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A Response to Heikki Patomaki: Is the Time Right for a World Political Party? 

16 Feb

[Prefatory Note: The following post is my commentary on an essay by Heikki Patomiki, a leading Finnish scholar who has devoted his career to working on the normative frontiers of international relations: especially the struggle for global democracy. Here he explores and cautiously advocates a civil society global effort to establish a world political party in a form appropriate to global conditions and with the overriding goal of the enhancement of the individual and collective wellbeing of humanity. Professsor Patomaki’s essay and the range of comments, including mine, can be read by clicking this link  https://www.greattransition.org/publication/roundtable-world-party

This interaction was sponsored by the Great Transition Initiative of the Tellus Institute, which is notable for its emphasis on the crucial nexus between praxis and theory. My comment is below, but the others develop a variety of responses, pro and con, the proposed undertaking of establishing a world political party.]

 

 

A Response to Heikki Paomaki: Is the Time Right for a World Political Party? 

 

I have long admired the “visionary realism” that has been at the core of Heikki Patomäki’s scholarly contributions to the struggle for a peaceful, democratic, sustainable, and just world order. It is “visionary” because Patomäki depicts a future for humanity that exceeds the limits of the feasible, and seems guided by what is necessary(in responses to challenges) and what is desirable(with respect to values and opportunities). In addition, he writes with lucidity, considers impediments, and takes seriously skeptical objections to what he proposes. It is a form of “realism” because Patomäki takes account of what is real by way of threats to human wellbeing, and makes use of experience with other radical global reformist projects as a basis for assessing the plausibility of his own conjectures and proposals. All of these positive qualities are present in this essay putting forward the case for taking steps now to establish the first ever world political party.

As I read Patomäki, his point of departure is to affirm as a world order imperative the urgent need for “a fundamental shift from the dominant national mythos to a global worldview.” Without quibbling about choice of words, I think what he has in mind is less a “shift” than the emergence of a global worldview with the political traction needed to address the global-scale problems that he enunciates. The existential point of departure is the interconnectedness of every individual on the planet, no matter how diversely situated in relation to class, race, occupation, and political milieu in the face of such mounting global risks as are associated with “ecological crises and weapons of mass destruction.” Patomäki attributes the dysfunctional response patterns to these shared risks to the prevailing national mythos and its political manifestations in a world order system dominated by territorial sovereign states. A world political party, generated by activist initiatives of civil society, could in Patomäki’s view become the vehicle to facilitate a global transformation that would offer the peoples of the world a path toward risk reduction resulting from a more appropriate administration of planetary activity in all policy domains. Such a transformative process would become manifest in a more functionally and normatively appropriate institutionalization of political life than the present reliance on the zombie national mythos, that is, a system that persists long after its functionality has deteriorated. Patomäki believes that a world political party would become a vital force in giving credibility to a global mythos responsive to the challenges and opportunities of planetary interconnectedness.

Even taking account of the limits of coverage in a short essay, I have some problems with the way in which the world political party is situated in the historical present. I would have liked to see some greater diagnostic emphasis on geopolitics and neoliberal capitalism as obstacles to global transformation and as oppositional to the formation of a politically relevant world political party. Geopolitics is important because hierarchies of power and wealth embedded in the established order suppress any realist risk assessment process, as well as make inequalities of benefits and burdens override the commonalities of human interconnectedness. Similarly, neoliberal capitalism operates according to a transnational logic that accentuates many dimensions of inequality, and is oriented in ways at odds with both the national and global mythic landscapes that understandably preoccupy Patomäki.

A further question I have is a matter of resonance and receptivity. I have the sense that Patomäki’s version of visionary realism is at once too late and too early. It is too late in the sense that there existed greater fluidity with respect to world order arrangements either in 1945 at the end of World War II or in the early 1990s at the end of the Cold War. In 1945, there was a heightened sense of world risk due to the recent atomic attacks on Japanese cities and what that prefigured for future warfare. Civil society would have been receptive to bold initiatives by national governments, but it was dormant with respect to envisioning shaping the future by forming a world political party that embraced an agenda based on the survivability of the species and the benefits of a cooperative world order reflecting a global ethos. After the Cold War, there was a sigh of relief, but the absence of any relevant kind of transformative energy directed at dramatic risk reduction and globally oriented problem-solving. Political leaders missed this golden opportunity, and the multitudes were pacified by consumerism and materialist aspirations.

We are now experiencing a set of global realities that seems devoid of the missed opportunities of these two occasions in recent international history when the stars of destiny seemed more favorably aligned for the promotion of visionary realist undertakings, including the formation and rapid support for a grassroots type of world political party. What the present conjuncture of forces most offers to those who share, as I do, Patomäki’s insistence that we need a fundamental shift toward globality of consciousness and action is as yet difficult to grasp, let alone endow with transformative agency. I would emphasize two unheralded features of our global circumstance, perhaps in accord with “Big History” that Patomäki calls to our attention: First, the ease of communication and networking associated with the digital age where globally constituted projects of this sort can be interactively shaped without requiring physical face-to-face meetings; secondly, the very adversity of circumstances and the severity of global risks is giving rise to a radical populist consciousness, which while still at the margins, contains the ingredients of a political platform that does justice to the needs and values that should inform a world political party from its inception. This radical consciousness can be thought of as an acknowledgement of the first bioethical crisis in human history, which raises questions about whether the species has a collectivewill to survive.

I find these kinds of general considerations of our human circumstances more illuminating than the sort of encouragement that is derived from the successful movement for the establishment of the International Criminal Court or the ongoing efforts of the Democracy in Europe Movement. It is true that these projects show that transnational political undertakings can work to some extent even in the face of resurgent nationalism, but I do not find such undertaking as having relevant transformative agency or potential.

I would like to end with an aside associated with the failures of the Arab Spring in 2011. Having been in Cairo just after the extraordinary mass nonviolent uprising that led to the downfall of a cruel, autocratic regime in Egypt, I witnessed the excitement and hope of the people at the time. I also witnessed the consequences of not having a clear agreed-upon vision of what needs to be done, a political platform that sets forth a program. My fear associated with promoting a world political party at this time is that it is ideologically premature. This is not a call for a blueprint, as I agree with Patomäki that such specificity would be shaped as the party took form, and in response to inputs from participants around the world. Yet there is a need for more concreteness regarding capitalism, geopolitics, international law, human rights, climate change, nuclear disarmament, and the UN than is contained either in Patomäki’s fine essay or, more significantly, in the climate of progressive world opinion. Until that degree of clarification and consensus is present, I fear that disillusionment would be the likely outcome of any present effort to move forward with the formation of a world political party. Our time can be better spent otherwise to satisfy the urgent challenges of a transformative global agenda, although putting the ideaof a world political party in the progressive imaginary is a constructive contribution. What I find questionable at this point is any serious effort, given present realities around the world, to actualize the idea.

 

 

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Denouncing Socialism, Practicing Fascism

8 Feb

Denouncing Socialism, Practicing Fascism

 

With Trump the silences are usually as expressive of his intentions as the incoherent dogmas. Indeed, his Second State of the Union Address (delivered in Congress on February 5, 2019) gives a clear insight into the political mentality of tormentor in chief when it comes to the human condition. The speech contains many tensions, but none more illuminating than his denunciation of socialism and his silence about the resurgence of fascist tendencies throughout the world, and not least in his own country, which he several times anointed that night as the best the world has ever known. He not the first leader to make such a claim, of course, but he is undoubtedly the least qualified, and his own two years of faulty leadership has contributed to making America far less admired, and far more feared, than previously.

 

His diatribe against socialism had at least two targets: First, the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party now personified by the more radical recently elected women in the House of Representatives, especially Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as the declared female presidential aspirants, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Tulsi Gabbard. And secondly, the Madura elected government in Venezuela, which he alleged failed because of its ‘socialist policies.’ Trump contends that these policies transformed Venezuela from being a wealthy example to the rest of Latin America into a society of ‘abject poverty and despair.’

 

 

When it comes to the United States, to contend that there is an incipient ideological war between the Democrats as the party of socialism and the Repuiblicans as the party of capitalism, Trump seems to be launching a more virulent version of the Cold War than what existed during the period of rivalry with the Soviet Union. It also overlooks the persistence of the toxic ‘bipartisan consensus,’ that owes its zombie-like persistence to the Faustian Bargains struck with both political parties that merge support for global militarism with that of capitalism as reinforced by the dysfunctional ‘special relationship’ to Israel. There is no current intimations that the Democratic Party will field a ticket for the 2020 elections that will challenge this consensus.

 

The media liberal mainstream, as might be expected, ignores the bipartisan consensus that has by now inscribed anti-socialism in its digital DNA. A typical reaction is that of Chris Cuomo, the unabashedly anti-Trump CNN news program host who warns the Democrats not to fall into the supposed trap set by Trump. Cuomo advises the Democrats that they would be making a potentially fatal mistake if they would be so foolish as to try to defend ‘socialism’ as a desirable option for American voters.

 

Of course, the more progressive views articulated by these Democratic presidential hopefuls, as well as by Stacey Adams who the DNC wisely chose for a formal response to Trump’s speech, is not socialism in any meaningful sense. It does not propose shrinking the private sector by shifting the ownership of the mainsprings of production and services to the public sector, that is, to government control. Trump, knowingly or more likely unknowingly, confused ‘socialism’ with a politics of empathy for the American people. Empathy under current conditions means such humane policies as affordable health care for all, highly subsidized higher education and student debt relief, equitable taxation, environmental and climate change sanity, drastically reduced military spending, and vastly increased infrastructure investment. I would add to this list an end to regime change geopolitics, a reduced global military profile, and an upgrading of respect for international law and international institutions, especially the United Nations.

 

 

To denounce socialism as unamerican is something never done even during the ideological hysteria of McCarthyism that disgraced the nation at the height of the Cold War. Trump’s language seems intended to brand those who espouse socialism by name or even by their platforms as subversive adherents of a faith alien to American values and traditions: “..we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free.”

It may be helpful to recall that during the Great Depression the Socialist Party under the leadership of Norman Thomas was a respected and formidable presence on the American political landscape, widely praised by many non-socialist for pushing New Deal Democrats to adopt more compassionate policies toward the poor and unemployed precisely to weaken the appeal of socialist alternatives. For those of us old enough to remember, there are few active in American political life then or now more imbued with American values and our better angels than Normal Thomas. To assert, as Trump did, that socialism is unamerican is to insult the memory of this great American.

 

Perhaps, most serious of all, was the seemingly deliberate misidentification of the ideological threat actively undermining authentic American political, economic, social, and cultural traditions, institutions, reputation, and morale. It is the fascist threat that is real, and the socialist alternative that is contrived by Trump for inflammatory and insidious purposes. The celebration of militarism, bonding with autocratic oppressors around the world, the demonizing of immigrants and asylum seekers, war mongering toward Iran, challenging the rule of law, and ultra-nationalist versions of patriotism that are threatening the future of America, not fascism. The perversion of values and the neglect of the real interest of the American people was notably symbolized by several striking silences in Trump’s long speech: he found no time to include a sentence about climate change, gun violence, and predatory warfare in Yemen.

 

If we are to restore humane republicanism in America it will require not only a repudiation of Trump and Trumpism but also a rejection of the bipartisan consensus and deep state geopolitics. This means we must hope that the next American president will be a truly progressive female candidate who breaks free of the consensus and is not embarrassed by an ardent embrace of social and political justice for allAmericans and a global outlook that is responsive to urgent long-term challenges (climate change, nuclear disarmament topping the list) and to the immediate crises calling for international cooperation of an unprecedented scale, a move in the direction of moral globalization(migration, famine, crimes against humanity).

 

 

 

 

 

 

The future of statehood: Israel & Palestine

3 Feb

[Prefatory Note: Interview Questions of a Brazilian journalist Rodrigo Craveiro on behalf of Correio Braziliense: (Jan. 30, 2019) on current prospects of Palestinian national movement.]

 

Fatah, Hamas, the Future of Statehood and Peace Prospects

 

1. With the dissolution of government do you see any risk for unity among all Palestinian factions? Why? 

 

It is difficult at this stage to interpret the significance of the recent dissolution of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), which serves as the Parliament of the Palestinian Authority that governs the West Bank and enjoys formal recognition as the representive of the Palestinian people internationally. The PLO continues to exist as an umbrella framework to facilitate coordination among Palestinian political factions aside from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which have never been associated with the PLO. It seems that dissolution of the PLC is related to the prospect of new leadership of the Palestinian Authority, especially the speculation that the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas will soon retire, and be replaced. It is also possible that this move is an attempt by the PA to create a stronger basis for creating an actual Palestinian state in an atmosphere in which the Oslo diplomatic framework has been superseded.

 

Without the prospect of a diplomatic resolution of the conflict by negotiation between the parties, the Abbas leadership is trying to establish for Palestine the status of an international state by way of its own unilateral moves. Israel on its side it trying by its unilateral initiatives to create its own expanded state that extends Israeli sovereignty over all or most of the West Bank, which remains legally ‘occupied’ despite a variety of fundamental encroachments on Palestinian autonomy. In other words we are witnessing contradictory moves by both Israel and Palestine to achieve their goals by unilateral political moves rather than through international diplomacy under U.S. auspices based on a negotiated agreement reflecting compromise. In the process both the PA and Israel are in the process abandoning earlier pretensions of democratic governance. This move by Abbas to dissolve the PLC is most accurately interpreted as the further de-democratization of Palestine, and the establishment of a more robust autocratic governing structure that does not inspire trust among many Palestinians and their supporters throughout the world. The failure, for instance, of the PA to back BDS is indicative of the gap between global solidarity initiatives and the timid leaders provided the Palestinian national movements by Abbas leadership in Ramallah.

 

2. How do you analyze the role of Hamas inside the political life of Palestinian people? 

 

It is again difficult to be too definite about the role of Hamas at this time. This is partly because Hamas is likely affected by the changes in the tactics and leadership of the Palestinian Authority, which continues to be internationally regarded as the sole representative of Palestinian interests while being subject to criticism and rejection by large segments of the Palestinian people, especially those spread about the world by being refugees, exiles, and displaced persons., For some time, Hamas has indicated its willingness to agree to a long-term truce (or hudna)with Israel lasting up to 50 years, but only on condition that Israel withdraws from the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as Gaza, and ends the blockade that has been used to deny the entry and exit of goods and people to Gaza ever since 2007. It is possible that a different leadership in Israel as a result of the April elections will produce a new Israeli approach to Gaza, which could include some kind of grant of autonomy or even independence as one type of alternative policy or intensified coercion that sought to destroy Hamas and its military capabilities as another.

 

What remains clear is that Hamas, as opposed to the PA, has been a consistent source of resistance to Israeli occupation and expansionism, although evidently willing to pursue its goals by political tactics rather than armed struggle. It is Israel that has insisted that Hamas is a terrorist organization, refusing even to consider establishing a ceasefire regime of indefinite length. It is also the case that Hamas is rooted in Islamic beliefs and practices, which are resented by secularized Muslims and non-Muslim Palestinians. This tension has erupted at various times in the course of the decade of Hamas governance in Gaza. Nevertheless, Hamas has popular support throughout occupied Palestine, and one explanation for the failure of the PA to hold elections is the anticipation that Hamas would likely be the winner, or at least make a strong showing.

 

3. Do you consider Hamas a danger for peace efforts building by Palestinian factions with Israel in future? Why?

There is no doubt that if the Palestinian Authority persists in excluding Hamas from participation in shaping the future of the national movement that the friction of recent years will continue, if not intensify. It is also possible that any new, post-Abbas PA leadership will try with increased motivation to find an embracing political framework that brings together the secular factions with those of religious persuasion, and especially Hamas. If the Trump ‘deal of the century’ is made public in coming months, and is treated as a serious proposal that is accepted as a basis of negotiation by the Palestinian Authority, then it would test whether the Palestinian people will be represented in a manner that joins in a single political actor secular and religious forces. The people of Gaza have suffered for many years, the conditions of poverty and environmental hazards are becoming more severe, with shortages of medical supplies, health hazards from polluted drinking water, astronomical levels of unemployment, and the absence of nutritious food creating emergency conditions for the entire civilian population of Gaza of about two million. Given these realities it is almost certain that Hamas will seek to pursue a more viable future for Gaza, but as the Great March of Return has demonstrated in recent months, the population, despite years of demoralization, retains a strong will to resist oppressive conditions of Israel domination.

 

      4-Until now all efforts to overcome the division between Hamas and Fatah didn’t work. Why? Why is it difficult to achieve a common sense?

I believe the principal reasons that all attempts to achieve a sustainable accommodation tween Hamas and Fatah have failed relate to both ideology and questions of trust. This failure has also been a consequence of Israel’s overt and covert feverish efforts to promote Palestinian disunity and fragmentation. Israel’s emphasis on a politics of fragmentation in addressing the Palestinian challenge is expressed in many ways, including establishing separate governance regimes for the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem, as well as for the Palestinian minority living in Israel and the refugees in neighboring countries.

 

On ideology there are two main sources of division between Fatah and Hamas—the secular/religious divide, and the greater readiness of Fatah to accept and legitimate the permanence of the Israeli state than is Hamas. For Hamas Israel remains a usurper of Palestine, and such a illegitimate state that can never be formally accommodated, although as suggested, Hamas is prepared to accept a truce of long duration without altering its underlying claims to exercise sovereignty over the whole of historic Palestine. If such a truce was to be agreed upon by Israel it would amount to a de facto acceptance of Israel, and vice versa. If the truce held, it could lead to some kind of indefinite extension that would allow both governing leaderships to feel that they achieved their primary goals, in other words, a win/win outcome.

 

Fatah, at least since 1988, as well as the PLO, has been willing to normalize relations with Israel and to agree to a territorial division of Palestine along the 1967 boundaries, provided that the arrangement provided for the retention of East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. As matters now stand, it is almost unimaginable that Israel would accept the Hamas approach to a future relationship, and given the continuing expansion of the settlements it seems unlikely that Israel would agree to the emergence of a sovereign Palestinian state under any conditions, that is, even if Hamas did not exist.

 

It is quite likely that Israel would seek to impose a one-state solution by annexing the West Bank in a manner similar to their annexation of the city of Jerusalem. The unresolved tensions between Fatah and Hamas are in my judgment less fundamental than is Israel’s increasing clarity about rejecting any negotiated compromise on such core issues as territory, refugees, and Jerusalem. Israel seems to regard the present situation as one in which it feels almost no pressure to compromise, and instead that it is possible for Tel Aviv to push forward toward an end of the conflict by claiming victory, a view endorsed by Zionist extremists and seemingly supported by the Trump diplomacy to date. I find these perspectives to be shortsighted and unsustainable. Even should the Palestinian leadership is forced given present realities to accept a political surrender, such an induced outcome will produce a ceasefire not a lasting peace. In this post-colonial age denying the Palestinian people their fundamental right of self-determination is almost certain to be unable to withstand the tests of time.

 

 

 

        5- In your opinion what is the recipe or formula to make all Palestinians join together in pursuing common goal, which is the establishment of Palestine State?

 

I have partially given my answer to this question in earlier responses to your questions. In essence, I am arguing that given the present outlook in Israel, as well as regional and global considerations,

It is not possible to envision the establishment of a Palestinian state even if Palestinians were able to achieve unity and went on to accept the 1967 boundaries excluding the Israeli settlement blocs along the border. Israel no longer hides its intention to expand its state boundaries to encompass the whole of ‘the promised land,’ considered a biblical entitlement within the dominant view of the Zionist project.

 

As earlier suggested, Israel will do its best to disrupt Palestinian efforts to overcome the cleavages in their movement so as to keep the Palestinian movement as fragmented as possible. As long as the United States continues its unconditional support Israel seems able to ignore the adverse character of international public opinion, as exhibited at the UN and elsewhere. Israel makes little secret of the absence of any  pressure to seek a political compromise. Ever since the 1990s a political compromised has been assumed to mean an independent  Palestinian state. Only recently, as Israel’s expansionism has made a Palestinian state a diplomatic non-starter and even a political impossibility has the idea of a single state embracing both peoples gained traction.

 

This shift to a one-state approach has taken to two forms: a single democratic secular state in which the expansionist goals of Zionism are renounced, and no longer would a Jewish state as such exist. Jews would have to accept equality of treatment within such a non-ethnic state, although the establishment of a Jewish homeland might be possible. The alternative single statehood model would be to absorb all Palestinians into a single Jewish state of Israel, perhaps conferring full or more likely partial citizenship rights to Palestinians. Both of these statehood models are post-diplomatic, as is the PA effort to establish a state of its own while enduring a prolonged occupation.

 

The Israeli version of a single state outcome of the struggle is more in keeping with present realities than is the Palestinian version. Such as assessment also gains strength by noting that the main Arab neighbors of Israel, in particular Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have withdrawn support for Palestinian national aspirations, and are actively cooperating with Israel, giving an Arab priority to the containment of extremist threats to their governments and to their sectarian rivalry with Iran. All in all, the regional and global geopolitical trends of late remove almost all incentives on the Israeli side to do anything other than to manage the favorable status quo until the moment arrives when it seems right to declare and claim that the boundaries of New Israel encompass of the entire territory managed between the two world wars as the British Mandate of Palestine.

 

As matters now stand it is utopian to anticipate a Palestinian state or a single secular democratic state, but these conditions that seem currently so favorable to Israel are unstable and deceptive, and unlikely to last. There are signs that a position of balanced support as between  Israel and Palestine is gaining strength in the West, especially among the American public. Account should also be taken of a growing global solidarity movement that has become more militant, and exerts greater pressure on Israel, especially by way of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Campaign (BDS). In this respect, conditions could change rapidly as happened in South Africa in the early 1990s against all expectations and expert opinion at the time. Israel is increasing regarded as an apartheid state, which the Knesset itself virtually acknowledged by enacting in 2018 the Basic Law of the Nation-State of the Jewish People. Finally, it should be appreciated that by virtue of Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, apartheid is classified as a crime against humanity. The experience of South Africa, although very different in its particular, is instructive with respect to the untenability over time of apartheid structures of control over a resisting ethnicity. Whatever the governance arrangement, Palestinian resistance will produce a cycle of insurgent and repressive violence, and this can provide stability for Israel only so long as its apartheid regime remains in place. If the apartheid regime is dismantled it would be accompanied by the end of any claim to impose a Jewish state on the Palestinian people.

A Tale of Two Speeches: Marc Lamont Hill on Palestine, Martin Luther King, Jr., on Vietnam         

23 Jan

[Prefatory note: This post if a modified and revised version of the previous post. I have rarely done this, but due to comments received, and further reflections on my part, I felt there was some aspects of the essay that should be clarified or elaborated. There are threemain points: what we learn about CNN from its treatment of Marc Lamont Hill; the special treatment accorded those that challenge that pillar of the bipartisan consensus that relates to unconditional support of Israel; the targeting of leading African Americans who dare speak out on mainstream controversial issues, a dynamic that goes back to Martin Luther King’s public opposition to the Vietnam War.]

 

 

A Tale of Two Speeches: Marc Lamont Hill on Palestine, Martin Luther King, Jr., on Vietnam          

 

In my last post I complained about the news approach of CNN, and by indirection, the MSM. I complained that by being Trump-obsessed CNN helps pacify the American political scene, making us view demagogic politics as ‘a reality show.’ Beyond this obsession is inexplicable redundancy in which successive news programs cover the latest episode of Trump’s soap opera from virtually identical viewpoints, while ignoring the whole panorama of developments throughout the world.

 

It is an aspect of what the most perceptive commentators on the decline of democracy have begun with reason to call our post-political ‘democracy,’ which seems the reverse side of the coin in a plutocracy. Keeping the public entertained and diverted allows the grossly unjust and unequal distribution of wealth and income almost to disappear from the radar of discontent.  Part of this post-political reality show is to reduce the operative sphere of American politics to ‘the bipartisan consensus’ established in the United States after 1945. Such a pattern of subtle indoctrination provides an apolitical certificate of permanent approval to global militarism, neoliberal capitalism, and unconditional support for Israel.

 

Instead of weakening its grip on the national public imagination after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it the socialist alternative, by declaring geopolitical peace and acting accordingly, the governing elites went in the opposite direction: privileging capital accumulation at the expense of human wellbeing and equity; a militarized unipolarity that overrides international law, UN authority, human rights, and international morality. It this reconfigured ‘bipartisan consensus’ that became the ideological sequel to the Cold War rivalry. It guides both the deep state and the established leadership of both political parties, which also underpins CNN’s diversionary approach to news coverage. In effect, Trump must go, or at least be managed, so that the bipartisan consensus can flourish.

 

The Israeli pillar of the bipartisan consensus is somewhat surprisingly more rigidly enforced in public space than the seemingly thicker pillars of global militarism and neoliberal capitalism. CNN occasionally stumbles by allowing a progressive critic of the Pentagon or Wall Street to get some air time. Such occurrences are hard to avoid ever since Bernie Sanders opposed Hilary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, and put these issues on the national agenda. Nothing much happens except maybe a backroom reprimand to the producers of the news programs. It is not the same if the Israeli pillar of the bipartisan consensus is shaken even if only slightly. Then heads fall, and a visible reaffirmation of the consensus position is mandatory. CNN despite its wish to be trusted will not hesitate to treat any perception of sharp criticism of Israel as intolerable. The test of sharpness is whether it agitates militant Zionism as illustrated by the their malevolent reaction to the Hill speech.

   

The CNN dismissal of Marc Lamont Hill is the toxic icing on this particular cake. Hill a professor at Temple University and a regular consultant to CNN was dismissed in deference to unidentified Zionist pressures. Hill’s sole ‘wrong’ was to deliver a humane speech at a UN conference. He did voice support of Palestinian self-determination and other rights. Yet no fair reading of what Hill said at the UN or scrutiny of his overall career would reach any conclusion other than that this was a reasoned call for justice for Palestine along a path in which both Jews and Arabs could coexist within the same contested territory.

 

Apparently, the closing line of his talk was enough to agitate Zionist militants, which led CNN immediately to dismiss Hill: “free Palestine, from the river to the sea.” It remains murky, and probably will remain so, whether tearing this phrase from the clear intention of the talk was a convenient pretext for outside forces to mount their attack on Hill. The alternative view is that this singled phrase was all that was read by those who indignantly ranted about an anti-Semitic screed delivered at the UN. I am reminded of my own experience two years ago when my co-authored UN report was viciously denounced with no indication of it having been read beyond the title that contained the word ‘apartheid.’ This was enough of a red flag to make the American ambassador, Nikki Haley, adopt a hysterical tone when asserting her arrogant demand that the UN denounce the report, which as with CNN was dutifully done.

 

As Hill himself explained in a column published in the Philadelphia Inquirer [Dec. 1, 2018]: “Critics of this phrase have suggested that I was calling for violence against Jewish people. In all honesty, I was stunned, and saddened, that this was the response.” As Hill points out both Israelis and Palestinians have used that phrase over the years to describe their intentions, including for various proposals of co-existence, especially either the two-state Oslo goal line or the secular binational democratic one-state vision that Hill and many of us favor. To consider such a sentiment to be an anti-Semitic trope is a Zionist slur against someone whose life and scholarly work has been dedicated to social justice and in opposition to all forms of ethnic hatred and intolerance. Given the recent troubles of Angela Davis and Alice Walker it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that African Americans are especially targeted if perceived by Zionist gatekeepers as overtly pro-Palestinian, and somehow vulnerable to being discrediting. The racist message being delivered: ‘Stay in your racist lane, or else!”

 

Of course, I am not suggesting that white critics of Israel, if seen as vulnerable, are not targeted for punitive treatment as was the unjustified treatment of Norman Finkelstein, Stephen Salaita, Rahab Abdel Hadi, and many others illustrate. It is rather a matter of blocking African American supporters of Palestinian solidarity because they can speak with a special authenticity about ethnic victimization. In this regard, it is hardly accidental that post-apartheid South Africa is of all governments in the world the one most supportive of the Palestinian national struggle.

 

Surely, a rather grotesque irony is present. These African American cultural and intellectual leading personalities are being implicitly instructed to limit their concerns and activism to their own  grievances associated with the treatment of African American. The abuse of Palestinians, in effect, is none of their business. The message to Jews is somewhat analogous, although interestingly different. If as a Jew you speak too candidly in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle you are not only an anti-Semite, but likely to be labeled ‘a self-hating Jew.’ Here the embedded assumption is that to be authentically Jewish is to remain silent when it comes to Israeli crimes of abuse inflicted on the Palestinian people.  

As Michelle Alexander reminded us in her breakthrough column, Martin Luther King, Jr., was widely perceived as ‘brave’ when he spoke out against the Vietnam War in his famous speech of April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church. It was not a provocation by that stage in the war for white liberals to be publicly opposed to the Vietnam War, and certainly would not be an occasion for the appropriate use of words like ‘brave’ or ‘courageous.’ But for an African American to do so back then was existentially different. It was treated as tactically questionable and even impudent for a black man to act as if fully enfranchised and had the same right as white persons to be a citizen of conscience when it came to issues outside the domain of race. The chastening reality that King was assassinated in the following year, which either intentionally or not served as a reminder that black folks, however distinguished and acknowledged, will be punished it they dare act as if they enjoy the same spectrum of universal rights as the rest of us.

 

For King to so enter the main lane of political controversy on Vietnam was to cast himself as an uppity black who offended even some mentally colonized African American leaders who at the time lamented, or at least regretted, this supposed distraction from fighting for civil rights in America. The message delivered by dog whistle to many liberals, black and white, was ‘let others worry about the Vietnamese people and American militarism. This is none of your business. Stick to race.” A deeper irony here is that part of the reason that the Vietnamese prevailed in the war against all odds is partly because they derived strength from expressing solidarity with other liberation struggles and seeking as much support from non-Vietnamese peace oriented groups as possible.

 

We can take note of this subtle form of liberal racism as long pervading American political culture. To observe it so crudely resurfacing in relation to this dismissal of Hill by CNN suggests that despite liberal claims, little progress has been made in dissolving the structures of what might be called ‘deep racism.’ What is more for Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo, and Don Lemon to remain silent in the face of the Hill dismissal exposes two lamentable features of how this ‘most trusted name in news’ operates: first, it bows to Zionist pressures to enforce the insidious expanded definition of anti-Semitism is itself malicious. CNN went even further, as Hill’s talk fairly read was actually supportive of the existence of Israel, the wellbeing of Jews in Israel, and explicitly repudiated anti-Semitism as properly understood. CNN’s reflex reaction called for apology not dismissal. Thus, what CNN did fell even outside the contours of the recent Zionist insistence on an inflammatory definition of anti-Semitism’ as extended to Israel as well as to Jews. Further, these lead news journalists, who nightly claim to walk the high moral ground, have maintained their public silence in the face of this crippling encroachment on freedom of expression resulting from the dismissal of Hill. Surely, an instance of self-censorship run amok.

 

Make no mistake, what befell Marc Lamont Hill also serves as a warning to CNN to stay within the confines of its lane as lead propagandist of the bipartisan consensus. It is also a reminder to the rest of us that trusting CNN’s public face is a fool’s errand. The wider effect of Hill’s experience is to send an intimidating warning to anyone in the African American community that they better watch their words or they should expect, at the very least, to receive a rhetorical lynching.

 

The Hill case shows this to be hardly alarmist. The warning was gratuitously reinforced by the response of Hill’s academic employer. Instead of doing the right thing, giving a fair reading to the UN speech, and then supporting their faculty member, Hill was verbally lynched by the president and chair of the board at Temple University in the harshest imaginable language. In the public press there were calls for dismissal from his tenured position. For what? Speaking out on a controversial issue at a UN conference in a manner completely in harmony with human rights and global justice.

 

Even now, anyone who cherishes the democratic spirit should insist that CNN reinstate Hill with an accompanying apology for the considerable damage done to his reputation and the psychic anguish inflicted. Also, I would hope that the academic senate at Temple, or some similar body does not imitate CNN by maintaining a stony silence. Even after the fact it would send a different message if the university community summoned the political will and commitment to academic freedom to censure their administrators for their outrageous remarks of condemnation directed at Hill, and along the way chide CNN for caving in, and then refusing to make amends. Hill deserves nothing less, and if this kind of punitive behavior is not repudiated by his university community it sends a chilling and obnoxious message—defamation works as a means to discredit Israeli critics, especially if African American, and the media and universities should blacklist such troublesome characters if they seek smooth sailing.

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Speeches: Marc Lamont Hill on Palestine and Martin Luther King on Vietnam

21 Jan

A Talel of Two Speeches:  Marc Lamont Hill on Palestine, Martin Luther King, Jr., on Vietnam

 

In my last post I criticized the news approach of CNN, and by indirection, that of the MSM. I complained that by being Trump-obsessed CNN ever since 2016  helps pacify the American political scene, making us view demagogic politics as nothing more serious than ‘a reality show.’ Beyond the obsession itself, is the inexplicable redundancy in which successive news programs cover the latest episode from virtually identical viewpoints, while ignoring the whole panorama of major developments elsewhere in the world.

 

It is an aspect of what the most perceptive commentators on the decline of democracy have begun with reason to call our post-political ‘democracy,’ which is the reverse side of the plutocracy coin. An insidious part of this post-political reality show is to reduce politics to ‘the bipartisan consensus’ established in the United States after 1945. In effect, the consensus imparts an apolitical stamp of permanent approval to global militarism and neoliberal capitalism.

 

Instead of weakening its grip on the national public imagination after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it the socialist alternative, the reverse effects occurred. By declaring geopolitical peace and acting accordingly, the governing elites went in the opposite direction: privileging capital accumulation at the expense of human wellbeing and equality; proclaiming a militarized unipolarity that overrides international law, UN authority, human rights, and international morality. It this reconfigured post Cold War ‘bipartisan consensus’ that has guided American public policy since the early 1990s. It is endorsed by both the deep state and the established leadership of both political parties, and is the presumed underpinning of CNN’s diversionary approach to news coverage. In effect, Trump must go, or at worst be tamed, so that the bipartisan consensus can flourish as the authoritative depiction of America’s global political identity.

 

The dismissal of Marc Lamont Hill is the toxic icing on this particular cake. Hill a professor at Temple University and a regular consultant to CNN was summarily dismissed as news consultant in deference to pressures mounted by Zionist organizations. Hill’s sole ‘wrong’ was to deliver a humane speech at the UN in support of Palestinian self-determination and other rights. No fair reading of what Hill said or his overall career would reach any conclusion other than that this was a call for justice for Palestine along a path in which both Jews and Arabs could coexist within the same contest territory in forms of their own choosing. Apparently, his closing line was enough to provoke Zionist watchdog to call for  Hill’s dismissal: “free Palestine, from the river to the sea.”

 

It remains murky, and probably will remain so, whether ripping this phrase from Hill’s text was a pretext to discredit and intimidate pro-Palestinian sentiments or an illuminating misunderstanding of his speech. Any careful reading of Hill’s text would reveal that the clear intention of the talk was to condemn anti-Semitism and to promote peace and justice for both peoples.

 

The only alternative reading that is plausible suggests that this single phrase was all that was read by those who ranted in reaction about an anti-Semitic screed delivered at the UN. I am reminded of my own experience two years ago when a UN report on Israel/Palestine of which I was co-author was viciously denounced with no indication of it having been read beyond the title that contained the word ‘apartheid.’ This word alone seemed enough of a red flag to cause Nikki Haley to become hysterical when voicing her demand that the UN denounce the report.

 

As Hill himself explained in a column published in the Philadelphia Inquirer [Dec. 1, 2018]: “Critics of this phrase have suggested that I was calling for violence against Jewish people. In all honesty, I was stunned, and saddened, that this was the response.” As Hill suggests that both Israelis and Palestinians have used that phrase over the years to describe their intentions, including for various forms of co-existence, especially either the two-state Oslo goal line or the secular binational one-state vision that Hill and many of us affirm as alone viable and desirable. To consider such a sentiment as anti-Semitic is to accpet a Zionist slur against someone whose life and scholarly work has been dedicated to social justice and opposition to all forms of ethnic hatred and intolerance. Given the recent troubles of Angela Davis and Alice Walker it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that African Americans are especially targeted if perceived by Zionist gatekeepers as overtly and effectively pro-Palestinian. The racist message being delivered: ‘Stay in your racist lane, or else suffer the consequences!” 

Surely, an irony is present. These African American cultural and intellectual figures are as a matter of racism told to limit their concerns and activism to their own grievances associated with the treatment of African American. The abuse of Palestinians is none of their business. The message to Jews is somewhat analogous, although interestingly different. If you speak in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle you are sure to be labeled ‘a self-hating Jew.’ Here the embedded assumption is that to be authentically Jewish is to be mum when it comes to Israeli crimes of abuse inflicted on the Palestinian people. 

 

As Michelle Alexander recently reminded us in a forthright column, Martin Luther King, Jr., was rightly perceived as ‘brave’ when he spoke out against the Vietnam War in his famous speech of April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church. It was not considered a provocation by that stage in the war if white liberals publicly opposed the Vietnam War, and certainly did not warrant words like ‘brave’ or ‘courageous.’ For an African American leading figure, such as King, to do so was existentially different then, and now. It was rather widely viewed by liberal thought controllers as an imprudent and impudent assumption that a black man was fully enfranchised and had the same right to be a citizen of conscience when it came to issues outside the domain of race as did a white person. The ugly reality that King was assassinated in the following year, which either directly or indirectly served as a reminder that black folks, however distinguished and prominent, will be punished it they act as if they enjoy the same spectrum of rights and concerns as the rest of us.

 

For King to comment on the Vietnam War was to enter the main lane of political controversy and thus cast himself as an uppity black who offended even the colonized African American leaders who at the time lamented, or at regretted, his Vietnam stand as an unwelcome distraction from fighting for civil rights in America. The message delivered as a dog whistle by liberals, both black and white, was ‘let others worry about the Vietnamese people and American militarism. This is none of your business. Stick to race.”

 

We can take note of this subtle form of liberal racism as long pervading American political culture. To observe it so crudely resurfacing in relation to this dismissal of Hill by CNN suggests that despite liberal claims, little progress has been made in dissolving the structures of what might be called ‘deep racism.’ What is more for Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo, and Don Lemon to remain silent in the face of the Hill dismissal by their employer exposes two lamentable features of how this ‘most trusted name in news’ operates: first, it bows to Zionist pressures to enforce the new anti-Semitism without even assessing whether the call for dismissal was; this action by CNN in effect equated such alleged severe criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews, which is a distinct malicious interference with freedom of expression. CNN went even further, as Hill’s talk fairly read was actually supportive of the existence of Israel, the wellbeing of Jews in Israel, and explicitly repudiated anti-Semitism as properly understood. Thus, what CNN exceeded even the contours of Zionist definitions of ‘new anti-Semitism’ as extended to Israel as well as to Jews. Further, these lead news journalists, who nightly claim to tread the high moral ground, have maintained their public silence in the face of this crippling encroachment on freedom of expression resulting from the dismissal of Hill.

 

Make no mistake, what befell Marc Lamont Hill is a warning to CNN itself as to the backlash it would face if it should venture outside the confines of its lane in the future. It is also a reminder to the rest of us that trusting CNN’s public face is a fool’s errand. The wider effect of Hill’s experience is to send an intimidating warning to anyone in the African American community that they had better watch their words and deeds, or be ready to receive, at the very least, to receive a rhetorical lynching, which would have a variety of seen and unseen harmful career effects.

 

Such an interpretation is not exaggerated. It was confirmed in relation to Hill by the response of his employer, an institution of higher learning supposedly dedicated to upholding academic freedom. Instead of doing the right thing, and supporting their faculty member, Hill was separately lynched by the president and chair of the board at Temple University in the harshest imaginable language. Various calls were made in the days after the CNN that he be stripped of his tenured position at Temple. Hill’s offense: Speaking out on a controversial issue at a UN conference in a manner completely in harmony with human rights and global justice.  

 

What is striking here is that the backlash against Hill was so extreme under the circumstances, including the UN auspices. Freedom of expression and academic freedom should be available to those who are less humane and careful in articulating their opinions than was Hill.

 

As Michelle Alexander makes us consider the question of whether Martin Luther King would today, on this holiday celebrating his extraordinary life, speak on Palestine just as he did speak in 1967 on Vietnam. From personal experience that it was far easier for me, a white Jew, to speak and act against the Vietnam War (although there were taunts—‘America, love her or leave her’) than it is to depict

the apartheid policies and practices of Israel. Instead of being blacklisted in the Vietnam context, even in the earlier phases when it was widely supported, I was widely invited to provide a dissident voice.

What happens when a critic of Israel raises his voice, no matter who he or she is, or the accuracy of what is disclosed, the backlash takes the form of smears rather than arguments. Both Jimmy Carter and Richard Goldstone, two totally different, yet moderate political personalities, found out. There is no reason to think that Martin Luther King would not experience a defamatory tsunami should he be with us,

and dare raise his voice.

 

 

 

What’s Wrong with CNN?

16 Jan

What’s Wrong with CNN?

 

CNN presents itself as the most ‘trusted name in news’ available to the TV viewing public. Of course, this claim of integrity is to be greatly valued if the news channel lives up to such a standard when fairly scrutinized. Democracy, in the complex circumstances of modernity, depends on trust to remain viable. In an important sense CNN seems trustworthy. To the best of its ability it appears to search for and impart the truth with respect to its coverage. Unlike the American president, it does not lie or deliver ‘fake news.’ And for most issues it gives both sides of the story, and doesn’t keep shifting the goal posts to alter the narrative.

 

But is this record of honesty enough to make CNN trustworthy? I think not.

In recent months, and really ever since the 2016 presidential campaign, CNN, along with the rest of the mainstream media, has been Trump obsessed. At least, compared to Fox, CNN adopts a highly critical stance in evaluating the daily episodes in this ongoing cruel and dangerous Trump soap opera. Surely, such an irresponsible and unscrupulous leadership deserves probing criticism and extensive coverage, but not at the price of erasing the rest of the world as well as much of the news agenda on the home front. This is what CNN has done, at least on the coverage provided by its national channel. CNN International is more inclusive in its coverage, but for CNN in the United States, it has seemingly decided that this is ‘the Trump Century’ rather than ‘The American Century.’  Such an obsession is a travesty on the reality of our 21stcentury world, and a distorting service to its devoted watching audience.

 

It is quite astounding to tune into the nightly broadcasts on CNN featuring Anderson Cooper, Andrew Cuomo, and Don Lemon as successive anchors. They not only devote their entire coverage to the latest revelations of the Special Counsel regarding various aspects of the interaction between the Trump entourage and Russia, but they repeat one another, somewhat varying only the talking heads, most of whom are invited to make recurrent guest appearances. Not only this, but these news commentators seem in such an uncontainable self-congratulatory mood that they have initiated a new media trope. Instead of ending their program and proceeding to the next one, these familiar faces exchange lengthy and supportive comments with one another on the latest Trump maneuver, laughing with undisguised appreciation of each other’s ironic takes. I find this to be an increasingly tedious display of irrelevance. If this is what it means to be trusted, I might soon opt for some version of the untrustworthy. Indeed, allowing Trump to suck up all the oxygen is not so different over time than falling in line as Trumpsters would wish. This devotion to Trump may be the work of the market advisors that call the shots at CNN, which makes it both understandable, and in its way, even worse.

 

Erasure of all that is newsworthy but non-Trump is only part of the problem. Distortion and indoctrination are also present, especially when the Trump news touches on the Pentagon, CIA, Wall Street, and Israel. Here the celebrity anchors rely on experts who are loyalists of the ‘bipartisan consensus’ (what traditional Republicans and establishment Democrats agree about, except for tactical nuances) that has dominated American approach to the world ever since 1945. This has meant taking neoliberal post-Cold War capitalism, global militarism, and the special relationship with Israel off the table of responsible debate. Most of CNN’s experts are retirees from the upper echelons of the national security establishment, stalwarts of Washington think tanks, or senior advisors to recent presidents. Never do we hear from a single progressive voice, nor even from those that believe the crisis is structural, requiring thought and action outside the box. Alan Dershowitz is welcome to talk in defense of the Trump presidency or Israel, but never Noam Chomsky. It is this leaning to the right that most makes CNN untrustworthy in my eyes. It shuts out the light with respect to the most compelling issues facing the country and the world, and limits news coverage to fifty shades of gray.

 

In many respects, theNew York Timesshares this deference to this anarchronistic bipartisan consensus. It is more useful than CNN because it realizes that ‘all the news fit to print’ includes happenings in the world other than the Trump escapades. The Timeseven occasionally gives space sometimes to left-leaning critics, and its own opinion writers include Michelle Goldberg and Paul Krugman, both of whom are ready to challenge some of those fixed orthodoxies that have imposed their discipline on American policy regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans are in control of the White House. Of course, the right is also amply represented by the generally thoughtful conservative musings of David Brooks and the more abrasive forays of Bret Stephens. Yet when it comes to Brexit, Syria, Yemen, and Latin America the news coverage of the Times is invaluably comprehensive and generally reliable except if it touches on such no-go zones as Venezuela or the BDS Campaign.

 

Also, CNN in America is treated as the poster child of the mainstream media. MSNBC, its main supposedly liberal competitor, is only marginally better. MSNBC also drones on and on while doing its version of ‘the daily Trump show,’ and invites the same sort of dreary guests who make their living inside the Beltway, and hence burn few bridges to the portals of power in Washington. We might have hoped that dissident TV as provided by Vice or Al Jazeera would fill the void, but somehow they have not so far risen to the challenge of offering a different slant on what transpires day by day.

 

What is at stake goes beyond trust. It concerns what we need to know if we are to act responsibly and effectively as engaged citizens. What we need to know goes to the roots who we are collectively as a people, and what are the real threats to our security, and even our civilizational and biological survival. We should all know by now, or should know, that we live in a political system that is more accurately identified  as a ‘plutocracy’ than a ‘democracy,’ especially when it comes to political parties and the electoral process. Many have long been aware that the TV and print media, along with publishing, is market driven, and corporatized. As a consequence, political discourse is limited to center/right dialogues.

 

The main trouble is that we need center/left thinking to challenge the bipartisan consensus that has always been center/right, incorporating market and ‘deep state’ bureaucratic forces. In part, the left has lost its voice after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was persuasively (mis)interpreted in the West in ways that designed to wipe socialism off the political map of societal option. At present, climate change, global inequality, emerging technologies of war, artificial intelligence, robotics, genetic engineering, and nuclear weaponry are posing unprecedented challenges that are global in scope and bioethical in depth. In view of this there exists a need for an untethered political, moral, and cultural imagination as never before. We find imaginative innovative responses in pockets of resistance scattered around the country and the world. The recent midterm American elections produced a few women winners with radical messages, which suggests that the national body politic is not yet readied.

 

Yet until CNN listens, most of the rest of us will not hear or heed what needs to be known and done. At best, we will take refuge in struggling for feasible change unaware that what is necessary is not feasible within existing political and economic structures. At worst, we will be herded by demagogues into death camps or maybe stay alive by some mixture of escapism and denialism.

 

What we urgently need is a politics freed from the constraints of the feasible,and energized by an awareness of the necessaryand desirable.

 

 

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.