How US foreign policy elites spread lawlessness around the world

Oct 12 2019

How the Blob’s lawlessness brought mayhem to the Middle East

This week’s abrupt withdrawal of US troops from a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria inspired a variety of criticisms, as politicians and commentators of all major ideological stripes condemned Trump for ordering it.

The main criticisms have a lot of validity, in so far as they go. In greenlighting Turkey’s military incursion into Syria, Trump indeed, as charged: (1) abandoned the Kurds, who at America’s behest had spent the last few years fighting ISIS; (2) probably helped ISIS, at least in the short run, by diverting Kurdish attention and resources toward fighting Turkey; (3) ensured the death or displacement (a.k.a ethnic cleansing) of lots of Kurds.

But there’s one criticism I haven’t heard, and I think this silence is an indictment of the entire Washington foreign policy establishment — and more evidence that it deserves its evocatively pejorative nickname, the “Blob.”

NBA’s China Syndrome

This was a tough week for San Francisco Warriors coach Steve Kerr. It all started when the General Manager of the Houston Rockets tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protestors. The Chinese government—and lots of Chinese people—didn’t like that one bit, and China is a huge market for the NBA, so various NBA officials and players set about saying conciliatory things. Kerr, when asked about the controversy, did what you might expect: He declined to comment.  

At this point Donald Trump somehow found the time—even while getting impeached and getting Kurds slaughtered—to tear into Kerr (a longtime Trump critic) for not being manly enough to stand up to China. Which in turn kept the whole issue alive long enough for Kerr to be asked by a reporter whether, in the course of his many visits to China, there had been discussion of how the NBA’s financial interests relate to “a country whose human rights record is not in step with the United States.”

Buddhism and anti-war activism

I recently had a conversation (just posted on meaningoflife.tv and also available in The Wright Show podcast feed) with one of my favorite people: Bhikkhu Bodhi, a Buddhist monk who is also a renowned scholar of Buddhism and a prolific translator of ancient Buddhist texts.

One reason I like him so much is that when he laughs—and he laughs at more offbeat things than your average monk, I’d guess—it lights up the room. Consider, for example, this exchange, which started with him telling me what the Buddha said about eating meat:


America's Pastime

This week baseball’s postseason playoffs were proceeding uneventfully when St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley threw the Atlanta Braves a curve ball. In between games one and two of the Cardinals–Braves series, Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation, criticized a controversial Braves fan ritual: rhythmically simulating a tomahawk chop while humming something that is either a Native American war song or Atlanta’s idea of one.    

Braves officials took the complaint seriously. When the decisive game five rolled around, Atlanta fans didn’t find in their seats the complimentary foam tomahawks that had always been there for playoff games. And the loudspeaker didn’t, shortly before the first pitch, prompt the tomahawk ritual by playing the war song. 

If you were a superstitious Braves fan, you might have worried that this desecration of ritual would anger the gods. And sure enough: St. Louis scored ten runs in the top of the first inning—which, for those of you aren’t baseball fans, meant that the game was over before the other 8.5 innings were played. (Final score: 13-1. The Cardinals moved on to the National League Championship series, and the Braves went home.)

Before I say more about the tomahawk ritual per se, I’d like to say one thing about the recurring controversy over Native American sports names (which typically focuses on the Braves, the Cleveland Indians, the Washington Redskins, and the Kansas City Chiefs). Namely: these four names fall into two groups, and one group seems more offensive than the other.

Readings
Atlantic staff writer Olga Khazan delves into the literature on self-confidence and finds that the difference between self-esteem and narcissism isn’t just one of degree. “People who have high self-esteem think of their social relationships as collaborative, while those with narcissism see the world as a zero-sum game. Only one person can be the best, they think, and it must be them.” In a remarkable act of discipline, Khazan goes the whole piece without mentioning any recent presidents.

Also in the Atlantic, Franklin Foer goes deep on the ever-fascinating, and sometimes disturbing, Jeff Bezos. 

After 9/11, an enduring upsurge in terrorist attacks against America was widely anticipated. And sure enough, the University of Maryland’s annual terrorism report, released this week, shows that the number of terrorist attacks in America last year was the highest since 1982. But here’s what wasn’t anticipated after 9/11: the big problem isn’t radical Islamism. All six lethal terrorists attacks in the US featured “far-right ideological elements including primarily white supremacy and in at least two cases, male supremacy,” the report notes. The good news: terrorist attacks worldwide are down, and in the US the number of lethal attacks dropped in 2018 (from 18 to 6) as did the total number of deaths due to terrorism (43 in 2018, about half as many as in 2017). Upshot: the chances that you’ll die in a terrorist attack remain roughly zero.



In the Intercept, Jon Schwarz briskly reviews the many times the US has betrayed the Kurds. In Lobelog, Paul Pillar argues that Trump’s impulse to withdraw troops from the Kurdish enclave in northern Syria isn’t bad in itself, but that his execution of the withdrawal has been irresponsible; Trump has characteristically failed to pursue the kind of diplomacy that could have permitted an exit without the killing and ethnic cleansing now going on. 

In the Atlantic, Judith Shulevitz laments the demise of “the old 9-to-5, five-day-a-week grind.” Sure, it was a grind, but at least you and your friends were grinding at the same time—which meant you were free at the same times and so could hang out together. Now, with more people working “nonstandard or variable hours,” and affluent people, especially, putting in longer work weeks, “the hours in which we work, rest, and socialize are becoming ever more desynchronized.” Not surprisingly, Shulevitz is also the author of a book singing the praises of the Sabbath, a day for repose and interhuman connection. (On the other hand, the Sabbath isn’t all that conducive to intertribal connection. For Muslims it’s Friday, for Jews it’s Saturday, and for Christians it’s Sunday.)