Last Thursday, Pres. Biden said in an interview with the TV news show “60 minutes” that while he fully supported Israel in its ongoing war with Gaza, he thought that Israel should not return to “occupying” Gaza. The interview did not air till Sunday, when it was seen as showing the one instance in which Biden has dared add a note of caution or demurral to the crass belligerency being continually voiced by Israel’s leaders.
With Biden now poised to leave for a visit to Israel that’s slated for tomorrow, his stance towards the actions Israel takes in Gaza gains even more relevance. Meantime, he has notably not called for Israel to halt any of the gross violations of international law that Israel continues to commit against Gaza’s 2.3 million people; and there have been well-authenticated reports that his State Department officials are not even allowed to utter the words “ceasefire” or “de-escalation” with respect to the Israel-Gaza conflict.
So his call on Israel not to “occupy” Gaza has some importance. What does it mean? Neither he nor anyone in his administration has spelled out whether it means he is urging Israel, which has sent massive ground armies to the edge of the Gaza Strip poised for a ground invasion, not to launch such an operation—or whether he’d be okay with them undertaking a ground invasion of limited extent and duration; or whether he’d be okay with them launching a total invasion of either the whole of the Gaza Strip or “just” its northern half, provided only that they don’t stay there too long.
Since I posted this piece yesterday, I’ve had a couple of further thoughts, as follows:
The first is that I think we should all call on Hamas to release all the Israeli noncombatants it is holding, immediately or as soon as as is physically possible. International law, religion, and basic morals would all indicate they should do this.
Pres. George H.W. Bush opens the 1991 Madrid Middle East Peace Conference
Last Thursday, Israel’s former ambassador to Washington Itamar Rabinovitch told a Council on Foreign Relations audience that he judged the then-current U.S.-Israeli focus on winning a Saudi-Israeli accord was badly conceived, inasmuch as it tried to bypass or paper over the Palestinian question. He likened the attitudes of Israeli and U.S. leaders to those of passengers on the Titanic, as they blithely sailed toward the large iceberg of the Palestinian issue that still lay very close to them…
36 hours later Hamas launched its Operation “Al-Aqsa Flood.”
That far-reaching and technically complex breakout took nearly all Israelis by surprise, and revealed the deep strategic complacency and tactical chaos into which Israel’s long-famed security system had fallen.
In most of Western discourse, the early reactions to what happened October 7 followed these tracks:
Stunned surprise and horror at images of the suffering of Israeli civilians
Weirdly racist claims that “Hamas could never have been as smart as to organize something like this… So it must have been organized by Iran“
Horror at and excoriation of Hamas’s actions, portrayed as so frequently as “targeting” Israeli civilians
Urgent calls for Israel to respond very forcefully indeed to Hamas, with little or no recognition that any such response would involve inflicting great suffering on Palestinian civilians—and also, potentially, on some of the dozens of Israelis now held captive within Gaza
Repeated avowals that Hamas “must be punished”, accompanied by some unsubstantiated claims that the violence it showed during the October 7 breakout was “akin to that of the Islamic State.” (It wasn’t.)
A general reluctance or refusal to link the October 7 breakout to the great suffering that Israelis have inflicted on Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Lebanon, and elsewhere for many decades now.
Who are Hamas?
In those Western media accounts, Hamas has nearly always been portrayed as intrinsically violent, deeply anti-Semitic, and unalterably opposed to the existence of Israel. But most of these descriptions are written by people who have never met, interviewed, or interacted with Hamas leaders. I have—periodically throughout the years between 1989 and roughly 2012. (You can find accounts of some of these interviews in The Nation, Boston Review, and elsewhere. E.g., here.)
Here is my current assessment of their positions and capabilities.
Painting of the armistice negotiation in Compiègne, France, November 1917
The veteran Washington Post columnist David Ignatius started out life (as I did) as a reporter, and in today’s column he does a good job of portraying a spirited discussion he observed in Kyiv among Ukrainian politicians on whether and when to end the grinding conflict in their country. He describes one parliamentarian at that gathering, Oleksiy Goncharenko (also mis-spelled Gershenko) as “almost shouting” as he says,
“We all want everything. But this is the real world, and we must make decisions from real options. We don’t have unlimited time, and we don’t have unlimited people.”
Ignatius notes that earlier hopes that Ukraine’s summer counter-offensive might succeed “haven’t been realized”, and that “Ukrainians are now willing to talk more openly about ways to end the war than during my visits last year.” And he seems to be channeling the “painful” choice that he now sees confronting the Ukrainian leaders:
In just conflicts, the best strategy is surely to stay the course, especially when people begin to despair…
But if Ukraine seriously questions whether it can survive a fight that might take many years, then it needs to think about a way to freeze this conflict on its own terms — with a security guarantee from the United States as part of that deal.
PLO leader Yasser Arafat taking part in the November 1974 Arab League summit
Most of the current commentary in the Western media on the 1973 Arab-Israeli war has focused on the “shock” effect the war had on Israel’s society and politics, or on the role the war played in jump-starting the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations that in 1978 led to the Camp David Accords, and a year later to the conclusion of a complete Egyptian-Israeli peace. (The recent release of a new Hollywood movie about Israel’s then-premier Golda Meir has helped keep the focus on the Israeli dimension of the war, though the historical accuracy of the movie has come under much serious questioning, e.g. here, here, or here.)
However, the Israelis and Egyptians were far from the only peoples in West Asia (the “Middle East”) whose fate was greatly impacted by the war. Indeed, given that Egypt was at that time far and away the weightiest of the Arab states, the fact that the war led to the launching of a diplomatic process that removed Egypt from the coalition of Arab parties that since 1948 had been in a state of unresolved war with Israel transformed the balance of power throughout the whole region.
The parties most direly affected by Egypt’s removal from the former Arab-rights coalition were firstly the always vulnerable Palestinians, and also the states of Syria (which had been a party to the war of 1973) and Lebanon, which had not.
I’ve been mulling for a while over why the U.S. peace movement these days skews so geriatric. No ageist bias is intended here: I myself am 70 years old. (Also, I intend no commentary on the ages of the fabulous CodePink activists in the photo above, which I included here mainly for inspiration!)
But really, if we want the antiwar movement to continue and to grow over the years ahead, rather than dying out with all of us Medicare recipients, then surely we need to do more to address the challenge of intergenerational renewal?
I have come up with a preliminary list of reasons for the conundrum of the relatively low interest the younger generations show in joining the peace movement, which I’ll share in just a minute. And I’ll share some preliminary ideas on what we might do to revive the movement. But I also want to note that there is lots of interesting data relevant to this issue that’s available from large organizations that have the capacity to conduct large, nationwide polls on a variety of issues. So I’ll be sharing some of that data here, too.
First, though, here’s my preliminary list of seven reasons, based mainly on anecdotal evidence including from conversations with my own children (born between 1978 and 1985) and other people of their age and younger:
The above image shows colonels from the North Korean and U.S. militaries discussing possible lines for an armistice, October 1951
Pres. Joe Biden’s avowals that the United States will back Ukraine’s campaign to push the Russian military out of its eastern provinces for “as long it takes” have become a mounting chorus over recent months. (He has seldom if ever spelled out the precise nature of the “it” in question. That’s problematic, since Washington and Kyiv have deep disagreements over the extent of their war goals. Perhaps U.S. taxpayers and everyone else deserve some clarity on this point?)
Of course, if Biden were to offer a clear and compelling vision of the outcome for whose pursuit he has been pouring money and weapons into Ukraine, he might also have to explain such anomalies as to why this war against Russia’s bad actions should be supported when he and his predecessor have steadfastly supported Israel’s annexations of Golan and East Jerusalem; whenWashington has long thought that blithely splitting Kosovo off from Serbia was quite okay; and why no-one in Washington has ever been held accountable for the illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq…
There are doubtless numerous factors that hold Biden back from offering a specific and principled vision of Washington’s goals for the anti-Russia campaign in Ukraine… And in its place we are offered only the content-free pablum of “as long as it takes.”
This is dangerous territory. Especially today, as we survey the failure of the summer’s long-touted “counter-offensive” against Russia’s military units in eastern Ukraine… Biden’s repeated “ALAIT” declarations portend only a lengthy, continuing commitment of U.S. and allied resources—and of Ukrainian lives—into a World War I-style meat grinder with increasingly devastating local and global consequences.
The image above shows a Liebherr mining excavator and associated truck. Such an excavator can weigh > 800 tons and produce 4,000 horsepower
The crisis that our climate is in is now evident to all. It reminds us of the extreme risks humankind ran by failing to rein in our emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Many of us have long understood that fossil fuels that exist in limited quantities—and that as humankind draws those fuels down toward “empty” we will need to have in place robust energy systems based on renewables. But there are three other broad types of planetary resources whose depletion by humans is now also close to crisis point. These three categories are: metals, non-metallic minerals, and biomass.
This graph from the University of Vienna’s excellent Materialflows.net website tracks the annual global extraction of all of these four resource categories over the half-century 1970-2019, measured in billions of tonnes. In those years, the annual extraction of fossil fuels (grey) increased by around 150%. But the annual extraction of of metals (blue) and non-metallic minerals (orange) both increased by around 350%.
The world population of humans increased by 110% in that period—which was roughly proportional to the increase in the extraction of biomass, shown there in green.
By the way, sustainability scientists calculated a while back that 50 billion tonnes of total annual resource extraction is roughly what’s sustainable over the long haul. We breached that limit in the mid-1990s and are now close to extracting twice that amount.
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.
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.