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TBR News May 22, 2018

May 22 2018

The Voice of the White House  

Washington, D.C. May 22, 2018:”Over the past few years, the American media has been breathlessly informing the public about “probable attacks” on Iran because, it is stated, that country is developing atomic weapons to use on Israel. Of course whatever happens to Israel is of vital importance to the United States and is mostly non-Israeli citizens.

The U.S. has been placing economic sanctions on Iran and this is damaging their economy. Their response? They have threatened to close the international waterway, the Straits of Hormuz! Since almost all Iranian oil, on which they depend for a significant part of their national income, comes from selling, and shipping, oil, this is mere sound and fury, signifying nothing. This false bravado is also designed to build public morale in Iran with national elections looming.

This threat, and the subsequent threat to attack an American Navy aircraft carrier carry with them the danger that a rigged Gulf of Tonkin incident can be arraigned to supply a legitimate motive for the U.S. Navy to take “retaliatory measures” against Iran. In the mountains on Iran’s western border on the Gulf are numerous missile bases, constructed with aid of the Russians. In the event of a “hostile act” on the part of Iran (Perhaps a small military type MTB wearing an Iranian flag, would lunch relatively small surface-to-surface at some large American ship.) There would be explosions and, out of necessity, American deaths. Shocked headlines in the CIA-controlled New York Times and a stunned Congress would demand revenge.

Then our naval units would attack the missile bases and turn them into large, rubble-filled holes and our next target would be far to the north in Tehran. Our military is stretched too thin to become involved in yet another political war but the Navy and Air Force have been unscathed and would do the attacking. Naturally, the Israeli units would be unable to assist this effort to save them from possible attack because they were too busy protecting the Sacred Motherland to get killed elsewhere and, even worse, to lose expensive aircraft to air defense missiles.

What is causing a deliberate escalation of this project is multifaceted in nature. China does a good deal of oil business with Iran. China has reached a trade volume of 53 billion dollars with Iran and also has a treaty to manage an aslect of the South Pars oil fields. China has been threatening our allies lately, hacking into sensitive governmental computers sites and threatening us with dire fiscal problems because they own so much of our Treasury notes and intercepted messaging indicates China is trying to forge more important ties with Tehran, just short of an open military or other alliance that would upset the balance of power. Tehran and North Korea have also had other missile-oriented dealings.. Iran now has the ability to mass produce aversive balllistic missile systems with the technical aid of both North Korea, China and Russia. The North Koreans, and their Pakistani friends, are now lower down the list of supporters but China is coming to the fore   Using technical assistance as noted at this time Iran has build and can build intercontinental ballistic missiles that now have a range of more than 5500 km.

Threat and counterthreats have driven the Iranian programs deep underground where American missile or bunker-buster bombing attacks could not destroy them and there are a number of hidden underground missile sites which have been carefully concealed from American aerial surveillance efforts and Israeli as well.  The Chinese, in furtherance of both financial gain and merely fishing in troubled waters, have supplied the Iranians with surveillance paths and times of both American and Israeli drones which they obtained by gaining clandestine admittance to secret American and Israeli military defense computer sites.

Much more serious, from Israeli’s point of view is that the Chinese have given a GPS missile control system to the Iraninans which will permit them pinpoint accuracy in directing their present long range missiles to exact targets, be they important Israeli sites like Dimona or U.S. Naval facilities in Muscat or elsewhere.

Tensions build on a daily basis but sometimes the gamblers do not realize the chances they might be taking with something erratic and uinplanned for happening and then the whole Middle East would erupt in bloody warfare. The thesis of the “Arab Spring” is sreading outside its intended and the Iranians are aware that both the American CIA and its Israeli counterpart, the Mossad, have penetrated into Iran and are not only spying but engaging in acts of murder and potential sabotage. In a society as paranoid as Iran’s it might take very little for someone to push a button and once lanuched, a missile, or flight of missiles, cannot be called.

.We all know how wars start but none of know how they will end!”

Table of Contents

  • Uncritical Support from the US Will Do Israel More Damage Than Good
  • US strategy on Iran entails regime change
  • Trump seeks delay in Summer Zervos’ defamation lawsuit
  • Trump backer who owned ‘inhumane’ housing picked to be Belgium envoy
  • Beyond Golden Shower Diplomacy
  • Washington’s Pax Americana Cartel
  • GRACE-FO: Cracking a cold case
  • New NASA Study Finds Dramatic Acceleration in Sea Level Rise

Uncritical Support from the US Will Do Israel More Damage Than Good

May 19, 2018

by Patrick Cockburn

The Independent

The Palestinian issue is back on the international agenda more than at any time over the last 15 years. If the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was intended to demonstrate that the Palestinians were powerless and there was nothing they could do about it, then it has failed.

The embassy move, signalling that the US has abandoned even its previous modest restraint on Israeli actions, had exactly the opposite effect to the one intended. The protesting Palestinians and not the celebrating Israelis and Americans became the central feature of the event. Television split screens showed what looked like a Trump campaign rally in Jerusalem side by side with Israeli soldiers shooting dead 62 Palestinians and wounding a further 1,360 in Gaza.

Israeli claims that they were defending the fence that surrounds Gaza from an attack by Hamas activists armed with stones and kites were contradicted both by the television pictures and the lack of any Israeli casualties.

But such international outrage will dissipate, as it has in the past in Gaza when Israeli forces killed Palestinians in large numbers. The most important question now is how far the “Great March of Return” of Palestinian refugees from 1948, which has just ended, was a one-off event or the beginning of a campaign of Palestinian civil disobedience. If it is the latter, then we are at the start of what an Israeli paper described as “the first act of the Trump Intifada”.

Israel, the US and Egypt have an interest in containing the aftermath of the killings on 14 May. Minor concessions easing the blockade of Gaza, which is similar to a medieval siege, were reportedly offered to Hamas by Israel, if the Islamic group would call off the protest. Egypt has announced that it will open its crossing with Gaza for Ramadan, which has just begun.

Other gains for the Palestinians, aside from temporarily putting their fate back on the political and media map, include focusing attention on the miserable conditions of the 1.9 million people living in Gaza, who are “caged in a toxic slum” according to the UN Human Rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein.

But greater visibility of their miseries does not mean that much will be done to improve matters. The balance of forces is too skewed away from the Palestinians and towards the Israelis for the latter not to feel that they can act with impunity.

The Israeli government may not like the bad publicity it has been getting, but it can cope with it so long as it does not go on too long. Daniel Levy, a former Israeli diplomat, peace negotiator and president of the US/Middle East Project, says that if Palestinian protests are not “sustained over time, which means ongoing casualties, and broadened geographically beyond Gaza to include the West Bank, Jerusalem and Israel, then the Israeli government can ride this out”. He adds that even then, if the demonstrators are to have an effect, they would have to remain unarmed and non-violent.

In the past civil disobedience has produced some benefits for the Palestinians: the First Intifada in 1987 led to the Oslo Accords and the much more violent Second Intifada in 2000 led to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza three years later.

But it is doubtful if Palestinian leaders are capable of pursuing such a course themselves or allowing civil activists to do so. The leadership is divided between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, long locked in rancorous rivalry. The PA, in particular, is a moribund political organisation, frightened that protesters might turn against it or provoke Israeli retaliation.

Palestinian leadership has always resembled that of the Arab dictators and has always been incapable of mobilising their people. Israel may have done everything to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state, but, even without Israeli repression, this was hobbled by corrupt and incompetent elites, monopolising power and suppressing dissent.

Israel is apparently at the height of its power with carte blanche from the White House to do what it wants. The US blamed Hamas for the Palestinian casualties in Gaza without a word of criticism for Israel. Arab states like Saudi Arabia and the UAE give priority to allying themselves to the US against Iran and are dismissive of the Palestinians’ plight.

But such total endorsement of Israel by the US may not be in the long-term interests of Israel. The embrace of Israel by Trump, the Republicans and Christian Evangelicals alienates Democrats, though this may not count for much. Perhaps more important, American Jews were shocked to see pastors whom they identified as antisemitic bigots playing a leading role in the opening of the US embassy.

Lack of any US restraint is attractive to Israel’s right-wing government, but it will not necessarily do Israelis a lot of good. Israeli governments tend to be overconfident and are prone to overplaying their hand. Their invasion of Lebanon in 1982 turned into an unsuccessful 18-year-long war. A US government purporting to act as mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, though wholly in Israel’s corner, was arguably more useful to Israel than the US when it makes no such pretence. Arab states may today say positive things about Israel, but their previous opposition was largely rhetorical.

For Israel, there are two dangers stemming from Trump: Israel has always wanted to be close to US leaders, but it has never dealt with one as arbitrary, ill-advised and self-willed as this president. Netanyahu has traditionally been cautious when it comes to fighting real wars, though he is always happy to threaten to do so unless he gets what he wants. With Trump in the White House, he may feel that Israel will never be so well placed again and this is the moment to establish facts on the map.

A more serious weakness in Israel’s strategic position in the Middle East is likely to be worsened by uncritical support from Washington. There are 6.5 million Israeli Jews and a similar number of Palestinians between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. All the Palestinians living in Gaza, West Bank, East Jerusalem and Israel are under some form of Israeli control

It is a situation that guarantees permanent crisis. Israel has the choice of expelling the Palestinians, subjugating them permanently or trying to find some means of coexisting with them. Mass expulsion is not feasible at this time and a deal on coexistence is unlikely, which leaves permanent repression as the only option.

It may be that the protests in Gaza that led to so many people being killed will not turn into a more widespread, non-violent civil disobedience.

But neither can Israel turn its superiority of force – and even its close alliance with Trump – into a permanent victory, because, whatever it does, the Palestinians will still be there.

 

US strategy on Iran entails regime change

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wants to impose the “strongest sanctions in history” on Iran. The Trump administration isn’t eyeing America’s safety as much as a regime change,

May 22, 2018

by Matthias von Hein.

DW

Mike Pompeo chose to hold his first major foreign policy speech on familiar territory. With regard to content, the new US secretary of state also remained true to himself. Only three years ago, Pompeo had ranted against the Iran deal at the right-wing conservative Heritage Foundation. On Monday, he took the very same line — though this time, he carried the weight of his office and had the backing of the president.

One can and must be critical of many of Iran’s actions in the Middle East region, and of how the regime rules the country. But the lopsidedness of Pompeo’s remarks detracts from their credibility. The selective compilation of alleged facts, twisting and even ignoring certainties, raises doubts whether Europeans and the US share a common basis for talks on Iran — not to mention talks between Tehran and Washington.

Washington insists it is negotiating from a position of strength. Pompeo and the Trump administration, however, aren’t negotiating at all — they are dictating. Pompeo’s 12 demands directed at Iran amount to forcing the regime to capitulate — otherwise it faces complete economic strangulation. Basically, Pompeo has declared economic war on Tehran and added a list of a “coalition of the willing, hinting that European partners join that coalition, fully aware that Europe wants to stick to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal. At the end of the day, Pompeo’s speech amounted to an appeal to Brussels to please leave future decisions on trade, security and foreign policies to Washington.

The Iranian people Pompeo addressed several times during his speech can only avert looming disaster with a change of regime – that is the crystal clear subtext. The speech leaves little doubt that Washington wants to expedite regime change. The US may have forgotten that Washington toppled Iran’s first democratic government back in 1953, replacing it with the Shah’s dictatorship — but the Iranians haven’t.

Hardliners strengthen hardliners

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, has declared, correctly, that the nuclear deal was never meant to clarify every single controversial matter in relations with Iran. Most of all, Pompeo’s speech didn’t have a word on how the unilateral termination of the nuclear deal is supposed to make the region safer, and how it aims to increase pressure on Tehran.

One thing is clear: the hardliners in Washington are strengthening the hardliners in Tehran. Before it could even take effect in Iran, Washington gave up on “change through rapprochement,” a concept Germany successfully adhered to during the Cold War. And if a reminder were needed: Trump’s sabotage of the JCPOA denied Iran dividends of the deal from the start.

Europe faces tough decisions: Washington demands loyalty for policies deemed erroneous by European leaders. Should Europe stay true to itself and its convictions, the transatlantic gap will widen and Brussels will move closer to Moscow and Beijing, the other nuclear deal signatories. However, there are worries, that in the long run, Washington will use a subtle game of “divide and conquer” to dissemble the unity Europeans currently display. And, lest it forgets, the EU has little to offer in response to American pressure on European companies concerning sanctions on Iran.

 

Trump seeks delay in Summer Zervos’ defamation lawsuit

May 22, 2018

by Jonathan Stempel

Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump asked New York state’s highest court to delay a defamation lawsuit against him by a former contestant on his reality television show “The Apprentice” who claimed he sexually harassed her.

In a filing on Monday, Trump told the state’s Court of Appeals that Summer Zervos’ lawsuit should be put on hold because a sitting U.S. president is immune from being sued in a state court during his term in the White House.

Trump, who has denied Zervos’ allegations, is challenging a March 20 ruling by Justice Jennifer Schecter of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan allowing the case to proceed.

Saying “no one is above the law,” Schecter rejected Trump’s claim of immunity over private conduct predating his becoming president.

An intermediate state appeals court on May 17 refused to halt Zervos’ lawsuit, without ruling on its merits.

Trump said that refusal qualified as a “final appealable order” justifying intervention by the Court of Appeals.

Zervos’ lawyer, Mariann Wong, said, “Defendant has lost his effort to stay this action twice already, and for good reason. No one is above the law.

“We look forward to proving defendant lied when he attacked Ms. Zervos for telling the truth about his unwanted sexual groping,” Wong said in an email.

A preliminary conference before Schecter is scheduled for June 5, court records show.

Zervos accused Trump of subjecting her to unwanted kissing and groping after she sought career advice in 2007.

She came forward during the 2016 presidential campaign, and Trump called such allegations by women “lies.” He also retweeted a post calling Zervos’ claims a “hoax.”

Zervos said Trump defamed her by branding her a liar. She is seeking a retraction or an apology, compensatory damages and punitive damages in her lawsuit.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis

 

Trump backer who owned ‘inhumane’ housing picked to be Belgium envoy

Ron Gidwitz, who helped fund president’s campaign, likened to slum landlord over Illinois project condemned by Obama and others

May 22, 2018

by Daniel Boffey in Brussels and Jon Swaine in New York

The Guardian

A major financial backer of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, who once owned a housing estate in which low-income tenants were said to endure “inhumane” living standards, has been nominated as the US ambassador to Belgium.

Ron Gidwitz, a 73-year-old businessman from Chicago gave Trump and other Republicans $700,000 in 2016, and acted as the presidential candidate’s campaign finance chair in Illinois. He will now undergo a month in a US state department “ambassadorial school” before making the move to Brussels.

There is a certain amount of relief in Belgium that the nomination has been made at all – more than a year after the last US ambassador left the country’s embassy in Brussels.

But Gidwitz could yet prove to be a controversial pick in the mould of Pete Hoekstra, Trump’s ambassador to the Netherlands, who was forced to apologise over his suggestion that immigration from majority Islamic countries had created “no-go zones” in the country.

For years, a company controlled by Gidwitz and his brother Ralph owned the Evergreen Terrace housing project in Illinois, where 90% of tenants were young African-American single mothers.

In 2013, Gidwitz told a court that he would not invest in the complex as it would be equivalent to a charitable donation, and if the owners had wanted to make charitable donations, there were better options.

The housing project was eventually taken over by the city of Joliet. But in a continuing related court case, Gidwitz was forced to acknowledge that politicians including the then senator Barack Obama had complained about “inhumane conditions” on the project, where there was said to be an overwhelming stench of urine.

Gidwitz admitted to a court in 2017 that a girl had fallen from a window and died during a hot summer when the building’s air conditioning was malfunctioning and broken window screens had not been replaced, the Chicago Tribune reported.

He also admitted that a tenant was stabbed to death in a laundry room when security was not upgraded and that a shot man may have lain dying in the building’s courtyard for an hour before police were called, the Tribune reported. Security staff were said to be too scared to approach people entering the estate.

The mayor of Joliet has described the 356-unit complex of high-rise apartments as “unsafe and dangerous, a public nuisance and a blighted area”. A judge subsequently agreed that the standards were “deplorable”.

Gidwitz, in turn, told the court that Joliet was to blame for repeatedly blocking attempts to secure federal financing for improvements. “If you can’t get planning permission for a [security] guard house, you can’t build a guard house,” he said, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Guy Chipparoni, a spokesman for Gidwitz, defended the Gidwitz family’s management of the apartment complex and said other visitors “left with a much different impression of the property and of the people who live there” from that expressed by the Joliet mayor and other critics.

“Millions of dollars have been invested in unit improvements, infrastructure and security, as well as in the residents, through a wide variety of social services and continuing education programs,” said Chipparoni.

Gidwitz, co-founder and partner at the private equity firm GCG Partners, was a loyal fundraiser to Trump and is reported to have brokered a meeting between Trump and wealthy Republican donors at the Chicago Trump Tower before the 2016 election.

Responding to his nomination for the role in Brussels, Gidwitz said: “I have never done anything politically that I wanted anything for, other than to help people who needed to be helped. I really never asked for a job.

“I didn’t even ask for this one … What’s really exciting about it is it’s so different. It’s going to be something that I’ve never done before. I’ve traveled extensively overseas but never lived overseas. I’ve had volunteer jobs but I’ve never had one quite as serious. There aren’t very many quite as serious as this.”

Gidwitz, a chairman emeritus of Boys & Girls Clubs of America, which provides after-school clubs, added that Belgium was at “the centre of Europe in terms of what’s going on. Nato’s there. The EU is there. Belgium has been a great ally of ours for 150 years. And from my standpoint, my French isn’t great, but at least I can speak some French.”

 

 

Beyond Golden Shower Diplomacy

Preserving the Positive Legacy of an Empire in Decline

by Alfred W. McCoy

TomDispatch

Month by month, tweet by tweet, the events of the past two years have made it clearer than ever that Washington’s once-formidable global might is indeed fading. As the American empire unravels with previously unimagined speed, there are many across this country’s political spectrum who will not mourn its passing. Both peace activists and military veterans have grown tired of the country’s endless wars. Trade unionists and business owners have come to rue the job losses that accompanied Washington’s free-trade policies. Anti-globalization protesters and pro-Trump populists alike cheered the president’s cancellation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The idea of focusing on America and rebuilding the country’s tattered infrastructure has a growing bipartisan appeal.

But before we join this potential chorus of “good riddance” to U.S. global power, it might be worth pausing briefly to ask whether the acceleration of the American decline by President Trump’s erratic foreign policy might not come with unanticipated and unpleasant costs. As Americans mobilize for the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential contest, they might look beyond Washington’s mesmerizing celebrity scandals and consider instead the hidden consequences of the country’s ongoing withdrawal from the global arena. Indeed, this fitful, uncontrolled retreat carries with it such serious risks that it might be time for ordinary voters and political activists alike to put foreign policy, in the broadest sense, at the top of their electoral watch list.

First, let’s just admit the obvious. After 18 months in office, Trump’s one-man style of diplomacy, though potentially capable of a few “wins,” is clearly degrading American global stature. After surveying 134 countries, Gallup’s pollsters recently reported that worldwide approval of U.S. leadership has plunged from 48% in 2016 to a record low of 30%, a notch below China’s 31% and significantly under Germany’s 41%.

As Trump has abrogated one international accord after another, observers worldwide have struggled to find some rationale for decisions that seem questionable on their merits and have frayed relations with long-standing allies. Given his inordinate obsession with the “legacy” of Barack Obama, epitomized in a report, whether true or not, of his ritual “defiling” of his predecessor’s Moscow hotel bed via the “golden showers” of Russian prostitutes, there’s a curious yet coherent logic to his foreign policy. You might even think of it as Golden Shower diplomacy. Whatever Obama did, Trump seems determined to undo with a visceral vehemence: the Trans-Pacific trade pact (torn up), the Paris climate accord (withdrawn), the Iran nuclear freeze (voided), close relations with NATO allies (damaged), diplomatic relations with Cuba (frozen), Middle Eastern military withdrawal (reversed), ending the Afghan war (cancelled), the diplomatic pivot to Asia (forgotten), and so on into what already seems like an eternity.

As bizarre as all this might be, Trump’s four to eight years presiding over what still passes for U.S. foreign policy through such personal pique will have lasting consequences. The American presence on the global stage will be further reduced, potentially opening the way for the rise of those autocratic powers, Beijing and Moscow, hostile to the liberal international order that Washington promoted for the past 70 years, even as — thanks to Trump’s love of fossil fuels — the further degradation of the planetary environment occurs.

The Delicate Duality of American Global Power

To fully understand what’s at stake, you would need to reach back to the dawn of U.S. global dominion and try to grasp the elusive character of the power that went with it. In the closing months of World War II, when the United States stood astride a partially wrecked planet like a titan, Washington used its extraordinary clout to build a new world order grounded in a “delicate duality” that juxtaposed two contradictory attributes. It fostered an international community of sovereign nations governed by the rule of law, while also building its own superpower dominion through the raw Realpolitik of economic pressure, crushing military force, unrestrained covert action, and diplomatic leverage.

Keep in mind that America had emerged from the ashes of that world war as a behemoth of unprecedented power. With Europe, Japan, and Russia in ruins, the U.S. had the only intact industrial complex left and then accounted for about half of the world’s entire economic output. At war’s end, its military had swelled to more than 12 million troops, its Navy ruled the seas with more than 1,000 warships, and its air force commanded the skies with 41,000 combat aircraft. In the decade that followed, Washington would encircle Eurasia with hundreds of military bases, as well as bevies of strategic bombers and warships. In the process, it would also confine its Cold War enemies, China and Russia, behind that infamous Iron Curtain.

Throughout those early Cold War years, Washington’s diplomats walked tall in the corridors of power, deftly negotiating defense pacts and trade deals that gave the country a distinct advantage on the world stage. Meanwhile, its clandestine operatives maneuvered relentlessly in the shadow lands of global power to topple neutral or hostile governments via coups and covert operations. Washington, of course, eventually won the Cold War, but its tactics produced almost unimaginably dreadful costs — brutal military dictatorships across Asia and Latin America, millions of dead in Indochina, and devastated societies in Central Asia, Central America, and southern Africa.

Simultaneously, however, the U.S. victory in World War II also brought a surge of citizen idealism as millions of American veterans returned home, hopeful that their sacrifice had not only defeated fascism but also won a more peaceful world. To ensure that the ravaged planet would never again experience such global death and destruction, American diplomats also began working with their allies to build, step by step, nothing less than a novel architecture for global governance, grounded in the rule of international law.

At the Bretton Woods resort in New Hampshire in 1944, Washington convened 44 nations, large and small, to design a comprehensive economic regime for a prosperous post-war world. In the process, they formed the International Monetary Fund, or IMF (for financial stability); the World Bank (for postwar reconstruction); and, somewhat later, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (for free trade), the predecessor of the World Trade Organization.

A year after that, in San Francisco, Washington led 850 delegates from 50 allied nations in drafting the charter for a new organization, the United Nations, that aspired to a world order marked by inviolable sovereignty, avoidance of armed conflict, human rights, and shared prosperity. In addition to providing crisis management through peacekeeping and refugee relief, the U.N. also helped order a globalizing world by creating, over the next quarter century, 17 specialized organizations responsible for everything from food security (the Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO) to public health (the World Health Organization, or WHO).

Starting with the $13 billion Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of war-torn Europe, Washington also supplemented the U.N.’s work by providing billions of dollars in bilateral aid to fund reconstruction and economic development in nations old and new. President John F. Kennedy globalized that effort by establishing the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) that today has a budget of $27 billion and 4,000 employees who deliver humanitarian assistance worldwide by providing, for instance, $44 million in emergency relief for 700,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

Washington was careful to weave this new world order into the web of international law it had been building assiduously since its debut on the world stage at the Second Hague Conference on peace in 1907. Under the U.N. charter of 1945, the General Assembly convened the International Court of Justice, which took its seat at the grandiose Peace Palace in The Hague built by steel baron Andrew Carnegie years before to promote the international rule of law.

Just months after its founding, the U.N. also formed its Human Rights Commission, chaired by former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, to draft the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in Paris on December 10, 1948. In addition, instead of firing squads for the defeated Axis leaders, the U.S. led the Allies in convening tribunals at Nuremburg and Tokyo in 1945-1946 that tried their war crimes under international law. Three years later, Washington joined the international community in adopting the four modern Geneva conventions that laid down the laws of war for future conflicts to protect both captives and civilians.

During the 70 years that Washington led many of these international institutions, half the world won national independence, economic prosperity spread, poverty declined, hunger receded, diseases were defeated, world war was indeed avoided, and human rights advanced. No other empire in world history had presided over so much progress and prosperity for such a significant share of humanity.

Citizen Diplomats

Some scholars of international relations remain confident that the international institutions America has long promoted can survive its demise as the globe’s dominant power. But Trump’s control over foreign policy and his erratic leadership make that prospect at best uncertain. While scholars place their hopes on the internal resilience of the liberal world order, an equally important source for its potential survival lies with the millions of U.S. citizen-diplomats who have served, for the past 70 years, as adjuncts in its promotion and remain, as activists and voters, potential advocates for its preservation — and these even include one group that might normally be considered unlikely indeed: the very evangelicals who, in recent times, have backed Donald Trump in startling numbers.

Unlike the genteel elite exchanges and government programs that marked Europe’s old empires, America has influenced billions of people worldwide pervasively through mass communications and directly through citizen initiatives. While in Britain’s imperial heyday, elite circles communicated with each other via telegraph, newspaper, and radio, America has freed the flow of information for uncounted billions through television, the Internet, and cell phones — making grassroots activism a global reality and citizen diplomacy a major force in a changing world.

Although much less visible than those cellular towers lining rural roads and the computer screens dotting desktops in every city, the global impact of U.S. citizen initiatives has been no less profound. Despite a foreign policy that frequently retreated into isolationism or hyper-nationalism or brutal wars, since the end of World War II a surprising number of Americans have immersed themselves in the wider world, arguably far more deeply than any other people on the planet. The old European colonial empires were state enterprises, but the U.S. imperium has been, in significant ways, a people’s project (as well, of course, in Washington’s coups and wars, as an anti-people’s project).

If Europe’s missionary efforts were generally state-sponsored, the spirit has moved millions of individual American evangelicals to “go on mission,” often to the most remote, rugged parts of the planet. From the Civil War to World War II, mainline Protestant denominations sponsored small numbers of career missionaries who made the conversion of China the aspiration of the post-Civil War generation. But since the Boeing Corporation introduced cheap jet travel in the 1960s, countless millions of evangelicals have launched themselves on short-term missions. While religious conversion has certainly been their prime goal, providing medicine, food, and education to remote areas of Asia, Africa, and Latin America has also been a key part of that endeavor.

As a way to count these countless evangels, in my own small family circle a cousin, a Harvard-trained pediatrician, has made several medical missions to West Africa; the real-estate agent for my mother’s house repeatedly slowed the sale by going on education missions to Cambodia; friends from my Anglican parish travel regularly to Haiti on a development mission to a sister church; and my father-in-law’s old army buddy for years flew his private plane down to Central America on gospel missions.

Whenever global disasters strike, the Mormons, along with the 5,000 employees of Catholic Relief and 46,000 workers of the Protestant World Vision, mobilize what has become billions of dollars annually to send massive shipments of relief goods to the farthest corners of the Earth.

America’s concern for the world beyond its borders also has a no-less-vital secular side. Paralleling the rise of Washington as a world power, the Chicago-based Rotary International, for instance, has grown into a global network of 33,000 clubs in 200 countries. Since 1985, its 1.2 million members have donated nearly two billion dollars to inoculate two billion children worldwide against polio. As someone who still limps from this childhood disease, I was delighted to learn a few years ago, when I spoke before my local Rotary Club in Madison, Wisconsin, that my speaker’s fee had been automatically donated to the worldwide fight against polio.

When I spoke to the local Kiwanis chapter, I found that they were crisscrossing the state collecting antique foot-pedal Singer sewing machines for shipment to rural co-ops in Central America without electricity — catalyzing this small city’s Sewing Machine Project that has sent 2,500 machines worldwide since 2005. In a similar fashion, recent immigrants to the U.S. have often sponsored schools and medical care in their former homelands; military veterans have promoted humanitarian efforts in old battlegrounds like Vietnam; the 230,000 returned Peace Corps volunteers have been voices for a people-oriented foreign policy; and the list only goes on.

Whether passing the plate down the pews or logging onto the Internet, millions of Americans send billions of dollars overseas every year through their churches or activist groups like Doctors Without Borders, CARE USA, and Save the Children USA, whether for the Ethiopian famine, Indonesia’s tsunami, or the Rohingya crisis.

This tradition of what might be thought of as citizen diplomacy and the ingrained internationalism that goes with it were manifest in the extraordinary eruption of mass protest that occurred when, in his first week in office, President Trump tried to ban travellers from seven Muslim-majority nations. Within a day, a small crowd of 30 people with placards at JFK international airport in New York swelled into impassioned protests by thousands attending demonstrations across the city. Over the next week, there would be parallel protests by tens of thousands in some 30 cities nationwide, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Portland, Maine. It is these ardent demonstrators and the millions more with their own international causes who seem mindful of what might be lost as America heads for the exits from the world stage.

China Rising

Yes, CIA coups, the Vietnam War, and untold other horrors of empire will long remain troubling memories of U.S. hegemony, not to speak of the twenty-first-century war on terror, those CIA black sites, drone strikes, and so on, so why should anyone, liberal or conservative, who harbors doubts about America’s global power be concerned with its accelerating decline? At its core, the U.S. world order has rested, for the past 70 years, on that delicate duality — an idealistic community of sovereign nations and sovereign citizens equal under the rule of international law joined tensely, even tenuously, to an American imperium grounded in the grimmest aspects of U.S. military and economic power.

Now, consider the likely alternatives if Donald Trump succeeds in withdrawing the U.S. from any form of idealistic internationalism. While the downside of Washington’s harsh hegemony of the last almost three-quarters of a century was in some part balanced by its promotion of a liberal international order, both Beijing and Moscow seem inclined to the idea of hegemony without that international community and its rule of law. Beijing accepts the U.N. (where it has a seat on the Security Council) and the World Trade Organization (a convenient wedge into world markets), but it simply ignores inconvenient aspects of the international community like the Permanent Court of Arbitration, recently dismissing an adverse decision there over its claims to the South China Sea.

Beijing has quietly challenged what it views as pro-Western organizations by beginning to build its own parallel world order, which it naturally intends to dominate: the Shanghai Cooperation Organization instead of NATO, its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in lieu of the IMF, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership to supplant the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. The trillions of dollars in trade and development agreements that Beijing has doled out across Asia, Africa, and Latin America in recent years are the epitome of commercial Realpolitik, devoid of any concern for the environment or for workers’ rights. Putin’s Russia is even more dismissive of the restraints of international law, expropriating sovereign territory, invading neighboring nations, assassinating domestic enemies abroad, and blatantly manipulating elections overseas (a subject in which, of course, the United States once showed a certain expertise).

Although overshadowed in recent years by its endless counterterror operations and its devastatingly destructive wars across the Greater Middle East and Africa, the United States has nonetheless had a profound and often positive impact upon the world, in terms both of its high politics and its mass culture. Long after the damaging excesses of Washington’s hegemonic power — the CIA coups, the torture, the drone killings, and those never-ending wars — fade from memory, the world will still need the more benign dimension of its dominion, particularly the very idea of global governance through international organizations and the rule of law, especially as we face a planet similarly in decline. The loss of all of that would be a loss indeed.

If the world experiences a slow, relatively peaceful transition away from U.S. hegemony, then the subsequent global order just might maintain some of the liberal international institutions that still represent the best of American values. If, by contrast, the golden-shower diplomacy of Donald Trump continues, while the Chinese and Russian versions of hegemony only gain strength, then we will likely witness a harsher world order based on autocracy, Realpolitik, and commercial domination, with scant attention to human rights, women’s rights, or the rule of law. At this critical turning point in world history, the choice is still, to a surprising degree, ours to make. But not for long.

 

Washington’s Pax Americana Cartel

How can you trust an establishment that so easily succumbs to fantasies of global hegemony and go-it-alone militarism?

May 21, 2018

by Andrew J. Bacevich

The American Conservative

The launch of The American Conservative in October 2002 was itself an act of dissent, either courageous or quixotic depending on your point of view. When it appeared on newsstands, volume 1, number 1 made it clear that TAC was to be an anti-establishment journal. So the magazine has remained in the ensuing years, a testament to principled consistency.

This has been notably true on all matters related to America’s role in the world. Since TAC’s founding, editors have come and gone. Yet throughout, the magazine has kept faith with the position staked out in its inaugural editorial, which denounced “fantasies of global hegemony” and promised to oppose temptations of “go-it-alone militarism.”

At that very moment, the corridors of power in Washington were awash with fantasies of global hegemony, while in both liberal and conservative quarters, go-it-alone militarism had become almost de rigueur. In an immediate sense, a prospective U.S. invasion of Iraq represented the pressing issue of the day. The nominal purpose of the forthcoming war was to rid the world of Saddam Hussein, putative ally of Osama bin Laden and supposed developer of nuclear weapons. Yet lurking behind this tissue-thin cover story were ambitions that went far beyond overthrowing one particularly noxious dictator.

Among the hegemonists and the militarists, the unstated but widely understood purpose of invading Iraq was threefold. First, it would convert the so-called Global War on Terrorism from a reactive into a proactive enterprise. The United States was going permanently on the offensive. In Iraq, it would demonstrate the efficacy of employing carefully tailored violence—no need for “overwhelming force”—to eliminate threats even before they had fully formed. No longer would Washington deem war a last resort.

Second, embarking upon this war of choice without the sanction of the United Nations and in defiance of world opinion signaled that the United States was exempting itself from norms to which all others were expected to comply. By winning a decisive victory in Iraq, the United States would arrogate to itself the singular privilege of waging preventive war.

Finally, a successful “liberation” of Iraq, aligning that nation with Western values and American purposes, would demonstrate the feasibility of coercive transformation and establish a precedent for its further application elsewhere in the Islamic world. In other words, Iraq was just for starters.

A remarkably broad swath of establishment worthies signed onto this project with evident enthusiasm. Call it the Lewis-Ledeen coalition, extending all the way from the eminently respectable Bernard Lewis to the eminently disreputable Michael Ledeen. Or, better still, call it the Pax Americana cartel.

From his perch at Princeton University, Professor Lewis took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to argue that it was “Time for Toppling.” According to Lewis, a renowned authority on the Islamic world, not only Iraqis but all Arabs and also Iranians would welcome liberation at the hands of U.S. forces. He dismissed out of hand the notion that “regime change in Iraq would have a dangerous destabilizing effect on the rest of the region, and could lead to general conflict and chaos.”

A regular contributor to National Review, Ledeen viewed the possibility of war with all the delight of an eight-year-old playing with his first set of toy soldiers. Ledeen differed with Bernard Lewis on one point only: If invading Iraq destabilized the region, then all the better. “One can only hope that we turn the region into a cauldron, and faster, please.” If ever there were a region that richly deserved being “cauldronized,” wrote Ledeen, it was the Middle East. He emphasized that deposing Saddam was just a first step. After it finished with Iraq, the United States should go on to “bring down the terror regimes” in Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. This, he concluded, represented America’s true “mission in the war against terror.”

The roster of writers, editors, and talking heads subscribing to the Lewis-Ledeen school of American statecraft is long and impressive. A partial list of prominent members runs the gamut from A to Z, beginning with Ken “Cakewalk” Adelman, and including Peter Beinart, William Bennett, Paul Berman, Max Boot, David Brooks, Tucker Carlson, Thomas Friedman, at least two Goldbergs, Sean Hannity, Victor Davis Hanson, Christopher Hitchens, several Kagans and Kaplans, William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Rich Lowry, the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, Bill O’Reilly, George Packer, Richard Perle, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Andrew Sullivan, Leon Wieseltier, and George Will, with Fareed Zakaria bringing up the tail end.

The nominally conservative National Review endorsed the idea of invading Iraq as did the nominally liberal New Republic. The editorial pages of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post were positively gung-ho to go after Saddam. As for The Weekly Standard, it’s a wonder that younger staffers eager to join in the fun didn’t rush off to their local Armed Forces Career Center to enlist.

In terms of intellectual firepower, the Pax Americana cartel both outnumbered and outgunned the antiwar camp. True, Michael Moore, Brent Scowcroft, Edward Kennedy, and the Dixie Chicks expressed opposition to the war. So too did Pope John Paul II, who to the dismay of Catholic neoconservatives denounced the coming invasion of Iraq as “a defeat for humanity.” In this instance, if in few others, the left-leaning Nation magazine agreed with the right-leaning pope. And standing shoulder-to-shoulder with The Nation was its ideological opposite: the brand new American Conservative.

Fifteen-plus years after it appeared, TAC’s premiere issue stands up remarkably well. The yellowing cover of my copy fairly shouts its warning against the impending “Iraq Folly.” The cover art by Mark Brewer depicts an unhinged Uncle Sam wielding an oversized fly swatter as he prepares to clobber an insect-like Saddam. In the background, figures representing the rest of the world react with horror.

The cover accurately prefigured the issue’s contents. Within were several essays that can only be regarded as prescient, with Patrick Buchanan, TAC’s co-founder, appropriately leading off. Buchanan began his column with a quotation from the British historian A.J.P. Taylor. “Though the object of being a Great Power is to be able to fight a Great War,” Professor Taylor had written, “the only way to remain a Great Power is not to fight one.” Buchanan foresaw a war in Iraq putting American preeminence needlessly at risk.

Getting to Baghdad was not the problem. Once there, he asked, “how do we get out?” Buchanan mocked expectations of the Lewis-Ledeen clique that an easy win in Iraq was going to pave the way for success elsewhere in the region. “To democratize, defend, and hold Iraq together,” he predicted, “U.S. troops will be tied down for decades.” Reminding readers that “the one endeavor at which Islamic peoples excel is expelling imperial powers by terror and guerrilla war,” he expected an American occupation of Iraq to incite sustained and stubborn resistance.

Others expanded on Buchanan’s argument. And in the months and years that followed, events in Iraq and in other distant parts of the American imperium vindicated these warnings. From one issue to the next, TAC reinforced and amplified its critique of militarized hegemony. In essays and editorials, it denounced the imperial thrust of U.S. policy as a violation of everything that the nation claimed to represent. It did not depart one inch from the position staked out in its inaugural editorial.

Yet, although the analysis in TAC has been on the mark, its critique has had little discernible impact on the foreign policy establishment. Henry Clay once remarked that he’d “rather be right than be president.” On foreign policy, TAC has generally been right, but presidents and those who advise presidents haven’t bothered to take heed.

Granted, since 2002-03, the ranks of the Lewis-Ledeen coalition have thinned. Remaining coalition loyalists tend to be less strident than they were back then. The once popular battle cry—“Anyone can go to Baghdad. Real men go to Tehran”—has been retired, although the irrepressible and uneducable Ledeen may not have gotten the memo. He’s still pressing for regime change in Iran and “faster, please.”

Some charter members of the Lewis-Ledeen confederation have even recanted (although very few have ceased to opine). Most, however, still defend their advocacy of invading Iraq. The idea was a good one, they insist; the execution was flawed. If they themselves erred, it was in failing to anticipate the egregious incompetence of Donald Rumsfeld, L. Paul Bremer, and various senior military commanders beginning with Tommy Franks. How could anyone have known?

Yet even today in establishment circles, belief in the Pax Americana persists, along with an appetite for armed intervention. So too does a studied indifference to costs and consequences. That self-restraint rather than activism marketed under the heading of “global leadership” might merit consideration as a basis for policy remains an intolerable heresy.

To illustrate, consider a recent piece by New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, a Lewis-Ledeen stalwart. There “really is an axis of evil,” Stephens breezily asserts, appropriating a phrase coined in 2002 by a neophyte speechwriter charged with imparting a moral sheen to George W. Bush’s Manichean with-us-or-against-us worldview. Indeed, according to Stephens, the ranks of evildoers have swollen since David Frum devised the phrase. The axis now includes not only original members North Korea and Iran, but also Syria, Russia, and China, with ex officio status conferred on Hezbollah.

Stephens is keen for the United States to dismantle this axis once and for all. Nor does he doubt the feasibility of doing so without, as he delicately phrases it, “burdening ourselves as we did in Iraq.” And with that brief, oblique reference, the Iraq war vanishes from view, banished along with any other unpleasantries stemming from America’s recent adventures abroad. In other words, Stephens has no interest in what happened when the United States last took on this axis that we ourselves contrived. He faces resolutely forward.

Observing world events from behind his desk at the Times, our pundit professes to know exactly how to gain the initiative against this league of evildoers. Step one: “protect our Kurdish allies against their enemies.” Step two: attack Syrian military installations any time that country employs chemical weapons. Step three: “dramatically increase the military price Russia is paying for its intervention” by employing unspecified “covert” means. To Stephens, it appears self-evident that deepening U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war will create the foundation for “a consistent military and diplomatic strategy.”

All that’s needed to implement this strategy is a president who “understands that our liberal values are the great prerequisite for our global leadership” and who is willing to deploy American power in support of those values. Our current president understands little about liberal values or any other values worthy of the name, of course. But oust Trump in favor of someone committed to sustaining “Pax Americana,” and we’re well on our way to solving the problems of planet Earth.

Stephens rather likes the phrase Pax Americana. He employs it not as some gauzy aspiration and certainly not a snide euphemism for empire. Rather, it describes all that was good about the contemporary international order until Trump appeared on the scene to bollix things up. Pax Americana is a bigger and better version of Free World, the phrase that it supersedes.

Saving the best for last, Stephens wraps up his column with the journalistic equivalent of Kate Smith belting out “God Bless America” to close out her radio show back in the 1940s. “The cause of freedom,” he warbles, “awaits a resurrection.”

It’s tempting to dismiss Stephens as simply a purveyor of drivel. To do so, however, is to commit a grave error. The truth is that even—perhaps especially—in the Age of Trump, he gives voice to a perspective that continues to resonate wherever political insiders congregate. For journalists keen to make a mark, promoting Pax Americana can be a very good gig indeed.

Recall the famous story about a senior staffer with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee having dinner with a noted journalist who expressed skepticism about how much clout the Israel lobby actually wielded. “You see this napkin?” the AIPAC operative replied. “In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.” In half that time, any lobbyist worth his salt could get 90 Senate signatures on a napkin endorsing the perpetuation of Pax Americana, even if disguised by using weasel words such as “global leadership” or “our responsibility.” Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer would arm wrestle for the privilege of signing first.

Throughout the 15 years of its existence, TAC has made the case that in the present century Pax Americana isn’t working. It isn’t working for citizens of the United States, and neither is it working for the recipients of our intended beneficence abroad. Evidence is overwhelming that efforts to maintain American dominion are contributing to disorder, breeding animosity toward the United States, and doing immense harm.

Yet those who occupy (or covet) positions of influence inside the Beltway don’t want to hear that. So they indulge the whimsical promptings of Bret Stephens and his numerous confreres, who offer assurances that with just a tad more “global leadership,” i.e., the threatened or actual use of armed force targeting the world’s ne’er do wells, all will be well.

The juxtaposition between Stephens’s warm endorsement of the “cause of freedom” and his dismissive allusion to the “burdening” caused by Iraq gives away the game. The readers Stephens seeks to inspire with his homilies about resurrecting freedom rarely experience the burdens stemming from any resulting military misadventures. They send others to do so while they themselves cheer from the sidelines.

I submit that this unceasing celebration of Pax Americana by Bret Stephens and others of his ilk may well pose a greater danger to U.S. national security than any of Donald Trump’s whacked-out mutterings on Twitter or self-contradicting decisions.

As for myself, I am more inclined to forgive Trump than smug journalistic proselytizers such as Stephens. The president is merely an ignoramus, so profoundly ill-equipped for his office that he almost surely doesn’t know what he is doing from one day to the next and is almost surely oblivious to the potential relationship between last week’s bombast and this week’s bluster.

But Stephens is not an ignoramus. He is something worse: the dishonest perpetrator of a hoax.

♦♦♦

The product of this hoax, endlessly endorsed by politicians and pundits of nominally different stripes, is intellectual stasis, with all alternatives to Pax Americana ruled out of bounds. Those like Stephens who take it upon themselves to police the boundaries of permissible discourse disallow any serious reexamination of the premises informing basic U.S. policy since World War II and especially since 9/11. Anyone with the temerity to stray from the prescribed path is immediately slapped with the label “isolationist,” the equivalent in other contexts of being called a racist or sexist.

To appreciate the consequences of allowing Stephens and other members of the Pax Americana cartel to dictate the limits of allowable opinion on foreign policy, we need look no further than the crisis of the present moment.

In 2016, Donald Trump distinguished himself from his chief Republican opponents and certainly from Hillary Clinton by saying out loud what many ordinary Americans already suspected: that in terms of immediate threats, it’s not some faraway axis of evil that we need to worry about so much as pervasive stupidity among the managers of Pax America in Washington. In memorable fashion, Trump vowed to “drain the swamp” and to formulate an “America First” approach to policy. If elected, Trump would end the reckless squandering of American power. So, at least, he said.

To the manifest horror of the Pax Americana cartel, the number of voters who liked what Trump had to say sufficed to hand him the presidency. Yet with Trump now barely a year in office, it is safe to say two things. First, while the president has caused conniptions among denizens of that swamp, the likelihood that he will drain it is zilch. It’s doubtful that Trump, whose lies are remarkable even by Washington standards in both frequency and magnitude, ever actually intended to do so. Indeed, if anything, Trump is replenishing the swamp, especially by funneling yet more billions to our bloated and unaccountable national security apparatus.

Second, whatever Trump supporters may have imagined the retrenchment implied by “America First” might look like, what they are getting is radically different. Indeed, to combine the president’s surname with terms like policy or doctrine, which imply at least a modicum of direction, consistency, and clarity of purpose, is deeply misleading. What we have had thus far from the president and the changing cast of characters who ostensibly advise him are random and frequently inconsistent impulses.

Disdaining maps, our pilot navigates by dead reckoning. The hand on the tiller is given to sudden and unpredictable spasms. The ship of state is adrift.

Some observers speculate that the ongoing purge of Trump’s inner circle heralds the belated arrival of consistency, direction, and clarity of purpose. Yet the nomination of the bellicose Mike Pompeo to become secretary of state along with the installation of the demented John Bolton as national security adviser suggest something other than modesty, retrenchment, or any recognizable form of realism. Rather than America First, Trump appears to be opting for America Unhinged as his preferred theme.

Yet consider: Just two years ago candidate Trump swept the field by denouncing the excesses of Pax Americana; today, if we are to take Pompeo and Bolton seriously, the Trump administration seemingly has the axis of evil in its crosshairs. In Washington, “fantasies of global hegemony” and “go-it-alone militarism” are back, having been revived in an especially virulent form.

Bret Stephens and other advocates of U.S. “global leadership” worry that Trump’s passivity endangers American dominion. They urge greater activism. They may just get their wish. Yet should the result be a further round of costly and needless wars, Trump may well be remembered as the president who ushered that Pax onto the ash heap of history.

The ironies abound, but don’t expect Bret Stephens to grasp them. If you’re like me and own a copy of TAC’s volume 1, number 1, put it in a safe place. It is a prophetic document. Perhaps one day the warnings it contains may gain a hearing. Until then, buckle up.

 

GRACE-FO: Cracking a cold case

May 2, 2018

by Carol Rasmussen,

NASA

Reports of the rapidly melting West Antarctic ice sheet often refer to how much the melting could add to global sea levels — as if meltwater raises the ocean evenly, like a sink filling up. The reality is far different. Water from West Antarctica will end up raising sea levels more in Los Angeles and Miami than in Rio de Janeiro, for example, even though Brazil is thousands of miles closer to Antarctica than the United States.

How do we know? Scientists first observed this ocean pattern using data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission, which ended last October after 15 years of operation. When the NASA/German Research Centre for Geosciences GRACE Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission is launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California next month, it will take up the job of monitoring melting polar ice. That will give scientists a renewed opportunity to understand some of the many processes that lead to different rates of sea level rise on different coastlines. Since runoff from melting ice sheets and glaciers currently accounts for about two-thirds of global sea level rise, understanding these melt-related processes is a critical piece of understanding sea level change at a regional scale.

Fingerprints of water

The gravitational pull of an ice sheet attracts seawater from the nearby oceans and causes it to pile up along the coastlines. When the ice sheet melts and loses mass, the gravitational pull is reduced, causing the sea level nearby to fall. At the same time, the additional meltwater in the ocean causes sea level rise — but it rises farther away from the melt source. The falling sea level near the ice sheet and rising sea level farther away are connected like the rising and falling ends of a seesaw. Since every ice sheet and glacier has a unique location and size, each one creates a different seesawing pattern, as individual as a fingerprint.

Scientists had theorized that these fingerprint patterns existed, but only observationally detected them for the first time in September 2017 using GRACE data.

The fingerprints from Greenland and Antarctica reach across the equator, so that low- and mid-latitude land masses are affected by melting from both regions. These coastlines may be affected more strongly by the ice loss in the opposite hemisphere. New York City, for example, experiences slightly more sea level rise from ice melt in Antarctica than from Greenland. Or for an extreme example, Greenland’s ice loss is currently estimated to contribute 12 times as much to sea level rise in Cape Town, South Africa, than it is to rising seas in London, even though London is 8,000 miles closer to Greenland.

Imprints below Earth’s surface

Another effect of the changing mass from melting ice involves not just recent ice loss but the continental-scale melt-off that ended about 6,000 years ago. That ancient event still has repercussions for sea levels on today’s coastlines.

Frank Webb of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the project scientist for GRACE-FO, used the analogy of memory foam to describe this effect. “When you lie on a memory foam bed, you sink into it. When you get up, it rebounds, slowly. There may be a slight bulge around where you were lying.” In the same way, an ice sheet presses on Earth’s viscous mantle layer, about 50 miles below the surface. Over millennia, the heavy ice pushes the surface layer down into the mantle, and mantle material bulges out elsewhere. When an ice sheet melts, the mantle flows back in the reverse direction, in a process that plays out for millennia after the ice has disappeared.

The North American tectonic plate is still rebounding from the loss of mass at the end of the last ice age. At that time, today’s Canada and Greenland were buried beneath thick ice while most of what is now the United States remained ice free. The mantle flowed away from under Canada and bulged under the United States. Today, as the flow moves in the opposite direction, the U.S. side of the North American plate is sinking very slowly, and Canada is rising.

Even if there were no other changes occurring in today’s oceans, these up-and-down movements of the solid Earth would cause sea levels to change on today’s U.S. East Coast. As it is, they add to or counteract other influences on sea level.

The bottom line

Since the original GRACE mission launched in 2002, its measurements have shown that Greenland has been losing about 280 gigatons of ice per year on average, and Antarctic losses are at a rate of almost 120 gigatons per year. (One gigaton of water would fill about 400,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.) The data also showed that the rate of loss accelerated from 2003 to 2013 by about 25 gigatons per year every year in Greenland, and 11 gigatons per year every year in Antarctica. While considerable uncertainties remain, the measurements from GRACE over the past 15 years leave scientists and planners concerned that sea level rise will be measured in feet rather than inches by the end of the century.

Combined, these other effects from gravitational changes as ice melts in Greenland and Antarctica can add or subtract 25 to 50 percent of a regional change in sea level caused by melting ice alone.

Questions remain about all of these processes. For example, how much natural variation is there in the rate of ice loss that we are currently observing? How does ice loss in some regions interact with natural climate patterns such as El Niño? While 15 years of high-quality, global and nearly uninterrupted data from GRACE have already produced a plethora of discoveries, the longer data record from GRACE-FO is essential to tease out the signal of long-term climate evolution from shorter-term effects of these recurring climate patterns.

GRACE-FO is scheduled to launch on May 19.

How GRACE-FO works

GRACE-FO, like GRACE, is designed to measure monthly changes in gravitational pull that result from changes in the mass on Earth below the orbiting satellites. More than 99 percent of Earth’s mean gravitational pull does not change from one month to the next, because it is due to the solid Earth itself — its surface and interior. Water, however, moves continuously nearly everywhere: rain falls, ocean currents flow, ice melts and so on. As the twin GRACE-FO satellites orbit Earth, one closely following the other, these moving masses alter the gravitational pull below the two satellites, changing the distance between them very slightly. The record of these changes is analyzed to create monthly maps of the variations and redistribution of Earth’s mass near the surface.

 

New NASA Study Finds Dramatic Acceleration in Sea Level Rise

March 2, 2018

by Tereza Pultarova

Space.com

According to new research, global sea level isn’t rising steadily — it’s getting faster every year.

The findings, which came from an analysis of 25 years’ worth of satellite data, are bad news for all low-lying regions threatened by the encroaching ocean: It may rise twice as high by 2100 as previously estimated.

The study, published on Feb. 12 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that in the next 80 years, the sea level may rise by up to 26 inches (65 centimeters) as a result of climate change, cutting much larger chunks from the coastal areas than previously estimated. [Which Melting Glacier Threatens Your City the Most? NASA Tool Can Tell You]

“This is almost certainly a conservative estimate,” said Steve Nerem, a professor of Aerospace Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, who led the NASA Sea Level Change team that conducted the study.

“Our extrapolation assumes that sea level continues to change in the future as it has over the last 25 years,” Nerem said in a statement. “Given the large changes we are seeing in the ice sheets today, that’s not likely.”

The study incorporates data from the Topex/Poseidon and Jason-1, Jason-2 and Jason-3 satellite missions, managed jointly by NASA, the French space agency CNES, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The researchers’ analysis revealed that while in the 1990s, the sea level was rising by approximately 0.1 inch (2.5 millimeters) per year, today it rises by 0.13 inches (3.4mm) per year.

“The Topex/Poseidon/Jason altimetry missions have been essentially providing the equivalent of a global network of nearly half a million accurate tide gauges, providing sea surface height information every 10 days for over 25 years,” said paper co-author Brian Beckley, a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in the statement.

According to the researchers, the sea level rise is caused by two phenomena — the thermal expansion of water and the melting of glaciers, including glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica.

The thermal expansion is a natural result of the massive body of water that is the global ocean being exposed to increasing ambient temperatures. The study found that thermal expansion alone had driven the sea level up by 2.8 inches (7cm) over the past 25 years.

The main contributor to the accelerating pace, however, is the fast melting of the Greenland and Antarctic glaciers, the study concluded.

“As this climate data record approaches three decades, the fingerprints of Greenland and Antarctic land-based ice loss are now being revealed in the global and regional mean sea level estimates,” Beckley said.

The researchers said that the speed of the acceleration is not consistent and can be affected by geological events such as volcanic eruptions or by climate patterns such as El Niño and La Niña.

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