(Image: Susan Walsh/AP)
Mario Del Pero
A “new cold war” has become almost a default description of the current rivalry between the United States and China. Some structural similarities do indeed exist with the post-second world war global stage, when the Soviet Union was pitted against the US.
Just as, say, in 1950, we live now in a sort of bipolar system. In terms of economic power, military might, global influence and ability to pollute the planet, two powers – China and the US – clearly stand in a league of their own. And just as during the cold war, this bipolarism is spurious and asymmetrical: simply put, one side – the US – is way more powerful and influential than the other. The similarities end, however, with this systemic parallel. As is often the case when thinking analogically, invoking a cyclical vision of history obfuscates more than it clarifies. More importantly, such thinking produces policy prescriptions – such as promoting an aggressive “containment” of China – which, in addition to being based on a superficial and misleading reading of history, are at best useless and at worst outright dangerous. (Read more)
Does the Kremlin have its groove back? An “all-Russian” vote (obshcherossiyskoye golosovaniye) on amendments to the Constitution that would allow Vladimir Putin the option to remain in power through 2036 passed handily on July 1: 78 percent of voters supported the amendments at a turnout rate of 69 percent, according to the Central Election Commission, representing an absolute majority of voters. But the president has as much reason to worry as to celebrate. Gross electoral violations painted a rosier picture of his support than exists in reality, and the exercise provided further evidence of a sharpening political divide along Russia’s center-periphery vector. As the Kremlin recoups its authority after retreating from public view for much of the coronavirus, its next political challenge may be managing dissent in two emerging protest belts in Russia’s Arctic and Far East regions. (Read more)
Tumbrels are rattling through the streets of the internet. Over the past few years, online-led social movements have deposed gropers, exposed bullies—and, sometimes, ruined the lives of the innocent. Commentators warn of “mob justice,” while activists exult in their newfound power to change the world.
Both groups are right, and wrong. Because the best way to see the firings, outings, and online denunciations grouped together as “cancel culture” is not through a social lens, but an economic one.
Take the fall of the film producer Harvey Weinstein, which seems inevitable in hindsight—Everyone knew he was a sex pest! There were even jokes about it on 30 Rock! But it took The New York Times months of reporting to ready its first story for publishing; the newspaper was taking on someone with deep pockets and a history of intimidating critics into silence. Then the story went off like a hand grenade. Suddenly, the mood—and the economic incentives—shifted. People who had been afraid of Weinstein were instead afraid of being taken down alongside him. (Read more)
Since September 11, 2001, American policy in matters of war has abandoned the restraints in the U.S. Constitution and international law, with grievous results not merely for wrongful victims of war (such as the abused captives in Guantánamo Bay or civilians killed in drone strikes) but also for those whom the laws governing how war is conducted were never devised to protect. In focusing exclusively on harms to abused captives and civilians killed as “collateral damage,” American debate has ignored a wider set of wrongs. These include the death and injury of fighters themselves on both sides, including long-term post-traumatic stress; the fate of populations under increasing surveillance and constant threat of force; and the enormous costs of an “endless war” footing that whole societies must bear. In the American case, these costs come to trillions of dollars.
With rare exceptions, debate has focused in the honorable but wrong place: on making the conduct of war less brutal and more plausibly legal. In the later years of George W. Bush’s administration, the United States sought to make his war on terror more humane while lending it greater legitimacy; the harshest treatments of detainees, notably those fairly considered torture, were eliminated. The ironic result was that the war on terror endured. Endless war was elaborated during the presidency of Barack Obama, with its pivot away from heavy-footprint interventions to light– and no-footprint operations involving armed drones, standoff missiles, and special forces. Surprisingly, the same pattern has continued under President Donald Trump. His rhetoric of brutality and his contradictory promises to bring troops home notwithstanding, Trump has adopted no dramatically new methods while intensifying many of the conflicts he inherited. (Read more)
Though a fan of Confederate monuments, Donald Trump could not have taken down Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, a living memorial to the rebel South and the president’s first attorney-general, more ruthlessly. This week the Republican veteran named after two Confederate heroes (Jefferson Davis and General P.G.T. Beauregard) suffered his first electoral defeat, in a primary for the Alabama Senate seat he occupied for 20 years. When he last defended it, in 2014, Mr Sessions won an uncontested race with 97% of the vote. But against a Trump-backed rival—a former college-football coach and political debutant, Tommy Tuberville, who seemed unsure of most issues—he was trounced.
Even after so many illustrations of the president’s grip on Republican voters, it was astonishing to see Mr Sessions’s career-long claim on Alabaman affections blown away in this fashion. It was equally remarkable, even after so many displays of Mr Trump’s vindictiveness, to see him end his former aide’s career so cruelly. No Republican played a bigger part in Mr Trump’s rise than Mr Sessions. No one did more to try to make Trumpism meaningful. (Read more)