When Pres. Biden announced he was sending first of all one aircraft carrier battle group, then a second one, then also a Marines expeditionary unit to West Asia (the Middle East), each time the rationale he gave was that this was to “deter” actions by hostile actors. These declarations were completely in line with the main rationale provided since the 1940s for the maintenance of a huge U.S. military presence all around the globe. And they’ve been more or less accepted at face value by a U.S. commentatoriat that generally sees no problem in these large displays of force and that in recent years has been thought to be strongly averse to the employment of any U.S. troops in actual warfighting.
So if the president claims that the deployment of large U.S. “deterrent” forces to war-zones will help to prevent the escalation of violence, what could possibly go wrong?
Actually, a lot—and all the more so, since these displays of U.S. force are not accompanied by any U.S. diplomatic moves that aim clearly for a ceasefire in the hostilities that have continued between Israel and Hamas in Gaza for 13 days now. In this context of the absence of de-escalatory U.S. diplomacy in West Asia, the deployments of large carrier battle groups and the Marines unit(s) have thus far served mainly to escalate regional tensions.
Let’s quickly back up a bit and look at (a) how deterrence is supposed to work and (b) how the catastrophic failure of the “deterrence” that Israeli leaders thought they were projecting towards Hamas in Gaza actually led to the current crisis.
Continue reading “Perilous vortices of ‘deterrence’ in West Asia”
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.
Continue reading “The global risks of a U.S. governance collapse”
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.
Continue reading “Tick, tock: The countdown to Washington’s strategic idiocy”
Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine last February, the conflict there has inflicted great harm on the peoples of the Global South. It has sent food prices worldwide soaring. (In 2022, the number of people worldwide facing acute food insecurity reached 345 million.) And amid mounting evidence of the terrible effects of climate change, the divisions sparked by the war have stymied any effective global response… while the campaign by Western leaders to block Russia’s hydrocarbon exports has led to a resurgence of coal mining—and the warfighting itself has generated significant noxious emissions. We all know that the harshest effects of global warning fall on the peoples of the Global South.
So in this sense, the conflict in Ukraine is already “a war with clear global effects.” Does it make any difference to also call it a “world war”?
Continue reading “Ukraine: Is it a ‘world war’?”
Over the past eleven months, Ukraine’s people have suffered far too much killing and destruction. Most but by no means all of that devastation has been at the hands of the Russian military. (Residents of the country’s eastern provinces have been hammered hard by the Ukrainian military, over the course of several years now. Their fate has been almost ignored in Western media.)
How do we think about and respond to this suffering? Should we join the serried ranks of the Western punditocracy who endlessly urge that ever more and deadlier weaponry be sent to Ukraine? Or shouldn’t we, instead, be starting to call for a formalized, country-wide ceasefire in Ukraine… That is, an Armistice like the one that for 70 years now has preserved a broad ceasefire on the Korean peninsula and has allowed South Korea not just to survive but also to flourish.
(I realize the Koreas have not been totally peaceful since their Armistice went into force in 1953. North Korea has a belligerent, nuclear-armed leader who often seems very erratic. And South Korea’s president is now also talking about the possibility of going nuclear. But still, the Armistice has served all of Korea’s people—especially those in the South—and the cause of world peace, pretty well for many decades.)
The photo above shows the final signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement, in July 1953, in the North Korean village of Panmunjon. I’ll come back to the Koreas later. But for now, let’s circle back to the grinding—and globally very harmful—situation in Ukraine.
Continue reading “A Korea-style armistice for Ukraine?”
This piece has been cross-posted from Helena’s vintage personal blog, Just World News.
Over the New Year’s break, North Korea’s military test-fired some short-range (350-400 kilometer) ballistic missiles, while the country’s news agency reported that it was testing a new 600 mm multiple rocket launcher system capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
On Saturday, the often erratic-seeming North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed his commitment, “to respond with nuke for nuke and an all-out confrontation for an all-out confrontation.” He said he had ordered more powerful weapons to “absolutely overwhelm the U.S. imperialist aggressive forces and their puppet army.”
But actually, just how erratic is Kim? His recent actions and comments came in the context of South Korea having undertaken unprecedentedly broad joint exercises with the U.S. military, in and around its terrain. And yesterday, the press secretary of South Korean President Yoon Yoon Suk-yeol said that, “In order to respond to the North Korean nuclear weapons, the two countries [South Korea and the United States] are discussing ways to share information on the operation of U.S.-owned nuclear assets, and joint planning and execution of them accordingly.”
Continue reading “Is North Korea China’s Israel?”
At some point, I want to go back and take a gallop through my intellectual history going back to the 1970s. (Interested folks can see some some aspects of that at my Wikipedia page.) But here, I just want to pull together some of the more worthwhile of the pieces I’ve written over the past 18 months. This was a period in which (a) I was figuring out more and better how to regain my own voice as a writer/thinker/analyst after spending 12-plus years working mainly to amplify the voices of others, and (b) I was struck by a fairly evident sign of ageing in the form of a retina problem that started in early November 2021.
So here’s the best of what I produced over the past 18 months:
Continue reading “My recent writings on imperialism, settler-colonialism, the Ukraine crisis, etc…”