate from a national security perspective to withdraw American ground forces at this time. The claim as to ISIS is disputed by the entire defense establishment in the U.S., and seems to have contributed to the Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, decision to submit a thinly veiled criticism of Trump’s withdrawal approach on strategic grounds, stressing especially the importance of acting in concert with allies. The decision has also been criticized as abandoning Syrian Kurds to the tender mercies of Assad’s regime and Erdogan’s Turkey. For the governments in Damascus and Ankara, the Kurds, while allied with the U.S. in its anti-ISIS campaign, pose threats to the territorial integrity and political stability of both Syria and Turkey. Such criticisms are suspect, assuming that on balance the American military presence in Syria, although small, played a positive stabilizing role. If my assessment is correct there is never an appropriate moment for withdrawing a combat presence from an overseas country previously the scene of an American intervention. We need to remember that this military involvement in Syria was already almost twice as long as World War II, with no convenient end in sight.

Q2: How do you assesses the mainstream agenda setting media’s response to trump’s latest foreign policy decision regarding Syria?


My impression is that the media response has so far been dominated by the sort of bipartisan approach that earlier underpinned American foreign policy during the Cold War and produced the ‘Washington Consensus’ that provided ideological coherence for the neoliberal version of economic globalization. During the Cold War this militarization of foreign policy led to a series of interventions on the geopolitical periphery, culminating in the Vietnam War. With respect to the world economy, a capital-driven approach to economic policy that was largely indifferent to the human consequences of market forces resulted in gross inequities with respect to the distribution of the benefits of economic growth or its damaging ecological side effects. The experience of widening disparities of wealth and income became a structural feature of the world economy, and seems closely connected to the rage expressed by those multitudes. A majority of persons quite reasonably feel victimized by the policies accepted by the entire policy establishment, whether they identify as Democrats, Republicans, or independents. This rage has been translated into various forms of political frustration, including giving rise to an electoral tidal wave in the leading constitutional democracies around the entire world that brought to power demagogic figures whose defining message was to pose as enemies of the established order. In Trump’s case, he sloganized this hostility by a campaign promise ‘to drain the swamp.’ This political spectacle is enacted in various ways reflecting the distinctiveness of the autocrat and the particularities of each set of national circumstances.


In the American case, Trump’s approach has been to weaken constitutional structures of government, while strengthening the grip of Wall Street on the American economy via massive tax cuts for the wealthy and the dramatic weakening of regulatory authority with respect to labor practices and environmental protection.


The Syrian withdrawal decision is perceived as one more unacceptable consensus-disruptive move by Trump that includes a repudiation of one the pillars of the Cold War Era, namely, tight alliances epitomized by NATO. Such a unilateral move by Trump without any reliance on prior consultations with leading allies is seen as a further blow to American leadership of the Western democracies. The fact that the Trump decision was publicly endorsed by Putin at a time when Western elites are urging a more confrontational approach to Russia is taken by the media as a further sign that the U.S. is in a go it alone foreign policy.


The Mattis resignation letter very effectively encouraged the media to react in this manner. It challenges Trump in all but name, complaining both about alliance disruption and the failure to heed the views of those who opposed the Syrian pullout. He is obviously upset that his own advice, and that of his high-ranking colleagues, was ignored. His letter reminds readers of his extensive professional experience and knowledge that is relevant to understanding both the Syrian reality and the implausibility of claiming that ISIS is defeated. In essence, he deplores the military withdrawal from Syria, insisting that it will be of help to America’s principal rivals in the world, Russia and China, “whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours.” The following sentence in the Mattis letter could have been written in the midst of the Cold War: “It is clear that China and Russia..want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model—gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions—to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies.” Mattis perceives the world as an arena for continuous geopolitical rivalry where a militarily proactive global posture is the only acceptable approach for the United States and the West.


It is not only that most influential media outlets side with the critics of this Trump initiative, but their failure to convey the rationale justifying his decision beyond saying that he is fulfilling a campaign pledge or shifting the national conversation away from the Special Counsel. If Trump follows up the withdrawal with a termination of air strikes in Syria, and makes a significant use of the funds saved by foregoing military operations to hasten a Syrian recovery from seven years of devastation, massive human displacement, and incredible civilian suffering, the policy should be acknowledged as a constructive and long overdue move then in a demilitarizing direction that begins to undo the immeasurable harm done by the Iraq War that commenced in March 2003, and was an assault on the international legal order, including the UN, from the outset.


I would predict that the national security establishment will condemn even this evidence of a serious shift toward disengagement from Middle East turmoil as an unwelcome retreat from American leadership, and a form of encouragement to its adversaries and rivals to take more risks to expand their zones of influence. If this is so, the mainstream media is sure to follow along, nightly parading a series of retired generals who bemoan this renunciation of the U.S. global security role of the past half century of a ‘forever war.’ What may be worse is the failure to treat the issue as even debatable. There is no media effort to balance criticism of Trump’s decision by presenting progressive voices drawn from civilian society.


It is common for media pundits to question policy choices so long as they do not touch the fundamental guidelines of structure and geopolitical priorities that have shaped the American global role ever since 1945. These fundamentals include the Atlantic Alliance as embodied in NATO, market-oriented constitutionalism as embedded in the neoliberal credo, and the globe-girdling military presence as typified by more than 800 overseas military bases, a sizable naval operation patrolling in every ocean, and a capability to wage hyper war from any point in space. The media will not challenge those that defend this security structure, and even Fox News and the Murdoch media outlets can be expected to be neutral, departing from their habitual acceptance of whatever Trump does.


It is not surprising that CNN news anchors such as Don Lemon or Chris Cuomo almost salivated in response to the Mattis letter, reading it aloud as if it was an instant classic in political rhetoric to be compared with the Gettysburg Address. Their anti-Trump animus was so intense that they did not even express any skepticism about Mattis’ geopolitical hubris in the letter that seemed both dated and overly belligerent. His words: “the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world.” Really. Such an opinion is not widely shared in most parts of the world. Many people and foreign leaders now worry far more about what the United States does than they do about China and Russia.


In my view the anti-Trump media frenzy does reflect well-grounded worries about Trump’s style and substance, yet it is failing to expose the citizenry to pluralist views, especially in foreign policy by shutting out almost completely progressive voices. The media may not be guilty of spreading fake news, but it is guilty of partisanship, ideological conformity, and hostility to critics on the left. In fact, the media blurs the issue by misleadingly treating the center and the liberal establishment as ‘the left.’

Q3: What are the important implications for the Syria pull out that coincides with harsh treatment of Iran? Does this negate any positive steps with Middle East diplomacy?


At this point it is difficult to tell whether the Syrian withdrawal will intensify Trump’s anti-Iran policy or lead to its weakening, and even its gradual abandonment. It seems as though neither Israel nor Saudi Arabia are comfortable with Trump’s latest move, partly because they were evidently not consulted, or even briefed, and partly because it could be interpreted as the beginning of a wider American disengagement from the Middle East and a long overdue phasing out of George W. Bush’s ‘war on terror’ launched after 9/11, continuing year after year without an endgame, although Obama at one point openly regretted this, and promised to devise one, but it never happened.


I am hard put to find any positive initiatives in recent Middle East diplomacy emanating from Washington. Trump/Kushner have carried the partisan pro-Israeli policies of earlier presidencies to absurdly one-sided extremes by way of announcing the embassy move to Jerusalem in December 2017, Washington’s silence about the weekly atrocities at the Gaza fence, cruel cuts the UNRWA funding, closing the PLO office in Washington, questioning Palestinian refugee status, a blind eye toward unlawful settlement expansion and the seeming acceptance of Israel’s recent moves in its Knesset toward a one-state apartheid solution. To refer to Israel as ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ has become so obviously false that even Zionist militants have quietly abandoned the claim.


Perhaps, American pressures are moving Saudi Arabia and its allies to end their intervention in Yemen, previously materially and diplomatically backed by the United States, and pushing the civilian population to the very brink of starvation. The situation in Yemen is already being described as the worst famine in the past hundred years, putting at severe risk over 17 million Yemenis. If the Yemen War is brought finally to an end, it can be seen as an unintended consequence of the grotesque Khashoggi murder, creating strong incentives in Washington to rethink its embrace of Mohammed Bin Salmon as ally and partner. Or put more crudely, the arms sales bonanza with Riyadh could be in trouble unless the Yemen War is brought to an end before the humanitarian ordeal becomes catastrophic.

Q4: Trump’s doctrine has been called “me first.” Does this title apply in the case?


I have no reason to doubt that Trump’s actions with regard to Syria are basically reflections of his narcissistic political style as expressed at a particular moment through concrete actions. Yet, as earlier suggested, because Trump withdrew from Syria at this time on the basis of selfish motives, does mean that we should not evaluate the policy on its merits rather than through the eyes of the dominant political class in Washington that has brought grief to tens of millions for decades. These ‘experts’ have over time built up an intellectual and career dependence on global militarism and permanent warfare. It means, among other things, a stubborn refusal to take note of a string of failures where battlefield dominance has not translated into control of political outcomes, but instead ended in stinging political defeats. At bottom, there persists a stunning refusal to heed this central lesson of the Vietnam War, a refusal repeated in Afghanistan, Iraq, and with respect to most of the colonial wars. In each instance the side that won on the battlefield lost the war in the end, yet only after inflicting terrible damage and itself enduring heavy human, economic, and reputational costs. Nothing helpful was learned, and energies were devoted to how to reinvent counterinsurgency and counterterrorist doctrine so as to win such struggles for the political control of distant countries, and not be hampered by anti-war activism and elite skepticism.


If Trump stumbles onto a security path that ends such interventions in the global south we should celebrate the result, even if we withhold praise of Trump as a virtuous political actor. Beyond this, we should not be too quick to condemn his openness to a cooperative relationship with Russia if it helps the world avoid a second, more dangerous cold war that it can ill afford at this time of climate change. Trump might not know exactly what he is doing but bypassing Europe for a geopolitical bargain with Moscow might make realist sense given present historical circumstances, and it time self-styled realists themselves woke up to this benign possibility.


Of course, my wish for an end to militarism, nuclearism, and foreign interventions may be coloring my views, blindfolding me with respect to the dangers and risks that some associate with Trump’s march to the apocalypse. I acknowledge this, but I am also convinced that the conventional candidates of either political party would never in a thousand years pull the rug out from under this globalized militarism that could never tolerate a peaceful future for humanity. Humanity remains trapped in a cage sometimes called ‘the war system,’ which has the semblance of a permanent lockup.

Q5: Will liberal hawks react to same way to Syria as they typically do with Russia? This seems to be a failing strategy to reclaim the presidency in 2020. Do you agree?


I fear the centrist pragmatism of liberals, and not only the regressive approaches taken by hawks. These liberals have supported war after war as well as forged a strong new consensus that the time has come to challenge Russia and China once again. The logic is perverse: If Putin is pleased it is proof that Trump is wrong. Such reasoning seems to be dominant among the policy planners in Washington and the opinion and editorial commentary of CNN and the NY Times. Such issues are not even treated as fit subjects for debate and discussion. Instead, there are two or more guests with military or CIA backgrounds that take turns lambasting Trump’s Syria moves, especially as it has been coupled with a White House decision to halve the American troop contingent in Afghanistan by withdrawing 7,000 soldiers, hardly a rash decision considering that the American military presence in Afghanistan is about to enter its 17thyear, and stability for the country is further away than it was in 2002 when the occupation began.


As far as the 2020 election is concerned, it will be a great lost opportunity if the Democrats nominate a centrist liberal, who might be far more humane than Trump at home, but would likely recommit to the war of terror and a revival of American readiness to avoid political setbacks in various parts of the world, never having learned this supreme lesson that military intervention does not and should not work in the post-colonial world.


Of course, these days we cannot be sure of anything, including being confident that such a return to the old ways of doing foreign policy by a Democratic candidate would be an electoral disaster. Trump remains unpopular outside his base. This means that if the stock market stays down, trade wars reduce living standards in the country, the undocumented are cruelly deported or asylum seeking women and children are shot at the border, a smooth talking Democrat with the politically correct national security views would win, maybe even scoring a landslide.


But would this outcome be a victory for the peoples of the world? If Trump were to stay the Syrian withdrawal course, not a likely

prospect, it might not be so easy to vote him out of office with a clear conscience. This suggestion is meant as a provocation to liberals and establishmentarians, but it does call attention to the likely frightful foreclosure of peaceful options for American voters given the likely choices in 2020. The liberal line in 2016 was that compared to Sanders, Hillary Clinton was electable and would get things done, and look where that bit of practical wisdom landed us!





Can Trump Survive Syria, Mattis, Stock Market Fall, & Friedman’s ‘Watershed Moment’?

25 Dec

Can Trump Survive Syria, Mattis, Stock Market Fall, & Friedman’s ‘Watershed Moment’?


I have long believed that the three red lines in Washington that no elected president can significantly transgress without being ejected from the Oval Office are unwavering support for the priorities of Wall Street, the Pentagon, and Israel. With the announced withdrawal of American troops in Syria (and their 50% cut in Afghanistan), transgressed one of these red lines. What is more, he upset what the mainstream media has been calling ‘the last adult in the room,’ the Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, who made the country critically ponder Trump’s transgression by his thinly veiled rebuke in the form of a letter of resignation that has been treated as scripture by such hegemonic media outlets as CNN and the NY Times. It has become clear that Trump transgressed two of the three red lines, a reality further aggravated by the Christmas shutdown of the Federal Government and his babyish tantrum about financing his wall.


And even Israel, the only untransgressed red line, visibly shuddered in response to the Syria announcement, evidently worried by the way it was abruptly done without consultation. Probably even more worrisome to its leaders was what might follow from this withdrawal, which hinted at the possibility of a further American political disengagement from the Middle East. Given Trump’s contention that now that ISIS had been defeated, a conclusion contested within the Beltway, further steps along these lines might soon occur. I am sure Trump watchers in Tel Aviv are aware that he tends to double down when under attack, and the 50% cut in the Afghanistan combat force may be regarded as a step in this direction.


Trump has long developed a formidable reputation for managing to cross red lines without suffering adverse consequences. It was a surprise to me that he got away with attacking the service record of Senator McCain, the most celebrated name among recent American war heroes, deriding the Bush family, and even mocking the sacrifice of a gold star family whose son had died in Iraq. Beyond these personal slurs, Trump had undermined the rule of law, overcome an array of challenges to his business empire, and even publicly insulted and berated such hallowed public institutions as the FBI and CIA. His private life should have shocked his Evangelical base, but it seems that his support for right to life judicial appointments was enough to earn him a free pass with respect to gambling, beauty shows, and even hush money handed out to throw a blanket of denial over his promiscuity.


Yet has he gone too far this time? We will find out early in 2019. Perhaps he can mend fences by finding ‘an adult’ to replace Mattis at the Pentagon, escalate the war-mongering rhetoric directed at the UN and Iran, reaffirm his undying commitment to Israel backed by taking some concrete initiative, and explain the stock market decline as the dirty work of the Democrats and some treasonous behavior in the back rooms of the financial mavens who run Wall Street. If he so acts, the Republicans at least will be inclined to forgive. After all their options have been limited ever since Trump’s base made it clear that their adoration of Trump is an absolute, and their support for the Republican Party is relative in all respects, and would vanish altogether the minute Trump is thrown under the nearest bus.


Tom Friedman, the self-anointed arbiter of establishment moods has portentously called the Syrian imbroglio ‘a watershed moment’ in which he decided for himself that it was no longer tenable to wait out Trump’s four years, and then go all out to defeat him in 2020 with a centrist candidate. Friedman now puts a ball of urgency in the court of the Republican Party, calling for a family intervention, therapy style, in which Trump is read the riot act and told that unless there is “a radical change in how he conducts himself,” even Republicans will have no choice but to press for his resignation, and if that fails, then impeachment. [NY Times, Dec. 24, 2018] 


There are ironies present. When Trump makes a demilitarizing move he is under severe attack by the liberal establishment and representatives of the national security elite. This contrasts with the applause he received when he launched an air strike against Syrian targets in April 2017 after an alleged chemical weapons incident. The bipartisan consensus that sustained the Cold War for more than four decades has never reconciled itself to geopolitical peace, and has closed its eyes to any prospect of peace ever..


In revealing ways this pattern is not new. When Ronald Reagan, a president beloved by American conservatives and military hawks, returned in 1986  from a high profile summit at Reykjavik, Iceland with the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, with signs of a breakthrough with respect to getting rid of nuclear weapons, even he was subjected to attack as ‘unprepared’ and not to be trusted with the protection of America’s strategic interest. Of courtse, the liberal establishment joined in supporting the chorus of national security voices marginalizing. To embark upon a path that might produce nuclear disarmament was viewed with alarm in Washington, and the defenders of the militarist red line stepped forward. Under these pressures Reagan retreated to his comfort zone, which meant resuming the posture of being a hawkishf Cold Warrior. At this point those who spoke for the established order breathed sighs of relief and reaffirmed Reagan as an inspirational leader/


Further back, in the early 1950s, when the notorious Senator Joe McCarthy attacked the Army, he transgressed, and soon had his wings clipped. This ability to destroy those who would weaken support for militarism and the American commitment to uphold global security has remained unassailable ever since World War II. It has been manifest in what has been dubbed ‘the forever war’ by H. Bruce Franklin borrowing from Joe Haldeman’s celebrated science fiction classic. [See his fine book, Crash Course: From the Good War to the Forever War(2018) and it has made the existence of a peacetime economy and military budget a political impossibility. Some thought the Soviet collapse at the end of the Cold War might change this outlook, but in retrospect any such hope was never realistic, out of touch with how militarism had restructured the American state since 1945. After the Cold War ended, the war planners conjured up new threats and pursued strategic ambitions with undiminished zeal, and the world responded in kind.


If Trump manages to get away with these transgressions without either retreating or resigning, he might hang around for a long time, especially with the Democratic Party poised to adopt a losing centrist strategy for 2020. As Yeats reminded us generations ago, under quite different circumstances, ‘the center cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Only a progressive alternative has a chance of meeting the true challenges facing the American people and indeed, the world. If we as a people sleep through the Trump ordeal and the urgencies of climate change, inequality, and nuclearism, then doomsday gurus will soon be hailed as visionary prophets with fires of discontent burning ever brighter all around us, the planet ablaze.