From the death of the Wilsonian Moment to the Liberal International Order and its discontents, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
New York Times
In November 1918, when news of the armistice in Europe arrived in Cairo, Muhammad Husayn Haykal, a prominent Egyptian intellectual, was approached by a friend. “This is it!” Haykal’s friend exclaimed. “We have the right to self-determination, and therefore the English will leave Egypt.” The United States, the friend explained when asked about this outburst, “is the one who won the war. She is not an imperialist country.” Therefore,” he reasoned, “she will enforce the right to self-determination and enforce the withdrawal.”
The end of the First World War was a time of great expectations, and the American president, Woodrow Wilson, stood at its center. For a brief span of time, Wilson appeared to millions worldwide as the herald of an emerging world in which all peoples would be granted the right to determine their own future. I have called this period, stretching roughly from Wilson’s Fourteen Points Address in January 1918 to the conclusion of the Versailles Peace Treaty in June 1919, the “Wilsonian Moment” — because he, more than anyone, came to symbolize its promise. [continue reading]
Trita Parsi and Stephen Wertheim
This week Democrats plunged into two controversies that portend danger for the party as the 2020 election season begins. Both centered on freshman representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who, not coincidentally, came to America as a Somali refugee and is now one of the two first Muslim women in Congress. Absent an open debate about the party’s values on foreign policy, Democrats are hurtling toward an election more divisive than the one in 2016.
First, on Monday, Omar criticized the influence of pro-Israel lobbyists on Capitol Hill, tweeting that Congress’s stance was “all about the Benjamins”. She was swiftly rebuked by the party leadership in tandem with Republicans, prompting her to apologize. Then, less than 48 hours later, Omar grilledAmerica’s new envoy to Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, over his well-documented material support for multiple Central American governments that committed mass killings and genocide in the 1980s. She also questioned his credibility, noting that Abrams had pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress as part of his participation in the Iran-Contra scandal. [continue reading]
March 5 marks the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Aizawl – the first air raid by the Indian Air Force on civilian territory within the country. This is as good a time as any to go beyond just questioning the morality of the bombing, or the complexities that led to it. It’s time to understand its legacy.
The story began in 1961, when the Mizo Hills were a part of the state of Assam. The Mizo National Front formed on October 28 that year, and asserted its right to self-determination. The group initially adopted a non-violent approach to secure its political objective. However, following intense internal pressure after human rights violations by security forces in the area, the Mizo National Front took up arms. [continue reading]
When Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus, his pioneering school of design, in Weimar in 1919, it seemed as though it would be a model of equality and progress. The school, created in the bitter aftermath of the first world war, would be open to “any talented person irrespective of age or sex”. It would be a synthesis of arts and crafts, modernism and tradition, men and women, who together would build a new utopia. This promise proved especially popular with the post-war “New Woman”. Young, unmarried and with her hair cut short in Bubikopf style, she was no longer governed by Kinder, Küche, Kirche: children, kitchen and church. The Bauhaus seemed to be the ideal place to exercise her freedom. In the school’s first year, 84 women enrolled to just 79 men.
As it turned out, these New Women faced old prejudices. Gropius was worried that the female majority would weaken the school’s reputation. He solved his “Frauenproblem” by falling back on cliché, sending most of them to the weaving workshop, one of the specialist departments that students were required to join. “Where there is wool”, said Oskar Schlemmer, a German artist and choreographer who taught at the Bauhaus, “there is a woman who weaves, if only to kill time.” [continue reading]
In the past two years, in response to the activities and rhetoric of the current US presidential administration, a slew of prominent voices in the study of international relations have bemoaned the demise of an international order, of US power utilised through international institutions and multilateral alliances.An advertisement published in The New York Times in June 2018, and a subsequent petition that continues to circulate online, signed by a broad coalition of well-respected international relations scholars promoted this perspective. These are people whose work has shaped the field of international relations to such a degree that their names bear no small weight. Therefore, the petition became emblematic of a perspective that a liberal international order has been in existence for a significant portion of the 20th century, that its continued existence is under threat, and that this threat creates significant urgency. Due to the stature and number of the scholars signing their names to this point of view, I will call them ‘the consensus’.
In response, as is usual in academic debates, particularly those drawing on real-world events, a group of scholars critiqued the consensus. They pointed out the a-historical elision of post-1945 institutions such as the UN and NATO with post-1990s institutions such as the EU and World Trade Organisation (WTO). They asked, has there ever really been a liberal international order, an international system that was ‘liberal’, ‘international’, and ‘ordered’? Why had the US chosen multilateralism in Europe and bilateral treaties in Asia? Could ‘liberal’ be replaced with ‘American’ in notions of a liberal international order? And see how this international order reflected the projection of US’ economic and military power alongside certain sets of norms and politics? An excellent over-view of this debate is in a recent podcast with Samuel Moyn and Jack Goldsmith. [continue reading]