A difficult century

Friends just forwarded me this, from Dan Plesch of The Guardian: The end of the beginning. "US forces are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in the Middle East in a few hours. US readiness for more war is just one indicator that the present war is likely to spread and intensify in the coming months," it begins.

Very scary.

It looks like this is going to be a difficult century, worse in at least some ways than the last one. The next several wars will all be asymmetrical, most likely. No more Red Army vs. the Wehrmacht or Axis vs. the Allied armies, but one side with all the air power and enormous bombs, the other with an inventive variety of cheaper, mobile weapons such as the bombs that, according to Scotland Yard this morning, 21 or more British-born persons were planning to carry aboard planes as hand luggage.

Actually, the dismal prospects are pretty similar to what they were 100 years ago. The messy, bloody Boer War had just ended, the Japanese had just defeated Russia, and those two empires (the British and the Japanese), the Belgians and the French were just barely maintaining order by their regimes of violence. The U.S. was meanwhile murdering Filipinos. And the British launched the battleship H.M.S. Dreadnought, with ten 12-inch guns -- the first battleship whose guns were all so large, says The People's Chronology. Then, one unanticipated outcome of all this tension among the great powers -- besides the Great European War, which should have been anticipated -- was the Russian revolution as a kind of (imperfect) counterforce to imperialism (before it devolved into something itself resembling empire, after yet another world war).

The problem now is what sort of counterforce we can be building, and even how to define the force we oppose. Back then, Lenin plausibly argued that the enemy was "imperialism," which he described as the latest stage of capitalism. I don't think that's as useful a description as it was then. If this is "imperialism," it is of a different kind, having evolved beyond its original meaning, the projection of one national state's power over other peoples. And the Leninist response of a conspiratorial, proletariat-based party assumed a different kind of proletariat than what we see now. Rational (that is, not faith-driven), secular, humanitarian revolutionaries are going to have to create some new model.

Fukuyama on Hugo Chávez

Not all the news is from Lebanon. This is an analysis worth pondering, by Francis Fukuyama in Sundays Washington Post. History's Against Him


Cluster attacks and international law

César Chelala is a good friend and a serious essayist, especially knowledgeable about medical affairs. What he reports here confirms what I've seen in other reports in The New York Times and elsewhere, but with greater detail on these terrible weapons. We should not tolerate their use anywhere, by anybody. Here's his article: Cluster attacks and international law

For more on these weapons (before their reported use by Israel), see:

What are cluster weapons?
Al-Ahram Weekly | Special | Butchery by any other name (illustration above is from this site)
BBC NEWS | In Depth | Fact file: Cluster bombs - introduction (includes more illustrations)

Understanding the world in hopes of changing it

(Regarding the Israeli assault on Lebanon and the petition of U.S. Jews mentioned below, I just sent this note to my friends in Ramallah, Lois & Khalil Nakhleh. Khalil is an anthropologist and all-round intellectual; years ago he and I were colleagues in the Sociology and Anthropology Department of St. John's University in Minnesota.)

I don't know what I can do. Something, I hope. I didn't sign this petition because I'm not Jewish, but I've signed others. It's a small gesture, barely noticed anywhere, but then, even serious, risk-taking journalism is not taken into account by the decision-makers. And I'm a little old for such adventures, anyway, and my skills are different. The only thing I can think to do -- to save my conscience, if not the world -- is try to understand and then explain events clearly enough that other people may avoid repeating such barbarities. Sociology and fiction (the two modalities in which I write) work slowly, painfully slowly, but it is better to affect generations of the future than to surrender and have no effect at all.

Not quite all Israelis pro-war

Prominent front-page headline in today's NYT: Left or Right, Israelis Are Pro-War. Pretty depressing. Even the peaceniks in "Peace Now" see it as a "necessary" war rather than a "war of choice" that Olmert could easily have avoided if he had only agreed to talk to the other side (about those prisoners, to start with). But not quite all Israelis have gone berserkly jingoistic. Check out Uri Avnery's sad, angry analysis: Junkies of War

Petition for U.S. Jewish Solidarity with Muslim and Arab Peoples of the Middle East

I'm not Jewish, nor were any of my known ancestors (but then, one never really knows about ancestors), but I am a human being with the usual human capacity for empathy -- especially with those who like Jews, Lebanese and other Arabs, Serbs and Kosovars and Bosniacs, Chechens, Uighurs, Sudanese, and too many others have been victims of mass historical outrages during my lifetime. One outrage does not justify another, as this petition states eloquently. The drafters of the petition have asked Jews to sign. If you consider yourself (or are considered by others) a Jew, maybe you can bring yourself to add your name, to stop the reciprocal outrages. Petition for U.S. Jewish Solidarity with Muslim and Arab Peoples of the Middle East


Ending the neoconservative nightmare - Haaretz - Israel News

Daniel Levy asks, "After this crisis will Israel belatedly wake up to the implications of the tectonic shift that has taken place in U.S.-Middle East policy?" Ending the neoconservative nightmare - Haaretz - Israel News
Finding themselves somewhat bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire, the neoconservatives are reveling in the latest crisis, displaying their customary hubris in re-seizing the initiative. The U.S. press and blogosphere is awash with neocon-inspired calls for indefinite shooting, no talking and extension of hostilities to Syria and Iran, with Gingrich calling this a third world war to "defend civilization." ...

Israel does have enemies, interests and security imperatives, but there is no logic in the country volunteering itself for the frontline of an ideologically misguided and avoidable war of civilizations. ...

A U.S. return to proactive diplomacy, realism and multilateralism, with sustained and hard engagement that delivers concrete progress, would best serve its own, Israeli and regional interests. Israel should encourage this. Israel may even have to lead, for instance, in rethinking policy on Hamas or Syria, and should certainly work intensely with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in encouraging his efforts to reach a Palestinian national understanding as a basis for stable governance, security quiet and future peace negotiations. A policy that comes with a Jerusalem kosher stamp of approval might be viewed as less of an abomination in Washington. ...

Internationalist Republicans, Democrats and mainstream Israelis must construct an alternative narrative to the neocon nightmare...
Daniel Levy was a member of the official Israeli negotiating team at the Oslo and Taba talks and the lead Israeli drafter of the Geneva Initiative.