The current crisis when I first wrote this blog in in early March 2014 was Russian troops pretty well taking over Crimea and threats and posturing over the fate of Ukraine. A year and a bit later, the crisis continues.
This is an important crisis, and one with, as they say in theatre, "legs," but I'd like to put it into a couple or more larger
contexts and then get to the necessity of regaining focus.
The first bigger context is nuclear.
The US-led invasion of Iraq when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait was not
matched by anyone invading China when China seized and then periodically
cracked down on any moves toward independence, or even dissent, in Tibet (e.g.,
1959, 1978, 1989, 1998). Now there are many differences between Iraq
and Kuwait on the one hand and China and Tibet on the other. China is
very large and populous and very far away from the USA, and Tibet
doesn't export oil; since the time of the Silk Road China has been
off-and-on a major producer and potentially huge market for the world's
goods, and in recent years has been the source of a significant amount
of the funding of the economy of the United State. Countries like Iraq,
however, are where they are geographically and probably don't want to
push their populations up a lot; and they either have oil or they don't.
Iraq has oil — oh, boy, does it have oil! —
and what it didn't have that China had since 1964 is nuclear weapons. A
dangerous lesson world leaders could find in the invasion of Iraq in
Gulf War I (1990-91), strongly reinforced by "Gulf War II," the 2003
Iraq War, could be summed up in the line Tom Lehrer assigned to Israel
in his song "Who's Next": "The Lord's our shepherd says the psalm; / But, just in case — we'd better get a bomb."
Arguably — and more respectable folk than I are arguing it — Russia's
threats to Ukraine can teach that lesson in spades: the Ukrainians had nuclear weapons after the fall of the USSR and, to their credit, gave them up in the deal sealed with The Budapest Memorandum and
Trilateral Statement of 1994. Russians have strong cultural roots in
Kiev and as good a claim to Crimea as anyone who isn't Crimean Tartar,
but an invasion of Crimea and threats to Ukraine proper suggest a
horrible principle in a world already overstocked with nukes. With the
US overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the other points on "The Axis of Evil"
either got a bomb (North Korea) or set themselves on the way to getting a
To repeat again the screamingly obvious but insufficiently absorbed: If
there are enough nukes in human hands to destroy human civilization or
bring on a nuclear winter and massive extinctions, that's many too many
nukes, period. Nukes proliferating to different countries just increases
On survival grounds, we need to be cooperating with the Russians for
radical reductions in atomic weaponry, and then in conventional
weaponry: Hiroshima and Nagasaki were horrendous, but they're just blips
in the graph of the destruction caused in the Second World War; we need
sharp reductions in armament period, for survival and for prosperity.
As President Eisenhower pointed out, money spent on weapons isn't being
spent on things more useful.
The Ukrainian crisis —actions and words by US politicians as well as
Slavic oligarchs — reduces the chances for reductions in weapons.
The crisis is also hurting related areas where we need active and close
cooperation with the Russians, and the Chinese and some Iranians and
This side of an asteroid hitting Earth (or a comet), the threat of
quick extermination of the human species and others is primarily that
mere presence of so many nuclear weapons. A less cataclysmic threat lies
not in a "Clash of Civilization" but a conflict of world-views of, on
one side, various kinds of True Believers vs.,
on the other side, those of us with a stake in maintaining more or less
the present world and retaining and expanding what was truly progress
coming from the Enlightenment.
There's a generalized Fundamentalist threat,
primarily located in, but hardly restricted to, the Abrahamic religions
and most immediately threatening in militant, jihadist, puritanical
We need cooperation on this one, and coordination, starting with, say,
both the US and Russian Federation swearing off invading Afghanistan for
a while, and refraining from arming jihadists and from ham-fisted
repression and other invitations to insurrections and mass movements.
So let's keep focus there, and, for Americans, let us keep a whole lot
more focus — keeping that eye on the prize — on events here at home.
We do tend to get distracted.
I. F. Stone says somewhere (translation: I couldn't find it on the
first page of a Google search), I. F. Stone says somewhere that when the
American Right pushed "roll-back" of the Soviet Union in the early days
of the Cold War what they most wanted to roll back was the New Deal.
Things haven't changed much.
There really was a quiet revolution in the 1980s and following, under
Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Thatcher went beyond reining in
overweening unions to pretty well break them, and between Thatcher and
Reagan we got the start of a great movement of politics to the Right and
the movement of money from poorer people to richer people — and then a
whole big bunch of it to the very, very rich.
The Ukrainian crisis must be muddled through to a compromise all sides
can despise and live with. The conflicts of world-views — the big-ass Kulturkampfe "culture
wars" and little battles of gay rights, women's rights, and human
rights and civil liberties: these must be fought, and the twilight
battles of identity politics pressed to their conclusions.
But the old rule was, Divide et impera;
if you want to get power and keep it, divide the opposition; "Divide
and rule." And, of course, distract your opponents, and those you're
screwing over so elegantly they don't even know that they are your opponents. (Distrahe et impera? Sorry, I only know enough foreign language for occasional pretentious pedantry.)
The Radical Right still wants to roll back the New Deal, and they more
successfully will block expanding the benefits of the New Deal to the
"unworthy poor" who might vote for Democrats or non-racist populists.
The ultra-rich, for their part, intend to stay ultra-rich and get
So, no, it isn't "class warfare,"but
there is class conflict, and of a sort we haven't really seen in the US
outside of the Gilded Age and slave economy in parts of the old South:
that 1% and smaller vs. the rest, minus those in the top 10% with the
delusion they'll make it to the ultra-rich in a generation.
Focus, people, focus:
* Species survival, starting with major cuts in nuclear forces and with nuclear nonproliferation.
* Avoiding fanatical, fundamentalist mass movements of the European
variety in the middle third of the 20th century — or in the Wars of Religion of the 17th century.
* Fairer and more stable allocation of wealth and income, starting with
fairer taxes and economic policy in the US of A.
Yeah, do divvy up the labor on different causes, and there's plenty of
political and social-justice work to go around. But don't get divided
into competing identity groups. Don't get distracted.