Fights of Fancy

Consider a novel in which a man must grapple with an advanced new technology to prevent cataclysm. Perhaps he (and it is typically a he) is a member of the military or an intelligence analyst fighting the next world war. He could be a scientist enlisted by the powers that be to help stop some new machine over which they’ve lost control. Or he could covertly wield that device against enemies of the United States foreign and domestic. Perhaps science has already run fully amok and he’s left to reckon with the consequences in a brave new world. This is the technothriller.

The technothriller—alongside true crime, pop history, exploitative detective fiction, and Christian-themed memoir—is a staple of the pallet of hardcover bestsellers at Costco Warehouses across the country, and is likely to remain so. Technothrillers are popular among general audiences, but they’re also notably popular in the world of politics and the military. Former troops and ex-spooks frequently write fiction informed by their careers and politicians like to illustrate the policymaking process with examples from popular culture. Jurassic Park is an easy touchstone for questions of genetic engineering; Tom Clancy is the common man’s military strategist. Recently, political scientists have stated to interrogate the technothriller’s ubiquity in the halls of power.

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Disaster by Design

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) was the toast of boardrooms and newsrooms alike in his recent visit to the United States. Billionaires Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates were happy to stooge for the monarch in candid, jolly photo ops.

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Billionaire Jeff Bezos with MbS (Saudi Press Agency)

Those photos are a perfect representation of the US-Saudi relationship when it comes to Yemen – billionaires cheerfully posing for professional photos while thousands starve.

Senators Bernie Sanders and Mike Lee recently sponsored a bill that would have ended US involvement in the brutal, Saudi-led and US supported imperialist war in Yemen but the legislation didn’t even come up for a vote. Ten Democrats, including recently elected Alabama #resistance hero Doug Jones, flocked to the side of their Republican colleagues to table the bill.

While US lawmakers continue to “resist” the Trump administration through acquiescence, Yemenis – already some of the world’s most impoverished, food insecure people – face US bombs dropped by Saudi pilots, Houthi ordnance, cholera, famine and mass death.   

Who is responsible for what the UN now calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis?

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Make Aggression a Crime Again

Last week, Sinan Antoon published a reflection on the fifteenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq in The New York Times. An emergent antiwar left would do well to contemplate his essay in its entirety. One line, in particular, struck me:

“The invasion of Iraq is often spoken of in the United States as a ‘blunder,’ or even a ‘colossal mistake.’ It was a crime.”

Zahra Ali, Matt Taibbi, and even Jill Stein made similar statements on the solemn anniversary. Much of the American left seems to agree on this point.

But was the invasion of Iraq actually a crime? Kirk H. Sowell, a meticulous analyst of Iraq’s domestic politics, doesn’t think so. He argues that such accusations are little more than petty slogans:

“The use of the term “crime” is mindless. No evidence of a crime is put forward; Iraq in fact violated the armistice, which followed the 1991. And a “crime” requires a mental state. Bush’s ignorance was historic, but the evidence is clear he sincerely believed the WMD rhetoric.”

I disagree with Sowell. While I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with sloganeering for a good cause, doing so is not necessary here. The Iraq War was a crime. And the war was criminal whether or not President Bush was genuinely concerned about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It was criminal for the simple reason that the war’s architects violated the well-established international prohibition against waging a war of aggression.

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Fifteen Years of Blood

This week is the fifteenth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, an illegal intervention that continues to immiserate millions. The war is a moral wrong and a criminal act, which condemned the war and its proponents long before the first munitions claimed their first victims. By the time the consequences of the war unfolded, they should have been damned irrevocably. The hideous fruits of the Iraq War – the human suffering, the interminable and metastasizing violence, the wanton squandering of wealth, corruption, outright looting, the hundreds of thousands or more Iraqi and over 4800 coalition dead before the initial 2011 withdrawal – are not the product of some unforeseen twist of fate. They fell well within the predictions and warnings of its opponents, offered openly at the time.

Yet within the conventional wisdom of the Washington national security establishment, to have aligned yourself with the most stridently anti-war voices in 2002 and 2003 remains a similar or greater discredit to your character and continued professional suitability than having planned or advocated the war itself. Too many of the policymakers who pushed for or voted for the Iraq War remain not only in office or positions of influence, but relied upon as key figures in national security legislation. Too many of the supposed experts who ginned up the Iraqi threat and bungled the war’s execution remain trusted fonts of strategic wisdom. Too many of the journalists and commentators who pushed dubious information and waged a propaganda campaign against the war’s opponents remain trusted voices in today’s debates. Until there is accountability suitable for the magnitude of the wrong, there is little chance of an authentically left policy, or any firm departure from the miserable Washington national security consensus, successfully breaking free of malign institutions and their tired dogmas.

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The Skripal Poisonings and the Chance To Build A Left Foreign Policy

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, has been one of the prime movers in exposing the corrupting influence of foreign money and Britain’s complicity in Russian crimes. His response to Tory PM Theresa May, (and even his more measured comments today) however, shows the limits of Corbyn’s foreign policy prowess as well as the general unease left politicians still have have in dealing with the confluence of international relations and finance. Indeed by using the tools of financial sanctions against the corrupt and the dangerous, we can create a more equitable society while punishing Putin and his allies where they will feel it the most.

Theresa May announced this week that the UK would expel 23 Russian diplomats, identified as “undeclared intelligence officers” after the attempted poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal in Salisbury. Provided after an ultimatum that drew only mocking and sarcasm from Russia’s foreign ministry, May went so far as to declare the use of the nerve agent Novichok (a weapon developed by the USSR in the 1970s and 80s) an “unlawful use of force.” Among other measures, May also announced that the UK would be increasing customs checks for private flights originating from Russia as well as a variety of other more pro forma measures. Continue reading “The Skripal Poisonings and the Chance To Build A Left Foreign Policy”