Civilizational Meltdown

According to Thomas Friedman, what we're seeing in the Middle East is

a civilizational meltdown: Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq — the core of the Arab world — have all collapsed into tribal and sectarian civil wars, amplified by water crises and other environmental stresses.
- http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/29/opinion/thomas-l-friedman-on-trade-obama-right-critics-wrong.html

Anne Barnard, Hwaida Saud, and Eric Schmitt report (NYT, April 29, 2015) that Syria is close to collapsing,

... as even pro-government families increasingly refuse to send sons to poorly defended units on the front lines. ...
The erosion of the army is forcing the government to rely ever more heavily on Syrian and foreign militias, especially Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group allied with Iran. Hezbollah now leads or even directs the fight in many places, angering some Syrian officers, said several Syrian soldiers, as well as... a Syrian with close ties to the security establishment. ...
This month, government forces have crumbled or fled in areas long cited by officials as markers of enduring state control. Insurgents seized Idlib, a northern provincial capital, and the lone working border crossing with Jordan in the south. Counteroffensives failed, and advances this week have brought a newly cohesive insurgent coalition closer than ever to Mr. Assad’s coastal strongholds. ...
Foreign exchange reserves, $30 billion at the start of the war, have dwindled to $1 billion. ...
The Syrian with security ties said the leadership had not made a priority of defending Idlib. Many government troops, he said, fled after insurgents knocked out their communications network and called “God is Great” from the mosques.

“Damascus and the Syrian coast, other than this nothing is important. Nothing,” he said, adding of Mr. Assad: “He doesn’t give a damn if Syria is destroyed.”
- http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/29/world/middleeast/an-eroding-syrian-army-points-to-strain.html

At the end of June 2015, Somini Sengupta reported that in Yemen

A fuel shortage has caused water pumps to stop functioning, heightening the risks of waterborne diseases. Hospitals are running out of medicines.

She described

deepening chaos fueled by more than three months of fighting that have devastated Yemen’s largest cities and ushered in the humanitarian crisis.
- Somini Sengupta, Pressure Mounting on Saudis’ Coalition in Yemen, New York Times, June 30, 2015

Here's a glimpse of the collapse of Libya:

Mr. Matar’s visit to Libya in early 2012 occurred during “a precious window” of time when justice and democracy and the rule of law seemed within reach. But things swiftly unraveled as rivalries between heavily armed militias escalated, and the Islamic State gained a foothold in the chaos.
“The dead would mount,” Mr. Matar writes. “Universities and schools would close. Hospitals would become only partially operative. The situation would get so grim that the unimaginable would happen: People would come to long for the days of Qaddafi.”
- Michiko Kakutani, Review: ‘The Return,’ a Son’s Pained Search for a Missing Father, NYT, June 27, 2016

Cultural Trouble in America:

Anybody who spends time in the working-class parts of America (and, one presumes, Britain) notices the contagions of drug addiction and suicide, and the feelings of anomie, cynicism, pessimism and resentment. ...

The sociologist Daniel Bell once argued that capitalism would undermine itself because it encouraged hedonistic short-term values for consumers while requiring self-disciplined long-term values in its workers. At least in one segment of society, Bell was absolutely correct.

There’s now a rift within the working class between mostly older people who are self disciplined, respectable and, often, bigoted, and parts of a younger cohort that are more disordered, less industrious, more celebrity-obsessed, but also more tolerant and open to the world. ...

The less-educated masses have a different conception of the future, a vision that is more closed, collective, protective and segmented.

Their pain is indivisible: economic stress, community breakdown, ethnic bigotry and a loss of social status and self-worth. When people feel their world is vanishing, they are easy prey for fact-free magical thinking and demagogues who blame immigrants.

- David Brooks, Revolt of the Masses, NYT, June 28, 2016

We progressives used to believe that the arc of history bent toward inclusiveness and personal freedom. But perhaps that is a myopic view. Written history is littered with the remains of once flourishing civilizations. Only time will tell if we can withstand this latest assault [Trump's election] on our grand experiment.
- Bob Kagan from Narberth, Pa., Letter to the Editor, NYT, 12/22/2016

One danger to the proper functioning of federal agencies is a combination of incompetence and neglect. Lewis reports how the Trump team filled jobs at the Department of Agriculture with a number of decidedly nonagricultural nonexperts, including a country-club cabana attendant and the owner of a scented-candle company.

But this kind of bumbling patronage, according to Lewis, is only one part of the Trump method. The other involves bringing in what looks suspiciously like a wrecking crew. Trump has repeatedly placed essential agencies under the leadership of individuals who have previously called for the elimination of the same agency, or else a radical limit to its authority.

Take, for example, Barry Myers, Trump’s nominee for the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Myers also happens to be chief executive of AccuWeather, his family’s company. As a private citizen, Myers lobbied to prevent NOAA’s National Weather Service from having direct contact with the public, saying that “the government should get out of the forecasting business” — despite the fact that AccuWeather repackaged free government weather data and sold it for a profit.
- Jennifer Szalai, Michael Lewis Makes a Story About Government Infrastructure Exciting, NYT, Oct. 2, 2018

All over the world, things are getting worse. China appears to be weighing a Tiananmen Square-like crackdown in Hong Kong. After I spoke to Khan, hostilities between India and Pakistan ratcheted up further; on Thursday, fighting across the border in Kashmir left three Pakistani soldiers dead. ... Turkey is threatening to invade Northeast Syria to go after America’s Kurdish allies there....

North Korea’s nuclear program and ballistic missile testing continue apace. The prospect of a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine is more remote than it’s been in decades. Tensions between America and Iran keep escalating. Relations between Japan and South Korea have broken down. A Pentagon report warns that ISIS is “re-surging” in Syria. The U.K. could see food shortages if the country’s Trumpish prime minister, Boris Johnson, follows through on his promise to crash out of the European Union without an agreement in place for the aftermath. Oh, and the globe may be lurching towards recession.

In a world spiraling towards chaos, we can begin to see the fruits of Donald Trump’s erratic, amoral and incompetent foreign policy, his systematic undermining of alliances and hollowing out of America’s diplomatic and national security architecture.
- Michelle Goldberg, With Trump as President, the World Is Spiraling Into Chaos, NYT, Aug. 16, 2019

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