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Big yellow Uber

by Tom Sullivan

"World order is one of those things people don’t think about until it is gone," Robert Kagan wrote in the Washington Post Tuesday. The line could work in a movie trailer voiced by Don LaFontaine. The world is living a slow-paced version of a Roland Emmerich film, and popcorn won't make it more enjoyable.

The disappearance of Saudi journalist and Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi is another episode foreshadowing the breakdown of the order the United States spent decades building and leading after World War II.

A prominent critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi government, Khashoggi went missing after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to obtain a document certifying his divorce from his ex-wife. Turkish officials believe Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate.

Intelligence intercepts indicate bin Salman himself sent a 15-member "assassination squad" to Istanbul collect Khashoggi.

Bin Salman has denied the allegations.

A foreign affairs columnist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Kagan believes in abandoning its leadership role in the post-war order, the United States has given a green light to "evil actors in the world." Despots once constrained by a stable international order can act again confident the United States will do nothing:

There have been many other similar warning signs: China’s arrest of the head of Interpol; the Burmese military’s campaign of genocide against the Rohingya; the systematic and deliberate slaughter of civilians in Syria, including by outlawed chemical weapons; the Russian invasion of Ukraine and seizure of Crimea. Nor is the rise of right-wing nationalist forces in Europe and elsewhere unrelated to the loss of strength and vitality among the democratic nations. Doubts about America have been reverberating across the globe for more than a decade, and others have been responding accordingly. When Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban spoke out to celebrate the “illiberal state” a few years ago, he claimed he was only responding to new realities: “the great redistribution of global financial, economic, commercial, political and military power that became obvious in 2008.”
Perhaps the popular fascination with zombies reflects an unconscious awareness of what lies not just below the ground but just beneath the thin veneer of civilization:
When the prevailing order breaks down, when the rocks are overturned, the things living beneath them, the darkest elements of the human spirit, crawl out. That was what happened in the first half of the 20th century. The circumstances in which Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini rose to power — a world in which no nation was willing or able to sustain any kind of international order — gave them ample opportunity to show what they were capable of. Had there been an order in place to blunt those ambitions, we might never have come to know them as tyrants, aggressors and mass killers.
Even as the post-war order crumbles, the world faces a climate crisis requiring leadership influential enough to rally the world to address it. The United States, once the guarantor of that order (for better or for worse), is M.I.A. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued a report described as “a deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen.”

Two-hour films use countdowns to raise viewers' tension. Current science suggests them planet's clock ticks down over the next decade. To avoid "mass die-offs of coral reefs, widespread drought, famine and wildfires, and potentially conflict over land, food and fresh water," the New York Times Editorial Board warned Tuesday, will require that time and a mammoth effort to "to decarbonize global energy systems."

The problem is, who will lead it?

The sitting president of the United States just spent part of his Tuesday working over New York magazine reporter Olivia Nuzzi for a story puffing his accomplishments and how not-chaotic his White House is. Before she left the grounds, Trump got word she was doing a story on Trump's displeasure with Chief of Staff John Kelly. Trump summoned her to the Oval Office to set her straight.

Nuzzi sat through Trump's stream-of-consciousness recitation of how he is the best president the world has ever seen. “Could you give me the list, please?” he called to his secretary. Cameos by multiple White House and cabinet officials punctuated Nuzzi's solo Oval Office press conference. All definitely not set up in advance, everyone agreed.

The meeting ended with Kelly and Nick Ayers, the vice-president’s chief of staff, "entwined, their arms stretched around each other and their faces pressed close together," smiling theatrically to prove how well everyone gets along in the Stepford White House.

Look, baby boomers bear responsibility for many of the messes we created. But now the post-war order (such as it was) is coming undone, and at a time inconvenient for the entire planet. As if there is ever a convenient time for a global re-ordering.

But the people who helped create the problems (including the problem occupying the Oval Office) are not going to be the ones to fix them. For that, the world needs a new generation to step up and take on those challenges. Yes, they feel disconnected now, as if their efforts or interest is pointless. But if they don't build a better world themselves, what they inherit may like it was built by Weyland-Yutani.


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