Geopolitics

Panama To Afghanistan, The Long Tail Of American Hubris

U.S. Army tank in Panama in 1989
U.S. Army tank in Panama in 1989
DoD
Benjamin Witte

The news from Afghanistan this morning is devastating: at least 80 killed and hundreds wounded following a massive explosion in Kabul. The violence, of course, is hardly limited to Afghanistan.

Earlier this week, two attacks in the space of 12 hours, one at a well-known ice cream parlor, killed at least 27 people in Baghdad. Hitting an summer ice cream spot in the Iraqi capital was, once again, a deliberate choice to target children. Last week, it was a deadly suicide bombing attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, where the prime objective was to kill teenage and pre-teen girls.

Faced with such evil intentions, outrage directed at the perpetrators and their patrons — almost exclusively radical Islamist terrorist groups — is utterly justified. But it is also insufficient. Understanding the context also means pointing to the repercussions of the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and later Iraq, in 2001 and 2003, which continue to be felt in those two countries, and beyond.

Vietnam was supposed to have taught America a lesson

With the successive wars, launched by then U.S. President George W. Bush, "All hell broke loose," Richard Engel, the chief foreign correspondent for NBC News argued in a recent memoir of his two decades in the Middle East (1996-2016). Engel is particularly critical of the Iraq invasion, a policy he originally supported but came to see as being built on false premises. The U.S. government, under Bush, thought it could plant "the seeds of democracy." It failed.

"This is why refugees have been flowing out of the Middle East by the millions for Europe," Engel wrote in his 2016 book. "If President Bush's seeds of democracy or the Arab Spring had bloomed, these families wouldn't be risking everything to leave. Many in the region have simply lost all hope."

America's tragic misadventure in Vietnam, in the 1960s and 1970s, was supposed to have taught the country a lesson about launching faraway, ideologically-driven wars. And it did, for a while at least. Little by little, though, memories of that quagmire were superseded by a new vision of U.S. military might, and by a shifting geopolitical picture that left America as the world's sole superpower.

Some note that one of the turning points toward this new era came from a country also in the news this week: Panama. The former dictator of the small Central American nation Manuel Noriega, who died Monday at 83, shared something with Saddam Hussein in Iraq: Gen. Noriega was a useful ally of the United States — until he wasn't. In December 1989, the father of "W.", President George H.W. Bush, launched Operation Just Cause, an all-out invasion of Panama involving nearly 28,000 American troops. In just over a month, U.S. forces seized control of the country and ousted Noriega, who was later jailed on drugs trafficking charges.

From the U.S. perspective, the war in Panama was a rousing success. American casualties were limited to 23. Democratic elections were held shortly afterwards. And it all took place in a blink of an eye. Never mind that as many as 3,000 Panamanian civilians are believed to have died: America was great again.

It was the kind of success the U.S. military, still trying to live down the stain of Vietnam, was happy to build upon. And it did — starting less than a year later — with Operation Desert Shield, better known as the First Gulf War. Together the two conflicts made U.S. forces seem unstoppable, an idea the younger Bush took to heart a decade later. It would be a unique kind of American heroism, he thought. Looking back, it looks more like the most dangerous brand of American hubri

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The Olympic torch is lit at the Archaeological site of Olympia in Greece.

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Asham!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where Pyongyang test fires a suspected submarine-launched missile, Colin Powell is remembered, Poland-EU tensions rise, and yay (or yeesh): it's officially Ye. Meanwhile, our latest edition of Work → In Progress takes the pulse of the new professional demands in a recovering economy.

[*Oromo - Ethiopia and Kenya]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• North Korea fires missile off Japan coast: South Korea military reports that North Korea has fired a ballistic missile into the waters off the coast of Japan. The rocket, thought to have been launched from a submarine, is the latest test in a series of provocations in recent weeks.

• Poland/EU tensions: Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has accused the EU of "blackmail" and said the European Union is overstepping its powers, in a heated debate with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over the rule of law. The escalation comes in the wake of a controversial ruling by Poland's Constitutional Tribunal that puts national laws over EU principles.

• Colin Powell remembered: Tributes are pouring for former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, after his death yesterday at age 84. Although fully vaccinated, Powell died from complications from COVID-19 as he was battling blood cancer. A trailblazing soldier, he then helped shape U.S. foreign policy, as national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and served as the nation's top diplomat for George W. Bush. Powell's legacy is, by his own admission, "blotted" by his faulty claims of weapons of mass destruction to justify the U.S. war in Iraq.

• Russia to suspend NATO diplomatic mission amid tension: Russia is suspending its diplomatic mission to NATO and closing the alliance's offices in Moscow as relations with the Western military block have plunged to a new low. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the move after NATO expelled eight diplomats from Russia's mission for alleged spying. Relations between NATO and Russia have been strained since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

• Ecuador state of emergency to battle drug crime: President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency amid Ecuador's surge in drug-related violence. He announced the mobilization of police and the military to patrol the streets, provide security, and confront drug trafficking and other crimes.

• Taliban agrees to house-to-house polio vaccine drive: The WHO and Unicef campaign will resume nationwide polio vaccinations after more than three years, as the new Taliban government agreed to support the campaign and to allow women to participate as frontline health workers. Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the last countries in the world with endemic polio, an incurable and infectious disease

• Kanye West officially changes name: Some say yay, some say yeesh, but it's official: The-artist-formerly-known-as-Kanye-West has legally changed his name to Ye, citing "personal reasons."

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

The Washington Post pays tribute to Colin Powell, the first Black U.S. Secretary of State, who died at 84 years old from complications from COVID-19.


💬  LEXICON

Jashn-e Riwaaz

Indian retailer Fabindia's naming its new collection Jashn-e Riwaaz, an Urdu term meaning "celebration of tradition," has been met with severe backlash and calls for boycott from right-wing Hindu groups. They are accusing the brand of false appropriation by promoting a collection of clothes designed for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, but giving it a name in Urdu, a language spoken by many Muslims.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Work → In Progress: Where have all the workers gone?

After the economic slowdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, companies all over the world are taking advantage of loosened lockdowns and progress on the vaccine front to ramp up operations and make up for lost productivity. But the frenetic spurts of the recovery are getting serious pushback. This edition of Work → In Progress looks not only at the coming changes in our post-COVID economy, but also the ways our world is re-evaluating professional obligations.

🗓️ Hail the 4-day week Across the planet, the shorter work week trend is spreading like wildfire. Four is the new five. Spain began experimenting with the concept earlier this year. New Zealand launched a similar trial run in 2020. And in Iceland, efforts to curb working hours date all the way back to 2015, with significant results: 86% of the country's workforce gained the right to reduce work hours with no change in pay.

🚚 Empty seats In the United States, meanwhile, a severe lack of truck drivers has the country's transportation industry looking to hire from abroad. The only problem is … the shortage is happening worldwide, in part because of the e-commerce boom in the wake of worldwide quarantines. The Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano reports that companies will be scrambling to fill the jobs of 17,000 truck drivers in the next two years. The article blames low wages and the dangerous nature of the job, stating that Italian companies are making moves to employ foreign workers.

💼 Key help wanted It's all well and good to question current working conditions. But what about 20 years from now? Will we be working at all? A recent article in the French daily Les Echos posed just that question, and posits that by 2041 — and with the exception of a few select jobs — automation and digitalization will decimate employment. The piece refers to the lucky few as "essential workers," a concept that originated with COVID lockdowns when almost all labor halted and only a minority of workers capable of performing society's most crucial in-person tasks were allowed to carry on.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

I'm worried for my Afghan sisters.

— Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai Nobel Prize tells the BBC that despite the Taliban's announcement that they would soon lift the ban on girls' education in Afghanistan, she worries it "might last for years."

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Are you more yay or yeesh about the artist currently known as Ye? Let us know how the news look in your corner of the world — drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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