Douglas MacArthur’s Ghost and the Bolton Democrats



Image via the BBC

Today was a big day in diplomacy over there in Singapore. Trump met Kim and their advisers met each other. America has apparently committed to ending joint military exercises with South Korea (for now) and North Korea has started demolishing its weapons testing sites, though only a few so far.

The almost nonexistent relationship between the US and the DPRK is an artifact of the Cold War. One that became obsolete from an ideological point of view in 1992 but has lingered on anyway. This is, of course, because it (much like the Cold War itself in my opinion) was not primarily ideological but rather a contest of rival power poles and alliance networks. In reality, North Korea has remained an issue because it fears the United States and encirclement from their allies but also fears that this unenviable and de facto blockaded position on the world stage would force it to become so subordinate to their giant ally China that their sovereignty might also be indirectly compromised from that direction.  If you wondered why a government is so clamped down and beholden in all factors to security concerns this is why. China wants a compliant vassal state protecting its only land border with a US rival, South Korea and the US want to keep affirming their alliance, and Japan wants to stop being used as a testing ground for North Korean weapons demonstrations. North Korea, for all its oddness, really just wants to survive and avoid any kind of regime change operation, be it conducted from their south or, perhaps more indirectly, from their north. When it comes to security actions and goals abroad, Pyongyang is one of the most rational actors around today.

So why is there so much moaning that we are even talking to them directly now?

I have no interest in predicting whether these current talks will be successful or not. Trump is far too mercurial and there will be many established interests in many different countries who will not want these talks to produce good results. I *hope* they start a running dialogue that succeeds in their purposes, but I am not going to yet come out and say they will. They should, however, be given the chance. To increase the chance of them working, much of foreign policy in both major parties in the United States should be figuring out how to bring this about.

But here rises the ghost of Korean War General Douglas MacArthur.

MacArthur began his role in the Korean War with a massive amphibious flanking victory at Inchon, changing the fortunes of the war which up to that point had been largely one North Korean victory after another. His famous hubris led him to build off this victory by driving ever onward without regrouping or securing his position and in frank disregard (which he would convince an initially reluctant Truman to follow with) for China’s determination of keep America off its border. What resulted, in the Yalu Campaign, was one of the US armies’ biggest defeats, perhaps second only in scale to the loss of the Philippines in 1942-something MacArthur also played a role in. The war went from imminent US victory to grinding stalemate, with MacArthur having to be replaced by the more cautious and adaptive General Ridgeway. There would be a ceasefire in 1953, but in technical terms the conflict never would end.

MacArthur returned stateside to play the victim of Washington, the scapegoat of the President. Never mind he himself had advocated for expanding the war into China and the use of tactical nuclear weapons to facilitate this grandiose and mad counter-offensive. Never mind that he had inverted his WWII career by starting out winning and ending up losing. He blamed others and became an icon of the far right which was just then beginning to descend into the howling madness of McCarthyism.

If he were around today he would sound like John Bolton…or your average establishment Democrat. After all, the historic meeting in Singapore had barely made the press when notorious King of Corruption and Popularity, Senator Bob Menendez, said it was a ‘victory for North Korea’ that we had somehow blundered into to our loss. Meanwhile, the old guard of the Democrats (as well as the sociopathic hawk and daily birthday cake quaffing Tom Cotton and his types) have been constantly pushing America’s famously vain and media-obsessed President to take a more hawkish line on North Korea.

Do keep in mind these are the same people who constantly refer to him as a madman and unhinged. Yet they want more war like policies from him as they vote for more and more defense spending increases. Amazing.

These Bolton Democrats are in effect trying to push Trump to his right on foreign policy as well as position them as the ‘true patriots’ who ‘aren’t afraid of foreign countries’ and can say ‘see we told you so’ if something goes wrong. The problem is that policy issues of this size really shouldn’t be partisan footballs. There is no ideological clique driving this policy, such as there was in Iraq, but rather probably just two leaders both seeking a win to legitimize their standing. This seemingly petty reason should not turn us away from the many opportunities that improving relations between DC and Pyongyang could represent. And it should not blind us to the fact that America holds most of the cards in this bilateral relationship, from sanctions to diplomatic relations in the region, and therefore can afford to give a little here and there. North Korea will have little to give up at the opening stages, so I don’t really view it as a failure to diplomacy to scrap the exercises early on.

Furthermore, in a grand strategy perspective, taking bold moves towards ending rivalry with the DPRK might provide proper benefits to American Grand Strategy in the future. The US is far stronger at sea than on land in Asia, and a Korean peninsula working towards reunification peacefully would almost certainly be a de facto neutral nation, allaying both Chinese and American concerns there. The task would be Herculean enough that they would most likely want to stay out of more great power rivalry, giving the Chinese some breathing room on their border and the US the ability to avoid being sucked into a repeat of 1950-3’s land war. Any conflict that might break out would be at sea, where the much more strategically vital Indonesia waits. This would most likely be to American advantage should it happen.

In the inevitable barrage of Norms Nerd commentary which is to follow, who will wring their hands and clutch their pearls about ‘normalizing a regime’, I can say only this: The Kim family and the ruling party have run North Korea for significantly over half a century. Get over it. You will find when you come to accept reality as it is and not as you wish it to be, that it can be much easier to get things done in the field of diplomacy than otherwise.

Geopolitics in a World of Interlocked Machines

mt roraima

Mt Roraima, the closest thing to a true natural border, serving as the meeting point of the borders of Brazil, Guyana, and Venezuela

In previous posts I have mentioned in brief my fascination with speculative realism and object oriented ontology. I was always planning on making a post drawing the connections between it and the geopolitics which are the centerpiece of my writing here, but kept putting that off. Of course, now that I have read Levi Bryant’s (blog here) excellent book on ‘Onto-Cartography: An Ontology of Machines and Media’ I am now jump-started into finally getting around to this task. This post will also partially count as a book review for said work.

Also, as an aside, damn University of Edinburgh, you folks publish a lot in both speculative realism *and* China-Central Asia studies. I can’t believe I never realized this connection until after I moved out of the city. All my fields represented in my favorite place I ever lived. Missed opportunities and all that.

I got my start in grand historical narratives with Jared Diamond’s ‘Guns Germs and Steel’, and I feel that its influence and verifiability in my experience kept me always on the side of anti-idealism and pro-realist interpretations-one of the few views I have never changed in my adult life. The anthropocentrism of so much of philosophy is both silly and divorced from the big picture and largely seemed to make most of philosophy-especially since the postmodern turn-utterly divorced from anything interesting or practical. It was only with my discovery of John Gray and then speculative realism as a whole that I finally found like minded people who wanted to insert some materialist and/or pseudo Taoism into these trends and thus rescue philosophy from its own self-imposed irrelevance.

From what can be inferred by the writings of many of these new wave of thinkers, the breaking point is the anthropocene itself. Human-caused environmental destruction ironically shows both how unintentionally powerful we are as a species as well as how utterly enslaved we are by the forces of nature even as we effect them. Climate change and the like are very real material things that cannot be ‘socially constructed’ away. This really forces the issue: western philosophy must get its head out of its own ass. The world is real no matter what you want to think about it. And postmodernism, Kantian idealism, and all the rest have done nothing but effectively make the same case for philosophy that climate change denialists and young Earth creationists do for the hard sciences. By relaying everything through human interpretation (correlationism), we elevated ourselves to the status of godlings in ideal but deluded street preachers in the real. Here is the world, we are part of it and it is part of us. We are not special or have some separate destiny through our unique access to consciousness. We are where we come from and what we are made of. In turn we effect the rest not because we are apart of the world but because we are very much an integrated (if increasingly overly powerful) part of the process.

Thinkers like Quentin Meillassoux, Graham Harman, Ray Brassier, Steven Shaviro, and others have done much work on bringing the usefulness in realism back to metaphysics and I encourage you to check out their work. But I must say, none of them quite have pieced together all the elements I wanted to see in one place like Levi Bryant has. More importantly, he does so in a way that makes it easier to do what I wanted to do–connect these forms of philosophy to geopolitics and history.

To put it extremely succinctly but perhaps unjustly as a summary: Onto-Cartography is Bryant’s mode of viewing the reality of objects (both physical and functional, so from plants to states or companies) as machines made of component parts, which in turn are machines made of component parts. All machines can be modified, made irrelevant, or increased in power by the addition or subtraction of various sub-components. These are all real de facto objects in space, whose interactions with each other and space itself as a medium are the sum total of reality. There may also be hidden objects-which is to say things that exist but that we do not and might never know of due to our lack of ability to interact with them-or objects that me might infer the existence of but still cannot detect outside of the inference on objects we can see (such as dark matter and dark energy, or the ideology of an umfamiliar society which you cannot yet communicate with linguistically). The one connector between all of these machine-objects, whether seen or unseen or man made or organic, is nature itself. The only holism here is that all things are natural.

This is not to say that all things are monistic and equally intertwined (what I would call the hippie-spiritualist platitude of ‘we are all, like, one mannnnn’). Some machines only interact with some things and may be invisible to others. The internet interacts with me and you if you are reading this, but not a wild boar rummaging around in the bush. Nor are such bilateral relations equal. The machine-activity of plant life, evolving constantly and striving to extract energy from the sun is utterly dependent on the sun-but the sun is hardly dependent on those plants and would exist unchanged without them. So too does it follow that bi-laterals can be proportionally unequal when they do exist as a back-and-forth, with the Earth influencing the sun, but nowhere near as the sun influences the Earth. Our solar system in turn, while obviously influenced by the context of evolving in the Milky Way galaxy, would continue to exist if it was ejected from said galaxy until the death of the sun, and the Milky Way itself would be unaffected by its absence. Most relationships in physical space exist to some degree, as everything observable interacts with energy and gravity, but this is dead end. Functionally speaking, the relationship between machine-object assemblages that matter are context dependent and have to be broken down to strategic linkages of power and cause and effect. So too, with grand theories of the humanities, where being pro or anti-capitalist becomes an almost meaningless position from the perspective of actively seeking to create change through politics when instead one must use a targeted approach to attack or support policies through their interlinkages with direct results, geographic context, and the interplay of physical factors that social science theory may not account for. This brings us strongly into the need to re-engage with geography-long one of my main causes.

When you consider that agriculture first arose in parts of the world that had the easiest plants to domesticate, and animal husbandry arose where the easiest and most useful animals to domesticate still lived or evolved, it becomes a legitimate question: Who domesticated who? Are we not now as beholden to our wheat crops and herds as their spread and cultivation is beholden to us? Are we not one giant interlocked process of physical objects as machine processes whose relationships can change or be re-evaluated by the constant evolution, revolution, and modification of these relationships through nature-often unintentionally? I would lean in the direction of a strong yes. The factors cited above which are also those which most directly the anthropology and history at the center of the humanities are directly tied to this geographic understanding. Against this background there is also the understanding that Bryant, much like Ibn Khaldun, constantly reminds us of: entropy. Machines break down with time. Geography itself, long treated by pop-geostrategists as eternal, is in fact temporal-if not as much as human societies themselves (Bryant 120, 174). To function in such a world machines need to either repair themselves or be re-invented, so is the overlap of seeing states (or tribes or gangs or whatever) as machines interlocked with the fate of their physical and contextual environment. To quote Bryant directly from page 191: ‘The social is not a specific sort of stuff, but is another word for the ‘ecological’. A social assemblage is an ecology.’ So zoologists have treated the interactions of their various species but anthropologists often have difficulty meeting this standards when looking at people.

So too does Bryant’s concept of hidden objects matter for international relations. Something that effects nothing until it does is a surprise, and often disproportionately makes history precisely because no one was prepared for it. Daesh, or ISIS, was something that lurked from the De-Bathification and marginalization of Sunnis in occupation Iraq but did not come to have proper international sway as a new and utterly bizarre entity until the circumstances of conflict in the Post Arab-Spring world enabled it to move from an ideology of rejected and angry sunnis to one which held a territorial base and influenced a web of international alliances. It was an object that barely mattered, dark to most of the world, until it achieved the mass necessary to exert a much larger gravitational force on other actors, so to speak. One could also see this process on a much larger scale in the meteoric rise of previously nonexistent powers in a short period of time, From Macedon under Philip II and then Alexander to Mongolia under Chinggis Khaan. As Ibn Khaldun was fond of postulating, the next new vigorous dynastic founders are often the most marginalized and sometimes even irrelevant people in a given order. See also the French and Russian revolutions where ideas of disaffection merely simmered until the situation made it that they could co-opt entire societies once they had momentum and a territorial base. The territorial base is key, as it means direct resource acquisition and interaction, something discussions in a salon never could achieve on their own. Tellingly, those that think salon discussion alone can bring about change (these days, mainstream liberals and conservatives) are those who already identity with the ruling class and therefore whose priorities are already de facto supported by the arms, power, and consensus of the pre-existing state.

Geography both constrains and enables what those who rule a certain place can do. It also means, in my opinion, that even if all nations can (and should) come together on environmental points that clearly would benefit everyone that they will never be able to share other common causes. Nations dependent on rare Earth exporting are going to be different that nations dependent on tourism, just as a highly urbanized region is not going to see eye to eye with a mostly rural area and neither will agree with a wilderness frontier. As geography and culture are very interlinked in an explicitly materialist way, and Earth is replete with societies of different geographies, the political idea of a common humanity vanishes even as we acknowledge we need to downgrade humanity’s overall importance in the grand scheme of things. Resource security with different powers and maintaining the right diplomacy is a way of maximizing differences for mutual gain, rather than some quixotic quest for a world order of moralism. The only thing universal is the natural and material mediums through which all such interactions take place-and even those change with climate, altitude, arability, power relationships between assemblages, and the like.

Bryant offers those of us who are old school realists and geostrategy watchers to engage with contemporary philosophy and both put into place language outside of general policy-wonkery. Considering how many absolute quacks infest geopolitics this goes in a positive direction to establish a much maligned field as more legitimate philosophy in the materialist tradition. Seeing states as the entropy-affected machines that rise and fall in reaction to the various people in that interact with their physical places as well as the pressures of the natural world and those of other people is a neutral and realist way to ground the study of alliances, war, strategy, and the historical contexts which feed into the self-justifications of states and the policy traps they often make for themselves. The relationship with nature by societies are always (at least) two ways, we affect nature and it effects us, because we like our technology and our animals, are as much a part of it as the wilderness. If we can chart the territories of wolf packs relatively objectively and always keeping the environmental context in mind, there is no reason we cannot do it with the formations of people as well. And any attempt to effect change within these societies must keep this context in mind. It also, perhaps most importantly for the realist school of IR thought, gives us the means to engage in contemporary materialism when talking about the power imbalances between strong and weak states as well as how they constantly adapt and evolve to try to find better balances of power for their interests.






Ibn Khladun: An Intellectual Biography-a Review


I mention Khaldun enough so it is about time I review a book about him.

I have to admit, Robert Irwin’s ‘Ibn Khladun: An Intellectual Biography’ did not immediately meet with my approval. One of his earliest statements is that the great historian’s views of the cycles of nomadic Bedouins coming and going in power in North Africa is not applicable to many other places on Earth. I disagree entirely-with the added proviso that as long as one is aware of the local histories in detail-and I myself came to Ibn Khaldun through matching his thinking up with my first historic love: the Turko-Mongolian world. Though the author later quantifies that to some degree. But I would add also that Khaldun’s thought does in fact become more universally applicable to the cycles of history if one looks for the equivalent of nomads in these settings-potentially powerful outsider groups with strong in-group cohesion. A society with no nomads still has the underclass, highly traveled professional workers, diplomats and mercenary generals for hire as was common in Enlightenment Europe, privateers and upstart naval powers, and the like. One could, and in fact I feel like perhaps later I should, write the history of naval power from a Khaldunian perspective. All show the upstart but well organized outsider taking over the decadent wealth which often was not made by its present adherents but rather inherited by them, setting up their new, more youthful, and vibrant regime in its place or at its expense, and then succumbing, with the passing of generations, to the same maladies of their former foes and who are in turn replaced by new upstarts on their own periphery. So did it go with Venice, Spain and Portugal to the Dutch and then the British and then the Americans. So will it be again.

But this criticism aside, the overview Irwin gives us of both Khaldun’s career and the life his works have taken on since his death are both critical and laudatory, and put the man in context. As a thinker who is often projected by moderns to be one of them, it is important to see his historic context and actual views (including now laughable ones about sorcery and supernaturalism) restored to discussion of his record. Additionally, Irwin retains enough detachment to be able to postulate about the normal human foibles that Ibn Khaldun suffers from. He also retains a very even overview of later thinkers, both modern and not, who interpreted the thinker for their own ends. Most interestingly was his apparent growing popularity in the Ottoman governing and thinking classes that showed they were far more aware of the potential of their decline than most empires at their height are. I am very tempted to think that the nomadic Turkic background of the state contributed to this self-awareness and critical openness. It was also interesting having his time in the Mamluk Sultanate covered, as it was both a government that reflected some knowledge of the need to keep the ruling class recharged with fresh blood (Mamluks were imported Turko/Circassian/Balkan slaves who had been raised as nomadic cavalry who were then drawn into the military of Egypt under Sultans also descended from such stock) but also one which by Khaldun’s time was starting to degenerate even despite this caution.

Still, all things political being either in a state of rising and falling-with falling more commonplace-one can say that the Mamluks were in fact enormously successful compared to most of their contemporaries as well as a rare medieval state that could long term sustain being both an art patron and a vigorous military power. And its fall had more to do with the technological changes elsewhere invalidating the nomadic cavalry focused military than internal factors when the chips were down. Firearms matter and it was the Ottomans who jumped on that wagon first as a way to organize the core of their armies.

The best part of Irwin’s work, however, is in recognizing the pessimism of Ibn Khaldun. Here was a man born and raised in 14th Century North Africa who all around him saw signs of ruins of richer and more powerful civilizations long dead in the past. If Carthage and the Almohads could fall, why not the Hasfids who he worked for? Why not everyone else until the end of time? Though nomadic regime change could bring in fresh blood for a time, it would only be for a limited amount of it. Meanwhile, the Sahara grew and prestige of the region shrunk. This was the core of Ibn Khaldun’s work…work that would go on to influence such fiction greats as Asimov’s Foundation and Herbert’s Dune. And in a remarkable in-person meeting years after most of his writings, Ibn Khaldun would meet Emir Timur outside of Damascus during the very siege that the Turkic conqueror was conducting, and in so doing get to see the only example of rising in his lifetime and discuss theories of history with him-an academic case study made real in the flesh.

Would all us scholars be so lucky.

The Grand Alliance Future Predicted by Geotrickster is Here

On posts too numerous to mention (or bother going through to link directly to) on this blog I have often talked about the importance of the Eurasian landmass and the traditional fear of naval powers of grand land-power alliances locking up most of it. In contemporary terms this often means a China-Russia alliance of the sort from the early Cold War returning. I recommended to American strategists that this be avoided and that overly antagonizing Russia on all fronts would increase the likelihood of it happening. In the end great power rivalry was always more important than tiny peripheral gains (and over-expansion) at Russia’s expense.

Well, it has happened. Or more accurately, it now is definitely in the process of happening. This doesn’t mean that the numerous tensions in the relationship-especially over influence in Central Asia-won’t flare up or reverse the process, but its clearly time to start thinking about the US position of being sidelined in much of Eurasia actually is.

A true realist does not pine for the past (one the reasons I find the large presence of paleocon realists so baffling) but constantly adapts to changing circumstances. Rather than scream about how dumb American strategists are which I do enough anyway, here are some recommendations for them assuming present trends of the Moscow-Beijing bromance hold true:

  1. Neither Russia nor China could challenge America on its own yet. Together they actually do provide a challenge large enough to get America back on spending government dime on science, technology, the space race, infrastructure, and competing in green energy. The Cold War was one of the best things to ever happen to the United States, internally speaking, and its end with hindsight was one of the worst. We cut spending on so many of the things that made us great and competitive so we could pursue the phantom chimera of endless tax cuts, deregulation, voodoo economics, and yelling about social issues while both major parties gobble from the Wall Street trough.
  2. A mega-power blob of Russia and China will both attract new allies and alienate new enemies. In the re-alignment that occurs the US could in fact increase its influence in many new countries who fear a new Eurasian power bloc. I have said before that I see North America, not Eurasia, as the true ‘world-island’ in geopolitics, the ability to maintain and expand relationships with powerful nations like France, India, and the like in the long run counts more than losing much of the Middle East to Iran (which will no doubt go for Russia-China if present policies continue).
  3. Finally, a way to responsibly end Afghanistan. Being bogged down in Afghanistan is a drain on American grand strategy (if a boon for defense contractors, funny how that often happens), and can be jettisoned if Afghanistan is de facto ceded to a Eurasian bloc as a security concern. China’s close relationships with Pakistan increases the odds of more effective policies being adopted, and the inevitability of Islamabad-DC fallout and growing New Delhi-DC ties make this a natural development which should be accelerated rather than delayed.
  4. Potential access to resources, the real core of power politics, will be cut for US and allied nations, but what is lost in one place can be gained elsewhere, outside of conflict zones even, especially considering the most under-reported and extremely important news of centuries worth of rare earth materials being found in Japanese exclusive territory. This further stresses that the US-Japan Alliance is the most important in the world and should be the top priority of US diplomats.

‘Decider Issues’: Or in the humanities some opinions are objectively wrong

neoliberal evolution

I pride myself on avoiding echo chambers and groupthink. I believe whether they be big media entrenched interests or small diseased hives of conspiracy theorists or cause loyalists, its not the size but the monotone that dooms ones ability to critically think. But this does not imply that I assume all opinions start equal until proven otherwise. And despite my own repeatedly demonstrated ability to evolve my views when confronted with (superior) evidence for changing them, it would be only natural if every 5-10 years I draw a line or two on issues where compromise is capitulation-because one side is just that objectively wrong.

Keeping away from obvious cases where actual scientific evidence is at play which makes drawing such lines obvious and really an exercise of the sane vs the unhinged (man made pollution’s effect on the climate, the need for evolution in science class, the scourge of anti-vaxxers, etc) and sticking straight to the humanities only, I can think of one issue last decade and one issue in this where compromise cannot and must not be made with the unhinged-lest we simply want to give up and join the postmodernists in their quest to believe any simple uninformed opinion is the final arbiter of reality.

Last decade, this issue was gay rights. It is not something I talk about much on this blog given its foreign policy focus, and it wasn’t my primary or sole issue of concern a decade ago either, but it was what I might call a ‘Decider Issue’. So named for the famous declarative statement of ‘I’m The Decider’, the then chimpanzee-in-chief, George W Bush-himself an example of a presidency that could be considered a great example of a Decider Issue in how it is interpreted.

There was no rational nor logical nor even purely blinkered individual self-interest argument against expanding legal rights for gays. There wasn’t. None. The only arguments were fear of change and utterly brain numbing religious screeds from those too foolish to put aside what should be their private culture for the public good. There were policies that mitigated harm to no demonstrable increase in harm to another-a rare in politics. Any aggreivement of enacting such policies was perceived and self-projection only, not in any way real or material. There was, quite simply, no actual compelling case for opposing gay rights. And even with a solid and successful push on many fronts and gay marriage now legal across the entire nation-the most important fights (housing and employment nondiscrimination) have yet to move beyond the state and federal employee level to the same degree as the more performative (if symbolic) marriage fight did. The fight remains, but most of the cultural side of it appears to be won. This is good. It helped immensely that when the fever seemed to break around 2006-2009 or so that an enormous amount of right wing cultural warriors from senators to ‘public policy experts’ to clergy were exposed as closet cases or with sex lives which deviated from their own stated norms in new and interesting ways. Larry Craig, Ted Haggert, George Reckers, Rick Santorum-ok, I made up that last one (but come on, you at least suspect to the same level one does Pence), the parade of humiliation and hypocrisy was like a conga line of rejects tagging on the back end of a pride parade. Their side was wrong. Debate was legitimizing them, they needed to be mocked, defeated, and crushed. This was an issue to end friendships over (and I almost never advocate doing that for political reasons).

A new such issue has arisen this decade. It is in foreign policy-something increasingly relegated to the back-burner since the anti-war movement got sidelined in the Obama years by the  visage of a respectable technocrat apparently taking it over from the frat boys of the Bush years. Because of this sidelining, this issue isn’t as clearly an obvious choice to most people-but it should be. That issue is NATO intervention in Syria. So, in a weird abstracted kind of way, Syria is the gay rights issue of today. A debate where one must draw the line of people who have a legitimate point on one side, and people who quite honestly should shut the hell up and go away on the other. I had a useful professional contact and acquaintance who was both pro rebel and said ‘if you sympathize with the Damascus government or the Turkish coup plot, defriend me now.’ Well, I did exactly that. I have no regrets. No one can learn from people so involved with their own ideology no matter its actual effects.

When I have spoken of Syria before on this blog I have largely done it by appraising the interests of each actor and how I believe that the best realistic solution (and this I have held as a consistent view since 2012 when I first got engaged with the issue) is government victory. I have never pretended to be happy agreeing so heartily with Russia (see gay rights positions, above) on an issue, and I have never used it as a generic ‘NATO is bad’ argument, which is tiresome and usually moralistic. This is geopolitics, there is no good and bad. But there is stupid and smart though. Rebel victory, (most likely just a total sectarian Balkanization of the country in effect with some kind of caliphate as the strongest faction) would be demonstrably bad for Syria and most Syrians for sure. But even speaking from the purely American standpoint-it is bad for NATO too. Already, by jumping on the regime change bandwagon but backing different mutually hostile factions, Washington and Ankara-the two biggest NATO contributors-are ready to tear their alliance apart. And for what? As it is the prolonging of the war (thanks to American arms and allies) has increased the refugee crisis which in turn increases the far right (the real threat to most trans-atlantic alliances and Russian containment in Europe). Idlib is possibly the greatest outdoor zoo of Al Qaeda the world has seen, and Iran-that great bogeyman of the west-is stronger than before.

Much like with opposition to gay rights before, a strange cavalcade of unqualified theorists and gibbering loons is swarming over the media, hoping to make a quick buck or get a signal boost from playing on the famously vulnerable heartstrings of a public addicted to quick fix media and knee jerk moralism. Samantha Power and Anne Marie Slaughter, the appropriately named duo, wax poetic about the dangers of not setting moral lines across the globe, as if the UN will collapse if we don’t scold Assad on using weapons I honestly would rather be killed by than many conventional munitions. These are simply cranks of a dying order, saying their piece before irrelevancy takes them. They are supported by legions of journalists who really are nothing but establishment cheerleaders and who imply anyone who denies America’s role as Global Ruler-Bearing Nun-Cop is either a foreign agent or dangerously unhinged.

The philosopher John Gray, writing in one of his more recent books of antihumanism, noted that one of the reasons Mesoamerican human sacrifice is so interesting is because they were societies that were really very honest about the performance of blood ritual in the maintenance of power and hierarchy. Most other societies invent elaborate charades like ‘just war theory’ or messianic prophecy and other dances around issues of ‘having to do something’ to cover up their naked thrusts for power-no matter how misguided and even self-destructive such policies can be. The worst ones even believe this rhetoric is truth, and these both humanitarian charity workers and defense contractors alike enjoy the services of the best. Seen in this context, the recent American airstrikes in Syria are a type of ritualistic bloodletting, the ceremonial reminder of international hierarchy for audiences both and home and abroad. Though I increasingly suspect their effectiveness is waning-but more abroad than at home. Much as the historical record in Mesoamerica shows that as the states began to come off their height of power, their sacrifices for public spectacle only increased until they couldn’t anymore. No one needs more reassurance that the hierarchy stands than those in decline. One fears for the future if present trends continue. Even if you change the government, the Democrats too have shown their propensity to love virtue signalling by cruise missile.

In such a situation, a firm line must be drawn. I do not simply *disagree* with those who support further or continued intervention in Syria, I despise them. They are my enemy. I wish them ill not only professionally but also personally. They have had seven years to realize the errors of their ways and if they have not done so yet, nor noticed the accurate depictions of those of us who have consistently predicted how the conflict would go, only to be ignored as the same talking heads who championed Iraq and Libya argue for another go on specious intelligence. They have chosen their camp and they are not to be reasoned out of it as they are clearly not motivated by reason. They are incapable of performing any kind of cost/benefit analysis-which is the real key to informed political views- and thus are nothing but ideologues. For any improvement to be made they must be confronted, shown to be the hollow shouters they are, and utterly disrespected at every turn. Those of us opposed to the neocons, Bolton, Kristol, Rubio, and the like, should make their opinions on these issues as loathsome and shameful in the public sphere as once happened to their forebears. This is The Decider Issues at work.

As a notable aside, Rubio is wrong on both of these Decider Issues of mine. In fact, I have generally taken the view that Rubio is always wrong on everything-and that if he has an opinion it must be wrong no matter what it is. Just as once my greatest political moment was seeing Rick Santorum’s kids cry on live tv as he lost his senate re-election, so too do I long for the day when Rubio, Power, and their ilk mope pathetically as they realize their time is over.

P.S. Considering that conservatives have lost the cultural war on gay rights issues (for now), I am far less bothered by temporary alliances with paleocons for mutual foreign policy interests than I am the general Democrat trend of allying with neocons and the Beltway War Lobby but being woke on social issues. Its easy to be ‘woke’, and often politicians do it performatively anyway. It is much harder to strike against the established moneybags of Big Defense and Gulf lobbyists. Hence the picture used for this post which might as well be the new MSNBC logo.



Some aphorisms for the bipartisan neocon establishment

All apologies to the style of Emil Cioran.
With the neocons as much in ascendancy under Trump as any other being made apparent by recent actions in Syria, some general observations:
When, ever, on an issue of strategy have these people ever been right? Aside from boosting contractor stock portfolios I mean. They have never been right, yet the horrifying thing is that I increasingly sense this is not intentional by most, but the result of true ideological faith. American Exceptionalism meets Jonestown and Waco. The last desperate gasp of a dying and discredited ideology. The death rattle of the neoliberal world view.
The fear of internal upheaval has shifted the neocon/neoliberal center (the true and most long term powerful enemy of strategists and critical thinkers) from the GOP to the DNC and the fifty disproportionately influential ‘Never Trump’ Republicans that exist in the universe that the Democrats are convinced hold the fate of the nation and whose seduction is the most pressing issue in politics today (for them). To fight this cancer, one cannot be partisan but rather entirely against both major parties. Bolton on the right, the Clintons in the center, Power on the left. If this foe is a bipartisan alliance than an alliance which is much *more* than simply bipartisan must rise to fight it. Horseshoe theory may be the most laughable and childish of liberal self-congratulatory ideas, but it may be time to consider some amount of coming together against the center on foreign policy, at least. Divisions that cannot be overcome domestically certainly can and will always exist, but so long as over-funded think tanks and media conglomerates set the discourse, temporary issue-specific alliances may bear fruit. This is the ultimate lesson of realism, after all.
The Democratic establishment knows chasing the GOP for a vanishing and ineffectual center of wine moms and dealership dads is easier than internal reform, as they are just as dependent on mega wealthy donors as their opposition and any reform threatens their coffers. Hence MSNBC becomes the Fox of last decade in war cheer-leading and misdirection. The more right the Dems can go, they think, the bigger the donor share. Therefore you will see no meaningful opposition to disastrous intervention from their power-brokers than the purely performative. Legal quibbles but no alternatives. In effect you have a party controlled by the old industries of gas, oil, and coal-and an opposition party controlled by the new industries of Silicon Valley, entertainment, and established charity. Both, however, are equally enthralled to Wall Street and defense contracting. It is therefore at those two targets, that the primary offensive must be directed.
The phrase ‘welfare queen’ dominated the hollow discourse of the euphoric 1990s, but to no people does this accusation ring more true than against the Pentagon and the private contractors that eat the fat from its haunches. And to no nation is this phrase more true than that of Israel. Even the wretched husk of Saudi Arabia, easily the most odious of American allies, pays its own way in a sense. Israel as welfare queen-now that is at least a memorable talking point.
Idealism, however, is not the solution. These problems call for a sober and realist pragmatism. To see an enemy clearly is not to rail at his morality but rather to respect his success and seek to one-up it and undo it in new and more clever ways. To learn from the parasitic infestation of neoconservatives first, in order to build up both the antibodies and the keys to their eventual extermination. Study their methods of media discourse. To understand them is to undo them. It is not in my interest, and I would argue neither in yours whoever you are, to replace them with something equally detached from reality-but rather to replace them with something objectively better in a measurable cost/benefit calculation. A return to the realism of history as managed chaos and not teleology. The end of history (of humanity) will not come about due to consensus or transcendence but through the natural and inevitable extinction of the species. Until that point, however, we could at least try to reduce the net amount of misery within achievable parameters. This would, of course, require the maturity to acknowledge that these parameters would be both variable and potentially hostile to competition. There may be many different solutions going their own way rather than one.

Bolton and the Blobocracy


It is so thick, yet you can still count the hairs individually.

I have to regard the first two generations of the Mongol Empire as the best run superpower in history. From diplomacy and espionage to warfare, an incredibly small band of people could grow through assimilation of other steppe tribes while also conquering much more numerous sedentary people. In the chapter on leadership in Timothy May’s ‘Mongol Art of War’ this is summarized succinctly:

‘Whereas in the rest of the medieval world military genius, or even competence, was rare, among the Mongols it was expected from every commander. Much of this resulted from how the Mongols selected their commanders and trained them in the performance of their duties. Unlike many of their contemporaries, the Mongols did not base the ability to command on lineage, although this might support one’s claim to authority. Instead, throughout his ascent to power, Chinggis Khan demonstrated an extraordinary gift for spotting talent in men, whether they were of noble birth or commoners. Merit was the key to acquiring a position of leadership in the Mongol military hierarchy , and battlefield promotions were not uncommon.’

One could also apply this summary to the Mongol use of diplomats, technicians, and the like as well. Such a system enabled one of the most rapid and successful expansions of force projection in history. Such a system, also, is the exact opposite of what the United States is currently wielding to shore up its rapidly deteriorating position as unipolar superpower. As Ibn Khaldun’s theories of history accurately predict, when a previously successful power becomes complacent it loses its bonds of solidarity and loyalty and drifts into the path of corruption for the sake of defensive and hoarding elites. The ending of social mobility in the governing elite is one of the key aspects of this decline. The lanyards of today are like the court eunuchs of many terminal Chinese dynasties of the past, albeit with a far less painful mark of their status to dangle from their person. Obama himself while president called this class ‘The Blob’, a monolithic force which, in our society, constantly advocates for interventionist war as the primary method of solving what are often minor and regional diplomatic disputes, or rivalries left over from the past which no longer have relevance to the average person. At the time this was remarked upon, that very blob proved its reality by launching numerous attempts at rebuttals, some of which are mentioned and linked to here. This is the Blobocracy, an alliance of misguided idealists, blindfolded patriots, ultra-credulous West Wing fans, foreign nations with the cash to buy lobbyists, and rapacious profit motivated defense contractors (only the last two of these factions is truly achieving its objectives).

How does this get us to the newly onboarding national security adviser John Bolton? Well, because in many ways Bolton is the ultimate creature of the establishment-even though many of them serve as his greatest detractors. He is decried by war hawks as a war hawk, but really, much like the craven Republican establishment of Paul Ryan in relation to Trump, what they really dislike is the brazen overtness and tone deafness of their own polices stated publicly by an uncouth village idiot type figure. And yet the village idiot is still spawned from the context of the village that helped to mold them.

John Bolton, who I once mentioned before in the early days of this blog-if in passing, began his illustrious career in foreign affairs by joining the National Guard to duck draft service in Vietnam. I can’t fault him for that, who would want to play Burgoyne and Cornwallis to Vo Nguyen Giap’s George Washington especially when the outcome seemed negative for the US? But it is in light of his later-life commitments to sending other young men to die in ill conceived and strategically disastrous conflicts that casts a retrospective shadow of hypocrisy on this once logical decision. Bolton proceeded to behave like many of the eager beavers DC is still host to today, rising up the partisan ranks by attaching himself to a school of thought with inside the Beltway cred. This was the neoconservative movement, a truly Guy de Lusignan-esque medley of ex-Trotskyites, defense hawks fearful of the end of the Cold War, and Lawrence of Arabia LARPers committed to the naive teleology of enlightenment progress in geopolitics and determined to do to the Middle East what had already been done to Japan and Western Europe and eager to rush out into the desert to end up with mass graves. The problem, of course, is that Japan and Western Europe had already been industrialized nation states before their reconstruction after World War II. The fact that the very nation that had failed to adequately reconstruct and reintegrate the former Confederate States of the American Civil War had really lucked out on occupations in 1945 allowed a delusional belief to fester, despite the fact that the next up to develop states were largely places that did it on their own terms. But loyalty to cause rather than ability decided (and still decides) the upper echelons of promotion in DC. It was this constant falling upwards, a common feature in the professional classes of policy wonkery, that Bolton rose to higher and higher positions.

Bolton, to his credit, did not actually believe much of the pablum about democracy promotion and ‘the end of history.’ But what he did believe, and still does believe, is the merit of constant applications of offensive force-which was the true core of underlying those other beliefs. This is an overtly realist blog and hardly one to dispute the utility of power projection, but power projection is always dangerous when it comes to military action and usually should be a last resort after much planning for contingencies. Allies, certainly, should not be alienated and wars unnecessary for the vital national interest (that should be apparent to an average citizen to be worth their support or participation) should not be pursued. The effect of Bolton’s policy positions is actually identical to, say, Bill Kristol, Dick Cheney, or Hillary Clinton, but simply with more unilateralism and less caution. The underlying effect of them, however, remains largely the same. Infamously establishment Thought Loser Shadi Hamid even recently pined that he *wished* Bolton was a neocon, largely for purely semantic and utterly virtue signalling reasons. The problem with much of this is that the cause does not matter. Looking, post-World War II at major American military interventions serving even its own narrow interest, one cannot help but see the failures far outweigh the success and even the utterly ambiguous results. The Korean War was a success measured by its original stated goals but became a disaster when hubris expanded those goals into a new war. Vietnam was an unmitigated disaster. So was Lebanon and Somalia if on a much smaller scale-and then you have everything post 9/11. This leaves the First Persian Gulf War and Kosovo as the only real wins, with the first leading to a repeat of the over-extension in hubris of Korea ( in subsequent rather than the same conflict) and the second’s benefiting any member of NATO or even the world in general extremely in doubt. American group think has a planning problem. Even if you made a case for all of these conflicts, it would be hard to say they had been planned and executed well by the Blob. And Bolton is very much the greatest cheerleader of continuing these blundering policies. Perhaps even expanding them.

Bolton maintains, to this day, that Iraq was a success. He supported the Libyan intervention and the (thankfully failed) attempt to regime change Syria. He constantly advocates for war upon Iran and North Korea. We can, of course, hope that his appointment is a canny move by Trump to create a fearsome persona making his upcoming negotiations with foreign foes easier, but such moves require a strategic thinker like Theodore Roosevelt or Richard Nixon-something that Trump so far has shown he is not. But one thing that cannot be stated is that Bolton is some crazy outlier, coming into a sensible system ready to play wrecking crew. He is in fact merely the strongest fundamentalist proponent of that very system. If the Bipartisan Consensus is a Southern Baptist convention advocating for young earth creationism on the Middle East than Bolton is merely the Westborough Baptist Church picketing across the street cutting straight to the fire and brimstone. He is exceptionally dangerous, but he is hardly an abnormality to the Blobocracy.