• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

SPRING FUNDRAISER

Is it time for our Spring fundraiser already? If you enjoy what we offer, and have the means, please consider donating. The sooner we reach our modest goal, the faster we can get back to business as (un)usual. Please, stay safe and we’ll see you down the road.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Hyperpower in a Sinkhole

As thousands of mourning Shia’as fill the streets of Najaf, and as political analysts try to forecast the consequences of Ayatollah al-Hakim’s assassination for Iraq’s future, a basic question still burns for many who still cling to values of international cooperation: can the present mess in Iraq somehow be mitigated through greater involvement by the (damaged and discredited) United Nations and the broader international community? The outlook is certainly gloomy. But if genuine multilateral participation in this case is indeed difficult or impossible, we actually face worse implications than the political sinkhole of Iraq.

The prospects for mulilateral action in Iraq are dismal for obvious reasons. Sinking over its hips in the muck of occupation, the US needs help of every kind: moral, political, military, and financial. To get this help, the US clearly needs the UN both for its resources (experienced staff and relevant aid agencies) and for its unique legitimacy in peacekeeping that can usher in other powerful allies and their own resources. Even denuded of any semblence of independence, the UN retains enough of this legitimacy to allow the French and other major powers, as well as NGOs, to help rebuild Iraq–but only if the UN is formally granted authority over the occupation. Will the US grant that authority? Doing so would compromise the three goals which drove the US invasion: unilateral US leverage over the world oil supply; unassailable US hegemony over western and central Asia; and fabulously lucrative contracts to its crony capitalists. With these glorious goals seemingly in their hands, will the neoconservatives running US foreign policy sacrifice them by inviting rival states to share in them, for the sake of Iraqi welfare and reconstruction? Unimaginable.

Given that answer, a cluster of urgent related questions arrive at the same gloomy conclusion. Without the UN stamp to legitimize their participation, will Syria and Iran risk looking like US pawns by joining a vitally-needed multilateral discussion regarding Iraq’s stability and reconstruction? Hardly likely. Will the most principled democratically-minded Iraqis be willing to look like–and perhaps turn into–US stooges in order to participate in forming a new civil government? Less likely every day.

Yet in worrying about all these urgent questions, we risk missing a bigger one. Iraq is the forestage, the drama unfolding. But backstage, the UN’s functional collapse signals that everything about the international system is under reconstruction, in ways that underlie all our most urgent pragmatic questions about Iraq… and Korea, and central Africa, and India, and Colombia, and a host of other crises.

Ever since World War II, a complex framework of international agreements has shaped the expectations shared among states about each other’s behavior: especially, the UN consultative mechanism, shared rules about just war, the illegitimacy of any pre-emptive military strike, collective security (unanimous action among states to ensure peace by collectively sanctioning any offender), and bans on nuclear weapons and testing. True, that order was always manipulated by superpowers, and was always frayed and fragile. Yet, for half-a-century, those rules and norms shaped decision-making by state leaderships throughout the world in fairly predictable ways, and a certain reliable pattern of international manners (and cheating) prevailed.

Now, with a torrent of verbal abuse, the US has swept that entire thick document of rules and manners off the table and is scissoring out bits at will, throwing whole sections in the garbage. The UN mechanism is now illegitimate and obsolete; it’s fine to attack a country pre-emptively out of fear (real or fabricated) of possible eventual threat; collective security is a luxury to be ignored at will; treaties on nuclear weapons are dead letters. Week by week, the US is tearing apart, like outmoded contracts, the international order everyone has known. So what will we have to work with, when the day is over?

In watching the Iraq debacle, we therefore witness not simply a hyperpower seizing the reins of the international system but that system’s redesign into entirely unpredictable patterns, with implications far beyond Iraq. For example, in a world with no clear rules and no legitimate coordinating authority, what clear consequences, incentives and penalties now steer the choices of North Korea? What leverage can this newly frazzled international “community,” which is no longer clearly a community, bring on the brutal Burmese regime? Will Colombia’s slide into civil war extend to destabilization and remilitarization of the entire Central American Isthmus?

All these questions return us to the basic question of international order: without an effective UN mechanism, can the international community effectively debate such questions, and offer help or coordinate action on any conflict? And is the US likely to reverse direction to help it do so? Again, not likely. Even a hyperpower can’t, selectively and cyclically, break apart and put Humpty together again. In crafting a stable and peaceful future, much will indeed depend on the drama unfolding in Iraq with its far-reaching ramifications for the region and the world. But our collective fate lies as much in the international system itself, including the UN, as in Iraqi society and infrastructure–and what order we can reconstruct from the recent wreckage of both.

 

More articles by:

VIRGINIA TILLEY is associate professor of Political Science and International Relations, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and author of The One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock. She can be reached at: virginia.tilley@gmail.com.

Weekend Edition
May 29, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Nick Pemberton
White Supremacy is the Virus; Police are the Vector
T.J. Coles
What’s NATO Up to These Days? Provoking Russia, Draining Healthcare Budgets and Protecting Its Own from COVID
Benjamin Dangl
Bibles at the Barricades: How the Right Seized Power in Bolivia
Kevin Alexander Gray - Jeffrey St. Clair - JoAnn Wypijewski
There is No Peace: an Incitement to Justice
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Few Good Sadists
David Schultz
Trump isn’t the Pope and This Ain’t the Middle Ages
Joshua Frank
In Search of a Lost Socialism
Charles Pierson
Who are the “Wrong Hands” in Yemen?
Andrew Levine
Trump Is Unbeatable in the Race to the Bottom and So Is the GOP
Ramzy Baroud
Political Ambiguity or a Doomsday Weapon: Why Abbas Abandoned Oslo
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
A Growing Wave of Bankruptcies Threatens U.S. Recovery
Joseph Natoli
Conditions Close at Hand
N.D. Jayaprakash
No Lessons Learned From Bhopal: the Toxic Chemical Leak at LG Polymers India 
Ron Jacobs
The Odyssey of Elias Demetracopoulos
J.P. Linstroth
Arundhati Roy on Indian Migrant-Worker Oppression and India’s Fateful COVID Crisis
Melvin Goodman
Goodness Gracious, David Ignatius!!
Roger Harris
Blaming the COVID-19 Pandemic on Too Many Humans:  a Critique of Overpopulation Ideology
Sonali Kolhatkar
For America’s Wealthiest, the Pandemic is a Time to Profit
Prabir Purkayastha
U.S. Declares a Vaccine War on the World
David Rosen
Coronavirus and the Telecom Crisis
Paul Buhle
Why Does W.E.B. Du Bois Matter Today?
Mike Bader
The Only Way to Save Grizzlies: Connect Their Habitats
Dave Lindorff
Pandemic Crisis and Recession Can Spark a Fight for Real Change in the US
Nyla Ali Khan
The Sociopolitical and Historical Context That Shaped Kashmiri Women Like My Grandmother in the 1940s
Louis Proyect
Does Neo-Feudalism Define Our Current Epoch?
Ralph Nader
S. David Freeman: Seven Decades of Participating in Power for All of Us
Norman Solomon
Amy Klobuchar, Minneapolis Police and Her VP Quest
Maria Paez Victor
Venezuela in the 2020 Pandemic
Ron Mitchell
Defending Our Public Lands: One Man’s Legacy
Nomi Prins 
The Great Depression, Coronavirus Style: Crashes, Then and Now
Richard C. Gross
About That City on A Hill
Kathleen Wallace
An Oath for Hypocrites
Eve Ottenberg
Common Preservation or Extinction?
Graham Peebles
Air Pollution Mental Illness and Covid-19
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Unearned Income for All
Evan Jones
The Machine Stops
Nicky Reid
Proudhon v. Facebook: A Mutualist Solution to Cyber Tyranny
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What is a “Native” Plant in a Changing World?
Shailly Gupta Barnes
Why are Our Leaders Still Putting Their Faith in the Rich?
John Kendall Hawkins
In Search of the Chosŏn People of Lost Korea
Nick Licata
How Hydroxychloroquine Could Help Trump…Politically
Jill Richardson
Tens of Millions of Are Out of Work, Why on Earth is Trump Trying to Cut Food Aid?
Susan Block
Incel Terrorism
Mitchel Cohen
Masks and COVID-19: an Open Letter to Robert Kennedy Jr and Children’s Health Defense
May 28, 2020
Melvin Goodman
Trump’s War on Arms Control and Disarmament
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail