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Newsletter 9-17-2021

Colin Powers
Colin Powers

Hi everyone. Thanks for subscribing. If you have the means, please consider becoming a paying member. If you have the inclination, please pass this newsletter around to others who might enjoy the read. Now onto this week's edition of No Craic, Mad Craic, and Great Craic.

No Craic

(1) The FAO's Food Price Index hit 127.4 last month. Pushing levels not seen since the 1970s, this figure reflects a 33% year-on-year jump for a basket of essential commodities, with cereals and vegetable oils seeing the largest spikes. The confluence of extreme weather events, rising freight and fertilizer costs, shipping bottlenecks, and labor issues appear to the be at the root of these worrisome developments.

The x-axis track time (i.e. 61=1961). 

Apropos of this, one should note that most lower income countries are heavily reliant on imports when it comes to meeting the nutritional needs of their populations. This is largely attributable to food security strategies pushed by the stewards of international development over the course of many decades.

Rather than seek to achieve self-sufficiency in terms of the production of critical foodstuffs, governments of the global periphery have been regularly encouraged to instead bet the house on the promises of neoclassical trade theory. As the theory holds, through devoting available resources toward sectors and items that present a relative comparative advantage vis-a-vis relevant trade partners, one will necessarily generate enough foreign currency via exports to cover the costs of importing what is not produced domestically.

Alas, materially speaking, things rarely proceed in such a tidy manner. At our current juncture, Russia's imposition of export limits on cereals--an action undertaken to ensure the needs of its own people--and China's restrictions on phosphate exports (from which fertilizer products derive) combined with some of the other variables discussed at the outset to throw prices way off kilter.

For the import-dependent, the introduction of unpredicted inflationary dynamics in international markets has made procuring requisite food supplies exceedingly dicey. With stocks kept in reserve running down at home, vulnerable folks in many parts of the world are likely to soon be exposed to the harrowing realities of rationing and starvation.    

(2) Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), erstwhile favorite policy/ideational launderer for Gulf monarchs, was recently subcontracted for what looks like intelligence work by the super sketchy Alion Science and Technology.

The latter was awarded a $769 million deal by the Pentagon in 2018 for the purpose of designing tech that "directly supports the warfighter." It appears CSIS, legally registered as a non-profit 501 (c)(3) organization, was brought on to assist in these efforts. (According to their own telling, CSIS has been helping "U.S. government analysts–including but not limited to military personnel–better understand Russian decision-making processes, climate-impacts on security in the Arctic, African security issues including China’s deepening ties to the African security sector, and homeland security threats including cyber.")

At the same time as the institution was operating as a de facto defense contractor, CSIS researchers were regularly coming before Congress to offer neutral expertise concerning international affairs. Methinks that financial arrangements with Alion might see a wee bit of threat inflation seep into the testimony of these individuals.

(3) Crocodile tears for Afghan women continue a-flowing in Washington.

As the great Gilbert Achcar details, these displays of moral clarity are especially grating in view of America's actually existing record in Afghanistan. From its mujahidin-deputized war against the Soviet-backed government of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan--a government expressly committed to liberating "Afghan women from traditional patriarchal shackles"-- to the Obama, Trump and Biden administration's marginalization of female participants throughout their peace negotiations with the Taliban, a decades-long ledger shows that there has never been a time when those directing American policy in Afghanistan gave a shit about the fate of Aghan women. To think that this throughline of American policy will be broken--that imperial conceits can be made holy the next time around--is to build castles in the sky. Ergo, one need call shenanigans on the liberal interventionists attempting to sell reinvasion as some perverse duty of the chivalrous. All they're pitching is the orientalist case for empire retrofitted for modern audiences.  

None of which ought diminish the pain and suffering that many Afghan women may soon come to experience, of course. It is only to remind that US military and intelligence operations will never offer salvation.

(4) Neve Gordon managed to visualize the Nakba and the profoundly constructive/destructive effects it had for the Israeli and Palestinian peoples on a single graph.

Jewish Establishment here refers primarily to the holdings of the Jewish National Fund, a nominally private institutional body that played a critical role in displacing Palestinians-cum-acquiring land for Jewish settlement from the early 20th century onward.

Brutal though clarifying.

(5) Upon coming to office, President Joe Biden seemed to signal that the US would change tact in Yemen, including by ending its criminal contributions to the Saudi/UAE war effort in Yemen.

Alas, in the intervening period, little has changed in practical terms, as is detailed here by Annelle Sheline and Bruce Riedel. The Saudi blockade continues without facing much in the way of diplomatic censure, famine continues to grip much of the country, and American policymakers seem as confused as ever regarding the nature of the conflict.  

Mad Craic

(6) The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, founded in 1985 by the insufferable Martin Indyk with the hope of lending an intellectual imprimatur to the lobbying efforts of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, announced this week that Muhammad bin Zayed will be the recipient of its 2021 Scholar-Statesman Award.

Bravo, lads.

Famously curious, MbZ is the architect of a foreign policy grounded in humility, humanity, and an appreciation for nuance, as the peoples of Yemen, Libya, Egypt, and Palestine can all attest. It is nice to see his work finally recognized by members of the cognoscenti like Robert Satloff.

(7) It can be easy to forget just how batshit things got in the United States after September 11th.

To jog your memory, below you will find a photo taken by Annie Leibovitz--one of the most renowned portrait photographers of the last hundred years and a woman who was at the time partnered to Susan Sontag, a generationally grand public intellectual--and printed on the cover of Vanity Fair, then as now a bastion of prestige liberal thought.

The contents referenced on the right side of the page look to be equally insane. What did that senior defector tell David Rose, and how did Bill Clinton blow the chance to topple Saddam???  

Great Craic

(8) Friend of the show Jalel Harchaoui has just published an interesting piece on the Qadhafi family and Saif al Islam's attempts to stage a comeback. While I wish Jalel could've found more space to discuss the days when Papa Qadhafi managed to convince Silvio Berlusconi (then Prime Minister) and Luciana Gaucci (club owner) to bring Saadi Qadhafi on as a player for Perugia FC, Harchaoui's article is well researched and thoughtful as ever.

(9) The World Bank is discontinuing the publication of its annual Doing Business report.

A potent disciplinary tool, the report amounted to a yearly appraisal of the global investment climate. Ranking countries based on the regulations in place and the competitiveness of their labor force, the latter of which was shorthand for the national wage share, Doing Business functioned as a starting pistol for the race to the bottom that has subsumed the developmental futures of billions across the world. (It was also regularly doctored to accommodate institutional needs and keep powerful people from getting upset). As the folks over at Eurodad have summarized, "the report has encouraged policies that have worsened inequalities, eroded labor protections and domestic resource mobilisation capacity, suppressed domestic aggregate demand and economic diversification and thus strained the legitimacy of state institutions."

Good fecking riddance.

(10) The tweet below has never not made me laugh:

Have a great weekend.


Colin Powers

Colin received his PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in 2020. He is a two-time Fulbright Fellow.