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White Supremacy in the White House Rooted in a Dark Theory of History

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The Fourth Turning: What Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny by William Strauss and Neil Howe.

[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he theoretical slogan “Make America Great Again,” followed in practice with a ban on travel to the US from seven Moslem countries, is ultimately rooted in a sinister theory of history.

The theory does not originate from the new occupant of the White House, who has never exhibited much intellectual curiosity, be it in history, or any other subject for that matter, with the possible exception of business deals, but it is endemic to his most influential and trusted advisor Steve Bannon, the man behind the curtain who landed him in the White House.

Bannon is known as a White Supremacist, with racial and anti-Semitic tendencies; a passionate adherent to a theory of history about America’s future as elucidated in the above mentioned book. There are around a plethora of cyclical theories of history, the most popular being perhaps that of the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico. One could indeed go all the way back to the ancient Greeks who believed that at the end of a given cycle of history (the saeculum) comes a “ekpsyrosis” or a cataclysmic event, a trial of fire of sorts, which destroys the old order and brings about a new one, but this new theory by Strauss and Howe is unique in its sheer darkness. To boot, Bannon misinterprets it to better suit his own political agenda.

As per this theory, there are three turning of history which America has experienced, so far: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Great Depression followed by World War II. They were marked by massive dislocations, war, and decay from which the people were forced to reunite and build a new order. In other words, first comes a catalyst event from which issues a period of regeneracy climaxed by a war with the old order which ends with a resolution. The resolution is the triumph of the new order.

Bannon seems to be obsessed with the theory. He is convinced that a reckoning is fast approaching, in fact it must necessarily arrive in order for a new order to emerge; also, that the climactic conflict will be conducted from the White House. He has shown himself willing to advise Trump on the enactment of policies disruptive of the current order. It is generally believed that the he was the architect behind the ban, called temporary for now, on travel and on entry Muslims in the US. He was also behind the deletion of the reference to Jews as victims of the Holocaust on its recent yearly commemoration (on the very same day of the ban enacted on Moslems by executive fiat).

One of the side-effects of this encouraged disruption is the breaking down of old political and economic alliances, even the turning away from traditional American principles to create chaos and prepare for the new order. Chaos seems to be the climate in the present White House: rampant confusion under conflicting orders, with Caligula redivivus creating the confusion and then perversely enjoying the reality show, to suddenly show up as the man with the brilliant solutions. It’s as if the Apprentice TV show were still going on. It’s the atmosphere of the Roman Colosseum where the phenomenon of survival of the fittest is the ultimate goal and rationale. Many, in and out of the White House, are concerned and are beginning to entertain the idea of impeachment. Some have even mustered the courage to call him “illegitimate,” which is the equivalent to the little boy in Christian Andersen’s tale shouting “the emperor is naked” as the emperor struts around in his splendid invisible clothes to the sycophantic admiration of his followers.

The bizarre show, as of this writing, goes on unabated. It has to go on, necessarily, because Bannon is attempting to bring about, or fulfill, if you will, the so called fourth turning of US history, a new vision of America as described in the theory above. Trump is merely the means to attain to it. In an interview Bannon has described Trump as “a blunt instrument” but one that he is perfectly willing to use nevertheless, in order to attain the appointed goal of history. It is all rather deterministic with human responsibility, guilt and regret, notably absent from the whole process.

Nevertheless, taking notice of this fourth turning gives some needed context to policies that so far seem deranged, incoherent and inconsistent, unexplainable and confusing even to experts in geo-politics, as they vainly attempt to square the circle and make some rational sense of it all.

Bannon is convinced that we are already in a period of regenaracy. The catalyst was the financial crisis of 2008. As described in the book, this is a period of isolationism, of reimagining the economy (which so far has shown itself prone to a reimagining new tax breaks for the rich…), re-building of the infrastructure, and, most importantly, a strong centralized, authoritarian, powerful government where the executive reigns supreme, unencumbered by too many laws and regulations. But this is only a preparation for a massive conflict of civilizations to come. A conflict between East and West, which may mean the Middle East or perhaps China. Russia, for the moment, seems to be considered a friendly ally, with few if any rationales.

But what does history ultimately show? Does it really repeat itself deterministically, or are the catastrophes of every era unique to each era? Will the fourth Turning be the same as the first, second, and third? To take a close look, it appears that the Fourth Turning of the Civil War was quite different than that of the Depression and World War II.

Logically, it is argued, the financial crisis of 2008 is the catalyst for our crisis and the coming struggle, just as the Depression was for the third turn. But are the two really comparable? During the Depression unemployment reached 20%; in the fourth turning it never went beyond 10%. Unlike the Hoover Administration (an administration which prided itself of its business acumen) which dilly dallied for two whole years, the government of Barack Obama acted very fast to prevent a meltdown and turned the situation around, at least on a financial level.

What this financial crisis has brought about this time around is an exacerbation of the income inequality gap which has been growing globally since it began some forty years ago. That explains the popularity of a Bernie Sanders, and to a certain extent that of Donald Trump, who as one of those who benefitted from and produced the gap, then skilfully used it as a campaign strategy to fool millions of middle class workers who are now waiting for the check in the mail. Good luck. The disappointed will be palpable in a few months.

If there is a comparison to be made, it ought to be that of the inaugural address of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933, when he describes a county devastated by the Great Depression, a picture that all Americans could see and recognize; and compare it to that of Trump in 2017 a couple of weeks ago, where he talks of a dark “American carnage.” What was he talking about? Not many can answer that question. But it may aptly describe the deep divisions presently existing in this country of ours.

Unlike the era of FDR which put people back to work and created a national unifying spirit wherein society’s resources were redistributed and society rebuilt, what is most apparent today is discord and disunity, as exemplified by the two main political parties who have all but forgotten the word compromise and harmony. The anger and the authoritarianism is there, apparent to all, but not the yearning for social justice, not the common purpose, or the common good. Division and dissension have been promoted as never before.

And this is where Bannon and him minions in the White House are greatly misguided. They believe that they are working for “the Gray Warrior,” the leader described by Strauss and Howe who will “urgently resist the idea that a second consecutive generation might be denied the American Dream.” The identification of the Gray Warrior in a pathological narcissist who creates “alternate facts” as he goes along is indeed a grave mistake.

They also conveniently forget that the new order in the Germany of 1932 was inaugurated by a power-mad fellow named Adolf Hitler who wanted to make Germany great again. Pari passu, today’s hero and savior, while claiming to be champion of the disadvantaged, continues to pursue his own personal financial and political interests and has so far shown precious little compassion for the poor and the unfortunate.

In reality, the ones who may eventually show us the way forward, out of our impasse and begin the Fourth Turning are not the Trumpists in love with Ayn Rand’s “virtue of selfishness” but the Millennials, the young, whose needs have all but been ignored by the likes of Trump and Bannon.

The only candidate who attracted them during the presidential campaign was Bernie Sanders. Trump appealed and managed to fool mostly an older generation who felt that something had been taken away from them and resented that fact. The millennials have no such resentment; they have, in fact, never been given a chance at the American Dream in the first place. Most of them voted against Trump, many stayed home and for good reasons: Trump had offered them nothing.

What Bannon has failed to grasp is that the Fourth Turning, as envisioned by Strauss and Howe, is not inevitable and deterministic but requires an urgent return to a constitutionally agreed-upon set of values. The millennials have grasped that much. What Bannon and Trump are doing, on the other hand, is that, far from unifying against outside threats, they are creating enemies galore (Mexico, China, Australia, the EU, you name it) which many Americans don’t want to have. That insistence on creating enemies at a tough bargaining table, does nothing but increase the palpable anxiety and frustration.

Indeed, we find ourselves in uncharted perilous territory and history cannot deterministically predict where we will eventually end up. It can only give us guidelines and lessons on how to avoid past mistakes. History however does teach us that to ignore the voices of justice and reason is to make sure that we will end up with an enormous political disaster on our hands. In a way we already have one reigning disaster right inside the White House. Those who did not vote for confusion and dissension (by 3 million votes difference) are now asked to go along for the ride with the mad emperor. Such are the ways and byways of democracy. In any case, better buckle up; the ride is likely to be bumpy.

Author’s note: this essay has already appeared in Ovi Magazine on February 6, 2017

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Biden’s worrisome construct of security and self-defense in the first year of his term

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Official White House Photo by Carlos Fyfe

US President Joe Biden’s foreign policy is failing so far. He can’t get the Iran nuclear diplomacy on track. The Afghanistan withdrawal was a disaster seen by all, placing an unusually high number of weapons and armaments in the hands of the Taliban and leaving everyone behind, to the point that one wonders if it was intentional. The US military has been able to accomplish far more impressive and bigger logistics tasks in the past, so when they want to they can do it.

More worrisome, however – and because it is also oriented towards future impacts – is Biden’s construct of vital concepts such as security, international peace and self-defense which has already displayed a consistent pattern during the first year of his term. The signs are already there, so let me bring them out to the surface for you.

Treating a counter-attack in self-defense as an original, first-move strike

This is a pattern that can be noticed already in Biden’s reading of what constitutes defense. It first struck me in a place where you might not think of looking. It originated from the criticism of the previous Trump administration’s support for the destructive Saudi Arabia campaign on Yemen, leaving Yemen as the biggest famine and disaster on the planet. To avoid the same criticism, the Biden administration decided to do what it always does – play technocratic and legalistic, and hope that people won’t notice. On the face of it, it looked like Biden ended US participation by ending the “offensive” support for Saudi Arabia. Then in the months after the February decision, reports started surfacing that the US actually continues doing the same, and now most recently, some troops from Afghanistan were redirected towards Yemen. Biden didn’t end Yemen; he set up a task force to examine and limit US military action only to defensive capabilities, which sounds good to a general observer. It reminds me of that famous Einstein saying that all the big decisions were to be taken by him and all the small decisions were to be taken by his wife, but there hasn’t been one big decision so far. So see, it just turns out that everything falls under defense, ask the lawyers. Usually no one would object to the well-established right to defend yourself. The problem with that is that the US is actually in Yemen. Treating any counter-strike and any response to your presence as an original, first-move attack is not only problematic but it also simply doesn’t work in legal terms. It goes along the lines of “well, I am already here anyways, so your counter-response in self-defense is actually an attack and I get to defend myself”. If the issue was only with terrorist or rebel organizations (because let’s face it, who cares about the Houthies in Yemen?) I don’t think we would be discussing this. But as you guessed it, this approach can already be traced as a pattern in Biden’s thinking and the way he forges alliances, draws red lines and allows things to happen, and it stretches to areas that most people definitely care about such as a possible military conflict between the US and China.

Let’s take the newest development from today. The US just announced that it has entered into a trilateral partnership with the UK and Australia in the Indo-Pacific, which is encirclement of China par excellence. Where it gets interesting is that the trilateral partnership is purported to be only for “advanced defense capabilities”. The equivalent of this is someone from another city squatting at the door step in your apartment, inviting two others to join, and then when in the morning you push them and step on them to go to work, the squatters claiming that you attacked them and calling the police on you in your own apartment. This is Biden’s concept of self-defense: since I am already here in your space, you are attacking me.

The US is trying to start something with China but it doesn’t know how to, and China seems completely unconcerned with the US.  Chinese leader Jinping doesn’t even want to meet Biden, as became clear this week. China doesn’t care about the US and just wants to be left alone. They already said that in clear terms by reading it out loud to Wendy Sherman last month. Biden didn’t have to ask for a meeting in that phone call this week because he already knew the answer. Wendy Sherman got a clear signal on her China visit that the US president won’t be getting that coveted red carpet roll-out any time soon.

So the story says that the US is going all the way to the other side of the world and staging military presence there but only to defend itself. The US has no choice but to move in to defend all the US citizens at risk in the Indian Ocean — that’s the stand-up comedy line of the week. It is staging military presence right at China’s doorstep — if not in Chinese waters, and the idea is “yes, that’s your turf but now that I’m here, if you push me to leave, you are attacking me”. This is the strategy of narcissists and those that are looking to point the finger to their opponent when they just don’t have anything, so they stage something. China is in the long-term game, playing against itself. The US is that number 2 that’s trying to create provocation. In the Indo-Pacific, the US is biting more than it can chew. China is not a big mouth or one to throw around military threats. That’s the US style: “be very careful, we might bomb you if you don’t do what we say”. A dog that barks doesn’t bite. On the other hand, China is more like a Ferrari — it will go from 0 to 200 in seconds and then it will go back to its business. The US and Biden will be left whimpering but no one will jump to save the US from its own folly because self-defense in the US packaging is not even bought by the US government itself. Even they don’t buy their own packaging. So why should anyone else?

Treating embarrassing discoveries and things that don’t go my way as a threat to international peace

This one is a big one. With this one, Biden is playing with the queen, namely action under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter in the name of international peace and security. A threat to international peace and security is grounds for action under Chapter 7 which includes military action, and it’s never to be spoken lightly. Words have consequences. The UN Security Council rarely specifies grounds for action under chapter 7 for threats to international peace and security but it’s enough to take a look at the practice: resolutions were passed when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, in response to 9/11, against Kaddafi who was marching toward Benghazi to wipe out the people in 2011, in relation to genocide, etc. Grounds for a threat to international peace can’t be “because I don’t like the way things are turning out for me”.

Peace and security are not like beauty – in the eye of the beholder. There has to be an actual or imminent attack and actual military action or violence. Loose interpretations of threats to peace and security are a sign of weak leadership.

Leaders who construct dissent and criticism as terrorism in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement, as I have argued about the FBI previously in the left media, are weak leaders. In smearing Martin Luther King, the FBI argued national security. As director Oliver Stone said in Cannes this summer, when he was investigating the JFK assassination, every time he was getting close, he heard “national security”. 

You can see a lot about the character of a nation by the way it constructs security, and notice traits such as narcissism, weakness, cheating. The Biden Administration has to know that a threat to international peace and security can’t be “things that make my government look bad”. In 2001, the world followed the US in Afghanistan because there was an actual military attack. The world won’t follow the Biden administration on a bogus threat to international peace that can best be summed up as a major embarrassment for the US government. Suggesting a link is a threat to the fabric of international society. Not only is it a sign of national narcissism but also a sign of arbitrariness and authoritarianism. Treating criticism and the exposure of US government crimes as if it were a military attack is what horror movies are made of. What’s next? Droning journalists?

Treating issues which are a subject to treaties, rules and negotiations as a threat to international peace  

The Biden security construct stretches to various regions, including my own. This first struck me with Biden’s executive order regarding the Western Balkans when he tied blocking these countries from EU accession to a threat to international peace, which carries significant consequences. If a country, let’s say Bulgaria, is exercising its lawful right to veto EU processes, hypothetically, based on Biden’s understanding, the US could table a resolution for Chapter 7 action to punish an EU member-state for blocking the accession of an EU candidate because that’s a threat to international peace. That could hypothetically lead to military action against an EU country making use of its veto. Biden doesn’t have a veto in the EU. Do you know who does? Bulgaria. So until Biden becomes an EU country he doesn’t have a say.

Biden was visibly irritated that the process of EU accession has been stalling for quite some time, especially with N. Macedonia and Albania at the EU’s doorstep, so he decided to give it a go. Let’s not forget that the Balkans are a favorite Biden region and this goes back to the 1990s. I have written about it before: Biden is stuck in the 2000s when if you mentioned the Western Balkans the words international peace were a guaranteed association. Not anymore. Negotiations, rules and voting are the peaceful and reasonable way to resolve issues, agree or even not agree in some situations, and are the opposite of war and aggression. Treating these ways as a threat to peace is just the rhetoric of those who can’t get their way. But it’s also indicative of a worrisome trend with Biden that anything that the US government doesn’t like can be dressed as a threat to international peace, which carries the most significant of all consequences in the international arena.

Treating lawful counter-measures as a threat to national security

Perhaps the best and most fascinating example of lawful counter-measures I ever heard was brought by Andrew Clapham at the Graduate Institute in Geneva. Here is the story. The UK issued unlawful sanctions on a country. In response, lawful counter-measures by that country targeted jam exports because a jam factory in Scotland was the key to turning the elections. The targeted counter-measures worked, hit jam exports, discontent people in the region voted the other way and the government that put in place the sanctions to begin with was ousted. This was a brilliant example that you hit where it hurts and you do it lawfully. Counter-measures don’t have to be identical. The US likes to put tariffs on Louis Vuitton bags in retaliation when it deals with France, for example. In the Trump trade wars, Europe would hit bourbon and jeans exports as a counter-measure. You hit their signature product. Not all counter-measures are illegal and count as an attack. International law is full of examples.

Similarly, lawsuits against a government are a lawful counter-measure. This area reveals another part of Biden’s worrisome construct of national security. A threat to sue the US government cannot in and of itself be a threat to national security. Tortured reading of what is national security is a sign of weak leaders, narcissists, those on the losing end, or straight up losers – or all of the above. 

Treating lawful counter-measures as a cause for self-defense is not only a sign of a wrong understanding of self-defense, but is the ultimate sign of narcissism. Usually those who attack know better and brace for impact in anticipation of the counter-measures. Narcissists, on the other hand, cry that they are being attacked when they receive a counter-strike in response. Strategists know better.

Mistreatment of whistleblowers, critics and opponents as spies and as a threat to national security

This one is an easy one. Only losers treat whistleblowers and critics as spies and as an automatic threat to national security. Take the treatment that Gary Stahl has received at the hands of the Biden Administration and the FBI, for example. Again, the US government doesn’t get to construe a huge embarrassment (in what will soon be revealed to shows the true criminal nature of the US government) as a threat to international peace. This is a problem for America. Not only doesn’t China plan to attack militarily the US any time soon over what’s to come, but China is largely unconcerned with the US and would like to be left alone. Any talk about a risk of military conflict could only mean that it is the US that plans to attack because they are embarrassed they got caught red-handed and the world will see the US government’s true nature. Talk of threat to international peace has a very high threshold. No one cares about how America would feel – that’s your problem, not an issue of international peace. 

The Biden concept of security is that of an ugly, pretentious, old woman who is told she can’t enter because her ticket is not valid. She then throws a feat screaming she was attacked, beaten and insulted, expecting everyone to be on her side. But the world simply doesn’t care about the problems of this pain-in-the-ass anymore. The US government will have to try much harder if they want to present the issue as anything close to security and self-defense, let alone a threat to international peace. That tune is old and there are no buyers. 

The US surely thinks very highly of itself if they think that a scandal like that is worthy of a military conflict but literally no one else sees the US as this important anymore. This scandal will matter only to America in what it reveals about all the layers of the US government across rank, institutions and administrations. That’s it. It ends there. Any talk of Chapter 7 threshold is war mongering and no one will care. 

People talk about the Biden doctrine on Afghanistan but the Biden doctrine that will be sealed in history will be something along the lines of “Anytime I get caught, it’s a threat to international peace and security.” This is how Biden will be remembered in history: for creative writing endeavors in the security field and no substantial foreign policy achievements. 

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Biden’s credibility restoration plan

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Joe Biden
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Although damages of the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan cannot be easily undone, by taking a series of wise steps, Biden can send a strong signal that America is coming back.

Joe Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan has shattered his reputation as a safe haven for allies. This is while, he pledged to restore U.S. leadership after Trump by confronting China’s and Russia’s growing totalitarian ambitions, restoring historic alliances with European allies, and ending the never-ending conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

But he is not the only President whose decision has eventually damaged the United States’ global reputation. Donald Trump’s capitulation deal with the Taliban, Barack Obama’s indolence in Syria, and George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq have all tarnished the United States’ credibility around the world. The question now; however, is no longer whether Biden and his predecessors should have acted differently. It’s how the United States can minimize the damage.

Biden should begin by speaking the truth. So far, the President has failed to admit the failure of his withdrawal plan. Biden ought to be straightforward with himself, the American people, and the whole world.

Biden’s policy should, of course, vary depending on the area and global conditions. To promote its interests in the Indo-Pacific area, the United States should station a few ambassadors, including a Navy or Coast Guard attaché, in the Pacific Island countries of Tonga, Tuvalu, and Kiribati. In addition, a considerable number of troops currently stationed in Afghanistan should be redeployed to the Pacific. Finally, Biden’s administration should engage with U.S. defense contractors to speed up the transfer of military equipment to Taiwan. Getting Taiwan its armaments swiftly would be a powerful show of support as a steadfast ally, as well as provide modern platforms to prevent a Chinese amphibious invasion.

The Biden administration should also do all in its power to rebuild relations with European partners. For the very first time, NATO invoked Article 5, which identifies an assault on one member as an assault on all. Since then, soldiers from a variety of countries have fought and died alongside US troops. Nonetheless, Biden decided to leave Afghanistan without consulting the governments of these countries, leaving them to plan emergency rescue efforts for their populations. Close allies of the United States are understandably enraged. America’s behavior is being chastised in Paris, Berlin, and the British House of Commons on both sides of the aisle.

Last month, at a meeting of regional leaders in Baghdad, Macron made it clear that, unlike the Americans, he was dedicated to remaining in the Middle East. “Whatever the American choice is,” he stated in public remarks in Baghdad, “we will maintain our presence in Iraq to fight terrorism as long as terrorist groups function and the Iraqi government requests our assistance.” It was a clear example of Macron’s idea of “strategic autonomy,” which implies European independence from U.S. security policy, and an attempt to use the United States’ humiliation to underline that Europe and Washington were not always on the same page. At an emergency G7 summit, Mr. Biden is said to have turned down allied requests to extend the August 31 deadline for exit.

The Biden administration’s recent decision not to penalize Nord Stream 2 pipeline participants has enraged Europeans as well. Poland and Ukraine underlined their worries in a joint statement about the ramifications of choices taken on the pipeline without the participation of nations directly impacted, claiming that Nord Stream 2 poses both geological and ecological risks to Europe.

As a result, whether it’s diplomatic recognition of the Taliban regime, humanitarian aid for the Afghan people, or any other major issue, the US should not take any more action without engaging partners. Mr. Biden should also dispatch senior members of his national security team to Europe and other regions of the world to reinforce America’s commitment to their security.

As to the Middle East, Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, in a Foreign Affairs article described “America’s opportunity in the Middle East,” suggesting that diplomacy may work where previous military interventions have failed. The United States’ involvement in the area is frequently portrayed in military or counter-terrorism terms, and as a binary option between going all-in or going all-out. Instead, Sullivan advocated for a strategy that relied more on “aggressive diplomacy to generate more long-term benefits.”

Accordingly, the President and his team in Vienna should get the new Iranian administration back to the negotiating tables and rejoin the JCPOA and ease the tensions in the Middle East. Also, the United States should do all possible in Afghanistan to secure the safe transit of Afghans who qualify for U.S. visas to the Kabul airport – and to keep flights flying until they are able to leave. This should apply to both Afghans who dealt closely with the United States’ military, and to those who engage with U.S. media and humanitarian organizations and must get visas from a third country. In addition to ensuring that the United Nations and humanitarian groups have the resources they need, the United States should cooperate with its Security Council allies to guarantee that the Taliban does not hinder the free flow of help.

Moreover, to follow any influx of jihadists to Afghanistan, intelligence agencies will have to rededicate resources and increase surveillance. They must be pushed to coordinate their efforts on the Taliban in order to keep the most threatening groups under control. The United States could set an example by agreeing to accept a fair share of any displaced Afghans. Neighboring countries like Iran and Pakistan, which already have millions of Afghan refugees, are closing their borders.

Biden may not be able to prevent all of the disastrous repercussions of the Afghan catastrophe, but he must act now before the harm to U.S. interests and moral stature becomes irreversible. By taking these steps, he can send a strong statement to the world that he has learned his lessons and that America is coming back.

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Of Friends And Countries

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“The bird, a nest; the spider, a web; man, friendship,” William Blake reminded us in 1790.  Much earlier, Confucius warned in the 5th century BC, “Have no friends not equal to yourself.”  Seneca was ahead of his time and certainly not thinking of the business lunch when he noted that cultivated friendships for personal gain were of limited duration.

When it comes to countries, we have been informed repeatedly, there are no friends … just interests.  So it is with Afghanistan, from which the US decided to withdraw unilaterally and quickly.  Allies such as Britain who still have a presence there were caught off-guard.  Not altogether happy, slang words like ‘doolally’ have been used to describe President Biden who was also reluctant to respond promptly to British prime minister Boris Johnson’s urgent calls, and kept him waiting several days.  So much for the ‘special relationship’ between the two countries.

It wasn’t always a cosy relationship.  Quite frosty for the first hundred years or so after American independence, it included an attack on Washington and the city’s temporary capture.  During the Civil War they helped the Confederacy surreptitiously but as American power and industrial might continued to grow, the British realized an accommodation would be to their advantage and proceeded to emphasize ties of kinship, language and even democracy.  In the event, they even persuaded the US government to help in two world wars and even join them eventually.

Next, consider the case of England and France.  After the Normann conquest in 1066, French became the court language and continued so for a good three hundred years.  But the relationship also started a rivalry often with claims and counterclaims of being the rightful ruler, which sometimes led to war.  Following the French revolution came the Napolionic wars and their devastation, culminating in the 1815 Battle of Waterloo and French defeat. 

The 19th century also saw the German states being united by Bismarck, and, through industrialization, turned into a single powerful country.  Viewed as a threat by both Britain and France it brought about an entente cordiale … a rapprochement between centuries old implacable enemies.

Their efforts to choke off German growth could have only one result in the end — war.  And the 20th century suffered two with devastating loss of life.  The plan to help Germany (at least the western half) recover after the Second World War had flattened it, brought it within the US ambit.  Lest anyone think the aid was entirely altruistic, far from it, for a new threat had arisen … that of the mighty Soviet Union, and a quivering Western Europe was trying to shore up its side.  Yes indeed, countries do not have friends … only interests.

And so the Afghans who helped the US (the translators and such like) tried to get away during the withdrawal; with the rapid Taliban takeover, they could feel the threat to life and limb in their bones, and some knew they were on lists.  Many did leave on the American planes but out of the crowds packing Kabul airport, most were left behind.

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