How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon
by Rosa Brooks
Societies often go to great lengths to separate war from peace. Wars are declared, sometimes with elaborate ritual. Soldiers wear uniforms and are part of specialized hierarchical organizations. Battlefields are often delineated. Maintaining this distinction is important because what is permissible in wartime is often prohibited in peacetime. Preventing the rules of war from infecting views of moral conduct in times of peace is essential for preserving civilization. Yet particularly since September 11, 2001, the line between war and peace has blurred.
If he wants to succeed where Obama failed, he will need to get tough with Putin. If he does not, then he may face a situation in which Assad’s atrocities continue to attract the extremist response that Trump says is his first priority to subdue.
Censorship in China and elsewhere has fed the pandemic, helping to turn a potentially containable threat into a global calamity. Recognizing that the public is more willing to accept government power grabs in times of crisis, some leaders see the coronavirus as an opportunity not only to censor criticism but also to undermine checks and balances on their power. Much as the “war on terrorism” was used to justify certain long-lasting restrictions on civil liberties, so the fight against the coronavirus threatens longer-term damage to democratic rule. The health crisis will inevitably subside, but autocratic governments’ dangerous expansion of power may be one of the pandemic’s most enduring legacies.
The Chinese government is not the only threat to human rights today, but it stands out for its reach and influence. The cause of human rights today faces a dangerously destructive combination of a powerful centralized state, a coterie of like-minded rulers, a void of leadership among countries that might have stood for human rights, and a disappointing collection of democracies willing to sell the rope that is strangling the system of rights that they purport to uphold. Only if governments band together to address China’s flouting of human rights will the power balance shift. Decades of progress are now at stake.
Today, in Xinjiang, a region in China’s northwest, a new totalitarianism is emerging—one built not on state ownership of enterprises or property but on the state’s intrusive collection and analysis of information about the people there. Xinjiang shows us what a surveillance state looks like under a government that brooks no dissent and seeks to preclude the ability to fight back. And it demonstrates the power of personal information as a tool of social control that is both all-encompassing and highly individualized, using a mix of mechanisms to impose varying levels of supervision and constraint on people depending on their perceived threat to the state.
The endgame of the war in Syria is likely to come down to the northwestern province of Idlib, on the Turkish border, where some 2.3 million people are now trapped. As Russian-Syrian forces now finish retaking the smaller southwestern province of Daraa, Idlib will be the last significant enclave in anti-government hands. Russia clearly has the necessary leverage over the Assad government to avoid a bloodbath there. The key is getting Russia to use that leverage. Assad’s reputation is beyond repair—his main aspiration is to stay in power and avoid prosecution—but Putin still aspires to be treated as a respected global leader. He must be persuaded that he will fail in that quest so long as he continues to underwrite Assad’s atrocities.