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Looking Beyond Current Crises: American Policy, Global Chaos and Collective Will

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Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti’s Man Pointing extends his finger accusingly. But where is he pointing, where exactly, in what discernible direction and toward whom or what in particular? At one level, these are silly or unfair questions. Still, at another oft-ignored and more penetrating intellectual level, these same questions might represent fruitful queries.

Taken as metaphor, the presumed object of any such artistic “accusation” could prove well worth discovering.

 But why?

L’Homme au doigt, Alberto Giacometti

A preliminary answer must be made ready and available, reliably at hand. In principle, at least, this sort of artistic indirection could begin to lead us beyond the narrowly ad hominem assessments of day-to-day Washington gossip and beyond the usual appraisals of a largely rancorous interest. Conspicuously, it could give rise to assorted creative hypothesesabout world politics and collective survival.

Without such hypotheses or tentative scientific explanations, Americans – and especially their dissembling president – will continually fail to look anywhere beyond the “tip of the iceberg;” that is, behind the narrowly episodic daily news. That would mean, among other unwelcome outcomes: (1) experiencing endlessly incremental assaults by disjointed arguments and unhelpful gossip; and (2) not experiencing any authentically meaningful analytic learning .

Several serious issues are involved in this assessment. Any such prospectively lethal failure would prevent us from creating (3) a more tolerable system of international relations and (derivatively) (4) a more sustainable US foreign policy. Ultimately, this particularly intolerable kind of failure should be prevented at all costs.

Some pertinent observations are now plain and unassailable. Ideally, all of our national leaders should begin at the beginning. World politics, inter alia, is most immutably and consequentially a system.[1]

There is more. In all geopolitical struggles for power, everything is overlapping, intersecting or interpenetrating. For the United States, the critically  salient issues arising within these complex configurations are not ones of personality, party, partisanship or ideology. Rather, they are factors that reflect various broad-based aspects of a universal human behavior.

Such factors can be successfully challenged and managed, not by any usual manipulations of public sentiment (i.e., propaganda or “public relations”), but by more genuinely diligent applications of “mind.”

Always, truth is commendable, and not just “in principle.” Here, truth, exculpatory and self-fulfilling, can bestow multiple advantages. True, we are disturbingly far from displaying what American Transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson had once called “high thinking.” Nonetheless, depending upon specific assignments of meaning, or definition, we may still stand some reasonable chance of achieving a partial or residual “redemption.”

There is more. Before any mind or intellect-based rescues could be taken seriously, Americans will require more than distressingly shrill screams of collective encouragement[2] What will be required is a new-found or perhaps even resurrected respect for science and reason. To be sure, as current examples, Iranian nuclearization, North Korean threats, climate change and generally imperiled human survival are calculably real problems.

They are anything but “fake news.”

In essence, America’s increasingly perilous place in world politics can never be secured by a willfully anti-intellectual president, one who conspicuously loathes literally any dispassionate, and systematic approach to problem solving.

Conceptually, we will need to begin our pertinent analyses at the beginning. This means, among other things, with the individual human being, with the world system’s most readily recognizable and determinative microcosm. Quite plausibly, this “little world” is the authentic object of Swiss artist Giacometti’s tell-tale finger pointing.

Some obligations never change.

Accordingly, the singular individual represents the core foundation of all politics, whether national or global.

Always.

From the specific standpoint of the United States, the questions that most seriously bedevil foreign policy decision-making are not fundamentally about Trump, Putin, Assad, Erdogan, Kim Jung Un, China, Russia, the Middle East, immigration, aggression,[3] nuclear arms racing, nuclear war,[4] bipolarity vs. multipolarity,[5] barrier walls, elections, identifiable crimes or misdemeanors, etc. Intractably, these personalities and issues appear “up front” in our daily news summaries or appraisals – and are obviously of very great significance –  but they are still mere reflections of what is deeply underlying. While seemingly urgent in their own right, these distractions are the most visible “symptoms” of much more complex world system “pathologies.”

It is these underlying “diseases,” and not their multiple and tangible symptoms, that should now galvanize refined analytic attention.

As with any such carefully planned tasks, true learning must have its correct (and revered) place. In terms of classic western philosophy, we should think here of Plato’s long-famous parable of the cave, an instructive tale still told routinely to first year undergraduates in order to illustrate certain still-timeless life lessons. Most valuable here would be the core Platonic distinction between “reality” and variously dissembling “shadows” of reality.

There is a more than reasonable argument for offering such distinctions in present-day American society and politics.

“Art,” offered Pablo Picasso, “is a lie that can tell us the truth.” In this regard, certain elements of truth may still lie latent in the finger-pointing representations of Alberto Giacometti. Most significantly, these elements could reveal that the effective shape of global politics (the relevant macrocosm) is always contingent upon the flesh and blood expectations of singular or individual human beings.

 In other words, these singular individuals represent the pertinent but protean microcosm who must ultimately give both political activity and law[6] their calculable form.

In the end, all global politics – including the refractory and seat-of-the-pants foreign policies being fashioned by US President Donald Trump – must be recognized as reflective of something more expressly causal. This still-necessary recognition, in turn, must be based upon a more consciously theoretical[7] understanding of the specific wants and behaviors of human beings, either singly or as parts of some determinable “collective will.”[8] Indisputably, though the individual person is always the primal “microcosm” of any particular nation’s foreign policy decision-making, it is the collective expression of this microcosm that becomes sorely problematic and correspondingly subject to assorted forms of “misuse.”[9]

There is no shortage of apt examples. For appropriately historic and present-day instances, we may recall together the 1934 Nuremberg gatherings of the Third Reich and Donald Trump’s contemporary “rallies.” In examining each worrisome case, what matters most is not the specific content of any political speech, past or future, but rather the reassuringly common warmth of some surrounding “mass.” The fact that what is being rhythmically chanted at all such rancorous gatherings is plainly nonsense (Trump rallies) or overtly genocidal (Nuremberg rallies) is pretty much beside the point.

What truly matters here is that individual human thinking is no longer required (indeed, it generally becomes a despised object or an object of collective execration) and that individual responsibility can quickly be swallowed up in its entirety by a well- orchestrated “herd.”

“Intellect rots the brain,” said Third Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels in 1934.

“I love the poorly educated” said 2016 presidential candidate Donald J. Trump.

For the United States, adopting a more distinctly cosmopolitan orientation could help matters, but an antecedent question must first be posed and then correctly answered: From what available intellectual font could such an indispensable vision of human “oneness” actually be drawn? In an American nation encouraged by both its prevailing culture and its crushing politics to loath intellect (e.g., President Trump never reads a single book – any book), even the most vaunted universities are unlikely to offer some suitable platform for transformation.

It’s not bewildering. In today’s United States, even higher education has become commoditized. And commodities, as everyone is well aware, exist only to be bought and sold.

In these United States, it’s all about commerce –  not always for its own sake, but sometimes for the sake of individual self-esteem or what ordinary street hooligans would call “respect.”

The Talmud reminds us all: “The earth from which the first man was made was gathered in all the four corners of the world.” Yet, we are now left for policy guidance with only the skeletal structures of a desperately-needed cosmopolitanism, that is, with only the bitter residue of what is genuinely needed. This dissembling president, ignoring the vital presence of system, has a conveniently misleading name for this trickling residue of meaningful thought.

By ignoring that everything in world politics and global economics is interconnected, he disingenuously calls such posture “America First.”

Although cheerful and seemingly sensible, any zero-sum mantra is the manifestly negative fulfillment of a society that had once been able to take itself seriously. At its core, this slogan stands for declension, for the grim triumph of endless belligerence,[10] balance-of-power politics,[11]  expanding chaos[12] and a blindly destructive collective will.[13]

For the United States, there will likely be multiple injurious consequences. Left in place by an administration that continuously fails to acknowledge its most incorrigible failings, America First  (suddenly or incrementally) will injure our interests and ideals at the same time.[14] It follows that a non-theoretic American foreign policy premised upon illogical extrapolations and a perversely proud ethos of anti-thought would produce only negative outcomes.

In more expressly technical terms, we would call such unwelcome results “force-multiplying” or “synergistic.”

By definition, in these fully predictable outcomes, the “whole” of any national injury would be greater than the aggregated sum of its policy “parts.”

Plausibly, in the aftermath of these unacceptable outcomes, Alberto Giacometti’s accusing finger will not be retracted. Instead, it will point, convincingly, at all of us. But by then it will already be too late.

For Americans imperiled by a darkly corrosive collective will, intellect or “mind” must remain uniquely vital. Among other possible contributions, intellect could reveal certain generally hidden relationships between individual human death fears and a stubbornly antagonistic nationalism. In the nineteenth century, as part of his posthumously published lecture on Politics (1896), Heinrich von Treitschke had looked insightfully beyond the daily news. Citing to Johan Gottlieb Fichte, the German historian opined prophetically: “Individual man sees in his own country the realization of his earthly immortality.”

Fichte understood something here of uncommon (and incomparable) importance. It is that there can be no greater power on earth than power over death. Never.

Still earlier, correspondingly, the German philosopher Georg F. Hegel had commented famously: “The state is the march of God through the world.”[15]

These complicated insights are not at all easy to grasp (they are intended not for the many, but for the few), but they remain stunningly important nonetheless.

“Art is the lie,” says Pablo Picasso, “that lets us see the truth.” At its core, Alberto Giacometti’s Man Pointing offers a prospectively illuminating representation of isolation and alienation, a troubling image that could help to lead us toward much deeper human understandings of war, terrorism and “collective will.” Reciprocally, such understandings could produce more thoughtful and auspicious foreign policies than what is currently being fashioned both ex nihilo and ad hoc.

“Normally,” as Giacometti’s art hints obliquely, each individual person can feel empty and insignificant apart from membership in some sort of reassuring crowd. Sometimes, the sustaining crowd is the State. Sometimes, it is the Tribe. Sometimes, as with ISIS, Hezbollah or Hamas, it is, at least ostensibly, the Faith (always, of course, the “one true faith”). Sometimes, it is the self-proclaimed “Resistance Movement,” as in certain aptly similar examples of Fatah, Islamic Jihad or certain other present-day terror groups.

Whatever the particular aggrandizing crowd of the moment, it is largely a craving to belong that threatens fatal subversions of individual human responsibility, and, correspondingly, the commission of truly monumental crimes. The cumulatively lethal consequences of such cravings is a convulsive and sometimes orgasmic triumph of “collective will.” Often, the proximate cause of these unmanaged cravings is an expanding fear of “chaos”[16] in the persistently Westphalian state of nature.[17]

In each and every case, the triumph of an insidious collective will must be built upon an unhidden loathing of intellect or mind. Concretely, this is the sort of seat-of-the-pants decision-making celebrating (to use Donald Trump’s own words about US foreign policy processes) “attitude, not preparation.”

Art is a “lie” that may still help us to see more clearly. “Deconstructing” Giacometti’s emaciated figure, the outlines of a pragmatic conclusion may appear, either suddenly, as a riveting “bolt from the blue,” or gradually, in certain welcome increments. It could then prod informed analysis as follows:

 Unless we humans can finally learn how to temper our overwhelming and nearly-universal desire to belong at all costs, our recurrent military and political schemes to remedy war, terrorism and genocide will fail.

Without substantial augmentation by variously basic sorts of human transformation – namely, changes that could produce more expressly individualistic human beings – alltime-dishonored schemes for national security, collective security or collective defense will continue to be ineffectual.

They will remain pretty much beside the point.

They will have no helpful impact on reducing global chaos or the most grievously omnivorous forms of collective will.

Oddly enough, all this should finally be obvious. Foreign policy making requires some serious erudition. Yet, relevant learning must embrace much more than a wholly unprepared American president’s inclinations to snap back viscerally to assorted complex questions with appealingly shallow and simplistic phrases.

Before American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson had exhorted capable national governance by “high-thinking,” Thomas Jefferson, lacking both a computer and a smart-phone, still managed to read Grotius, Vattel, Pufendorf, Hobbes and Locke – together, significantly, the interwoven intellectual mainsprings of his Declaration of Independence. What does US President Donald Trump read or write?

The answer is as plain as it is incontestable. This particular answer should also be deeply humiliating; still, it is anything but that for many millions of the insistently malleable American “crowd.” The fact (unassailable) that tens of millions of Americans remain content with an effectively illiterate presidency is a symptom and reminder of a much deeper civilizational “pathology.” In possibly useful explanation, we may recall philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s unvarnished aphorism in Zarathustra: “When the throne sits on mud,” warned the 19th century German thinker, “mud sits on the throne.”

Where, today, is there any still-discernible intellectual life among the American people?

How many Americans have even any lingering acquaintance with the founding documents of the United States?

How many of our citizens expect their president to be even remotely familiar with the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution?[18]

How many Americans have ever bothered to look at such musty old documents themselves?

This president proudly introduced Duck Dynasty as keynote “speaker” at his nominating presidential convention.

This same president was recently described by US General (ret.) Michael Hayden, a former head of CIA, as “the useful idiot of Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

These are not trivial observations, nor are they being seriously disputed. Furthermore, can anyone still credibly maintain that Donald Trump has even a remote inkling of what is contained in the basic literatures of law, science or history? Do many (or any) really care that he obviously knows nothing of importance, and most conspicuously wants to know nothing? Shouldn’t Americans reasonably expect, as an utterly bare minimum, a president who reads something, anything?

“In the market place,” reminds Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, “nobody believes in higher men.”

US President Donald Trump came to the White House by way of the “market place.” For him, the self-demeaning world of bargaining and bullying was not just the only world he had ever known; it also represented the only world he had ever wanted to know. For his still numerous supporters, the presumed benefits of  belonging to the Trump “crowd” outweigh the harder-to-measure costs of American collective insecurity.

Observed Sigmund Freud: “Fools, visionaries, sufferers from delusions, neurotics, and lunatics have played great roles at all times in the history of mankind, and not merely when the accident of birth had bequeathed them sovereignty.”

Nietzsche had longed openly for a world “beyond Good and Evil.” Freud, who preferred the term “primal horde” to Nietzsche’s “herd,” sought steadfastly to identify a habitat in which this longed-for transcendence might have sometime been applied. His discovery turned out to be his own “lived-in” world, one where Eros was not allowed to play any unifying role, and reinforced baneful or “narcissistic” identifications with an always- terrorizing mass.[19]

“The crowd,” observed the 19th century Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, “is untruth.” Nowhere has this seminal observation remained more stubbornly correct than politics, both national and global. To be fair, not every human crowd or herd or mass need be insidious or destructive. Still, ominously ongoing crimes of war, crimes against peace and crimes against humanity could never take place in the absence of such primal or even primordial manifestations of collective will.

Whenever individuals join together and form a crowd or herd or mass, certain latently destructive dynamics of mob psychology become available. Among other things, this fateful combining of “membership” with destructiveness lowers each affected person’s ethical and intellectual level to a point where even the most monstrous crimes can quickly become acceptable. In the case of insistently barbarous groups, rabidly murderous behavior is not merely agreeable to the membership. It is also deeply welcome, satisfying and sometimes even palpably lascivious.

However unseemly, this behavior offers a continuous source of ghastly collective celebrations and excruciatingly private ecstasies.

On the surface, ongoing brutalities in our dissembling world order represent fragmenting struggles between warring herds. These herds, in turn, are the “natural” product of various underlying individual human needs to belong. Such critical needs are themselves derived from the most primary human want of all. This, our national leaders must finally learn to understand, is the generally unquenchable human yearning for immortality.[20]

It goes without saying that any such difficult understanding still lies far beyond the ken of our current national leaders.

What else ought we to expect from an American president who celebrates “attitude, not preparation?”

Understood as “pathology,” our steadily growing global chaos remains only a symptom. But, as an aesthetic start to more promising and enduring national policy solutions, Giacometti’s Man Pointing may be taken as an imaginative signpost of what is most determinative in spawning war, terrorism and genocide. Sooner or later, what is deteriorating on this fragile planet will need to be “fixed” at the most “molecular” level of conflict; that is, at the ever-needful level of each individual human being.

In the end, there can be no guarantees that even more deeply thoughtful analyses of global politics could be made “operational.” Still, unless we begin to acknowledge the ubiquity and core importance of individual human longings for membership (belonging) and immortality (power over death), America’s most critical foreign policies will inevitably fail.

If, however, this crowd-oriented country could begin to place greater emphases on intellect and learning, our collective survival odds would improve correspondingly.

To make any country “great again” in isolation represents a shamelessly misconceived objective, if only because virtually all countries – including the United States – have just a partial or dubious “greatness” to revive. The only legitimate US goal, therefore, must be to make the entire world system more tolerable for all of its interdependent inhabitants. The pertinent Talmudic message here is not new. But as a conspicuous reminder: “The earth from which the first man was made was gathered in all the four corners of the world.”

America’s unavoidable task can be accomplished only after we begin to search for useable meaning and truth well beyond the daily news. Giacometti’s emaciated figure points not only at world leaders of one generation or another, but more widely at millennia of individual and collective human error. Without a willingness to finally understand the rudimentary human bases of America’s “collective will,” such evident disregard for intellect or “mind” could produce once-unimaginable levels of chaos.

By definition, therefore, such a primary willingness is now indispensable.


[1] In this connection, recall the unchallengeable observation of Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man: “The existence of `system’ in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature, no matter whom….”

[2] Such “democratic” screams would no doubt have horrified the Founding Fathers of the United States. Nurtured by the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and the religion of John Calvin, the Fathers began their Constitutional deliberations with the core notion that an American citizen must inevitably be an unregenerate being who has to be continually and strictly controlled. Fearing democracy as much as any form of leadership tyranny, Elbridge Gerry spoke openly of democracy as “the worst of all political evils,” while William Livingston opined: “The people have been and ever will be unfit to retain the exercise of power in their own hands.” George Washington, as presiding officer at the Constitutional Convention, sternly urged delegates not to produce a document to “please the people,” while Alexander Hamilton – made newly famous by the currently popular Broadway musical – expressly charged America’s government “to check the imprudence of any democracy.”

[3] For the crime of aggression under international law, see: Resolution on the Definition of Aggression, adopted by the UN General Assembly, Dec. 14, 1974. U.N.G.A. Res. 3314 (XXIX), 29 UN GAOR, Supp (No. 31), 142, UN Doc A/9631 (1975) reprinted in 13 I.L.M., 710 (1974).

[4] For authoritative early accounts by this author of nuclear war 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).

[5] For earlier but still useful comparisons of polarity in world politics, by this author, See: Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Reliability of Alliance Commitments,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4, December 1972, pp. 702-710; Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Tragedy of the Commons,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 4, December 1973, pp. 649-658; and Louis René Beres, “Guerillas, Terrorists, and Polarity: New Structural Models of World Politics,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 27, No.4., December 1974, pp. 624-636.

[6] This includes international law or the law of nations. such law remains a “vigilante” system, or “Westphalian” law. The historic reference here is to the Peace Of Westphalia (1648), which concluded the Thirty Years War, and created the now still-existing decentralized, or self-help, state system. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia.

[7] “Theory is a net,” observes the German poet Novalis, “and only those who cast, can catch.” This apt metaphor was embraced by philosopher of science Karl Popper as the epigraph to his classic Logic of Scientific Discovery (1934).

[8] In modern philosophy, the evident origin of this useful term lies in Arthur Schopenhauer’s writings, especially The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration (and by his own expressed acknowledgment), Schopenhauer drew freely upon Goethe. Later, Nietzsche drew just as freely (and perhaps still more importantly) upon Schopenhauer. Significantly, Goethe also served as a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, author of the prophetic work, The Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas (1930). See, accordingly, Ortega’s very grand essay, “In Search of Goethe from Within” (1932), written for Die Neue Rundschau of Berlin on the occasion of the centenerary of Goethe’s death. It is reprinted in Ortega’s anthology, The Dehumanization of Art (1948), and is available from Princeton University Press (1968).

[9]https://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://search.yahoo.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1151&context=ilr

[10] This brings to mind the closing query of Agamemnon in The Oresteia by Aeschylus: “Where will it end? When will it all be lulled back into sleep, and cease, the bloody hatreds, the destruction”?

[11] The concept of a balance of power – an idea of which the nuclear-age balance of terror is a  more recent variant – has never been more than a facile metaphor. Further, it has never had anything to do with any calculable equilibrium. As such a balance is always a matter of individual and more-or-less subjective perceptions, adversary states may never be sufficiently confident that strategic circumstances are “balanced” in their favor. In consequence, as each side must perpetually fear  that it will be “left behind,” the search for balance continually produces wider insecurity and disequilibrium.

[12] Although composed in the seventeenth century, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan still offers an illuminating vision of chaos in world politics. Says the English philosopher in Chapter XIII, “Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery:”  During chaos, a condition which Hobbes identifies as a “time of War,”  it is a time “…where every man is Enemy to every man… and where the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” At the time of writing, Hobbes believed that the condition of “nature” in world politics was less chaotic than that same condition existing among individual human beings -because of what he called the “dreadful equality” of individual men in nature being able to kill others – but this once-relevant differentiation has effectively disappeared with the global spread of nuclear weapons.

[13] Consider, in this regard, the relevant observation of 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.”

[14] Says Emmerich de Vattel, in his The Law of Nations (1758),  “The first general law, which is to be found in the very end of the society of Nations, is that each Nation should contribute as far as it can to the happiness and advancement of other Nations.”

[15] In more complete citation: “The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth….We must therefore worship the State as the manifestation of the Divine on earth, and consider that, if it is a difficult to comprehend Nature, it is harder to grasp the Essence of the State….The State is the march of God through the world….” See: See: Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, as quoted by Karl R Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, 4th ed., 2 vols. (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963), vol. 2, p. 31.

[16] Ironically, whether described in the Old Testament or in other sources of ancient Western thought, chaos is as much a source of human betterment as of declension. In essence, it is that which prepares the world for all things, both sacred and profane. Further, as its conspicuous etymology reveals, chaos represents the yawning gulf or gap wherein nothing is as yet, but also where all civilizational opportunity must inevitably originate. Appropriately, the great German poet Hölderlin observed: “There is a desert sacred and chaotic which stands at the roots of the things and which prepares all things.” Even in the pagan ancient world, the Greeks thought of such a desert as logos, which indicates to us that it was presumed to be anything but starkly random or without conceivable merit.

[17] Apropos of Thomas Hobbes’ argument that the state of nature is worse among individuals than among states, the philosopher Spinoza suggested that “…a commonwealth can guard itself against being subjugated by another, as a man in the state of nature cannot do.” See: A.G. Wernham, ed., The Political Works, Tractatus Politicus, iii, II; Clarendon Press, 1958, p. 295.

[18] We may usefully recall here Jean Jacques Rousseau’s timeless warning about intellectual responsibility in his The Social Contract: “I warn the reader that this essay requires to be read very seriously, and that I am unacquainted with any art which can make the subject clear to those who will not bestow on it their serious attention.”

[19] Freud was always darkly pessimistic about the United States, which he felt was “lacking in soul” and was  a place of great psychological misery or “wretchedness.” In a letter to Ernest Jones, Freud declared unambiguously: “America is gigantic, but it is a gigantic mistake.” (See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (1983), p. 79.

[20] The Spanish existentialist philosopher, Miguel de Unamuno (Tragic Sense of Life, 1921) has called it “the hunger for immortality.”

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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Americas

Weakness or calculation? How the pandemic undermined the US world leadership

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Anyone watching the numerous doomsday movies, happily churned out by Hollywood, will see American doctors saving the planet from space-borne viruses and the plague epidemic that turn people into zombies. However, the very first serious test in a decade has shown that the US healthcare system is actually inferior even to the Russian one, created during the Cold War years. And this despite the fact, that for the past 30 years, the Russian medical system has been suffering from “optimizations,” cuts and underfunding. Moreover, while the Kremlin, even for propaganda reasons, has managed to provide real assistance to a number of European countries, and has been the first to launch a vaccine on the market, Washington’s actions can be regarded as a sign of weakness, and a very dangerous one to its allies at that.

More than a year after the start of the global lockdown, we can already sum up the initial results, which look disappointing to Washington. The US healthcare system has collapsed under the pressure, thus laying bare the country’s inability to bring the outbreak of a less-than-deadly disease under control. As for Russia, despite its lack of America’s vast resources, it still managed to win the vaccine race and become the first to come up with a viable antidote.

More importantly, Moscow has also come out on top in the information “war” with the West, with its Sputnik V vaccine proving to have far fewer side effects than its Pfizer and Moderna counterparts. Therefore, the US and British lobbying of their own vaccines, and their attempts to close the European market for the Russian vaccine look unethical, to say the least, all the more so amid numerous European media reports about people having  died from side effects after being inoculated with Western vaccines. At the same time, there are simply no reports about similar complications caused by the Russian vaccine, even though the European Commission and Brussels have been keeping a close eye on the effects of its use in European countries, including Serbia and Hungary, which have already taken the first deliveries of the Sputnik V vaccine.

What is the reason for the US demonstrating its weakness? How come that in the midst of the epidemic Washington was unable to find the resources to demonstrate its readiness to lend a helping hand to its European allies? Unfortunately, one of the reasons was that the Americans simply freaked out. The truth is, the US healthcare system is rather decentralized and unorganized. People with good health insurance have little to worry about. However, in a situation of a pandemic, the US medical facilities are pretty hard to manage, so one has to do it manually. Compounded by the general atmosphere of panic and the fact that the poorest strata of society, who have no health insurance and constitute the main risk zone (obesity due to malnutrition, advanced chronic diseases and other COVID-inducing conditions), the system simply collapsed. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Trump administration tried to keep maximum resources at home. Moreover, the businessman-turned-president, who had openly spoken about “exporting security,” never missed a chance to make it clear to his allies that US assistance is never free. As a result, he was replaced by Biden, a Democrat who advocates maximum support for all democratic forces. However, Democrats usually provide moral or military support, but they have proved equally unprepared to line up any serious assistance to the countries hit the hardest by the pandemic.

Moreover, it was actually at the suggestion of the United States and the UK that the COVAX system, a global initiative aimed at providing equitable (but not free) access to COVID-19 vaccines for countries in need, stalled. It turned out (who might have guessed?) that both the US-developed Moderna and the British AstraZeneca vaccines are primarily needed by their own electorates, and only then by countries that need them, but are unable to produce their own vaccine. Meanwhile, India with a population of over 1 billion, managed to fulfill its obligations, and Russia is ready to launch the production of vaccines in Europe. However, bending under Washington’s pressure, the European Union has banned the import of Russian, Indian and Chinese vaccines, without bothering to explain the reasons for this ban.

A country, claiming world domination cannot lead in everything, of course.  Therefore, it is not surprising that the healthcare systems of many European countries, like Sweden and Switzerland, are way better that what they now have in the United States. That being said, the world leader still bears full responsibility for its allies and cannot leave them to their own devices, not only in the event of a military conflict, but also in the midst of a pandemic. However, this is exactly what it did…

From our partner International Affairs

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The legacy of 2020, and 2021 in the prospects of the United States and China

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image source: cnn.com

2020 was a crucial year because of Covid-19, which disrupted the evolution of the world order in the direction of differentiation and transformation. This is the most severe crisis the human world has faced since the Second World War.

As of 10 May 2021, According to the Hopkins University Global New Crown Epidemic Statistics Report, as of May 10, 2021 there have been 158,993,826 confirmed cases worldwide and 3,305,018 deaths.

The pandemic is like a fatal global social test. On the basis of a world order that has already undergoing a crisis, it has not only caused a pause and thus a deceleration of economic development, but it has also stepped up social division and the transfer of power from the political to the technical sphere.

Although the most experienced analysts and leading research institutions have published various reports, currently none of them can accurately predict in detail the huge impact of the pandemic on the history of the 21st century.

The pandemic, however, will bring about major changes in four areas.

Firstly, it will accelerate the general trend of global economic recession and differentiation. This is due to the currency over-issue policies adopted by several countries and to intensified domestic social polarisation. Since 2018 the global economic and financial crisis has not yet been solved. On the contrary, the crisis has only been concealed by the short-term response of monetary policy.

Secondly, the pandemic will speed up internal changes and the reorganisation of the international political and economic order precisely due to internal social differentiation. Owing to the turbulent influence of domestic and international policies, economic and political risks in fragile regions of the world will intensify or have knock-on effects.

Thirdly, the pandemic will strengthen the digital society and competition between countries in building new technologies will become more intense. The most significant impact of digital society is the silent arrival of a transparent society that exists but has no human contacts.

Fourthly, the pandemic promotes the rise of vaccine nationalism and accelerates the revival of the community value of East Asian countries, which has epochal significance from the perspective of the history of world civilisation.

The most influential political and economic event in 2020 was the US elections and the related change of Administration. The US elections represented the sharpest but also the most frustrating change in US history. Although Donald Trump lost the election, 74,216,154 citizens voted for the outgoing President.

For the United States, the change in direction cannot be seen as the advent of a resolute and determined policy along one single line, as the basic reality of the highly divided American society was not changed, but indeed strengthened due to the general election. The huge impact promoted the spread of political violence and protests in the United States.

Source: The US Crisis Monitor, Bridging Divides Initiative, Princeton School of Public and International Affairs’, Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination.

First of all, Donald Trump lost the election, but the spectre of Trumpism has remained in the United States and even in Europe, which is generally not conducive to advancing the strategy of developing relations with China.

Secondly, the “antagonism” of the US strategy towards China has not changed radically. Trump hadopened a political-economic dispute with China. Itisparticularlynoteworthythat the younger generation of the Republican leadership isgraduallybecominghostile and negative towards China, and exertsgreatinfluence in Congress.Thisdoesnotfavours world peace.

Thirdly, if this attitude is not contained, it will lead to negative long-term impacts between high-tech decoupling and ideological competition. Finally, China’s policy towards the United States has been perfected and refined: although the government is still adopting a wait-and-see attitude, the voice of seeking cooperation and being rational and pragmatic is still the mainstream in China.

Besides the issue that China will reduce its dependence on the world and increase world’s dependence on China itself, China will reduce its dependence on traditional growth models and increase its care for social, green and environmental sustainability.

The year 2021 is proving that the focus of the analysis of global political and economic trends will still be competition between China and the United States. President Biden’s Administration still regards China as its main strategic competitor, but the methods of addressing the issue are quite different from those of Trump’s Administration. The main difference lies in the fact that President Biden focuses on solving domestic problems and does not exclude the most important issues with China.

President Biden’s Administration has adapted its strategy for China as the influence of major lobbies and interest groups – such as the US finance and military industry – on policy is constant compared to the previous Administration. Nevertheless, the Chinese factor in the chain of global interests keeps higher levels.

Indeed, voices from both parties in the US Congress calling for curbing China’s rise are also increasing.

In short, in terms of China’s policy direction, President Biden’s Administration is expected to oppose a trade war because it harms the core interests of the US business community. However, there are likely to be problems for Taiwan, Xianggang (Hong Kong), Xinjiang Weiwu’er (Uyghur), South China Sea, Xizang (Tibet), as well as other issues.

The possibility of renewed trade negotiations between China and the United States is expected to increase significantly in the future and the US strategy of constructive competition will be reformed.

Regardless of changes in Sino-US relations, China will certainly promote greater bilateral and multilateral investment cooperation, while seeking new development and shaping new models of cooperation.

The key areas which are currently the most important and noteworthy are, firstly, China’s joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and seeking to adhere to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which shows that China’s top leadership has decided to continue the reform strategy of internal and external promotion.

The RCEP is a free trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific region between the ten States of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Brunei, Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) and five of their free trade partners: Australia, China, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Japan and New Zealand. These Member States account for approximately 30% of world’s population and GDP, thus making it the largest trading bloc.

The CPTPP, instead, is a draft regional investment and regulatory treaty in which negotiations, until 2014, twelve Pacific and Asian countries participated: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the USA and Vietnam.

Indeed, between the RCEP and the CPTPP, there is not only the interconnection of the industrial chain and commonality -and more reasons for unity than differences – but also the influence of great powers’ strategic factors.

The main difference between the two is that the CPTPP has higher economic quality requirements, while the RECP is more inclusive. Secondly, the China-EU trade and investment agreement is likely to be signed, which has clear short-term interests for Europe and long-term strategic interests for China. China, however, still needs to take a cautious attitude towards European policy and its legal systems based on double standards. Thirdly, China and Russia are strengthening comprehensive strategic cooperation and there will be new opportunities for their cooperation in the energy and military sectors.

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Why Congress should be rough on Chris Miller at his testimony on Wednesday

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FBI director Chris Wray’s weak congressional testimony in March left most of the Capitol attack questions unanswered and most of us scratching our heads: if the chiefs of the intelligence agencies don’t know, then who does?

As I argued back in March, before Senate Wray picked the low hanging fruit questions — such as confirming that the Trump mob that stormed the Capitol was indeed Trump’s mob and not some other people — while conviniently glazing over the real questions.

This is why the congressional testimony by former acting Secretary of Defense, Chris Miller, this Wednesday matters. The national guard mystery is still the elephant in the room that’s still sitting in the corner in loud, deafening silence.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee has been looking for answers from federal intelligence agencies on Trump’s role in the Capitol insurrection since day one. They have knocked on pretty much any door they could think of, requesting information from sixteen offices in total. That brings us to Wednesday when the Committee will hear from Chris Miller, as well as Jeff Rosen, former acting Attorney General, and Robert Contee III, District of Columbia Police Chief, in a hearing titled “The Capitol Insurrection: Unexplained Delays and Unanswered Questions.”

Back in March, when Senate grilled Wray, the FBI director could not answer why the national guard was not sent in to quell the attack. Wray vaguely put the decision on local policy makers, conveniently circumventing federal responsibility.

Then months later, defense officials actually stated that the national guard was delayed for reasons of “optics” and worries over how it would look if Trump’s mob was pushed out forcefully, as they should’ve been. Miller dragged his feet for hours before giving the green light, as he wanted to imagine what exactly the national guard’s intervention will look like. The actual deployment took only 20 minutes, logistically speaking.

Miller has already spoken about Trump’s “cause and effect” words responsible for inciting the Capitol attacks. And some commentators like Sarah Burris at Raw Story already predict that Miller is about to throw Trump under the bus on Wednesday.

But that’s not enough. Where was Miller back then? The delay was his decision and no one else’s. The Congressmen and Congresswomen of the House Oversight and Reform Committee chaired by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, should not go easy on Miller only because now, after the fact, he is willing to speak up against Trump. Now it’s easy. Now it doesn’t count.

Trump removed Secretary of Defense Esper over his objection to sending the national guard on the Black Lives Matter movement that sparked up exactly one year ago. That’s why Trump replaced Esper with Miller. Miller could have also said no to Trump but he played along. That’s why Miller doesn’t get to play hero now. There are no heroes in the Trump Administration’s aftermath. Some “cause and effect” talk and hypocritical outrage after the fact don’t count. Now doesn’t count. The House Oversight and Reform Committee shouldn’t buy this. The time for cheap spins and late awakened conscience is up. Now is the time for real answers. Miller and Rosen should get a rough ride on Wednesday. Anything else would not be acceptable.

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