Ever since we first heard the news of Hamas’s attack on Israel ten days ago, we’ve been throwing everything we have at covering those atrocities and their many ripple effects. As you’ve probably noticed, we’re publishing more stories than ever, as we try our hardest to make sense of a world that feels like it was turned upside down.
We are going to continue to cover that war—and the new fault lines it is revealing around the world. But—there are other things going on in the world that are worth covering.
So we’re trying something a little different today, bringing you our stories of the day, but also giving you a little more, too: a Q & A with Niall Ferguson, a video from our own Ben Kawaller that we know will make you laugh, and headlines we are following.
First up, our lead story:
If you’re new to us as of last week, welcome. Those of you who have been loyal Free Pressers for a while will surely know the name Dr. Vinay Prasad. Vinay distinguished himself during the Covid pandemic—including in these pages—for his nuance, his actual commitment to following the science, and his courage to depart from the groupthink that captured so many of his colleagues.
Today he writes about getting disinvited from a medical conference after some online critics of his Covid stance decided to kick up a fuss.
Q & A with Niall Ferguson: ‘an unpleasant 1930s feeling. . . ’
When we caught our breath this weekend, we asked ourselves: who could help us make sense of the big picture right now, and explain the precarious geopolitics of the moment? Our first answer was Niall Ferguson. Niall is lots of things: the Milbank Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, the author of many great books, most recently Doom, and, as he claims in his Twitter bio, an “international man of history.” In other words, Niall is high on our list of people we want to talk to right now. So we gave him a call.
We started by asking Niall whether President Biden is right when he said, on Sunday, that “We’re the United States of America, for God’s sake. . . . We can take care of both of these and still maintain our overall international defense.” Can the U.S. support Ukraine and Israel at the same time?
In theory, the United States is capable of coping with two international crises at the same time. Especially given the fact that the U.S. is not directly fighting in Ukraine, it really ought to be possible for America to assist Israel against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah, not to mention their Iranian sponsor. The question is whether an administration that has such a bad record on deterrence is going to fail again to deter a hostile power. Remember, they failed to deter Russia from invading Ukraine. And at the moment, I fear they’re going to fail to deter Iran from launching further attacks on Israel from Lebanon via their Hezbollah client.
What isn’t the administration doing that it should be doing?
Well, what seems likely to happen is that, in the next 48 hours, Israel is going to attack Hamas and Gaza. The minute that operation begins, Hezbollah is going to rain down missiles from its bases in Lebanon on Northern Israel. That’s a pretty dangerous state of affairs and it may even get worse. So the issue in my mind is this: what is the Biden administration doing to deter Hezbollah and its Iranian backer? It’s not doing much publicly. What it’s doing in public is actually trying to discourage Israel from taking tough action against Hamas in Gaza. Inexplicably to me, the administration is saying that it has no evidence that Iran played a part in the attacks from Gaza. That seems to be just manifestly untrue since it is inconceivable to me that Hamas was able to carry out such ambitious attacks without Iranian support. [Editor’s note: and indeed, The Wall Street Journal andThe New York Times have reported as much.]
What the Biden administration should be doing is saying—either privately or publicly, I don’t care—that if Iran’s proxies launch further attacks on Israel, then the U.S., with its two carrier strike groups in the region, will carry out attacks on Iranian proxies and, I would argue, on Iran’s nuclear facilities. That’s the kind of threat that might just deter Iran from continuing this concerted attack on Israel. I don’t think that’s going to happen. And that means that I don’t think they’re going to deter Iran.
Help us understand the seriousness of the situation. You published a piece the other day in The Times of London asking: will there be a World War III?
Well, we’re already in a cold war with China. The thing about cold wars is that they’re not entirely cold. In the first Cold War, it became clear that the stakes were high when a hot war broke out in Korea. A hot war broke out in Ukraine that I think played the same role in Cold War II. Cold wars are global. You have to contend with multiple regional crises. We’ve got one in Ukraine. Now, we’ve got one in the Middle East. It’s conceivable we could have a third in Taiwan if China made some move taking advantage of the fact that the U.S. and its allies look increasingly overstretched.
If you find the terminology of World War III alarmist, as some people do, I would merely point out that the objective of Russia is to wipe Ukraine from the map, the objective of Iran and Hamas is to wipe Israel from the map, and the objective of China is to end Taiwan’s democracy and autonomy. And if the United States fails to prevent those things from happening, we will be in as dark a situation as the world was in in the late 1930s when the totalitarian regimes were able to change borders with an utter disregard for international law. So it’s a bad situation.
It’s especially bad when you think, as I keep thinking, that what we saw, now 10 days ago, coming out of Gaza, were atrocities against Jews more horrific and sadistic than anything we have seen since the Holocaust. And I feel very strongly that if there is one, absolutely clear imperative for American and European policymakers, it must be to prevent the second Holocaust. And the destruction of Israel as a state would be a second Holocaust. So the stakes are extremely high.
What worries me is that the polling on the Israel issue in Europe is dispiriting. Even in Britain, it feels as if public opinion leans towards the Palestinians and against the Israelis. And that’s what makes this have such an unpleasant 1930s feeling.
I’m very loath to use analogies with the mid-twentieth century. They’re overused. People are too ready to invoke that period. But for the first time since 1983, I feel the world is as bad, or is heading for a place as bad, as that. The next few weeks will be quite crucial.
Minutes after we finished speaking to Niall on Monday afternoon PST, we learned of three things. First, that Hamas had released a hostage video of one of the women abducted from the Nova music festival.
Second, that Iran was threatening a “preemptive action” against Israel.
“The possibility of pre-emptive action by the resistance axis is expected in the coming hours,” said the Iranian foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, on state TV.
Third, that Joe Biden will travel to Israel on Wednesday.
Cheery stuff! Now you see why we’ve been a little preoccupied in recent days. But we’re told other things are happening in the world. If you’re also catching up:
→ Jim to win? If you, like us, had better things to do than pay close attention to the contest to replace Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House, it turns out you didn’t miss much. Twelve days after his ouster, there still isn’t a speaker. On Monday evening, though, there were signs that the circular firing squad that is the House Republicans these days might be laying down their arms and alighting on Jim Jordan, a Freedom Caucus member (and Donald Trump’s preferred candidate). The score to beat is 269 days—that’s how long McCarthy lasted in the job. Good luck, JJ!
→ Let’s hear it for techno-optimism. Silicon Valley investor Marc Andreessen delivered a stirring call to arms this week with a techno-optimist manifesto. “We are told to be miserable about the future,” writes Andreessen. That’s a lie, he says.
In a world in which the pooh-bahs of finance talk in generalities, it was just so fun to read this:
Our enemy is anti-merit, anti-ambition, anti-striving, anti-achievement, anti-greatness.
Our enemy is statism, authoritarianism, collectivism, central planning, socialism.
Our enemy is bureaucracy, vetocracy, gerontocracy, blind deference to tradition.
Our enemy is corruption, regulatory capture, monopolies, cartels.
Our enemy is institutions that in their youth were vital and energetic and truth-seeking, but are now compromised and corroded and collapsing—blocking progress in increasingly desperate bids for continued relevance, frantically trying to justify their ongoing funding despite spiraling dysfunction and escalating ineptness.
Our enemy is the ivory tower, the know-it-all credentialed expert worldview, indulging in abstract theories, luxury beliefs, social engineering, disconnected from the real world, delusional, unelected, and unaccountable—playing God with everyone else’s lives, with total insulation from the consequences.
Our enemy is speech control and thought control—the increasing use, in plain sight, of George Orwell’s 1984 as an instruction manual.
→ Goldman Sachs chief drops side hustle. Embattled Goldman Sachs chief David Solomon, who is famous for moonlighting as an EDM DJ, has announced he will be hanging up his decks. What had been a fun fact about the financier has turned into a PR headache as Goldman has entered choppier waters. Asked about Solomon’s decision to stop DJing, a Goldman spokesman said: “This is not news. David hasn’t publicly DJed an event in well over a year, which we have confirmed multiple times in the past.”
Okay, time for some comic relief, courtesy of Ben Kawaller:
This year’s global day of jihad really sneaked up on us. Next year we’ll be sure to get the proper costumes.
Stay safe, stay sane, see you in the comments.