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The relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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In the period from 2009 to 2013 when Hillary Clinton was US Secretary of State, Saudi Arabia contributed with at least 10 million US dollars to the Clinton Foundation.

Especially in the phases when, incidentally, Hillary Clinton permitted the sale of advanced weapons to Saudi Arabia

As stated by Prince Regent Mohammed Bin Salman in an interview released in 2016 to the Jordanian news agency “Petra”, Saudi Arabia also paid over 20% of Hillary Clinton’s election campaign.

However, it also subsidized the other candidates to the US Presidency, although to a lesser extent.

In the political campaign for the US Presidency, no foreign investor puts all his/her eggs in the same basket – just to follow a typical US piece of advice.

Moreover, like Russia and other countries, also the Saudi Kingdom has always backed both US presidential candidates financially.

During the electoral campaign, Trump theorized the ban on entry into the USA of tourists and migrants from most Islamic States, including Saudi Arabia. He was also harshly criticized by Prince Muhammad Bin Salman and by the famous Saudi multimillionaire, Al Walid bin Talal, the owner of the Kingdon Holding Company of Riyadh, a huge world financial holding, with packages of personal shares in Coca Cola, AOL, Amazon, Apple until 2005, Pepsi Cola, Fininvest, as well as a 5% shareholding in Rupert Murdoch’s media companies, and many other investments that it is even useless to mention here.

After becoming US President, Trump apologized and made his first trip abroad to Saudi Arabia in May 20-22, 2017. It was there that he placed his hands on an illuminated globe that marked the birthof the Global Center for Combating Terrorism in Riyadh.

Once released from his prison in the Ritz Carlton of Riyadh on January 27, Al Walid bin Talal, the nephew of Saudi King Abdullah, paid a 6 billion dollar fine to the winning faction of the royal family, led by Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

After finally realizing to what extent the Wahabite Kingdom is important for the US economy, also Trump has relented and seen reason with the Al Saud’s dynasty.

In an interview with Fox News Night TV released on October 19 last, the US President said that he was interested in knowing the truth about the assassination of Saudi journalist Kashoggi – who, indeed, was also resident in the USA – recently occurred in his country’s Consulate in Istanbul.  Nevertheless, President Trump has refused to stop all the arms sales to Saudi Arabia for this reason.

At the end of May 2017, during his first trip abroad, precisely to Saudi Arabia, Donald J. Trump also signed a contract for the sale of arms and for other economic transactions with Riyadh – an agreement worth as many as 110 billion US dollars immediately and additional 350 billion dollars over the next ten years, with the political aim of countering Daesh-Isis, in particular.

The purchases include 18 billion dollars for C4 systems (Command, Control, Communications and Computers);  13.5 billion dollars for seven THAAD units (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense), anti-missile defense systems;  6.65 billion dollars for the old Patriot-class anti-missile systems; 25 billion dollars for the recapitalization of the Saudi purchase of the F-35 fighters; 5.8 billion dollars for three KC130J and 20 C130J transport aircraft;  6 billion dollars for 4 coastal battleships and additional 11.5 billion dollars for ships already ordered by Saudi Arabia in 2015 and blocked by former President Obama, although with the interested pressure of his Secretary of State.

Other Saudi investments are aimed at spy planes, fine electronics, troop movement and ground attack vehicles, as well as the purchase of Apache helicopters and M1A2 tanks, and finally for many human and computer-interactive military training programs for all the Saudi Armed Forces.

Clearly Saudi Arabia has turned a blind eye to the technological upgrading of the weapon systems ordered – far more advanced than the level of current purchases – but in view of a strong future bond with the United States.

Saudi official sources also state that until May 2017 the Kingdom suffered over 60 terrorist attacks by Isis-Daesh and Al Qaeda, with over 25 of them over the last two years.

According to the documents of the Saudi Center for Combating Terrorism, over 200 Saudi citizens, including policemen and civilians, have been killed by Islamist terrorism.

It is strange that a deeply Islamic State defines the “sword jihad” as “terrorism”, as if it did not know what the jihad rules and techniques are.

Some terminologies are used only by Western States, which have not yet well understood what is happening in the Islamic religious and political universe.

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia claims to have organized at least 341 air raids against the positions of the self-proclaimed Caliphate in Syria, thus resulting the second counterterrorist power operating in the region after the United States.

Nothing to do, however, with the air raids of the Russian Federation, which the US intelligence services have already counted to thousands.

Reverting to the Saudi Kingdom, the Wahhabi regime has also started to control private donations to the self-proclaimed Caliphate.

A special and semi-secret Counter ISIL Finance Group between Saudi Arabia, the United States and Italy was created in 2015, with a view to countering the financial networks of the Caliphate.

Saudi Arabia alone has also established a Financial Intelligence Unit, which is also member of the Egmont Group, a network of 159 Financial Intelligence Units between EU, “dangerous” countries and Middle East networks.

Moreover, regardless of their being registered in the Kingdom, the Saudi charities can operate only through the Riyadh center of the Saudi Red Crescent and the King Salman Humanitarian Aid. Any autonomous fundraising through mosques and even through the mere charity public centers is forbidden.

Money transfers without a license (accounting for 60% of the total transfers) are also banned, but there are also sanctions against Hezbollah.

Two birds with one stone, of course.

Until September 30, 2017 -that is the end of the last fiscal year available -the United States sold as many as 55.6 billion US dollars of arms worldwide, that is over 33% more than the previous year.

As President Trump has declared openly, he does not want “to stop a 110 billion dollar investment in the United States” – a sum that, however, also includes the 23 billion dollars of Saudi arms purchases, those already granted by the former Obama administration.

At least since 2012, one fifth of all US foreign arms sales has gone to Saudi Arabia.

One third of all arms sales in the world originates from the United States.

Half of US arms sales, however, goes to the whole Middle East and Africa.

With specific reference to the weapon systems, the largest share of US exports is in the aeronautics sector, followed by the missile sector and finally by the ground weapon systems and transport vehicles.

The countries buying more weapons from the USA are Saudi Arabia, Poland, Japan, Romania, Bahrain, Australia, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Greece and Singapore.

Reverting to Saudi Arabia, a royal decree of April 22, 2017 appointed Khalid bin Salman Al Saud -the son of the current King and former pilot of fighter aircraft, who demonstrated excellence in dangerous missions against the self-proclaimed Syrian-Iraqi Caliphate – as the new Saudi Ambassador to the United States.

On October 2, 2018, with his usual frankness, President Trump stated that the Saudi Kingdom would collapse in two weeks without the US protection.

It is true and the current Prince and leader of Saudi Arabia knows it all too well. It is not yet certain that the Kingdom will last only two weeks without the United States, but it knows it is at risk.

Hence Prince Muhammad bin Salman is newly recreating the traditional relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia, in spite of the unfortunate incident of the journalist Khashoggi, by underlining two important factors such as the relevance of the Wahabi Kingdom’s investments for the United States, which are now essential for this country, and the bilateral and strategic relationship with the United States that the Al Saud’s dynasty hopes will become even more stable.

Without America, Saudi Arabia is lost. Without Saudi Arabia the United States would definitely become poorer, and no President can accept this.

This holds true also for Yemen, where, since 2015, the United States has been training, arming and sharing intelligence with the Saudis against the Houthi, the Shiite guerrillas of the seventh Imam, obviously organized by Iran. What if the Saudis were afraid of one thing only, i.e. the uprising of the Shiites who are many in the area of their main oil wells?

It was exactly in 2015, the year when King Salman came to the throne and immediately delegated power to his son Mohammed.

Hence a military exchange on an equal footing between the United States and Saudi Arabia? Let us analyze the oil situation between the two countries more closely. Ultimately this is what really matters. However, we will talk about it at a later stage.

Meanwhile, however, let us see how Saudi Arabia presses the US companies and the economy, not only with the most well-known shareholdings.

At the time of the assassination of journalist Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, the Emirates’ Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nayhan, immediately expressed his full support for Saudi Arabia.

Even Oman, which had certainly not been a supporter of the Saudi-led anti-Iranian coalition, supported the Kingdom in that harsh situation.

Also the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Abdullatif Al Zayani, supported Saudi Arabia.

Even the Secretary-General of the Arab League, however, has recently expressed his support for Saudi Arabia.

At strategic and economic levels, harshly punishing the Saudi Kingdom for the assassination of journalist Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate of Istanbul – an assassination which has currently turned out to be premeditated and particularly brutal – leaves no other chance for Prince Muhammad bin Salman than resorting to the usual countermoves.

Some Saudi leaders have openly mentioned the “oil weapon”, which would be used as a hefty club against European oil consumers, and not as it happened after the Kippur war of October 6-25, 1973 – when someone, namely ENI, escaped the grip of the Saudi-led OPEC.

If the oil price increased, also the US economy would suffer inflationary pressures and pressure on interest rates. This would greatly slow the US economic growth down – and the EU one even more.

Europeans should not believe they can use the Russian oil and gas to counteract the rise in Saudi and Sunni OPEC prices.

Russia fully agrees with OPEC and will not give up a general increase in the oil barrel and natural gas prices.

Certainly the increase in the oil barrel price, which is supposed to reach approximately 90 US dollars by next year, would favor the sale of shale oil and natural gas – a production which has doubled in the United States, but with a shorter price cycle: higher prices generate greater supply, which inevitably leads to a subsequent lowering of the oil barrel price.

The less Iranian oil on the market, the greater tension for the price increase – not to mention the reduction of the Russian and OPEC supply and the almost cessation of extraction in Venezuela for the well-known internal political reasons.

All this happens while the demand for oil and gas is increasing rapidly all over the world.

Combining the restriction to the Saudi and Sunni OPEC production with the growth of US production, it is certain that the growth of the North American supply has significantly reduced the Saudi power to exert pressure. In fact, Saudi Arabia can raise prices only in a way not stimulating a further growth of the extractive production in the United States.

Hence the “oil war” that Prince Mohammed bin Salman has in mind – if it were to start – would lead to a great energy crisis, stronger in Europe than in the United States.

Naturally the weak and now demented European Union has said nothing serious in this phase.

If Europe thinks President Trump can pull its chestnuts out of the fire, it is completely wrong.

The US President does not like Europe at all. He will soon put an end to the German trade surplus and he can scarcely bear NATO. Even Israel, however, has no regard for this EU and not even Russia takes it too seriously.

In this framework of isolation, Europe does not even pursue its most immediate interests.

Every day it only deals with pseudo-economic matters and quarrels with its South that some German economists would already like to leave to the fate of a “Southern” Euro to be separated from the “Northern” Euro.

We will see how the monetary competition between the two “Euros” will be structured – a competition which could be fatal for the Northern and Southern versions of the unsuccessful European monetary union.

A currency that would like to be global, but without the characteristics of a lender of last resort it makes us laugh. Nevertheless, the EU leaders still believe in it.

The economy is made up of geopolitics and global strategy, not the other way round.

The old neoclassical handbooks which are read in Strasbourg and Brussels are now antiques.

If the United States or other countries were to apply sanctions on Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammed Bin Salman – who is in a hurry to relinquish the too oil-led economy which, however, made the huge fortunes of his country – would have very good cards to play.

Certainly, since 2015 Saudi Arabia has had public budgets in the red. For the first time in its financial history it has issued public debt securities. Probably it has also problems of slow depletion of some wells, in addition to the insecurity generated by the essential fact that their maximum extraction area has a very strong Shiite minority, on which Iran is constantly operating – from Bahrain and from Oman, which turns a blind eye.

The Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF)is a sovereign fund which largely operates in the United States, in Europe and in Asia.

The aforementioned Sovereign Fund of Riyadh has a 5% shareholding of Tesla, as well as other stakes in Tesla’s direct competitor, namely Lucid Motors. It has invested 3.5 billion dollars in Uber, the global leader of unlicensed taxis, as well as 20 billion dollars in a US infrastructure fund managed by Blackstone. PIF has built three new cities on the Red Sea coast and invested 45 billion dollars in the Soft Bank. Furthermore, the Prince Regent –  who directly leads PIF – said he wanted to invest additional 170 billion dollars over the next three to four years.

However, Saudi Arabia has also other geoeconomic weapons in its hands: in the United States, PIF owns 70% of Sabic, a large plastics-producing company. There are also the Saudi Telecom Company and the Saudi Electricity, with significant shareholdings in the sector in North America. There is also the aforementioned Blackstone Fund for Infrastructure, as well as a 45% shareholding of the National Commercial Bank, the Saudi Arabian Mining Company, the Entertainment Investment Company and the Fund of Funds.

PIF has also Saudi investments in Europe: the main ones are in Krups, Siemens, Arcelor Mittal and in many other sectors and small and medium-size enterprises.

PIF has also operations in place, of a size comparable to those in the USA, China, Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine and  the Philippines.

In South Africa, the Saudi government is negotiating with the Denel arms factory for cooperation with the Kingdom’s defense industries.

According to the Saudi press sources, the country would already have in mind at least 30 major operations to harshly respond to the possible US sanctions for the Khashoggi case.

They would not be oil sanctions, but rather financial, banking and industrial sanctions.

A “Samson” operation is also planned, with a fast and very significant reduction in oil production, capable of making the oil barrel price jump up to an incredible level of 400 US dollars.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman could also block the purchases of weapons already planned in the USA – and it is worth recalling that the Saudi Kingdom is the second largest importer of weapons in the world.

The Prince Regent has also invested significantly in the Silicon Valley industries, which he is integrating into the Saudi Giga Projects.

Finally, the Saudi investment line could head to countries such as China, Russia and India, instead of the USA and the EU.

Egypt, too, would soon participate in this game, with currently unpredictable consequences in the Maghreb region, and especially in Libya – where Egypt is the major supporter of General Khalifa Haftar – as well as in the United Arab Emirates.

A transition from the West to the East that would probably be the tombstone of Western economic and financial development.

It would also create a structural financial crisis in the United States, which could partly retaliate by unleashing a harsh trade war precisely with the European Union.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Mistrust between Russia and the United States Has Reached an All-Time High

Igor Ivanov

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In August 2020, Politico magazine published three letters outlining their authors’ views of the ways the United States, and the West in general, should build relations with Russia. The first, published on August 5 and signed by over 100 prominent American politicians, diplomats and military leaders, states that Washington’s present policy towards Moscow “isn’t working” and that it is time that the United States “rethink” it. The gist of the proposals is that the United States “must deal with Russia as it is, not as we wish it to be, fully utilizing our strengths but open to diplomacy.”

This letter prompted a response, first from another group of former American ambassadors and political scientists (Politico, August 11) and then from several eminent politicians from Poland, the Baltic states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia (August 13). Both groups agree that now is not the time to reconsider policies toward Russia.

I am well acquainted with many of the signatories to these three statements. I worked closely with some of them during my tenure as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and met some of them during negotiations. I still keep in touch with several of them, as we participate in various informal international projects. Since most parties to the emerging discussion are both highly experienced professionals and public figures, their stances on Russia are well known. The list of signatories under each statement hardly came as a surprise to anyone.

I do not think it makes sense to dwell in too much detail on the arguments presented by the parties. At the same time, proceeding from my own experience of U.S.–Russia relations, I would think that I have the right to put forward some considerations of my own.

First of all, on whether a “new reset” in relations between Washington and Moscow is either possible or desirable. One gets the impression that the authors of the letters see the “old reset” spearheaded by the Obama administration as a kind of bonus or advance offered by the United States to Russia in the hope that the latter would “behave” properly. The debate focuses on whether or not Russia has justified this “advance,” and whether or not it deserves a new bonus. Personally, I cannot recall a single instance where the United States (during Barack Obama’s presidency or under any other administration) gave Russia a “bonus” or “advance” of any kind, made a unilateral concession or indeed did anything that was not in the interests of the United States.

As I see it, the “reset” fully met the long-term interests of both states, particularly in security. Only a very biased observer would claim that the New START Treaty constituted a unilateral concession to Moscow on the part of Washington. Similarly, NATO’s call at the 2010 Lisbon Summit for a true strategic partnership with Russia can hardly be viewed as a unilateral concession. In both instances, the interests of both parties were taken into account, as were the interests of international security in general.

Russia and the United States remain the world’s leading nuclear powers, boasting the largest strategic weapons capabilities. Moscow and Washington have been engaged in mutual deterrence for decades now. However, an objective analysis of the challenges and threats to Russian and U.S. security shows that the very real dangers that do exist emanate not from the two countries themselves, but rather from processes and trends that lie outside the bilateral relations. Accordingly, any predictions about the possible and desirable prospects for interaction between the two states will be incomplete at the very least if they are taken out of the overall context of the development of the international system.

We have to admit that mistrust between Russia and the United States has reached an all-time high. It will take years, maybe even decades, to rectify this situation. However, I am confident that, sooner or later, we will have to start moving in that direction, not because one party will “wear” the other down, forcing it to make unilateral concessions or even throw itself at the mercy of the winner. First, each side has a large safety margin and is willing to continue the confrontation for many years to come. Second, history shows us that peace achieved through unilateral concession rarely lasts.

Life itself, by which I mean each side understanding the long-term need of its own security, will force the United States and Russia to resume progress towards cooperation. Such an understanding, in my opinion, has nothing to do with the elections in the two countries, or with the opportunistic calculations of individual political forces. Regardless of these calculations, the world is rapidly moving towards the line beyond which a global disaster looms with increasing clarity. Once we take a peek beyond this line, the entire world, primarily its leading states, which bear special responsibility for the fate of the world, will have to make decisions that go beyond their own immediate interests.

As for the debates on when and with whom the United States should enter into a dialogue with Russia, I believe such discussions have zero practical value. It would be extremely unreasonable and even irresponsible to defer talks in the hope that more convenient or more accommodating interlocutors will appear in the partner country or, alternatively, that a more favourable general political situation for negotiations will appear.

I would like to refer to my own experience. As Minister of Foreign Affairs, I constantly kept in touch with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and then with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. That was in the late 1990s–early 2000s. The bombings of Yugoslavia, the war in Iraq, the Middle Eastern crisis, the expansion of NATO and many, many other events objectively made the U.S.–Russia dialogue more difficult. Obviously, our views on many issues differed greatly. But we never broke off our dialogue, not for a day, no matter how difficult it was. Strictly speaking, this is the art of diplomacy: conducting a dialogue with a difficult partner, achieving agreements where the stances of the parties veer widely and the chances of reaching a comprise appear minimal.

Critics will hasten to say that the U.S.–Russia dialogue in the early 21st century failed to prevent many conflicts and wars, and that is true. But it also helped prevent far graver consequences and, where possible, even led to the signing of important mutually acceptable agreements (New START, etc.). The experience of global diplomacy tells us that the only way to find solutions is through dialogue. The sooner our leading politicians realize it, the faster we will step away from mutual public accusations and destructive information wars waged with cutting-edge technologies and move towards earnest talks on the crucial issues of the 21st-century agenda.

Giving general advice is easy. It is even easier to take the high horse, insisting on staying faithful to one’s values and principles. It is much more difficult for those who have been accorded the requisite powers to make specific decisions. As the great American economist John Kenneth Galbraith once said, “Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.” All we can do is hope that politicians in Russia and the United States will prefer the unpalatable to the disastrous.

From our partner RIAC

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The Farce of Post 9/11 U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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This week refugee camps in Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos were set ablaze rendering over 20,000 refugees homeless.  Apparently the fires were started by the refugees themselves who are sick of lives in limbo on the EU periphery.  They want to reach the heartland, get jobs, build lives for themselves.

An inevitable consequence of our modern wars, refugees have become an emblem.  Old newsreels show us their lined, worried faces in the Second World War and TV has them live from Yugosloavia, a country disappeared and reemerged as several ethnic  parts, while numerous principal actors of the time faced judges in the international courts.

Then there is 9/11 in the US — a term meaning September 11 as in the US, unlike Europe and many parts of the world, the month is written first followed by the day and year.  Patriot Day, as it has been labeled, September 11 marks the day when commercial airliners were used as weapons to destroy the World Trade Center, a skyscraper in New York City, and attack the Pentagon, the military’s headquarters in Washington, DC.

If the mastermind of the attack was a turned, non-Afghan, Mujahedin commander camped out in Afghanistan, who following Soviet withdrawal turned his attention to the other major power … committing, in his mind, the unpardonable sin of parking troops on his native soil of Saudi Arabia — no matter, they were there for protective purposes from an increasingly belligerent Saddam Hussein.

The results we know.  A naive George Bush and a populace thirsting for revenge attacked Afghanistan leading to the longest war in American history.  Many presidents later, Donald Trump too is trying to negotiate a pull-out of US troops with the Taliban.  Yes, Afghanistan holds elections and has a president, even a military, but guess what will happen if US troops leave without any resolution with the Taliban.

George Bush’s rival for governor in Texas had a great line.  ‘Poor George,’ she would say, ‘he can’t help it, he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.’  So George went after Iraq and lacking his father’s good sense (who after liberating Kuwait withdrew) he stayed to democratize Iraq without examining the country’s demographics.  Majority Shia, it has a democratic leadership now that is Shia and closely allied with Shia Iran.  Fast forward to the present and the current president, Donald Trump, is withdrawing troops from Iraq and is in a stand-off with Iran. 

Anyone would be forgiven for thinking American foreign policy in the Middle East is a plot from a Gilbert and Sullivan farce.  Except for a sad and sobering fact.  More than a million lives lost, refugees still streaming out and many, many millions of lives displaced … including a Christian Iraqi from Baghdad who runs a 24-hour convenience store a couple of miles from my house.

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American Democracy and “The Barbarism of Specialisation”

Prof. Louis René Beres

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Jose Ortega y' Gasset

“The specialist ‘knows’ very well his own tiny corner of the universe; he is radically ignorant of all the rest.”-Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses (1930)

It has been almost one hundred years since Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset  published The Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas, 1930). A prescient indictment of anti-Reason, and an immediate forerunner of modern classical works by German scholars Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers,[1] Ortega was most plainly concerned about Europe’s growing fragmentation of learning. Witnessing a world rapidly abandoning the traditional goal of  broadly-educated or “whole” human beings, he worried about a future in which there would be more capable scientists than ever before, but where these scientists were otherwise unexceptional and without any wider embrace of erudition.

                These observations were seminal. Among other things, the prophetic philosopher foresaw “educated” societies in which even the proud holders of impressive university degrees were “conscientiously ignorant” of everything outside their own vocational bailiwicks. In essence, Ortega had anticipated the present-day United States. Here, even in an oft-vaunted “advanced society,” the most exquisitely trained physicians, lawyers, accountants and engineers generally reason at the same limiting level of analysis as technicians, carpenters or lightly schooled office workers.

               In large part, this is because “professional” education in the United States has effectively superseded everything that does not ostentatiously focus on making money. The adverb here is vital in this description, because the overriding lure of wealth in America remains the presumed admiration it can elicit from others. As we ought already to have learned from Adam Smith in his Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759): “The rich man glories in his riches, because he feels that they naturally draw upon him the attention of the world….At the thought of this, his heart seems to swell and dilate itself within him, and he is fonder of his wealth, upon this account, than for all the other advantages it procures him.”[2]

               Almost by definition, any American concerns for intellectual or historical issues per se have become extraneous. This does not mean, however, that our strenuous national efforts at improving professional education  have been successful  or productive. On the contrary, as we witness the multiple daily technical failures of American democracy – e.g. the all-too evident incapacity of our ballot calculating technologies to keep abreast of shifting vote-counting modalities – this beleaguered polity is failing on multiple fronts.

               For many reasons, many of them overlapping, this has been a lamentable retrogression. Above all, it has impaired this country’s capacity to sustain an enviable or even minimally credible democracy. Though Thomas Jefferson had already understood that proper human governance requires a purposeful acquaintance with historical and sociological learning, Americans now inhabit a country where the president can say unashamedly, “I love the poorly educated.” Significantly, this perverse preference of Donald J. Trump did not emerge ex nihilo, out of nothing.

               It is a portentous but credible echo of Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels: “Intellect rots the brain.”[3]

               Ortega y’Gasset had a specific name for this generally defiling intellectual deformation. More exactly, he called it “The Barbarism of ‘Specialisation.”[4] Earlier, and in somewhat similar fashion, Friedrich  Nietzsche wrote about the “educated philistine.”[5] Both Ortega and Nietzsche recognized the irony that a society could become progressively better educated in various sub-fields of human knowledge and yet, simultaneously, become less and less cultured, less and less truly civilized.[6] In this regard, the German philosopher placed appropriate conceptual blame on what he preferred to call the “herd.”[7] For his part, the kindred Spanish thinker cast his particular indictment on the “mass.”

               Whatever the terminological differences, both sets of ideas were centered on the same basic critique; that is, that individuals had been casting aside the necessary obligation to think for themselves, and had, thereby, surrendered indispensable analytic judgments to “crowds.”[8]

               Today, both ideas can shed some useful light on American democracy, a system of governance under increasing assault by US President Donald J. Trump.        To the extent that American education has become rampantly vocational – that is, oriented toward more and more “pragmatic” kinds of specialization – the wisdom of Ortega y’Gasset and others is worth probing with ever-increasing care. Moreover, the corrosively “barbarous” impact of  specialization foreseen earlier by philosophers is now magnified by the injurious effects of worldwide disease pandemic. 

               Without doubt, this unwelcome magnification will need to be countered if American democracy is able merely to survive.[9]

               But analysis should begin at the beginning. Inter alia, it is a discomfiting beginning. Americans now inhabit a society so numbingly fragmented and rancorous that even their most sincere melancholy is seemingly contrived. Wallowing in the mutually-reinforcing twilights of submission and conformance, We the people have strayed dangerously far from any meaningful standards of serious learning. In consequence, though still a nation with extraordinary scientific, medical and commercial successes, the American public is often ill-equipped to judge candidates for  high political office.[10]

               As we have seen, utterly ill-equipped.

               Surveying ever-mounting damages of the Trump presidency,[11] some of which are synergistic or “force multiplying,” could anything be more apparent?

                The grievously baneful selection of Donald J. Trump in 2016 was anything but a cultural aberration.  It was, rather, the plausible outcome of an electorate relentlessly driven and even defined by “mass.” Without any real or compelling reasons, voting Americans freely abandoned the once-residual elements of Jeffersonian good citizenship.

               Together with the unceasing connivance of assorted criminals, charlatans and fools, many of them occupants of the present US Government’s most senior positions, a lonely American mass now bears core responsibility for allowing the demise of a once- enviable democratic ethos. To expect any sudden improvements to emerge from among this homogenized mass (e.g., by continuously making the citizens more particularly aware of this president’s manifold derelictions) would be to  overestimate its inclinations.  Though truth is always exculpatory, there are times when it yields to various forms of self-delusion.

               “What the mass once learned to believe without reasons,” queries Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, “who could ever overthrow with reasons?”

               There will be a heavy price to pay for America’s still-expanding ascendancy of mass. Any society so willing to abjure its rudimentary obligations toward dignified learning – toward what American Transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson had once called “high thinking” – is one that should never reasonably expect to survive.[12]

                There is more. Treating formal education as a narrowly instrumental obligation (“one should get better educated in order to get a better paying job”), Americans now more easily accept flagrantly empty witticisms as profundities (“We will build a beautiful wall;” “Barbed wire can be beautiful;” “The moon is part of Mars;”  “Testing for corona virus only increases disease;” “Just one percent of Covid19 victims have symptoms,” etc., etc), and consult genuinely challenging ideas only rarely.

               Always, the dire result of anti-Reason is more-or-less predictable; that is, a finely trained work force that manages to get a particular “job” done, but displays (simultaneously) nary a hint of  worthwhile learning, commendable human understanding or simple compassion. Concerning this last absence, empathy is not directly related to the “barbarisms of specialization,” but it does generally exhibit some tangible nurturance from literature, art and/or “culture.” Incontestably, the Trump White House is not “only” indifferent to basic human rights and public welfare,[13] it quite literally elevates personal animus to highest possible significations.

               This is especially marked where such animus is most thoroughly pedestrian.

               Intentionally mispronouncing the Democrat vice-presidential candidate’s first name is a small but glaring example of Donald Trump’s selected level of competitive political discourse. By its very nature, of course, this demeaning level is better suited to a first-grade elementary school classroom.

               There are even much wider ramifications of gratuitous rancor. When transposed to the vital arena of international relations, this president’s elevation of belligerent nationalism has a long and persistently unsuccessful history as Realpolitik or power politics.[14] Thinking himself clever, Donald Trump champions “America First” (the phrase resonates with those, like the president himself, who have no knowledge of history),but fails to realize that this peculiarly shameful resurrection of “Deutschland uber alles” can lead only to massive defeat and unparalleled despair.

               “I loathe, therefore I am,” could well become Donald J. Trump’s “revised” version  of  René Descartes “Cogito.”[15] Following Descartes, Sigmund Freud had understood that all human beings could somehow be motivated toward creating a “spontaneous sympathy of souls,” but America’s Donald Trump has quite expansively reversed this objective. Reinforced by the rampant vocationalism of this country’s education system, Trump has consistently urged citizens to turn against one another, and for no dignified, defensible or science-based reasons. In absolutely all cases, these grotesque urgings have had no meritorious or higher purpose.

               Instead, they remain utterly and viciously contrived.

               In the bitterly fractionated Trump-era United States, an authentic American individualhas become little more than a charming artifact.  Among other things, the nation’s societal “mass,”  more refractory than ever to intellect and learning, still displays no discernible intentions of ever taking itself seriously. To the contrary, an embittered American ‘mass” now marches in deferential lockstep, foolishly, without thought, toward even-greater patterns of imitation, unhappiness and starkly belligerent incivility.

               All things considered, the American future is not hard to fathom. More than likely, whatever might be decided in upcoming politics and elections, Americans will continue to be carried forth not by any commendable nobilities of principle or purpose, but by steady eruptions of personal and collective agitation, by endlessly inane presidential repetitions and by the perpetually demeaning primacy of a duly “sanctified” public ignorance.  At times, perhaps, We the people may still be able to slow down a bit and “smell the roses,”  but this is doubtful.

               Plainly, our visibly compromised and degraded country now imposes upon its increasingly exhausted people the breathless rhythms of a vast and omnivorous machine.

               This machine has no objective other than to keep struggling without spawning any sudden breakdowns or prematurely inconvenient deaths.

               Much as many might wish to deny it, the plausible end of this self-destroying machinery will be to prevent Americans from remembering who they are now and (far more importantly) who they might once still have become. At another reasonable level of concern, Americans remain threatened by nuclear war and nuclear terrorism, especially now, during the incoherent Trump-era. Significantly, although there exists a vast literature on law-based strategies of nuclear war avoidance, there is little parallel jurisprudential effort directed toward the prevention of nuclear terrorism.[16]

               In fact, presidential banalities aside, this is no longer a “nation of laws.” It is a nation of ad hoc, narrowly visceral response.

               There is more.  Americans inhabit the one society that could have been different. Once, we harbored a preciously unique potential to nurture individuals, that is, to encourage Americans to become more than a smugly inert mass,  herd or crowd. Then, Ralph Waldo Emerson (also fellow Transcendentalists Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau) described us optimistically as a people animated by industry and “self-reliance.”

               Now, however, and beyond any serious contestation, we are stymied by collective paralysis, capitulation and a starkly Kierkegaardian “fear and trembling.”

                Surely, as all must eventually acknowledge, there is more to this chanting country than Fuehrer-driven rallies, tsunamis of hyper-adrenalized commerce or gargantuan waves of abundantly cheap entertainments: “I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” rhapsodized the poet Walt Whitman, but today, the American Selfhas devolved into a delicately thin shadow of true national potential. Distressingly, this Self has already become a twisting reflection of a prior authenticity.  Now it is under seemingly final assault by a far-reaching  societal tastelessness and by a literally epidemic gluttony.

               Regarding this expressly gastronomic debility, it’s not that we Americans have become more and more hungry, but rather that we have lost any once residual appetites for real life.[17]

               In the end, credulity is America’s worst enemy. The stubborn inclination to believe that wider social and personal redemption must lie somewhere in politics remains a potentially fatal disorder. To be fair, various social and economic issues do need to be coherently addressed by America’s political representatives, but so too must the nation’s deeper problems first be solved at the level of microcosm, as a matter for individuals.

               In the end, American politics – like politics everywhere – must remain a second-order activity, a faint reflection of what is truly important. For now, it continues to thrive upon a vast personal emptiness, on an infirmity that is the always-defiling reciprocal of any genuine personal fulfillment. “Conscious of his emptiness,” warns the German philosopher Karl Jaspers in Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952), “man (human) tries to make a faith for himself (or herself) in the political realm. In Vain.”

                Even in an authentic democracy, only a few can ever hope to redeem themselves and the wider American nation, but these self-effacing souls will generally remain silent, hidden in more-or-less “deep cover,” often even from themselves. In a democracy where education is oriented toward narrowly vocational forms of career preparation, an orientation toward “barbaric specialization,” these residual few can expect to be suffocated by the many. Unsurprisingly, such asphyxiation, in absolutely any of its conceivable particularities, would be a bad way to “die.”[18]

               Donald J. Trump did not emerge on the political scene ex nihilo, out of nothing. His incoherent and disjointed presidency is the direct result of a society that has wittingly and barbarously abandoned all serious thought. When such a society no longer asks the “big philosophical questions” – for example, “What is the “good” in government and politics”? or “How do I lead a good life as person and citizen”? or “How can I best nurture the well-being of other human beings”? – the lamentable outcome is inevitable. It is an  outcome that we are currently living through in the United States, and one that might sometime have to be “died through.”

               Going forward, what we ought to fear most of all is precisely this continuously self-defiling outcome, not a particular electoral result. To be certain, at this point, nothing could be more urgently important for the United States than to rid itself of the intersecting pathologies of Covid19 and Donald Trump, diseases that are mutually reinforcing and potentially synergistic, but even such victories would only be transient. More fundamentally, recalling philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset’s timeless warning about the “barbarism of specialisation,” this country must resurrect an earlier ethos of education in which learning benefits the whole human being, not just a work-related “corner of the universe.”

               Also vital is the obligation to acknowledge the fundamental interrelatedness of all peoples and the binding universality of international law.[19]

               To survive, both as a nation and as individuals, Americans need to become educated not merely as well-trained cogs in the vast industrial machine, but as empathetic and caring citizens. “Everyone is the other, and no one is just himself,” cautions Martin  Heidegger in Being and Time (1932), but this elementary lesson once discoverable in myriad sacred texts is not easily operationalized.  Indeed, it is in this single monumental failure of “operationalization” that human civilization has most conspicuously failed though the ages. To wit, in Trump-era American democracy, the president’s core message is not about the co-responsibility of every human being for his or her fellows, but about “winners,” “losers,” and a presumptively preeminent citizen obligation to “Make America Great.”

               In this Trumpian context, “greatness” assumes a crudely Darwinian or zero-sum condition, and not one wherein each individual favors harmonious cooperation over an endlessly belligerent competition.[20]

               How shall we finally change all this, or, recalling Plato’s wisdom in The Republic, how shall we  “learn to make the souls of the citizens better?”[21] This is not a question that we can answer with any pertinent detail before the upcoming US presidential election. But it is still a question that we ought to put before the imperiled American polity soon, and sometime before it is too late.[22]

               American democracy faces multiple hazards, including Ortega y’ Gasset’s “barbarism of specialisation.” To be rescued in time, each hazard will have to be tackled carefully, by itself and also in coordinated tandem with all other identifiable perils. Overall, the task will be daunting and overwhelming, but the alternative is simply no longer tolerable or sustainable.

               Donald Trump’s removal from office is a sine qua non for all applicable remedies, but even such an needed step would target only a catastrophic symptom of America’s national “pathology.” By itself, saving the United States from Donald Trump would surely be indispensable, but it would leave unchanged the country’s still most deeply underlying “disease.” In  the end,[23] because Americans will need to bring a less “specialized” form of learning to their citizenship responsibilities, the nation will quickly have to figure out practical ways of restoring educational “wholeness.”

               Can this sort of rational calculation be expected? Maybe not. Perhaps, like the timeless message of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, this warning has “come too soon.” If that turns out to be the case, there may simply be no “later.”


[1] See especially Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time (Sein und Zeit;1953) and Karl Jaspers’ Reason and Anti-Reason in  our Time (1952). “Is it an end that draws near,” inquires Jaspers, “or a beginning?” The answer will depend, in large part, on what Heidegger has to say about the Jungian or Freudian “mass.” In Being and Time (1953), the philosopher laments what he calls, in German, das Mann, or “The They.”  Drawing fruitfully upon earlier core insights of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Jung and Freud, Heidegger’s “The They” represents the ever-present and interchangeable herdcrowd, horde or mass. Each such conglomerate exhibits “untruth” (the term actually favored by Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard)  because it can encourage the “barbarism of specialisation” and suffocate broadly humanistic kinds of learning.

[2]Smith published Theory seventeen years before his vastly more famous and oft-cited Wealth of Nations (1776).

[3]See, on commonalities between Third Reich and Trump-era American democracy, by Louis René Beres at Jurist:  https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/05/louis-beres-america-rise-and-fall/

[4] Chapter 12 of The Revolt of the Masses (1930) is expressly titled “The Barbarism of ‘Specialisation.'”

[5]Here, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche coined an aptly specific term, one he hoped could eventually become universal. This  German word was Bildungsphilister. When expressed in its most lucid and coherent English translation, it means “educated Philistine.” Bildungsphilister is a term that could shed useful light upon Donald Trump’s ongoing support from among America’s presumptively well-educated and well-to-do.

[6] On this irony, Kierkegaard says it best in The Sickness Unto Death (1849): “Devoid of imagination, as the Philistine always is, he lives in a certain trivial province of experience, as to how things go, what is possible, what usually occurs….Philistinism thinks it is in control of possibility….it carries possibility around like a prisoner in the cage of the probable, and shows it off.”

[7]Sigmund Freud introduced his own particular version of Nietzsche’s “herd,” which was “horde.” Interestingly, Freud maintained a general antipathy to all things American. He most strenuously objected, according to Bruno Bettelheim, to this country’s “shallow optimism” and also its corollary commitment to the crudest forms of materialism. America, thought Freud, was grievously “lacking in soul.” See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), especially Chapter X.

[8] In  essence, the “crowd” was Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard’s equivalent of Nietzsche’s “herd” and Ortega’s “mass.”

[9] The most ominous synergies of “barbarism” would link pandemic effects with growing risks of a nuclear war. On irrational nuclear decision-making by this author, see Louis René Beres, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: https://thebulletin.org/2016/08/what-if-you-dont-trust-the-judgment-of-the-president-whose-finger-is-over-the-nuclear-button/ See also, by Professor Beres,  https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making/ (Pentagon). For authoritative early accounts by Professor Beres of nuclear war expected effects, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). Most recently, by Professor Beres, see: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018). https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy

[10] At a minimum, in this regard, the US public ought to be reminded of the explicit warning in Nietzsche’s Zarathustra: “Do not ever seek the higher man at the market place.” (Moreover, it would not be unfair to Nietzsche’s core meaning here to expand “higher man” to mean “higher person.”).

[11] Most egregious, in any assessment of these damages, is this president’s wilful subordination of national interest to his own presumed private interests. In this regard, one may suitably recall Sophocles’ cautionary speech of Creon in Antigone: “I hold despicable, and always have….anyone who puts his own popularity before his country.”

[12] Still the best treatments of America’s long-term disinterest in anything intellectual are Richard Hofstadter, Anti-intellectualism in American Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964); and Jacques Barzun, The House of Intellect (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1959).

[13] See, by Louis René Beres: https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/04/the-trump-presidency-a-breathtaking-assault-on-law-justice-and-security/

[14] The classic statement of Realpolitik or power politics in western  philosophy is the comment of Thrasymachus in Plato’s Republic : “Justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger.” (See Plato, The Republic, 29, Benjamin Jowett, tr., World Publishing Company, 1946.) See also: Cicero’s oft-quoted query: “For what can be done against force without force?,” Marcus Tullus Cicero, Cicero’s Letters to his Friends, 78  (D.R. Shackleton Baily tr., Scholars Press, 1988).

[15] “I think, therefore I am,” says René Descartes, in his Discourse on Method (1637). Reciprocally, in his modern classic essay on “Existentialism,” Jean-Paul Sartre observes that “…outside the Cartesian cogito, all views are only probable.”

[16] See, by Professor Louis René Beres: https://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1410&context=gjicl

[17] An apt literary reference for this condition of “lost appetite” is Franz Kafka’s story, The Hunger Artist.

[18] In more expressly concrete terms, average American life-expectancy, unenviable for several decades, has now fallen behind most of the advanced industrial world. While Trump boasts of a wall to keep out Mexicans and assorted “others,” more and more Americans are trying to cross in the other direction.

[19] Apropos of this universality, international law is generally part of the law of the United States. These legal systems are always interpenetrating. Declared Mr. Justice Gray, in delivering the judgment of the US Supreme Court in Paquete Habana (1900): “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction….” (175 U.S. 677(1900)) See also: Opinion in Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (726 F. 2d 774 (1984)). The specific incorporation of treaty law into US municipal law is expressly codified at Art. 6 of the US Constitution, the so-called “Supremacy Clause.”

[20] Here it could be helpful to recall the words of French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man: “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false and against nature.”

[21] Long after Plato, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the very essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provides a precise definition of the term, but clearly it was not intended by either in any ordinary religious sense. For both, it was a still-recognizable and critical seat of both mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present context, is that Freud explained his already-predicted decline of America by various express references to “soul.” Freud was plainly disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect and literature), and even thought that the crude American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and to material accomplishment at any cost would occasion sweeping psychological misery.

[22] “Sometimes,” says Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt, “the worst does happen.”

[23] “In the end,” says Goethe, “we are always creatures of our own making.”

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