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Truth and Shadow: To Understand A Lethal American Presidency

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To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.”-Plato, The Republic

Though derelictions of an unprecedented sort, even the most evident shortcomings of Donald J. Trump’s presidency are essentially just “shadows.” To more fully understand what has brought the United States to such a once- unimaginable national declension, we must first learn to look beyond these reflections. As long as we remain focused on mere reflections of what is important, we will ensure only persistent governmental debility.

               What then? Among other things, we would need to concede American democracy to the perpetual sovereignty of unqualified persons. In consequence of such plainly intolerable concessions, there could emerge no meaningful solutions to what most imperils the United States. What might then be said about American “greatness?”

               “I’m sorry?”

               Exeunt omnes?

               For the United States, such deeply ironic surrenders should never need to be considered.

               At some point, this pathological sort of surrender or debility could include not “just” nuances of national deformation, but also de facto “blueprints” for a nation’s collective disappearance.

               There are better ways for a country to proceed. Americans ought not passively accept such immobilizing forms of bewilderment. This era remains, after all, the Nuclear Age.[1] It continues to be a time for prudence and abundant caution, not visceral or  reflexive response.

               To better understand certain still-threatening American defilements – an obviously primary obligation for all US citizens – analysts must begin at the beginning. Recognizably, this battered country’s authentic problems are not narrowly partisan or exclusively political. No national government – no President, no Congress, no hyper-adrenalized promises of “change” from one side or another – can expect to halt the insidious trajectories of our staggering decline.

               Wherever one looks, the Trump presidency has spawned a lethal assault on an already-fragile nation – a dissembling presidency that absolutely has to be removed by the country’s electorate – but even this grotesque leadership assault represents little more than a “shadow.”[2]

               Both literally and metaphorically, the United States is now caught up in a titanic struggle between life and death, between health and disease. In order to suitably “cure” the nation, not just of Covid19 but also of conspicuously corollary debilities of unqualified national governance, Americans must first correctly identify the pertinent “disease process.” Otherwise, at best, we might manage to excise certain visible pathologies, but still leave all underlying, systemic and metastasizing national “malignancies” fully intact.

               By definition, that would represent a meaningless or “pyrrhic victory” for a nation at existential risk.

               Always, as with identifying plausible solutions to the Corona Virus assault, pertinent analyses must be appropriately (1) systematic and (2) dialectical.[3] Hard questions must be raised. For one, how did Americans ever manage to get to this bitterly rancorous and disjointed national place? In time, will the long-term anarchy of inter-state relations be transformed into an even less sustainable chaos?[4]

               Relevant explanations – though not genuine long-term solutions – are still substantially unhidden.

               Somehow, driven by egocentric considerations of taxation, commerce and a barbarous presidential ethos of self promotion, our American system of governance has managed to create a uniquely toxic amalgam. From this palpably poisonous fusion of plutocracy and mob rule, virtually any conceivable destructions could still be born and multiplied.[5] As we have so unhappily been witnessing, this expanding wreckage has recently been enlarged.

               Where are we now? It is September 2020, and several alarming portents ought not be too-casually disregarded or thoughtlessly shrugged off. Currently, China, being diminished in increments by Donald J. Trump’s gratuitous insults and threats, is beginning to talk openly about selling off its approximately one trillion dollars of American debt (US Treasuries). During this same early September period, Trump has described US military veterans as “losers” and “suckers” (a perverse recapitulation of his prior disparaging references to American prisoner of war Senator John McCain as “no hero”); appointed a new postmaster-general in order to destroy mail-sorting equipment and slow-down the mails; and imposed bizarre sanctions on the International Criminal Court (a frontal attack upon international law in general).[6]

               There is still more. One again, this president has stood uncritically on the side of Vladimir Putin, this time regarding the latest Russian poisoning of dissidents. Trump also appointed a new and manipulable Covid19 advisor to assure America’s further subordination of science to politics, and has pushed ahead with an utterly incoherent and treasury-busting military parody known formally as “Space Force.”[7] Similarly incomprehensible was Trump’s previous withdrawal of the United States from the World Health Organization in the midst of pandemic.

               Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosophers. “I believe because it is absurd.”

               If these “crazy” infringements were not enough to satisfyingly worsen life in the US and also throughout the world, Donald J. Trump’s reliably obsequious attorney general stated shamelessly during a major television interview that he “could not really be sure” that voting twice is illegal. Said William Barr, America’s senior legal officer, “It depends upon the state.” Can this conceivably be a serious official response?

               Credo quia absurdum.

               There is more. Americans face many interrelated obligations. One overarching duty concerns this country’s distressingly proud culture of American illiteracy. Lest such an indictment sound harsh or even silly, one need only be reminded that this US president rose to high office by exclaiming to cheering rally crowds: “I love the poorly educated.”

               This 2016 campaign refrain was not just an off-the-cuff spasm of populist sentiment. Rather, it was a carefully fashioned echo of Joseph Goebbels’ 1934 Nuremberg rally shriek: “Intellect rots the brain.” It stands in starkly ironic contrast with the earlier expressed viewpoint of Thomas Jefferson. Said America’s third president: “To penetrate and dissipate the clouds of darkness, the general mind must be strengthened by education.”[8]

               Over the years, certain others have understood Jefferson’s wisdom. “The mass man,” says 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset, “learns only in his own flesh.” This is precisely the aspiring demagogue who now sits smugly in the American White House. With such inherently distorted national leadership, the United States can never expect to distinguish correctly between truth and shadows.[9]

               Never.

               None of this is mere hyperbole. After all, we continuously inhabit a feverishly anti-intellectual country, a place of consistent analytic decline, one where exemplary medical science is often anathema, where truth is often given no quarter and where virtually no one pauses to read a serious book. This worrisome demographic includes Donald J. Trump, who not only eschews the instructive written word – especially where it might sometime be elegantly fashioned or science-based – but who also draws vast political support because of his expressed loathing for literature, law[10] and philosophy.

                In the United States, this ironic loathing is not veneered or in any manner denied or disguised. Here, instead, a disfiguring American president’s consuming lack of intellectual and historical interests has actually come to represent an enviable political asset. Credo quia absurdum.

               Core citizen obligations obtain. Always, We the people must remain determinedly analytic. Derivatively, we should promptly inquire: Is there any graspable evidence to support genuinely existential threats or concerns?

               Incontestably, all of us are now under persistent and still-growing microbial assault from Covid19. Still worse, this biological “plague” could sometime intersect with the more “normal” geopolitical hazards of war,[11] terrorism and/or genocide.[12] In the imaginably worst case scenarios,[13] this intersection would also be “synergistic;” that is, a fearful coming-together wherein the injurious “whole” would be tangibly greater than the calculable sum of injurious  “parts.”[14]

                Significantly, credible explanations are unhidden. At the head of America’s government and society now sits a “mass man,” one who openly abhors intellect and simultaneously extracts correlative political  benefits. This would not be the case (and also America’s potentially existential curse) if the prevailing modalities of U.S. culture and law were more closely aligned with proper standards of evidence and truth. Now, on any given day, Donald Trump (or his designated lapdog of the moment, e.g., Attorney  General William Barr on voting twice, or Vice President Mike Pence, who fawns uncontrollably because he has no apparent license to think) makes statements that are preposterous prima facie.

               Back home in Indiana, Mr. Pence could never even have imagined a future in which he would ever be taken seriously.

               Credo quia absurdum.

               There is more. Although many Americans remain content with strangely still-lingering hopes to grow personal wealth, even the richest among us are deprived. Resigned to either a dreary future of exhausting and unsatisfying work, or to a terminal prospect of war and disease, even the financially most “successful” must now live with variously intersecting kinds of death and despair. Small wonder, then, that “no vacancy” signs hang prominently outside America’s largest prisons and that a progressively immobilizing Opiate Crisis is no longer even news.

               In a nation of increasingly institutionalized unhappiness, it is simply the “new normal.”

                There is more. For the most part, once flaunted American “truths” are now discoverable only as myth. One prominent example can be found in our massively beleaguered universities.

               For more than fifty years – the actual time I have lived in several of our most distinguished national universities – considerations of raw commerce have  trumped considerations of pure learning.[15] What is surprising these days is that dishonorable and illegal parental efforts to get their kids into college should even be considered scandalous. What were these coddled young people planning to learn?

               No one seems to know, not even the prospective students.

               To repair a broken country, candor and good taste – not just presidential elections – will be indispensable.For a time, We the people have no longer been motivated by any proper considerations of enduring human value. For the most part, we don’t actively seek any equanimity or “balance” as a healing counterpoint to frenetic daily lives. Distressingly, we still search anxiously for “opportunities” to buy into a life of narrow imitation, an inherently unsatisfying existence dedicated to leeringly empty pleasures and steadily-expanding mountains of pain-dulling drugs.

               At almost every level, therefore, Americans “freely” choose (like the oft-flaunted “American freedom” not to wear a mask) a life of diaphanous shadows over one of tangible truth.

               Not much mystery here. The relevant numbers are easily available and “beyond any reasonable doubt.” To wit, at each and every moment of the day, millions of America’s more-or-less exhausted citizens consume enough alcohol and drugs to suffocate any still-lingering residues of human wisdom. By itself, and long before Covid19, the Opiate Crisis cost the country several trillion dollars (to apply the narrowly quantifiable metric of money), and still represents wholly unfathomable levels of grievous human suffering.

               Americans need to be candid. These are not superficial infirmities. Instead, what we are describing hereare deep, irremediable and inconsolable levels of collective despair.

                Truth, not shadow, is exculpatory. Whatever is now being decided in our politics or in our universities, Americans are presently carried forth not by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “high thinking and plain living,” but by profoundly sorrowful eruptions of fear and agitation. At times, we the people may wish to slow down a bit and “smell the roses,” but America’s battered and battering ambience continues to impose upon its residents the ruthlessly merciless rhythms of a self-propelled machine.Left unchecked, the predictable end of all this delirium will be atrophied governance, advancing disease plagues and international war.[16]

                Donald J. Trump was not foisted upon the United States ex nihilo, out of nothing. He is, in fact, the predictable outcome of a society frequently indifferent or refractory to verifiable truth.  

                Americans inhabit the one society that could have been different. Once, we likely even possessed a potential to nurture individuals to become more than unthinking cogs of a compliant crowd, herd or mass.[17] Emerson, after all, had described Americans as a people guided by industry and  “self-reliance.” Now, however, we dutifully prepare to accept almost any conceivable personal infringements in order to avoid thought and cheerlessly “fit in.”

               In the end, credulity remains America’s worst enemy. Our still too-willing inclination to believe that personal and societal redemption can lie in politics and elections describes a potentially fatal disorder. Of course, many critical social and economic issues do need to be addressed further by America’s government, but so too must our deeper problems be solved at the individual human level.

               In the end, this is the only proper level for undertaking real change and transformation, the only stage that is not merely a reflection or shadow (what the philosophers would call “epiphenomenal”). Already back in the fourth century BCE, Plato set out to explain politics as a reflective and unstable realm of sense and matter, a second-order arena of human action formed by inconsequential half-thoughts and distorted perceptions.

                For Plato, in stark contrast to the stable or primary realm of immaterial “Forms” – from which all authentic truth must ultimately be drawn – the political world must be dominated by wizardry, falsehood and “anti-reason.”[18]

               Going forward, whatever our personal political preferences, history and intellect must be given a renewed pride of place.[19] Too often, we ought to finally know by now, a threatened civilization compromises with its afflictions, cheerlessly, and even while the “herds” (Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud) or “crowds” (Soren Kierkegaard) or “mass” (Carl G. Jung and Jose Ortega y’ Gasset) chant rhythmic nonsense in a fevered unison. To meaningfully restore us as a nation to long-term health and potential (these two objectives must always proceed together), we the peoplemust learn to lookbehind and even beyond the upcoming November elections.

               For now, the shadows are poisons in their own right, but the tangible sources of these poisons must be targeted as well.

                Donald J. Trump – despite the obvious perniciousness of his catastrophic presidency – was never this country’s core “disease.” Rather, he has been a pathological reflection, a darkening shadow, or what Plato would have predicted was the inevitable symptom of any society that mistakes transient half-thoughts for genuine understanding.[20] Though the ancient Greek philosopher’s most ambitious remedy –  “to make the souls of the citizens better”[21] – is hardly a realistic goal these days, it must remain a manifestly overriding objective of decent human governance.

               There is one last but still primary point. In certain all-too-frequent cases, a portion of society does not “mistake transient half-truths for genuine understanding” – that is, confuse shadow for truth – but  instead, makes such dire substitutions willfully and knowingly. In these always-ominous cases, ones where certain citizens declare themselves to be “conscientiously ignorant,”[22] there can be no calculable benefit to offering mindful clarifications or elucidations of what is real.[23] Here, the only residually rational path to “remediation” is both conspicuous and immutable.

                It is to blunt political influence of the self-deluding societal portion as much as practicable, and, simultaneously, to sharpen this influence among those who would still favor Reason over Anti-Reason.[24]

               In today’s Trump-defiled United States, this path offers a difficult but navigable route, an indispensable journey from shadows to truth. America can choose to take this correct path, but the decision time still available is not unlimited. Too long conned by a willfully self-serving president, citizens can either rise above the Trump-applauding “mass,” or feebly accept a continuous display of  terminal retrogression.


[1]For generic assessments of the probable consequences of nuclear war by this author, see: Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd. ed., 2018);   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 MA:  Lexington Books, 1983);  Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington MA;  Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, ed.,  Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1986).

[2]In a recently-published book, this infringement has been declared a “serious national security threat” by a former FBI agent working on such urgent matters: See, in The New York Times: https://news.yahoo.com/ex-fbi-agent-russia-inquiry-154326623.html 

[3] Dialectical thinking originated in Fifth Century BCE Athens, as Zeno, author of the Paradoxes, was acknowledged by Aristotle as its inventor. In the middle dialogues of Plato, dialectic emerges as the supreme form of philosophic/analytic method. The dialectician, says Plato, is the special one who knows how to ask and then answer vital questions.

[4] Historically and jurisprudentially, anarchy is an old-story, dating back to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Chaos, however, is “more than” anarchy, and would render all national  policy decisions even more uncertain, unpredictable and problematic.

[5]Sigmund Freud maintained a general antipathy to all things American. According to Bruno Bettelheim, he most strenuously objected to this country’s “shallow optimism” and its corollary commitment to variously crude forms of materialism. America, thought Freud, was very evidently “lacking in soul.” See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), especially Chapter X.

[6]The obligations of international law are generally obligations of US law. In the precise words used by the U.S. Supreme Court in The Paquete Habana, “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction, as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination.  For this purpose, where there is no treaty, and no controlling executive or legislative act or judicial decision, resort must be had to the customs and usages of civilized nations.”  See The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 678-79 (1900).  See also:  The Lola,  175 U.S. 677 (1900);  Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F. 2d 774,  781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984)(per curiam)(Edwards, J. concurring)(dismissing the action, but making several references to domestic jurisdiction over extraterritorial offenses), cert. denied,  470 U.S. 1003 (1985)(“concept of extraordinary judicial jurisdiction over acts in violation of significant international standards…embodied in the principle of `universal violations of international law.'”).

[7]See, by Louis René Beres,  https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2019/12/28/trumps-space-force-a-predictable-future-of-war-and-chaos/

[8]Too often these days, this means an increasingly job-centered notion of higher education. In this unfortunate devolution, see, by this author, at Princeton: Louis René Beres, https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/06/a-core-challenge-of-higher-education

[9]In the 17th century, the French philosopher Blaise Pascal remarked prophetically, in his justly celebrated 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] For the authoritative sources of international law, see art. 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice: STATUTE OF THE INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE, Done at San Francisco, June 26, 1945. Entered into force, Oct. 24, 1945; for the United States, Oct. 24, 1945.  59 Stat. 1031,  T.S. No. 993,  3 Bevans 1153, 1976 Y.B.U.N., 1052.

[11] Notes Sigmund Freud: “Wars will only be prevented with certainty if mankind unites in setting up a central authority to which the right of giving judgment upon all shall be handed over. There are clearly two separate requirements involved in this: the creation of a supreme agency and its endowment with the necessary power. One without the other would be useless.” (See: Sigmund Freud, Collected Papers, cited in Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis, University of Denver, Monograph Series in World Affairs, Vol. 10 (1973-73), p, 27.)

[12] See,  by Louis René Beres, https://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://search.yahoo.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1151&context=ilr

[13] “The worst,” says Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt, “does sometimes happen.”

[14] For pertinent issues of a nuclear war, see, by this author, Louis René Beres, at 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).

[15] See, by this writer, at Princeton:  http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/06/a-core-challenge-of-higher-education

[16] Ironically, this expectation of international war stands in contrast to the customary legal assumption of solidarity between states. This rudimentary assumption concerns a presumptively common struggle against both anarchy and international war. Such a “peremptory” expectation, known in formal jurisprudence as a jus cogens assumption, was already mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 CE); Hugo Grotius, 2 De Jure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres, Ch. 20 (Francis W. Kesey., tr, Clarendon Press, 1925)(1690); and Emmerich de Vattel, 1 Le Droit Des Gens, Ch. 19 (1758). According to Blackstone, each state and its leaders are expected “to aid and enforce the law of nations, as part of the common law, by inflicting an adequate punishment upon offenses against that universal law . . . .” WILLIAM BLACKSTONE, PUBLIC WRONGS, in COMMENTARIES ON THE LAWS OF ENGLAND, Book 4 Ch. 1 (Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott & Co. 1893).  Though assuredly not known to US President Trump or to his most senior legal advisors, Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries represent the core foundation of all US law.

[17]These key terms, more-or-less synonymous, were favored, respectively, by Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche and  Carl G. Jung.

[18]Accordingly, we may learn from Karl Jaspers’ Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time: (1952): “Reason is confronted again and again with the fact of a mass of believers who have lost all ability to listen, who can absorb no argument and who hold unshakably fast to the Absurd as an unassailable presupposition – and really do appear to believe.” Could any words better describe the “mass-man” (and “mass-woman”) who presently prefers Donald Trump’s medical Covid19 judgments to those of Dr. Anthony Fauci?

[19]See, by this author, at Yale, Louis René Beres, Yale Global Online: https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/call-intellect-and-courage

[20]“It must not be forgotten,” says Guilllaume Apollinaire in The New Spirit and the Poets (1917),”that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.” Still the best treatments of America’s long-term disinterest in things 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).

[21] Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung both thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the intangible essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provided any precise definition of the term, but it was not intended by either in some ordinary or familiar religious sense. For both psychologists, it represented a recognizable and critical seat of mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present analytic context, is that Freud explained his predicted decline of America by making 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, literature and history); he even thought that the crude American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and material accomplishment at any cost would occasion sweeping psychological or emotional misery.

[22] This is a phrase used by Jose Ortega y’Gassett in The Revolt of the Masses (1932), commencing the Spanish philosopher’s timeless chapter on “The Barbarism of `Specialisation.'”

[23]As explained best by Friedrich Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, “What the mass once learned to believe without reasons, who could ever overthrow with reasons?”

[24] On this seemingly everlasting bifurcation, see especially German philosopher Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time (1952). Karl Jaspers is best-known to the present writer for his classic The Question of German Guilt (1947, wherein he observes with timeless prescience: “A general truth must not serve to level out the particular present truth of our own guilt.”

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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The hegemony of knowledge and the new world order: U.S. and the rest of the world

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In today’s world, knowledge and technological advantages determine – to a large extent – differences in the management of international policy. The increase in a country’s intellectual power directly defines an increase in its economic power, thus changing its position in the international competition for dominance.

The power policy, first in the agricultural age and later in the industrial age, was characterised by military and then economic hegemony, while the power policy in the information age gradually reveals the characteristics of knowledge hegemony at both the scientific and intelligence levels.

The hegemony of knowledge in contemporary international relations manifests itself specifically as unequal exchange in international trade, exploitation of high-value information and various conditions related to technological production. Hence, we see the transfer of polluting industries from privileged to poor countries: energy-consuming and high-intensity activities.

Western culture and values are disseminated vigorously, through the so-called soft power in information and mass media, and take on obsessive and oppressively hypnopedic forms.

Developed countries have patents in the use of outer space, as well as in the development of deep sea resources and in the production of environmental resources that pollute, while developing countries can only sigh as they look at other’s oceans and satellites, which fly around, do reconnaissance activities and monitor them.

The resources of the great and deep seas – which should be shared by mankind as they belong to everybody like the air, the moon and the sun – are instead exploited by the developed countries. On the contrary, they freely and ‘democratically’ share with the wretched ones only the evil consequences of environmental pollution.

With specific reference to sanctions and armed interference in international relations, the technique of violent and conscious bullying is adopted: whoever is militarily stronger imposes the validity of their interests, also at legal level.

The root cause for generating knowledge hegemony lies in the polarisation of the intellectual status of the nation-State. Western developed countries have already crossed the threshold of an information society, while developing countries are still struggling to climb towards industrial civilisation from the most primitive and closed state of existence. Although developing countries hold most of the world’s natural and human resources (just think of Africa), they are far behind in science and technology. Just look at the continental histogram of the 207 Nobel Prizes in Physics from 1901 to 2017 (winners are counted by country of birth except for the Algerian Nobel Prize winner Claude Cohen-Tannoudji [1997], who was born when Algeria was a French territory):

Source: Nadua Antonelli <<Africana>> XXIII (2017) page 12

If they have no means to study, even the greatest and most brilliant brains cannot make discoveries or file patents, looking only at the sky and the earth.

About 80 per cent of science and technology staff and their achievements are concentrated in developed countries. The knowledge advantage gives developed countries the right to set the rules of the game and of communication for all global knowledge production and dissemination. In particular, the developed countries’ knowledge advantages in the military and high-tech media enable them to expand their influence on the civil and military fronts and achieve their strategic objectives.

Developing countries wander between traditional society, modern industrial civilisation and post-industrial civilisation, and are often challenged and oppressed by the third party’s hegemony of knowledge.

The new economy created by the information revolution is still a ‘rich-country phenomenon’, the core of what is called ‘advantage creation’, under the cover of ‘competitive advantage’, or rather: competitive towards those who cannot compete.

The country leading the information revolution is the United States, which is the biggest beneficiary of these achievements. The digital divide highlights the status of the US information superpower. In the global information sector, in 2000 the central processing unit production in the United States accounted for 92%, and software production for 86%.

IT (Information & Technology) investment in the United States was 41.5% of global investment, Microsoft’s Windows system accounted for 95% of global platform applications, while the US Internet users accounted for more than half of global Internet users, and 58% of all e-mail goes through US servers.

E-commerce is worth 75% of the global total and US commercial websites account for 90% of the planet.

Currently, there are almost three thousand large-scale databases in the world, 70% of which are in the United States. There are 13 top-level domain name servers in the world and 10 of them are located in the United States.

The above figures far exceed the share of US GDP, which is 28% of the world total. The United States is far ahead of all countries in the world, including the other developed countries. The leading position in information technology allows the United States to control the basics in the field of information with its strong economic and talent advantages, as well as to master the actual rights, and to set standards and formulate rules and regulations.

The status as cradle of the information revolution has brought enormous wealth and development benefits to the United States. Since the 1990s, the development of information technology and the rise of the related industry have become an accelerator of further economic advancement in the United States.

In the growth of US GDP – from 1994 (the beginning of the Internet) to 2000 – the share of the information industry in the value of the country’s total output has caused the economy to rise from 6.3% to 8.3%, and the contribution provided by the information industry development to the actual US economic growth is estimated at 30%.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the United States – with its strong national-global power and the relative hegemony of knowledge/information – was already ready to build a new world order.

Knowledge is also the soul of military hegemony. Since the 1990s the United States (after the USSR’s demise) has taken advantage of its absolute leadership in information technology to vigorously promote a new military revolution and equip its armed forces with a large number of modern sophisticated weapons, especially cyber weapons: an overwhelming advantage in the conventional field, clearly overtaking the Third World, as well as its Western allies.

The US superiority in equipment ranges from one to two generations (i.e. from 15 to 30 years) over developing countries and from 0.5 to one generation over allies. All this has established the hegemonic status of the United States as the world’s number one military power.

Gulf Wars II (1991) and III (2003) (the first was the Iran-Iraq War in 1980-88), the Kosovo War (1999), the Afghanistan War (2001- still ongoing), and the Iraq War (2003-2011) were four localised wars that the United States fought to establish a new world order after the Cold War. During those events, the US hegemony was strengthened on an unprecedented scale and its attempt to establish a new order made substantial progress.

Moreover, backed by strong military advantages (scattering the planet with its own bases and outposts), as well as economic and technological advantages, those events ensured that the United States had and still has a leading position in the world, thus making the White House a planner and defender of the new world order. (1. continued)

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Hardened US and Iranian positions question efficacy of parties’ negotiating tactics

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The United States and Iran seem to be hardening their positions in advance of a resumption of negotiations to revive a 2015 international nuclear agreement once Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office in early August.

Concern among supporters of the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program which former US President Donald J. Trump abandoned in 2018 may be premature but do raise questions about the efficacy of the negotiating tactics of both parties.

These tactics include the Biden administration’s framing of the negotiations exclusively in terms of the concerns of the West and its Middle Eastern allies rather than also as they relate to Iranian fears, a failure by both the United States and Iran to acknowledge that lifting sanctions is a complex process that needs to be taken into account in negotiations, and an Iranian refusal to clarify on what terms the Islamic republic may be willing to discuss non-nuclear issues once the nuclear agreement has been revived.

The differences in the negotiations between the United States and Iran are likely to be accentuated if and when the talks resume, particularly concerning the mechanics of lifting sanctions.

“The challenges facing the JCPOA negotiations are a really important example of how a failed experience of sanctions relief, as we had in Iran between the Obama and Trump admins, can cast a shadow over diplomacy for years to come, making it harder to secure US interests,” said Iran analyst Esfandyar Batmanghelidj referring to the nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its initials.

The Biden administration may be heeding Mr. Batmangheldij’s notion that crafting sanctions needs to take into account the fact that lifting them can be as difficult as imposing them as it considers more targeted additional punitive measures against Iran. Those measures would aim to hamper Iran’s evolving capabilities for precision strikes using drones and guided missiles by focusing on the providers of parts for those weapon systems, particularly engines and microelectronics.

To be sure, there is no discernable appetite in either Washington or Tehran to adjust negotiation tactics and amend their underlying assumptions. It would constitute a gargantuan, if not impossible challenge given the political environment in both capitals. That was reflected in recent days in Iranian and US statements.

Iranian Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested that agreement on the revival of the nuclear accord was stumbling over a US demand that it goes beyond the terms of the original accord by linking it to an Iranian willingness to discuss its ballistic missiles program and support for Arab proxies.

In a speech to the cabinet of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, he asserted that the West “will try to hit us everywhere they can and if they don’t hit us in some place, it’s because they can’t… On paper and in their promises, they say they’ll remove sanctions. But they haven’t lifted them and won’t lift them. They impose conditions…to say in future Iran violated the agreement and there is no agreement” if Iran refuses to discuss regional issues or ballistic missiles.

Iranian officials insist that nothing can be discussed at this stage but a return by both countries to the nuclear accord as is. Officials, distrustful of US intentions, have hinted that an unconditional and verified return to the status quo ante may help open the door to talks on missiles and proxies provided this would involve not only Iranian actions and programs but also those of America’s allies.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks seemed to bolster suggestions that once in office Mr. Raisi would seek to turn the table on the Biden administration by insisting on stricter verification and US implementation of its part of a revived agreement.

To achieve this, Iran is expected to demand the lifting of all rather than some sanctions imposed or extended by the Trump administration; verification of the lifting;  guarantees that the lifting of sanctions is irreversible, possibly by making any future American withdrawal from the deal contingent on approval by the United Nations Security Council; and iron-clad provisions to ensure that obstacles to Iranian trade are removed, including the country’s unfettered access to the international financial system and the country’s overseas accounts.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks and Mr. Raisi’s anticipated harder line was echoed in warnings by US officials that the ascendancy of the new president would not get Iran a better deal. The officials cautioned further that there could be a point soon at which it would no longer be worth returning to because Iran’s nuclear program would have advanced to the point where the limitations imposed by the agreement wouldn’t produce the intended minimum one year ‘breakout time’ to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb.

“We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point, the gains achieved by the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it’s undertaken with regard to its nuclear program…The ball remains in Iran’s court, and we will see if they’re prepared to make the decisions necessary to come back into compliance,” US Secretary Antony Blinken said this week on a visit to Kuwait.

Another US official suggested that the United States and Iran could descend into a tug-of-war on who has the longer breath and who blinks first. It’s a war that so far has not produced expected results for the United States and in which Iran has paid a heavy price for standing its ground.

The official said that a breakdown in talks could “look a lot like the dual-track strategy of the past—sanctions pressure, other forms of pressure, and a persistent offer of negotiations. It will be a question of how long it takes the Iranians to come to the idea they will not wait us out.”

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Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn

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Photo: Miller Center/ flickr

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.

So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.

Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”. 

That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.

The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards

That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.

The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.

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