Historian Alfred McCoy has quickened my interest in the discourse of geopolitics applied to the waning state of US empire. His book, In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017), makes a clear case that the end of global dominance is near. The question is what kinds of disruption and what degree of violence the imperial fall will occasion. What might a post-imperial era mean for Americans and others caught up in the transition? From the perspective of geopolitics, McCoy sees a number of mostly disturbing possibilities. His observations are valuable for indicating the challenges ahead. (more…)
Donald Trump’s fizzled summit meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is yet another occasion for commentary on this president’s unfitness for office, particularly in matters of foreign affairs. The failure in Hanoi was Trump’s greatest blunder so far, according to Simon Tisdall, a foreign affairs commentator for the Guardian. It was another “Trump vanity project.” His “self-reverential style of personalized, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants diplomacy” is irresponsible in nuclear talks, per se, and ineffectual more generally.
Tisdall’s summary of Trump’s failed leadership is stunning: (more…)
I count myself among the majority of Americans appalled by Donald Trump’s presidency. Even so, righteous talk of his treason is worrisome from my standpoint as a critic of US war culture. I worry that a desire to defeat Trump and Trumpism by attacking any point of vulnerability works, in the present case, to reinforce militarism, even if inadvertently.
“Trump the Traitor” pretty well sums up the mainstream reaction to Mr. Trump’s resistance to the investigation of Russian meddling in US elections and his affinity for Mr. Putin. That is the title of Michael A. Cohen’s July 16 commentary in the Boston Globe. (more…)
I have been watching network news regularly over the past year, since Mr. Trump assumed the presidency. I am not a big fan of network news. I default to newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Guardian for more complete coverage. But the evening television news, given its entertainment format, is a way of keeping up with popularized versions of daily events.
It is easy to be ensnared and stupefied by the evening news melodrama. While watching the NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt on March 15, I was suddenly alerted by my internal propaganda detector to a two-minute story about a previously secret skirmish in Syria between US special forces and Russian mercenaries. The incident had occurred a month earlier, on February 7, in an area of eastern Syria where ISIS forces recently had been driven off. Americans directly engaged Russians in combat for the first time in 50 years. The US officer in charge, Brigadier General Jonathan Braga, was concerned that the battle could lead to real war with Russia. (more…)
Cup of coffee in hand, reading my morning newspaper, I feel a sudden jolt. No, not a jolt from the caffeine. It is the story that brings me up short. The story is about a current revival of fear over the possibility of World War III. That topic draws my attention to the story, but it is not the cause for my surprise or the reason to stop what I am doing. I’ve been worrying about war for as long as I can remember. What brings me up short is a bolt-from-the-blue reminder that for some people, maybe most of my fellow citizens, US militarism is a force for peace, which is not too far removed from the mythic sensibility of war as an angel of redemption.
Sometimes it takes an actual example, a singular statement in ordinary circumstances, to recognize an unspoken assumption and make a disembodied abstraction abruptly palpable. It is one thing to think abstractly that we live and die by the myths that constitute us and shape our sense of reality. It is quite different to feel the force of that truism. That difference is what Rick Hampson’s story in USA TODAY brought home to me. (more…)
Speaking to the Australian Parliament on November 17, 2011, as his administration declared its intention to pivot to Asia, President Obama expressed his commitment to peace. We “partner to keep peace,” he said. We seek a world in which “disagreements are resolved peacefully,” he insisted. “As we plan and budget for the future, we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region. We will preserve our unique ability to project power and deter threats to peace,” he concluded.
What does the President mean by peace? Budgeting for war equals a commitment to peace?
In a word, yes. (more…)
Crises prompt politicians and pundits to draw deeply from the well of myth. The President turned to the biblical language of evildoers to make sense of the tragedy of 9/11. More recently, the Cold War language of falling dominoes and containment has resurfaced in the face of Russia’s sudden annexation of Crimea. It, too, is mythic at its core.
Indiana’s U.S. Senator Dan Coats, among others, speaks in Cold War terms (March 17, 2014). Hoosiers should care about what happens to Ukraine even though, he observes, it is 5,000 miles away, trade with it is miniscule, it has no energy resources or critical materials, it is a corrupt and unstable state, and only 30% of its population is religious.
Why should we care, then, asks the Senator? Because “conflicts grow from small beginnings,” as in the case of Hitler’s unchecked aggression and other incidents before and after World War II, when policymakers failed to draw the line. Disaster in Ukraine undermines European security and stability, which penetrates to the “permanent core” of U.S. strategic interests and threatens a chain reaction. (more…)
In Abrahamic mythology, God enabled his people to destroy evil giants and to occupy their land. Oversized pagans were ousted from the promised land by a chosen people. David, not timid Saul, was fit to lead the people, for David was “a man of valor, a warrior” (1 Samuel 16:18 NRSV). Young David slew the taunting Goliath; King David and his army killed Philistine giants to secure Israel and Judah.
Killing the ungodly Goliath is a parable of the courage that comes from knowing the faithful underdog is victorious over those who have “defied the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17: 36 NRSV). The parable equates virtue with the strength of courage, evil with the monster’s bluster. Aggression is symbolically transformed into defense when one fights the Lord’s battle against satanic forces.
The story of David and Goliath is embedded in U.S. war culture. It projects evil and transforms the world’s most powerful nation into the righteous defender of the oppressed. Cowering before a bully does not befit an American president to lead the world to glory. (more…)