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A South American NATO?

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With the rise to power of President Bolsonaro in Brazil, there is often talk about the granting of military bases to the United States army on the soil of the South American country, and possible concertation between the two states in war and strategic affairs. The dream of a united Latin America, which was interpreted at the beginning of the 21st century above all on the economic level, thanks to institutions such as MERCOSUR, has however strong political implications. The rift that seems to open up in Latin America between very different integrative tendencies, such as in the function of an autonomy from North America, such as with it, is likely to redesign the political scenario for the years to come. The main carrier of a possible pan-American integration with the United States seems to be, therefore, a strategic and military one. There is no doubt, however, that whatever the future developments will be, either one way or another, they will focus on the development of a supranational dimension.

As we know, Brazil has always been one of the leading countries in the process of political integration and unification of Latin America. Its history, its extension and its economic capacity are one of the reasons why it has always been a very important element within the regional scenario. Its effect, in this sense, is also evidenced by the existence in the 19th century of the Empire of Brazil, which then also included Uruguay. The nature of Brazil, which covers a large part of the continent, is that of a large state – not by chance federal – projected like all the great contemporary states towards the future of large political and spatial aggregations. Today, states of this type are the USA, the People’s Republic of China and Russia, demonstrating the importance of geographical dimensions in this particular historical context in which the globalization of goods, finance and human movements puts sovereignty of the small countries to the test.

Latin America has always had unification as its implicit goal. This was the “big dream” of Simón Bolivar, the necessary outcome of the process of liberating the continent from the European colonial presence. The myth of Bolivarianism has long fueled the political narratives of Latin American countries, and still remains unchanged today in its prominent symbolic significance. To date, it is Venezuela governed by the United Socialist Party to make it a political flag, the same Venezuela that Bolivar was able to consider “a barracks”. Specifically, the phrase attributed to el libertador Bolivar was that “Ecuador is a convent, Colombia is a university and Venezuela is a barracks”. This phrase, which reflected the dimension of unity that the commander of the liberation process imagined for Latin America, also stresses another fundamental point concerning the importance of mastering large geopolitical spaces. That is, the diversification of the roles attributed to the controlled regions, for the maintenance of autarky of a super-State.

Of course, in order to guarantee a vast territorial unity, if this has not been conquered with iron and fire, at least a certain cohesion of intent is required given by ideological proximity. This ideological proximity was given, for a certain period of time, by a major political project, launched in 2004, which represented a very important guideline for South American concerted political planning. Here, we are talking about UNASUR, the intergovernmental organization born of twelve South American nations, which joined the already existing MERCOSUR, the common market of Latin America.

The history of these types of unification, or even before that of regional trade, has in many ways been similar to that of the European Union, which has inspired UNASUR. As in Europe, this process began with trade, starting from the coal and steel sectors, to prevent interstate frictions such as those that had led to world conflicts. In Latin America, in the contemporary age, we can also glimpse the process of rapprochement between states in its early stages in projects such as LAFTA, launched in 1960. This project took full advantage of the knowledge developed over the past few decades on the importance of economies of scale, a principle deeply studied in the era of Fordism and which had guided pre-war European conceptualizations on the need for a continental union. Another ancestor of MERCOSUR, contemporary to LAFTA, can be considered the Common Market of Central America. LAFTA subsequently evolved into LAIA, just as the European Coal and Steel Community changed into various subjects before reaching the European Union as we know it.

In this process, which promoted greater political cohesion through the liberation of market forces internal to the continent, as also suggested by the functionalist school for European integration, the pre-eminent role – together with that of Argentina – was that of Brazil. Relations between these two countries have begun to bind even more, as many scholars note, with the common return to democracy. This occurred in a transformed framework of the political models that were being proposed in Latin America, testifying to the importance of the element of cultural proximity and of the aims, if not exactly of ideological coincidence:

“In the first half of the 1980s, the commonality of perceptions in the two countries facilitated dialogue and understanding. These commonalities came from a varied set of political, economic, technological, and security factors, which displayed their effects and consequences on the internal as well as the international plane. In the political sphere, democratic consolidation and relations with the United States were prominent on the agenda. Reacquired democratic status was arguably the most powerful factor of convergence between Argentina and Brazil. […] Increasing competition on the world markets and the decline of the development models adopted under the military administrations provided Argentina and Brazil with additional reasons to look at each other as potentially close partners.” [1]

This clearly had as a compensation, in the same period, also certain global economic trends, which corresponded very specifically to those guidelines that established the need for south-south trade in a context of market transformation. This characterized the international scenario for a long time:

“The United States and the European Economic Community (EEC), two traditional markets for Argentine and Brazilian goods, increased protectionism, targeting both agricultural produce and manufactured goods. Furthermore, these industrialized countries accompanied protectionism with export incentives to facilitate national producers’ competitiveness in third markets. This situation was a stimulus to forms of South-South cooperation in two ways. First, the search for new markets reinforced the Latin American orientation of Argentina and Brazil and induced them to look at each other’s market. Second, suffering from the same setbacks and complications in the world trade, the two countries coalesced in defence of their common interests within multilateral economic arenas.” [2]

These trends were clearly consolidated with a changed system of international relations set by the end of the bipolar opposition between the US and the USSR, but the prodromes were clearly antecedent and could also be traced in the economic level. However, even the experience that Latin America had of the Cold War was reflected in the search for a common paradigm for a new world phase. These thrusts could not fail to be influential in the approach of regional state institutions. A whole series of pieces were forming in a framework that led, in the 21st century, to the founding of UNASUR. This framework is that of the BRICS project, which, from a meeting table between emerging economies, has been able to propose its own precise idea of coexistence and political concertation [3]. This line also ran counter to the development model hypothesized by the West after the end of the Cold War, setting new working hypotheses [4]. Once again, the economic structural outline and ideological synthesis met.

“Given that economic growth rates among emerging powers (principally China) have been consistently higher than those in the core over the past decade, it seems that we are witnessing a process of deconcentration of economic power. Applying this analysis to the BRICS, it is telling that what contributed to the success of the first meetings is a common discontent with the distribution of institutional power in the international system and interest in changing it and solving the “mismatch” between the distribution of institutional power and the distribution of actual power. The desire to revise the current distribution of power has thus been one of the powerful shapers of the BRICS identity and a key motivation for the grouping’s creation.” [5]

Within this conceptual culture broth, a renewed interest in regional integrations has developed, following a first genetic phase (the Bolivarian one), a second in the second post-war period and a third due to changes in the economic paradigms of the eighties. To date, we are still in this phase in the face of a whole series of needs that are imposed by globalization and at the same time by new technologies.

UNASUR was the result of this type of approach, adding a fundamental political determinant to an area of economic exchange that seemed – at that point – to be no longer enough. One of the reasons for its genesis is indeed to be found in the fact that “China, India and other emerging economies are making profound changes in the international economic scenario, opening up new sources of development and opportunities for the countries of Latin America” [6].

The countries that took part in this project were united by this neo-democratic, continentalist and counter-hegemonic dimension while being in opposition to the previous world para-subordination arrangements [7]. From this came a solid relationship of collaboration. To better specify the mechanics of this type of aggregation we can think, for example, of ALBA, another body which on the one hand aims to bring together the socialist and social-democratic countries of Latin America. Its political neighbourhoods are self-evident, on the other proceeds to greater integration with UNASUR for the guiding principles previously stated.

“ALBA and Unasur have added a new dimension to South-South cooperation and post-hegemonic regionalism via the creation of stable channels for social movement participation in regionalism, alternative media outlets, anti-corporate development enterprises and autonomous pharmaceutical industries, development banks, and a mechanism of asymmetric military cooperation.” [8]

Clearly, this type of collaboration in order to move towards integration must also and above all consider the military dimension. This is favoured by the fact that Brazil is “the only major arms producer and exporter in Latin America [and therefore promoted] the development of its military industry, and greater cooperation and integration of companies in the sector throughout the region” [9] . In this regard, the South American Defense Council was designed. This body, which currently has a consultative value, was born under the tutelary deities of Brazil and Venezuela in 2008, and its purpose was – in addition to the exchange of information and consultations in the defence field – to create joint commands [10], on the model of what NATO is in Western Europe. Not surprisingly, this project has also been named South American NATO.

“The Brazilian initiative and the […] creation of this South American Defense Council cannot be released from the proposal made by President Chavez in 2003 to create a South Atlantic Treaty Organization (OTAS) or “South American NATO”, or to establish a military alliance based on ALBA […]. Again, the initiatives of the South American Security Council seem to confirm the strategy followed by this country with relations with Venezuela, “regionalizing” and “South Americanizing” the proposals of President Chavez. That is, by bringing it back to forms that are compatible with Brazil’s regional leadership strategy and promoting viable consensus by incorporating the interests of other countries, and by limiting the most radical edges of Chavismo. This also allows to achieve two objectives of Brazil which in another form would be incompatible: on the one hand, gradually remove the political and military influence of the United States in the region, and maintain cordial relations with the superpower, placing Brazil, as “moderate country”, in the position of a mediator and preferential interlocutor for the external actors of the region.” [11]

Moreover, this structure is located on a line of continuity with respect to the long process of South American integration. It has, as an ancestor the Congress of Panama of 1826 and, among other things, aims to organize a regional army of 60 000 people [12]. However, if “from a geopolitical-economy perspective, defence and military cooperation is the sine qua non of multi-polarization” [13], it must be said that this process of multi-polarization, which is taking place in these post-Cold War decades, is not entirely clear or unambiguous. Given that it would be correct to identify the current phase as a polycentric moment, in which the structures are being redefined in the light of a change in the power relations, it is, therefore, necessary to realize two very important elements. These elements allow us to understand the present with appropriate tools: the first is that, in this phase, it is not possible to compete or at least survive without the political and economic disposition of vast territorial spaces; the second is that the lines of demarcation are not as clear as many exponents of purely theoretical geopolitics based on ethnological or cultural aspects want us to believe. Add to this how several different narratives can be conflicting in relation to these phenomena.

We talked previously about Bolivar’s dream, but this was not the only Pan-American unification project. Another direction, set by the United States of America on other bases, was that of the Monroe Doctrine. The latter envisaged not so much a federal unity of American states (on the model of what had been created by the Founding Fathers in North America itself), as the idea that the affairs of the western hemisphere were the affairs of the US. His motto was “America to Americans” [14], and it was a way of excluding the powers of the Old Continent from that geographical space.

This concept, according to which there existed a western hemisphere which represented an area in itself with respect to Europe, in its essential foundation was no different from Bolivar’s ideas. American republicanism (northern and southern) was often born on very similar cultural grounds and did not make a Simón Bolivar very different from a George Washington. Clearly, it was the historical turn dictated by some structures of the economy and the power relations that profoundly changed the aspect of the matter, in a century that produced, among other things, redistributions of power within North America, as evidenced by the Civil War [15]. On the other hand, the other side of the Monroe Doctrine was the so-called “gunboat policy”. This policy allowed North America to guarantee its interests by ingesting in the internal politics of Latin American countries through the use of coastal bombing.

All things considered, it is clear that the organization of differences through structures such as UNASUR, with its necessary military sector of the South American Security Council, is one of the folds that international politics could have taken, but not the only one. Still, it is the only one that has been investigated and attempted with some consistency so far.

To reorganize integrative projects of any kind, on any organizational basis, which is not UNASUR, however, it is clear that a different ideological discourse becomes necessary that can guarantee certain credibility for its purposes, or at least counterbalance the previous discourse. An image seems to have re-emerged in the last period, without having perfectly organized itself into a coherent discourse. This is due to the change in political orientation that many Latin American countries have experienced in the latter period.

If the forces that guided the integrative process were basically of a so-called “progressive” extraction, ranging from social democracy to Bolivarian nationalism, to indigenous socialism, a whole series of profound political changes brought to power heterogeneous political forces. However, these tend to be positioned on the right-wing. This is clearly an extremely reductionist description, which uses categories (such as right and left) whose sense in many ways is running out, as well as many issues (nationalism is one of them), are widely transversal in the political discourse of opposite fronts, although of course, they decline it differently. In addition, where some of these groups came to power through the representative democratic process, others – as in Bolivia – have obtained the levers of command in an unorthodox manner.

Nonetheless, these new command groups are demonstrating that they are pursuing other projects than those brought into play by previous administrations. Once again, the leading country for this transformation is Brazil. With the election of its new president, Jair Bolsonaro, many elements previously taken for granted in the country and in Latin America have been called into question.

Jair Bolsonaro was trained in the ranks of the army, and for this very reason, he understands how the military element can be, under certain conditions, an important driver of politics. Especially if, as mentioned in the lines above, this serves as the engine of the approach and integration processes. Bolsonaro, who previously distinguished himself for political campaigns marked by the opposition to the privatizations of sectors of the public economy, simultaneously transformed his political-economic ideas for the benefit of a neoliberal line in open conflict with the model of the previous governments of the Labor Party. It is implicit how certain economic schemes correspond to as many geopolitical positions, given the stormy past of the region during the Cold War, including guerrillas, coups, attempts at external interference such as Operation Condor.

If the intent of UNASUR was to fundamentally counter-hegemonic with respect to a certain type of dominance that the United States could exercise in the region [16], the intentions of the new South American governments seem to be different.

It is necessary to understand the reasons why Bolsonaro believes it is essential for Brazil, at this historical moment, to leave UNASUR, despite the country being the most important pivot of both the regional integration process and inter-state cooperation, thanks to its history and its specific weight. The path of UNASUR, which Bolsonaro has scaled down to an invention by Hugo Chavez, without clearly considering neither the role played by Brazil and Argentina within it nor the long previous integrative history, at the moment it is indeed in strong crisis. In 2019, in fact, under the aegis of Chile and Colombia, the Forum for the Progress and Development of South America, abbreviated as Prosur, was born. The latter, which was born in open competition with the institutions of UNASUR, adopts the cardinal principles of the free market and “liberal democracy”. A slogan that even President Bolsonaro has rediscovered.

This rearrangement, however, is not only represented by Prosur, to which Brazil has not yet officially adhered: this arrangement has another face and itis not merely diplomatic. Jair Bolsonaro has, in fact, proposed an unusual and unexpected work hypothesis in the military. In a 2019 interview with STB, the President of Brazil said very clearly that he was interested in providing military bases to the United States of America, in relation to the new Brazilian primacy policy in Latin America and the fact that – apparently – the United States is developing the plan to position itself in more strategic points on the continent. For its part, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated how Brazil and other South American countries should join this alliance.

“Trump and the new Brazilian president went along very well when they first met in Washington, Bolsonaro repeating his offer for a strategic partnership with the US, Trump speaking about the advantages of Brazil joining NATO. […] An association of the country to NATO […] is an intriguing thought – and raises the question what could, or should, be done in this respect with Australia, New Zealand, or Japan [17].”

In addition to having very important implications in the context of international relations, the possibility of extending NATO membership outside European borders, or that of being able to collaborate in providing the availability of one’s own national territory, has a clear weight on the South American dimension. In a time of structural crisis of UNASUR, which was supported by more or less solid alliances and renewed military and strategic collaboration projects, an important alternative proposed by Brazil, with the support of the United States, could change the game. Specifically, the case of the European Union must once again be taken as an example. The latter institution owes much of its solidity to participation in NATO, which constituted its military backbone in the absence of a real European army. Moreover, this army never existed due to the absence of a clear political dimension, on the contrary to the level of free trade, that of freedom of movement, and precisely that of participation in NATO.

Jair Bolsonaro’s vision in this sense seems more realistic than that of countries that simply want to join in the name of the “free market”. If this project was to be continued, it certainly could guarantee the basis for a reformulation of some of the fundamental rules of MERCOSUR, and certainly, generate a change of specific weight of the regional actors within this group. Nonetheless, it is important to understand how Bolsonaro’s hypothesis of collaboration with NATO, in whatever capacity it takes place, will certainly give greater weight to his country than to others in Latin America, precisely in the function of the role of geographical pre-eminence that Brazil plays always. This decision, which Bolsonaro consciously embraces in the intention of guaranteeing the primacy of Brazil, is, however, made in the specific perspective of the integrative need. A need which, even if we want to speak in terms of mere national interest, represents immediate outlets for Brazil on the internal markets of the region, the possibility of obtaining supplies favourably on the basis of the principle of comparative advantage, and undisputed recognition of a political primacy. For the United States, on the other hand, all this implies not only securing, in a rapidly changing world, very important assets, but also barricading itself once again behind the Atlantic Sea, and this time also behind the Pacific, in a revival for the 21st century of the Monroe Doctrine.

This epoch is ambivalent for the nation-states: on the one hand, they are largely deprived of their fundamental attributions by ever-increasing masses of power. On the other – if they manage to play their cards well – they are able to take advantage of those great conflicts between powers to obtain benefits that they will be able to maintain for an uncertain period. In this case, however, they exchange some small immediate advantages with longer-term planning, which considers a complete vision of the future and a weighted selection of alliances. This, however, is the case of Brazil, which as a proponent of a federative integration, proceeded to the South-South dialogue. It has tried to take advantage of other regional actors thanks to cooperation with the United States.

In any case, integration remains the future, in view of all the determinants at stake in the present phase of the history of the economy and production structures, as well as society and technical progress. It is only necessary to understand, at this point, which integrative vision – and which political and interest group that supports it – will prevail in Brazil and Latin America.

[1] Gian Luca Gardini, The Origins of MERCOSUR: Democracy and Regionalization in South America, Palgrave MacMillan, 2010, pp. 43-47.

[2] Ibdem, p 47.

[3] Andrea Goldstein, BRIC. Brasile, Russia, India e Cina alla guida dell’economia globale, Il Mulino, 2011.

[4] Kwang Ho Chun, The BRICs Superpower Challenge. Foreign and Security Policy Analysis, Ashgate Publishing, 2013.

[5] Oliver Stuenkel, The BRICS and the Future of the Global Order, Lexington Books, 2015, p. 155.

[6] Manuel Cienfuegos and José Antonio Sanahuja [edited by], Una región en costrucción. UNASUR y la intregración en América del Sur, CIDOB, 2010, p. 30.

[7] Oliver Stuenkel, The BRICS and the Future of the Global Order, Lexington Books, 2015.

[8] Fe Can Gürcan, Multipolarization, South-South Cooperation and the Rise of Post-Hegemonic Governance, Routledge, 2019, p. 109.

[9] Manuel Cienfuegos and José Antonio Sanahuja [edited by], Una región en costrucción. UNASUR y la intregración en América del Sur, CIDOB, 2010, p.p. 111-112 [translated].

[10] “The South American aspiration for the establishment of a system of the subcontinent released from Washington is also very significant. At the beginning of 2009, the President of Brazil proposed to Venezuela the establishment of a South American Defense Council, a project [which corresponds to] a real military alliance, with joint commands and exchanges of information and defense material” Sandro Sideri, La Russia e gli altri. Nuovi equilibri della geopolitica, Università Bocconi Editore, 2009 [translated].

[11] Manuel Cienfuegos and José Antonio Sanahuja [edited by], Una región en costrucción. UNASUR y la intregración en América del Sur, CIDOB, 2010, p.p. 112-113 [translated].

[12] Peter Coffey [edited by], International Handbooks on Economic Integration: Latin America – MERCOSUR, Springer Science + Business Media, 1998, p. 190.

[13] Fe Can Gürcan, Multipolarization, South-South Cooperation and the Rise of Post-Hegemonic Governance, Routledge, 2019, p. 147.

[14] Carl Schmitt, Il nomos della terra nel diritto internazionale dello “Jus publicum europaeum”, Adelphi, 1991, p. 129.

[15] A mention of the causes of international politics and redistribution of power that influenced the American Civil War is given in Orazio Maria Gnerre e Gianfranco La Grassa, Dialogo sul conflitto, Editoriale Scientifica, 2019.

[16] Fe Can Gürcan, Multipolarization, South-South Cooperation and the Rise of Post-Hegemonic Governance, Routledge, 2019.

[17] Theodor H. Winkler, Living in an Unruly World: The Challenges we Face, LIT Verlag, 2019, p. 217.

From our partner RIAC

Graduated in Political Science to the Catholic University of the Sacread Heart (Milan), Expert of international relations and geopolitics

Americas

Americans “Learning in Their Own Flesh”: Trained, But Not Educated

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The mass-man has no attention to spare for reasoning; he learns only in his own flesh.”-Jose Ortega y’ Gassett, The Revolt of the Masses (1930)

The Growing Challenges of Anti-Reason

Nothing could be more obvious. In present-day American life, anti-reason is not merely in vogue.  It also functions as a de facto national belief system. In uniquely retrograde instances, as we may witness in our daily politics, it can override entire centuries of intellectual progress.

               All too quickly, it can become de rigeur.

               There are pertinent facts and prominently grinding humiliations. Though many years have passed since the core scientific triumphs of Bacon, Galileo, Newton, Descartes and Einstein, conspiracy theories often still preempt established premises of logic, mathematics and science. For the most part, these theories are conspicuously imbecilic.

               So what is going on?

               It is, to begin, an absurd state of affairs. Credo quia absurdum, warned the ancient philosophers. “I believe because it is absurd.” What we are experiencing today is nothing less shameless than an institutionalized triumph of absurdity. This “victory” is not merely difficult to explain. It is manifestly pervasive, insufficiently challenged and unambiguously lethal.

               There is more. There are assorted relevant chronologies. In America, the absurd triumph of “mass man” did not originate with the rabidly incoherent Trump presidency. Nonetheless, that presidential celebration of thoughtlessness functioned as a corrosive accelerant of irremediable national decline. And (plainly) a disjointed Trump presidency could happen once again.

               The evidence is compelling. We Americans have already made witting peace with governance by unwisdom, conspiracy and cliché. Altogether unhidden, there reigns in sectors of all American states a once-unimaginable sovereignty of the unqualified. The only plausible outcome of such still-accumulating national defilements can be expanded belligerent nationalism, enlarged human sufferings and an authentically existential despair.

               The core questions keep coming. How did we even manage to get to such a low point?[1] Where are we now likely heading?

               There are plausible answers to these questions. Going forward, all questions should be considered as interrelated matters of chronology. That is, they should be considered “in time.”

The Revolt of the Masses and its Bitter Legacy

               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 the German scholars Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers,[2] Ortega was especially concerned about Europe’s growing fragmentation of learning. Witnessing a world that was abandoning the traditional goal of broadly-educated or “whole” human beings, he worried about a worldwide future in which there would be more capable scientists than ever before, but where these scientists were otherwise unexceptional, without any wider embrace of erudition.

                Though generally ignored, 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. Unwittingly, of course, Ortega had anticipated the present-day United States. Here, even in our oft-vaunted “advanced society,” the most exquisitely trained physicians, lawyers, accountants and engineers typically reason at the same limiting levels of analysis as technicians, carpenters, business owners or office workers.

               It’s time for candor. “Professional” education in the United States has managed to supersede 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.”[3]

The Pubic Mind and its Shapers

               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, our beleaguered polity is failing on multiple fronts.

               For many reasons, many of them overlapping or even synergistic, 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 could say unashamedly, “I love the poorly educated.” Significantly, this perverse preference of Donald J. Trump did not emerge ex nihilo, out of nothing. Moreover, it did nothing to inhibit the prospect of another run for the White House.

               It is a portentous but credible echo of Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels: “Intellect rots the brain.”[4]

               Ortega y’Gasset had a specific name for this generally defiling intellectual deformation. More exactly, he called it “The Barbarism of ‘Specialisation.”[5] Earlier, and in somewhat similar fashion, Friedrich  Nietzsche wrote about the “educated philistine.”[6] Both Ortega and Nietzsche recognized the irony that a society could become progressively better educated in various sub-fields of human knowledge and simultaneously become less and less cultured, less and less truly civilized.[7] In this regard, the German philosopher placed appropriate conceptual blame on what he preferred to call the “herd.”[8] 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.”[9]

Barbarism in the Trump White House

               Today, both ideas can shed some useful light on American democracy, a system of governance under increasing assault by former 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. The “barbarous” impact of specialization foreseen earlier by philosophers is now magnified by the injurious effects of worldwide disease pandemic. 

               This unwelcome magnification will need to be countered if American democracy is merely able to survive.[10]

               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 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 plainly ill-equipped to judge candidates for  high political office.[11]

               As we have seen in the case of Donald J. Trump, utterly ill-equipped.

               Surveying still-mounting damages of the recent Trump presidency,[12] 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 previous 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 former president’s manifold derelictions) would be to overestimate its inclinations.  Though truth is always exculpatory, there are times when it yields to various tangible forms of self-delusion.

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

High Living or High Thinking?

               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.[13]

                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, lack of 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 was not “only” indifferent to basic human rights and public welfare,[14] it quite literally elevated 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 was a small but glaring example of Donald Trump’s selected level of competitive political discourse. By its very nature, this demeaning level is better suited to a first-grade elementary school classroom. It is anything but appropriate to presidential discourse.

               There are even much wider ramifications of gratuitous rancor. When transposed to the vital arena of international relations, the former president’s elevation of belligerent nationalism has a long and persistently unsuccessful history as Realpolitik or power politics.[15] 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.”[16] 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 had quite expansively reversed this objective. Reinforced by the rampant vocationalism of this country’s education system, Trump consistently urged citizens to turn against one another, and for no dignified, defensible or science-based reasons. In absolutely all cases, these grotesque urgings had no meritorious or higher purpose.

               None at all.

The Individual as Artifact

               In the bitterly fractionated post-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, following 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.[17]

               Arguably this is no longer a “nation of laws.” Rather, it is a nation of ad hoc, narrowly visceral response. Consider in this regard, that in August 2022, Donald Trump complained bitterly that he never had “the loyalty of Hitler’s generals.”

               There is more.  Americans inhabit the one society that could have been different. Once, we harbored a 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, beyond any serious contestation, we are stymied by collective capitulations to political chicanery and a Kierkegaardian “fear and trembling.”

                Surely, as all must eventually acknowledge, there must be more to this chanting country than inane 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 any true national potential. Distressingly, this Self has already become a twisting reflection of a prior authenticity.  Now it is under seemingly final assault by far-reaching societal tastelessness and by a literally epidemic gluttony.

               Regarding this “gastronomic” debility, it’s not that Americans have become more and more hungry, but rather that we have lost any once residual appetites for real life.[18]

Credulity and Conspiracy

               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 an uninspiring second-order activity, a faint reflection of what is truly important.[19] For now, this public sphere continues to thrive upon vast personal emptiness, on an infirmity that is the always-defiling reciprocal of 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.”[20]

               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 a result that we are still living through in the United States, and one (if Donald Trump becomes president for a second time) that might have to be “died through.”

Looking Behind the News

               Going forward, what we ought to fear most of all is precisely this continuously self-defiling outcome, not any particular electoral result. Until recently, nothing could have proved more important for the United States than to rid itself of the intersecting pathologies of Covid19 and a recalcitrant Donald Trump, diseases that were mutually reinforcing and potentially synergistic.  But even such indispensable victories could still prove only transient. More precisely, recalling philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset’s timeless warning about the “barbarism of specialisation,” this country must soon 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.[21]

               To survive 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 plainly failed. To wit, in Trump-era American democracy, the former president’s core message is never about the co-responsibility of every human being for his or her fellows, but about “winners,” “losers,” and a presumptively rational citizen obligation to “Make America Great.”

               In this context, “greatness” assumed a crudely Darwinian or zero-sum condition, not one in which each individual could favor harmonious cooperation over bitter inter-group hatreds.[22]

Making the Souls of the Citizens Better

               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?”[23] This is not a question that we can answer with any pertinent detail before the next presidential election. But it is still a question that we ought to put before the imperiled American polity sometime before it is too late.[24]

               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 in coordinated tandem with all other identifiable perils. Overall, the task will be daunting and overwhelming, but the alternatives are simply no longer tolerable.

               Donald Trump’s removal from political life remains a sine qua non for all applicable remedies, but even such a needed first step could target only a catastrophic symptom of America’s national “pathology.” By itself, saving the United States from a crudely sinister president remains necessary, but it would leave unchanged the country’s most deeply underlying “disease.” In  the end,[25] because Americans will need to bring a less “specialized” form of learning to their citizenship responsibilities, this nation will have to figure out practical yet commendable ways of restoring educational “wholeness.”

               Though we certainly need a well-trained society, we also need one that has been suitably and seriously educated. Before this expectation can be fully understood and acted upon, however, there will need to take place a widened respect for learning and erudition. While Americans will certainly continue to value “practical learning,” they should also begin to value intellectual achievement for its own sake. We need gifted workers in every industry, but we also need reasoning persons and caring citizens.

               It could never be practical for Americans to favor human learning based on “attitude” rather than on “preparation.”[26]

               Always, “learning in their own flesh” would preclude any genuine citizen education.


[1]A generic explanation of such declensions is supplied by Thomas Mann. The German novelist and philosopher recalls the downfall of ancient civilizations, and faults gradual absorption of the educated classes by the masses, the “simplification” of all functions of political, social, economic and spiritual life. In short, the author of The Magic Mountain and Death in Venice blames “barbarization.” For an informed discussion of these assessments, see Stanley Corngold, The Mind in Exile: Thomas Mann in Princeton; Princeton University Press, 2022.

[2] 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 herd, crowd, 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.

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

[4]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/

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

[6]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.

[7] 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.”

[8]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.

[9] In essence, the “crowd” was Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard’s equivalent of Nietzsche’s “herd” and Ortega’s “mass.”[9] Earlier, in the 17th century, French philosopher Blaise Pascal remarked prophetically in Pensées: “All our dignity consists in thought….It is upon this that we must depend…Let us labor then to think well: this is the foundation of morality.” Similar reasoning characterizes the writings of Baruch Spinoza, Pascal’s 17th-century contemporary. In Book II of his Ethics Spinoza considers the human mind, or the intellectual attributes, and – drawing further from Descartes – strives to define an essential theory of learning and knowledge.

[10] The most ominous synergies of “barbarism” would concern the growing risks of a nuclear war. On irrational nuclear decision-making by an American president, 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

[11]In this regard, selected elements of 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.”

[12] 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.”

[13] 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).

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

[15] 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).

[16] “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.”

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

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

[19]See by this author, Louis René Beres, at Horasis (Zurich): https://horasis.org/looking-beyond-shadows-death-time-and-immortality/

[20] In more expressly concrete terms, average American life-expectancy, already unenviable for several decades, has now fallen behind most of the advanced industrialized world.

[21] 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.”

[22] 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.”

[23] 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.

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

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

[26] See, about Donald J. Trump: https://www.newsweek.com/donald-trump-kim-jong-un-965367

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Should the West Assume Collective Responsibility for the Failure of Biden’s Visit to Saudi Arabia?

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In this photo released by Saudi Press Agency (SPA), Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, greets President Joe Biden, with a fist bump after his arrival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Friday, July 15, 2022. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

In July of this year, Joe Biden visited Israel and Saudi Arabia for the first time as US president. It is well known that the primary goal of the trip was to persuade Saudi Arabia to increase oil production to alleviate the pressure caused by soaring global energy prices. Yet, it is worth remembering that when Biden punished Saudi Arabia for the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2019, he described it as a “pariah” country, adding that he had no short-term plans to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia. It is therefore unsurprising that Biden received fierce criticism, not only for failing to encourage Saudi Arabia to increase oil production, but also for fist bumping MBS. Nevertheless, some argue that the criticism is unwarranted. After all, it was the West as a whole that put Biden in such an awkward position.

Biden’s Recalibration of Saudi Policy Criticized by both Realists and Moralists

Simply put, political leaders often face the dilemma of either preserving their nation’s interests or upholding morality when handling international affairs. Realists tend to emphasize that political leaders inevitably need to negotiate with dictators in order to protect the interests of their citizens; human rights activists/moralists stress that political leaders must draw a clear line with dictators who have poor human rights records and should not betray the victims of said dictators for the sake of economic or geopolitical gains.

On one hand, the Biden administration disclosed a confidential CIA report which concluded that the Saudi crown prince was behind the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. On the other hand, the US did not sanction MBS himself, only others involved in the killing. This response triggered criticism from both realists and moralists. Realists argued that infuriating MBS would be detrimental to the US in the foreseeable future, while moralists condemned the failure to impose direct punitive measures on MBS as hypocritical.

In terms of Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia, some realists feel that Biden was shooting himself in the foot, while other realists believe that Biden’s move may help US–Saudi relations in the long run, despite it being humiliating in the short term. From the perspective of prioritizing human rights, Biden’s meeting with MBS is seen as him going back on his word and surrendering to a dictator.

It is worth mentioning that Turkey played a significant part in putting Khashoggi’s murder under the spotlight; however, it is difficult to say if their motive for doing so was entirely altruistic. At the time, Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was being heavily criticized by the US for his country’s human rights abuses, with Turkey itself being the subject of US sanctions. The disclosure of Khashoggi’s murder could have been a calculated attempt to embarrass the US: if the US decided to punish Saudi Arabia, it would suffer geopolitical losses, but if it tolerated Saudi Arabia’s actions, it would show the world that the US had a double standard in terms of its response to human rights.

Turkey had also hoped to use the case to undermine Saudi leadership in the Muslim Sunni bloc. However, given Turkey’s rapid economic deterioration in recent months, it urgently needs to ease relations with neighboring countries. This is partly why Turkey suspended Khashoggi’s murder trial, handed over the case to Saudi Arabia in April, and welcomed MBS to Ankara in June. These are just a few examples of Turkey’s abandonment of justice for its own politico-economic gain. As such, Biden’s visit was a little less dishonorable than Erdogan’s behavior because the US has not lifted its sanctions. That said, since the US proclaims itself to be the leader in defending global human rights, Biden’s compromising has led to severe criticism.

The Energy and Climate Crisis is Not Only Biden’s Fault

Of course, it is unfair to solely blame the Biden administration for creating the major crises which are currently faced by the West. For example, Russia was suppressing dissident journalists and human rights activists long before its invasion of Ukraine; however, neither Europe or the US imposed comprehensive sanctions on them or accelerated its efforts towards energy independence to reduce reliance on Russia. Furthermore, after Khashoggi was murdered, no European state vowed to boycott Saudi Arabian energy as did the US. Hence, it can be said that Western leaders did not show much determination to reduce their dependence on the energy of authoritarian regimes in recent years.

By this standard, Biden is not necessarily more hypocritical than any other political leader in the Western bloc. The recent energy crisis caused by the West’s imposition of sanctions on Russia is, in fact, a result of their lengthy practice of “dealing with devils.” The moral responsibility, therefore, should be shared by their leaders collectively.

It should be added that the West’s foreign policy is often not purely driven by either human rights or interests. Indeed, the US and the EU are signatories of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the so-called “Iran Nuclear Deal”), despite Iran’s notorious record of executing dissidents over the past 35 years. The original intention of the agreement was to use trade normalization as bait to lure Iran into gradually abandoning its development of nuclear weapons and improving its domestic human rights. However, the West did not make the deal on the premise that Iran’s human rights would improve significantly or overnight, it made compromises.

Shortly after Donald Trump became President, he unilaterally withdrew from the Iran Nuclear Deal because he claimed that it was full of loopholes that allowed Iran to continue developing nuclear weapons in secret. Subsequently, Iran has been actively refining the enriched uranium needed for nuclear weapons, while its domestic hardline conservatives have fully regained political power in recent years.

The question of whether the threat from Iran was caused by Obama’s relaxation of sanctions or Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal has been a hotly debated topic. It is also worth mentioning that Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his plan of “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People,” which allows Israel to occupy most of the West Bank, are based on contempt for Palestine.

The Legacy of Trump’s Middle East Policy Constrains Biden’s Options

Biden showed his intention to revise Trump’s Middle East policy on both the US presidential campaign trail and at the start of his presidency. However, evidence suggests that Trump’s policy has gradually taken root. In addition, the geopolitical situation has changed drastically. Therefore, it is difficult for Biden to simply act as he wants, and even if he did, the results would not seem effective either.

Of course, some left-wing critics argue that the climate crisis is precisely the result of over-consumption of non-renewable energy. Hence, instead of begging dictators to increase energy production amidst the current energy crisis, the Biden administration should use this opportunity to promote clean energy and reduce global greenhouse gases emissions, despite the pain it will cause people in the short term. That said, the US mid-term elections are approaching, and forcing voters to reduce their energy usage at such a time will only make things more difficult for the Biden-affiliated Democratic Party. Therefore, whether such an approach is prudent is up for debate.

Last but not least, the claim that “The US would not face such a passive geopolitical situation if Trump was re-elected as the US President” is an assertion that cannot be proved. Trump is well-known for his unpredictability and capriciousness in handling US foreign affairs, despite his consistent tough stance against Iran and his partiality to Israel and Saudi Arabia. Based on his previous actions, Trump might backtrack on Ukraine’s accession to NATO, claiming to support Ukraine’s right to join NATO, but then echoing others’ position against NATO expansion. He might also recklessly respond to Russia’s military threats, which would make the global situation even more precarious. Ultimately, both Trump’s loyal supporters and his adversaries can find examples that support their respective arguments, while simultaneously turning a blind eye to inconvenient truths.

An earlier Chinese version of this article appeared in print on July 25, 2022 in Section B, Page 11 of Ming Pao Daily News. 

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How Bolivia’s 2019 coup exemplified millennia of global history

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Throughout thousands of years of human history, dictatorships have been the norm, not the exception, and all of them have been by the aristocracy, against the public. (Sometimes, the aristocrats are led by one person, a “monarch” or “Fuehrer” or etc.; but he or she then REPRESENTS the aristocracy, NOT the public.)

Aristocrats are the nation’s few super-rich; the public are everyone else.

Usually, the aristocracy ‘justifies’ its ‘superiority’ as being god-ordained, and they hire (donate to) some clergy to allege this in order to keep the public fighting for them and maybe dying for them, in their wars of conquest, against the aristocracies who control foreign lands. Another way to fool their publics is to declare that these conquests will ‘free’ those foreign publics by replacing their local aristocracy with the invading country’s aristocracy (a ‘better’ one; those others are instead being called “oligarchs”), and so creating an empire, which represents ‘us’ against the foreigners’ ‘them’, while also making those foreigners ‘free’ from their “oligarchs.” This is called ‘spreading democracy’.

Throughout thousands of years, aristocracies have operated this way, deceiving masses of people so as to create empires, which expand the local aristocracy’s thefts, from being merely thefts against their local public, to becoming thefts against an entire empire’s public (using those local “oligarchs” as their vassals).

Here is how this worked out recently in Bolivia:

On 11 November 2011, The U.S. White House issued this “Statement from President Donald J. Trump Regarding the Resignation of Bolivian President Evo Morales”:

The resignation yesterday of Bolivian President Evo Morales is a significant moment for democracy in the Western Hemisphere.  After nearly 14 years and his recent attempt to override the Bolivian constitution and the will of the people, Morales’s departure preserves democracy and paves the way for the Bolivian people to have their voices heard.  The United States applauds the Bolivian people for demanding freedom and the Bolivian military for abiding by its oath to protect not just a single person, but Bolivia’s constitution.  These events send a strong signal to the illegitimate regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua that democracy and the will of the people will always prevail.  We are now one step closer to a completely democratic, prosperous, and free Western Hemisphere.

On 13 November 2019, the billionaire Rupert Murdoch’s Fox ‘News’ headlined “Bolivia interim president declares ‘Bible has returned to the palace’ amid growing uncertainty”, and reported

A day after brandishing a giant leather-bound Bible and declaring herself Bolivia’s interim president, Jeanine Añez set to the task of trying to steady a nation divided by bloody political disputes and create the stability necessary to organize national elections.

The 52-year-old second-vice president of the Senate claimed the presidency on Tuesday following the ousting of socialist leader Evo Morales due to alleged election fraud and resignations from several high-ranking successors that left a power void in the country.

“The Bible has returned to the government palace,” Añez declared as part of an effort to separate herself from Morales, who had banned the Bible from the site after he reformed the constitution and recognized an Andean earth deity instead of the Roman Catholic Church.

Then, two days later, on November 15th, Anti-War dot com bannered “Finally Got Him: The Bolivian Coup”, and reported:

The U.S. says it wasn’t a coup.

Trump’s official statement “applauds” the Bolivian regime change for preserving democracy. Trump identifies the event as “a significant moment in democracy” because it stymied Bolivian President Evo Morales’ attempt “to override the Bolivian constitution and the will of the people. …”

But all three White House claims are false: Morales didn’t go against the constitution, he didn’t override the will of the people and it was a coup.

If it wasn’t a coup, why was Morales forced from office by the military? Why was he driven out of office in Bolivia and into asylum in Mexico for the sake of his safety, while a coup leader announced that the police and military were hunting Morales down and putting Bolivia into lockdown? Why as he fled and sought asylum was his house ransacked, his sister’s house set on fire, and the families of his cabinet ministers kidnapped and held hostage until the ministers resigned? Though reported in the mainstream media as abandoning Morales, Victor Borda resigned as president of the Bolivian congress and resigned his position as MP because his brother was kidnapped to force him to do so.

If it wasn’t a coup, why did the opposition assume power before the legislature voted on approving Morales’ resignation as the constitution demands? Why did Jeanine Añez declare herself interim president in the absence of the quorum that is legally required to make that decision after meeting with the military high command for over an hour? And why did the opposition force Morales out and assume power before Morales’ term in office would end in January?

If it wasn’t a coup, why did Morales’ opponent, Carlos Mesa, begin his claims of fraud before the voting began, before he could know there had been any fraud? Why did Mesa insist, according to Mark Weisbrot, that he would not accept the election results if Morales wins long before the votes were even counted?

And why, perhaps most damningly, did a cabal of coup plotters discuss between October 8th and 10th – days ahead of the October 20th election – a plan for social disturbance that would prevent Morales from staying in power, as revealed by leaked audio of their conversations

Then, on 24 July 2020, the Twitter site of an American centi-billionaire, Elon Musk, received a tweet from an “Armani” saying, “You know what wasnt in the best interest of people? the U.S. government organizing a coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia so you could obtain the lithium there.” Later that day, Musk replied:

“We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.”

Why, then, was the Bible being presented, on 13 November 2019, as the coup’s justification?

Not enough suckers would have been fooled to support this fascist coup as having been a fascist coup — a coup by an aristocracy. It was actually even a racist-fascist coup, a “nazi” coup (a coup by a racist aristocracy), which aimed to steal from the native-Indian masses in Bolivia, for the benefit of the supremacist-White aristocracy there, who were subordinates, or vassals, of America’s own overwhelmingly White aristocracy, its billionaires, such as the racist-fascist Elon Musk. Fox ‘News’ had broadcast that biblical display to its own overwhelmingly White Christian audience so as to portray that theft against Bolivians as having been in service to their god and consequently ‘justifiable’. It’s simply the way that aristocracies have functioned, for thousands of years.

Then, on 14 July 2022, the “Declassified UK” investigative-news site headlined “EVO MORALES: ‘WE LAMENT THE ENGLISH WERE CELEBRATING THE SIGHT OF DEAD PEOPLE’”, and delivered from Matt Kennard a terrific, linked-to-sources, extensive interview with the U.S.-UK-Bolivian aristocracy-overthrown former Bolivian President, who explained, as Kennard’s summary at its front stated:

               • THE COUP: ‘The UK participated in it – all for lithium’

               • THE BRITISH: ‘Superiority is so important to them, the ability to dominate’

               • THE US: ‘Any relationship with them is always subject to conditions’

               • NEW MODEL: ‘We no longer submit to transnational corporations’

               • JULIAN ASSANGE: ‘The detention of our friend is an intimidation’

               • NATO: ‘We need a global campaign to eliminate it’

               • BOLIVIA: ‘We are putting anti-imperialism into practice’

Morales, while he had held power in Bolivia, had produced, for the Bolivian people, results that publics elsewhere could only dream of.

Of course, the U.S./UK regime will be trying to reconquer Bolivia.

History teaches lots of lessons, to whomever in the public is open-minded to it and who is lucky enough to become exposed to its truths (despite the aristocracy’s overwhelming censorship against those truths — which are historical truths).

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