The above photo is of one of the exultant visits Hillary Clinton made to post-Qadhafi Libya in 2011
I am delighted that after a hiatus of more than a dozen years (in the course of which I was working mainly as a book publisher) I have now returned to the pages of The Nation, with this article about the return of Syria to the Arab League and the prospect this raises for radically de-escalating the civil war that has devastated Syria for the past 12 years, or even—inshallah!—helping this conflict toward an end.
I warmly invite everyone to read the whole of the Nation article! But toward the end I wrote this, which was a point I want to explore a little more deeply in today’s essay:
Especially since the end of the US-Soviet Cold War, many Americans have been attracted to the idea that our foreign policy should be based on morality. But the version of morality that’s most widespread in today’s America is worryingly vulnerable to the influence campaigns of parties that seek to entangle the United States in regime-change operations in various places. And it pays little heed to the long-existing wisdom that war itself is something that inflicts deep harm on everyone caught in its tentacles, and therefore that bringing a halt to an existing war is itself a deeply moral endeavor.
Regarding the “influence campaigns”, I had provided a lot more information (here) on the heavily funded influence (propaganda) campaigns that Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and others had maintained for many years in Washington DC, regarding Syria . Let’s hope those campaigns are now dialed back, or even pushed into a strongly pro-reconciliation mode!
In today’s essay, though, I want to dive deeper into the topic of “the long-existing wisdom that war itself is something that inflicts deep harm on everyone caught in its tentacles.”
The Western corporate media that for 12 years have cheerled the brutal regime-change project in Syria are still sore about the fact that the project failed and that the other Arab states have agreed to reinstate Syria into the Arab League. So in what they’ve been publishing about Syria in recent days—whether “news” or “opinion”—they still clearly embody the deeply one-sided way they have been “covering” Syria for many years now.
(Other voices can be found—if you know where to look. I’ll come to one of them a little lower down here.)
The story in today’s WaPo that purported to tell us how “Syrians” feel about Pres. Bashar al-Asad’s participation in last Friday’s Arab League summit was a classic. “Syrians”, the headline tells us magisterially, “feel anger, hurt as Assad is welcomed back to Arab League.” But no attempt was made by the two reporters bylined there to, um, actually go to Syria and ask that majority of Syrians who live in areas under the government’s control. Instead, they are writing with no dateline, that is, presumably working the phones and the WhatsApp lines from Washington, to the three named sources whom they quote. One of those sources is described as currently located in Qatar, one in Germany, the other, not located.
The reporters make a couple of references to them as “Syrian activists“, a deliberately vague descriptor that is usually understood to mean “Syrian pro-regime-change activists”… But then they also, several times, build on those quotes to conclude that “Syrians” (meaning, presumably, all Syrians) feel that same way.
That is exactly how, through lazy writing based on a barrow-load of wishful thinking, pro-war propaganda gets ever more deeply embedded into the minds of readers. It really makes you wonder. If all “Syrians” feel exactly that same way, how on earth did the Syrian government manage to survive the 12-year-long regime-change campaign?
David Ignatius, long the national-security journo with the closest access to Democratic decision-makers, wrote in an intriguing column in today’s WaPo that National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan’s recent meeting in Vienna with top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi, “Sullivan praised Wang’s mediation of the bitter rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran… welcoming China’s effort to de-escalate conflict in the region.”
This is a real turnaround. It deals a strong serious blow to all the anti-Iran hawks in Israel and Washington who have tried to keep Saudi Arabia and the UAE firmly in the anti-Iran camp, and have downplayed the significance of the region-transforming rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia that Wang unveiled in Beijing back in March.
Ignatius diplomatically buried this significant news item down the near the bottom of today’s column. The column also offered many other tidbits indicating that the Biden administration is now finally recognizing the folly, at a time of intense confrontation with Russia, of trying also to maintain or ramp up an intense confrontation with China.
Above: 1982 view of the Green Line in downtown Beirut. Becoming greener in a bad way. Credit James Case.
Wars that are fought within countries, rather than between countries, are for some reason called “civil wars.” But in truth they are often the most brutal and uncivil form of conflict imaginable—perhaps because the express goal of the warring parties is to definitively silence the dissident voices of their own compatriots on the “other” side or sides, rather than to win a military contest on a battlefield. Over the years I’ve reported on, researched, analyzed, and reflected on a number of different wars on three continents. But the experiences I had in the very first war I encountered were different from all those other wars, and taught me the most about the nature of war. Because there, for six years, I was actually living and raising a family in the war-zone.
Let me take you back to the summer of 1974. I had spent some months discerning what I wanted to do with my very mediocre degree from Oxford; and now I decided to go to some intriguing-looking spot in the Global South to become a foreign correspondent. This was a step many British male writers had taken over the decades. So why not me?
The spot I chose was Beirut, Lebanon, where I had a few friends already. I went to my bank in Oxford and took out a loan of, I recall, £100. I bought an air ticket, and took off for Beirut. By the end of 1974 I had a job in a local advertising agency; I was taking Arabic classes in the Jesuit university; I was writing book reviews for the local English-language daily; and I had met an interesting local guy called Souheil, also an aspiring journalist…
The image above shows Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal and Pres. Nixon, on the White House lawn in 1971, the year Nixon unpegged the dollar from the gold standard
De-dollarization — that is, the choice that countries in the Global South have been making to conduct their trade in currencies other than the U.S. dollar — is a growing global phenomenon. It has profound implications for the economic situation in not just countries of the Global South but also Europe and (especially) the United States. It is a trend that strikes at the heart of the hegemonic, dollar-dominated “world order” that has existed since 1945, and is a key marker of the ongoing shift toward multipolarity.
De-dollarization is intimately linked to developments in the world hydrocarbons business, including the decision U.S. elites made more than a decade ago to increase domestic shale-oil drilling, which over the years transformed the United States from a net importer to a net exporter of oil and gas products. That shift acted as a key catalyst spurring countries in and far beyond West Asia to base their trading relationships on currencies other than the greenback. The shift also upended Washington’s relationships with key oil producers in West Asia, which then provided a significant opening for the expansion of China’s influence in that vital region.
Those trends were all discernible before 2022. But when Washington (responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine) slapped harsh sanctions onto Russia, it boosted all of them into an overdrive that now looks poised to radically transform not just the global economy but also the global power-balance as we have known it since 1945. In this essay, I’ll quickly pull together what some key thinkers from North America, Europe, West Asia, and elsewhere have been writing about the current push toward de-dollarization and its impact on world affairs.
One of the latest pundits to weigh in on the impact of de-dollarization has been Frank Giustra, co-chair of the influential, West-dominated Crisis Group think-tank. In a May 3 article at Responsible Statecraft, Giustra made the powerful argument that the United States’ true strength in international affairs lies not in its military but in the role of the dollar.