Saturday, January 6, 2024

In between times: From dissonance to hubris

The brutal war in Gaza carried out with impunity has exposed the limits of humanitarian interventionism, often a pretext for empire building (remember the Iraq war and the chaos it unleashed) but also a discourse based on the idea that human rights are universal.  This was never the case but the dissonance has reached epic proportions in the killing fields of Gaza.  For while initially the west's poster boys and girls could invoke this discourse against Hamas, it was clear from before October 7 that the forceful displacement of Palestinians was and remains the objective of Israel's far right.  What is happening in Gaza is a repeat of Srebrenica and Gorazde carried out with US made ammunition.  And while a lot can be said about the role of the west in the dismemberment of Yugoslavia,  the intervention in Kosovo and to some extent Bosnia, at least sent a sign that war criminals can be held accountable for acts of genocide. This affront to any pretension of universal values has definitively weakened the edifice of the western liberal establishment.   The contradiction between supporting Ukraine with weapons to resist invasion  and occupation (as it should be) and supporting Israel with weapons to bombard, kill, maim and occupy has become so gargantuan, that  if Biden does not have an epiphany we could be assisting to a veritable melt down. The risk now is that the west itself will be taken over by an assortment of  ethno nationalists who unashamedly support allies on the basis of race, religion and national interest without bothering for any pretext based on international law and justice.  And while Biden is ideologically bankrupt and his administration is fast imploding (with staffers resigning en masse) , this is no reason to celebrate the hubris of a neo-fascist taking over the White House by next year. Ironically in this bizarre brave new world the Houthis have emerged as the last standard bearers of  humanitarian interventionism and Putin, the Iranian mullahs and Erdogan the advocates a (hypocritical) rule based world.  In this sense the South African legal case against Israel, is one of the few glimmers of hope.  For if the world highest judicial authority recognises that what is happening in Gaza amounts to genocide (as the massacre of 23,000 people suggests) , the west will have to choose between supporting genocide and opposing it.  Moreover it will be a reminder that multilateral global institutions can deliver justice and even hold western allies accountable for their actions.  But the consequences of hubris could be even more catastrophic especially  if it derails global commitments on climate change and if it emboldens all regional (and global) bullies to do the same as Israel.