Endings and Beginnings: A Commentary on 2017 to 2018

1 Jan

Endings and Beginnings: A Commentary on 2017 to 2018


The bad news from a global perspective is that the world crisis worsened during 2017, largely due to the inept and anachronistic orientation toward reality and human wellbeing exhibited by the Trump presidency. Two things

allowed this regressive narrative to unfold, putting aside the irresponsible failure of Democrats and progressive forces to put forward a mobilizing vision or candidate in the 2016 presidential campaign. First of all, Trump’s presidential narcissism that associated itself in militarism, a nativist nationalism, and a corporatism geared to satisfy only the ultra-wealthy and to activate the hitherto mostly dormant pre-fascist virus. Secondly, a Republican Party that shared the reactionary domestic agenda of Trump, and were unwilling to challenge him even on traditional Republican signature issues such as free trade and zero deficits. In the background was the Bannonesqe base that would have abandoned the Republican Party as soon as there was the perception that mainstream Republicans were abandoning Trump. In other words there is a lethal symbiosis between Trumpism and the fragility of the Republican establishment securely temporarily by crude opportunism.


Trump’s influence was an immense distraction from facing challenges that required urgent and creative national and global attention, including climate change, biodiversity, global migration, Middle East turmoil, nuclearism, and scandalous levels of income and wealth inequalities. Even without Trump this agenda of challenges would have required unprecedented ruptures from past patterns of international behavior if adequate responses were to be forthcoming. Above all, how could the world solve these daunting problems without a much stronger set of instruments to promote the global and human interest. If you read the Preamble of the UN Charter it would make you believe that this was what the UN was about, an Organization representing the best interests of humanity as a whole, and not an instrument to be used or not on behalf of its national and geopolitical parts.


The Charter of the UN as well as UN practice tells a different kind of story, giving the most dangerous and powerful countries a right of veto, exempting themselves from international law and responsible international behavior, allowing geopolitics to play a role via funding and the appointment of a Secretary General, and leaving up to the discretion of governments as to whether or not they will submit international disputes to the International Court of Justice or alternative peaceful methods. The UN as constituted by the Charter, and exemplified by more than 70 years of practice combines statist priorities dominated by diverse perceptions national interest with geopolitical procedures that give control of global policymaking to the richest and strongest states. In effect, although the UN does make a variety of valuable contributions to a better world, when it comes to the major challenges it has proved itself to weak to promote effectively the global public good. At its best, when governments perceive their interests to overlap with global wellbeing and when geopolitical leadership is relatively benign, the UN can do some good.


Returning to consider ‘the Trump effect’ it becomes clear that the United States has not only relinquished its claims to positive global leadership, providing the world with some prospect of filling the vacuum of effectiveness and normativity resulting from UN weakness as an autonomous source of policy, but has indulged in a series of steps that can only be described as ‘negative leadership.’ These include a withdrawal from international engagements premised on the common good and asserting a high risk conception of power and influence that is both harnessed to the war system and disdainful of cooperative arrangements serving the common interests of humanity. Instead of openness and cooperation we are given hard and soft barriers, anti-immigration moves reinforced by the attempted construction of expensive and deceptive walls, a protectionist psychology applicable to persons, trade, environment as well as militancy toward adversaries that threatens dangerous warfare in notable hot spots, at the moment, North Korea and Iran.


Are there countervailing factors that might make 2018 less of a disaster than it could be if the trajectory of 2017 is pushed into the future. It may be clutching at straws to suggest that the world seems to have passed through a honeymoon phase with Trump and is on to his dangerous and irresponsible ways. Of course, Israel may be happy enough with this new twist in American foreign policy to name a station on its new light railway station ‘Trump,’ which is as close to a Nobel Peace Prize as this New York real estate dealmaker is likely to get, and Saudi Arabia may delight in enticing Trump to join in a sword dance and then ratchet up confrontation with Iran, but increasingly the rest of the world is on to this latest American trickster.


One token of this awakening was evident in the Security Council and General Assembly votes declaring the Trump decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel ‘null and void.’ The General Assembly vote was particularly impressive as a rebuff of bullying tactics fronted by Ambassador Nikki Haley who issued feverish warnings to governments around the world that they would pay a price if they voted for the resolution and against the United States and indirectly warned the UN itself that funding would be cut if the Organization proved unfriendly, that is, opposed to U.S. positions. She had the back of a chuckling Trump who saw the vote as a welcome opportunity to save money for his billionaire buddies, and scoffed at the authority of the UN. Against this background a GA resolution condemning the Trump move by a vote of 128-9 was quite an extraordinary demonstration of declining American leadership capability, first by rebuffing Trump’s wayward initiative and even more by totally disregarding the bullying tactics. The one-sided vote is even more significant than it seems when it is fully realized that every important country in the world, without exception, supported the resolution, and that the small scattering of ‘no’ votes came from insignificant small Pacific island states and a couple of minor vulnerable Central America countries.


Of course, this global turn against Trump has its own pitfalls. If the Mueller investigation turns up truly incriminating and impeachable material, Trump seems most likely to respond by behaving as a cornered animal, even a wounded one. Such a stance could produce a variety of provocations internally and internationally that were intended to shift the conversation, to unify the country, and sharpen the conflict to the point of a heightened risk of nuclear war abroad and civil strife at home.


Ever since the nuclear age began in 1945 apocalyptic risks have been present, and inadequate efforts have been made to remove them from the domain of miscalculation, malfunction, and malice. During the Cold War, at various times, most memorably during the Cuban Missile Crisis, our sense of these risks rose to alarming levels. With the Trump presidency we should be similarly alarmed, if not more so. And not only alarmed, but resolved to do all in our individual and collective power to induce postures of global prudence, which as a first approximation, translates into a populist movement dedicated to denuclearization along with the strengthening of international law and the UN.

14 Responses to “Endings and Beginnings: A Commentary on 2017 to 2018”

  1. Schlüter January 1, 2018 at 1:18 pm #

    All the best for the New Year 2018!
    “Have a Happy and Vigilant 2018! Thanks to my Readers”: https://wipokuli.wordpress.com/2018/01/01/have-a-happy-and-vigilant-2018-thanks-to-my-readers-ein-glueckliches-und-kaempferisches-2018-dank-an-meine-leser/
    Cordial regards

  2. judith Deutsch January 1, 2018 at 1:32 pm #

    Shamefully, 35 countries, including Canada, abstained on UNGA resolution re Jerusalem capital of Israel. Shamefully, “liberal” Canada also follows the U.S. on nuclear weapons ban and Venezuela.

  3. truthaholics January 1, 2018 at 6:36 pm #

    Reblogged this on | truthaholics.

  4. Mike 71 January 1, 2018 at 7:08 pm #

    Only those actions taken pursuant to Article 7 of the U.N. Charter carry the force of international law; those taken under Articles Four and Six are merely unenforcible suggestions. In 1948, 1967 and again in 1973, the nations of the Arab League, rejecting UNGAR 181, providing for two states in the former British Mandate of Palestine, which was never a sovereign state, attacked the State of Israel, finding that that the General Assembly Resolution was not binding on them. Now, the Palestinians disingenuously and hypocritically assert that UNGAR 181, despite its unambiguous language calling for two states, affords them the right to statehood while denying it to the Israelis. Is there any question why the U.N., dominated by a coterie of autocrats, kleptocrats and human rights abusers, such as Basher Assad, has lost all legitimacy among the most significant nations of the civilized world?

    What the Trump Administration did, as expressed by Ambassador Nikki Haley, was to recognize reality. Anyone who has visited Jerusalem must come to the realization that as Israel’s Parliament (Knesset), Supreme Court Chambers and the Offices of the President and Prime Minister are located within the city of Jerusalem; no comparable Palestinian political institutions are located there. The Palestinians have no functioning legislature, or judiciary, but only an aging kleptocrat, soon to begin the 13th year os the four year term to which he was elected in 2005. In Gaza, Ismael Haniyeh, about to start the 11th year of the five year term to which he was elected in 2007, is preparing for yet another war against Israel, despite three defeats during “Operation Cast Lead (2008-09),” “Operation Pillar of Defense (2012),” and “Operation Protective Edge,” despite the cost in Palestinian lives, including those conscripted as “Human Shields” to defend rocket launchers and invasion tunnels.

    Had the Palestinians accepted either of two Israeli peace offers: 1.) 2000, under the “Clinton Parameters,” rejected by Yasser Arafat, or: 2.) the 2008 Olmert government offer rejected by Mahmoud Abbas, they could have had a shared capital for two states in the city of Jerusalem. But in twice rejecting Jerusalem as the shared capital of both Israel and Palestine, they forfeited all rights to any part of the city, which is now Israel’s undivided capital.

    The Palestinians can no longer, as a practical matter, continue to wage “armed struggle” against Israel. The IDF of 2018 is a far more potent military force than that which defeated them in 1967. The “Knife Intifada” and the “Car and Truck Intifada” are no match for Israeli intelligence, which increasingly detects and disrupts such terrorist acts. In rejecting the direct negotiations called for under UNSCR 242 and 338 (again treated as “mere suggestions”), the Palestinians are isolating themselves. U.S. aid for the Palestinian Authority will be drastically reduced as long as Abbas continues to fund “Pay for Slay” of Israelis and visiting Americans. The pending “Taylor Force Act (passed in the House, pending in the Senate),” named for a visiting American veteran murdered by a Palestinian
    terrorist, will drastically cut funding for the P.A.

    Given the approaching Saudi – Iranian/Hezbollah war, Egypt, the Saudis and the Gulf Cooperation Council will ally with Israel, as their interests increasingly become aligned. Already, Iranians are rioting in the streets, demanding that the Ayatollahs and the Mullahs pay attention to their economic needs and declining standards of living before engaging in foreign adventures. Once that war begins, the Palestinian cause will be cast aside as an irrelevant side show, eclipsed in importance by far more pressing matters.

    • Gene Schulman January 2, 2018 at 2:22 pm #

      What is it abut this essay that puts me in mind of Hegel’s essay about losing control and leading to vertigo and madness. He tells the story of the deranged poet walking through the rain and mist, not a care in the world; he was just sorry that he could not walk on his head. The writer of the above seems to have accomplished this trick, and is definitely walking on head!

      • Fred Skolnik January 2, 2018 at 9:45 pm #

        As always, brilliantly argued, Gene! Unfortunately it’s the Palestinians who are walking on their heads. We’ll see where it gets them.

      • Mike 71 January 3, 2018 at 2:14 am #

        This type of Marxist claptrap is no longer accepted in the modern world. Hegel’s dialectic has been cast upon the trash heap of history, outside of a few isolated fanatics unaware that the world has moved on. The U.N., originally created following World War II with the best of intentions, has become the captive of a collective of autocrats and kleptocrats, driven by imperial ambitions to create their own regional hegemonies.

        Iran, for example, has seen the ambitions of the Ayatollahs for an empire stretching from Tehran to Beirut stifled by recent mass protests against the government by those frustrated by failed economic promises. “Forget about Palestine; what about us,” they chant, as well as “Marg Bar Diktator (Death to the Dictator),” in reference to Ayatollah Khamanei. The promised benefits of the much hailed “Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action” have failed to appear, while the kleptocrats continue to stuff their pockets, as well as divert funds needed to improve the average Iranian’s standard of living to prosecute foreign adventures. The Mullahs complain that the mass demonstrations are instigated by Israel, but as Prime Minister Netanyahu countered, those allegations are “laughable,” as well as an insult to the intelligence of the Iranian people. These demonstrations are locally generated, not directed from Jerusalem.

        Gene, you should be aware of the dangers of allying with Shi’ite religious fanatics; as with the Ribbentrop – Molotov (Hitler – Stalin) Pact, those erstwhile allies can turn on you at an instant, as did Hitler when he invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. You may believe that “religion is the opiate of the masses,” but the rest of the modern world has concluded that “Marxism is the opiate of the asses.”

      • Gene Schulman January 3, 2018 at 8:47 am #

        I long ago gave up responding to Fred’s attacks. But Mike71 is new to me. I’m glad he knows so much about what I think and whom I favor. If he thinks the rest of the ‘modern world’ has moved on, I would just warn him that may just be the problem. It’s that ‘modern world’ out there that is so frightening. And Mike 71 seems to be a proud member of it.

      • Jewish state is in New York NOT Palestine January 3, 2018 at 12:13 pm #

        gene how old are you?
        “Mike 71” is a zionist supporter of Israel crimes against humanity like ‘fred’. In fact this could be ‘fred’ himself writing under different name, using space to spread propaganda against Iran, since the criminal zionist jewish mass murderers are so nervous about their apartheid entity and their future, because the WORLD JUST VOTED AGAINST THIS CRIMINAL TRIBE and their extended family, the racist pimps at the UN and black house where they tried to black mail nations saying ‘we are watching’, stupid.

        Seven billions of world population showed their middle fingers while they cast their votes against the illiterate zionist stooge, and its zionist servant and Netanyahu.

        These Zionist mass murderers should know that NO ONE take their propaganda about Iran seriously, in fact, majority are attacking these criminals who have waged Iraq war, Libya war and Syria war killing millions of people for the interest of a criminal tribe. Look at South Sudan that the zionist jews erected by partitioning Sudan, majority of women have been raped. They tried to erect kurdistan but they received a fist in their mouth yet still are pushing, this time going after Iran using their trained terrorist MEK. Iranian people will destroy YOU and your terrorists, MEK. They are waiting for you cowards.

        They are pushing the illiterate zionist petty servant to attack Iran, according to Oded Yinon. But Oded Yinon is DEAD so its supporters. They are very angry that they could not topple President Assad and still these criminals are BARKING.

        These criminals will be destroyed soon. Long live Palestinians and death to their enemies.

      • Mike 71 January 16, 2018 at 1:14 pm #

        “Jewish State in New York” is obviously an apologist for Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians. He likely is too stupid to realize that I am not Fred Skolnik, despite the fact that I frequently agree with Fred’s commentary. But getting back to the central issue, if UNGAR 181, providing for two states, “one Arab and one Jewish” is not binding on the Palestinians, neither is it binding on the Israelis. As the Palestinians explicitly reject the two-state solution, as specified in the founding documents of both the P.L.O. and Hamas, the sole determinant of whose state it will be will be determined by the ability to dominate the entirety of the former British Mandate. Since 1967, Israel has demonstrated the military capability to control all lands captured in the 1967 “Six Day War,” and the Palestinians have demonstrated absolutely no interest in negotiating to create a distinct state of their own. Under International Law, Israel, as the victorious belligerent under the doctrine of Uti Possidetis, may retain control of all captured land, until possession is modified by treaty. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uti_possidetis

        In 2000, under the “Clinton Parameters,” Yasser Arafat rejected the offer of east Jerusalem, as part of a comprehensive Israeli peace offer, just before initiating the “Second Intifada,” including the bombings of Israeli buses and cafes, killing thousands. Eight years later, Mahmoud Abbas did likewise, thus forfeiting all rights to any part of the city. The Palestinians had two opportunities to have a capital in east Jerusalem, but blew them off. “He who hesitates is lost,” or as actor/comedian Jim Carrey put if, “He who hesitates, masturbates.”

        There is an old Marine Corps adage about “Payback,” which due to a vulgarity cannot be repeated in polite circles, but in essence, “what goes around, comes around.” If the Palestinians are not bound by the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which they recently signed, they forfeit the protection of those conventions. Palestinian perpetration of war crimes and crimes against humanity against Israeli civilians, will bring IDF retribution as certain as night follows day. If “armed struggle” is the only means of resolving the conflict, the Palestinians must accept the inevitability of IDF retribution!

      • Gene Schulman January 4, 2018 at 9:38 am #

        I shan’t divulge my age because it has nothing to do with the subject at hand, except to say that I’m old enough to know that your own screed is not much better than those proposed by Fred and his unknown companion in arms. Such vengeful arguments are not helpful.

  5. Sean Breathnach January 7, 2018 at 11:11 am #

    Professor, thank you for a very thoughtful analysis of 2017, clear and to the point. As the years go by, I believe that the President of America’s title of leader of the free world is quickly been eroded.

  6. Beau Oolayforos January 12, 2018 at 8:33 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    Your “cornered animal” analogy is appropriately foreboding. Arguably, some of the worst abuses of the Nixon administration came when their White House was under siege. In May of ’73, their criminality was already clear, but resignation was still 15 months away. That summer, Nixon went on radio & TV to lie to the whole country about his involvement in Watergate, the same season that he birthed the monster we now know as the DEA.

    That fall, the Saturday Night Massacre was practically contemporaneous with Nixon’s full support of the Pinochet atrocities. What wonder that we are now witnessing ever new, daily outrages?

  7. Beau Oolayforos January 18, 2018 at 6:20 am #

    for any Francophiles, please allow me to recommend Boileau’s 8th satire, especially around the line “va par ta cruautes meriter la fortune”. Its relevance to the character in question will, I trust, be clear.

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