The best way to watch the news is to view it as one single very long continuous meta-narrative that extends over months. What comes packed as “a story” is best thought of as a chapter of that much longer story, where a subplot or supporting character is developed. This way, you don’t fall for the compartmentalization of events that bypasses your logic and skepticism, and start to see the underlying motives and tensions causing events to unfold the way they do.
A story: “Bahrain: takeover of hospitals ‘violation of international law’”. The UN Human Rights chief has declared that the Bahrain’s seizure of hospitals amidst the ongoing unrest there is a violation of human rights. I personally agree that what Bahrain is doing is appalling. Hospitals are non-political entities that should be off-limits. So it’s pretty easy to find yourself agreeing with the UN official here.
Another story: “As U.N. Backs Military Action in Libya, U.S. Role Is Unclear” The UN Security Council voted to approve military action in Libya to deal with the burgeoning civil war there, including but not limited to enforcing a no-fly zone. This comes about two weeks after the Libyan government deployed its army and air force to quell the unrest. Again, it seems grossly “unfair” and asymmetric to our Western sensibilities for a government to use its colossal military apparatus to put down some angry rioters. So this too seems ok. Better late than never, right? We don’t want this becoming a massacre.
But if you agree with the UN official in the first story and the security council in the second, first ask yourself how a government’s seizure of hospitals in its own territory can constitute a violation of international law, which typically governs relations between sovereign nations. Second, ask yourself why the UN didn’t think all the other acts of force these governments have taken to squash the protesters, like shooting haphazardly into traffic, raiding homes, and kidnapping organizers, did not also constitute a violation of that same international law. Third, ask yourself why the acts of the dictatorships through their secret police apparatuses along with the general lack of political freedom for decades that gave rise to the protests in the first place were not also violations of whatever international laws the UN is claiming were violated here.
Acts of sovereign nations to enforce their civil order sometimes become violations of international law. But not always. Why? Such violations allow the Western powers to intervene. But their intervention is discretionary. There was no intervention in Iran, for example. So what triggers action? They package the stories separately so you think about them separately. Look at them together, and a clearer picture emerges. When does domestic unrest become civil war? When does police reaction to civil unrest become a violation of international law, allowing UN intervention.
A third set of stories:
”[US] Regulators Aware For Years Of Understated Seismic Risks To Nuclear Plants”
”Cuomo Wants To Shut New York’s Indian Point Nuke Plant” Because of the Fukushima accident in Japan, governors and regulators in the US want to close down the plants here. Nothing wrong with re-assessing risk. It’s only prudent, right?
Here’s one way of seeing the complete picture: In the first stories, the unrest in key oil countries is threatening the production of oil or it’s availability to the international markets, which is reflected in a first price spike. It doesn’t matter how the resource is threatened. It makes no difference whether the rebels built their base in an oil refinery and Qaddafi has to bomb it, or it’s a labor strike of pipeline workers. Then, the nuclear disaster in Japan has lowered US tolerance for nuclear risk, suggesting nuclear power will not be as great a source of energy in the future as we thought. So oil becomes even more important than it already was. Which means the West must intervene in those oil producing countries where only a few weeks ago it was willing to stay out. To do this, the Western powers need a story that people won’t object to. Enter human rights. The guy who controls the well as the pipelines can run a secret police force and oppress and kill his own people to his heart’s content. The moment he risks accidentally blowing up some production facilities in the process of keeping control of his country, it’s a violation of human rights and we send in the carrier battle fleet. Which ironically is powered by a nuclear reactor.
Domestic scale events achieve an international scale not because of their size or their social implications, but merely when the social disturbance threatens the supply of an important resource to international markets. All wars in the post-Soviet era are fought over scarce resources. About ensuring the flow to the markets. Water rights, arable land, pipeline routes. Oil. Energy.
There is not clash of civilizations or war of ideologies. There is only the market. If your political action anywhere in the world disrupts markets in a resource that is vital to the West or its allies, you will see fighter planes and CIA-backed fighters. If your political action does not disturb the markets, you will see CNN’s B-team and Doctors Without Borders.
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