Outrage at the latest war crime, the dropping of sarin gas on the people, including women and children, in Syria, is so universal, and yet, the real power to put an end to this civil war seems out of the reach of the combatants and their allies. The impotence of the United Nations, given the veto of every member of the Security Council, the lack of both an international law enforcement arm and a military arm of the Council and the history of grievous errors of both commission, and more importantly omission (Rwanda comes jerkingly to mind!) is well documented.
The west is fed a steady diet of evidence pointing to the need for the removal of the Syrian dictator. Both the EU and the UN are holding meetings today, as we would expect, to discuss ‘the Syrian crisis’….the former focussing on refugees, the latter focussing on the latest incidence of nerve gas. Russia, on the other hand, continues to “have the back” of Assad, for reasons comprehended only by Putin and Assad. However, the co-dependence of each dictator on the other would suggest that they can find very like-minded political leaders to speak with.
The Russian report on the latest incident has been dubbed fanciful by some, given that the timeline in the Russian report does not coincide with the timing of the flight of the plane that dropped the sarin. Trump’s once again pointing the finger at Obama’s weakness is so lame as to make even the most casual observer fretful of his capacity to contribute anything relevant and meaningful to any serious attempt to untangle and to resolve the entangled war zone. Even his State Department is so bereft of memory and capacity that its relevance to the geopolitical discussions wanes by the hour. The “Art of the Deal” itself is so empty of intellectual gravitas and integrity that his presence on the world stage is more frightening than comforting.
Tweets, headlines, parental bullying and scapegoating, not to mention outright lies, are not the stuff of serious and constructive contributions to the ending of this civil war, nor to the many other ‘hot spots’ facing the global community. In fact, they are disturbingly adolescent and vacuous and they will only encourage others to leave the United States out of the significant conversations among serious leaders who really seek resolution, justice and a modicum of collaboration. Trump, in short, is a menace in geopolitics, at a time when the United States’ history and tradition (especially for the last eight years) is so desperately needed as leaven in a toxic cauldron.
Trump’s Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley today announced a frightful prospect when referring to the chemical weapons drop in Syria yesterday: If the international bodies like the United Nations are not able to act, then individual nations will have to take action on their own.
Now there is a prospect for which no sane and sentient human hopes. That is all we need: to have individual nations taking action unilaterally, in a world, and war theatre like Syria already crowded with nefarious actors. Gorbachev’s essay in Time magazine only a few weeks ago, suggesting the world was moving inexorably toward war (and asking Trump and Putin to join in declaring war off the list of available options) seems more cogent and relevant every day.
Assad has convicted himself of also being a menace to the world, as has Kim Jong Il, he of the latest missile test into the East China Sea, on the eve of a visit by the Chinese leader to the Oval Office, as if to thumb his nation’s nose at both leaders. Putin, too, verges on such hubristic aggrandizement as to render himself menacing, notwithstanding his controlled high standing in public opinion polls.
With the complexity and ubiquity of digital technology, now walking the streets of Ottawa, outside the parliament buildings, being able to invade the private cell phones of anyone in proximity (the authorities have no idea who is behind this), the capacity of the most insignificant “cell” to construct destructive weapons and to deploy them from a distance, on top of the proliferation of military materiel, largely manufactured, marketed and sold by American interests for their corporate profit… the world has essentially globally weaponized ordinary citizens bent on wreaking havoc for whatever nefarious motive that “blows their sails”. How can we expect dangerous individuals, so empowered, not to be emboldened while watching the parade of political leaders appearing both emasculated, inept and also dangerously pursuing narrow political agendas, at the expense of the global community?
Democracy works only if and when the people are engaged in pursuing common goals, in the interest of the public good. It is premised on such an ethical and agreed purpose, that we are all in this together and that our shared highest interests guide our debates, discussions and the methods we deploy in their realization. Whether we raise the taxes on a specific demographic, or product or service, or design and deliver a specific social program, or renew our legislation on worker rights, minimum wage requirements, individual comportment in public spaces including how we perceive and construct a justice system in which we all have confidence….these are some of the many complex and significant issues on which the public expression of opinion is both warranted and required. And as several jurisdictions pursue these goals, inside their boundaries, they are then able to share experiences, especially in a digital age of global communication, to make “best practices” available to every individual, including legislators, judges, public servants, teachers and professors.
While we have spread the ‘net’ of information and ‘best practices’ to every corner of the planet, we have also spread instant access to the latest depraved act of violence, despair and despondence in every corner of the planet. And ,on the very thin and superficial ‘surface’ this violence looks like a kind of instant “power” and “instant gratification” for those who truly believe their perceived enemies are “screwing them” whether personally or as perceived by a toxic ideology. And it will only be if and when the world’s headlines have surrendered their addiction to violence, conflict and the “attention” that those dynamics purport to attract, in the nano-second of an immediate, and insatiable need for power and control, that we might begin to expect some kind of broad based commitment to resolution, and to a different way of perceiving the operation of political power.
This is not so naïve as to envisage the elimination of violence, military conflict, cyber-invasions, or the end of terrorism. It is, however, a glimpse of a future in which the world’s people have come to our senses, recognized our shared complicity in the current pervasive violence, and our shared responsibility for having failed to establish international institutions for the purpose of pursuing international norms, in addition to the World Health Organization, the International Criminal Court. Climate concords, for example, that speak of voluntary commitment to emission standards, when our ability to breath clean air and to drink clean water know no political agenda, no political ideology, and are attached to no political leader, nation or corporation.
Not only do we all share in the need for access to clean air and water, but we also share a human need for work with dignity, in a culture of mutual respect…all of these “agenda” items also know no political ideology…except that we are all complicit in permitting the violence of sarin gas to continue, in spite of the purported disposal of those very chemical weapons by Assad, after the agreement reached between Russia and the Obama administration. And only if and when our complicity and concurrence and responsibility come home to rest on our own shoulders in our own communities and neighbourhoods and families will we begin to both speak out and take political action to express our shared and most honourable truths.
The darkest demons demand acknowledgement, removal from the closets of our refusal to take responsibility, and confronting by our best capacities.
And, it will take a world of intense and concentrated effort to shift the balance of human power from the violent dictators to the more moderate and collaborative among us….and the clock is ticking!