Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Pope Francis: Possessing Nuclear Weapons is Indefensible

Pope Francis said late in 2017 that the nuclear arms race had become irrational and immoral. The irrationality itself rendered even just the possession of nuclear weapons as immoral, according to the pope. Whereas past popes had recognized deterrence as a legitimator, both irrationality and the extent and “upgrading” of such weapons were factors in Pope Francis’s admittedly personal view.  Yet was his basis merely moral, or religious in nature?

The full essay is at "The Pope on Nuclear Weapons."

Friday, November 24, 2017

On the Legitimacy of the US Invasion of Iraq

George H.W. Bush had not sent the US military all of the way into Iraq; he decided to go along with the consensus in the coalition of the time that the invasion would go just far enough to remove Iraqi forces from Kwait.  Undoing an invasion is a laudatory military venture.

George W. Bush went all the way in, occupying Iraq ostensively because of WMD and a link between Saddam Hussein and 9-11.  Karl Rove states in his memoirs that the fact that no WMD was found under Bush’s watch critically damaged the Bush Presidency.  In addition, the presumed link between Hussein’s government and 9-11 turned out to be spurious.  Rove claims that the invasion was justified nonetheless as a response to 9-11.  ”Having seen how much carnage four airplanes could cause, Bush was determined to do all he could to prevent the most powerful weapons from falling into the hands of the world’s most dangerous dictators,” Rove notes.  From this criterion, however, at least two problems are evident.

First, presumably other dangerous dictators, like those of Iran and North Korea, would have been subject to American forces.  That is to say, the criterion does not justify singling out one dictator.  It does not, for example, say “…dictators who are thought to have a WMD.”  The criterion is broader, yet George W. Bush applied it dogmatically (i.e., too narrowly, meaning to just one of several cases that would apply).

Second, the criterion does not justify removing a government from power; the goal is to keep WMD from falling into a government’s hands.  It could be argued that because the Bush administration thought that Saddem had a WMD, the only way to reach the goal was to remove him from power, but then the justification of the invasion would be invalid because there is no evidence that he had WMD at the time of the US invasion.  He had had chemical weapons, but then I’m sure Iraq is not the only “dangerous” country that has them.  Again, the criterion would have to be applied to all such cases.  To apply it to one and ignore the rest is dogmatic, or arbitrary, and thus points to an ulterior motive other than acting on the basis of the criterion.

In short, whereas his father restrained himself in keeping with the coalition at the early 1990s, George W. Bush went all the way, and without sufficient justification even by the criterion that his advisor, Karl Rove, provides.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.  When there is a rubber-stamp Congress and a President willing to declare war (a Congressional power on account of the structural conflict of interest in having the commander in chief declaring war—meaning declaring that he would be using his power), it is difficult for him to hold back, even when his own father provides an illustration of self-restraint.   Perhaps Congress is too close to the US President’s Office to be vested with declaring war; maybe 2/3 of the governors should be required in lieu of the Congress.  In any case, the imperial presidency is a dangerous thing to have in a republic built on republics (i.e., an empire).  Rome went from being a republic to having an emperor…and then on to ruin.  The US may be following a similar course.  The lessons from the invasion of Iraq can go well beyond foreign and military policy as we search for reforms that pertain to our system of government.

Source: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/35706823/ns/today-today_books/

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Selling Coal at a Conference on Climate Change

Peabody Energy, an American coal company and unlikely participant at a global conference on climate change in November, 2017, nevertheless previewed its presentation by trumpeting coal as part of the solution with: “As the world seeks to reduce emissions while promoting economic prosperity, fossil fuels will continue to play a central role in the energy mix.”[1] Besides interlarding economic growth at the conference that was on the climate, the company’s management felt the need—nay, even the obligation—to remind the world that coal would still play a prominent part in how the world obtains energy for its billions and billions of human beings. “The reality of it is the world is going to continue to use fossil fuels, and if I can throw myself on the hand grenade to help people realize that, I’m willing to do it,” said Barry Worthington of the U.S. Energy Association before the conference in the E.U. city of Bonn. Were people really unaware that reliance on coal was an intractable problem from the standpoint of reducing carbon emissions, or was the American company simply wanting to sell more coal?
Most experts at the time were insisting that we must shift from fossil fuels to meet the targets on emissions; not even short-term economic prosperity from coal should thus get in the way from the perspective of minimizing the worst expected from increasingly likely climate change. Accordingly, Worthington’s obligation could be viewed contrariwise as a crime against humanity. “Any country or company continuing to champion further exploration for and mining of coal and even other fossil fuels from now on would be willfully carrying out a crime against humanity, and they would be held accountable,” said Saleemul Huq of the International Center for Climate Change and Development.
A useful distinction can be made between helping developing countries to use cleaner and more efficient fossil fuels, as the U.S. had done at the last G20 meeting before the conference, and insisting that coal production be increased or even held at current levels so not to interfere with other social goods (e.g., economic growth). Even the insistence that coal would continue to supply 40% of the world’s energy takes away from the alternative narrative that coal use should be reduced as much and as soon as possible, realistically of course.
Humanity may unwittingly have already been on borrowed time from the standpoint of the Earth’s changing climate—unwittingly because the oceans were still absorbing carbon dioxide such that we could not perceive the full extent of the change already extant on land. So the public alarm from the self-aggrandizing selling of coal at a conference on climate change could be expected to be muted. Even if the oceans had been saturated such that the carbon in the atmosphere was spiking, the public alarm would likely have fallen short of taking into account that the species itself could face extinction—for a future equilibrium of the world’s climate will not necessarily be consistent with continued human survival. Indeed, as a result to natural selection, our species is not “hard-wired” to take the long-range future into sufficient account; we are much more oriented to instant gratification. I suspect that this innate proclivity will be the seed of our species’ destruction unless we can circumvent a changing atmosphere with the advent of technology fitting the scale and severity of the problem. Such technology would have to dwarf that of making coal more efficient.

1. Lisa Friedman, “For Climate Conference, a Sales Pitch on Fossil Fuels,” The Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2017.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Absolute Sovereignty: The Case of Syria

By the end of 2012, over 60,000 Syrians had been killed and over half a million had fled as a result of the civil war in Syria. Shortages of food and shelter were worsening inside Syria for civilians. In early January of 2013, a spokesperson for the U.N. said that the international organization was unable to feed a million residents in combat zones. Acute fuel shortages in Syria were contributing to the rising price of bread—at least six times greater than the pre-conflict price. Additionally, an outbreak of violence in a large Syrian refugee camp of 54,000 refugees in Jordan amid a winter storm was reported. “The incident followed a night of heavy storms, during which torrential rains and high winds swept away tents and left parts of the camp flooded,” an official in Save the Children said in a statement. One might ask what was really behind the deteriorating conditions.
At first glance, the culprit is merely that of two centers of power fighting for dominance within Syria. World history had been littered with such conflicts. However, this explanation does not explain why other countries permitted the harm in Syria to worsen. Lest one be content to ascribe the impotence to a web of international alliances and politics, it can be asked whether principles could have been holding back otherwise willing interventionists.

In a rare public address, President Assad of Syria claimed early in 2013 that the sovereignty of Syria, which is for him the top principle, is “based on the principles and goals of the UN Charter and the international law which all stress on the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of countries.” National sovereignty is absolute. In making this well-established principle explicit, Assad could have drawn on western political theory—namely, the thought of Jean Bodin and Thomas Hobbes.
In the war-weary context of the seventeenth century, Hobbes wrote that the king needed absolute sovereignty, even as the definitive interpreter of divine law. Any constraint in the latter on a king would pertain to his afterlife, and therefore not bear on a king’s actual conduct. Jean Bodin too had viewed divine law as a constraint on otherwise absolute sovereignty, though for that theorist the king is not the definitive decider on divine law. Accordingly, such law could in principle act as a constraint on a king even in this world. Even so, other powers could not intervene at the expense of national sovereignty.
 Unlike Bodin and Hobbes, Assad defended absolute sovereignty out of fear that Syria would be brought into submission by foreign powers. “A country that is thousands of years old cannot be dictated to,” Assad said, by foreign powers.  “Syria has always been, and will remain, a free and sovereign country that won’t accept submission and tutelage.” Anything less than absolute sovereignty means becoming the vessel of an imperial power. In making this point, Assad could have drawn on dependency theory in international political economy. The sovereignty of developing countries is compromised or surrendered by their subservient economies. In being “allowed” to export only commodities, for example, a developing country could be at the mercy of one or a few countries that are the principal buyers. Those countries could keep the developing country from industrializing so as to retain economic and even political leverage.
In other words, Assad’s position combines the Bodin-Hobbes notion of absolute sovereignty with a theory of economic development that stresses the structural subservience of developing countries. In fact, dependency may lie at the root of Assad’s notion of national sovereignty. The problem with Assad’s rendering is that sovereignty can be viewed as limited without necessarily entailing submission to a foreign power.
Beyond the geopolitical and related mercantilist interests of particular countries, the international community could come to a consensus on how far a government can justifiably go in inflicting harm domestically under the principle of national sovereignty before outside powers would be justified in intervening. In terms of such harm, wounding or killing unarmed residents would trigger relatively close limits on national sovereignty, while the harm unleashed in a civil war would have a higher threshold. Rather than involving submission to the foreign powers, the limitations on national sovereignty would be geared to stopping the harm by removing the extant government from power. Once the government whose legitimacy had been lost internationally is expunged, the emphasis of the international community would turn to assisting the people in the construction of their own new government. To be sure, Assad would view such an approach as a cloak used by imperial Western powers to dominate Syria. The international community would thus be well-advised to stress its own restraint in placing limits on national sovereignty.
Given the sheer extent of harm inflicted on the Syrian population by the end of 2012, however, the international community would be justified in intervening in Syria to immobilize Assad’s government even without concern for the “submission” argument on behalf of absolute sovereignty. That the world stayed on the sidelines, essentially allowing the situation “on the ground” to worse so much, suggests that the dominance of the Bodin-Hobbes notion of absolute sovereignty was still too great, and thus should be subjected to critique. In other words, the powers around the world in favor of intervening should not have felt like they would be imposing in stepping in to stop the violence. The notion of a country being under temporary international occupation because a government had lost its legitimacy due to the harm inflicted or permitted was well overdue even before Assad’s government had gone after unarmed protesters.
The matter of default itself, particularly its staying power (as though a house guest who will not leave), is the true culprit that kept the world at bay as Syria degenerated in a cycle of increasing violence and suffering. Why it is that the default can continue to enjoy hegemony even when it should be subject to critique—this is the underlying question before us here.
Assad can claim that Syria’s sovereignty is absolute. This does not necessarily make it so, even ideationally. He can claim that absolute sovereignty is a necessary bulwark against becoming the agent of another country, but this does not mean that is assumption is valid. In making his claim, he could rely on the default and thus count on the related trepidation of the international community in intervening even to stop horrendous suffering.
If the U.N. is necessarily bound to the notion of absolute sovereignty (even if kept so by one member’s veto), then the international community would be well within its prerogative to form a new international organization (even without necessarily having to leave the U.N.)  that is oriented to placing and enforcing limits on national sovereignty. Such an organization would say, in effect, “No, we will not stand by as great harm takes place within a country.” Would not bystanders be justified in saying something similar as a boyfriend beats his girlfriend in public and restraining the man? Were he to claim that being restrained in that instance would imply or result in him becoming a slave would hardly be taken seriously, and yet Assad’s claim of Syria’s absolute sovereignty had its defenders abroad and even held other powers at bay when they would have been justified in intervening to stop the harm. Were the dogmatic basis of Assad’s claim made transparent (i.e., obvious), the notion that sovereignty is somehow absolute would finally be viewed as artificial in nature rather than as part of the basis of Western civilization; the demise of the reigning default would not have to wait generations needlessly before being realized.


Rick Gladstone and Nick Cumming-Bruce, “Aid Groups Report New Level of Misery Among Displaced Syrians,” The New York Times, January 8, 2012.

Monday, October 23, 2017

China’s Strategy: Divide the Vulnerable E.U.

During the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787, delegates from the sovereign states feared that foreign states would seek to divide their American counterparts to the extent that the United States could split apart. So the delegates voted to move foreign policy from the state to the federal level. Unlike this case, government officials of the E.U. states held foreign policy closely rather than ceding it to the federal level. Whereas in the American case the delegates could adopt a federal perspective as distinguished from the immediate interests of the respective state governments, the state officials in the European Council can be taken even as personifications of their respective state interests. Foreign powers can take advantage of the state officials’ conflict of interest to the extent that the very functioning of the European Union is compromised.
China provides a case in point. Unlike his predecessors, President Xi had by 2017 demonstrated a strong inclination to have China assume a major geo-political role in the world. “Xi’s aggressive diplomacy largely comes from his own aspirations, beliefs and strategic requirements,” said Shi Yinhong, a scholar of international relations in China.[1] The interests of other countries are noticeably absent in Xi’s (or any president’s) considerations. In fact, Xi’s forceful diplomacy could be expected to be to the detriment of foreign powers, including the E.U.
In line with President Xi’s “global ambitions” at least through 2017, China may have been “trying to divide the European Union by cultivating poorer [states] like Hungary and Greece and using them to block policies supported by richer [states] that hurt Beijing.”[2] In pursuing this strategy, Xi could bank on the resentment of poor states such as Greece toward the largest state, Germany, for having been able to dominate federal policy on the debt crisis. In other words, the largest (and richest) state had enough power at the federal level to make sure that E.U. policy on Greece’s debt would reflect Germany’s interests. That a few large states might dominate was a concern of the American delegates at the convention—the result being that every state has the same number of votes in the U.S. Senate.
It seems that state as well as federal officials in the E.U. had not read Madison’s Notes to the Federal Convention, and thus could be unnecessarily blindsided by the efforts of China to divide the Union and of the state of Germany to forge E.U. policy in the state’s own interest. Xi could strategically use resentment among the other states against Germany to thwart not only the foreign policies of the large states, but also the very functioning of the Union. Put another way, the European Union has been ripe for an outside “divide and conquer” strategy.
European officials could counter China’s strategy by transferring more foreign-policy competencies to the federal level, addressing the conflict of interest that state officials have in the European Counsel (i.e., effectively reducing the interest of the Union to that of the specific state), and giving small states an institutional or procedural safeguard against a large/rich state being able to dominate federal policy.

1. Jane Perlez, “Xi’s Global Ambitions Tempered by Leery Allies,” The New York Times, October 23, 2017.
2. Ibid.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Kurds Betrayed: Iraq Retakes Kirkuk with U.S. Backing

For some reason, people tend to assume that the status quo has been around for a very, very long time—that it enjoys the perk of longevity. To mess with it even in part is typically assumed to “upset the apple cart.” The fear is excessive. A century after World War I, the fact that many of the extant countries in the Middle East had been artificially crafted by Britain and France paled under the presumption that those countries had been around for much, much longer. Accordingly, the fact that the Kurds voted overwhelmingly in 2017 to secede from Iraq was ignored or dismissed not only by Iraq, but also by other countries in the region and the United States. “Baghdad and most countries in the region had condemned the vote, fearing it would fuel ethnic divisions, lead to the breakup of Iraq and hobble the fight against the Islamic State.”[1] I submit that the fear was overblown and mistaken.
Firstly, ethnic divisions had been crippling Iraq since the United States toppled Saddam Hussain. An independent Kurdistan in the northern third of Iraq would have relieved the pressure such that the Iraqi government would only have to deal with the Sunni-Shiite struggle for power.
Secondly, even if Iraq itself would break-up completely, even this outcome would not be so much to fear, as Iraq itself had been artificially formed by the British after World War I. Put another way, the salience of the ethnic divisions in Iraq can be taken as an indication of the sheer artificiality of the state itself. The very notion of a nation goes along with ethnic clusters rather than forcing such clusters to form one political culture (to say nothing of getting along).
Thirdly, the pesh merga forces of the Kurds had fought quite well against the Islamic State, so invigorating the Kurds by supporting the formation of their own state would have been in the interests of the United States. Betraying the Kurds by enabling the Iraqi forces to take Kirkuk and its valuable oil region could be expected to have the opposite effect. In ignoring the clear will of the Kurds as per the decisive result of the referendum for secession, the United States betrayed itself, moreover, given that country’s preachments on behalf of democracy, which entails the self-determination of We the People.
A century after World War I, the world had an opportunity to remember that victorious European powers redrew the political map in the Middle East without taking into account the ethnic clusters that are naturally so integral to having nation-states. That such states enjoy a monopoly of power in international relations—the international realm literally being inter-national—suggests that the crafting of coherent rather than artificial nations is very important. Hence, a century out from WWI, the world of nations need not simply assume that even the break-up of a Middle Eastern country would somehow be the collapse of something that has always been around and would therefore be catastrophic. Put another way, a country formed by a European power should not enjoy default status because the formation itself can be viewed as problematic, evidenced by the ensuing ethnic strife. Admittedly, this does not hold in every country formed by Britain or France (e.g. Jordan), but where a country is strife-ridden, the application of nation itself is problematic; ethnic pushes for independence should not have to face the inertia of the status quo in such a case.

[1] David Zucchino, “Iraqis Capture Key Kurdish City with Little Fight,” The New York Times, October 17, 2017.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Climatic Presumption: What is the Forecast?

Al Gore stated that we face a choice regarding whether the earth’s ecological system will remain viable for our species.  He cites the carbon that is frozen in the permafrost in the north.  As the permafrost melts, carbon is added to the atmosphere, making it “difficult” for the human species to live.   I am not a scientist so I have no means of knowing what the state of the research is on these matters.  Nor am I particularly interested in debating it.   In my view, if there is a chance that we could be effectively ending our our species, we ought not to be held back from acting in a prudent fashion even if it is “just in case.”   I understand the economic costs, and that some are particularly attached to short-run costs (and less enamoured with long-term benefits).  Still, that the debate itself would be allowed to stall even a “just in case” response reflects badly on our species.   At a worse case, it could be something like two parents debating which of them will get their baby out of their burning house.  Meanwhile, the baby burns.   We would call that a dysfunctional family, would we not?  Still, no such appellation goes to those involved in the continuing debate on climate change.
It strikes me that we as a society may be too innured in our own presumptuousness to even realize how badly we are handling such decisions.  I can’t believe that the society is predominantly made up of the two, rather vocal, extremes on the matter.  The extremes are presumptuous in their determination to continue the debate unless they get exactly what they want while the rest of us have been guilty of allowing them to dominate the decision-making process.  Consider, for example, a reasonable person saying, “ok, we need to make a decision,” and one is made.  The refusal to make compromises (whether an extreme in the US following a rigid ideological agenda or the Chinese government presuming that national sovereignty is absolute) is not only childish, it is rather arrogant concerning that the eventual demise of our species might hang in the balance.  Even this “might” should be a wakeup call that posturing and debating evince a selfishness that the rest of us ought not to countenance.  Yet we do.  We are too passive, those of us without a dog in the fight.   The truth is, we all have a dog in this fight.  Are we to be survived by cockroaches?   Wouldn’t it be fodder for a divine comedy were the antics of the cockroaches superior to the presumptuousness of humans?   The species left standing is the one that wins.  

I can visualize a later generation (of humans) looking back at our generation as incredibly selfish and incompetent even to reach a decision.  “They knew what might hang in the balance, and yet they were so caught up in their own petty circumstances.”   It is like we are captains on the Titanic debating which way to turn after it being reasonable to believe that there is an iceberg somewhere ahead.   It could even be that we see the iceberg and still we debate.  Such pettifoggery is mere dribble in the divine comedy that may well already be in Act III.  

We are so small, even smaller than the cockroach, and yet we presume ourselves to be so big.  We we to have the distance of perspective such that our immediate pathos would not blind us, how would we view our society…ourselves?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Autocratic Regimes: Subject to the Domino Effect?

"In Beirut, gunfire broke out and crowds of people waved Egyptian flags. In Yemen, they gathered in front of the Egyptian Embassy chanting, 'Wake up rulers, Mubarak fell today.' In Gaza, they fired shots in the air and set off fireworks. . . . [However,] in a telling sign of the divide between the rulers and the ruled, the region’s leaders, presidents and monarchs remained largely silent." This depiction by The New York Times of ripple effects across the Middle East in the wake of the resignation of Egypt's Mubarak in February, 2011 intimated the hoped-for and feared possibility that the popular unrest could spread.  Moreover, the entire world, which had been been glued to the events unfolding in Cairo, wondered if a domino effect might be in store in countries under autocratic rule. Indeed, The New York Times wrote of a possible domino effect quite explicitly: "The popular uprising that started . . . in Tunisa had claimed its second autocratic government, this time in the largest country in the Arab world. With more protests planned in coming days, some governments were clearly worried they could be next." But do autocratic governments fall like dominos?  That is, is revolution contagious? Fawaz Traboulsi, a prominent Lebanese writer and columnist, thought so in the days following Mubarak's resignation. “All the regimes are shaking now . . . They are becoming more and more fragile. This is just the beginning.” In Bahrain, King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa apparently thought so too, for he ordered the equivalent of $2,650 be given to every Bahraini family a few days before a planned "Day of Rage" protest. “Arab people discovered their ability to make change,” said Nabeel Rajab, a human rights activist in Bahrain. “And with Egypt in the leadership once again, the change will reach all the Arab world.” In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced he would suspend constitutional amendments that allow him to remain in his office for life. He also raised salaries for the military and civil servants and cut income taxes in half. In Algeria, the government promised to lift the state of emergency that had been in effect since 1992. To be sure, nineteen years is a rather long time for an emergency.  Such efforts can be likened to building up wetlands or widening a beach to take the wind out of the hurricane out at sea should it hit. In other words, it appears that there was "revolution watch" in effect for the Middle East in the wake of the fall of the Egyptian regime. One might reasonably question, however, whether revolutions are contagious.

It could be that autocracy itself had been weakened by the success of the protests in Egypt.  On the other hand, there had been revolutions before and dictatorship was not evicerated from the face of the earth. The belief that the Tunesian and Egyptian revolutions were the start of a wave that would flood all autocratic powers in the Middle East (or the world) might also consider that even autocratic states differ in their respective internal conditions. To use the hurricane analogy, some beaches are better protected than others. If the unrest in Tunesia and Egypt were linked in such a way that other countries could be impacted internally, the ensuing domino effect could perhaps be compared to that among Wall Street banks in September 2008.  The collapse of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and Merrill Lynch as independent or viable going concerns contained a momentum that was beginning to bring down Morgan Stanley and threaten even Goldman Sachs when the ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs at Treasury effectively pushed for the construction of a fortified sand-dune (TARP) a.k.a. an infusion of funds into the remaining banks from the U.S. Government and the Federal Reserve.  As a result, the force of the strengthening winds ceased to intensify and began to diminish, leaving the economy in a long rainy season (i.e., a recession and a subsequent nearly jobless recovery).

In the wake of the fall of the Egyptian regime, were the other regimes in the Middle East like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs after Lehman Brothers declared bankrupcy?  In other words, are autocratic regimes subject to a "run on the bank" in another? If so, there would still be a notable difference between the big banks and the governments.  Namely, the banks were deemed too big to fail, while the autocratic rulers were deemed too powerful to rule. That is to say, the continued viability of the Wall Street pillars was deemed essential to the world economy, while it was thought in the wake of the Egyptian regime of Mubarak that the world was better off less one autocratic regime. Hence there would not be likely to be a TARP program arranged to prop up dictators. Even with this difference noted, I contend that both big banks and big dictators are too big to exist in a world that values freedom and individual rights. Perhaps we ought to have been cheering the domino effect on Wall Street just as we cheered the fall of the Tunesian and Egyptian dictators. In both cases, destabilization that could lead to the collapse of the global economy and civic order would of course need to be avoided.  However, I contend that the U.S. Government could have intervened to maintain order on Wall Street by assisting as the big banks split into pieces, none of which being too big to fail and thus more in the public interest than retaining the big banks as such.  In the case of public autocratic regimes, their demise and replacement can typically be handled domestically, as in the cases of Tunesia and Egypt, rather than by an international organization such as the U.N.

In general terms, the "run on the bank" in Tunesia and Egypt may or may not be contagious in its nature, yet a consideration of the possibility of a domino effect can remind us of the domino effect that we witnessed in September of 2008 on Wall Street. Making this connection might prompt us to ask whether autocratic governments and big banks aren't both too big to exist. In other words, the collapse of one badly run bank after another and the subsequent need to deal with the question of such banks as going concerns can perhaps be likened to the collapse of one badly run government after another.  Was the world finally noticing around the end of the first decade (and the beginning of the second) of the twenty-first century that enormous concentrations of private capital (and thus power) and of public autocratic authority were not necessarily givens, and thus could, and perhaps should, be taken down? In other words, were long-standing givens finally seen as replacable?  The world was stunned when huge investment banks that had been around for more than a century were suddenly collapsing, just as the world was stunned when the government of the largest Middle Eastern country suddenly fell after two weeks of popular protests. Pillars, even those that are thought vital, can indeed fall, and the world can discover through the experiences that they are not essential--and they might even be bad for the public good. Surely this is the sense of the free world concerning autocratic governments, yet we are less convinced concerning the danger in continuing to allow banks too big to fail to continue to exist as they have for decades. In both cases, the domino effect may be natural and good, provided it is managed so public order does not collapse in the process. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The International System: Undermining a Ban on Nuclear Weapons

The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize went to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons for the group’s work on behalf of a global ban on nuclear weapons. Just a few months earlier, two-thirds of the U.N.’s General Assembly approved the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. “The risk of nuclear war has grown exceptionally in the last few years, and that’s why it makes this treaty and us receiving this award so important,” Beatrice Fihn of the group said.[1] Unfortunately, the stance to ban rather than merely limit nuclear weapons was already being marginalized as utopian and even potentially counter-productive even though ongoing efforts to limit the proliferation were falling short. I submit that the international system itself had become problematic, given the relatively new global threat of nuclear war.  
Even amid “rising global alarm about a potential nuclear conflagration” between the United States and North Korea, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said that “we have to be realistic” about the spread of nuclear weapons—meaning that a total ban could actually increase the risk of nuclear war.[2] Yet with Pakistan having an estimated 140 nuclear warheads and India having 130, Israel having an estimated 80, and North Korea presumably working on developing warheads, the status-quo policy of the U.S. could be said to be insufficient to stave off the risk of nuclear war. Put another way, as proliferation was already underway, non-proliferation policies could be reckoned as faulty.
Why do human beings continue to hold onto a boat that is sinking while seeking to undercut an alternative that actually could work? The tyranny of even a deficient status quo is such that the answer may lie with human nature itself. The risk of nuclear war has such a gigantic downside (i.e., nuclear war) that drastic measures to eradicate the risk may be necessary, and yet none of the nuclear powers in the U.N. would be bound by the treaty. Why even ratify it then? The exercise could be said to evince the impotence of the world body even in the face of such a horrible risk. Given the propensity of human nature to ingratiate itself and the existence of grave global risks, the very survival of the species may have already come to depend on a reform of the nation-state system wherein nations hold a monopoly on governmental sovereignty such that some of it is moved to the global level. National governments face a conflict of interest in this regard, as they would be ceding some power. Even if the survival of the species depends on advancement from the nation-state hegemony, national governmental officials may demur out of sordid self-interest.

1. Michael Birnhaum of the Washington Post, October 6, 2017.
2. Ibid.

For more on conflicts of interest that governments (and businesses) face, see Institutional Conflicts of Interest. 

Knee-Jerk Reactions: On the U.S. Government Enabling Dictators

While in the U.S. Senate, Paul Kirk, the interim U.S. Senator who took Ted Kennedy’s seat, said, “Without a legitimate and credible Afghan partner, that counterinsurgency strategy is fundamentally flawed. The current Afghan government is neither legitimate nor credible. . . . We should not send a single additional dollar in aid or add a single American serviceman or woman to the 68,000 already courageously deployed in Afghanistan until we see a meaningful move by the Karzai regime to root out its corruption.” 

Kirk was essentially arguing that the U.S. was enabling (i.e., in the sense that one enables an alcoholic) President Karzai, who had been reelected by widespread fraud. Whether the U.S. Government was trying to have it both ways, or was utterly unwilling to put its money where American principles are, the perception around the world was probably that the United States had sold itself out for short-term strategic/military advantage. 

How resilient are principles that are upheld only when they don't cost anything?  Could it be that standing more on principle--insisting on fair and free elections as a precondition for any American aid and military involvement--would mitigate the need for a surge? Such thinking runs against the grain in the modern world, which is actually rather primitive in its insistance on knee-jerk force.  An eye for an eye and the world will be blind (Gandhi).  September 11, 2001: we must hit back.  There is no other option. They must pay. Ironically, practicing Christians were not only cheering, but also leading the charge.  An eye for an eye.

“Be realistic!” you might say.  "It's a real world out there!" Ok, how about this: the U.S. Government could have concentrated its military force in Afghanistan on the actual culprits, rather than on rebuilding the country or taking on the Taliban.  Is it really so idealistic to cut off U.S. aid to autocratic governments? I suspect that we are limited by the status quo as a normative and descriptive limitation that is actually quite dogmatic in the sense of being arbitrary.  In other words, we believe our self-constructed walls are real; we don't see how rigid we have become.

Given the emphasis on force, does it make all that much difference who is occupying the U.S. Presidency? President Bush invaded Iraq. President Obama criticized this policy then led a surge of his own in Afghanistan.  Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex, and both Bush II and Obama played ball with these pay-masters.  Meanwhile, we were mollified with the government's “scoldings” of Wall Street banks (the strongest of which went back to their old ways anyway).  Can we blame the bankers for ignoring government officials whose principled leadership is so contingent? People, especially powerful people--like Wall Street bankers and Karzai--can sniff hypocrisy and automatically reduce the respect given.

The United States is like a giant machine, or a very fat person, who can only move slowly…turning woefully slow with a rudder that is too small.    Meanwhile, we vaunt our ship as the biggest ever made: A city on the hill, from Puritan lore. We can’t sink, we assure each other.  But our ship of state is made of iron. I assure you, it can sink, and all the more because we have drifted out into deep water without realizing how far we have gone…how far off course.  Our rudder is too small for our mechanized monstrosity--our Titanic laden with $14 tillion in federal debt alone (not counting those of the states). Our primative knee-jerk reactiong after 911 suggests that everything we know is wrong, even as we presume we can’t be wrong.   So as we rearrange the deck-chairs at our mascurade dance, we order more champaigne and congraduate each other on having the biggest ship.  Meanwhile, is anyone looking ahead for icebergs?  We are so sure of our ship, and thus so vulnerable.


Brianna Keilar, "Obama Ally Breaks with Him on Afghanistan," CNN, December 2, 2009.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

On the Obama Administration's Inconsistency on Syria and Libya

In his foreign policy speech on May 19, 2011, U.S. President Barak Obama attempted to justify his administration’s policy of selective military action against violent rulers. “(W)e cannot prevent every injustice perpetrated by a regime against its people, and we have learned from our experience in Iraq just how costly and difficult it is to impose regime change by change by force – no matter how well-intended it may be.” The Obama administration was assuming that facilitating the removal of a ruler who is violently betraying his people must involve a multi-year American occupation, as in Iraq. However, the case of the U.N.-sanctioned international coalition enforcing a no-fly-zon and protecting civilians in Libya proffers a counter-example.

Obama stated, “(W)e saw the prospect of imminent massacre, had a mandate for action, and heard the Libyan people's call for help. Had we not acted along with our NATO allies and regional coalition partners, thousands would have been killed. The message would have been clear: keep power by killing as many people as it takes.” The problem is that by the time the U.S. President uttered these words, Assad had killed perhaps up to a thousand unarmed protesters in Syria. In June 2011, after Assad's troops had killed an estimated 1,100 civilians, U.S. Secretary of State Clinton could only muster a warning. "The legitimacy that is necessary for anyone to expect change to occur under this current government is, if not gone, nearly run out." How many civilians did Qadhafi's troops kill before his right to rule was expunged by the U.S. Government? The irony is that whereas in Libya the protesters had relatively quickly become armed rebels, the Syrian protests remained largely in the protest mode. Ethically, it is worse to kill unarmed protesters than armed rebels. 

Even though Obama admits that “the Syrian regime has chosen the path of murder and the mass arrests of its citizens,” he claims it is sufficient for the U.S. to have “condemned these actions, [while] working with the international community [to step] up our sanctions on the Syrian regime - including sanctions . . . on President Assad and those around him.” Sarcastically, I am tempted to ask whether sanctions is sufficient, given what Qaddafi had done to provoke a no-fly-zone and bombing to protect civilians amid an armed civil war.

In addition to the red herring that any U.S. involvement must somehow match the Iraq case, it is misleading to suggest that the U.S. “can’t” stop every ruler who turns on his people as if other empires or independent states could not also take the lead. To be sure, the American military has its areas of expertise, but this does not mean that the U.S. should or must take the predominant role globally. Working with other empire-scale countries as well as independent states, the U.S. Government could provide moral leadership as the world takes a firmer stand than mere sanctions when a ruler is killing hundreds of protesters. At the very least, the credibility of the U.S. Government would be much enhanced were it more consistent in regard to similar cases. Inconsistency can provoke possible explanations hinging on partiality and self-interest.

For example, some foreign policy experts say the White House has not called for the world to unite in a military action against Assad not because he has been any less violent than Qaddafi, but because Syria is “critical to Obama’s attempt to end Iran’s nuclear program and to promote Arab-Israeli peace,” according the USA Today. If this explanation is correct, then the U.S. Government has put manipulation above Obama’s own pledge to stand up for democracy over tyrants.

Still others argue that Assad has the support of other Middle East regimes and that the elite in Syria is not fractured—making the case different from that in Libya. However, this is not an argument that Assad’s betrayal has been any less than Qaddafi’s; rather, the argument is that more obstacles exist to stopping Assad than Qaddafi.  However, standing up for human rights is not for the timid. In other words, it is not necessarily quick and easy. It does not say much about a leader’s character if a little difficulty is enough to resort to sanctions. In the case of Syria, that the E.U. had already joined the U.S. in leveling sanctions against the Syrian officials suggests that an international coalition could be strong enough to give the Syrian protesters a viable chance to topple the regime, even given the size of Assad's military.

In Libya, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil suggested that it is in the interests of the U.S. and E.U. to support such causes. "The United States and the European Union should know that we are a righteous people," he said. "We are fighting for a better future and they will not regret helping us." Perhaps the question of consistency comes down to how important human rights are to the American and European officials who have competing goals.


Transcript: Obama’s Foreign Policy Speech, May 19, 2011.

Oren Dorell, “Syria, Libya Merit Different U.S. Policies,” USA Today, May 16, 2011, p. 5A.

Michelle Faul, "EU Opens Diplomatic Office in Libya's Rebel East," MSNBC.com, May 22, 2011.

Jay Solomon, "Syrian Violence Tests U.S.," The Wall Street Journal, June 3, 2011

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Did Obama Press Israel to Compromise for Peace?

Seeing to “capture a moment of epochal change in the Arab world,” U.S. President Obama delivered a foreign policy speech on May 19, 2011 in which, according to the New York Times, he sought “to break the stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” by “setting out a new starting point for negotiations.” In particular, he suggested that the Israelis go back to the 1967 borders, adjusted somewhat to account for settlements on the West Bank. Meeting with Obama on the following day, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “We can’t go back” to the 1967 borders, according to MSNBC.com. This put the U.S. at odds with one of its foremost allies. Considering the amount of financial and military aid involved, Netanyahu could have been accused of biting the hand that was feeding Israel. Yet due to lobbying no doubt, the Obama administration did not fully play its hand in pressuring the ally.

Before the president’s speech, according to the New York Times, Netanyahu “held an angry phone conversation with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton” to demand that the president’s references to 1967 borders be cut. White House officials said that nothing was changed from Israeli pressure. In spite of the billions in aid to Israel from the U.S., the Israeli government had ignored the president’s request that settlements be halted—only to reject the 1967 borders proposal.  Given the position of Israel in the Middle East and its financial support from the U.S., the Israeli government’s rejection of the American proposals is perplexing. In fact, the refusals, as well as the pressure, could be taken as presumptuous, given Israel’s intransience in negotiating with the Palestinians.

So why, one might ask, didn’t the American president freeze aid to Israel? Although Jews in the U.S. are only about 2% of the total population, as donors to political candidates and the Democratic Party, the Jewish influence is disproportionate. Congress would hardly support real pressure on Israel, so realistically the president’s hand was probably tied.

In fact, I would not be surprised if Netanyahu had threatened Obama that if he kept the 1967 border proposal in his speech, he would lose Florida in 2012. It would be unfortunate if Americans who happen to be Jewish would put another country before their own in voting for president. In fact, I submit that it is in the Jewish interest, whether in Florida or Israel, that additional pressure be applied to Israel so a comprehensive peace deal may be achieved. Indeed, the reaction to the speech in the E.U. was that finally the U.S. Government was standing up to Israel.  A spokesperson for E.U. foreign policy minister Catherine Ashton said she "warmly welcomes President Obama's confirmation that the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with the mutually agreed swaps, with secured and recognized borders on both sides," according to Zawya.com. Perhaps the E.U. and U.S. could combine forces to pressure Israel to comrpromise.

However, was making a proposal not to Israel’s liking standing up to the Israelis? I contend that the most intractable problem in the Middle East requires more than words. Accordingly, President Obama should find the will to put money behind his words. Specifically, he should give the Israeli government a deadline for a peace deal, after which American aid would be frozen. If Congress’s approval is necessary, the president should make the recommendation, agreeing to take the heat. 

Coming off his victory over Osama Bin Laden, Obama has some political capital to burn, and he should not be afraid of retaliation from Americans who happen to be Jewish—whom I would think would be against occupation wherever it is going on, given the history of Jewish suffering under occupation. Surely Jewish Americans realize that two wrongs do not make a right, and, moreover, that Israel’s future will not be secured until it compromises with those whom it is occupying. Borne of occupied resistance, the United States itself ought to be for the occupied rather than the occupiers, and Jewish Americans are part of the United States, are they not?

In any case, the way to win a presidential election is to keep one’s eyes on the prize rather than deferring in order not to offend particular interest groups. Paradoxically, if winning re-election is the predominant factor in every major presidential decision, the likelihood of a win is diminished accordingly because there are inevitably costs borne more by some than others as a leader puts his money where his mouth is in order to achieve any truly worthwhile accomplishment. Relatedly, a benefit of a representative democracy rather than a direct democracy is that in the former representatives have a period of time insulating them from the immediate passions of the people so they can go out on a limb to bring home the bacon that might involve a bit of discomfort.


Mark Lander and Steven Lee Myers, “Obama sees ’67 Borders as Starting Point for Peace Deal,” The New York Times, May 20, 2011.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Could a Middle Eastern Union Cool the Isreali-Palestinian Conflict?

I contend that thinking outside the box can go a long way in getting past the stalemate on Israeli-Palestinian relations.  The key, I believe, lies in relativizing the conflict by shifting the paradigm by looking outward, at the region as a whole. If the autocracies in the Middle East are indeed on the way out--to be replaced by true republcs not in name only--then, at least according to federal theory, they could form a federal union somewhere on a spectrum with the AU, EU, and US. For example, one would not expect it to be as consolidated as the EU. Even so, Israel might just feel more comfortable with there bieng other democracies in the region, such that it might agree to join a union as long as there are strong minority rights (yet without too many areas subject to vetos, which tend to render a union impotent).  

 As in the case of the EU and US wherein avoiding conflict between the respective states is part of the rationale, the creation of a Middle Eastern Union (MEU) could mitigate conflict between Israel and its neighboring states.  Such a union would of course have its own particularities. The EU and US have theirs too.  Whereas giving each state a veto, such as in a senate or council, would eviscerate the MEU, machinery giving Israel a limited veto would be legitimate and warranted as it could fear being ganged up on by the other states. Such a limited veto concerning Israel’s security could be removed by unanimous consent once greater integration and mutual security is achieved.  The assumption that there would be one major division in the union is rather simplistic, however, as there are other divisions in the region that don’t involve Israel.  For instance, the Turks and Arabs have had their mutual distrust.  So the factions in a MEU would perhaps allow for Madison’s argument that the multiplicity of factions in a large union protects, in effect, a minority from an oppressive majority.  As an aside, a MEU with Turkey as a state would also resolve the problems around whether Turkey should become a state in the EU.

I propose a federal union of semi-sovereign states with governmental machinery including a court, legislature and president(s).  The EU has more than one president (e.g., president of the EU Commission and president of the European Council).  The MEU could arrange that each state has representation in each branch.  Furthermore, a qualified majority voting scheme could add to the protection of minority positions without hamstringing the union. In terms of the balance of power in the federal system, the MEU would doubtless not be as consolidated as is the US.  Relative to the US (nearly consolidated), the EU (the states have more power than the union) and the AU (the states are effectively sovereign in the confederation), the MEU should be between the US and EU. The MEU government would have to have enough power to resist the forces pushing the union apart, yet not so much power that an unhappy state leaves for lack of any influence.  Given the conflict, both the state governments and that of the MEU would have to have power.  In effect, this would create a system of checks and balances that would allow the contentious issues to be worked out with due regards to the interests of the region and to the rights of each state and citizen. To help maintain a viable system of such checks, the federal system would be designed such that both the state governments and that of the union would have the wherewithal to resist encroachments from the other.  Ironically, both Syria and Israel, for example, might find themselves working together in the same coalition in the senate or council (representing the state governments) in resisting a power-grab from the MEU’s executive branch.  Conflicts which seem insurmountable now may be trumped by others wherein the coalitions for and against are constantly changing.

Jerusalem would be akin to the District of Columbia in the US.  That is, it would be a federal district, with the states of Israel and Palestine being like Virginia and Maryland. I submit that this plank would be the most valuable plank in this proposal, at least immediately.  Jersualem would be a united city—the jewel of the union. In the course of time, the enhanced economic and political integration would mollify the current disagreements and prejudices as contact between now-different peoples increases.

To be sure, thinking outside the box occasions inevitable inside-the-box nay-sayers.  “It would never work.”  “Pipe-dream.”  “They would never agree to do it.”  Und so weiter …   However, true statesmen and stateswomen can rise to the occasion and look beyond their immediate interests to the greater good. Even if in incremental steps such as has been the case for the EU, Middle Eastern integration can gain a momentum of its own.  However, given the historical tendency of acts of violence in the Middle East to arrest peace-talks, I think an approach closer to that of the US would be better.  That is to say, delegates from all of the Middle Eastern states (or those interested in such a proposal) could meet in a summit (or convention) to formulate the structure of a MEU.  Theoretically, it would then have to be ratified in the states, though it is possible for a government to cede some of its governmental sovereignty (the process of amendments in the US and EU have involved both).  Given the utility here of statesmanship, determination by referendum is not necessarily advisable in this case.  The democracy purists could ponder the alternative of continued violence. Where a state’s officials are elected, the absence of a referendum is more palitable.

In summary, the principle I am invoking in this proposal to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is essentially that where countries are states in a union, it becomes less important which state one is in because all the states share some commonalities (such as some basic rights).  Whether one lived in New York or Connecticut became less important, for example, once both were part of the United Colonies (and then the United States). So too, the differences between Israel and Palestine can be contained in a common union and mitigated by establishing channels of conflict-resolution.  To be sure, no one state would always get its way.  Also, each state would be taking a risk.  However, such is the ground of statesmanship.  It is possible to rise above even one’s immediate interests and achieve an enlightened self-interest. Lest problems be seen at this level, one has only to entertain more of the status quo, ad infinitum.

Religion and Politics: Russian Orthodox Patriarch Helped Syria’s Assad Regime

In the wake of yet another Syrian massacre of civilians, including families being shot at close-range in their own houses, the New York Times published a report in 2012 that claimed that Russian priests and theologians commiserated with diplomats from Damascus at the opening of an exhibition devoted to Syrian Christianity in a cathedral near the Kremlin. While it is understandable that the Kremlin would not want to lose its “longtime partner and last firm foothold in the Middle East,” it is perhaps less palatable for Christian prelates and doctors of the Russian Orthodox Church to essentially look the other way on atrocities so the Syrian Christians, many of whom are Orthodox, won’t be pushed under the bus in a wave of Islamic fundamentalism that could be unleashed should Assad fall from power. The Syrian Christians were reluctant to join the Sunni Muslim opposition to Assad for fear of being persecuted by the Sunnis should they gain power.

 Together, the fear of the Syrian Christians and the “foreign policy” of the Moscow patriarchate were forestalling internal and external forces, respectively, from having achieving enough power to stop the human rights abuses in Syria. This is ironic because Jesus preached selflessness, or self-emptying love for one’s neighbor (agape seu benevolentia universalis). I suspect that the martyrs of the early Church would be shocked to find such self-serving provincialism in the sectarian groups, both in Syria and the Russian capital.

The following observation from Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is telling if not poignant. “What we see now in Syria is systemic failure—it’s brutal, it’s now an insurgency—but in the end its just systemic failure. If the Christian population and those that support it want a long-term future in the region, they’re going to have to accept that hitching their wagon to this brutal killing machine doesn’t have a long-term future.” I would add that the hitching makes the Christians and their leaders into hypocrites. That is, it contradicts Christian love as preached and lived by Jesus of Nazareth. In other words, compassion when it is least convenient was being thrown under the bus in the service of a sectarian interest.

                                              Clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church             NYT

When Russian Patriarch Kirill visited Damascus in late 2011 after 3,500 Syrians had been killed by government forces and the Arab League had suspended Syria’s membership, he “made a sympathetic appearance with [Assad], praising Syria’s treatment of Christians and making no mention of the mounting death toll,” according to the New York Times. Apparently the death of thousands of people is fine as long as one’s own kind is treated well. The good of a part outweighs the good of the whole. This point applies as well to the related opposition of Putin to efforts at the UN’s Security Council to take measures against the Syrian government. That is to say, Putin’s relationships to the patriarch and to Assad are more important than a higher good, such as stopping the slaughter of hundreds if not thousands of Syrians.

It follows that the vetoes held on the Security Council can and should be questioned because the parts holding them cannot be assumed to have any regard for the “big picture” or the common good at the global level. Even if the violent acts by Assad’s men are consistent with the interests of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian government, the international system is not served by a government that gets away with violating rather than protecting its citizens’ human rights. 


Ellen Barry, “Russian Church Is a Strong Voice Opposing Intervention in Syria,” The New York Times, June 1, 2012. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Libya and the World in 2011: A Higher Calling

On February 21, 2011, Libyan military aircraft fired live ammunition at crowds of anti-government protesters in Tripoli. "What we are witnessing today is unimaginable," said Adel Mohamed Saleh, an activist in the capital. "Warplanes and helicopters are indiscriminately bombing one area after another. There are many, many dead." Arabiya television put the number killed on that day alone at 160. Gadhafi's son had vowed on television the day before that his father and security forces would fight "until the last bullet." I suspect that few people were surprised to find that Gadhafi would mount a sustained vituperative effort against the pro-democracy movement that was sweeping through the Middle East. "These really seem to be last, desperate acts. If you're bombing your own capital, it's really hard to see how you can survive, " said Julien Barnes-Dacey, Control Risks' Middle East analyst. "But I think Gaddafi is going to put up a fight ... in Libya more than any other country in the region, there is the prospect of serious violence and outright conflict," he said. As the world received reports of the massacre, a latent question not being asked was whether the world (or even a coalition therein in case of a holdout like China) has the right or an obligation to intervene militarily to stop the offending regime against its own defenseless people. I contend that there is such a right and moral obligation--meaning that national sovereignty does not extend to crimes against humanity. Sadly, at the time of the Libyan protests and Gaddafi's retaliation, the world's government offiicals were still largely impotent and disorganized.

Even if not sufficiently for his regime to collapse, Gadhafi's obstinancy was being undercut right out from beneath him. As the the military was escalating its attack on unarmed citizens inside Libya, something else--something rather astonishing--was happening. Rather than putting up a united front to the world against the opposition, the government showed itself to consist of men whose participation in Gadhafi's government was not unconditional. Could it be that the Nuremburg verdicts against the Nazis in 1948--the ruling that blind obedience is not excuse for even government offiicals and employees being held accountable--was finally being heard?  That is to say, might it be that in addition to conscience, the emerging judicial enforcement at the International Criminal Court was having a slight (but significant) impact even as crimes against humanity were being committed?Libya's former ambassador to the Arab League in Cairo, Abdel-Moneim al-Houni, who a day earlier resigned from his post to side with protesters, issued a statement demanding Gadhafi "be put on trial along with his aides, security and military commanders over the mass killings in Libya." Were the former ambassador's warning having a real impact in real-time on government offiicals, this would evince real progress for the human race. Specifically, the realization by oificials while they are in power that they might be held accountable for their role in harming their own people could, with the help of conscience, mitigate how far a regime can go in "punishing" its people for their natural proclivity to protest injustice.  There is some evidence that government officials who might have held tough a decade earlier were having second thoughts and, crucially, acting on them.

For example, as the Libyan military was trouncing on marching mourners, Justice minister Mustafa Abdel-Jalil reportedly resigned from his post to protest the "excessive use of force against unarmed protesters." Also, at least two Libyan air force pilots defected to Malta rather than shoot on defenseless citizens. Lastly, Libyan diplomats abroad explicitly backed off supporting the country's dictator. For example, a Libyan diplomat in China, Hussein el-Sadek el-Mesrati, told Al-Jazeera, "I resigned from representing the government of Mussolini and Hitler." Even more astonishing, Libya's ambassadors at the United Nations called for Gadhafi to step down as the country's ruler. Deputy Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi said that if Gadhafi does not relinquish power, "the Libyan people will get rid of him." The staff of Libya's mission to the United Nations declared allegiance to the people of Libya, instead of to Gadhafi, a spokesman said on the day on which Libyan jet fighters turned on the citizens they were to protect. Traditionally, it has been thought that governments are the members of international bodies such as the UN.  That it might actually be the people of a country who are represented in a confederation would be revolutionary (this is typically thought to be in part the case in a federal government, rather than in an alliance or strictly international organization). Ambassadors representing a regime conditionally goes along with al-Houni's statement even on the day when bullets sprayed on the Libyan people from the air, "Gadhafi's regime is now in the trash of history because he betrayed his nation and his people." In other words, Gadhafi's regime had already lost its legitimacy, and thus its right to represent the people abroad (and at home). 

To be sure, autocratic regimes are not necessarily populated by people of concience or even foresight (e.g., concerning possible prosecution at the ICC or even domestically). When Gandhi was asked how non-violent non-cooperation could ever hope to work against an invading and occupying Nazi force, he acknowledged that many would be harmed for the sake of truth, but ultimately the dictators are already destined to the trash-bin of history. Progress comes by painfully slow steps in this world of flawed humanity.  One novelist on the American Civil War observed, if we are angels, then surely we are killer angels. Was it some cruel joke? one might ask God.  Why?  Yet if the pro-democracy movement in the Middle East could teach us--meaning all of us--anything, it might be that we, acting together, can push the boulder a bit further up the hill. We need no longer accept the existence of regimes that betray their people, and in February of 2011 the world realized its efficacy in making this so. It is as if in one voice we finally exclaimed, "No, we will not go softly into the night. We will stand up and they will back down!"

As the people in the Middle East were pushing up against the dead weight of history, the rest of us were with them--indeed, being transfixed and humbled by them as they marched against dazed tyrants who had not yet realized that their day had already passed quietly into the night to be replaced by the first light of another dawn. Perhaps, just perhaps, there is a progression in the eternal recurrence of night and day.


"Gadhafi: 'I'm in Tripoli, not Venezuela," February 22, 2011. NBCNews.com.