William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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THE REALITY OF 2013 – AT 11:12 A.M. ET:  We enter 2013 with apprehension over what the year will bring.  Most predictive journalism is pretty routine, anticipating convulsion in the Mideast, fiscal storms at home, and debates over gun control and Obamacare.

But I read an article in The Wall Street Journal by Robert Kaplan of Stratfor that seemed quite sharp to me, and argues that the "universal values" our intellectual classes have been arguing for are actually failing around the world.  This is not a happy-talk piece, but well worth reading:

Western elites believe that universal values are trumping the forces of reaction. They wax eloquent about the triumph of human rights, women's liberation, social media, financial markets, international and regional organizations and all the other forces that are breaking down boundaries separating humanity.

Tragically, they are really observing a self-referential world of global cosmopolitans like themselves. In country after country, the Westerners identify like-minded, educated elites and mistake them for the population at large. They prefer not to see the regressive and exclusivist forces—such as nationalism and sectarianism—that are mightily reshaping the future.

Take Cairo's Tahrir Square in early 2011. Western journalists celebrated the gathering of relatively upper-income Arab liberals with whom they felt much in common, only to see these activists quickly retreat as post-autocratic Egypt became for many months a struggle among the military, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamist Salafists—with the Coptic Christians fearing for their communal survival.

And...

Asia is in the midst of a feverish arms race, featuring advanced diesel-electric submarines, the latest fighter jets and ballistic missiles. China, having consolidated its land borders following nearly two centuries of disorder, is projecting air and sea power into what it regards as the blue national soil of the South China and East China seas.

Japan and other countries are reacting in kind. Slipping out of its quasi-pacifistic shell, Japan is rediscovering nationalism as a default option. The Japanese navy boasts roughly four times as many major warships as the British Royal Navy. As for Vietnam and the Philippines, nobody who visits those countries and talks with their officials, as I have, about their territorial claims would imagine for a moment that we live in a post-national age.

The disputes in Asia are not about ideology or any uplifting moral philosophy; they are about who gets to control space on the map. The same drama is being played out in Syria where Alawites, Sunnis and Kurds are in a territorial contest over power and control as much as over ideas. Syria's writhing sectarianism—in which Bashar Assad is merely the leading warlord among many—is a far cruder, chaotic and primitive version of the primate game of king of the hill.

And...

We truly are in a battle between two epic forces: Those of integration based on civil society and human rights, and those of exclusion based on race, blood and radicalized faith. It is the mistake of Western elites to grant primacy to the first force, for it is the second that causes the crises with which policy makers must deal—often by interacting with technology in a toxic fashion, as when a video transported virtually at the speed of light ignites a spate of anti-Americanism (if not specifically in Benghazi).

COMMENT:  Read the whole thing.  The writer can see through the haze.

December 25, 2012