A few ideas that we should retire in 2023.
Nobody will miss 2022. With the won't-die pandemic, inflation at home, economic troubles abroad, plus the war in Ukraine, the last 12 months have not been a Happy Meal. Nevertheless, with the year 2022 behind us, it is time for some memetic housecleaning. Here are four ideas we should bury and not have to hear about again.
The internet changed everything! It promotes global democracy! Nope. It turns out the internet was a big grift and we were allowed to play with its full potential only for a few years until the big guys wanted it back for their own. Though the end of free speech and the marketplace of ideas took place in full view of us all, it was still bitter and disappointing to see that Twitter was never what we thought it was.
From the early days Twitter was manipulated by a small group of people to favor one set of ideas and either discredit any others or simply make them go away. Now, it happened that this small group of people had green hair and eyebrow piercings and favored more liberal ideas and candidates, but that is just a technicality, like saying the thugs who monitor the web in North Korea favor North Korean ideas. That is missing the real point, of censorship, of favoring one way of thinking.
The internet available to people in more liberal countries and the internet available to people in more totalitarian places are rapidly converging, not in the specific ideas they display but the one-sided way they display them. It matters less each day that a powerful group of people in the United States controls what we see or that a powerful group of people in China control what folks there see. The point is control itself, not specific content.
And double-plus good from the Ministry of Thought to those who still imagine folks in China yearning to swap their government-controlled media for America's corporate-controlled-with-government-guidance media. Same chicken, but some eggs have brown shells instead of white. Ain't nobody being empowered or standing up without permission, no matter what it looks like in small-scale from the outside to glib commentators.
Countries with a McDonald's don't make war on one another. It was the ever-so-journalistic New York Times columnist Tom Friedman who coined the phrase. He wrote that the benefits of economic integration reduce the policy choices open to governments, making war—which disrupts that integration—so unattractive as to be practically unthinkable, part of all that end of history stuff that was once the vogue for the hive mind. The concept was built around everyone wanting to be more like us. Well, you can't get fries with that idea in Kiev or Moscow or Warsaw today; it is as dead as the broader idea it embodied, that war had become obsolete. In fact, reality suggests that it all can work in the opposite direction, as Europe's dependence on Russian energy gave Putin one more weapon to consider as he planned his invasion of the Ukraine.
Same for what Richard Haass of the Council of Foreign Relations calls integration, which has driven decades of Western policy and basically controlled the State Department, with its many offices for education exchange, cultural stuff, and women's issues. This strategy, too, rested on the belief that economic ties—along with cultural, academic, and other exchanges—would drive political developments, rather than vice versa, leading to the emergence of a more open, market-oriented world that would be automatically more moderate in its foreign policy. The idea didn't win the Cold War with jazz, movie stars, and public speakers, and it did not do much for us in 2022. Educational exchange, the grand savior of U.S.-China relations, also near-collapsed in 2022, a victim of lopsidedness, Covid, and misuse by the intelligence agencies.
And we might as well lump in sanctions here as a dead-and-done policy option. Sanctions do not create meaningful changes in policy behavior. Sanctions in the case of Russia have accomplished less than nothing, as the limited availability of energy out of Russia had actually driven up the prices and resulted in a net gain in income. Most of the world had no interest in isolating Russia diplomatically and economically. Multilateralism, another thing that was supposed to have been dead, remains alive and allows Russia to sell its energy to China and India, much of it for re-export to the countries in Europe (and Japan) for which it was originally intended. It is almost embarrassing to have to include a 2022 version of sanctions here as an example, given how decades of sanctions failed to shape the situation in pre-Ukraine Russia, never mind China, Iran, Cuba, North Korea, and elsewhere.
You have to be at war to be at war. Not unique to 2022 but exemplified by it are the new forms of warfare-but-not-war the United States has pioneered. Is the U.S. at war in Ukraine, for example? Once upon a time an act of Congress, a declaration of war, would have been needed to answer the question in the affirmative. But who among us would say the U.S. is not just a little bit "at war" in Ukraine? The conflict continues to exist solely because of an increase in both the number and complexity of the weapons available to Ukraine. American advisors in the form of Special Forces and CIA paramilitaries are on the ground, alongside American combat "volunteers." No major decisions take place without Washington's say-so, and no form of conflict resolution will take place without Washington's say-so. But it's not war, right?
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Same elsewhere, where U.S. weapons animate the conflicts with Yemen and Syria, and U.S. assistance runs like code in the background of the Israeli-Iran power struggle across the Gulf. Sure sounds like war.
U.S. leadership. Anybody see any American leadership exercised globally (never mind internally) over Covid? Any international, coordinated responses? Nope. Instead, every country made up its own rules, bought its vaccines from its own political partners and allowed/banned travel in line with its national economic priorities. If anyone’s example was followed, it was China's. The recent gathering of world leaders in Egypt to address climate change accomplished as little as previous meetings, other than prolonging John Kerry's 15 minutes of fame past their due date with all the grace of milk spoiling. Americans' whining to expand NATO eastward is met with sighs of fatigue. Lastly, as far as leadership is concerned, there is Ukraine, where each U.S. pronouncement and weapons dump is met with increasing silence out of France and Germany. The U.S. appears resigned to "lead" around little Poland to accomplish its aims.
Best to just retire the phrase for now and hope things go better in 2023.