The End of the Pax Americana: Aleppo, Israel, the UN, and More

While “Pax Americana” is a subjective phrase, and one that valorizes imperialism, the end of it seems to portend far greater troubles in the world. And ending it seems to be, due to numerous errors of omission and commission, as well as altered circumstances in the world. And a reluctance to commit American ground forces in strength, a reluctance that derives partly from philosophical conviction and partly from empirical assessments of how (in)effective military force has been in effecting political outcomes, never mind social or cultural ones. From Iraq to Libya to Syria to Iran, this reluctance has played a major role, and arguably has in Ukraine as well (though I disagree with some of my colleagues over what the U.S. was supposed to do in 2014). Eliot Cohen’s new book, due out in January, should be interesting reading: The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force.

Whether things have actually never been so good in the world, or whether people are more unhappy than they’ve been in a while, will be debated for some time. In any case, here are a number of articles that came together in my mind over the last few days, especially in the aftermath of the UN Security Council vote on Resolution 2334 last Friday:

First and foremost, Camille Pecastaing’s December 24 article at The American InterestAleppo’s Crows. His portrait of the end of American influence in the Middle East and the consequences of that is very well taken. In particular, the “red line” of 2012-13, when the U.S. did not act after Obama had explicitly said that use of chemical weapons would trigger U.S. intervention, comes across as a crucial error. Even if, as I have on occasion pointed out, in 2012 the Joint Chiefs had recommended against intervention in Syria, once you lay down that kind of condition you have to follow through on it. But it’s water under the bridge, I suppose: Turkey, Russia, and Iran are hammering out their own peace deal in Syria as I write this.

After this, various articles on UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemns all Israeli settlements in the West Bank (which are highly contentious in Israel, as this Peace Index poll from the IDI indicates ), and condemns any Israeli possession of any part of the lands they conquered in 1967 (never mind that, whether Israel had a hand in provoking it or not, it was a defensive war, and the UN didn’t apply the same logic in ’73 while it looked like Egypt was winning…). The big hay here is that Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the UN, abstained on the motion, rather than vetoing it as the Likud and PEOTUS wanted. Out of the hundreds of reactions, the following caught my attention.

Update: John Kerry’s complete speech given this morning, December 28.

Some displayed analysis:

–Walter Russell Mead on how the Palestinian position has actually never been weaker: UN Vote on Settlements Can’t Hide Palestinian Collapse.

–Mark LeVine at Tikkun on how the resolution actually does “have teeth, even if they are not immediately bared.” This contradicts The Intercept‘s initial reaction, that this is a “toothless” measure.  Noteworthy in LeVine’s article is that Obama has blocked all anti-Israel resolutions but this one; W. allowed 6, and Bush senior allowed 11.

–Bernard Avishai, in The New Yorker, gives a more detailed backstory to why the Obama administration allowed this resolution to go forward when it prevented a similar one in 2011. The answer is that negotiations by now are dead in deed as well as in name, while they were not in 2011. Since that veto, Netanyahu has pressed ahead aggressively with expanding settlements, and there are current laws in the works that would allow the seizure of privately-owned Palestinian land. Avishai also discusses possible courses of action for the incoming Trump administration.

There was also a lot of outrage:

–Peter Baker in The New York Times, reporting that Netanyahu’s response is to build even more settlements.

–Netanyahu paid an unscheduled stop to the Western Wall to light the second candle for Hanukkah. Most Israelis, it seems, are agreed that the undivided Jerusalem is the capital.

–Gerald Steinberg, at Bar Ilan University, in the Jerusalem Post, with advice on how Israel should respond, and some perspective on anti-Israel NGOs and “lawfare.”

–David French on how the vote uses and impacts the three double standards that Israel is habitually held to. Considering how much destruction U.S. drone warfare and JSOC ops have caused under the President’s tenure, and that Russian and Syrian war crimes, that claimed tens of thousands of lives, are likely to go unpunished, under-reported, and unbelieved, it certainly strikes me as ironic that the UN has time to spend on this. Virtual crickets on Aleppo…

–John Bolton in the WSJ on the impacts and what the incoming administration should do...

We should also have some perspective:

–Professors Ephraim Yaar and Tamar Hermann released a new polling study on December 1, trying to gauge the Israeli public’s impressions of how the Trump administration would impact Israel and Israeli settlements.

–Back in September, President Obama gave Israel it’s largest aid package ever, seen by many as effectively a “reward” for Bibi adding 100,000 settlers to the West Bank. (Though see Avishai’s article from September 23–the aid package was conditional on no Israeli lobbying of Congress for 10 years, and Avishai describes this was a victory “arguably as decisive” as the Iran deal for the Obama administration.)

–From back in April, Lara Friedman in The New York Times on how Obama has been a largely unsung champion of Israel.


–The Mosul dam is on the point of collapsing, and that would be horrifically bad for, well , just about everybody in its path.

–Oh, and the Feds apparently just busted a jihadi ring (or at least IS sympathizers?) in Northern Virginia.

–And apparently we’re getting ready to punish the Russians for hacking and election interference, though no one has been able to point me to a specific document or statement from any U.S. government agency confirming that this happened (yes, somewhere around 99% of Senators believe that it did, so that’s something I suppose.) Defense One just posted an article citing…blog posts…about the malware used against the DNC matching that used against Ukraine.

–President Obama moved to forestall President-Elect Trump’s creation of a Muslim registry by…dismantling the Muslim registry already in existence. Ok, that’s a bit flippant, it’s a tracking system, but there are/were already programs in place that would make a national registry easier to pull off. This would be a national disgrace of the first order if it were to happen.

–According to Dan Kahan at Yale, using reason, logic, and evidence doesn’t actually help you win friends and influence peoplebecause we use it to reinforce our own positions and our own groups. This happens across the political spectrum, and is called “biased assimilation.”

I guess the “post-truth” age has been here all along…