… is now up at the Boston Review website, here. The piece draws on a lot of the writing I did here at Globalities in the nine months of 2023 prior to October 7. The original title I’d given it was “Gaza at the Hinge of History”… Which I still prefer to the one BR gave it, though I realize I’d used “hinge of history” in the title of an essay here last April about the Arabian Peninsular. But hey, these hinges are definitely linked.
I hope you can read the whole of the new BR article. It opens with an intriguing (one hopes) anecdote/observation. The meaty substance comes down near the bottom:
The Gaza crisis, seventeen weeks old at the time of this writing, has not only brought West Asia (and the world) to the brink of a major war. It has sent shockwaves into the heart of a world order that United States took the lead in designing in 1945 and in which, since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it has acted as hegemon. Netanyahu and his political allies have adopted an openly confrontational stand not only against the UN’s refugee agency, but also against the UN itself and its highest judicial body, remaining implacably opposed to all those fundamentals of the world system…
Anyway, since BR doesn’t have a Comments section, here is your chance to post any reactions or further thoughts you have about the article, in the Comments box below.
Yesterday, I wrote a fairly substantial Twitter thread on the freight-crossings monitoring mechanism that’s a critical point of contention as the UN Security Council this week attempts to pass a meaningful resolution on a ceasefire (or even just a “suspension of hostilities”) in Gaza.
It’s a bit of a wonkish, insidery issue but since it has acquired such importance at the SC, I took that deep dive into it yesterday. You can read the whole thread here. That’s where you’ll need to access it if you want clickable links.
By the way if you’re interested in Israeli controls of *people* needing or wanting to cross into or out of Gaza, go read this excellent thread that the currently exiled Gazan Sarah Ali posted yesterday.
Anyway, here’s the content of my thread from yesterday, non-clickably (with two typos corrected):
In the past 35 days, the Israeli military has killed well over 10,000 people in Gaza. It has reduced most of Gaza City and the extensive refugee camps that surround it to barren moonscapes of rubble. Meantime, Israeli settler extremists have gone on killing and land-grabbing sprees in the occupied West Bank, with great help from the Occupation Forces there. The currently sharp intensity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has considerably inflamed tensions along Israel’s northern border. And the high degree of the United States’ direct and indirect involvement in Israel’s war effort, which has included dispatching two aircraft carrier battle groups, a nuclear-capable submarine and other U.S. military forces and assets to the region, has further inflamed tensions in a swathe stretching from Western Iraq through Syria and right down the Red Sea to Yemen.
This madness needs to stop!
As do the series of intense and long-unresolved political conflicts that underlie all these tensions, with at their heart the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
The United States. Must step aside. From Arab-Israeli ‘peacemaking’. It is that simple.
For 50 years now, Washington has dominated all the efforts that the world’s nations have undertaken in their search for a just and lasting resolution to the many strands of the Israeli-Arab conflict. That U.S. move to dominate the peace diplomacy was launched in late 1973 by Henry Kissinger, who uniquely combined the roles of Secretary of State and National Security Advisor. In the aftermath of the October 1973 war, Kissinger brusquely elbowed aside the Soviet Union, which had hoped to “co-lead” the post-war diplomacy.
From December 1973 until today, the United States has dominated all Arab-Israeli diplomacy, with the level of that U.S. domination rising to a situation of unabashed hegemony after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. And as I’ve written elsewhere, in 2005 Pres. George W. Bush even managed to subordinate the United Nations (and the EU, and a then-very-weak Russia) to Washington’s “leadership” of the diplomacy through an extraordinary arrangement called the “Middle East Quad.”
The results, for citizens of all the Arab states with the possible, partial exception of Egypt, have been disastrous. But the impact on the Palestinians has been particularly dire. They have seen Israeli settlers grabbing huge new areas of Palestinian land in the West Bank. They have seen the lives of all the Palestinians still resident in their historic homeland tightly constrained by Israel. They’ve seen Israeli forces and their allies commit unspeakable atrocities in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. They’ve seen their freedom to worship in their holy places in Jerusalem, Hebron, and elsewhere attacked.
And what has Washington done? Washington has continued to shovel massive sums of money and soaring mountains of arms into Israel. It has protected Israel from any international accountability by using its veto at the U.N. Security Council. It has given formal recognition to Israel’s (quite illegal) annexation of Greater East Jerusalem and of Syria’s Golan. It has demonized all who tried to resist Israel’s continued violence and encroachments by calling them terrorists and wielding tough sanctions against them.
And now, in Gaza City and the surrounding Gaza Strip—and also in the West Bank—we see the culmination of all that fervent, intensely one-sided support that successive U.S. presidents and their officials, and the U.S. Congress, have lavished on Israel over the past 50 years.
The aftermath of the recent Wadi Derna flood in Libya
Language matters. If we talk only about “global warming” or “climate change”, those terms don’t convey anything like the scale of the devastation that the climate crisis is already inflicting on humankind. So let’s call it what it is: A very present climate crisis.
Figuring out how to respond to this crisis is made many times harder by the fact that it is closely entwined with crises of governance collapse at many levels around the world.
The most impactful level of entwinement has long been the global. Global discord and the often-blind selfishness of the leaders of rich countries mean that these countries still continue to pump greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere at a rate that guarantees there is no prospect that worldwide GHG emissions—and therefore global heating—will be ended within the next 25 years.
The pace of global warming (heating) has accelerated visibly in recent years. But it’s been underway for several decades already, with effects such as the melting of ice-packs worldwide, desertification of land-masses, heating of seas and the exacerbation of hurricanes and other dire weather events becoming increasingly evident in many parts of the world.
The above image shows Slim Pickens riding a U.S. nuclear missile to its target, from “Dr. Strangelove” (1964)
With this week’s unveiling of yet more indictments of former Pres. Donald Trump and the defiant (Trump-stoked) reaction of his supporters to the indictments, the U.S. governance system now looks closer to suffering a major, systemic collapse than at any point since 1787.
Given the United States’ possession of a mega-capable nuclear arsenal, any such collapse would have massive—potentially existential—consequences for all of humankind. Policymakers and publics worldwide need to start planning how to forestall the worst possible consequences of any such scenario. Starting now.
I don’t think I’m being alarmist. I lived and worked in Lebanon for the first six years of that country’s civil war (1975-81.) I have done in-depth reporting in two other countries recovering from civil wars (Mozambique and Rwanda), and conducted research in other conflict zones. Now, living here in Washington DC I can sense the extreme risk posed to this country’s political system by the battling narratives, the sharp erosion of trust in national institutions, the greed, the positioning, the exchange of harsh accusations, and the mounting fear and intolerance.
But the United States is not Lebanon. It is not Mozambique, or Rwanda, or any of the numerous other countries wracked by civil wars in recent decades. This is a polity that has sat at the apex of the world system since 1945. Its massive, extremely capable military is deployed on every continent. And did I mention the nuclear arsenal? An internal political implosion in this country would be far more momentous for humanity than any of those other civil wars.
Above: Pres. Putin poses with some of the African leaders who attended the Russia-African summit he hosted this past week
Biden administration officials and their supporters have long claimed that the conflict in Ukraine is a clear-cut contest between “democracy” and “authoritarianism” that affects the whole world… and that on that basis the countries of the Global South should line up to support NATO’s campaign against Russia. One big recent version of this argument has been the claim that Russia’s refusal to renew the agreement allowing Ukraine to export grain via the Black Sea is raising grain prices and preventing much-needed foodstuffs from reaching hunger-struck countries in Africa…
But the campaign to win global support for NATO’s anti-Russia crusade has never been very successful. Recall that in the three votes Washington initiated at the UN last year to denounce Russia’s actions inside Ukraine (e.g., 1, 2), three dozen countries including global behemoths China, India, and three dozen other countries failed to support the “Yes” vote.
And just this past week, the proceedings of key gatherings held in South Africa and Moscow have underscored the extent to which the “West” has lost the support of that large majority of humanity that lives in the formerly colonized countries of the Global South. (If indeed, it ever had it… Perhaps a better description of what’s been happening in recent months is that the West is now revealing itself as incapable of imposing its will on the countries of the Global South. More on this, later…)
Have you, like me, been wondering what U.S. “climate czar” John Kerry has been talking about with his hosts in a Beijing that, like much of China and the United States, is drenched in extreme weather events?
John F. Kerry praised China’s “incredible job” expanding renewable energy sources Monday, while urging the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter to stop building coal-fired power plants.
Let’s hope that Kerry’s approach toward his hosts was indeed respectful and collaborative. The fate of humankind and our whole, deeply troubled planet hangs on these two mega-powers finding ways to work together to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while also reining in the currently raging over-depletion of all of our planet’s material resources.
If these two governments cannot overcome, or set aside, their political differences and find a way to work together to reduce CO2 emissions and resource depletion, then we will surely, within the next 20 years, see extreme weather events “baked” into all of the world’s climate system. We will also see entire economies, small and large, forced screeching to a halt—and also, all the social and political turmoil that will predictably result from that.
First, two key pieces of data regarding these two countries’ recent and projected CO2 emissions:
Click on either graph to expand it. The y-axes (verticals) show the same thing: billions of metric tons of CO2 emissions—but to different scales, as shown. The x-axes show past reported CO2 emissions levels through 2021 or 2022, and then projections from then through 2050.
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.”
First, a quick disclosure: As someone extremely fond of the young people in my family, I am deeply concerned about the effect of all social media apps on the lives and psyches of tweens and teens. Not just TikTok, but all of them…
So now, on to TikTok and the outrageous spectacle of the hearing the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee held yesterday into alleged harms that it accused the Chinese-owned company of inflicting on Americans. And no, the spectacle there lay not just in the stunning ignorance some committee members displayed about the basics of the technology they were allegedly investigating… It lay even more in the sad parade of unthinking, anti-China prejudice that they modeled and amplified in their remarks.
Few of these elected representatives showed any interest in actually listening to, or learning from, the answers that TikTok’s ever-patient (and by the way, Singaporean) CEO, Shou Zi Chew, gave to their often baffling questions. The reps were too busy grandstanding for the cameras and for the national audiences that they assumed would just love to see them strut on the big Sinophobic stage that this five-hour hearing afforded them. (Big kudos to NY Rep. Jamaal Bowman, who was the only member of Congress prepared to stick up for TikTok and to question the anti-China nature of the hearings.)
Within the broader “blob” of today’s Washington political elite, anti-China agitation is now, all too often, a quite bipartisan affair. But why? I don’t necessarily expect every member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to be conversant with the writings of Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, Bernard Brodie, Henry Kissinger, or other great strategic thinkers. But I would hope that the relevant leaders of our national-security apparatus might have given serious thought to such matters… especially in the age of possible nuclear annihilation that we’ve been living in for 78 years now.