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Rajan Menon, One War Too Many on Planet Earth

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[Note for TomDispatch Readers: A last reminder that a signed, personalized copy of To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change, Alfred McCoy’s already classic history of empire from the 16th century to this moment, is still available at the TomDispatch donation page, as is John Feffer’s Splinterlands trilogy of dystopian novels and his latest work of nonfiction, Right Across the World.  It’s the perfect chance to stock up on summer reading and, while you’re at it, keep TomDispatch rolling along. Tom]

Consider two odd realities of the Ukraine war in this country. The first is that a Congress otherwise seemingly incapable of agreeing to spend money on issues that would truly matter to so many Americans — like easing child poverty — has proven remarkably eager to repeatedly fork over striking sums in military and humanitarian aid to the embattled Ukrainians. By mid-May, such aid had hit $54 billion and another billion will soon be heading out. Yes, indeed, the Ukrainians deserve support against the brutal Russian invasion, but so, you would think, do embattled American children.

The second is that the war that ate the news when Vladimir Putin’s invasion began in February — that seemed unavoidable if you turned on your TV or simply opened your computer — the war that every news outlet wanted to cover nightly at length with its top journalists or even anchors, is if anything, fiercer and more devastating now. Yet, on most nights, it’s little more than a footnote in the news. Still, whether headlined or footnoted, it rages on, all too near the heart of Europe and — from the continuing overuse of fossil fuels on a heating planet to the possibility of widespread starvation across significant parts of our world thanks to missing Ukrainian and Russian grains — all too dangerously for the rest of us.

At this point in our history, such a war is a kind of madness, even if that madness has largely become a footnote in our lives. With that in mind, TomDispatch regular Rajan Menon (who was, I believe, the first person to reveal how the Russian invasion might induce starvation across significant parts of the planet) considers a subject that should be of importance to us all: How might the Ukraine war actually end someday, for end it must, mustn’t it? On this planet at this time, it can’t happen fast enough, although the Biden administration seems in no hurry to begin working diplomatically to try to hasten its end. Tom

Ending the War in Ukraine

Three Possible Futures

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24th, I was easing my way into a new job and in the throes of the teaching year. But that war quickly hijacked my life. I spend most of my day poring over multiple newspapers, magazines, blogs, and the Twitter feeds of various military mavens, a few of whom have been catapulted by the war from obscurity to a modicum of fame. Then there are all those websites to check out, their color-coded maps and daily summaries catching that conflict's rapid twists and turns.

Don't think I'm writing this as a lament, however. I'm lucky. I have a good, safe life and follow events there from the comfort of my New York apartment. For Ukrainians, the war is anything but a topic of study. It's a daily, deadly presence. The lives of millions of people who live in or fled the war zone have been shattered. As all of us know too well, many of that country's cities have been badly damaged or lie in ruins, including people's homes and apartment buildings, the hospitals they once relied on when ill, the schools they sent their children to, and the stores where they bought food and other basic necessities.  Even churches have been hit. In addition, nearly 13 million Ukrainians (including nearly two-thirds of all its children) are either displaced in their own country or refugees in various parts of Europe, mainly Poland. Millions of lives, in other words, have been turned inside out, while a return to anything resembling normalcy now seems beyond reach.

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John Feffer, A Last Supper for Humanity?

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[Note for TomDispatch Readers: As you read John Feffer’s devastating piece today, keep in mind that, in his trilogy of dystopian climate-change novels, Splinterlands, Frostlands, and Songlands, he did a remarkable job of predicting the grim future we now find ourselves living. For a contribution of $100 ($150 if you live outside the U.S.), you can still get a signed, personalized copy of any one of them (or his recent book Right Across the World) at our donation page and, in the process, help keep this site from overheating, too. Many thanks in advance! Tom]

Yes, we’re at war. And no, I don’t mean Ukraine. The world is increasingly enveloped in what seems like a losing battle with extreme weather — from a devastating drought across much of the Horn of Africa to record spring temperatures (as well as floods) in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal. And then there’s the Arctic, where temperatures are rising at a devastating seven times (yes, you read that right!) the global average. When it comes to extreme weather, though, you don’t have to leave the United States anymore. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about fires like those in a Southwest and West gripped by an unprecedented megadrought or floods like the stunning recent ones in Yellowstone National Park, it’s all intensifying. In fact, when was the last time you remember 100 million Americans being warned in mid-June to stay indoors due to extreme temperatures and humidity as a devastating early summer heat wave blanketed much of the country? Tucson broke its heat record at 115 degrees, while Phoenix tied one at 114 just as El Paso was topping its previous June records. And so it’s gone — and so, given climate change, it will indeed go with increasing intensity in the years to come.

And though for some of us this is news, it really shouldn’t be. After all, in 1965, a science advisory committee sent President Lyndon Johnson a report that predicted the effects of global warming in the early twenty-first century with remarkable accuracy. Similarly, in 1977, Jimmy Carter’s chief science adviser and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy circulated a prescient memo meant to catch the president’s attention on the coming climate crisis.

In neither case were there significant responses at the presidential level. And 35 years later, though the cost of alternative energy of various kinds has dropped significantly, we’re still a fossil-fuelized planet, emitting record amounts of carbon as President Biden prepares to travel to Saudi Arabia to beg its blood-soaked ruler to pump yet more oil. Meanwhile, as John Feffer lays out so vividly today, the great and not-so-great powers of this planet are spending their time focused on fighting a devastating oil-powered war right at the edge of Europe. And worse yet, in elections in November 2022 and 2024, this country, the second-greatest emitter of fossil fuels and historically the top one, may put a climate-change-denying Republican cult back in power in Washington, ensuring that we’ll do nothing whatsoever about any of this for the next six years or more.

So, it’s sadly clear to me why, on a heating planet, TomDispatch regular Feffer, author of the Splinterlands trilogy of dystopian novels, is thinking about humanity’s “last supper.” And if it comes to that, we know one thing. It will be a distinctly hot meal. Tom

China Will Decide the Outcome of Russia v. the West

Is Putin the Face of the Future or the Final Gasp of the Past?

In its attempt to swallow Ukraine whole, Russia has so far managed to bite off only the eastern Donbas region and a portion of its southern coast. The rest of the country remains independent, with its capital Kyiv intact.

No one knows how this meal will end. Ukraine is eager to force Russia to disgorge what it's already devoured, while the still-peckish invader clearly has no interest in leaving the table.

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Alfred McCoy, Playing with Fire in Ukraine

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[Note for TomDispatch readers: Just a small reminder that you can still get a signed, personalized copy of Alfred McCoy’s new book To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change, a memorable history of empire from the sixteenth century to late tomorrow night. All you have to do is visit the TD donation page, contribute $100 ($150 if you live outside the U.S.), and choose to receive his book. In it, he offers a remarkable vision of our imperial planet and it’s also your chance to help keep TomDispatch reporting on this mess of a world for a while longer. In the process, you’ll join the more than 100 TD readers who have already donated for his book. (I’m surprised his signing hand still works!) Tom]

As Alfred McCoy suggests today, we’re now in the latest version of a “cold war” when it comes to Russia and China. Let’s take a minute, though, to think about that grim term, which, until relatively recently, seemed to be a relic of history. During the original Cold War, it had a meaning that’s seldom grasped now. Keep in mind that, in those years, there were all-too-many actual “hot” wars — the major ones being the Korean and Vietnam wars for the United States and the Afghan War for the Soviet Union. All three were bloody disasters of the first order.

As it happens, however, cold war had a very specific, if seldom articulated, meaning.  It wouldn’t have existed without nuclear weapons. They were what threatened to provide the devastating “heat,” had the two superpowers of that moment ever directly fought a global war of any sort. Once you take nukes into account, the very term “hot” seems, if anything, all too mild, since the potential nuclear destruction of the planet was at stake or, at least, in the nuclear winter that would have followed just about any version of such a war, the starvation of possibly billions of people.

Fortunately, the two superpowers of that era did indeed remain in a cold-war state until the Soviet Union imploded in 1991 because an actual war between them remained essentially inconceivable. Yes, as McCoy points out today, the Soviets dispatched troops from China (then a country without nukes) into the Korean War and quietly helped arm and aid the Vietnamese in their battle against the Americans in the 1960s. In return, Washington acted similarly, with devastating effect, in Russia’s disastrous Afghan War of the 1980s, but thanks to those atomic weapons neither power could truly face off in battle against the other, which was why there never was a World War III.

In fact, the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while ending one nightmarish global conflict, almost instantly created a genuinely apocalyptic version of future war that promised the kind of Armageddon once left to the gods. Only recently, Vladimir Putin reminded us of that fact by functionally threatening a nuclear encounter as he invaded Ukraine.

So, keeping the nature of “cold” and “hot” in such confrontations in mind, let TomDispatch regular Alfred McCoy, author most recently of To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change, take you to a planet where things are only getting hotter in so many ways, not just nuclear. It’s a world where, for the first time since the original Cold War, nuclear arsenals are evidently about to grow larger once again, while the U.S. is planning to “invest” up to $2 trillion in “modernizing” its own nukes in the decades to come. Tom

What Difference Does a War Make?

The Geopolitics of the New Cold War

From his first days in office, Joe Biden and his national security advisers seemed determined to revive America’s fading global leadership via the strategy they knew best -- challenging the "revisionist powers" Russia and China with a Cold War-style aggressiveness. When it came to Beijing, the president combined the policy initiatives of his predecessors, pursuing Barack Obama’s "strategic pivot" from the Middle East to Asia, while continuing Donald Trump’s trade war with China. In the process, Biden revived the kind of bipartisan foreign policy not seen in Washington since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Writing in the December 2021 Foreign Affairs, a group of famously disputatious diplomatic historians agreed on one thing: “Today, China and the United States are locked in what can only be called a new cold war.” Just weeks later, the present mimed the past in ways that went well beyond even that pessimistic assessment as Russia began massing 190,000 troops on the border of Ukraine. Soon, Russian President Vladimir Putin would join China’s Xi Jinping in Beijing where they would demand that the West “abandon the ideologized approaches of the Cold War” by curtailing both NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe and similar security pacts in the Pacific.

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