The best article I’ve read so far on Ukraine is “The Ukraine Invasion Is Nothing Compared to Iraq” by Andrew Bacevich, posted on spectator world.com on 3-2-22. Here it is:
Of the war in Ukraine, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes, “Our world is not going to be the same again, because this war has no historical parallel.” In the very next sentence, he describes the Russian invasion of Ukraine as “a raw, 18th-century-style land grab by a superpower,” thereby acknowledging that the episode actually has innumerable historical parallels – just not ones that Friedman cares to acknowledge as legitimate.
Friedman figures prominently among those claiming to have divined the essential character of the present age. His key finding: tech-driven globalization has rendered old-fashioned power politics obsolete. The rules of the game have changed irrevocably. Practically speaking, nations have no choice but to submit.
In best-selling books, he describes our collective future. The subtitle of one such tome claims to offer “A Brief History of the 21st Century,” then still in its first decade. In Friedman’s “hot, flat and crowded” world governed by tech-driven globalization, superpower land-grabs should have no place. The United States would enjoy unchallenged preeminence. That Vladimir Putin has somehow not received the memo or has chosen to ignore its dictates is beyond flabbergasting. When it comes to audacity, Putin has demonstrated the sort of chutzpah that has long been a Friedman signature. But the sense of dismay akin to betrayal expressed by Friedman and other commentators is entirely manufactured.
In fact, Putin has acted in accordance with geopolitical imperatives that predate the modern era. Nation-states compete against one another to advance their own interests. Pursuant to that competition, they employ various means, with suasion typically the preferred option. Given the uncertainty inherent in war, along with the likelihood of unintended consequences and higher than expected costs, violence tends to be a last resort. But last resort does not mean never. In international politics, these are the enduring facts of life.
The frequently heard charge that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine violates ostensibly sacred international “norms” holds no water. No such norms exist – at least none that a great power will recognize as inhibiting its own freedom of action. For proof, we need look no further than the recent behavior of the United States, which has routinely demonstrated a willingness to write its own norms while employing violence on a scale far exceeding anything that Russia has done or is likely to do.
Nothing that Putin has done in Ukraine pursuant to securing what he defines as vital Russian interests should be cause for surprise. Implicit in the shock expressed by observers like Friedman is a belief that Europe has become an eternal “zone of peace” in which the triumph of liberal democracy had made the “end of history” a reality. Preserving this illusion requires imagination. It means classifying the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 1990s as an anomaly, forgotten as soon as the shooting stopped. But it also requires sustaining the pretense that Europe matters more than the rest of the world, that developments there possess greater significance than developments in, say, the Middle East or Africa.
This intellectual framing according to which events occurring in proximity to the Rhine and the Danube possess greater inherent importance than events near the Tigris or the Nile dates from the age of Western imperialism. It underwrites the inclination of observers like Friedman to treat Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as utterly beyond the pale while events such as the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 and America’s various post-9/11 military interventions are either forgotten or written off as unfortunate lapses in judgment.
Russian actions in Ukraine deserve universal condemnation. But as crimes go, Putin’s aggression pales in comparison with the human toll exacted by Saddam Hussein’s US-supported war against Iran. As for the calamitous results of the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the impact of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine rates as trivial by comparison. The point is not to measure relative iniquity in a balance, but simply to note that while the ongoing events in Ukraine may be tragic, they’re not all that unusual. The professed surprise of pundits and politicians stems either from wishful thinking or willful ignorance.
History hasn’t ended. The global triumph of democratic liberalism is a mirage. As the old radio serial had it, “Evil lurks in the hearts of men,” even in an era of Google, Apple, 5G, Uber and Grubhub. What may be most difficult for the beneficiaries of global US hegemony is this: the American Century has ended. The world conjured up by Thomas Friedman has not taken its place.
What Friedman ought have written is this: “By invading Ukraine, Russia has demolished what little remained of the lucrative line of bullshit that I have been peddling for the past twenty or so years.” But don’t count on any such admission to be forthcoming.
Not that I think you read my Facebook or blog posts, but if you’re one of the uninformed (in my humble opinion) people I was talking about in my posts on both “channels” earlier this morning…I don’t think I’m better than you. You have your reasons for being who and where you are at this moment in time, just as I have mine. It isn’t you I’m criticizing. It’s your behavior, as I see it. And I don’t hope you die of Covid, as I implied in my earlier blog post. Of course not. I don’t wish ill on anyone, no matter how much I disagree with what they say or do. You just have me feeling scared and threatened, and like any cornered animal in that sort of situation, I lashed out at you. An hour later, my claws are withdrawn. I still fear scared and threatened, but saying nasty things to and about you isn’t going to fix that. The only thing that will is for us to see each other as equally worthy and valuable human beings, who are all feeling threatened and scared, but who can reach out across the gap and start listening to and caring about each other. And trying, together, to come up with ways to move forward. Thanks…
That’s how I felt when Trump was elected president in 2016, even though I knew it wasn’t just him, but the long years before when the Democrats had the chance to do things for ordinary people and didn’t. I wasn’t the only one who felt like her sanity was threatened by anxiety in those days — what would this narcissistic, uninformed, unprincipled nut do to our country and our world? I thought he’d go away when he lost the 2020 election, but, no — the bulk of the Republican party has continued to support his uninformed and undemocratic insanity, blocking the newly elected president, as they blocked Obama, at every possible turn. The Democrats are no angels; as I indicated above, they made all this possible by representing the 1% (which Trump and the Republicans also do in their crazy way) rather than ordinary people. But at least they know what they’re doing, and occasionally do sensible things.
Now the Supreme Court, which the Republicans enabled Trump to “pack” with three unqualified conservative justices, while using our elite “Founders” undemocratic rules to block Obama from filling even one vacancy, has struck down Biden’s effort to protect us from getting Covid at work. The Supreme Court yesterday used a technicality about which branches of government can make these kinds of decisions to say that you have a right to go to work, untested, even if you’ve refused to get the vaccine that significantly limits the virus’s spread. Unless I want to lose my job or can negotiate working at home, impossible with most jobs, I have no protection against you infecting me with the disease. Will you even wear a mask? That protection may very well be the next to go.
This is ridiculous — proof that government, even what may be the last democratically elected one, has little or no power to protect us against lies and irresponsible, harmful people. By continuing to back Trump (because he seems to be popular with some segments of the population?) the Republican party has made this kind of illogic and injustice inevitable. First they allowed Trump to undermine public health by denying scientific research on the disease and politicizing it, then they completely politicized the highest court, which is supposed to be above politics. Where are all these people’s brains? The “leaders” apparently just want to get reelected, by fair means or foul, and they and their followers use the populist tactic of vilifying adults who use their brains for showing, just by being informed and thinking rationally, that we think we’re better than the rest. I give up. This is a recipe for utter disaster.
It’s exactly like the dystopian, satirical movie I just watched: “Don’t Look Up,” available on Netflix, in which a populist president and a media system making profits by only giving people what they want to hear prevent preparation to defend Earth against another danger — a giant comet that, indeed, eliminated all planetary life when it hit. To quote singer-songwriter Lonesome Bob, “It’d be sad if it weren’t so funny; it’d be funny if it weren’t so sad.”
I’m an informed, rational adult, and I do think I’m better than you if you’re over 18, you’re not, and you don’t even want to be. I’m alarmed by your taking over our country, and I resent you and your “leaders,” bent on killing me and many innocent others by sinking to the lowest common denominator. Trump’s life, ironically and unjustly, was saved by extensive measures unavailable to the general population when he got Covid as president. Yours may not be, and, sadly, at this point that’s my only hope. Oh, and by the way, if you believe your own lies, why are you, like Trump, demanding medical treatment for the disease you said wasn’t a problem? You’re filling up our hospitals to the point that there won’t be a bed for me if I have a second heart attack or another serious health emergency.
Oh, well. If that happens, at least I’ll have found the only door I can think of out of this frickin’ dystopia.
P.S. Sorry for sounding so angry and depressed, but I think that’s the only sane reaction to all this.
I heartily recommend an article in today’s New York Times entitled “Beyond Low Vaccination Rates Lurks a More Profound Social Weakness” (the original title, in the print edition, was “What Causes Vaccine Hesitancy?”). Authored by Anita Sreedhar and Anand Gopal, it makes non-vaxxers, who I still think are illogical and not looking out for themselves and others, a lot more understandable. It also makes a very important point about what’s lacking in our public health system (the same as what’s lacking in our system as a whole). There’s still some connection to Trump’s disastrous politicization of the pandemic, but that’s not the whole story. He was/is capitalizing on some big holes and weaknesses in our society as a whole, a result, I think, of the two-party political system dominated by the corporate elite (the 1%). A system like this that doesn’t work for so many can’t and won’t meaningfully address big things like disease, climate change, resource depletion, etc. And it’s a worldwide system, dominated by a few “successful” countries, as the global migrant crisis, criticized by Pope Francis this weekend, shows. What the 1% and those hanging onto their coattails don’t realize is that they and their families will eventually suffer from the big problems, too. We’re all ultimately one, standing or falling together.
As envisaged in Kim Stanley Robinson’s recent novel The Ministry for the Future, and detailed in Alfred McCoy’s article “To Govern the Globe” yesterday on counterpunch.org, the capitalist nation-state system’s failure to address climate change will eventually lead to the adoption of some kind of world government in a last-ditch attempt to save and protect whatever of earthly life is left.
After listing three successive world empires (Spanish/Portuguese, British, and American), McCoy concludes his article by saying, “it seems safe to assume that China will gain enough strength to weaken Washington’s global grip and become the preeminent world power around 2030. Count on one thing, though: the accelerating pace of climate change will almost certainly curtail China’s hegemony within two or three decades…If the ‘Chinese century’ does indeed start around 2030, barring remarkable advances in the reduction of the use of fossil fuels on this planet, it’s likely to end sometime around 2050 when its main financial center [Shanghai] is flooded out and its agricultural heartland [the North China Plain, a prime agricultural region between Beijing and Shanghai currently inhabited by 400 million people] begins to swelter in insufferable heat and humidity.
Given that Washington’s world system and Beijing’s emerging alternative show every sign of failing to limit carbon emissions in significant enough ways, by mid-century the international community will likely need a new form of global governance to contain the damage…As long as nations have the sovereign right to seal their borders, the world will have no way of protecting the human rights of hundreds of millions of climate-change refugees. Facing a spectacle of mass global suffering, the community of nations might well agree on the need for a new form of global governance. Such a supranational body or bodies would need sovereign authority over three critical areas: emissions controls, refugee resettlement, and environmental reconstruction. If the transition to renewable energy sources is still not complete by 2050, then this international body might well compel nations to curb emissions and adopt renewable energy. Whether under the auspices of the UN or a successor organization, a high commissioner for global refugees would need the authority to supersede state sovereignty in order to require nations to help resettle such tidal flows of humanity. The future equivalents of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank could also transfer resources from wealthy temperate countries to feed tropical communities decimated by climate change.
Massive programs like these would change the very idea of what constitutes a world order. At present, no one can predict whether such reforms will come soon enough to slow climate change or arrive too late to do anything but manage the escalating damage of uncontrollable feedback loops. One thing is becoming quite clear, however. The environmental destruction in our future will be so profound that anything less than the emergence of a new form of global governance – one capable of protecting the planet and the human rights of all its inhabitants – will mean that wars over water, land, and people are likely to erupt across the planet amid climate chaos. Absent some truly fundamental change in our global governance and in energy use, by mid-century humanity will begin to face disasters of an almost unimaginable kind that will make imperial orders of any sort something for the history books.”